Many times when you read a photographer’s blog you can expect to read a light and fluffy story about a beautiful wedding at an elaborate resort in Laguna Beach. Well today I want to be real with you, today I want to be raw and vulnerable with you. When my photography journey began five years ago it did not begin with a happy story but it began on a mission trip in Haiti assisting the needy after a devastating earthquake. What got me into photography was not the art of taking pictures but the power to tell stories through those pictures. Often times my stories are love stories of how two people met, fell in love and are getting married. But sometimes stories are tough, are gritty and are not the fairy tale we all hope for.
Today I want to share with you about my good friend Mike Swanson. Mike and I worked together for three years at our church, Calvary Chapel East Anaheim where he is a pastor. I’ve known Mike long before I ever got into photography and I have had the honor of seeing Mike grow and mature into an honorable man, a husband and now a father. As long as I’ve known Mike I can easily say he is one of my closest friends. Over the years of knowing Mike I’ve seen his passion of sharing the Gospel and helping people grow. So much so that a little over a year ago Mike was preparing to leave behind his life here in California and move with his family to start a church in Ireland. But it what shortly after this that Mike faced a very tough chapter in his life.
As Mike and his family prepared to leave for Ireland, Mike was given the devastating news that he had cancer. I’ll be honest when Mike first told me that he was diagnosed with cancer I rubbed it off and just assumed, Mike’s young and he’s my friend… no way is cancer going to stop him. As the months went on, I held onto that simple thought, no way is my buddy going to die from cancer, he’s a strong guy and he’ll be okay. It had been awhile since I had seen Mike and he was often sending me emails asking for prayer for an upcoming surgery he was having. I remember thinking that I’m sure it will be okay, everyone has surgery like this right? To be honest I didn’t understand the severity or danger of the surgery until Mike gave me a call. When Mike called me he explained that he didn’t know how the surgery would go and he wanted family pictures done “just in case”. In that moment, my heart sunk deep into my chest. I realized that Mike wasn’t just okay but he was fighting for his life and that death was a realistic possibility.
It can be hard, better yet impossible to imagine your friend facing the very possibility of death. I remember that we planned his family session last minute and we decided to take the pictures locally at Yorba Regional Park. I spent about an hour walking through the park snapping pictures with Mike, Erin, Chole and Caleb but I have to admit it was the hardest family session I ever shot. At one point I touched Mike to pose him better and in that moment I realize just how thin and fragile my friend who once was built like the Incredible Hulk was. As I went on shooting pictures of Mike’s beautiful family I held back tears at the sheer thought of him not being there for his family. Here are some precious moments from that family session from a year ago….
I remember the day Mike went into surgery and how many people were praying for him. I even started a #prayformike hashtag and shared his picture and I was truly amazed to not only see how many people knew and loved Mike but even more so how many people were rallying around Mike and his family in prayer. That day Mike faced a very tough surgery that could have gone terribly wrong, that could have ended in tragedy but we were blessed to see the doctors work relentlessly in taking care of Mike. After his surgery Mike faced many battles along his journey to recovery but with great gratitude I can now say a year later my good friend Mike is doing well and as far as we know is cancer free. Mike is back to his old self and is loving on his family though he could use a little more meat on his bones. 😉
Sometimes it’s not about where you end up but rather the journey that got you there.