I am a firm believer in the Lord being present in all things. Even our calendars, our schedules, where things butt up against one another, where stories are told in the intertwining of the two. He is at once personal and profound. He is present in the single story that is being told in my life and in the lives of everyone, everywhere for all creation in all of time. God knows. God knows it all. And this past weekend for me, where joy and heartbreak collided, was no different. Plans were changed, things shifted and rescheduled and I found myself with my camera in hand going from session to joyous and heartbreaking session one right after another all weekend long. It was one long continuous prayer, an on-going conversation with God. And on a weekend that seemed a little too heavy the Lord handed out just enough time, just enough grace and just enough strength to make it through.
Last Thursday I received a Facebook message that was geotagged as coming all the way from Uganda. A young woman, a brand new mom was asking if I could come over to the Tampa airport on Saturday night for their family's homecoming celebration. Jamie and Paul had just adopted Elijah Namanya Samuels and after six weeks in Uganda in the process of things they were now heading home. I was there. Of course, I was there. So after a breathtakingly beautiful family photo session on Saturday afternoon I hit the road with just enough time to make it to the airport as their plane was about to touch down. I joined a a group of about 30 other folks all there to welcome Eli with glittered signs and balloons and stuffed animals galore all donning their matching t-shirts with the emblem of a tree and Eli's given name "Namanya" meaning "God knows." You see just 9 months ago, last March, 1 month old Eli was found abandoned in a forest, beneath the trees. Malnourished, tiny and frail Eli made his way from an orphanage to a hospital to a foster home. By 5 months old he weighed less than 10 lbs. In steps Jamie and Paul when they are matched with him in July and they have tracked his growth and made their plans to make him their own. And on Saturday they stepped off the plane in Tampa greeted by their closest family and friends (and me and my camera) and they brought Eli home for the very first time.
I left that joyous shoot, late on Saturday night and crashed at my best friend's place in Tampa, setting my alarm for 6:30 for the next day. I collected my things, hugged goodbye and hit the road again back to Sebring arriving just in time for the graveside ceremony for a six year old boy, Branson, gone too soon.
We talked about God's goodness, we rejoiced for the gift of our saviour Jesus, we lifted our voices in song and then we stood there in the open field, a group of no more than 50 of Branson's closest friends and family, clutching bundles of colorful balloons. To each his own. A sea of red, blue, orange and yellow hovering above our heads. Contained. Then at the cue we simultaneously loosened our grips to release the delicate ribbons from our fingers. We opened our hands and let go…
The breeze of the day caught them and as they gently lifted into the heavens above so did our eyes. So did our hearts. We followed them with our gaze (some comically getting stuck in a nearby tree). A sea of color dispersed in the morning sky, fading into tiny specks in the white of the storybook clouds. Joy and heartbreak intertwined. Released. Branson was at last home.
And while we all rejoice with knowing that Branson too was lifted home into the heavens to experience eternal joy with Jesus, there is a sadness that is found in the vast emptiness that is left behind. When the specks of color could no longer be seen our eyes fell again. The space once filled with one hundred colorful balloons now stood quiet and still. Where we could seemingly still feel the ribbon between our fingers we all knew that we had to let go.
God knows this too.
In two vastly different stories, where joy and heartbreak collide, where homecomings and home-goings are bittersweet, we find the ever swelling presence of God. And for a little boy, Elijah Namanya, he will know a life that his biological family probably never could have imagined. He will be introduced to Jesus and to a God that was there with him all along, from beneath those trees in the forest to the place in central Florida he now calls home. God knows. And for precious Branson, well, he is dancing with that very same Jesus today. God knows.
And as for me… I am absolutely astonished everyday that the Lord has entrusted to me so much joy, so much heartbreak, so much raw and beautiful life to step into, to document, to memorialize day-in and day-out. On a weekend that felt a little too heavy the Lord was more than enough. God knows.