Jessica & Cameron: Engagements

I don’t shoot engagements (let alone weddings) very often, so when Cameron and Jessica asked me to shoot their wedding and engagement photos I was surprised and a little nervous to say “yes”. But I've known Cameron since he was tiny kiddo with Toy Story characters painted on his wall... so really I couldn’t be more excited to help capture this major step in their lives! Anyway, my secret weapon to help capture their big day (who also helped out with this engagement shoot and pays attention to details like no other) is the super talented Makenzie Acker - check out her work as well! Looking forward to January 2nd, The Newest Future Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman! 

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Egypt 2015

This past November I was embedded with a team from Lake Pointe traveling back to Egypt. My role this time was capturing video footage of our team members serving, interviews, child sponsorships, villages, Water2Egypt and a festival… it was a packed and eventful trip to say the least! This was my first trip back to the Middle East in nearly 2.5 years and it was an emotional one for me. A lot has changed in that time span, but a lot has stayed the same. It’s still one of my favorite places in the world to be.

 

Even though I primarily shot video footage, I couldn’t help switching over and taking some still shots as well. Oh, the connivence of the DSLR.

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Polaroid Land Camera 100

I recently inherited my grandmother's Polaroid Land Camera 100, so I bought a pack of fujifilm 100c (color) and a pack of fujifilm 3000b (B&W) film. I'm not sure when this camera was last used, but so far she works like a dream. I also have my grandmother's Pentax K1000, so new (old) stuff happening around here. More to come...

MAKING FRIENDS WITH A BEDOUIN FAMILY

(I wrote this three years ago, but I figure I can share it again here because I've been sharing a bit on Instagram. This year/month marks five years since the trip to Syria.)

 

In April of 2010 (during an internship right out of college) I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel with a small video team to Syria and Lebanon to shoot a music video. Yes, a music video.

 During the fast paced one week adventure, I filled my lungs with the Middle Eastern air, I picked its dirt up with my shoes, I touched its buildings, I ate its food, I witnessed its beauty, I wrapped myself in its culture. But most importantly I met and spent time with some of its people.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the trip and here lately the memories have been weighing heavily on me. So, I would like to share one of the many stories from the experience. I’ve talked about this encounter many, many times, but for some reason I haven’t written it down. I figure this is an alright place to do so.

Making Friends With A Bedouin Family

The team I traveled with was made up of five men and me… the only female. However, we did have a female translator for a couple of days, which was such a blessing because that allowed me the opportunity to talk openly with the women I met.

Traveling down a desert highway in route to Damascus, packed tightly in our van/bus, we passed a bedouin family living roughly fifty yards away from the road. The decision to stop and meet the family came as somewhat of a shock to me. I was thrilled at the oppertunity and hoped that the other female (the translator) and I would be able to go out and meet the family as well. 

I’ll never forget seeing the women excitedly rushing to our vehicle to usher she and I out or the kisses they showered on our faces and the arms they flung around our necks. I’d never felt so warmly welcomed anywhere.

The family had never met Americans before. In fact, they said the only people they had ever met that were not from that part of the world were Australians who were passing by many years before our arrival.

I'm not sure I can put sentences together that would truly express how generous these people were to us. This family lived in tents, all of their belongings (which were few) crammed under sewn together cloth tarps. These people had nothing yet they were offering us everything. They told us that they wished they had a goat to offer us so that we would stay and eat with them. A whole goat! Though to most that may sound crazy, for a family with so little to offer one to us was an unbelievably great gesture. A gesture that made me reflect on the selfish fact that I hide my gum from friends so that I don't have to share.

Along with the goat offer, the women made us cups of tea, not taking any for themselves until we had to tell them our bodies couldn't hold any more!

One man pulled out an instrument he made himself and started playing a song. When asked what song it was, he replied that it was a song of honor for us. Wow. My chest swelled with emotion. A group of strangers walk up to a man, his family, and his place of living unexpectedly and his reaction is to sing a song of honor to them? This doesn’t happen! However, it did and I will never forget the sweet moment. 

After an hour or so we unfortunately had to say our goodbyes and part ways. A sadness still follows me today knowing that I will more than likely never see their faces ever again. However, I am beyond thankful for the opportunity and the time God gave me to spend with them.

Honestly, I have no memory of their names (my biggest regret - forgetting to carry a pen and notebook and not having a better memory) But I think, even though I don't remember their names, they left a way bigger impression on me than a name ever could. Yes, each of these faces are their own, but I left their company loving the people of Syria even more. I left them humbled and with a heart full of love. I don't think about the guards and guns I saw over there. I think about the love and generosity one family (among many others) bestowed on me and the people I was with. I think of the beautiful faces I met that week.

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Smith Family: Loss & Adoption

I met Josh and Amy Smith in the fall of 2014 after Amy submitted their story to Lake Pointe Church. After reading what she submitted, there wasn't a doubt in my mind. Their story needed to be shared. Thankfully my boss was thinking the same thing. 

We met at a Starbucks one evening and they recounted to us the details of their journey of loss, grace, love and fostering to adopt. At that point they had not officially adopted their daughter, they were still a couple of months away from that becoming official. The fear of "anything can happen" loomed in the air, but their trust in Jesus overpowered that completely.  

In December I received a text message from Amy with an official court date. The following Thursday I met them downtown with my camera in hand and was able to witness their daughter legally become a member of their family.  It was one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed. Even thinking about it now gets me emotional. After the New Year, they let me hang out with their family and they graciously shared their story again. 

I'm so grateful for the Smiths and their willingness to share their story. It continues to encourage and challenge me to put all my faith in Jesus. If you know anyone who has lost a child and or adopted, please feel free to share this story with them. The Smith's story has already impacted multiple lives and it will continue to do so. 

Cup Of Coffee

While in Lebanon (during the summer of 2013) I stayed and traveled around the country with a female writer. One of the days during my stay, we went down to the corniche and met an extremely sweet, young boy. I snapped a couple of photos and she wrote the story Cup Of Coffee

Book Recommendation

“The number one reason Muslims come to faith in Christ is because of love.”

-Tom Doyle

 

A few months ago, sitting in one of my favorite restaurants eating dinner with family and talking about my recent trips to the Middle East, I was asked in a somewhat disgusted tone, “Why do you even love those people?” I sat there not knowing what to say. I hadn't said a single negative thing about my experiences. In fact, I was sharing stories about people who really touched my heart, so this question startled and hurt me deeply. I guess at that moment I was too shocked and somewhat nervous to give a legit answer. How do you answer that question without making someone feel judgmental or completely misguided and uninformed about 90% of the world's Muslim people? I think I said something like, “Because I just do.” and left it at that. I soon realized the opportunity I had missed, the opportunity to not only share Christ’s love, but also help put straight the plaguing stereotypes a lot of American’s have of anyone from that part of the world.

 A couple of weeks ago I met a woman who recommended the book Dreams and Visions Is Jesus Awakening The Muslim World? by Tom Doyle. After telling me what the book was about, I pulled up Amazon and added the book to my cart. My friend was right when she said I needed to read this book. Now I’m recommending it to everyone. You don’t need a basic knowledge of Islam to understand how Jesus is working in and changing the hearts of people who confess that as the best and true religion. This book explains perfectly the answer to that baffling question, "Why do you love those people?"

If you read or have read this book, let me know what you think. If the book does anything, hopefully it will encourage, excite, reshape some of those stereotypes and remind you that we as believers and followers of Christ are called to love because we were loved first. 

Places Like Here: Part 1

Some days, no, most days I don't enjoy the fact that I live in Texas. I'm probably one of the few people born and raised here who outright says it. Texas is not awesome. Okay, that's a little harsh. Texas defiantly is a really great place, I just hope someday to call a different place home & get a new license with a new state displayed across the top. It's a dream that hopefully will one day become a reality. Until then, I'm trying to enjoy where I am. Thanks to some friends, I've recently seen more of what Texas (the Dallas area) has to offer. As I run across these places in Texas I will post them here. 

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Video

Back in April, while in Lebanon, I was asked to help out by shooting an interview and gathering some b-roll shots of this Syrian woman's life and story. She is an incredible woman with an enormous heart. We spent close to an hour interviewing and it was hard not tearing up behind the camera. This woman's faith astounds me. It was an encouraging day spent with her and her family. 

(The interview & some of the b-roll are all I contributed to this video. I did not edit or shoot all of the footage for this video - the credit goes to others for that.)

Full link to source here

An Unexpected Gift In My Mailbox

The other day I walked outside to check the mailbox only hoping to find the September issue of NatGeo waiting for me. It wasn't. Instead, on top of a pile of bills, I found a brown envelope addressed to me that read, "A life-changing gift has been given in your name." I immediately assumed it was just another piece of junk mail some organization sent out to catch the addressed person's attention. Then I looked closer and saw a friend's name in the top left corner. So, I opened it… 

I started to tear up immediately. I was holding the most precious piece of mail I had ever received with the most encouraging of words.

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The thing is, to me Syria isn't just a civil war taking place thousands of miles away in the ME that we keep hearing about on the news. To me, Syria is the many faces of people I met while I was over there. People whom I will never know the outcomes of their situation. Did they make it out alive? Who and what did they lose? It's the two little girls who befriended me and put bracelets on my wrist. It's the women who kissed the air next to my cheeks and told me their stories. It's a place I left a piece of my heart. It's a place overcome with devastation and war.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I traveled back to Lebanon this past April to help gather Syrian women and children refugee stories.  It's hard to put into words what I have seen and heard and the truth is I just saw a glimpse and the situation has only gotten a million times worse. So, please be praying for these people and the decisions of our country. Keep in mind these refugees are women, men, children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. These refugees are people just like you and me with the same needs.

 

 (This donation was made through World Vision)

 

One Voice In Egypt Q&A

Last June I stood in Tahrir Square. It felt weird to be standing there, knowing that within just a few days something huge would take place. Knowing that in the exact spot my feet were planted, new friends in Egypt would soon be standing strong and making their mark in history. And I... I would already be thousands of miles away, safe and not having to worry about the immediate future of my country.

During the short time I was in Egypt, I met some incredible people. People who are extremely passionate, intelligent, and courageous. People I admire for their willingness to not only serve others, but fearlessly share the love of Christ while doing so. One new friend [whom I will not name] really blew me away. His story so far is an incredible one. 

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It seems like every hour or so, new articles pop up in most of my social media feeds reporting on what is taking place in Egypt. So I asked my new friend if he would be willing to answer a few questions to help give a depiction of what life is like for him as the struggle continues in Egypt. Thankfully, he agreed. Here are the questions I sent and the answers he replied with:

 

Q: How has life changed for you over the past few weeks?

A: "Life changed to where you can't do what you need to do in your suitable time, you feel like circumstances obligate you and you don't find services available, always worried about leaving your house not to be robbed, you can't drive your car because you don't want to get stuck in a road where they are fighting or you don't know where is safe and where is not because it suddenly surprises you and you can't escape. What I feel is that I'm happy because we are not under the brotherhood control any more and I feel it's a price that has to be paid and I accept it but it's too hard when you don't feel safe and when you see people killed churches burned it's sorrow all over."

Q: Being a young man in Egypt today, what do you see as your role during these current events?

A: "Personally I feel like I need to be wise, patient and positive, to have courage and not hide at home to make my voice to be loud like never before, to post things right on social media things to transfer an honest good image, to be more responsible to my country duties and most of all go out there and preach there are so many people who are in a bad need for God and so ready to listen about him, we also have a huge energy we need to use it right in building not in ruining things more." 

Q: What are your hopes for Egypt's future? 

A: "I hope after getting out from the M.B control that the country would be more modernized, more accepting Christians, the Government to be more transparent with the people in a real democratic atmosphere and to be able to consume our resources better with good way wise thinking"

Q: Where have you seen God in all of this?

A: "I have seen God when M.B left the presidency chair, I have seen God also in uniting the church all denominations together, I have seen God in people who are praying for the country, in people who are so hungry for God that they want the truth no matter what, in declaring how dark it is away from God and all the habits, lies in Islam are getting into light the church is growing and on a real revival!!"

Q: Specifically, what can people outside of Egypt be praying for?

A: "People outside need to be praying for protection and that God would give the government wise decisions to make, for God to stop the violence that is going on and give his people to be bold and speaking powerfully about him.

One more thing that the people outside Egypt need to do, not particularly in prayers, that they get the right image and to make their government not to interfere in our business because this affects us so badly please western people don't make it harder on us while you don't know anything!!"

Thanks again to my friend for being willing to share. I want to echo him in asking for continued prayers. Though there is a lot going on, God is doing some amazing things in Egypt.

Bellatrix

I hadn't picked my camera up in a few days... so I decided I'd take advantage of today's gloomy light and snap some photos of Bellatrix.

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Kids & Cameras

Over the past few months I've had the privilege of meeting and hanging out with hundreds of kids in different parts of the world. So far they've been the highlight to every trip I've been on… mostly because kids love the foreigner with a camera. Just kidding. Well, sort of. The thing is, when a camera is present kids get excited. They parade around you, hug you, follow you everywhere you go, pose and smile. Their faces are priceless when they see the miniature versions of themselves on the small display screen. The camera seems to take them out of their reality. 

Along with these reactions, there is also a lot of grabbing, lens touching, and button pressing. But hey, kids are curious and they aren't going to destroy a camera by accidentally changing a few settings. They simply want to take photos. Unfortunately, the reality is that in most of the places I have been, the kids will never own a camera of their own. I'll probably write more on that later. 

 

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Here is one of those smiling kids who loved my camera. He was one of the only kids sneaky enough to slip between me and my camera strap and without my help, started snapping away dragging me along with him.  

A few things you might like to know about this guy. He lives in Belize and he is probably the best hugger in the world. He has Down syndrome and though he looks shy, I promise you, he's not. He also has a good eye for taking photos. Here are some of his unedited pictures:

 

Video Share

This morning someone shared a link on Facebook. Usually I don't pay attention to anything in my mini-feed, but this link (a video by a German news team) caught my attention and I want to back it up and share it here.

When I was in Lebanon last April, I tagged along with a talented writer and now friend (sorry, I can't give names). A goal for my brief two week stay was to gather video and photos to help tell stories focused on Syrian refugee women and children. Though she and I encountered many hurdles and unfortunate cancelled meetings with many of the women, we still were able to talk to quite a few of them about their situation.

During my time there I was also able to meet up with a translator who joined me and the crew I traveled to Syria with back in 2010. She is an American living in Lebanon with a giant heart for the Lebanese people. Again, sorry, I can't give names. I was curious and wanted to get her perspective as an American woman living so close to the situation. One thing she talked about was the lack of information leaving Syria. A lot of the refugees, especially those who have been out of Syria for a year or more, are in the dark about their homes, belongings, and the people they know back home. Obtaining accurate information is not easy and can take months to get. There is also the issue of accuracy in the information they receive. This is the situation for the rest of the world as well. Information is hard to get when we don't have a front row seat. That's why I think this video is important. It puts faces and a reality to a few people in Syria. It's not just a death toll number on the news. This is a true story that for so long has been, is currently, and will continue taking place for so many in a part of the world so far away. 

 

Processing Lebanon: Part 2

When I think about Lebanon, I think about one woman in particular I was able to meet. 

I first saw her when she walked into a Syrian refugee women's Bible study that we were attending in hopes to gather more stories. At her feet stood the cutest little two year old boy holding a bag of chips. I remember this because when another kid ran up to him and tried to grab his chips he just held the bag as high as he could to keep the other child away from his food. He later accidentally spilt his chips on the ground loosing half the bag. 

After the Bible study, the woman and her mother sat down to talk with us. The little boy in his own chair to her right - one seat away from me in our small circle of six. As she started to tell us stories, the little boy kept looking at me and shyly smiling. The shy smiles gradually turned in to what I assume were dinosaur roars and laughter while his mother talked about rape, murder, and their current situation.  He didn't seem to understand, he still had a happy innocent grasp on life. He is two, after all. Between the translating of her stories, the little boy and I would make faces at each other and smile. I felt bad about this, but I just wanted to hug him and erase his real life outside the small circle and draw him a better one… one with an endless supply of chips and dinosaur games. One where his beautiful mother didn't have to fear for her family every moment of ever day. One without the reality of war.

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After about 45 minutes the woman invited us to her home. We accepted. This was a turning point. We were actually getting to enter this woman's life for a bit and visit with her in her home. As we walked up the dirty cement steps to her one room apartment and took off our shoes, things stated to become a little more real. There were no lights except for two windows, one in the room and one in the kitchen. The room was smaller than my bedroom and the kitchen/bathroom had a thin layer of dirty water covering the floor. Not ideal living conditions, but it was a place most refugees would envy.

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As we sat and asked her more personal questions, I learned she has another son (a five year old) and she is married to a man who, luckily, is still able to be with them in Lebanon, but who can't find work except as a guard on random occasions. I also learned she is from a bedouin background and her mother, who was sitting in the room with us, had arrived from Syria only two days before to live with them. 

I also learned she is 25 years old. 

me: "Will you please ask her how old she is?"

her: "I'm 25"

(a  nauseating punch in my gut)

me: "I'm 25 as well"

her: "Were you born in 1987?"

me: "Yes - I was"

That night, laying in the comfortable apartment I was so blessed to stay at while I was in Beirut, I cried myself to sleep. I had met a woman my age and we only have two things in common. We are both female and we are both 25.

She is a Syrian refugee, wife, and mother escaping war. 

I am a free American, single, and I can only hope to be a mother some day who never has to worry about war.

She constantly worries about food and how she is going to feed her family.

I get frustrated when the grocery store doesn't have the yogurt I like. 

Her shower and toilet are the same thing.

There are three showers in my house and four toilets nicely separated. 

A sheep head sitting in her kitchen is a huge blessing.

A sheep head sitting in my kitchen would be discusting.

She goes to sleep at night worried about the next day.

I go to sleep at night knowing I am safe.

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As we left her apartment, her two year old was crying out the window as he watched us go. My heart was broken. I thought about one of my best friends who is also 25 and recently became a mother. I pictured how differently their lives automatically are because of situation. 

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Again, who am I to think I deserve the life I have? Who am I to think I deserve a life so comfortable? Who am I to constantly take everything for granted?