Stories From Our Community

Gratitude Found

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Photo by @cjmunizphotography of little girl playing on the beach

Maybe it was a new frame of mind. An "I do" without an audience. Spaghetti on a Sunday. Maybe blue waters brought silver linings and summit views left space for solace. Maybe in all you had, you found all you needed. Maybe if we shared these stories, others would too.

There's haste for the great that awaits, but what of the good that found us? We heard a lot about the challenges, when all we wanted was a little more hope. More babies and backyard weddings. More callings found and shutters clicked. More micro-moments that gave days meaning. More big plans that went astray, but went on.

This new year, more than ever, the shift of a single digit is a promise of change... and a prompt for reflection. In our humanity, we can hold them both. Leave the year behind. Bring the stories with you. Tell yours. Listen to others'. Start with those below.

These are the stories of gratitude you shared and printed in a year unlike any — tales of resilience from our community when we needed them most.


@jhenevie

On Adapting

Photo of small wedding reception in Yosemite

On what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life, I found myself swabbing nostrils. I wasn’t quite dressed like Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak — but I was certainly that nurse who layered up: gown, gloves, cap, surgical mask, N95 respirator, face shield. That was where I found myself on the day of my proposed wedding: in the parking lot under a canopy, sticking glorified q-tips up runny noses.

Everything happened so fast in March. Information was parsed out one piece at a time, but as far as we knew, this situation would last six weeks. Six weeks became six months. And somewhere in between, I think we all aged six years.

I’ve maintained a positive attitude as best I can. But on March 20th, my fiancé and I Zoom called his parents, and together we raised a glass to what would have been our wedding day. We smiled and drank a glass of wine. But after, he and I sat on the couch in our living room and just wallowed a little bit.

As time passed, it became apparent that life was not going back to normal. Our wedding as we had planned it was not going to happen in 2020. We decided to adapt. We decided to plan a new wedding. We canceled what needed to be canceled, we booked what needed to be booked, we crossed our fingers, and with bated breath, we thought to ourselves, "come on universe, cut us a little slack." That was about when California caught on fire. We had made reservations in Yosemite National Park; however, our state was covered in smoke.

I mention these things — the pandemic, the fires — and that context alone is enough to warrant gratitude. So many people have suffered this year. People have lost their homes. People have lost their lives. But with all this going on, I was able to get married. The smoke cleared for several days — long enough for my immediate family and my fiancé’s to drive to Taft point, exchange our vows, and watch the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.

We didn’t have a honeymoon and it really didn’t matter. The following Monday I found myself swabbing noses again. But this time I was married to the love of my life.


Photo of bride and groom smiling and looking into each other's eyes
Photo of bride and groom at the edge of a cliff in Yosemite
Photo of wedding party wearing masks

We didn't have a honeymoon and it didn't really matter.

@itthinkitslinnea

On Taking the Leap

Photo of girl jumping off the edge of a dock into a lake

This year I went leaf peeping. As I was driving back there was this lake right outside the Smoky Mountains. Now being the true Minnesotan I am, I had a bathing suit with me. We pulled off and there was this perfectly good dock for a perfectly good jump. Despite the 60 degree temps, I went for it, fully knowing the next seven hour drive I’d be stuck in my swimsuit.

Chances are I will never see this lake again. I won’t have the chance to go back to the Smoky Mountains because next year I’ll be in a new place with new lakes to jump in. All we have is now.

All we have is now.

@jenn.on.fire

On Navigating

Photo of couple laughing in front of weeping willow
Photo by @kellap

2020 hasn’t been an easy year to be in an interracial relationship navigating cultural differences. And still, I am grateful. Yes, this year brought us uncertain times and hard conversations. But it also brought vision, clarity, and depths we otherwise might not have known. I am grateful that we get to build something solid and lasting in the year when next to nothing has been sure!

It also brought vision, clarity, and depths we otherwise might not have known.

@mariel.leigh

On People & Place

Group hug in front of moving van
Selfie of friends snuggled in blanket giving a thumbs up

Spring 2020 I had plans to move from Minnesota to Colorado. A week before my move, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Despite this and the pandemic, I forged ahead. I spent five amazing, life-changing months in Colorado before returning to Minnesota for good.

In those fast five months, I moved my whole life, learned a new way to live with my new chronic illness, and met a group of friends that showed me more love than I ever knew possible. In the midst of two of the scariest times of my life, somehow the world still showed up and gave me these beautiful people who kindly wished me "good luck finding better friends."

Man do I have my hands full with that one.

The world still showed up and gave me these beautiful people.

@cjmunizphotography

On Enjoying the Moment

Little girl playing in the afternoon tide

After a long and stressful day, we come to a part of the beach that others have left us to enjoy alone. My niece hops and dances around in the water. While others worry, she parades around without a care in the world. This reminds us that we need to take a step back, and enjoy the moment.

Regardless of surrounding circumstance or world concerns that wash in as you leave, enjoy the tides as much as possible. Be in the moment. Peace and serenity will come like a childlike wonder. I see these photos of her and it takes me back; I am at peace.

Little girl laughing as she runs from tide rolling in

I see these photos of her and it takes me back; I am at peace.

@vipham_

On the Lengths We Go

Fatherr and daughter dancing at small backyard wedding
Photo by @black.frame.photos

I am forever grateful for the loving and kind parents in my life, and right now, especially my dad. My handy dad did so much to create the beautiful backyard wedding we didn’t know we wanted until Covid happened. He ran electrical lines, hung up lighting, rerouted water lines, leveled grass, and so much more to ready his backyard for us. This one day is a large representation of the lengths he would go for me and my family.

I am forever grateful for the loving and kind parents in my life... especially my dad.

@amymatsanoff

On Making Lemonade

Photo of bride and groom holding hands and laughing
Photos by @parkerdanielphotography

After six years together and a year of planning, the country went into lockdown one month before our wedding. Being from England, it meant that none of my friends and family would be able to fly out, and our hopes of 140 guests vanished overnight. We didn’t struggle for long with a new plan though — we had waited long enough and we wanted to be married!

So we pulled together a guest list of six (his parents, siblings, friend). Our officiant agreed to marry us outside and we asked a good friend and budding photographer to take photos. I made the bouquets myself and my sister in law did my hair and makeup. Everything came together and we had the best day of our lives.

We streamed it on Facebook so that friends and family around the world could feel part of it. Seeing all the posts afterward of our would-have-been guests toasting us with champagne, as we were pronounced husband and wife, was pretty magical. We are so grateful that we had our day and are now over six months into our married life.

We are excited to plan a reception once the world has healed, and we have a feeling it’s going to be one hell of a party!

Photo of wedding party with bride and groom

We had waited long enough.

@rosyann_9

On Gratitude

Tent at the edge of an alpine lake

Gratitude. This image embodies my gratefulness for health, family, and escapes into nature — that even in the midst of chaos we can seek and find these moments of peace and contentment. While this trip was originally scheduled for an earlier date, unforeseen circumstances postponed it to October. But this turned out to be the best time to do it, with a gorgeous weekend and high spirits. Backpacking to Tuck and Robin Lakes will forever be a picturesque memory for me.

Even in the midst of chaos we can seek and find these moments.

@lmpetruczenko

On Welcome Additions

Cross-stitch of family photo
Pair of pups peering into baby basket

This year has been hard and unpredictable for everyone. So we were extremely thankful to find out we would be expecting our first child! Preparing to be first time parents this year has been an adventure, but something we had hoped for for a while now. So even though this year has been full of craziness, we have been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel: welcoming a new life to the world!

Preparing to be first time parents this year has been an adventure.

@michellecomptonphotography

On Permanence

Toddler riding tractor with grandfather

When we lived near both my husband and I's parents, I took their nearness and availability for granted. Now that we are a military family, our time together has become more precious to me, but still only a matter of the cost of a plane ticket. When the pandemic became a factor, my children's time with their grandparents suddenly became in my eyes what it had always been: a time to treasure, moments that were not promised, but gifted to us.

The awareness that someday our parents will no longer be around has become much more pressing to me in 2020, and I am so grateful for any memories I have the privilege to capture. Someday, my children will be grown, and will hold these memories in their hands, like I have sifted through so many photos of my grandparents and great grandparents. What a treasure to be able to hold them and tell on.

Someday, my children will be grown, and will hold these memories in their hands.

@kellysweda

On Simple Pleasures

Photo by Kelly Sweda of hands in the grass

My teenage stepdaughter asked if we could go out somewhere pretty in nature and take photos, just for fun. It was a perfect, socially distanced outing and I remember it feeding so much in my creative soul that had gone missing. I'd been mourning my life and my freedom and my friends and my job as a family photographer — mourning not being able to photograph families in the wildflowers we seem to only get for a minute each spring.

But as my girls and I played around in the middle of this open field, I felt my cup start to fill, my fear and sorrow replaced with joy. Joy for simplicity, for scaling back, for the easy pleasure that comes with being creative. This has been the greatest takeaway for me of 2020: my newfound appreciation and need for simple pleasures, the closeness of a tight-knit family and a few close friends, a slower way of life.


Photo by Kelly Sweda of wildflower bouquet
Photo by Kelly Sweda of girl lying in the grass

As my girls and I played around in the middle of this open field, I felt my cup start to fill.

@brynnjthorn

On Tradition

Man hanging homemade pasta

It has truly been a blessing living so close to my parents — for so many reasons! One of my favorite things has been being able to watch my dad prepare his delicious batch of spaghetti for our routine "Spaghetti Sunday" dinner. Two Sundays ago I documented it by taking pictures. I loved this moment because I got to spend time with my dad and document something he is extremely passionate about!

I loved this moment because I got to spend time with my dad and document something he is extremely passionate about!

@kjsnavelynn

On Good Company

Trio of toddlers playing on bed
Trio of toddlers giggling

Gratitude, for me this year, is time spent with these little faces. 2020 has been a roller coaster ride for us all, but despite all the bad, this year has afforded our family more time together than we’ve ever experienced. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Gratitude, for me this year, is time spent with these little faces.

@e.greenhalgh

On Magic

Man riding bike by a lake

This November started unseasonably warm for Wisconsin. The combination of daylight savings and it being later in the year provided the perfect combination for a stunning sunset bike ride by the lake on our way home home from the library. I'm grateful that I'm able to spend a little extra time with my husband and toddler right now, and find a little bit of magic in the everyday moments amid the chaos.

A little bit of magic in the everyday moments amid the chaos.



Here's to the good that found you,
and the great that awaits.



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