June 22, 2023

Globe-trotting Alum Shares Stories of Healing – Including Her Own

Carley Summers

PBA News

Photographer and interior designer Carley Summers wanted to create something different from a typical interior design book – something more meaningful than “Oh, I bought this little piece in Paris, and put it in my breakfast nook.” So four years ago she began searching for unique homes whose owners “had walked through incredible trials, turned those trials into victories and designed their homes to be personal ‘sanctuaries’ of healing.”

Summers included her own home, and her own trail of trials: sexually assaulted as a teenager, alcohol and drug addiction, two DUIs, nights in jail and rock-bottom self-worth. “I was broken and in need of a home,” she said.

Sacred Spaces Book Cover

Today this Palm Beach Atlantic University alumna has a lovely home, celebrated on the cover of her just-released book Sacred Spaces. Some 250 of her color photos grace the pages of the book, along with Summers’ interviews of homeowners who share their stories, and with Carley Summers’ testimony of how God restored her. Samples of reader comments demonstrate the impact Sacred Spaces is having:

“This book is brimming with heart and healing, and it is a moody, visual feast that will leave you feeling full in the best way possible,” wrote Justina Blakeney, designer, author and founder of Jungalow.

“Come for the beautifully stunning interior designs and stay for the heart-warming, motivating stories of healing and triumph,” suggested a Good Reads reviewer.

In a recent telephone interview from Greenville, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Jon, and their young son, Summers talked about her journey. It’s a “long and winding road” that led to a publishing contract with Convergent Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House that also includes authors Jon Meacham and Philip Yancey.

She started college at a much larger, state school, but dropped out under the grip of substance abuse. Her long-praying mother, interviewed in Sacred Spaces, cherishes “the victory of you falling to your knees in the kitchen the day you finally agreed to go to rehab.”

After rehab, Carley Summers served as a missionary in Haiti for six months. “That’s where God totally, like healed me up,” she said. When she began to consider going back to school, her rehab therapist (a PBA graduate), told her, “If you want to go to a small, but really fun Christian university, you should look at Palm Beach Atlantic.”

She liked what she saw at PBA, but thanks to her earlier days of partying at college, her GPA didn’t meet the mark required to transfer. “I’m just going to take a chance,” she thought. In her admissions essay she shared her painful story, with brutal honesty.

“It makes me teary-eyed to think about it,” she said: “They saw the potential in me.” She got accepted as an art major, and began her next season of restoration.

“PBA was just really redeeming,” said Summers. “I met my best friends there.” (Among those friends is California-based professional photographer Christina Cernik, who took the author’s photo.)

“And the way the professors cared for us was very healing,” Summers said. “I could tell they prayed for us and cared about our future.”

Being several years older than the entering PBA freshmen, and having learned much the hard way, she invited girls to her apartment for a Bible study. She shared with them her favorite Bible verse, 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Summers told the freshmen, “Your past does not define you, but it refines you.” She shares that same message today, in her book, and in Bible studies she continues to lead for female college students.

After graduating in 2014, she worked at Christ Fellowship church and did photography and design on the side. As her business grew, she took a leap of faith, resigned from the church and dived into photography and interior design full time. About two weeks later, she got an opportunity to fly to Morocco to style and photograph for a designer there.

Doors of opportunity kept opening, and globe-trotting Summers developed a reputation for creative design – not just from her skillful eye, but from her tender heart. As she traveled, she discovered subjects for her book.

In Sacred Spaces, “you’ll meet 16 remarkable people from around the globe,” she wrote in the introduction. “You’ll hear their stories of beauty, trials and victories that prove the power of what a true home can offer – a space to be known, held, kept safe and seen as fully human and fully loved.”

Former PBA professor John Sizemore shook his head in admiration, but not surprise, as he read the book. He recalled how years ago he and his class watched and listened, spellbound, as they experienced Summers’ multi-media presentation for the course Digital Photography.

“Beginning with that exam-day project, and now refined in this magnificent, one-of-a-kind book, Carley shines wonderfully with her artistry, her vision and her heart for people,” said Sizemore. “Sacred Spaces is not a coffee table book. It is a powerful example of redemptive storytelling that will inspire a multitude of readers around the world.”


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