Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

For those of you who don't keep up with me on Instagram or FB, you may not know that I made it to Uganda with the help of many generous people. I was beyond humbled as half my plane ticket was covered within a week of my first post about needing help to get to Uganda. Money came in each week to cover both my plane ticket and immunizations before I had to leave on the 13th of November.

I was gone for two weeks and can't even describe how complete I felt. It was so encouraging to know that God can meet every need I have no matter where I am and what the circumstances are.

When I was invited to Uganda, I can't explain it, but my heart came alive and I knew I was supposed to go and capture the story of the African Children's Choir. I'm still not sure what I am supposed to do with it now that I am back, whether it be a coffee table book, a series of blog posts, traveling to speak about my journey, or something else, but I am so glad I have the photos to share and hopefully help others in the process.

Here is a photo we took at the African Children's Choir school in Entebbe, Uganda to use as a Christmas card for everyone who supported the documentary film this past year...

African children's choir in Uganda

The kids in the choir were amazing and I am so grateful for the perspective I gained while staying with them for two weeks. They are truly inspiring and I can't wait for the film to be released in the fall of this year! I already warned Kyle that I am going to buy it and watch it every day.

When I returned from Uganda, it was Thanksgiving in Atlanta and there were flurries. If you notice in the photo above, the kids are all in shorts and short sleeves and the sun is shining. I was not too thrilled about the cold temperatures that greeted me as I came home, especially since our heat was going in and out, but happy to see Kyle! I literally ate myself to sleep at our Thanksgiving dinner - partly because I was still 8 hours ahead and still exhausted from 20+ hours of travel and partly because my stomach was just that full.

After Thanksgiving, I went right back to work with a 4-generational family photo shoot for Shutter Sweet Photography and several events right after that, including a Help-Portrait event in conjunction with the Lazarus Christmas Dinner for the homeless in Atlanta. It was awesome to use my gifts to help others. I had several last-minute holiday sessions get scheduled before and around Christmas with tons of holiday orders to fill as well.

I feel like I have been going a mile a minute since getting off the plane from Uganda. Not only with work, but personal stuff as well. I was called for help after a friend got into a drunk driving car accident (thankfully it was a one-car accident and my friend was okay). A week later, I was honored to photograph the kids Christmas Pageant at our church. It's always one of my favorite events to photograph. That weekend, I also found out our neighbor was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I took some portraits for them before his chemo started monday and spent some time with them over the next couple days.

The following weekend, I photographed a proposal in Atlanta and then got a call from Rachel Hill, a friend of mine from church who has been helping her husband fight stage 4 melanoma cancer for over two years. I photographed them in the fall of 2012 as well as the fall of 2013 before Kevin flew to LA for some last ditch efforts. Things had taken a turn for the worse and they had called in hospice. She asked if I would fly out to LA and take one last set of family photos together... I left the next day.

Candace, a friend from church, joined me on the flight and we both had a feeling that we might be there when he passed away. We had scheduled our flight to return home the night of Christmas Eve. We arrived, searched for Christmas jammies for the kids for the next morning, and prepared to celebrate Christmas the next morning. Kevin had medicine to help make him more present, which was the biggest gift we could have asked for. He was able to take part in the day and have Christmas with his family one last time... My photos from the day with the Hill family can be seen on the Shutter Sweet blog post.

I was so thankful for Candace there with me as we prayed together and took care of him the best we could. Kevin ended up passing away at 3 AM on Christmas Eve morning with Rachel and another friend by his side. Candace and I helped take care of everything while Rachel rested with the kids. We flew home and I was able to welcome Christmas morning with Kyle and my church through a candlelight service that was... perfect. Singing carols to honor the coming of Christ and focusing on the light that can pierce the darkness. I kept thinking about hope. life. death. and more hope.

The Christmas service was a huge blessing after all I had been through and allowed me to be still and find peace. I didn't want gifts, and I didn't even really want to give gifts (which is something I love to do normally). However, I knew it would be a good thing. We ended up having a low-key Christmas at Kyle's parents lake house, which was great. It was everything I could've asked for as I could sleep, eat and process everything.

After Christmas, I helped Rachel make arrangements and we had Kevin's burial on Saturday. I will never forget the sound of dirt hitting a pine box - the memories flooded back. This time, my heart broke for Rachel and her loss. It will be a long journey for her and her two kids as they find their new normal.

It was back to work after Christmas while time flies by. For the new year, I have things I want to improve - not so much resolutions, but more lifestyle changes. I am excited for the new year and am thankful for all that 2013 has taught me and the perspective I've gained. Thank you for reading.

May 2014 bring you many blessings! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Life and Death Through The Seasons

Well, I had a post written up on August 16th, the anniversary of Skylar passing away. It was full of emotions and updates, but there are several reasons I never posted it.

I don't want this to be a pity-me blog. Yes, it was extremely difficult to see literally hundreds of moms posting about their kids going back to school complete with photos... meanwhile, I was grieving not having my little pre-k daughter to brag about. Here is one of the lines from my post:

"It's difficult to be back in the full swing of life, especially when anniversaries come around and I'm thrown back to the day that breaks my heart all over again."

I was thankful for great friends and thoughtful people who sent me sweet text messages and emails. I don't really expect it at all because I am horrible with dates and don't expect other people to remember either. However, it is nice to know people are thinking about me as I go through some tough seasons. 

July 25th, I had the awesome opportunity to photograph the African Children's Choir perform at the Buckhead Theater. They've been traveling around the US for over a year and there is a documentary film in the making. I was honored to capture their full day including their worship time and VIP meet and greet. I overheard that the kids were going to be surprised with a trip to Disney and asked if they needed that photographed. 

You see, I was already planning to visit my step-grandma in Orlando because she was put on hospice and we knew she didn't have a lot of time left. With her house just 20 minutes from Disney, I volunteered to photograph the kids. They are the most joyful life-giving kids to be around and I knew it would be a much needed encouragement in the midst of suffering. 

When I arrived, it was so sad to walk into suffering, but I was glad I made it. The next day I woke up early to meet the kids for Disney and pulled up just as they were telling the kids where they were going. I quick pulled out my camera and started documenting the day. Make sure you check out the part 2 if you look at the photos... As I was spending the evening with my stepmom, I was just so burdened to see her go through a lot of what I went through with Skylar. I prayed that the suffering would end as did the pastor and others. The next morning, I woke up to my stepmom asking me if I could come check for a pulse because she thought her mom passed away. 

I got a glimpse into how my parents felt watching me lose Skylar, because it was heartbreaking to see my stepmom's hurt and know her loss. After her mom passed away, the next four hours in the house were tough on my stepmom as she went through the final moments with her mom's body. It was also difficult for me as everything that followed was a flashback to two years ago, just with a bigger body instead of a 21 month old. I was surprised to find myself in shock after it was all over with because I just wasn't expecting it. I was really grateful to be there so my stepmom didn't have to be alone, but it was a tough way to start the month of August. As I drove the long drive home by myself, it was a good time to think, process and just drive.

As the 16th approached, my heart was heavy and I knew I had to be "professional" that day as I had several meetings that couldn't wait with clients who just knew me as the owner of Shutter Sweet Photography - not as a woman who is missing her baby girl. I kept busy and distracted myself, but it only delays the grief from hitting. Thankfully, I've learned to make space for my emotions to prevent it from building up and coming out unexpectedly. 

I had two weddings to shoot in September as well as several portrait sessions and events. During the second week of the month, I had 6 shoots in 7 days. Needless to say, September flew by. This month, I had the huge pleasure of photographing the Gooden Family as they went to Charleston for a family vacation and will be sharing those photos on the Shutter Sweet blog soon. I'm currently working on a complete re-design of the Shutter Sweet Photography website and am launching it on October 20th! I'm very excited! 

Just a few days ago, I was invited to go to Uganda on November 14th to photograph the African Children's Choir as they return home. It is short notice and there's no budget to cover at least $2,000 of expenses, possibly more. My photos have the potential to make it into the documentary film and possibly a book that will be produced and they may not. However, that's not why I want to go. I know that I was created to tell stories and capture real moments and raw emotion through photography to share with others that make an impact. When I went to Ukraine in 2005 as the documentary photographer, I felt alive for the first time and loved having purpose. Photography and design skills are my gifts that I can use to bless others. I love documenting life and creating meaningful pieces of art, which is what I set out to do with Shutter Sweet Photography - as you can see with the latest family portrait session with the Hill Family (husband reaching the end of a fight with stage 4 melanoma cancer). 

If you have a willing heart or know of anyone else who does that has skymiles or extra cash laying around to donate(so many people, right?), please contact me! You can email me at ashley (at) or contact me here. Some people may not understand, but I know in my soul that I am supposed to go on this trip. I know there are needs everywhere you look, but I am hopeful some people will be moved to help me get to Uganda. 

Thank you for reading. Another post is not too far behind... 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Time Flying By...

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks... maybe even months now! Time is flying by and I can't believe August is almost here.

We are finally moving forward with house plans and are really excited to possibly start the permitting process by the end of August. Right now, we're waiting on the architect to finish phase 1 of the drawings for the interior layout this week. I'll see if I can't get some photos to share with you. I cleaned up the property as part of my gift to Kyle on Father's Day and he did a major overhaul on the yard this past weekend. Things are coming along and there's definitely hope and excitement about forward progress since we've been holding onto this property for almost 5 years now...

For the 4th of July, I went to visit the Gooden Family and see miss Nora who is already 4 1/2 years old! She continues to amaze me and fill my heart with joy. Nora's mom wanted to do a photo shoot for the holiday inspired by a magazine photo where they created stars on the lawn. I was all for it and started working on drawing the perfect star. It was hilarious. For being a graphic designer, I am not so hot with a pen in hand. After working on it for a bit, I finally had a star we could use as a stencil to create the stars on the grass. We had a great time and Nora was so patient with us while I climbed up a ladder on their porch and tried to entertain her with a windmill. We got lots of great smiles and had fun even with Nora's hurt leg.

That night, we went outside for TJ's famous firework show. I was so impressed! There was only one mishap that evening from the Funkey Monkey or Monkey Invasion - or something with Monkey in the name. It's a box shaped firework that is supposed to send spiraling flare fireworks high into the air and then explode with a loud bang and sparks of color... The box that we got sent a few fireworks into the air and the rest towards us! Luckily, Jaime dropped the umbrella down as a shield in front of her and Nora. I stood there with my mouth hanging open making sure the ones that hit the house didn't set the house on fire and I think TJ was just as shocked as I was as he took cover in the garage watching to make sure everything was okay as well. Thankfully, no one was injured and the two that went off against the house didn't do any damage. The rest of the show went off without any problems and it was amazing! Nora's face lit up and the look in her eyes was priceless. She even got to play with sparklers! We attempted to write Nora's name but the sparklers were the kind that sent off sparks instead of a constant flare so it didn't work out too well. The neighbors all enjoyed the show as well with a crowd hanging out on the corner and in driveways. The little neighbor girl just younger than Nora came over to give her a glow bracelet and glow stick necklace and talk about birthday parties. It was really awesome.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was playing Disney princess style Chutes & Ladders with Nora and Jaime. As Nora landed on the giant slide that took you back to the beginning, I said, "Oh No!!! Nora!" and made a sound that could best be spelled as "Whomp, Whaaaamp"and then Nora imitated it perfectly! Later, when she went down another chute, she did it on her own and knew the context and everything. I was cracking up and asked Jaime if she had ever heard that before and Jaime said no, that she just learned it from me. That made me laugh even harder, which Nora loved, and then she repeated it over and over and asked Jaime and I to say it with her too. I love that girl.

Earlier that day I asked Nora if she knew who I was and she nodded. I asked her if she could say "Ashley" and she did. While we were playing Chutes and Ladders, Nora said "Miss Ashley" and added the "miss" all on her own. Hearing her say that brought me so much joy and filled places in my heart I didn't know were empty. I never got to hear Skylar speak, so I'm in awe of all that Nora is able to say and do. I'm so overjoyed with Nora's health and the amazing job TJ and Jamie are doing as parents and caregivers (as well as her nurses). Nora definitely has a very special place in my heart if you couldn't tell!

When I got back from TN, I spent all week moving into my new office space in midtown Atlanta. On July 12th, I had an open-house party for the new Shutter Sweet Photography Studio which was a lot of fun. I am really excited about growing and taking my business to the next level. My photography classes are also going well and it's been really fun helping others get excited about photography! This week I get to photograph an event called Embagga Means Party featuring the group Imba Means Sing. If you haven't heard of them, take a minute to check them out! They're awesome and I'm looking forward to their concert this Thursday at the Buckhead Theater.

Kyle's birthday was last week and we kept it pretty low-key this year as we near the big 3-0. We got to enjoy the day off together, which was really nice since we've both been working like crazy. We're hoping to get up to Clemson for my birthday (also the UGA game) but we'll see how that goes. Time just keeps flying by, but we're trying to enjoy it as much as we can. Hopefully you are too! Those are all the updates for now. Thanks for stopping by and reading the blog!!!