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Thankful for the ability to be where my hands are, just for today.

Just wheat

peterpan66gm1I feel like Captain Hook every day.

I hear the tick tock of an invisible clock, and at times, it’s nearly audible. When I’m nursing my baby, and she decides to turn meal time into play time, I hear the ticking, telling me that there are three people waiting for me to return their calls and emails. When I’m checking my newsfeed on Facebook and take a moment to “like” my friend’s photo of her adorable, chunky toddler playing with his new tractor, I hear the clock ticking, tying strings to the index fingers of my mind, reminding me of the stack of homework and bills atop my desk.  When I’m reading poems by T.S. Eliot (which, by the way, I’m still proposing be removed from the list of American classics), I hear the clock ticking, reminding me of the stack of laundry waiting to be folded.

The clock is…

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gratitude · photography

Day 20–Becoming a vessel

*Thank you, Debra Dickey, for serving as today’s guest contributor as part of the “28 days of love” project this February. Debra’s a regular contributor to this blog; I’m thankful for the wisdom she shares and for her friendship, too.*

White River, 2012.Photo by Bethany Wallace
White River, 2012.
Photo by Bethany Wallace

[Online ‘Dictionary’ of vessel]  Rare: a person regarded as an agent or vehicle for some purpose or quality; a conduit

Honestly, I personally don’t agree that it is so rare to discover or identify a person who chooses to be, and could be intentionally described as, a vehicle or conduit for some purpose or quality – to be the vessel, then let the Glory fall where it may. Hallelujah!  I know an abundance of those kinds of folks.

For the most part, we’ve been conditioned to seek acclaim, to go for the gold, to have our name in print, to be sought out for our diverse and multi worldly successes.  And so we should work hard, so we should absolutely do our best, so we should strive for the goals that get us where we need to be.  Yet we must not also forget that we are working neither at earthly employment for only earthly rewards, nor with only earthly tools for earthly recognition, but with, and for, a higher Authority, who supplies tools in the form of omnipotent gifts and resources, and who introduces goals and missions for our omniscient ‘work’, that far-reaches our day-to-day jobs, going well beyond these finite terrestrial expectations.

Certainly, I am much aware of what is involved and how much is required to become even slightly successful at genuine vessel-age (J). Truly, there must be a putting aside of one’s own ego, a mighty attitude adjustment, and an alteration in one’s own heart and mind in accordance with one’s own personal walk of faith.  Letting God fill your being with what He will, then use you as He chooses for His Honor and Glory!   Surprise, surprise, it’s not always easy.  Matter of fact, sometimes it’s downright hard!  But despite those drawbacks, in the midst of even those challenges, you won’t be surprised to learn that it is being done, and quite phenomenally, on a regular basis, by persons of every sort, in all walks of life!  People who are sensitive to the leading of God’s Spirit, people who walk and commune with God for greater understanding, people who seek first the kingdom of God.

Yes, people do it every day.  Spouses.  Parents.  Regular people.  Lovely people.  People who invite the best for others, people who are acquainted with the big picture, magnanimous people who love watching others succeed, then go about the business at hand and take the time to help those in their sphere of effectiveness to find their true path, to aspire, to learn, to strive for their goals, to recognize and own their particular accomplishments and achievements, then celebrate those successes right alongside them … without ever giving a thought as to who should receive the credit!   Modest, they say.  I say otherwise.  I say:  Accomplishing the Mission that we were put here to accomplish by following the Guidelines that we were put here to follow. So it is written as ‘The Gift of Love’:   “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  [I Cor. 13 (13) ]

“The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”—Mother Teresa

Isn’t that truly what love is?  Whenever possible, be the vessel.  Well, look at you . . . you’re already doing it!

gratitude · photography

Day 15–Loving what I do

Sarah and Jordan Crowder of Phoopla Photography & Design
Sarah and Jordan Crowder of Phoopla Photography & Design

*Thanks to my sister Sarah Crowder for writing today’s post about how the love of her life has supported her in her journey to do what she loves for a living. Check out her photography business home page and her Facebook page, too.*

I am grateful for every single day. When he tells me all he wants is to see me happy, I know it’s true. So today like every day for the last 12 years, I am eternally grateful for a beautiful family & an amazing man whose love & support knows no bounds. Today as I celebrate the 1 year anniversary of one of the biggest, most exciting & scary steps of my life, I’m taking a moment to think of what I’m grateful for. To start, what is the definition of Gratitude? Wiki says : Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgement of a benefit that one has received or will receive.

I have a lot to be grateful for in my life but especially in this last year of new beginnings. When you’re married with two kids, your family is taking that big step, too, so I guess I should say our biggest, most exciting & scary step.

One year ago today I turned in my two-week notice to the corporate job I had held for eight years along with all the stresses & all the securities to pursue my passion for photography as a full time job! How was I able to do this & why would I do this?! Let me tell you a story about a great man – my husband. He’s not only the best father to our two girls; he’s also the most supportive husband I could ask for! His love for all us crazy girls never ceases to amaze me. 12 years ago, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, my daughter’s birth father was no part of her life, & I had lost my faith in men. Then I met Jordan. He loved me & most of all loved my little girl. I could go on forever about how he restored my faith in men and how he loves & accepts our daughter as his own-how biology plays no part in this family. But back to me quitting my job!

The Crowder family
The Crowder family

After dating for years & a long engagement & finally a beautiful wedding, we were blessed with a second beautiful baby girl, Lola Belle! I loved getting photos made every month of my older daughter but dreaded the beat down of the commercial photo studios. When Lola was born, for my first Mother’s Day, Jordan bought me a professional camera and told me to follow my dream to capture all the special moments we were experiencing as a family.

One of Phoopla's action shots
One of Phoopla’s action shots

Soon friends & family were requesting we take photos, cover weddings & capture their special moments! It’s been quite a ride of long nights, years of working 6/7 days a week, numerous sacrifices and he’s been by my side the whole time, assisting me supporting me & even through the tough times still cheering me on (not to mention telling me to quit the job that was killing me!).

I love my job now. No more dreaded meetings, conference calls, belittling bosses….  I don’t even like to call photography a job because it’s truly my passion! I love having more time with my family & capturing special memories for other families! Having the freedom to work from home alongside my husband is something I am grateful for every single day. When he tells me all he wants is to see me happy, I know it’s true. So today like everyday for the last 12 years I am eternally grateful for a beautiful family & an amazing man who’s love, & support knows no bounds.

gratitude · photography

Day 11–Five thankful people

*Special thanks to Mary Agrusa for writing today’s post for our “28 days of love” project. Be sure to check out her blog as well.*

 

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design
Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Five categories of people who should give thanks to God are listed in Psalm 107. Which one(s) are you?

Verses 1-3 state that anyone who is redeemed should thank God because He is good and His love never ceases.

Verses 4-9 describe those who were lost, wandered aimlessly and had no hope. Hungry and thirsty, they cried out to God for help. He heard them, led them to safety and cared for them. They’re to thank God not only for His unfailing love, but also for supplying their needs.

Verses 10-15 refer to those in prison literally or figuratively of their own making. Their bad choices produced severe consequences. They’re instructed to give thanks because God set them free from their incarceration.

Verses 17-22 cover those who as a result of their rebellious actions suffer serious physical and psychological illness. Their lives spiraled downhill toward the grave. They cried out to God, He heard them and sent His word that healed and rescued them. They’re to give thanks to God publicly and sing songs of their deliverance.

Verses 23-32 tell of those caught in a ferocious storm. Violent winds and crashing waves tossed them about mercilessly. They cried out to God, Who with a whisper, stilled the storm and guided them to safety. They’re to thank God for His love and praise Him in the assembly of people.

Where ever you find yourself in these groups the end result is the same. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His love never fails.

 

gratitude · photography

Day 10–Dearly loved

Photo by Kelly Booy
Photo by Kelly Booy

*Big thank you to my friend Kelly Booy for agreeing to contribute to the “28 days of love” project!*

I have had a consistent prayer for contentment these last couple of years!  My awareness of this need came one summer day in 2009 while on a walk in the Dutch farmlands.  A quiet, picturesque moment on a bench overlooking Kinderdijk’s windmills was interrupted by a pesky bird.  In the midst of worship, I found myself wiping away bird poop from my temple and hair!!  Striking me as funny and strangely appropriate, I could not hold back the giggles.  It was an intimate message as strange as the delivery.  I couldn’t shake the imagery, sweet silence and the words that came to mind, “Even in this mess you are dearly loved and cared for.”

The years following could be described as a roller coaster.  My family and I made the decision to move back to Arkansas, September of 2009, after spending two years of our life in Holland.  My husband had gone back to school in the country of his birth, receiving an International MBA, our two small children had learned some of the language and culture, and we had connected with family and made new friends.   It was an amazing experience with many highlights and some obstacles, but overall we were super thankful.  In thinking about moving back to Arkansas, I knew that I would struggle with contentment.  I would even venture to say that there was an underlying fear of the mundane–like walking down the mountain into a valley.

Within the year following our return to central Arkansas, we had bought a car, a substantially sized home, and thankfully had a job!  We settled into a church that we loved and were challenged every day by the Gospel, a simple message:  While we were still sinners Christ died.  We were surrounded by dear friends and making many new ones.  Life was good.

Soon we were staring unemployment down;  contemplating selling the home we loved because we couldn’t afford (it) to get it to the state we wanted, nursing a torn Achilles tendon, had a shingles flair up, facing impending student loans, medical bills, a second round of unemployment , professional rejections,  car issues, etc . . . Needless to say our faith was tried, and we were feeling seriously helpless, anxious, and humbled.

My prayer for contentment had taken an interesting twist, and honestly I can’t say that it was what I had wanted and/or expected!  My perspective was skewed, and I was doubting the truth that God was my provider.  Slowly I started to notice the little things, like:  we had never gone without food, we had clothes and shoes, we were able to continue making our mortgage payments, and those gentle offers of help from friends and family.  Literally, every time I turned our ignition in our car I would say, “thank you God!”  I realize that this might sound a little “third world”, but truly God was doing a great work in my heart.  It became glaringly obvious that God was providing.

We welcomed our third child in August of 2011, Emma Jeanne Booy,. . . 10 days prior to losing our insurance due to our second job loss.  Strangely, the period of time following Emmy’s birth has been some of the sweetest I have ever experienced in my life to date.  (I had all but convinced myself that I would struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of Emmy.)  Stefan was home rigorously job hunting and working contract work on the side.  He had time to take morning walks with me and the baby. We sipped our morning coffee and shared difficult, intimate conversations.  Those months were profoundly precious and healing when they should have,  by all circumstantial appearances,  been shrouded with worry and fear.   I secretly began to praise God in the midst of the messiness.  My emotional state was more than intact, and I began to see glimmers of what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

As I reflect over these last several years I am completely dumbfounded and thankful for the roller coaster.  My hope and prayer is that I never lose this realization– my “satisfaction or contentment” is not directly related to my situation or comfort.

The pesky bird might have shat on my head, but I can wipe off the mess all the while knowing I am dearly loved and cherished.

 

gratitude · photography

Day 3–The delicate dance

*I’ve known Jessica since college, and I feel privileged to have watched her evolve into who she is today. Our journeys aren’t identical, but I relate to much of her story. Check out her blog!*

Gratitude and love. Topics that seem to go hand in hand with lines blurred as to where one ends and another begins. Because, indeed, if you have ever been loved, well, the gratitude of being a recipient of such is a natural overflow.

When Bethany asked me write for this blog I immediately said yes. And then, moments later, regretted it. Don’t get me wrong. I have much to be grateful for. But currently, I’m in a season of life where grief overshadows most my gratefulness. And that’s the funny thing about love. It can often bring with it a two-edged sword bearing pain and piercing joy. How the two can exist in delicate harmony is something I’m learning day by day.

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010
Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Paige was a 15 year old high school freshman when we met just 5 short years ago. Over the course of our children’s lives, she became more than just a teenager in our Sunday school class, she became family. In July, for reasons still unexplained, she died. The pain and grief that has been heaped upon my family by her death has nearly been crushing.

However, she is worth it.

The way she loved our family, the way she loved our children, the way she loved me has made every second of our grief worth it. And if I could go back in time five years and choose to love her all over again, I would.

This girl, this friend, who in my opinion left this world much too soon, left her mark on our family. My spunky, caring, eight year old daughter is forever changed because of the way Paige loved her. She wears funky hats, loves endlessly, serves others willingly and knows that it’s okay sometimes to act a little silly. All of those things because Paige did the same with her and now, she’s forever changed.

My sweet, tender, six year old son, who still cries weekly because he so desperately misses Paige, is forever changed. Just like Paige, he loves giraffes, making up silly songs, listening to music on his iPod and worshiping God no matter who is watching. He watched her love those things, and it has forever changed him.

My enthusiastic, laughter inducing six year old daughter dotes over babies, loves them fiercely, isn’t afraid to change a dirty diaper, act silly enough to illicit a laugh and is perfectly fine with carrying a younger sister around on her hip as long as she desires. All because she saw Paige do the same with her and with every child Paige came in contact with. Now my six year old daughter is forever changed.

I could keep going but the point is, Paige loved us well and we love her deeply. She changed us. All of us. Somehow, a 20 year old girl attached herself to our family and caused us to redefine why, how and who we love.

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012
Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

We love not because she is blood. We love not because she has the title of family. We love not because it is easy or convenient or warm and fuzzy. In fact, the last six months, since her death, those last adjectives have been the hardest to swallow.

Yet, we are so very grateful. Grateful for her. Grateful that God allowed us five short, love filled years with her. Grateful that we have memory upon memory of her time with us. Memories of vacations and sleepovers and road trips. We are grateful that she loved us richly, and we loved her wholly.

The pain of losing her has pierced us deeply while the joy of who she remains to be in our family abounds. I’ve held my children as they cried tears and wailed sobs because they miss their friend so very much. I’ve watched them dance and laugh and sing songs that she taught them and see the joy in their smiles and the pain in their eyes.

It’s a funny thing, this kind of gratitude. It’s hard to describe how grief, joy, love, gratitude and sorrow can combine into one smooth wave of emotion that pours itself into every facet of your life. The dance around, these pairs of love and sorrow, gratitude and grief. And if I’ve learned anything from all of this, it is that one can exist and even thrive in face of the other. A year ago, I would have never thought that possible. Now, I’m so thankful for the way the two dance within my heart. Because if you take out even one of the two then you take Paige and her love from our lives, and that is something I’m so grateful that we will never have to do.

 

Jessica also blogs over at http://themakingofmom.blogspot.com.

gratitude · photography

Day 1: Sharing the treasure of gratitude

*Today begins my “28 days of love” project on this blog, a project to explore the connection between love and gratitude in our lives. Special thanks to Linda Unger for sharing her spiritual insights on how to share gratitude as well as a bit of her wonderful photography with us today.*

Photo by Linda Unger
Photo by Linda Unger

For me, gratitude comes in waves. Very much like the storms we have here on the Gulf Coast. Wild, overwhelming and consuming at first, then retreating slowly as life takes back over. Early in recovery it was easy to find these storms of gratitude, but as the years go by, as my life has evened out, there are fewer high highs and low lows.

So today gratitude is something I have to work at. I have to make a deliberate effort to remember that I am blessed. It’s very easy to fall back into a state of comparing myself to others. It’s very easy to look outside myself and find someone who seemingly has more “stuff” than me. I love what the next to the last paragraph of the Seventh Step in the 12 x 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous says.

“Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration.” That to me is life without gratitude.

I can’t begin to tell you the gifts that a state of gratitude has brought to me. If we could bottle that feeling we would be rich! But I can’t give gratitude to anyone; I can only practice it myself and hope that somehow it rubs off!

There is a spiritual event that happens when we practice gratitude. I know of an instance where I had called a friend complaining about my life and this friend suggested I start a gratitude list. Starting the list was hard. I had to get down to fundamentals. But as the list progressed it became easier and easier to find those things that are gifts in my life. My anger and sadness were strong, though, and it took over 100 items in the list to break the spell of resentment. I think of that time often and realize that each time I do a list, it takes less and less items to break through.

I talked to a friend last night, who was telling me about some clouds she saw. They were pink. But the sadness on her face said she was still troubled. I made a pact with her. Each day we will search for God and take a photo of it. Each day we will treat gratitude as if it’s a treasure to be found, a gift that is hidden or a prize to be won. Each day we will send what we have found to each other. You see, that is how it works… reaching out to another and sharing.

Blessings to you,

Linda Unger