Exploring Red Bluff

It’s amazing how you can take your hometown for granted, how you can completely miss the beauty of where you live simply because you see it all the time.

When I lived here I didn’t always appreciate the subtle things that make our area beautiful. The huge mountains are obvious and I love those, but there are so many things I appreciate now more with each visit.

One thing I love about Red Bluff is the abundance of oak trees. I went out today in search of a single oak tree in a field to photograph. I drove around for two hours and never found exactly what I was hoping to find, but I found some beautiful areas in the meantime. Here are some photos from my phone and my camera.

Continually look for the beauty all around you. God’s creation is diverse and amazing – there’s always beauty to be found.

 

Tori’s Celebration of Life – Part One

We asked several of our photographer friends to help us capture Tori’s Celebration of Life on Saturday so that we wouldn’t miss a thing.

Here are some of the photos from the talented Katie Bingaman. We will share some of each photographer’s photos as we receive them.


We awoke on Saturday to snow. In April. Snow.

At first I was discouraged, because I knew that the weather would likely keep some from attending. And, it was cold and snowing in April, so that was annoying. 😉

And then, a text from a new friend who is so incredibly talented with words.

Amy texted me this:

Good morning, friend. I woke with you on my heart and as I looked out of my bedroom window and saw the snow – it confirmed what we all know: that the heavens DO declare the glory (Psalm 19:1).

All of heaven is feeling WITH you today – gut wrenching sorrow yet joy. Sadness mixed with rejoicing. It is ugly, and it is beautiful. Snow and rain, a wintry mix in Spring.

All of heaven is weeping – but weeping beauty. A quiet fall of white in Spring.

JUST FOR YOU.

There is not a doubt in my mind that this forecast is for Tori. If God held the sun in its place for Elijah (just one man), I’m certain He allows the heavens to share their grief with JUST YOU.

Perfect words. A calm filled my soul and I was ready to proceed with everything that needed to be done.


Last September we realized that we needed to begin thinking through our plan for Tori’s memorial, burial plans, etc. so that it would be on paper and few decisions would need to be made after her passing. If we were able to throw away that paper (if she were healed on earth), great! If not, we would be ready for whenever she decided it was time to go to heaven.

Brennan and I wanted this to be a huge party, celebrating the healing of our daughter and the knowledge that she can now do things she could never do on earth. She is in Heaven, with Jesus, and we are so excited to one day be reunited with her for all eternity.

Every decision we made revolved around that theme: CELEBRATION.

We knew that her giraffes would be present – all 150+ of them – and that bright colors would be prevalent. Every decision we made was focused on the true joy and happiness that we have chosen to embrace, even without her physical presence with us.

The Hotel Hershey – Brennan’s place of employment for thirteen years and counting – offered us a space that could accommodate 250 people plus 50 standing, and we quickly outgrew that space. Thankfully, a local church (LCBC) offered us their building AND staff assistance the day of the Celebration, and it was absolutely perfect!

Lesa put together her “worship dream team” – a group of people with whom she has led worship in different places over the past fifteen years – and the time of worship was powerful. God deserves all the glory for Tori’s life and legacy! Each song was chosen for its message and strong lyrics, and it was wonderful.

We asked a couple of people to speak in addition to Brennan. He spoke first and gave a powerful speech about living life abundantly. “Don’t let life get in the way: get in the way of life.” 

Pastor Jeremy Kerstetter (Central Baptist Church of Millerstown and Brennan’s best friend of 21 years and counting) and Pastor John Weathersby (Transcend Church of Harrisburg – our pastor) then gave powerful messages about the hope of Heaven and the shift in perspective Tori’s life has given to us all.

You can hear the messages here. It’s 36 minutes long and WELL WORTH your time. We will have the audio from the worship sets uploaded soon, as well.

Giraffes, balloons, thousands of photos of Tori’s gorgeous eyes and our adventures with her, cheese balls, dum-dums, and more made this event incredibly festive and joyous.

Over 450 people from at least sixteen states attended and we were so amazed! And, we know of at least one person who came to faith in Christ because of the celebration! Praise the Lord!


We have SO many people to thank, so here is our attempt (I’m sure we are forgetting people!), in no particular order:

  • Our family and friends who set everything up and helped make this be the best party for Tori ever! And for helping us stuff 400 bags of cheeseballs 😉
  • Regina Ramirez for the beautiful memorial ribbons with Tori’s photos on them…
  • LCBC for their amazing facility and their assistance to bring this to fruition…
  • Pastors Jeremy and John for their incredible words…
  • The music team for sharing their time and talent…
  • Katie Bingaman, Sarah Benner, and Michelle Morrison for photographing the event…
  • Micah Byler (and his crew) for the videography…
  • Hetrick-Bitner for their incredible service to us in the wake of Tori’s passing. The bookmarks they had custom-designed just for her, the love and care with which they handled everything…we can’t say enough good things!

We will not fully know the impact that Tori has had on this world this side of eternity, but we know that God has and will continue to use her, as well as Brennan and me, for His purposes. We can’t wait to see what He has in store!

Photographs and Memories

My philosophy as a photographer has always been to overshoot rather than undershoot. I’d rather have many unneeded photos that I end up deleting than to not have ones that are necessary.

  
  

From the day Tori was born she was photographed daily in an attempt to capture everything, to share her with family and friends everywhere. I would take pictures while Brennan was at work to text to him. I would send them to my parents in California. I would post them on Facebook and Instragran daily, which helped people fall in love with her (even before she got sick).

In a way, this helped everyone feel like they were right here with us instead of across the country.

  
   

We captured as many expressions and moments as possible – on camera and on video – so that we wouldn’t forget anything.

There were those who commented about my obsessive photo taking at the time, in jest, I assumed, saying that I was clearly a first-time mom because of all the photos I posted.

I don’t regret a thing.

We had no idea what was lurking around the corner; we had no indication that we would lose so much of Tori on January 7, 2015. 

Now all we have are these thousands of photos and videos to remind us of her personality before Krabbe.

   
    
   

One day (without a miracle), the photos of Tori on TimeHop will be only from the distant past. No new photos will have been posted because she won’t be with us here on earth any longer. 

And that is going to be painful.

I have realized lately that now, now that we know that time with Tori is painfully short, I take photos constantly because I am desperately trying to capture every angle, every detail, every expression in a vain attempt to hold on to her. 

It’s almost as if I am hoping that, if she leaves us, these photos will take me back to these moments of holding her, that they will remind me of how it felt to cuddle with her. That I will be able to almost feel her weight in my arms.

I know that nothing will bring her back, but these photos will help ensure that we don’t forget the little things about her, the things that typically fade with time.

Ultimately, we have realized that we don’t  know when the last photo of her will be taken, so we subconsciously live as if each day could be the last day we have with her and photograph as much as we can.

___________________________

The point of this post is this: 

NO ONE is promised tomorrow. No one. 

Though I wish we would be the last parents to lose a child I know that, sadly, it isn’t going to be the case. For many it will be unexpected, with plenty of room for regret; for others it will be like our journey – expected and yet the length of time left is unknown, also leaving room for regret. Both are excruciating.

Brennan and I will never be the same. Tori has changed us in incredible ways and we pray that these changes are permanent. We are better people because of everything we have gone through this year. Perfect, no. Improved, definitely.

So, here are a few things that Krabbe has taught us in the past ten months, and we want to challenge you with these very things today:

Time is short, even if your children outlive you. In light of eternity, life here on earth is merely a vapor, gone all too soon. Love them fiercely and abundantly.

Take more pictures than you could possibly ever need. Enjoy every possible moment with your family. Treasure each stage of your child’s growth because it will all too soon be replaced by another. 

Don’t let the little things bother you. Keep a clear and healthy perspective on life and let that transform how you treat people. Remember that everyone has a story and a context and if you don’t know their context you will likely misjudge them.

Remember when you are frustrated with your children that there are parents out there who would do anything to be reprimanding their child because theirs was taken far too soon.

Focus on what really matters in life and stop making a big deal of those things that don’t matter…like red Starbucks cups 😉

Choose joy every single day. Choose love every single moment. Offer grace freely even when you don’t feel like it. 

And take as many photos as your heart desires. ❤️

Because you have no idea when your life – or the life of a loved one – will be over.

Guatemala Stories: How I Became “Team Photographer”

I found out that I was pregnant on December 6th, 2013. This was welcomed news, but in the back of my mind I was wondering how this was going to impact my ability to serve in Guatemala just two months later. I knew that I would be in the beginning of the second trimester when we left, so in theory I would be feeling well enough and would have the energy to serve; but, I also knew that pregnancy places restrictions on a woman and makes her more “high maintenance” than a non-pregnant woman, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do.

I spoke with one of our team leaders about it and she assured me that there would be plenty for me to do that would still allow me to take care of my baby. What I didn’t realize at the time was that God was planning to use me in a way I never would have expected.

I discovered last summer that my dream job was to do photography for missions organizations…to tell the stories that need to be told and to inspire people to act.

My dream...

I have had the privilege of doing missions photography in Tunisia, Brazil, Haiti and New Orleans in the past…

DSC_0134

…but I didn’t go to Guatemala thinking I would be able to do much with it. We had a full and exciting schedule of service and I was ready to jump right in alongside the team. I hoped that I would be able to take pictures along the way, but it was in no way something I expected to be able to do.

When we got to Guatemala and were talking through the projects for the first few days, our leaders mentioned that they (and many of the team members) wanted shots of several of the group activities that would be going on simultaneously and asked if I would focus on capturing everything for the team during this trip.

I was amazed, humbled, excited, and ready to dive in. I couldn’t believe that I was being asked to use my passion, my gift, my dream to bless the team in such a unique way. 

Because I was taking pictures for everyone, they were able to focus solely on ministering to the beautiful children in our care. They were able to set their cameras aside when necessary in order to just be in the moment, while I did something that I love to do and could do even while pregnant.

I may have been unable to help paint the bedroom or the hallway at Mi Pequeno Refugio.
I may have been unable to lift things and carry boxes of food.
I may have been unable to be outside at The Ravine due to the burning trash and smoke.
But, I was able to use my gift to capture the team doing all of these things while still serving the Lord in Guatemala, just not in the way I had planned.

Thank you, Ronne and Courtney, for seeing this gift in me and allowing me to use it.
Thank you, team, for being so supportive and excited about what I was capturing.

I came home with over 5,800 images of our week. I’m currently down to 3,800 images with the promise of a snow day tomorrow during which I can edit. This experience gave me a glimpse of what it really would be like to do photography for missions organizations, and it confirmed in my heart that this is what I was made to do. I can’t wait for what God has in store for me next!

Day Twenty-Three: I’m Thankful For…The Start Experiment (and Jon Acuff)

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new. 🙂

Meet-up in the food court!

If you had told me a year ago that in the summer of 2013 I’d willingly join a community of people I have never met, and that I’d be sharing openly and honestly with them about my passions, dreams, and struggles, I likely would have laughed at you. But that is exactly what happened this past July (and continues in the present).

In late June, I received an email from Jon Acuff inviting me (and all of his readers) to join him on an adventure. He said it might require a passport and a machete. He sent the email to 250,000 people, and only 2,500 responded.

I was at Christian Retreat Center doing camp photography the day I received the email, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be in on this…that I needed this. It resonated with me. So, even though I had no idea what was about to happen, I said “yes” and dove in.

The first round started on July 15, and my world was changed in some fantastic ways.

Here’s how it worked:

  • Jon Acuff created a secret Facebook group and invited those who responded to his invitation to join.
  • Each day for 24 days, Jon sent out an email with a challenge for the day at 5am.
  • A community was formed that is so hard to describe because it’s so awesome.
  • We all worked hard toward our various goals and helped each other along the way.
  • There ended up being a “Round Two” so that we could invite people to do “Start 101” while the “alumni” did “Start 201” – and it was awesome. Same format with emails being sent daily (and the theme was “audacious”).

(To read my blog posts about “The Start Experiment”, click here.)

When Jon sent out that email, I was in the perfect position to accept the invitation. I had been unemployed for almost two months. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. I didn’t know what my dream was. I was just taking one day at a time, hoping that God would give me some direction.

Through the course of Round One, while I worked on being more self-disciplined, I was able to discover what I believe I was created to do: missions photography. I was able to take steps forward and bring this dream a little bit closer to reality. And I couldn’t have done this without Jon’s leadership/mentoring AND the amazing community that he built in The Start Experiment. 

My dream...

This community is real, open, honest, a little silly, loving, supportive, encouraging, non-judgmental. It’s a safe place to share your fears and your successes (“brag table”) without fear. It’s the closest thing to Heaven that I’ve experienced here on earth, by far. 

A literal brag table

I had the amazing privilege of being able to attend The Start Conference in Nashville in September, during which I strengthened these friendships “in real life” and made connections with people who are doing what I want to do (like Jeremy Cowart). I left that conference feeling so inspired, empowered, fulfilled, and energized. 

Punching Fear in the Face

If you are struggling with finding your dream, or if you know what your dream is but are struggling to make progress, please check out Jon’s website and his books – Quitter and Start. Both of this books have really impacted my life and have given me wise and practical advice about chasing my dream. If you’d like to join our Facebook community, let me know and I can talk to you about it!

If it weren’t for The Start Experiment, I can honestly say I’d be in a totally different place right now in terms of my career and plans for the future. I have gained so much confidence and have overcome so many fears through this community!

I am so thankful for Jon and for his leadership through example.

A place to type our fears...and then destroy them.

Day Twenty-One: I’m Thankful For…Traveling.

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This was originally posted on 11/21/12 (with slight changes made today).

One of my greatest passions is traveling and exploring God’s beautiful and wondrous creation.

God has blessed me with opportunities to travel to three continentssix countries, and thirty-eight states in my first thirty-one years of life.

I love experiencing new cultures…learning from them…enjoying them…photographing them.

There’s a whole lot of the world left to see (including Guatemala in February!), and I can’t wait to experience it with Brennan!

So thankful that God has created such a diverse world for us to enjoy…

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day Three

The further into this Start Experiment I go, the more I am filled with wonder and anticipation at what God is doing in my life and in my marriage. The second round is already proving to be more amazing than the first, and I think part of that is simply due to the fact that I have been able to figure out my dream. The other part is that this community of people continues to grow closer together and the momentum continues to build. We’re all in this together.

So far, I am 4.5 lbs down from when I started this project, which isn’t impressive considering that it has been a month. However, I wasn’t as strict as I wanted to be during the first round. I admittedly didn’t try as hard as I should have. But, that has changed. I have newfound determination.

To give myself a visual goal, I hung a dress on my closet door that I want to wear on our anniversary. I currently cannot fit into this dress, but I love it. I really want to wear it on November 6th. But, in order to wear it, I need to lose probably 20 more pounds in the next 83 days. That is a little over 11 weeks from now, and if I lose the recommended 2 pounds per week, I can lose more than 20 by then. That will be about half of my weight-loss goal.

So this is my audacious health-related goal: to lose 20 pounds by my anniversary so that I can wear the black dress.

I have nearly finished my photography portfolio and already submitted it to one organization. I am working with a new friend to finalize captions and things before she helps me submit it to people who might be able to help me reach my audacious dream of being a travel photographer.
Here’s the link to my portfolio: http://www.flickr.com/lesabrackbill

I am also going on a mission trip to Guatemala in February!

God is definitely moving in our lives, and I am SO excited to see what happens.