Counterweight

I pulled into the driveway of my close friend’s small brick house one autumn afternoon, the air thick and humid, stuck in transition from summer heat. She wasn’t home, but her neighbors’ kids ran and yelled at one another in the front yard next door, enjoying their first few moments of freedom after school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I jiggled the doorknob and prayed it would open. It turned without hesitation—I exhaled and let myself in. I could have imagined it, but a strange hush filled the rooms as I determinedly made my way to her bedroom, contrasting with the intermittent boom firing in my chest.

The handgun lay exactly where she’d told me I might find it. My hands shook as I dismantled the weapon; I felt silly for this. You’ve killed a deer, for Pete’s sake, Bethany. This is just a handgun.

But I’ve never dismantled a handgun at my friend’s home and held it for safekeeping after she placed it next to her own head the night before, contemplating pulling the trigger.

One small handgun never felt so heavy in my hands.

It was just one moment in one afternoon, in response to one action taken in one moment on one evening, yet the impact of hearing Dickinson’s carriage wheels screeching to a halt has not yet faded. I will never know why my friend chose not to pull that trigger, but thank God she didn’t.

This week, the Ozarks were hit with a line of thunderstorms I’d categorize as a deluge. I waded to my car in my rain boots after a meeting and drove home at 7:30 in the darkness, listening to Iron & Wine’s Trapeze Singer.  Another dear soul I love deeply and had to release came to mind, and I literally could not breathe. This was a problem since I was in the process of operating a vehicle in the midst of a downpour. I nearly stopped driving and clutched my chest, tears falling. I’m sure I was making what my friend Tara calls “the ugly cry face,” but I couldn’t help it. For a few seconds, the grief of losing someone invaluable overwhelmed me.

282244_518566098082_1117807_nA few days ago while the sun rose and glistened across the horizon, I stood in my backyard, which is nestled deep in the woods, and I noticed the spindly spider webs connecting trees on the hillside waving and dancing in the wind, the dew on each silk thread reflecting light with every tiny movement. Dry leaves fell among them and rustled through the recently raked yard.

I thought about grabbing my camera and attempting to capture this beautiful moment, but I knew it would be in vain. Even the best photographs are poor mirrors of our experiences; life is meant to be lived.

As painful as it is to grieve, to remember, to work through and process trauma, to watch people suffer, and to suffer myself, I don’t want to stop living. I never want to lose the chance to experience beauty that can’t be captured.

Those brief, beautiful moments are enough to serve as a counterweight for me, and I’m grateful for that.

One of my favorite poems, which resonates with me, is “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa.

“… What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string
is beyond me.  Maybe the hills
grew weary &  leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.”

 

Thankful for everyday love

Today’s guest contributor is my childhood friend, Leslie Ferguson Thomas, who is on a fearless journey to become who she wants to be. Be sure to check out Leslie’s blog!

My husband always refers to us as two puzzle pieces, and when we met, he says, “The world could hear the click”.

I grew up dreaming about what it would be like to fall in love. I imagined it just like the movies.  I grew up watching Dirty Dancing, Lifetime movies, and Grease. In my mind I fell in love a million times. Each time was different and special, but the girl in the image never looked like me. She always had the perfect figure, perfect hair, and pretty much perfect everything. So each year I would start a new diet and live in my fantasy land. I was always waiting for me to be perfect, so I could meet the perfect guy.

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

I met Josh, my husband, through an online dating site called Plenty of Fish. I was 29, and he was 32.  I had gone through a breakup about a year prior that really shook me up.  I had seen myself continue to stay in a horribly one sided relationship because I thought this guy was a great guy simply because he wanted to be with me even though I was overweight. I drove way too many miles each weekend, spent money I didn’t have, left a job I liked, and gave up who I was for someone else. After that relationship ended, I promised myself I would never do that again. So when I met Josh, I was very guarded.

Josh was nothing like any of the guys I had dated before. I remember one night in particular, it was storming outside, and I didn’t have any minutes on my phone. I had planned to go visit him, but he insisted that I stay home. He didn’t want me to get out in the weather. After being with guys who didn’t even consider me, I assumed he really didn’t like me. I soon learned that was far from the truth. Day after day, conversation after conversation, we became closer and closer. I never worried about my weight around him, what I wore, or what I said. I was totally myself with him. He told me he felt the same.

In March 2010, Josh asked me to marry him. It was a day I will never forget. Seven months later we said, “I do”!

LeslieandJoshweddingIt was the most magical ceremony. Josh has never once asked me to change anything about myself, but the funny thing is that being with my husband makes me want to be a better person. I am getting healthier. I am going after my dreams. I am letting go of hurt, and loving deeply. But what I have learned is that Josh is romantic in his own sweet way. Sometimes he will hear me singing a song, and the next thing I know he has gotten me the song. Sometimes I will think he is not listening to what I am saying, and then a week later he will bring it back up.

 

Day 20–Becoming a vessel

*Thank you, Debra Dickey, for serving as today’s guest contributor as part of the “28 days of love” project this February. Debra’s a regular contributor to this blog; I’m thankful for the wisdom she shares and for her friendship, too.*

White River, 2012.Photo by Bethany Wallace

White River, 2012.
Photo by Bethany Wallace

[Online ‘Dictionary’ of vessel]  Rare: a person regarded as an agent or vehicle for some purpose or quality; a conduit

Honestly, I personally don’t agree that it is so rare to discover or identify a person who chooses to be, and could be intentionally described as, a vehicle or conduit for some purpose or quality – to be the vessel, then let the Glory fall where it may. Hallelujah!  I know an abundance of those kinds of folks.

For the most part, we’ve been conditioned to seek acclaim, to go for the gold, to have our name in print, to be sought out for our diverse and multi worldly successes.  And so we should work hard, so we should absolutely do our best, so we should strive for the goals that get us where we need to be.  Yet we must not also forget that we are working neither at earthly employment for only earthly rewards, nor with only earthly tools for earthly recognition, but with, and for, a higher Authority, who supplies tools in the form of omnipotent gifts and resources, and who introduces goals and missions for our omniscient ‘work’, that far-reaches our day-to-day jobs, going well beyond these finite terrestrial expectations.

Certainly, I am much aware of what is involved and how much is required to become even slightly successful at genuine vessel-age (J). Truly, there must be a putting aside of one’s own ego, a mighty attitude adjustment, and an alteration in one’s own heart and mind in accordance with one’s own personal walk of faith.  Letting God fill your being with what He will, then use you as He chooses for His Honor and Glory!   Surprise, surprise, it’s not always easy.  Matter of fact, sometimes it’s downright hard!  But despite those drawbacks, in the midst of even those challenges, you won’t be surprised to learn that it is being done, and quite phenomenally, on a regular basis, by persons of every sort, in all walks of life!  People who are sensitive to the leading of God’s Spirit, people who walk and commune with God for greater understanding, people who seek first the kingdom of God.

Yes, people do it every day.  Spouses.  Parents.  Regular people.  Lovely people.  People who invite the best for others, people who are acquainted with the big picture, magnanimous people who love watching others succeed, then go about the business at hand and take the time to help those in their sphere of effectiveness to find their true path, to aspire, to learn, to strive for their goals, to recognize and own their particular accomplishments and achievements, then celebrate those successes right alongside them … without ever giving a thought as to who should receive the credit!   Modest, they say.  I say otherwise.  I say:  Accomplishing the Mission that we were put here to accomplish by following the Guidelines that we were put here to follow. So it is written as ‘The Gift of Love’:   “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  [I Cor. 13 (13) ]

“The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”—Mother Teresa

Isn’t that truly what love is?  Whenever possible, be the vessel.  Well, look at you . . . you’re already doing it!

Day 15–Loving what I do

Sarah and Jordan Crowder of Phoopla Photography & Design

Sarah and Jordan Crowder of Phoopla Photography & Design

*Thanks to my sister Sarah Crowder for writing today’s post about how the love of her life has supported her in her journey to do what she loves for a living. Check out her photography business home page and her Facebook page, too.*

I am grateful for every single day. When he tells me all he wants is to see me happy, I know it’s true. So today like every day for the last 12 years, I am eternally grateful for a beautiful family & an amazing man whose love & support knows no bounds. Today as I celebrate the 1 year anniversary of one of the biggest, most exciting & scary steps of my life, I’m taking a moment to think of what I’m grateful for. To start, what is the definition of Gratitude? Wiki says : Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgement of a benefit that one has received or will receive.

I have a lot to be grateful for in my life but especially in this last year of new beginnings. When you’re married with two kids, your family is taking that big step, too, so I guess I should say our biggest, most exciting & scary step.

One year ago today I turned in my two-week notice to the corporate job I had held for eight years along with all the stresses & all the securities to pursue my passion for photography as a full time job! How was I able to do this & why would I do this?! Let me tell you a story about a great man – my husband. He’s not only the best father to our two girls; he’s also the most supportive husband I could ask for! His love for all us crazy girls never ceases to amaze me. 12 years ago, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, my daughter’s birth father was no part of her life, & I had lost my faith in men. Then I met Jordan. He loved me & most of all loved my little girl. I could go on forever about how he restored my faith in men and how he loves & accepts our daughter as his own-how biology plays no part in this family. But back to me quitting my job!

The Crowder family

The Crowder family

After dating for years & a long engagement & finally a beautiful wedding, we were blessed with a second beautiful baby girl, Lola Belle! I loved getting photos made every month of my older daughter but dreaded the beat down of the commercial photo studios. When Lola was born, for my first Mother’s Day, Jordan bought me a professional camera and told me to follow my dream to capture all the special moments we were experiencing as a family.

One of Phoopla's action shots

One of Phoopla’s action shots

Soon friends & family were requesting we take photos, cover weddings & capture their special moments! It’s been quite a ride of long nights, years of working 6/7 days a week, numerous sacrifices and he’s been by my side the whole time, assisting me supporting me & even through the tough times still cheering me on (not to mention telling me to quit the job that was killing me!).

I love my job now. No more dreaded meetings, conference calls, belittling bosses….  I don’t even like to call photography a job because it’s truly my passion! I love having more time with my family & capturing special memories for other families! Having the freedom to work from home alongside my husband is something I am grateful for every single day. When he tells me all he wants is to see me happy, I know it’s true. So today like everyday for the last 12 years I am eternally grateful for a beautiful family & an amazing man who’s love, & support knows no bounds.

Day 11–Five thankful people

*Special thanks to Mary Agrusa for writing today’s post for our “28 days of love” project. Be sure to check out her blog as well.*

 

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Five categories of people who should give thanks to God are listed in Psalm 107. Which one(s) are you?

Verses 1-3 state that anyone who is redeemed should thank God because He is good and His love never ceases.

Verses 4-9 describe those who were lost, wandered aimlessly and had no hope. Hungry and thirsty, they cried out to God for help. He heard them, led them to safety and cared for them. They’re to thank God not only for His unfailing love, but also for supplying their needs.

Verses 10-15 refer to those in prison literally or figuratively of their own making. Their bad choices produced severe consequences. They’re instructed to give thanks because God set them free from their incarceration.

Verses 17-22 cover those who as a result of their rebellious actions suffer serious physical and psychological illness. Their lives spiraled downhill toward the grave. They cried out to God, He heard them and sent His word that healed and rescued them. They’re to give thanks to God publicly and sing songs of their deliverance.

Verses 23-32 tell of those caught in a ferocious storm. Violent winds and crashing waves tossed them about mercilessly. They cried out to God, Who with a whisper, stilled the storm and guided them to safety. They’re to thank God for His love and praise Him in the assembly of people.

Where ever you find yourself in these groups the end result is the same. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His love never fails.

 

Day 10–Dearly loved

Photo by Kelly Booy

Photo by Kelly Booy

*Big thank you to my friend Kelly Booy for agreeing to contribute to the “28 days of love” project!*

I have had a consistent prayer for contentment these last couple of years!  My awareness of this need came one summer day in 2009 while on a walk in the Dutch farmlands.  A quiet, picturesque moment on a bench overlooking Kinderdijk’s windmills was interrupted by a pesky bird.  In the midst of worship, I found myself wiping away bird poop from my temple and hair!!  Striking me as funny and strangely appropriate, I could not hold back the giggles.  It was an intimate message as strange as the delivery.  I couldn’t shake the imagery, sweet silence and the words that came to mind, “Even in this mess you are dearly loved and cared for.”

The years following could be described as a roller coaster.  My family and I made the decision to move back to Arkansas, September of 2009, after spending two years of our life in Holland.  My husband had gone back to school in the country of his birth, receiving an International MBA, our two small children had learned some of the language and culture, and we had connected with family and made new friends.   It was an amazing experience with many highlights and some obstacles, but overall we were super thankful.  In thinking about moving back to Arkansas, I knew that I would struggle with contentment.  I would even venture to say that there was an underlying fear of the mundane–like walking down the mountain into a valley.

Within the year following our return to central Arkansas, we had bought a car, a substantially sized home, and thankfully had a job!  We settled into a church that we loved and were challenged every day by the Gospel, a simple message:  While we were still sinners Christ died.  We were surrounded by dear friends and making many new ones.  Life was good.

Soon we were staring unemployment down;  contemplating selling the home we loved because we couldn’t afford (it) to get it to the state we wanted, nursing a torn Achilles tendon, had a shingles flair up, facing impending student loans, medical bills, a second round of unemployment , professional rejections,  car issues, etc . . . Needless to say our faith was tried, and we were feeling seriously helpless, anxious, and humbled.

My prayer for contentment had taken an interesting twist, and honestly I can’t say that it was what I had wanted and/or expected!  My perspective was skewed, and I was doubting the truth that God was my provider.  Slowly I started to notice the little things, like:  we had never gone without food, we had clothes and shoes, we were able to continue making our mortgage payments, and those gentle offers of help from friends and family.  Literally, every time I turned our ignition in our car I would say, “thank you God!”  I realize that this might sound a little “third world”, but truly God was doing a great work in my heart.  It became glaringly obvious that God was providing.

We welcomed our third child in August of 2011, Emma Jeanne Booy,. . . 10 days prior to losing our insurance due to our second job loss.  Strangely, the period of time following Emmy’s birth has been some of the sweetest I have ever experienced in my life to date.  (I had all but convinced myself that I would struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of Emmy.)  Stefan was home rigorously job hunting and working contract work on the side.  He had time to take morning walks with me and the baby. We sipped our morning coffee and shared difficult, intimate conversations.  Those months were profoundly precious and healing when they should have,  by all circumstantial appearances,  been shrouded with worry and fear.   I secretly began to praise God in the midst of the messiness.  My emotional state was more than intact, and I began to see glimmers of what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

As I reflect over these last several years I am completely dumbfounded and thankful for the roller coaster.  My hope and prayer is that I never lose this realization– my “satisfaction or contentment” is not directly related to my situation or comfort.

The pesky bird might have shat on my head, but I can wipe off the mess all the while knowing I am dearly loved and cherished.

 

Day 3–The delicate dance

*I’ve known Jessica since college, and I feel privileged to have watched her evolve into who she is today. Our journeys aren’t identical, but I relate to much of her story. Check out her blog!*

Gratitude and love. Topics that seem to go hand in hand with lines blurred as to where one ends and another begins. Because, indeed, if you have ever been loved, well, the gratitude of being a recipient of such is a natural overflow.

When Bethany asked me write for this blog I immediately said yes. And then, moments later, regretted it. Don’t get me wrong. I have much to be grateful for. But currently, I’m in a season of life where grief overshadows most my gratefulness. And that’s the funny thing about love. It can often bring with it a two-edged sword bearing pain and piercing joy. How the two can exist in delicate harmony is something I’m learning day by day.

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Paige was a 15 year old high school freshman when we met just 5 short years ago. Over the course of our children’s lives, she became more than just a teenager in our Sunday school class, she became family. In July, for reasons still unexplained, she died. The pain and grief that has been heaped upon my family by her death has nearly been crushing.

However, she is worth it.

The way she loved our family, the way she loved our children, the way she loved me has made every second of our grief worth it. And if I could go back in time five years and choose to love her all over again, I would.

This girl, this friend, who in my opinion left this world much too soon, left her mark on our family. My spunky, caring, eight year old daughter is forever changed because of the way Paige loved her. She wears funky hats, loves endlessly, serves others willingly and knows that it’s okay sometimes to act a little silly. All of those things because Paige did the same with her and now, she’s forever changed.

My sweet, tender, six year old son, who still cries weekly because he so desperately misses Paige, is forever changed. Just like Paige, he loves giraffes, making up silly songs, listening to music on his iPod and worshiping God no matter who is watching. He watched her love those things, and it has forever changed him.

My enthusiastic, laughter inducing six year old daughter dotes over babies, loves them fiercely, isn’t afraid to change a dirty diaper, act silly enough to illicit a laugh and is perfectly fine with carrying a younger sister around on her hip as long as she desires. All because she saw Paige do the same with her and with every child Paige came in contact with. Now my six year old daughter is forever changed.

I could keep going but the point is, Paige loved us well and we love her deeply. She changed us. All of us. Somehow, a 20 year old girl attached herself to our family and caused us to redefine why, how and who we love.

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

We love not because she is blood. We love not because she has the title of family. We love not because it is easy or convenient or warm and fuzzy. In fact, the last six months, since her death, those last adjectives have been the hardest to swallow.

Yet, we are so very grateful. Grateful for her. Grateful that God allowed us five short, love filled years with her. Grateful that we have memory upon memory of her time with us. Memories of vacations and sleepovers and road trips. We are grateful that she loved us richly, and we loved her wholly.

The pain of losing her has pierced us deeply while the joy of who she remains to be in our family abounds. I’ve held my children as they cried tears and wailed sobs because they miss their friend so very much. I’ve watched them dance and laugh and sing songs that she taught them and see the joy in their smiles and the pain in their eyes.

It’s a funny thing, this kind of gratitude. It’s hard to describe how grief, joy, love, gratitude and sorrow can combine into one smooth wave of emotion that pours itself into every facet of your life. The dance around, these pairs of love and sorrow, gratitude and grief. And if I’ve learned anything from all of this, it is that one can exist and even thrive in face of the other. A year ago, I would have never thought that possible. Now, I’m so thankful for the way the two dance within my heart. Because if you take out even one of the two then you take Paige and her love from our lives, and that is something I’m so grateful that we will never have to do.

 

Jessica also blogs over at http://themakingofmom.blogspot.com.