Some of you know, if you've been following me for a while, a little of my story already,

But here is a big part of my most recent life. Last year I got cancer. I likely had it for a while, but after my daughter was born (who is almost five) I started going crazy. Not just because I am a Mom with young kids. There's an element of that, but my emotions were so up and down and irrational, I thought I was becoming a crazy person. I tried essential oils, homeopath doctors, my diet was in check (Keto, paleo, clean eating, whole foods, organic, homemade, ALL OF IT), and nothing was helping long term.

It turns out I had a growth on my thyroid that was producing 10x the amount of hormones your thyroid is typically supposed to produce. I'm glad that there was a reason for the extreme ups and downs. They put me on medicine to slow down the production so that I could have it surgically removed. There was a hope it would be immediately better. But MAN was I wrong. I gained between 30 to 40 lbs in a 6-week period while eating clean and working out 4 days a week, and depression hit hard. (again, think hormones and NOW body changes). Even though in my head, I knew that it was circumstantial, it was still an element that I had no control over. And while I've done a lot of work on myself, and I am CONFIDENT in my husband’s love for me, it doesn't change the fact that I still struggled with that weight gain. I still struggled with not having that control.

Before they found the growth, I had actually hired a photographer (Lindsay Warland Photography) for a Brand Immersion experience in Hawaii. I was going to learn about elevating my brand, in shoot, in experience, and in person. Part of this was to have my own photos taken. Where I was excited before, I was INTIMIDATED and scared as I lost control of my body while planning this trip. SO many times I thought about canceling. But she was incredible. “Andrea, how are you going to walk women through their journies if you won't let someone else walk you through yours. You are beautiful.” So I went. 10 days before I left I had surgery to remove the growth and half my thyroid. 3 days before I left, I was told they found cancer. I went to Hawaii anyway.

Lift Your Soul Photo Session, Emotive Storytelling Photography, Woman Supporting Woman, travel photographer
travel photographer, des moines iowa photographer, love yourself, peace

We are in a stage of childhood with our kids where they do better if I don’t call. And with a 5-hour time change, it was very hard to talk to anyone on the phone during my free time. So, for 4 days I had a lot of driving time on this tropical island to think, pray, cry, and create. But while I was there, I was also dealing with not having a functioning thyroid (think no metabolism which also takes away your energy. Think first trimester pregnancy tired, but no date on when it will end and google searches offering hopeless help). I was exhausted, depressed, and anxious about the shoot, but also… I was breathing fresh air, experiencing this incredibly beautiful place, with so much hope for my business as well.

I was so uncomfortable in my skin and this beautiful photographer scheduled me for three photo shoots, which were awesome, all over the island, with families that were wonderful! And then she did my shoot. I tell you what, she sent a hair and makeup person to my room, and I was so nervous and scared. This hair and makeup artist was incredible. She was such a cheerleader, building me up, hyping me up, and listening to my story. When I left, I was READY for this shoot.

Lindsay (my photographer) had told me she's going to have me get in a swimsuit! I was like, No, I'm not!!! But she encouraged me to try it. If I didn’t like the portraits, no one had to see them. So pumped up and feeling beautiful, I showed up, still nervous. But I had gone into this shoot thinking, “Lindsay is an amazing photographer. I hired her for a reason. And I don't like my body because I'm insecure about it, but I'm still going to go and I'm going to trust her to know the angles. I'm gonna trust her to know the beautiful shots. This is what she does! So she's gonna tell me to do something. I'm going to do it with confidence. I'm gonna do it. I am Queen Sheba and I am the most gorgeous girl in the world.” THIS is how I approached my shoot while I was at my lowest.

Andrea Mathes, how to love yourself, God's creation, forgiveness, self-care

I left and I hadn’t seen the pictures yet, but I felt beautiful. I felt empowered. I felt loved and treasured. It was such an emotional journey. I felt accomplished! The next day, as I was in the bathroom getting ready to board the plane to go home, she sends me three images from the shoot. I literally cried because I did not think, at that stage of my life, that I could see an image and love myself. But I was wrong.

I had thought about Lift Your Soul beforehand and played with the idea, but it was there, on this toilet in an airport bathroom, that I realized this is what I want to do. 

A few months later I went to Wyoming for a workshop in emotive storytelling (Nina Turek Photography) and there she had us do some soul searching about the stage of life that we were in. It helped me put into words all the fear that my heart had been living in. These lies I was believing were simply not true. Through this experience, I learned not to be afraid of the raw emotion we need to process to grow. Photographing this raw season is also powerful in the transformation of your heart through the season of challenges you are in. It was here I found grace for myself and hope in a daunting journey through cancer and self-image hate. While I have my days of struggle, there is so much love here. This body brought me through trauma (childhood and disease), through pregnancy, through abuse I put her through. She is thriving and she is worth nurturing, and loving, and celebrating her milestones instead of punishing her for surviving this world and its judgments and illnesses. 

THIS is what I want to invite you on. A journey with permission to not hide from every emotion weighing you down. I invite you to the freedom to acknowledge, embrace, and GROW. You DON’T have to live in despair and self loathing forever. It is a stepping stone out of there, into grace and light. Why do we take the pictures? Girl. To SHOW you. We are blinded to the beauty surrounding us by the judgments we have placed in our fortresses of shame. This shoot is about giving yourself permission to feel and be alive. It will be raw and exhausting, but you will leave changed.

Pella Iowa Photographer, Lift Your Soul Retreats, All Inclusive Retreat, emotional journey, depression, who am I
Be Kind, Cancer Survivor, rediscover you, Who are you, who am I, Mama needs a break

At your Lift Your Soul shoot or retreat,

IT'S important for me to know where you are. There's not going to be judgment. I'm going to ask tough questions. I have had an intense life and I get hardship. I get motherhood. I get relationships. I get the effect of childhood bullying. I understand self-image issues, all of it. I understand and I may not be able to fix it, but what I can do is listen and then when we go and take your pictures. I know my angles. I know my colors. We can find the best dress that compliments you. We can find the most amazing makeup artist to help build you up. Then when you show up at that shoot, YOU get to be free.

JOIN ME in 2024!

April 3-7 & November 6-10