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My Unforgettable African Adventure – a Mana Pools, Zimbabwe safari

A few weeks have passed since my return from the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, and I’ve had a little time to really digest the experience, edit photos and try to do my adventure justice through words and imagery here.

Truth be told, an African safari was never on my bucket list.  Sure, I’d always thought it would be an amazing experience but I had other dreams and destinations to tackle.  Africa seemed so far out of reach.  And then I was blessed with an opportunity I couldn’t pass up—one that I’m forever grateful for.

Our seven days in the “bush” was simply magical.  This was no cushy sit-in-the-Land rover and peer through binoculars safari.  We were literally tracking animals in the wild with our legendary guide, Stretch, twice a day for seven days. What we encountered was heart-stopping, exhilarating and once-in-a-lifetime.  We were face to face with (and charged by at times) elephants and a lioness guarding her cub.  We stood feet from a pack of lions, wild dogs, water buffalo, hippos, kudu, hyenas, elan, impala, baboons, zebras, crocodiles, warthogs and more.

I saw some of the most beautiful birds and sunsets I’ve ever seen. I saw the Southern Cross (not visible here in the Northern Hemisphere) and stars so vivid, you could reach out and grab them. I sat in the Zambezi River viewing Zambia’s majestic mountains just across it.  I listened to elephants, hippos and hyenas stirring outside my tent at night.  I watched a baby elephant nurse and in the same moment, two female elephants interlock their trunks in a display of affection that brought tears to my eyes.  Did you know that when elephants haven’t seen each other in a while, they will do this to show they missed each other?  Amazing.

I truly miss the African light painting the land in gorgeous warm tones.  I miss tea time under a tree, enjoying a snack and a rest before more exploration.  I miss our guide—our illustrious, fearless and funny guide, Stretch. His stories and laugh will stay with you.  I miss the anticipation of what we might see and the excitement when we did see it.  I miss random animals visiting our camp at any given time. You just never know what will happen on a safari!

One of the many blessings from my trip was one I didn’t foresee.  We walked a lot – up to five miles each trek through the bush every day.  I know that isn’t a lot to some, but for me it was quite an accomplishment.  I haven’t been very active in the last few years due to a bad back and to be able to walk and get much needed exercise without hurting, really empowered and encouraged me.  I love how God is truly everywhere and in ways you don’t expect.  We just have to be mindful of it.

This year has been quite the opposite of my previous one – full of new friends and travel adventures, and more importantly the person that made this trip possible for me.  Thank you, Jason, for bringing so much joy and adventure into my life!

And now for some favorites from Zimbabwe.  A piece of my heart was left there for sure.

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My favorite shot from this trip – she was guarding her cub and not too happy about our intrusion.

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A typical evening drive – loved our group!  (And that’s a statue of Ganesh on our Land Rover.  Two of our new friends on the safari currently live in India and brought him for good luck while the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival was currently going on back home for them.)

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Cindy had these lovely scarves made for all of us with “Let’s Get Serious – Mana 2013″ embroidered on them.  “Let’s Get Serious” is one of Stretch’s famous lines.

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Tracking animals with one of our guides – on the right, a hyena.

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With Jason and Dan – thanks, Dan, for bringing us along on this great adventure!

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Stretch watching for animals while Ganesh watches over him

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Love this group shot all wearing our new scarves!  Thanks again, Cindy, for coordinating this unforgettable trip!

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And some fun shots from my Instagram:

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Never leave your flipflops outside your tent at night – they make for a good hyena snack.

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October 15, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Angie - Beautiful images Heather and I am SO happy that you are SO happy!!!

October 15, 2013 - 8:13 pm

Heather Dunavin - Thank you so much Angie!!

January 16, 2014 - 2:48 pm

Tiffany - Just looking back through some pics, you should definitely sell some of these from your safari!

January 21, 2014 - 1:56 pm

Heather Dunavin - thank you Tiffany! I’ve thought about it!!

Amber is Expecting ~ and I’m going to be a great Auntie again! {Dallas Family Photographer}

I’m going to be a great auntie again!!  I can’t believe my nephew, Chance, and his lovely bride-to-be, Amber, are having a little girl come January.  They wanted to announce the gender via Facebook a couple weeks ago with some images so we incorporated pink balloons – a lovely nod to baby sister to come!  And Amber’s little boy, Jaxon, has completely stolen my heart.   Thank you Amber and Chance for a fun morning.  I pray God’s many blessings for your growing family and that you’ll always look to Him for guidance.  And if you can – try to have that little angel on my birthday in Jan.;-)

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Hope in the Heartache ~ Baby Noah is Almost Here! {Dallas baby photographer}

You know those people you meet and you just know that God put them in your life for a reason. Or vice versa?  I met Tiffany a couple years ago while we were both attending physical therapy.  With her interest in photography and me being in the business, our amazing PT (now my good friend) Jen, hooked us up.  Tiffany would shadow me and more importantly assist me on several shoots after our first meeting.  I’m so thankful for the many times she provided backup for me, and particularly one long day of shoots for a charity I’m involved with – Genesis Women’s Shelter.  I always get a bit emotional in those and it’s hard for me to separate the personal and professional.  But Tiffany was exactly what I needed that day and has been a calm voice, a light for the Lord and an encouraging cheerleader during some of my darkest times.  I can definitely see how God led her to be a therapist/clinical social worker.

Some time in the last year and a half we lost touch for a bit, both going through personal crises.  I would later find out that after three years of trying for a baby, she and her husband, Jeremy, lost their baby daughter at 11 weeks who was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome.  Tiffany was diagnosed with Mosaic Turner Syndrome and sadly found out that less than 30% of women with it have a chance of getting pregnant or being able to carry to term.  She also found out she was in premature ovarian failure at the age of 29 and if she didn’t do IVF immediately, they probably wouldn’t have a chance to conceive.   That same week, they prayed for God’s direction in knowing if IVF was right for them.  And God answered. And He answered in a big way.  Jeremy received an unexpected raise for the EXACT amount of the IVF financial quote, medicine and all.  There was hope.  Even when they were told by another IVF doctor that she wouldn’t even try with them due to Tiffany’s Mosaic TS.  There was hope.

After a first cycle with only two eggs, both unhealthy, Noah was the only egg in their second IVF cycle and he quickly shot all the statistics down.  There again, was hope. Noah is due the first week of September and I cannot wait to meet and photograph this precious gift from God in his entire first year.  This baby has been prayed for by so many and I’m overjoyed for Tiffany and Jeremy.

We recently did Tiffany’s maternity session, fur babies and all, in anticipation of their sweet baby boy to come.  I think Tiffany and I both might have cried a tiny bit this day.  And I was reminded of many things.  I remembered the importance of what I do – preserving precious memories for families –  and why I love doing it.  I was reminded of the power of prayer and leaning on prayer warriors.  I was reminded that trusting in the Lord and having a hope that overcomes all obstacles is how I want to live my life every day.  And I was reminded that an unwavering faith brings great rewards.

Photographing this beautiful celebration of life truly makes me pause and give thanks – even for the heartaches.  I hope that you, too, will stop and give thanks for the good (and even the not so good) in your life.  He never gives up on us so why should we?  Sometimes the hardest part is just giving it over to Him.  But ultimately, His plan and purpose are far greater than we could ever imagine.  Thanks again, Tiffany and Jeremy, for entrusting me with your precious life moments and for sharing your story.

2 Chronicles 15:7
But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.

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August 24, 2013 - 4:52 pm

Stacia L - Heather,

You did an absolutely amazing job capturing their love and the pictures look amazing! Tiffany you look so beautiful. You & Jeremy are going to be the greatest parents. I know that Noah is a sweet miracle and you are going to raise him and guide him to be one amazing little guy! I can’t wait to meet Noah and I am so very happy for you & Jeremy!!

August 24, 2013 - 4:53 pm

Stacia L - Heather,

You did an incredible job capturing their love, the pictures look amazing! Tiffany you look so beautiful. You & Jeremy are going to be the greatest parents. I can’t wait to meet Noah and I am so very happy for you & Jeremy!!

August 26, 2013 - 2:40 pm

Heather Dunavin - Thanks so much Stacia! Appreciate you stopping by and the lovely comment. Tiffany and Jeremy are so blessed to have a great support group!