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a word on Truth speaking | fort worth yoga teacher

 

I watched Oprah speak at the Golden Globes about how speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all own. And, I agree. I was mad at Oprah when I watched that speech. Her Weight Watchers commercials have irritated me. Here are some things I’d like to hear Oprah speak about, other than becoming smaller in body:

  • How she overcame abuse and trauma to become the most successful woman of my lifetime
  • How white women can be better allies to women of color in the movement toward equality
  • What motivated her to start a school in Africa
  • How she’s maintained healthy long term relationships with people like Gayle and Stedman in spite of her busy, public career

Those are just a few that come to mind. When I saw her eating tacos, I thought, “Come on, Sister, really?” I realize so many probably thought nothing of this commercial. My eyes have only recently been opened to the way our society’s food and water is poisoned by the corporations who seek to keep women small in body and, ultimately, smaller in power.

Nobody’s perfect.

I forgive you, Oprah.

Indeed, watching her speech, I set aside my resentment and raised a fist in solidarity time and again. My blood began to quicken, as I know happens when Truth speaks.

Part of the reason I don’t write much here (about myself) any more is I don’t always know which truths are mine to own and share.

One of the wisest things the owner of Karmany Yoga (may he rest in peace) ever told me was that once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can’t put it back in. He was referring specifically to writing and speaking truth. That line still comes to me sometimes before I hit send or publish.

So many of us whose truths have been swallowed or stifled or shut down – when we begin to speak again, what we say and how we say it is in need of some refining (to say the least); otherwise, it projectile vomits like victimized hate speech. I’ve written things I regret in the name of speaking truth. And, I’ve read things others have written about me that hurt and weren’t true. A Course in Miracles tells me that “In my defenselessness, my safety lies.” I have this written on an altar in my home. It reminds me that haters gonna hate, and I need not always shout louder than the haters.

The Yoga Sutra explains that often our truth is colored by the veil of our ignorance, or false understanding (avidya). Within the mind of each of us are habits of thinking (samskaras and vasana) so embedded in the mind that they shape our inner world and mold our personality, which, in turn, creates the lens through which we view reality.

It’s why I try not to write too in depth about what I’m experiencing currently. Through the lens of time and spiritual practice and reflection, truth unfolds infinitely. More will always be revealed.

I think that’s what my mentor meant with his toothpaste analogy. When it comes to speaking truth, I operate by a few questions: Who will it help? Who could it hurt? And, what can I live with?

Sometimes, with the truth it’s as Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Sometimes, with the truth it’s as Anne Lamott said, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

And sometimes, I still believe the details are better left unsaid. I might as well quote another woman I admire – Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”

I strive to go high.

And, you know, that means operating by what my momma taught me as a young girl, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I mean, some would say that’s not a way to raise our females up, but on the other hand, I don’t want to add to the aggression in our world. And, knowing my mom, I think it was Texas speak for “In my defenselessness, my safety lies.”

Over the past few years, I’ve sought to refine what’s capital-T True. There’s an exercise I do where I write down all of my attack thoughts, and then I rewrite them using the prompt: “Another way I could choose to see this is…”

For example,

Donald Trump is the worst thing to happen to the United States.

When I say this, I feel judgmental, disconnected and hopeless – disempowered.

[If you voted for Trump, I’m surprised to find you here but not too shocked because you were in good company. Feel free to substitute “Obama” or whichever political figure felt like doomsday to you.]

Another way I could choose to see this is that Donald Trump is the end of the world as we know it.

Much the same effect. I never said this exercise was easy. Examining our beliefs never is. It’s like the adage: the truth will set you free, but first it’ll piss you off. It’s hard at first, which is why I always keep going until I can find something that feels true and hopeful…

Another way I could choose to see this is that Donald Trump is exposing our country’s deeply rooted shadow of racism and greed.

Another way I could choose to see this is that Donald Trump will be the impetus for widespread political, global, and economic change.

Another way I could choose to see this is that Donald Trump is inspiring Americans to become involved in the political processes we’ve long taken for granted.

Another way I could choose to see this is that Donald Trump will give rise to the strongest, most powerful group of women and the Divine Feminine found in all of us.

Another way I could choose to see this is that Donald Trump is one man with tremendous power, and I am one woman with a daily opportunity and moral obligation to step into mine.

Now, I’m starting to feel inspired – or at the very least, Vital.

Before I taught yoga, I taught public school. Before that, I waited tables in nightclubs. Before that, I worked in a cubicle in insurance.

And you know where I’ve found the most pain: in spiritual communities. Herein, I’ve found some of the most judgmental, unethical, bullying, narcissistic folks I’ve ever met. Herein, I’ve also found some of the most generous, compassionate, empathetic, people I’ve ever met.
I mean, the yoga community is just a microcosm of our world, you know? That was news to me. I thought at first everyone was happy.

There’s a reason we were all led to this practice. Life wasn’t perfect…just sayin’ 😉

Saying this out loud, on the page, feels kinda icky. So much so, that I almost left. More than once. Because, as Pema Chodron says, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” I had to learn from a few people, painfully a few times. Years of growth.

So, once upon a time, the truth was:

She took advantage of my kindness. She stole from me. She chose business over friendship. She grew envious and vengeful when I became the top producing teacher. She verbally abused me. She spoke lies about me.

These were a number of she’s. I may have had a slight problem with laying down and letting people walk all over me.

And, with boundaries and (sometimes) walls, therapy and reframing journaling exercises, and the gift of time, another way I can see this is:

These experiences have propelled me to remain even closer to my own spiritual practices (yoga, dhyana), motivating me to examine the ways in which I am allowing ego to obscure Truth. I thank these people who’ve masqueraded as the light for reflecting back to me who I am when all facades fall away. I thank you for encouraging me to do my part to include everyone and exclude nobody. Because of your influence, I understand that friendship, for me, is about wanting the best for a person and expecting nothing out of the person in return. I thank you for teaching me to love the people close to me without condition, giving generously without harming myself in any way. I thank you for pointing me away from greed and in the direction of faith (shraddha). I thank you for showing me what not to do so that I may operate my businesses in a way that aligns with my ethical principles (yamas). I thank you for showing me how to set healthy boundaries which protect my heart and my life’s work (niyamas). I do not seek to share this physical space with you – in asana or otherwise. And, in the same breath, I wish the best for you – the same happiness and success I wish for myself and my closest friends and family (mudita).

This Truth has set me free.

my brother’s wedding | Destination Gay Wedding on Coronado Island

I’m retired from photographing weddings. It was the way in which I cut my teeth learning photography. I’m grateful for the experience because I’m rarely rattled at a shoot…ever.

This, however, was my final wedding. (If I keep saying that, maybe it’ll be true;)

My brother’s. And, it was on Coronado Island at a beautiful venue. I celebrated my own anniversary at the Marriott on Coronado Island last year. I love not needing a car. The wedding weekend was so beautiful that I had the fleeting thought that maybe I’d do more weddings if the climate and ambiance was so beautiful. Mostly, I’ve photographed weddings in Texas, which means that 6 months out of the year, I’m sweating and getting a sunburn. I don’t have a fitbit because I obsess easily about well, everything, but I’d guess I walked 5 miles to and fro the groom’s hotel rooms which were on opposite sides of the complex. People ask me often if I’m from San Diego because my brothers and father all live there. For different reasons, they’ve all landed there over the past few years, and I’m fortunate to visit frequently.

This was my first time traveling with a baby. And, well, I can remember the days when I used to pack…drunk…a couple hours before a flight. I began packing for this trip on Sunday. We left on Friday. With one of those rolling carts you rent at the airport, full of luggage – everything from camera equipment to a bassinet. You’ll see one photo of the top of his head. He slept through the ceremony and spent most of the weekend in the hotel because well, Texas born babies don’t understand how to switch over to California time.

What memories we made!

I loved this rehearsal dinner spot. Monello in Little Italy. So fresh and good!

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I took a yoga class the morning of the wedding, and I’m glad I did because man, I got my steps in.
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I pretty much forced my brother to do a first look. And, can’t you see why?!
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I was relieved to find out that a funny guest had these made – and not my vain brother. Haha.
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Special thanks to my wife who second shot for me. She’s my favorite second shooter and I trust her implicitly, which means I was able to shoot more film than I normally would at a wedding. And, of course, film holds up well in southern California high sunshine.

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There were a number of toasts. But, my favorite moment of the reception was when my new bonus brother danced with his mom. Isn’t she adorable?
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And then, of course, my mom whom I don’t mention much. I am the oldest child and have never liked to share. She epitomizes the proud mother always. She loves us so much.

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I knew my brother would begin to drink and dance…we joke that our little boy better not get his dance moves from Uncle Zach…and suddenly, he wouldn’t want to do any photos. But, when I photograph weddings – which is rare because this was my last one – I always try to steal the bride and groom…or in this case, the grooms…away for a few minutes. On your wedding day, you should have fun and remember why you’re there.

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And, I mean, it was a full moon, which is second only to sunsets in my favorite subject to photograph.

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And they ended up using this image for their holiday card. Aren’t they cute? (Trust your wedding photographer).

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I cherish the photographs I have from my own wedding. It’s a day I want to remember for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for the photography skills I’ve garnered through the years. And never have I been more grateful than to utilize these skills to be of service to my family and friends. So, unless we share a gene pool or I’ve coined you as my chosen family or you’re getting married in Fiji or somewhere comparable (and my growing entourage can join me…with all of our luggage), this was my final wedding. And, it was one of my all time favorites.

reflections on 2017 | what mattered most

Much of my adult life has been about learning to feel again because I spent much of my teens and twenties learning how to feel absolutely nothing. Numbness, as it turns out, hurts more. So, I put this on the page to remind me, when times are happy…when times are hard, I get to feel it all. A blessing. A curse. 2017 felt like a little or a lot of both. The good news and the bad news: temporary.

I’m fond of ending my yoga classes by saying, “Who you are and what you do – it matters…you make a difference in this world…simply by showing up.” Sometimes I’ll ask my colleague, Lauren Wessinger, in jest: “Do people really need to hear how great they are every class?” And we always nod. Yes. Yes, they do. This world is beautiful. This world is broken. You’re unique, but so is everyone else, so you’re really not special. As we bid this year adieu, let’s be confident; let’s be humble, too.

A few years ago, professor and marriage and family therapist, Frank Thomas, inspired me to reflect at the end of each year on what I did that mattered. Something I’ve only recently learned through my studies of both Buddhism and Christianity is that I can give in the spirit of generosity without any expectation about how my offerings are received. Therefore, certainly, I don’t always know if what I do that I think matters, actually does matter. But, here’s what I did this year that mattered, to me. I’ve always believed that what I give, comes back to me – tenfold. And, this year has been no exception.

In chronological order:
In Washington D.C. I marched with 500,000 people who were as heartbroken as I was.
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With my wife, I bought a house – a quiet place drenched in natural light where we can live.
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I watched some phenomenal sunsets with inspiring people. I taught a yoga retreat and planned 2 more retreats for this coming year. (https://thetravelyogi.com/teachers/amber-shumake/)

2017-12-30_0004.jpgI coordinated public yoga events to fundraise for my philanthropy. I volunteered more than I ever would have dreamed possible, sharing my talents in clinical settings to people who might not otherwise find yoga and meditation. Ebony Smith, founder of YOGA ‘N DA HOOD has been a great source of inspiration for me regarding how to bring yoga to people of color, in particular. As she says, “Wellness knows no race.”
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I spent a tremendous amount of time with inspiring human and fellow yoga teacher, Lauren Wessinger, preparing for our 200-hour yoga teacher training, through which we certified several people of varying ages and backgrounds to offer yoga and meditation in their communities. I ended a relationship that therapist(s), mentors, and friends have encouraged me, for decades, to end. It hurts. There’s enough pain to go around. And still, it hurts less than continuing to subject myself to abuse and the insanity that comes with doing the same thing, over and over again expecting different results.
2017-12-30_0012.jpgI showed up for my family, even when I was hungry, angry, lonely, tired or it seemed inconvenient. The people closest to us seem to get the very best and worst of us. (It helped that I wasn’t hungry as often because this year, with few exceptions, I ate food, regularly…as in every few hours, every *single* day. And, I said “no thank you” and walked away when people asked me if I wanted to do a cleanse. I hope in the time and energy that I used to expend obsessing about what to eat and when to eat, I’ve been able to do things that matter more.
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I showed up for myself, every morning, mostly before dawn, to my meditation cushion to sit. I struggled with chronic pain this year, which limited the freedom in my movement. And, as much as I hate that, the limitations always bring me closer to my meditation practice, which brings me closer to God and the ways in which God can work through me and you, too. I had a dream on the night of a full moon in May where Dana was holding a young boy. The timing wasn’t perfect; it never is for major life upheavals, but we filled out the paper work and took all the classes and became licensed to foster / adopt kid(s). We didn’t get the boy in my dream, and our hearts didn’t understand. We got another boy instead, and it wasn’t a fit; I grieved twice for boys I barely knew – boys I felt as if my soul knew well.

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We went back to the drawing board. My prayer has been, “God, if we’re to be parents, you’ve gotta make it really obvious, because I’m really busy, you know?”

And then, we got this boy when he was one day old.

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God, I love this boy. I love him, meaning I want the best for him and expect nothing in return. That’s the way I love for people to love me. I hope it’s God’s will that I get to love him up close for the rest of my life. I won’t answer questions about this part because the only honest answer is: I don’t know.

With just a day or so left in this calendar year, I’m tired. And, I’m more woke than ever. I ache. And, I’m ok. I feel the fear…and try to do the next right thing anyway.

This year I learned patience. I learned how to live one day at a time, all over again, which means that this year I learned to lean closer to my faith. Because if the highs and lows of this life have taught me anything…other than resilience…it’s that I’m never alone. Through trepid turns and smooth seas, thank you for continuing to navigate the full stream of life with me.

May 2018 be a year which brings peace and prosperity to all beings.

newborn twins | fort worth family photography

They asked for one; God gave them two.

I’ve known this couple through the yoga community’s six degrees of separation and enjoyed documenting their Journey.

When I photographed their maternity session, I had just lost – is that the right word? I didn’t misplace him…he was placed elsewhere – our first foster child. So when, I first photographed this couple at their maternity session, he’d just left with his garbage bag of belongings.

This path isn’t for the faint of heart.

I remember looking at her stomach and thinking how wonderful it must be to have a baby. A fresh start, a new beginning. In their case, two.

Not long after that, I received my own newborn baby. If it be God’s will, I pray that all obstacles to adoption with this one be removed.

Having a newborn of my own has softened me in a way I could’ve never prepared myself for. (As a friend reminded me, I was already pretty soft to begin with;)

This softness has infiltrated every aspect of my life, including my work.

I remember the year I got married, I photographed 10 weddings.

I hope this year – the year I adopt a baby boy for whom I’ve prayed – I get to photograph all the babies. This was my first time photographing newborn twins, and I was nervexcited. If you or someone you know in the Fort Worth or greater DFW area is in search of a newborn, maternity, or family film photographer, please pass my info along.

I’m not the photographer who’s going to pose your baby in a wooden bowl with a crown. There are plenty of those I can refer you to, too.

I’m going to capture the raw emotion your family interaction evokes. I’m going to tell your family story with my camera – a story you’ll want to remember because motherhood is a blur…a beautiful one. And, so much can happen in a few months time. This life is full of twists and turns. The good news is: nothing is permanent. The bad news is: nothing is permanent.

This nursery though. Whoa.

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I know that no mother – especially postpartum and sleep deprived – *wants* to be in photos. But, as Anne Lamott says, “Joy is the best makeup.” And, imagine how much these images will mean to these twins some day.

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Skipping Stones | Granbury Fall Family Photo Session

I am in the process of adopting a little boy. And, although I’ve always known that babies don’t keep and children grow up quickly, these past 5 weeks – whoa. I mean, it’s true: the days are long and this life is short. When he stuck out his tongue for the first time…at 4 am…I melted. Every day is new.

I was scouting locations for this shoot. This mom and daughter have made fall photography a tradition each year, so we’re always looking to raise the bar. She mentioned her parents’ place in Granbury. Would it be too far?

Let it be known that Amber *never* turns down the opportunity to shoot at sunrise. Most people balk about it, but I’m awake at 5 am teaching my guy to smile anyway, and the light is perfection at that time.

It feels like the privilege of a lifetime to watch children grow up.  This sweet girl is seven now, and I made her smile and show me her 7-year-old teeth. Her curiosity – for nature…the flowers, the water, skipping stones, and spider webs – intrigued me. I love when kids understand that their job is to play. That’s what my life feels like right now – a vacation from this chaotic and interesting, beautiful and broken world. It’s through the bond between mother and child that I’m reminded of the Love from which we are born and the Love to which we eventually return.

For my technical friends, I shot a mix of film and digital, portra 400 and portra 800. I’m in love with the results.

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exhale during the ordinary | fort worth extended family session

I always love when folks will get up early because the morning sun is such a glorious time. Sometimes when I arrive to a place, I’m not so sure where I want to shoot. Having options works for us and against us. Creative paralysis. But, with this place, I knew.

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Two toddlers are always wild cards, but I really love to photograph kids, in the stage they’re in. The best photos are real photos. And, I always want kids to feel as if taking pictures is a fun event. So lots of Ring Around the Rosey and we all don’t fall down and wrangling and laughing and parents thinking we got nothing but look – we got LIFE.  It’s like that L.R. Knost quote:

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”

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This family loves hard. I’ve known them for years and had the honor of watching the children grow. I’ve watched them walk through birth and death with grace. It was important to incorporate the memory of their brother / son, Sgt. Brett Aycock, in these photos. This is Jett, his dog, who’s living out his golden years with them.
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fort worth personal branding session | Robin Wilkins Smith

Robin Wilkins Smith, or the Disruptor Guru, is the creator of Audacious Life: the Podcast. In her inspiring podcasts, she interviews women from Fort Worth and beyond – women she deems audacious. She loves lipstick and all things fashion as much as she loves yoga and lifting weights. She’s a life coach, wife, mom, mover and shaker. You can find her teaching yoga at Indigo Yoga and in the community in clinical settings. She comes from a line of artists and paints for therapy. She’s unafraid to have difficult conversations about taboo topics such as addiction. For her shoot, I brought her over to the Brik Venue over in the Near Southside area, which offers a blend of glam and grit. I lived over in the Miller Lofts (oldbuilding.com) for years and walked the dog near what’s now the Brik and always thought “Someone should buy that building and turn it into something cool.” Thank you for turning it into something cool. Special thanks to Craftwork Coffee for making those beautiful lattes. And shout out to The Flower Market on 7th Street for having pink peonies out of season 😉

I have enjoyed getting to know Robin through this process. To capture her many facets has stretched me in the best way. I got to shoot medium format film (Kodak Portra 800) photography and digital with my Nikons, natural light and studio lights. Nothing makes me happier.

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our journey to adoption

Back in May, I had a dream on the night of a full moon where my partner was holding a young boy. I see children in terms of how I would photograph them. He was 9 months or so – sitting up but not yet walking. I woke to the memory and thought, “That’s sweet. I wonder if that’ll ever happen for me.” I went to meditate as I do most mornings before sunrise.

When she came home from work the same day talking of a child who needed a home, the hairs on my neck stood end over end. I hadn’t – until then – told her of my dream, and I started to cry because I really don’t always believe in these energetic gifts that I have. Some have called me clairvoyant; I don’t really think I am. I grew up in a home where in order to keep the peace, it was necessary for me to attune to others’ emotions. I’m connected. I have guides who accompany me through this life; we all do. I spent the majority of my teens and twenties trying to tune out, and through yoga and sobriety, I’ve come to feel again. And, honestly, it’s a blessing and a curse to feel so deeply. Part of the reason I could be in relationship with people I allowed to manipulate and abuse me was because I was numb. And, now, I just can’t.

I’ve learned about boundaries this year. And sometimes, when people don’t respect boundaries, I’ve learned about walls. And, this doesn’t sound very yogic, I know. But, my heart is worth protecting. I learned at a young age that people who loved you would hurt you, and I don’t know that’s the sort of love I want to keep attracting. Perhaps, as I enter this journey of motherhood, I’m wanting to create a new generational pattern.

Love used to mean I’ll buy you things and take you places (to make up for being absent / abusive, etc. and so you’ll do what I want you to do so that I can be ok). And now, I think love means I want the best for you and I expect nothing in return. I’m not really responsible for making anyone else in this world ok.

I’m ok.

I’m ok regardless of what’s happening around me. I’m ok even if people don’t approve of me.

I’m ok.

This is progress. Painful progress.

So when I had the dream, the timing was not perfect; it never is. I was in the middle of yoga teacher training and planning upcoming yoga retreats; we’d just bought a house and were rebuilding our savings. You know, first world pains? We filled out the paperwork anyway. We took all the classes and read all the information and completed all of the interviews. We locked up our medications and put plastic child proof things on our electrical outlets and posted a list of family rules on our wall and we waited. And, we kept asking about him – this boy in my dream who matched the boy who needed a home.

This year, I learned patience. I learned to live one day at a time all over again. And, in my powerlessness, I learned to walk by faith. God doesn’t work on our time.

We didn’t get him; we got another boy. He didn’t meet the description, and I knew it would be hard and not end well, but something inside me when I read about him said, yes…we have to give him a chance. If we don’t, who will? And because of my background in trauma and the energetic gifts I like to deny I have, I thought if anyone could help him, maybe we could.

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There are so many children, y’all. So many children waiting for someone to love them. When you’re privy to read the case studies, you just die a little bit inside each time.

I went to Target and bought all the things and fell in love with him instantly.

And, then, as quickly as he came, he was gone. The vision I had of what helping him would look like didn’t match the reality of what happened. Not at all.

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The end. Or was it the beginning? The middle – who knows? The Hindus believe we’re always in one of these three phases.

Because I’d not shared this part of my life with hardly anyone, I grieved mostly alone. And, it sounds silly to grieve a soul you barely know. I still pray for him and think of him and hope he’s happy. The human spirit is resilient. Sometimes we don’t get as much time as we’d like with people. But, I know that nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. And, more is always revealed…on God’s time, not mine.

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twins | fort worth maternity photo session

People ask me what’s my favorite thing to shoot. Golden hour love on film is hard to beat.

They asked for one. God gave them two.

I enjoyed collaborating with this couple. She had an organic vision including a wildflower bouquet and gnomes. (A few years ago, she asked for a gnome for her birthday; he threw her a surprise party and asked everyone to bring a gnome…now they have them all over their home). And, I joke that my job would be much easier if the City of Fort Worth would stop mowing all the fields. I was grateful to find the perfect unmowed field and tree, tucked only a few minutes away.

I can’t wait to meet their stardust babies.
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