City Folk- The Jiraks

An Adoption Story

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, so in City Folk this month, we bring you a story of God’s redeeming, fatherly love.

“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child, and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”- Galatians 4:6-7

Early in their marriage, Jack and Whitney Jirak had discussed and liked the idea of adoption, but were not sure if they were ready to dive into it. The birth of their first child, Annie, came after a long time of waiting and a miscarriage. After Annie was born, they went through a very long, difficult, and unsuccesful process of trying for another pregnancy. As Jack quickly warmed to the possibility of adoption, it was harder for Whitney to accept. “It felt like I was hearing, ‘We’ll never get pregnant again.’ There was a lot of grief in that.”

Many more discussions followed, as well as many more hardships and discouragements in pregnancy. Feeling the emotional weight of it all, Whitney decided to go on a silent retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers as a way to step back and return to the Lord in the midst of grief, loss, frustration, and challenges. “I was only going to rest. Adoption wasn’t the focus of my retreat.” But as she drove to the monastery, God spoke to her in a new way. She saw a boy, probably about fifteen years old, walking down the road from a church, and she was suddenly overcome with what she describes as a maternal love for him. She began to cry. This unconventional communication from God caused her to questioned her instincts, wondering if God was leading her into a retreat to consider adoption more fully rather than to solely provide rest.

While in solitude and silence, Whitney decided to check her phone, something she usually avoids while on retreat. There she found an email from a college Bible study leader from whom she hadn’t heard in years. In that message, she described to Whitney that as she was on her own journey of adoption, she felt the Holy Spirit telling her to reach out to Whitney and Jack to “invite them into adoption.” It was clear that the Lord was working to impress this calling on Whitney’s heart. “I was looking at this message like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Suddenly I felt pregnant. Not physically, but I felt pregnant. I hadn’t been that excited in months. ‘God is so good to us, we’re having a baby!’ It was so definitively clear. I heard the words ‘This is the way in the desert’ while on the retreat. I thought that everything behind us, the waiting for a child, was our desert time and now this is our way, this is what He has for us. Such a joyful thing. I felt immediately wonderful about and connected to adoption. God healed through that.”

Two weeks later, a seemingly perfect opportunity appeared for a potential adoption. Jack and Whitney were excited to be moving forward so quickly. But then the mother miscarried. After that, Jack says that they fell into a time of sadness and, to some extent, depression. It was after this that the more detailed decisions of adoption began to demand their attention. Jack and Whitney struggled to decide between a domestic or an international adoption, feeling like they were “cutting out all of these other people.” They had doubts about a domestic adoption being more likely to be an open adoption in which the birth parents are very much a part of your own and the child’s life, and questions about how God could work that out for them. Eventually, they decided on domestic, feeling that with each loss, God had been preparing the way for them and growing and teaching them in ways that they hadn’t expected but ultimately needed. Jack says that it was a time of “God breaking down our barriers.”

Jack and Whitney had put the word out that they were looking to adopt, and a friend who happened to be a nurse passed their name along to a patient that was pregnant and looking into finding a family for adoption. Just a week later, she gave birth to a girl at Kennestone Hospital. Jack and Whitney went to meet the mother and baby and to spend time with her. Whitney was actually the first to feed her. They had been told that the birth father was no longer involved with the mother or the baby, but after they left the hospital, the father contacted the mother and insisted that he be involved in the baby’s life. “We didn’t want to prevent him from being a dad, but the mother wanted us to fight him for the baby. After the paternity test, we decided not to fight him on it anymore since he had family supporting him,” Jack shared. “About a week later, we received a call from the mother. She told us that the father had changed his mind and the baby had been placed with another family. That felt like the last straw. I lost it. My reaction was just complete rage at God. I got in the car and I just remember screaming. Why did we even have to find out she was placed with another family? It felt like a twist of the knife.”

At that point, they struggled with the idea of moving forward with adoption. And then they found out that Whitney was pregnant. Whitney shares her feelings at the time, “I was wrung out, strung out, tired, and confused. I had already let go of the idea of having our own child. Were we supposed to be done with adoption? Now I’m going to have to grieve not adopting. Of course we were happy and thankful about the pregnancy." But then in Juen of that year, they lost the baby. The Jiraks describe this as being one of the worst experiences of their lives. "It was terrible. And then we felt like we were in the plagues," Whitney says. "Weird stuff kept happening, adding on to the difficulty of it all. Different things kept breaking- the car, the air conditioning, the dishwasher. It felt like something was after us, like spiritual warfare.” During the pregnancy, Jack went on the City Church men’s leadership retreat, but felt still very angry about the ups and downs of the adoption process and didn’t want to talk about the pregnancy. However, on the last morning, Jack felt God talking to him again. Talking about the Lord’s Supper, he heard God say to him, “It is a joy to share in my suffering.” The weight and power of understanding what that meant was overwhelming. “It was very freeing for me. I was able to release the anger. Communion is both sides of the coin: freedom and suffering.” 

Exhausted, they decided to take a month off and revisit everything after a time of rest. It was yet another trial on their journey, but they pulled close to each other and made it through a terrible season. Jack and Whitney also felt very supported by the church and their families. It was a few months later that City Church put on a BBQ fundraiser for their adoption, as well as another family in the church who was in the midst of adopting. “It was neat to see God bring joy back into the experience," whitney laughs as she remembers. "It was just fun. The church was very wise. The timing of that was huge. It became very bolstering for us.” Jack’s sister and parents organized a massive yard sale and solicited donations for the adoption fees, all unbeknownst to Jack and Whitney. It was the blessing of people’s money, but also time, that served to encourage them in trusting that God was still guiding them toward their adopted child.

Feeling refreshed and rested, Jack and Whitney went to an agency and were chosen by a birthmom. They met her one time and had a great, very positive time with her. Later, the social worker on the case told them that she suddenly couldn't get in touch with the mother. After the baby was born, the mother reached out to the social worker and said that she could no longer go through with the adoption.

After this new loss, Jack’s mom gave them the name of a lawyer in Arkansas who specializes in adoption. She knew a pastor who had adopted through him previously. When Jack and Whitney heard back from the lawyer, he told them that he had an opportunity for them. Flying blind in regard to his process or fees, they moved forward with him. It was through this man that they met Esther.

Esther was due to have a baby boy in a few months, so they met her over Skype to discuss the adoption and to get to know each other. They were nervous about it, but Whitney recalls the walls coming down during that Skype conversation. It felt like family. For a boy, Jack and Whitney had decided on the name Seth, Whitney’s grandfather’s name which means “chosen” or “appointed.” They offered Esther the choice of the middle name. She gave them the name Aji, her own grandfather’s name, meaning “gift.” "The names fit so well. We instantly knew that was his name.” They began planning for their baby boy, their chosen gift.

Seth’s birth mother had not had much prenatal care, so her due date of August eleventh actually turned out to be July sixteenth. She gave birth to Seth an hour after going into labor. Jack and Whitney rented a minivan in the middle of the night to drive straight through to Arkansas to meet the boy that they hoped would go home with them. They spent a lot of time with Esther and Seth over the next ten days. Thats how many days were allotted to allow Esther to change her mind on the adoption if she so desired. “It was an emotionally intense time. A place of such joy and excitement but also sadness for her.” Jack and Whitney spent much of their time in prayer, asking God for this baby boy and for wisdom in talking to Esther about the adoption. They felt God leading them to be very honest with her, to tell her that whatever she decided, they would support. “We love you. We want what you want.” There were many moments of doubt, but this conversation settled upon Jack and Whitney a peace that they carried forward with them as they allowed for time between Seth and his birthmother before they officially adopted him and took him home. Esther is still very much a part of the Jiraks’ lives and they hope to foster a loving, growing relationship between them all. “Seth is a real joy in our family. He does feel like a gift in that sense. Every child is. Adoption is such a beautiful thing because you think about their gift-ness more.”

Seth was born two years to the day from the email that began the whole journey of adoption for the Jiraks.

“This phrase ‘the way in the desert’ that we heard before starting the adoption process- we heard in that ‘This is the easy line to joy, to what we want.’ But, it was the opposite of that in a lot of ways. A very winding, painful, barren thing,” Jack says. “The way in the desert is about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. A lot of winding, a lot of failing. That was my story, our story.”

Whitney shares, “This whole process has radically changed our idea of a 'call'. It doesn’t mean it’s going to go well straight off. Sometimes you’re called to something but there’s a lot of waiting, failing, questions, and revealing so much of our own sin. Sharing in suffering. Being so intimately linked to these birthmoms is eye opening to see how many babies are in need. We’re all in this together. It is so broken. We wish in some ways that adoption never had to happen but we feel grateful for God’s provision in it. I’m so thankful I get to be Seth’s mom. He’s a gift in the sweetest way. I would’ve done ten years of that waiting for my sweet Seth. He’s my baby. Hindsight is a beautiful thing of God.”

It was eight months after Seth was born that Jack and Whitney found they were pregnant with their third child, Elaine. After all of the difficulty in pregnancy, the losses, the ups and downs, this pregnancy reminded Whitney of how lavish God’s love is. He's not only able to meet your needs, he provides lavishly. 

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek. 

If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, email Peach at hello@peachorplum.com.

City Folk- Acree Graham Macam

There’s been a lot of buzz over the past several weeks about Acree Macam, author of the new children’s book, The King of the Birds, so we sat down with her last week to get to know a little bit about her professional and creative journey.

Originally from North Carolina, Acree (pronounced AY-kree) first came to Atlanta as a college student at Emory University where she studied creative writing. After graduating, she returned to North Carolina and worked as a secretary while applying to MFA programs, which seemed to be the only career path her professors had encouraged her towards. However, Acree says that things started to veer off course that year after her father passed away. Her job was not stimulating and she lost her drive and passion for applying to MFA programs, but she also began writing for a new city blog in Raleigh. It was the faster pace and creativity in that volunteer position that revived her passion for writing and led her to start reconsidering her career path.  Acree says that she remembers one day after church where she went off alone and began journaling about her career path and choices. Through this time in prayer and seeking guidance on what to do next, God seemed to be calling her back to Atlanta, so she she followed. This is when Acree first began coming to City Church. Having been a part of RUF in college and being familiar with her home church’s city-centered mission, City Church felt like the perfect fit and left her feeling no need to continue searching for a church. “During communion, Scott said my name and I thought, ‘I’ve been here for 20 minutes and they already know me.’” 

Being young and inexperienced in the field of writing, Acree didn’t feel confident enough to pursue a strictly creative writing job. After three unemployed months back in Atlanta, she finally landed a position as an SEO writer. Although this wasn't the type of work she was seeking, it eventually led to an internship with a prestigious advertising firm and thus began her exposure to the world of copywriting for advertising and marketing. We probed a bit on why she felt so at home writing for the advertising industry.

“I like collaborating with visual people, the team atmosphere. I liked having a problem to solve and a challenge. I’ve never felt as a writer that I have something inside me that needs to be expressed. People describe that and I think ‘Am I just a phony writer?’ I need a lot of feedback and I like bouncing ideas off people. I haven’t been able to lock myself in a room and write something that is amazing that the world needs to hear. Advertising is fast paced, constant feedback. It is an exciting atmosphere for a writer.”

As we heard of the various stepping stones along her career path, it was interesting to see how each of her jobs helped her understand what she enjoyed doing more and more, eventually leading to a place where her skills and passions could overlap. Although Acree enjoyed copywriting, after a few years working for various ad agencies, she realized that the identity-driven work atmosphere wasn't a good fit with her lifestyle and developing career goals. At the time, she had just gotten engaged to her now husband of two and a half years, Eric, and was able to explore the possibility of freelance work. Things seemed to fall into place and she was able to quit her job. Through the next several years she built a successful freelance career that allowed her the space to enjoy being newlywed. Although planning to remain a freelancer, she recently received an offer from a small boutique messaging firm that was too good to pass up.  She now works full-time for them, specializing in helping their clients explain their position in the marketplace. Specifically, she helps them use wording that will make them stand out and to creatively and effectively communicate a complex product.

Acree never considered writing children’s books until she began working as a copywriter. “Picture book writing is similar to copywriting in that you use simple language, leaving space for the images to tell a part of the story. In some ways, City Kids is a part of this story. Getting to know the kids there made me realize that what they think is funny is weird. I was amused by their personalities and gained an appreciation for them being a fun audience.”

Acree met the book's illustrator, Natalie Nelson Donovan, through City Church. When she first quit her job to start full-time freelancing, Natalie had just left the Portfolio Center, so they often met to talk about work, life, and potential projects- all the while calling themselves the “Quitters Club.” Out of this friendship came several collaborations that were displayed at the old City Church gallery or on blog posts. Eventually developing out of those collaborations was The King of the Birds. Natalie first had the idea for the plot and illustrations, but asked Acree to take over writing the actual manuscript, although Acree remembers it differently, insisting that she pushed herself into the project. Either way, she dedicated herself to the project and began studing children’s books to get an idea of what they were trying to accomplish. It was a long process for the two of them, and as they prepared to present the book to publishers, they knew it was possible that only one of them would be selected to continue on the project, as it is more common for author and illustrator to be matched through the publisher. However, after reaching out to two publishers, Groundwood Books picked up the project, keeping both of them on it. 

The book itself is based on real events of the life of Georgia writer, Flannery O’Connor, as a young girl with a particular interest in birds. It is a fun story that appeals to children and adults alike. We inquired as to how O'Conners spiritually played a role in the story and Acree reflected, “Flannery was a believer and we were drawn to that. We didn’t write this book to be an evangelical tool, but if we are being true to Flannery there is a spiritual element there and in writing the author’s note we thought it would be dishonest not to talk about her spirituality.

Acree overflowed with gratitude as she told us of the love and support her and Natalie have received from the City Church community. The book was released in late September and they have been able to travel to several cities for events and signings. Lucky for us, there is still time to join in the celebration near Atlanta! They will be signing and reading their book, followed by a craft time for children at Serenbe on December 3rd at 10am. 

The King of the Birds can be found on Amazon and locally at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur.


City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek. 

If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, email Peach at hello@peachorplum.com.

City Folk- David Drexler

David Drexler has his hands in many pies. It seems implausible that a husband, father of four, businessman, and musician can strike a healthy balance that benefits himself and his family, but he does. David credits a lot of this to his wife Annie and their approach to parenting. “So many people decide that because they have kids they have to act a certain way, but why? Babies need love and milk. They come into the world so easily, they are really not that complicated. We lived a life that was rich before we had kids and we still do.”

David and Annie began their relationship with a strong sense of identity as musicians. After years of touring with other bands, they joined forces and toured as The Drexlers, gaining momentum and pursuing record deals. However, after several deals fell through, it became clear that the Lord had other plans for them. David, having received his MBA, decided that instead of pursuing music full time, he would return to work with his father at the glass company that was started by his grandfather. Many of his peers criticized him as a sellout, walking away from art in favor of business, but David kept his eyes focused on family. “I kept one foot in the real world and one foot in the music world. The price I pay is that I’m not a “rock star” like a lot of my friends, but instead I have a beautiful family.” He and Annie continued touring as their family grew. Each one of their four boys has been on stage in utero. With that start to their family life, David and Annie realized that as parents, they did not have to change everything about their life. Rather, they could invite their children into it. The boys were used to falling asleep as babies to the thumping bass guitar coming from the basement. As David continues to host musicians, including his current band, the kids naturally understand the boundaries that arise from that.

Darling Norman is David's current rock band of which fellow City Church member Dan DeCriscio is the drummer. They are a "rock band sitting uncomfortably within punk and new wave," playing all over the Atlanta area and the Southeast. They enjoy performing at hole-in-the-wall venues that are dark and full of smoke where they take the opportunity to play anything they want, whether the audience recognizes it or not. It allows for the freedom to play every show like it is their last, "because it just might," David laughs. Although David is the band's guitarist and singer, he confesses that his true passion is for songwriting. On the subject of faith and songwriting, David says, “Of course every song is of God- God created everything, He is in every song. But, I like to write about weird, quirky textures and postmodernism and urbanism and pain and if God comes up, that’s fine. My own life isn’t about outright praising God all the time. I wish it was. It’s about trying to figure out how to be real. And my songs reflect that.”

The enthusiasm and joy that David radiates to those around him is a beautiful testament of what living for the Lord looks like and what it means to love His plan for your life. “None of it is of value without a faith life...I think my walk with God keeps me aligned so that every moment of the day is an opportunity to enjoy life. Whether you are a cash register person, or whatever- striking up a conversation can be the highlight of my day.” His work for Drexler Shower Door & Custom Glass keeps him in regular contact with clients and in many ways makes him the face of the company of which he and his father are now part owners. He jumps at the opportunity to work with architects and designers on challenging projects that stretch his creativity and open more opportunities for improvement and the expansion of their company. He and Annie often joke about his return to work for the family business, comparing it to Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. In his twenties and thirties, David admits that he had some regrets about his career choice, but over time has developed a deep love and appreciation for the lifestyle that his career allows him. He has enjoyed watching their small company grow into one of Atlanta's best known glass companies. Their niche is that they will attempt out of the box jobs that many other glass companies won't. They've worked on some fun projects throughout the city, including glass stairs and ceilings. Our City Church congregation can look forward to admiring some of their craftsmanship at our new Hilan Theater location.

David and Annie have been active in City Church since it first took roots many years ago. Originally part of another church plant that eventually fizzled out, the Drexlers were connected with Scott Armstrong to hear about his vision for City Church. Scott asked them to be part of the launch team, but with a growing family, they declined and reconnected with City Church when things settled. From there, the Drexlers have been active in many ways. They both are part of the music team and Annie was the curator of the gallery space when City Church was located at the StoveWorks on Krog Street. David was reluctant to start playing on Sunday mornings, “but God drew me in and softened my heart and now we have had amazing experiences there.” They have also been active in a community group and DNA groups over the last several years where they are able to engage with other families and work through life together. 

Although deeply fulfilled by city living, David also admits that he and Annie sometimes joke about moving to the country with their family and working together on a farm.  “Living in the city is tough with kids,” he shares. “Every day is hard and wonderful. How do you provide kids with an opportunity to grow? Letting them figure out a way to have freedom and use their freedom and skills to grow can be tough.” David also praises the advantages of growing up in a city and all the opportunities that it provides for his children. During our interview with David at his glass showroom we got to meet Storm, his eldest child. Over the summer, some of his boys tag along, they wash company cars or do other odd jobs around the shop to earn a few dollars. This is one of the opportunities that allows them to explore that freedom. 

Along with the foundation being laid by their children's school, David and Annie are also actively involved in their education. Having four boys ranging from 6-12 years old (from oldest to youngest; Storm, Donovan, Marnix, and Bowie), David has described his home as a "beautiful chaos." They find ways to get outside as much as possible and value time spent praying and reading the Bible together as a family. The four boys are involved in all kinds of activities, ranging from taekwondo to baseball to triathlons to wrestling. They let each child choose one activity that they can participate in. Whatever they choose, the rest of the family comes to support and watch together.

After a conversation with David it is evident that he has learned how to see the beauty in all stages of life and truly finds joy in whatever his task, whether it is to be a good father, son, business owner, or songwriter and musician. 

City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek. 

If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, email Peach at hello@peachorplum.com. 

Here are a few extra photos of Darling Norman, courtesy of their photographer.

City Folk- Brian and Keri Fosse

The baby shirt couple. The urban farm couple. The couple with the really adorable kids. 

Brian and Keri Fosse epitomize the idea of walking by faith in a strong and natural way. Founders of their own business, Lalabu, and developers of their own products, Brian and Keri have faithfully sacrificed, celebrated, mourned, and rejoiced with God throughout their lives, but particularly the last several years. Their entire business model from beginning to end is a love story of God’s steadfastness and truths.

Both Brian and Keri were brought to Atlanta to study industrial engineering at Georgia Tech, where they shared the same GPA and both worked for Disney, they confided, each with a commiserating grin. Brian received his MBA as Keri began working for Delta, allowing them the opportunity to travel easily and often. One of those trips fulfilled a long-standing dream of Keri’s to go to the small village in the bush country of Africa where her aunt had been a missionary for many years. As a child, Keri had always treasured visits from her aunt and the presents and stories that came with it. On one of those visits, her aunt was able to bring a friend from the village along with her to the States. That friend was named Lalabu, the original inspiration and namesake for the Lalabu business. She taught Keri and her family about the idea and techniques of babywearing, a common practice where she comes from that allows mothers to wrap their newborn babies in a cloth and around themselves to them to cradle, soothe, carry, and bond with their babies. This also allows the mother to be more hands-free while also tending to her baby and nursing. This method was deeply influential for Keri, so upon their visit to Africa many years later, she and Brian learned even more about it and an inspiration was born. “When I worked for Delta I would see these people traveling with all of their baby gear and I thought it was kind of crazy. In Africa, all they use is one cloth and the babies are so happy,” Keri says of the origins of the idea behind Lalabu. “Brian is such an entrepreneur so he thought we should come up with a product to solve that problem.”

That solution was found in the Soothe shirt. After returning to the States, Brian and Keri worked with Keri’s mom to design and produce several prototypes of their idea- a shirt that would allow mothers to wear their baby, feel more confident and connected to their baby, and nurse more easily. It started as a nights-and-weekends project, but soon God made it clear that it was meant to be more. Brian and Keri discussed their work and family situation, already having one son, Levi, and wanting to continue having children. Brian recalls one morning in particular. “ I was reading in Matthew eleven (come to me all who are heavy laden). I prayed and asked God to do it for me if he wanted me to. That same day, my boss told me he thought I should leave the company. I had been working there for four years and was on the leadership team, but it was clearly an answered prayer. I quit my job the next day, January 31, 2013. Kerri had just left her job three weeks prior. We just felt like God was leading us and we had no idea how it was going to work out. It is probably good that we didn’t know how it was going to go, because we wound up going without income for two years instead of the four months we had thought it would be.”

Taking that mysterious step forward led them to selling their recently renovated home in Grant Park. They sold it not in the context of finances, but in that of following and trusting God to move them forward and reveal His plan, which included moving in with Keri’s mom for eight months before moving into an apartment in the Old Fourth Ward. That time of transition gave their family the opportunity to understand how to live with less, making a pattern out of ridding themselves of both wanted and unwanted accumulation. They told their son Levi that he could take half of his toys to their next home and donated the rest. “The biggest change for me was the condition of my heart,” Keri confides. “Before I was feeling like my income was my security. I feel like everything is going to be fine because I make a lot of money. I don’t feel that way anymore. God is the one that gives us what we need and provides for us. This transition has broken me of that idol. We got rid of so much during that transition and it has been so freeing. We moved 8 times over the course of the years. Each time we donated more and more and more and realized how little we actually need.” Part of the inspiration of this practice was from Jeff Shinabarger, author of More or Less and the founder of Plywood People. He also was a catalyst in Brian’s decision to leave his job for the pursuit of Lalabu.

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Now, with son Levi and daughter Flora, Brian and Keri are back in Grant Park just blocks away from their old house. They felt God’s pull towards that neighborhood again, which led to the purchase of three empty lots where they built their current house and are in the process of establishing an urban garden. As with any trusting step forward in God’s plan, though, there were still many obstacles to maneuver around in the process. Between trouble with city permits and loan stipulations, the process was extended much longer than was comfortable, but they stayed the course and are happily settled in the neighborhood they mourned to leave years ago. A long period of learning to trust God to provide a place to settle, something we at City Church know quite well.

As their cup of gratitude overflows, they have decided to give two percent of all Lalabu purchases to mothers in Africa who take out loans to pay for their children’s school or their own businesses. These mothers are given access to funds that would otherwise never be available to them. By partnering with Kiva, a loan facilitator, loans are given and paid back by groups, providing accountability and a cycle of money that benefits multiple mothers who participate in the program. 

Keri and Brian have plenty of plans for Lalabu moving forward. A new, updated version of the Soothe shirt will be released in August alongside the debut of the Soothe shirt for dads. Their mission of encouraging moms and dads to bond and connect more with their babies through babywearing will continue to be their first priority, hoping to establish a more open and receptive culture of parenthood that takes full advantage of this sweet time with new babies.

For more information on their products and business visit lalabu.com

City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.

City Folk- Laura ten Pas

Atlanta seems to be an increasingly sheltering fold for artists, makers, and creatives. Looking across the spectrum of City Church attendees, there are hobbyists, professionals, dabblers, newbies, and experimenters.

One such maker is Laura ten Pas. Laura graduated from the University of Georgia with a BFA in Photography and in Textile Design. A resource director for Gensler, a design & architecture firm, by day, Laura also finds great satisfaction and enjoyment in the process of naturally dyeing silk garments and baubles in her spare time. As the resource director for Gensler in Midtown, Laura is responsible for managing an extensive materials library available to the interior designers and architects as well as scheduling and organizing vendor events. With her background in photography, Laura also takes portraits for the Atlanta Gensler office and is hoping to start photographing local projects as they are completed for the firm.

Having studied photography and textile design, it comes as no surprise that in addition to the more structured environment of Gensler, Laura also commits her free time to exploring the art and subtleties of common plant elements that most people overlook. “Onion skins have a special place in my heart. Not very romantic, but I like that it is accessible to anyone. It produces lots of colors- you can rage from musty yellows to bright oranges. In natural form it’s a great dye,” she says. “It is very true to itself.” Currently Laura sources her dyes by foraging different areas of Atlanta, from friends’ yards to the side of the road. Her dream is to eventually have the space to grow a dye garden so that she has access to locally grown plants and have a hand in the dye process from the very beginning to the end. Locally, she has been able to harvest onion skin, pomegranate, goldenrod, and acorns with the help of friends and family who grow these themselves, by foraging, or buying at local stores. She also wants to expand her experimentation to regionally sourced plants and elements, such as Georgia red clay and kudzu.

Laura first became interested in this project while living in San Francisco five years ago. She already had a background in textile design and had always liked working with color and fabrics. A co-worker at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising told her about a book tour event by author Rebecca Burgess, who demonstrated her technique with dried flowers and discussed seasonal dyeing and regional sourcing. Her book, Harvesting Color, inspired Laura to start studying and experimenting with different techniques and plants to learn how to best extract the color. She quickly learned that the color seen on the exterior of the plant could be the opposite of what comes out naturally. For example, eucalyptus leaves produce a coral color, and most plants give a simple beige or no real color. There is even variation in color much like you expect in the taste of produce throughout the year. Some years are more dry, some wet, some hotter, some produce more iron in the soil, etc. Just as taste is affected by those factors, so is color, giving each product, each dye bath, each batch a unique quality. It may be subtle, but the difference creates a beautiful spectrum of color and character. Laura also treats the process like cooking-using a recipe as a general framework but changing things up each time to see what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved upon. 

In addition to her day job and dyeing scarves, Laura is also working towards a master’s degree in Library Sciences. With two classes left, Laura will finish in December and hopes to then dedicate more time to her dyeing project. After taking the Discover Your Design class with Gregg Burch and Ed Burdette, Laura discovered she is an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality test. Being more aware of her personality, Laura jokes about her typical tendency to have a lot of projects going on at once, but hopes with time to be able to focus more on what gives her the most satisfaction and streamline the way she works toward goals in those areas. Once she has more time to focus on natural dyes, she hopes to increase her stock, get her products into more local stores, and be a part of more festivals. Until then, she continues to pursue different creative, academic, and professional endeavours. 

Laura says she works more in spurts, one thing at a time, which is made easier by the nine-to-five nature of her job that allows her to plan and leave her work at work. Because the dyeing process is so intricate and time-consuming, Laura tends to devote long weekends to her business in order to accomplish her goal more efficiently. She also has a support system in her husband Michael who, as an artist and creative himself, has a great understanding of the creative process and the dedication it requires. She also finds support and inspiration from her family, who have a long line of makers and doers and small business owners. Her great grandmother built a business during World War II rooting honeysuckle for the army to use for camouflage. She then encouraged her daughter and son-in-law (Laura’s grandparents) to open a plant nursery. He handled the care of the plants while she worked on the administrative and accounting side. Laura’s mother also built her own business with flowers, putting together the packages of flowers that are tossed on a bride and groom as they leave their reception. She had a passion for the symbolism of each flower and how to combine them with deeper meaning for that special moment between newlyweds and their loved ones. Laura comes from a long line of entrepreneurs with a passion for flowers and plants.

You can currently find Laura’s scarves for sale in Midtown at Eco Denizen or at craft fairs, such as Indie Craft Experience. Laura and Michael are part of the Midtown community group, have been attending CIty Church for just over two years, and have lived in Atlanta for almost three years. 

City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.

City Folk - Caleb Goodrum

The coffee guy. The Sunday-morning banjo guy. The Star Wars guy.

Meet Caleb Goodrum. He’s a guy who knows what he’s about. He has passion behind his motivation and faces the future with freedom and excitement. Spend any amount of time with him and you’ll understand his passions run deep. When he commits to something, he does so with sincerity. That’s not to say he boxes himself in. On the contrary, he reveres flexibility and appreciates opportunity.

Caleb’s career started with the Air Force, overseeing and managing people working in intelligence in Augusta, Georgia. He says that as an officer, the most rewarding part of his job were the relationships he formed with his subordinates. It’s that dedicated yet laid-back leadership that allowed him to invest in his subordinates early on while his team was still manageably small. Forming connections and relationships with his people, “leading from the ground,” as he calls it, was the core of his enjoyment as an officer. As his team grew and that connection became more distant and harder to manage, he realized he needed to reevaluate his future in the Air Force. Enter coffee.

His introduction to good coffee came during college. “I spent way more time at a coffee shop near UNC than I ever spent on campus. It wasn’t even close.” That exposure proved formational. His first Air Force duty station was in San Angelo, Texas, but he had a hard time finding a good cup of coffee. In true appreciation for the art and quality of coffee, Caleb made the three and a half hour drive to Austin about two weekends a month for the remainder of his time in Texas. “Because I went there so often I didn’t want to pay to stay there, so I slept in the back of my car and hit up coffee shop and bars and I would shower at the municipal pool. I had this parking spot right across from this coffee place. I would turn the AC on high, park near the coffee shop and then wake up and grab a cappuccino.” It’s hard to imagine that many people could out-dedicate this guy. The interest became undeniable and the passion continued to grow through the next few years in the Air Force until as he contemplated leaving, he met Kitti Murray, the driving force behind Refuge Coffee Company. Partnering with her, Caleb put in 40 hours a week unpaid helping get Refuge off the ground and running, while at the same time working 40 hours finishing out his last few months in the Air Force. All the while he commuted back and forth between Augusta for the work week and Atlanta for the weekends to spend time with his wife Nada, a Ph.D. student at Georgia State.

Finally in May of 2015, the truck launched. Caleb continues to work the business side of things as the truck’s mission reaches the people of Clarkston with the goal of becoming a community spot in Clarkston that incorporates refugees in training and outreach. The truck not only trains refugees in the art and function of coffee, but in other skills that equip them to find jobs  meeting their immediate need of employment, while also providing development for greater opportunity in the future. To combat the sometimes ostracizing effect of an “American” coffee shop, the truck plans and executes the menu, pricing, and set up with international influences and multicultural approaches in mind. Overall, though, the reigning philosophy of Refuge Coffee is to provide just that, refuge, which is evident as you observe the goings-on around the truck in its location in Clarkston. It has become a community of all colors, ages, and backgrounds. There is no line between one another, but a rich blending of people and cultures that benefits everyone.

Caleb maintains his preference for batch coffee on the truck, but at home, he invests in pour-over coffee a liter at a time, saying, “ I rarely drink it all, but I like knowing it’s there. It’s better to get a good extraction if you brew with more water.” He and Nada spend their free time foraging Atlanta for good coffee, good beer, and good food and will celebrate five years of marriage this September.

Caleb is also known for another long-time love: Star Wars. The enthusiasm is almost palpable as he describes the merits of the saga, the advantages of different viewing orders, and his family’s full immersion into the Star Wars culture in preparation for the latest episode’s release, involving a viewing of each film, t-shirts, and food and drink pairings for each film. They called the entire event “Star Wars-Palooza.” Should you be on the fence about diving into the Star Wars culture and films, Caleb will not only tip you into it head first, but he’ll completely immerse you and pull you back up drenched in the redeeming waters of George Lucas and Co., clamoring for the next installment. Watching him retell key moments in the story is arguably just as entertaining as actually watching them unfold on the screen.

As City Church moves forward, marching toward the Hilan Theater, Caleb has lent his talents and passions in addition to the many others who have made the Hilan Project happen. His expertise has been consulted to advise on the building and equipping of the coffee bar in our new location. So as you pour your very first cup in the new Hilan space, tip your cap to our resident coffee, banjo, Star Wars enthusiast as he walks by, steaming cup in hand.

For more info on the truck and its mission: http://refugecoffeeco.com/

City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.