On September 1st, 2018 the world lost one of the most loving men we’ve ever met. Today, we wanted to take a moment to introduce you to him.
Two summers ago we were hired for one of the most challenging shoots we’ve ever done… that still, to this day, was our greatest honor. The Sewell Family asked us to take their final family photo shoot with their beloved husband and father, Hal.
Hal had been diagnosed with ALS, and over the summer, his health had begun to decline. They knew they wanted family photos taken before the disease progressed any further. So we met them at their land in Centre, AL to capture an afternoon with their family.
It was a blazing hot day in the July sun. We knew that Hal was requiring assistance to stand and walk. The family wanted photos in certain special places near their home - and we were all determined to make that dream a reality. But we were also anxious about how Hal would do standing and walking in the heat. Within moments of the first photos - everyone was dripping with sweat. It was truly a miserable time of year to do an outdoor shoot!
But you’d never have known it - looking at Hal.
We have taken a lot of photos in “less than desirable” situations. Hot wedding days are one. You inevitably get shots of people looking tired, frustrated, and obviously *over* the idea of taking photos. It’s hard to “fake it” when you feel uncomfortable. But in even the midst of the heat, with his physical limitations - Hal never did anything but smile. And I mean - he really smiled! Not some contrived, fake “smile for the camera”. Every single time I looked at him… he looked so genuinely happy - because he was surrounded by the people he loved the most in the world.
“The JOY of the Lord is my strength.”
When I think of that verse - I think of Hal… and all of the ways he held on to joy, gratitude, and LOVE even in the face of a terrifying, debilitating disease. But that’s just who Hal was - a man full of joy and love. You could see it when you looked at him… and you could feel it when he looked at you. It’s hard to explain it… but when you walked into a room with Hal, you just felt LOVED.
I have to share a little more from this shoot than I normally would - because you really need to know what was happening “behind the scenes” this day. You see - it wasn’t just the heat, and his sickness that Hal had to put up with during this family session…. he also had to deal with a very rambunctious little girl (who was NOT part of his family)! That beautiful Sewell daughter-in-law you see pictured is our daughter’s favorite “Auntie Beth”. Since this session was scheduled last minute (and Beth thought it would be okay) we brought our little miss, Kate, along for the shoot. We had NO IDEA that she would be a terrible distraction though…. jumping into every other shot! (Even after we had prepped her to be our “helper” and promised lots of fun once the shoot was over.) You might think that she just wanted to be the center of attention - but the truth is - she’s normally nervous around people she doesn’t know. And while she knew and loved Auntie Beth & Uncle Paul - it was her first time around Hal.
So imagine our surprise when she kept running to HIM!
Kate wanted to stand by Hal… to hug him… to snuggle up beside him (and she ran to him as quickly as she could, every chance she got!) I have to believe it’s because she felt the same LOVE we always felt around him. She was drawn to him (and he instantly adored her!)
You would think they were the best of buddies from looking at these shots!
But to be honest - her jumping into their photo session was wearing on us…
As I said - it was HOT. We were chasing the afternoon light, and working hard to get all the shots in that the family wanted. As her parents - we were frustrated that she was costing everyone extra time… and worried we wouldn’t finish what we needed to, because of her distractions. But I couldn’t stop the shoot to manage her behavior (the sun was setting!)
I was pretty sure Hal had to feel the same way. After all - this was an extremely special shoot with his family. And he was the one dealing with the symptoms of his disease - all while bearing the suffocating heat. He kept reassuring us that Kate was FINE - and stopping to hug her every chance he got… but I felt sure that once I got home and reviewed the hundreds of photos shot - we’d find several of him looking at least a little frustrated with our daughter’s interruptions. (Who wouldn’t be?!)
But instead… I came home, looked through the photos, and sobbed. There wasn’t a SINGLE photo of Hal looking anything but blissfully HAPPY. Even when this little girl he barely knew was costing him more time in the heat… he was looking at her with love. Every single shot - his eyes sparkled with joy. As a matter of fact - his entire family looked the same way! (Proof, to me, of how he and his precious wife Marcia led their family with LOVE.) I was so moved.
We didn’t have the opportunity to know Hal long - but we are still in awe of how we watched him LOVE people. And we are still challenged and inspired by the example he set for those around him - to put love into action. At his funeral, the pastor shared a note from his Bible, where he’d written to “Make your love a DOING kind of love”. And story after story shared told us that he had done just that. Hal loved people so deeply - and he showed them that love in tangible ways. He was continually serving others… I’m certain, with the same LOVE and JOY we saw that day during his family photo session.
A year ago today the world lost a kind, humble, tender, generous, joyful, selfless, LOVING man. It will never be quite the same without him - but we are watching his family carry on his legacy of love in so many beautiful ways. Sewell family - today we grieve with you, and we also celebrate Hal’s incredible life and love. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the honor of taking these photos for your family. We will cherish this time spent together - and the opportunity to witness Hal's LOVE and JOY up close - forever.