Family is everything


I had the wonderful opportunity to speak in Omaha to the Creative Morning crowd and was blown away by how many people came out to hear my story. Omaha is where I grew up and is a place my roots go deep. I was nervous and a little emotional, it was so humbling to be speaking to my ‘Omaha Family.’

During the Q&A at the end I was asked a question I am asked quite often.

“So, what’s next? What’s your next big project? What’s your next big dream!?” 

I know the expected answer is something crazy and along the lines of, “Climb Mount Everest!” 

It was nice to see people nodding along in understanding as I said, “I have some exciting projects on the horizon but my big dream is to be able to find balance, to establish a more consistent base, make more time for friends, family and relationships and to be the best auntie, sister, daughter, partner and mother (someday) that I can be. 

My goals and priorities have shifted to make that dream come true and be the best version of myself that I can be. That means setting goals in every aspect of my life, Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Relationships and work. To see people react with so much understanding made me feel comfortable and at home. It made me proud of where I come from, proud of my roots.

Find your tribe or tribes, nurture those relationships and allow them to be your support system. ‘Families’ can be present in your life in so many ways. From my tribe and coaches at the gym, to my immediate family, to my friends scattered all over the world I’m constantly made to feel at home, to feel the support when I am away and a strong sense of community. This is my saving grace when I am on the road so much for work.


I started to write this blog over 3 weeks ago, the day my parents messaged me to tell me that their neighboring towns of Waterloo and Valley had been told to evacuate due to the floods and they were trying to decide what to do. They asked me what I wanted them to grab if they needed to leave. I didn’t feel urgency or seriousness at the time of that conversation but said, “Yourselves, the dogs and my hard drives.” I store everything in my closet at my families home and my bedroom their has been the most consistent base I’ve known over the years apart from living there when I would visit between projects and during the holidays.

A few hours later my parents drove over to check the levy by the river and after seeing how fast the water was rising as well as hearing that 3 out of the 4 roads to their house had been closed they decided to grab the last road out of their and head to my brother’s house and called me to tell me that they had evacuated. I was relieved to know they were safe. The pictures started dinging on my phone of the roads and it just all started to feel surreal.

The next morning a neighbor who stayed sent my parents a photo of the house, water was up to the window sills on the lower level and the fields behind our home were now lakes, the road to the house covered in water. Arial shots from the next day showed the devastation across Waterloo, Valley and the surrounding areas. It showed us the damage to our community. It was hard to grasp what you were looking at. Miles, upon miles of water where there should be dry, open farmland. Communities underwater. Roads completely covered or destroyed immediately but the force of the raging river.

I flew home to be with my family and what I saw from the window brought tears to my eyes. It looked like I was flying over the ocean into a coastal town, not Nebraska. We were able to get access to our home a few days later, assess the damage and begin the clean up process. So many memories and things had to be thrown away. The whole time I was throwing away things I was thinking about how lucky we were. We still have a foundation and although the damage was enough to have to gut the whole basement, loosing all of the furniture, beds, we fared better then others who have lost everything. I have not shared my story until now because I was feeling guilty that we fared better than the families I was spending my days with who lost so much more.

A friend of mine I haven’t seen in 10 years reached out to me and came through town, just when I really needed it. I was feeling pretty disconnected because I have been living and documenting the flood on the ground, with the families and from the sky and what I was seeing daily was tough to stomach, yet nobody around me seems to understand how bad it is. She spent the day with me, documenting alongside, meeting with a few of the families and helped me to manage my emotions to be able to do my best for the families that are allowing me into their lives to document such a sensitive time.

My heart goes out to my parents who have stayed positive through some pretty tough weeks. I am so proud of them. Being displaced and unsettled isn’t easy on anyone but they’ve made the most of their time with family, with their grandkids and focusing on the little moments. They have had a great crew helping them with the clean up and rebuild and I’m so grateful for the love and support they have gotten. Please understand this is still an ongoing process and any message of support to them is appreciated.

The strength and determination, the help that I’ve gotten from so many that I just met or haven’t seen in years has just blown me away. The spirit, the hugs and tears, people helping people, it’s just been incredible to watch and to feel the love. This road is going to be a long one, the clean up will last for months. Now that the waters have receded the real work begins and we all still need a lot of help across the heartland.


Mike Brownfield