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dear emerson: first grade

8.10.2014


This season feels oddly familiar as we are simultaneously preparing for last minute transfer to a new school and packing up a house to move.  Last year we were moving into a smaller, more economical town home with hopes to save for a home we could call our very own.  In that season, you began Kindergarten in a tiny village elementary tucked away in a darling old neighborhood.  Little did we know then that your year there would hold such precious memories.

Within the span of a year you discovered both the joys and the pains of being a big brother to an independent and fearless baby sister.  You navigated the struggle of sharing and developed the art of patience at not always getting things your way.  You also learned to cope with anxiety and doubt as you walked bravely into your classroom filled with new children and a new teacher.  You found your friends, you expanded your confidence, and you found your voice.  Last year was a milestone that paved the way for the path ahead.  

This year, right around the same time, we are once again packing up our belongings and preparing to resettle.  This time we are moving our family into a new neighborhood and into our very own home.  All the while we are also preparing to begin your year of First Grade at a new elementary, once again filled with new children and a new teacher.  I can tell you are unsure of how this will all play out for you.  I can tell that you are nervous, and that you miss your old friends, and especially your old teacher.  I know this change is calling out your natural tendency for worry and fear.  As your mama I can sense that you are uneasy.  I wish I could ease that anxiety for you, my son.  I too struggle with it even now as an adult and if there was a way to remove that element from your life story, I would.  But I can't.  So all I'm left with is the things I've learned along the way. I'm not sure I can offer you wisdom, but I do have my story and all that I've collected and I want to give you everything I can to help ease the struggle. And yet ---

Even as I type that, I can sense that it's something I need to let go of.  Because it is not my job to ease your struggle.  Who is to say that your struggle isn't in fact good and important and necessary?  As your mom of course I want to do everything I can to remove pain and ache from your path - but wisdom whispers to my heart that that is not my job.  My job is to love you.  To love you purely and selflessly and wholly and unconditionally.  I get the honor and the privilege of loving you - you bright and wondrous spirit, you.  My boy - you are full of light.  You are tender and unsure of yourself until the moment comes when the room needs your voice.  Over this past year I have seen you come into yourself more than ever - I watched you love and give and raise a holy ruckus over the stories of your friends in Ghana.  I watched your heart for our local church grow and deepen.  I saw an appreciation for your faith heritage expand into your awareness like never before.  So much of my parenting you is simply letting my love for you flow and just getting out of the way so that you can fill up the space you were meant to fill up.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.  

I know you are uneasy about beginning again at a new school.  I know you will feel nervous as you walk up to that new playground, spilling over with kids who have lived and played together for years.  I know how it will feel to be unknown, unneeded, and different.  I pray every single moment I can for one, Lord I'm not greedy just give us one, one true good friend who truly "gets" you.  One kid who takes the time to really see you, who speaks your quirky imaginative spirit language and who can befriend you and make this year one of joy and laughter and inside jokes.  And I pray for your teacher, that he or she is kind and patient and also able to really see you for you.  You want so desperately to please and you are so hard on yourself when you don't do it perfectly the first time.  And so I also pray for grace.  

Sweet boy, I pray you learn to give yourself grace even now, at age six, because oh my what a gift that will be to your growing and future self.  Learn to love your glorious holy messy brilliant self now and save yourself the heartache of figuring it out later in life.  Grace and love. Grace and love. It is the mantra of our hearts for you, my boy.  Because you are not the one we worry about when it comes to making good choices.  You are our rule-follower.  You want to do it right.  And - you are the one we want to color outside the lines, to get a little messy, to learn to embrace the failures that will come and the lessons they provide.  

And so, first grade is at hand.  It will be full of your greatest challenges: there are fears to be faced, mountains to be climbed, stories to be discovered, and (with grace and love) new friendships to be forged.  May God be with you, young Skywalker.  Daddy and I know you have what it takes.

XO


Eiland Family // Expecting

8.09.2014

Friends, meet Delwin and Ashlee, two of the most inspiring and devoted newly weds just, well, ever.  These two are so precious in their love for one another, they can't even look at each other without bursting into smiles.  And when they got in touch with me to take some photos, they had a very special reason.  They wanted a creative way to share with their friends and family that they were expecting a little Eiland!  Talk about FUN!  I was thrilled to shoot for them and capture some of the love and excitement of this season on camera.  The sun came out to play and the wildflowers were everywhere, the hardest part of the entire experience was keeping their secret quiet until they were ready to share it.

Well, Eiland family, you know I am just thrilled for you both.  Your baby (girl!) is going to grow up with such a breathtaking example of love and faith and joy in the two of you, I know she will be blessed.  May she be full of confidence, securely marching forward in her unique goodness as you raise her to know who she is, why she is, and all the amazing things she is capable of.  May you both be brought closer together as you jump into the beautiful challenge of parenting well.  You will fall so in love with one another on a whole new level as you watch each other change diapers and sing middle of the night lullabies and swaddle up your daughter again and again and again.  It is such a sweet and fleeting season, that newborn time.  I pray it slows down enough that you can take it in and hold it in your memory forever.  And - just wait til you smell her head - baby newborns smell just like heaven.  Heaven, and cupcakes. Mmmmm!













tell your stories: a preview

7.27.2014

Earlier this week I got to shoot some photos of my friend Joy for the Tell Your Stories art project I'm working on.  Our friend Melissa opened her gorgeous home to us and we had so much fun setting up the heart of the project and playing in the dreamy light.  All of it left me very very inspired for the line of story I want to travel for this new series.  I can't wait to share it with you!  For now, I am working on editing and planning but just had to share a few of these shots with you.  I mean - isn't she lovely?!






let love lead: part three

7.22.2014

If you're following along with my debrief of our trip to Ghana, today I wanted to share more stories and a bit of how Emerson seems to be processing it now that we are back home.  If you are new to the story, you can catch up on it by starting with this post here.

It is so hard to choose what stories to tell you, which ones best characterize what it was like for us to be there in Ghana.  During the school year Emerson had shared with his Kindergarten class about his Big Dream for Africa and his friends in Ghana.  Thanks to his amazing teacher and school staff, his story really caught fire.  His teacher asked Emerson's class to write letters to the Kindergarten class in Ghana which we could take to deliver on our trip.  It was such a special exercise in compassion, awareness, and the connection of children on separate sides of the planet.

And four days into our trip, we were able to go to the Kindergarten classroom and share the letters with the kids there.  What a gift that was!  Emerson told them that we love and care for them, and that they have a class full of kids back in Chicago who know about them and will not forget them.  When we handed out the letters, the kids were so excited.  They kept asking, "Do I really get to keep this?  This is just for me?"  So precious.  And then their teacher handed out paper and pencils and invited the children to write letters back to their new friends.  



Last week we met Emerson's Kindergarten teacher for lunch and gave him the stories and photos and letters. To think that a new pen-pal relationship between the classrooms is being cultivated, and with that a connection and sort of commitment to one another as well.  How do we raise socially responsible children in our corner of the world, often laden with excess and over-stimulation?  We tell our stories.  We engage.  We don't need to protect our kids from the truth as long as we deliver the truth in an age-appropriate manner.  One thing I've realized about Emerson through this experience is that he is capable of grasping more of the real reality than I would have assumed.

Recently at bedtime, he was praying for his friends in Ghana.  He got really passionate and earnestly begged God, "Great good father - please give my friends a family.  I know they can't be adopted right now, but they have a family and I want to make sure they know that they are loved..." and then he stopped praying and said, "Mom, one time when we were playing soccer together, one of the kids got hit with the ball and started crying.  He was shouting, 'Mommy!  Mommy!' and it made my heart so sad because - he doesn't have a mommy."  You guys - in his own six year old way, he gets it.  He sees what is going on here.  He knows kids should be in loving safe families.  He recognizes the injustice playing out - these kids should have their needs met, they ought to be able to go to school, to learn and have the opportunity to hope for a better future.  And when they get hurt, they should have a mommy to run to for comfort.

He is six and he gets it.  Why on earth would I want to shelter him from that?  Yes, it was hard for me to hear what he'd witnessed.  It broke my heart to hear how his heart broke.  But it broke from a place of compassion and to me, that is beautiful.  He wasn't overwhelmed - it wasn't too much for him to handle.  It was sad and it was hard, but it compelled him to a place of compassion and prayer.  Isn't that an incredible lesson to learn at six years old?  Is that how I interact with the hard sad things I face in my life?  I hope so.  I want to meet pain with empathy.  I want to meet hard things with prayer.  I want to be able to enter into another's story the way my son did in Ghana.

It's the covert blessing of living in this imperfect world, that you can't possibly get through this life without bumps and bruises.  Our edges are overlapping with painful stories all the time.  This isn't something you can avoid.  You can't keep your kids from this either.  You can prolong their ignorance for a little longer, but at some point they are going to encounter pain.  And how will they be equipped to deal with it when they do?  What tools are we, as parents, providing for them?  Friends, I don't have the answers and I am learning as I go, just like you are.  But I do know I want to empower my children to navigate the hard things with compassion and faith.  I want them to learn to trust that the ache will lead them to the love.  Because the love is never far from the ache.

With all the horrible hate and war and anger spilling over in the world right now, it can feel overwhelming for us and prevent us from engaging it at all.  I find it helps to look for the first responders when I find myself heartbroken after reading of some atrocity like what is happening in Gaza or Russia or in our own backyard.  There are always those first responders, the ones who are not afraid to use their voices and their hands and feet to begin the brave work of mending the broken, of crying out for peace, of interceding on behalf of those who know not what they do.  Compassion and prayer ought be our first response to the sorrow we see.  I'm thankful I took my son to Africa so that I could learn from him this lesson.



here i am

7.18.2014


Last weekend we spent time scouting locations to host an opening for a new collection I'm working on. I am so excited about it, it will be mixed medium of my photography, painting, and hand lettering.  I'm using the line "Tell Your Stories" as the working title and hope it will serve as inspiration to live bravely and honestly.  I can't wait!  I think we found a space to use, it's lovely and open and bright.  So now begins the work of creating.

What I keep thinking about is how good it felt to be taking ground for my art again.  I haven't really thought seriously about showing my work since we've moved away from California.  There, I had my own studio and hosted shows every month.  It was busy and full and sweet but moving to Chicago newly pregnant meant shifting gears creatively.  I went from making art to making a human.  And - she is art.  Truly, little Mercy girl is such a wonder, so full of magic and light and sparkle.

Photography has been a wonderful bridge for me creatively because it requires spurts of creative focus, but not hours and weeks the way my paintings do.  This new expression fits well into my current season of life and I am so grateful for it.  But I do miss getting my actual hands messy and paint-covered.  I miss the way the acrylics smell and the texture of the canvas under the brush.  I miss the way you can't rush the process and the way it never fails to reveal and heal and surprise me.

There is something untamed and wild about creating over time.  It is unpredictable and the more time you spend with your art, the more truth it can speak back to you.  To allow yourself to make something from nothing is an incredibly courageous thing to do.  You must be vulnerable and raw in order to get to the truth of yourself, which is the only way to really create anything of substance.

We can avoid the risk of creating by stealing another's ideas or we can stay on the sidelines and claim lack of time as the reason we don't engage.  But the truth is, just like in love, there is no 'perfect' circumstance.  No perfect time.  No perfect season.  No perfect inspiration.  No perfect tool that will make everything suddenly magical.  At some point, without fail, creating will lead us to vulnerability.  And it is there, in that murky meeting of humanity and heaven that we encounter our most pure and authentic selves.

When we are fully engaged in the present moment we finally stop hiding and allow our truest selves, the person we are meant to be, to be seen.  Slowly our inner creative steps out from the shadows and into the light.  It feels scary at first, and wild, but also it feels incredible.  You feel alive and connected to the creativity within.  But this can only happen when we finally stop.  Stop hiding.  Stop running.  Stop caring what everyone else thinks.  Creativity happens when we say NO MORE to the walls previously set up to keep us from being hurt and to the excuses designed to protect us from failure.

The very first act of God, according to the stories of our human history, was to create.  In the beginning God created... And we, we imperfect and beautiful beings, we are made in His image.  We too are made to create.

It is no coincidence that when we do, we encounter our truest selves.  This is where God exists - in the truth.  In the real reality.  He is beyond our manmade walls, our self-preservation, our fears, our failures.  He is beyond our excuses.  God exists in the true good real living.  By His gorgeous design, it is our own innate creativity that becomes an invitation to join Him there.

When we stop hiding and let ourselves be seen by him, when we step out from the bushes and say here I am... that is when the good stuff happens.  We get to be like little children again.  We get to be free.  Unencumbered.  Fully engaged in sharing our truth without concern for how it will be judged or perceived by others.  We don't care if they like it, it no longer matters to us.  Why?  Because we have found a way beyond our own walls and we are with our great good father.  We are huddled up on the floor together, with our crayons and papers scattered every which way, giggling and telling our stories and our truth through our art.

That is the sort of living I am after.

That is why I create.




The Amundsen Family // Wildflower Fields

7.15.2014

I've been so excited to share these photos with you guys, and today as the clouds gather outside my window and storms threaten to take over my summer day, it feels like the perfect time for some sunshine and wildflowers.  Right?  I spent an evening playing in the golden light with my friends Vanessa and Bjorn and their three darling children.  We were in search of the magic, and I do believe we found it.

Bjorn and Vanessa, remember how the sunlight danced on the petals of the flowers and blades of grass?  Remember how fast your little loves raced from one end of the field to the other, desperate to catch every last wisp of the wildness that was floating in the air that night?  Remember how you two danced right in the middle of it all, completely caught up in one another?  I hope you never ever forget those memories and pray these photos serve as forever reminders of the magic of the flowers and the sunlight and the love of your sweet family.

XO

S































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