2017 Recap by Charmaine Agbuya

And somehow, the year is already over.

What's set apart this year from any other year of life so far was that it was the first year away from home in pursuit of what God has so clearly called me to. I was called to move to Portland, Oregon to follow the Family that revealed God to me in a real and intimate way, and to reveal Him to the broken world around me in that way, too. 

In January, I moved in with the Fero family who housed many others generously. I roomed with my friend Keren, who'd moved up to Portland for the exact same reason to follow God in The Common Place. At one point, we shared a room with Anton and Courtney's oldest daughter, Eden, and this was definitely a season, haha. Nate, who the Fero's took under their roof just a couple weeks after knowing him, also lived in the house, as well as the Thomas family of 4. It was a unique experience living with 10 other people. But it wasn't just ten random strangers... These were family. The Thomas family home in San Diego was another safe space for me, and Melissa was essentially my spiritual mentor. Keren was one of my closest friends who had walked with me out of the most broken times of my life. The Fero's were the ones who showed me what it meant to walk the lifestyle of Jesus. What a season it was to live with these people and see them every single day. For half a year, we woke up every Mon-Fri to pray together in the living room, and we had dinner with each other every night. On Friday nights, we had church gatherings in our home, the very home we lived in. We ate together, sang praises together, and prayed together. 

Soon after, a handful of other people in our community and I began getting discipled by Anton every Friday morning. This was special. This wasn't a hardcore Bible study that was all academics, that we'd all be forced to come to for the sake of being around people (which a lot of small groups end up being like, let's be honest). This was something we all dedicated ourselves to doing because we wanted to learn hands on the best ways to live like Jesus, and HOW to. As Christians, we're called to live like Jesus -- we constantly read and discuss what Jesus did. What were his patterns? What was his lifestyle? What happened in between all the miracles and all? He did things like rest before and in between his most fruitful moments in ministry. He did things like sit with sinners and people who never set foot in a church before. And so we learned to rest/abide to fuel us to reach people, and we learned to sit down with sinners and invite them into our lives to reach them in a real way. We've done our best to learn how to mirror the lifestyle of Jesus and to read the Word in a way that becomes real to us to actually live out rather than keep puffed up in our heads. What a powerful thing to walk in. 

In April, I got a job at a coffeeshop in the neighborhood. I had the choice of working at one popular coffeeshop, Catheral Coffee, that a lot of my friends worked at, or to work at The Great North which none of my community even knew. I was tempted to work at both, but God told me that Cathedral Coffee (where we had been graced to have our worship nights at every month after hours) was taken care of and that the Spirit was already present there, and so I was called to The Great North to be a light. This was my ministry, and has been. This was my outreach, my outlet of being amongst the broken world and showing them a clearer picture of who Jesus is. I've been able to show love to people who would typically be shunned or pushed away, unfortunately. I've been able to build relationships with people in an intimate way and talk to them about Jesus with love. I think a lot of people who have been hurt by religious people have been healing, and it brings me joy to know that God has been using our Family to be part of that process. In my time at the coffeeshop as my transition into my future career as a Photographer, I'm excited to see how Photography ends up being yet another outlet for me to reach the world.

In June, I got engaged to Austin, my best friend who has been walking with me in every single area of my move to Portland and my life in Portland. We had been getting discipled together, we'd been reaching out to people and trying our best to use our relationship as a story of God's power of redemption and restoration. Our relationship was the surest thing I'd ever experienced in my life, and, long story short, we got married 3 weeks ago on December 9th. Our wedding day was filled with immense love and joy, people got to see a joyful picture of a love founded on Christ. 

In August, our Family opened up an official Crossfit Gym building. Since before I moved to Portland, they'd started a Crossfit gym in the Fero's garage. People from all over the neighborhood were coming to the gym, and then afterwards, they were invited into the home for food and fellowship (on Fridays, there was house church right after a session). A lot of gym members became friends, then became family, then became saved and then became wheels to reaching the world around us. Since having a building, we've utilized this space for our worship nights and this coming January, it will be for our church services. We'll never have to worry about a city like Portland kicking us out for worshiping, because God has provided the opportunity to actually own the building itself. 

As the year ends, I look back on the entire year and see God. I see His goodness and provision and proof that He was with us. I see assurance that moving to Portland truly was what God wanted for me. I've been blessed in numerous ways in Portland and I can feel in my bones that 2018 will be a beautiful year in other ways. 2017 was a year of pioneering; spreading out and reaching people and meeting people and starting new things. 2018 will be about settling; taking root where we are, taking care of the people God has brought to us, and following through and thriving in the things we've started. 

All I can say is that I'm thankful that our Father is so, so good. And I'm thankful for all that is to come. 

Salomon Wedding by Charmaine Agbuya

This summer, two very amazing people joined hands in marriage. Andy and Dayna have set a great example to me personally of a relationship lived out for Christ, so it was an honor to not only photograph their engagement early this year, but also to have photographed their wedding months later in July.

I first got to the bachelor pad and, as with most weddings, the men didn't have much to stress about for getting ready -- at least, not much compared to bridesmaids. Andy took a moment to himself to read some words written for him from his bride-to-be...

...while she got ready and looked as beautiful as ever. Gotta give a hand to the makeup artists that do an amazing job with bringing out a bride's natural beauty. Dayna looked so dang beautiful, as usual. :-) 

When everything was done, Dayna met Andy in a field for their first look at each other -- suit and tie, gown and flowers and all. The first look is always such an intimate moment before weddings that I'm always honored to be part of. As a photographer, you have to capture those moments, all while not interrupting the connection in what was happening. And they had such a lovely connection.

We went back to the venue to prepare for the ceremony, and I caught even more precious moments happening all around. Dayna and her mom shared a moment together. Anton prayed for Andy. Then the couple prayed with each other. There's a lot of emotional, physical and mental preparation involved in weddings, but more importantly, spiritual preparation. What better way to do so than by being in prayer?

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.

They do.

Personally, I thought this was one of the most nicely decorated weddings I've ever photographed. Good taste, guys! Beautiful theme, colors, decorations, setup. ALSO, can we talk about Andy's mom's calligraphy everywhere? 

After dinner and an endless amount of tacos, the program went on and was filled with so many words of wisdom from so many of Andy and Dayna's loved ones. I've noticed that sometimes speeches can quickly get dull or cliche, but the words shared that night were so meaningful, eloquent and a blessing to everyone who listened. I wasn't surprised everyone had amazing things to say about Andy and Dayna, both individually and as a couple.


Some nice sentimental dancing...

...And then came the crazy dancing. Who says the photographer can't join in? 

After sweating off all of the tacos from dancing, everyone sent Andy and Dayna off on their honeymoon. It was bittersweet -- sweet knowing we had just celebrated their marriage in great company with great people, but sad knowing the night was over and it was time to say goodbyes not only to them, but to each other. But the night ended with so much love and joy in the air. 

Congrats again, Andy and Dayna! 

I hope and pray all blessings for your friendship, for your love, for your mission. You guys are family and I can't wait to see how your marriage will shape all of our journeys in Portland. Thank you guys for being one of the first examples to show me that following God will lead you to the right person, in the right place, at the right time, in all the right ways. God began something beautiful between both of you and He was faithful to see it through. You're both blessed to have one another! And I'm blessed to have you as friends. See you both soon in Portland! 

Friendship by Charmaine Agbuya

As I mentally prepare to leave San Diego, I’m reminded of what will be left behind — more so, the friendships and relationships I’ll be leaving behind. Mind you, I know these bonds won’t disappear, but they’ll certainly change in more ways than both sides will expect. And this will be a test of which friendships will remain strong, and which ones won’t. 

It got me thinking about friendship as a whole — what makes it, what breaks it? More specifically, what strengthens and sustains it?

When I was younger, I thought the strongest relationships depended on time. You know, having a childhood friend who saw you in diapers and who walks beside you in graduation, sees you get married, etc. Because you'll always be friends, almost like a positive obligation. And it's true, time is a factor, but time isn't what determines the strength. I could know someone my entire life and yet hardly know them at the core; on the other hand, I could know someone for a short month but feel so familiar with the depths of their character and the corners of their mind. So I’ve realized it’s not the time, but it’s what you do in that time that develops the bond. In other words, it’s all about the relational intimacy and the effort you put into the friendship.

It’s all about being intentional with people. And to be intentional out of love.

When I spend time with a friend or family member or whoever it may be, what do I do in that time? Is it all just mindless talks, laughs, sharing entertaining images found on Facebook? Sometimes I catch myself seeing friendships as just a means for surface-level entertainment. But then I remember that my loved ones and whoever I'm interacting with are actual people — people who are far more than what is seen at surface. They're people with hearts, souls and minds that have so much to say. And I want to hear what they really have to say, because I love them.

I want to talk about the things that actually matter, and stir up conversations that bring that to light — things of the heart, mind and soul. Because when we share those things, something absolutely beautiful happens — we're no longer just two buddies who can hang out and laugh at funny jokes, but we're two companions connected at the heart, mind and soul who build each other up. I’d much rather understand someone deeply through hearing them speak about past or current pains and how that’s shaped them into who they are today, than about something funny they saw on TV. I’d rather learn about their childhood and what happened that forced them to grow up mentally. I want to hear about their passions, and why their heart grew inclined to those things. I want to hear their life stories of defeat, and of bigger victories, and how that inspires them now. I want to hear about what’s going on in their life now, and where they’re meant to go from here on. I want to hear about their heartaches, and I want them to hear me when I offer to lessen the weight of those burdens. Tell me something real about you, and let’s make our shared words worthwhile. Because these things reveal to me where your heart truly is, how you think and see and perceive life and people around you, and what/Who your soul longs for — and that’s who you are at the core; that’s who I am at mine. And when we see each face to face in this transparency and honesty, and when we've reached that level of intimacy, we can build one another up, encourage and support each other out of love. And that's when you're begin living life together. Maybe that sounds boring to some people, but that’s where the depth is. That's the depth most people crave in their lives. That’s what separates a meaningful relationship with a surface-level one. That's the depth that makes me excited to see how friendships, both new and old, will grow from here on out. And that’s the depth I've experienced in many friendships that assures me that those relationships won’t die when I relocate to Portland. 

But I’ve learned that having these kinds of deep relationships takes mutual effort, and a whole lot of it. Not everyone you meet in life will want this depth with you, and not everyone will be willing to put out that effort, and that’s okay. But those who are willing and are desiring of that, keep them close and dear to you. Because they’re the ones meant to stay in your life. Share life with them and love on them despite the distance, and those bonds will last a lifetime. 

I know that years from now when I'm still away from San Diego, when others begin moving to other faraway places, when they take on busier schedules and get married and have families, the deep relationships I have now will always remain. Some way or the other. And I take comfort in knowing that God will take care of them and our friendship. I'm eternally grateful for every wonderful person in my life, and for the beautiful people who have shared their lives and hearts with me.

Cheers to the next chapter. 

SD → PDX by Charmaine Agbuya

When I first began attending Catalyst Church a little over a year ago, I kept hearing about this team of people who would be moving to Portland, Oregon the next year to start a church in the city. One Sunday night, Anton (the assistant pastor at Catalyst) and his wife, Courtney, were invited up on stage to share their stories about how their faith started, grew and how they came to this crazy idea to leave everything behind to follow God's call to Portland. I remember sitting in the audience thinking how cool it must be for them and the rest of the others. That's great for them, I thought, Good for them that they're following Him. 

Little did I know that God would call me on the same journey to Portland just a few months later.

It started off as this funny idea -- Anton and the group would tell me they know I'll end up in Portland with them, and I'd laugh it off like they were absolutely insane. Me? Leave San Diego? To the hipster land of Portland? Leave my school and my work network and my loved ones and financial security? Hilarious. 

Then I got closer with the group, and I started thinking, okay, maybe I'll visit a couple times a year. Portland would be a great place to visit and travel for a little bit. 

But then the group quickly became family.

And as the love grew, I realized, I just couldn't see myself being left behind when they all leave for this great mission. The time spent being welcomed in this beautiful spiritual family, this family on mission, has revealed to me that I, too, am called to continue and join the mission that God has put on the group's heart -- to listen to and follow God's voice to leave San Diego and pursue the hearts of those in Portland, one of the country's most unchurched major cities. Where the family goes, I go. It wasn't just their responsibility to be willing to be used by God like that. It was mine, too. God had been whispering this call in my heart since Anton and Courtney first shared their testimony on stage.

I then began thinking, okay, maybe in five years after I'm done with school and established myself a little bit more, then I can join them. It was a later concept, something I'd put off for awhile as I pursued the "practical."

But another breakthrough happened (which wasn't surprising -- following God always seems to cause some sort of breakthrough). This wasn't about following people. This was about following God. And I thought about how many times people were called to follow God without hesitation. Jesus asked Peter and Andrew to come follow him, and they dropped their nets to immediately go. They didn't tell Jesus to wait for them to promptly finish their studies as fishermen, or to save up enough money, or to say their farewells to everyone. And they sure didn't see pursuing Jesus as "impractical." They got right up and followed. I want to be the one to tell God, "Here am I. Use me." I wanted to have enough faith to say yes wherever He calls me in this vast world -- whether that's Portland, or somewhere else.

That vision of such a vast world made me feel so small -- yet even more honored and humbled to know God has chosen to give me this bigger purpose in life. Who am I that God is mindful of me? Who am I that God is calling my name, and wanting to use my life? And who am I to put Him on hold for 5 years? It was clear what God was further calling me to do.

Portland, Oregon will be my home in January 2017.

I don't know for how long. I don't know if I'm prepared mentally, emotionally, financially, but God has changed my heart enough to make me spiritually ready. And I suppose that's all we really need. I've been reminded constantly that wherever the Lord guides, He provides. I have to trust that. And The Common Place so far has already seen this in action. I'm so, so excited to join in on the craziness in Portland. I'm excited to jump into this new season of life, and to see all the ways my heart and faith will grow alongside of my spiritual family. I'm excited to meet new faces and to grow meaningful relationships with them. I'm excited to visit back home in San Diego as a changed and matured person, and grow those friendships as well. I'm excited to experience independence. I'm excited to pursue my passion for photography in a new place. And most of all, I'm simply excited to refocus and live a meaningful life for Him. 

by Charmaine Agbuya

I know every artist and freelancer will experience a season of just being tired, unmotivated and uninspired, and I think this year so far has been that season for me. For many months I've accepted gigs just to accept them. I've shot events for the sake of getting it over with. I've procrastinated on projects and am still backed up with some work. I've been inconsistent and careless. I've lost my drive, and I'm not quite sure why or how. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I haven't been creating (among other things that have been happening in recent months). This year, I was simply a person shooting photos with a camera, but I wasn't an artist. I captured all the same angles and cliches and staged smiles, but I didn't let my own eye seek for more. I haven't looked outside the box in a very long time. Photography has become a money-source rather than my expression. 

But I want to go back to the creative and individual process that made me fall in love with photography long ago. I want to be an artist again. I want to work on projects that stir up my vision and feed my passion and artistic expression. I want to photograph more in photographing less. I want to search for what inspires me rather than what finances me. 

I think I'm in need of a recharge. I've decided that from here on until the end of the year, I won't accept gigs if I know I'm only doing it for the money and no other reason. I photograph other people's lives for money so often that I haven't even documented my own life and haven't shot things for my pleasure, and it's drained every drop of creativity I had -- so I want more of what I shoot for the rest of the year to be for myself personally. I'm going to think of creative projects and try my hand at it. I'm going to tighten my skills in post-production. I'm going to connect with other artists who want to create, both in San Diego and in Portland. I'm going to internally invest in my art again.

I used to accept every single gig that was offered to me for the sole purpose of gaining experience, which is great and I'm thankful to have gotten the experience that I have. But I've reached a place where I need to be more selective and thoughtful with what I take on. I don't want to be known as a photographer who does everything with mediocrity, but I want to filter down what I do so I can perfect what I want to do. 

It'll be a new season for me as a photographer but I'm excited to see a spark happen once again. 

Yiruma: Spring Rain Live in Los Angeles by Charmaine Agbuya

This weekend, I went up to Los Angeles with some good company to do something I would have never even imagined I'd do -- work for the musician that began my passion for music when I was 11 years old, Yiruma. I've played piano long before, but since discovering and learning his piece, Kiss the Rain, piano and music became something personal and meaningful. It became an expression. There was just something about the emotion expressed in Yiruma's compositions that really got to me, and it changed the way I play music today. 

Arrival to the Dolby Theater in the heart of Hollywood was stressful (LA traffic... What's new), but once I got there I was greeted by the HagiEn staff and the great people who allowed me to have this opportunity to work for Yiruma. We picked up my all-access staff badge and I got a quick tour of the backstage area, dressing rooms, and all the parts of the venue that I could photograph from. Minutes before the show, I stood at the sidelines of the stage with Yiruma himself and staff as he waited to walk on for the performance. It all felt too real. 

Then the show began. Yiruma began playing and I stood there at the sidelines in complete awe. Hearing all the music that I've passionately listened to and learned since I was a child on that stage, and live from himself, was surreal. It was always a life-bucketlist thing for me to someday watch Yiruma perform live -- though it seemed a little impossible because he never performs in the United States (this is his second performance in the States; his first tour here). Watching him from the furthest seat in the venue would have already been enough for me -- but to have such a personal and special opportunity like this, to stand with him backstage, work with him, and much more was absolutely priceless. I made sure to soak in the moment. At one point I just stood there, looked at the stage, looked at the huge audience and the venue, listened to the music and I just felt so overwhelmed.

Kiss the Rain, River Flows in You, Loanna, Fotografia, Chaconne, Indigo... I could name [almost] every song that was played. Some pieces were joined by the amazing cellist, Yeongmin Kim, who I've recognized from video performances online. It was an honor to hear him perform, too. At one point, Yiruma asked for a volunteer in the audience to come up on stage and play piano with him. I raised my hand but a girl from the front section of the audience was picked. What a lucky girl! She played a simple and small motif, then Yiruma improvised beautifully to make it a whole composition. What I'd give to have gone up there! I probably would have started playing one of his pieces as a joke. ;-) 

The last piece was played, but Yiruma came out for an encore of two more pieces. I was a little sad for the show to be over, but I was ready to move on to the meet and greet.

He met about 115 fans all in line to meet him. It was pretty cool to see how excited people got to meet him; I didn't feel like the only one geeking out about him. I got to stand amongst him and the staff and photograph some candids of people's meets. 

When the last meet and greet person left, I went up for my turn. The staff was kind to have introduced me personally to him. "This is Charmaine. She drove three hours from San Diego just to work with us and be a photographer," they said. Yiruma expressed his thanks and said it was amazing I'd go out of my way to contact them and do this. As he signed my staff badge, I told him what an honor it was to meet him, to watch his performance, and to work for him because I've loved and played his music since I was a kid. He asked me what instrument I played, and looked pleased when I told him piano and violin. I explained briefly that I was pursuing music but switched to photography, so this whole opportunity was a beautiful way to combine the two passions. I didn't want to keep him in conversation too long (he was probably tired), so I ended the interaction with asking to take a quick portrait of him -- as some of you may have known, I'm trying to do somewhat of an ongoing project to photograph my music idols and inspirations. He happily agreed and everyone in the room thought it was unique of a fan to just want to photograph him alone.  

The whole experience ended with thanking all the staff for a great opportunity. I still feel so thankful that they read and responded to my messages, went out of their way to get me approved to join the team, etc. Thank you all at HagiEn! And thank you, Yiruma, for beautifully creating music that literally sparked a life-shaping passion in me. 

by Charmaine Agbuya

Yesterday, I was encouraged when a dear friend told me that he's been doing much better emotionally and spiritually in facing a new season of life -- essentially, he's been attempting to make the most of this season by going back to God through the comfort of His people and His word, and I know that he has been. It made me think of how wonderful it is to see great transformation happen in a loved one's life; how beautiful it is to know with confidence that, even before the transformation, you have been there beside them through ups and downs to see them finally reach this point of rejuvenation. I am not surprised to hear that he's actively reaching out to God again, because I've always known and trusted that it would happen -- after all, God always, always delivers His children and keeps them close. It seems the care and concern placed in my heart for this person over the years has been worth it. 

This train of thought also fills me with gratitude for the friends who had faith in me that I'd "come back" even when I was drifting away. They still walked life with me when my lifestyle was completely messed up. Rather than abandon me, they encouraged me and ultimately pulled me right to the feet of Jesus. These are the friends that fully knew me and fully loved me. They fought for me. They lovingly confronted me. They encouraged me. They sacrificed for me. I think those kinds of friends are truly heaven-sent, and to be that kind of a friend will always be fulfilling. These are the friends we ought to treasure all the more. Such a reminder of the importance of living life alongside people who love you. 

It all connected pretty well with the sermon from yesterday morning about the classic story of Jesus and the paralytic... And the paralytic's friends. (Matthew 9:1-8) Yes, there's power in having individual faith in God, but there's also power in the faith of our friends towards us. Just like mine, the friends of the paralytic didn't abandon him as an outcast, but instead they brought him right to the feet of Jesus (well, they did this literally) because they believed in Him. God saw their hearts and it was because of their faith that the paralyzed friend was healed. He healed not to prove his ability to do miracles, but used that miracle to prove who He is, that He has the authority and power to heal even the spiritual wounds left by sin. 

Then the faith of the paraplegic AND his friends grew all the more because they knew Jesus more. I can't imagine how powerful it must have been for those friends to see their loved one walking again, but maybe it's similar in seeing my friend running to Jesus again.

Because in the same way, I'm encouraged to see the faith of my friend be refreshed and rejuvenated, even if it's little by little. I now know Him a little better because I see a clearer view of His faithfulness in how He never let go of my friend. My faith grows when any of my loved ones' faith does. I recognize the power in friends believing in each other through His strength. May He keep inspiring me through the lives of my own loved ones. I trust that there are other important people in my life that God has never let go of, and they will someday return refreshed and rejuvenated, as well. I truly hope so.