Congratulations to the Class of 2013! I loved getting to know each of you, learning about all of the things you have already overcome and accomplished in your life and hearing about your plans for the future. Together, we battled poison ivy and strange creatures in the brush, waded in creeks, climbed and searched and chased the sunlight. It was all worth it for these images. You are an amazing group, with kind hearts and adventurous spirits. I can’t wait to see what you do with the rest of your lives!
Kati & Anthi are best friends who have known each other since they were little girls. They tagged along on each other’s session and in addition to trading clothes and smiles, I was able to capture the two of them together. They reminded me of my best friends from childhood and how some bonds remain strong no matter where life takes you.
I am so excited to meet the class of 2014. I currently have openings remaining for August but expect to fill them fast. Please reach out to me soon if you would like to schedule a senior session.
I would like to introduce you to little Jovani Perez. Born on September 3, 2011, he spent the first 33 days of his precious life in the NICU. He was born with Eagle-Barrett Syndrome, a rare condition that occurs in 1 in 40,000 babies. Eagle-Barrett Syndrome can cause urinary tract problems, delays in sitting and walking due to underdeveloped stomach muscles, heart and intestinal difficulties, underdeveloped lungs and renal failure. Jovani’s most significant health problems are associated with food digestion, bladder problems and renal failure. For most of the first year of his life, he was unable to digest food and was nourished through a nasal feeding tube. With adjustments to his daily medications, he is now able to eat baby food and his parents attach a feeding tube through his stomach only at night. Jovani’s bladder does not empty all the way so he is being assessed for the need of a catheter. Most significantly, Jovani’s is suffering from renal failure. His kidneys are currently functioning at only 25% and as his body grows, they will not be able to keep up. He is in need of a life saving kidney transplant.
But throughout Jovani’s journey there have been miracles.
With this diagnosis, most babies do not survive until birth as the kidneys are responsible for producing amniotic fluid, essential for lung development. Somehow Jovani’s life was sustained throughout the pregnancy and he was born with a strong set of lungs.
During the first week of his life, he was scheduled for a dialysis catheter for his kidneys but he miraculously stabilized and they were able to hold off on this procedure. This happened again when he was one month old. This has provided crucial time that has allowed his body to grow stronger and to gain the weight necessary for a kidney transplant.
When Jovani’s parents, Amber and Ben, were given the grim diagnosis of Eagle-Barrett Syndrome, they were given the options to intervene with treatment or to keep him as comfortable as possible. They were warned how tough this journey would be and that even with a kidney transplant, Jovani would not be cured but would have a better quality of life. They chose to hold on to the promise of hope and to fight to give their son every possible chance of survival.
From Jovani’s mother, Amber;
“It has been a whirlwind of a year, but we feel very lucky… Our faith has definitely been tested in all of this. We have met so many children who are suffering, who practically live their lives in the hospital or worse yet, families who have lost their children. It is hard to understand and something that I will never truly understand until I walk through those pearly gates. But we cling to our faith in God and our faith in His timing and in His will, beyond any earthly understanding. He sees the bigger picture, we don’t … so we just have to trust Him. We are thankful for every moment we have with our son, he is truly the happiest little boy ever.”
I would have to agree. Although our session took place on a chilly fall day, Jovani’s attitude was amazing and he never stopped smiling. His big sister, Jariana, seemed wise beyond her years and she was remarkable for the love and attention she poured into her brother. My favorite part about these images is remembering that most of the best expressions were captured as Jovani interacted with his family members standing right behind me.
So here is where you come in. Jovani’s family is leaving next week for the Children’s Hospital in Boston, ranked number one in Nephrology and Urology in the US and one of the only places where a kidney transplant can be performed on such a small child. So while the rest of us are picking out Christmas trees, shopping and enjoying the holiday season with our own loved ones, the Perez family will be beginning the process of preparing for Jovani’s transplant. Earlier in the year, they were referred to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, a national charity dedicated to organizing and guiding communities in raising funds for such surgeries, who estimated that the out of pocket expenses for the family associated with the transplant will be $55,000. I can not imagine how this must weigh on Amber and Ben while they are coping with the daily struggles of keeping Jovani healthy. Their family and friends have been holding monthly fundraising activities and so far they have raised $35,000. I am praying that each person who reads this will consider making a donation to help ease this burden on the family and will share Jovani’s story. It may be the best gift you give all season.
I guess the craziness in my life can be measured by the length of time in between blog posts. Summer is always the busiest time for our family but I love every minute of it. Expecially the days filled with sunshine and fun in our backyard, where imaginations and little bare feet run wild. We shared s’mores around the fire, tried to keep cool under the sprinkler and camped out, even if it was only a few feet from our back door. There was soccer, vacation bible school, even a road trip to N.C. with lots of pajama days in between.
Of course, the biggest adventure of our summer was our journey to Ethiopia for Teagan. It is hard to believe it has been three months since bringing our sweet little guy home and amazing to look back at the miles we have traveled together in this time. It has been hardest and most wonderful thing I have ever done in my life. I have discovered so much about myself, the things that I need to change, the ways I need to grow. I am being stretched like I could never have imagined and I am learning to rely on my faith to get through my days and become the kind of parent that Teagan needs me to be. Through the good times and bad, God is writing a story of love and hope in our lives and it is so special to be a part of this. Every day I love him more and I realize what a precious miracle he is. He blesses others with his smile and his joy everywhere that we go and I get to be the one to tuck him in at night. Braden, Riley & Addie Lou are teaching me so much about love and forgiveness as they have adjusted to their new brother with open hearts and incredible grace and it is amazing to witness the strength of Teagan’s bond with his Daddy. I am most proud that even through the hardest times, our family only grows closer.
Sharing a slideshow of his journey home and some of the special moments over the past few months like his first bath, first ice cream cone and first trip to the playground. Such joy in such a tiny little body!
I love my seniors and this years’s class has an especially sweet spot in my heart since my beautiful niece Carley is graduating. It hardly seems possible, the memory of the news of her birth reaching me at college still so fresh in my mind. I am so excited to see what God has planned for her life and for each of the seniors that I photographed this year. It is such an honor to document this time in their lives, to capture their unique personalities and to get a glimpse into their relationships with their parents. They give me hope for the future. Congratulations Class of 2012!
I’m not sure how to share all that has happened since I last found the time to catch up on my blog. We traveled to meet Teagan in early May. He is absolutely precious. As a nanny carried him down the stairs to meet us for the first time, he called out “Mommy! Daddy!” and our hearts melted as his smile reached out to us from across the room. I can not convey how wonderful it felt to finally hold this sweet child that we have prayed for and loved through pictures for so long. There was a great deal of giggling, bubble blowing, playing catch & cuddling in a very short time together. We were able to form a connection without words and when it was time to leave all too quickly, we hoped he somehow understood. We know that our days will be very different when he is home, filled with medical appointments, therapy, and the challenges of finding a new way to be a family together. With our willingness & God’s grace, we are ready for our life together to begin. Here is a slideshow of our time together.
After our time with Teagan, we set off for an amazing adventure in southern Ethiopia. I have been struggling since our return home, trying to find a way to put my experience into words. Then I finally remembered that the few of you that actually visit my blog are not here for my writing anyways. So I am hopeful that my pictures will tell the story of why Ethiopia has forever changed my heart.
Our time in the south focused on learning more about an amazing program we support called Look Development and meeting the children that we sponsor through this program. We were so impressed by the staffs’ passion for serving the children & families in the communities they work with and their efforts aimed at developing long term income generating projects that will allow the families to eventually break the cycle of poverty. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting one of our sponsor children, Tirfe, and her family at their home in Awassa. As we navigated the narrow roads to her village, the children quickly noticed us and began running alongside our van for several miles with the sweetest joy on their faces.
Each of our children have a special child that they chose for sponsorship and Tirfe is Riley’s sponsor child. It was incredible to meet her after praying for her with Riley this past year. We were even able to pass along a special stuffed animal that he picked out & poured much love into for her, along with clothes, shoes, seeds and blankets for her family.
Inside her family’s home, we shared a traditional meal & coffee cooked over an open fire and prayed together. And as they praised God for their blessings & his mercies, I sat on a jerry can & looked around the impossibly dark hut, at the lack of bedding or any other signs of comfort, at the shoeless children & the dirt floor and prayed that I would remember when I return to my life of abundance. That I would be filled with new desires and stop chasing things that do not even matter. That I would live more intentionally, love more generously and be more thankful for all of my own blessings.
We fell in love with the people in Tirfe’s village. The entire school came out to see us, the children clutching prized remnants of notebooks in their hands while they warmly greeted us & posed for pictures. Although our time there was brief, I have no doubt that a life long connection was made that day & that we will return again. We have committed to becoming more involved with supporting the program and our first step is to help find sponsorship for the children. Currently only 2 out of 160 children in the program in this area are sponsored.
After waving goodbye to the village, we traveled to Shone to see the rest of the program and to meet two more children that my family and my parents sponsor, Addise and Bereket. Thank you to everyone who gave donations that allowed us to provide our sponsor children and many other families in the program with new shoes, clothing, school supplies, soccer balls, blankets and seeds. Everyone was so appreciative of the support and it was such a thrill to see them immediately put on their new clothes and a new pair of shoes. We also had a chance to visit a group of the Look Development parents who are being trained in making & repairing shoes as a business. They were so grateful for the opportunity to learn a trade that will lead their family towards a more secure future. Other groups of parents in the area are being trained in woodworking and in raising livestock.
Despite the program’s success in supporting these struggling families, it is not always possible for families to stay together. Children who have been orphaned through the death of their parents or other desperate circumstances live in a small care center that Look Development opened last year. Like the other parts of the program, the care center runs completely on donations and provides long term care in a setting that is as much like a home as possible. These are the adorable faces of the children that live there and as you can see, they have become a family to each other. Aren’t they the sweetest little group? I wanted to bring them all home with me. More pictures from the rest of our trip coming very soon!
"I see your smile
And it’s so much sweeter
After all that I’ve been through
And when we laugh
I get a glimpse of forever
And I praise God that I found you
And anytime someone asks me
How it all unfolded I’ll tell them
Such incredible chances
Make for marvelous love.
Just like the sun lights up the moon
This love is a reflection
Of more than just me and you
Our lives were less than ordinary
And while I couldn’t see past tomorrow
God was making history
Oh my, what a beautiful story of love."
Today we celebrate the first time we saw this sweet face two years ago & give thanks for each page of our family’s love story.
It was a glorious week, full of the unexpected. Like little ones running barefoot through the sprinkler, sunburned shoulders & blossoms bursting from branches that were bare only one week ago. The sunshine definitely makes waiting for the next chapter in our story to unfold a little easier.
The sunshine stirs me from my long winter slumber and beckons me outside to feel it’s warmth on my skin. As I emerge from the shadows to seek this light, I am again reminded of the wonder of spring. The hope of new life, of things unseen yet sure to come.
This spring feels more magical than any before. Any day now we may find out that it is time to travel to meet Teagan. Tomorrow is his 5th birthday. Five years without a family to celebrate his precious life and help him understand how very special he is. I wonder how many times has he awoken at night without someone to comfort him or laughed without someone to share his joy. This year when he blows out the candles on his birthday cake, I know that his wish will come true. Hold on little buddy, we are coming for you. Your new life has almost begun.
And while we wait and trust in God’s timing, I am planning to enjoy this special time with Addie while her other big brothers are in school. I am looking forward to many more adventures like the one we had today, coming out of hibernation to explore the yard & soak up some sunshine. Addie also made a new friend, offering gifts of pine cones & kisses to the neighbor’s dog. I’m not sure he was as enthused as she was.
In other news, our little Addie Lou is officially a Wagner and a United States citizen since we recently completed the long readoption process. She continues to bless us with her crazy antics and silly spirit & we are reminded how amazing this journey has been. Here are some images from indoor photo shoots before the beautiful weather arrived.
We kicked off the holiday season this year with a fun trip to Disney, one of my most favorite places! There was thirteen of us and we had the chance to stay in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where we awoke each morning to the sight of giraffes & zebras just below our balcony. The Christmas season is a wonderful time to go to Disney as it is even more magical with special parades and fireworks at the castle, an amazing light display at Hollywood Studios & Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party at the Magic Kingdom. The boys had many exciting adventures including becoming official pirates and Addie had fun watching all the action from the safety of daddy’s lap (usually peeking out through her fingers). It may have had something to do with the fact that the first show we brought her to was “It’s Tough to be a Bug”. Just in case you are wondering, a sure way to freak a toddler out is to be in total darkness with scary sounds and then have humungous insects crawl out of the ceiling. The days passed much too quickly but I guess the best ones always do…
After Disney & the whirlwind of preparations leading up to Christmas, I have truly treasured time to relax & spend with family. Highlights included sampling all of my Mom’s cookies, cuddling with my sweet Grandma, watching Addie master the act of opening presents & catching up with my little brother & my sister-in-law visiting from Santa Cruz. I loved watching the boys pour over World Vision catalogs together trying to choose the perfect gifts to give with the change overflowing from our Christmas jar. We celebrated old traditions & started new ones too. We had the chance to share all that God has done in our lives during our Christmas Eve service. We remembered all that we have to be thankful for & all that we have to look forward to in 2012, like holding our sweet Teagan for the first time & bringing him home. May your heart also be filled with gratitude for all of the blessings in your life & hope for the new year.