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

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!

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