Thankful Thursday – March 2016 Books

I’m on a reading roll – and loving it! – but that makes it unwieldy to post reviews quarterly. So here are my March reads:

The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding MarriageThe Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage by Rob Bell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m aware Rob has become a polarizing force among people of faith. That’s mostly, though not completely, irrelevant to this book. This book is more like sitting down to a conversation between Rob, his wife Kristen, and you on the topic of marriage and what fosters or hurts its health. It’s an easy read with some helpful things to say. If you want a quick-and-easy read, with a sometimes spiritual bent, this book is for you.

The crazy title word refers to an ancient Hebrew concept in relation to creation. Before creation, God was all there was. In order to create, God had to “zimzum,” or contract part of himself, in order to make space for something other. And so they describe marriage as a dance between two people, zimzum-ing for one another in order to create something new and good, for a purpose.

RatscaliburRatscalibur by Josh Lieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book contains kid-friendly references to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Knights of the Round Table, and more. It’s creative, funny, and meaningful – your courage more than your actions make you a hero. A perfect read-aloud. Tween did an in-class book report on this and other 6th graders thought it sounded great.

EuphoriaEuphoria by Lily King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I tend to like books that whisk me away to a different time and place and introduce me to intricately-written characters I can get to know and learn from. Euphoria scores on all points. Set in 1930’s New Guinea, it follows three anthropologists studying native tribes along the Sepik River. Anthropology was a brand new discipline and they are trying to figure it out – along with their own hearts – as they go. Loosely based on accounts of Margaret Meade, this book took me down fascinating rivers of academia, study, life, and the human heart.

Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life PermanentlySmall Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

People tend to make sweeping resolutions for how they want to be: fit, organized, healthy. Instead, we should make microresolutions, easily achievable goals we can do at set times, that will add up over time to that be-goal. Instead of muscling through to our goals by force of will power and decision making, microresolutions help us form habits over time. If I want to be healthy, I can set a microresolution to walk for ten minutes on Mondays. After I’ve achieved that goal over a month – making it a habit – I can add a new microresolution: walk for ten minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; or something related like, replace the mid-afternoon bowl of chips with a cup of tea.

This idea is so simple, and so do-able! I know it’s common business practice, but Arnold’s presentation of it here inspired me to set my own microresolutions. So far I have a list of 23 goals I will tackle over time – she recommends no more than two at a time until they become habit. Already while reading the book, I have two successful microresolutions on their way to being habit!

Fervent: A Woman's Battle Plan to Serious, Specific and Strategic PrayerFervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan to Serious, Specific and Strategic Prayer by Priscilla Shirer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the most practical and motivational books on prayer I’ve read. It’s target audience is women, but the advice – and more importantly, the Scripture – is pertinent to everyone. I blazed through the book, anticipating that I will go back through it more slowly as I create my own prayer journal to live into God’s Word through prayer. Highly recommend for anyone desiring to pray more.

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not sure I was going to like this book, but it grabbed me at the start. Maybe it’s the teenage narrator, the really smart, humble girl with an oddball mom and a withdrawn genius dad. Turns out mom is, in fact, the genius. Or maybe they all are.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the author’s intention, but it did have me pondering how we live and how others perceive us. The women, especially, have some awfully low views of one another, especially those who don’t make an effort to fit in. There are more important things than fitting in. And infinitely more important things than judging one another.

Overall, an entertaining read.

Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At more than 500 pages, I thought this book might take me a while. Instead, I read it in a few days. Rowell’s writing style is very inviting, told from the perspective of many different characters, which also makes for short “I’ve got to read one more!” chapters.

The book is entertaining, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. I thought it might be a Harry Potter satire, and in some ways, it does function as such. Simon = Harry. Penny = Hermione. Baz = Ron. The Mage = Dumbledore. Watford = Hogwarts. So the characters, even in their differences, are familiar.

But it’s also a ghost story, a love story, and an adventure story. Perhaps I liked it in part because it kept me guessing.

Create Hope

I have known today’s guest post writer for close to half my lifetime, and she has been one of God’s best gifts to me: laid back and passionate; thoughtful and whip-smart; kind and prayerful. She also has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. She seriously listens and together we laugh until we cry. She’s also the rare bird who thinks I’m funny, which also makes me laugh. Kelly is one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met, and I pray you will be encouraged by reading her post.hope-sun

Create Challenge #9: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

While I could make you laugh at my many attempts to “be creative” and the pintrosities (Pin-tros-ity: a deeply troubling creation inspired by a beautiful picture on Pinterest that bears no resemblance to its original inspiration) that have resulted from my pursuit of artistic expression, I have slowly come to realize that my creativity lies elsewhere.

I have a gift for building relationships with almost anyone. With those who live inside and outside my same-ness, that is, my culture, language, religion, political affiliation, socio-economic status and life experience. I also have this crazy ability to speak truth and encouragement (or, in-courage-ment: putting courage into someone) for the next step of their journey. In so doing, my creative expression reveals itself in the unique way I help to build hope in the hearts of the people I meet.

Creating hope sounds great, but what does that even mean? How do you create hope? Does that even count as real creativity? Believe me, I’ve had this conversation with myself a thousand times. Creativity manifests itself tangibly, like on a canvas, but creativity is not limited by artist’s tools. It shows up in our everyday. And my way is found in this nebulous, ever-changing dynamic of relationships. It’s in discerning what God is doing. In walking with someone to the edge of their next leap of faith, reminding them that no matter what God is with them, for them and can be trusted with their whole heart, even when God has asked them to do scary things.

How do you create hope? I can’t give you a formula. We’ll all do it a little differently, but I have no doubt that we are all called to do so. The Bible says, “God puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, Restoring dignity and respect to their lives— a place in the sun!” We are called to partner with God in His work in the world, and part of what God is doing in the world is rekindling burned-out lives with fresh hope. Here’s the really exciting part: when we get onboard with His work rather than our own, God shows up in the most awesome ways.

God gives us hope and yet, at times, I have lost it. During difficult moments, my heart identified with David who cried out: “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” Honestly, my prayers have been less gracious, filled with more colorful language, wailing, screaming, even (shudder) cussing at God. I have felt pushed to the brink of ending the relationship I gave my life to so long ago. Broken and frustrated, I didn’t want to continue with “the plans God had for me” if they were going to be like this.

At the end of my own rope, my own effort, my own desires to appear righteous in my own strength, at the end of my own all-figured-out version of Christianity, something ordinary and extraordinary happened.

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After years of silence, a friend picked up the phone. “What in the world is going on with you?” she asked. “God has put you on my heart and I can’t stop praying for you.” I burst with deep sobs and blabbered something about the pain and sorrow I strained to carry. And in that vulnerable moment she said something I will never forget. “Kelly, I know these last few years have been painful for you. I can hear it in your voice. But God has good plans for you and is laying the groundwork for something far greater than you could imagine. I know you don’t have the strength to believe that right now, but I do. And with my portion of faith, I will carry you to the cross until you believe in His goodness once again.”

I can’t explain what happened, but somehow everything changed. Her words and prayers touched me and a hope that I believed dead started to stir. God allowed her to be a part of how He “lifted me out of the ditch, and pulled me from deep mud.” She saw how “He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip and taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3).

Shane Claiborne talks about catching hope: “You can’t really learn God’s hope like you learn the logic of an argument or the details of a story. It’s more like learning to belly laugh. You catch hope from someone who has it down in their gut” (The Irresistible Revolution). God uses those who have hope to share it with others.

My personal friend, Merriam-Webster, defines hope: “to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. Hope implies little certainty but suggests confidence or assurance in the possibility that what one desires or longs for will happen.” Hope is both noun and verb. Something you do hoping for a good result; and an actual thing, someone or something that gives you a reason for hoping. Christ is our reason to hope. Christ creates hope in us and in the world.

God has always been clear about what He set out to accomplish on earth. In Isaiah 42 God promises that “He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right. He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.” In Matthew 12, a retelling of Isaiah 42, God says, “Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.”

So how do we create hope? We look at how God does it. We don’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt. We don’t disregard the small and insignificant. We get in there, wherever there may be. We roll up our sleeves and lend a hand. We carry each other’s burdens. We listen, cry and get messy. We remind those who have no hope that they have reason to hope. That with God, truly “ALL things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and that in Christ all hope is never, ever lost. As we line up with what God is already accomplishing in the world, we get to be a part of how God creates hope in this crazy, beautiful, broken world. Isn’t that AMAZING?

I do not perfectly practice partnering with God in creating hope. I am—we all are—a work in progress. While I wholeheartedly believe in creating hope, creativity involves courage. What if all I have to offer isn’t good enough? I fear both public and private criticism and feel a deep sense of personal rejection if my work is met with less than adoration. I don’t always feel courageous. Yet I value courage more than fear. Therefore, my choice must be creativity, vulnerability and risk over self-protection and fear.

Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I make a valiant attempt but still fail miserably. Sometimes, before I even begin, I find myself in a ball on the couch slaughtered by the voices of self-doubt.

But God tells us to “take heart, because He has overcome the world” (John 16:33). So, as long as I have breath, I pray that I choose to participate in what God is doing in this world. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

KBermudez

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

Thankful (Maundy) Thursday

Maundy Thursday. Also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries (loving this last one – because isn’t God’s love SUCH a mystery?).

Maundy Thursday is the day on which we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed (later that night), crucified (Good Friday), and resurrected (Easter).Da_Vinci__the_Last_Supper

The word maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum, which means command. As in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Oy, love can be hard!

Sometimes, it feels like too much. Too much to ask.

I’m wrestling with God this Maundy Thursday. Someone has hurt one of my cubs and this Mama Bear wants to take them down. (In my honor, please read that with a deep, booming, fantastic God-like voice: your favorite Batman, or Morgan Freeman, even Arnold in Terminator…)

How to respond graciously when I don’t want to? Sure, decorum works most effectively, but I want to kill with kindness. Really, I want the kill. Sigh…

I know what today is: a solemn day, an important day for Christ-followers. My One Year Bible doesn’t know that this particular calendar year has landed MT for March 24th. So I sit down with my Bible, knowing I need a heavy dose of God right now, and read this:forgive

Am I willing to listen? The command isn’t just to love, but to love my enemies! Loving my guys is easy. But to love, do good, bless, and pray for my hateful, hurtful, cursing enemies…YIKES!

Therein lies the rub. The true command of John 13:34 is to love like Jesus loved. How did Jesus love? He didn’t say a word in His own defense. He sacrificed His life. He loved with such a costly love that He gave everything He had. And because He loved us SO much, He died to save every single one of His undeserving, unloving, hateful, hurting, cursing enemies who would recognize their own sin and say YES! to His overflowing love.

Jesus said yes to me before I could even attempt to deserve His love (not that I ever could, try as I might). And now it’s my job, as His follower, to say a loving yes to others who don’t deserve it.

I don’t want to. And I still do need to seek justice for my hurting cub. Love doesn’t negate consequences. But God’s love calls me to a standard I can’t, won’t, achieve on my own.

So I ask for God’s love to fill me. To forgive my sins as I forgive those who sin against me (and my cub). I ask God for the willingness to listen, to love, to forgive, to do good, to bless, and to pray – even when that’s the last thing I want to do.

Because, I’m pretty sure, Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, and yet He prayed: “…not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

One of my favorite poets, George Herbert, writes of this mystery:

I threaten’d to observe the strict decree
    Of my dear God with all my power and might;
    But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
“Then will I trust,” said I, “in Him alone.”
    “Nay, e’en to trust in Him was also His:
    We must confess that nothing is our own.”
“Then I confess that He my succour is.”
“But to have nought is ours, not to confess
    That we have nought.” I stood amaz’d at this,
    Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
    What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
    Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

 

It’s not up to us. Every inclination we have to do good, to trust God, it all comes from Him. We are His, and thank God for Him who leads us to trust our Christ, who cannot fail or fall, who keeps it all, our Hold-Fast.

 

The Most Amazing Gift

This Create Challenge began as a challenge to myself – and to all of us – to think outside the box on what it means to create, to be creators, to engage in creative activity. Because Life = creative activity. Because miracles abound in the mundane, the sacred infuses the secular, play does a happy dance at work. So I absolutely adore that my friend Jessie challenged her own traditional thinking to recognize the Creativity inherent in the everyday moments of full days with energetic littles. Jessie has long been one of my favorite people to laugh and talk with, and I’m so excited to share her story with you.

Create Challenge #8 – Jessie Colburn

I used to think of myself as a creative person. Now I think of myself as a stay-at-home mom for these two young girls:JCbabies

Most days, I’m just aiming to make it through. Forget creativity. To quote Sweet May Brown: Ain’t nobody got time for that. Forget plans. Forget recipes. Forget anything that makes me feel like I’m in control of my own life. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m literally making stuff up as I go.

This is the honest-to-God formula for my time with my little people:

Three-ish square meals + snacks + not too much TV + not dying = success  

My life feels a lot like this picture: blurry, messy but smiling, and at the same time— fighting with my 4-year-old over who gets to push the button.JCblur

Not exactly the stuff creativity awards are made of.

But here’s the thing: I feel as though God has given me the most amazing gift. Motherhood, He whispered, is the most creative thing you’ve ever done. You are made for this…this selfless, extraordinary, boundless love.

My response? Motherhood (Parenthood) as a creative process? That’s insane.

I mean, being creative means you create artistic things! And I absolutely LOVE people who create artistic things. I am, in fact, a lover of those artistic things they create! But I’m not one of them.

My friend is a crafty genius. She takes simple things like fabric, or yarn, or unmilled flour, and makes something entirely new out of them. (Julie, you are fantastic). Not only is the end result beautiful, but she legitimately enjoys the process. If you consider yourself creative, then you know that one of the most important ingredients you invest is your precious time. These things my friend makes from scratch do not happen overnight. That’s part of what makes them so valuable: they take time, and effort, and attention, and care.

I realized that I had been working with a very literal interpretation of the word “CREATE.” Per Webster’s Dictionary, I understood it to mean: “to produce through imaginative skill.” Like a painting, or a book, or some other tangible form of art.

I told myself that being a mom doesn’t flex those same muscles. I told myself that 24-year-old Jessie should have written this blog post. She was a budding actress! She took creative writing classes; she attended improvisational workshops; she went to see lots of live theatre…

She also:
* slept in
* had morning sex with her husband
* ate dinner after 6pm
* did not dress like a homeless person
* watched adult TV during the day (not adult as in “porn”; adult as in “created for people over age five.” Just wanted to clear that up.)

The life she had…well, some days I really miss it. Now, I “create” things like PBJ sandwiches. I “make” rules like “Sometimes Mom gets to poop with the door closed.” Why? “Because sometimes Mommy needs a minute.” I no longer produce through imaginative skill.

But then… I do.

Motherhood is, absolutely, an ongoing creative act. It is an ever-present process. It takes time, and effort, and attention, and care. Whether intentionally or subliminally, mothers constantly create—schedules, traditions, memories. These little acts during long days will eventually lead to one full life. We do create.

The end result of my subtle creative acts might not hang in a museum. But I’m absolutely a creative person:
* I create meals to feed my family.
* I make space for my little girls to play.
* I carve out time for adventures.
* I force them (lovingly) to eat their vegetables.
* I draw baths.
* I paint tiny fingers and toes.
* I teach them when something is not OK.
* I sing songs.
* I say prayers.
* I tell stories and read books.

Added together, these are not small things. Mothers CREATE a childhood.JCtrail

The parenting stakes are high. The weight of so much responsibility tempts me to totally lose my mind. What if I screw it all up, creating a sociopath, serial killer, or mean girl? The self-doubt is so palpable and, at times, all-consuming. Because, shoot. This mothering thing is HARD. So many days I think: I’m doing this wrong. Or I’m just not good at this. Or worse: My kids might be better off with a different mother.

For all the good I create, my very real fear is that I also create not-so-good things:
* I make mistakes.
* I create excuses for the kids’ bad behavior and mine.
* I lose my temper and yell at my babies.
* I let them eat terrible things.
* I give into unreasonable requests (who has energy to fight every battle?).
* I tune them out.
* I choose my phone over giving them my presence.
* I park them in front of the TV so I can shower, or cook, or just close my eyes for 20 minutes.
* I go back on promises.
* I do what is easy instead of what is right.

Sigh. That list makes me die a little bit inside. But moms are human. We will never be perfect. Our job as parents is not to create magical childhoods that result in well-adjusted adults. We don’t actually have much control over that. Our job as parents is to love our kids extravagantly.

We contort and concoct and misinterpret this role so profoundly. And truth be told, I think it breaks our Creator’s heart. He did not create us to be perfect. He created us with the knowledge that we would fail so epically that we’d need to be rescued.

So why do we look at mothering through this lens of unattainable perfection? I’ve been a mom for almost five years (a relative newbie, I grant you), but I’ve been deeply saddened by how negatively most mothers view themselves.

Thankfully, there is an upside. Because with God, there always is.

This creative, beautiful God who made us—who made our kids—made us for community. We were not meant to do this job (or live this life) by ourselves. Community sustains us and empowers us. It nourishes our soul and gives us the strength to keep going. It gives us a healthier voice to counteract the negative self-talk that swirls around in our minds.

One of the intensely powerful blessings I’ve discovered is the community of other moms. They are the voices of women who cut through the noise and, instead, deliver grace and love. And for me, they come from all over: from church, from work, from my kids’ preschool, from my own family (Grandparents, here’s looking at you). Sometimes they’re from blogs or books of people I don’t know in “real life” but capture my sentiments exactly—Bunmi Laditan, for example, is my spirit animal. Jen Hatmaker, the hilarious genius behind For the Love, I assume wrote that book for me personally (Thanks, Jen. That was really nice of you).

The point: there are people on this planet who help me in this intensely creative quest.

These women validate my experience. They confirm that my kids will turn out OK; they affirm that I’m doing my best; they remind me that God is in charge; they let me cry when I feel guilty; they laugh with me when my offspring does something entirely preposterous; they love my kids when I find them to be a bit too much; they are a source of encouragement, wisdom, and advice; they remind me to breathe between the waves in this sea of baby vomit and dirty diapers and toddler meltdowns.

Most importantly, they remind me I’m not alone.

I do, actually, LOVE being a mom. My daughters light up my heart. They are so funny. And they are good kids. We have fun together and I genuinely love being with them. No question, they are my absolute favorite people.JCpink

But they exhaust and overwhelm me, too. And it’s OK.

Speaking from my limited experience, what I do know is this: This mothering thing is an insanely creative process that takes a lifetime to learn. You know how the song goes: He wrote the notes on your heart before it took its first beat. The melody won’t be perfect, and at times you won’t recognize the sound—but let yourself sing it. You are producing through imaginative skill. You are creating something beautiful.

Well done, mama.

JCbio

Jessie Colburn is wife to Chris, mom to Kate & Charlotte, and a general lover of books, friends, family, and wine (not necessarily in that order). You can usually find her on a hike with her kids, in her kitchen preparing a meal, or near the teen fiction section at her local independent book store. While most of her time is spent raising her babies, she’s also a freelance children’s book editor. Her favorite activities include laughing, eating, reading, and talking.

Meatless Monday – The Greenest Soup

It was one of those weeks when the Universe declared, “Your plans be damned!”

Extra meetings. Tasks took too long. Hormones flared. Perfectionism roared. Memories failed. Schedules ran amok. The internet went down at work and, as soon as it was restored, it went down at home: three repairmen in three days, to discover that the service we’ve been paying for – for years! – is not available at our home due to lack of wiring. You’d think the company would know that…

But we had spectacular weather. After a week of downpours we enjoyed bright blue skies, light breezes, and itchy eyes from pollen storms produced by gorgeous bursting blooms. I even got a little too much sun during an outdoor lunch break.

Spring arrived yesterday and brought with it more rain. California is still trying to recover from disastrous drought so I say, “Bring it on!”

Besides, cold weather means more soup days! I had intended to post this recipe last Monday in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day. Not because it’s traditional, but because it is So Green. Truly, the greenest soup. And it’s delicious. If you want something a little more Irish-traditional, try soda bread or leek & potato soup.

But I couldn’t post last week (see above) so I’m posting today and now it is once again soup weather. See? Everything works out.

broccoli

Bsoup1Bsoup2

Thai Broccoli Soup
Serves 4-6

½ large yellow onion (approx. 1 c), diced
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, diced
1-2 Tbsp green curry paste*
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
3 c veggie broth
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 pound broccoli (approx. 4-6 c), chopped
2 c spinach leaves
1 c cilantro leaves + more for serving
Juice of ½ lime
2 scallions, shredded
¼ c peanuts, chopped (optional, for serving)

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in a large soup pot until onion begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp of water at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add coconut milk, broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Remove from the heat and add the spinach leaves and cilantro. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Juice lime into soup and top with cilantro, scallions and peanuts.

*Note: Green curry pastes can vary widely in heat! I use Thai Kitchen and noted that they recommend on the jar 1-2 Tbsp of curry paste per can of coconut milk, so that is what I used in this recipe.

Tip: Don’t toss the broccoli stems! Once you cut off the florets, use a veggie peeler to peel the tough outside of the stem, then chop and add them to the recipe as well.Bsoup3

Leap of Faith

You know those people you esteem at a distance? Shirley is one of those women in my life. Our kids have traveled together through elementary school and now into middle school, but she has a daughter and I have a son and so our social overlap has lacked. Yet I have watched with deep respect as Shirley has invested in her passion and launched her business. She inspires me, and I’m sure she will inspire you as well.

Create Challenge #7 – Shirley DeFrancisciDef-2

I took a leap of faith on November 11, 2014, which resulted in me receiving an amazing gift. Within days after a family photo session I said, “I can and want to do that, too!” and I decided to start a photography business of my own.

Why do this? Photography has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I started with Kodak Instachrome and Polaroid photos in elementary school and I carried around a Nikon SLR during most of my junior and senior years in high school. I never stopped loving photography in my twenties but becoming an aunt and then a parent inspired me to pursue photography more intensely.Def-1

So when the opportunity came about to share my skills and art with others in a more official capacity, I seized the chance. It felt like the most logical thing to do. I am grateful and have no doubt that God’s hand provided the bit of push I needed to pursue this dream. With giddiness, nervous excitement, prayer and with my family’s full support, I launched DeF-Stop Photography. My announcement was a simple email sent to a collection of friends/acquaintances with a link to a Sign-up Genius. Hitting send made me feel so vulnerable! However, within four days I received over 30 confirmed bookings for Christmas mini-photo sessions. I felt humbled, surprised, honored, energized and beyond grateful for everyone who trusted me out of the gate to capture their images. It was a win-win as my clients started to report how thrilled they were with the results.

Why do this? Since then, I have constantly questioned myself: Is this what I want? Is this God’s intent for me? Is this relevant to who I am?Def-3

Why do this? I also do mental sanity and capacity checks. I work full-time at a great company. I am the mother of three, incredibly beautiful-yet-busy children. I am a wife, daughter, sister, friend and I need at least some time for myself! There are only 24 hours in a day! In order for this venture to be successful long-term, I had to frame it in a way that was relevant and resonated with me, my husband and family while aligning to our goals and, sometimes, just logistics. Being creative makes me happy. Happy mommy = happy home = happy family. Okay, keep going!Def-4

Why do this? To pursue my love for photography and share it with others. My goal is to express myself as an artist but also communicate what is true. The camera doesn’t lie (Photoshop does if you need it to). I listen and strive to provide what my clients ask for but I take risks and show them angles they might not have considered. I see one thing but do they see it, too? They show me things I did not see at first. I am learning and growing my craft. I am rewarded when images pleasantly surprise me and are better than I imagined.

Why do this? I capture God’s beauty and I capture life as it happens, either outside in open space, at a local event, inside for a party or in a nursery for a newborn shoot. I see people in beautiful light, playing and, most often, happy (even teenagers). I want my clients to enjoy the experience and love the results. I am inspired to capture with my lens the emotions of family interactions, sports and other activities. During shoots, I sometimes remind my clients to look around since they are often with people they love the most. I remind them to pause, take a deep a breath and treasure this moment. I do this too. When we can collectively stop and realize that nothing else matters but these people around us, it is a priceless gift. I am always in the pursuit of capturing this moment with my lens. This is why I do this.Def-5

 

Def-Shirley

 

Shirley lives in Moraga, California, with her husband, three children, mom, and a very old, fat cat. She volunteers whenever she can. In her free time she loves music, reading and, of course, photography! To see more of her work and schedule your photo session, see her website: https://defstopblog.wordpress.com/

How Do We Pray?

walkAs we walked the trail, my friends talked about dealing with stress: exercise, meditation, therapy, hypnosis…

I said, “Or you could pray.”

They expected that from me, but I didn’t expect their response: “Well, you know how to do that. We don’t know how to pray. Maybe you need to pray for us every morning.”

On the spot, I grabbed them in a hug-headlock and started praying. It’s not that complicated, but we seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I talked to God our Father, asking Him to wrap them up in His loving arms and soothe away their stresses as they learn to rely on Him. Walk over, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went our ways.

That conversation certainly motivated me to pray for my gals, but it also broke my heart a little. These friends come to church and hear people pray regularly. Still, they feel ill-equipped to pray themselves.

I’ve been church-going and praying all my life and I still don’t like to pray out loud. I love me a good Bible study but don’t relish out-loud group prayer. Which meant, I thought, I didn’t know how to pray.

I remember the moment, about a decade ago, when I had an epiphany: I pray all the time! I pray as I read God’s Word. I journal my prayers. When I’m alone in the car, I keep the radio off so God and I can chat on the go. I pray as I walk. When someone comes to mind, I pray for them (and then get in contact to see how they’re doing – there is often a reason I’m thinking of them). I pray with and for my kids. I listen to music that leads me to pray. And on and on.

Why did I think I couldn’t pray? Because my introverted tendencies make it uncomfortable for me to pray in groups. It can feel too intimate. I don’t know what to say. I feel a responsibility to those I’m praying with to “get it right” even as I stumble over words. None of which provides an adequate excuse for not praying in groups. I still have to do it. Praying individually and in groups grows me as a follower of Jesus.

I’ve already offered a number of ways to pray individually. In addition, my friend Nancy has written and artfully illustrated a booklet of prayer ideas that you can download for free as you learn to Pray More. There are boatloads of books on prayer, but my new favorite is Fervent by Priscilla Shirer (written for women but don’t let that stop you, guys; the principles apply to everyone).

Some tips for praying together:
* Listen to what others pray for and agree with their prayers instead of composing your next prayer.
* Pray short prayers, using normal language.
* Silence is okay!
* Let the Spirit lead the direction of your prayers, each prayer building upon the prayers of others.
* Remember that God is your audience, not just others in the group.
* Use Scripture as God brings it to mind.

The good news? My friends are learning to pray. Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. But they are reading daily devotional books and leaning on God throughout their (still stressful) days. As they pray, I suspect they are falling deeper in love with Jesus. Which, by the way, has been my regular prayer for them since that day on the trail.