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!