Meet Marin Stewart

Just a few short weeks ago I met Marin Stewart at a coffee shop in Mill Creek. We found a table tucked in a back corner and sat next to each other with coffees in hand. I'd never met this woman before, but already I knew this meeting would be one I'd never forget. Without hesitation, she began to unfold her life story to me. Three hours and many tears later, we hugged goodbye and I walked away with a re-established love and dependance for Jesus. I now have new eyes and an open heart to an industry I was always so distraught by, which is something I can’t thank her enough for. This is Marin's Story: 

Marin grew up in a family of believers, but due to a series of scandalous events at a very young age, she began seeking love and affection from all the wrong places. By 5th grade she was experimenting with drugs and underwent her first abortion at 15 years old. A few short years later, Marin was beat and raped by a boyfriend and soon found herself jobless, homeless, and shunned from her family. With nothing more to lose, Marin decided to get a job at a strip club to help pick herself up financially, "for only two weeks" she told herself. 

Over 20 years went by and Marin found herself slipping deeper into sex work and a heavy drug addiction. She worked the counter as a makeup artist, as a cover, and kept her night life a secret. A few bad boyfriends and abortions later, she became pregnant to her daughter, only to find the struggle to get out of her risky lifestyle became all the more real. 

One day, at the age of 41, Marin was finally saved by Jesus. After experiencing the magnitude of his love, she immediately was freed from addiction, false idols, and her promiscuous work life. For the first time in her whole entire life, she was “alive.” 

Three years has passed since that day. Marin is now working to help young girls and women facing sexual exploitation, and providing them with resources to seek their true purpose. She has committed her newly found life to act as a vessel, allowing Jesus to shine his light in the very same industry that once left her in so much darkness. She is newly married and working to be the better role model she always wanted for her daughter. 

**If you or someone you know is facing sexual exploitation, or fighting to get out of the sex industry, Marin would love to help you. You can reach her by email at marinmalisa@gmail.com**

Wearing: H&M Sweater / Vince Button Up Shirt

Styled By: Paisley Noelle

Photos ByAthena Grace

Makeup By: Lauren Larralde from Lola_artistry

Video ByCj Pohrman

Facial provided by: Dani Moe from Cinnamon and Sugar Me Spa


A few words from Marin:

How was the Spotlight experience for you? The Spotlight experience for me was wonderful, it was fun and humbling all at the same time! I loved the opportunity to share my story in order to enlighten people to the situation of sexual exploitation and empower people to fight against it rather than being desensitized to it.

What is your definition of success? My definition of success is overcoming challenges and personal struggles or trauma in a way that equips us with compassion to educate and serve others.

If you could give any word of advice for finding happiness, what would it be? My word of advice for finding happiness is- Every relationship, job, object or experience is at best, only temporarily fulfilling. These things will always fall short of bringing us true, lasting happiness. The only thing that is truly able to fulfill our hearts desire, is a relationship with the One who created it. Jesus Christ. Until we look to Him for fulfillment, we will forever be searching in all the wrong places.

Meet Sonja Ekornas

Thoughtful, loyal, strong; three words that come to mind when I think of Sonja Ekornas. I first met Sonja two years ago working at Neiman Marcus together and I was immediately captivated by her beauty and kind heart. We have since become close friends and I've watched her gracefully carry herself through two life altering hardships; the passing of her grandfather -- her best friend and biggest role model, and her journey through IVF. Sonja's story is one I wanted to share in the hopes of bringing awareness and knowledge to Endometriosis. Here is Sonja's story: 

 

At the age of 13, Sonja was diagnosed with Endometriosis and spent most of her teen and young adult years in severe pain. In 2007, she underwent surgery that required the removal of half her right ovary. Growing up in a large family, her biggest dream was to be a wife with several children of her own, but that dream became complicated. After confronting her fear and visiting a fertility specialist, she learned her AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) levels were 0.93 (normal women's AMH: 2-4) and her FSH (Follicle-Stimulating Hormone) levels were 11 (normal women's FSH: below 10). Being on the extreme end for both, Sonja realized a process known as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was her best bet for one day having a family of her own. A little over a month ago, she began her first series of the highest dose of hormone injections in order to prep her body for surgical egg retrieval. Single and at the young age of 27, she fought through the process and was forced to make difficult decisions for not only herself, but for her future husband. 

Sonja's story rings true for so many women who are suffering through Endometriosis. According to American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 30% - 50% of infertile women have the disorder. As a woman, being told you cannot bare a child can be one of the hardest things to hear and accept, but do not be discouraged. With today's resources, there are so many options to explore for creating a family. 

*Endometriosis "occurs when tissue like that which lines the uterus is found outside the uterus... This misplaced tissue develops growths or lesions which respond to the menstrual cycle in the same way that the tissue of the uterine lining does; each month the tissue builds up, breaks down, and sheds...the blood and tissue shed from endometrial growths and has no way of leaving the body. This results in internal bleeding, breakdown of the blood and tissue from the lesions, and inflammation -- and can cause pain, infertility, scar tissue formation, adhesions, and bowel problems," (Endometriosis Association). 

WEARING: Topshop Dress / Members Only Bomber (UO) / BCBGeneration Heels / Nordstrom Choker / Gucci Handbag

Styled By: Paisley Noelle

Photos By: Athena Grace

Makeup By: Lauren Larralde from Lola_artistry

Video By: Cj Pohrman

Facial provided by: Dani Moe from Cinnamon and Sugar Me Spa


A few words from Sonia: 

Q1: How was the “Spotlight” experience for you?

The spotlight experience was UNREAL. From the moment I was asked I was a little nervous how I would come across sharing my story but the spotlight team made it the most uplifting & beautiful experience. The day of the shoot was filled with so much love and excitement it made a not so fun experience become fun to share.

Q2: What is your definition of success?

My definition of success is simply knowledge & trying. I think knowledge is so powerful and having that you are already one step closer to anything you're trying to achieve. Trying to get successful results in something can be scary but if you put yourself out there to TRY that is success in itself because you're closer to an answer. For myself & my journey I've had to look at each part of this process in steps. With each step I am that much closer to my goal. Every obstacle I've faced God has provided a win & I believe that's because I continue to try.

Q3: If you could give any word of advice for finding happiness, what would it be?

My advise for finding happiness is to love yourself & your journey. I think once you truly know & love yourself as a person you're able to open your eyes so much more to the world and start to really experience more for what it is and be the happiest & best version of yourself.

Meet Merissa Schultz

Cj and I met Merissa while traveling through Australia. We were on a 10 day G-adventure tour; camping, sailing, and sight-seeing our way up the coast. We were a small group of strangers, each at a different stage in our lives with a different story for why we were escaping to Australia; some to lose themselves, some to find themselves, and some just to be themselves. Each person gave something to the group, and we all walked away with something we needed. Merissa was one of those, that captured everyone's heart (and laughter) from the beginning. Lucky for us, she lives in Victoria, Canada! She recently spent the weekend with me in Seattle so that I could have the honor to share her amazing-ness with you all. This is Merissa's story:

At a young age Merissa became a victim of abuse. She spent the majority of her adolescent years being physically and emotionally broken down by a family member. With battered self worth, she began to grow into middle and high school unsure of who she was. "Imagine trying to find yourself when you don't know where you're supposed to be coming from." At the age of 17 she thought she was free from the abuse, but by then she was facing a new enemy: herself.

Struggling with confidence and negative body image, Merissa became blind to her own worth. She found it easier to love others, and hardest to love herself. Society's unloving nature towards curvy women at the time didn't make things any easier. Despite leading an active lifestyle with a healthy diet, she always felt judged for how she looked. 

It wasn't long before Merissa and her family learned this same family member had cancer. Merissa struggled with allowing this person back into her life but she couldn't turn away from someone who needed help. The individual's 40 lbs tumor took over and they soon needed around-the-clock care. She was now forced to spend each day caring for the very person that spent years abusing her. Despite a callused heart, she used her tender hands to care for them up until their passing, and it wasn't until one of their final interactions that the family member finally apologized. The words "I'm sorry" sounding so foreign, yet genuine to her. 

"No one tells you how to grieve an abuser," so Merissa booked a solo trip to Australia in the hopes to piece herself back together. She had years of mistreatment from this family member, society, and ex boyfriends to rewind. With this new adventure, her only rule was to say "Yes" to everything. "I wanted to give myself the power to finally say 'yes' because I'm plus size and society is always saying no." 

From the moment we met Merissa to the moment we said our "see you later"'s in Australia, this girl moved us all to be better people. Her contagious laugh, witty remarks, and encouraging words would lead you to never believe that this girl could have been through all that she has. She's one of those people that invests themselves in making sure you know how valued you are, a trait so rare in society. When I asked her about it she said, "I want people to know how special they are. I want to leave them with a lasting impression of who they are, not who I am."

Merissa has since returned to Australia and is finally learning how to reflect how she looks at others back at how she looks at herself. Despite dealing with low self esteem growing up, this woman walks with her head high and knows how to work it. She's learned to empower herself and begin loving herself in the way she deserves. She currently works full time as a travel agent, lives in Victoria with her best friend: her mom, and lives each day bringing others joy and inspiration. 

A few words from Merissa:

Q1: How was the Spotlight” experience for you?

"I have absolutely no words. I received my first ever facial! Dani not only made my skin look and feel amazing, but she does some scrubbing and working on the inside too. I would've never thought I could pull off a jumpsuit, but Paisley styled me in a piece that gave me comfort and confidence. Jamae is so talented and my hair was on fleek! These are all amazingly kind girls who together create an incredible team."

Q2: What is your definition of success?

"When you take the time to enjoy the fruit of your labor. It's not about others telling you you did a good job. It's about you yourself and appreciating what you've done."

Q3: If you could give any word of advice for finding happiness, what would it be?

"Don't try to find it. Happiness is something you create."

Wearing: Lane Bryant Jumpsuit, Necklace, Sunglasses, & Bracelet / Macy's Headscarf 

Styled by Paisley Noelle 

(Shout out to the wonderful staff at Lane Bryant in the Alderwood Mall! You rock Mikayla!)

Hair by Jamae Wiederhold @ Elle Marie in Lynnwood, WA

Facial by Dani Moe Cinnamon & Sugar Me Spa in Snohomish, WA.

Photos by Cj Pohrman 

 

 

Meet Carol Crane

I couldn't have chosen a more inspirational woman than my own mom to kick off the launch of this new blog series. She is the strongest person I know and has taught me that everything truly will work out, and to enjoy every moment of the craziest of journeys. Her name is Carol and this is her story:

Carol was married, a stay-at-home-mom to four, and lived the all American white-picket fence life. She was the epitome of a perfect mom: going on wild adventures with her son, creating a fairytale land for her daughters, and always ensuring nothing was short of extraordinary for everyone. In the early 2000's however, things slowly began to take a turn for the worst. In 2004, she discovered her husband of almost twenty years had a secret addiction to meth and cocaine, and his frequent so-called business trips werent at all what she thought they were. She fought tirelessly to save her marriage and help her husband, for the sake of her kids. However, he began to spiral the family into near poverty and misery. There was only so many times she could send him to rehab, and take him back before she knew she had done all she could. They divorced in 2008, and she was left to make a new living now as a single mother.

Not long after, In August of 2009, her teenage son reached his breaking point and, in what seemed like a single day, fell mentally ill. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and severe bipolar, Carol would spend the next several years watching her once perfect son in and out of mental institutes, fighting the demons in his head. Three short months after his illness hit, she came home with her daughters to see their house up in flames. They lost nearly everything in the house fire, included Carols best friends: her beloved dogs and cat.

With the help of friends and generous people within the community, Carol was finally able to reunite with her daughters under a new roof. However, they moved from rental home to rental home, and barely made ends meet. These grew into being the darkest days of her life. She fought to find any form of stability; doing everything now on her own, with barely any resources to get by. As if tragedy was magnetic to the family, they then recently experienced a tree fall through the roof of their latest rental home, causing them to lose even more belongings and forcing them to relocate yet again.

All the while, Carol took over her husbands land surveying business and fought against the depressed economy to keep it afloat.  She then decided to use her expertise in construction and begin her own company; Crane Land Development. Many criticized her for not going out and getting a normal job with a steady income, but she knew she couldnt do that. With little support behind her, she fought to do what she felt was right.

Despite the hardships, the light Carol carries within her never grew dull. Everything she does goes into supporting her children and ensuring they have everything they needed to be happy. Throughout every set back, she continues to laugh, love, and inspire every person she meets. Theres not a room she walks into that shes not the most fascinating person in it.

Today Carol is a true force to be reckoned with. She has remained a strong independent woman, leaving everyone and everything better than she found it. Her business has bloomed in the last few months and she is proving to be the best in the business. She recently picked back up on her passion for stand up comedy and is taking Seattles entertainment scene by storm. She lives with her two youngest daughters in a gorgeous new rental home and is finally finding the stability shes been fighting so long for.

A few words from Carol:

Q1: How was the Spotlight” experience for you?

Its amazing that so many people are selfless enough to honor somebody else. The fact that they give up their time to put someone else in the spotlight is really amazing. Mylanna (the hairstylist) is such a great friend of mine, and I had no idea she was in on it. She is amazing so I was of course excited for her to do my hair. And Dani (spa owner) is so sweet and makes you feel so important. This was such a wonderful experience.

Q2: What is your definition of success?

There's no universal definition of success but I feel success when my kids look up to me and are proud. Ive learned success doesn't have a time limit. It's always the last inch of the race that determines everything. If you dont stick with it and fight all the way until the end, youll never make it.

Q3: If you could give any word of advice for finding happiness, what would it be?

If you feel in your soul something that you really want to do, it doesn't matter what others think. Put your blinders on, and go for it. You cant care what anyone else is doing. Head down the path you believe is right for you. I know what I can do and I'm far stronger than people think. And always know that the struggles you face make you tougher, and give you the calluses you need to make it to where you want to go. 

Wearing: Nordstrom Blazer & Top / Thrifted boyfriend jeans / Target wedges  

Styled by Paisley Noelle 

Hair by Mylanna Alexander Studio 51 Hair Salon in Marysville, WA

Facial by Dani Moe Cinnamon & Sugar Me Spa in Snohomish, WA.

Photos by Cj Pohrman 

WELCOME TO THE SPOTLIGHT

Hello Everyone!! This is the official announcement of a new blog series I will be hosting. Once a month my team of photographers, hair stylists, MUA, and skin care specialist, and I will be selecting an inspiring woman within our community and putting them in the spotlight. With their story and personalities, we hope to highlight their inner beauty and inspire other women. 

We'd love for you to be apart of it!! If you have anyone you think deserves to be in the spotlight please let us know!
Xx, Paisley