The Stains of Grief

Texas Fine Art Motherhood & Family Photographer

It is hard to say what a year has taught me after the death of my husband.  Might sound crazy, but when I have heard about people losing their spouse, I immediately pictured this couple in their elderly years and felt saddened for the remaining soul on Earth that had to spend their last few years alone. But, I knew that with the little time they had left, God had given them so many years. Years full of love, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, vacations, weekends, birthdays, celebrations, holidays and rite of passages.

Death does not only come to those who are well up in their years spent on Earth.

Tragedy has always struck other people, other families, other friends.  It happened to people that we look at from the outside and think to ourselves, “I couldn’t imagine”… or, “I feel so bad for them”… or, “My heart breaks for them.”

Death can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere.  I always thought I would be an exception.

Death has no exceptions.

Me? Live without my closest family or friends? No way! God would never do that to me because He knows I couldn’t handle it.

God thought differently. I have become one of them.

Becoming a widow at age 26 with a 13 month old little boy has shown Gods will shall be done and has proven to me that I was no exception to Death.

At 26, my life was planned; dreams set in motion; and were checking each one off one-by-one. The death of my 27 year old husband was not on that list. This ‘check’ canceled every other step that was still to be completed in my planned life – for all my dreams included Luke in them. My life after January 25th would never be the same. I was forced into a new world that I didn’t like, I didn’t want, and for sure did not plan.

Through the passing of Luke, I have learned that Death is black and white. But with death; comes grief and grief is so grey. Grief is so complicated. It is a term used to describe the end of someone’s normalcy and the despair to see that old pattern end. It the word to describe my every emotion; the word that I still can’t believe is in my everyday vocabulary. Grief brings many different emotions but I feel grief has left me with two stains: two stains that no matter how much I can try to push away will be instilled within me until my soul is uplifted.

Memories are the stains that are pleasant. They are made up of everything that I am, everything Luke and I were, and everything of what Brady, our sweet little boy, will have to learn.  They are everything that makes me smile.  Luke and I shared nine years of memories – many amazing ones, some not so pleasant, and some sad but all brought us closer.  Within each of those memories, it was like a small amount of passion credited to our relationship and the love we had for each other. We grew up together. Dating for 7 years, sharing marriage for 2, and raising our baby for 1, has taught me all I need to know about love.  I know each memory invested in my heart will have to be enough to keep me going for my remaining years here.

Me. My memories are within me. Me – the mom of Luke’s child. Me  – the person who is responsible for instilling these memories with the son Luke so badly wanted – the son who he so desperately desired to make his own memories with. Brady. Our son: the reason that entirely makes up the second stain of grief.

Grief: the bewildered beast of emotions. The emotions we are left daunted to tackle. The storm we are left to fight through. Grief leaves the stain of all obscurities. Every new pregnancy announced sends a thousand darts to the heart. Every birthday sets like a dense fog on a forbidden highway. Every new holiday is an adventure unwanted. Every desirable vacation is a task. Every new morning is the same nightmare lived the previous day. The negative stain of grief is the soft animosity left by all the items on your checklist left open while the world continues checking.  You have become frozen. You still participate in your life like it is your old one but you have the jabs of reminders that your life doesn’t hold the same plans that you always wanted.  The plans that everyone else around you still get to have.  You smile and say you are happy for them – because you are.  Its not that you want their baby, or their house they built together, or even their vacation or holiday, you want their feeling.  You want what you know you experienced in those moments of happiness in your old life. Luke and I always wanted a big family.  I didn’t know that I should’ve fully grasped every moment of Luke helping in birth for our first {and only} born.  I didn’t know that I needed to remember every detail of each holiday Brady would only get to spend with his dad once. I didn’t know. I don’t get to know. I will never know how awesome of a big brother Brady will be. I will never know what features our second born would receive that Brady did not. I will never get to meet eyes with our little girl to see what she would look like or be like.  I will never know what our first home to build would consist of; I will never know if Luke approves of the way I fix Brady’s hair. I will never get to know what it is like as a family trying to get homework done, Brady off to practices, while trying to get dinner on the table. My dream of being a wife and having a family of my own was short lived and the 13 months I got with my amazingly, perfect {to me} little family will have to be sufficient enough until we are united again.

I can do this… I have to do this. What is hard to grasp is Brady.

Brady won’t get to know any of it. He will never know the great man his dad is.  He will never see how proud Luke was when he beamed at him. He will never to get to see the way Luke’s eyes would squint and the way his mouth would curl up on each side to show how in awe he was of his creation. Brady will never get to experience and share Luke’s passion of hunting and sports.  Brady will never get to share, one day, the love of his life with his Dad or his first born.

The stain of grief of the “what-ifs” can be unbearable. But the actual absence of the person we love so much is what compresses every breath. I miss Luke. I miss the way he rolled out of bed 12 minutes before we had to be out the door.  I miss his somewhat obnoxious way of brushing his teeth while leaving the shower running.  I miss walking into places with him, late, of course. I miss how he would walk around and check everything throughout our home before we left to go anywhere, even if it was just to go to the grocery store.  I miss his music and the beat of rhythm he would provide in addition to the music in the car. I miss the way he would sweep his hand across mine as a way to say how much he loved me and the wonderful life we had. I miss his abstract advice that he would offer as if he knew every way of the world. I miss his laugh, his smirk, his cry. I miss his passion for things I might’ve not understood. His knowledge, his stubbornness, his carefree attitude. I miss his speeches on why Catholicism is so important to him. I miss his protection. They way he yearned to spend his time with me and Brady. The way he would have my back and fight for me. I miss how we would exchange that ‘look’ after a fight or disagreement and hysterical laugh at the immatureness we probably had just demonstrated.  I miss the way he loved so intently. It’s not just the way he loved me and Brady – I miss the way he loved his family and friends – the people who meant the world to him and who he would give everything he had to just see them happy. I miss praying with him. I miss sharing our faith together.

I miss him.

I miss everything about him.

To say I am jealous of the people who lose their spouse in their late years in an understatement.  I am jealous. I am jealous of all the stains of grief they are left with: the vast amount of memories and the hasty time of what ifs. The hypotheticals do not amount to their concrete impressions left by their other half.

I wanted that.

A year of stains has left me beaten and scarred; but also enlightened. I am realizing that with every memorable stain and through each stain of bitterness, I have Luke in every one. He may not be able to walk with me and make our checks on the ‘master plan’ together but he shapes every mark I make and through this I know that I will be okay.  God has proven me wrong that I am not an exception.  But, he also proved that I can do this journey. I will do this journey. I am doing this journey – through Him.

2014:

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2015:

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Photography by Ever & Anon | Written by Hannah Arnold (Unveiling Faith)

 

A Special Season | Jessica Scott Photography

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When pregnant, I spent months nesting and preparing for our newest addition. No matter how much we planned, nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming love that washes over you the moment your baby is in your arms.  It’s the most encompassing, beautiful feeling I’ve ever felt. God has provided so much purpose and fulfillment in my life my being a mother . I’m couldn’t be more grateful that God chose me to mother these two boys.

I knew I wanted this special season documented in our home. When Hendrix was one week old, Jess came over and captured our family in such a beautiful way. She captured the little moments, the ones that may otherwise be forgotten in the day to day. These moments are the ones I hold the most dear. The moments where I feel Jesus encourage me as a mom with sweet kisses, warm snuggles and big smiles.  These are the moments I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Written by Jenna McElroy | Photography by Jessica Scott Photography

Unto Him a Child is Born

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“When your eyes are fixed on the horizon of eternity, it affects your vision for motherhood.”― Gloria Furman

These sweet pictures were taken when my son, Elias, was 2 weeks old. Little did we know in 5 weeks we would be on the brink of losing our sons life. He was bleeding internally from complications of a liver disease we didn’t know he had. Praise the Lord for sparing his life though!

Do you ever look back at pictures and think, wow… little did I know the things to come? It is a reality that we just don’t know what is ahead of us. It is easy as a Mother to get wrapped up in the mundane of life and let that overshadow the sweetness of each day, or let that overshadow our true purpose as a Mother.

No matter where you are in this journey, the thought of losing one of your children is horrific. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking of it. God’s word says “When life is good, enjoy it. But when life is hard, remember: God gives good times and hard times, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring.” Ecclesiastes 7:14

What do we do with that though? It is easy to be anxious and worry but we are called to trust the Lord. When we trust the Lord we find our greatest calling as a Mother; to prepare our children to meet our Savior, Jesus Christ, one day. Keeping this eternal perspective often gets me through the hardest of days and helps me praise the Lord on the best of days.

Photography by Callie Manion Photography

Lost but Not Forgotten |Kat Braman Photography

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I know this post may qualify as oversharing but when you experience a life-threatening event that results in a devastating loss you feel a burden to speak up so others walking that journey know they are never alone.

On October 23rd I found out I was pregnant with number two. It wasn’t a total surprise yet I was dealing with a range of emotions. I did not feel “over” our challenges with Mae’s first year. I did not feel strong enough to go another year (or more) without sleeping. I was terrified of postpartum depression finding its way back into my life and all of these concerns left me feeling numb. I can see clearly now it was fear.

Dave and I discussed it and as the weeks passed I began to release my fears and put my complete faith and trust in God’s perfect timing. We shared the news with family members and began to get excited. I was already nagging Dave to get the baby gear out of the attic and making a list of names. I had no morning sickness this time and had been staying active so I was looking forward to a more energetic pregnancy. We had also timed it perfectly with wedding season so I could easily take four months off.

On November 23, nine weeks into my pregnancy, I started to bleed. I called our midwife who suggested I go in for an ultrasound since I had not yet had one. So I called Dave and together we went in. I was wearing this. The ultrasound tech’s stoic expression and complete silence confirmed my fears. I asked if she was able to share her findings and she quietly said “there’s nothing there”. Empty.

When we discussed the results with the midwife she assumed that I had miscarried very early without noticing and that the bleeding was simply a period. To be safe, she ordered a blood test to make sure my pregnancy hormone levels were decreasing. They were not. She gave it two more days and tested again. At this point she did express concern over the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy but said it was rare, and especially this far along. I began to get concerned because I had a wedding the next day and I knew from a friend’s experience that ectopic pregnancies were dangerous. When we received the results the levels had gone down so we took that as a green light to proceed with business as usual.

God’s hand of protection was so miraculously on me that weekend yet I still felt like I was in a bit of a twilight zone. I was confused about what had happened, was happening, or would be. A stranger stopped me at church and asked if I was pregnant. I didn’t know how to answer her.

Monday morning, November 30th, I was supposed to drive to Miami for a meeting and a shoot but thankfully they were cancelled. Mae went to the sitter and I began my day with a phone call with a friend. As we were talking I started to feel extremely hot, nauseous and dizzy. There was intense internal pressure in my abdomen and I knew something was wrong. I could not get in touch with my family but I did speak to my midwife who ordered me to go to the ER immediately. By the grace of God, I was able to reach my dear friend who had experienced this same exact thing three years ago. She was at my house within ten minutes rushing me to the hospital. I was wearing this.

Over the next few hours, both of my parents, my mother-in-law and my husband arrived at the hospital. Amidst the flurry of activity and fearful faces of my family members, I was given the sweetest sense of peace. The pain had intensified significantly due to the internal bleeding but I distinctly remember lying still for the internal ultrasound and praying, “Lord, I don’t know what’s going to happen or why but you do and I am assured that is the absolute best for me”. I was never alone.

They diagnosed me with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and began prepping me for emergency surgery. They took me down the same hallway through which we brought Mae home. The sky was the same shade of blue. I smiled at the thought that both of my babies went home through the same hallway. Never alone.

Those moments before surgery were so precious to me. The nurses gave my family a few moments to pray and the words shared during that time will stay in my heart forever. The sense of God’s peace was so present, I never felt alone.

After surgery, I woke up to my mom and dad praying over me and Dave right next to them. My mom left to stay the night with Mae and Dave and I were left to stay in the hospital overnight. Once he was sleeping, I began doing research and realized for the first time how close to death I was, how many miracles had transpired to keep me alive, and that the likelihood of future pregnancies had been impacted. It was a lot to take in, but the peace of God never left my side.

In the weeks that followed, my village wrapped their loving arms around me in ways I would have never expected. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life. I felt as if this experience gave me the chance to trust again. It was incredibly painful but somehow, for it, I was incredibly grateful.

So I dried all of the flowers we received and asked my dear friend Kat if she would photograph our little ceremony to say goodbye to our baby and thank God for the life we shared. These images are so rich with meaning as they share my journey of being emptied but never alone.

Beautiful images by Kat Braman Photography

Breathe| 31 Moments with God

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The struggle is real. Like a fish swimming against the stream. I’m not talking motherhood here, because we all know motherhood can be (or should we just be honest and say “is”) a struggle, but I’m talking about our daily time alone with God. It’s something I battle with on a regular basis. Among the other daily to-do’s, never-ending house chores, running a business, and not to mention raising two small children, it can be difficult to find ten minutes alone to myself to just sit and read God’s word. There are days when I feel discouraged, so far from the Lord, so lost, and so overwhelmed with heavy burdens I am not meant to bare alone. Anyone else with me?

I long for days where I can sit for hours diving into scripture and learning the many life lessons Jesus preached during His time here on earth. But that’s just not reality with running a small business while being a stay at home mom. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to necessarily sit for hours upon end for me to walk closely with our Heavenly Father. Twenty minutes really focusing on His message would have to be enough most days. Thankfully, I stumbled upon Breathe: 31 Moments with God (For Moms) devotional that I not only could relate to, sometimes in a very scary way, but could also fit within my busy schedule.

In Day One of the devotional, Jaimie Bowman started with Luke 8:22-25, where the disciples were in the midst of a horrible storm, trapped on a boat, and thinking they were going to drown. After they woke up Jesus with panic in their eyes and in their hearts, Jesus simply calmed the storm and asked “where is your faith?” He was right there all along with them and they still were frightened and worried. Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of a really bad storm? Possibly drowning from the weight of everything on your shoulders? Alone through it all? Today was one of those days for me and after tears of frustration cleared, I turned my eyes upon the only One who can give me strength.

We all have days where we are overwhelmed and left exhausted, but we are not alone. He is with us.

When you have mountains of laundry, dirty dishes piled in the sink, and a toddler throwing his toys around everywhere. He is with you.

When you have unanswered emails, open tasks that are way behind your deadline. He is with you.

When your infant wants nothing but to be held by you while standing. He is with you.

We are not alone. He is always with us. We just have to call His name and give it all up to Him.

I pray that you and I never forget our Heavenly Father is there to calm our storms and bring peace to our souls. Have faith in Him even when you feel alone.

Photo by Ever & Anon Photography | Scanned by PhotoVision

 

In over my head | An adoption story

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In Over My Head

I am in over my head. The water is deep and the shore is out of site. And if I am honest, I am afraid.

Tomorrow, I will board a plane with my husband to travel to China. There we will meet a little girl for the first time, and she will officially become a part of our family through adoption.

I am in over my head. I am vulnerable. I am excited. I am terrified. I feel unworthy but so grateful. Every thought and emotion one could have…I am experiencing them right now and have been ever since we first started this adoption process eleven months ago.

This is risky. There are so many unknowns. Literally. We do not know this little girl that we already refer to as our daughter. We do not know the extent of her brain damage, which is the diagnosis from the doctors in China. We do not know what it looks like to parent a child who comes from trauma. We do not know how to speak Chinese and our nearly two-year-old daughter does not know English. The list of unknowns seems endless.

What we do know is that she is worth it.

She is worth the risk, the unknown. Because she, just like you and I, is a child of God, made in His image. He stepped down from Heaven to redeem us. To adopt us. You and I. To ransom us and bring us into the fullness of life by His blood on the cross. His sacrifice is my gain, it’s my life. And if He can do that for us, then we can step out into the waters of the unknown for her.

I find that He often calls us to step out into the uncertain. This faith walk is not always comfortable or easy. It is often difficult and messy. But God promises that when we obey Him, He will reveal Himself to us (John 14:21). The God of the universe makes Himself known to us when we step out in faith and do what He is asking. That reward is the best gift besides salvation that God could give to us. It is knowing Him that satisfies our soul and gives this life on Earth purpose. And it is because of that promise that I can press on in this present journey He has called me to.

I am in over my head. The water is deep and the shore is out of site…but I know it is there, even if I cannot see it. I could panic and try to will myself to the unseen shore in a frantic swim. Or I could pause. Turn my gaze up and float here. Remain here. Out in the waters. Trusting that if this is where God wants me, He will not forsake me. I am choosing love over fear, and I am encouraged by His promise that He will show Himself through this obedience.

I am in over my head. And here, I will remain.

– written by Renee Booe, the mother of this beautiful family. Photography by Izzie Rae Photography

Family Maternity | Acres of Hope Photography

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Psalm 127:3-5

“Sons are a heritage from the Lord,

children a reward from him.

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior

are sons born in one’s youth.”

Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

We truly adore this family maternity session because of the love and radiance that shines through these images by Acres of Hope Photography. Children are a gift from God, and what an incredible blessing and responsibility the Lord has bestowed upon us as parents, to raise our children up in the way they should go. He has trusted us with such a precious gift, to teach them the message of the gospel and grow their soul in the ways of the Lord. The light and joy felt through these images just speaks volumes of this family and their excitement as they anxiously await their newest addition. Erica with Acres of Hope says, “I’ve had the privilege of photographing this sweet family for several years now, since they were newly married and expecting their first baby boy and now as they anticipate the arrival of their little girl, Arrow Mae.”

Welcome

Texas Fine Art Family Photographer

Welcome to Vessel Journal, we are truly grateful that you are here with us and we are so excited to announce that we are officially live! It feels so amazing to see this beautiful space come to life, it has been a labor of love and the heart behind this publication is so real and raw. We have spent many a sleepless nights working, planning and praying about how God will use this publication and we cannot believe the day is finally here. So welcome, we are so excited to have you!

Vessel is a lifestyle publication, rooted in faith, showcasing the genuine capture of motherhood, family and intimate gatherings. Founded by film photographers, Courtney Brown of Courtney Leigh Photography and Jessica Sowyrda of Ever and Anon, we felt that this industry was missing something valuable. While much of what we see on blogs these days is gorgeous ethereal shoots and highly stylized sessions, our goal is quite the opposite. As busy mothers, wives and entrepreneurs ourselves, we know the daily struggles and the joys that make this calling truly remarkable. We value the real, the raw, the true emotion, the struggle, the joy and the triumph. We believe in sharing your story and testimony, because God is glorified and our burden is lifted when we share what is on our hearts. We encourage real, transparent stories that value this truth. Ultimately, we have combined our hearts for motherhood and created this wonderful space dedicated to sharing the genuine moments through the organic beauty of film photography.

So what’s behind the name? Why the word Vessel, you ask? At Vessel, we believe that as mothers, God has chosen us to be living vessels for His mercy and goodness, to expose in us a purpose and a voice so that we may share our stories and legacies of love with the world. We firmly believe that He uses ordinary people, broken vessels, like you and me, to accomplish his divine plan in ways that only He can, so that we might spread the joy and light of Christ living in our hearts. Vessel is much more than just beautiful imagery. We value stories that are transparent and relatable to bring us to the heart of who you are and share a message of hope with our readers.

One of our favorite quotes comes from the song Broken Vessels by Hillsong, “So take this heart, Lord, I’ll be your vessel, the world to see your light in me.” It’s a beautiful illustration of what our mission is here at Vessel and the message of love we strive to be. Vessel exists to cultivate a compassionate community of faith-driven women that gather here and find hope in sharing their journey by exposing the real and genuine moments.

If you’re a fine art photographer and have a unique session or gathering to share with us that you feel embodies the mission of Vessel, we would be honored to view it and consider it for feature. You can send submissions via a dropbox link to hello@vesseljournal.com – we will do our best to get back to you within 2 weeks.

Thank you again for your continued love and support, we are honored to have you here with us and we hope you are encouraged and inspired by what you read here!

Blessings,

Courtney + Jessica