The Braland Family: {Winter Garden} Portraits

Dear Leonard,
To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard...always the years between us...always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.
- Virginia Woolf, The Hours

After shooting these images, I took a moment and thought about the Braland family.  It occurred to me how from day to day nothing in our lives seems to change, but how over time things quietly add up and multiply so that when you look back everything is different.  And, I thought about Virginia Woolf and the idea that we track our lives in scientific units like hours and years because that's what we can wrap our minds around.  But what if we measured with our hearts...what if we measured in love...would the numbers still add up?

One hundred fifty five. Bridget & Brad met 155 months ago at a Christmas party in December of 2000. She noticed him immediately but it took him a little more time.  They were together for 5 years before they got married on a Friday afternoon in November - something Bridget joked about recently.  But, I remind her that anything that's worth having is worth waiting for.  Some people wait their whole lives for a love like that.  And, their life made the ordinary seem extraordinary.

Three. Bridget & Brad have 3 cheerfully red-headed children whose laughter fills their home and hearts to the brim every single day.  I met the Bralands 7 years ago when they moved across the street.  Bridget was pregnant with her oldest child, Zion, with 2 more babies to follow in just a few short years.  Our boys instantly became best friends despite an age gap.  Whenever we got bored we'd walk across the street and jump on their bounce house in the front yard or when it was hot they'd come over and run through our sprinklers in their underwear.

Four thousand seven hundred fifteen.  When you break it down Bridget & Brad spent about 4,715 days spent folding laundry, watching movies, washing dishes, and changing diapers.  On the rare occasions when they didn't make it to Sunday church, Bridget & Brad would hang out at home and let the kids play his instruments he brought home from his many trips to Africa.  They teamed up to plan birthday parties and cheer their boys on from the bleachers at t-ball games.  Everyday tasks that seem mundane but when you weave them together they make up the fabric of life itself.

Sixteen.  These images were taken 16 days after Brad was killed in a car accident outside of Atlanta while on a family trip.  Just 16 days.

But those numbers really mean nothing.  Brad's life and his love for his family was immeasurable.  It remains.  Stronger than death.  It multiplies every day in a million seemingly inconsequential ways.  And at the end of a day...a year...a lifetime...it equals something bigger than anyone could quantify or ever hope to understand.

Brad was an incredible man, husband, father, missionary, and musician.  He changed lives around the world and across the street.  Inevitably, people comment on Bridget's strength.  Her heart.  Her courage.  Her smile. They talk about how brave she is to get out of bed everyday and carry on.  But the reality is that she has no choice.  She has moments of soul-shattering grief.  Sometimes, the kids are so sad that they just weep for hours.  His parents lost their only child.  But, they all have faith that God's plan is bigger than Brad's life here.  It reminds me of a poem by EE Cummings, 'I carry your heart with me {I carry it in my heart}.  I am never without it {anywhere I go, you go my dear}.'  This family will go out into the world touching lives with Brad in their hearts.

In the weeks before the accident, Bridget and I had been trying to coordinate our schedules for their next family session.  It had been a year and a half since our last one.  The family portrait below (right) has been in their living room literally in life-size since then and Brad had already begun building frames out of reclaimed wood in anticipation of our next session.  But, Bridget & I were both busy moms and the holidays were upon us.  We were going to do it as soon as the weather cooled off.  Or as soon as we were not quite as busy.  But, as it often does...life happened.

Like a drop of water in the ocean, I hope this lesson is one of the ripples from Brad's life that radiates into all of yours. Wake up every day making memories instead of excuses.  Say the hard things like 'I'm sorry' and 'I forgive you' and 'I love you.'  Don't trivialize anything - sunday pancakes, the pitter patter of midnight wakeup calls, and goodnight kisses are some of the loveliest things in life.  It may seem like you have forever to do these things, but you don't.  The clock is ticking...always the hours.