Wedding Photography Giveaway Finalist # 3

My third and last finalist, Casey and Brandon, have been though a lot. Casey got mixed up in the wrong crowd but totally turned her life around, and Brandon has been struggling financially for a long time. It's good to see people turn their lives around for the better! Enjoy their incredible story!

Stay tuned... the winner will be announced tomorrow!

"When I was young my mother would cut my jeans off during the summer, jeans that had been passed down from a stranger to people in need: that was us. I found new friends at new schools every year as we moved from one shelter to another. Sometimes family would take us in, only to feel “crowded” shortly after. It wasn’t a hardship for me: it was all I ever knew. This was life.

I always excelled in school from the very start. Advanced classes found me at every school. This continued until my 3rd year in high school. My life of instability had caught up with me. I turned to peers that pulled me down with drug addiction and bungled priorities. I had moved out on my own, with the logic that I was freer. I quit school after acceptance and scholarship to College of Charleston. That time of my life is a blur: it’s nothing that I want to retain, and also because I can’t. I became dependent on cocaine, though any drug would do. It had taken power over me. Amidst this time I overdosed on cocaine four times; I was aware of the severity and I could sense it happening but I couldn’t stop. Looking back to this I breakdown; I threw away an age of my life. I don’t know who that person was. I lost contact with family as they “could never understand” though I now know I was embarrassed. I had long lost respect for myself. I slept anywhere I could find, often at a cost. I was 17 when I was arrested on a felony cocaine charge. My friends were moving into dorms while I was in a cell. Even then, I wanted to destroy myself in everyway I could. People took advantage of me and left me torn apart; all I could do was numb the pain with another hit. I began a relationship with my dealer, someone that I was less than in love with but always had what I “needed.” Shortly afterwards I became pregnant.

I was dead to myself; how was I going to bring life into this world? A life relying completely on me. How was I to support a child when I had nothing: no job, no money, and no respect for myself? There was no deliberating. I didn’t think about whether I should do this, but rather what’s the best way to do this. The drugs and alcohol ceased instantaneously. I even cut out caffeine. I did not learn of the pregnancy until about 6 weeks into it. I constantly worried that I had harmed my baby by using those first 6 weeks while she grew inside me. I stayed with the father for the stability of a home, and used what I had to make the best life possible for my child. December 2005 I gave birth to my baby girl, Haylie Grace. She was beautiful. We prepared to go home from the hospital but were stopped short: Haylie was born with a hole in her heart. I have never felt as broken as I did that moment. A perfect, pure angel and I had already taken so much from her. The doctors assured me that many things could cause a defect like this but I will never forgive myself. We visit the pediatric cardiologist annually and it has yet to interfere with her life, which I thank God for.

I knew that I had to do something to be able to provide for my daughter. I got my GED and scored in the top 3% in the state. I continued on to Greenville Technical College for evening classes in Accounting. During this time I was doing landscaping with Haylie’s father, cleaning houses for extra money, bookkeeping for the landscaping, going to school full-time, keeping a house for my family, and using every spare second to make a relationship with Haylie. Often I turned on auto-pilot and coasted. I was 20 years old, exhausted beyond my years. I decided that the life I dreamed about Haylie and me was attainable but I would have to work for it. I moved in with a roommate to get on my feet. I got a clerical job so I could support us and continued school. Custody of Haylie became an issue shortly after. Haylie’s daddy got angry with me for leaving. He came to our home one night and assaulted me while Haylie watched and screamed. I filed criminal domestic violence charges which he was convicted of when he did not show up to court. Without any discussion he took me to court and took her away. As usual I had no money and no time to plan. When we got in court he filled the room with lies about me and my parenting. The judge ordered him temporary custody and I supervised visitation 6 hours a week. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that I had lost her. I knew that I had to get her back. I finished school; got a second job with the extra time I didn’t have her; and was able to get a one bedroom apartment. It wasn’t on the best side of town but it was ours. I wanted something that would good enough for Haylie. After a couple months the guardian in our case ordered that I get standard visitation at least until the permanent custody hearing. I quit my second job so that it would not conflict with my time with her; there are many times I don’t know how I got by with the income I had versus the expenses that were coming in. God just made it happen.

I had eventually set enough aside to get a two bedroom apartment for us. I had no time for anything except work and Haylie. My only happy time was with her; I lived for those 48 hours every other week she spent with me. My boss said that I should meet this guy, Brandon, she knew through her nephew; she said we were alike in so many ways. I was a bit resilient as I was so far from having room in my life, or my heart, for love. He came by the office one day and I was blown away. My heart forgot every worry. Brandon was MORE than I had ever imagined in a man, especially someone that would be interested in me. I had never conquered my feeling of inadequacy or low self worth, and I knew he was beyond my reach. The only thing I had worth anything was my child and what would someone as amazing as him want with a child that belonged to someone else? We introduced ourselves and began talking…in person, on the phone, online, through text. We fit together so perfect. Men had always take advantage of my vulnerability. I still have a hard time adjusting to his desire for my heart. He wants a part of me that no one else ever has; it’s a part of me I had completely closed up to keep from getting hurt. I never knew a love like this was possible. I never knew someone could appreciate you and care about you so much. The relationship that he has with me and my daughter I am not worthy of. I am truly blessed.

Brandon proposed to me on the Falls Bridge downtown. Neither of us have much money nor do we come from money. My grandfather recently passed away and left my parents a little inheritance; with this they are going to provide my sister and me with $5,000 each for our wedding. This is more than I would have ever imagined, and being the “penny pincher” I have learned to be I can make this enough for a small, yet beautiful wedding. This is a day that I feel goes against my entire life; it feels, almost, out of place. I bought a used dress off ebay and my ring is a moissanite rather than a diamond. These things are not imperative to me. I have a family I love and that loves me back. I just want the memories of a day that I have worked so hard to get to. I have been able to cut corners everywhere for the wedding, and most of the things I will be making myself to save money, but photography is something that doesn’t go on sale, you can’t use a coupon, and I definitely cannot do it myself. My whole life has been the used, economy version of everything. I want to show Haylie what I worked so hard for when we are looking back on my wedding in the pictures. I want her to know that it’s worth the fight and the work you put into it.