help portrait.

I didn't realize when I was a kid, that when you got older Christmas wouldn't feel the same anymore. Christmas was my favorite time of year growing up. Not really Christmas day, but the month leading up to it. My mom was always amazing at exposing me and my sisters to this wholesome, real, magical side of life, and she fell nothing short of that during the holidays. We made entire gingerbread houses from scratch and it never failed that we'd spend an entire day each year mixing, baking, and decorating cookies- gingerbread, sugar, and russian tea cakes. The entire kitchen table (the one i can't bare to let go of to this day) was our decorating station; covered in colored sugar, flour, cookie cutters, icing, candy, and sprinkles. Decorating the tree was my favorite though, and sitting in the tree-lit living room that night with my mom and sisters was even better.  Our home was always small, but it felt like a "home" you know? And I was the one in the family that collected Christmas music. I'd start listening to it after Halloween or my birthday. I had any kind you could think of too.

Now days things are different. My album of Christmas music has been in storage for a few years. I can't listen to it. We don't live in that cozy little home anymore, and our family kind of fell apart, for various reasons. For a year or two I resisted holidays feeling unlike the holidays and would do everything I could to make it feel the same, even if it was just me and my mom. I think she sensed my hurt and played along, still filling me a stocking (the best part of Christmas gifts!) and decorating a tree with me. I was 20 and wanted what I had when I was 4, 10, 13, even 18...  I finally quite trying to force a holiday feeling, and it was around that time that I had sort of an epiphany.  I used to blame the holidays losing their magic on my family not being together, instead of realizing that I was also just getting older. I'm sure it's not this way for everyone, but it was like this huge secret no one told me. As if grown ups want you to figure out on your own that when you get older, the magic of Christmas isn't necessarily in the sprinkles, tree lights, or Perry Como. I still want what I had growing up, but getting what you want isn't important, especially at Christmas. It's about giving. Selfless, wholehearted, giving.

I started spending my Christmas day volunteering for our town's holiday dinner, providing meals for thousands of people every year. Then the next year I helped fill boxes for families in need for a local organization called the Toy Shop, a year round project. And this year, I was proud to be a part of a world wide first ever event called Help Portrait, where thousands of photographer all over the world got together on one day (December 12th) to make portraits for the less fortunate, families with medical conditions, people that lost their homes, etc. Our group was in Oklahoma City and we photographed families and single men at the City Rescue Mission. It was a great learning experience for me more than anything because I hadn't ever done such before, but it was also amazing to watch it come together, and to spend a day with photographers like me, that love the art of photography, but also have a heart for letting this gift they have be shared selflessly with others.

The day of help portrait I was standing back watching the other photographers interact with the families being photographed, and realized I had come full circle. Taking pictures for this reason was why I chose to be a photographer 5 years ago. It took me a long time to make it a reality, and there's SO many more ways I want to give with it, but it felt damn good to at least have a small toe dipped in a very big pond, an make a ripple.

The day was good, despite the fact that I started it out waking up at 6am and dropping my camera bag trying to get out the door. I nearly cried when I got to Oklahoma City and my shutter wasn't firing properly. (It seems to be fine now...thank goodness!) And I was nervous, to photograph these families. As many of you know I'm a natural light photographer, so I had to find areas within the building that weren't off limits that had enough light and a decent backdrop. It was a little cold and windy to go outside, so I fought with my distant friend, the external flash, and successfully made a few beautiful portraits for a few beautiful families. Walgreens donated free printing to us, and the prints were delivered to the people this past Saturday. Unfortunately I wasn't there to see their faces, but I can only imagine their excitement in getting, for many, their first family photo.

This post was made by request from a friend that wanted to hear a little more about my day. In no means was it supposed to bring you down, or make you think highly of me because of what I've chosen to do with my Christmas. I only ask that you find a way to find joy this holiday season, whether that's teaching your kids how to decorate a gingerbread house, or having a cozy dinner with your best friends. I was taught years ago to take my favorite things and share them. I hope you all find a way to do the same, and have a very happy Christmas. :- )

here's our group on Saturday December 12th

and here's an awesome video shot during the day by Travis Marak...

Peace, happiness, and lots of good food and wine to you all!