A divinity for daily life.

I experience the divine in the seemingly smallest things — the way the light pours through the cracks in my drawn blinds in the morning, the smell of a fragrant burning candle, the melody of an acoustic guitar, driving home on the 134 at dusk — seeing that view that overlooks the whole city, sipping a latte with a friend at a local coffeeshop.

I wanted to expand upon my last post, “I don’t think I’m a non-denom, evangelical Christian anymore,” because there are a few more places I can go with that one; I may end up doing a small series on it. Here, I want to talk a little more about my experiences with God and what I’m learning from friends and peers of other faith traditions or denominations about their ways of communing with and experiencing God. It has been teaching me a lot.

One of the beautiful things about being a part of the spiritual care team at Children’s Hospital LA is that I get to learn from the other chaplains about their traditions, how that informs their spiritual practices and ways of offering care, etc. It seems like in a lot of other faith conversations, there is an unspoken (or spoken) idea of exclusivity — this is where/how I practice my faith and in this context, that is the correct way — I don’t need to learn from other traditions or have them inform my practice in any way. In healthcare chaplaincy, it seems the opposite; sometimes the best way you can care for patients’ spiritual needs is to learn as much as you can about the worldviews and specific practices of various faith backgrounds.

For example, there are certain prayers for healing from the Qur’an that a Muslim patient would appreciate; he or she may not be comfortable with any other type of prayer. A Jewish patient will need his/her food kept kosher in a special fridge during the hospital stay — it’s necessary to be aware of and able to accommodate those requests.

In addition, as a Christian, learning about these traditions has been informing my own, in ways I wouldn’t have expected. In my Christian journey, growing up in a non-denominational church, I felt separated from certain practices of my faith — of tradition, liturgy, understanding the sacraments, corporate prayer, etc. because the components of my understanding of God were the Bible, my church, my small group, youth group, communion, service projects and mission trips and that was pretty much it.

When I read my devotionals on my own or Scripture on my own and didn’t “feel” the Spirit in that instance or didn’t understand the impact the words were having on my everyday life, I stopped reading and/or continued to read but felt disconnected. That often left me wondering if I was really “missing the point” or “missing God” in those cases, or was it just that the method wasn’t the best way for me to connect Scripture to a practical experience.

As I piece together a theology and understanding of my Christianity at this point in my life, it’s very helpful to learn about Jewish practices like Shabbat (Sabbath-keeping) or keeping kosher; these are practices that have kept the Jewish people constantly aware of — and connected to — a practical living-out of the faith. Or Catholics using rosary beads to say daily prayers. I understand it can swing to the other side and become “too ritualistic,” separated from the spiritual impetus, but for me, it is helpful to learn about.

My Jewish peer at work speaks so naturally and organically about her theology and spirituality — it has become a lifestyle, a way of seeing everything and understanding the world. As much as I’ve always aspired to that, and hoped that I reflect my faith in that way, I still feel that my Christianity can be easily compartmentalized — especially when it does not feel grounded and connected to practices of my daily life or spheres of my identity — what I’m eating, how I’m spending my time, what I’m paying attention to, what I’m thinking about, etc.

As I figure out what practicing my faith is going to look like right now, I want to remember to be conscious of the divine in my everyday life — whether that’s through a ritual or a liturgy I say with my church or alone, journaling or writing my prayers down — or whether it comes through reading Annie Dillard’s poetry or listening to Sufjan Stevens on a drive home, I believe each and every one can be a spiritual experience, a communing with God. A divinity for daily life.

What does my relationship with God look like when I’m questioning my Chinese-American-ness or adopted-ness — how, practically, can I feel connected to my faith in those moments? Or in moments of vocational questions — like how do I merge what is fulfilling with what is sustainable? The moments where I’m so sleepy and don’t want to pray, how can I still experience God?

I’m looking for rhythms and practices of life from the Christian tradition or borrowed from others that could help a feeling of practical-connectedness to God and to myself.

How do you experience God in your daily life within your tradition or spiritual practices? Would love for you to share with me! Thank you for reading. xoxo

I don’t think I’m a “non-denom, evangelical Christian” anymore.

I am increasingly noticing that certain moments and experiences of life force us much more than others to stop, confront and question who we are, our identity, belief and value systems — sometimes it’s in a halting and rattling way that we don’t expect, sometimes it’s in a more subtle and prolonged way that allows us time to react and process.

I want to spend my time around people who expose themselves to these kinds of moments too — because we can choose to avoid them — but we can also seek them out and learn tremendously from them.

About two weeks ago, I started a clinical pastoral education internship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where I’m part of the Spiritual Care team and training to be a chaplain.

I haven’t even started visiting patients yet; I’m still in the orientation phase, but already have been confronted with so many questions: how do I want to identify myself as a Christian, especially to people who don’t know me and may be wary of spiritual care? Rituals like baptizing infants in emergency situations is common; maybe my dad wouldn’t be okay with that — but I am — which means perhaps my theology has diverged from the theology of the evangelical, non-denominational church I grew up going to — I’ve known that for a long time, but not really ever been confronted with exactly how.

In the vein of becoming independent; over the years, I’ve had various experiences discovering and asserting my adoptee identity, my Chinese-American identity, my identity as a young but competent and intelligent woman — but my Christian faith has always been defined by what I grew up with, what books my former pastor would recommend in his sermons, the mission trips I used to go on, my InterVarsity influences in college, etc. Questions of my ethnic and cultural identity began to intertwine themselves with questions of theology when I moved to LA and started studying at Fuller. The gaps in my understanding of my Chinese-ness and adopted-ness unfolded in critiques of evangelical Christianity or church history — realizing in my modern-day understanding, I didn’t have a sense of anyone’s story except a white, male, upper-middle class, well-educated American one — because that’s the lens through which I’d been taught growing up.

I had noticed dissonance in the faith I knew as a child and the things (I think) I believe now, but wasn’t always in a position to wrestle with them. The recent silence over and within my spiritual journey comes in large part, from this, I believe. It comes from realizing all along — but again, not having jolting-enough experiences that were forcing me to confront anything in detail — that my theology has changed.

It’s a silence that comes out of lack of understanding of my place within the Christian story — location, placement, identity — all matter when having spiritual understanding, I think, because the Bible is a living word that manifests itself in our everyday lives. The people we hear the words from, and the way that they say them, affect the way we understand them. If we’re not hearing it from people who interpret & reflect the story in the way we ourselves are positioned within the story — then maybe it’s not always relatable and we can find ourselves feeling out of sync, silent, unable to grasp on to or experience resonance because we’ve lost our footing.

That’s how I felt, and in many ways still feel when I listen to others’ tell the story. What if the way I had been taught about God wasn’t always how I understood or experienced God? How do I make sense of my other ways of understanding and experiencing God?

This brings me back to the hospital bedside and my introductions as a spiritual care provider — in a state of extreme vulnerability, many times it doesn’t matter to the patient of what faith the chaplain is coming from. But, as a chaplain-in-training, it matters to me more than ever, because I want to have confidence in my faith as I approach the patient. I want my posture to reflect a growing — but confident — relationship with God — one with doubts and questions, of course — but one that knows and remembers why it believes what it believes.

I think it will be a challenging and insightful 6 months ahead in this spiritual care internship. I opened the hospital records the other day to get familiar with the layout and noticed a child accompanied by two foster parents; my heart broke a little without even having met her; I thought about my wonderful adoptive parents — and solemnly wondered if she was as fortunate.

I fight the urge to succumb to smallness or loneliness — “this is new for me, therefore I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not competent.” When we start something new and unfamiliar, often we don’t feel like anyone can relate to how chaotic and overwhelming it feels. How much we’re questioning ourselves. How much we’re needing to rely on our relationships and friendships with others; but not always having the words to say — can you check in and be there for me?

Much learning and growth to come in 2020, I’m sure. Thank you for reading. Keep an eye out for further reflection on this experience, as well as updates on a memoir I’m working on and some songwriting I’m doing for fun!

xoxo, Joy

My favorite time of the year (cont.)

And then, with the passing of Thanksgiving comes my absolute favorite time of the year, advent. Bellies full from turkey leftovers and warm soups, we enter a time of waiting and joyful expectancy for Christ to come. Like many other days and moments in our lives outside of this season, we wait.

We sit at traffic lights, we wait for our laundry to finish, we wait for water to boil, we wait for that text message response. We wait for bigger things too, perhaps. A new job to start, our resume to be evaluated, a diagnosis, a baby to arrive. Of course we’re still running around like crazy, trying to get all of our work done, meals prepared and errands run. But, I like to take moments in the season of advent, while doing my normal things, while waiting in that same light that takes forever on the corner of Allen and Walnut, and remember that because of this season that we’re in; the waiting is different than the other times.

Because we’re waiting for the moment when that baby that changed the course of the past, present and future will arrive. It might feel like just another day, another year. For those alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, it was just another census, another year to make the long trek back to their hometown.

But really, it was the most remarkable and life-altering moment, even if a lot of people didn’t realize.

So, a good way to remember, honor, celebrate and prepare for that remarkable, life-altering moment is — in the middle of monotonous, dragging moments and days this winter — take some time to do something differently and more intentionally. Like be kind to people in the midst of the waiting; be kind to yourself. Recognize that this is a remarkable time.

This is a short post, but I don’t have a lot to say in the beginning of this advent season — as the acts of waiting expectantly, listening, giving thanks, being mindful and intentional — I hope, will speak themselves in your own lives. I hope it’s a reminder to take joy in the next few weeks, as Christmas is quickly approaching!

My favorite time of the year.

It’s getting to be that time where even in Southern California, the air is shifting and we’re all breaking out our turtlenecks, cozy slippers, pine-scented candles and hot tea. The weather is still so weird here around this time though; I remember a couple years ago when it was in the 90s on Thanksgiving. It may be superficial, but I’m already thinking about what I’m going to wear this year to Thanksgiving dinner — on top of the weather being weird, how do I dress for the amount of food I’m going to eat?! Haha.

In all seriousness though, this is my favorite time of year; because worked into our calendar and the things we celebrate are ideals of gratitude, thanksgiving, love, family, community and birth. My church congregation this past weekend “hung the greens” and decorated the building to mark the end of the church calendar and the start of Advent next week. After Thanksgiving passes, Christmas is right around the corner and then it’ll be the New Year. But my naming of those quick seasonal changes this time of year isn’t meant to make you feel anxious about the approaching holidays, or stressed because it’s all happening fast. It’s to hopefully help you take a step back this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, pause, breathe, and reflect on the goodness you have received, the things you’re thankful for and the uniqueness of the people you celebrate with. After you’re happy, sleepy and full of turkey, of course.

This year, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with my aunts, uncles and cousins in La Canada Flintridge, and so my Aunt Gini asked me really graciously if there was any dish that was meaningful to my family that I wanted at this year’s Thanksgiving. It was so thoughtful, and reminded me of truly how meaningful the particularity of this holiday is for everyone. Each family’s, friend group’s or community’s Thanksgiving is unique and significant in particular ways to the people involved. Whether it’s sweet potatoes baked a certain way, mac ‘n cheese (both of which we never had at my family’s Thanksgiving, but both of which I’ve been delighted to discover at other people’s), pecan pie, a specific kind of cranberry jelly or gravy, or something totally different than any of those items, you know these particularities that I’m talking about. I’ve been part of more and more conversations lately on adoptive identity, narrative and journey; and I’ve been thinking about those conversations in combination with the celebration of Thanksgiving and in combination with the particularity and uniqueness of each of our stories. My story (as well as all of your stories), is both part of certain larger stories, like the Asian American narrative, the adoptee narrative, the Christian narrative, the millennial narrative, the female narrative, etc. — but it’s also particular and unique — transcendent and inclusive of each and all of these stories because it’s only and wholly my own.

In a sense, the way we as an individual, family or community celebrate Thanksgiving — the particularity of our family’s food and customs — is one reflection of our combination of each of these hybridized, interwoven and unique narratives that make up who we are.

For example, for me, the smells and flavors of Thanksgiving food and the warmth and memories associated with celebrating it on Ingleside Ave. in Pennington, New Jersey, with my mom, dad and sister, Beth, will always be conjoined and extremely sentimental in my mind and heart, now and for years to come, even as things continue to change for all of us.

We gathered around the table sometime in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes with exchange students from Princeton that my parents were friends with at the time, sometimes with other friends of my parents, but normally just the four of us. We played an ABC Thanksgiving game, where we went around the table, each saying things we were thankful for in alphabetical order. We played Hide the Pilgrim with little plastic figurines of a pilgrim boy, girl and turkey. We always prayed and thanked the Lord for the blessings He provided for us, recognizing that this day, in addition to every other, was from Him, for Him and centered around Him. We had the typical dishes — squash and green bean casseroles, stuffing, turkey, canned cranberry, mashed potatoes, apple, pecan and pumpkin pie. An outside observer may have thought it seemed pretty normal, a pretty typically American way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

But, if you haven’t experienced my particular family’s way of being together, who we are, what we eat, what we talk about, you can’t necessarily understand. Just like I can’t completely understand the way you celebrate with your family or your people. That uniqueness of your family and uniqueness of mine brought together around a common time of celebration, gratitude, love, comfort, feasting and belonging is what I so love about this time of year. It’s a delicious and tangible expression of each of our individual, family and communal stories — centered around food, the table, and ideals of love and gratitude — a deeply theological expression, whether we consider ourselves spiritual people or not.

So I hope in this time, we share our stories with each other — how do you “do” Thanksgiving and Christmas? I also hope we invite each other and others into our homes and our lives in this time, because that particularity and uniqueness that our people have can and should be shared with others.

Happy Thanksgiving! Eat lots of stuffing and green bean casserole for me! (or mac ‘n cheese, if that’s more your family’s thing)

xoxo, Joy

Small things aren’t insignificant things.

I wrote a poem not too long ago, called “My Small Things,” about a time when my ideas and dreams felt really small and unattainable; I’ve sure we’ve all been there. But I’ve also been thinking how “smallness” doesn’t need to equate to feelings of loneliness, sadness, despair, neglect or rejection by those around us. Small things can be really good things if we ourselves give them value in our own lives.

My roommate, Karley, introduced me to this podcast called The Next Right Thing, all about taking small steps forward in decision-making and life, and the host, Emily P. Freeman, talks often about the importance of small things. In one of the recent episodes I listened to, something that has really stood out and stuck is the simple idea of “point and call,” or naming things, big or small, for what they are and for their significance. This helps us better know and understand ourselves and what’s happening in our own lives. It also helps us think clearly as we continue to move forward. If you’re anything like me, you can reach the end of a tough day, or a good day, or just a very eventful day, and know that a lot happened but not take the time to process exactly what those things were and their affect on you. This can happen day after day, until you realize you have a lot to process and say or think about — it can feel like a weight is pulling you down.

So just for me — and if you’re interested in listening — I wanted to list some things that have been happening in my life lately. I believe that giving words to simple things gives them power and significance and lets us decide how we want them to affect us.

There is a lot that we carry around with us, and as a Chinese adoptee, I have lately been trying to process more how my story connects with other Asian American stories and how to relate to the AAPI community. This is one thing: I have been feeling disconnected from a cultural and ethnic story lately, and I’m not always sure how to proceed forward in understanding my own.

Another thing: I met with fellow Chinese adoptees last weekend in downtown LA for brunch, and we got to know each other and talked about our lives. It was really wonderful.

Another thing: I have my first published (well, published in print) article coming out for Inheritance Magazine this week! It’s in an issue called, Same but Different, and I’m really excited about that.

Another thing: I was reminded this past weekend, and have been lately, of how grateful I am for my little apartment in Pasadena, my dear roommate, friends, family, and church community. I love living in LA.

Another thing: In the middle of busy days and weeks, I have been trying more and more to practice mindfulness and self-care. Not “settling for” things I don’t really love, but taking them in stride. And in the meantime, taking time for myself whenever I can.

You know, when I was little, I always remember getting the comment “Joy takes pride in her work” on my report cards — you remember that?! Those generic comments your teacher could insert for you? I remember thinking, “well, duh, it’s my work and since I got an A, of course I’m proud of myself (no brainer)” — the words of the slightly haughty and naive little 3rd grade me. I’d ask my mom why they even offered that comment as an option because it didn’t make sense to me. Today I realize how radical a statement it can be to take pride in my work; I hate that as we get older, the world tells us more and more that we aren’t good enough or that we are what we produce.

Can we first take pride in who we are — and then in what we’ve done?

Can we tap back into those proud and confident third grade voices in our heads that told us we could do anything and we were good enough?

Can we name the small things we’ve accomplished or that we’re thankful for unashamedly and proudly for what they are?

That’s my encouragement for you today; thanks for reading!

The table.

Tables come in all shapes, sizes and materials. In some cultures, there is a short table on the floor and everyone gathers around it on a bamboo mat to eat. Some cultures use spinning tables at certain meals so that everyone can share the food easier. When we can afford it, my roommate and I need a new kitchen table because we want to be able to host more people. Tables are for gathering and sharing food, stories, and life together.

Today at church, we sang one of my favorite songs, called “The Table.” There are a few reasons why it’s one of my favorites — firstly, I love it because of that image of tabling, or feasting with the Lord. One of the verses says, Come all you weary // Come and find // His yoke is easy // His burden light // He is able // He will restore // At the table of the Lord. There is rest, restoration and rejuvenation at the Lord’s table.

I love tables because I love food. And I love that the image of gathering around the table is one constantly used throughout Scripture. In the parable of the great wedding banquet, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. The king invited those esteemed guests and members of the royal household, sending servants to check on them and make sure they were coming, but they refused. The king had prepared the best food he had available, his oxen and fattened cattle, but the guests turned down his invite and one of them even mistreated the servants that were sent to him.

Reading this now, I’m like, why would you pass up (what at that time seemed like) an amazing feast?! But they did. So the king told his servants to go out and gather people from the streets to come eat and celebrate, because the food was ready but the guests were not. Sometimes v. 14, “for many are invited, but few are chosen,” is debated, but I want to focus on the idea of feasting at the table as an image for the kingdom. We are invited, and it’s a free and beautiful invitation to come eat! It is free because of the free gift we have been given in God through Jesus, which we symbolically celebrate around the communion table in Eucharist too. Because of what has already been done and prepared for us, we are invited to come gather, as the chosen and invited ones, around the table for a delicious meal.

One reason why fall is my favorite season is because of the food. And that the flavors, the colors, and crisp, cool air, I find, bring people together. After our church service today, where we sang that song, we gathered for an autumn potluck together and laughed, caught up, shared stories and ate around communal tables. Everyone was encouraged to bring a fall dish, and flavors like pumpkin, apple, squash and caramel tickled and warmed my senses. I was so happy; we were all so happy to be gathered around tables eating together.

That this is an image for the kingdom of God is so beautiful, so accessible and so identifiable. Everyone likes to eat, and most people like to gather with other people. Most people like to be invited to things. I know I can often do a better job of being a warm, inviting, and welcoming person — sometimes as an introvert, it is easier to want to eat alone or not start up a conversation with someone new — but it’s important.

The image of gathering around the table also brings in this idea of belonging, our place, our invitation, and our importance to the dinner party. In a world of competition, envy, deceit, hustling and genuine struggle, I have to remind myself everyday that I bring something important and unique to the table. Maybe it’s a similar dish as another person, maybe I look like another person, but I am unique and it is important because it is me. And God made me, and each of us uniquely and especially ourselves. This sounds so cliche, and it’s not in an “I’m so different and special” or “more different and special than other people” kind-of-way, it’s more to help me (and you) recognize our own individual value and worth at the tables we feast at.

Real talk is that I struggle a lot with wondering, is what I’m bringing to the table good enough or enough? Am I writing enough, am I thinking enough, am I dreaming enough, am I doing enough?

The truth is, I may never know the answers to those questions but I will know what it feels like to have truth in the midst of those questions — the truth that God created me and invited me to the table. The most important question is, will I accept that invitation? Will you?


My name is Emily Zamora, I’m a lifestyle and wedding photographer born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and now living with my husband and furbaby in Portland, OR.

Most photographers would say that their love of photography started when they got their first camera in their tweens/teens/college years and haven’t been able to put down the camera since.

My story with photos goes a bit farther back than that.

First, I guess I should start with a little blurb about my family history and how I came to be the woman writing this article.

I was born Emily Jean Stephens to a teenage, drug addicted, unwed mother who just wasn’t ready to be a mom. And that’s okay. Because that opened the door for me (and 3 of my biological siblings) to be adopted by her grandparents, my great-grandparents.

Can I just add that adoption is a BEAUTIFUL thing. It’s difficult, messy, political, scary, and yet oh so needed beautiful thing. And sadly, some children aren’t fortunate enough to be adopted by blood relatives. Some don’t find their forever homes for several months, years, or ever. All of that time spent in the system, passed around from place to place. With little to no documentation of their growth or preserved memories or knowledge of where they came from.

This breaks my heart.

By the grace of God, that was not my story exactly.

Like I mentioned earlier, I was adopted by my maternal great-grandparents. My own living family history. I even still visit my childhood home and grab my family photo album that documents ever milestone and accomplishment. But with this connection to my (well half of my) gene pool, also came the knowledge of our family’s history of memory loss and dementia. Especially among the females.


While I’m not guaranteed to inherit the disease, that doesn’t stop the worry that, someday, I just might.

Cue the part of the story where I get my first “real camera”, your mid 2000s basic point-and-shoot. I guess technically you can trace my VERY first camera back to the Kodak disposable film ones my mom would give me and my siblings when we did theatre in elementary schools. Every new play/production we’d get a new camera to fill. I even still have the images from those cameras. Man, the content you get from an 8 year old with a camera. But before I go too far on this tangent, I just want to explain how I’ve used cameras (and photography) since that first point-and-shoot. I took pictures of EVERYTHING. My food, family vacations, trips to the mall, my dogs, my feet … basically of anything to preserve the memory of what I was up to that day. Nowadays people get a bad rep for taking “food pics,” “shoe pics,” and basically over photographing every moment. But I say, take those photos! Preserve those days! And maybe refrain from the hundreds of selfies – those ones do get old.

Now as a professional photographer, I absofreakinglutely LOVE that I’m the one charged with preserving someone’s special moment. Whether that be the first look between a bride and groom, the sibling meltdowns that happen at basically every family session, or that special moment when someone asks their significant other to spend the rest of their lives together. I get to play the comic relief, the peacekeeper, the quiet fly on the wall, and so much more. How freaking lucky can one person be?!

And because I feel like I started off this whole thing pretty heavy, I’m going to close with some of my favorite camera/photography related memories …

  • When my husband and I were dating, during the Summer before my first year of college he bought a disposable camera and documented random moments during the summer. He then developed the photos so I could have them before I left for school. The images weren’t the greatest, but the memories are some of my favorite.
  • When I’d get my middle school+high school besties group together for dinners and then turn them into mini friendship photoshoots. We even posed on my dad’s Mustang during one of them. Serious dorks.
  • The childhood summers during my Jr. Lifeguard years where I’d create FULL albums of images of my friends/what we did that day and upload them to Facebook. Almost EVERYDAY. I’m talking heavily filtered. All uploaded to the internet. One upside was that they made for great end-of-the-summer slideshows.
  • My mom taking our “special occasion outfit” photos in the same exact spot in our house my entire life. I’m talking toddler years to present day. Talk about consistency!
  • And basically anytime someone prints a photo I’ve taken. It gives me the feels every time.

And with that, I’ll sign off. Thanks for reading! Enjoy some of my favorite life moments encapsulated in the following photos.


That underwater point and shoot that was my constant companion.
Pictures of everything, I tell ya.
Even food.
Some of my earliest memories are hanging with my aunt. I’d later learn to actually play on this same piano and continue to play on it for over a decade.
Kindergarten Emily. Probably why I chose to be in FRONT of the camera.
That iconic photo location!
While the people in front of it grew, it always stayed the same. Pictured here with my biological brother, the first to get adopted by our great-grandparents.
Young, probably around 7 years old, Emily showing off her new found skill of hand sewing. Sporting an ever-present, during those years, Snow White costume.
There were never any bad pictures for me growing up. I kept everything.
One of those friendship photoshoots, location was usually one of our houses.
Or in this case, my dad’s car!
Funny how photos can also help you remember “pose trends” from the time?
An early photo of me and my now husband.
A candid from my highschool grad night. I’m sure on of my sisters caught hold of my camera for this one.
And this one.
A college sophomore roommate shoot, on the last day as we were packing up to leave for the summer.
And another, this one commemorating that we had made it. Finally.
I truly have a love for photos that capture movement or a candid moment in time, I definitely chose our wedding day photographers carefully based on this fact.
Commemorating a moment in time during our honeymoon in Spain. It was so surreal to feel the Mediterranean between our toes.
And the Sagrada Familia. I never wanted to forget this view.
And another lifetime moment as I looked out over such a magnificent sight while hiking in Zion for my 23rd birthday.
Here’s that iconic photo location again. This one was for Easter family photos. Featuring my younger biological sister and our parents [great-grandparents].
As a photographer, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to be in front of the lens with your loved ones, so moments like these are near and dear to my heart. [and ALWAYS printed out multiple times and scattered throughout our home].
And now a few special moments that I’ve been able to capture for others…

Because I want my small business to have an element that does something for others without any expectation of anything in return and as a way to “pay it forward”, I’d love to offer any foster or adoptive families in the Portland, OR area (or Los Angeles, CA area with coordination with my return visits schedule) a complimentary family or portrait session.

I’d like to gift these sessions as a way to say thank you and offer these families, who open their homes and hearts to other children, a way to preserve the memories of their growing families and the lives of those they foster. If I can provide some memento of this time in their lives with the people who helped them grow, to be able to look back on when they are grown, I will have accomplished my mission.

If you or someone you know is interested, please reach out!

Love, Em

Be still.

Every week at church, my pastor, Scott, segues into a prayer time in our liturgy by encouraging us to “in the stillness of our hearts, offer our prayers and concerns to God.”

Yesterday was the first time I heard that and was somewhat struck by the fact that my heart was NOT still. Relationally, vocationally, emotionally, spiritually, my heart and mind are in turmoil right now. Especially in moments of prompted stillness, or when spending time in the morning journalling and reflecting, I am more than ever reminded of how un-still my heart and life really is. I understand it could just be a nice-sounding way of moving us into prayer, reflection and inward contemplation. Maybe encouraging us to still our hearts as we move into this time, if they aren’t already there. Yesterday, I was simply struck by my heart’s anxiety and I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to meditate on Psalm 46, where the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God!” is used, a command God gives to be still — because He is God. But where does that statement of stillness come from and in what context is the psalmist quoting God here? I was curious. Our lives are not expected to be still already, they are expected to still in light of knowing who God is. Or something like that.

Let me expand on some of my thoughts and reflections (coming from a slightly more stilled heart), after examining this more closely.

Psalm 46 is a pretty beautiful poem of praise to the God of Zion/Jerusalem who is present with his people there (historically, God was believed to inhabit the temple with his chosen people in Zion/Jerusalem). Vv 2-3 describe a tumultuous, entire earth-shaking earthquake, and God’s presence, his refuge and strength in the midst of that chaos and fear — which those of us who were in the LA area the past few days can really relate to. Two days ago, during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Ridgecrest, I was listening to some live music in Pasadena. The band was introducing a song titled, “Firm Foundation,” about standing on solid ground, trusting and hoping in higher and stronger forces than ourselves — as the ground literally began to shift and shake underneath our feet. It was probably the most visceral reminder I could’ve had at this time of the fact that God is God and we are always on solid ground, always in the midst of refuge and strength when we are in his presence. In the midst of an earthquake, the truth of God remains the truth of God. The reminder of that fact through song was pretty prophetic and beautiful.

The psalmist here, in the midst of a cosmic-sized earthquake, reasserts his faith and hope in God. God is both the God of the heavens and cosmos, but also God who resides in Zion/Jerusalem among his people. As the poem continues, we see that God is in the midst of the chaotic and unpredictable forces of battle and war as well. That’s where the statement, “Be still and know that I am God” appears — in the middle of earthly wars and battles, God is there and he is above it all (“exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth” vv. 10). He is not only sovereign, exalted over it all, but he is with us, with the life of the community in the midst of it (vv. 11).

The stillness that comes with God’s power and presence can be in the midst of cosmic disaster or war, but it is a reality for the depths of our hearts. In our deepest, darkest doubts, fears, questions, anxieties and pain, that’s where God’s stillness reigns. These tumultuous images of war, chaos and disaster rendered by the psalmist could be his realities in the Near East of the time — and that was where God was present and exalted and where he was reminded to “be still.” Today, we are experiencing earthquakes and wars too; pain, anxiety and fear is persistent in our world today, but the love, presence and stillness of God persists as well.

That call to “in the stillness of our hearts, offer our prayers and concerns to God” from my pastor is not a request to still the actual realities of our lives — sometimes, we just don’t have that power. The call is to remember this God described and praised in Psalm 46 and throughout the scriptures, this God who is exalted in the midst of our pain, suffering, disaster and war. The chaos of life will continue; the depths of our hearts and minds may continue to be in turmoil and anxiety, but the peace, the stillness of God reigns nonetheless. What we choose to proclaim and believe in the middle of our anxiety is what matters — will we choose to cling to a stillness and ever-present hope that has power over it all, even when it feels as though we are powerless?

That is trust; that is hope; that is in what we could hope to find stillness.

References for Psalm 46 taken from:

Brueggemann, Walter, and W. H Bellinger, Jr., Psalms. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.


Waiting upon things is so difficult — any human would probably attest to and agree with this. This post comes out of a current story of a season of life of waiting. We all know it feels bad, hard, anxious and painful, but what can we do about it? Is God listening to us? Is it okay to not always be tangibly “moving forward” in our lives? What do we do when we feel a little stuck?

The other night, I was babysitting for two kids, a different family than I wrote about last — these kids are a 7 and 8 year old girl and boy in Santa Monica. Their parents had told me that they could stay up til they got home, I didn’t need to put them to bed, so I had braced myself for a loong evening of rambunctious games and running around. Which is exactly what it was. I began to notice their impatience early on while playing games with them — they’d continually ask me questions and as I was trying to figure them out, they’d repeatedly ask the same question in a crescendo-ing tone. It was pretty annoying and I found myself repeatedly asking them, “pleeaase, be patient as I figure it out.” Seething a little bit under my breath, I’d pretty quickly determine the answer, just to be bombarded with more questions and way more energy than I was prepared for. After awhile of the impatient questioning and my repeated pleas to please be more patient as I figured out the rules of a new game and how to explain to us all, or as I went to get us all water, or as I figured out how to deal with a tiebreaker … I realized that this was a learning opportunity and insightful experience for me as well as for them (hoping that my encouragement to be more patient in some way had an affect).

I’ve found myself currently in an ongoing season of restlessness, anxiety, questioning, doubting and stasis, in many ways. I have so much I want to do and figure out and sometimes it feels like all I’ve been doing is waiting to start something. I find myself longing for God’s presence, peace and action in my life, because waiting puts us as humans in a weird position. We’re out of control and dependent on other forces to make decisions. The power isn’t in our hands; if it was, we’d take action and get the outcome we want ourselves. We would answer the questions we’re asking about the rules of the game ourselves. Waiting brings up issues of trust and faith because when we cannot control an outcome, how will we live in the present and how will we interact with the One who has that power?

Reflecting back on the way I responded to those kids’ impatience made me think about the way I’ve been talking to God lately. What does God think when I feel restless and anxious in my waiting? When I really want something and I ask for it impatiently? I doubt God gets annoyed like I did with the kids when we ask for the same things over and over in increasingly impatient ways.

For those of you, like me, who may feel stuck and static in seasons of waiting and expectation, I hope you’ll be reassured that God does speak to us, interact with us, and move among us. But most of all, God loves us and is with us. I don’t know how you experience God’s love and presence, but I hope that in your moments of anxiety and difficulty, wrestling and questioning, stasis and stuck-ness, that you will in some sense, experience solace. Maybe moments where we seem to most lack control over our lives can point to the fact that anything that is achieved or that happens is God and not us.

I want to leave you with this prayer from a book of Walter Brueggemann’s, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, that my mom gave to me and I’ve been meditating with lately. This one spoke to me because sometimes we pray and try to listen but are distracted. May we have clarity and may we be in a “listening mood” in order to hear well.

Your command is garbled

We imagine you coming into the barracks with your insistent demand. We imagine you addressing the sun to “move out,” the sky — “let there be light,” the sea — “stand back.”

We imagine you addressing us, each of us and all of us with your order of the day. We imagine … but the din of other commands, of old loyalties and unfinished business and tired dreams cause us not to hear well, not to listen, not to notice, and your command is garbled.

So come again with your mandate, with the clarity of your imperative. We listen, because we know in deep ways that your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Come among us, because we are yours, and ours is a listening mood. Give us ears and then hands and hearts and feet for your good news. Amen.

Big lessons from little kids’ books.

I’ve been nannying some kids for the past month or so, a 3 year old boy named Dylan and 5 year old girl named Ellie, who are hilarious, wild, crazy, sometimes really obnoxious and mischievous, but normally just a lot of fun and I’m learning so much from them. It’s true that I often think, “this isn’t my real job” or “what I really want to be doing long-term,” and it definitely isn’t. But in the meantime, this is my current reality, and so I’m investing in it as much as I can and truly learning a lot.

For example, the kids are half Korean, half Taiwanese, and both they and their parents have taught me a lot about Korean culture and food. I had a great conversation with their dad the other day about his childhood in Brazil and then his move to the US and the struggles he had learning English and connecting with other Asians because he identified more as Brazilian than Taiwanese or American.

But the big thing that struck me last week came while I was reading some books to the kids.

Lesson one came from The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It looked like a nice book to read to Dylan before a nap; it has a pretty, green cover and I had fond memories of it from childhood. Has anyone read it recently? Warning that, if you’re anything like me, there’s a high chance it’ll catch you off guard and make you cry. A brief recap … this tree and this little boy become friends; the boy climbs the tree, plays in its branches, etc. As the boy grows up and moves away, the tree misses him and still wants to be his friend. But the boy comes back in need of bigger things from the tree, like a house and a boat. And the tree continues to give and give, and the boy continues to age and need more. And then it gets to a point where the tree can’t give anymore to the boy, and that’s kind of the end of the story. The boy is off living his adult life, full of change, growth, emotional hardship, etc. and the tree remains behind but is always the one giving in order to sustain the friendship and the boy’s needs. It was pretty heartbreaking to read this story again in my adult life, and to realize how uneven and unbalanced this giving – receiving friendship between the tree and boy is. What type of message does that communicate to kids?

I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself (as this book challenged me to ask myself), are you just taking from your friendships and from others, or are you giving as well? Are you finding balance with yourself and in your interpersonal relationships?

Self-care is really important too. Are you being refilled and replenished as you give to others?

The second book that made me think a little bit last week was actually just a children’s Bible storybook, so a very simplified version of Bible stories with pictures designed for toddlers. It wasn’t anything about the stories themselves or the way they were simplified that got me thinking, but it was the fact that the writers left out completely Jesus’ death and resurrection from the story and skipped right from his birth to his ascension into heaven and then the book ended. Likely they left it out because it’s a gruesome and sad part of the story that Jesus was crucified, and it’s hard to put that in a little kid’s book. You also can’t talk about the resurrection without talking about the crucifixion, so that part couldn’t be included either. It really made me wonder in that moment how I was taught about Jesus’ death when I was a child. Was it mentioned in Sunday School and at what age did I start hearing that part of the story? I can’t remember, honestly.

I was helping the kids get ready for a Good Friday service at their church a couple weeks before encountering the Bible storybook, and I remember Ellie, the older girl, asking me why they had to go to church “not on a Sunday and at night?” and I wondered, “hmm how do I say this well to her?” I said something about having to remember the whole story of Jesus and having to honor Good Friday before we can celebrate Easter. But I didn’t give her the whole story or mention death, I don’t believe.

Why did I, in that moment, and why do we as Christians, shy away from talking about hard or difficult things or including parts of the story that may prompt our kids to ask us questions that we can’t answer? As parents, I’m curious how you talk to your kids about death and the tougher parts of Bible stories.

I wish, as a kid, I had been told more often (and I had seen others in my life saying more often) that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

I’m learning so much from these little ones, and they’re not even my own children; I’m only with them for four or five hours a day. It’s incredible how inquisitive, adventurous, funny and intelligent they are. I think they (and all children in our lives) deserve the most authentic and thoughtful storytelling experiences we can give them at their age. It’s just not good enough to leave out the death and resurrection of Jesus in a Bible storybook. That’s the most important part of the story, of our story. Today, as an adult, I’m afraid or hesitant to ask hard questions sometimes, or to be honest and transparent with my thoughts and feelings. It could be totally unrelated to the way these topics were broached in childhood, but if it is at all related, I wonder, why are we modeling to our children anything other than complete honesty and trust? Especially when it comes to the Bible and telling the story of God truthfully.