This last year has been… well… quite a year. Often I feel conflicted about how so much joy can exist along side so much grief. In many ways the happiness and feelings of completeness have been born of great sadness and loss. It feels strange, but it’s especially humbling when God provides something of such beauty in the wake of immense pain. As humans, I feel like our instinct is to ask God “Why?” or to be frustrated or angry about how life plays out. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve certainly been there. But last year in the midst of all of my human emotion and questions, God used tragedy as a catalyst for a miracle. How can I be anything but humbled? How can I do anything but trust?
As a result of Toby and my reconciliation following so closely behind Dad’s passing, the two will always be linked in my heart. There are so many ways in which that plays out on a regular basis, but one that has been specifically dear to me is photography.
When Dad passed away, my family and I sat and looked through photograph upon photograph of his life. We smiled through tears as our hands tenderly held each print of his kind eyes and goofy smile. I felt the warmth of my parents’ love for each other jump out of the images of the two of them and wrap me in a feeling of gratitude and home.
Just when I thought that I couldn’t feel more passionate about photography, I sat face to face with another reason to document every day life. I knew that this was one more reason that I wanted my family to be preserved with images in addition to the memories written in our hearts.
Thankfully, this is a value that my kids have grown up understanding and appreciating. Even though they’re approaching their teenage years (far too quickly), they still like being in pictures together. They make frequent comments about how lucky they are to have a mom that takes pictures the way I do. 😭 Both kids realize that I document them because they are my most treasured gifts. I vocalize it. They’re surrounded by photographs of the two of them in our home. They know that when I raise that camera, love pours through the lens. It’s such a blessing to me that they see that part of my heart. I feel like an appreciation of the power of a photograph is a part of the legacy that I’ll leave them one day.
When Toby and I reconciled, we made a promise to each other that photography would go one step further than documenting our kids. We agreed that we would make it a point to document our family. Whether or not we are 100% happy with how we look, it’s our job to get in front of that camera and document our love. I want our kids to not only look back at photographs and see how much I love them, but also how much their dad and I love each other. I want them to have tangible illustrations of what love is like – love that’s real, and messy, and hard. It’s beyond important.
So this past Sunday we put on some reasonably nice clothes and got out our camera. There are some good ones, but my favorite is the photo of Toby and me that Emma took. I love it. She wasn’t adjusting settings; I’m still handling that part for her. But somewhere along the line, she’s learned to compose an image, which is pretty cool to witness. Gone are the days when I had to walk her through how to set up a photo. I don’t even think about it anymore. She’s become such an artist with her own voice and her own perspective. I’m so proud… And what touches my heart more than anything is how she composes a photograph – how she sees the two of us. It’s beautiful to see us through her eyes. I guarantee this image will find its way onto a wall or into a frame in our home. And one day a long time from now, it will hopefully be one of the prints that she tenderly sorts through to remember us.
The thing is, it’s not just a photograph of two people in love. It’s a photograph of the calm after the storm. It’s a photograph of the fulfillment of so many prayers. It’s a photograph of the power of God manifested in two changed hearts. It’s a photograph of why I live my days humbly trusting in what God has in store for me, even though I may not understand it.
Everyone should have that. Seriously. I wish that everyone who comes through a terrible trial could have a tangible piece of what lies on the other side of pain and difficulty. Maybe it’s a photo of two people with a newly healed relationship. Maybe it’s a picture of a child that has been through a difficult medical journey. Maybe it’s a portrait of a first real haircut after losing a headful of hair to cancer. Maybe it’s a photograph of a baby born after years of infertility. Maybe it’s something that’s not that simple…
Here’s one of many things I learned from my Dad: when it’s possible, you pay forward the goodness that’s been given to you. Generosity isn’t a nice thought. Generosity is action. It’s the kind of person we should strive to be. It’s seeing a need in the world and filling it if it’s within your power to do so.
So in honor of my Dad, here’s what I’m proposing:
I’d like to give away a photo session to someone who needs a photograph to preserve a profound journey that they’ve traveled or are currently on. If that’s you or someone you know and a session just isn’t something you/they can afford, let me know. Send me your story here. I’ll do my best to choose one during the last week of the year. During the first week of January the recipient will be notified and we’ll schedule a session in the spring. It may not be much, but it’s something that I can do. It’s one small way that I can keep my Dad’s legacy of generosity alive.
If I can give someone else a photograph that has the kind of meaning that this one has for me, an image that will become a part of their family’s story, a picture that captures the growth that can come from difficulty, a humble illustration of the ways that God can create something beautiful from hardship… well… I think Dad would think that’s pretty special. I think my kids will too. I know I do.
I want to leave a legacy.
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things.
I want to leave an offering –
A child of mercy and grace
Who blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy.
‘Legacy’ by Nichole Nordeman