Monday, October 21, 2013

A Letter to My Sweet Jude (Monday Memories: March 2013 Edition)

Dear Jude,

"You make me happy."  That's one of your phrases that you said to me this year over and over again.  Actually, buddy, YOU make ME happy.  I don't think you'll ever know just how happy you make me. The way you giggle when you're tickled, the way your eyes disappear when I ask you to smile, and the way you sing made up songs with made up words, those are the things that bring a smile to my face.

Your vocabulary grew so much this year, little buddy.  I think you might even be talking more than your big brother was at this age (which is a feat in and of itself!).  You have opinions, you tell long stories, and you've even been known to "read" a story or two lately.  My favorite phrases from you this year have been: "You make me happy.", "I love you with my whole heart.", and "I barfed at Culver's." (very single time we see a Culver's sign).

You still loooooove music.  I mean, love it.  You have a preference for certain kinds of music, you love to have family dance parties, you smile when you hear Hosanna,  you know every word to The Fox song, and you even know John Mayer when you hear him.  Anytime daddy pulls out his guitar you either run to your drum set to accompany him or you pick up your guitar to play along.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll follow right in his footsteps and lead others in worshipping God one day.

This year you've finally discovered what it means to play with your brother.  Now, the two of you might have an occasional argument over what belongs to whom, but for the most part, you really do love each other.  You are also very adamant about people calling you "brother."  If someone calls you a big boy or a tiny boy or a cutie pie, you respond with, "No, I'm a brother!"  I think my heart pretty much melts every time you hug Joel and and say things like, "I love my brother."  and "I love you, Joely."  Can you please call him Joely forever?

One of the best things about you, however, is your sense of humor.  At two years old, you already have a sense of humor and can make us laugh with actual jokes and funny gestures.  I'm not just saying this because I'm your mommy, I'm saying it because it's really true.  You are legitimately funny in a way that makes me realize how smart you are.  And although there are many other qualities that ultimately make a great man, a keen sense of wit and humor are right up there in my book.  I mean, look at your daddy.  That's one of the reasons I married him and he continues to make me laugh each and every day.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, you came into my life at just the right time.  God knew what he was doing when He created you.  You have brought sunshine into my life and ultimately, having you changed my life, Jude.  You turned me into a stay-at-home mom like I had always wanted to be because I just couldn't bear leaving you in daycare every day of the week.  You have joined our family with gusto and you continue to surprise us with who you are and who you are becoming every day.  I love you, brother.


P.S. Thanks to your Uncle Gabe and Aunt Lori, we had an awesome family party for your 2nd birthday.  You have so many people that love you.  You are one blessed little guy....I mean, brother.

One night this spring, Joel was extra tired and went to bed early.  That gave you and me a rare time together at night; just the two of us.  I decided to pull out my camera and snap some pictures so I wouldn't forget that special night with you.  You giggled, you looked through some 3D glasses, and you gave me lots and lots of snuggles.  I'm going to pull a Mary on this one and keep that night tucked away in my heart.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pursuit 31 + The Story of How God Changed Me

Two weeks ago I got on a plane and flew to Georgia all by myself to attend the Pursuit 31 Conference.  I'll admit, I was a bit scared.  I mean, I do a lot of things by myself, but attending a conference with 140 other women I didn't know and sharing a room with a person I'd never spoken to, well, that was a bit intimidating.  I even tried to come up with ridiculous excuses at the last minute as to why I shouldn't go.  Well, God seriously had other plans.  He knew I needed to be right there in Rome, Georgia with those women to hear a message that He had prepared for me.  It was if all of the months leading up to the conference were leading me to this very week.

Let me preface what I'm about to say by saying that I love being in ministry.  I love being married to a minister because I really love people.  I love being a counselor because I love listening to people and helping them.  Ministering to people and showing them just how much God loves them is where it's at.  I would prefer to spend an entire day hanging out with people than spending time alone reading a book and reflecting.

However, you see, in ministry I spend a lot of time ministering to other people.  It's not usually the other way around.  This week, I was ministered to for the first time in a long time and it was utterly and completely overwhelming.  It was uncomfortable.  It felt awkward.  My only jobs were to sit, listen, worship, eat, sleep, and relax.  That last word was the kicker.  I kept feeling like I needed to get up and do something.  "Wasn't there someone I needed to listen to?  Don't they need help cleaning that up?  Shouldn't I organize that?  Am I smiling enough?"  Yep, that was my inner dialogue.

Maybe that's why this week spoke to me so much.  Correction: maybe that's why I actually heard what God has been trying to tell me for a very long time.  I was ripe for the harvest.  I stopped being busy (even in ministry) long enough to really hear Him.  I couldn't keep Him at bay.  I couldn't fill up my time with busyness.  I had to fill up my time with Him.

It could seriously take me months of blog posts to pour out everything God put on my heart this week.  To keep it to one blog post seems impossible, so I'll simply sum up my biggest takeaways here.  My prayer is that it will somehow minister to someone who happens to read this that might be feeling the very same way I was.

Some situations aren't always fair, but they're purposeful.
Um, yes.  This was uttered by the founder of Pursuit 31, Karen Stott, on the very first night of the conference in reference to the life of Joseph.  I quickly scribbled it down in my journal and then sat there and let it wash over me.  God spoke through Karen that night straight to my heart.  This summer at CIY Move, they covered the life of Joseph and how God worked through him.  I heard it and talked the students through it, but did I really hear it?  No.  I certainly heard it this week.  There have been a few major situations in my life in the last five years that have challenged my idea of what it means to be a follower of God in all circumstances.  I am happy to say that for the most part, I've come out on the other side of those things knowing that there was a purpose.  Karen's talk about the life of Joseph drove that home for me.  It was if God was saying, "See, I told you so.  There was a purpose in all of those things you went through."

If it's not working for everyone else around me, it's not working for me.
Bob Goff came and spoke one morning.  If you have no idea who he is, stop reading this, Google him and order his book Love Does immediately.  It truly changed the way I love people.  It gave me that extra kick in the pants that I needed to extend the kind of grace that I was missing with my love.  I was most excited to hear him speak and he did not disappoint.  Although there were many, many great quips from his talk, this one was the most profound for me.  So many times in the last few years I think my family has suffered from a lack of time and attention from me because of this silly photography business I'm running.  Well, ultimately if the way I'm doing things is not working for them, then it's really not working for me either.

I know what I'm good at.  Now I just need to go do it. [Bob Goff]
It's true.  I don't know how many days I've wasted thinking things like, "When I'm able to do this..."  "When this happens..." "When I improve at that, then..." Well, I'm already good at things.  A lot of things really.  Now I just need to do them and stop trying to be better at the other things I'm not.  Duh.    Sounds simple I know, but it's almost like I was waiting for someone to give me permission to stop being so darn hard on myself.

Do a cannonball!  Stop just dipping my toe in.  [Romans 8 and Bob Goff]
Romans 8.  Go read it.  It is one motivational book of the Bible.  We are the ones who aren't supposed to be afraid of anything.  So I need to stop overanalyzing everything and just go for it.  I'm going to love more, take the kids to the zoo even on a "school" day, and let them eat ice cream for lunch once in awhile.  Watch out, world.  

Am I seeking happy or Him? (Proverbs 19:21 and Philippians 4:4)
This was a big one.  Lara Casey pulled up a ton of cute Pinterest quotes like "Happiness depends on ourselves.  Choose to be happy.",  "Whatever you decide to do, be sure it makes you happy.", and "Life is better when you're laughing."

Now, let me start by saying I actually had no idea who Lara Casey was when I came to the conference.  My roommate Lindsey laughed when she heard me say that.  Lindsey is a florist and dress shop owner and has provided services for countless weddings.  She knew exactly who Lara Casey was.  A quick Google search revealed that she is, oh, the editor-in-chief of Southern Weddings Magazine.  But you know what?  She did not boast about that one bit.  She brought the word of God to us and not just brought it, but PREACHED it.  I was blown away by her Biblical knowledge and when I visited her blog, she has an entire section dedicated to Bible study.

I say all of that about Lara to point out that she went right for what really mattered in her talk with us: God.  His plan for our lives.  His leading.  In fact, all of the women that spoke lifted up God as their center and not feeble happiness, the approval of others, or even celebrity.  Our happiness and joy come from the Lord and what he has in store for our lives.  "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4  "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21

Throughout the week, we were led in worship each night.  I was not familiar with one single song when I showed up, but grew to love this one by the time I left.  There are a lot of other words in this amazing song, but these are the very words I have adopted as my lifesong this year.

Oceans by Hillsong United

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your Name

Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
am Yours and You are mine

Although I initially thought this was a photography conference for Christian women, it obviously turned out to be so much more.  In fact, I only pulled my camera out once for a styled shoot and then it went right back in my bag.  I used my phone's camera.  It felt good.  Here are the very few shots I took during the week:

I was incredibly blessed, refreshed, uplifted and renewed by the ministry of Pursuit 31 during that week unlike ever before.  If you are a woman who loves Jesus and owns a creative business and you're looking for a community of like-minded women, please check them out.  It will be worth the steps you take to connect with other creative sisters in Christ.  I know it was for me.

Thank you to the amazing sponsors for the week:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Memories + Some Reflection

So about five months ago, I declared that I was choosing my kids over work.  In that same post, I think I indicated that I'd be writing here much more than I had in the last year.  I'm happy to say that I have stood behind declaration #1.  Declaration #2, however as you can see, not so much.

Today I want to change that.  I want to tell you that this year...

...When I first decided to stay home last fall, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The day to day of staying home and homeschooling was hard.  I'm happy to say, I think I've finally hit my groove.  Raising these boys each and every day and the amount of time I get to spend with them is amazing.

...I've re-discovered what it feel like to be artistically inspired.  I've found this through my Bible, my husband, traveling, music, books, experiences with students, and my ever-entertaining kids.  I feel a renewed sense of living life out loud and with purpose.

...I have stepped into the role of being a youth leader again.  I went to things like ICTC and the 30-Hour Famine for the first time in 5 years.  We brought a babysitter to CIY MOVE so I could actually be in the group times and worship with the students.  Let me tell you, mentoring these students is a big part of what was missing in my life for quite some time.  I absolutely love letting God use me to serve Him in this way.

...I hesitantly raised my prices for my photography business in order to work less and make more.  Guess what?  People are still booking sessions.  I've also recently been given an opportunity to expand my business into a local market I've been praying about getting into.  God specifically provided exactly what I had been praying about.  It's funny how things work out that way.

...I'm officially hooked on homeschooling.  I started Kindergarten with Joel not knowing if I would continue, but after he showed me that he's reading like a champ, getting to hang out with plenty of new friends, and thriving while doing it, I'm sold.  He is one smart cookie and I can't believe I get to spend every day with him and his brother.

Well, that's a brief and concise recap of the last year.  I also recently came back from an amazing conference called Pursuit 31.  It really requires an entire post  on it's own, so for now I will just say that it was literally life changing.

And in honor of what I'm calling Monday Memories today, I'm pulling some shots out of the vault from last February.  Nothing completely special to some, but utterly special to me.  The boys were showing me their magic tricks and Jude wanted to make sure I knew there was "nothing up his sleeve."  It was also a time when I made kindly asked them to help me test some light in the front living room.  As you can see, they gladly obliged and even got into the spirit of things with some of their signature faces (and hugs, eek!).


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Happy 6th Birthday, Joel!

Dear Joel,

This morning when you woke up, you became six years old.  Well, technically, it won't happen until around 2:30 pm, but who's keeping track?  I know parents say this all of the time, but I really don't know where the time has gone.  Somedays it feels like these last six years have flown by and other days, you give me a real run for my money.

This year you learned a TON of new things.  Daddy taught you to ride a bike without training wheels.  I taught you how to read.  You taught yourself how to love your brother even more (well, you might have had a little coaxing from Mom and Dad).  You are even about to complete your first year of school (Kindergarten!) and have learned math, reading, and writing.

You also discovered a love for swimming and proved that you could spend upwards of 6 hours in a pool in one day if we would let you.  You are like a fish when you get in the water.  You slap on your mask and you are on the go!  I love watching you play in the water and have so much fun.

We even surprised you and went to Disney World this year.  The look on your face was priceless when we told you we were flying to Florida. Today. To see Mickey.  It was such a special time for all of us together at Disney World and I'll never forget that you rode Expedition Everest NINE times as my brave, adventurous little boy.

You grew a lot this year both in stature and in spirit.  Do you know what that means?  Sorry for using big words, but those are the right ones to use sometimes.  You are quickly gaining on me in height and the top of your head is now just about up to my chin.  When I carry you, your feet are almost touching the ground.  Pretty soon you'll be carrying me!

By spirit, I mean your personality and the young man you are and are becoming.  You are so friendly and outgoing.  I watch you meet kids at the park with gusto, coming up with some complicated make-believe world together moments after you greet them.  I've watched you buy a Bible for your friend at church so she can have one with "books and verses and stuff."  I've watched you endure some bullying and heard you tell us that you learned to stand up for yourself and that God is helping you stay strong.

My most favorite part of the day is when we tuck you in at night and you ask me to stick around a bit longer to lay with you.  You end up telling me about what you were thinking during the day and you ask me all sorts of questions about myself.  Sometimes we just talk about our favorite colors and things to eat, but every once in awhile we talk about how much you love Teddy and what you and your friends talked about that day.  I love it that you want to talk to me and tell me what's on your heart.

I love that you are kind, loving, smart, talkative, friendly, generous, outgoing, brave and adventurous.  Most of all, I love that you are learning more and more about God and who He wants you to be.  You truly love God and love others.  I am so proud to be your Mommy.  My life is so much better because you are in it.


Here was your Power Rangers birthday surprise this morning.  You woke me up to tell me how much you loved it.

Helping mommy test some light...

You have so many cool Power Rangers moves.

These were your ideas of good poses.  Top left.  Oh my.

You and your handsome, handsome suit for the Royal Ball at church.

I think you're so funny and apparently you do, too.  Here you are cracking up at a video of yourself, mismatched socks and all.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Made My Choice

"When in doubt, choose the kids. There will be plenty of time later to choose work." - Anna Quindlen

It sounds simple in theory, but it has been difficult in practice.  I have spent way too much time over the last year taking pictures of everyone else's families that I've sort of forgotten how much I love to photograph my own.  It breaks my heart to admit that, but it's the truth.  The evidence of that can be seen right here on this long neglected blog.  It has taken me months to catch up on something that I once loved doing.  I've missed it.  I've missed chronicling our adventures and capturing the boys' faces nearly every day.  I mean, they are the driving force behind why I became a photographer in the first place.  Just read about it here.

Somewhere along the way, I got my priorities out of whack and over the last few months of being painfully introspective, I've come to some pretty big revelations about what is important to me and how I want to spend my time.
It has really been an amazing eight months being home full-time with the boys.  I'll admit that this whole transition from working mom to stay-at-home homeschooling mom has been a HUGE refining process that is sometimes uncomfortable and even painful.  However, ultimately the change has been what is best for me and my family and it has deepened my relationship with God more than I could have ever expected. I'm no expert on life, but I'm pretty sure those are the things that really matter.  I have learned that it is ok to be just Christ follower, wife, mom, ministry partner, and family member.  That's enough.  I don't even have to throw photographer in there.  Really, I don't.  Do you know how long it has taken me to come to that conclusion?  Too long.  

It's as if I've woken up from a deep, deep slumber and have become aware of the life around me that is waiting to be lived.  Right now.  Right in front of me.  It might sound a little dramatic, but it's so unbelievably true for me.  When I read this scripture recently, it was dead on:

“'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” —Ephesians 5:14

Gungor also has a song called "Wake Up Sleeper" that really gets to me every time I hear it.  I love Gungor, but when I first heard this song on the album, I didn't like it.  It has that Muse-y electronica sound that I cannot stand.  Usually when I hear that kind of music, I'm out.  However, this song really stuck with me and I didn't even hate it when it went into the electronic sounding ending.  In fact, I felt invigorated by it when it kicked in.  During that part, it says: 

Awaken us, awaken us
Open our eyes and wake us
Awaken us, awaken us
Open our eyes and wake us
Let your church now wake up

You can listen to it here, if you'd like:

Simultaneously, I've been reading more and more verses that have really spoken directly to my life at this point.  There are too many to list, but the most poignant include:

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” —Luke 12:25–26

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
—1 Thessalonians 5:16–18  

'Martha, Martha,'” the Lord answered, “'you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.' —Luke 10:41-42

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”—Isaiah 41:13

To top it all off, the weekly messages at my church feel like they've been pointed directly at me.  Ok, God, I get the point!  Live the kind of life that I list up there at the top of this blog - the John 10:10 life.  

I'm not entirely sure why it took quitting my job as a counselor and stepping away from photography for a few months for me to realize some of these things, but that's what it took for me.  It took having an empty calendar with absolutely zero photography sessions and no work commitments to bring me to this place.  I kept trying to figure out how all of these women I was reading about could be effective Christians, wives, moms and photographers all at the same time.  After reading a few candid posts by some of those women I admire, I came to the conclusion that I can't have it all.  If I spend tons of time building up my business, then my family suffers.  If I spend all of my time with my family, then my business just sits there.  So, I choose my family.  Plain and simple.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm not going to run a photography business anymore.  It just means from here on out, I'm going to work smarter, not harder.  I'm going to spend Sunday afternoons with my family and not out on some on-location photo shoot.

God has used these Scriptures and my life circumstances to refine and strengthen me.  He used the last few months to help me return to my real purpose - loving Him and loving others.

I am ready to rediscover the life around me that's for the taking each and every day I wake up.  I'm ready to savor the giggles, smiles, and discoveries that these amazing boys provide me with daily.  I'm ready to spend all of my extra minutes talking, dreaming, and watching too much reality TV with my husband.  I'm ready to pour more of myself into ministry and more specifically, building girls up to help them become the best women of God they can be.  I want to help people in my family, church, and community see that God loves them beyond measure and I do, too.

I know today is just March 13th.  It's just another normal Wednesday in a string of Wednesdays this year.  This isn't the time people normally make New Year's resolutions, but I think it's as good of a day as any.  This year, I commit to spending less time on my photography business and more time living each and every day with my family.  It sounds so simple, but you have no idea how much thought and energy I have put into making that one simple statement.

Now, I'm going to let myself off the hook for not updating this blog for the last six months and I think you should, too.  I mean, I could spend hours and hours writing about the update on Jude's hip displaysia, how homeschooling Joel is going, how we spent our holidays, our super fun trip to Wisconsin, or even Jude's 2nd birthday party, but I'm not going to.  Besides, if you're friends with me on Facebook or Instagram, you've seen plenty of pictures of our adventures along the way.  I'm going to allow myself to just start over this week and rediscover what it feels like to photograph my kids each day.  Here are the first set of shots to my fresh start - Jude's 2 Year pictures...along with some of his ever entertaining big brother Joel.

Whew.  It felt really good to type that.