nick and ciara.

I got to be the second shooter for my super talented friend Duane Jurma in October. The wedding was at Neverland Farms in Cleveland, GA, which is just one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The quaint little signs reading “second star to the right” lead you through the mountains to this full service wedding venue that is truly breathtaking. And Nick and Ciara the couple were just wonderful…easy going, fun, and just a joy to be around. Here are just a few of my favorites from the day…nickandciara007

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taylor and shelby.

It’s just been one of those beautiful mornings. Woke up, went to take engagement pictures for Taylor and Shelby, and sat editing with the sun streaming into the kitchen, new music from Green River Ordinance filling the air, and a big ‘ole glass of orange juice. Just feeling so blessed I get to live this thing called life.

Thank you Lord.

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abide.

I’ve become a bit of a world traveler these days. A citizen of the world, if you will.

Not really sure how it happened.

I’ve now lived five and a half months in another country.

There are some struggles to living half of your life in one place and half in another.

For starters, prepaid cell phone plans are my jam. My passport is a regular purse item. The world clock on the iPhone is pretty much a must. I switch between being a person who has goats to being a person who drives a minivan.

I sat down last month and made a tentative plan for the next year of my life (I know, I know, God is laughing…) and almost every month had two options: (a) what I would do if I was living in Kenya and (b) what I would do if I was living in the US. It was overwhelming.

Then the other day Sarah, our wonderful cook at Chemi Chemi, asked me, “Are you excited about going home?”

I stood there trying to figure out how to answer her.

“I am home,” was my response. It shocked even me.

I went on to explain…when I left for Kenya in February, half of me was filled with excitement and possibility and the other half felt like I was losing all the people I value. I was ready to see what new adventures the Lord had in store in Africa, but I was so sad that it meant giving up precious moments with the people I love in the US…birthdays I wouldn’t be there to celebrate, weddings I would miss, the birth of my new niece that I wouldn’t get to see, …

Georgia is my home. Why? Because so much of my life has been lived between those state lines. So many adventures and smiles have happened there. The people I love are there…almost all of my friends and family that, since time is not infinite, I want to spend any moments I can with them. In Georgia I experienced love, heartbreak, and a world of other emotions that helped me to become who I am. Georgia is where I first learned that the Lord loves me, and it’s where I first met people who showed me what that looks like in the lives we bustle through every day.

So, yes, going back makes my heart full. I can’t wait to hug these people that I’ve only spoken to through the phone or over Skype. I can’t wait to not just see wedding pictures, but to actually be there as my friends take one of the biggest steps in their lives. I can’t wait to eat Chickfila, and to worship on the front porch in Athens, and to place my seat in the line of beach chairs with seven of my closest friends as we start new books and bury our toes in the sand.

But am I sad to leave Kenya? Of course.

Kenya is also my home. I have another family here. I have an entirely other set of friends. I have people that I dance in the kitchen with, ones who put up with my singing loudly in the car, and ones who notice when I’m not in church on Sunday. This is where I felt called to go my freshman year of college, never having heard the Lord spoken so clearly or loudly before. It is where these beautiful people captured my heart. It is where the Lord called me back to last year. It is where I have stumbled ungracefully through trials and learned great lessons about myself and about who the Lord is.

So leaving here, for whatever amount of time I do, I will also miss many things. I will miss weddings. I will miss classes with the pastors I love like brothers and sisters. I will miss moving the chairs on Sunday mornings so there is more room to dance. I’ll miss my favorite Kenyan foods like chapati and sukuma. I will miss hearing Stella sing praise as she washes the dishes. I will miss the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen, and I will miss the sound of beating drums and the calm flow of life.

It’s easy to feel fractured when you have two homes…like they are rock ’em sock ’em robots competing for your time and attention. You cannot fully experience one without, in a sense, abandoning the other. And it makes it harder to live fully engaged in either place, because you’re always feeling the pull of the other.

But then I remembered the beauty of this simple word: abide.

And Jesus says to me, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.

Live in my love, he tells me. Make your home in my love.

It really is that simple isn’t it? My home is where He is. And He is with me always.

Breathing in this truth is what makes me okay that I don’t know where or in what country I’m going to spend the next year of my life. Well, let’s be real…I don’t even know that for sure about tomorrow. But I know He will be there. And that is where I want to be.

“Abide in me and I will abide in you.”

That is the best home I could ever ask for. To live in His grace, His truth, His mercy, His love.

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kisumu.

Had the opportunity to travel to Kisumu this past weekend to visit Pastor James Wanyama and his ministry in Kiboswa. The tilapia, Lake Victoria, and his beautiful church family were well worth the 16 hours on the bumpy Kenyan roads. These are a few images and stills from the video I shot. The video should be done soon and I will make sure to post it when it is!

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True Identity.

Had the privilege of getting to spend a few weeks with Remco and Jennifer Brommet in June. Jennifer is the founder of True Identity Ministries and first came to bring the message of True Identity to Kenya about two years ago. Since then, her husband Remco developed a curriculum for men called “True Men.” In June we took two groups of 20 plus pastors through the material, and here are a few images from some of their activities…

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“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

-2 Corinthians 5:17

unsung heroes.

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For those of you who know my mom, she’s a pretty cool lady. I just nominated her organization, Foster Care Support, and her for an Epoch Award in 2013. A year or so ago I had shared a bit about what she does, but I wanted to share it again here:

I’m not sure what you know or have heard of the foster care system, either in Georgia or in the nation, but I can give you a first hand account of how it has affected my life. We are a long-term foster family, which means that we take kids in until they either get adopted or go back to their family, no matter how long that may be. A child may stay for a day or for several years, all depending on their situation. The child may come with everything they need or only the clothes on their back, but I am sad to say that it is almost always the latter of the two. One thing is for sure, they all come with baggage, and no, not the Samsonite kind.

Each child that has come through my house has had a story. They’ve all experienced some kind of personal tragedy. All have gone through some type of emotional trauma. Many have experienced situations that would be considered terrible for an adult at an age in which the only thing that should concern them is whether they want to play in the sandbox or on the swings. We have had babies born from cocaine-addicted mothers. Infants plagued with fetal alcohol syndrome. A five year old left not only with internal injury, but physical scars where his father put out his cigarette on his skin. Elementary school children who have experienced sexual abuse too young to even understand what has happened to them.

Whenever I tell someone about this experience, they always ask, “How can you do that? Isn’t it hard to let them go?” Of course. You fall in love with each and every one of these children. Each child has his or her own personality. They become attached to you and you to them. Often times they are pulled from their home at only a moments notice, and rarely will you ever see them again. I still have the image of the day that a child we had housed for two years left. I can still see her face peering out the window as I left to catch the school bus. I can still hear her voice saying, “I love you, Lala.” She did not understand why I insisted on hearing it, why I needed so many hugs that day, or why tears were pouring down my cheeks. Even worse, her little two-and-a-half year old self didn’t understand why she never saw me again. I stayed up late that night crying and worrying that she thought I had deserted her. So I grieved for her as someone would grieve for a death of a family member, because that is exactly what it was; I had lost a family member.

People always say that it takes special kinds of people to do what my family does. So back to the questions of, “How can you do that?” The answer isn’t as much a how as a who.

And this is what brings me to my mother.

My mother is not only a special kind of person; she is an extraordinary person. She is dedicated, determined, and passionate. She has a fiery spirit. If you ever ask her about her height, she says she is “built too close to the ground.” She is a born and raised northerner. She is a telephone junkie and an avid Hallmark Channel watcher. She is a pack rat. She loves her mini-van. She never sits still.

Most importantly, she loves helping children.

When we started taking in foster children when I was in the first grade, just helping a few kids at a time didn’t seem like enough for her. The Georgia foster care system had thousands of children being thrown into foster homes throughout the state with nothing for them to wear, no bed to sleep in, no toys to play with, and what seems like very dim futures ahead of them. If you knew my mom, you would see that she is not usually one to stand around and wait for someone else to “handle it.”

So, she started what is now called Foster Care Support Foundation, Inc. Sounds fancy now, but what is now a state wide non-profit organization began in our garage, with only my mom and her powerful drive to enforce change on the lives of thousands of underprivileged children. She relied on donations from those she knew, and soon the foundation grew. From my garage, it moved locations multiple times, and now resides at its current spot at 115 Mansell Place.

The organization’s purpose is to provide clothing, toys, furniture, and other basic necessities to foster children free of charge. To make the lives of these children better. To make their lives as normal as possible. To help them feel like they have the things kids should have. To help them fit in.

To help them feel like they belong.

To enforce the organization’s motto that “All Kids Count.”

It may seem like a small issue to the outside world, but it affects us all. These kids are our future citizens, and how we care for them now determines whether they turn into our next criminals or our next Senators.

If you want to read more about my experience with the foster care system growing up you can read about it here.

i believe, help my unbelief.

So when I first found out I would be in Kenya this year the month that I dreaded the most was April. In February we had the very first pastor’s school for this class, so I knew I would be really busy leading up to that and then there were the elections when I would be staying with Paul’s family in the country. And my friend Erika was here for at least part of March.

But April. Oh April. It was looming over me like a cloud of boredom and loneliness. Not to mention the fact that April is the rainy month and last year was rumored to have rained every single day for an entire month. I was going to slip into a low grade depression, I just knew it. Not one thing was scheduled to happen until the very end of the month and the beginning of the next school session, and although I had plenty of work to fill in my days, I was terrified of the thought of spending that much time by myself. I’m just not very good at being alone. I love to have people around me, to laugh with and cook for. I was starting to sound like Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun where she shouts, “How stupid are you?! You bought a house for a life you don’t have!” Except mine sounded more like this, “How stupid are you?! You moved to Africa for a life you don’t have!”

Now, I wasn’t about to start praying to Saint Lorenzo for someone to cook for, but I was beginning to doubt, to question. Could I do this? Am I even supposed to be here? What if I never have friends…like real friends?

But just like Francis’ prayers to Saint Lorenzo, my cry to my God was quickly answered when I realized I already had friends here.

So I instituted Friday Night Family dinners at the camp, when I get to sit with James and Stella and Samuel (and whoever else is part of the family that week) and eat and talk and laugh and just appreciate each other’s company.

And I went to visit my friend Kaelyn in Nairobi where her wonderful three roommates welcomed me with open arms and an open invitation to come visit any weekend I needed some American company.

And then the best of all…my best friend Allyson told me that her team from the World Race was going to be coming to stay for the month of April to help at the camp and do ministry in Matasia. Most of these girls have been on a team together for the past eight months in eight different countries with different challenges in each place they have visited. Emotional challenges, physical challenges, spiritual challenges. And they have endured them all by leaning heavily into their Father and by encouraging and growing one another through very intimate community.

I have had the beautiful privilege of getting to spend the last two weeks with these ladies, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

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One day as Allyson and I were sitting in the car, the rain drizzling down the sides of the windows, I told her about all the things I had been struggling with lately. As I shared my worries and my doubts with her, she listened patiently. She did not condone my attitude or encourage my behavior, but instead corrected me gently, mercifully.

We asked ourselves, what if we not only knew who God was, but really believed He is who He says He is?

I’ve heard it since my days in the youth group. For goodness sake, I’ve led groups of girls in DNows telling them, there is a difference between having a head knowledge of our Father and having a heart knowledge of who He is.

But how do we know which we have?

For me, I found out when I was dreading this month of April. Do I know that the Lord is my provider, my Jehovah Jireh? Do I know that He sees, my El Roi? Do I know that He is the all sufficient one, my El Shaddai? Yes. I know these all are the very character of God.

But do I believe that to be true in my life? Not as I should.

When I came face-to-face with a situation that challenged these characteristics, I chose fear and doubt over the peace and assurance of belief. And that act in itself is the most disobedient thing I can do. I am denying God the glory of all that He is. And this kind of disobedient and willful heart is what scripture warns me of time and time again.

I am just like the man in Mark 9…saying, “God, if you can.” Of COURSE He can! He is Lord. He has shown time and time again who He is and has told us He is Yahweh, unchanging and constant. And yet, I ask in doubt, “If you can…” I ask in doubt when I should be asking in confidence.

Thankfully, I also know my God to be kind and merciful. Apart from my doubt this month, He still showed me His goodness. Still showed me that He sees, that He is all-sufficient, that He provides. His character is not dependent on my actions or belief.

He brought me comfort, and joy, and love, and a whole new group of friends that I couldn’t even have hoped for or deserved. He brought me community. Not just people for the sake of people, either. He brought me people to laugh with and cook for, to grow with and learn with, to encourage me and to gently correct me. He brought me people to remind me WHO HE IS.

So next time I face a situation where I have the option to doubt the character of God, I pray for steadfastness. I pray for strength and confidence. And I echo the words of that father in the book of the Mark:

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

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(For more pictures from the past couple of months, scroll down!)

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I took Allyson’s team to visit some of our pastors who are working with women in the Muslim area of Kawangware. The ministry is called Tandaza Trust and one of their projects is teaching women to make cards out of recycled paper to sell. After we met all of the women, the girls spent some time talking and visiting with the people around the church building and the children that had come running to see the wazungu…

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