Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lindsay Alexander Photography

A few weeks ago our family had our very first official photo shoot with my friend Lindsay. We wanted this shoot to capture the unique love of our family in a vintage-styled vignette. Lindsay was so awesome to work with and turned our ideas into reality. Most of the props were brought by us because they reflect something about us- Allie plays the violin, Zach's primary instrument is the trumpet (I know that's a surprise to a lot of you), and I love photography. Other items are tethered to memories or moments from our journey together as a family of three. 

In addition to our family shoot, we got to be a part of something monumental in the life of Lindsay Alexander Photography- the launch of her rebrand. Lindsay has been working tirelessly for the last few months to rebrand her growing photography business. It has been a beautiful thing to watch and I am just so honored we could be a part of this process and (bonus!) her new promotional video. Watch the video to hear her story and see a little bit of us too. :) You can also see more pics of us here and there on her new site so go exploring and look for us! 
Gosh I love my talented, beautiful, incredibly giving and loving friend! She has blessed us so much by capturing this moment in our life. So without further ado, here are SOME of my favorites from our shoot. I am limiting myself to only posting about 30 or so here on the blog because if I posted them all, this post would be ridiculous. I really adore the black and white look and am hoping to refresh the wall gallery in our living room with some of these, but how on earth will I choose which to print?!
(click on image to view larger)
So. Unbelievably. Lovely. Am I the luckiest stepmom ever or what?!!

Love my girl Al.
 Love to laugh with her too.




Two of a kind.



 Love this one.
 And this one.
I'm gonna stop saying I love them one by one because I love them all!
 (If you're curious what book these pages are from, it's Swiss Family Robinson, a family favorite.)






This guy. Oh so dreamy.


Presh!


Love her.


Saying "thank you"will never be enough! We love you Lindsay and will treasure these photos forever!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thirty, Flirty, and Thriving

Do you remember that movie called 13 Going on 30? It starred Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink, a 13 yr old girl who, after a disastrous 13th birthday party, wished to just be "30, flirty, and thriving"? With the help of some magic wishing dust given to her by her best pal Matt, Jenna gets her wish and her 30 yr old life seems beyond perfect, on the outside at least. Jenna soon realizes though that she has grown up to be a selfish, vane, greedy person who ditched her only true friend (and love) for popularity. In an instant, what seemed to be the "perfect life" she always dreamed of isn't so perfect after all and Jenna wants a do over. Lucky for her, magic wishing dust is in the picture and she goes back to being her 13 yr old self, able to do things right this time and with her true love by her side.

This movie has been on my mind for the past few days since yesterday was my 30th birthday. I know, shocker right?! Who would ever guess I'm 30???!! Yeah, it shocks me too.
Photo taken on my 30th birthday
30.

And I can tell. I can tell  I'm officially "not young" because they no longer card me at the grocery store when I buy wine. I can tell I'm "not young" because of how my knees feel after sitting Indian-style on the floor for 30 minutes. I can tell I'm "not young" anymore because the thing I wanted most for my birthday this year was not a night out with my friends or some big party, but house and carpet cleaning. LAME.

So even though turning 30 can bring out the humdrum-ness in the best of us, it is a milestone nonetheless. A milestone that means your youth is long gone and "you should have it together by now." By 30, you should be well on your way in life, headed toward the places you wanna be with a little life under your belt to help you avoid the pot holes and speed bumps in your path. I'll have to admit though, if my 13 yr old self could see my 30 yr old self, I'm not sure what she'd think. Ha! Certainly working in ministry in North Carolina, celebrating a 3rd wedding anniversary and having a soon-to-be- 13 yr old stepdaughter would come as a big surprise! Life definitely hasn't turned out exactly as I anticipated as a teenager. It's sort of laughable to remember the things I wanted and who I wanted to be with. Lucky for me God had his hand on my life long before the age of 13 and my course in life wasn't just left up to me. He's directed my path since the beginning, letting me follow my dreams and find new ones along the way, dreams that were his dreams for me and far exceeded the pictures I had painted of my future.

I hope my 13 yr old self would be proud of the person I've become, but honestly... I'm not that interested in looking back. Don't get my wrong, I love to remember and reminisce, but that's not where I want to spend the bulk of my time. In my 30 years I've learned that life is short, much shorter than we ever let ourselves believe, and I wanna make the most of every second. 13 and 30 have been good to me, but my sights are now set on the 35 yr old and 40 yr old version of me that is yet to be. I wanna be better - wiser, more peaceful, more giving, more full of joy and less full of me and the things that so readily ensnare me. I want to be thriving- on the inside, like I never have before.

So in lieu of 13 Going on 30 and this forward glance and hope for my future, I wrote a letter to my future self yesterday, my 35 yr old self.
I will open it on my 35th birthday and compare who I am then to who I wanted to be at 30. Hopefully I will have changed. For the better. Hopefully my 35 yr old self will barely resemble my 30 yr old self. Hopefully I will still be thriving and not wish for a do over like Jenna.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Like a Drum

Today marks our 3rd anniversary and honestly, I can't believe it. It feels so much longer! Our life has changed so much over the last 3 years, all of it for the better. Daily I am reminded of how lucky I am to have this precious puddin' on my arm. God was so faithful, so gracious, and so extravagant when he brought our lives together back in 2009. When I sit back and think about it I am just so overwhelmed. Nothing is better than a great marriage and I just... feel like the richest person ever to have the privilege of doing life with Zach.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across this song by Phillip Phillips and I am obsessed with it. It is my current anthem for Zach. Maybe one day I will put my own stamp on it, but for now here's the video, a tribute to the love of my life.



Like a drum my heart never stops beating for you. Happy Anniversary my love.







Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Man Who Couldn't Die

Today we are celebrating the life of our dear friend David Kuo who passed from this life into eternal life last week.

David was an incredible husband, father, and Christ-follower. Words cannot describe his impact on this world and I look forward to continuing to hear story after story of how God used him here. To know more about his life and professional career, you can read the articles in the NY TimesWashington Post and Charlotte Observer, but today I just want to talk about who we knew him to be and what his death has taught me.

I met David for the first time about 2 years ago when he came to speak to my team at Forest Hill. He shared the incredible journey God had him on and the powerful transformation and restoration Jesus had done in his life. I remember being so inspired by him. Even after only knowing him a few hours, his life had had a profound influence on me. Over the last two years I would come to know David and his precious family on a much more personal level as his battle with brain cancer raged on and as my sister's had just begun. There were so many things to love about David, but here are a few that just stick out in my memory.

David was intentional - with his words, decisions, and relationships. When he spoke, he took his time and chose his words so deliberately. I admired this about him.

David was so peaceful. You always left his presence feeling like time stood still as his spoke and as he poured himself out so graciously to those around him. About 2 or 3 weeks before he died, he was in the hospital due to various complications with his illness. Without going into tons of detail, David's illness was packed with many highs and many, many lows. He had had practically every type of treatment available, had multiple craniotomy's, dealt with difficult symptoms and terrible side effects for years. On multiple occasions he had been given only months to live, but always somehow endured and beat the odds. It was like he was a man who couldn't die. David was a fighter and incredibly strong, but the last few weeks of his life were definitely the worst as he suffered from everything from broken ribs to meningitis ON TOP of his brain cancer. Zach went to visit him in the hospital just a week or so prior to him contracting meningitis. When Zach came home that night, he was not sad or discouraged, but so uplifted and at peace. Even though David had faced and was facing so much, even though he was currently enduring so much, he still had the strength of character to douse his loved ones in peace, love, and wisdom. Zach went there to encourage and support David, but he left having received what he intended to give.

David was incredibly generous with his time, resources, words, and love. When my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer last April, I immediately emailed David, asking for his advice. Within a few hours I got his response-
"Call me." and the digits of his phone number. 
I called him as soon as I got it and we talked... for a long time. And he offered me hope and encouragement and honesty as though it were the special at a restaurant. Not long after, my sister and family were in Charlotte after visiting Duke about treatment options and David came over to our house... for 5 hours. He patiently sat with my family and shared his story and answered their questions. He gave advice and yet again, dished out hope and peace with a side of faith-building encouragement as though it were his job. After this encounter, he and my sister began a friendship and I am so grateful that David was a friend to her during this last year.

David was brave. He not only faced and fought brain cancer for 10 years, but had this incredible unusual perspective on life. He was not afraid, not even of dying. One time, he and Zach were out at a park and they saw a large non-poisonous snake. David wanted to touch it, even be intentionally bit by it, because he had never been bit by a snake, knew he never would be bit by one in heaven, and he was curious to have that experience. (Who thinks like that?!)

David believed "love does" and made a difference in the world. Over his hospice bed last week, his wife Kim recounted various stories of David doing everything from coordinating Medair aid to help people in the Nuba Mountains to picking up hippies on the side of the road and inviting them over for Easter lunch and a bounce on their trampoline. Nothing stopped this guy.

David was candid and genuine. He always told it EXACTLY like it was, even if that included some curse words. :) Gosh we loved this about him and just how raw and honest he did life. It was so refreshing.

David was witty, ridiculously brilliant, sensitive, and wise. During one of Zach's visits with him in the hospital, he asked him, "If you could change one thing about your life (not counting his illness), what would you change?" He responded with,
"I would have been more patient...(30 sec pause, David style)...I would drink deeper from the present moments."
That's pretty good advice I hope we can live by in our present days.

So even though we had been waiting for David to pass on for a while now, even though I could see it was coming- as I sat next to his hospice bed, holding his hand for over 2 hours the night before he left this earth, even though I knew that only incredible healing and God's glory was waiting for him on the other side, it actually happening was still a sucker-punch to the face (to say the least). Even though it seems somewhat silly, David's death still took me by surprise. The night it happened, I was literally shocked. I just couldn't believe it was real. He was the man who couldn't die after all. Even though I knew he was dying and had seen it with my own eyes just hours before, I still expected to see him well, see him healthy and like new. This realization and clash between my expectations and reality perplexed me. Why did I feel that way or think that? Why was it so hard for me to grasp that he was gone? Why was I so very sad? I know he's in a better place. I am rational and logical, but my thought process seemed crazy to me. As I sat on my sofa, tearful, mind racing, and exploring the depths of my grief, the Lord revealed to me a word that summed up the core of my emotional turmoil-

Separation.
Permanent separation.

I realized that I wasn't sad about "death" (after all, we see plants, animals, and sometimes even people dying all the time), but rather about "separation" that results from death. The thought of David's lifeless body bothered me because it was now very different and separate from those left behind. The thought of Kim without her husband or Laura, Rachel, Olivia, and Aiden without their dad bothered me because their family would never be reunited again, this side of heaven. The fact that David's spirit was now gone, forever, permanently, really bothered me because it seemed so separate. These thoughts turned into internalized ones as I became overcome with fear of one day being separated from Zach. Heck, this even explains my extreme dislike and fear of outer space (yes I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out) because it is a massive, black, lonely, isolated, separate place. The thought of being in outer space, floating, in a space suit, in the darkness, terrifies me to my core because it feels so overwhelmingly empty, void, and... separate. That to me is hell.

As I mulled this word over and the aching separateness caused by death, the Lord reminded me that even though David is now separated from this world, he is united with Christ. Forever.

Forever.

I realized that "the man who couldn't die" actually couldn't (not really), because of his faith in Jesus. David would never experience that separate, isolated feeling from his heavenly father because he gave his life to follow his son Jesus. That thought brought much peace about David, but such doom for others. Processing all this pierced my heart as the weight of all those who don't know Christ hung over me like a thick blanket. I was overcome with an urgency to share the gospel, the good news about Jesus, so everyone has the opportunity to live with God forever instead of being eternally separated. Maybe that's why God allows us to experience death and feel the pains of this separation here on earth. It's a reminder of the fragility of life and how much we all need someone to save us from that dark, separate place.

David's service today was such a beautiful testimony and celebration of his life here on earth. He loved and is loved by so many. Words cannot describe his incredible legacy that's been imprinted on each of our hearts. It is truly breathtaking to see how many lives he has impacted and made better. Here's a pic of the balloons released at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Even though my time knowing David here on earth was cut short, I am so incredibly grateful to have made such a wonderful friend and known him these last two years. Even as he was slipping away last week, I will always treasure those hours I had with Zach and Kim as we sat around his bed holding his hands while we talked, shared stories, and laughed. I really look forward to doing that again in heaven, but this time, David won't be confined to a hospice bed or a broken body. None of us will. And it will be glorious. Thanks be to God and this incredible, extravagant gift.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Local Living

Spring has finally decided to show up in Charlotte! Wahoo! I love this time of year and am anxious to see full trees with new green leaves all over town. Unfortunately, I have apparently developed some allergy problems so being outside is a bit less enjoyable than I would like. Zach has been battling allergy problems for years and recently we have turned to nature to help with this problem.

Rumor has it that eating local honey (produced within 7 miles of your home) can help alleviate allergy problems. Last week Zach and I found a local beekeeper right here in Charlotte, about 5 miles from our home in the Myers Park/Elizabeth area. We had a lovely time with Libby, the beekeeper, and taste-testing their available products and flavors. I also recently watched the documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, and it was so fascinating! I'm all about some beekeeping now. Ha!

We ended up purchasing their basic liquid honey to help with our issues. The honey is delicious and I hope this helps us both! I really love the local, natural lifestyle of getting food from your backyard (so to speak) rather than commercial grocery stores that have shipped in products from all over the world. I am in the process of trying to find some local produce options for our family that aren't crazy expensive or highly limited in variety. One such resource I want to try out is Backyard Produce that delivers in our area. Has anyone ever used them before?

I also have decided to create a herb wall garden on a side wall in our dining room. Since I'm not totally awesome with plants, I figure this will be a relatively simple way to have fresh herbs at home year-round. This is a small, experimental step towards my dream of having a spectacular vertical wall garden  in my dream home someday (designed by the incredible Patrick Blanc of course).

The much more basic image below is my inspiration for my basic herb garden, but it will look somewhat different. Pics coming soon with my 30th bday home makeover post. :)
And lastly, our holistic, Chinese medicine doc, Dr. Song, has been introducing me to essential oils. I am not looking to go wild with them, but am looking to find creative ways on how to introduce some of the scents that are beneficial to me (such as lavender) into my life through products I use daily. I am thinking about purchasing some local, natural soaps such as these. I love supporting local businesses and products so if anyone has any other resources let me know!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Rubbish

I've always preferred the word "rubbish" over "trash" or "garbage", but never been bold enough to use it in daily life. I think this comes from a secret obsession with British people and their charming words for things, ordinary things... things like calling car trunks "the boot", cookies "biscuits" and flashlights "torches". I love it and always secretly hoped I would marry a southern gentleman with a British accent. So strange I know, what an odd desire, but ironically I married a southern gentleman who can pull off a killer British accent. Ha! Win.  :)

Anyways, all things British and fabulous is not the subject of this post. Don't even get me started on Downton Abbey and London. (Swoon). Anyways, my POINT goes back to rubbish. No one likes it, it's filthy and smelly and just... waste. Honestly, no one gives it a second thought, at least I didn't until yesterday.

Yesterday was DGroup night and during our DGroup weekly challenge video provided by the lovely Tara Leigh, she answered our questions about the text we didn't understand. Last week we wrapped up the book of Numbers, one of the more challenging books of the Bible to survive. Ha! Anyways, Numbers is mostly about the law God gave Moses for the people to live by after they left Egypt. There are LOTS and LOTS of laws, most of them pertaining to animal sacrifices. Animal sacrifices were required back in those days as a payment for sin. If you sin intentionally, one or more animals had to be sacrificed to make atonement to God. If you sinned unintentionally, one or more animals had to be sacrificed to make atonement to God. If a number of other things related to sin or being unclean happened, animals and more animals were required as a way of restoring your relationship with God. The instructions for what to sacrifice and how to sacrifice and when to sacrifice are incredibly specific. There was obviously no PETA back then. Ha!

Anyways, in reading the text, it became clear that due to how often people sin and fall short (especially of all the commands God gave Moses for the people to live by) that they would be CONSTANTLY and DAILY sacrificing animals to God. This perplexed me. How could that be? How would anyone have time for anything else, other than sacrificing animals? It seems like it would be so time consuming! How did they have enough animals to even do this, given the number of people who were out in the wilderness at this time? It seems like they would wipe out the animal population long before it could flourish. Certainly they didn't do this everyday. Certainly they did it maybe once a week, ya know, to cover all their sins at once or something?

But when we asked Tara Leigh about this, she assured us that the Bible gives no indication that they did anything other than offer sacrifices when they were required. They didn't tally them all up a week or a month later and then offer up something really good to cover it all. No, for each and every sin, something had to pay the price. She explained that this shows us how wasteful sin is and how costly. For instance, imagine that for every sin you did you had to burn $100 or go slash one of your tires. That seems absurd, but that was the equivalent for them. Animals were their life source, their form of employment, means of travel, clothing, etc. The cost of sin was A LOT and a BIG deal.

Ever since last night this truth has been sitting on my mind and in my heart. Why? Because I know Jesus paid the price for sin, but I've never really considered sin that "costly" or "wasteful." I've never really looked at it through that lens. This kinda shocks me because I hate waste. I hate wasting money or throwing food out that has gone bad before we could eat it or losing something I have to replace. So if I hate waste, why do I not hate all sin and avoid it like the plague?

As I've been marinading over this I've realized that the cost of sin and wastefulness of sin goes so far beyond monetary loss.

Sin wastes our lives.

It steals our joy, peace, and faith and turns our lives into rubbish that reeks of fear and greed and wears the filthy stains of pride and self-centeredness. It trashes our relationships and leaves us lonely and broken. Sin = death and we must flee from it. All of it, not just the big stuff. Luckily for us, Jesus paid it all- all of it, not just the little stuff. No matter what you've done, Jesus' death on the cross covered it all. He was the ultimate and final sin offering, and even though we still mess up, we are no longer left slaves to sin and death, needing to burn money or slash tires everyday (so to speak) just to make things right.

Wow.

My all time favorite worship song is the modern version of "Jesus Paid It All" written by our friend Alex Nifong. I've loved it for years, but after last night's DGroup it has a whole new depth and meaning to me. The chorus goes,

"Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow."

And then the bridge says,

"Oh praise the one who paid by debt and raised this life up from the dead."

It makes me cry every time I sing it because I am overwhelmed by my inadequacy and the grace given to me by Jesus. Sin made us rubbish, but he has made us new. We were all debtors, destined for death, but he has paid the bill and given us eternal life. Praise Jesus for his sacrifice and the freedom that comes from knowing him!