When your life’s calling comes, answer it

Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes when I look around, I see a lot of lost people. Some are justifiably sad—tragedy is happening to them right now. Some have had past losses, and they look to those dark days as the reason why they are still living without joy.

Others are just taking life day by day, waiting for something, the One Big Thing they’ve always imagined, and regularly seem to sink when another night comes, and it hasn’t happened.

I had lost years myself. I spent my twenties in pursuit of nothing special. A whole decade of stumbling around, switching jobs, always wanting something else. The not-now. The better-down-the-road.

Then something big DID happen. Not a book deal or a lottery or sudden fame. The worst sort of thing. As I rolled down what would be considered an ordinary life—marriage-first-house-pregnancy, my baby died. Just died.

This is where my road divided. I had three choices:

  1. Feel stuck and bitter and grief stricken.
  2. Pretend it never happened and move forward.
  3. Turn this moment into my personal call to a life that mattered.

Everyone who is reading this blog knows what I did. I changed everything. Since then I’ve given speeches, run web sites, written books, and made myself as available as possible to any Baby Loss Mom who approached me. It’s been 14 years—coming up on 15 very soon and I haven’t slowed down one bit.

I was lucky. I recognized when life handed me a purpose. Loud and clear I got the message that this terrible event was the thing that could save me. And while I’d certainly trade my life now for the life I could have had with Casey, I made sure, absolutely sure, that I never doubted why I had been brought on this planet, and why he had, so briefly, made his small appearance.

I can tell you — there is a reason for you too. Somewhere in your life there has been or will be a Call to Action. My hope is that everyone sees it when it comes. And that it not only gets you through whatever is happening — life, death, poverty, oppression, bullying, loss, overwhelm — but that you grow so much from it that you expand and envelop others who can learn from what you have endured.

My wish is that you too can take your experiences and turn them into action, mold your life into a passion, review what you have survived and bring about change.

It’s in everyone. The tall and the small. Elizabeth is only ten and she gets it — she made her whole class study epilepsy last year and over half of them chose the Epilepsy Foundation as their non-profit to support in the community service. One purple scarf given to her last month means dozens more will be made in her Knitting Club to give to other kids.

Look around you. Look at yourself. Take what is difficult and turn it into good. Learn from what you did wrong and lift a stumbling block from someone else.

Be the change you’re looking for.

 Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Background of the fire photo and info on permissions

My children had just gotten safely home after driving an hour through smoke when I saw the image.

The girls had been out camping, their father sending me a tense message when the sky began turning black. I couldn’t have been more relieved to see them.

We were driving up Loop 360 (Capitol of Texas Highway) near Westlake when we saw the skyline of Austin backed by smoke.

I just happened to have my Canon 5d Mark II in my lap because I had been shooting around town for holiday portrait locations.

We immediately pulled into a business park with a view of the city. Unfortunately, a hill of dirt partially obstructed our view. Here is that shot:

The girls wanted to scale the fence and climb the hill, but trespassing was not the order of the day, so we instead drove back to our original sighting on the highway. By that time, the fire was actually a little more dramatic. Here is an unfinished and uncropped version of the image.

Here is a Google Map of the location. The time stamp on the image is 5:18 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 5. I bracketed the shots, intending to do an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image from it. The grayness of the air made the image lower contrast that I would have liked and it was a little yellow, so I knew it might need adjustment. The wind was terrible and the side of the road didn’t feel too safe, so I jumped back in the car, knowing color and contrast was an easy fix.

When we got home, studying for tests and making dinner intervened. I definitely did not have time for an elaborate HDR from handheld frames, and almost didn’t do anything with the shot at all. But my fiance asked if I’d upload it to Facebook, so he could share it with his family in California.

So I hurriedly copied the shots to my computer. I cropped out the guard rail and bumped up the contrast so that the cityscape would show through the haze. At the last minute I tossed my web site on there, planning at that point to maybe blog about it, but also to differentiate my image from the hundreds I expected would be taken of the same scene.

I had no idea that this particular image was ephemeral, and that within a few hours, the smoke haze would spread so far and wide that the city skyline itself would almost disappear.

Central Texas Fire over Austin Skyline

I uploaded it quickly to Facebook. Just a few hours later the phone began ringing.  Television stations, wanting to use the image on the evening news.

I’ve had some 1500 messages, calls, emails, and comments in the last 40 hours. Most every news organization has contacted me. CNN featured it on the home page and now I’ve gotten calls about it being used in television ads for the Red Cross. I have not accepted any money for it, nor am I doing prints or selling the file.

Sometimes I stare at the photograph and wonder why it affects so many people. I see the truly amazing images coming out of the wildfires — incredible feats by fire fighters, homes that are down to pipes and bricks, and think — this is nothing.

But I suppose that maybe the photo turned the tide somehow. People saw it and thought, this isn’t a small thing. It’s big. It’s bigger than the city. And for two days, that particular fire has been 0% contained. When the photo was taken, some 30 homes had been destroyed. Now it’s 500 and counting. I think this picture made people realize — they need help.

So I hope most of all that if you see it, you donate to the Red Cross of Central Texas. They need it. People need it. There are so many ways to lose things in this life, but fire is all encompassing. There is nothing left to dry out or collect or salvage. It’s gone. Everything. Gone.

If you are connected to a fundraiser or other event for the evacuees of this fire, the answer is yes, yes, of course you can use the photo. As long as you are using it to good purpose and not reselling it, I’m okay with it. Run with the file you have or ask me to send you one resized to fit your project (most 8.5×11 flyers will be fine with what you saved, but bigger projects or high def video need a higher res.) You can comment or email or link to it so I can see your wonderful work, but honestly — I’m just amazed by what you are doing — so go, make your own difference in this crisis.

I am a part of a group of photographers who will be donating family portraits to families who have lost their home so that they might begin rebuilding their memories.




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