A Shadow for a Day.

I have these friends who are AMAZING photographers. This spring, they graciously allowed me to shadow them on a few weddings here in the area. Aside from just LOVING being with them, I learned a ton.

These are a few of my favorites from the first wedding I attended. One valuable lesson that I gleaned, ironically, did not come from my friends, the photographers. It came from the bride. I told my friend, Jen, near the end of the evening that when I grow up, I want to be like Kelley.

Her special day was far from seamless, but she took it all in stride. She was truly a beautiful bride in every sense. Not just outwardly, but she also exuded poise and grace from with in that shows up in every photograph.

See for yourself….

Brookstone School: Sowing Seeds of Wisdom

Monday was probably my favorite day of the summer thus far, because I was able to spend some time at Brookstone School in order to take some photographs of their summer camp. If you are unfamiliar with this beacon of light located off of West Blvd, you should really spend a few minutes getting acquainted with its mission, because it is beautiful.

As we move through life attending to its daily, immediate needs, it can be difficult at times to look up to get a view that is outside of our natural sphere. And even if we look up, there is always the question: what could I do to make a difference?

In 1996, a group of citizens from different backgrounds did indeed “look up” and joined together to found a non-profit Christ-centered school in Charlotte’s urban core.  Their passion was to give hope-to be the ‘seed of difference’ for low-income, minority children.

Brookstone School opened its doors in 2001 with grades K-1. They expanded to K-6 in the fall of 2011 and are now on the road to their K-8 goal.

Having various friends who are board members, I have heard about this school and its progression for years. But, it was not until this past week that I got a chance to see it with my own eyes. They run outreach camps to the community during the summer months which promotes literacy in the morning and various enrichment activities in the afternoon.

This past week, a church from Davidson came down to run a VBS music camp for the kids. It was amazing to watch.

I think my biggest take away from my time, which is not earth shattering by any means, is that adults, whether young or old, really do have the capacity to make a difference in a child’s life. It was fleshed out right before my eyes as the teachers, administrators, and camp counselors gave their time and energy for the life of another who really needed it.

 

A Memorial Memory and A Childlike Faith

I feel like the Lord is constantly teaching me through my children, and I can choose whether or not I am willing to listen. It was 7 years ago that my oldest bravely walked me through a valuable life lesson. It happened on Memorial Day, which is fitting since I always seem to need reminding.

My girls were 7 and 4 that year, and we decided to spend the holiday with my grandmother who had recently been admitted into a nursing home. It was difficult for me to visit her there. Just opening the front door and encountering the aromas was an act of faith due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get past.

I am claustrophobic and being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety inside of me. So, in order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory nerves before I entered the building. I essentially told my brain that what it was taking in was false. That way, I would not and could not smell any thing which created a new reality for myself and for my nose.

It is kind of like a super power.

We pulled up that Memorial Day all fairly chipper, and I remember helping my young ones out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s before hand and picked up some Frosty’s. Since my Memaw was unable to get to this favored treat herself, we thought we would just bring it to her.

I was a bit distracted walking through the parking lot as are most mom’s with young children. I was watching them while simultaneously looking for cars. Feeling like we had made it safely across, I lifted my head and almost bumped into a man wheeling a gurney out of the side door.

Startled by his presence, I pressed my daughter’s little hands into mine. He pulled up as well, and his eyes grew very large as he took in the sight before him.  He was a mortician and was wheeling out a resident in a body bag who had recently passed away.

He looked at me and then to my young children. He mouthed very shaken, “I am so sorry.”

I looked at my children. My youngest had her eyes on her cup of ice cream, but my oldest looked up at me. Then I followed her eyes to the man and then to the gurney.

I don’t know if you have every experienced looking into a child’s eyes that were registering an acknowledgement of something, but clearly did not understand what they had taken in.

That was exactly what I saw in Maggie’s eyes. It was a type of horror confusion.

The gentleman waited for me to act, and I said the first thing that came to my mind. I faced him and whispered, “Just act natural.”

He nodded, managed a sympathetic smile, and motioned for me move on a head. We had to walk around him and his work to make it to the side-walk. We proceeded to the front gate where I let us in to the patio. I was cussing myself and the situation when I heard my oldest say, “Mommy, what was in that shiny sheet on the wheelie bed?”

“We’ll talk about it later honey,” I said. “Let’s go see Memaw because our ice cream is beginning to melt.”

We walked through the front door, and like clock work, I turned my brain off to the smelly realities.

The rest of the afternoon my daughter followed me around like a shadow. She asked me once again what it was that the man was pushing in the ‘shiny sheet.’ I brushed her off saying that we would talk later. I was too busy and needed her to run along and play.

At that moment, I had absolutely no intention of telling her the truth. I was not going to lie to her. I was just going to wait until she forgot about it.

That night while washing dishes, I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and there she was once again.

“Mommy,” she pleaded. “Will you PLEASE tell me now what was in the shiny sheet?”

I sighed and knew that this conversation had to happen. I dried my hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. I turned her chair to face mine and noticed her feet were still unable to reach the floor. They swung back and forth as she waited expectantly.

Her smallness and innocence filled up the room as well as my heart.

“Maggie,” I said no longer able to run away from her, “What do you think it was underneath the shiny sheet?” I of course was using her description of the body bag.

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it quickly. She sat still for a moment thinking and then confessed, “Mommy, I don’t want to say.”

That was the moment when I knew that this conversation needed to happen, and I was so thankful for her courage to pursue an answer.

“I know you don’t honey,” I soothed. “But I need you to try to use your words.”

She was quiet and then whispered, “Mommy, I think it was a person.”

I was so proud of her. “You are right, Maggie. It was a person,” I said. “A person who had died.”

She looked at me and with all that she could muster said, “Mommy, I did not want that to be what it was.”

I smiled at her. I looked into her eyes and said, “I know honey. I didn’t either. But, you are not doing yourself any favors by disconnecting this(pointing to her brain) and this(pointing to her heart).”

She nodded with the understanding of an aged soul.

“If you do it too many times, they will have a very hard time talking to and understanding one another,” I said. “They will get to where they will not trust what the other is trying to say.”

She nodded that she understood, and I really think that she did.

I told her she was very brave and thanked her talking to me about something that was hard for her.

“Your welcome,” she said, and hopped down off the chair satisfied with the truth.

I on the other hand sat in the irony of the situation. That is giving advice to my child that I often do not heed myself.

What exactly did I mean when I said that it was important for her mind and heart to be connected?

Isn’t one of my super powers the ability to disconnect? To not feel. To not smell. To not see.

I realized in that moment, that the parent was learning from the child. I watched her the rest of the evening. She was relieved and also at peace with the truth, even though it was a HARD truth that she would have preferred to edit.

I longed for that type of peace and rest.

I smiled and knew that my girls were going to teach me more in the end than I would ever teach them as long as I could try to stay connected.

Candidly Speaking: The Pay Family

My friend Sarah has many talents. For starters, she is the graphic designer who put together our new business cards. My husband and I are very excited (and a little proud) to  hand these out to interested parties.

I for one have never had any reason to try to communicate myself visually on a 3.5″x 2″ piece of card stock, and I felt a bit intimidated by the prospect.  There is something very special about requesting such a service by someone so skilled but who also knows you well, and I feel like she really captured me.

Another one of her gifts, though she may not readily recognize it, is that she is a VERY good teacher. She is forgiving and patient and kind. When discussing her family’s photography session, she said that she wanted mostly candid shots. Ironically, the week before this conversation I had set out to read and study up on a more journalistic approach to photography.

I have always loved pictures that tell a story, but I am one who is more skilled in portraying those types of moments in written verse and not with an image. This was exactly what I needed. A family that only wanted what I longed to dive into. My excitement grew and my uncertainty lessened.

During our session though, when little boys were running around in bubbles, making swords out of masking tape and an uprooted branch, or racing each other on their scooter’s, I became doubtful.

That was when Sarah encouraged me by saying that these where the things that she truly wanted captured.   So I prayed, paid close attention to the action, snapped my shutter a ton, and I had lots of fun doing it.

I loved learning about the Pay boys. I met Joe and Sarah after they were newly married but have not had ample time to spend with their children. I saw that all three of them stick their tongues out when they are heavily concentrating. I can now tell you which one enjoys art, which one likes to line up his toys while playing, and FINALLY I can now point out someone else whose favorite Superhero is Batman. We are so far and few between.

I learned SO much that evening, but what I will take away is the fact that my friend believed in and trusted me when I did not believe or trust in myself. I find that very valuable in a person.

Here is a sneak peek into the life of the Pay Family, where they value play, action, creativity, laughter, discovery(hello very strange and cool moth), togetherness, and fellowship. It was a delight and blessing to witness their love and commitment to one another.

The Men in Her Life

I confess that I always pictured myself as a boys mom before having daughters. I grew up a professional grade tom-boy and just assumed that my home would be filled with  lots of testosterone, sports equipment, and skinned up knees. Instead, the Lord saw fit to line my walls with books and fill my halls with violin music.

I adore having daughters, and I would not trade my girls for anything. But in the spring, my desire for a son tends to wake up. Incidentally, right around the same time as Major League Baseball’s opening day.

When my lovely friend told me that for Mother’s Day she wanted some photos of the men in her life, I was very happy to oblige.

I had not spent a lot of time with her husband or sons before this shoot though I have known her for years. She is one of the most delightful women of my acquaintance, who is tack sharp in intellect and humor. I enjoy being around her, because I know that she will make me laugh but will also be very genuine in her care of me.

Happy Mother’s Day, friend!

A Love Note From Above.

This morning, my youngest found this note tucked into a book that I received at my last birthday party. It has been on the shelf for 13 months, until she decided to read it yesterday.

Lovely, in light of yesterday’s post.

I’m overwhelmed right now with how the Lord uses people to speak truth into our dark places. Even if they are no longer with us.

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses….let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, despising its shame. Now, he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Heb. 12 NLT

The Birthday Girl

(*photo by Eugenia Grow)

It had everything one might expect to find at a birthday party. A string of colorful balloons and streamers lined the front porch. Two young girls in fancy dresses pranced in and out of the front door like wild ponies full of excitement as the guests began to arrive. There was a “do it yourself” Mojito station, a lovely catered dinner with all of the fixings, and the infamous “Carmel Cake” was displayed in the dining room.

It was a perfect setting that lacked only one thing. The Birthday Girl. And we were all missing her.

It has been almost 8 months since Sydney passed away, and her husband Todd had graciously opened up his home for an evening of celebration and remembrance. He has been amazing through this entire journey. As a confessed introvert, and contrary to that nature, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing and blog.

Now, he opened up his home( and Syd’s closet:) which provided everyone with an opportunity to stop, to feel, to laugh, and to cry. We were celebrating her birth, but more importantly we were there to commemorate the life that touched us all so much.

After dinner, the sharing began. Todd started the round with a hilarious story about his wife, Sydney. You can read about it here.

As the stories progressed and more people began to speak, my husband leaned over  and asked if I was going to share. I shook my head and whispered, “No. I just don’t have any words right now.”

This was true concerning that particular moment, but it was also the case for my life over the past 6 months.

At the realization of my long season of silence, I got uncomfortable and very wiggly. I am known to lots of people by my words and by my laughter.  Both of which could be induced by my quiet relationship with Sydney.  So I decided to try to find her.

I quietly slipped out of the living room and went to visit Sydney’s closet. It was just a small window preserved so that we can still get a glimpse of the whimsical, intrepid dynamo that she was because so much of that was displayed in what she wore.

I stepped into this portal and immediately teared up,  but I also felt very happy. How can you only be sad standing amongst Sydney’s wardrobe and jewelry? All of the colors, the boldness, the patterns, and the style encapsulated her free spirit. It was like walking through a field of wild flowers.

I looked at some of her favorite books and necklaces. I ran my hand across her shirts and giggled at all of her silly, printed t-shirts and four pairs of the same running shoe. And then I saw them, the very large, but simple turquoise earrings. I moved in for a closer look.

Last spring, Sydney walked into my birthday party at Cantina. That may read as rather uninteresting. But, it was a miracle that she was there and that she was walking. She had been in a wheel chair for months, and we all doubted that she would ever regain her footing.

When I opened her gift, I found myself an enviable recipient of a “Sydney Original.” She had made me some earrings, and I was very touched by how well she captured me. They were small, subtle, and very delicate turquoise earrings.

Standing there in her closet, I realized that she had the same pair, only her’s were larger and more dynamic. She had made me something of herself, but had adjusted it to fit me.

I had found some words.

I quietly walked back into the living room and rejoined the group. I still did not know if I would share, but at least I felt more connected to the evening, to Sydney, and to myself.

***This is what I wound up sharing. I am writing it out as requested to be placed in a book for Todd and Sydney’s children:

“How I Met Your Mother.”

I knew of your mom through church. I say that only to communicate that is where I recognized her from the day we actually met in an Old Navy.

You have to know that your mother was a special kind of “lovely crazy.” I do not mean that she was unbalanced, for she was most certainly of a sound mind. But, she would get SO excited about something, throw caution to the wind, and then chase after it with both hands. That day, she was excited about me.

As I was walked around the store, I noticed that every where I turned, your mom was right there. Finally, she popped around the corner and said(declared:), “Hi. I’m Sydney Gaylord. I heard you speak at church a few months ago, and I really want to get to know you. I really want to be your friend.”

I was startled, but mostly I was just deeply touched. Your mom had no idea of the kind of day that I was having or the darkness that I was being called into for redemption’s sake. But God did and here was your mom, a sun burst of beauty and light declaring me worthy of pursuit.

I smiled at her and said that I would very much like to be her friend.

A few months later, she invited herself over to my house for lunch. Again, I was very startled but in this context, I was also intimidated. I knew that your mother had refined tastes and lots of experience with dining. I don’t cook and my home is very small and humble. But, my insecurities were outweighed by my desire to be with your mother.

She brought you two girls,(this was before your brother was born) and you played with my daughters. You were SO engrossed with Maggie and Emma because they were “big” girls. You played dress up and played with the ‘misfits.’

I fixed your mother a grilled cheese sandwich, which I scorched,  to go with our tomato soup. She sat in my kitchen and raved about the meal as if she were being served at the White House.

After we finished eating and had shared some of our stories, your mother got up and began “snooping” around.

You will hear this often pertaining to your mom. She had an unquenchable thirst when it came to finding out about something or someone. But it never felt obtrusive to me, only loving.

Well, maybe it felt a little obtrusive when she opened up my freezer and pulled out my 5 lb bag of M&M’s. But, after she turned to me and said, “Now, I love you even more for having this kind of stash,” I realized that she was a safe, kindred spirit.

When it was time to go, she gave me a hug. That was when she saw a few photographs on top of my bookshelf. She picked them up and began rifling through them. (read *snooping) She stopped at one and said, “What is this?”

I looked at it and responded, “That is a photo I took of a hydrangea bush just beginning to bloom.”

“It’s amazing,” she said.

I looked at it again.

“Really?” I doubted.

At that point my husband had come home from work and had joined us.

“Really?” he echoed. “I’ve never thought much of it.”

I looked at my new friend and smiled. “Sometimes,” I said, “We have to outsource our encouragement.”

She threw her head back and laughed deeply and unabashedly.

She asked me why I took the picture.

“I liked it because Hydrangea’s can grow on dead wood. In this moment, it still looked pretty lifeless to me against the pine straw with only a few little green leaves poking out. It is a picture of where winter and spring meet. It is a picture of hope.”

She was quite. Then she hugged me again and told me that I take great pictures.

About a week later, I got a call from your mom asking if she could have that photograph. She said she needed something for a class that represented “hope” to her and wanted to use it. I felt touched and was happy to give it to her. I scribbled a verse on the back and wrote “to my new friend, Sydney.”

A few months later, she gave me this.

 

She found it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me and the “hydrangea of hope.”

Now it sits in my kitchen window as a daily reminder that no matter how long or barren the winter, spring always follows. Your mother staked her life on that truth and now needs no daily reminder. She is living in the proof.

This was one of the many things that I loved about your mom. She believed by faith that in Jesus, hope can always be found if one only took the time to look.

That was what she did with me one day in a store, and with countless other people over the years. This was one of her special gifts to a hurting world, and it will never quite be the same without her.

(*taken at your mother’s grave the day of her funeral)