i’d had these weird, competing emotions leading up to thanksgiving this year. on one hand, i was thrilled because i knew we’d be surrounded by dear family (it helps that they’re all really good cooks, and really, who doesn’t love a plate full of dressing and butter-injected turkey?). i had also looked forward to the day because of the dual role it played in our family’s life this year – it was the first birthday of our twins.
but what happens when the vast space between november 24, 2015 and november 24, 2016 didn’t just include your babies’ births – but also one of their deaths? what does their thanksgiving birthday look like when one of them didn’t live to celebrate it? it’s hard to find the happy in that.
a friend texted on wednesday to let me know she was praying us through the next day. when she asked how i was doing, i answered with something to the effect of, i’m broken. peaceful. cheerful. sad. irritable. full of hope. this last year just can’t be wrapped up in a nice little package with a pretty bow. it’s been hard and it’s been messy. but every time i’ve looked out beyond the ups, downs, swirling madness, and chaos, i’ve seen just one thing.
jesus, the unchanging anchor.
while our thoughts, emotions, and sometimes even our actions have been variable and fickle, he’s never budged. he’s always been planted firmly in the seat of hope and the place of joy. those two things are what have sustained us through the storms of the last year. no, we can’t be happy that our baby died a few days before she was six months old. but we can believe god when he says that he’s using the sorrows in our life to prepare for us an eternal weight of glory (2 cor. 4:17). we can trust that the lord uses our suffering to ignite a divine chain of events that propel us through perseverance, character, and hope (romans 5:3-4). and out of that hope is birthed not a fleeting happiness, but a joy that can’t be shaken.
so what did our FirstBirthdayThanksgiving look like this year? we began the morning at ava’s grave being wowed by sam and that whole twin-bond thing. we finally decided to just sit and BE with our expected flood of tears and a delightful serving of laughter and memories.
after our beautiful time at the cemetery, we made our way down the little two lane road to my grandmother’s house, where we’ve celebrated thanksgiving day for decades now. when she passed away a couple of months before sam’s and ava’s birth, she left her century-old home to my parents who have spent the last many months renovating it. the last time the whole family was there together was the day of ava’s burial. the house was stripped down to its skeleton state and i remember standing in the middle of all that old creaky wood thinking of how much life had taken place there. babies were born within those walls. marriages began under that old archway between two of the rooms. and many tears were shed as loved ones took their last breaths. my meme’s house had always been a lovely, warm place for me, but i fell even more in love with it that day. so much life and death had passed through the lord’s hands there within the last hundred years, and it was comforting to know that as our family gathered to celebrate ava’s life and to mourn her death, our story was just one of so many joys and sorrows, all written by the author of life himself.
i found it a sweet gift that after that dark, sorrowful day there within the torn down walls, the next time we all gathered in that house again was to celebrate thanksgiving and our babies’ birth. gone was the empty shell of a home and in its place was light, life, and joy. nearly every room still bears the marks of generations past – from the original wood floors to the expanse of old bead board ceilings – but it’s now a tangible picture to me of how the lord makes all things new. the floors still show evidence of hard days past – there are deep gouges in some places where past damage marked the delicate surface – but they’ve now been refreshed and restored.
i think it’s the perfect reminder of what the lord has done for us. we’ve been marred by sin, pain, and grief, but god, in his holy passion for his children, has given his own son to pave the only way for us to be restored and redeemed.
one year old.
my parents have a longstanding tradition of frequenting this certain little bakery to get a cake for each grandchild’s first birthday. i knew to expect sam’s cake to be special because the bakery has always worked hard to make these cakes unique, but what i wasn’t prepared for was how my mom and aunt had gone out of their way to ensure that this cake was one i would never forget. as my mom told me later that day, we wanted to show that although sam and ava are away from each other now, a part of them will always be together. so many tears and so much thankfulness for their extraordinarily thoughtful gift.
years ago, josh and i began praying for a voice in the midst of what we saw going on around us in our country. we wanted a way to speak for the very, very least of these, to speak for those who weren’t yet born and couldn’t speak for themselves. in our wildest dreams, we couldn’t have scripted the story the way the lord did. we couldn’t have possibly imagined that in praying for a voice, the lord would actually give us *two* very real, very tangible little voices. we’ve praised him every day since sam’s and ava’s birth for his hilarious, creative, magnificent answer to our prayers. it’s been a long, wonderful year. i thank god for the platform he’s given me to share over social media and for the countless conversations and debates that ava’s life, in particular, has sparked both online and face to face.
as this first anniversary of their birth passes, though, i’ve prayerfully decided to step away from the mic for a while. my email, messenger, phone, and calendar have virtually exploded since ava’s story has made its way into the hearts of many, and my family and i are finding ourselves in need of a season of stillness and rest. before i shut it down, though, i have to say that as i look back over this last year, i’m overwhelmed with thankfulness for the innumerable ways that you’ve loved us and loved ava, and i am so enormously grateful to you for sharing in our joys and sorrows. truly, thank you.
i’ve begged the lord time and time again to help me steward the voice that he gave me well, and i pray with all my heart that what you’ve seen over this last year is a whole lot of jesus.
because that, my friends, is all that matters.
he is the image of the invisible god, the firstborn of all creation. for by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. and he is the head of the body, the church. he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. for in him all the fullness of god was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
wedding planner: two hearts weddings and events | venues: grand bohemian mountain brook and vulcan park and museum | bride’s dress: monique lhuillier (ivory and white) | shoes: manolo blahnik | bride’s hair: todd cargo (sanctuary) | bride’s makeup: beauty by jess | bridesmaids’ dresses: nordstrom | bridesmaids’ hair and makeup: angela watson salon | men’s tuxedos: mr. burch formal wear (mountain brook) | invitations and monogram: empress stationery | calligraphy: deb warnat designs | programs: wiregrass weddings | floral design: hothouse design studio | décor and linens: prophouse birmingham | caterer: kathy g & co. | tents and rentals: event rentals unlimited | lighting, drapery, and chandeliers: design productions | cakes: pastry art bake shoppe | ceremony music: cahaba river strings | reception entertainment: total entertainment | fireworks: pyro shows | transportation: coats classic cars, rare transportation, and over the mountain sedan | photographer: allison lewis photography
wedding planner: mariée ami wedding planning studio | venue: private home | bride’s gown: martina liana (ivory & white) | hair and makeup: kerri bunn (boma beautiful) | bridesmaids’ dresses: bella bridesmaids | groomsmen’s tuxedos: jos. a. bank | invitation suite: caroline borders with mariée ami | calligraphy: the refined pen | floral designer: dykes culp | caterer: savoie | cake artist: sherry cunningham | tent, rentals, and lighting: event rentals unlimited | ceremony musicians: samford strings | reception entertainment: black jacket | videographer: the film poets | photographer: allison lewis photography (with anna wamsted)
i stood in the middle of that large worship room – the very one in which we’d recently held the service to celebrate ava’s life – and felt the familiar welling of hot tears as i learned what she was walking through with her unborn baby. the mutual friend who was sharing the story told me that the neurologists were saying many phrases that were familiar to our family, too, and i immediately felt peculiarly close to the young mom she was speaking of, a young mom that i’d never even met. our mutual friend asked gingerly and with much compassion, i know the wounds are fresh for you, but do you think you could talk with her?
the three of us emailed back and forth a bit and when the time eventually came when i could go a whole day without crying, i thought, i’m ready now. the lord had that sweet momma on my heart every single day for a week so i let out one good cry, prayed, and finally got myself together to call her. josie was every bit as precious on the phone as i imagined she would be. i guess we only made it two or three minutes into the call, though, when she told me the news: she was going to the hospital the following morning for their baby’s delivery.
before i could even think about how weird it might be to josie for me, a virtual stranger, to photograph her baby’s birth, i offered to come that following morning to shoot what was sure to be an incredibly emotional day. much to my delight, she was as excited about it as i was. what i didn’t know then, though, is that i would end up rushing my daughter to the hospital that night for complications from her newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. while they worked to stabilize my little one in the early hours of that morning, i had to write the heartbreaking note to let josie know i could no longer come to document the arrival of her own darling blessing. despite a last minute change in plans – and to everyone’s incredible thankfulness and joy – baby jed made his appearance that afternoon far stronger and more stable than anyone had offered hope of.
after another plan to visit was bumped by unscheduled trip to the hospital for jed, i finally got my hands on this precious gift today, and yes, i’m most certainly smitten with this little love and his family. i sat back and admired the way josie and her husband, richard, gently cared for jed and praised god for the tremendous value of his life. there’s no doubt about it, my friends, it was beautiful and sacred in their home today.
“there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires,
that is that i may answer the great end for which i am made –
to glorify thee who hast given me being.”
-a puritan prayer
on october 19, 2015, my husband and i flew back to birmingham from shooting a most swoon-worthy wedding. caroline and henry got married in paris and a little dream of mine came true as they asked me to join them for their time in france.
eleven days later, on october 30, we got a call that would forever change our lives…we were asked to adopt one baby that, at birth, ended up being two. a lot has happened since our twins were born on november 24. new life, a terminal diagnosis, laughter, tears, milestones, death. if you’ve followed my personal facebook page, you’ve gotten a glimpse of our family’s life as we’ve grieved and grasped for normalcy amidst even more trials that have come our way.
and to be honest, we’re tired.
we’ve clung tightly to the first verses of isaiah 43 in which the lord promises that the fire won’t consume us and that the crashing waves won’t overtake us, but as i told a friend last night, sometimes it feels like we just have one nostril above the water. as a verrrry silly (and unrealistic) suggestion, i told josh that we should just pack the kids up and go back to paris for a couple of weeks…
instead, we’re just reliving that week of relaxation and rejuvenation through some of the photos that i took while we were there, and we’re dreaming of the next time we can steal away for some R&R. 💕
happy tuesday, friends!
jewelry that’s been passed down through the generations from her grandmother and great-grandmother, design and decor gifted to them by aunts and close family friends…brittney and matt’s wedding day was a true labor of love by the people they treasure most in their lives, people who were overjoyed to come together to create their perfect day. britt and matt spent the first half of the day dwelling in excited anticipation with those loved ones, until that moment when he first saw her walking down the aisle and the tears fell hard. everything else seemed to melt away as matt saw the gorgeous bride who was minutes away from becoming his wife.
congratulations, my friends, on a beautifully sweet day, and thank you for letting me be there to share in it with you.
planner: becky’s brides | venue: the willows | invitation suite: empress stationery | bride’s gown: bella couture | bridesmaids’ dresses: bridesmaids inc. | hair and makeup: brittany shelton | floral designer: hothouse design studio | caterer: classic on noble | cake artist: wedding cakes by jan | rentals: top notch events and rentals | coffee bar: o’henry’s | entertainment: wayne ingram | transportation: coats classic cars | photographer: allison lewis photography (with anna wamsted)