MEET THE PHOTOGRAPHER
"Have courage and be kind." Began shooting at 14, began business at 17 after interning in Chicago. Happily married at 22. Happily mama-ed at 23. Nationwide photographer (originally based in the Washington DC area, but spends most of wedding season traveling), aspiring writer, absolute food maven ("one who is experienced in a subject" - I love to eat and cook and go to restaurants and be in the kitchen and, and, and...). Long summer, but I'm learning to appreciate the other seasons and weathers. Grace. "Life sneaks up on us every once in a while and gives us something we didn't ever know we wanted, and lights within us a love we didn't even know existed." Shauna Niequist
and I'm a third generation Disney groupie. Maybe Disney isn't quite up your alley and you're more of a Harry Potter, or NPR, or M Night Shyamalan, or anime, or swing-dance, or Dave Barry, or Jane Austen or indie music or college sports fan. Why do we love such genres? What makes us a "fan"? I believe we are each moving through life looking for love as we are, not just in spite of ourselves rather because of ourselves. I believe we want to be a part of something more, we want to know 'this' matters somehow, we're not alone and worthless. And we want the courage to live our lives the way we want to, the way we dream. I find camaraderie in spirit with the man Walt Disney, and the stories he's given me.
My grandparents visited Disneyland in July 1955, the month the park opened. Inspired by the imaginative vision, hopeful message, and beautiful surroundings they became regulars. A couple years later the newlyweds were faced with their first heartache: their ten-day-old baby boy died of an undetected heart condition. My mother was their next child after the tragedy of losing their firstborn. "You looked at me, needing me so. Yet from your sadness our happiness grew. And I found out I needed you too." (Good Bye May Seem Forever, The Fox and The Hound)
My mom was born in Orange County, CA and was raised in the west, while my dad was born in upstate New York and lived all his life in the east. Thanks to the Army, American University, and church, my parents met outside of Washington D.C. and married in 1988. I was born a year later, and they went on to have seven children. When I was 14 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our Disney-loving, kick-kickety, affectionate, wonder-woman grandmother had passed away from the same disease a few years earlier. One of my ways of coping with her sickness was to spend my time with the toddlers in our family (Mikey was 4, Shannon was 2, and Lauren was 1). It was kind of my therapy -- they made me laugh, they kept my heart warm, and we all fed each other love. I started to take pictures of them with my mom's Canon Rebel so she wouldn't miss out on all the memories of them growing up. What started as an emotional distraction became a wide doorway for my future. One year after her diagnosis mom was cancer-free and headed into remission. That same summer I second-shot my very first wedding at Strong Mansion, with the Vivitar film camera I had saved up for. The Soul Gong was struck and echoes to this moment.
Years happened and one day I woke up with fuzzy teeth and little yellow crusts in my eyes and that day I met someone. In 2010 I found myself in the middle of one of my "crazy Kristen stories" and was introduced to an Oklahoma country boy on his family's farm. He was the oldest twin of 13 children. Six months later he moved to the East Coast to be with me, and we had more fun than our rosy hearts knew what to do with. Our first date was a picnic at Strong Mansion (and an incident with a cop and mayonnaise hands). Falling in love with him was nerve-wracking, but being in love with him was -- is -- gold. We were annoying goners, gained "happy weight" from all our meals together and life was a bucket of perfectly picked peaches. He asked me to be with him until we died, and I said nothing because I was weeping like a willow. We were engaged during the fireworks display in front of the castle at Disneyworld just two weeks after my mom's breast cancer had returned. "No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true."
Her toddlers were now pre-teens, and her pre-teen was getting ready to be a wife. She took my DIY wedding project ideas with her to chemo-treatments, she made my veil, and we bought my wedding dress together (even though she had to go throw up every time I went into the dressing room). She wore a wig on our wedding day, and waved her sparkler when we left in the limo. Caleb, my new husband, and I had real tears of joy as we tried to process that day. After all the hospital rooms, plans, scares, letting-go, and sacred happiness, we were really married. We danced our first dance to "Tale as Old As Time" from Beauty and The Beast. "The key to all heaven is mine."
Six weeks later I plopped onto my mom's bed with a positive pregnancy test, and nine months later she cheered Caleb and I on as we delivered our son, Rowdy, and he took his first breath of life. We lived in my parents house, and did life with my brothers and sisters and all the friends they brought through the doors, and mom loved on her grand baby for hours everyday. Seven months after Rowdy's birth day, mom died. We cheered her on as she was delivered to new life and sat by her side for her final breath. Watching death happen is life-changing. Living without mom is... there aren't words, but you know the feeling if you've felt it too. We miscarried our second child four months later, after a day as a family in Disneyland. His name is Ryan Day ("Child of The King") and he was 12 weeks old.
2014 was a big year because we also moved from the east to the center of the country, to our home we built in Oklahoma. Er, to the home we're building. Er, to the home mostly-Caleb is building. He's a classically trained violinist who is a luxury home builder (I won the frickin' love jackpot). We named the home "Carolwood," which was the name of Walt Disney's estate in Los Angeles. My grandmother is also named "Carol" and since she was my mom's hero, she is mine too. I hate that cancer has eaten up the women I love most, but I am determined to live in their legacy. And lastly, Caleb is affectionately known as "The Christmas Angel" amongst our friends, who loves all things festive, evergreen, twinkly, cinnamon and joyous. Carols are the season's songs of cheer. We hope our life will be a singing shout from our place in the woods (or wherever we roam).
We love to travel (before Rowdy's 2nd birthday he had flown over 30 flights and been to four countries). We love how moaningly good good food tastes. We love going with the flow, living out of suitcases, and sleeping rump-to-rump. We love our Holy God, especially the freedom we have to ask questions and re-think what we once believed and cry and hurt, knowing we are held by a Love stronger than our rad rule-keeping. We have a gentle, surprising, open-armed King who is comfortable in messy places and loves to give good things, like a treasure hunt. We love being parents and think our kid has done nothing but add to our lives -- more meaning, more laughter, more memories, more strength, more intelligence, more kindness. (His current "new thing" is that when he walks outside he gasps and says "It is beautiful outside, mommo!" even when its grey or cold or brown or muggy. He's, of course, completely accurate.) We love being in our story, we love being together, we love figuring out what we're doing, we love participating in all of this.
"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" (Robin Williams, The Dead Poets Society)
I don't take and present photographs because it's cute, but because I am a Verse Recorder, a Note Taker, a Story Teller, an Artist. You are the sonnet, you are a part of the play, and the times of your life matter. It is sincere delight for me to be allowed to walk into the doors of your world, tap into my heart, and let your joy become mine -- whether it be a wedding, a birth, a high school graduation, or a Christmas card portrait. I know our sessions together aren't the whole story -- the nights without sleep, the gulp in your throat, the lost ones you miss, the insecurities, the numbness -- but I know our sessions are a real, that we are here logging history with a black box and light. It's magic. (Great Scott! I'm long winded.) I believe in family, marriage, parenthood, new starts, figuring it out, I believe in wholehearted relationship, I believe in lasting love and I know awfully sad things happen in those places. But I believe in fighting for the good, fighting to believe that the best is yet to come, that the struggle is worth it, that being known and loved -- and knowing and loving -- what give us life and bring us the greatest joy. So, here's to the grand adventure and all the stories, and hope beyond tomorrow! *clink*
"From the day we arrive on the planet
And, blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding."
(The Lion King)