Friday, October 31, 2014

In which Kaden Isaiah Stone smiled, is loved, fought, and lived :: dallas children's medical center lifestyle photographer

"When destiny calls you, you must be strong.
 I may not be with you, but you've got to hold on.
 We'll show them together, cause you'll be in my heart.
Yes, you'll be in my and forever more."
|| phil collins - you'll be in my heart ||
Last August I received an email from someone I had never met or heard of named Ashley. She was a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Photographer in Fort Myers, Florida with a ministry of sorts called "Ounces of Hope Photography" in memory of her son that passed away as an infant. It's basically a group of photographers who come do photography for parents whose little ones are struggling for life in the NICU. She had stumbled upon my blog posts about my preemie cousin, Atlas while searching for Dallas NICU photographers. She said an online friend of hers named Diana from El Paso had just given birth to a full term, 7 pound, beautiful baby boy named Kaden. Just the previous May, Diana had given birth to identical twin boys, Preston and Julian, who tragically were born at only 20 weeks and lived only a brief amount of time in their mother's arms. Afterwards they suffered a failed adoption before finding out they were pregnant with another son! So Kaden -- healthy, full term, nothing-could-be-more-perfect, never-to-replace-the-twins-but-definitely-a-balm-for-the-ache Kaden was what some would call, their "rainbow baby." His first days were blissful and nothing but a sigh of relief. After so much unbearable pain...he was here. Breathing, living, growing, thriving. Everything was as it should be. But wasn't.
It had been a long, high risk, and very hard pregnancy and yet it appeared nothing had affected this little guy. It was as if "despite it all" he had come out completely and totally unscathed! In fact, though he was in the NICU, it was for precautionary purposes only and they were preparing to go home! It was on that day that through a sudden sickening whirlwind with beeping monitors and doctors with furrowed brows and test results, it was discovered that Sam and Diana Stone's "rainbow baby" had a hurting heart. Kaden’s heart wasn’t pumping almost any blood out of his lower ventricles into his body. While his stats were actually good, the definition of this was heart failure. The doctors there at Children's Medical Center in Dallas were telling them that a small chance that the heart could heal itself was possible. Small, but possible. More than likely they were looking at him needing a heart transplant. Their life with a perfectly healthy rainbow baby had come to a screeching halt and their life with a son in very critical condition was only beginning.
And this is why Ashley was contacting me. Kaden's first days had taken a dark turn and now each day had turned into a tangible and fleeting treasure. She was frantically searching for someone, ANYone to go photograph this precious blessing. This fragile human, this eternal soul, this diseased and tiny body who had a story of worth, and value, and purpose. It needed to be documented...and somehow, through God's Providential means of Google, I was going to be the one to document it. I told Ashley I would be honored, she gave me Diana's number, and within a couple of hours I had arranged a trip to Dallas the next day. He was born on August 5, 2013 and I came on August 17. For almost two weeks, Kaden Isaiah (which means "Fighter" and "God is Salvation") had been making his tiny and yet profound mark on the world and burrowing his way achingly deep into his parent's hearts. When I stepped into his hospital room, it was hauntingly drear and confusingly peaceful. I was stepping on what seemed to be the very balance of life and death and it was nothing less than hallowed sacred ground. 
As I walked in, Sam and Diana's love was a force -- present and palpable, that seemed to engulf the entire room. They had seen the utter depths of each other and  were clinging fiercely to each fiber and heartstring in their spouse. There  I saw them, two people who had been highschool sweethearts, a military couple, parents to a quirky, dinosaur loving, inquisitive toddler aged imaginer named Bella, parents who watched their twin boys take their last breaths, parents who were fighting to cherish their new son who's homecoming trip had slipped through their fingers like sand in a hourglass. They had a bond of tear and bloodstained strength, a cord of love as tough as steel and yet as tender as silk. The weight of their sorrow and tenacity and adoration and fight and exhaustion and desire was suffocating and warm like the thickest blanket on the coldest night. 
Elephants were Kaden's "theme." The plan was for them to adorn his nursery at home, but instead they were found scattered about his hospital room. Wherever they had to celebrate and welcome him during his first days, it would be done. 
The amount that Sam and Diana had been able to hold Kaden since his condition had been discovered had been slim to none. But God, who does all things right, and well, and special, and purposefully had it ordained that the very day I would come to take pictures was a day that they were allowed to hold him. A few days afterwards, I received an incredibly thankful text from Diana who said they hadn't been able to hold Kaden since then and so they were so thrilled that I had been there. <3
Seeing a loving mother with her child -- no matter how helpless, or scared, or confused, or tired, she is -- is one of the most powerful things. In that moment she didn't have to be "Diana the mom who knows everything", "Diana the mom who has all the answers", "Diana the mom who can take her son's sickness away", "Diana the mom who could reverse or erase all the bad happening around her"....she was just, "Diana. Kaden's mom." And that was not just okay, it was enough. And not in a reaching on your tiptoes to brush the top of what you're grasping for kind of a full belly, exact change, perfect fit kind of enough. In fact, even a cup overflowing, abounding, over and beyond kind of enough. Diana couldn't heal Kaden, but she could love him with every breath, and thought, and bone in her body. She could fight for him with every question, and prayer, and "I love you." Sam and Diana made it very clear that Kaden wasn't just "liked" or "appreciated", he was desperately wanted. Their prayers for a miracle were not half hearted but a painful begging and pleading. Their souls yearned for their son to be healed with an all consuming thirst. They sought God in their dark path and clung tightly to him, trusting that His way would be right in the end.
When I came Kaden had already had several procedures to try and stabilize him. For the most part he seemed to be doing incredibly well. he was critical but appeared to be on a slow uphill battle and not a downhill spiral. As the days passed on after I left, Kaden's condition fluctuated violently. It was like from second to second he could be equally as likely to be rushed into an OR for a heart transplant as he would be struggling to live. As I faithfully followed Diana's blog updates, I had a catch in my chest every time she posted. He was being prayed for so hard by so many. They had found out he had a very rare virus called HHV-6 that had caused the heart condition. As answers became clearer, his status worsened. They had their daughter Bella come from El Paso to Dallas to meet her brother. Diana spoke with such reality and honesty about her pain, her anger, her desperate aching for a miracle. She was confident that God was sovereign and had a perfect plan but she was a mother who indescribably wanted this baby boy of hers. On August 26, 2013 Kaden Isaiah Stone breathed his last breath. He passed just as his older brothers had....nuzzled and snuggled in his Mama's arms. He was perfect. He was wanted. He was loved. He was fought for. And yet, he was still gone. But so was his pain. So was his struggle. He had skipped past the veil that separates this world from the next and he left his grieving parents and sister and family behind. His pain was over, but their pain was deepened and intensified. God's plans are not always the prettiest. They are not always the breath of fresh air, the silver lining, the sweetest aroma, or the coziest embrace. God's paths are often rocky -- they tear and bleed and scratch, His paths are often cold -- we shiver and catch fevers and grow numb, His paths are often bleak -- we cry hard, and hurt deep, and misunderstand everything, His paths are often dark -- we trip because we can't see, get afraid of the blackness, feel incredibly alone. But His paths always lead us rushing straight to Him. The rocky paths lead us, banged up and bruised, to Him -- the Great Physician. The cold paths lead us into His warm arms of protection and comfort. His paths of bleakness lead us to His throne of grace and mercy where He scoops us into His arms of love. His paths of darkness lead us to His shining light that drives out all the dark and leads us on to perfect eternal day. 
"He’s no longer a name or an event or an “in memory of”. He’s my little, tiny, 7lb 6 oz son who made noises and looked at me and turned his head towards our voices and had a whirl of hair in the back like Bella did. He had a crib that still sits in the guest room, clothes that are packed away with tags on. He was so perfect, so wonderful, so wanted and loved. We are going to live with this forever. Preston, Julian, Kaden. I will never get over this. I will be an old woman and I will still long for them and what was supposed to have been with their little lives. This isn't me wanting more children or not appreciating Bella – this is a mama grieving for the little boys she wanted so much. I cling to Jesus in these moments...."Thou He slay me, I will hope in Him" - Diana on  what her everyday is like now.
October is Infant Loss and Miscarriage Awareness Month. Today I was on the phone for over an hour with my mother who was weeping. What was on her mind? Three little ones whose name, and sex, and face she never got to know. 9 weeks growing in her womb is something they all three have in common as well. They were so celebrated, and so wanted, and so loved. They were as precious to us in the moment as any freshborn baby is. They were just as appreciated and delightful as any 8 month old I see cooing, being pushed in a stroller that I pass on the street. Their personhood was just as important and real as Kaden's. And though my mother can't put a face to them, she grieves and mourns the loss of each little soul whose bodies were once multiplying rapidly inside her. Our wedding photographer, on May 10, shot our wedding with grace, and professionalism, and personality, and talent, and spunk, and care. 6 days before that, she had given birth to a 14 week old son named Ryan Day who never even took a breath of earth's air. I did not know it at the time, but when I found out soon after, my heart threatened to break in two. I can name woman after woman who I am acquainted with to different degrees who have little ones who are dually represented by a positive pregnancy test and a grave. Today, on the last day of this month, I want to "make a big deal", and celebrate, and praise God, and rejoice over each and every one of these babies. Ones whose eyes only saw their mother's wombs, ones whose eyes opened to Earth for only a short time, and ones who hadn't even gotten eyes yet! From conception to full term, to a few hours on Earth, to a few weeks....these babies have their names written on the hands of God. They have a purpose and a place in Heaven's Kingdom. They are wanted and loved on earth in a small trifle of a way compared to how much they are wanted and loved in Heaven. We might not be able to see why these babies dying was necessary, but I can assure you, these babies living must mean something to their Creator. One day, I have confidence that I will meet my little siblings....I don't know what that'll be like. I don't know what my relationship to them will be, I don't know what they'll look like or how I will even know. But it will be so dizzyingly right that my soul does cartwheels just thinking about it. Much love and prayers to every woman and family that has been touched and affected by infant loss and miscarriage in some way. These tiny lives are some of the best representations for the vapor that this life is. They are never forgotten....always cherished....forever loved.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In Which Hannah + Aaron get married and are a perfect blend :: gilmer, tx wedding and lifestyle photographer

"Love of my life
Look deep in my eyes...
For better or worse
Forever we'll be...
You're my beloved lover
I'm yours"
|| tenth avenue north - beloved ||

In a small country church, a cop and a chef exchanged vows and became Mr. and Mrs. Bradley. This is the wedding story of some of the most caring, kind, softhearted, gentle, and tender lovers I've ever had the honor to work with. 
Aaron and Hannah first spent time together at a Sunday School ski trip. Hannah caught Aaron's eye right away but he discovered she was dating someone else at the time. He reluctantly did his best to ignore his feelings and try to forget her.  A couple of months later, Aaron happened to pull Hannah over for running a stop sign in his area of jurisdiction. (Super romantic right? ;) ) He warned her about the violation and further realized she had an expired inspection sticker. He came to find out a short time later that she was no longer in a relationship. (Hey hey!)
A few weeks later he got a text from an unknown number saying they had fixed their inspection sticker. When he asked for their name he was shocked to get the reply, "This is Hannah!" The girl he was desperately trying to forget because she was taken, was now single, and talking to him! His heart stopped as they continued texting. 
As the months went by, they kept making excuses to see each other and going out of their way to spend time together. As things grew more obvious and teetered on the fence of "just friends" and "more than", he went to her dad and asked for permission to officially begin dating this girl he'd been crazy about for months. Their first date went wonderful...lunch, fishing, and walking for hours. Things couldn't be better! 
But then Hannah went off on a five week long mission trip. Being separated for over a month only impressed upon Aaron's heart how much he cared for Hannah. Every day they were apart, she consumed his thoughts. When she returned they celebrated the 4th of July together. He opened up to her letting her know that he wanted no one else but her. He was 110% committed to their relationship and believed God was calling them past dating and onto spending their entire lives together as husband and wife. 
That day they held hands for the first time. :) 
After sharing their first "I love you"s and their first kiss over the summer and fall, Aaron's mind was reeling trying to plan the perfect proposal that winter. They were going on the same ski trip that started it all at the beginning of January. But his tentative plan spread like wildfire and he was afraid Hannah, who loved surprises, would find out before he was able to pull it off. And so it was, that at a Christmas Eve family get together, he successfully surprised her, proposed, and was thrilled by her resounding YES! :)
And that "yes" lead to this humid August day, with bright gray and blue overcast skies to match the color scheme of the wedding, vibrant greens, an exquisite lace wedding gown (worn by her big sister two years ago!), lots of sweet tears, a handful of cop buddies, and two in love coffee drinkers. 
Hannah's darling sister Rachel (the one previously mentioned), did the bride's hair and makeup. Watching these two giggle and tear up together was priceless. There's something surreal about being there for your sissy on the day you both dreamed about as littles. All the dress up, Barbie dolls, playing house, Disney princesses, and Easy Bake ovens suddenly collide into real wedding days, and strapping husbands, and marriage, and happily ever afters. It's a magical thing for baby girls and grown up girls alike. ;)
This is Noah, the ring bearer and future heartthrob of America. (Don't quote me on this...but also don't be surprised if I end up being right.) He walked into the room, took one look at Hannah and said in a small, polite, and most genuine voice, "Oh you look beautiful. I love your dress. Do you like my suit?"
The diamond necklace Hannah wore proved to be as stubborn as it was stunning. No matter how many times Rachel put it on her, it kept flipping upside down, or backwards, or twisting. Just when they thought they had finally put it on right, it would go askew again. That is until their Daddy, who happens to be a jeweler, came in and saved the day. 
Most little girls think their dad is their hero, but Mr. Shaw was true hero material exactly when she needed it most. And how many dads can expertly help with jewelry? Ultimate cool points.   
Their first look is when I first witnessed Aaron and Hannah's love in action. The minute he turned around and pulled her close with such tenderness, and deep affection, and looked at her like she was the most magnificent thing he had ever seen I choked up. I guess I was expecting him to be a "tough guy" type since he's a cop but, the truth is, when it comes to his bride, he was a "softie" with a bold and honest love for her. It was powerful to watch. 
Throughout the whole necklace struggle, Hannah laughed saying, "It's not like Aaron's really gonna care about my necklace anyway!" Funny enough, after their first embrace, he stood back to get a better look at her and his first words were, "Wow! Your necklace is really pretty! I love it!" Figures. ;)

"I was doing so good! No tears the whole morning and then...I saw you." 

Barefoot bride. Yes please. <3
All her adorable nephews and her one cutie pie niece, Sydni. :)
When Rachel began to pray, she was understandably overcome with emotion. As the tears flowed, words were impossible through the sobs. But right as the lump in all of our throats grew to an unbearable size and our mascara threatened to run, somebody's upbeat funky ringtone crashed its way into the room obliterating the tearful mood and turned all the weeping into roaring laughter. :) 
As the unity portion of the ceremony, they put together a cross...the outside stood for the man and the intricate middle piece stood for the woman. The two pieces were held together by three pegs that symbolized God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 
This moment, right before the kiss...look at them! So overjoyed to be joining as one and beginning their married life, so delighted to wholly belong to one another...this spoke more to me of their love than the actual kiss.
And as they walked down? Aaron had another surprise up his sleeve....
They are a happy pair in the best kind of love. <3
I thought Hannah and Aaron's wedding bands were especially beautiful, and then I heard they belonged to Aaron's great-grandparents who were married for over 50 years. He wanted them as a symbol for him and Hannah to follow in that wonderful example of lifelong love. Then I saw, through tear-filled eyes, that the bands were priceless.
Aaron told me while they were engaged, 

"Hannah is a breath of fresh air on a hot muggy afternoon. She is the sun after months of rain and gloom. I love her gentle caring nature, her chastity, purity, and virtue. I love her sense of humor, her common sense, and her serving heart...

...I love her face and the gracefulness of her neck. Of course I love everything else about her body but her face and neck are my particular favorites at this point in time.... ;)

...Hannah is very well put together and carries herself with grace. I also appreciate her smile."

And Hannah told me,

"I love Aaron's caring and gentle spirit. His selflessness and servant's heart shines out. Aaron is very sensible, but he has a silly side too. He's just the right amount of romantic! :) I love that he makes me feel safe, and he makes me feel beautiful. Oh! And he's handsome too...big plus. ;)"

They are both quite smitten. :)
The dads both gave a charge to and prayed over them. Precious. 
Because the pavement was hot and she was barefoot, he didn't think twice about scooping her right up and carrying her out. Testament after testament of how this man cherishes, provides for, and nurtures his sweet lady.
The final goodbyes to her beloved mama and big sister. She is so so loved. 
Thank you two soooo much for letting me capture your sweet wedding day. I was delighted to share in all the tears, and laughs, and preciousness. Hope y'all have been abundantly blessed in and greatly enjoyed your first months of marriage. 
First of a great many I'm sure! :)