Counterweight

I pulled into the driveway of my close friend’s small brick house one autumn afternoon, the air thick and humid, stuck in transition from summer heat. She wasn’t home, but her neighbors’ kids ran and yelled at one another in the front yard next door, enjoying their first few moments of freedom after school.

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I jiggled the doorknob and prayed it would open. It turned without hesitation—I exhaled and let myself in. I could have imagined it, but a strange hush filled the rooms as I determinedly made my way to her bedroom, contrasting with the intermittent boom firing in my chest.

The handgun lay exactly where she’d told me I might find it. My hands shook as I dismantled the weapon; I felt silly for this. You’ve killed a deer, for Pete’s sake, Bethany. This is just a handgun.

But I’ve never dismantled a handgun at my friend’s home and held it for safekeeping after she placed it next to her own head the night before, contemplating pulling the trigger.

One small handgun never felt so heavy in my hands.

It was just one moment in one afternoon, in response to one action taken in one moment on one evening, yet the impact of hearing Dickinson’s carriage wheels screeching to a halt has not yet faded. I will never know why my friend chose not to pull that trigger, but thank God she didn’t.

This week, the Ozarks were hit with a line of thunderstorms I’d categorize as a deluge. I waded to my car in my rain boots after a meeting and drove home at 7:30 in the darkness, listening to Iron & Wine’s Trapeze Singer.  Another dear soul I love deeply and had to release came to mind, and I literally could not breathe. This was a problem since I was in the process of operating a vehicle in the midst of a downpour. I nearly stopped driving and clutched my chest, tears falling. I’m sure I was making what my friend Tara calls “the ugly cry face,” but I couldn’t help it. For a few seconds, the grief of losing someone invaluable overwhelmed me.

282244_518566098082_1117807_nA few days ago while the sun rose and glistened across the horizon, I stood in my backyard, which is nestled deep in the woods, and I noticed the spindly spider webs connecting trees on the hillside waving and dancing in the wind, the dew on each silk thread reflecting light with every tiny movement. Dry leaves fell among them and rustled through the recently raked yard.

I thought about grabbing my camera and attempting to capture this beautiful moment, but I knew it would be in vain. Even the best photographs are poor mirrors of our experiences; life is meant to be lived.

As painful as it is to grieve, to remember, to work through and process trauma, to watch people suffer, and to suffer myself, I don’t want to stop living. I never want to lose the chance to experience beauty that can’t be captured.

Those brief, beautiful moments are enough to serve as a counterweight for me, and I’m grateful for that.

One of my favorite poems, which resonates with me, is “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa.

“… What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string
is beyond me.  Maybe the hills
grew weary &  leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.”

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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

Worth

*Thanks to Linda Unger, inspiring writer and photographer, for serving as today’s guest contributor. To view more of Linda’s amazing photography, visit her website.*

I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a wife and many other things. But the most difficult to believe “role” has been child of God. So many times I calculated my self-worth by the grades I got in school, by the scores I got in sports, and by the looks of others. My heart just felt unworthy of the love of God.

Today I am treated no differently than anyone else in recovery. I am no lower than child of God. I am afforded the same opportunity to recover as the next person. My words are heard and acknowledged. I am valued as an employee and as a friend. Today I have a new appreciation for the hard road I have traveled, as it has brought me to this point of self-examination.

Photo by Linda Unger

I’ve learned to look for the beautiful things in other people, and by doing so, I find beautiful things in me. I’ve learned to be grateful for time spent with friends and family as time is the most valuable gift. I’ve learned to pick out one special thing about every person I meet, keeping me from sinking into anger over minor issues. I am forever amazed at the changes in perspective that the program has given me. If I spend my time being grateful for all the people that have brought me to where I am today, good or bad events, I can keep a better handle on “life’s terms” when they arise!

 

If I ever doubt who I am, the truth is as close as the words spoken to me by God, through you.