"We have all experienced the reality of a multicolored life, of living with the Thank God as well as the Please, God. Of walking through the right now and the not yet." --Emily P. Freeman I am thankful for this family, who lives this kind of daily multicolored life with incredible grace: they encourage me in my own grapplings with the nows and not-yets of life.
They are country to the core and some might say old fashioned: Big, close-knit family. Goats for milking. Hay bales for fort building. Biscuits made from scratch. Freezer full of the season's hunt. Kids running around with Grandpa-fashioned wooden swords, playing in Grandpa-fashioned playhouse. My favorite families to photograph are ones who know who they are and aren't afraid to live it out. Their stories are authentic and unique just like they are. Families like this inspire me to live more authentically and fully, and capturing their story is a privilege. The Brown family is exactly that--an inspiration to me, and a privilege to photograph. When you enter their headquarters--Nonnie and Bapa's house--you will find the most beautiful form of chaos: A son holding his sister's daughter while cousins help Nonnie measure salt and sugar. Flour everywhere. Sisters-in-law chopping onions, and little ones crawling beneath the table. Siblings talking car talk. Dogs and children coming in and going out of all doors...all the time. Well-loved stuffed animals carried around by strings, and special blankets used as landing pads.
I couldn't be happier than to share with you a slice of real life, Brown style.
This storytelling "slice of life" style is my passion. It's the best way I know how to photograph from my heart. Stay tuned to learn more about this style and my unfolding vision for it!
As you may have gathered in my last blog post, I've been involved in some serious contemplating lately. When asked in a photography class to come up with my vision for photography, I ended up pondering my vision for LIFE. What can I say? I'm a deep thinker. It doesn't take much to make my mind start to turn and churn. I began with a list of what I like. I know it sounds juvenile, but it turned out to be quite pivotal for me. It helped me clarify who I am. I knew my vision for life and photography could only survive if they came from my core. And I knew what I like--what I was drawn to--would probably point me toward my basic make up.
The crazy thing is that at the end of all this pondering, I came right back to where I started--to the words I penned as we prepared to leave Uganda almost a year-and-a-half ago. The words I turned into my vision for Carryingwonder Photography. And what I realized is that rather than needing a new vision, I needed to learn more about how to communicate and flesh out my original vision.
I am so excited about where I am headed personally and professionally. This is the year of the kaleidoscope, remember? So I hope you will stick with me as I learn more how to break out of restricting self-imposed molds, take risks, and discover how to live and photograph from my heart.
I was sorting through mounds of countertop chaos from a family getaway. Piles of Christmas gifts and overdue library books and laundry (of course). Catching up and getting back into rhythm is never easy. We all know that. So there I was moving stuff from pile to pile more than actually putting things in their proper places, and I was stopped by an image of my son out of the corner of my eye. He was standing there staring, stunned. I followed his gaze to where baby sister was gleefully spreading hundreds of shiny, sparkly pieces meant for his birthday kaleidoscope project. She had found an opening in the small cellophane package and delightedly shook colors everywhere. A beautiful a mess. I reassured my son that I would take care of this. And then, rather than bemoaning the work that had just enlarged my task of chaos management, I picked up my camera and recorded my moment. I focused my attention on my little girl's innocent curiosity and love for beauty. At that time, that was all I saw, and it was enough to give me joy rather than sucking it from me. My perspective in that moment was pure and simple.
As I later looked more closely at the images, I saw a moment that reflected everything I've been sensing about this new year--about 2014. You see, I feel those tiny pieces of sparkly colorful paper are pieces and passions of my life. I've known for a while that they are beautiful and valuable in themselves, but they have never come together. I am ready for them to be put into a kaleidoscope that can transform them--with the help of a little light--into a beautiful, unified pattern. I am ready for my personality and my passions and my story to align into a collective vision that is clear enough to inspire me and give me the courage I need to walk confidently forward in it.
I have been wanting this ever since a year-and-a-half ago our family left our community and friends and sense of purpose in a little town in Uganda to return to America. I wanted everything to fall into place, but it didn't really do that. At the end of 2013 I felt more confused than ever. And then, less than a week ago, I began a photography class that brought me back to that longing for clear vision, and I feel now more than ever it lies just around the bend.
I have no doubt it will affect my photography and my home and my relationships. And I am excited. I am excited for my kaleidoscope.
I have finally seen the Oregon Coast. And, yes, it was everything I had imagined. I only wish I could have spent more time walking, toes in sand and wind in hair, along the water's edge. My family and I spent the weekend at a family camp only a half mile walk from the beach, but Little Q and I were the only ones who made the trek. The others were content to watch canoe races and build lakeside sand castles.
Little Q and I did not lament having to walk alone, and she did a fine job at filling the silence with her happy chatter.
We discovered many treasures on our walk together, but above all we marveled at the landscape. It was wild yet serene, just as the north Pacific coast should be.
For some reason I had been carrying a bulky load of anxieties, and my hour spent in that miraculous space where land and water meet washed (most) of it away.
Several forest fires have filled our Applegate Valley with enough smoke that the kids and I decided to take that vacation to the grandparents' a week early. And you better believe we won't return until it's safe for everyone to play outside again! Hazardous air quality is worse than a cold winter day, because you can't bundle them up and send them outside for at least 30 minutes of fresh air (and mother's sanity).
So we're here. Hanging out in what we call the Secret Garden. With high ivy-covered walls surrounding the yard and beautiful fauna and flora, we feel like we have access to something secret and beautiful.
We're enjoying our unexpected stay, playing with the critters...
And practicing our ever strengthening swimming skills.
Oh wait. That's what we do in between swim times ;). Let's try again. And...swimming!
Whaaat?! Silly fish. Not you! The kids!
So while we pray for the fires to end and the fire fighters to be safe and for Papa to come visit (because we all miss him a lot), we are making the most of it.
I get it. My children are growing up in the "touch screen" generation. And I want my children to be fluent in technology...someday. But just like classroom learning, technology is a world you can't easily step out of. Once you're in, you're in. I see no benefit to immersing them in technology early. I do, however, see great benefit to hours of outside play...with siblings...under a self-made tent. It requires ingenuity, creativity, problem solving, collaboration (or lessons on how to deal with frustration!), and perseverance (Especially this tent. It collapsed more than once). It fosters strong minds and strong bodies. I'm not anti-technology by any means, but I am definitely pro-imagination, pro-outdoors, pro-don't-make-them-grow-up-too-soon.
Life for these two is uncomplicated and rhythmic. The weeks pass by steadily with little change in scenery or agenda. Some might call it uneventful. But if you know them--and if you have seen their commitment to community and their love for family--you know their lives are rich. Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time was definitely not going to make their lives any richer, but it was a joy. A joy for them, and for all of us who watched them take it in.
Their great-grandchildren were oblivious to the sacredness of the moment, but they will remember it... and someday they will understand how special it was--not only the moment, but their opportunity to experience it too. I know it is forever etched in my memory.
Little Q was born in water (in a Rubbermaid horse trough in our bedroom). She has loved it--in all forms--ever since: baths, showers, pools, in a bottle... . I'm thankful she loves it enough to even distract her from teething pain. There was a day last weekend when nothing else helped, so we filled up the sink and plopped her in.
It was magic.
Finally...relief (for all of us)! We still didn't get many smiles, but as the splashing and kicking began, the tears stopped.
Such big, sad eyes. Though babies will quickly forget the trauma of teething, parents never do. It's heartbreaking! We are all happier now that our water baby has made it past the pains of one more tooth.
I love driving in early morning hours when sun is just beginning to pour into crevices and valleys between hills and mountains majestic. Saturday mornings are my time. Husband stays home with kids, and I write. And catch my breath...and think. If I did this from home, I could have more time, but instead I choose to drive the 20 minutes to the coffee shop with old plank floors and whirling ceiling fans. Those 20 minutes give me precious moments to let jumbled thoughts spill out and allow sunlight gold soak in. My mind cannot house both nonsense and beauty. I am amazed at how easily--and quickly--nonsense accumulates in a mind. It begins with irritating imperfections of small people, grows with uneasiness of conversation unfinished, and all but topples over from frustrations of household entropy. All this is nonsense, because it does not deserve space in my finite mind. It deserves to wash right out. Wash out with ever flowing Water of Life.
Instead it gets stuck in an eddy, going round and round. And round. Once nonsense gets hung up there, it doesn't matter how "big" or "small" it is: I can't think it away, wish it away, pray it away. I can't even pray it away.
This is the junk that keeps me lying awake at night, staring at blanket of dark sky, studded with starry pinholes of heaven light. As I lie between babe and husband, I try every trick in the bag to lull mind to sleep. But there's nonsense caught in eddies, and it's immune to currents of Living Water flowing past.
Everyone needs to find their cure for extra sticky clingy nonsense in their minds. For me, it's beauty of nature. It's sunlight warmth waking slumbering mountains of evergreens, whimsical wisps of fog ascending from valley meadows, transparent spring petals fluttering in evening breeze. When I drink in this, I can see the nonsense is nonsense; and eddies vanish. When I bask in beauty of God's good world, I sense wonder return. Wonder refocuses my thoughts and feelings on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely....
Water of Life, flow freely now. Truth, flood my mind. Prayers, ascend and be heard. Cross, transform me.
Before Easter morning, make time to clean away nonsense and make room for the wonder of the Empty Tomb.
What helps you clear out the eddies of your mind?
Our yard needs some serious love. Right now it reminds me of those yards that have become holding grounds for half-wanted objects--a purgatory for things. You know, the yards with two kinds of...well...stuff: used stuff awaiting their sentences (either repair or junk yard) and stuff awaiting the perfect project (that pile of possibilities...). Some of us would call it all "junk."
By nature I am a purger. When in doubt, throw it out. Yes, this has caused me regret on more than one occasion, but I have an uncontrollable revulsion to things without a purpose now. All "thing purgatories" should be banished!
Despite my strong opinions on stuff-in-waiting, my home is not immune to accumulating its own share of these piles. I am human (with five other humans living here besides). We don't have a collection of cars in the meadow or mounds of building debris beside the driveway; but with Spring finally here and days slightly warmer, my children play outdoors more; and inevitably they find "treasures" from who-knows-where that never seem to go back to their places of hiding. Pieces of pipe, strands of plastic fence, planks of foam...where do they find this stuff?
Yet these objects I so quickly deem "junk" are treasures to my little children with life-size imaginations. They become traps for fire-breathing dragons, platforms for sun-bathing fish, and rheumatism crutches for old adventure-seeking rabbits (Uncle Wiggly anyone?). To them, nothing is useless.
Did you hear that? To the little ones of this world, there is no such thing as junk. My son insists through tears (and tantrums) that it can be fixed, and my daughter dreams yarn scraps into hair for her handmade ballerina. For children, nothing is without hope. Nothing is too far gone for redemption.
Isn't this the message of Holy Week? During Lent we ponder how lifeless and empty and useless we are without Christ. Our family places a vase of barren branches at the center of our table to reflect our pondering hearts as we feel the full weight of our judgments and mistrust and greed and see the barrenness and death within. Yet by Easter these branches will bloom brightly and with it the message that because of Christ we are not too far gone. Through the deepest sorrows and highest joys that make up Holy Week, we must believe we are not without hope. Though we may look useless, like junk, we are indeed all piles of possibilities.
And, thank God, Christ doesn't leave us as mere possibilities. He is--slowly, slowly--transforming us into purposeful works of grandeur. It's as if children, with their innate gift to see the treasures in the trash, already know this. Everything has a deeper layer of "something more," and it is their calling as children to discover this.
I still have plans to clean up the yard. After all, I believe strongly that God made us to be caretakers of Creation. But I will have more mercy on "useless objects" that have been given special purpose by my children, thinking of them as reminders like our vase of barren branches: that because of Jesus, I too have hope and possibility and redemption.
Lent, a season of waiting, lies nestled within the dawn of spring, season of hope. Could our spiritual lives possibly be more interwoven with the rhythms of Creation?
It seems every year since I have paid any ounce of attention to Lent, I find myself waiting for something during those sacred 40 days. Praying a promise would be fulfilled. Listening for an answer, yet suffering through silence. Rather than making Lent a time of frustration, this expected cycle has become a comfort as I relax into a rhythm that strengthens my hope, deepens my belief, and eventually leads to celebration, rejoicing, praise.
Easter. The most glorious fulfillment of promise. The answer to the world's darkest questions.
And Creation does not keep silent. She too celebrates with babes and blooms and colors everywhere. Just when we begin to doubt her hibernation will come to an end, Creation awakens and adorns herself in splendor. She births new life in honor of New Life.
Can you imagine being one of the many who thought their happily-ever-after had come in Jesus, only to watch him tortured and killed and put in a tomb? Doubt most certain. Doubt of the most gruesome kind. Yet this is the way of God: to rescue just before the curtain of despair closes. We as His people were born with a love for this drama that heightens the rescue to ecstasy. Deep down we understand that happily-ever-afters are not glory-full without those dark preceding moments that leave us holding our breath and entertaining doubt...sometimes even despair. We often wrestle with those dark times, and sometimes we try to run away from them. But deep down I think we know that night is what makes the morning light so beautiful.
Creation echoes this drama over and over--year after year. It is never exactly the same, but the storyline doesn't change: Our forbearance for winter wears off, our impatience for spring creeps up, and we begin to wonder if the color and warmth and life will ever resurrect. And then...what feels like a moment too late...it does!
But because she waited until we began to entertain such ideas, we feel spring's return fully. We experience the jubilation all the way down to our toes. Can you see it? Creation...us...the way of God...we reflect one another so beautifully. Through creation we can learn lessons over and over and over (as we need to), adding depth and detail to our understanding of God (and ourselves) each time.
Allow Lent and these brief moments where spring feels just out of grasp to strengthen your faith. Don't wish away the waiting. Tune your senses to the small things that promise it will all come in time: fulfillment of promise, answer to question, return of spring.
New Life is coming.