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tell your stories: a preview


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


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


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


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.



let love lead: part two


So last week I began to enter into the story of our time in Africa.  I tiptoed into the waters, because these waters are deep and fierce and full of emotion.  I didn't want to overwhelm, or be overwhelmed, and so I stepped lightly into the story with you all.  The context of where we were and what they are doing there is important.  It gives you a grounded understanding of what our trip was all about.  It paints a picture for your imagination as you interact with the stories I'll share today and in the upcoming weeks.

But it's been two weeks since we said goodbye to our friends in Ghana and boarded a plane for the long journey back home, and I'm finding it impossible to contain the waters now.  They are stirring, churning, spinning and spilling over.  I feel them in the silent moments, in the stillness of an afternoon while the baby naps or just after sunset when both children have fallen asleep and I've sat down with a glass of red in hand - the waters swirling inside are building.  The stories want to be told.

How can I tell you about Africa?  What words do I use to describe what it was like to be there, or to watch my son be there?  I met the child we have been connected to through prayer the last four years but who we cannot (yet) adopt.  Is there even a way for me to tell you about that moment?

The children who live at City of Refuge, most of them, have been rescued from a life of slavery and mistreatment of all kinds.  So you sit with them in a posture of deep respect for their brave selves, you marvel at their inner strength to overcome, you feel guilty about the things you complain about back home, and you learn exactly what real joy looks like as you watch them - despite their circumstances and their pasts - as they laugh and play and dance.  That is the most precious thing to me about the work of CORM, it's the way they give children a chance to be children, again.

I was trying to tell Steve recently about how desperate I am to feel as close to God now that I'm home as I did while in Africa.  I believe God is everywhere, in all things, as love.  I know He is here in suburban Chicago with me every day.  I know that in my head.  But when I was there, I felt that in my heart.  The reality of LOVE is an every second proclamation in Africa.  The power of LOVE to change us, to redeem us, to literally save us is a truth that is not just talked about, but lived.  I have never encountered such intense love as I did while there.

We brought shoes to give to the children as a way to meet a practical need and bless them with something personal and something they could own.  There are so few things that aren't shared and new shoes felt like a perfect way to express that we value and see the uniqueness of each of them.

On the day we gave the shoes, my friend Joy asked if we could wash the feet of each child before giving them their new shoes.  What a beautiful idea.  We both wanted our boys to be the ones to interact with the kids and so set up a sort of station with bowls of water, towels, and shoes.  What unfolded after that was a bit of a blur.

One at a time, a child would step forward barefoot or in tattered ill-fitting shoes.  They'd sit and Emerson and Judah would remove their old shoes and gently lift both feet into the clean cool water.  Then the boys would kneel and begin to wash each foot, praying out loud as they went.  Sometimes the children would pray too, and sometimes they would cry.  (Us mamas were just basically a wreck of tears the entire time, for the record.  I mean.)  We'd laugh and hug each child, who now were beaming with pride as they walked away with their Own Personal Brand New Shoes.

This holy space was created right in the middle of the hot humid day and we knew we were each witnessing something profound.  Something greater than us. Something that felt so basic, so human, and yet so more than.  We will never be the same, our boys will never be the same.  They will never look at another pair of shoes the same.

This story isn't about how great it was that we took shoes to an impoverished nation.  It isn't about how good it felt to be a part of something like this.  It isn't about us at all.  It is, of course, about us because we were the ones who got to live it, but if we are the point then we've completely missed it.  This story is about love and what love looks like.  On that day love looked a lot like a new pair of shoes.  It looked like my son's hands on brave survivor warrior kindred friends' feet, a holy meeting of humanity.

More stories to come, my friends.  There are so many more stories to come.  For now, I pray this wave washes over you wherever you may find yourself in this moment.  May the same holy meeting we experienced in Ghana occur in your living rooms, around your tables, in the break room, on the walk to school tomorrow.  LOVE is what happens when we slow down, humble ourselves, and allow the Christ in us to find the Christ in another.  Amen.

Mahla Family 2014 \\ Mother & Daughter


I had the joy of spending an evening with my friend Kerri and her daughter Kes a while back.  These two have such a sweet relationship, I loved capturing the playful and fun sides of them as well as some quieter tender moments.  Kes is full of life and has a HUGE personality - she had me laughing basically the entire time we were together.  Her eyes say it all :)  Kerri is such a remarkable mama.  She is wise and fun, patient and engaging.  I spent a lot of my time watching how Kes watched her, and it was so apparent that she is in awe of her mom.

Kerri I hope that as you look back on these photos you are reminded of the moments spent spinning in the tall wildflower grasses, laughing and chasing your brave girl.  I pray that as you and Ronson look back at her precious little girl face, you'd smile and hold onto that joy that she brings you each day.  Be blessed!



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