home study #1

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today we had our first home study on this journey to become licensed foster care parents for refugee minors.

we sat around our table with a licenser and her supervisor, happily chatting, receiving instruction, answering questions, talking about why this is  road we’re walking in the first place.

and those reasons are so anticlimactic, so matter-of-fact.

and right now this entire thing feels so abstract, so far-off, so difficult to imagine.

part of me wants to do what i always do when i have Big Life Questions and want to anticipate and understand them: that is, i want to Google it. i want to devour articles and blogs and stories from others who’ve walked this road and been brave enough to share about it in a real way. but the google search results are yielding limited results, since the fostering of refugee foster kids is in so many ways a different animal than the fostering of american kids in the american system, and also less common, which means i haven’t been able to find a single blog/account/personal story of someone who has gone before us.

thankfully, we know a few families personally and we can pick their brains.

but really it might be best that i can’t piece together a detailed sketch of what this will be like: how it will feel to have him/her/them sitting at our table in the dark, quiet evenings, sharing a meal of food that i’ve learned to make just so that they’d feel a bit more at home, watching him/her/them play with my children in a manner at first tentative then surprisingly familiar, driving him/her/them to and from school, trying to communicate around language and cultural barriers, waking up to see his/her/their brown-skin faces greeting me.

how old will he/she/they be? we can’t seem to settle on a particular profile of The Sort of Kid(s) We Want, because we believe the Holy Spirit will tell us Yes or No on a case by case basis and really we can make anything work for a little while. and this sort of foster care is usually always just for a little while.

which leads me to wondering what it will be like to have him/her/them be here so briefly, requiring an opening of our hearts and hands and home to love and sacrifice, only to leave again, so soon and to such unknown futures.

the licensers told us today that the real need is for families who are open to taking teenage boys. boys will stay longer than just a few weeks because they are not transitional like the younger ones who are in pursuit of living family already in the country, but whom have no one else to go home to. they need a family that will stick with them for a long haul.

an african or south american teenage boy? for years? can we begin to imagine that?

tonight i told Hazel that daddy and mommy have been talking about having other boys and girls come live with us in our house.

me: “what do you think of that?”

h: “i think…good.”

me: “do you think it should be a boy or a girl?”

h: “a boy.”

me: “do you think it will be a big boy or a little boy?”

h: “a BIG boy!”

me: “like vivi’s big brothers max and ib (they are 15 and 16 years old, respectively, and one of them is a refugee from the Congo)? do you want a boy like that?”

h: “yes!”

i won’t read too much into that, but she’s been known to be weirdly prophetic in the past. i bless her open heart. later she exclaimed,”he come live in mine house with ME! i love mine house so much!”

on the occasion of your 9th month

towel-baby-1dear sweet boy of mine (buster, gus-gus, buddy, son),

yesterday you turned 9 months old, which means you have been outside of my body now just as long as you were inside of it. this also means that you are three-quarters of the way through your first year of life.

you are crawling around at lightning speed, usually goal-directed, with the kitty cat, a tempting toy, or your mama as the target destination. you pull yourself up to standing like it’s no big thing, and you can balance already quite well. if we hold your hands while standing behind you, you will take steps across a room. i am guessing you’ll walk before your first birthday.

you eat. bananas, avocados, potatoes (sweet and white ones), apples, gluten-free pasta with sauce, chicken curry with rice, broccoli (a favorite), beans, goat cheese, veggie-quinoa soup, strawberries, and almost anything that i am eating that i’ll share with you. you always eat more than i think you will. i think it’s possible that between you and your sister, daddy and i will be eaten out of house and home. such good appetites you have.

you sleep on your belly, even though i put you down on your back every time. you’re still in our room with us, in a pack ‘n play at the foot of the bed, disrupting me multiple times a night with your waking, sometimes because you want to nurse (you were too busy during the day to do it, so you make up for it at night), or because you want to practice your new developmental skills, or sometimes because you just need to sleep in my arms, beside me in the big bed.

but that’s just the physicality of you. your spirit is the more incredible thing to witness.

you move through your world with courageous curiosity and good humor. you are not easily startled by unfamiliarity or loud noises. you just move right into a space with an assumption that things will go well for you there. you rarely hang back. you take all things in stride, quietly and with a bemused smile on your face. some moments, you are squirming out of my arms in a way that seems to say, “let me at it!”

you are quick to laugh, especially at Hazel and any form of peek-a-boo, or mama’s face pushed into your belly on the changing table. you are slow to cry. usually it is only teething or hunger that will bring out your grunting, humming vocalization of displeasure or discomfort that most closely resembles crying but really isn’t crying by any traditional definition.

you are significant. you bring something to the table that matters, something no one else can bring. you are courageous and gentle. you make a difference.

i am so proud and so terribly grateful to be your mama. there is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you. you are my favorite son.

love,

mama

frustrated intentions

i intended to begin rising again before my babies do, to shower and dress and center on Truth, and drink a first cup of coffee.

          then G started more frequent night-wakings and i at the time i should be waking, it seems he’s just finally settling.

 

i intended to stop wearing frumpy things, like that much-too-large ivory polyester button-down sweater. 

          then it got really cold and it was so warm.

life & light : my first photography workshop

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[originally posted here]

i’ve toyed with the idea — largely due to having received so many requests — of having a workshop that would teach folks how to use their DSLRs the way they were intended to be used. it’s a real need. i mean, more and more of us have taken the plunge and purchased a nice DSLR camera, with high hopes of having better pictures to show for it, and then it somehow disappoints a bit. we realize that a good camera doesn’t automatically lead to great pictures. truth is, we have to learn how a camera works, what exposure is and how you achieve it, how to compose an artful image, how to meter and focus, etc. etc. if we don’t know how to do those things, the “Auto” setting is all that remains available to us, but “Auto” — though smart in certain ways — is not ever going to be a great photographer. because of this, i like the idea of spending a chunk of time equipping people to learn how to use the fantastic camera they’ve invested in, empowering them to take shots of their families and personal lives in a way that they can feel good about.

but there are lots of workshops out there to teach the technicalities, both online and in camera stores, and from other photographers. you don’t have to look far to learn how to use your DSLR.

so if i’m going to do something like this, i want to bring my unique self to the table, offered up as a gift to those who might feel inclined to receive me. and i think my particular gift, my niche, is this: to notice ordinary moments and to capture them in a way that let’s you see their beauty. this is the feedback i get the most often, and it’s also the gift that lays behind my two specialties of family photojournalism and birth photography. it’s how i photograph my own family, too.

that is what i hope to offer to you in this workshop. i want to invite you to sit in my living room around my wood stove on a wintery day. i want to offer you pastries and coffee while we sit down and have a conversation not just about the technicalities of DSLR use, but also about our lives. i want to take time together to practice gratitude and noticing and light.

i want to talk about how to use a DSLR with technical skill for the larger purpose of celebrating the life that’s unfolding around you, in all its glorious ordinariness. 

here’s what i’m envisioning it will look like: the first part of the day will be spent learning the how-tos of DSLRs while we sip our hot beverages, then we’ll move into conversation about telling a story with our photos and “finding beauty.” we’ll have a yummy lunch together while we talk more. then the afternoon will be space to practice what we’ve been learning and discussing, through a few different invitations.

because i want to keep this highly personal and want to give each participant the attention he/she deserves, space is limited to 6. so if this resonates with you, listen to that, get in touch with me, and register now.

i am so stinking excited.

love,

b

—-

12 hours after putting this workshop “out there” online (facebook, blog, email), it was completely filled up.

i feel like i’m onto something here. like i’ve stumbled onto a path that is right, which utilizes the unique giftings and competencies (photography, hospitality, seeing deeper beauty, encouraging women) Father has given me by His Spirit. i suppose this is because the entire vision and most of the details came flooding into my head space during a community worship session, and i had the distinct feeling it was from the Holy Spirit.

doing this sort of things — as cheesy as it might sound — really makes me feel really alive. if the glory of God is man fully alive, than i hope this brings Him glory.

feeling so blessed today.

why i fail at writing ministry updates

LoveFeast-9.11.13-15when i first moved in over here to this westside neighborhood, knowing the statistics about its crime and poverty, and seeing with my own eyes that it was most definitely very different than anywhere i had lived in my privileged life thus far, i wrote on my blog a lot about the lives of the folks i was meeting. i wrote about the people we were helping and how. i wrote about what they were struggling with and my yearning to see them have more. i wrote freely partly because i knew they would never read it (they wouldn’t have internet connection or a computer) and because most of it i would say to their faces, too.

but these days i can’t find it in me to write about “them.” nor can i even see their unfolding stories with the crystal clear precision that i once thought i could. i don’t know how to summarize who they are, why they struggle, what’s going on in their lives/hearts, or what God is up to in their stories.

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so when it comes time to attempt to write for the boiler room blog, or to write a ministry update letter, i get so stuck. i sit there thinking about the people we are here on the westside to serve, and i think, “i can’t think of anyone! what are we even DOING over here?!” (yeah, sometimes self-doubt and panic set in). but it isn’t true that there isn’t anyone we’re serving, nor is it true that God isn’t writing a good story with their lives… it’s just that… well, maybe it’s simply that “they” have become “us.” what were once case studies are now long-term, living-and-changing relationships with people. and though their number is few, the relationships are deepening and enduring.

the people we’re here to serve now serve alongside us, setting up feasts and serving meals. the people we’re here to minister to now share keen scriptural insight at Sunday gathering. the folks we’ve been praying for now offer up their own startlingly potent prayers.

and, yes, they are — some of them — still addicted or unemployed or living on the streets or struggling in relationships or looking for a free set of mittens on a cold day.

how can all of that be true at once? how do i put that in a ministry update? how do i make a statistic out of that?

a harder week

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i tried to start a fire in the wood stove so that i could sit here and write in front of it. the fire did not take. so the scene of this writing isn’t as romantic, nor as cozy as i hoped to be able to report to you, reader-friends. :)

you may have noticed that i’ve been quiet in this space. i had one other post drafted last week but in the end it sounded preachy somehow. i wasn’t comfortable with that. so i scrapped it. but i’ve been having trouble coming up with things to say.

this week has been hard. hard isn’t a very good descriptor; it’s much too vague. this week has been full of a raw emotional vulnerability, saying hard things and having hard things said back. it has been a scary week, a week in which i’ve fallen into the temptation to doubt the value and course of our ministry because a very recent Series of Unfortunate Events formed one big question of “what the hell is going on here?” in my heart. and i didn’t know whether it meant God was trying to put the brakes on things or just to invite us into another layer of trust and steadfastness. in the end, steadfastness turns out to be closer to the truth, i think. i’m grateful that He spoke that word (along with other wonderfully reassuring ones) over us and our team. I Corinthians 15:58 has felt like an answer: “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of The Lord, knowing that in The Lord your labor is not in vain.”

but whenever we are facing the possibility of not getting our next paycheck — as we are right now (it is one of the Series of Unfortunate Events), and which is also a prospect that we face at least once each year — i crumble into a pile of worry and resentment and then go into problem-solving, striving, i’m-going-to-take-care-of-myself-because-clearly-YOU-are-NOT mode. i’ve known that this compulsive chain reaction indicates that need for some healing or sanctification, or maybe both. so tim and i spent the week fasting and praying about it.

[as an aside, can i share with you a bit of what it's like to live on the financial support of people who love you and Donors Who Shall Remain Anonymous? friends, it is not an easy thing. if you are not careful, you fill find yourself often in a state of questioning yourself, the work you are doing and how you are doing it, always asking if it's good spiritually enough, the results obvious enough, the numbers impressive enough to deserve the gifts of your hard-working counter-parts who earn their paychecks at for-profit companies. in seasons when the number of people you're "reaching" seems small, or the fruit in their lives invisible, you may wonder if you're wasting everyone's money in order to keep living in this God-forsaken place under chronic low-grade stress that comes from being in close proximity with poverty and abuse and social injustices that your ministry doesn't seem to be able to penetrate with life-changing gospel news in ways that you think your donors might expect (as if it's really ultimately your job or at all under your control). and if you buy yourself something pretty or go on a vacation, you may feel an almost irresistable urge to (a) hide it, (b) downplay it or (c) somehow explain yourself for having spent money on it. you may start to fear that your friends will dread seeing you because they anticipate you asking for support, and you struggle to believe that it may actually be a gift and a joy for them to give it.  no, this is not an easy thing. so when there's a financial rough patch at the boiler room, my desire to somehow escape our status as ministers living on support goes through the roof.]

then God spoke Prov 31:25 to me through another member of our Core Team. “She can laugh at the time to come,” it says. She can laugh partly because she’s prepared and she knows how to care for her family in hard times using what she has on hand and the wits God’s given her. but even more so, i think the reason she can laugh at the future is because she knows who her Papa is, and that He’s holding her fast, and that He isn’t interested in seeing His children beg for bread, and that He’s wealthy and fully sufficient. furthermore, she can laugh because even if the time to come is hard and she is not rescued from the hard things, still she can expect a great gift from that Father who doesn’t give indigestible stones where there should be nourishing fish. He might not rescue her from a missed paycheck, but He will give her provision for what’s really needed, or an experience of His nearness that shrinks all her earthly concerns to something the size of an inconsequential pebble compared to the eternal worth of knowing Him. So I chose to start laughing. and worshiping. even when i still had no idea how we’d pay all the bills this month. there has been so much freedom in that, and so much joy.

as if the Series of Unfortunate Events were not enough, one of my buttons was pushed by another Core Team member in what was really an innocent email in the wake of the Unfortunate Events. and instead of waiting until the maelstrom of emotions subsided enough for me to see straight, i responded through my tears of insecurity and anger and fear, which sent that person and that person’s spouse into something of a tailspin for a couple of days. that whole process also shed light on a way i’ve been relating to tim that is not as it ought to be, and to confess that before him and ask his forgiveness and then to receive it was hard and weepy work, too. and though we [all] have been able to make things right, there’s a residue of embarrassment and disappointment in myself for not acting very much like the woman i like to think that i am, or –worse yet — for not actually even being that woman. it’s so humbling. and i’ve felt so raw and exposed, even as i’ve received grace.

i’ve been so preoccupied with the unresolved relationship tension and the quest to figure out a plan b for our finances, that i have been checking out on my kids and my daily household tasks, looking for ways to escape (obsessive Instagram checks!), finding solace in things that don’t actually satisfy, because i just didn’t know how to help myself, or haven’t felt up to helping myself. i spent one day in a funk so deep that i actually hid from everyone and refused to attend our weekly community meal because i knew i could cry at the drop of a hat. instead, i ate lots of cookies and went to bed early.

BUT He doesn’t leave me here, at least not alone, and certainly not forever. i’ve interspersed testimony to that fact in the midst of my sharing about the struggles, i hope. He’s faithful and He’s worth it all.

and it looks like — breaking news! — we might not miss that paycheck after all.

so this is me, very much still in process. feeling like the world’s worst missionary (i’ll fight you for the title, Jamie). clinging to the steadfast love of my Father and trying to emulate that steadfastness. writing “Jesus, we trust you” in huge letters on the chalkboard wall and trying to mean it. worshipping. forgiving myself. keeping my hand to the plow to do the work He’s giving me to do in spite of my imperfection in doing it.

life is art

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there is a folder on my hard drive called Life Is Art. and it is full of other folders — one for each season for the last several years — of photos of our ordinary life and the people in it. they are not photos of events, just moments, or found beauty in our home, around our neighborhood, or wherever else i’ve been.

this quirky form of photo organization might be explainable by telling you that i am a Type 4 on the Enneagram. one of the hallmark characteristics of a Type 4 is a craving — perhaps even a real need — for beauty.

Whether you are organizing your living space to reflect your refined tastes or engaging in an artistic pursuit, it is essential for your sense of well being that you express your creativity.

Profound and insightful, you have an uncanny knack for transforming the dull and the ordinary into the exciting and extraordinary.

You appreciate the special, the humane and the beautiful. You like to put your personal signature on everything that you do.

(source)

and boy is this true for me. i craft my living spaces with incredible care. i choose beautiful and unique things (that doesn’t mean expensive or name brand, just things that are beautiful to ME) and have a super low tolerance for anything tacky, common, or merely utilitarian in my home. i hesitate sometimes to share this about myself, as i know it can seem snobby or shallow. and, when i photograph these details of my life and share them publicly, like on instagram or facebook, i know it might appear that i’m presenting something more perfect or posed than could possibly be real. i want to be authentic (ha! another hallmark of an enneagram type 4), so it’s uncomfortable for me to think that i’m coming across as something other than that.

but, given that i am not a painter or a crafter, life is my art form. and the reason my photographs are beautiful is partly due to the fact that i am always trying to make everything beautiful! it’s not just for the camera, it’s for my sanity. my sense of wellbeing shoots through the roof when i can create — or reorder — a lovely space and sit within it, either with people i love or by myself.

i was the girl who brought a folder full of photos, quotes, and other pretty things to my week-long summer camp each year so that i could decorate my bunk area!! seriously. as if i could not endure even a single week without beauty surrounding me, without owning and shaping a pleasing environment to rest in.

this has interesting implications for me as a photographer. see, beauty is such a large prerequisite to my creative inspiration that if i’m working with a situation/client that isn’t immediately aesthetically pleasing to me, i really have to dig deep within myself to find inspiration in the midst of that. i have to choose not to write it off as un-lovely, and instead to put on a new set of glasses that will enable me to see the beauty that is really in all of life. wherever i go, i’m learning, there is beauty to be found, whether or not it matches my personal tastes.

so then, this is also the gift that i hope to give to my photography clients, especially those who do the family photojournalism style sessions: to notice and then to capture the beauty in their ordinary lives, so that they will feel seen and celebrated and blessed with the gift of the life that they’ve been given to live. i want to hold up a mirror to them and say, “see?! do you SEE that? you, your family, your home, your life… they are truly beautiful!”

at the same time, if there’s any counsel i could give to someone who wants to take better photographs of their own life or family (a question i get relatively often), i would say start with this: see your life as art. fill your home with objects that make you feel peaceful and satisfied, dress yourself in fabrics that feel wonderful on your skin, fling open the drapes each morning so the light can come in, tidy up and simplify your rooms, cook colorful food.

as children of a Creator God, i’m beginning to allow myself to say that beauty does matter, that it is okay to pursue beauty, and that perhaps that might even be part of my offering to the world.

and that’s enough rambling from this Redeemed Type 4. :)

if you’re still with me, and you want to see more of my Life As Art, click here.

do not despise the day of small things

sept-saturday-hike-4small seems to be a theme ’round here these days.

there’s the obvious smalls, named Hazel and Gus, to whom most of my creative energy, time, and effort are devoted day in and day out. they come with many other small things: small time blocks for activities caused by small attention spans (hazel) and small wakeful periods (gus), small clothing to wash and fold and tuck away in drawers, small bodies to lift, carry, cuddle, and bathe.

it’s taken me a considerable amount of time to get okay with all that smallness, to let go of resentment over how their smallness keeps me from the supposedly bigger things i’d like to think i’m capable of, and to learn to savor and celebrate it for the beautiful gift that it truly is.

but there’s another kind of smallness i’ve been grappling with lately. the smallness that comes with our ministry this season.

see, we launched this 10-month live-and-learn discipleship school we’re borrowing from 24-7 Prayer called The Vision Course. it’s a beautiful life model, a heart-shifting curriculum, a year set aside to let Jesus touch students in important ways. i’m proud to be offering it here and proud of Coop and Tim and Tony for shaping it so well and leading it with such integrity and passion.

but we have two students. two students where we were hoping for six to eight.

and when you get a number that much lower than the target number, it can be easy to think of it as failure. then there’s our friends who launched a [somewhat] similar school in our neighborhood and they have 7. so i start to compare (not a great idea). and i wonder if we’re doing something wrong so God isn’t blessing it, or if we aren’t attractive enough as a ministry, or if we didn’t recruit widely enough or well enough. these two students are pure gold, so it isn’t who they are uniquely/individually that’s a problem. but the number of them… it’s been bugging me. more than i care to admit.

small often means failure or shortcoming. that’s the trouble, isn’t it? somehow in our culture small has come to mean something less-than, unworthy of attention.

grace came to me in the form of our Older Wiser Mama-Bible-Study Facilitator a couple weeks ago, when she gave us 5 passages of scripture to look up, along with instructions to guess what the theme is and why she chose it for us.

guess what the word was? “small.”

each passage was from the gospels. in each one, Jesus is talking about or demonstrating how He values and works with smallness. examples: faith small as a mustard seed moves mountains, a small boy’s tiny lunch feeds thousands, two tiny sparrows whose fall is noticed by the Father, a small bit of money faithfully and sacrificially invested or offered. how had i not noticed this before?! how had i come to see feel that Jesus’ call was to large-scale, dramatic, full-throttle action instead of ordinary, small-scale living offered in love to Him?

this opens up so much grace for me as a mother, occupied as i am with so many literally small things. it also offers up to me some reassurance that even though we at the boiler room have only two lives to invest in this year (rather than 8 or 50 or more), we have two. lives. (!!) to invest in. do you see the gravity of that?!

the Good Shepherd is one who leaves 99 to search after 1. ONE. a single life is worth running after in passionate pursuit. the Father God is like the father of the prodigal (AND his brother who also was having trouble grasping how much his daddy loved him and who was also pursued by that daddy!), who pursues the naughty son while he’s still far off and throws a big fat party over him. Our Jesus does not wait until we’ve gathered a critical mass before He says that it counts. 1 counts. 2 count.

and then — as if the above isn’t enough — He reminded me of scripture that was prophesied over the SBR in it’s infancy:

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, — Zecchariah 4:10

so i say Amen.

far be it from me to say that what the Father calls significant is something other than just that.

what we love

what we find delight in as children — before we are self-conscious enough to realize that there are “cool” things to like and “uncool” things to like — can tell us some things about who God has designed us to be. so i thought i’d take a moment to record some of those things, both for myself and for my kids.

what i remember loving as a child:

horses, mud, catching frogs and toads, playing in the water, beautifying tiny spaces, exploring in the woods, making up games, imagination, blueberries, canned mushrooms,  rice with parmesan cheese, kittens, dressing up in my grandmother’s vintage lingerie (haha), cousins, forts built of blankets, riding in boats, taking pictures on my 110 film camera.

this is what i see hazel loving:

water (pouring it, being immersed in it), “mine gus,” helping mommy with cooking or cleaning, wrestling, cooking in her kitchen, picking raspberries and apples, sandbox, two over everything (two babies, two covers, two pillows at every nap and bedtime), carrying books around the house from here to there, people (both new and familiar), dancing, going for walks.

this is what i see gus loving, young as he is:

grabbing stuff (anything within arm’s reach), being cradled in my left arm as he drifts off to sleep, outside, leaves and grass, avocado, peek-a-boo, being carried in a sling or in someone’s arms, playing quietly alone on the floor with small toys, kisses from mama, anything hazel does (except for when she squeeze him too hard or slaps him in the face).

(inspiration for this post came from here.)