She's got purple hair and is covered in tattoos, but still the first thing you notice about her is her smile. This is the kind of girl that lights up every room she walks into. She's the kind of girl that will start every dance party, and she will keep you guessing on what's gonna pop up next on her playlist. She loves adventure and sees beauty in a way many don't, or maybe can't.
I first met Chesleigh on a road trip to New Orleans to see Hanson in concert. As if Hanson hasn't already done so much to make the world a better place, this blessed trio also introduced me to one of the world's most beautiful souls.
We spent the trip singing along to every Hanson song ever made (and, yes folks, it's more than just mmmBop. So much more...) and we rode trollies and photographed old alleyways, drank too many Hand Grenades, and talked to one or four mannequins. It was a memorable adventure to be sure, and the start of, as they say, "a beautiful friendship."
That was about seven years ago now, and as time has gone on we haven't hung out much in person, but thanks to the wonders of social media, I have watched her grow into an even more beautiful woman, business owner, and friend. She now runs her own photography business, and captures beauty and art and music and love and family in such a special way. You can feel the love she has for her clients, her friends, and for the experiences she chooses to be a part of.
When Chesleigh asked me to take her "Hello Thirty" birthday photos, I was absolutely stoked, not only because I felt honored to photograph this beautiful girl, but also because she wanted to do it on Jackson Lake Island a.k.a. the Town of Spectre a.k.a. the set where Big Fish was filmed. A beautiful setting for a beautiful lady, and what an awesome way to bring in a new glorious decade.
I don't know about you, but I like being around people who make me smile. The world needs more smiles, ya know? And Chesleigh is one of those special people whose smile means something too. It's not fake. She means it. She's been through too much not to.
Two time cancer survivor, you can't help but wonder at her bad-assery. (And stop putting the red line under that word, Spell Check. Bad-assery is totes a word.) She's literally kicked death in the face, and she lives with the kind of purpose that only a survivor can really understand. Her walk is intentional, her outlook is hopeful. Being around her is like hugging a rainbow. And I love rainbows.
One of my favorite quotes from Big Fish talks about our story, and how we each have an effect on one another. It may seem like a small thing, but every "little" action makes a difference in some way, it really does. I hope in the coming year we can all make choices that lift people up instead of putting them down. Say kind words, do generous deeds, smile more.
“We all have stories, just as you do. Ways in which he touched us, helped us, gave us money, sold it to us wholesale. Lots of stories, big and small. They all add up. Over a lifetime it all adds up. That's why we're here, William. We're a a part of him, who he is, just as he is a part of us. You still don't understand, do you?" I didn't. But as I stared at the man and he stared back at me, in my father's dream I remembered where we'd met before. "And what did my father do for you?" I asked him, and the old man smiled. "He made me laugh," he said.”
On our way back from Jackson Island, we stopped at Jim N Nick's BBQ for dinner. Chesleigh is dressed to the nines. She is the only one I see with purple hair. She is one of the few that asks the hostess how she's doing. She offers a smile to everyone she sees.
We sit and enjoy more conversation about life and love and heartbreak and which of the Hanson brothers is our favorite. She can't decide what she wants to drink. Or eat. Our waiter is immediately smitten with her. He flirts. She blushes.
She is the kind of girl who knows her worth, but she is also the kind of girl who has no idea how beautiful she is.
In the end, I think it's the little moments that define us. Not what we did for a living, or the places we got to visit, or how much stuff we were able to accumulate. It's every hello, and every smile, and every time you open the door for someone, and every "I love you" text and every "I miss you" hug. It's just being there when you're needed. Those are the moments that make a good life.
Thanks for all the good moments, sweet Chesleigh. Thanks for making us laugh, and thank you for being bold, and strong, and beautiful, and a smiler. The world is so much better with you in it. I hope this new year brings you all the joy and so much more.
I would love to hear more Chesleigh stories from those of you that know her, so please share some Chesleigh love in the comments below, even if it's just to say "I love her!" As with all of my I Am Me sessions, if this post gets 20+ comments, I will gift Chesleigh with her favorite 8x10 print from the session, AND each commenter will be entered in for a chance to win 20% off their own I Am Me session, so be sure to share as well!
Happy New Year everyone!
All photos copyright Jessi Lambert | Jessi Casara Photography