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Samantha & Brandon

The first time Samantha and I met, it was like sitting with an old friend. Right away I could see her adventurous spirit tied together with kindness and love for others. We talked about her and Brandon’s love story, how everything with the wedding was moved up because of their jobs, and how we should have our (her soon to be) husbands meet so that we all four could be friends!

I didn’t meet Brandon until the day of the wedding, but right away I could tell how he was a perfect match for Samantha. He had that same kindness about him that I saw in Sam. He treated Ashley and I like friends, and not like we were just a wedding vendor. He was funny and attentive. Adventurous and considerate. These two were a perfect match and the love between them made my job too easy!

Samantha and Brandon have traveled all over the world together and their travel themed wedding perfectly represented where they’ve been and where they’re going. And what better way to tie it all together than to have a sea plane fly them off into the sunset after they said “I do”?!

Thank you so much Samantha and Brandon for the honor of capturing your wedding day. I can’t wait to see what this new season in China looks like for you newlyweds! Congratulations and enjoy your preview!

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Venue: Mission Inn Marina Del Ray

Florist: Lavendar and Lace

Cake: Sweet by Holly

Coordinator: Two Peas Design

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Summers Are My Favorite

I can’t believe that as I’m sitting here typing this all three of the kiddos are at school. In all transparency I welcome the silence these two days of the week, but I also long for their giggles, splashes in the pool, and the sound of them singing at the top of their lungs. (However I don’t miss playing referee or the sound of their arguing – amiright?!)

We had an amazing summer. A summer filled with family time, Vitamin D, and many opportunities to serve together as a family. I learned so much about myself and about our family. My heart grew emotional as the summer days were coming to an end and the school year was approaching. I just wanted to bottle up all the best parts of summer and keep the kids and all our memories in one big bubble. The kids however were trying on their school uniforms every other day and were sharing with me all their big plans for TK and Kindergarten. They didn’t fully share my sentiment, but I was reminded of how incredibly thankful I am that my children feel loved and cared for even when I’m not around. I’m so blessed that I have an extension of what is happening in my home, in the shape of a school for my children. So as I’m sitting here completely exhausted by the beginning of the school year (I am NOT  a morning person!), I want to take some time to share a bunch of iPhone pics of our best parts with you – key words – best parts. I have three kids 6,4, and 2… obviously they fight and argue and wine. Oh do they wine! But your kids probably do that too. You’re so sick of hearing it – why would you want to read about it? So as I choose to focus on all the sweet times, maybe it will help you see your sweet moments in the “in between” too!

Lessons from the Summer:

  1. It’s hard being a homebody with three little kids. They like to do stuff! They make huge messes when they’re home all day. So treat the kiddos with a movie in mommy’s bed! It keeps everyone contained and the living room gets a break!39937417_10100448027307648_1032304271585968128_n
  2. If you’re a homebody in Florida, you have to have a pool! Whether you blow that bad boy up or it’s built in, just have one! The kids don’t realize that you’re kicking them out of the house, they think it’s a reward or something! Win win for all!
  3. If you add a banana to the nastiest green vegetable juice you can find and then freeze it as a popsicle, you don’t have to fight your kids to get their daily dose of veggies! 34321879_10100417502774058_3535881502023745536_n
  4. Mark your calendars months in advance for Chick-fil-A day and 7-11 day. What’s better than free Chick and Slurpees? And they’ve already had their veggie pops so don’t fret over all the dye in the slurpees – balance people!
  5. Serving together as a family has provided us with some of our most bonding moments as a family. It gives us an opportunity to show our children people and cultures that are different than us, while showing them the equality between us as well. It has brought the teaching they receive to life. It shows them what “daddy’s job” is all about, and that it’s not a job just for daddy! It has taught me to respond to opportunities rather than make an excuse.
  6. The beach is a must. I don’t like sand and I rarely get into the ocean, but for some reason I just LOVE the beach. We go to NSB every summer. The kids are always on their best behavior that week and we bounce back and forth between pool and beach all day every day. We are lenient of schedules and we check out of technology for the most part. Is summer really even summer without a beach vacations?! Not for this family!
  7. One on one time in a family of 5 is hard to come by, but being intentional is worth it! We took both girls out on dates this summer and Jonah got a day at Sea World. All three of them were in heaven for those few hours and it’s so much fun seeing who they are when they’re the center of our attention. Our oldest and youngest lived it up! Our middle was so quiet at first (not like her at all) and it almost felt like that awkward first date in the beginning – I suppose it’s a classic middle child thing, but she soon loosened up and it was a perfect night.
  8. Sign your kids up for all the fun! We did a fun reading camp and a VBS and it was a perfect way to break up our summer routines, or the lack thereof, and a great time for them to spend with their friends. Added bonus: Jesus and books!
  9. Stay up late and when you’re so tired the next day make a fun starbucks trip! It’s what summers are for, right?!
  10. Even if you don’t go to the beach, or go to VBS, or have a pool, just have fun together. More than any other summer the reality of these little people growing up hit me hard. The days can be so long. So.very.long. But the years are flying by. I checked on the kids the other night and the sight of my 6 year old sleeping overwhelmed me. She looked so big. How did she fill out her bed so fast? When did her face get so mature? The “growing up” stuff is happening every time we blink. Each year is a year closer to when she doesn’t need us for every little thing. When she doesn’t live with us. When she doesn’t share our last name. We have to be intentional with this small window of time we have with our babies and that intentionality doesn’t require money, or theme park passes, or a beach. It just requires that we’re present.

 

So cheers to an amazing summer and fall we welcome you. Mostly we just welcome your somewhat cooler temps, football games,  and holidays… not the 5:45am wake up calls (palm in face emoji).

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Cecilia and Andre

Cecilia and Andre are the most outgoing, friendliest couple I have ever met! I swear that everyone they know instantly becomes their best friend. Whether you’re their barista or their UPS guy, it doesn’t matter! They’re going to treat you like they’ve known you forever and next thing you know you’re partying at their wedding! And that’s what it was! A PARTY!

It was a night like none other! My cheeks were sore at the end of the day due to me constantly smiling at them and laughing with their friends and family! There was a ton of laughter, squealing, jumping up and down, and pure excitement coming from everyone at their gorgeous Sarasota Garden Club Wedding.

Cecilia is so sweet that she couldn’t help but compliment everyone as she walked down the isle. Andre jumped up and down when they were pronounced husband and wife. They both kept checking on me the whole night to make sure I was eating and drinking plenty. I’m telling you guys, this is a special couple here.

It’s a crazy story how my path crossed with theirs, a story that maybe we’ll tell another time, but I will forever be grateful to have met Cecilia and Andre and capture the next chapter to their love story. Because of who they are and how they treat others, I wasn’t just a hired vendor for the night. For a few hours I became their closest friend, like their family, and I will always cherish their wedding day and their friendship for years to come!

Cici and Andre, thank you for being you! Thank you for loving people so well. Thank you for being a ray of light in a sometimes dark and gray world! Enjoy a little sneak peek from your special day!

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Alex & Ray | Engagement

Ray received the news that once again he had orders to leave. In an attempt to celebrate his birthday before he left, Alex called all their friends and family together to have a big party. As she was setting everything up Ray asked her to run one last errand. Little did she know, Ray was doing some planning of his own! When she left Ray immediately started changing out the birthday decor for “she said yes” memorabilia. He put on his nicest suit and asked all the guests to make two lines leading from the front door to the back of the house where he had rose pedals set up, “Will you marry me” letters standing up, and him awaiting on one knee. Alex walked in completely surprised and overwhelmed. She said yes to spending the rest of her life with Ray and I am so thrilled to be able to walk alongside them during this season of life!

They’ll be tying the knot in the beautiful St. Augustine and it made the most perfect backdrop for their engagement session. It was an unusually cold morning but Alex didn’t let that stop her from rocking this gorgeous red dress, and of course Ray was nice and warm in his dress blues.

Ray and Alex, congratulations on your engagement! A huge thanks to Alex for allowing us to be part of this season, and Ray, thank you so much for your service to our country and our freedom.

Enjoy a preview of their engagement session!

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Blake + Serenity

Have you ever spent time with someone from your past, and left asking yourself why you didn’t spend more time together when you had the chance? That was definitely my experience with Blake and Serenity last month when we did their photoshoot in London. I went to college with this couple and was really good friends with Blake’s sister, but for whatever reason Serenity and I’s paths didn’t cross much, which is extremely unfortunate. This couple is so down to earth, fun to be around, and up for anything I asked of them!

Blake and Serenity are currently living in Oxford, England while Blake works on his doctorate. They have two sweet little boys and are learning all about navigating life, parenting and marriage in Europe away from all their friends and family. They’re a pretty incredible couple and I was so inspired by them!

When I found out I would be spending a week in London last January I immediately went to work attempting to book a photo shoot abroad. I absolutely love traveling to other countries but unfortunately don’t get to do it as much as I would like. Instead I spend time pinning pictures of ideas or inspiration of pictures I hope to take in other countries one day. I reached out via facebook to all my friends who may be living abroad, and was connected with Blake and Serenity. Not knowing London at all, much less England, I had no idea the lengths the couple would take just to do this session!

We discussed a couples shoot around the city of London. I wanted to highlight London, and also be able to give them a product to commemorate this season of their life there. Trying to plan pictures with two children is hard in and of itself! What I didn’t know was that it would require a train ride to London, and pushing around a double stroller in one of the most kid unfriendly cities I’ve ever been to! There are a ton of stairs around the city and hardly any “lifts” (elevators) or escalators. It was also a beautiful day but pretty chilly with the temps hanging out in the forties and the gusts of wind that made you hide under your jacket from time to time. But thankfully these two are so carefree and adventurous, and their little boys have acquired their personality that it was seriously one of my most fun days while we were there!

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We started at the Westminster Abbey where we even got in some shots with the boys before they tired out and napped in the stroller.

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From there we crossed River Thames and headed over to the London Eye. I was a little bummed as I learned upon arrival that Big Ben and the London Eye were under construction for the time we were there. I suppose that means I’ll just have to go back! From the London Eye we jumped on the underground and headed to Tower Bridge. The bridge and the park surrounding it was so beautiful and vibrant with color! We then jumped on the underground again and headed back to my hotel, stopping along the way at Brown and Rosie of course to warm up and sip on some coffee! We had so much fun throughout the day that Blake and Serenity stayed until dinner and was able to meet Chris and hang out with us over some pretty amazing waffles! Yes, we had waffles for dinner, lol.

I will forever be in debt to this sweet couple! Blake and Serenity, I had such a great time with you guys and Chris and I can’t wait for you to come home so we can hang out more. Or better yet, maybe we should just come to you guys! 😉

Hope you enjoy a preview of their gallery! 2018-02-21_00382018-02-21_00022018-02-21_00012018-02-21_00042018-02-21_00052018-02-21_00062018-02-21_00072018-02-21_00092018-02-21_00102018-02-21_00112018-02-21_00162018-02-21_00152018-02-21_00122018-02-21_00142018-02-21_00132018-02-21_00182018-02-21_00172018-02-21_00202018-02-21_00192018-02-21_00242018-02-21_00232018-02-21_00222018-02-21_00212018-02-21_00262018-02-21_00272018-02-21_00282018-02-21_00342018-02-21_00332018-02-21_00352018-02-21_00312018-02-21_00302018-02-21_00292018-02-21_00372018-02-21_00362018-02-21_00432018-02-21_00412018-02-21_00422018-02-21_00442018-02-21_0040

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Mourning Into Dancing (3/3)

The years went by and they were good in many ways, but my heart was broken. Not only was it broken, but it was unwilling to be put back together. I would go through phases of hurt and confusion where I wondered why God had a plan for Chris, miraculous power for my children, and nothing for me. Then I would go through phases of anger and hardness where I just didn’t care. Those phases were difficult. I’ve learned over the years that as a believer when your heart is hardened towards God, it’s hardened towards the things and people of God. Apart from Christ there is no way to love your husband, children, friends, church, and others the way you were created to. Since I had experienced the richness of that before, I knew the depths of the pit I was in, but felt stuck. I was silent, and I thought He was silent.

Two and a half years went by and we wanted to try for one more. Everyone thought it was Chris going for his boy, but really it was me. Chris had settled into being a girl dad and boy was he good at it. He was so sweet and tender. Kind and patient. The girls had him wrapped around their little fingers! They thought he walked on water and he milked every minute of it (I’m writing this in the past tense, but it’s all still very true). He was content having another little girl. But truthfully, I was really hoping for a boy. 

Tears of joy streamed down my face during that ultrasound. I couldn’t believe it! We were really having a son! I was enjoying everything about this pregnancy as I knew, according to the advice of my doctors, that this would need to be my last. We were finally getting maternity pictures and a nautical nursery was being prepared.  I had no expectation of having a full term baby. It wasn’t because of lack of faith, I just accepted that this was who I was, the preemie mom. I still did everything they told me to. I took it easy, had the procedure, and went in every week for the shots. But even still I mentally prepared to have another preemie and have a NICU stay, so it was to no surprise when at 34 weeks I began having contractions and once again went into preterm labor. But I should have known better, there is no preparing your heart for leaving your newborn behind.

We survived a third NICU journey and brought our little boy home. We were overjoyed with our little family of five. Over the next few months something started happening that I wasn’t prepared for it. The finality of the fact that I would never have what I so deeply desired began to set in. The finality of all of my begging, all of my prayers, and all of my deepest yearnings, to go unmet and unanswered put a weight on my heart that I didn’t know could be. There were no more pregnancies. No more babies. No more opportunities for God to show me He really did care. That weight was overwhelming and quite impossible to not grow hard under.

I knew I couldn’t continue in my head alone. With a gentle push from my husband I sought out counseling. It was over the next year that layers of brokenness were pulled apart and light was shed on truth, maybe for the first time in years. I had to come to three realizations that were life changing to me:

1. I was angry at God for breaking promises to me that he never made.

This one hurt. Without even realizing it I somehow thought that God owed me the desires of my heart. After all, why wouldn’t he want that for me? Why wouldn’t he want me to desire to have a baby naturally, to not be separated from them? That’s the most natural way. That was his original plan. I committed my life to him. My husband and I honored him in our dating relationship and we strived to in our marriage as well. Wasn’t it time for my reward? Wasn’t this his gift to me?

No. No it’s wasn’t. His cross was his gift to me and this was and is enough. I can easily look around my life and see other gifts that he has blessed me with. But those are just that, gifts. Undeserving gifts from him. Nothing that I deserved. Nothing that I earned. Just gifts from a loving Father. He never promised these gifts to me. But he did make promises to me that I could count on:

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 40:29

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

When I released the promises I thought he had made and grasped the promises he actually did give to me, healing began.

2. I wasn’t forsaken, He was actually with me the whole time.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

I remember my counselor asking me to consider this. It actually made me mad at first (surprise, surprise). I felt more comfortable believing He wasn’t with me. The thought of Him being there and doing nothing just seemed mean. When I went into counseling I knew I had to commit to what would be asked of me. My way wasn’t working. So l committed to pondering the possibility. Through the process, I realized that not only was he with me, but He was in me. On the mornings back in 2012 when I felt like I couldn’t drive to the NICU one more time and on the nights driving away at midnight again with no baby in tow, He was in me. When my heart broke because my family was divided between home and a NICU, he was in me. When I felt crushed under the weight of failed expectations, He was in me. When my husband and I drifted apart from one another through our own ways of dealing with things, He was in us. I came to realize it was only because he was with us and in us that we made it. He was the only way we got through 172 days in the NICU. The only way Chris and I found our way back to each other. And the only way this broken person could be whole again. I was never forsaken. I was never forgotten. He was there all along.

3. I trusted Him with my circumstances, but not with my heart.

I didn’t even realize I had come to this point. I was involved in Bible studies since I was in high school. I minored in Bible at college. I’ve studied the word for the last 15 years. I knew that God was more concerned with my heart than he was my circumstances, but some time after we had our second, I stopped trusting Him with my heart.

I believed in the God who could move mountains. The God who parted the Red Sea. The Savior who made the blind see and the death rise. But I didn’t trust in the Jesus that weeped for his friend’s death though he knew the outcome. The Jesus that prayed for his friend who he knew would deny him. The Jesus that suffered on the cross and watched his mother, brother, and friends weep, but rose on the third day to give us hope and eternity with Him.

Without even knowing I put more merit on Jesus’ physical miracles. I wanted him to snap his fingers and heal my body. I wanted him to blink and give me a full term baby. I didn’t want him to concern himself with my heart. I lied to myself and thought that if He gave me what I wanted, I would be fixed. He knew better, and I’m so glad He did. I’ve come to believe that healing a broken heart is one of the most powerful things that God does. To forgive a daughter who lost sight of who He is. To take something that is hard, and soften it. To form it like clay. To turn a heart back around facing Him. That’s a miracle in and of itself. That’s the gospel.

This has been a long and difficult journey, but a necessary one. In no way did God change any of my circumstances to bring my heart to one of peace and healing. He only changed my heart.  There is a season for mourning and a season for dancing, and both are necessary.

I’m so thankful that I can now dance in his truths. I know and believe His promises for me.

I can now rest in knowing that He never leaves me. He never forsakes me. There is no pit I can fall into, no waters that I could drown in, no weight of failed expectations, no grief, no anger, no brokenness that will ever separate me from him and his love for me.

And I now know that regardless of my circumstances, God is a good God and He will shift my heart however necessary to get through them. He will give me the energy to get through the days that I just can’t. He will give me new dreams and new desires. He will turn the same story of heartbreak into a story of victory.

Friends, this story isn’t unique to me. The circumstances maybe, but that’s what’s beautiful in all of this. It’s not about our circumstances, it’s about our God. He is a loving and a good God.

He is a loving God to you.

He is a good, good God to you!

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Mourning Into Dancing (2/3)

My hands were trembling and tears rolled down my face as I held the test. Chris looked at me with wide eyes and a fake smile and said, “we’re having a baby!” To which I responded, “WE ALREADY HAVE A BABY!”

We had been home with Adyson for four months when we learned we were pregnant. There was nothing in me that was ready to go through everything again. The doctors weren’t able to give us any reason as to why I had preterm labor, and with no reasons came no sure solutions.

I was terrified. I was so scared of having another micro preemie. I was scared of being put on bedrest and not being able to be the mother to Adyson that I waited so long to be. I hated the weight it put on my husband. Though he was gracious and never showed it, I knew it was hard. Hard for him to worry about me, to do all the things so that I wouldn’t have to, and to even think about the possibility of another five months in a NICU but now with two babies. It was a very different experience with this pregnancy than with my first. This time around was overshadowed by what had happened and all that could.

We found out we were having another little girl and it hit me. I had another daughter inside of me. She was coming to be a sister to Adyson. She was coming to be part of our family. I could spend the remainder of my pregnancy in fear of what could be, or I could have faith and go forward in peace and in confidence. After all, every mom I knew that had a micro preemie took all the precautions and had full term babies after their first. Why would I be any different?

My word for 2013 was “heal”. I was broken after 2012. I felt alone and forsaken. I wanted answers. I needed to know that God was still with me, for me, good to me. I convinced myself that my pregnancy with our second daughter was what God was going to use to heal me. He made me walk down a difficult road with Ady for purposes and reasons that I didn’t know, but I became ok with that. I accepted that it was all part of a bigger story. A grander plan. A holy purpose. He chose Chris and I, and we did it. Now for a reward I would get to have a full term baby. Never again would I be discharged without my baby. The appointments were going well and I was even discharged from the high risk doctors. As an act of faith and an attempt to show God I trusted him, I gave away all of our preemie clothes. I was 32 weeks and the doctor went ahead and scheduled my c-section for just 5 weeks away. Maternity pictures were on the calendar. This was it! We were really doing this!

Chris went out of town for the weekend and joked, “don’t have her while I’m gone.” Little did he know in less than 48 hours I would be waking him at 3am to inform him that my water broke. My mom rushed me to the hospital. We learned that what is usually an hour and half trip could actually be done in 50 minutes at 4 in the morning. They poked and prodded and asked all of the necessary questions. They confirmed that my water had broke and that once again I was in preterm labor. Our sweet Alyvia would be joining our family at 33 weeks.

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I didn’t get upset or angry. I knew everything would be ok. I knew that even if she was coming at 33 weeks that God would allow her to be big and strong and still get to come home with us. I just knew that she would be some miracle that instantly knew how to suck, swallow, and breathe. I knew that we would be discharged together and that we wouldn’t have to do another NICU stay.

Because this was the year of healing.

This was what God was using to show me he did love me.

He did care for me.

He was with me.

He is good to me.

This was going to be another miracle.

3 days later Chris pulled the car around to the front of the hospital and I got in… without my baby. I lost it. I was already broken, and now I was angry. What lesson did I possibly need to learn that He couldn’t have taught me the first go around? What was so hard about granting me my prayer of coming home with my baby? I begged him to reveal to me what I did. Why I was being punished. Why He was angry with me. But there was just silence. So like a stubborn little girl who was mad at her father, but too afraid to leave him, I sat my heart down beside his and didn’t say anymore. I was done praying. Done begging. Done trying to convince my heart of what my head knew. I numbed myself and I let you all do the talking for me. I let you pray for our girl. I let you lift up our family. I let you stand in the gap for us.

I was broken, then angry, and now silent.

1463072_762127634118_2120066007_n*Photo by Sarah Sandel

Check back next week for part 3.

 

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She said, “YES”!

I was absolutely thrilled when Thomas called me and shared his plans to propose to his long-term girlfriend. This guy had every detailed planned! He told me the date, time, and location. He shared with me how Gabby thought they were going on a lunch date and to possibly look at rings. Little did she know Thomas’ family ring was sitting in his pocket waiting to be placed on her hand.  Continue reading “She said, “YES”!”