6,592. the faithfulness of Spring
We took these last summer. Their family looks different now, because they got a new little sister in December — but I had so much fun splashing in the creek and eating strawberries with them that I still wanted to share the summer photos we got, all these months later.
I’m so grateful that we’re officially into spring, because there’s nothing like taking photos with families in the late spring and summer in Tennessee. Mark Twain knows what I mean —
“Saturday morning was come, and all the world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with vegetation, and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.” — Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
My mother’s parents.
I think about them and their story this time of year, because his birthday was February 12th, and now she spends her February 14th missing her sweetheart.
He died three Aprils ago, and my grandmother told some stories that no one had ever heard before. Nothing really shocking - the most surprising one was that she turned him down the first time he proposed. Just sweet, funny things, that made us all smile and that my songwriting husband wove into a song called “The Ballad of Donnie Gene.” Which, without fail, made me cry the first one hundred times I heard it.
It’s on Spotify, by The Arcadian Wild, and I whole-heartedly recommend that you listen to it — but really why I’m writing this, is because if you’ve already heard it - I wanted you to know that it’s true.
A couple weeks ago I met two sisters who drove from out of state to see the Wild play, whose favorite song is “Donnie Gene.” I talked with them afterwards, and I loved getting to share with them the meaning behind the lyrics, and brag on my grandparents’ loyalty and goodness.
Donnie, don’t give up on her — she won’t give up on you. This is their story in one line.
He first asked my grandmother to marry him when she was 16 or 17. But unlike most girls, she was not easily swept off her feet, and said - thank you, but I don’t have any business getting married yet. But she thought about the facts. The facts were — he was really kind. And handsome. And he really liked her. And he had a real job in Nashville. And she didn’t think she was going to get any better offers. So — I don’t know if she waited until he asked again, or mustered up the courage to tell him she had changed her mind. But she married him when she was 17, had my uncle at 18 and my mother at 20, and spent the next 50 years doing the very best she knew how to do. They both did.
Not long after their 50th anniversary, it was clear that he had Dementia. If you’ve seen a loved one walk through that - you know how heavy it is. She took care of him at their home the entire time, even though nothing about it was easy.
Donnie, don’t give up on her — she won’t give up on you.
I told all of that to those sisters I met who love this song. I wanted them to know it isn’t just a sweet, romantic song, but the very real story of two very real people who shared fifty years of beautiful and ordinary and hard moments. It’s a story of faithfulness and commitment and courage and doing the right thing, easy or not. That’s why I like hearing it. That’s why I’m proud to have it on my family tree.
It’s a great song. Listen below, if you’d like.
“You are my oasis — the eye of the hurricane.
One look at your face is all I need to remember by name.
So I run away home…. Yes, I run away home to you.
I was an orphan caught in a thunderstorm.
You opened the door and welcomed me into your arms.
So I run away home…. Yes, I run away home to you.
I believe in the love of the Father, and I believe in the power of grace.
I believe that he brought us together, and you are my one safe place.
You are a fortress; I am under siege.
You’re a light in the forest; I am a lost boy out in the trees.
So I run away home…. Yes, I run away home to you.”
— “My One Safe Place,” by Andrew Peterson
This song came to mind when thinking about them and the love they are so good at showing one another.
I am truly blessed to know this family. They give me hope and make me want to be a better Shelby. We took these photos last summer, and the time with them and the photos we created have been good for my soul.
5,781. beating a snow storm
5,782. spending a snow day with New Englanders
5,798. Drue showing us what he loves about his home
5,807. the colors and shapes that grow on rocks by the sea
5,808. Maine colors in Maine scenes
5,811. warming up with apple cider and apple cider doughnuts
5,818. the Clarks’ generosity just keeps coming and coming
5,803. rocky, snowy coasts
5,804. my Bean Boots exploring
5,805. loading in film with cold fingers
5,806. a little lighthouse on a little island
5,809. Machaela and Drue taking photos of me and Lincoln
5,810. standing in places that make me feel more alive
Once I was a faithful blogger. Maybe I’ll be a faithful blogger again one day. But for now, I’m in a season of sporadic blog posts. A week ago today, I had two conversations, one very long and one very short, that reminded me that the thanksgiving, the gratitude, the eucharisteo that I sometimes talk about online — it’s powerful. I don’t mean my words are powerful, I mean that when anyone sends a little beam of light onto the internet, no matter how small it feels, God takes these little words and photos and carries them to people who need a little hope, or a reminder of the Good.
And remembering this made me want to show back up, and share a few things from my ongoing list of blessings. Something I haven’t done in a while.
This photo was taken about a year ago, when Lincoln’s band went to play for all the smart people at Dartmouth, and it turned into an excuse to go to Maine for a day.
I had vaguely mapped out some steps in a new direction — wanting to focus my camera on families, and wanting more from my photos. More soul. More truth. More light. I started dreaming of family portraits that may or may not seem “picture perfect” or like the classic “Kodak moments” — but photos that help families tell their stories. Their true stories. Desert seasons included — not ignored, and not waited out.
(Because really — how many of us would think, “Let’s invest in some fresh family photos,” right after a divorce or a diagnosis? But those are integral parts of the stories, too, and I think they are worth documenting. I want people to feel seen, to feel strong, to feel brave and beautiful in both the seasons of plenty and the seasons of trials.)
And then Caity emailed. Would I take some family photos, and did I have June 1st open? She bravely shared that June 1st would be two years since she had miscarried a baby. And two summers ago, she had gone to a quiet, safe place, a family friend’s farm, and dropped hydrangea petals in the river to grieve that loss. And part of her wanted to use their next round of family photos to honor this part of their story.
What an honor, what a joy, what a kind answer to my prayers, to be invited into this. It was exactly the invitation that my heart was craving, at exactly the right time for both of us. God is generous.
We took a few minutes to honor their sweet baby at the beginning of our time together — and then we walked forward. To bunnies. To strawberries and swings and sunlight. To cows. We explored and ran and laughed, and then we chased the sunset and the fireflies. It was glorious.
These photos with the Shinnicks feel like the first steps in that new direction I’m dreaming of. I’m hoping to seek beauty and tell stories with families, no matter what season they’re in — whether they’re overflowing with joy, or they’re clinging to each other for dear life. Or somewhere in between.
I believe every family is beautiful and every season is important. And if you believe that too — or if you want to believe that, but can’t right now — I would love to help you find the beauty. If you’d like family portraits, I’d love to hear from you. That “say hello” button is for you.
Grace & peace,
"There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers
Than those of us who are willing to fall
Because we have learned how to rise.
"With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.
"When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward the truth and look it in the eye.
"We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villains. Not victims. Not even heroes.
We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.
"We craft love from heartbreak,
Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment,
Courage from failure.
"Showing up is our power.
Story is our way home.
Truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong."
-- Brené Brown's "Manifesto of the Brave & Brokenhearted," Rising Strong
The good news is that she and I are learning how to rise strong - from Brené, from Mary Oliver, from Michelle Gardella, from Flannery and Joy and so many others.
The honest part of that is - you have to fall down before you can truly learn to get back up.
Honestly - she and I were both hurting. We found ourselves facedown, bruised and unsure, and looked around and said - "You too?" That's what fortified this friendship.
But hallelujah for this friendship.
And hallelujah that she and I are learning, and growing into braver artists, more merciful people, more faithful followers of Jesus.
Hallelujah for this beautiful, strong friend of mine, who starts a new year of her life today, in more ways than one.
Also - I have to thank and credit Michelle Gardella for teaching me the power of going to the River for portraits. She is the creator of River Stories, and is a force of empowerment and truth. Her work stirs my soul, and Melissa's, and we took these photos because we had to. I had to show Melissa the power and the beauty I see in her. Whether she knows it or not, Michelle helped create these photos, and I want her name written down with them. www.michellegardella.com
6,126. seeing Lincoln's birthplace
6,128. train tunnels through mountains
6,129. the foundations of washed away bridges reminding me that so many came before us
6,130. American towns so old and hilly they remind me of Europe
6,131. putting a day on the calendar to come back to West Virginia with him
6,132. suppers of stew, beer, and bread
6,133. fourteen sweet, dark cherries for dessert
6,134. Mark on guitar, Lizzie on fiddle, all of us singing
3,622. leaning against his shoulder and feeling his heart pounding
3,623. my Lincoln coming down in front of me - with a ring
3,624. saying yes to what he and God are offering
3,626. calling loved ones to share good news
Today he is a year older, and Friday marks three years since I snapped this photo and numbered these graces on my list of blessings.
Thank you, God. Thank you for this man.