My job is pretty amazing. Last weekend I had the fantastic opportunity to fly to New York City and photograph a beautiful wedding. It was held at one of the nicest golf clubs in the entire United States and every detail was breathtaking. Shooting weddings allows me to witness sweet love between couples and bask in the pride of their parents. Legacy and history is celebrated and I enjoy all of it. It would be easy to begin to see life through rose-colored glasses since I see the sweetest beginnings to many people’s journeys.
However, as much as I long for these moments, something in me also longs for the opposite. I need to be reminded that life is a gift, a very fragile one at that, and that sadness, tragedy and death are also important parts of life. Having both occasions cross my path and filter through my lens keeps me grounded and anchored to the reality of this world.
I began photographing for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep charity a couple of years ago. It is an outstanding photography charity founded by a mother who lost her son shortly after his birth. She recognized the immense value of the few photographs she had of his short life. She along with Sandy Puc began a charity where photographers offer free portraits to anyone experiencing sudden infant loss in a local hospital. I attended a Sandy Puc photography seminar in 2009 where the charity was explained and although terrified, I raised my hand to get involved. http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/
Let me back up the story to explain why I felt so strongly about serving this charity. In college, God blessed my life when he introduced me to Leigh Beggs. She is a funny, vivacious, tell-it-like-it-is but with a sweet south Georgia drawl kind-of-girl. We met in social circles but there was always something magnetic about her. She spoke openly about attending a church on campus and I desperately wanted that “thing” that she had. I had gone to church most of my life but sadly, the words from the pulpit often fell on deaf ears. Reading the Bible seemed like a foreign language to me but Leigh talked about it in such a different way. She sought the Bible for direction, comfort and peace. I wanted to see if I could catch a glimpse of her faith so I attended church with her. Over the next few months at Wesley United Methodist Campus Fellowship, Jesus began to woe my heart. He poured ointment into wounds I didn’t know I had through the teaching of His word. I became so hungry for more. I would carry my Bible with me in my backpack and reveiw the passages we learned that week. Leigh encouraged me to attend weekly Bible study with her and again (pushing down the fear of admitting my blissful ignorance of the Bible), I went. I was amazed at the depth of her knowledge of God’s word and the deep affection she had for Jesus.
Then, after communion one night, she shared her testimony. I remember every detail. The chair I sat in, the way the wood felt against my back and the ache in my heart her words inspired. When she was just a young teen, she had walked in on a robbery in her home. An escaped convict was robbing her house and in his desperation, he attacked her as she entered her home. He cut her from hip to hip and severed her vena cavae. Her stepfather was killed in the struggle trying to defend her and her family. She crawled out the front door and passed out in her yard. By the grace of God, the paramedics were able to save her before she slipped into a coma. The doctors told her she had lost nearly all of her blood in the attack and she might never walk again. She was a middle school cheerleader with so many hopes and dreams. How devastating it all must have been! But, she believed that God could heal her. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and giving up hope, she believed her Heavenly Father could heal her. AND HE DID!
Leigh married a great guy named Chuck just after college. He and my husband, Andrew, were fast friends so we all remained close after college. Leigh became pregnant about 2 years later and that too was a miracle. No one knew if she could carry a baby due to the severity of her childhood injuries. Then, on a cruise, when she was 6 months pregnant, she began having terrible pain. She was flown back to the US but doctors could not stop the untimely delivery of their first born son, McGill. Her body had massive scar tissue that was crowding him out so again, the tragedy came back to haunt them. McGill weigh about a pound and was so tiny. He fought for life for 12 days but the time came for the Lord to call him home again. Through it all, Leigh remained steadfast in her prayers. Her faith did not waiver. She was honest enough to say that if the Lord took McGill, she would still love Him through her grief. There were tears, anger and sadness but above all, tremendous faith and trust in her Heavenly Father.
I attended the funeral then went to their home a few weeks later. I stopped in my tracks when I saw how many framed pictures they proudly displayed in their home of McGill. Even attached to tubes and machines, he was precious. He was theirs. The proudly displayed his photos just as any parent would. I was so moved by their attachment to those images. Even now, since having 3 healthy babies, pictures of McGill remain prominently displayed in their home. Their children speak his name and know his story. Those photographs make him real to them and I know God wanted me to see how those images honored his short life.
Fast forward 9 years, I signed up to be a photographer for NILMDTS. I had done the paperwork but was still freaking out on the inside at the thought of shooting one of these sessions. I had just finished a family shoot with a fun toddler in NoDa when the call came from Levine’s Children’s Hospital. A little boy named Jonathan had just passed away and the family wanted photographs. I had ALL of my camera gear ready and I was only 2 miles away (God made sure I had no excuses!). I called everyone who would pray for me and with shaky hands, steered my van into the hospital parking lot. I cannot explain the wave of grace that washed over me when I entered that room. I had unusual clarity and strength amidst a very sad situation which was just further proof that God was very present. I cried with the family, hugged them, held their sweet boy and provided beautiful images of their baby.
When I left, I called Leigh and left a simple voice mail that I had just done my first shoot and felt she should know that McGill was the reason. His short life prompted me to pass on this gift to other families and I felt she should know that.
2 days later, she called me to say that voice mail meant the world to her. It came on the exact date of the 10 year anniversary of his death. I do not believe in coincidences.
Anchors. He is God and we are not.
Anchors. Even death can be beautiful if we understand that Jesus will be waiting with open arms for the little ones we cannot keep.
Anchors. What a blessing to be the hands and feet to provide comfort and hope to those who need it most.
Anchors. Keep you thankful for all that you have.