Cunningham Family | Birmingham, AL

This family session was so much more than portraits or getting a perfect piece of art to hang on the wall. This session was a tribute to a husband, daddy, friend, son and brother. Carrie loaded up her 4 girls in Joe's truck with a boxer might I add. Made sure she had all of Joe's special personal items and headed to Morris Avenue. After we finished portraits the family took a few moments to write words on a Chinese Lantern so we could release it over the city. Every part of this session made me realize how lucky I am to do what I do. I am able to capture births, marriages, beautiful families and moments like this one all to cherish for a lifetime. Pictures are worth so much more than people even imagine. They are timeless, they are how the next generation will learn about us. They provide a happy smile as you look back at loved ones who are no longer with us. I knew I would not be able to give this post the special touch that it needed and I have been waiting to get all of my words in order and then today on the 1 year anniversary of Joe's death. I realize today is the day and Carrie wrote such a beautiful message on facebook and she gave me permission to share it. 

"12:20 am Aug 7, 2014, changed us forever.
A year ago I wondered how we would get through the next year. I wondered what the year would hold. Where would we be? Would we be growing? flourishing? happy? Or would we be stuck in a rut unable to handle the tragedy that had struck our family? 
The memories of Aug 6 and 7 are forever etched in my mind. Joe was in the process of moving to Ft Stewart GA and he'd been visiting us. He saw the older girls off for their first day of school on Aug 6th and had been doing some work on the van. The little girls and I got ready to go work on my classroom. I told Joe bye as he got ready to shower and head back to GA. We didn't know we'd never see him alive again. I texted him that night to let him know he'd left some things here and he simply replied "I left it on purpose". That was the last time I talked to him.
I remember every moment of the next day. I remember being angry that he didn't answer his phone to talk to Bailey, as her first day of school was Aug 7. I worked in my classroom all day again, met the girls at home after school, and we went back to my class. Through a series of ppl, I found out there were Army officers at my house. I knew what it meant, but still was trying to deny the news that was waiting for me. A dear friend drove me home and stayed with me as I learned that my husband had been killed in a head-on collision. I remember every moment of that day and the day before. What came after is what kinda became a blur. 
We moved home to AL for circumstances I could no longer control. For almost a year to the day, we lived without Joe. God was preparing us even then for a life without him. God orchestrated every step, provided us with a place to live, an amazing job for me, great schools for the girls, and a support system of family and friends, just to list a few. To say that the year and half before Joe died was hell, is an understatement. And even for the few months after his death. But I was reminded over and over again of the promises God had been telling me for so long. He promised He loved me. He promised He would take care of me and the girls. He promised that He would never ever leave us. And He kept telling me to wait. When I wanted to give up, He said wait. When everyone around me was telling me something different, God said wait... I didn't like it one bit... My friend Valerie and I will forever have a running joke about that horrible 4 letter word. 😜 But even in a hushed whisper, God's words were the ones that spoke the loudest to me. And I am so thankful! God's timing is perfect even when tragedy strikes. Around 5:30 pm on Aug 7th, I learned why God was telling me to wait. It's not how I was expecting my waiting to end, but He was soon going to show me the blessing. 
I say all that b/c I truly believe that God can turn your test into a testimony and your mess into a message. The girls and I are happy. We have grown so much in the last year. We've had trial after trial, but God has been with us every step of the way. We laugh more and we do more together. Anna said it best one day- "the dark cloud over us is gone"- and she's right. God is good. He holds us every step of the way and I am so thankful at how far He has brought us. I don't ask for your sympathy today b/c we are thriving in ways only God could have a hand in. Is today hard? Sure it is. Do we miss Joe? Absolutely. He taught us a lot. And he taught us to be strong, b/c let's face it, if you knew him, you knew you couldn't be a sissy around him. He could make you cry, he could make you laugh, he could make you think about life. He would push you b/c he wanted you to be better. And he would push you b/c his way was always right. 
I hope today you remember good times with Joe. I try so hard to forget the hard times but then I remember that it's through those that I've become the person I am today. 
We miss you Joe. We love you."

Carrie, I pray for you and your girls to continue to see God's amazing journey for you all and that you continue to lean on each other through the good times and bad. You have raised 4 amazing daughters and you should be so proud with the women they are becoming and will become in years ahead.