Happy New Year! It’s only taken me 14 days to pull myself together for a New Years post. A little over a week ago I was fresh off of a reflecting, dreaming and goal setting night away with lots of stirrings in my heart and plenty of things to process. Instead of leaving the weekend with a “word” for the year the sweet Lord took me on an unexpected journey through His Word where He gave me lots and lots of life giving words of truth and three things to hold on to; a reminder, a promise and a plan…
I started writing this Christmas post to accompany this image from the hills surrounding Bethlehem early in December. With anticipation and expectation I had asked the Lord to teach me something new about the Christmas story this year and a few weeks into December I thought I knew what it was going to be...
When we toured the holy land we found ourselves standing in the blinding sun squinting, peering out at shepherds fields and ancient gardens that hold stories from the black of night. A place transforms based on light. A field doesn’t seem so far away from a city in the daytime when you can see it in the distance. You can’t even glimpse the stars, though they are surely there behind the veil of brilliant blue. The fullness of the light of the sun oftentimes blinds us from the small moments in powerful stories told in the dark. Yet there we stood in the shade squinting our eyes because our tour didn’t include any nighttime stops though the stories they held surely did. On that first Christmas Day a new beginning came in the dark of night lit by handheld lamps and far away stars.
I thought that was it. God comes down in the silent black of night to bring us the everlasting light. Yes, what brilliant truths that message holds! I planned to pray and ponder over it all throughout this season as my work slowed and the holiday festivities commenced.
And then the unexpected happened. An unexpected death, an unexpected whirlwind of a trip for a funeral, unexpected sleepless nights, unexpected tears, unexpected stories. Missed meetings, rescheduled photoshoots and unsent Christmas cards and gifts all added to the list of the unplanned.
The unexpected interrupted the well laid plans I had for this Christmas season. But then isn’t that just the very heart of the Christmas story?
And there it was. If a baby born to a virgin isn’t the most unexpected story I don’t know what is. I’m sure those shepherds in that dark Bethlehem field were never in a million years expecting the heavenly hosts that would interrupt their silent night. Certainly no one thought our Savior would ever come as a humble baby boy born in a back room stable within cool stone walls.
Our God is a God of the unexpected. Though none of it is a surprise to Him.
Maybe this Christmas season what I really needed to learn is instead of agonizing over unwelcome surprises in the night to lean in and look for Him there too, like the shepherds on a Bethlehem hill lit by starlight on that very first Christmas night.
“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight”
As the Christmas season has been coming upon us my heart has been heavy for those who lost someone dear to them this year. Christmastime can oftentimes be the hardest. I think back to that first Christmas without my dad. After 34 years of celebrating alongside him, things were painfully different. I know the ache. If you've experience loss, you know it all too well too. And for anyone whose lost someone this year you are in my prayers and have been on my heart for the past few weeks.
If you follow me on Instagram you may have gathered that my family stole away to Miami for the weekend to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday (I don't know what may have clued you in, maybe it was the 30+ images I posted over the course of 4 days). I just can't help it! Miami is such a visually appealing city and then you get my gorgeous family up in the mix and it is a recipe for photo overload. Plus my sister calls this place her home so we have a insta-tourguide for places like Vizcaya, South Beach, Coconut Grove, Wynwood and finding the best food. (Side note: Because my sis lives in Miami I have no travel fees for wedding photography in the area. Yay for Miami weddings!)
We opted to stay a hop skip and away from all the hustle and bustle on the island of Key Biscayne and found ourselves the quaintest of retro Miami places, Silver Sands Beach Resort. If you are looking for Miami luxury, glitz and glam this is NOT the place but if you want to step back in time and experience a little bit of vintage low-key Miami this is DEFINITELY your place. It was just perfect for what we were looking for for the weekend. And as an artist it was a dream… the retro feel, the swaying palms, the vintage architectural details, those aqua doors! All weekend long I plotted and planned for the photo session I had worked out to do with my 13 year old niece for a photo class I was teaching. I wanted to walk my class through how I go about a photo session and this place was the perfect setting, put a gorgeous gal up in the mix and voila… photo loveliness. But… as many photo shoots go things didn't go as planned… when we actually got around the the session the 13 year old wasn't up for it (oh the temperamental-ness of being 13). Luckily I have a 19 month old model of a nephew that is always up for photos (or rather, allowing me to chase around after him with my camera while we try to keep him as happy as possible.) And to top it all off I got myself a great teaching lesson for my photo class where I was able to talk through finding light, making compositional decisions, working through challenges, being present in the moment and telling a compelling visual story all along the way in a real life setting. Win!
Here is a glimpse into a low key morning of Miami fun! And to find out more about how I capture these type of images join me for my next This is the Day Photo Workshop or Highlands Art League class. Enjoy!
I'm back! For those of you who don't follow me on Instagram you may not have even noticed I was gone. For those of you who do, you are more than likely all too aware of my recent travels. Hehe. Over the course of the past few days I have been from one corner of the US and back again with a whirlwind Washington trip in between (and about 40 Instagram photo posts too.) My dear friend from grad school, Lauren, has lived in the delightful city of Seattle for just over a year now so I figured it was high time for a trip and I couldn't have hit it at a better time. Lots of sun and perfect outdoor activity temperatures made for a stunning trip (and lots and lots of gorgeous photo ops.) And with my busy as ever fall photo season coming up, with a handful of super exciting weddings and a fall family photo calendar filling up, this artist needed some time to step away for creative rejuvenation to launch me into the season with a joy and excitement like none-other. Mission accomplished.
Not long after getting into WA we hopped on a ferry to the San Juan Islands and spent a full 24 hours soaking it all in from our home base of Orcas Island. The next few days were spent in a sunny Seattle complete with hiking to a driftwood and pebble covered beach, oysters on the water and watching a glorious sunset on the sandy shores of Golden Gardens (while eating pie, yes, pie on the beach.) I have a whole slew of "big girl camera" photos to sort through but in the meantime you can check out some of my favorite iPhone/Instagram photos from the adventures below. And if you so happen to want to have the opportunity to follow my everyday life adventures including trips like this head on over to my Instagram by clicking here and come on along.
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.
Tis the season for costume donning. Last year this time in a casual conversation about costume ideas with Rebekah Ritchie Adams I saw her eyes widen with the mention of two words "paper dress". It was decided. We would start constructing her a paper dress (inspired by my own Paper Princess Bride costume from thee years ago. You can check that out here). To start things off Rebekah chose the novel "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett for her inspiration and materials and the next thing we knew we were in a cloud of carefully folded and fanned paper, clear wire, metal fasteners, exacto blades and lots and lots of tape. But the thing that we quickly realized is that each of our "perfectionism" tendencies in crafting meant… an unfinished product come dress-up time. Fast forward one year later, sit us back down in that cloud of paper and voila the dress is finished, and just in time for dressing-up (plus a photo shoot) this year… just barely.
The dress is an artful construction and representation of the story of "The Secret Garden" and gives new life to the printed pages of an enchanting story. Using pages from that novel and other vintage gardening and botanical books the dress came together piece by folded paper piece to create a wearable work of art, complete with a hidden door tucked between the pages and a skeleton key draped around the neck.
The story of The Secret Garden while enchanting certainly has a bit of a dark feel to it so we decided to style a photographic session around this dark, magical whimsey allowing the story to unfold along the way. We ventured to an abandoned home with a wildly overgrown garden entryway and crept our way through branches and barren thorny rose bushes. Then just past sunset we explored a small forest green and overrun by gorgeous vines. Here is where the story blooms. The results were breathtaking, I'd say.
Photography: Caroline Maxcy Photography
Hair and Make-up: Michelle Trinder Cathey
Model: Rebekah Ritchie Adams
Paper Dress Design and Construction: Caroline Maxcy and Rebekah Ritchie Adams
Jewelry Design: Rebekah Ritchie Adams (Bekah's Heart)
Flowers: Publix Super Market
“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands out and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone's eyes.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Not that anyone is holding their breath for my blog posts but I know that it has been a bit of a long while since I last shared with you all. This summer has been wonderfully full. And while I have been booking and photo shooting all the long the way from a family session at a blueberry farm, to a beautiful baby bump, to my very first boudoir session, to a vintage guitar with a story, a good chunk of my summer has been filled with some incredible opportunities for ministry (my other full time, volunteer, job).
Mid June I loaded up a handful of youth girls in my car on a Sunday night and didn't leave their side until that Friday. We had our Summer Youth Camp, entitled "Be" right in our home town of Sebring, FL where we learned to serve and love our neighbors, being the "hands and feet" of God, right in our backyard. The week took us everywhere from the basketball courts of an inner city neighborhood to singing in the halls of nursing homes and I was the 24/7 mom to an incredible group of young women walking alongside them all along the way. But that is a whole post all on it's own that'll come at a later date...
With just two days to catch up on sleep and laundry I hopped on a plane with another group of incredible youth kids to journey across the US then across the border to spend a week in the Gaudalupe Valley of Mexico. On a missions trip lead by Phil and Mindy Steiner of Be2Live we served and loved on the kids of Casa de Paz orphanage in El Porvenir, Baja California, Mexico. While my head and body is still exhausted from the trip my heart is full and I hope to share more about all of these experiences soon (after I get a little caught up on all the photo work I have been neglecting over the past few weeks). In the meantime I wanted to share with you a glimpse into my Mexico experience through a video I pulled together for a presentation in church this past weekend. This was a seriously quick edit but definitely gives you a feel of the work God allowed us to be a part of for a time.
I've sat down many times over the past few weeks to start this blog post, the first one on my new blog site, and it just doesn't happen. Every time I sat down to write the post it seemed, well just like another piece of business. And this—these photos, this blog, my business—is so much more personal than that. Frustrated I'd step away, to my new Facebook page to observe the goings-on, to responding to potential new clients, to fiddling with and agonizing over my pricing and whether it is working, and of course to editing photos, burning discs and delivering the final products to clients. I'd go on about the business of things while back at my blog I'd wonder when the inspiration from the heart would come...
It was about six months ago when I really got serious about setting myself up as a "big girl" business, portfolio site Facebook page and all. I did the research, invested the time, hired a professional illustrator for my new branding (thanks Melissa Herboth!), set up accounts, shelled out some money, announced a date and got myself organized and ready to launch a re-vamped photography business. All of this was an act of obedience to where I found God to be calling me, even if I couldn't completely understand why or what exactly it would look like. It had been seven years since my first paying photo gig and two years since I had been dedicating my time to photography full-time, yet I still hadn't established myself. Despite the fact that God was swinging open doors for me time and time again, I was hesitantly walking through them, cutting my eyes from side to side, uneasy about what lied on the other side. I was holding back.
I remember the exact photoshoot, the exact place I was standing when I knew that photography was going to be in my life forever, when I let go of what I thought was going to be my professional future and surrendered to what God was laying out before me. I was no more than one mile from my home standing in a private park in a neighborhood that I had never been to before. It was a Florida autumn. The wind was brushing through the trees. Spanish moss infused with the afternoon light swayed about. There was a small, glimmering lake to my left and the gorgeous Florida country-side to my right.
I felt incredibly fortunate, indescribably blessed that this was my job.
It felt like God himself was in that breeze. I breathed it in, I couldn't help but to smile and it was decided.
The family I was photographing that day was lovely as always with a story all of their own. Then a year passed. Life moved on. I was growing a business and moving forward, I had already commissioned my new logo, when the same family contacted me again but this time they were no longer a family as we know it. The mom was on the other end of the line in a conversation that started out with a photo request and ended up with a heart cry of the heartbreak of divorce. I spoke words that day on that phone I didn't know I could speak with a strength I wasn't sure existed. My heart ached and kind of rejoiced all at once.
I love hearing and telling the stories of beautiful young couples, happy families, and perfectly perfect newborn babies. But every story has it's heartbreak. (As a storyteller we know this all too well.) It is part of being human. Yet putting our arms around one another, lifting each other up and speaking hope and love into someone's life is part of being redeemed. When we are the hands and feet and hugs and encouraging words for God it can't help but to feel good. It feels like we are doing what we were created to do more in that moment than in any other. You see, it was there on the phone that day with a heartbroken woman that I realized that me being obedient to God's calling on my life for photography wasn't about establishing a business it was about putting myself in a place, in the exact place God wanted me, to be used in a specific way that didn't necessarily always involve taking pretty pictures.
I felt incredibly fortunate, indescribably blessed that this was my job.
I hate it sometimes that blind faith is so hard for me. I hate that I doubt. That I hold back. That I walk hesitantly through open doorways on shaky ankles, peering from side-to-side looking for where the pain hiding in the dark is going to lurch at me from first. But God seems to have the grace and mercy for me as I am learning to trust Him to give me little glimpses of His plans sometimes. And that is what He has done for me with Caroline Maxcy Photography. He has given me a little sliver of assurance that I am walking through the right door, on the right path and right in the center of His will on a humble journey with Him by my side.