Never Give Up, Texas

Over the past few days, I have watched in shock and horror as the water levels keep rising in Houston - the city I flew into less than two months ago for this session. It's hardly recognizable when I see images on the news. The wonderful woman who hosted me in her home has stayed safe and dry thus far, but many of her clients and friends have lost everything. The two families we served 30 minutes or so outside of Houston have also escaped the flood damage, but the Houston community is hurting.

As the death count continues to rise, grief sets in, and suffering ensues, we know there is a long road to recovering and rebuilding. When we feel helpless and feel compelled to give as a way of making an impact, but think that $10 or $20 doesn't feel like much of anything to give, please know that every dollar has a purpose and truly helps. Organizations like Preemptive Love, and other organizations (and more) who are on the ground actively helping others, need our support to keep doing what they do. Speaking as someone who runs a non-profit... without your money, we would not be able to do what we do. It matters. Please help support the people of Houston - give whatever you can to the people who need your resources to continue saving lives and supporting those in need. 

This session post was scheduled to be posted earlier this month, but we pushed it back to announce Kristyn's farewell... Then Harvey happened, and all eyes have been on Texas. We've been thinking about Texas too - not only hoping for the water to subside, but for love to pour out, for courage to rise up, and for hope to take root.

The Combs Family has been weathering their own storm and have been surrounded by love as they take courage and hold onto hope. Two years ago, Alyssa called me and told me her daughter had been diagnosed with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) type 1, like my daughter had. She was calling to get advice, to hear my story, and to talk about the scary stuff from one SMA mom to another. I was still in the paper work of filing for the 501c3 status for Love Not Lost, but mentioned it to her before we hung up.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see her application come through! Not only was I excited to meet them, but I was surprised in the best way possible that they were able to get on a drug trial that helps fight SMA. It's not a cure, but the difference it makes is something I would call miraculous. The drug is now FDA approved, which is important, not just for other SMA kids, but for the child Alyssa is carrying as well. 

Alyssa and her husband have a healthy son, a daughter with SMA, and a third child on the way who will also have SMA. Their family mantra comes from the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation - Never Give Up.

We were happy to have extended family join us for the shoot and captured some really fun memories playing and laughing together. We hope these photos of love and joy bring some encouragement to your day.

When you are overwhelmed, exhausted, and feel like you just can't take any more, we hope you remember this family. We hope you remember Texas. We hope you never give up.

Love Not Lost - Kristyn's Farewell

Kristyn, our Director of Operations, is a really gifted writer and a big dreamer. That's part of what made us fall in love with her. When she interviewed with us, she told us she was the co-founder of Gather Good, but that she also loved our cause and wanted to get involved part time. Her resume was impressive, and her personality and heart even more so. I knew there was a risk of her leaving us, but it was worth it to have her join us, even if for a short time. 

As we have had the privilege of working together, I don't regret that decision for one second. She has brought so much value to Love Not Lost and I will be forever grateful for her fingerprints she will leave behind. 

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In recent months, I could tell Gather Good was demanding more of her schedule and knew it was a matter of time before she would need to make the call. That call came last week, and as Kristyn choked up sharing her decision to step away from Love Not Lost, I also teared up.

As much as it sucks to lose great people, I am so excited to watch her chase her dream. We had a great conversation and she's offered to stay on for several more weeks to help us transition our new hire into the role of Director of Operations (now accepting applications). This is currently a part time role that we hope to transition to a full time position in the future as we gain corporate sponsors and additional donations. 

We are looking forward to meeting people who are excited about the mission of Love Not Lost and want to help us grow across the Southeast. If you know of someone who would be interested, please send them to our job posting and tell them to apply! 

In saying goodbye, Kristyn has some words to share that I will leave you with...

Back in 1999, when I was just 12 years old, I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. It was a short six months from diagnosis to death, and just as quickly as he was here, he was gone. During that time my family hardly captured moments together, a decision I greatly wish I could change. 

Upon first hearing about the mission of Love Not Lost, it immediately became very near and dear to my heart. Aside from my resolute love of grassroots nonprofits, I felt a strong connection because of my childhood. Capturing and preserving a snapshot of someone's life stands still in time. Memories fade; photographs last a lifetime. 

Like all of you, I believe in the importance of celebrating the seconds, minutes, hours, and days that make up this beautiful mess we call life. In its short time as a nonprofit, Love Not Lost has been able to support people in grief and celebrate life. To capture those finite, yet uniquely impactful moments. Ashley has been at the heart of loving people better so delicately and it makes me honored to share a role in growing this remarkable community. 

Saying goodbye is never easy. We experience goodbyes throughout our lives, but the ache of that statement, no matter the amount of practice we have, still stings like the first time around. It has been an incredibly hard decision to say goodbye to Love Not Lost.

Much like my father, I connect moments through song. In saying goodbye, I like to think of it more as an I'll be seeing you, like the sweet crooning of Billy Holiday's title track. 

As I chase my dream of storytelling Atlanta's strong civic heartbeat, I will continue to walk in stride with Love Not Lost. While my role will change, my adoration for the work we do will continue to remain unwavering. If you're interested in the Director of Operations position, I can promise you it will be a decision you won't regret saying yes to. 

I bid you all my dearest farewell. Adieu. I'll be seeing you. 

Freezing Time In Texas

Around the time of our Annual Auction Celebration, we had the honor of flying out to Texas to preserve memories for two families in Texas. The first family we photographed sent us an application about their baby that read, "I am a mother of 2 beautiful miracles. I am currently pregnant with my 4th. My 1st pregnancy ended with a miscarriage and this time I am currently trying to make it full term. Around 11 weeks, our daughter was diagnosed with Acrania-anencephaly. My heart broke to know that she will not be surviving long after birth or might not even make it alive at all. Through all the pain and heartache we are feeling, we decided to help other babies and hope we can donate her organs to help other parents not go through this pain that we are feeling. My baby will be a life saver and it makes me feel a little better that she will help others."

Our mission is to celebrate life while supporting people in grief - even celebrating life before being born. Since Yessica's due date was uncertain, we talked through some options and decided to preserve memories as a family while the baby was alive in the womb through a maternity session. We let the family know that Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep has a mission to photograph babies that never make it home from the hospital, and they would likely be able to photograph the delivery. We had a little bit of a rush to make sure we got the maternity session done before labor started, so we scheduled it as soon as we could. 

When we met in Texas, Yessica and her family were wonderful. They showed me a stuffed animal that played the baby's heart beat when you squeezed it, which we incorporated into several of the photos. We captured great moments together, played in the fountain nearby, and enjoyed the day in Tomball. If you would like to learn more about this family or support them directly for the memorial service, you can go to their GoFundMe page. We know there will be tough times ahead, but hope these photos can serve as a comfort in the days to come and bring joy in the future. 

Thank you for helping us travel to visit this family. Your donations make it possible to preserve these precious memories. We are excited to share the second family we photographed in Texas on the next blog post!

Love Not Lost's 2nd Annual Auction Celebration - 2017

You did it! You helped us raise over $30,000 to help support people in grief! 

There were so many people who helped make this happen, and at the risk of this sounding like an award acceptance speech, please bear with me because this is important. It's easy for one person to take the credit, but every successful person/organization knows, it is never possible alone. I could not do what I do without my board of directors and our new Director of Operations we hired in March, Kristyn. And we could not do what we do without the support and generosity of our sponsors, donors, volunteers, and partners... you!

Believe me... we could work our butts off planning a party, but if no one shows up with a willingness to give, our work is wasted. You made the party successful and you are the reason we can continue growing. Thank you!

Our Love Sponsors for the event, Steven and Denise Jones, are some of Love Not Lost's biggest supporters - and they've been with us since the beginning. If you picked up on the fact we share the same last name, it's not a coincidence. They are my in-laws, and I am so grateful for their generosity and support. 

Our Life Sponsors for the event, Kalon Creative and Trinity Anglican Mission are also near and dear to my heart. Kalon Creative was co-founded by a long-time friend and LNL board member, Austin Grigg. They've been huge supporters of Love Not Lost throughout the year and we were honored to have them sponsor our event. Trinity Anglican Mission is my Atlanta church who taught me what love is. They loved me through my darkest days and set the example of how to love people well for Love Not Lost. We are extremely grateful for their sponsorship and support. 

Our generous sponsors covered the cost of the party so that money donated the night of the event could go straight to our mission of supporting people in grief. 

We stepped up our party game this year and had so much fun with everyone who joined us! 433 Bishop was an incredible space for us this year that greeted you with lofted ceilings, a huge bar, and a gallery wall you could see from the front door. People made their way around the room checking out auction items and settled into the album lounge, where there could actually see and touch the hand-crafted books we give to our applicants. We had mobile bidding again this year and it was so fun to see people bidding from home as well as at the event.

I kicked off the night by sharing a brief version of my story for those unfamiliar with Love Not Lost and then passed the mic over to Kristyn, our Director of Operations. She shared her story of losing her dad when she was young, and how she was only left with a few photos (none of which are professional quality or pictures she would want to hang in her home). Kristyn shared that she wished she had what Love Not Lost provides and that is a huge reason she joined our team (because let's be honest, it's definitely not for the money)! 

After Kristyn spoke, our auctioneer, Magen, took the floor to kick off our live auction. Let me just tell you, Magen knows how to bring the party! She and her team had everyone cracking up and raising paddles left and right. She asked Tommie to come up and share more about the private flight tour he donated to our live event since he's an incredible pilot (and yoga instructor famous for his headstands). We also had the honor of having Christian and Quinn representing the Loews Atlanta Hotel join us. During the live auction for the hotel stay, they jumped to the mic to up the prize to keep the action going strong! The Willetts, our awesome photographers, happened to capture a few shots of them bidding too... There were some great bidding wars that were fun for everyone to be a part of and witness as we raised money to support people in grief. 

After the live auction, I took the stage to share more about my journey through grief and serving the applicants of Love Not Lost. I invited our album sponsors, Shelly and Lek (and their son who really wanted to join us) from Azura Albums, to present two albums to families we had recently served. It was brief, but I shared about our vision to grow Love Not Lost to a national level and the photographer program we hope to scale. I then invited another special guest, Susan, to come share her experience with Love Not Lost so people could hear the impact we have through the session and photo book first hand. 

Susan is a beautiful mom with 4 kids and a husband who was fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer - they are the family from the midwest. Her husband passed away before Christmas, and she was very gracious to come down and celebrate life and love with us in the face of grief. She shared her perspective on our session and how much the experience meant to her and her children. I'm not sure how many dry eyes were left in the room, but I am guessing not many. Mine sure weren't. 

Magen closed the night with an ask for donations in case anyone wanted to give and didn't find any items that struck their fancy earlier that night. We doubled our monthly donors and raised over $7,000 in that portion alone. I was blown away and completely humbled. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again... We can NOT do this without you. Your generosity with your money, time, talent, and network keep us going. Without your support, we can't function as an organization and serve people on a greater scale. Thank you. 

We had party sponsors who donated their services to help us keep our costs as low as possible. A huge Thank You to Foglio Press, Ameripress Buckhead, Amp'D Entertainment, Dennis Dean Catering, 433 Bishop, The Willetts Photography, Fuji Floral, Cut Flowers Wholesale, Raven J Events, BayPhoto, Haley McGuire (calligraphy), David Goehring (videography), 180 Parking, Coca-Cola, and the amazing volunteers who helped us run our event smoothly. 

If you've made it this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read through the details of our 2nd annual event. We hope to make it better with each year and are already starting to work on next year's event. We hope you'll find us on social media, sign up for our newsletter, and join us on this journey to love people well while we support them in grief. 

If you have any desire to help us next year or know of people who might like to be sponsors, donors, or in-kind gifters for auction items, please contact us and let us know! We hope you enjoyed the party re-cap and photos by The Willetts and Auction Eventworks. 

With Gratitude, 

Ashley Jones

A Boy & His Trains

I love how small of a world we live in… Sabrina heard about Love Not Lost from her mom, who is in a church small group with a family friend who attended our launch party last April. Come to find out during the session, Sabrina went to high school with my husband, Kyle! Sabrina & her husband have two sons. Her oldest son, Brennan, started having seizures and was recently diagnosed with a rare and aggressive mitochondrial disease. He is 6 years old and Sabrina mentioned in their application that they wanted to capture memories with him while he was still fairly stable. 

When we had our first phone call, Sabrina told me her son LOVES trains. When she mentioned she lived in the Gwinett/Duluth area, I remembered hearing about a train museum in that same area and suggested we meet there for our session. I called the Train Museum to make sure we would be allowed to photograph there and they were happy to host us. When I arrived early to scout the area for photography, it was so much more than I imagined! 

I walked up to a huge field of train tracks and in the distance, there were old trains, fancy trains, christmas trains, and more! I could feel the excitement growing inside with each step that brought me closer. I could only imagine what a boy who loves trains would feel at the sight. As I walked into the huge warehouse area to explore, there was a black train decorated with garland, lights, and red ribbon for Christmas that was just stunning. The gentlemen who worked there were proud to tell me it was the very train that used to carry the President of the US around!  

When Sabrina and her family arrived, I felt like Christmas was already here. Both Brennan and his little brother, Beckett, were full of excitement and I was excited too! As we walked up to the first big trains outside, I wasn't sure if their smiles could get any bigger as their faces filled with awe and wonder. We walked around checking out each train before boarding a train that would take us around the tracks. 

We found a bunk on the train that the boys wanted to climb into, and with some help from mom and dad, the boys made it up safely. We all grabbed a seat in the top bunk areas as we felt the train chug forward. I wish I could write how beautiful the views were from up there, but I was so captivated by the boys' amazement and joy I didn't even look out the windows. The train was so nice and cozy too, so we stayed as long as we could. 

When the ride was over, we walked into the warehouse area to take a tour of the trains that were parked inside. The one that was decorated for Christmas made the perfect backdrop for the holidays! I know the blog is a little late getting posted, but don't worry - I emailed some of the best photos to the family in December so they could use them on cards or as gifts.

It was pretty cold in the warehouse, so we didn't want to hang out too long, but it was hard to say goodbye. Beckett and Brennan were so sweet and I'm so glad we were able to capture and preserve these memories together! 

As I mentioned before, we're a little late getting this posted, but there's been a ton of work going on behind the scenes! We will give you a full update in the next post, including an invitation to our party on May 18th in Atlanta. Stay tuned! 

A Tribute to Barry Wood

It's amazing how three letters can change your life forever. For my family, those three letters were SMA. For the Wood family, it was ALS. Both SMA and ALS have a similar prognosis with no cure. 

Barry is a dad of 4, a loving husband, and a really awesome guy. By the time I met him, ALS had already taken his ability to walk, speak, and move on his own, but Barry didn't let that stop him from living and loving. His bright blue eyes seemed to sparkle as if they were trying to let out the joy Barry had inside. He greeted me with the help of his computer eye-gaze system that spoke for him and was full of smiles as his family surrounded him. I could just tell he was the nicest guy and looked forward to our session together. 

We started by taking a few photos in their home with their sweet dog and then we loaded up in the van to go to a few other meaningful places around their town in North Carolina. We went to their church where Barry and Carmen were married, where Barry's dad was on leadership, and where Barry installed and ran much of the sound for years. I don't know why I had pictured a medium sized traditional looking church in my head when they told me about it, but I couldn't have been more wrong in my assumptions. When we turned down the lane and the church came into view, I felt as if I were entering a kingdom and probably had a look on my face as if I were seeing the Disney castle for the first time. Barry's dad and sister were waiting for us at the church so they could join in on making memories together.

As I entered the church, there was a gigantic decorated Christmas tree in celebration of Christmas - it was the middle of December after all. It made a lovely backdrop for photos to mark the season and give the family options for a Christmas card or gifts for the holidays. Barry's dad was standing close by, looking sharp in a suit and tie. We made small talk for a little bit where he casually mentioned that he was 90 years old. I was floored! I was tempted to make him show me his license to prove it. He looked so great for 90, so I asked him what his secret was… He told me there was no secret. When he reached a point where he felt like he could be nearing the end, he asked God for 10 more years. He believes God granted him the request and he has a couple of years left. He said after that, he'll be satisfied and ready to go home. The man's faith was astounding. I think I just stood there in awe for a good while before grabbing my camera. 

I could tell that Barry and his father were similar. They both were very peaceful and kind men. Even with ALS, Barry seemed to maintain a positive attitude, which is extremely admirable. ALS is a wicked disease. You keep all of your mental functions and are fully "normal" in your mind, but your body fails you. You turn into a paralyzed shell as you watch your bodily functions give out over time. As I watched my daughter go through a similar journey, I could only imagine the frustrations as an adult. I could see Barry try to communicate but unable to get the words out in a way anyone could understand. He would have conversation flying around him and couldn't contribute his thoughts or feelings. He would get tired, he would drool, he needed to be fed through a tube in his stomach. But he was smiling. His eyes were lit up with love for his family and joy for life. 

As we took photos of his family members individually next to Barry, we had some really great moments full of laughter and some intimate moments with subtle tears. It was a really beautiful time together where I too joined in on the laughter and tears. We moved into the sanctuary to take a big family photo since that's where Barry and Carmen were married. You could see the pride in Barry's face as he looked around - looking at the speakers and new equipment they had recently upgraded. You could see the satisfaction in his face when he looked at his family - the love for his wife and their beautiful children. I am so honored to be invited to capture these moments for families and witness the greatness of life and love. It's something I hope we as a society and as individuals never shy away from and instead cling to it, treasure it, and celebrate it for as long as we live. 

After photos in the church, we said goodbye to Barry's dad and sister and moved to the downtown square where the shops, train tracks, and park area came together. We took a few photos with the park in the background and some with the bridge. Carmen ran to the car to get something and Barry was trying to tell me something. It seemed like two words, two syllables in each word by the sound he was making. His kids gathered around me to help decipher what he could be saying. For several minutes, we tried to figure it out. Finally, I could tell he was looking at something over my shoulder every time he made the sounds, so finally I looked over and there was a water tower. I exclaimed, "Water Tower!!!" and he tilted his head back in relief and we all laughed, cheered, smiled, and I promised to get a picture with the water tower in the background for him. 

That is a glimpse into the struggle of ALS. I thanked Barry for being so patient with me and told him I was sorry he had to fight so hard for such small things. I can't imagine the frustration of losing such simple abilities - things we all take for granted because they are "normal" and feel like a guarantee. As Carmen, his wife said in the application they sent to us, "ALS is a progressive disease with no cure. You are never really sure what that means until you live it out, day by day. There's something about marking a moment in time, even if it's difficult, it's real and where we are. Would love some photos to remember that even through all the struggles, we are still family and living life one day at a time, enjoying the moments - big and small." 

That day, there were some struggles. There were lots of moments to be enjoyed. We marked time together and captured their real life right where they were. In fact, when we returned to their home, the sun was setting through the bare trees and lit up the sky. I convinced the kids to let me take individual pictures of them and Barry stayed outside with me to watch. He was such a good sport because it was getting colder by the second, and at the very end, I convinced Barry to let me photograph him by himself for a surprise portrait to give to Carmen which you can see in the sneak peek. When we went back inside to warm up, the kids were putting ornaments on the tree and we captured some sweet moments of the family sitting together in the living room, sharing stories, and enjoying time together.

Saying goodbye is always hard - probably the hardest part of my job. This session hit especially close to home because ALS and SMA are so similar. I cried a good portion of the way home, struggling with how unfair life is and knowing the pain and suffering this family would have to endure. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet Barry and his family, and sad I couldn't have met them sooner. I would've loved to sit with Barry and hear his stories and experience life with him before ALS. However, I am glad I was able to meet him and photograph him when I did. Yesterday, I received a text message from Carmen that Barry had passed away. 

My heart is so heavy and I wanted to share Barry's story with you today (with permission from Carmen) to honor his life and pay tribute to their family. In the few short hours I had with him and his family, he made a profound impact on me, as did his family. Their love, strength, and courage could be felt the moment you entered the room and long after you left. I am so so grateful I had the opportunity to meet Barry and spend half the day with the Wood family. I know he will be deeply missed as he was greatly loved. 

Carmen, thank you for inviting me into your story and allowing me to capture a piece of it. To the entire Wood Family - I am so sorry for your loss. May you find peace and comfort in the days to come as you grieve the loss of a great man. My heart is with you. 

Donors and Sponsors - Thank you for helping us capture these moments with amazing families like the Wood family - it makes a difference. We truly can't do this without your support.

Thank you.

Bringing in the New Year with our New Hampshire Family

The Tedford family's application appeared in my inbox one day and my eyes instantly welled with tears. Their son, Connor, was diagnosed with a terminal genetic disease called MLD (metachromatic leukodystrophy) that will take away his functions, including the ability to move and communicate, as his brain matter breaks down. His parents requested that we "capture moments together before he gets any worse, while he is still able to share his beautiful smile." 

I had a great phone call with Lauren, Connor's mom, and we scheduled our session for November. When I pulled up to their New Hampshire home, the bright yellows and oranges in the trees surrounding their house were brilliant even with the sun hiding behind a thick layer of clouds. We decided to play outside for as long as the rain held off so Connor and his little brother could play together. Connor, at 2.5 years old, has lost his ability to walk but is determined to get places by crawling as far as his little arms will cary him. Every now and then, he'd be focused on getting from one place to another and I would catch his eye, which is when he would flash me a great big grin before getting back to the task in front of him. His smile is indeed beautiful and worth sharing. I hope you will find as much joy in is as I did! 

At one point, we brought out the bubbles to play with because who doesn't love blowing bubbles?! The boys were full of smiles and laughter as the bubbles gently grazed their faces and floated off into the fallen leaves at their feet. When the boys could no longer agree on who got to hold the wand and blow the bubbles, their uncle jumped in to make them smile. He chased them around and had them squealing with excitement and delight at the thought of being caught and tickled. As the air became more damp and mist settled in, we decided to go inside to warm up and grab a snack. After the boys had their beloved string cheese, they were pulled around the house in the box "train" with huge smiles plastered on their faces. Their smiles were so contagious, my cheeks hurt by the end of the evening together. 

As we said our goodbyes, we captured some sweet moments together of the boys loving on their parents. Lauren sent me off with the most wonderful homemade apple sauce and a hug - both of which I will never turn away. 

My own daughter, Skylar, never lost her ability to hear, see, or think, but I do know the pain of watching the rest of her body deteriorate. Every day it's a fight, and every day, you hold onto the gifts you still have - a smile, a snuggle, a breath. There are days that leave you weary - the realization that your child has lost their ability to express happiness through a smile, the loss of speech, the loss of movement, a close call with death - and the knowledge that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make it better. In fact, it's just going to get worse. But you hold on to the present, because you recognize the gift that it is… You soak in their smile, their sweet little hands with skin as soft as silk, the peace on their face as they sleep, and make a point to store those memories. You take one moment at a time - sometimes by the second - and you keep breathing. 

It was a beautiful thing to watch the Tedford family make new memories and store them away, and I was so thankful to be able to preserve some. Thank you for helping us get to NH and photograph this family. Connor's smile is powerful. I'm honored to share it with you and hope you will keep the Tedford family in your heart in the new year. May 2017 bring you peace, love and joy.

Happy New Year!!! 

Preserving Memories in PA

When Tim's application appeared in my inbox, I read it and looked forward to our first phone call. Tim's words read, "I am terminally ill, and would love to have some of our remaining love captured. We are a special family that always tries to help anyone in need. My wife works all of the time and when we spend time together, we don't think of pictures. I'd love for someone to capture the true love that we share." When we spoke on the phone, he let me know that his wife handles most of the scheduling for their family and gave me her number to coordinate the session. 

I left a message for Sarah, his wife. When she called me back, she apologized for the delay, and said she wanted to make sure this wasn't a scam. She said her husband doesn't normally apply for things, so she was surprised to get my message. I chuckled inside because I had never thought about Love Not Lost coming across as a scam, but could only imagine the things going through someone's head if they didn't know their spouse had applied. I'm so thankful Sarah decided to call me back! Sarah and I had a wonderful conversation as she told me more about their family. 

Tim was diagnosed with brain cancer two years ago in February, on his son's birthday. He's had 4 brain surgeries, including radiation, which caused some pretty severe side effects. Despite all of that, Tim is making the most of the time with his family. We planned our session for the beginning of November and booked our flight to Pennsylvania. When I arrived, there were still some fall colors dangling on the trees and the air was cool and crisp. Tim, Sarah, and their daughter Haley, welcomed me into their home where I was greeted by their two awesome dogs as well. Although the dogs were extremely curious (and a little freaked out about my camera and the sounds that it made), they let me take their picture and even gave some kisses.  

We sat in the living room sharing stories for a bit. While we waited on their sons to get home from school, we all walked across the street to hang out with family friends. The kids were chasing each other and goofing off out in the neighbor's backyard, and of course, I grabbed a few photos. Haley soaks up her dad's love like a sponge. As a fellow Daddy's girl, I could totally relate, and wanted to be sure to capture a few of those precious exchanges. 

When we thought the boys might be home, we walked back to the house where I met Michael, Richard, and Timmy. I was warned before hand that Michael was a jokester and that he and Richard (both 16 years old) would be cracking jokes the whole time. I was ready. Laughter is such good medicine and I'll take as much as I can get.  

We all piled in two cars to go to a local park. The second the car doors opened when we arrived, I heard laughter rolling out of their car. The kids rolled out of the backseat and we made our way to a grassy area to start our session together. We took a family picture to get everyone warmed up, and then captured some really sweet moments with Tim and Sarah. Their hearts are huge and their love is strong. You'll be able to see it in the photos. 

Tim was being humble when he said they are a special family that always tries to help anyone in need… In the short time I spent with their friends across the street, they told me how much Tim and Sarah have meant to them and how giving they are. They truly do help anyone in need, including their friends and family. Richard is Michael's best friend, and when he lost his dad, Tim and Sarah asked him to join their family and made the adoption official. Years earlier and under different circumstances, they had made the same ask to their nephew, Timmy, and officially adopted him into their family. Their family of 6 is a beautiful picture of selflessness and unconditional love. I was so inspired by their family and sometimes have to pinch myself that this is my job. I know it sounds like it can be really hard, and it is, but I hope you can see that I am so lucky to meet all of these amazing families. They will always have a special place in my heart. 

As we captured memories together, I couldn't help but admire their courage and strength… and laugh at Richard and Michael's comments. I put the two of them in charge of getting real smiles out of everyone :) It worked! We played in the leaves and everyone got their individual photos with Dad. We left the park to go to the church where Sarah and Tim got married to capture a few memories there as well. Locations can play a really important role in photos so we always ask our applicants if there are places with meaning that they would like to go to for photos. 

We caught the last light of day and felt the warm glow of the sun set on our faces. My least favorite part of every session is saying goodbye, but then I can come home and re-live all the great memories and moments together as I edit and then share on the blog so that you can enjoy them too. 

I want to give a shout out to Gethrr, a really cool non-profit community, who sponsored this session. Please take a moment to check them out and the awesome stuff they are doing. Our travel sessions run an average of $1,200 to make it happen, complete with the book. We can't keep serving families without individual donations and company sponsorships - thank you for your support. Memories Matter

#MemoriesMatter

What is this #MemoriesMatter you might ask... 

MemoriesMatter started as a hashtag I used when posting photos because I value the power of a photograph and its ability to preserve memories. Photographs are a portal to the past. They are a gateway to treasured memories. They help us remember. 

And why is that important? Because Memories Matter. 

We are bombarded with information every day and have to choose what's worthy to push into long-term memory. Unfortunately, we don't always get to choose what escapes to make room for more. Have you ever had a memory fade? Or maybe you've packed up your stuff to move and discovered a box of old photos that you start flipping through, only to have forgotten memories dance in your head once again... You can almost sense the touch. Hear the laughter. Feel the love. 

Photographs are powerful. 

 

We can't quite put our finger on it, but there's a difference in a picture on a screen and photograph printed in your hands. Maybe it's that a printed photograph commands your undivided attention… You can't easily scroll past it at blazing speed. Plus, when it's bigger than your palm, you can engage in the details. The touch of a print awakens your senses and stirs your emotions. It asks you to be present. 

With every session we photograph at Love Not Lost, we strive to capture the moments that matter. A laugh. A sweet embrace. Souls connecting through a glance. As those moments become distant memories, the photographs only become more powerful. That's also why we provide a beautifully crafted photo book after every session. 

Even though we live in a digital world, we hope you will think about printing a few of your favorite photos every year. Put them around your house... enjoy them every day. Your memories matter. 

This season, we are asking you to share a memory; a moment that you're so thankful for and will treasure forever. It doesn't matter if the person is still alive or has passed away, if you have a photograph that you would run into a burning house for (not saying you should do that but you get the point), we would love for you to share it. Here's how:

  1. Post your photo on the social media platform of choice (or all of them)
  2. Share the story or why this photo is cherished by you
  3. Be sure to use #MemoriesMatter with every post
  4. Optional - mention @lovenotlostorg and tell people about our mission to preserve memories for people with little time left and ask them to consider donating 
  5. Challenge your friends to share their memories too (feel free to direct them to our website for the details, www.lovenotlost.org/memoriesmatter)

We want to fill all the social media feeds with love, hope and joy this holiday season and hope you will join us in making that happen. You can share as many memories as you would like and ask anybody and everybody to join you! 

Be sure to visit our Memories Matter page to learn more... 

Be sure to visit our Memories Matter page to learn more... 

Thank you for joining us as we celebrate life and love this year. Happy Holidays! 

Giving Thanks This Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thanksgiving was a holiday that my aunt hosted every year. She was the anchor of our family and would welcome anyone to the Thanksgiving table we invited. Last November, she passed away suddenly after being released from the hospital just the day before. We were shocked and overwhelmed with grief. I know the holidays aren't always joyous and easy to celebrate, but today, I am giving thanks for many things... 

This year, family has come from all over to gather at my mom's house in Atlanta. We signed up for the Turkey Trot 5k/10k/Half Marathon race and were looking forward to running/walking together as a family on Thanksgiving day. In the wee hours of the morning, my cousin ended up in the emergency room. We took their kids to run the 5k to stay busy while we waited for updates from the hospital and found out she is having surgery to remove her gall bladder. I am so thankful she will be okay, and might even make it home in time for dinner! I'm thankful for the reminder that anything can happen at any moment... we are not promised a tomorrow.

I'm thankful for my health today as I know many people are fighting for theirs. I'm thankful for the doctors & nurses out there who care about their patients and desire to make a difference in the world through helping others. They are a gift. I'm thankful for modern and ancient medicine to support us when our bodies need it. I am thankful for friends and family, my most important investment in life. 

I am thankful to have so many supporters who believe in the mission of Love Not Lost to support and love people in grief. Many of you have helped get us to where we are today and I am so grateful. I am thankful for the incredible families we have met who have continued to show me the depth of love you can have for someone and the joy that it brings every day. 

Today, I want to share one of those families with you. The Suarez family is so full of love it just overflows to everyone around them. I'm so glad they applied for a session and we were able to capture some really fun memories together. They are an incredible family and one I thought would be perfect to share this Thanksgiving. 

When I got to Madison, WI, the first day was really chilly, but the Suarez family and I made it to a park near their home to capture the last bit of sunshine despite the cold wind. Alex is such a great big brother to Alanis, who has SMA type 1. If you've read my story, you know that this is the same condition that my daughter had. Alanis is doing awesome and it was so great to spend time with them over the weekend. 

The following day we were waiting out the rain and decided to take pictures in the house. Because SMA takes away muscle strength, being in water is very freeing for SMA kids. The weight of their limbs is lifted and they can enjoy a wider range of movement. The Suarez's are such great parents - they will fill up a blow up pool in their dining room to provide a space for Alanis to play with them. Alanis was able to play the whole time without her bi-pap mask, which helps her breathe at night, during nap times, and sometimes when she just needs a break and extra support. She gave us some amazing smiles. 

After the rain cleared, we went to the Madison zoo to ride the carousel and capture memories out of the house together as a family. Any SMA parent knows getting out of the house is never easy, so capturing these memories together was really special. The zoo even had a handicapped train car so we could put Alanis and her stroller into the little car with her mom, while Alex, his dad, and I rode in the one in front. The staff was so helpful and made sure we had an incredible experience - I am so thankful for them. I was smiling so much my face hurt at the end of the weekend. We had so much fun together!  

I hope you enjoy these highlights from our trip to Madison to capture and preserve memories for the Suarez family. If you are reading this blog, I am thankful for you. Thank you for caring about what we are doing and for your support. 

We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and find reasons to give thanks no matter what your circumstances are today. Love and peace to you as we enter the holiday season! 

 

Making Memories in the Midwest

I am so excited to share this session with you! When we received their application, we knew this would be a fun and meaningful session. The Scharnau family is a family of 6 - Gregg, the dad, is fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer, while his wife Susan and their four children support his journey. For confidentiality, we will not be showing any of the kids faces or sharing their names, but we want you to know they are all AMAZING! 

Gregg is no stranger to cancer. Over twenty years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia. His sister was a match and donated her bone marrow to help him. Susan met him shortly after his recovery, which is when she found out she was a bone marrow donor match for someone else. Gregg went with her for the procedure and she was able to help someone else. I tell you this part of the story because I hope it inspires you to become a donor. It's easy to sign up, they'll contact you if you're ever a match, and then you can help save someone's life - someone like Gregg. 

Unfortunately, researchers haven't made as much progress against pancreatic cancer, but as I had the honor to be with the Scharnau family over the weekend, I know that if anyone could beat stage 4 pancreatic cancer it would be Gregg. He's already fought hard for over a year since being diagnosed and is continuing chemo as long as it's working. As you'll see in the photos, it may have taken his hair, but it hasn't taken his smile and his love for his family. 

The first day together, it worked out that Gregg's parents could drive across town to visit for the afternoon. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze, and you could feel fall in the air. The local park had a beautiful flower bed and a gazebo nestled under some large trees. As Gregg and his Dad stood in front of the gazebo, I couldn't help but feel as if they were somehow rooted among the trees too - giants of men full of character and love. As Gregg walked with his mom down the path, her face lit up with a love that only comes from a mom. We had a wonderful afternoon together before heading back to the house to wait for the kids to come home from school. 

That evening, it ended up raining so instead of doing an outdoor session together, we hung out and thankfully had another day to wait for good weather. It was rather chilly the next day, but the sun came out and we were able to photograph each of the kids in their element and have fun doing some one on one sessions. We went out as a family that evening to the local football field since Gregg was a punter back in the day. We took pictures of everyone having fun together before doing some more formal family portraits. The kids went over to the playground so I could get a few shots with just Gregg and Susan. It can get emotional during sessions, but that's when the love comes pouring out and it's just beautiful. 

People always ask me how I can do what I do - and it's photographing people like Gregg & Susan and their family that make it easy. Sure, the reason why we are all coming together sucks so badly, but to see the love, bravery, and courage to keep fighting is inspiring. And I know these photos can make a difference and they will help make things a little better. As with most hard things in life, we treated ourselves to ice cream after our session :) That night, we had a bonfire where Susan's brother joined us and then it was time for me to go home the next day. 

I was so grateful the cheapest flights allowed me to stay an entire weekend with this incredible family. The hardest part about my job is falling in love with the families I travel to photograph and then having to go back home so far away. I would be lying if I told you I don't miss hanging out with Nicolette and her family in CT, Andrea and her sons in NY, Kim & his girls in CA, and more. I can only hope our paths will cross again. 

Summertime Session Sneak Peek

A few months ago, I left to go to California to meet with the team at Zen Hospice. I learned about Zen Hospice after watching a TED talk given by BJ Miller about designing for death. I was so inspired, I wanted to see the place for myself. They have an incredible program and I wanted to learn as much as I could from them. On my way to San Francisco, I was able to make a stop to meet a wonderful family. 

Many of you know my daughter had SMA, a terminal condition that is similar to ALS. We met many other SMA parents on Facebook and enjoyed getting to know families all over the US and abroad. One such parent contacted me about wanting to help Love Not Lost - his name is Kim. 

Kim is an incredible person who I am so honored to know. He started a children's nursing home years ago, and when that wasn't meeting all the needs, he started a children's hospice center. When there still weren't enough beds, he and his wife opened up their home and adopted several severely handicapped kids, including a beautiful girl with SMA. Kim offered to help me with some literature for our training program since he established the nursing home and hospice and has traveled on speaking circuits leading talks about grief. I was happy to have his help and we arranged to meet. 

While I was there, I offered to do a portrait session with their family. Kim brought two of his daughters to the park with him to meet me for the session. Not everyone could be there, but it was really fun to capture some sisterly love and preserve those memories for them. The joy in their faces just exploded as they chased each other around the park, met new friends, played with friendly dogs, and even tried to sneak on the soccer field to play with a team that was practicing. 

We had so much fun and are so excited to share these memories with you:

As we continued on to San Francisco, we met the Zen Hospice team and toured their facility which is beautiful. They are so intentional, thoughtful, and kind. We are so excited to go back and visit them in 2017 to go through one of their trainings as we prepare to launch our own training. Feel free to follow along our journeys on social media @lovenotlostorg 

A New York Mom & Her Two Sons...

As soon as we received Andrea's application, we knew we were going to New York. 

Three years ago, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread through her nodes into her bones in three places. Since then, she's been through four surgeries, nine biopsies, five core bone biopsies, radiation, and daily medication. Her application told us all of this, but then we got to this line, 

I have 2 beautiful sons-- 16 & 13. We have never had a professional photo shoot. I would love to have our loving relationship memorialized.

I picked up the phone and gave Andrea a call. As I spoke with her, she shared that she grew up on Long Island, her treatment is in the city, and they are New Yorkers through and through. They love doing things outside so we decided that we could hang out in Central Park together and then head to Long Island to try to get some photos there as well. 

Meeting in Central Park on a Friday afternoon proved to be quite challenging, but once we connected, I was able to meet Andrea, and her two sons, Liam and Ross. The day was hot, but luckily Central Park is full of big beautiful trees that provided shade as we walked around, climbed on rocks, and stopped for a treat at one of the ice cream stands that were scattered throughout the park. 

As the sun started getting lower in the sky, we had the crazy idea to try to get to the beach on Long Island to catch the sunset. Had we known how bad traffic was going to be, we would've stayed put, but it was worth the try! We ended up missing the sunset, but stopped off at one of their hangout spots on Long Island in the dark to get some last memories captured. 

Before I met Andrea in person, it was obvious through our conversation the love she has for her sons and the strength she has as a woman. Once we started our session, it was even sweeter to see that love come out during our photo shoot and shared with her sons. You'll see they are crazy about her too! 

Andrea makes it a point to do something fun with her sons every month to make memories and remember that it's relationships and experiences that matter. Andrea lives by the philosophy that the purpose of life is to make a difference... to make your time on earth matter. She made it a point to remind her sons of this towards the end of our session and told me that living with cancer has made that philosophy even more purposeful. We hope you enjoy the highlights from our NY portrait session with Andrea, Liam, and Ross and use this as a reminder to make the most of your time while you have it. 

We are so excited to get their book into their hands. Thank you to all who have donated to Love Not Lost thus far. Your generosity has enabled us to fly to NY for this session to preserve memories for this incredible family. Thank you for celebrating life and love with us in the face of grief through Love Not Lost. 

We have more families who are waiting for sessions and we will be traveling to Iowa and Wisconsin next month to capture two of our next applicants. We can't travel to these families and capture their memories without your generous support. If you haven't joined our crowdfunding campaign yet, there are a few days left - would you please consider giving to help us reach more people facing a terminal diagnosis? You can also become a monthly donor or give a one-time gift on our website. Please join our cause by donating money or sharing our story with those you know. Thank you!

Meet Nicolette and Her Family in CT

Yesterday was incredible! We raised over $2,300 dollars in one day for our crowdfunding campaign to honor Skylar and remember the anniversary of her death 5 years ago. Yesterday, I was able to share more about my story, but today, I want to focus on someone else's story. Nicolette is one of our Love Not Lost family members who applied for a portrait session and asked for a "forever memory" for her son after finding out she had stage 4 cancer. 

The first time we spoke on the phone, I could tell Nicolette was an incredibly strong woman. She told me about her mom getting diagnosed with breast cancer, and then two months later, facing the same diagnosis herself. She had a mastectomy and a full hysterectomy in the course of a year, and was in remission. Five months later, the cancer came back in her lungs. Almost a year later, she had a seizure, which is when they found tumors on her brain. She's in her mid 30s and has an 8 year old son with autism. You'd think after all of this, someone would be beat down, but Nicolette's attitude on life is inspiring. Not only is she living life and enjoying it with her family, but she is helping other women in her area who are going through similar situations. 

Nicolette's son, Ivan, and her fiance, Frank, love the outdoors, so we wanted to make sure our session was outside. We also took some pictures at the house, which is what brought Frank and Nicolette together, and where they enjoy hanging out. We planned our session for when Ivan was out of school and were lucky to have a weekend with good weather too! 

If you follow us on social media, you may have seen two photos of them already. What I love about photography is the ability to capture emotion, relationships, and the ability to freeze moments in time. Looking at this family, there is no doubt they are overflowing with joy and love. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard during a session! Ivan, Nicolette's son, is one of the funniest kids I've met. His dry sense of humor was cracking me up so much a few of my pictures came out blurry because I was shaking from laughter. 

Ivan was cracking jokes, sharing how he didn't have to impress me at all because even though I was a new guest, I was not someone he was going to marry. He did draw me a picture though, which I cherish tremendously. He played it cool, would flash me a smirk, and then would give me his huge cheese face for the photos. We played with the pets on the porch, Ivan showed me how fast he can ride his bike, and then we took off to the corn fields for sunset. I hope you smile as much as I do when looking through these memories... 

This family has a long journey ahead. If you want to read more of their personal story and donate directly to them, please visit their support page on Go Fund Me. 

We are so excited to get their book into their hands. Thank you to all who have donated to Love Not Lost thus far. Your generosity has enabled us to fly to CT for this session to preserve memories for this incredible family. Thank you for celebrating life and love with us in the face of grief. We have several more families across the nation who are waiting for sessions and will keep you posted when we're able to serve them. 

If you haven't supported Love Not Lost yet, we have a crowdfunding campaign going on through the month of August so we can raise money to help us photograph more families and build our network of photographers. Please consider joining our cause by donating money or sharing our story with those you know. Thank you!

It's Been 5 Years... Will You Join Us Today?

It's been 5 years since I had to face my worst fear, the moment I dreaded most. On August 16, 2011, I held Skylar while my husband supported her head, and we felt her sweet little lungs take their last breath. Then she was gone.

It was my first intimate meeting with death. I had seen the aftermath at many memorial services, but I had never been present when death came until that moment. That began my long-term relationship with death. It would visit me several more times over the next couple of years as I was present with people who would breathe their last. But that's okay. You know why? Because I've learned I can take a little bit of the sting away from death and that brings me joy.

I've found in losing many people I have loved, that comfort comes in the form of photographs. Not just digital ones either. At every memorial service I have been to (and unfortunately I have been to a lot), there has been some form of printed photo as a way to remember. Seeing the person alive, even if in a moment frozen in time by a picture, brings peace, comfort, good memories, and a reminder of the love we shared with that person - a reminder our love isn't lost.

From my own personal experience, and talking to the loved ones of those I have photographed who have already passed on, I know that photographs are an incredible gift to help through the grief and healing process. They give you a tangible thing to touch and give you permission to be whatever you need to be in that moment, whether it's saying that you miss them out loud or having a good cry when no one else is around. 

Photos have allowed me to share my daughter, Skylar, with you. They have allowed a sweet little girl the ability to meet her big brother who is no longer living. They have allowed two beautiful children to interact every day with their daddy who lost his life to cancer. They have allowed parents to hold onto their child after they buried her. They have helped a mom feel validated on Mother's Day after her baby was no longer in her womb or in her arms. They have helped a mom celebrate the love she shares with her family and the time she has left. Memories matter. Photographs matter. People we love matter.

We want to help preserve memories for more people on a national level, but to do that, we need your help. You may have seen that we are in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. Today, 5 years after Skylar left my arms forever, we have a goal to raise $5,000. I know raising $5k in a day seems crazy, but we know there are generous people out there who care about people in grief and believe that everyone deserves to be remembered. Will you join us in contributing any amount you are able to? Will you help us share our story? Will you help us reach our goal so we can start adding to our photographers to serve people across the nation?

Because of photos, I have so many precious memories preserved - how I really hated the color pink until Skylar looked so dang cute in it, how she would always hold my finger and squeeze it (which we called hand hugs since she couldn't move her arms), and how she would always look up at me with her big beautiful deep blue eyes full of wisdom and love, which I will always treasure. And the best part of all, these photos allow me to share them with you - even 5 years after she has been gone!

Please help me give this same gift to others! Support our campaign. 

If you aren't able to donate, we would be so grateful if you could help us spread the word. Every share on social media, a mention to friends in conversation, or direct message to people you think would care about our mission is HUGE. Visit us on social media @lovenotlostorg for content to share and re-post.

We can't do this without your help and hope you'll join us in celebrating life and love in the face of grief. 

Thank you so much - let's make August 16th a great day!

We Launched Our Crowd Funding Campaign!

We are so excited to share with you that we launched our crowd funding campaign for the month of August and hope you will join us with Generosity

Funds raised from this crowd funding campaign will help us start scaling as a national organization and we'd love for you to join us in helping make that happen. 

Thanks to Burden Bearing Baskets, we have a fun hand-written calligraphy logo that you can get on a variety of products to show your support and help us share our story! We've partnered with Miir to bring you the best for your on-the-go beverages that will not only benefit Love Not Lost but help water projects around the world. 

Why Crowd Funding?

As much as we love throwing a good party, a physical event limits the number of people who can come. Because we are nearing a milestone of starting to scale and expand across the US, we want everyone to have the opportunity to join us in making it happen. 

Will you help us share our story?

Whether you choose to support the campaign financially, we need all the help we can get in spreading the word about what we're doing. Will you please take a moment to post on Facebook and share our campaign? If you like Instagram or Twitter better, that's cool too! 

Here's an image you can use to share:

Thank you in advance for all of your support and generous giving. We truly can not do this without you!

Launch Party Highlights

For those of you who joined us on April 30th for our launch, we want to say thank you. Janet Howard Studios, a dear photographer friend of mine, volunteered to capture our memories together that night and we are so excited to share them with you! 

If you weren’t able to make it, keep reading and join us in re-living some of the moments from our launch…

To make this launch party possible, it took a lot of sponsors and donors who were willing to generously give to support our mission.

We’d like to thank our “Life Sponsors”

Steven & Denise Jones

Les Stumpff & Sandy Moon

And we’d like to thank our “Love Sponsors”

Trinity Anglican Mission

Wilson Parker Homes

Institute For Higher Living

Their generous sponsorships allowed us to have such a successful event. 

It all started with a very unwelcome party crasher. A wicked storm decided to drop in just 30 minutes before we started the party to rattle the power, throw some hail, trash some trees, and rain cats and dogs. Thankfully, it didn’t scare our guests out of coming, and we had valet to keep everyone as dry as possible at Trinity Surfaces Design Gallery! 

The storm passed almost as quickly as it came and we all enjoyed champagne, wine, and beer with some tasty food by Epicurean Endeavors to get our evening started right. Peachtree Tents & Events and Fuji Floral helped us create a beautiful atmosphere as we shopped items and enjoyed the gallery wall of canvases donated by Canvas For A Cause. We even had custom Love Not Lost cookies thanks to Sweet Cheats! After I gave a proper welcome, we let the bidding wars begin. We had a silent auction as well as a live auction, and things heated up real fast. There’s just something about an auctioneer that gets the party going! Once the last item was “Sold!” to the highest bidder, the mic was passed back to me so I could share more about Love Not Lost. 

I shared my story, the stories of people I’ve photographed over the past 7 years, and how it all led to the start of Love Not Lost. I also shared the story of our first applicant, and how just the day before, I photographed her precious baby girl as they said goodbye. Tears were streaming, but it was a beautiful thing to celebrate the official start of photographing under the name Love Not Lost the same weekend as our launch party. I shared the vision I have for the future of our organization and gave an update on where we are now. The short version is this:

We have 6 more applicants, all over the US, with more expected with upcoming publication features. We are building a grief training program so that we can invite other photographers to help us capture and preserve memories all over the nation. For every session photographed, we want to treat our photographers to wellness so they can keep serving with us longterm. We also premiered the promo video, which now has a permanent place on our homepage and on YouTube

Knowing we can’t do this alone, and we need financial help, we asked our guests for support. The people at the party rallied, and we were able to raise over $26,000 which is almost half way to our goal for the year! We were blown away and humbled with the generous hearts that filled the room that night. 

If you weren't able to attend our party and want to help us, there are a few ways you can get involved this month: 

We are currently working on building our foundation builders, people who are willing to give monthly donations, so we can have a solid base to work and plan from. If this is something you are interested in, please visit our donation page and sign up to give right now or help us recruit people who can. 

Later this month, we'll start traveling to serve our waiting applicants. If you have any travel connections that would be willing to help us with flights, hotels, or rental cars, please let us know through our contact form

Lastly, we need to get the word out now that we're 501c3 official and gaining momentum. Will you take a minute to share our story with your network of people? Maybe you know of a publication or news station that would like to feature us for a positive story... Any help spreading the word is greatly appreciated!

We truly can't do this alone. Thank you for your support - for cheering us on, for your likes, comments, shares, and re-posts. Thank you for your financial gifts. Thank you for your donations and introductions you've given. This is something much bigger than just you or me and we need all the help we can get! Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. 

Meet Elannia, The First Member of the Love Not Lost Family

If you haven't read the last blog post about our first applicant, Stephanie and her family, please take a minute to do so. This post is a continuation of our journey with her.

The Friday before our launch party, I was working to get all of the last minute stuff done before the weekend. At 11am, the phone rang. It was a nurse from Northside Hospital letting me know Stephanie needed an emergency c-section immediately if they were going to meet Elannia alive. The doctor had been called and Stephanie was checked into a room already. I dropped everything, grabbed my gear, and headed to Northside Hospital in Forsyth as quickly as I could.

They were getting her prepped for surgery when I arrived, so they let her know I made it and I waited in the hallway with close family and friends. Even though there was a sense of excitement to meet Elannia, heaviness filled the halls as tremendous amounts of grief hung in the air knowing if she makes it out of the womb alive, she won't have long to be with us. We ended up in a waiting room together where we shared stories, the pastor prayed, tears were shed, and we waited.

The staff was wonderful and they kept us informed when Elannia was born.

Elannia was able to be with us for one hour and 23 minutes.  

The short life of Elannia impacted everyone there in such a way that we will never be the same. We may not ever be able to understand why babies die and why bad things happen to good people, but we do know that every life has a heart beat; and every heart beat is full of love and purpose, even if we never fully comprehend it.

Because Elannia had Trisomy 13, she had a few extra fingers and toes, that were truly precious. On one of her feet, her extra pinky toe joined the other one in what appeared to be the shape of a heart. One of her ears also resembled a heart, and the more we looked, the more we saw hearts everywhere. She was truly full of love… a love that won't be lost or forgotten.

The nurse took measurements and bathed Elannia before wrapping her up to be swaddled and cuddled by her mom. We waited until Stephanie was ready for us to take pictures of Elannia by herself. During our session together, we laughed, we cried, and experienced all of the emotions you could possibly feel pouring out in the matter of a few hours. I had the honor of having another photographer, Brandy, join me for the shoot. Stephanie wanted a full newborn shoot, so she planned with Brandy ahead of time to pick out props and ideas for pictures that she really wanted us to capture. We were so happy to preserve these memories for her and her whole family.

At the end of our session, Zaeden, who was giving Stephanie belly hugs during our maternity session and squealed with joy when he felt Elannia kick, started stealing kisses from his little sister. His face lit up with the same joy and delight from our maternity session and it was just the sweetest thing. As a mother, you could see Stephanie's heart overflowing in those moments. As a photographer, I was so grateful for the ability to freeze time for her.

At one point, Stephanie looked up at me from the bed and with sorrowful eyes said, "I am so sorry we won't be coming to the party tomorrow." I just laughed, "Girl, I think you have enough things going on! Don't you feel bad for a second about missing the party. We had a surprise for you, but we'll be sure to deliver it this week." If you read the last post, you already know that I delivered a canvas for their home to bring to the memorial if they wanted to share it with others. The smiles and joy that overflowed when they saw the canvas for the first time is exactly why we do what we do. We hope that the canvas, the photo book, and other art work they fill their home with from our sessions together continues to bring them joy and remind them of the amazing love they share.

The memorial was the following weekend, and although we couldn't get the book in time for the memorial, Stephanie did bring the canvas to showcase and we also sent our photographs to be added to the memorial slideshow Brandy put together. If you'd like to see the full video and learn more about Stephanie's journey with her family, you can visit their Facebook page

We know the days ahead are going to be tough. Coming home without your child is one of the most painful transitions. Please keep this family in your thoughts in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Our First Love Not Lost Applicant

On January 19th, we received our first Love Not Lost applicant. That date is rather significant in our story because that is the day that Skylar turned two months old. That is also the day that we received the official diagnosis of SMA and our world came crashing down. On November 19th, 2016, I smiled. It seems that every day that used to hold negative feelings is being redeemed before my very eyes.

The applicant was Stephanie Rogers, and she wrote to us:

"I'm currently 20 weeks pregnant with a baby girl that has been diagnosed with full trisomy 13 (a rare, fatal chromosomal disorder). We're not sure we will be able to meet her alive, as most trisomy 13 babies pass away in utero. The few who survive labor and delivery rarely make it a week. Our daughter, Elannia, has several major heart defects and our perinatologist thinks once the cord is cut it won't be long. We were given the offer to terminate the pregnancy, and my husband and I refused. We have chosen to let God make the call when it's time for her to go home. This photo session would mean so much to us and help us remember the precious time we will get to share with her."

I called her the next day and we had a wonderful conversation. I was in awe of her faith, her bravery, and her strength. I let her know that we would be happy to photograph her with her husband and two other children whenever it was time to deliver. She agreed to keep me posted throughout the pregnancy and I went back to planning our official launch of Love Not Lost.

As we were developing the tagline that best represented our mission, "Celebrating life and love in the face of grief," I kept going back to the celebrating life part. Because we had time, I asked Stephanie how she would feel about a professional maternity session in addition to the photos we would take for her delivery. I wanted to be able to get to know them as we celebrate Elannia alive in her mother's womb and have some fun memories together since her life after delivery wasn't a guarantee. She was thrilled and we set up a session in April, knowing Stephanie would likely deliver her baby in May.

As with all of our portrait sessions, we like to find out what the family likes to do together so that we can best capture real personalities, get authentic lifestyle shots, and preserve some great memories. Stephanie shared that they love going to Lake Lanier, so we planned an evening session together at the lake. Although Brianna, the oldest daughter couldn't make it, we still captured some beautiful moments. You'll be able to see the moment that their son Zaeden felt Elannia kick with his hands on her belly, and the pure joy that followed.

We were going to present a canvas from this session to Stephanie, and her husband Chris, at our launch party last Saturday... but the day before, we got a call that Stephanie needed an emergency c-section if she were going to meet their daughter alive.

I packed up and drove to the hospital last Friday to capture their sweet daughter, Elannia, after she was born. Since we couldn't give the canvas to them at the party, I drove to their house a few days ago and presented it to them at their home. We chose the last black and white image you see in the slideshow above because it captures so much joy, laughter, and love. Three things that are hard to come by in the days following the loss of a child.

Stephanie & Chris' faces lit up when they opened the canvas and shared their excitement that it's going to fit in perfectly above their bed. These smiles are exactly why we do what we do.

Even though the book won't be ready in time for the memorial service, we wanted them to have this canvas as an option to bring to their church to put on display. We also sent along the newborn images we took of Elannia to another photographer who is putting together a slideshow for the service and hope the images bring comfort and peace to all who are there.

We'll be sharing those photos soon as well as a party recap for those who are curious. Please keep this family in your thoughts. The days ahead are going to be so tough as they find their new normal through grief. Thank you.

We're Having A Party, And You're Invited!

As Robin Williams once said, "Spring is Nature's way of saying 'Let's Party'!" and we happen to agree! On April 30th, we would be honored to have you join us for Love Not Lost's official launch party in Atlanta.

We will be celebrating in style with drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and the premiere of our Love Not Lost promo video. We'll have a silent auction to help raise money so we can start serving families and hope you can join us for the cocktail party! A huge thank you to Foglio Press for sponsoring our invitations:

At the event, in addition to getting the very first look at the Love Not Lost promo video, you'll meet families we've already served and learn about the families who've applied and are waiting for us to photograph them. You'll get to enjoy fine wine as you choose from a wide variety of items to bid on including collector items, original artwork, jewelry, unique experiences like a cocktail tasting at Atlanta's favorite Octane Coffee Bar, a week long trip to Mexico, a golf trip to Arnold Palmer's Orlando course, a California VIP wine tour, and much more. 

We are still accepting items and experiences for the auction if you, or someone you know, would like to participate. Please email ashley@lovenotlost.org if you have items or want to help by making an introduction to someone who could donate. We also have sponsorships available:

Don't forget that tickets are limited due to the location, so be sure to get them right away before is slips your mind and they are sold out. We would hate for you to miss it and hope you'll join us for a night to remember!