Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The rough patches

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: 

It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” 

~ C.S. Lewis

These past few days I've been battling a rough case of homesickness.

As excited as I was (and am) to be here, I've been feeling really alone and a little lost. There are wonderful people that we've met. But we've still just met them. I'm longing to be surrounded by those who know me best. And they are all so far away right now. I don't want to give up and go home. I just want to be done with this phase of moving already.

I am glad we're here. And I know that God brought us here. But that doesn't necessarily mean things will automatically be a breeze. It doesn't mean that I will magically make friends overnight. It doesn't mean that we won't miss our families and life long friendships back in California.

The reality is, God hasn't promised us that this would be easy or that we'd even like it.

But He has promised to never leave us. He has promised to give us peace. to give us joy in the midst of all things. That we will never really be alone. That He will provide for us. That His plans for us have a purpose... It's a long list.

Because I know that... It's now up to me. I can either crawl into a corner and try to escape, or I can recognize God's sovereignty and choose to trust Him.

God grows us, speaks to us, comforts us, and loves us in the midst of pain in such a tangible way. He makes it worth it. Because I know Him, I know that it will be.

So, dear friends. Keep us in your prayers. Pray that we would allow God to grow us through the rough patches.

Also, here's some adorableness thrown in for good measure... you're welcome.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

a quote that put a knot in my throat

I follow John Piper, a well known author and pastor, on twitter. He’s not one of those people who tweets once an hour, but more like once every few days. When he says something, it’s usually worth taking note; much like C.S. Lewis.


I read one of his tweets a while ago and it pretty much slapped me across the face. twice.

It was somewhere along the lines of, “If you’re afraid of offending someone when you speak, nothing will ever come out of your mouth.”

It’s been a while since I’ve said anything, via Facebook, Twitter, on here, etc. The reason? Well to be honest I’m constantly fighting letting people’s opinions run my life. And for a while I’ve been losing. I care about what people think about me. My thoughts, my music, my perspective, my life. Although I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, I’ve realized I care too much. Too much to the point where I no longer say or do or write anything because I’m afraid of how it’s going to be perceived. Can I be honest with you? It’s a miserable way to live. It really is.

Call it cliché, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I try to be cool/acceptable/trendy/hip, I’m always falling short in someone’s opinion. And I think I now know why. They are dealing with exact same problem I am.

You see, God took the blindfold off and showed me a mirror. I’m always tempted to be negative and critical of others. You can ask my wife. My close friends. Call me a Debbie Downer because I have an eye for pointing out what’s wrong in people, in life, and in circumstances. But my wife is the complete opposite. I think that’s why I’m starting to see it in myself. What makes this whole thing ironic though is that I’m as fragile as thin glass when it comes to hearing criticism from someone else. Especially people I don’t know. If there was a phobia for being afraid of hearing negative things about yourself, I would have it. Even constructive criticism is like taking a baseball bat to the gut. It hurts so bad that I try and avoid it at all costs, missing out on ways to improve. Sometimes I’ll even break down in tears.

I now know that I tear others down, sometimes in harsh ways, in order to make myself feel better about myself. My sinfulness leads me believe that when I point out the flaws in another person (most of the time just opinons not facts), and magnify them so greatly, that somehow by doing this, I fool other people into focusing on how bad they are and not how bad I am.

How malicious the human’s heart is.

So where does God fit into all of this? Allow me to try and describe to you how I see it in my mind.

I find myself in a room the size of a large living room. In it are people. All sorts of people. Big people. Small people. People I know. People I don’t know. Angry people. Happy People.

They’re all crowded in this room with me; facing me. All telling me things. Good things, bad things, unknown things, things left to my own interpretation, some are whispered, some yelled across the room. This chaos of verbiage is all going on at the same time; picture the chaos of the stock market happening in your living room.

God is also in this room.

But unfortunately, because I control the proximity of the people in this room, I’ve put God in the back corner; behind the people inches away from my face yelling things at me.

God’s speaking to me too, competing for my attention behind these people, trying so hard to be heard; to get me to look at Him.

You see, the entire room is telling me what to change about myself; what they like and what they don’t like.

God’s no different. He’s suggesting that I change certain things about myself too. But the way He presents these suggestions is totally different from the rest. He’s not the loudest voice, He’s the quietest.

But the choice is mine. I turn the volume of the voices up or down. I control who is where in the room. I’m left with the responsibility to re-arrange these people, to turn others down some, and to kick others out completely.

I call this room influence.

What is influencing you right now? Am I? What about the last website you were just on? What about this morning? This evening?

I’ve found that throughout my day, I will be inviting things (or people) into my room of influence; sometimes not even realizing I sent out an invitation. Some of the faces in my room have been there for years, others I will only see for a day.

Who, or what, is in your room?

Celebrities? Television? Radio? Friends? Money? Culture? God?

For me, I had to kick some people out, turn others down, and bring God in a little closer.

Something that came along with God coming in a little closer, was the reminder of how short this life is. In it, are the lives of others that are just as short, and many of them in very similar rooms. Rooms filled with just as much, if not more people than were in mine. Leaving you, just like me, feeling inadequate, or hurting. But God might not be in your room. Maybe the lights have gone out, leaving you completely clueless to what’s influencing you.

My hope and prayer is that if you’re like me, prone to retreat and hide when facing criticism or inadequacy, and calling out what is wrong with the rest of the world, that you’ll find courage and strength to be who God made you to be, but also be open to letting God mold and change you. Learn and follow the perspective of Jesus through the Bible, allow God to change how you’re mind works. Not only will it be freeing, but it will allow you to help others as well.



Monday, February 27, 2012

What we're reading | Praying God's Word

This book by Beth Moore was recommended to me by one of my best friends (whom I have been missing a lot since the move).

It's more of a devotional & reference book than a straight through sort of read. It's one of those books that will be highlighted and underlined and collect many a bookmark. It will tag along with me on trips and sit on my bedside table for a very, very long time.

There is so much I could share about this book. I could probably write an entire blog inspired by it. But for now I will just share few quotes from it that have deeply encouraged me in the past few days. I hope they do the same for you.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A ghost town and a photo challenge

Let me preface this by saying, I love my job. But it has been a long time since I have done a photo shoot just for fun. for creativity. for friendship. I think that's what every session used to be before I knew what I was doing. And while I'm very grateful to be able to now make a living at something I thoroughly enjoy, I still miss those days. 

So I'm extremely excited to share this image (and a few more tomorrow) from a session that was just for fun. An opportunity to explore and pursue adventure. And laugh. Laugh a lot. 

My gorgeous friend Shelby told me about a place called Centralia

In short, it's a ghost town deep in the heart of the coal mining country of PA. It was evacuated due to an underground coal fire that's been burning underneath the town since the 1960's and is still burning today. It's caused parts of the highway to be completely unusable. You can even see smoke coming up through the large cracks in the asphalt. 

CRAZY. I know. 

Who knew this stuff actually happened outside of movies? Not californians, apparently. 

Well we decided it would be the perfect place to do a photo shoot. So here's Shelby standing on a broken highway with a fifty year old coal fire burning beneath it...

This one is also perfect for my friend Laura's weekly photo challenge. The theme this week is "broken". (You can see her sweet blog and read more about her photo challenge here).

I'm going to be honest, we didn't plan this. In fact, I didn't even know about the challenge until a few days after I took this image. But I doubt I could have come up with something more appropriate if I'd had months to plan and shoot! 

Our Reflection Weekly Photo Challenge

Be sure to stop by and say hello to Laura for us :)

More to come from our crazy Centralia shoot soon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cleaning house

So today I cleaned. And I mean cleaned. vacuumed. dusted. swiffered. windexed. you get the idea. 

And I even took care of an ominous, possibly & likely life threatening white powder covering the exposed brick in our kitchen. you know, where we eat & make food. This white mystery powder was probably poisoning our family. 

Intimidating, right? I know. 

See, we don't really have brick in California. Something about earthquakes. So this stuff was completely new to me. I was clueless. 

Asbestos? Does that show up on brick like that? 

Were the last tenants cocaine addicts? (okay, perhaps that idea was ever so slightly irrational). 

Anyway. I was frightened. and determined. So first I scrubbed, which made a bigger mess and spread the scary white mystery powder all over my kitchen. NO bueno. I was not going to die like that today. So I vacuumed our brick with the little brush extension while I covered my mouth with my scarf. 

And voila!

Clean brick! Huzzah! 

And after I'd tackled the powder beast I thought I should probably do some research. (better late than never right). 

According to some brick company's website...

Q: I have a white powder on my brick. What is this and what do I do about this?
 This white powder is called “efflorescence,” and is caused by water in the wall dissolving mineral salts in the brick or mortar. When this leaches to the surface, the water evaporates, leaving a whitish mineral-salt residue. Most efflorescence is water soluble, so it can usually be removed by washing with plain water when the weather and the wall are warm and dry. This helps keep the cleaning water from causing additional efflorescence.

Mineral-salt residue. From water. Pretty sure that won't kill us. 


Well, at least our brick is all spiffed up. 

And I feel accomplished. silly and irrational. but nonetheless, accomplished. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

home remedies

When you sing for a living, you literally can't afford to be sick. 

So during flu and cold seasons Rene goes off to work with an arsenal of home remedies I coerce him into taking....

L-Lysine for an immunity boost
a double dose of Emergen-C (best stuff ever!)
Multi Vitamins 
Freshly made juice. (this morning's was apple, kale, lemon, ginger. It tasted pretty great). 

Thus far (and combined with much prayer), it's been working out extremely well. No sickness at the Velarde household. Well, excepting Atticus that is. He has the sniffles. Have you ever seen a kitten sneeze? It's the cutest thing ever next to them playing in a box. What are some of your home remedies to keep from getting sick? 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoughts on prayer

I'm taking a queue from my dear friend Laura today.

She recently posted a blog about how her sweet, amazing grandmother who is losing her vision. She asked for prayer.

I started praying for her as I read the post and found myself saying, "Lord, I know that you have the power to restore sight to the blind. You have done it... I read about it yesterday..."

I'm going through a reading plan on YouVersion called the Essential 100 and read Mark 8 yesterday.

 22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” 24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

I'm going to be real honest right now. I kinda tuned out while reading this yesterday.

Simply because I knew the story. I'd heard it in Sunday School and High School chapel and in Youth group. It's not that I didn't believe it. It was just familiar. But as I prayed for Laura's grandmother today, looking at the photo of her right in front of me and asking God to do something that He has done before... That story in Mark became so different. It became alive.

See, it isn't just a story. That blind man was someone's family. Maybe he even had people praying for him. And Jesus restored his sight.

That Jesus who healed the blind man is the exact same Jesus we can pray to today.

Our God is powerful.
He is capable.
He is unchanging.

May we keep this in mind when we come before Him in prayer and be encouraged by it to do so more often.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Look what came in the mail

I spy something furry... 

Oh look, it's an Atticus. 

No, I didn't get a kitten in the mail (though that would be awesome). But a present from mom did arrive today. 

Now, the current contents of the box is much cuter than the actual item that arrived. But I am nonetheless extremely excited about it. I've been using my dad's old backpack of a camera bag for the last three years. It's quite nice, just much too large and bulky for my little 50mm lens. I use a shoot sac to hold my extra lenses, so I was just in need of a nice little something to tote my beloved 5D along on portrait sessions. 

Isn't it so pretty? Oh and functional too. I suppose that's important. 

My mom came across Janine King Designs on etsy and sent me the link. I told her I loved it and then a few days later this came in the mail! I know, I have the sweetest mom ever. (thank you mom!) It's the perfect size and matches the print of my shoot sac exactly! I feel like a real photographer now that I can lug my gear around in a fashionable manner. 

Oh and by the way...

 While I've taken these pictures, edited them, uploaded them, written this post... 


Still in the box. 

Never buy your cat a bed. It's a terrible idea. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Safe & Sound

And while we're on topic, I came across the most amazing song today.

Taylor Swift, plus the Civil Wars (whom I love), plus The Hunger Games. Throw those three together into a melodic, folky lullaby and you have one of my new favorites. Enjoy the gorgeous video...

Also, Taylor Swift in this video looks just as I imagined Prim while reading the books. I loved that.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What we're reading | The Hunger Games

Where to begin? I finished these books in less than a week. Rene's not far behind. You've probably read them, or are reading them, or have had someone tell you to read them. They are amazing and captivating and addicting. But you've likely heard that already. 

If you haven't yet succumbed to peer pressure and started the series, I'd recommend it. Cautiously, that is. 

First, because they are intense. You'll be on edge at the end of every page and will likely lose sleep. Depending on how much you enjoy reading and how much free time you have, that could be a positive or a negative thing. 

Secondly, because they are intense. Not just in the page-turning-addictive way, but in content. These books deal with violent, disturbing, terrifying issues. But that is why I loved them. I know, I sound like a very disturbed individual at this point, but here is my thinking...

We read books like The Hunger Games and are shocked at the content. The things that an author could think up and put to paper. We're so comfortable and safe and well-fed in our lives that these things seem so strange and distant and impossible to us. And maybe those things are impossible in your world. You may never feel the pain of starvation or the fear of oppression or the horror of violence. But there are real people in the world who do. Currently. 

That is why I loved the Hunger Games. Yes, the story was a wonderful one. But it also gave me a wake up call. It reminded me that what I thought to be so impossible and far away was closer to home and more real than I'd recognized. 

May our eyes be opened to others. May we be more often reminded of the pain and injustice in our world. And more importantly, may we be inspired to so something about it. 

A lazy Sunday afternoon

 Netflix. Couch.  And nap time for the whole family. 

Atticus missed us so much while we were gone that he plopped right up on the couch, into my lap, and let me hold him like a baby and nuzzle him to death. There was purring involved. And kneading. Lots of kneading.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Things we love about | Being Married

We've been together about four years now (married for one), and while we're quite happy together, we're no experts on being married either. It's just that if we've learned anything, it's that seeing the glass half full makes all the difference. This isn't a lesson or even advice. It's simply a way for us to remind ourselves what we love about being together.

And perhaps inspire you to remind yourself of something positive you need to remember too. 

So here it goes...

1) Never having to say goodbye. It's like a hang out time with your best friend that never officially ends. 

2) The laughs. When you're with your best friend that much, you accumulate the longest list of inside jokes imaginable. You're also sure to have someone who will lovingly laugh at with you when you inevitably do something stupid.  

3) We're always at home. (figuratively, not literally). We can be on one side of the country or another or in an airplane right in the middle and it doesn't matter. If we're together, we automatically feel more at home. 

4) It's really, really difficult. I know you're thinking "wait, isn't this supposed to be things you love?" yes. It is. And this is one of them. Marriage takes a lot of hard work and sometimes we get frustrated, exasperated, angry, drive each other crazy... you get the idea. But through all of that, we're learning to be patient and love selflessly. The difficulties are countless opportunities to respond in a Christ-like way. We often fail. But God still grows us through them. So we've learned to love that our relationship, just like anything worthwhile, takes work. 

We could go on, but we'll spare you the really mushy stuff. You're welcome. 

Now, what are some things you love? It could be about anything. What are the good things you need to remind yourself of when things are a little difficult? 

Make a list and remember them. I promise it'll make you see things differently. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Back to home from home

We spent this last weekend back in Monterey, CA for my first wedding of many to come between now and next fall. (I took the photo above during a little break in the reception... I fell in love all over again with those city lights along the bay under cloudy skies).

How strange it was to fly info SFO and try not to let it feel like arriving home after a long trip. Like Lancaster and LCBC and our beautiful old city and little kitty had all been a pleasant but lonely dream. I'e flown into that airport so many times. And every time, whether warm and welcoming or a little sad, it's meant coming home. always. Until now... Now we were just visiting and the word home is supposed to mean a cold place thousands of miles away that none of those dearest to me know much of.

And it was hard at first, to wake myself up to that. I think if I could have helped it I would have waited a bit longer before going back. Waited until Lancaster started to feel more like home. That takes time and we just haven't had much yet.

We had a wonderful time in CA. Seeing our families was so refreshing. And there were a couple friends I was seriously considering kidnapping and bringing back to PA with us. But all of it got me thinking about what "home" is supposed to mean. It's such a big, deep word for being so commonly used. It's never meant just your house, the place you live. It's where you keep what you love. Where Rene is and where my family and friends are. Where we're inspired and creative and challenged to live our best. That's been California for so much of our lives. That's a scary thing to change.

But relationships and life are what make home "home" after all. Those are things I think we tie to places when they probably shouldn't be. No matter where we are, our God is the same. He is the same God in Lancaster, PA as He is in Monterey, CA. He is faithful and loving and strong. None of those things have changed or ever will change with our location. He is the ultimate source of life and the ultimate relationship. And He is here. So... we are home. wherever that may be on a map.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be My Valentine

I love winter... but today was just dreary and so, so cold and without any snow at all to make up for it. I've been missing sunshine and green around me. I spent the day alternating between editing wedding photos and unpacking our bedroom. With a small intermission for vegan sugar cookie baking time. All the while with a fluffy pink nosed kitten at my heels. I love Atticus. He's such good company. Anyway... After all that dreariness and grey and a rather lonely day (unless you count the kitty), my husband decides to be awesome. 

First... the most-gorgeous-bouquet-I've-ever-seen flowers that smell amazing and remind of the wildflowers that grow along the coast back home. Plus a sweet card with the best note inside. (heart already melted). Then... a new pair of shoes that he bought me because... ready for it? I had bookmarked them on Pinterest. Talk about a winning combination. Throw in the kitten (which was already my "early Valentine's day" gift) and René wins the husband-to-the-happiest-wife-in-the-world award. Hands down. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Unpacking a wonderland

So when we made our move, my wife and I decided to cram as much of our belongings into 4 very nice suitcases we got as Christmas gifts.

The contents of these four suitcases has been the majority of our home for at least 3/4 of the month; mostly consisting of clothing, and a few other personal items. But because our boxed up house was going to be in California for a while, we were loaned a mattress, a café table with two chairs, a couple pots and pans, kitchenware, and some beach chairs for our living room. It was just enough to get by.

But last week, with the help of a couple of movers, we unloaded every single box that was, at one point, lying in a room in Salinas Ca.

Now, every single one of those boxes is here. Right next to me. In front of me. Behind me. It's like a maze of boxes. Truly a child's dream playground. It seems my imagination no longer see's boxes as monster trucks, space ships, or secret caves..

But René, why don't you just unpack them all?

Well, that's a good suggestion. And I guess to a degree we are doing just that. We actually have about 90% of our living room unpacked. The television is up, so is the xbox, Jess's work computer, some living room decors. We actually endeavored to put a dent in our kitchen the other day; only to leave us realizing how much stuff we had.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about influence, though it was more about abstract forms of influence like relationships and words.

And although again, this concept isn't new, being around tons and tons of boxes does something to the mind.

It brings in a sense of being claustrophobic; leaving one desiring for a clear open space.

I'm not fond of unpacking. When the two go head to head, packing and unpacking, packing snatches the prize when it comes to being painless.

I'm just anticipating having a carton-free home at some point.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sunny days

I may profess my avid love for winter unabashedly, but this being my first legitimate winter, I'll confess my love is wavering a tad. I was ecstatic the one day it snowed. We went tramping through the white, wet streets to the market and meandered through the brick lined alleys joyously. Noses going numb and all, I loved every minute of it. But these grey, dreary, freezing days after the snow stopped falling are the ones that make me anxious for spring. My heart is aching for some sunshine. And today... today we had some. 65% in the beginning of February?!? in PA? I have no idea. But I'll take it. Gladly.