justice rising in the democratic republic of congo: the peace movement

I’ve been in major stall mode with this blog post. Every time I go to write it, I end up a weepy mess and decide to try again later. Since it is the last day of 2015, the time is now.. so here goes, tears and all.

Earlier this year, in the middle of summer and our busy wedding season, we journeyed to Africa. When you receive an invitation to partner with a nonprofit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you just say yes. Or we did, anyway.

Justice Rising is made up of a team of incurable optimists working tirelessly with the vision to see every war affected nation restored to peace. They currently have projects in Kenya and Somalia, but their main focus is the eastern part of the DRCongo. Their mission includes educating children at risk, creating sustainable jobs and developing community leaders, which is no small undertaking in a country still affected daily by war.

Visiting a place with a reputation like the DRC was a bizarre experience. Reading statistics before meeting faces creates a cloud of expectations.. UNICEF reports that this is one of the top three most dangerous places to be born in the world.. so what is that going to look like? What will it feel like to be there? Will we be ok? But off we went, questions and all..

First came visas. Then required vaccinations. And then the 40-ish hour journey from the US to Rwanda, where we then took a car for the last leg of the trip from Kigali, Rwanda to Goma, DRC, and crossed the border on foot.

Once in Goma, all preconceived ideas and expectations faded away. The main roads in Goma abruptly create an off-roading experience, because they sit on top of raw volcanic rock – amazingly, traffic tolerates this 24/7! Anyone curious enough to put two-and-two together, quickly notices that Goma has an angry companion in the form of an active volcano called Mount Nyiragongo, that violently erupted as recently as 2002, spilling a 6 foot deep, nearly mile wide lava lake right through Goma! It even glows red at night[!]. So THAT’s why the roads are rocky! In complete contrast to this, we were soon greeted with endless waves and shouts of, Mzungu!” and the most welcoming, joy-filled faces you could imagine. Street vendors selling a bounty of fresh produce, colors blazing. Women walking, talking and laughing together, skillfully balancing what looks like an uncanny load of food, water, laundry, firewood (or whatever!) atop their heads. Tiny barefooted children carrying even tinier barefooted babies on their backs without complaint. A sharing culture that wants to take care of each other. As an example (and since we are so passionate about seeing children cared for in India), we asked if there were any children living on the streets in the DRC. We learned that there are almost no homes for children. It turns out that people in the DRC take in children who have been abandoned or have lost their parents — a common-sense form of adoption I suppose, but nevertheless, a major act of responsibility and beautiful example of the true heart of DRC. How amazing is that?!)

Justice Rising has a number of schools in the DRC, but we spent our time focusing on the ones in Goma and a tiny village called Kalembe. In the DRCongo, only half of all children have the opportunity to attend school, and of those that do, most are boys. From that group, only half of them will make it past the fifth grade. That’s 25% of the nation graduating secondary school. Justice Rising is a huge part of changing those numbers dramatically, and we were humbled to get a glimpse of what their work is creating in children and lives around the DRC.

To witness this movement of change and see these tiny faces of hope.. well, there are no words, but I’m in tears again, so I’ll let them show you through these images:

(This was the cinema in Goma, you guys! I am still in awe every time I look at this photo. Seeing little kiddos peeping through cracks in the walls was beyond endearing.)

From Goma, getting to the village was a 7 hour journey on unpaved roads (read: 7 hours of jostling and being thrashed around because ‘unpaved road’ doesn’t do the reality justice) to the most picturesque, prehistoric-looking jungle we had ever seen. Mud huts scattered amidst dense banana and palm trees and rolling mountains, and children running around in little packs together. No running water, no cell service or internet of any kind and no power lines to mar the skyline, this truly has to be one of the last places on earth that is still so ‘unplugged’, and it was breathtaking.

Visiting the littlest class of youngsters in the village is a sound and sight that will never, ever leave us.

I asked the Justice Rising team if the kiddos in this class had a scholarship sponsor yet, and was told they did not. Very short story shorter, we now have a direct deposit set up through Justice Rising — only $35 a month not only covers half of the entire class’. (There are a few students listed on the JR site that still need sponsors, and some of them would be the other half of this class! Please do consider joining us in creating a scholarship for these little gems.)

This little one. Oh man. She has a special spark. From the minute I met her, I was smitten. She is learning French and is a perfect student — you should hear her recite her exercises, your heart would melt. In Swahili, her name means ‘Answer’, and I have a sense that her life truly is a living Answer.

I think of her joy and her innocence and beauty every single day, and hold her in hope, along with her classmates — that they may know a country and future of peace and justice.

Cass, the founder + heartbeat of Justice Rising. This girl has lived in war zones of Africa since she was 18, and exists in such a desire for Justice and Peace that she seems to know no fear. She’s negotiated with war lords and escaped raids, and is the first to visit an area when it is under attack. With her flawless French and Swahili, too, she is respected and loved by everyone we saw and met in the DRC. (She may have even saved our life once, too, but that’s another story for another day.)

It was an honor to witness her passion as she worked tirelessly. She is being change in the world in all that she does, and she will leave the world better than she found it. Cass, we love you so, so much.

As we close 2015 and look into the New Year, I invite us all to take a stand for Justice in our world, and be a part of seeing new patterns created in education and peace. Join us in our efforts by donating once, or even monthly — as little as $3 a month makes such a difference! See more of what Justice Rising is up to here, and if education isn’t you main interest, perhaps you will find inspiration in one of their other efforts and jump in on that, too.

A heartfelt cheers to 2016, friends! May your world be filled with peace, both within your home and beyond. We’ll be back with more stories soon!

And farewell for now, Beautiful DRC.. you have changed us forever. You are not forgotten. We will be back. xx

colorful rustic fall wedding (kelsey + michael are married!) – camp pendalouan wedding

Hello, Hello, Friends! Happy Friday! It sure has been awhile. Since we last wrote, we’ve been around the world..  like, literally. Can you believe it?! India + Australia and the adventures / shoots / weddings that have happened over the past month have been marvelous, and we have so many new stories to share.

But in the meantime… we have some fabulous folks for you to meet today!

Kelsey + Michael were first introduced at a party, and during their very first conversation, Kelsey gave Michael relationship advice that concluded he should break up with his current girlfriend. (Bold move, Kels! We like your style.) Little did they know that over 5 years later, she would be his girlfriend! They always had similar good friends, so once the stars aligned and they both became single, Kelsey says it was like, “Hey, why did I never think about dating him before!?”

Their wedding was filled with personalized details, DIY’d everything, and all element of the experience were intentional. They remember their wedding as, “a weekend long celebration of love filled with all of the people and things we treasure most in life.” Sounds about right to us! We loved every moment of it, and only wished we could be there for more than just one day! (PS: K+M? We miss you two. Let’s hang the next time we’re in the same state at the same time, plz?!)

We wanted to let them tell a bit about their own day, so here are some questions + their answers, too!

Any DIY projects you were especially proud of? “Yes, so many! The pallet bar, Michael built. The indigo tablecloths I dyed. The apple butter and applesauce favors. Really every detail was collected, grown, designed, made, and done by us, so I’d say our biggest DIY was pulling off an entire weekends’ worth of our vision. We couldn’t have been happier! Not that this was a DIY, but one thing we were super excited about was having the Tintype Photobooth. It was a last minute decision to include it, but it was definitely a highlight of our day and of our guests! It was such a magical process and I was glad to introduce many of our guests to something they had never experienced before.” (You guys are right. It was SO cool.)

Any advice for future brides/grooms currently planning their wedding? “Make it as personal as possible. This day is supposed to be a celebration of you two, so the more personal it is, the more special it will be to you and your guests. Also there will always be some stress, just embrace it because really what they always say is so true. It’ll all be worth it in the end!”

(Fun fact: this gorgeous wedding has been published on the Wedding Chicks + you can see the full feature here!)

 

And finally.. just a *few* favorite frames from their day… xx

 

Michael’s favorite moment of the day… “Seeing you [Kelsey] the first time on the day of the wedding in that sanctuary. I was blown away!”

Processional song“La Vie En Rose” by Louis Armstrong. “I have very fond memories of growing up listening to old music with my family. So when I started to listen through some of my old favorites and heard that part a few minutes in when the trumpets start and pictured myself at the top of the hill looking down on the person I love the most, tears streaming down my face, I knew that was the song.”

“Literally there were so many perfect little moments of pure joy that weekend. Like when we got to just be by ourselves for a while after the ceremony and before the reception. When it was quiet and we looked over the lake and just marveled at how beautiful that moment was.”

First Dance – “Take Care” by Beach House. “There have been some really perfect moments in our lives, where we have felt so full of love for each other that it is just overwhelming. This song has played during many of those moments.”

:: THE FOLKS WHO WERE INVOLVED ::

Photography – Caroline + Jayden of Woodnote Photography

Wedding Coordinator – Heyday Event Lab

Kelsey’s Dress – BHLDN

Kelsey’s Shoes – Steve Madden

Kelsey’s Jewellery – J Crew

Michael’s Suit – H&M

Michael’s Shoes – Kenneth Cole

Bridesmaid’s gowns – all different (ASOS, Nordstrom, Mango, Steven Alan)

Hair + Makeup – Salon Re in Grand Rapids

Flowers – Friend (Ashley Keys)

Stationery + Paper – Kelsey!

Ceremony + Reception Venue – YMCA Camp Pendalouan

Music – DJ Adrian Butler

Wedding favors – Mugs by Continental Specialty Co., + applesauce and apple butter made by Kelsey + Michael

los angeles home birth – the birth of annu

I’ve photographed births before. Five, actually, if I count them. But I’ve never blogged them until now. Today feels a bit special.

I met Punam at a bar a few years back. We were both there to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend. We started chatting and realized we had a ton in common.. we’re photographers, our husbands are composer / musicians that we met while they were both on tour, we’d both been married for 9 years at the time. She was genuine and she didn’t hesitate to get real, fast. By the time we left our friend’s birthday celebration, we had exchanged numbers and promised we’d get together soon.

And we did.

Fast-forward a bit to this scene: we’re friends, we’ve double dated a bunch, Jayden + I have experienced Punam’s insane culinary abilities, we’ve fallen in love with Uma and been to her 3rd birthday party, and the fam has even moved to our neighborhood. Yes! Punam is now 9 months pregnant, and texting me on a Monday morning, “Soooo just a heads up, i think I’m in early labor this morning. Are you back from your trip?” A few hours later, I’m walking to their home with a camera over my shoulder and anticipation in my heart.

Photographing the first breaths of a human is the most raw and humbling parts of my experience. (Especially when you’re a fierce mama like Punam who had a natural birth. Bow down!)

Witnessing what it is for a mama to work with her body, her partner, her baby.. the pain and the overpowering love.

Seeing the looks that parents exchange the moment their little one enters the world. That love! I literally have to leave the room every few minutes so that I don’t just lose all composure and ugly cry. Punam + Andy, thank you for letting me witness this tender moment you shared as a family. I am honored.

There really are no words for this miracle of life. I’m stripped of every word, and reminded of how simple and fragile we were when we began our days on this earth. How, at our core, we are Love and we long to be loved.

My hope is that these images will leave you with more of a feeling than a word. And may we be reminded of Love! xx

rancho dos pueblos wedding, santa barbara (megan + andrew are married!)

Megan + Andrew were on the blog not too long ago, so we’re excited to post them s’more as we share some frames from their wedding today!

A destination celebration by the sea.. this day was filled with sunshine, joy, laughter, incredible music and so. much. delicious. whiskey. Every last detail was chosen through playful intention, (like that Gretsch guitar as Andrew’s grooms gift.. Megan, you win! forever!) and one glimpse at M+A’s ginormous bridal party is all it takes to see how much these two are adored.

Here are a few frames from this glorious day… xo



: FOLKS WHO HELPED :

Photography: Caroline + Jayden of Woodnote Photography

Wedding Coordination: Simply Natural Events

Makeup: Nicol Artistry

Hair: Nicole Banks

Groom’s Hotel: the Goodland

Rentals: Town + Country Event Rentals

Florals: Coco Rose Design

Musicians: Great Caesar Band

Venue: Rancho Dos Pueblos / Dos Pueblos Ranch

Catering: Whoa Nelly Catering

Cake: Momofuku Milk Bar

Lighting: Bella Vista Designs

Transportation: Jump on the School Bus

October 28, 2015 - 9:01 am

{REAL WEDDING} LOVE AT SANTA BARBARA’S RANCHO DOS PUEBLOS… | Ever Ours […] totally radiates in their work as you can see for yourself.  check out more from this wedding over HERE, then most definitely stick around THEIR […]

burning man elopement (iris + arjen are married!) – burning man wedding photographers

There are 3 experiences in our lives that stand out as the most magical memories, and they are; trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal, visiting Antarctica and Burning Man.

If you’ve been, you know.

10 days of personal expression, radical generosity and love, and so much incredible art. Burning Man gets a lotta hate, but we had to experience it to have an opinion, and we will absolutely never be the same (in the best way possible). Your Burn experience is what you want it to be, and for us, that looked like a week of unplugged, unshowered bike rides into the vast open space, interacting with the art installations, meeting inspiring souls from around the world, and a whole lot’a photo-taking.

Enter: Iris + Arjen.

These loves also had their first Burn this year, and after getting engaged on the Great Wall of China, flew in from their home in the Netherlands to adventure on the playa. A mutual friend connected us, (his playa name is Armadillo.. I don’t actually know his real world name) as they decided to elope at Burning Man and asked us to shoot it! After 10 years together, the playa set the perfect space of love as Iris + Arjen exchanged vows.

We met and decided they would pick their wedding day based on the weather, (dust storms can make sight and photography a little bit challenging at times) and so on Saturday, just hours before the man burned, they came to our camp and said, “Today is the day!” I can’t tell you how fun it was to have the spontaneity of a wedding that only had a 2 hour warning. It will forever be a feeling and a memory that we treasure. (We’d only brought one camera, so many of these images were shot with our iPhones, too. We heart technology.)

It was such an honor to capture these moments in your lives, Iris + Arjen. (I still get weepy when I think about how you even asked me to be a witness and sign your marriage license! That was a first for me.) Jayden + I can’t wait until our paths cross again.. see you on the playa next year?!

To the friends + fam of Iris + Arjen, we’re so excited for you to hear the news that these loves are now one. Enjoy a few photos from their magical day! xx

[i got to wear this outfit while i photographed iris + arjen’s wedding. i’m now waiting for another one of our couples to ask me to wear this while i shoot them. *waiting* *crickets* … waiting patiently …] 😉

and how about a lil playa selfie from us before we sign off? xx