Where is the “Real Me”?

I am usually the one behind the camera; the one taking photos of everyone and everything; the one capturing the memories of this moment and of that event. Oh, I try to hand my camera to someone else occasionally so that I’m in a few of the photos in the family scrapbooks. And my older daughters sometimes catch me in unguarded moments and snap a picture or two.

Candid photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz

Candid photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz

I’ve become friends with a woman who started writing a blog as she approached her 50th birthday. Today she is putting the finishing touches on a photography project she started during that year. And she has become a professional photographer. I absolutely LOVE her work. Somehow she makes magic with her camera and shows the beauty of each person she “shoots.” (I’ve suggested before that you visit her photography website HERE.)

Jo captures beauty with her camera...

Jo captures beauty with her camera…

Last summer I celebrated my own 50th birthday by taking a trip to London to visit my sister. Among other things, I emailed my friend and asked about a photography session. As the date drew closer, I realized I was worrying…stressing…not sure I was ready for this. After all, my place is BEHIND the camera, right?

Worrying...about being the "model"

Worrying…about being the “model”

I spent time pondering why I was so uncomfortable having my photo taken. I realized that part of the issue was being disappointed when I look in a mirror…or look at a photo of myself. After all, I have wrinkles. I have thin hair. I have lots of extra padding (lots and lots of extra). That’s not the “real me,” the one I think of when I think of who I am. What happened to the beautiful, slender, young girl I used to be? Where did she go?

The "Real Me" was just waiting to be recognized!

The “Real Me” was just waiting to be recognized!

So, with a bit of fear and trembling, I met my friend. We enjoyed getting to know each other better in person. I met her husband. We had dinner together. I spent the night in her lovely extra bedroom. And in the morning, we headed out to the surrounding countryside.

Beautiful countryside...

Beautiful countryside…

...and a peaceful old church.

…and a peaceful old church.

It was actually far less painful than my dreadings. We laughed. We talked. We got a little silly together. And she took photos…LOTS of photos. I stopped thinking about how I might look and just enjoyed the time with my friend.

Having fun...

Having fun…

Getting serious...

Getting serious…

...with a smirk or two thrown in for good measure!

…with a smirk or two thrown in for good measure!

And somehow, when I got the photos back from her, she had done it again. She made magic with her camera. I look at the pictures and see a beautiful, mature woman. And in the process of being brave enough to trust this friend to capture the “real me” in photos, I received a marvelous gift. I now have reminders to smile at the woman I see in the mirror.

The Magic: Beauty Revealed!

The Magic: Beauty Revealed!

Thanks, Jo. You helped me reach for the magic and be able to truly celebrate who I am at this stage of life! You released my inner beauty and made it visible each time I look in the mirror.

PS—check out this blog post by my friend, Jo Blackwell. In it, she challenges each of us to see the beauty within us. And she includes a variety of photos she has taken of beautiful women (including ME!!)

Photo Credits: 1st photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz, all other photos taken by Jo Blackwell.


What I Learned at CHE

I had the privilege of attending a CHE (Community Health Evangelism) Training conference in Phoenix last week. This was highly recommended to me by a missionary doctor friend who knows my passion for health care and for teaching others. It was every bit as good as he said it would be!

The focus of this program is to empower a community to address its own health-care concerns by training local individuals to share what they are learning with 10-20 neighboring households. By addressing practical needs, communities can be transformed physically and spiritually.

This was not your typical “sit in a seat and listening to boring but informative lectures” conference. It was interactive and helped participants learn by discovery and discussion.

Each session started with a short introductory skit. Then the facilitators asked a question for the group to brainstorm answers to. A “scribe” wrote down what was being said. Then these papers were put up on the walls around the room—so we could both refer back to earlier lessons and see all that we had covered during the week.

In the large group setting, we shared devotions and worship time, learned main points, and had discussions about what we were learning. This was also the setting for demonstrations and “sorting” activities (where we took turns placing various pictures into appropriate groupings to better understand what was happening in the “communities” we were working with).

Small groups were the place for more in-depth discussions and ways to apply what we were learning. A few of us got the “handwriting prize” and tended to do most of the “scribing” for the group we were in. Each time we split into groups, we were divided in different ways. This gave us different perspectives and allowed us to get to know fellow participants better.

Besides the specific information about how CHE works, I learned a number of other things about myself:

  • I like to be the scribe, since writing things down helps me remember what is being said.
  • I have to consciously keep quiet and let others have their say. Yes, I have lots of ideas and, no, most of them don’t need to be shared publicly!
  • I greatly dislike having others question whether my examples (from our work in Navajoland) are exaggerated. Sorry, folks, life really IS that messed up for many children out here…
  • I wish there had been more time for one-on-one conversations to interact more deeply with some of the other participants. We could have learned that much more from each other!
  • I love networking…and I love learning new things…and I love the opportunity to share my experience with other people! (Can I go to more conferences…please?!)
  • I was frustrated to learn about a really cool way of empowering community to help themselves…and not being able to see how it could possibly be implemented in the broken community in which we live…
  • I would join CHE in a minute and greatly enjoy helping to “train the trainers” (which would eventually impact the entire world!)…if only it didn’t take raising donations/pledged support…sigh…
  • And, finally, good food, good conversations, good learning, and good challenges to the status-quo ENERGIZE me!

Story Collector — Part 2

Last post, I explained about being called a “shaman” because of my interest in collecting stories of the people I meet.

one of my story-teller figures

As I have pondered this idea over the past three years, it resonates more and more strongly. Being a “story collector” and a “story teller” effects many aspects of my life.

To me, this fascination with hearing the stories of others is one part of why I enjoy striking up conversations with strangers. They might look plain or ordinary or boring…but they often have wonderful, interesting stories to share. Whether the stories are “good” or are difficult, having these interactions with others affirms my generally positive outlook on humanity.

By swapping stories with people, I am also affirming their worth. In today’s society it is far too uncommon to find others willing to listen. When someone shares their story with me, it is a gift to me. And when I listen, it is a gift to them.

another story-teller figure I have on display

I realize that my enjoyment in collecting stories often spills over into conversation with friends and family. These stories I have heard just seem to come pouring out of me. There is, after all, so much to learn from the life experiences of others. (Hopefully, my loved ones aren’t just “putting up with me” but actually enjoy hearing some of the stories, as well.)

Finally, I have figured out that my love of story collecting contributes to a “disconnect” between my husband and me.  Frankly, I am usually bored by his interest in discussing the latest news. And I have realized that he is generally bored by hearing the stories I have been told. Sigh… I’m not quite sure how to respond or what to do about this…

Here in New Mexico, there are traditional figures from the Pueblo Indian cultures that illustrate my passion quite well. These “story tellers” are fun to look at. They are such a good representation of my love of collecting stories and sharing them with others. I now own two small figures. They are displayed in my bedroom—a way to affirm this interest and this gifting, and a reminder to keep my ears open as I listen for more stories.

Check out http://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa014.shtml for more information about Story Teller figures.

The First Story Teller figure by Helen Cordero 1964
Currently in the International Museum of Folk Art, Santa Fe

Happy New Year??

Seems like everyone I know went to New Year’s Eve parties a few nights ago. We stayed home. In fact most of the family was asleep long before midnight arrived. I’ve been pondering why I tend to skip this holiday, why it is no big deal, why I don’t get excited like others around me.

Some might say it’s because I’m getting old. But, I didn’t make a big deal out of New Year’s Eve/Day even when we were in our twenties. Maybe it’s because I don’t drink anymore. But, I’ve never enjoyed being surrounded by people getting drunk—even during college days. And our lack of celebration is not because we don’t have opportunities to go to special activities or invitations to parties.

So why is December 31 moving into January 1 not a big deal for me?

I realized it’s because this just doesn’t feel like the beginning of anything new. Yes, the calendar changes. But the dictates of tradition and calendar don’t change the feeling that this is still the middle of winter. It is a time to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea; a time to slog through bad weather and gray days. It is not yet a time for new beginnings.

I realized I DO celebrate each new year. I just celebrate it at a different time:

I love the beginning of new life surrounding Easter. It’s spring – moving from the dead of winter to hints and whispers of new greenery and baby critters. The sky and land are washed fresh and shining brightly. It is a time for family photos with every one dressed up in new outfits. It is also a time to celebrate the new life that is possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I love to celebrate the NEW YEAR starting at Easter.

Then comes my birthday at the end of May. Each year I like to look back at the previous year, then look ahead to the coming year. As you know, I have declared this year “my personal year of jubilee” as I move toward a new decade and a new half century of life. I love to celebrate the NEW YEAR that starts on my birthday.

One more new beginning is significant to me each year. Each fall is the start of a new year of school. For the past 20 years that has included getting organized, finding materials, and homeschooling at least some of our kids. I love the new school supplies, the fresh backpacks, and the excitement of new-to-us books and clothes. I love to celebrate the NEW YEAR that follows the school year schedule.

So…I will follow traditions today and wish each of you a happy new year in 2012, one filled with blessings from God and a clear sense of His presence as you walk through good times and difficult places.

If you want to see me excited, however, check back at Easter…and my birthday…and even when school starts in the fall. Then I will truly

CELEBRATE the coming of a new year!

Happy New Year!

The Cleaning Police

This time the "cleaning police" pulled everything out from under the bed and in the closet...

I’ve been part of the Cleaning Police for many years now. You know…trying to teach our kids how to be civilized. Trying to teach them how to clean. Trying to teach them why they should want to clean. After so many years, I get tired of being a Clean-up Officer sometimes.

Now, I need to make it clear. My standards are not high. In fact, I’ve probably been at risk many times of losing my Officer status with the Cleaning Police. If our house is not filthy and the dust-bunnies are not yet taking over the corners, I see no reason to waste time with chores. We have far more interesting things to do!

But…eventually even my limits are reached. I remind the kids that we live in a house, not a barn. I calmly let them know we must start first thing in the morning to clean up the mess. I try to make it clear how important this is.

And then in the morning, they (of course) wander off, other things on their personal agendas. I finally corral them, and threaten dire penalties if they do not begin cleaning AT ONCE!

Anna's room DOES look nice when it is neat and clean!

The whining commences…but so does the work. Eventually order is restored—the house is clean, mama is happy again, and my poor “slaves” are finally free to follow their own interests again.

I try…really…I TRY to be more consistent. I remember my growing up years when Saturday morning was chore time and my sisters and I had to pick jobs out of the chore jar to complete. I’ve tried a schedule. I’ve tried chore charts. I’ve tried rewards. I’ve tried punishments. I’ve tried rotating the various jobs. I’ve tried letting each child become a “specialist” in their favored jobs. Sigh… Anything works for awhile. Then we slack off. We find more interesting things to do. And the dust-bunnies and the clutter threaten to take over our world.

I’m a member of the Cleaning Police. When do I get to resign?

Headlines of my Life

Who Me? Accident-prone??

I hate to ruin your mental picture of me. But I must confess: I am not graceful. I am not athletic. Oh, I enjoy spending time outdoors. And I don’t mind dabbling with less common sports (skiing, windsurfing, canoeing, backpacking). But I tend to be accident prone. Maybe spending so much time enjoying the scenery rather than paying attention to my feet contributes to the problem. Maybe I inherited a clumsy-gene from someone. It couldn’t possibly be somehow my fault…could it?

Knee Injury Ends Slalom Racing Career

This was actually the first time I tried to race. It was a casual, fun race for skiers who had taken lessons at Killington VT during Spring Break week. Looking back on it, I’m not even sure if I fell during the race itself, or during practice. But the twisted knee certainly ended any possible career as a competitive skier! Ouch! (On the other hand, the ride down the mountain in a toboggan pulled by ski patrollers just might have led to my eventually joining ski patrol a few years ago…)

The Incredible Hulk Breaks Babysitter’s Back

This was a very dangerous, violent show. Really! I know what I’m talking about… One night the boy I was babysitting turned into the Incredible Hulk during show time and pulled me to the ground. My back twisted and popped in the process. Ouch! (My back has been “twinge-y” ever since. Can I sue Mr. Hulk?)

Wind Surfer on Crutches after Mast Pins Foot

Everyone worries about the dangers of drowning while wind surfing. Honestly, they worry about the wrong things. While I was learning to windsurf in Canada, the mast snapped down hard on the top of my foot during one of my (many) falls, giving me a hairline fracture. Ouch! (Oh well, apparently being on crutches when he met me was cute enough that my eventual husband asked me out on a date…Poor guy, he had no idea I was so accident prone!)

Mudslide Sweeps Walker Off Her Feet

Okay, so the mud was only half an inch deep. But it covered the sidewalk and it was very slippery clay. I was walking back to the house after feeding the turkeys a few days ago when, whoop!, my feet slid right out from under me. Ouch! (And now my back is “twinge-y” again. Oh well, at least I didn’t twist my knee!)


You have to admit, the above injuries make good stories. If someone just read the headlines, they might even be impressed with the dramatic situations. But most of my injuries are boring…even embarrassing. Can we pretend the following headlines were never written down? I’m thinking these were not my fault either. It was probably because the always-present camera around my neck pulled me off balance. Yeah, I’m sure that was it…


Tourist Injures Knee Stepping off Curb in Mexico

The curb was taller than normal in the USA, which caused me to stumble and fall. Whew! (At least my camera was okay, even if I lost sensation down the front of my shin for the next three years.)

Tourist Re-injures Knee Tripping on Uneven Sidewalk in Merida

This time I didn’t even have the excuse of the road being lower than I expected because the curb was too high. I just stumbled and fell on an uneven sidewalk. Whew! (At least my new camera was okay. I wasn’t worried that my knee was reinjured it in the same way. After all, I don’t need feeling in my lower leg to take good pictures!)

Tourist Re-injures Knee Falling on Steps at the Roman Wall in London

Walking up a flight of stairs in London, on our way to see a section of wall built in Roman times, I took another fall. Whew! (Yes, my camera was around my neck as usual. Again, it was fine. We won’t talk about the knee…)

Tourist Drops and Breaks Camera Lens at National Park

I was changing from regular lens to telephoto lens on my good camera. The regular lens dropped out of my hand and cracked the frame when it hit the ground. Sigh… (My knee was fine this time, but the lens just isn’t the same…)

I would like to think that there will be no further headlines about my injurious adventures…but I’m guessing that’s not true. Keep checking back for updates!

A Fruitful Time?

“There is a great difference between successful and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities.

A Time of Fruitfulness...

Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.” -Henri Nouwen

If you follow my updates on Facebook and the blog entries I write for Lybrook Community Ministries about living in Navajoland, you will already know that the past few weeks have been difficult.

  • Repeated electric brown-outs have fried appliances, including making my oven and my washing machine unreliable.
  • Modem issues and poor service led to a change of internet providers which caused chaos with our on-site network.
  • A friend who lives on-site took a bad fall with major injuries incapacitating her for a few weeks. We helped with animal care for that time and office work is still behind.
  • The mission truck was out of commission for a few weeks with costly repairs needed.
  • There is a huge (invisible) leak in our water lines meaning we only turn the water on for a

    ...water leaks and other challenges...

    short time each day to take showers, do laundry, and refill every bottle, pot, and pitcher with water to use throughout the day. (The backhoe guy is here today, trying to find the leak and finally fix it.)

  • Anna’s precious kitten has disappeared.
  • Repeated heavy rainstorms have made it difficult to get into and out of the remote canyon where Nettie is working. The bad roads have also prevented us from going in occasionally to help out with mustang taming.
  • Those same amusement-park drives on back roads took out the oil pan on our PT Cruiser which was our best bet for navigating slippery, pot-holed roads.
  • On-going requests for additional or repeated information from state agencies make getting EMT and education certifications and licenses a prolonged, frustrating process.
  • Our comfortable, familiar weekly schedule has changed—due to Randy’s teaching, Anna being in school, and Jakob’s youth-group-church changing class offerings. We still haven’t found a new workable schedule.
  • Randy is struggling to juggle teaching responsibilities (at local middle school and at community college in town) and still oversee most of the above maintenance issues of this property. He is exhausted…
  • Delays and rescheduling are typical out here…but it is still irritating when the volunteer fire department cancels meetings and the backhoe guy appears two days late, with no phone calls letting us know what is happening.

Are you still with me, even with all that whining? Good. Because that litany of frustrations, challenges, and complications is NOT the focus of this blog entry.

In talking with my sister yesterday, I discovered the underlying frustration I’ve been carrying. It feels like we are treading water, barely keeping afloat. We are at a cross-road for this ministry. We have finally identified a specific ministry focus. We need to follow-up with local leaders and local schools to define and refine the vision. We desperately need to begin the process of building a stable financial base for this mission, both for a transition period and for long-term ministry.

To be successful, there are things we need to be doing. To be successful doesn’t mean treading water. To be successful means there should be concrete projects finished and checked off the to-do list. This has certainly NOT been a time of success.

And as I whined and complained to my sister, she had a wise response. She challenged my perspective. She reminded me that this could well be the most fruitful time we have had here so far. Even when we don’t see it, others are looking at us. They are watching to see how we deal with challenges in life. We are still here. We have not given up. We are still reaching out to help others. This frustrating time might well be a very significant time.

For now it's fruit-salad...not steak.

Hmmm…it sure doesn’t FEEL significant. And it certainly doesn’t feel “good.” I’ve been pondering what my sister said, and I hope she’s right. I hope this really IS a fruitful time. (It certainly isn’t a “successful” time!)

I guess it’s time to make fruit-salad, rather than wishing for steak…

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