Love Like This Doesn’t Die

 Uncle Shorty & Aunt Evelyn

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about the 64-year love story my Great Uncle shared with my Great Aunt.

Last night, as my Uncle’s life was slipping away in the hospital, my Aunt remarked to me that I could now write the ending to that story. I replied that this wasn’t an end to the love they had for one another: I can’t write an ending for something that will never end.

I did however capture what I feel love should look like after 66 years of marriage in this photo of her doing her best to comfort him just hours before he passed. The kind of love I see in it doesn’t die.

Please celebrate the life of this amazing man, and send your prayers and well wishes to his widow – my Aunt Evelyn. They’re my favorite couple and have been a huge inspiration to me.

August 2013 :: Don

IMG_1056_DonWeb

I just learned through Facebook that my friend and mentor, Donald Giannatti, was taken to the hospital yesterday via ambulance. His wife, Marian, posted the following to his Facebook profile early this morning:

“Update on Donald Giannatti. Asking for prayers . . . Don has been admitted to the cardiovascular ICU for severe blood clots. He is on a thinning medication and is not allowed to move. It is very scary, but he has a wonderful staff of dedicated, compassionate professionals looking after him. We can only take one moment at a time . . . waiting is scary. All your kind words and thoughts are very appreciated. Thank you,
Marian”

This is life threatening for him. I am writing this post without his permission — but feel that he won’t mind. Don is actually the guy that is responsible for this website being up as it is now. He gave his time to help me help others through my photography. He is my web guy. He is the friend that warned me about doing this project, telling me he felt that it may get to me too much, knowing how I am. He was looking out for me. I respectfully ignored his warning and pushed forward with the project, with him playing a crucial part in making my vision for it become a reality.  So now, I feel there is no way that in good conscious that I cannot use something that he helped to create, to help him get better.

Let me tell you about Don, as I know him. I initially met him back in 2007 through a popular online photography forum. He always expressed himself well on there and had something of value to add. The dude just has great insight on many things in life. He is a talented guy. He’s a photographer, designer, and author. More importantly, he is a devoted husband, father, and friend. To me that is where his greatest talent lies. As hectic as life can feel as a creative person, as tough as it can be, he has managed to stay in a lasting marriage, and has three daughters that he is proud of and worries about. On top of all this, he makes the time to be a true friend to people like me. Many people look up to him. There’s no way to measure the positive influence he has had on so many — including me. He is passionate about what he does, stands up for what he believes is right, and is able to do so in an intelligent way. He is a smart dude.

In his latest book, Don Giannatti’s Guide To Professional Photography, he says, “Treat every job as if it is the best job you will ever get.” Well, as I’m writing this, concerned about him, I can’t help but think that we need to treat every day as if it is the best day we will ever get, because it could be the last day we get.

Please pray for my friend everybody. He is loved by many, including me.

July 2013 :: I’m Not Afraid To Die

IMG_6786_kTone

Morgan suggested that I capture her father with his Bible since he is a man of such strong faith. I handed it to him and ask him to turn to his favorite verse or passage. That passage turned out to be Psalm 28.

Name: Tom Billings, Jr.

Age: 53

Medical Crisis That Prayer Has Been Requested For:

Stage Four Lung & Liver Cancer Diagnosis

What’s Your Family Like:

We are a very close family.

What are your passions in life?

My family and spiritual life.

What are your fears?

I have none.

…and your dreams?

To be cured.

What’s your favorite food and musician or band?

Grilled pork chops are my favorite and I enjoy listening to Kari Jobe and Adele

Do you have any regrets in life?

None.

What is the best advice you have for those that read about and pray for you here?

Live everyday like it’s your last day.

My Experience With The Billings:

“I’m not afraid to die,” Mr. Billings told me as we were eating dinner in his living room this past Wednesday night. “I can’t wait to get to Heaven to see my Mom and Dad,” he added just after he told me he was considering not even going through chemo and radiation treatments for the stage-four lung and liver cancer he had just been diagnosed with a few days prior that. He told me this right in front of his 25-year-old daughter, Michelle.

My heart ached for her, her little sister Morgan, and their mom and Mr. Billing’s wife of thirty years, Terri. Tom’s quality of life had been in such a bad state for so long that Michelle told me the cancer diagnosis was actually somewhat of a blessing due to the pain that his daughters had seen him in since they were little girls. Michelle told me they really had never seen their father not in a state of pain. Tom first hurt his back in a motorcycle accident in the late 80’s; then in 1994, while he was a builder and real estate developer, he fell and severely damaged the nerves in his foot and ankle. This nerve damage actually spread and began giving him a constant burning and stinging pain in both his legs and feet. He continued to work with this pain for five years after that, until it finally got so bad that he had to go on disability.

In 2002 he was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder infection. Then in 2008, he had to have surgery on his hip due to congenital issues that were causing him severe pain. The results of his back injury from the motorcycle accident in the late eighties began to catch up with him. He had numerous herniated discs and also discovered he had been born with spinal stenosis.

These problems came to a head in 2010, when he woke up one morning and his right foot no longer functioned. His doctors told him that compression on a nerve in the spinal area caused the issue, so he underwent back surgery to correct it. He began to regain the control and use of that foot after about six months, but unfortunately complications from this surgery lead to severe chronic pain and also prevented him from ever being able to stand up straight again. He endured three more spinal surgeries to reverse these unexpected results, all of which were unsuccessful. Lucky for Tom, his physical therapist and a founder of Advanced Rehabilitation, Sam Echols, is one of the best therapists in the country and helped ease the pain and improve Tom’s quality of life as much as possible throughout the whole ordeal.

Every step of the way, Tom’s wife Terri stuck by his side. “There’s very few women like her left,” Tom says. As a respiratory therapist, she has provided for him and their girls when what he received from disability would have just not been enough. And the excellent health insurance she has through her job at Redmond Regional Medical Center has been an essential element in his medical care. Props to Terri for setting such a good example to her girls of sticking by their fathers side in sickness and in health.

IMG_6728_kToneFinal

This is Mr. Billings sitting in his father’s old rocking chair in his backyard in Rome, Georgia. With him is his wife, Terry, and his daughters Morgan (standing) and Michelle (sitting).

As I left that night, Morgan walked me out to my truck, thanked me, and hugged me, crying, knowing that her dad only had a few more months left at best. They had not had a family photo done since she and Michelle were little girls, and that is something her dad wanted done before he began to look sick from the cancer. I have given up so much for this career in photography I have. It has been so frustrating, on so many levels, on so many occasions. But I tell you: I drove away from there that night with tears in my eyes, thanking God for putting me on this earth and giving me the ability to do these photos for them. Never have I felt so strongly about being right where He wanted me to be in life, doing exactly what He wanted me to do.

Please, I beg you, share this post with others, and to send your prayers, good karma, happy thoughts — whatever you want to call it — out to Mr. Billings and his family. My God listens to all of those things, and all of you.

January 2013 :: “Shorty”

IMG_1372_B&W

Name: Harold “Shorty” Marlowe

Age: 86

Medical crisis that prayer is being requested for:

Severe and constant back pain that modern medicine has not been able to relieve.

What’s your family like?

I have three wonderful children and 3 grandchildren. (I feel compelled to add that he also has a wife that he loves dearly!)

What are your passions in life?

Walking a Christian life and trying to set an example.

What are your fears?

Becoming physically disabled.

…and your dreams?

 Being able to be independent physically as long as my wife and I live.

What’s your favorite food, musician or band, book, movie, and hobby?

My favorite foods are fried chicken, spaghetti, and chocolate pie. My favorite movies are “Sound of Music” and “Gone With The Wind.” My favorite singers are George Beverly Shea and Andrea Bocelli. My favorite hobby is reading.

What are your regrets in life? Do you have any?

 Not planning for retirement as we should have done.

What the best advice you have to give to those that read about and pray for you here?

Be optimistic and prayerful.

I was hesitant about featuring a family member first for this project, but it really seems to fit in this case because the project was conceived after a few simple words that my Uncle Shorty said to me back in October. He has been very brief with his responses here, and they give only a taste of who he is. I don’t think enough good things can be said about the man. You can read more about him being a gunner on the USS Alabama here and what type of husband he is here. He said above that one of his passions in life is setting an example. Well, the man does set an example – a very good one. Please send your prayers his way.

 

 

Portraits for Prayer :: Its Conception

KTP005_PFP_BsnssCrd_Blk_Frnt

 

Back in October 2012 this project came to mind after I visited my Great Uncle Shorty and Great Aunt Evelyn for the weekend. I drove up to see them after I received an email from my mom saying she was concerned about my Uncle’s condition. He had been experiencing extreme back pain that his doctors had not been able to relieve – even with the strongest of pain pills. My mom asked me to pray for him; but I wanted to do something, not just pray. I thought that just my presence there with them might help, and that trip was my effort to meet God part-way in helping my Uncle feel better.

I think my visit helped. Before I left that Sunday I decided to do a portrait of both my Uncle Shorty and Aunt Evelyn together,  knowing I was going to write a blog post, include the portrait, and ask people to pray for him. As I was walking out the door that day, Uncle Shorty looked at me and plainly said, “Keith. Please pray for me.” Something about those words and the way he said them was heartbreaking to me and left me wanting to do more for others in similar situations.

To understand the significance of what happened next, you should know that for months, years even, I had been praying to God –  asking, even begging Him in frustration – to let me know what He wanted me to do with the ability He had given me as a photographer. Starting out as a commercial photographer in a very competitive market – not to mention in the worst economy since the Great Depression – I struggled to make ends meet at times. I was too stubborn to give up. That wasn’t an option. Somehow, things worked out through the support of my family, friends, and God. It was as if He wanted me to stay in the business by giving me just enough to do that at times.

But I still felt frustrated. I felt like I had a world full of ability and potential, but I didn’t feel like I was living up to any of it. I felt like I couldn’t get ahead. So my prayer was simple: “God, you obviously put me here to be a photographer. Now please, let me know what you want me to do with that. I’ll do anything you want. Please just let me know, and I’ll do it.” I can’t tell you how many mornings I said that very prayer as I started work for the day at my desk and —  finally — He answered me.

That weekend after I left my Uncle and  Aunt’s home, the idea and name for this project hit me – with clarity. I started working out the details of the project in my head while driving through the North Carolina Mountains that afternoon. It all made sense to me, but it excited and frightened me at the same time. I felt absolutely certain God had answered my prayer though, and I knew I couldn’t ignore it. I’ve had this whole project in the works since then, and it has been a true labor of love.

I owe a huge thank you to a few key people:

Heather Wright of The Wright Attorneys :: Heather, thank you for your legal counsel for this project. You gave me insight on it from the perspective both of a friend and an attorney, and you have always been fair to me. That’s huge to me. Attorneys wouldn’t have such a bad reputation if they were all like you.

Bryan “bVo” Voliton of Salt and Sugar Design :: Bryan, thank you for doing such a great job with the branding for this project. You’re a designer’s designer. And after knowing you for eleven years, you still manage to give me the most refreshing outlook on life. I’m honored to call you a friend.

Don Giannatti :: Don, thank you for your help with bringing this idea to life online, and for your concern about how doing this project may affect me emotionally. Your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears; you’ve proven to me and many others that your thoughts are worth taking notes on. Thanks for being a friend – and just an all-around cool guy.

Joanna, thank you for having the patience to read, edit, and offer revisions on the written content for this project numerous times. My life and future feels much better and brighter, respectively, with you in it. I love you.

I also want to thank the handful of people (you know who you are) who gave me input in regards to this project. Your thoughts and insight both eased and frayed my nerves. Considering both the good and bad is a logical step in doing anything worthwhile in life though. Your thoughts have helped me wrap my mind around what feels like the most important and meaningful thing I’ve done in life.

Thank you to each of you who read this and come back to this site to offer your prayers for someone featured who needs them.