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The Darkness That Makes Us Yearn



Yesterday afternoon, I was tucked warmly away in my grandmother’s sun room. What an unusual place to sit and be warm, sipping coffee and having conversation while only a large window separates the human hearts from the heavy snowfall outside in the frigid temps. But there I was, reminiscing over the years I’ve been married—18 years this summer. My aunt said she would be married 30 (I think) and she said she didn’t know how many winters. I was confused for a moment. Did she mean literal winters? But she did not. She meant the trying times, the difficult parts, the areas in marriages that many wish they could speed pass or run from. I nodded with understanding. “Those are the best times,” I said. “They make us more beautiful, stronger people. I love my winters more than any of the other times.”

Then last night, while I was laying in bed, blankets piled high because it was freezing, I started to think about how much truth is hidden in the idea that winters are the trying times; the hard times; the times that shape and mold us; the times that make us stronger; fill us with more love that’s unbreakable; purify us….

 
In the year 2018, winters are still quite literally difficult. We have to work hard to fight back the wildness of it all. We put up plastic over the leaky windows in our old houses. We prepare our cars that sometimes still can’t keep up in the sub-zero temperatures. We fight to unfreeze pipes and then run about screaming when the pipes burst and begin spraying cold water all over the basement (okay, perhaps I was the only one screaming). We are beyond frustrated when the busted pipes require immense cleanup and repair and then they only freeze once again a few hours after fixed. We worry about the roads that become treacherous with snow drifts and ice, both seen and unseen. School is delayed or canceled. Job shifts are rearranged to accommodate the children, stir crazy with cabin fever. We stock up our pantries and fatten ourselves up on hot chocolate and endless pots of chili.

2018…(take THAT Y2K believers!)

We are still fighting to live through the winters. It’s hard. It certainly isn’t easy…and people are often wishing to escape the winter and run to a safer, warmer, more inviting place.

Our ancestors--the legacy that has grown into us--they knew that winter would quite literally bring life or death. They worked hard to prepare and then battened down the hatches, hoping that they would arrive through the dark and enter back into the warm life of spring. They needed hope, filling every surface of their homes with the green hope of life with cuttings of evergreen.

They were superstitious.

They were vigilant.

They were tough.


And they lived through it.



At the end of winter, they took the winter greens and readied a large fire. Some wrote notes of things they wanted to leave behind with the winter—tucked the notes into the evergreen, and burned it all to ash. It was a cycle. There would be another winter, but for now, there was Spring.

But there would be a spring after, if only they fought hard to see it.

This is marriage.

This is relationship.

This is friendship and life.

Be thankful for the winters.
They are tough and sometimes they hurt. You may want to run away and find something more comfortable, but each time the winter darkness turns to warm spring, you will find yourself stronger, more capable, and purified to keep moving forward as time walks with you.



I will leave you with this Celtic prayer of thanks for the seasons:

There is a winter in all of our lives,
a chill and darkness that makes us yearn
for days that have gone
or put our hope in days yet to be.
Father God, you created seasons for a purpose.
Spring is full of expectation
buds breaking
frosts abating and an awakening
of creation before the first days of summer.
Now the sun gives warmth
and comfort to our lives
reviving aching joints
bringing colour, new life
and crops to fruiting.
Autumn gives nature space
to lean back, relax and enjoy the fruits of its labour
mellow colours in sky and landscape
as the earth prepares to rest.
Then winter, cold and bare as nature takes stock
rests, unwinds, sleeps until the time is right.
An endless cycle
and yet a perfect model.
We need a winter in our lives
a time of rest, a time to stand still
a time to reacquaint ourselves
with the faith in which we live.
It is only then that we can draw strength
from the one in whom we are rooted
take time to grow and rise through the darkness
into the warm glow of your springtime
to blossom and flourish
bring colour and vitality into this world
your garden.
Thank you Father
for the seasons of our lives



~Gia Cooper

The God In Me And The God In You


These days, I have a lot of my own ideas and thoughts about who God is. Very few of these thoughts still hold the fundamental ideas of my childhood religious upbringing. Almost all my ideas about God have been stripped of what I was taught the Holy Bible said about God. It isn’t that I stopped believing all of that (I did stop believing much of it), but rather that I came to my personal revelation that God is unique to each of us.

I suppose I think about it in the same way that I do when I think about who I am. I know who I am (most of the time), but all the people that come across me and get to know me in various intimate ways, or just friendly acquaintance ways, see a different version of me. They all have their own ideas of who I am and what I’m about. They look at me differently and make judgements on my character flaws and strengths. To me, very few ever get it right. Sometimes I don’t even get it right! But after all, we are all looking and searching and understanding from different vantage points.

And I think this is the same with God.

We are all on different paths. We have all been taught different things. Many of us worship differently, call God by different names, and feel that everyone else that’s not doing it just like us are the real ones that don’t actually know him. Some of us are looking at God from a valley and have to squint to see, while others are standing high on a mountaintop—vision clear.

This is why I like the expression often used in Buddhism: The God in me honors the God in you.

I’m not saying that we are all individual gods. I am saying that we all have the imprint of our Maker within us. We hold a fraction of God—that spirit—that divine love that is timeless and unconditional—that DNA of kinship. All of us. From the saints to the scoundrels. This is what connects us despite race and gender, religion and creed. This is what makes us a family…all human together…all created…and bearing that image of Almighty within us. Some of us know that God is there, some of us haven’t found the Spirit yet, and others do their best to bury the Truth and Light and run hard from it with all their might.

I think this is why it is so important to treat one another with love and kindness. Every person we come across and interact with are other beautiful beings that are walking around with the Spirit of God deep within them. Maybe you can see it when you look into their eyes? Or maybe it’s cloaked in darkness that tries hard to kill that person’s truth and identity? But whatever the case, we are bearing our hearts and God’s heart with every smile, every flicker of our eyes, ever tear, every laughter, ever ripple of anger and stab of grief…

How much would the world change if we viewed each other in this way? How would we begin to change the way we interact with who we think are our enemies if we believed that God was within them? Would we hurt them? Kill them? Hate them? Starve them? Leave them wanting for shelter and warmth? Or would we wrap them in our arms and hold them dear and close? Would we honor them and the Spirit that’s inside them? Would we take care of one another and tear down walls? Would we live together in a kingdom built upon mutual respect and honor?

We should.

Because if we believe we are created, then we must also believe the Creator leaves a part of themself within each of us.

So…

The God in me honors the God in you.

We are family.

We are all One.

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. With a body." 
~C.S. Lewis

~Gia

Lunch With The Time Traveler


There aren’t many times when a mother can sit down and eat lunch without being in a hurry. Yesterday, with a toddler running a high fever, was no exception. So, as I sat down and began to eat, I was more than a little irritated to see a truck pull into the drive way. Who comes to visit me? No one. Everyone I know and love knows better than to spring surprise attacks—I mean “visits”—on me.

I watched as an old man slowly unfolded himself from the truck. He looked around, squinting in the afternoon sun. He had on denim overalls and a flannel button down short-sleeved shirt—trademark of an old Sheridan man. He started toward the back door and I quickly finished my bite of lunch and wiped my mouth. I glanced myself over and found I looked very much like the trademark stay-at-home-mom: cut off leggings (oh! and hey! I had on a button down flannel too! Go figure!) and a messy pony tail procured without the use of brush of comb. What a sight!

“Hello,” the old man said when I opened the back door. “I’m here to pay the rent.”

I should pause this story and explain.

When Roger and I bought our house, we kept the agreement of the previous owners that we would continue housing a 1969 Mustang Firebird in our garage for $10 a month. Crazy, right? You might be wondering how such a thing even happens. Why would anyone leave a perfectly good mustang sitting in a crummy off-site garage?

The romantic version of the story has been stitched together in my own imagination with what little of the facts I was given. And it as follows:

In the 70’s, a man loved that prized Mustang of his. He hardly ever drove it and kept it perfect and polished. When he died, his wife wouldn’t dare part with it. They lived around the block from this house, and apparently, an old grandma lived here at the time. She didn’t drive, so the garage was left vacant and in much better shape than it currently is in 2017. The two women (not so old at the time) were friends and one offered to the other to allow her to store the Mustang in her garage until she could convince herself to sell it. The poor widow simply needed to wait until the grief wasn’t so fresh. Ten dollars a month, the widow offered. Her friend accepted with a casual roll of the eyes. She didn’t actually need the money.

So in 2005, two much younger versions of Roger and Andrea Cooper stood in the garage of their new home. It was an old house that was going to need lots of fixing up. Everything about it looked like the 1970’s, but it had good bones and Andrea was in love with it. It looked like time travel…

But that Mustang. My word! Why would anyone leave it in this rundown garage hidden under a tarp? Yet, each March, an old lady would come knock on the front door with a check. “For the Firebird,” she would explain. The grief never seemed to fade enough to let the car go.


Last week, out of curiosity,
I went to make sure the garage still had the Mustang in it. I pulled back the tarp and took in the shiny paint job—the only thing that’s still looking great about the car. The white wall tires that were probably brand new when she was parked in the garage were now flat. I tried to open the door but found that it was locked. I wondered if anyone actually knows where the keys are. And I wonder why they parked the car in the garage and didn’t leave the keys. What if the garage caught fire? And then I worry that maybe I did have the keys and now didn’t know where they were. I am an irresponsible land lord, it would seem.

Anyway, after a solid moment of worrying about garage fires and Mustang keys, I press my face up to the window and shield my eyes to peer inside.

Mold.

Every inch of the interior is covered in mold.

Was I supposed to do something about that? Was that my fault? Did I fail the old woman and her husband by letting mold grow in his precious Mustang…??? But, at least, what I had actually been worried about hadn’t happened. I thought rodents would have gotten in there and chewed up the leather. Nope. No rodents. Thank God.

Okay. Back to yesterday…

Yet, it occurs to me that I have once again left out important information. Earlier in the year, we drove down Main Street and checked the big paper they tape to the police station window letting us know things like the date of big trash pick-up and who has died (because this is how they do such things in a small farm town). I always hate the idea of my own name one day being written with Sharpie on the paper notices. But it wasn’t my name—obviously—but the name of the woman who pays $10 a month for the Mustang in my garage. Well. Now what?

So here I am with this old man who tells me he is in his 70’s. He wants to give me $120 for the rent of the Mustang—I mean, the garage. He has a younger son who wants to take it and fix it up, but they decided they just don’t have the energy for it, so they will pay for one more year. Maybe this is what his mother said, too? “I don’t have the energy to think about that car—it hurts too much—so I will pay for one more year.”

He gives me the cash and I think about that mold. I don’t really want this rent money. It just sits in there, after all. Are they literally paying for the 4x8 feet of gravel for the thing to be perpetually parked on until my garage catches fire (I don’t think it will, by the way)? The old man asks for a recipet and I blink at him. “Would you like me to write something down on a sheet of paper,” I ask. He nods.  I invite him inside because I’m going to have to hunt through the house for a pen that’s not been broken. He says he will wait right there on the porch.

After stress sweating and running about looking for paper and pen, I scrawl out a little receipt and bring it out to him. I find him sitting in a lawn chair on my porch. He has a wistful smile on his face and he is blinking slowly, as if waking up. There is a sparkle in his eyes. He doesn’t stand up when I exit. Instead, he says, “I used to play in this yard all the time when I was a boy.”

When he says this, my breath catches in my throat. It isn’t because the idea of this old man as a boy startles me. It’s because I can see the boy in his face—in his smile—in his mischeivious eyes. I realize that his isn’t even seeing my yard—but a memory—a whole different time. Seeing this man travel through time and space sends goosebumps across my arms.

“It didn’t look like this, though,” he says. “That big tree wasn’t there.”

I glance at the massive maple tree standing in the very middle of the yard. “That tree right there,” I ask in disbelief.

He turns to me and chuckles. “I am an old man after all.” He looks back and lets his eyes scan the little lot. “Ray and I used to go down the railroad tracks (they’re not there anymore, either) and catch garter snakes. We’d bring them back here and put them right there in that garden.” He points to the spot next to the garage. There is not a garden, but a trampoline. His eyes light up like candles with the memory and he laughs. “His grandma sure didn’t like that much.”

And I stand for a little while listening to this old man who I have never met. He tells me that my mud room used to be an open porch. He tells me things about my home I could never have known. I listen to him marvel about how much everything has changed…and grown…and passed on. He becomes my own little time traveling friend to whisper to me secrets of the past.

Is that how it all goes? We all get our little bit of time? We live in our spaces and change them, grow them, ruin them, rebuild them and make them more beautiful?

Do we all get a little of time to watch old memories of others fade before our eyes as we live and breath new memories?

Do we all get to decide to drive that Mustang or let it sit and become covered in mold?

And all of it before our name gets written and posted in Sharpie.

As for me? I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and think about where those Mustang keys might be.

Oh! And also! Stop being irritated when unexpected visitors stop by. They may have some wonderful stories for you.

~Gia

The Two Little Gia Girls




It has never been easy for me to forge friendships with women.

Or even understand women.

I grew up feeling that women were weaker, and therefore had to work extra hard to be strong and equal to a man. But no matter how hard she worked, she wasn’t ever going to quite measure up. After all, how could she? This was how women were designed. This was their role? This was part of how she operated under the burden of her gender. So why not embrace that? Why not be proud of that? Why not fight for the right to be feminine: meek, quiet, and giving of all the care and affection?

Now, I need to be clear and explain that absolutely no one in my life taught me these ideas or lead me to feel as if they were truth. They were my own sad observation as a skinny little girl living with four brothers.

But here’s the secret:

Even though I thought these things and tried hard to accept them, there was another skinny little girl standing with arms crossed and spine straight, glowering at the other skinny little girl who thought herself weak. She was always yelling, “Who are you kidding? We both know that you’re the strongest of all!”

I watched my mother stand with spine straight and arms folded against the odds all her life. I saw strength in her, more strength than I saw in the men around her. She had this quiet resolve to rise up and conquer. She fought for a life and made it strong and tall…

And that stubborn skinny little feminist inside me jabbed the other skinny little girl and was constantly saying, “See that! That’s strong! That’s a woman!”

It has been a hard road for me to discover and accept feminism. I am just now starting to openly and publicly embrace it without fear. Even though the two skinny girls are starting to grow into one, not-so-skinny Gia, I still worry. Strength is scary, after all. It has power. Power can be good, or it can be bad. The trick is figuring out how to handle your new strength. Don’t grip things too hard or you might break them. Don’t pick things up so possessively or you might shatter them. Don’t love people too hard or you might smother the life out of them. Don’t be fully yourself or you might scare people—you might be too much.

Once in a while, I circle back to those skinny girls and I stare at the one full of fear and envy of her mother’s success at conquering adversity. Why did she feel like a failure? What was it that kept her feeling as if she HAD to put herself down and be less than? What was it that made her feel she should let others do that to her as well? And I realize it’s the pain. It’s the fear. It’s the possible rejection, the humiliation, the loneliness…

It can be much easier to be small and hidden away, weak and cloaked in shame
. People don’t notice you hiding in a dark corner, cowering, arms hugging yourself tight…

But people always notice the woman with the straight spine walking into the room with her chin held high. And sometimes, people hate that woman. She’s too tall. She’s too strong. She’s too sure. She’s too happy and content and capable. That woman is dangerous. She challenges those of us still hiding in the corners to get the heck out of there. And that’s the bad part; even though we think we can’t be seen hiding in our shame and fear, that woman sees us. She levels us with her eyes and she holds a hand out to us. “Stand with me,” she beacons…

This is it. We have to choose…
We either look away and bury our face in our hands—letting the fear completely swallow us up.

We can either stand up and take her hand—feeling the warmth of light on our face…

Or we can look at her and find hatred and resentment in our hearts for that woman.

 ***

Today, I’ve just now switched from strong black coffee to cucumber water. I am wearing cut-off leggins and a flannel shirt. My hair is a day old and in a pony tail I shaped with my hands in lieu of a brush. The house is a mess. The toddler puked all over my bed clothes last night. The cat shattered my screen on my phone. There is nothing exciting or strong happening in my normal life today…

But, the Feminist Gia inside me?

Well, she is burning up with light and warmth and openness. Even with dishes in the sink and cat poop outside the dang litter box, she will work hard not to tear down other women. She will promise herself every single day to rise up and seek light rather than sink low into the dark. It isn’t easy…especially with all the puke and cat poop and ants making a buffet out of the Popsicle someone let melt on the kitchen counter.

But an old man just came to my door. I wasn’t expecting him and I felt insecure about the fact that I was still chewing the last of my hasty lunch and that my hair was coming out of my pony tail. He didn’t seem to notice. He asked me what I did for a living. Instead of feeling small and shrugging, “I’m just a mom,” I lifted my chin and answered, “I’m a writer. I’m a photographer, and I love to take care of my children.”

Slap hands, Feminist, Skinny Gia.

You are growing.

We all are.

~Gia

Audrey's Birth Story :: Giafoto Fine Art Photography


A few weeks ago, I was able to shoot my first birth story. I shot the entire thing without a flash and worked with the natural light that was thankfully pouring in through the windows. It occurred to me how distracting a flash might be for the doctor and nurses, and I really wanted to remain a positive member of the room.  It was a great afternoon, and I couldn't thank Lisa enough for allowing me to capture these moments for her. The photos will have no commentary attached, as they tell the story sufficiently on their own.
















































~Gia