essays

My Best Life

 Shooting on farm with sunflowers and toddlers...this is my best life.

Shooting on farm with sunflowers and toddlers...this is my best life.

Right now, I am living my best life.

Wait...I take that back.

I am living my 95% life.

The reason for the 95%...because I always hope there is room for improvement. I hope there is always space in my life for the phrase, "I can do better." If I think about it, that IS my best life. Always striving for something greater. Otherwise we become complacent, right? We become comfortable. And that is where we stop growing.

I have had an amazing year this past year. I have worked in situations I only thought would exist in my dreams. I have worked with clients who share my vision and style. I have worked with missions that I truly and whole-heartedly believe in. I have photographed things I only fantasized over. I have told stories and taken photos of people, places, and things that make me pinch myself in hopes that I really won't wake up from this incredible dream.

I never thought the possibility was real for me to live my best life. Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing. I believed I wasn't enough - good enough, strong enough, thoughtful enough, skinny enough, pretty enough. But somewhere deep in my soul, I believed there was more waiting for me. There was a little ember of hope burning on my belly, not put out by the wet blanket of self criticism. I believed those dreams could actually happen. I stopped hearing the voice that said "give up...you can't do this." I leaned in to trust. I leaned into the fear. I pushed through. I gave it one more try.

Every day I wake up and am happy to do what I do. Don't get me wrong, this is still a job. It has it's moments. And it has come with it's own set of massive sacrifices (ohhhhh...the sacrifices). But I am happy...at least 95% happy.

It has taken a long time to get here. I have made mistakes. I have lived with crippling anxiety and depression. I have failed miserably...wow, have I failed. But all of that has brought me to this place where I can appreciate the complexity of what makes life feel good.

Will I screw up again? Most definitely. Will I be afraid and paralyzed? Absolutely! Will I know how to get up and dust myself off again? You can count on it!

Today, I am opening myself up to possibility. The possibility of hope, failure, success, despair, highs, lows. All of it. Because without all of that, I am not growing or challenging myself. I am not changing. I am not moving forward, knocking off that last 5%.

But if I have to be honest, I will be happy to settle in where I am... Always pushing. Always dreaming. Never settling.

 

 

Cultivating Kindness

tomato

Today has been an awfully hard day. The biggest mass shooting in American history just happened. It seems a little disingenuous of me not to mention that out of the gate. People are hurting and in pain. Even the ones not related to the shooting or the victims are carrying a burden today.

And yet...

And yet, all I can think of – all I can muster up the strength for today - is love and kindness. All I know how to do is to give love somehow. All I can say to everyone I know - whether I know them or not - is that I love them. I love them DESPITE our difference of opinion in gun control. I love them DESPITE the fact that we grew up so very differently. I love them DESPITE the fact that I don't know them.

I find that, generally speaking, this is all we ever need: someone to love us, to hear us, to see us. Right where we are in the present moment. And that requires us to get up close and personal with each other. It requires us to get to know one another on a fundamental level. Moreover, it requires us to get to know ourselves on a fundamental level. Live with our truths and speak them. It requires that we live with them, side by side, day in and day out, and accept them for what they are.

I struggle with stating my truth sometimes. Like many of us, I suffer with I-wonder-what-they-will-think-of-me-itis. Will I offend them? Will they "unfriend" me? Will my business suffer because of this? I become the Switzerland of social media. Not commenting. Not voicing what I feel in my bones. Perhaps my silence is not a sign of passivity. Maybe it's not because I feel powerless around you, but more because I feel the visceral contempt you have for my political beliefs is the opposite of that which I seek: LOVE. TRUTH. BEAUTY.  KINDNESS. COMPASSION.

So now each day, I start there. I start with Kindness. I begin with compassion. I seek out love and belonging. And then I let it take fire. I spread it around however I can. Is it perfect? No. But it's a place to begin... a place to breathe into.

_________________________

I woke up this morning feeling helpless for the world. People were already arguing on Facebook about our President reacting or not reacting. They were already slinging insults over their rights for guns and their panic over gun control as they watched their kids walk into school, some wondering if they were safe today. Was it going to be their baby next? Their concert going teenager? The conversation was already heavy. And I hadn't even had a cup of coffee.

As I sat in traffic after dropping my tired and grumpy teenager off at school, I took a giant deep breath into my heart and I let it go. I envisioned micro packets of love and kindness riding dancing around like little dandelion seeds. They circled me, my car, and swirled around outside of me into the universe, dropping microdrops of love everywhere. Maybe they landed on the grass, or a windshield, or just floated aimlessly up into the sky. Dancing freely, looking for something to plant themselves into...looking for fertile ground to take root.

 

Breathe.

reverb yoga

Working as a full time photographer is not for the faint of heart. With long (and very odd) hours of shooting and hauling gear around paired with even longer hours of sitting at a desk editing photos, it can be taxing on your body. Big meetings with board members, cancelled conference calls, and some seriously cut throat competition in the world can only add to the stress of an already taxing career.  On top of this, there is gear to keep up with, technology to sort through, and a craft that requires a lot of your heart and soul and energy.

In order to show up for a demanding career (and let's face it...life as a full-time, single parent), I have learned over the years that I have to show up for myself first.

Let me be clear for a moment.

I have lived under the notion for years that the only way for me to be a successful photographer or designer (or anything, really) was for me to work so hard at it that I had no energy left for anything at the end of the day. I was collapse-into-bed-tired all the time. And for a long time, that worked...to a degree. For 15 years of a career on my own, I hustled and hid behind a shroud of what I like to call "bizzyness." During that time, I had a toddler to manage by myself, 2 dying parents to tend, and a sister who passed away somewhat unexpectedly. Needless to say, I crashed.

A few years after my sister died, I bottomed out. Around the time of her death, I hit an all time low. It crept in slowly at first, like a rising tide. And then suddenly and swiftly, I was pulled under. I was depressed, anxious, sad and suddenly - alone. And I didn't know how to fix it this time. I was left with no energy to face the dance of each day, let alone a career I had worked my ass off to establish.

My body, mind, and soul was forcing me into a stillness I hadn't known before. I had no energy for anything. So I listened by being still and listening. And in that space, all I kept hearing was "This plane is going down. Put your oxygen mask on first, Libby."

The interesting part is that the oxygen mask looks different for all of us. It's disguised a little. My mask won't fit you. It only fits me. It fits me in the shape of getting right with my body, mind and soul. It fits me by shedding layers that don't belong to me...they belong to someone else.

Truth be told, it simply boils down to the essential practice of self care, doesn't it? Practice....because it takes a lot of repetition before you actually see results. It's like weight loss and skin care and anything you do to shed the layers or transform yourself. It's a practice. A routine. And it's life saving.

So if you are bizzy, or busy, or anxious, or depressed, if you are looking for an answer or a way out of your current situation, or if you just need to regroup...Stop. Pause. And put your mask on first. Because truthfully, the main thing you need to do is to slowly catch your breath and pull that oxygen mask over your own face first... and breathe.

Just breathe.


If you need help, someone to talk to, or just have questions about what all this looks like for me, please feel free to reach out. I am not going to sell you a product or sign you up for anything. I am just here to share my story and journey with anyone who needs help.

Fly your own plane.

When I was a little girl, the only religious teachings I can remember were those from the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull that my mom used to read to me at bedtime. At that time in my life,  the book felt mind-numbingly boring to me - a then 4 or 5 year old little girl. But try as she might to give us some spiritual guidance, it just wasn't getting in.

Or at least so I thought.

Honestly, the book is a really interesting fable of a seagull bored by life's conformity and the daily grind of finding food. He needed more out of life and for him, flying was his passion. Unlike the others scrounging for food, all he wanted to do was to soar easefully above the clouds. He was a different soul - an outcast in a world that just didn't fit him.

As this little seagull soars to new heights, he transcends some of these earthly ideals and finds himself in a higher level of existence. As he climbs higher in the book, he climbs closer to his true self, and closer to his purpose.

My mom and I rarely spoke of religion or God. We didn't speak of setting goals or moving into a higher level of anything. But somehow, this book - despite my toddler sized boredom with hearing her reading it each night at bedtime - is something I have returned to in my life over and over again. Maybe it made an impression on mebecause it was so significant to her. Or maybe it's message of pushing boundaries somehow seeped into my being. Regardless of how it got there, somehow it got in. And to this day, this book something I refer to time and time again.

Out of anyone in our little family, I veered off all the prescribed paths. I did the unexpected. I kept trying to be the person the world expected me to be, but it never quite fit - like a pair of tight underwear, it just wasn't comfortable on me.

So away I fly (in my own plane, as my brother-in-law says to me all the time). Up in the sky. Working hard each day at being the person nobody expects me to be. But just seeing the world below from this deep and endless blue sky.

"You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."

 

Getting Balance

  My awesome spring break view.

My awesome spring break view.

I had a shitty "spring break."

Let me explain...

Like many of you, I have a school-aged son that was on spring break last week. We don't have a lot of spare cash these days, so a trip was not happening. Instead, I thought of the bright idea of camping for a few days in the mountains (something I have actually only done once in my life...smart thinking.). We set our plans and started the wheels of our camping trip in motion.

Of course, life being what it is, the universe had some other plans for me. Or maybe I wasn't fully committed in the first place. But my plans changed course somewhere the week before. Some great, unexpected work came up. My teenager had some specific ideas about his social plans. And then I slipped into saying yes to far too many things I didn't want to do. So our camping trip got cancelled, I worked a lot, and then became an unpaid Uber driver for my son in my spare time.

As the week progressed, I started to get increasingly more frustrated. I was mad at life...mad at myself. I felt trapped and owned by some imaginary rules I had set up for a life that I was supposed to live. And it only got worse as I scrolled through social media to see friends enjoying Caribbean vacations, European adventures, and good old US road trips. What's worse was that I knew in the truest part of myself that I was the one responsible for the way this week was panning out.

When I started to reconcile what was happening and got real with myself, I realized a few things.
1. I was in desperate need of a break.  I work weekends a lot. And when the typical work week rolls around, I am usually still working. While I do set my own schedule and have lots of freedom to make appointments and go grocery shopping at odd times, I tend to still feel like I need to be getting work done during the Monday-Friday, 9-5 hours as well. To top it off, I was going on weeks of constant work without a break. I needed a change. 
2. I was telling myself a story that wasn't real. Not everyone I knew was on a spring break vacation. In fact, I knew more people that had to work than those that did not. Spring break trips are a luxury, not a right. And I needed to hip check myself on that.
3. I was feeling sorry for myself. And that wasn't allowing me to live on a higher "vibe" - if you will. I was sulking and wallowing in self pity instead of changing my reality. Once you change that, everything changes. Literally...everything.
4. I wasn't seeing the amazing opportunity around me. I live in a place with abundant beauty. I am 15 minutes from the beach on a good day (5 minutes from one of the most gorgeous parks in the world). I have gift certificates to 5 local restaurants. I have a sister with a pool in her very own backyard. Enough said.
5. I wasn't saying "NO" enough. Not to my son. Not to his dad. Not to friends or neighbors. I was doing things I didn't want to be doing. I was creating my own misery and my own sense of disappointment.

Once I started seeing all these things, I began changing my story. I planned an Easter Brunch to see family I hadn't seen in months. I went to the beach. I watched the sunset. I played with the dogs. I went for a walk with a friend and talked about some amazing topics like meditation, family, and life changes that we are both on the precipice of making. Once I took the wheel back, I lived in the presence of joy and gratitude instead of wallowing around in my own self pity.

The best part of this shift is that it only takes a moment to change your mindset. For me, it finally happened when I got real with myself and realized I wasn't listening to my inner voice saying - SAY NO...YOU NEED A BREAK! I was trying to please too many people - clients, family, friends, neighbors. I wasn't voicing what I wanted to do. But once I finally followed through for myself (albeit with begrudging sighs and protesting from my teenager), everything shifted. In that simple moment of saying "This is what I want," I stopped being a victim of my circumstances and started taking care of myself. I started enjoying where I was in the moment.

  Squad. Goals.

Squad. Goals.

  My heart and soul got some much needed beach time too!

My heart and soul got some much needed beach time too!

  Beach time with friends where I mixed in a little work with a little pleasure.

Beach time with friends where I mixed in a little work with a little pleasure.

  Looks like they #brunchedtoohard.

Looks like they #brunchedtoohard.

 

Sometimes saying what you want isn't about being selfish or narcissistic...it's just about taking care of yourself. Simple, kind gestures that say "Hey wait...I'm important too!" Make yourself answer the call to do more for you. You know when the teeter totter of balance of your life looks like a chunky kid from gym class is sitting on one end with sandwich and a Snickers bar laughing at you for being trapped way up there. Take control back. He's not in charge.

Just get some balance.

Floating with faith

“Faith is not a club to belong to, but a current to surrender to.” 
Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

Faith is elusive. It's slippery and sneaky. It changes on a dime and curves in ways you would never expect. It looks calm and peaceful as a still river on top, but underneath is a roller coaster of twists, turns, dips and loop-dee-loops that you could never calculate looking at it all from your perched perspective. And just when you think you have caught up with Her... there she goes, slipping gently away again, just out of reach.

But maybe...just maybe...we are fighting too much against this current of faith. Maybe we are so used to fighting for a breath of air or struggling for our very own survival that this becomes our focus. We put our energy into staying above for air rather than floating with it - even if that means having to go under for a while. To surrender feels a lot like giving up or giving in to some of us.  We want a guaranteed outcome...a perpetual happy ending. 

I don't think faith is about the ending, though. It's not about surviving. It's not about gasping for air. It's about surrendering to a place you are destined to be. It's about flowing with the current rather than swimming against it's power. It's really just about trust.

So take a deep breath and jump in. Surrender some of that power you fight for.

Just give in...float... surrender.

Your Landmark

sheldon church

A few weeks ago now, I was on a shoot out of town and decided I was going to make a stop on my way home at these old church ruins that are a historic landmark here in South Carolina. It's something I have always wanted to see for many reason. The Old Sheldon Church ruins still stand today after getting torched/gutted twice over the course of history. What remains is a historic landmark - a time marker for us to only imagine what things were like then.

I mentioned to a friend that I was going to stop here and his prompt response was "good luck...that's the most over photographed place in the area. And I have never really seen a photo that does it justice." No pressure. Just a reminder that there would be no way I could do the place justice photographically. It's not my job or anything....

As I approached the grounds with minor photographic trepidation , I sized up this spot to see if I could, in fact, do it any justice. History buffs reading placards, families photographing their holiday cards, couples on engagement shoots, and art school girls working on a project were all scattered around the historic grounds trying to get in their shot, making it difficult for all of us to get in anything decent without existing in their photograph forever. I shuffled behind columns and into corners to avoid being a photobomber in someone's Christmas card this year. I certainly didn't want to be commemorated in an engagement shoot of someone I didn't know.

When I finally stopped worrying about how I was going to actually get the shot, I stepped into the space and really started letting myself think about the place. I immersed myself in the experience (which, by the way, is what any good photographer tries to do). I wondered what it was like in the 1700s sitting in a service there in the middle of August, sweat dripping from the minister's chin as he preached about hellfire and damnation. I thought about families draped in their holiday best coming to remember their Lord and Savior for Christmas service on a chilly winter day. I thought about the pews and the people and how they must have even gotten there. What was the Lowcountry like back then? Especially so far out of the way of everything? How did they dress? Was it hot inside? Did the windows open? Was there somewhere for a fire on chilly days?

When I found myself immersing myself in this story is when I realized something: it really didn't matter what my picture looked like. I was here, thinking...wondering...filling in gaps. I wasn't taking this photo for anyone but me. I wasn't going to sell it or get it published or have it lauded in any way. What it was, for me, as most photographs really are, was a record of a moment I was spending there. It was a memory...and just like this landmark served as a historic spot for people to commemorate something, so would this photo.

Photos are just that. They are visual landmarks of time. Go through the Facebook albums of any close friend and that's what they are. Are they always great? Probably not to you. But maybe to the person who took them. They are special memories created for you, by you to remember life. That's all a photograph is in it's raw essence.

Each one of us were there to capture our own memories - or those of someone who wanted the moment captured for them (the reason you hire a photographer is you need something done that you can't do on your own.). Each one of us were clicking away on our phones and mirrorless cameras and DSLRs for our own purposes – just like every photo we take. They are ultimately for the person who takes them.

So stop worrying if your photo is okay. It's okay. It's just what it was meant to be: Your memory. Your milestone. Your landmark.

On Unbecoming

  From my shoot at Bray's Island, SC with Garden & Gun this month.

From my shoot at Bray's Island, SC with Garden & Gun this month.

Today, I embark on my last scheduled shoot of the year. Now, normally I don't think much about this sort of stuff. But, you see, this year has been a little different for me.

This year, I took chances. I tried new things. I showed up when I didn't want to and exploded through boundaries I didn't know I even had. In this, a gentle but noticable transformation has taken place. Each small thing that has pushed me out of my comfort zone helped me to grow more. Each task helped me achieve something I didn't know was even possible. Each milestone and marker in the grass meant I had overcome something a little bigger and better than the last time.

Even when the chances I took were small and unassuming, the change was still happening inside. Little by little as I pushed through hurdles and boundaries I set for myself, an unfolding started to happen. I was unbecoming. This process has been a gentle teacher. This journey has been a peeling away of label after label, costume after costume, until I showed up stripped down to my real identity. I was unbecoming someone I thought I was. I was becoming the real me.

The unbecoming of the old me into the new me has been the best part of this journey. I am not saying it was easy. The good stuff never is. But each time I did something I never thought was possible for myself, labels started to fall away from me like water off a ducks back...rolling delicately one by one onto the ground below me and splashing into a puddle at my feet until I was ready to fly away from them all.

So each shoot became a milestone - a virtual marker in my journey back to me. Each phone call I received became an affirmation that I was, in fact, on the right path. Each compliment I heard made me sink into the new labels I was creating for myself – capable, strong, brave, worthy, talented.

Photography is a hard business to be in. It's competitive and cut throat. It's not for the faint of heart. Someone is always out there with better work, a bigger portfolio, top clients and fancier shoes. But honestly, it doesn't matter. None of it matters. Because ultimately, the competition you are holding yourself up against is you. The person you need to show up for each day and do better for is you. Competing with other photographers isn't worth it. Compete with yourself and your vision.

So today, as I look back at this past year and realize I have ultimately accomplished everything I set out to do, I will let this job be a swan song that will lead me into next year and propel me even further to my goals and farther from that person I never really was to begin with.

In plain sight...

little treasures

If you spend anytime on the beach, you spend time combing the shores for little treasures. Conch shells, sand dollars, and still in tact bi-valves are always fun to come across. But the real treasure lies in finding the sharks teeth along the shores. They are like tiny little treasures from the sea just waiting for your magical eyes to find them.

Shark teeth seekers are easy to spot on any beach - a slow meander while hunched over looking at the ground, occasionally flicking things around and letting the rubble fall away.  There is an apparent gift in combing for shark teeth that I have yet to master. I have tried all summer to find one and have yet to be successful. But there are some that come by this gift naturally, as if the Universe donned this gift only to them - the special ones.

Each morning I stop off at a little cove in Charleston called Sunrise Park. It's got gorgeous views and is a great place to start my busy day. As I was combing the beach this morning, I kept discarding piles and piles of shells. I sat, hunched over, sifting through the sand handful by handful, looking for the tiniest teeth out there. It was a hugely unsuccessful effort. Discouraged, I gave up.

As I sat there watching the sun come up, I got ready to gather my things. I looked down at the discarded pile of rubble when I noticed something. No...not shark teeth. But in the rubble were a million little shells - broken, crumbled, and beautiful. Shells I had never noticed here before. Little lettered olives. Tiny bi-valves. Itty bitty channeled whelks. And tiny banded tulip shells. All there right in front of me. All discarded because I was so fixated on finding something I thought I wanted...I thought I needed.

I got to thinking, maybe this is true for life. Maybe we are so fixated on the thing we are looking for that more often than not, we are discarding other beautiful opportunities that are right in front of us just waiting to be seen. We walk through our days so concerned with the one thing we don't have that we don't see all the other small things right there in plain sight.

Photography is all about seeing things. It's about waiting for the right moment, the right light, the right angle and they right timing to see what you came looking for. And sometimes in the course of this, you end up getting something totally different but equally as amazing. Like an unexpected gift in the sand, you always get something great. You just have to be open to all the possibilities.

I may not have the gift of the Shark Teeth Seekers. But that's okay. For now, I will sit back on the shore and admire them from afar. I have other gifts. I can see things they don't even know are there.

Gifts that are right there...in plain sight.

Underneath the costumes.

trick or treat

When you wear your vulnerability on the outside, your days can be a real struggle with balancing how much or little to reveal about yourself to the world. For me, this is a daily challenge. 

I am, in the deepest and truest form of myself, a very vulnerable human. I tend to wear it loudly. Knowing how much to reveal about myself is both a struggle and a gift. Most of the time, I look for the safe places - like the well-lit, pumpkin carved houses on Halloween night...they look warm, inviting and cozy from the outside. But often those same character traits are harder to see in humans. We don't wear our acceptance on the outside all the time. So many days, I just find myself trying to blend in in this world.

The problem with blending in for me is that it becomes as obvious as a glittered princess costume on Halloween night. I can't hide that it's really me under here. My authenticity has a way of stripping me bare and revealing who I really am to the world in the same way you can see that those trick-or-treaters are perhaps not TRULY superheroes just because they are wearing the shiny, glittered costume that says so. Those costumes show the world both what we are hiding from and what we dare wish to dream to become. We end up revealing a little too much in the hiding of our authentic selves.

We train our kids when they are little to dream big and for a moment let them become something they are not. But is that the right thing for them to learn...to cover up who they really are? Why can't they go as their authentic selves? Why can't we trick-or-treat as the vulnerable versions of who we are? "Trick-or-treat!!! I am feeling down and scared of my life today. I hate my hair and my boss is mad at me again....can I have some candy? Or should I just toilet paper your front trees since you aren't going to help me?" This seems like a much better idea than covering up our truth, hiding who we are struggling to get away from by throwing a super hero or (even worse) princess costume on ourselves.

Now don't get me wrong....I admittedly love seeing the kids run from house to house in their best costumes on Halloween night, proud parents standing at the street, sugar high kicking in right on my front porch. I love that people go all out for something - decorating every surface of their homes and selves for a cause. It seems to be almost spritual. But I can't help but wonder if we would all be better just presenting our authentic selves out there instead of the pretend versions we send out into the world every day. I can't help but wonder what all this covering up is for in the first place.

The world isn't made for vulnerability. So I will keep trying to blend in. And I will keep failing miserably at it. Because in truth, I just can't help anymore but to be who I really and truly am. Fully me...even under all this costuming.

The Gift

my little backyard

When I need to regroup, recharge or just or restart myself on a new track during the day, I often come out here on my back deck and look at this view. I take a long, deep breath and pause to find 3 things I am grateful for so I can continue on with my day - hopefully a little lighter than when I started.

Mostly, this is an easy task. But in the past few years, I have struggled with some serious stress and hardship life decided to toss my way. It has made it excruciatingly hard to be present - particularly when your heart is not anywhere near you.

So what about those days when it IS difficult to find balance. What about those days that are hard and complicated and confusing? Or the days that are filled with angst and frustration? How do you find gratitude there? How do you look to find your happy place in those moments?

Honestly, some days I just don't. Some days I just fail miserably. And those are the worst days. But the best part is that I am trying. I always try to find the joy. It's a practice we all work hard for most days.

So I keep showing up here...on my porch. Some days, I have a tea and a smile and so much gratitude my heart could explode. Other days, I am pacing with anxiety or on the verge of tears. It's always different, just like each unique day. The point is, you have to always try. You have to keep showing up and without letting the present get away from you.

So I will keep showing up...right here on this porch. I will keep looking for the present within my heart while seeing the gift of what is real right in front of me.

The edge of things

pluff mud

For those of you unfamiliar with pluff mud, it's been described as "the slippery, shiny brown-gray, sucky mud, with a distinctive smell like none other, of the tidal flats and spartina grass salt marshes.  Unpredictable in its sucking power, when you step in it, you could sink up to your ankles, or up to your knees, or even to your hips.  And if you sink up to your knees, you can pull yourself out, but do not plan on retrieving necessarily your shoes unless they are tightly laced."

Pluff mud is designed to trap you...suck you in and not let go. It's what borders us from the solid ground we are confident from which we safely stand and the fluid waters that will whisk us swiftly away from everything safe and secure and known. If you think too much, you'll get stuck there. You will be left trapped in the in-between, struggling to free yourself from a losing battle of man vs. mud.

Like any difficult edge, pluff mud is tricky to navigate. And it's always deeper and wider than you expect it to be. The struggle seems deeper when you have sunk hip deep in the sticky, silty, sucky mess. But you can get out. There is a way. You just have to make a choice. You can crawl back to the safe, dry land or float out to the unpredictable currents of water that can whisk you away to new places...parts undiscovered by your soul.

The choice is yours.

The balance of Christmas.

christmas

We live a humble Christmas here. There aren't many of us and I would much rather have a trip or an experience than a gift any day. Don't get me wrong....there are plenty of material gifts given to my son and other friends and family. But Christmas morning isn't the over-the-top extravaganza I grew up with.

This year, I struggled a bit with the expectations of the holiday. I wondered if it was enough. I worried about the gifts I gave - were they nice enough? Would they be liked? Would everyone be satisfied with their bounty? After setting everything out under the tree in the wee hours of the morning, I looked at the scarcity of boxes and thought about other homes overflowing with everything they could ever need and want...and then some. I took a photo of the sweet silence you experience after it's all done - tree gently lit, presents thoughtfully placed, stillness all around. Like many of my friends, I posted the photo to my personal Facebook account wishing everyone joy and peace and love. The first comment that came was about the amount of gifts (or lack thereof). Meant to be more of a wish for them rather than an insult to me (they have 3 kids, I have one), it was still extraordinarily humbling.

Immediately, I went into a tailspin of inadequacy and panic. Putting the brakes on that mental conversation was difficult, but somehow I managed to stop myself. My son had everything on his list. Every item had been purchased by me. Every. Single. Thing. Not to mention his 24 day advent calendar - filled with little treasures and special Christmas activities for us to do together. Feeding the Birds on the Winter Solstice. Going to the county park to look at the Christmas lights. Baking cookies. Eating breakfast for dinner. Game night. Favorite movie night. Donating to those in need. I had made our Christmas as special as I could while honoring the season.

Honoring the season isn't really that hard if you think about it. This is the season of love. The season of giving - not of gifts, but of ourselves. It's the season of extraordinary faith - where we love whole-heartedly those things we can't see and believe in things we can only hope for in our hearts. It's the season of time well spent and moments of caring. It has nothing to do with the boxes, bows or bags. This is a hard lesson to remember in our hyper-materialistic, I-want-it-now culture. And it's even harder to learn when your holiday was paved with those material rewards. What I really wanted growing up was to bake cookies with my mom - not get scolded for eating them before Christmas morning. All I ever really wanted was to go sledding and decorate our gorgeous home and look at all the magical Christmas lights around the town we grew up in.... and yet, at the same time, I wanted the stuff. So I recognize the precarious balance of Christmas with a child.

This balance - this internal struggle - will always be there for me. Always. It's a balance between giving and receiving. A balance between gracious and humble. A balance between love and faith. There are so many lessons in this magical season - whether you celebrate it or not. Mostly to me, it's a great time to pause and remember the magic of what it means to give all of yourself to something through nothing but faith, hope and love.

Whatever you parts of the season you leaned into, I hope you celebrated big, enjoyed a feast, and found some light and love this holiday. Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays.

This is depression.

benji lee

I recently got to shoot some very special portraits for a music feature in the Charleston City Paper on local comeback musician, Benji Lee. The weird part, however, was the shoot and the article really weren't focused at all on his music, his drumming, or even his comeback to the local music scene. The article focused acutely and specifically on his depression.

In my all-too-short time with Benji, we were on a fast track to get to know each other (shooting editorial will do that to you). I don't think there would have been any other way for either of us, though. We became immediate friends. I picked Benji up north on the peninsula of Charleston and we took as short drive to some old, rusty storage shed for the horse drawn carriages near the waterfront. I needed a spot that was a little imperfect. Not the "South of Broad" facade my typical clients request. I needed something real and honest and gritty. I needed something to reflect what I was about to see spilled open in front of my very eyes.

In so many ways, I feel more connected to this shoot I did with Benji than any other shoot I have done in a while. His pure candor and sheer honesty made me want to show more. His humility and gentle spirit made me want to linger all afternoon - asking questions and picking his brain.  I wanted to photograph his insides. His heart and soul. I wanted to show his truth.

So on that steamy afternoon, I found a shady spot to spend a short time with my new hero. He would most likely shun that label, but I think Benji is a brave soldier - fighting the battle every day with depression...slugging it out with himself and still standing strong in the face of one of the worst diseases of all.

If you care to ready about Benji and his battle, check out the Charleston City Paper this week.

In the mean time, warrior on, brave souls. Warrior on.

 

Victory

 Surfers Healing Event. Folly Beach, SC

Surfers Healing Event. Folly Beach, SC

The joy of victory is such an amazing feeling. That feeling when you accomplish something you thought was bigger than yourself is always something to celebrate - no matter how big or small. Victories are life's way of showing you strength that hides in places we often don't recognize.

This week, I got to witness hundreds of victories - small and large. I went out the the Surfers Healing event held on Folly Beach to photograph a friend of mine who was volunteering and dedicates a great deal of time to this event every year. And I am so glad I got to see this event first hand. The love, joy and pride everyone felt there was palpable. 

This event got me thinking about victories though. Victories come in all shapes and sizes. And honestly, they look different for everyone. But the end result is always the same - beaming pride and joyful triumph. I saw it in the joyful faces of the kids as they rode waves into the shore. I caught the pride in the parent's eyes as they watched this their children feel normal for a short period of time. And I felt victory resonate from every volunteer on the beach helping these sweet children accomplish something they thought was perhaps bigger than them. These were all victories to be celebrated. 

Victories don't need to be sought out though. They only need to be noticed. They only need a hand in saying - look, I actually did this thing that I thought was bigger than me or I thought I couldn't do. It could be raising a special needs child on your own. It could be making a meal from scratch. Or it could be catching a wave into the shore. Some things deserve the reverence of victory!

Whatever shape victories take in our lives, they need to be celebrated and honored. Revered and noticed. Otherwise, your victories - small and large - lose their impact. And everything just becomes no big deal.

So go ahead and cheer for yourself! Be blatant! Ride that wave and celebrate yourself! Just go ahead and be victorious!

 

Thirteen

thirteen

Here we are again...another year has gone, tucked away into our memories now. Hidden behind Christmases, vacations and birthdays and beachtrips. These days that pass often seem so long when we are in the middle of them while life steals precious seconds away from us. But our years together seem much too short for my aching heart as I watch you change overnight these days.

You are 13 now. Thirteen. Well on your way to becoming a man. No longer the little baby I held so close all those terribly short and fleeting years.

Where did it all go? It slipped by us in a flash, didn't it?  Karate lessons, school projects and carpool have given way to the young man I am looking at everyday now. Years slip by too quickly. But they have yielded a lovely and empathetic boy who is growing and already taller than me. It doesn't seem possible. This is never what I imagined. Yet, here we are. At thirteen.

I am not sure where we go from here. I am not sure what the next years look like. I fear the speed will start to pick up at a pace I cannot keep up with. Soon, college will be looming and I will not know what happened to these sweet, long days filled with cartoons and and too many screens. I will wonder why I didn't drag you kicking and screaming to the beach to watch more sunsets and let the warm waves wash over us. I will wonder how I have known you for so long, yet is seems like yesterday they handed me the chunky little baby who didn't look at all like a newborn in that hospital room all those years ago. Thirteen years ago.

Thirteen is new territory. It marks a definite change in things...in you. No longer a little boy. But yet not quite grown up. I stand here clinging to the past, yet so excited to see what the future holds for you. I know it will be filled with love and joy and strength - just as you are.

I hope this world doesn't change you too much. I hope you remember to stay as you are -  strong yet soft, curious and cautious, big with the knowledge of how small you really are in the grand scheme of it all. Mostly, I hope you remember all these wonderful gifts you have carried since birth. You have so many gifts - and they are far too big for wrappings and bows. They are real. They are what counts.

Today, I wish for you to blow out the candles on your cake and dream big. Make it count. And don't let anyone tell you that you can't have those dreams - not even me. Especially not me! I am sure I will do it. We parents make silly mistakes. We have our fears and beliefs. And we try to protect you from them as well. But those dreams are yours. Own them! They are real. Today is the day to start believing that. Today is the day to start believing in yourself even more than you ever have before. Because you are going to do great things. You are capable of anything.

Remember that I love you. There are 13 years between us on this planet, but an endless amount of years I have known you in my heart. And everyday, that love grows impossibly and exponentially bigger.

Happy Birthday, Graham. I am looking forward to every single long day and short year ahead.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

 A photo of my dad - taken 12 years ago today.

A photo of my dad - taken 12 years ago today.

It never gets easier. The hole is always there, waiting to be opened up again. It's all at the surface - or just below - waiting for me to trip across some memory. Waiting for me to remember how many days, weeks, months, years it's all been since we last held hands...since you last called me "Love."

Years. How can it be years?

It is though....long days yield their way to short years. And it still all feels so fresh.

But today - today we celebrate. Because if it wasn't for you, none of us would be here. Not these babies you held in your lap so proudly. Not me. Not my sweet house on a quiet street with the light fixture we wrestled with that hot afternoon that still hangs over the table - just a little dustier now. The memories wouldn't be here of swims in the warm, southern ocean or grilled fish in the evening sunlight in the sweet house by the sea.

Without you, I wouldn't care about golf or tennis. I wouldn't have memories of roller coasters or road trips. I wouldn't know about puzzles or checkers or cards or counting change from the dryer. Toasting bread in the fire on those long, northern winter nights never would have happened. And I never would have learned how to sled or shovel snow or cuss like a sailor when I stubbed my big toe.

Who would have taught me to ride a bike or swim or sing silly songs in the late afternoon light. Who would have tucked me in safe to bed each night when I was always wanting to stay up just a few more minutes. And who ever would I have loved as much as all the stars in the sky and grains of sand in the ocean?

So today, I rejoice in you, Dad. I remember the good and not the bad. I remember the joyful and the sad. We had such great times together - so much time I am grateful for.  I only wish we could have carried on that party a little bit longer, just a little bit later into the night...just a few more minutes.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you ever so much.

Part of my reality

summer snapshot

It's funny to me how social media has changed our perspectives on reality. And I fall for it every time... "Why does their life look so amazing?" "Why am I not doing that?" "I need to step up my photography/life game." "They are SO lucky." Thoughts of an inadequate life rush into my head. Doubt begins to trump confidence and I stand on shaky ground.

Ironically, when I look back through my own Facebook photos and Instagram feed, I look like one of those people I seem to be wishing my life emulated. How can this be? What am I missing that I feel like my life doesn't look like this?

I think perhaps the reality of Life happens in between these delicious moments and take over the share of our brain. Laundry, grocery lists, and errands become front and center rather than these sweet spaces in between the shadows.

I know most of my life tends to look like a vacation according to Facebook. My Instagram account looks like a dream. And my Steller account make me appear to be the globe trotter I wish to become one day. But the reality is, that's only part of my reality. It just happens to be the parts I want to remember. I don't want my life to be a story of laundry and errands. I would much rather remember the lingering moments of joy that connect the rest.

Memory

bikeride

Yesterday we went for a ride. It wasn't long. Or significant. It was just...different. We don't have a great neighborhood for biking and exploring. It's rather small and bordered by some busy streets which makes it hard for us to explore the rest of the surrounding areas. So I love getting out of here and doing something a little new. So yesterday, I decided we needed to ride bikes through the local county park for a change of scenery.

I haven't been doing nearly enough of this over the course of this summer...or even my life. And the older He gets, the more out of reach it all feels. But these days are fleeting. I have realized that more this summer than ever before. I can feel it coming like a summer storm over the horizon. He is getting older. Changing daily. He is becoming more and more weary of my company - as teenagers do. But I persist and demand...because I can. After all, this is part of the growing process, isn't it?

So while I struggled to push the pedals around on my rental with low tires, I watched him glide effortlessly in front of me, pointing to flora and fauna, asking questions, remarking on things, and speaking of things 13 year-old boys speak of. And I watched and listened and responded when I could. And struggled along behind, trying to keep up with him - as I feel will be the theme over the next 5 years. 

So now, the memory is there. It's permanent and locked away in my heart. Nothing can take it away. I may not remember the details surrounding it all. But I will remember the feeling I have today - happy I had a few more moments to steal. Happy to spend time with the one I love the most. Happy to be forever his momma - no matter what path life takes us down.