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!

Shanghai.

The old woman’s wrinkles cradled secrets and stories
tucked within the folds of her worn linen shirt and dumpling basket
 
Her ebony, beady eyes hold years of pride and mystery
her small, dainty feet have pedaled all the crevices of the city
 
The noodle soup man stands at his stall every morning through evening
he makes the best Muslim noodles in my neighborhood
 
Is that even right to call them Muslim noodles? 
His food welcomes natives and foreigners while he himself was displaced
 
Sometimes we need to take a pause, the sounds are overwhelming
but our lungs are gripped by heavy smog, we cannot find pure oxygen
 
Picturesque, vintage scenes like from a postcard
where does the value in things lie? Is it all being commodified?
 
It’s early morning and everyone is moving,
why don’t people pause to rest, to sip their morning coffee?
 
To continue quietly in the comfort of their own image,
to take peace and satisfaction in all they have truly accomplished
 
Do they take moments for themselves like I do?
do they take pride in who they are?
 
How I wish I could know their hopes, loves and dreams
what was their dream job, their favorite memory as a child?
 
What gives them energy, what do they love the most?
How do they have strength to continue moving at this pace?
 
When whiteness is the highest standard, 
blonde hair and blue eyes worshipped,
than who tells the stories of the old, wrinkled woman,
the noodle man,
the ones who hold so much in their faces,
and in their grasps?
 
The ones whose stories I long to know, 
I cannot be the one to tell them, I am the foreigner.

My mystery.

Still in the middle of my mystery
I feel anything but secure
it’s a story, it’s a history
I always wish I could’ve said more.

Mornings of serenity and frost
wilderness and rural churches
why there did I feel so lost
three years the lakes I searched.

Searched nature and world over
for answers to my questions
found myself without even one cover
yielding a story with my mention.

Because world over it didn’t exist
never could I hope to carry myself right
despite having stories to impress
deep down my heart lurked in its night.

We all looked the same
but more different we couldn’t be
falling asleep sad and frustrated
people looked but they couldn’t see me.

I find myself now in the city of angels
pursued a degree because I had the same questions
see myself in more peoples’ faces yet still it’s a challenge
how do I make money and do something relevant?

So see, they continue but they take different forms
the mysteries of our lives
if we live into them, if we give them respect
maybe we will find

friends to guide us
a church to harbor us
a family to love us
a stronger self to carry us through.

Because the mystery is ours to write and solve
we always ask our own questions
we decide around what or who we revolve
and how we resolve our tensions.

Who we will turn to in our sadness and joy
who is with us in our darkness.
who we will show the side that’s smooth and coy
or who with we’re our authentic and full selves.

As I forge the story myself
I still feel less than relevant
but I think less and less that’s what it’s about
making ourselves feel important.

Truthfully,
we have always been immensely important,
valued beyond belief.
So the real question is:
how do we realize that,
how do we live into our worth?
it’s a relief to not worry:
is my mystery valuable enough to be seen?

But, to think about instead,
filling our stories with more meaning.
Meaning, not being worldly clout
but our strongest, truest sense of being.

Of freedom.

Caught in between
Worlds, cultures and faces,
where do I find myself?
but lost,
within a notion of who I have been
conditioned to believe
that I should be.
 
Shapes, colors, details, bone structures,
have torn the world apart,
have told us who we are,
have told me I cannot decide for myself.
 
But when I do decide,
what do I say?
what am I to know now who I want to become?
My face is not my culture,
It is not who I am.
 
But when I am free,
to act on something deeper than my tiny
nose, almond eyes and black hair,
am I ready?
 
Do I know what my freedom means or
what it can do?
How do I find something that has always 
been missing?
 
I need to construct, to redefine, to revert
and subvert that which has been
constructed for me.
 
Freedom is in this power to discover and create,
Can we look beyond?
Can we look within?
 
To discover that we are a human race,
never meant to be defined by borders,
shapes, colors, frameworks, details, or faces,
but by qualities,
 
Of love,
of creativity,
of compassion,
of discovery,
 
of freedom.

My small things.

They sit on a street corner at the edge of my heart,
vying for your attention.
But they’re drowned out,
because I’m too afraid,
that your dreams will engulf them.

Not because my small things are
            not as strong,
                        not as good,
                                    not as worthy,
but because they’re not only on a street corner,
on the fringe of your periphery,
but they’re in a box.

Only passersby, 
people driving, 
pedestrians, 
a young mom pushing her stroller, 
an elderly man walking his dog,
can see them,
if they’re at a certain angle,
if they’re paying attention.

My small things, they just sit in their box and wait,
because I’m too afraid,
to shove them in peoples’ faces,
to have them tell me, no I don’t
want to see those things,
hear those things,
            I want to listen to my car stereo instead,
                        I have to pay attention to my baby,
                                    to my dog.

I have too much to worry about,
too many dreams vying for my attention,
to spare a moment for your
small box of things.

Fully engulfed in the exhaust of other peoples’ dreams,
I wonder were they
            not as strong,
                        not as good,
                                    not as worthy,
or maybe the street corner just wasn’t a safe place for my small things.

Maybe they were never needed to vy for your attention,
maybe mine was enough,
maybe I was enough,
but because I was too afraid,
I never told you how small my things felt,
how my small things felt,
vying for your attention.

They’re
            just as strong,
                        just as good,
                                    just as worthy,
to be noticed by passersby,
to be held safely,
to demand attention.   

Kentucky.

The screen door swings open by itself,
and memories come out to haunt,
I don’t quite know why,
I’m remembering the summer of the fireflies,

of the smell of freshly cut grass,
Daddy just mowed the lawn,
the sweat upon my brow and lip,
because of the just-set, hot summer sun.

Why is it a place with a straw field that I always remember?
A looming house, a boy I don’t really know,
memories that may not be my memories,
I’m running across the field with a stranger.

But that’s kind of how Kentucky feels,
in my memory it doesn’t feel like my own,
it was someone else’s story my mind set out to steal,
and it’s only now I’m making that known.

But the memories take me back,
to a brick, one story house
nestled on Coltneck Lane,
how could I forget?
This really may be my story,
that place once held my name.

I learned how to ride a bike,
on the gentle decline of a church parking lot,
Daddy’s encouragement and grasp, my guide,
As I tentatively moved down that slope.

Momma dressed us up for Easter in matching dresses,
the tulips beamed too in the front yard photos,
we went to a neighbor’s house for supper,
and I ate at least two dozen dumplings.

I wore my dress-up clothes around the house,
I read around a racetrack,
I didn’t have a care in the world,
I definitely rocked that bowl cut,

This was me almost 20 years ago,
happy and carefree,
I had a little southern drawl,
I went to Trinity Academy.

And then the screen door slams shut,
the fireflies disappear,
it’s getting late,
and the heat feels too much to bear,

I wake up in another chapter,
a cold yet familiar place,
the sweat has dried upon my brow,
my memories erased.

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?

Preserved.

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.

Yeah.

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.

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.