As we sort through more photos from the Neill Family Session, I am reminded of how evident the love this family (and their friends) have for Avery. If this is your first time hearing about the Neill's, be sure to visit our original post to learn more. From day one of Avery's diagnosis, a community of people has been formed, life long friends and new acquaitenances, who want to do anything they can to support the Neill family. During their photo session we wanted to do something special for Avery and the Neill family so we set up three Christmas trees in the middle of a field in front of a rustic barn decorated in Christmas lights. It's amazing how we were able to pull everything together in just 48 hours and how so many people were more than willing to jump in and help. Specifically, we want to thank the Johnson family for letting us borrow the Christmas trees, the Bailey family for allowing us to use their property and for decorating the barn and to my friends and husband who helped me to get the Christmas trees set up and decorated.
And it wasn't just the adults, it brought tears to my eyes to see my boys so excited to chip in and when my friend Jen came to help decorate the tree, her daughter (and Avery's friend), came along with so many great ideas that only a child would think of, like hiding candy canes all over the back of trees for Avery to find and discover. Of course, Avery loved when she discovered them!
Of course, what we all want is for this diagnosis to disappear, for the Neill family to be able to go back to the life they had beforehand and ultimately, for Avery to be well. Our hearts break together as we watch Avery, Emily, Andy and the entire Neill family navigate this diagnosis and the realities of it. While there are some things we can't change, there are so many things we can. One of those is the financial burden this diagnosis has placed on the Neill family. If you haven't already, be sure to visit the Neill Family's 'You Caring' Page where you can donate today.
This family has a long journey ahead but they will not walk it alone. Please, keep this sweet family in your prayers.
There are certain moments in photography that feel sacred. Opportunities to document that hold the highest honor. One such moment came this past Sunday as we met with the Neill family in North Raleigh to take some family photos. We gathered on land where we have shot many times before. Beautiful acreage in North Raleigh owned by a family from our church who have graciously allowed us to use it, time and again. This was one such time that they were more than happy to open up their property to us and even decorate their beautiful barn for the session we would have that afternoon. The Neills include Emily (mom), Andy (Dad), Bekah & Avery (Twin Sisters) and James (the youngest of this crew). Teran and I have known them for a while and Teran has been blessed to be part of their small group for the last few years. They are a close knit small group that has lived life with each other, grown their families together, and figured out parenting (and its accompanying highs and lows) side by side, along with the rest of their community at Bay Leaf Baptist Church.
That is why Friday came as a heavy blow to everyone when we heard the news that sweet Avery had been diagnosed with a brainstem tumor known as "DIPG," which is sadly incurable and for which there is very little treatment. The average prognosis is 9-12 months.
Emily reached out to us that afternoon asking if we might take some family photos prior to Avery beginning treatment this week, a request we were honored and humbled by, and which we were more than willing to fulfill.
On Sunday, Avery was already showing symptoms from her diagnosis though her main struggle was with dizziness and nauseous from the double vision they believe she was experiencing.
Yet there on a cloudy Sunday, with the Neills and their extended family driving in to join, we were able to capture a few images for this sweet family before their life enters a new season of treatment for Avery. For a few short hours we were able to focus on the smiles and joy of this incredibly brave family and we were able to document Avery and her family as they enjoyed being just that: a family.
We love the Neill family and can only imagine the weight of this season they are entering. We are heart-broken but not without hope. We are amazed at the grace and courage of Emily, Andy, and their entire family as they begin to navigate this road. We are touched by Avery's sweetness throughout this all, and we continue praying for strength and courage.
It was our joy to offer this session to the Neills and we are actively looking for other ways to walk alongside and support them during this hard season. We were able to donate to Avery's YouCaring page, and we would encourage you to do so as well if you are able. You can find the link here. Avery's diagnosis will significantly alter the lives of the Neill family, including financially. One way they can feel our love and care is through donations that help ease the financial burden, which is only one of the many difficulties they face ahead. Perhaps even more importantly, please pray for the Neills--for strength, encouragement, faith, peace, comfort, and healing. Finally, you can follow the Neill's journey by joining their Facebook page where friends and family will be adding updates regularly about Avery's journey. You can even post messages and help connect others in encouraging the Neills with the hashtag #braveryforavery.
Somber moments like these can take our breath away and leave us speechless. But where words fail, pictures speak loudly. Avery's smile and hope-filled gaze; her sister's calm sparkle; Emily's passionate embrace of her daughter; her Daddy's protective grin. These moments are perhaps more real than the words to describe them and will endure as memories of God's goodness in creating and uniting the Neills as a family. Even in the midst of sorrow and anticipated loss, the beauty of these moments reminds us that the sovereign author of them all endures far beyond, holding for us a joy that cannot fade or diminish. We pray that these realities will be a comfort to the Neills in this difficult time.