If I’m being honest there are probably a million other things I should be doing at this moment instead of sitting down to write. Our entire house is an insane mess as I attempt to finish packing for our family trip to New York that we leave for in three days. A winter I am fully unprepared for both physically and mentally. Still, this trip is an absolute dream come true as we plan to live in an apartment on the upper west side for an entire month, celebrating my eldest daughters birthday, christmas and new years in this iconic city between walks through central park, ice skating at rockefeller center, drinking hot cider, snacking on roasted chestnuts and generally living in a place where christmas carols about dashing through the snow make sense. To say we are excited is an understatement.
I could also be returning the dozens of emails and Facebook messages I have piling up. I have had so many amazing couples enquiring and booking me to photograph their wedding and relationships that I move into the end of this year with 2014 already 75% booked, which is just an incredible blessing in so many ways. I continue to be so overwhelmed by God’s grace and provision in this area as he brings some amazing people into my life. Still, as I prepare for these exciting adventures that lay ahead I can no longer ignore the move in my spirit to share with you the deeper meaning behind this life we are living right now.
I won’t lie. In many ways it has been an incredibly difficult 12 months. Earlier this year my life was upheaved in a major way as my aunty, who was diagnosed with cancer about 12 months earlier, endured the final stages of this heartbreaking illness. I sat beside her and feebly attempted in small ways to comfort one of the strongest female role models in my life as she often cried and shook with fear of what lay ahead as her strength, her memory and her very breathe ebbed away in a 10 week hurricane of hospitals, palliative care visits, oxygen tanks and emotion. My father, my sister and I sat by her side on her final day here and held her hand, whispering to her, yet feeling so lost and helpless as she slipped away. She had called me from her hospital bed just that morning and left a message. “Hi, it’s only me. Just wondering if you were coming in today. Love to see you. Talk to you soon. Bye”. I was incredibly sick that day in bed and didn’t make it until the evening, at which point she was already asleep. Her words in her phone message still ring in my ears and I don’t think I will ever forget them. She was the strongest, most determined, giving, hard working and forthright woman I have ever known. I miss her terribly and no amount of words from me will ever be able to fully explain to you how amazing she was. I miss the days I would pick up Starbucks for us and visit her at work, sitting in her chair and sharing with her stories of life that I didn’t even realise I don’t really share with anyone else until I no longer had her there to talk to. Three days after she passed away I woke up on a Saturday morning and photographed a wedding. Probably one of the hardest parts of a job like mine. Then we went away to the mountains for a week, which is where I took the image of my girls you see above. Things are not always as they appear.
This year I spent a large part of the year travelling over 4 hours in the car every single day to drive my daughters to school until I completely fell apart. My Zoe was diagnosed with autism 2 years ago and many of the decisions I make are based around what I think is best for her and her chances of…… I don’t even know what the end of that sentence is. I haven’t spoken much about this. Not because I choose not to, but simply because to me she is first and foremost Zoe, our daughter. She is sweet and cheeky and beautiful and I see all of that first. Still, as time continues to go by I do hope to share more. Simply because I know how lost and alone I felt when it happened. That despite the increasing statistics of autism diagnosis in the country I knew no one else who was going through it.
We also found out this year that due to a medical condition on my part it is probably not safe or wise for me to carry another baby. To have that decision taken out of your hands is incredibly difficult. Here my baby is ready to start school and it didn’t ever occur to me that she was the baby. I wish I had paid more attention. Feeling like I’ve missed something important along the way. That in trying to tick all the boxes of early intervention for Zoe’s autism I forgot to watch her grow up and really enjoy her.
Still, in all this pain there is blessing and hope that I am determined to see and grab firmly with both hands. If not for the long drives to school that ultimately led to me burning out I would not have had conversations with my husband and close friends that allowed them to speak into my life, further build those relationships and ultimately choose to stop and reclaim the last few precious months of time with Zoe before kindergarten absolutely had to begin. We stopped going to the school (which was more a prep program for children with autism), scaled back to pre-school just two days a week and for the past two months we have gone on lunch dates, taken afternoon naps together and played in the backyard.
And all that other stuff that causes so much pain, fear and anxiety in me? That is what ultimately led to the decision to take this family trip to New York, to live a dream, to create memories despite the craziness of it. The loss I have experienced on so many levels this year drives me to continue to live. I am, by nature, a worrier. An incredibly anxious and fearful person whose default setting is to fall into a heap and cry. Those closest to me see that because I am incapable of hiding it all the time, but as I attempt to live the life that God has called me to I daily fight to make the choice to live, to move forward and push through the things that seek to drive me back and knock me flat knowing that the alternative of succumbing and being pulled through life by fear would rob me of all joy and the experiences God has placed before me.
This life is precious, but far from perfect. I hate to think that anyone would be envious of our upcoming trip as I would not want to wish the steps that led us here on anyone. Not that I think or worry about anyone judging that. It is more something that dwells within me. It is hard not to look at someone’s perfectly styled instagram feed, or a photographers highly curated blog and see anything past the beauty they intentionally want you to see, perhaps including my own. I don’t necessarily see this as an action of boasting or lying through omission. Perhaps it is simply because in our highly visual society we all want to see the best in people, the best in our own lives and focus on that. I know that for each image I take my desire is nothing more than for everyone who see’s it to go out, find and focus on the best gifts in their own life and create a collection of memories unique to them. To live a full life of openness, honesty, connection, purpose and joy is what we were designed for and the images I create are a reflection of the desire in my heart for everyone I meet to find that for themselves. And occasionally people even invite me into their lives to contribute to their personal collection of memories and I am so, so grateful for that.