I was supposed to be dead.
It was 1996. It was the summer of my 6th grade year. We had moved for the 12th time in my life since my dad had joined the Air Force. I was at a new school, yet again. But this time it was different. Now, I was in middle school- where people are cruel and words can slice like a knife.
Not only was I the tallest one in my class, but of course my braces, my glasses and my mixed Latina hair helped me stick out like a sore thumb. I could have dealt with the put-downs and the random kid in the hallway whispering “you’re ugly,” But what I couldn’t stand was the personal feeling of not being “good enough.” Of course, all my neighborhood friends were able to test into the advanced classes, but I came in too late to test in. So, I had to be the only one wanting to pay attention and actually learn in a class of Tamagotchi collectors. One girl next to me had over 7 dangling from a heavy carabineer from her desk.
Every time I raised my hand to answer a question, I felt a tinge of putting it down again since I didn’t want to stick out even more.
Because being “smart” is worse than being ugly.
The year progressed, and I was so excited that I was actually asked to go to a party with another girl in my class. She always wore a Nirvana shirt and wore eyeliner. I was just excited to be asked to go somewhere with people.
The night of the party came, and they pulled out the Ouija board. An innocent hang out with a bunch of middle school girls turned to a makeshift séance.
I was always taught not to dance with the devil.
I started hyperventilating- something was really happening. Some darkness came into the room. I had to get out of there. I ran to the room upstairs to find a landline to call my mother who said that she would be there soon.
After I got home from the party, my entire perspective on life changed. I started to get thoughts about killing myself. I even got to the point when I started to plan when I was going to it- after my 6th grade year in the summer time when no one would miss me. I knew how I was going to do it- either with a kitchen knife or by running into the street and getting hit by the local bus that stopped right behind my house.
It was very dark time for me mentally- I wrote poetry to keep me from doing any harm to myself. I started taking up hobbies- running to the local library and teaching myself art, painting, history- anything I could to keep my mind from thinking about “it.”
My mother saw the darkness in me as well. Being a children’s pastor for 15 years taught her a thing or two about changing one’s perspective and getting a fresh start. She did was any normal Christian parent would do- send me to a youth camp to seek help, get quiet and really listen to God- away from all the distractions and memories of the year.
Every night, we would end the day’s activities of swimming, hiking and playing games with worship, music and prayer. The last night came and the room was full of over 300 teens worshipping God at the top of their lungs. I left the room and went to the “bathroom.” I sat on the floor and curled up into the fetal position and just cried.
I remembered the jeering, the comments, the hurt, the pain, the laughter. I remember my parents teaching me about the love of God at an early age. I was at war in my spirit. I didn’t know whose voice to believe. I wanted to believe that God was real, but then I had another voice that was calling to me to end it, “No one will miss you.” It would say. “You aren’t going to do anything great in your life.” It would whisper.
So, I gave God an ultimatum.
If he was real, he needed to prove it- right there on the floor of the bathroom, if not, I would end my life as soon as possible.
I waited for a lightning cloud, a person to show up, fire to rain down- something. But it was so still that I could hear my heart beat- like it was pulsing through my core. I will never forget this moment as long as I lived what that heart beat felt like. Even to this day as an adult- over 20 years later- how real that moment is for me. In fact, I am crying as I write this very story.
I didn’t hear anything but my heart beat and a very still small voice saying, “Who keeps your heart beating? How does your heart keep beating?” And that’s when I realized that something or someone was keeping my very life pulsing every single day of my life.
And as I sat there I knew that if there was someone keeping my heart beating then that person had a purpose for me to be living.
And if I had a purpose, that means that I was going to have a destiny.
Enter 7th grade where my braces came off and my mom started making me wear contacts. Not only did I have a fresh perspective literally, but also emotionally. No longer was I vulnerable to the jabs of my fellow classmates who still flicked me off in the hallway or told me I was “ugly” or “stupid” – it was like their comments just rolled off my back.
I was just focused now- focused on finding my purpose. So, I pursued everything all at once. I did travel basketball, travel softball and competition band year-round. Waking up at 5 am to run six miles, going to school, then band practice, then softball and basketball games every single evening. Then I would do homework until 10 or 11 every night. Saturdays I traveled for softball or basketball and then babysitting until the evening time. I did this schedule for my entire middle and high school career. I was used to being busy and focused.
I was also getting used to failure by this time.
Even though I played hard and did everything my coaches and teachers said- I never was able to be first string, or be first chair or even valedictorian. By the time that college visits came around, no one wanted me with my lower GPA, 1050 SAT score and my second string resume.
My goal was to be a music teacher. But unfortunately, all of my auditions weren’t even good enough to get into not two, not 5, but 8 schools.
I was crushed. What the crap? Hadn’t I tried to do everything that I could to be the very best- to prove everyone wrong?
These 8 schools told me that if I switched to elementary education that I would be able to find more openings since music was a pretty exclusive major. So that’s what I did. I applied to my last choice school- Liberty University with the hope of getting into their Elementary Education program- because all the people at my school told me that Liberty would taken anybody. And I am so glad that they did.
Then I got to college and my focus changed to becoming an administrator by the time that I was 35. I was looking forward to inspiring young minds. I graduated with 3.9 GPA and I started my student teaching. It was the most awful experience of my life. My 7th grade “mentor” teacher literally left me with 8 rotating periods of 30 kids every day for 3 months so that she could get her nails done or just sleep. She had put in 25 plus years of teaching- she deserved a break I guess.
After 3 months of not knowing what-the-crap I was doing and basically learning nothing. I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree. I was just married and we didn’t have any kids yet,
so I thought that would be a perfect time to accrue more debt and try to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I went to Lynchburg College for my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. And basically what I learned is that there is more than one way to learn and to teach. That every kid was gifted and talented in some respect. All we had to do as educators was to bring it out in them.
After I graduated, I got pregnant with my first- my daughter Alyvia. We were living in Maryland at the time and working at a non-profit for inner city children. It was a children’s outdoor camp teaching life lessons and teamwork while learning skills like archery, ropes course and survival. My entire paycheck would be my entire child care fund.
So, I decided to do something that would change my life- stay home- not work and raise my child with basically no experience and no knowledge how I was going to help provide for my family. It was the darkest time of my life.
The isolation was killer. Post-partum depression is real and believe me- it was one of the hardest times of my life.
To cope with the isolation, I ran to self-education- getting my hands on as many YouTube videos and tutorials I could on graphic design and the creative arts. That same year, I was hired to take pictures for the same non-profit that I left. This time, I had a child strapped to my back every single day for 3 hours in the hot sun. Then every day, I would teach myself Photoshop and Lightroom to learn how to edit all 300 plus photos I would take every day for three months.
This was my physical bootcamp to learn photography in an entire summer.
From that experience, I would start getting phone calls to do weddings, headshots and senior photos-
all with my little $400 camera that I bought used off of Amazon.
I started designing for my own personal store for Etsy- making inspirational quotes and nursery prints.
Then I got pregnant with my second child, but alas after 9 weeks I miscarried on the floor of my in-laws house. I sank into depression again. So I ran to creativity- teaching myself more about my trade- becoming a licensed business owner in 2012 with only $500 in my pocket and living in a tiny apartment in Virginia Beach.
My husband was working as a part time carpenter’s assistant with no benefits and of course I got pregnant again. How was I supposed to pay for two kids?
WIC and Medicaid was the only way that we survived those years in the literal desert- all the while trusting and praying that God was going to bring us through.
After many failures and trial and error, now in 2018, we have made many strides- not only with our family, but also with our business. We now have three children- Alyvia, Caleb and Noah- all healthy brilliant. But even their births stories were all miracles. Alyvia was breach and had to be cut out. I had blood issues with Caleb and they were afraid that I would bleed to death. And Noah had to be cut out because I was losing fluids at 36 weeks.
For every season of life. I had had to give up, sacrifice, rethink and pursue, work and hustle.
Nothing, literally nothing as come easy. Late nights is my normal. Staying up till three- falling asleep at my computer, trying, working, failing, getting up again- these are all norms of a trailblazer.
Being a business owner is filled with rejection. But it’s also filled with reward.
We were voted 2016 and 2018 top wedding photographers in Virginia Beach by Expertise.com.
We have been published over 45 times on various different wedding, portrait and photography websites for our creative work in photography and film.
We’ve added a photobooth and even been able to buy a house with a built-in photo studio. We shoot almost 100,000 photos every year and book over 100 shoots or events a year.
We stay busy on the graphic design front as well- managing over 8 separate business websites and social media platforms. We have sold over 3,000 products across the world with our designs on 5 different online stores. I was able to help launch at least three other business ideas to friends who want to pursue being an entrepreneur like me.
We love giving from our business as well. We give 10% of our profit away to support non-profits and church work with our creative services.
We were able to provide over 2,000 people with fresh water through build wells in India with proceeds from our business in the last few years.
We even flew out to Honduras, Colombia and Nicaragua to film and take photos for humanitarian aid programs for their social media.
I say all this because I was supposed to be dead. I was supposed to have killed myself at 12 years old with a kitchen knife. I had no idea what my destiny was or what my purpose was.
Now I can say that all my trials and failures have brought me to this point- to only shape me and make me the person that I am today. I am stronger because of my past and I have used it to fuel my future.
I am only 33. I can’t imagine how I am going to do when I am sixty or however long my heart stays beating.
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Christal Marshall is a mom of three, photographer, videographer, homeschooler and just a straight hustler.
She was voted top 20 wedding photographers in VA in 2016 and 2018. She has been featured over 45 times in various different publications.
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