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Female beauty is not a zero-sum game, a scarce commodity, or something only some of us are allowed to have. We have to think ourselves beautiful-not prettier than or less pretty. We have to believe that female beauty is limitless, and love our bodies for their own sake.

-Maya Rupert

Thinking yourself beautiful is a life long work for most of us… I know it will be for me. Though being out of the dating game has help shed some of the insecurities, still if I am not careful can find myself insecure about my weight and overly focused upon my appearance (hair, clothes, cosmetics, etc.) as if these things define my beauty or determine my worthiness of love and belonging.

I am learning though, that the more I accept my body each day with all of its perfect imperfections and uniqueness and live how I am most comfortable being, the more free and brave I become… the more I am able to enjoy life (like beaches, swimming pools, cocktail dresses, dancing in the blazing dance club at midnight with my love… Just to name a few things) even with 50plus more pounds of pregnancy & post pregnancy weight I have yet been able to shed… the more attention I give to caring for it and intention of give to what fuels it, gives it life.

Our bodies are our bodies. We are gifted with one, one unique frame of skin and bones. Our bodies are gift that are worth the work, for some of us the very hard mental, physical and emotional lifelong work, of learning how to love it well, embrace it for its goodness, accept its limitations and think ourselves beautiful in every season.

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Had my pregnancy with A.J. been full term, it is likely I would have had her by now or anxiously be awaiting her arrival with family & friends.

April 6 was the due date given to us by our doctor.  I know had I carried her full term she most likely would not have been born today, but April 6 was the date we were  told, the date we as new expecting parents were hoping for… praying for… were preparing our lives for.

But… Life would write another story for us, and today Cleve & I find ourselves living into this new storyline the best way we know how.  Day by day… hour by hour… and sometimes minute by minute.  As we journey through the grief and disappointment, each day brings its own joys, revelations, trials, triggers, questions, hopes and challenges.

Today has not been any different really, though it did start off in a unique way.  I took a “mental health” day from work, to create space for me to be fully present to my heart, as well as get some rest. I needed alone time, quiet time.

To be honest, I also really needed to be in spaces and places where I had a very slim chance of encountering questions like I got just last week about the health and well being of the baby.  Not everyone knows the story, how could they? I get it, understand and truly appreciate the love… I just knew having to tell someone that A. J. was born prematurely and died would have just been too much for me today.

On Friday I decided that a great way to enter into this day would be watching the sunrise at the beach.  So, I woke up early this morning before daybreak and drove in the dark to Galveston to be by the water as the daylight approached, iphone/camera in hand.

Here are a few of the photographs created as I received time alone with God and the memory of a life that has forever changed mine for the better.

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you call me out upon the waters

the great unknown where feet may fail

and there I find You in the mystery

in oceans deep my faith still stands (Oceans)… and that too is mystery to me

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when it comes to dogs, I am a hard one to love. since the age of five, I have been terrified of dogs–a bad run-in with a german shepherd left me scarred and a fear,  that many thought I would outgrow, took root.

for the past few years I have been consciously working on uprooting this fear, but it is pretty deep. if there was some place that I felt called to go or something I really wanted/needed to do, I have managed the fear, to an extent, but for the most part, it still determines the places I travel, wander, and the invitations I receive and activities I chose to do…like bike riding for instance.

“no way,” I would tell myself, and anyone else who suggested I pick up the sport. though I have fond memories of riding bikes, as a child and a teen with my family, the thought of riding the streets of the city, totally vulnerable to any stray or unleashed dog that could possibly cross my path, kept me from jumping on a bike.

I started singing a different tune last year when I noticed all of these red b-cycles for rent around Houston. a desire to ride again began to grow.  and after lots of internal conversations, observations of the park and how dogs move around the space, one day I just decided it was time.

on my first ride a member at the church I serve joined me. the next ride I did solo, all by myself. it was exhilarating and freeing. I was still a little anxious and always on the look out for our four-legged friends, but I loved it and decided biking was going to be apart of my 2014 experience in Houston.

after taking the step by myself, Cleve joined me and I noticed how my anxiety was less and I was able to be more present to the experience. it is becoming a habit. it is a joy for us both, so much so that I did not insist we change our next riding expedition when I found out that our the new location for our bike adventure would be in the middle of a downtown city dog festival. FOR REAL! Now I did remind him about a thousand times before getting on the bikes about my fear, but the point is I did not demand we change locations, I actually got out of  the car, and walked through the park with him to find us bikes to rent.

as we rode Sunday I kept thinking about the power of love, and the difference it has made in life to have a companion to journey with through all of life. there is something comforting and empowering about having someone beside you who you can trust when facing your fears.  on that ride gratitude, not fear, filled me.  it was life-giving.

truth be told, my phobia of dogs is still with me. it is still going to have an influence upon where I travel, the places I wander, and the activities I choose to do.  however I am thankful for city bike rentals and a friend whose love enables me to explore parts of our city and  enjoy the gift of spring and breathe in the fresh air outside of my car.

here are some views from the b-cycle…

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Pinterest is a daily companion of mine these days, a well-spring of inspiration and creativity. I didn’t’ start spending much time with it until I found out I was pregnant, and I wanted ideas for fun, colorful art, clothing, nursery and announcements for the love growing inside me. In the process, pinterest became one of those sites I would check when I woke up in the morning, and I would make sure I checked again before I turned in for the night….sometimes, it made for some sweet dreams and late night bursts of creativity.

Friday morning the book The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus popped up in my pinterest feed. The cover of the book totally got me– yes I am one of those–and as I proceeded to investigate what was behind that colorful eye-catching cover I realized it was a book I needed to pick up as soon as the bookstore doors were unlocked. So I did.

Perfect timing… I had just finished the remarkable and wrenching memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCraken, so I needed a new book to feast on. Reading specifically non-fiction literature, for my own gratification and edification, has become a daily companion of mine again. Though The Artisan Soul’s cover was what captured my attention, by the time I reached page 3 I knew my eyes had not failed me. This book was indeed right on time.

I read slowly through it most of friday and yesterday. Yum…so much goodness lines each page. I was thankful… extremely grateful to converse with another voice through this book, one that inspires freedom, authenticity and bravery. I have often been bound by fear of failure or fear of not being enough, all of which he brilliantly hits on within the first few pages. But not just his thoughts on fear, the pages were also filled with other other thoughts that have been stirring within my heart for months, so much so that when reading this book it felt like McManus and I had shared a number of conversations over coffee and he decided to put some of our mutual ponderings in a book .

His thoughts about the creative potential for the good and beautiful within each of us resonates so much with my soul, and is more days than not, the motivation that keeps me going. I do believe that everyone, no matter the particularities of one’s story, is an artist and holds within herself creative capabilities. Over the past three years, I have been working with others to create spaces where people are encouraged to tap into their artistic capabilities in an affirming and empowering community. I have seen the good, beauty and life that comes when our creative muscles are recognized first and then exercised. McManus is right when he writes, “If we want to create a better world, we had better start to unleash the creative potential inside each person to create all that is good and beautiful and true.”

Just as the body longs for food and thirsts for water, so does our soul long to create and thirsts for authentic encounters with beauty– a good that is not meant to be a figment of our imaginations, but a tangible, taste-and-see, feel-and-hear reality. To meet those longings and thirsts requires imagination and the courage to sometimes color outside of the lines.

We’re often socialized to conform. Yet over the past couple of months i have been paying attention to those counter-movements, lives of people and art that goes against the grain, that refuses to let tradition stifle its originality. I’ve begun to see through this reading that true artisans are those that add a certain zest to life by risking themselves through love and a commitment to change the world through their work. I’ve discovered that within each of us is a well-spring of creativity and imagination that begs us sometimes to do something different, to do the crazy thing you fear others may laugh at, to do that thing that you know that only YOU can do, given your experiences, circumstances and peculiar shaping and then watch as they call it a thing of wonder.

I want to color outside of the lines more. In the words of a poet I know, I want to do those hard to imagine but some how i did things.

In all of life, I want to be able to see the beauty that can come when I don’t allow lines or fear to hinder me from painting with Love. I do believe, so much life is to be found there.

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if i loved myself, I would…

a wise woman I know invited everyone on a team I am apart of to complete that sentence.  

if i loved myself, I would…

she instructed us to say it 10 times in a row and write the first thoughts that came to mine.  one, on my list of 30, was receive more time each week at the park.  there are a few things on that list that will take some time and more courage to make a reality, but more time each week at the park… effective immediately.

each week i make my way to the park for some stillness and me time. yesterday i went to the park and had a series of firsts.  for the first time since college, i rode a bike.  i rented one of the b-cycle bikes and made my way around the park a time or two.  it was such a fun adventure.

for the first time since starting my weekly visits to the park i got to feed the birds yesterday.  not only did i feed the birds but i experienced the entire landscape and encountered the vast array of bird life that inhabits the space. i was there for hours.

beautiful… all of the birds were absolutely beautiful, and i am grateful i allowed myself to see them all.  typically all of my part time is received with the pigeons/doves.  i have a preference for pigeons/doves.  i know where they hang, the best times to catch them and how to move amongst them.

however, this particular visit i was not alone. i was with a member from my church community, who asked me Sunday if I would meet her at the park to feed the birds.  she had picked up some extra loaves from the day shelter that were going bad, and really wanted to take it to the birds at the park. and she was determined for each one of them to get an equal share of food. she kept reminding me, “all of the birds need food, pastor lanecia. you cannot just give to some of.

so, we kept it moving. we would pause for some time to be present with each flock.  we would love on the birds of in one area and then move on to the next hangout spot to spread the bread love around.

it was life-giving…really allowing myself to let go of my preferences for a while and take in the art of each winged creation freely there for my eyes to marvel in awe & wonder.

for the first time i got a glimpse of the unique characteristic of the different birds species co-existing at the park, the boundaries by which they live and the politics of the pond.  i was totally captivated by all of their ways.

but i kept coming back to the pigeons.

my eyes were drawn to the them. i could not totally abandoned my preference.  not sure why, but there is  strange pull when it comes to pigeons. despite how bizarre or crazy it may seem, lately i just try to be present to whatever is pulling me and allow whatever it is to simply be.

here are a few of the insta-stories the pulling allowed me to create with my iPhone yesterday…

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imagine if you will the sounds of a little boy yelling “PIGEONS!!!” and the wonder that happened as a result. a breathtaking dance

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Mother Theresa was once asked about her prayer life.

The interviewer asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”

Believing he understood what she had just said, the interviewer next asked, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”

Mother Teresa replied, “He also doesn’t talk.  He also simply listens.”

There was a long silence, with the interviewer seeming a bit confused and not knowing what to ask next.

Finally Mother Teresa breaks the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset“Teach me how to pray.”

this well-known request made to Jesus by his disciples in the Gospel of Luke has come to me often over the past 2-months, in those moments that I feel invited into intimate, one-on-one conversation with God.  It’s come to my mind because, really, right now I’m just finding it hard to pray, I’m wondering what I should say in prayer—is there a better formula?—and I’m wondering whether to pray at all…

it is not the first season in life I have struggled to pray.  it is not the first time I have felt as though I really do not know what or how to pray.  it is in these seasons I turn to sojourners of the faith, both dead and alive, for direction.  I turn to coffee conversations, ancient words, art and books, seeking a word that resonates and makes sense in light of the journey I am on with God these days.

I think I am starting to understand what Mother Teresa meant when she spoke of prayer being a mutual listening between her and God.

I am starting to understand the words I found on the Work of the People website today:

Often our listening is at the surface of things – we hear what we want to hear.  This practice of deep listening is what allows us to become aware of the patterns and shadows of our life.  Deep listening is a disciplined mind and attentive.  Deep listening is seeing that our emotions and our thoughts are not who we are.  Deep listening leads to a liberated spirit.

I think I am starting to understand that silence in the midst of a chatter-filled world and mind can be a gift that offers rest, clarity, healing, and a deeper understanding of Love’s presence in the world… in my life.

I am definitely starting to understand and vibe with the thought that prayer is not asking or trying to convince God to create a world… my life is that of my own choosing… prayer is becoming a practice where I open my heart and mind to God, being honest about my doubts, pains and, even, my fears of entrusting my heart and mind to a Love beyond my understanding; it is listening to God’s voice that resides deep within.

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Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetyesterday was a  beautiful day.

yellows kept popping out at me. it was a 70 plus degree tuesday in february. most of it I received driving around houston getting supplies for a work event this weekend. I think that new pharrell song came on like every 30-minutes, along with beyoncé & jay Z.

happy & drunk in love.

pulled back into the parking lot at work an hour before heading home.  decided to call someone back for work and then bam!, within seconds I was reminded me that the broken record still must play amongst the new tunes of these days, grief still has the power to surprise me and I am still tender enough for the wound to bleed.

“hello”

“lanecia! Thanks for calling me back. So are we good and pregnant now?”

and it played… telling the easy on the listener story of Dec. 4 and throwing in words to ease her discomfort for the not knowing my new normal. it was kind for her to recognize the beauty of what was and want to celebrate with me before getting to business. I didn’t even curse in my head. I just turned the radio off, shared the news, worked to dispel the awkwardness for the remainder of the call and turned off the radio.

once I was back in the safety of my office, I picked up the phone and started calling.  no tears, just a great need to connect with someone I could expose the wound to.

I needed to talk to someone who would simply acknowledge I was bleeding and that it sucked. As I dialed I literally starting praying that the person who picked up the phone would simply listen and say “that sucks, lanecia. sorry.”  I did not need laughter, did not need a brush over, did not need discomfort that I would have to work to make more comfortable, did not need silence… I needed someone, other than Cleve, to say I know you are hurting, angry and I am sorry it just sucks.

the first conversation was a brush over, moving on.

the second conversation was met with silence, don’t think they could really hear or understand what I was saying.

I stopped and decided since it was obvious I could not control the responses of the hearer I needed to be still and really think through my phone list.

who had the most potential of giving me the response I needed in that particular moment?

called 3 people who did not answer. took yet another quick deep pause, and a name came to mind that was just right. I called, she answered and she loved me how I needed to be loved in that moment.  each moment is different.  I really feel for the people who love me these days, because I  am sure at times they may feel like they are walking on egg shells not really sure what part of the grieving cycle I may be at in that minute.

but, my friend was just herself and that is what I needed. she helped me put the band-aid back on so I could finish up at work and call it a day.  it was good.   I hung up the phone, finished my work, packed up my stuff, headed home with a box of cookie heaven from my mother and settled in on my couch for the evening.

had every intention of going to the gym with Cleve for the first time since December 4 yesterday, but it did not happen. I just needed to sit by the open window as the sunlight began to fade away to dark, with my coffee and my little piece of heaven sent by my mother.

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Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

-Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation-

My heart is about to burst.

My brother from another mother & father, along with his family, came into town for the weekend and I got to share breakfast with them and friends this morning.  I have known Courtland since the early 90′s.  He was in elementary school and I was in middle school when we met.  We become friends, basketball buddies and family in no time. Though he is like 7ft tall, he has been known as my “little brother” amongst my circles.

The last time I saw him was 4 years ago in South Africa.  His oldest was in her mother’s womb and he & Rakiya were embarking upon a whole new adventure together… parenthood. Since then life has happened for us both and this weekend I got to be in communion with him, Rakiya and his TWO daughters.

Our time together was filled with so much life for me.

Healing.

His oldest, S.F., and I bonded instantly. Last night her father shared with her that I was an artist, she looked at me and said “I am an artist.”  Indeed she is. This morning I gave her my iphone and she took some pretty cool photos. We talked about future painting sessions and the art of mixing colors. My favorite moment was when she climbed into my lap, resting her head upon my shoulder with a smile. We are family.

The Buechner quote kept running through my head the entire time we were together. It is so very true, and I am learning how true more and more each day.  All moments are key moments, and life itself truly is grace.

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Consider the Birds:Provocative Guide of Birds in the Bible by Debbie Blue… is taking me on a journey friends.

Like this morning at the park… I
watched the pigeon’s dance while they ate. I figured it out and stood at a spot where I could feel them hovering over me during their move from the ground to the tree. It was awesome, such a cool experience.

30 or so pigeons hovered over me for a few seconds, I could feel the wind from the flapping of their wings just falling upon me and I got pooped on.

Pooped on! I laughed. First time ever Photographing birds I got pooped on, and it will not be the last.

I thought to myself, what’s Love trying to tell me. Then it hit me, you know, shit happens some times when we hang with the Spirit and walk step through this life. We get pooped on some times and we respond in the way we need to (I laughed today, but tomorrow I might have freaked out or been upset) and if we have the strength,

the necessary tools (I had sanitizer & tissue in my art bag that was with me),

if it doesn’t kill us (it fell on my hand… If it had been my hair… Um… Not sure how I would have handled it),

resources and

wisdom

and courage

we wash it off and keep on moving at the pace we need to move.

I know I could have been popped on some more as I stood there and chances are I will get pooped on again one of these days as I continue my photographic journey with the birds, but I won’t stop. I’ll just free myself to respond to the shit however I need to, wash it off in time and keep on. Gosh, I cannot imagine missing out on the beauty of this adventure…

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it didn’t hurt to see her. I must confess I thought it would, but it didn’t.

when kate, who is less than 1 month away from giving birth walked into Blacksmith Coffee, I exhaled the anxiety and inhaled gratitude that the flood gates did not break. I saw her unexpectedly exactly a week before coming out of a bookstore across the street as I sat at the Blacksmith Coffee bar with another dear friend, and it hurt. hit me fast and hard that day. right there in that coffee shop an emotional land mine went off. thankfully that time Cleve was only a couple of bar stools away. it is always easier to make it through the explosions when he is near. this time, however, he was not and I was going to have to receive these moments on my own.

good news though… no explosion.

God knows, I did not want to cry up in that coffee shop again. I had, with some doubt, sent out two S.O.S. prayer requests before entering into the space. I was determined not to privilege that space with my tears again… I did not want to appear weak or out of control. strange the responsibility I often feel these days to sound or act as though I am ok or not often overcome with sorrow.

but that day, I was ok. I even found myself a bit giddy when she came close, reaching for her oval belly almost forgetting how invasive the act of robbing a woman’s stomach without invitation can be.

dang… I almost forgot.

it was all good though, and for that I am relieved. Kate is super cool and I really needed time with her wise beautiful soul. she is one of the women whose bullshit radar is just as keen as my own, so our time was filled with moments of transparency and truth. I crave that.

to be honest, I have never been good with small talk. Lately though, even 2-minutes of small talk drains me and if it goes on too long I find myself getting angry or at best frustrated.

but no small talk at Blacksmith that afternoon. we talked about normal things… health, pregnancy, work, routines, dreams, longings, house renovations, college plans, our loves and weight.

oh yes, the weight…

I told her about an encounter with someone at work the week before. I had walked into the work and was greeted by a staff member with lots of love, “Hello! How are you? When is the baby due?”

she had not gotten the memo.

shit, I thought in my head, but out of my mouth came “Oh, I loss the baby on December 4. She was born and died shortly after. So, no future due date.”

I could see the compassion in her eyes, regret and loads of discomfort. I was able to filter through my hurt quickly to recognize she meant love. I was not surprised by the quick sting that came with the reminder that I once moved around the halls of the BOL bearing a life within me. that sting has become normal, though not any less painful.

but I was surprised by the embarrassment and discomfort that hit me at the thought that I must still look like a person who could be pregnant. yet another battle I need to conquer for more reasons than vanity and health.

anyway… I told Kate about that encounter and jokingly she suggested I might want to carry a placard around with me that states:

“Before you speak, I am not pregnant anymore and here are all the things I have learned are not really helpful or encouraging to me…”

I had been thinking about the need for a placard, a sign on my forehead or something letting people know “Take Caution, please!.” I have actually been keeping a journal list of things that, though the motivation is good, are just not that helpful. Here are a couple, in no particular order and no commentary:

Oh, so sorry to hear that. Well, at least you still have your husband.

God was just needed her to be home with Him.

Sorry to hear about your baby. But hey, make another one. Try again.

When is the baby due?

Don’t cry, God has a plan.

the list goes on and on. just yesterday I added a comment.

death and loss is just one of those realities of life where our words will for the most part fall short. I have accepted that and it helps me listen with grace and most time gratitude. I get it, but it still doesn’t make the comments sting, piss me off or even hurt sometimes. each one takes my mind down a rabbit hole, only to get back to it is the fact it is all apart of getting through.

one thing my time received with Kate made evident, is that I am indeed getting through. our coffee time was a gift and one more step on this life-long journey. I look forward to more time with her and their little one due to enter the world next month. I am thankful for that. I am also extremely thankful that when I saw her walk through the door Monday, it didn’t hurt.

"Christianity is a way, not a state, and a Christian is never something one is, only something one can pray to become." W.H. Auden

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