My eyes have led me down a path I never thought I would take. Although holding on to memories has always been important to me, I haven’t dreamed of being a photographer my whole life. I have, however, dreamed of keeping my kids small and my vacations alive. I have wished to stop time, to hold on to the moment, to bottle up my kids cute faces or the silly things they wear. To some extent, photography allows me to do just that. It has opened my eyes to a previously undiscovered world. It has allowed me to see the world around me with a deeper appreciation. I am constantly aware of the extraordinary among the ordinary and the beauty in the mundane. I don't see pictures. I see stories ... with both my eyes and my heart. I am a wordless storyteller. Thanks for joining me here.

All Grown Up [Family]

When I was little, I wanted to be the first girl baseball player when I grew up. At the time, it didn't sound nearly as crazy as it does now as I actually type it. I was a tomboy though and I loved competing, and at the time it made total sense.

When I was in high school, I was fascinated by the intricacy of the human body and still had a love for sports and wanted to be a physical therapist working mostly in orthopedics. Our school didn't even have a girls 'softball team so by this time I wasn't even playing softball or baseball.

When I was in college, I pursued nursing because I loved the aspect of getting to encourage and care for other people.

While in college, I switched my major to teaching because it didn't have the possibility to deal with quite as many bodily functions and it allowed me to finish school a little earlier.

When I was nearing the end of college, I assumed I would go back and teach at the same school from which I graduated. It was a small school and we all were family and it seemed natural and very plausible. I hadn't been anywhere else so why would I now?

My plans were not God's plans in any of these circumstances - but going through the motions and figuring out where he wanted me to end up were all part of the plan of growing me into the person He wanted me to be...taking me through the different experiences and the journey that would make up little parts of who I am.

I didn't end up teaching at the school I graduated from. Rather, I was abundantly blessed to work in an unfamiliar environment where God would bring so many wonderful people into my life to pour into me and to teach me lessons I couldn't have learned elsewhere. More on that in a bit....

First I am guessing most teachers don't easily forget their students. We often wonder where they are and what has happened as they grow into young adults. One of the special young ladies I was able to teach about fifteen years ago was Nikita. Here is her sweet little picture I found upstairs in a box with stuff I kept from when I used to teach. Nikita was such a sweet - quiet but silly - girl who always tried hard and was such an encouragement to me...Her mom was often around helping and encouraging too.


It was an honor for me to get to meet her husband and her little girl now...to catch up with her a little bit in this grown up phase of life.
Here are some pictures from our time together. 
(Wait to you see her little girl's blue eyes!)

What a beautiful family. I think she is loved. 

 Here is cowboy...possibly named so to represent the fact he is the size of a small pony! He is quite the handsome dog - a gentle giant!

 See - those eyes!

Nikita, I know life isn't easy. In fourth grade, the challenges are much more manageable in comparison with the challenges we face as we "grow up"... As you get older and as I get older, life throws us a bunch of curve balls and we go in directions we didn't originally have mapped out. I am proud of you for who you are becoming and know that you and Justin will be great parents. And when life doesn't go the way you envisioned, hang in there....Maybe your view is only through a peep hole - a small view of the beauty that lies ahead....when really God sees the beauty of the whole picture and how all of the little pieces fit together to tell your story and my story. So we trust Him and His faithfulness as we continue moving forward.

For me, I could never have envisioned my experience teaching at Royal Manor nor would I have ever envisioned myself as a photographer even now fifteen years later - another story for another time. My experience teaching changed me in deep and profound ways and I always want to express my gratitude for that. 
I learned empathy and discipline.
I learned to appreciate differences and the benefits of healthy boundaries.
I learned about working with integrity and purpose as it was modeled by Mr. Rotella.
I learned perseverance, trust, hope and perspective through Mrs. Wiard.
I learned to laugh and be silly and that it is okay to be creative and messy from Mrs. Filaseta (and some other funny things I won't repeat here!)
Thank you for making me laugh!
I learned to be responsible from Mrs. DeVries and Mrs Magee.
I learned quiet confidence from Mrs. Everhart.
I saw patient endurance and a gentle spirit in Mrs. Block.
I learned strategies from Mrs. Spencer that I use within my own family today.
I learned about conquering fears from Angela W and that life is hard from Talia...I could go on and on. Had I gone the route I planned rather than the one God had mapped out, I am not sure how things would be different, but I am eternally grateful for the experience I had.

If you are in limbo or not sure where your path is headed. Hang in there and hopefully the view from the top will be better than you could possibly anticipate...and enjoy looking back on the good times. It was so wonderful to see you Nikita and hopefully we can keep in touch!

An evening in the Life...{Family Lifestyle]

For me, the reason why I became a photographer is very simple. I didn't grow up with a camera in my hand and huge aspirations of photographing people and things all over the world. It wasn't a dream of mine for years and years.

I simply take pictures to help me remember things I don't want to forget.

I probably have some issues with letting go, but photography in many ways helps me to hold on to things I am not ready to forget.

This is why lifestyle photography appeals to me more than any other type of photography. Yes, I love to have pictures on my walls and archived somewhere of my family each year - everyone with a perfect smile on our faces (because that is so realistic - lol). I DO love to see how we have changed (and how I used to think I looked old and big and wrinkly and now I look back and think I must have been crazy!!!) But I really do enjoy seeing what daily life was like - the highs and the lows...the long days, the fun days at the pumpkin patch, the library and the zoo, the family holidays and first and last days of school, the play dates and friend groups, the celebrations and the hard things we trudged through. 

For this photo shoot, I was super thankful to be able to spend an hour or so with this family during their evening - the time when dad got home and mom was getting dinner on the table....Technically it was more challenging to me than I anticipated, but I hope at least a part of this will be something they will cherish as the days go by and the seasons change...as legos are replaced by video games and Barbie dolls by hair straighteners...as the family walks to the park become heart to heart talks with your teenager struggling to make good decisions or looking for advice...as the daughter in the dress up dress holding daddy's hand becomes the bride daddy is walking down the aisle.

Here is to remembering some of the sweeter parts of life.

His Mercies are New Every Day [Luke's story]

 * Disclaimer ~ I am not an expert on this subject. I haven't had to walk this path...haven't had to deal with infertility, miscarriage or loss. However, I know many people who have. As I share Luke's story, I am sharing it from my perspective and hoping to bring awareness to the subject.

Chances are you know someone who has miscarried or lost a child some time in their life. 
Maybe it was you. 
Maybe it was a friend or relative....
Maybe you read about it on the internet. 

I remember how naive I was when my husband and I decided to have a family. We had worked hard to prevent that from happening, and it seemed that as soon as we were ready to have a child, things would easily fall into place. As friends started the same process, it became clear that I was mistaken. Infertility, miscarriage and loss are more common than my young mind had ever believed.

Justin started working with my husband shortly before finding out that he and his wife would be expecting their first child. They had battled infertility for five years and a miscarriage and were thrilled at the news! Things were falling into place and going fine ..... until an ultrasound close to midway through the pregnancy. This ultrasound revealed that there may be a problem with the baby, but it was probably nothing to worry about. Of course our minds go straight to the worry - no matter how much we tell them not to.

Further testing showed that their sweet baby BOY was diagnosed with something called Potter's Syndrome - a very rare condition. Luke did not have kidneys or a bladder and the prognosis was not good. Babies born with this condition may be born still or might live for a short period of time. Luke may be born very early or they would do a scheduled C-section if he made it far enough to protect his fragile body during the birth.

There were a lot of unknowns. 

[One of the hardest aspects of life for all of us is realizing how little control we actually have. We can do all of the seemingly right things and at times, things still don't go the way we would like. For me, that is why it is so key to know the One who is in complete control and to trust His character even when I don't have the answers and I don't understand.]

Justin and Katie, though devastated, tried to remain hopeful and clung to the Lord. One of the verses that was especially meaningful to them at this time was found in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Here Paul says, "Three times I pleased with the Lord about this, that is should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Once they learned that they may very well not have a full term pregnancy, they chose to get pictures taken to document this time in their fragile family's life. It was, in fact, almost a year ago from today. I think we were all a little unsure of doing this but felt it would be good and was important. October happens to be National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month, which is why we have chosen to share this story now. Losing a child is often something moms and dads face in silence. Unlike the terms "widow" and "orphan," there isn't a term to describe a parent who has lost a child.

Back to October 2014, God gave us beautiful weather on that gorgeous fall day. That was a needed gift. Here are a few shots from our time together. At this point, Katie and Justin had known about Luke's condition for approximately one month.

Here is another verse that had special meaning to them. Lamentations 3:21-25....you can read it above.

Katie and I kept in touch through the holidays and into the New Year. She and Justin enjoyed the times when they heard Luke's heartbeat at the doctor's office, or sweet times of feeling him moving inside...trying to memorize all of those feelings and those firsts. They took Luke to Chicago, to the pumpkin patch, to the zoo and to sporting events. They became experts on the syndrome as well. They found little mercies from the Lord in unexpected paces such as in the MRI machine or at the cemetery picking out Luke's plot.

She was able to carry sweet Luke up to 3 days before their scheduled birth date. In so doing, she also was able to experience labor before being rushed away for an emergency C-Section. I am just going to share some of the photos from that amazing night.

Justin and Katie had a huge support system. What a crowd had gathered and stayed into the wee hours of the night to see baby Luke and to support and love on their friends. Everything happened so quickly once it was determined that Katie was in labor. Her sister in California was unable to be there as her flight wouldn't be getting in until the next day. She was able to spend almost the whole evening with the family via FaceTime though. Sometime technology is a huge blessing. The staff at the hospital were wonderful and super accommodating as well.

Looking at these next pictures brings back a whole lot of feelings for me. 
Katie and Justin are saying goodbye to their family and friends as they head into the complete unknown. At this point, they are praying for two hours with Luke - but with Potter's Syndrome, you don't know if the baby will be born still or will live a very short period of time. As a mom, I cannot imagine watching my daughter go into something that you anticipate to be so painful - that you can not prevent nor fix. [Don't we always want to fix everyone's pain??]

Justin and Katie had to separate shortly while she was prepped for surgery. 

Shortly after, Justin was called back in, baby was born and I followed to see their sweet baby boy being cleaned up and handed back to his parents. He started off a little bit shaky and mom and dad were soaking up every minute with their little guy.

Memorizing his face and smell...how his sweet cheeks felt....his cry....

This picture is another one that gets me. Justin was texting his mom. 
This is the first any of the family was hearing of Luke's birth - the first time they had learned that he was alive and spending time with his mommy and daddy. Below is the first family photo.

We moved in to the room where the rest of the family could join and get their first look at Luke.

The pastor came in to pray with the three of them.

Luke spent more than six hours with his parents before he passed. They had prayed and hoped for two and were given six. 

Katie and I recently met at the cemetery.
I hadn't seen where Luke's body had been buried. When I drove up, I saw a mom sitting on a picnic blanket in the most peaceful setting. It was so quiet, the colors of fall were beautiful....and a big protective tree was leaning over the area. 

Katie reminded me that Luke wasn't there. He was with his Heavenly Father...but it was a special place to come and to remember and to long for eternity when they would meet again. Our days in this world seem so long but are actually a blip in eternity. 2 Peter 3:8 says that "with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years..."

I asked Katie if she had any advice on how to help or encourage someone going through a tough trial like this. The one thing she told me is that it is hard when others say "Let me know how we can help." Obviously with good intentions those words are said, but they place the action point on the person suffering. Now the responsibility is on him or her to figure out how people can help. What is and was most helpful for her was when people just did things....just stopped by or brought a meal....just came over and painted her fingernails or sent a sweet text or made that call to chat or listen....

As I sat in that cemetery I kept thinking how no parent should ever have to come see their child at a place like that. No matter how beautiful and serene - kids are supposed to be running in the yard and swinging on the swings. 

But our hope is not in this world and in the suffering it brings. Our hope is in the One who has conquered death and promises in Revelation 21:4 to "wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore...."

Finally, here is something Justin made with an app....trusting, trusting, trusting in the character of the Lord.

To read more about Katie and Justin and Luke, please visit their blog at Beauty in Brokeness.