By Owner and Founder, Mikayla Dawn Chaparro
I’ve always had a resilient, fiery spirit in me, and had already overcome a lot from having a daughter at 16 and various childhood trials. I’ve basically done everything before I knew how to do it, and done everything backwards in life. That includes having children, starting a family and business, owning a home and finding my faith.
My husband Justice and I married very young at 21 & 22. We were young, dumb, broke and clueless.
I became pregnant while engaged so our lives were already on the fast track by the time we married with one on the way, and a 5 year old daughter.
We married in May of 2014, and later that same year I gave birth to our precious middle child, Natalie.
In December, 3 months after having Natalie, Justice surprised me with my first-ever digital camera for my birthday over a warm bowl of Tikka Masala at my favorite Indian restaurant.
Little did I know, this would be a gift that would forever change the trajectory of our lives.
When I had Natalie, we both decided it was better for both of our girls, that I stay home for the first year.
So I quit my dental office job, and we survived (barely) as a family of 4 on Justices measly $14/ hr salary.
But with all my new free time at home with a newborn, and my natural tendency to not sit still- I began to fiddle with the camera he gifted me for my birthday.
Soon I was posting photos to facebook of the kids and getting requests to come take family photos for other people for $25, $50, even $100. To us- this was a LOT of money back in the day and it got my wheels turning, “what if I could make this a business?”
With my gritty determined personality, and desire not to return to have to return to a job I hated, I quickly took the possibility and ran with it.
Within a year’s time (and having ANOTHER baby- our son, Beckham) My business was fully operational and making more money than both of us ever had combined. Soon, Justice decided it was time to quit his job and join me in an entrepreneurial journey and started his own videography company, Jude and Jael Films.
For 6 years I ran a busy, thriving business. I built my following on social media by sharing my work, success, travels, and funny clips of home life. I was quickly thrust to the top of the industry and we were being hired all over the globe to document weddings and elopements. From Paris, to Mexico, Jerusalem to Hawaii. We were far surpassing any idea I ever had of what life could look like coming from being a lowly teen- mom nobody.
All of this came at a time in society where working women were being idolized and instagram was full of pages and phrases telling me I could have it all as a #bossbabe #mompreneur. I worked long hours at home, and though physically present with my children, mentally- I was miles away in my own land of empire building.
I soon began teaching; coaching other photographers and business owners on how to replicate our success. We were thriving and living the life of the glamorous hustle.
That all changed in 2020. Like most, our life was flipped upside down by the pandemic. And on top of the world going up in flames, I also found out I was expecting another baby. A baby who we would later know as Valor.
With the newfound stillness with everyone being forced indoors and shutting down business- our once thriving busy success now looked a lot more like anxiety and fear than glamorous.
Many weddings were canceled, people stopped investing in business education, and we lost much of the work that we had scheduled for that year. The overwhelm of being pregnant and debilitatingly ill with HG, mixed with tensions at an all-time high in society- I began to unravel. I was forced to surrender to something that held more control than I did.
Before I ever asked him to, God began uprooting the hustle mentality in my mind, and began painfully revealing to me parts of life’s garden I had long since abandoned. He began to show me the overgrown weeds in my parenting and marriage. He began sanctifying and humbling me through my own inability to produce or provide like I had done for so many years prior. He began breaking my heart over the things in our world and society, and he began asking me a question I had silenced my entire life… “What do you believe? What do you truly believe? And does your heart and life reflect what you say you believe?”
Slowly but surely, the soil of my heart began to soften and change as he began pruning, planting and sowing painfully within me.
In October 2020, in the midst of the chaos, I gave birth to our fourth child, Valor Monroe.
After my mind’s awakening that year, he felt like my first. For the first time, my heart was truly opened and awakened to the greatest calling of my life through Valor’s birth; motherhood.
Many things began to change within me during his life. I was totally and completely fixed and focused on him and my other children. All my desires for them and what I felt my role was for them shifted. I desired to be more present, but I still had this business in the background that began requiring more and more of me again in order for us to survive.
Quickly, I found myself wrestling again with work and where the desires of my heart were really asking me to be.
Suddenly, when Valor was 6 months old, I got saved.
I had grown up in church and around christianity my entire life- I had worn the Christian mask, claimed I was a Christian, but had never truly known what exactly I believed or ever took the time to really dive into the search for truth. I had never had a true conversion. But I didn’t know that, until the true conversion took place.
One day, unexpectedly, and in an unlikely way in my own house, – the mask came off, the veil was lifted, and the scales from my eyes were removed and my faith became my own. I had been born again. It wasn’t a sinner’s prayer I prayed, or a rededication of my life, or baptism or powerful worship experience. It was as if it happened to me, abruptly, suddenly and without really me doing anything. “I once was blind, but now I see-” is the best way I could put it into words. There was no denying it.
The next week, rapid spiritual warfare started happening to us as a family. A series of life blows sent our family through what felt like a field of landmines attempting to obliterate us at every turn.
But because of my newfound personal faith- I stayed buried within the word trying to listen to the truth and holding on for dear life.
On the surface we looked like we were fine, but behind the curtains our family was facing horrendous warfare and coming close to desperation. Our marriage, our family, and our lives were all under attack.
I almost regretted for minutes at a time, that I had become a true Christian at all.
I thought to myself “at what cost? Was this really worth it?”
And then I remembered the new testament reading I was devouring for the first time in my life and Jesus’ words comforted me. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?” Mark 8:36
It felt as if some kind of alarm had gone off the moment Jesus saved me- to alert the spirit realm to try to take us out. But what good would it have been for God to leave my life alone, if it meant at the end of it, I lost my soul? Now I truly understood why the Christian life is equated to war.
We held on, and slowly but surely, some of the waves seemed to calm over that summer and allow us to catch our breath.
I still didn’t know what to do with my business, as it was causing a lot of overwhelm internally and externally. I felt called to be more present at home, but I still had a business to run and a family to provide for, bills that weren’t go to stop for me to figure it out- and no backup plan.
As I wrestled with what to to with business, Valor was still nursing and wouldn’t take a bottle or pacifer- so he came to every wedding and traveled all over the country with us as work never slowed down.
In August Justice and I had another out of state wedding, and by God’s grace, we were able to take the entire family and my mother in law on one big family trip to Florida. That would be our first and last vacation as a family with Valor.
The kids experienced the beach for the first time and swam in the ocean. We watched Valor crawl in the sand and laughed as he loved the way the warm sand felt on his soft belly. We took them to sea world, Volcano Bay waterpark, and so many other wonderful places. We were blessed with so many good, lasting memories that we made while we were there. God knew we would need them.
The next month, On September 23, 2021, a week before Valor would turn one, Justice would put Valor down for a typical morning nap on a very typical day, nothing out of the ordinary.
I would walk in an hour later to wake him- and find him lifeless in his crib.
I will spare the traumatic details, but we ended up in the hospital over a period of 37 hours, identical to his birth- to say our final goodbyes to his body on earth.
That day shattered us in ways unspeakable. Whatever people imagine it to be like losing a child- it is that bad, but magnified by the infinite.
The day he died, my husband found a set of perfect monarch wings outside the hospital on the sidewalk as he paced. He put it in his wallet. Our friends traveling from Austin found a monarch in their bag when they loaded up the car and brought it with them. When someone was getting clothes from our home to bring us at the hospital, they saw two outside our house. When we left to go home, it was a full monarch migration starting on the very day we lost him and so the butterflies invaded our lives and story and became a symbol of hope, promise, and comfort to us. We knew, like the monarch, Valor had been transformed into a new creation. One we won’t get to see until we cross over the veil that he did that day.
Our family walked an unimaginable road of pain, despair, and self destruction before God would start to redeem, rebuild, and lead us on a path toward healing.
I had spent years in a work mode mentality as the main income provider for our family. When we lost Valor, I also lost my identity right along with him… I truly didn’t know who I was anymore. And I didn’t know how or if I could ever return to work when I felt like I had completely had all life and beauty snuffed out of me. The thought of returning to anything that was a part of the life we had before we lost Valor- made me physically ill.
By God’s grace, our story went viral on social media and countless friends and strangers gave generously to us in our time of need. And because of this significant financial padding, for the first time in all my life – I was able to rest. I did not have to work. Or hustle. Or show up. Or grind. Or figure it out. I simply allowed myself to disintegrate like the chrysalis in cocoon before metamorphosis. I let the fire that was lit, burn it all to the ground.
After months of stillness, I began to slowly start thinking about work again, knowing we would soon run out of a way of paying our monthly expenses. Justice and I pondered what exactly it was that God would call us to. We knew for a fact it wasn’t to resume our old life and ways of operating. After all, I had prayed for a long time even before losing Valor- that work life could pivot somehow so my life could more align with what I felt God calling me to. Suddenly, through Valor’s passing, I was given keys to a door that would open up a different life for us.
The thought about returning slowly and just taking on less than I had in the past, crossed my mind. I did have weddings coming up that I was contracted for- and I didn’t want to let more people down by not showing up. I thought, “It’s been long enough. I need to get back out there to regain some type of normalcy.” But I also knew my personality and worried once I started taking on work again, I wouldn’t know how to shut it off.
Then, God planted another unexpected seed in my life… and womb. 8 months after losing Valor, I became pregnant again. This time, with a daughter.
So in the midst of our grief and trying to glue our lives back together, I became severely ill with HG and other health issues again.
Once again, I was forced back down, into my bed, and into a position of total dependence on God.
Because I was so ill with HG, I was forced to find photographers to cover me on the weddings I was supposed to shoot while I was ordered to be on bedrest and struggled with heart issues caused by the only medication that kept the vomiting at bay. So I had to stop that medication- which left me with no other choice than to surrender and let the HG take it’s toll.
It was in this debilitating state, when new life that was being woven inside of me, that I really took a hard look at what God was doing and I clearly heard him say
“It’s time to surrender this. It’s not the role I have for you anymore. I know you like control and you think only you can provide… but what I have for you…. is so much better. For you. Your family. Daughter I am trying to give you the desires of your heart. But you have to let go and fully surrender…not just part of your old life, but all of it. I can’t hand you what I have, until your hands are empty.”
And so I did. Tearfully and finally willfully, I laid it all at his feet and said , “Take it all, just give me you.”
It was after this abandonment of my own will, that the Lord gave me the name Dawn Photo Co. and told me the exact people to ask to be a part of it, and he asked me to lean in and trust him.
I approached the photographers I felt laid on my heart and pitched them the idea of shooting and being the artists, while I and other team members ran the business- so that I could be home, and I could answer the call I felt God was laying on my life. And in turn, their God-given gifts in art and photography could be used as well, without the overwhelm of running an entire business. They thought about it for several weeks. And just when I was getting discouraged and thinking maybe I had imagined in my mind that God wanted me to to do this- I got confirmation from all of them on the same day within the same hour that basically said, “we’ve prayed about it and we’re in.”
And so Dawn Photo Co. was born.
It is a concept I have felt God call me to for so long, I just didn’t know it would be possible.
It’s a place where I hope we can all serve our first mission field; family… AND people as the worthy image bearers of Chris we all are- without having to sacrifice one or the other.
It’s a place where I hope anyone that ever becomes a part of this company can be richly blessed by both renewable and nonrenewable resources: Finances… and time. I had seen this industry first hand promise the finances- but in trade for my most precious resource; time. And spread me so thin I wasn’t able to give my all to my family, spouse, or other callings God may placed on me.
It’s a place where, instead of a single limb, we operate as a body. An entire body can serve so much better, go so much further, than just one arm could. My hope and desire is for our clients to experience the benefit and be richly blessed by the product we are able to produce for them with this way of operating.
And someday… I hope the fruits of the success of this company, will richly impact this city in ways I couldn’t have ever dreamed of doing when I was just on the mission of building my own empire.
While we are so excited to see what God does with and through this company and the members within it, I have learned to hold it all loosely, trusting that Jesus has far better plans for our futures than we can ever possibly comprehend. I’m just taking one step at a time in obedience, for as long as he holds this door open.
Sometimes it requires a complete surrender of the comfort and stability of what is or has been, before he will open the doors to His sweet, loving, merciful new beginnings He has for us. But those… are always the ones worth the wait.
Welcome to the dawn of this story’s unfolding.
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