The Face of God’s Beloved

Last Friday!  It was such an amazing day for me.  I’m still not quite sure how to share it, but I’ll try.  I was welcomed into a world I have always had a big heart for, but where strangers are typically not allowed.  A world I’ve had the privilege of entering a time or two — but even then — I’ve merely stood, just inside the door, pretty much on the outside looking in.   Friday, I got to go inside, make new friends, and for the day, I felt like I belonged.  It meant the world to me.

Most people who know me know I have a passion for using my camera to stop time to show the beauty of a moment.  A moment of relationship.  Of emotion.  Of a beautiful soul peering through eyes that tell a story that might be missed in our distracted, pretentious world.

A couple of weeks ago, a gentleman named Marty contacted me about the death of one of my favorite friends and photo subjects, a homeless man named “Billy” (being the new name he gave himself sometime after I saw him last as Lite Earl Gossage, Jr.)   I immediately admired and appreciated Marty for going to the trouble to let me know.  He knew Billy because he often offers his computer services to help homeless people find family members.  He laughs when I call what he does “a ministry”.  But, it IS!  He had once helped Billy find me when Billy wanted to thank me for being kind to him; and so, Marty contacted me now to let me know of our friend’s passing.  He assured me that Billy was well taken care of and died gently.

I wanted to know more.  How does a homeless man die well taken care of and gently?  I inquired of Marty and learned:  a couple that spent many of their own years just like Billy, homeless and on the streets, took him in and cared for him until the very end.  Wow!  I thought of all the wonderful, Godly people I know, and wondered how many would bring a dying homeless man into their home so that he could die with dignity.  I wanted their story.  I wanted to know THEM.  Marty arranged it.  I was invited to visit them in their home near downtown, and thus, my surreal, delightful, eye-opening day with brand new friends!

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Barbara and the furry little love of her life

Meet Mrs. Barbara and Sir Wayne.  I liked them instantly!  Wayne has a humble, sweet smile with sparkly eyes.  Barbara too has sparkly eyes and laughs easily.  She has a presence, however, that lets you know she can take care of herself.  It was beautiful.  She was tough.  She said she’s HAD to be.  Yet, put a cat or kitten anywhere near her (or Wayne for that matter), and you can find her heart on the floor in a heap of mush.   I’m not sure I’ve known anyone more sweetly authentic WITHOUT being one of those “in your face” types who think “authentic” means “I want to shock you with my differences”.   There was none of that.  Just a beautiful soul who has had a very hard life, but who accepts herself and doesn’t put on airs for anyone!  I loved that!   It made me feel comfortable being curious. What exactly is it like to have to actually live on the streets.   She wasn’t put off by my curiosity, and openly shared that part of her life with me.  So did Wayne.  She told me she could make the fastest, strongest lean-to out of bamboo sticks you ever saw… and also… to this day, she considers that life “her home”.  Where her people are.  What she knows.  But she admitted, it is a HARD life that one who hasn’t lived it can ever understand.  And she’s truly grateful to have a roof over her head and the comforts of home now.

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Wayne!  A Painter.  He said he had no use for cats… but I think some would beg to differ 🙂

What I marveled at the most was how kind and compassionate that hard life had made her!  Some might have become “hard”, bitter.   Not Barbara.  She said she would never turn anyone away who needed a meal or a warm shower, “Because I’ve been there!”   Even more amazing, she knows:  Some will try to take advantage.  Some may even steal from her.  Some will end up crossing a line causing a negative effect on her home, and they will have to leave.   But, when they come back needing a meal or a warm shower, they are welcomed in again.  It’s so much like how God treats us!

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When I have my camera, I sometimes tell people, “Ok, snuggle up.”  That tells them to move a little closer to each other and lean in.  But with Wayne and his friend, Mike, when I told them to snuggle up, immediately there’s this!  A bear hug to end all bear hugs.  It was one of those times I laughed till I cried.

Another thing that touched me deeply was this.  Marty had told her that I was a strong Christian.  Course… as we know, that could mean anything.  Would I judge them?  Would I sit separately until I could figure out how to squeeze in a sermon on the error of their ways?   Sadly, I had the feeling that some Christians had already shown “Christ” to them that way.   So, understandably, they weren’t quite sure what to expect from me; yet, they warmly welcomed me into their lives and delightfully showed me their real, authentic selves.  The result was a day where we laughed so hard at times there were tears, and instead of a lack of trust, there was a warm teasing at times about my naivety about what “real life” is like  🙂    I couldn’t have enjoyed my time with them — or anyone for that matter — any more!  In fact, I got there at 1:30, and when I looked at my clock, certain it must be about 3:00, it was 5:00!  Plus, I wasn’t even ready to go then!

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Barbara and her beloved, “Little Girl”

And… to make the day perfect, Marty, who wasn’t sure he could make it, was able to come by at the end of the day, so I got to meet him in person as well.  Now, I’m happy that we share social media on a daily basis.   Not surprisingly, he was fun, funny, had an AMAZING DJ voice!  And, he loves Barbara and Wayne like family.    I am so grateful to him for opening this door for me to be able to love and fit in — on the INSIDE — this world that has always called my name.  We’ve even talked about other opportunities in the future to take my camera and shine the beautiful light of God’s love to others in their world that just may not fully realize that YES!   They truly are the face of people who God considers His beloved, like Barbara and Wayne — doing what they do to Jesus, even if they don’t know it!  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40

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Marty!  No one gets away without kitty cuddles!

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I had to!  That coffee-can-for-one was so cozy, but her brother was bound and determined all day to get in there with her.  TOOOOO cute not to celebrate!

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The Language of Photography

It’s a language I know well. It speaks to me and often deeply changes my heart. It tells beautiful stories. It can be a language of love, creating new friendships and bonding old ones deeper. Sometimes, it’s a language of pain where the words stay with you long after you wish they would.

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These photos will be framed. So, I “framed” them in honor of her.

My passion for this beautiful language of photography has a deep longing to be expressed. To make a difference in the lives of others. To be a vehicle through which God can encourage and comfort people. To show them their beauty and His love for them.

7812_framed-webIn this new year: 2017, my mission is to become more fluent in this language I love so much, and to truly make a difference in the lives of others through photography. Much of it will go unnoticed, maybe even unappreciated by “the masses” or art critics. And, I doubt if my income from photography will skyrocket this year. But, you know what? That is so okay with me! Because I will be achieving my heart’s desire, worth so much more to me than money or even huge accolades.

My non-vocational self is an encourager! Hearing a story, truly caring, and then being able to say words that offer hope and relief… it’s what gives meaning and purpose to my life. So my prayer is that my photography will also speak encouragement, hope and beauty.

She's not supposed to give hugs like this until she's much better.  But... sometimes, a big hug is well worth the risk to her!

She’s not supposed to give hugs like this until she’s much better. But… sometimes, a big hug is well worth the risk to her!

Last Tuesday, I had a chance to photograph a dear 19-year old friend with Down Syndrome, Shontelle. I love her so much it hurts sometimes. Just weeks ago, she was not expected to live. She had pneumonia so seriously that even the doctors were concerned that she wasn’t strong enough to beat it this time. But, through the power of prayer, and some angels who donated a very expensive medical device to her, she was saved. She’s getting better.

This was the day: the first in a very long time that she was well enough to go to her beloved Equessense Horse Therapy Program and ride “her” horse, Big Red. Still with an oxygen tank on her back, and her face covered in a mask to protect her from germs, emotional and spiritual healing flooded her soul (and ours) by getting to ride her horse again. And there I was to capture it… to make a difference to her and her mom by documenting her victory over pneumonia through photography. The story is more beautiful than the art. But, the art is more than “a picture”. It’s proof of victory. It’s a chance to look at it forever and remember the joy she felt that day. The hope of more to come. The promise that her healing will one day be complete. The statement she made spoke loud and clear: She is still running her race with a determination to finish it and win!

Thank you, my friend for the honor of getting to work and play with you. Your own verbal language is limited. But through our work together, there is NOTHING unsaid. NOTHING that is not understood. I look forward to more. We speak this language of photography so beautifully between us, don’t we!

Posted in Animals, Children, Lifestyle, PEOPLE | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Just for SO much fun

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Madison’s picture was taken when she was all dressed up for her first birthday party. It was an “ordinary” photo with lots of “stuff” going on. Certainly not wall art… until I introduced to her to my sheep.

Sorry to make you squirm photo purists… but… this is so much fun! It is THE perfect escape for me. I absolutely LOVE nature. Especially the animal kingdom part of nature.  I LOVE the ones I can see but can’t touch. They look so sweet and beautiful, but… well… you can’t typically get close to them. Or, hug them. Ahhh, but you CAN! In my imagination and through my composite skills.

My tastes for “wall art” have evolved somewhat over the years. My heart is not quite as stirred anymore by straight up landscapes, ever how heart stopping they are. And… I have done so many portraits over the years that it’s hard to make them stand out as super special. I mean, blow up, print on canvas, hang on the wall. THAT super special. So what I am doing now is taking my favorite nature photos over the years, and my favorite portraits over the years and combining them to create an art piece that says, YES! Hang me on the wall… in canvas… HUGE. And every time I look at them, they take me to a place of sweet love for both my “babies”, and for the experiences I had taking the original nature photo.

My kids love it. Now, they are giving me fabulous ideas of things they want me to try and help me achieve. Yayyyyy! Quality time. Love Language. Resulting in art. Ohmygosh… what could be better!

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A glorious memory of a day at the beach with the kids. Again, lots of “stuff” keeping this from being all that interesting. But what kid wouldn’t love to soar thru the air with my Avian Angel 🙂

 

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THIS… is SO CARSON!!! His heart is so tender towards every thing and every one. But the original photo was of him hugging my dog, Ellie… but… ummm… Ellie’s butt was the front and center subject of the photo. Until he had a chance to get up close and personal with my award winning baby deer photo.

 

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Madison… she would do this. Play so sweetly and comfortably with a baby wild animal at her side. She is fearless, and makes friends with ANYONE and ANY THING. To me, this radiates Madison much more than the original photo playing in my back yard

 

 

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♪♫ The times they are a changin’ ♫♪

“Come gather ’round people wherever you roam
Admit that the waters around you have grown” Bob Dylan

Admission: The waters have grown. But I’m not drowning. I’m frolicking in them. I’m leaping up above them and letting them show me a new way to play.

It’s been a little over 5½ years since I joyfully left corporate America to pursue the passion in my life: photography. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like so I tried to develop it two-fold. I shared an art gallery with other artists showcasing the body of work I had accumulated over the 5 or so previous years; and, I took on any type of commissioned session offered to me: weddings, portrait sessions of all types, even product photos for websites. That has gradually narrowed down over the years to more personal one on one settings.

For the past year or so, however, I’ve felt a stirring in my soul… waters growing, if you will. I have had a huge passion to make a difference with my photography… even over building a money-making enterprise. Also, I have had a desire to “create”. I learned in a fine art workshop I recently attended that photography is a language, and if it’s good, it communicates as well as the spoken word does. I haven’t had time to do much of my own creating because I have been so busy helping others achieve their own vision with their portraits. It has been a very rewarding season, and I have been so very enriched by the connections I have made thru this type of work! But… the times they are a changin’

On the “creation” side, I am now in the process of working on a creative body of work that I hope one day will be a series that either an art gallery or publisher might find worthy. But more about that later. That is still in its early stages….

Someone in her life hurt her very deeply once using her beloved kitty, so now, her need for a cat in her life is so great, this kitty was qualified as a therapy cat, and it does indeed work wonders in Shontelle's life.

Someone in her life hurt her very deeply once using her beloved kitty, so now, her need for a cat in her life is so great, this kitty was qualified as a therapy cat, and it does indeed work wonders in Shontelle’s life.

What is NOW… is a HUGE desire that my photography make a difference in people’s lives. That has always been my passion, but I didn’t give it very much attention in favor of a slew of $250 sessions that kept me too busy. Not that it hasn’t always been my desire for those sessions to make a difference in people’s lives too, but now, I want to make a difference to people who may not be able to afford a session, but whose lives have amazing stories and might be changed by telling them through the language of photography.

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The getting ready part was so much of the fun!  She picked out her favorite "fancy" dress to wear for her photos.

The getting ready part was so much of the fun! She picked out her favorite “fancy” dress to wear for her photos.

Project one. My friends Dar and her daughter, Shontelle. Shontelle has Down’s Syndrome and is 18-years old. She is not well. In fact, very recently, she was in ICU for quite some time fighting what at the time seemed like a losing battle for her life. It was serious. Shontelle fought hard and was released to much relief of those who love her. But she still fights hard and has to be on oxygen 24/7. Dar is also disabled, having raised Shontelle as a single mom in a wheelchair all of Shontelle’s life. She is THE most amazing, devoted mom any child on this earth could have. She amazes me!

We had been wanting to do “glamour” photos for Shontelle for a couple of years, but it never worked out. It was either because I was trying to get caught up to where I could, Dar was sick, Shontelle was sick. It was always something. When she almost died, I was devastated that we hadn’t done it. So was Dar. So as SOON as Shontelle was better enough, I went to their house with my camera and a small backdrop, and we told Shontelle’s story thru the language of photography.

Language is difficult for Shontelle. When I first got there, she was shy. Afraid. She hid. I prayed, “Uh-oh… Help us, God….” He did. She shyly came out, and we began telling stories and relating to each other, but tho she did some giggling and smiling, she was still shy and uncomfortable. Then, it became apparent why. She whispered to her mom that my eyes looked similar to the eyes of someone in her life who hurt her deeply, and she admitted it made her nervous. Another prayer, “Help us, God!” Then, she came over to me and looked ever… EVER so deeply into my eyes and studied them intensely for what seemed like an eternity, but I suspect it was only a few moments. Then… the most melting experience I may have had in photography: she wrapped her arms around me as tightly as she could and said in her Shontelle way, “I wuh ooo Sa-eee!” and she gave me a kiss. I was not that bad person in her life. I was me, and she could feel my love for her. The rest of the day it was regular hugs and kisses and laughter. She felt beautiful, and she delighted in anything we asked her to do. I was making a difference, and it was healing and soul filling.

Web-1597Web-1598At another moment, Dar began sharing. Dar, who is ALWAYS positive! She ALWAYS expects the best, speaks the best, notices the best in others, and refuses to let “sad” enter her existence. That Dar. But she shared with me the terror she felt as her daughter lay dying in her hospital bed. She got just a little emotional. INSTANTLY, I was “not in the room”, as Shontelle rushed over to her mother to share this emotional moment with her and comfort her. I had been pretty much clicking the camera the entire time, so it wasn’t awkward, but I realized when I got home and looked at the photos that I had captured a falling tear as Dar and Shontelle shared that emotional experience together. I still get emotional thinking of the power of that moment.

She liiiiiiikes what she sees! :)

She liiiiiiikes what she sees! 🙂

It was an amazing day with amazing people, and I knew: “THIS is what I was created to do!” And it felt so good! I will do much more of this type of work. I’m sure it will take many forms. As I have tried to do for the past 5½ years, I will listen to the nudgings in my spirit that I feel are from God, and I will use my language to speak in a way that hopefully… prayerfully makes a difference.

Ta-Daaaaaaaaaaa!  Beautiful girl!  :)

Ta-Daaaaaaaaaaa! Beautiful girl! 🙂

I created a video of our day together. I chose this song because Dar played it for me that day, and as she played it, she became emotional with how much the song meant to her. It worked for Shontelle’s photos beautifully. After I sent it to Dar, she sent me a video of Shontelle watching it, complete with her stopping in the middle to get a Kleenex to wipe her tears away. It made a difference! To a beautiful little soul that most definitely made a HUGE difference in MY life! I will never forget our day together… and the turning point it created in my life. Thanks to my friends more than I can say!

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The Gift. To “Have” or “To Give”

Web-711Photography is a gift.   It always means so much to me when someone says, “You have a gift…”  I’m humbled.  And amazed at such a compliment.  But you know what?  “Having” a gift actually pales to being able to “give” a gift of photography.   And, I’ve had some life changing experiences over the past several months to prove it.

One was just this past week.  My brother.  In truth, he is my husband’s brother.  Larry.  But, I couldn’t love him more if he were my brother, and growing up, I always wanted a brother, so it feels nice saying “My brother”.  ANYWAY…. my brother, over the past many years has been pretty much of a hermit.  A wonderful, pure hearted guy!  He loves God… he’s kinder to every human than most anyone.  It’s just that he has been perfectly happy and content to live life, just him and his dog, Luke.  And oh!  The friendship he and Luke have.   Luke is a beloved part of Larry’s very own soul.

Web-773So… uh-oh… a frantic call.  “I think Luke is dying.”  He is 10.  Voice shaking.  Fear.  Heart pounding.  Luke couldn’t catch his breath.  He fell over.  And terror filled his eyes.  Not to mention Larry’s heart.  And ours.  But… lo and behold, after a scary night.  Luke woke up the next day just fine.  It got me thinking.  “Let’s take pictures, Larry!  You and Luke need photos together.”  He has none.  None.  No pictures of the love of his life and him.   So, on a beautiful October afternoon, I headed over to Larry’s with my camera.  What I always do when photographing dogs is wait until a dog is completely comfortable with me being there, usually following several kiss-fests, hugs and conversations with them in “dog-speak”.  Then, I pick up my camera and just make clicking away a part of the natural part of the day.  In the meantime, I got to catch up with Larry as we chatted the afternoon away like a couple of girlfriends (sorry Larry… it’s just that…  well… you are so easy to talk to 🙂 )

Web-809What we ended up with made both of us feel “the gift” of photography.  It was overflowing from happy hearts.  Larry said the pictures made him cry.  I’m printing large prints of them for him so that the gift of Luke will be immortal in his life.   Luke will be forever as honored a part of Larry’s home as he is in his heart.  Yes!… this gift was MUCH more of a joy to give than to have!  In fact, Luke, Larry and photography were the best gift to me in a long time!  🙂

Boots Little ManSo the other gift I mentioned that is better in giving than “having”:   My work photographing rescue dogs with Saving Grace Dog Rescues.  Glamour photos to help them get adopted.  We’re still trying to figure out the best way to use our photos of these amazing dogs as “adoption capital”, but we’ve had pretty good luck so far with putting their best-dressed selves forward to make them irresistible to prospective forever homes.  After our first shoot, I did a little video that expresses out heart towards these amazing animals in need of an angel by their side.  For whatever reason, they have sadly found themselves homeless and “people-less”, and they deserve someone to love them like Larry loves Luke!  Since this first shoot, I have fallen in love with many, many more of these beautiful animals.   And, by the way, if, by any chance you EVER find room in your heart for a new furry family member, please let me know (Sandy@SandyP.net), and we will hook you up!  Till then… bask in the gift with me  🙂

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Still here…..

Web-3752Wow! Something disconnected with my blogging. It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted anything. Actually, I think I know what it is. I began feeling like… well… like surely it was boring just reading one post after the other about how much I love each and every shoot with a few photos from the shoot attached. It’s true of course, but I think I’m wanting my blog to be more personal. You can see lots of photos on my website. And there are times when a shoot is so special, I want to talk about it, but I want my blog to be more about sharing who I am. Maybe something will click that will help you relate to me as a person — which also ALWAYS has the wonderful effect of producing more amazing images.

Web-1126So, my last blog post shared the final of last year’s high school senior season. I was reeeeeeallllly tired! I had worked practically around the clock making sure shoots, photo editing, announcements, coffee table books, and ordering sessions were all done in the small window of time before graduation. It was challenging because my brand of photography is not high volume, one shoot after the other after the other, Web-1175filling up every day of my calendar with the business of photography. No. My brand is to pour 150% of myself into each and every shoot, pull up each photo individually, and see how I can turn a great photo into something magical. Then, I love to put the photos to music. And the thing is, it matters not if I have a ton of shoots in the cue… or one. I treat each one with the same 150% investment. I just work around the clock to accomplish each shoot with the same passion. But it was starting to drain the life out of me. Total sleep deprivation tends to do that after a few months.

Web-3258Then, a little back and forth over a review I wrote for one of my photography heroes who had just had a new book published about all things Rocky Mountain National Park. I was mentioning to him my struggle to balance the “volume” with the “passion”, and time for life. He wrote something back to me that was more impactful to my life than he will Web-2673ever know. I read it. I re-read it. I ended up printing it so I could see it by my computer – and repeating it to myself each time I was anxiously getting ready for a shoot (as much as I LOVE photoshoots, I still get extremely nervous and anxious with each one. It’s the perfectionist in me wanting everything to be perfect). Here’s what he said:

Don’t fall for the trap of non-stop work. Instead, work to infuse your imagery with that emotional and spiritual substance that comes from a life centered in Christ. That will make up for the volume, and will cause people to wonder why your images have such power.

Web-3691_bwWOW! It still feeds my soul to read that! God spoke to me through those words, and since that time, I have tried to do just that. I have worked more on keeping my life centered in Christ, NOT overbooking, and letting my work pour out of my relationship with Him! And you know what? I have been so amazed at how He has smiled on my work! I do feel a special kind of power in my images. Because, now, I’m not tired going Web-2006into my photoshoots. I’m not distracted by more work at home than I can finish. And mostly, I’ve had time to attend to the things that make me a BETTER photographer, which is in fact, my life being centered in Christ and having quality family time.

So that’s my story since my Spring 2014 burnout. The images in this post are just a few of my favorite ones since then… all except the ones of the puppies…. THAT one will get its own blog post because my heart is too too tooooooooo passionate about my work with rescue pups to not give it a full story. Maybe that will be next. If you love dogs, you’ll like it. And, I’ll share the video I made for my amazing friend who is TRULY the angel in those dogs’ lives!

Until then… thank you for checking in. I do feel better having born my soul.
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Posted in Bridal, Children, Glamour, Maternity, Newborn, Personal, Portraits | 2 Comments

Nikki in the City

Web-0569 I loved loved LOVED my shoot with Nicole! She wanted a more urban feel to her photos so we headed downtown, and I must have marveled a million times as I looked through my lens at how breathtakingly beautiful she was in contrast to the old brick or metal walls, or grungy stairs. Even the section of the Riverwalk we were in had a more industrial, urban feel to it. It was the kind of edgy scenery that makes a photographer’s heart flutter 🙂

… That… and the fact that I’ve had a couple of other occasions to take pictures of Nicole, so it felt so relaxed and comfortable. Like old friends playing for the day.

Web-0624Nicole is my hero. She has been an avid soccer player, helping her Reagan High School team go all the way to the state playoff games (finishing 3rd in State). And now she is off to continue her soccer career at Incarnate Word University. So… being a star athlete… beautiful… down-to-earth and as NICE as they come… Gosh! Bravo to everyone involved in Nicole becoming the person she is. Especially NICOLE!

THANK YOU GUYS for the privilege of having a part in this transition from high school to young adult. It was such a blessing to me — and it seriously meant the world to me!

Here’s a few more of my favorite pictures from the shoot.

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