Every year Rob and I plan a date for New Years Eve wherein we create lists of our top ten favorite moments or experiences of the current year and the top ten things for which we are most hopeful and looking forward to in the next year! We started this tradition the first year we were married, and it continues to be a sweet time of reflection, evaluation, and celebration. It seems like such a natural time to look back on the year and remember what all the Lord has provided and brought us through, the joys and the struggles. For the sake of this blog post, I’m sharing my personal top joys of 2016. Here’s to being vulnerable and known!
- Sadie Grace (our niece) was born!!!Sadie was born in June and is hands down the most joyful and smiley baby I’ve ever known. It is such a joy to watch as the O’Neill family grows and be a part of Jace and Sadie’s lives. I’m so thankful that I get to be “Aunt Ren” to these little ones. I can’t imagine our family without Sadie girl. She is pure sweetness!
2. I started my Masters of Social Work!
I transitioned back to a full-time student in January to study for a MSW. The transition was real, especially because my degree is an online program. I was forced to become incredibly organized and disciplined, and I am better because of it. My main study spots were at the public library and coffee shops around Clemson. Later in the year we repurposed one of our guest bedrooms into an office, but I will get to that later in the list. 😉 Many people who follow my photography do not know that I am also a full-time student. Sometimes the year felt lonely…being self-employed and studying online by myself can be isolating. However, I am gaining technical and helping skills that are equipping me for a variety of jobs in the social work field, which is worth it! I am a total geek when it comes to social work and have talked off Rob’s ear about random topics more times than I would like to admit. 🙂 I am fascinated and inspired by the work, human nature, and what it looks like to walk alongside people in the most difficult and most joyous times of life. I am beyond thankful to have the opportunity to study for a graduate degree and hope to spend my life serving the Lord in the social work field!
3. Of course…LC Photography!
I opened LC Photography in late November of 2015, thinking “this will be fun” and “why not try and make a little money while having fun?!”. I was hoping to photograph or second shoot one wedding in my first year, and I have had the privilege of serving 12 brides and grooms in my first year and countless couples, families, and little babes. These clients mean so much to me and have allowed me to invest in equipment and photography gear that I never would have dreamed of buying my first of business! The growth in my little business has shocked and humbled me. I have invested in photography education from experienced and world renown photographers, watched several webinars, defined my own style, taught two workshops, and organized creative shoots. I have photographed in several states and am now looking forward to my first international wedding in 2017! 🙂 South America, here we come!!! Another impactful aspect in my professional and person life this year was friendships built with other photographers and creatives through the Rising Tide Society. I met nearly all of the photographers for whom I second shot and collaborated with this year through RTS. It has been a gift to learn from and alongside so many awesome creatives! Thank you to everyone who has supported my business and spoken kind words to me about my work. It means the world, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do something creative and life giving! (Thank you to Rainsford Photography for the awesome headshot!!!)
4. Hosting Christmas in South Carolina!
If you’ve talked to me over the past few months, I’ve probably shared how excited I was to host my family for Christmas! I’ve traveled for every holiday since I went off to college, so it was soooooo nice to stay put for one Christmas. Plus, it was the last opportunity we would have to host our family before we move away from Clemson…crazy how fast time is flying by here! Our church family at Crosspoint is our absolute favorite thing about living in Clemson, and we were overjoyed to share our church with my family on Christmas morning. We playing multiple rounds of disc golf, cooked and baked what seemed like non-stop and therefore ate what seemed like non-stop too. 🙂 No complaining here! My family has always loved playing board and card games, so we played no less than 6 different games, including a few new ones as Christmas presents. We went to see the new Star Wars movie on Christmas Eve wearing matching t-shirts and loved every second of it. Family is a gift that we love and treasure, and I am so thankful that we got to end 2016 by hosting my loved ones for Christmas!
5. Family Wedding in Florida!
My mother’s side of the family is from Pensacola, Florida, where we have visited at least once a year ever since I can remember. My grandma and grandpa’s house has been host to countless family Christmases, birthday parties, bayou days on the boat, and picnics in the summer. The wedding ceremony was at Pensacola beach, and the reception took place in my grandma’s backyard. The entire family was in the same place for the first time in many years since we are all now spread across the country and world (mainly talking about my cousins that got married and are currently traveling the globe…only slightly jealous!). My grandma has since moved into a memory care facility, and we will soon sell her home on the bayou, which she lived in for 40 years. The wedding was beautiful and an honor to photograph, but even more sweet was soaking up one last celebration with the entire family on the bayou.
6. Traveling and visits with friends & family
2016 was full of travel and many visits with friends and family! I am so thankful that we live in a place that people want to come visit and that it’s only a short drive over to several states when people are passing through! Some visits were as short as a quick dinner or as long as a week in Arkansas with family. States visited in 2016 for personal and business trips include: SC, NC, GA, AR, VA, MD, AK, CA, TX, TN, & AL. A few highlights: Surprising my mom in Alabama for Mother’s Day, Rob’s trip to Alaska with best friends, Cardinals game in Atlanta, Andrew staying with us during spring break, visiting two of my closest friends in Arkansas before they graduated, photographing a wedding in Maryland, driving the Shenandoah National Park, so many people crashing at our house on their way somewhere else, exploring mountain towns in North Carolina, and two marathons for Rob in Nashville and Charleston!
7. Creating an office space!
This may seem like a really strange thing for a top ten list, but there is something so calming to me about having a clean and designated space to work. As you could imagine with a home-based business and taking classes online, the couch can easily become an office. 🙂 We finally decided to turn one of our guest rooms into an office space for my school and business, and it has been so refreshing and life-giving. I am WAY more productive in a bright, open space like my office than in front of the tv watching The Office. 😉
8. MSW Field Practicum
I completed my first two field practicum (internships) with an amazing non-profit and family resource center in the area. This experience was the first time I saw firsthand what the day-to-day life of a social worker is like, how to grapple with professional and personal ethics in social work, applying academic knowledge of human behavior and social work theory. The organization seeks to prevent child abuse and neglect through home visitation services and parent education. At times I felt so awkward providing tools to parents when I myself am not even a parent, but I learned so much about parenting behavior, home visitation, child development, the strengths perspective, etc. My time with this organization was so clearly a gift from the Lord and a solid foundation upon which I will build my career as a social worker.
9. Narrowing my social work interests to child & family services.
So many of my passions overlapped this year, and along with my classwork and field practicum experience, I have started focusing on using my MSW degree to serve, protect, and empower children, specifically the early childhood population, and their families. Between serving this age of children in the nursery at church, my field practicum experience, seeking to start a mentoring program for this age with a non-profit that prevents domestic minor sex trafficking, and having friends with children this age, the Lord has developed my understanding of how important this developmental phase is and given me a desire to use my degree to serve children and families at this point in their lives. It has been humbling to work with families who have experienced immense difficulty and loss, yet I feel hopeful and look forward to learning how to best work with and empower this population.
10. Conversations and knowledge about social and political issues. Betcha didn’t see that one coming, did you?! 😛
I have remained silent on social media about my political views, mainly because I have only seen these over-the-internet conversations lead to more strife and division. However, the 2016 election propelled me to read, learn, and listen to more political and social issues than I have in my entire life. Although I will not say the election or results of the election are “good” in and of themselves, I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to be challenged in what I believe is right, broaden my understanding of issues like institutionalized racism, and have real, meaningful conversations with people with whom I would normally not. Along with my MSW coursework, the election and state of social issues in the United States really provided for a humbling year of learning and asking God what we can do to be at least a small part of reconciliation.
I hope that this post encourages at least one person to seriously reflect on the last year, to search for how God was at work in your life, and become grateful for all of what 2016 had to offer! Much love for all of you that are a part of my life. You are a gift! 🙂