I got a new camera. And other things.

I've wanted a new camera for about 500 years. Okay, so maybe not that long. But for quite some time.

Let's rewind.

I really wanted to minor in photography in college. But I had three years to plow through undergrad, two-and-a-half if you take into account the last semester was student teaching. So two-and-a-half years, two majors (English and education). Certainly not enough time to squeeze in a minor. I guess I could have petitioned to take 24 hours a semester, but 21 hours was a stretch, especially since none of those were "fluff" classes. At the end of one semester, I had two weeks left, and thirteen papers that I needed to write. I did it.

So now I have this new camera, and I am happy to report that there is so much I don't know, and I can't wait to put in all the practice to figure it out. I've had a very good camera, but it's quite old in the digital camera world, and while it did allow for room outside of auto mode (it actually has a manual mode), I've been ready to move into the world taking full reigns of my compositions. I'm already kind of particular. I like moody photos. Natural light all the way, and minimal post-processing. I like movement in stills. And keeping it real.

Here are some pictures from this evening. The girls had been in bed for about 30 minutes when Cora came in wanting help pulling a very loose tooth.

I love the contrast between the first photo where Jake is explaining the process, and the last photo where his glasses have slid down, and they're just about ready to give it up for the night and try again later.

I did my first shoot on Saturday morning. I got some lovely shots, even though conditions weren't my favorite. (It was thickly overcast, so light, which is my favorite part of photography, wasn't on my side the way I'd hoped). I had beautiful, happy subjects which made it fun, and I'll look forward to sharing some of those photos in the future. I'm also looking forward to doing many more shoots in the future.

Today was Jake's last day at Church of the Open Arms. Twenty-two months of Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. It wasn't always easy because Jake's schedule is so full anyway, but I LOVE that Jake got to be part of COA, and that COA is forever part of us. When Jake sent inquiries/resumes to various churches to be an accompanist, COA was not on his radar. I don't think we even knew it existed. After a few weeks, he got a call from the then-pastor, who said she'd heard from another pastor that he was interested in working at a church. He went in to meet with them, and the rest is history.

Church of the Open Arms is a beautiful, Christ-centered community. Every time I've walked through the front doors, love greets and envelops me. I've learned more about how to be caring and share love through my encounters with this faith community. They made my humanity a little better, and my understanding of the divine a little clearer, and for that I am grateful.

PS: In the middle of writing this, I started hearing people outside. I looked out the window, and saw some folks filming something. From the looks of it, I'm going to go ahead and say it's next summer's blockbuster.

To Adversity:

For every difficult time I've had, and every good thing that has come from the struggle of working through it: I am grateful.

For the faith that used to come easy.

For the complexity of faith that is my new normal - the kind of faith I'm working at becoming more and more comfortable with. Comfort not always with the questions I have [and where the consideration of an answer to those questions leads me], but with being okay with asking them, and being brave enough to see them through.

For the times when I've felt like the "other." I've learned empathy, and found a resolve to draw the circle wide...and to draw it wider still.

For everyone with whom I haven't seen eye to eye: I've seen that love can fill the gaps of misunderstandings and differences of opinion.

For the three times in my life that I've been drunk.

For the boyfriend I had for too long in high school.

For the physical blows I've taken from people I love.

For the many more emotional blows I've taken from the same.

For the hurt that comes with the realization that I've dealt these blows to others.

For my grandmothers who are living whom I've never met.

For my biological father who lived in a teepee rather than with me.

For mourning lost loves [in death and sometimes in life] in a way that still makes my heart ache.

For the falling out with friends and the joyful reconciliations, regardless of the time that passes.

For deep-down peace amid the storms.

For every time someone has said, "No." [And for the times when some have said, "Yes."]

For the ways in which love can be inconvenient.

For when my friend's dad, whom I hadn't seen in over nine years, introduced me to his new wife like this:
"She's Mormon. So how many kids do you have now?"
"I have two daughters."
"Only two? Well, I guess it's about time for another." [Under his breath, "Mormons are baby factories."]
And rather than a biting comeback, my heart was filled with gratitude for the life I had: Getting married at 18, and Jake and I putting ourselves through college, and a masters, and what will eventually be a PhD. The sweet home we live in, and the sacrifice we made to send our girls to a school we purposefully chose.
Yes, I'm Mormon. Yes, I only have two daughters. But even if I had ten, I would still be trying my best to mother them in a thoughtful, intentional way whilst trying to live my life in every way just the same.
Snarky comments, when an angered response is squelched, can be an amazing catalyst for truths bubbling up to the mind and heart. This experience was transformative. Perhaps I should send a thank you note.

For the fact that all of my stories start with "It's a bit complicated."

For the questions without answers.

For the questions with answers that force me to ask hard questions about myself.

For the difficulty that comes with being brave enough to tell the truth about myself. The liberation of finally being able to do so is worth the strife.

For being wrong.

For the way that adversity continues to unfold the path of discipleship I have chosen, and for the times when my steps on this path are clumsy.

Grateful, Grateful. Truly Grateful I am.
I feel a hand holding my hand
It's not a hand you can see
But on the road to the promised land
This hand will shepherd me
Through delight and despair
Holding tight and always there 
Grateful, Grateful. Truly Grateful I am.
In a world that can bring pain
I will still take each chance
For I believe that whatever the terrain
Our feet can learn to dance
Whatever stone life may sling
We can mourn or we can sing: 
Grateful, Grateful. Truly Grateful I am.
Grateful, Grateful.
Truly Blessed
And duly grateful. 
-from Grateful by John Bucchino [Listen here]

When my heart is heavy

I've spent the last two days with a heavy heart. A very heavy heart. After hearing the news that Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were facing disciplinary councils and possible excommunication, a part of me has gone numb. A coping mechanism. A survival tactic. An attempt at keeping my head above water just enough to plea for God's love and grace to pull me out of the deep end. I've been having difficulty putting all of the thoughts that are swirling around my brain into words.

How much is too much for me to bear in my struggle with my faith community? Is there a final straw? How much of myself do I keep giving to an institution that sometimes feels painful to belong to? [Painful at times, and the place I want to be planted at others.]

I've spent the last few years thinking progress is being made - that our circle is widening. I've worked hard at focusing on the good. And there is good. So much of it. But with all of the good that happens every day, in the lives of Mormons near me, in every meal that is made to share with another, every hour volunteered, every testimony borne that rings of truth and speaks to my soul, there is this painful pattern of regression.

I wish the history of regression wasn't enough to overshadow the love and kindness and generosity I see in my church. But part of what has been increasingly weighing on me is the fact that I see so much good outside of my church. Without the baggage that is so devastating to me. I'm saying this knowing that no church is perfect. Not a single one. All of them have baggage. All of them have the pain that comes from human error. But so many are much more willing to accept their imperfections (not try to justify them over the course of decades), openly repent of wrongdoings, and move forward. I feel like we are stunted.

My friend, Paul, wrote, "For me it seems clear that culturally, Mormons aren't ready for women to actively participate in the Priesthood (even though many doctrinally already have the priesthood)."

I agree.

I don't think my question is "Why aren't we ready" as much as it's "Why are so many still so strongly opposed to the very idea of it?" Why are so many opposed to and afraid of asking difficult questions? My church is one body. And I'm trying to be patient with my left arm when it stays still after I beg it to move. Just as I suspect my left arm loses patience with me when I keep trying to press forward without it.

In the midst of this sadness, I am praying for peace and love. For all who are struggling in the wake of this news. For Kate and John and their families. For the ones who will hold the disciplinary councils. For my church that, as Joanna Brooks said, "I really believe [...] is big and strong enough to absorb difference and honest questioning."

Reading Joanna Brooks's thoughts on what is going on helped lift some of the heaviness I was feeling tonight. Read it here: let it be different this time.

And lastly, in the comments section of "let it be different," someone posted a poem by Joanna Brooks. It was, perhaps, even more meaningful to me than her post. "God, make me brave enough to love my people. How wonderful it is to have a people to love."

by Joanna Brooks 
Father, Mother, help me piece together the
     contradictions of my life:
White cotton, red satin, brown polka dot; torn Sunday
     dress, Navajo rug, frayed baby blanket.
Make me insistent on every lonely shred,
     willing to sacrifice no one.
Where there is no pattern, God, give me courage to
     organize a fearsome beauty.
Where there is unraveling, let me draw broad blanket
     stitches of sturdy blue yarn.
Mother, Father, give me vision.
Give me strength to work hours past my
     daughters' bedtime.
Give me an incandescent all-night garage with a
     quorum of thimble-thumed grandmothers
     sitting on borrowed folding chairs.
We will gather all the lost scraps
     and stich them together:
A quilt big enough to warm all our generations: all the
     lost, found, rich, poor, good, bad, in, out, old, new,
     country, city, dusty, shiny ones;
A quilt big enough to cover all the alfalfa fields in the
     Great Basin.
Bigger. We are piecing together a quilt with no edges.
God, make me brave enough to love my people.
How wonderful it is to have a people to love.

Magnolia Jane McInnes Johnson is 4

Four years ago, these girls became sisters.  

Bringing Magnolia into the world was exhilarating. Four hours of labor. Twenty minutes of pushing. And a perfect little babe in my arms. Six pounds, one ounce, born at 4:08 on the very morning we made it to 37 weeks. Full-term. 


She keeps me on my toes, and is a constant by my side. She makes me laugh, and challenges me to think outside the box with her strong will. She says my kisses are yucky, but still loves to get them, and give me hers. She has a vibrant imagination. She often sings to herself and spends a lot of time role playing with objects. She enjoys dancing and listening to music. It's a tragedy in our house when we run out of berries - any kind. Her current favorites are raspberries. 

She's a picky eater, and if she doesn't love what's for dinner, she requests salad and bread with "salad sauce" to dip it in. Sometimes she just wants bread with either "kep-itch" or "bar-buh-chew" sauce for a dip. She loves strawberry ice cream and Popsicles.

One of her favorite things to do is swing. Within the last month-and-half, she's learned to pump her legs and swing herself. While she's shy, she's also pretty fearless, except when bugs are concerned. She only wears dresses. And she loves capes and crowns, and jewels, and her dress-up high heel shoes. 

She is a light, and I love her, and I can't believe she is four. 


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