Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Keep Calm and Work Like Crazy?


"A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies..." 1 Kings 19:12-14 MSG

I am immersed in work. I like it. I like the people. There will be times when we may not quite see eye to eye (that is pretty normal, isn't it?), but generally, we're all mature and loving and able to work through those differences. I worked late today to finish a task and realized how easy it is to fall back into that mode of giving my all at the office. I remember that feeling even though it's been 22 years since I last worked full time.

If I'm being open, I have to admit it's a bit of avoidance. Tuesday is a free night. There's no one home but the dog. It seems more important and valuable to finish work for which I am being paid. However, I do not want this to be a habit and I treasure the ability to leave at 4 p.m. when office hours are over. Most nights the dog won't be able to hold it, after holding it all day. Today, however, she had no accidents.

I believe as I get used to the rhythm, ebb and flow of the office, I will find my footing and my boundaries. Prioritizing, ignoring the allure of rabbit trails, being willing to say "That's good enough," instead of being so thorough and perfectionistic that I force the need to work extra time to meet an impossible standard I've set for myself. The A-student syndrome. Even though saying "That's good enough" sounds like blasphemy to a recovering perfectionist, I am forcing myself to practice saying it and living it. Oh, but it's hard.

Guarding my personal time is an essential step in proper self-care. If I give all my extra energy and time at work, then the tasks at home don't get done. Then I don't feel I can relax and just unwind. When I do, it feels like a guilty pleasure instead of the necessary restorative practice it is. Am I alone in this?

I also have used the "no time" excuse blatantly in my spiritual life. I take a Soul Care class on Monday nights. As we learn the art of Spiritual Direction for others, we first have to learn to practice these disciplines for ourselves. The 15 minutes we spend in contemplation at the beginning of each class is a taste of heaven. It would be a simple thing to engage myself accordingly at home, but I don't. Why do I resist something so healing that creates a spacious place where I can encounter my spirit being open to God?

Lent is coming. These are the questions I need to sit with. To speak about with God. To consider Jesus, who though there were hundreds (perhaps thousands) of needy people pressing in to see him, to touch him, to ask his help and his healing, to hear his teaching, still... he withdrew often to solitary places to pray. He didn't work overtime and go to bed depleted.

I want to go to the Source.
This blog is my prayer.

Keep calm and stop carrying on.
Be still.




Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Dark Side of the Lens: Olympics, Surfing and Doing Something Worth Remembering

This is a day worth remembering, celebrating events worth remembering by athletes worth celebrating. The closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

After an early morning rise to cheer Canadian men to Olympic Gold in the hockey final, while the glow of the golden moment shone warm and I dig, in futile effort, through my ten bins of Christmas decor for the gold maple leaf ornament, hoping to photograph it in its perfect symbolism of this transcendent, if transitory, moment.

Giving up, I turn back to search the sites of my favorite pro photographers for new images; inspiration for my own feeble attempts at capturing and sharing beauty in all her forms. And I see John Marriott who leads me to Brandon Brown who leads me to a video of surf photographer, Mickey Smith.

As a poet, I was compelled to transcribe Mickey's last few words on why he does what he does. Enjoy the video, then read the words after in more depth. This is a clarion call to a deeper soul search:
am I doing something worth remembering?

 

The dark side of the lens
An art form unto itself
and us, the silent workhorses
of the surfing world
There’s no sugary cliché.
Most folk don’t even know who we are,
what we do or how we do it,
let alone want to pay us for it.

I never want to take this for granted,
so I try to keep motivation simple,
real and positive.
If I only scrape a living,
at least it’s living worth scraping.
If there’s no future in it,
at least it’s a present worth remembering.

The fires of happiness
and waves of gratitude
For everything that brought us
to that point, enough,
at that moment in time
to do something worth remembering
with a photograph
or a scar

I feel genuinely lucky
to hand on heart saying
I love doing what I do
I may never be a rich man
If I live long enough
I’ll certainly have a tale or two
for the nephews
and I dig the thought of that

-Michael Lee (Mickey) Smith

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Black and White of Death and Life

This is the transcript of a devotional talk I gave tonight to the First Alliance Church Photography Group monthly meeting. I post it here by request for those who wish to read it again.

“There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Prov. 14:12 KJV (There is a way that seems right to a woman also…)

What are “the ways of death”?  Things that cause death? Is this only spiritual? Let’s list a few:
  • The thousands of choices that don't bring life
  • Words that tear down
  • Critical spirit
  • Waste
  • Sin
  • Ingratitude
  • Looks can kill
  • Withdrawal
  • Weapons
  • Self-protection
  • Covetousness
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Comparison
  • and more...
A college classmate of mine in a large town was recently found dead. He had passed away almost two weeks before, they think. His lack of close relationships, solitude and loneliness led to his death. Scientists say you can literally die of a broken heart. Emotional diseases can kill your “life” before your body ever takes its last breath.

I’m going to focus for just a moment on how “comparison” brings death. I personally believe comparison is the eighth deadly sin.

When I compare myself to others, two possible things happen. If I think myself "better", it can lead to a superiority attitude and condescension. If I view myself as "worse", it leads to humiliation, shame or covetousness.

Feeling like I’m better or like I’m worse are two sides of the same coin of pride. Heads or tails it's all the same: Heads I win, tails you lose. Heads you win, tails I lose.

We may have emotional or mental storehouses, hordes of “pride coins” - different denominations by which we compare ourselves to others.

The pennies of possessions.
The silver dollars of wealth.
The gold bullion of appearance.
The platinum of position.

Each, with purely symbolic face value, minted by the Kingdom of Self, hoarded in the Bank of My Own Mind. Tokens with no guarantee that debase another's currency. Or that minimize our value before God and others. Or that give us a sense that somehow we deserve to stand before a holy God.

Listen to this life-giving perspective from Romans 12:3 MSG:
"I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what God does for us, not by what we are and what we do for God."

I'm sort of on the flip side of the coin that what I bring isn't good enough (still another comparative term).  So many of us struggle with this basic lie in our lives: “Nothing I can do is ever good enough” or I am not pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, tall enough, rich enough, nice enough...  The end of it is simply, "I am not enough."

I struggle with this in photography. I know there are those of you who produce a much higher quality photograph, so I have to intentionally choose to offer what I can, from where I'm at, knowing that if I come to these monthly meetings and participate in the bi-weekly challenges in our Facebook group, I will learn something or possibly even help someone else. It is life-giving to participate in a community like this. Each of us has something to contribute. Each of us can learn from one another.

The best example of this is how the Body of Christ operates when it is healthy and all are exercising their God-given gifts. See the Apostle Paul’s take on this in 1 Corinthians 12 MSG:

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
  • wise counsel
  • clear understanding
  • simple trust
  • healing the sick
  • miraculous acts
  • proclamation…”
Here we see the list of the ways of life, rather than "the ways of death". Paul goes on:

“All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. God decides who gets what, and when.

“Think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together… As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

I learn more of God by seeing how these gifts are used in each of you. So, no comparisons, okay? Respect the gifts, respect the Giver. Use your gifts, whatever they may be. You are right where God wants you. And God will be glorified.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How Did I Get Here?



I’m short listed on a very short list (one of two) for my dream job.

Dream job, I tell you.

I know, I know, no job is perfect. But when the job description lists all the requirements and I tick them off one-by-one, and the “required experience” sounds like you’re reading my résumé? And when I’m in the first job interview and the man lists the additional parts of the job they expect and my heart skips a beat and I literally fist pump right there in front of the three of them in the interview because he’s listing things I’ve always wanted to do and loved to do and didn’t dare dream enough to even write it down but held it safe hidden away in the corner of my heart where only impossible dreams live?

I think that’s a pretty good fit for the way I’m wired.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the job I have. I have a Facebook album of photos called “I Love My Job” because many days, I do. It’s been a good three years. It was a quality of life choice in March 2011 to take this part time position to help cover the cost of my son’s university tuition.

It was a conscious, intentional choice to put myself in what I knew was a subordinate role, even though my skillsets and experience could have probably fit better in a supervisory position in a corporate setting. But God knew I was going to be wounded. And God knew I needed a safe place to be when the police came knocking that December morning that my husband took the train to heaven.

And God knew I needed people around me who could love on me and support me and extend grace to me and be patient with me while I limped along in a blinding grief fog for nearly a year, forgetting things along the way, dropping duties like pennies through the grate of the sidewalk and still they let me stay and I grew stronger. And God knew I needed the intercessory prayer team that prayed every week for my personal requests that I tagged onto the ones that were in the request box from Sunday. And God knew I needed to get to know Kim and Tina and Curtis and Sammy and Jenn and Ashleigh and Nairn and David and Sarah and most of all Jared and Awlwyn and Craig. And time and space doesn’t allow me to list all the people who are part of this little church who have loved on me – all 200+ of them. And God knew I needed to be in a place that agrees with Him that spiritual gifts aren’t gender based and allow a woman to share His word and His work and lead His worship.

But.

Even though I like my job, it doesn't cut it any more (economically), since I am the sole breadwinner for myself and my university student son. Sure, I have my husband's sports car to sell. His hockey season tickets won't be renewed, I can eventually downsize my home and invest the difference and there's a modest nest egg which is well invested for retirement, but that's got to last for my whole retirement and I plan to live a long time. So in the meantime, I have living expenses that exceed my income and the savings account is dwindling.

I have resigned my position. The people in leadership who need to know already know this. There are a myriad of reasons why I chose to do it now, and those reasons don’t belong in a public forum. If I am not the selected candidate for my dream job, then I confidently say it was not God’s dream for me and I wait again, in anticipation of what is next.

So how did I get here?

In December, we focus on the Advent, the waiting, the anticipation, of the coming of Christ. And I read and meditate and feel like I’ve spent my whole life waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting.

For what?

God has already shown up. I wait on the Spirit’s movement. Wait for that Voice behind me that says, “Here is the way, walk ye in it.”  The Voice that says, “Behold, I am doing a NEW thing!”  The one who is Emmanuel, God with us.

God. With. Me.

He is here. How did I get here? Through the with-God life. Holding onto God and when I had no strength to hold, God holds onto me. He always holds me. And whispers, "I am your sheild and portion; your protection and provision. I’ve got you.”

“I’ve got this.”

Sitting with my Spiritual Director one cold Tuesday in November, knowing the last job search took seven months, I'm looking for discernment in how to proceed in my career shift. She asks, “What is your dream job?” I list everything off, thinking it sounds like a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” résumé. But it would be my dream to do it all and in God’s great wisdom and omnipotence, did I dare believe that it would be possible that all these things could come together in one place? I have a tiny sliver of hope.

And so I wait.

And one month later, a friend sends me a job description for a place I’d be honored to work and I meet all the job requirements and I have the required experience and I decide to apply. In the meantime, two more friends send me the same job description. These friends don’t know each other, all three are from different social circles. They all thought the job sounded like me.

So here I am. After one interview, I’m on the very short short list, I’ve submitted requested samples of my work, provided my references, and completed the Ministry Match Assessment to see if my gifts, personality and preferences would be a fit with their current team. The next step would be a phone call booking a second interview. More in-depth, they say.

Interesting. The first interview was one of the most in-depth I’ve ever had.

As I told some friends last night, if I am not the chosen candidate, then I have to believe it was not the perfect job for me.

Every every struggle and every success in my past has shaped me into the person I am today. I will take God's hand and step into the future without fear.

Update: I was offered the job and accepted. I start Feb. 24.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Father's Poems

I have created a blog page where I will be posting my father's poems. Frank P. Nickel was a prolific writer of poems, hymns and spiritual songs. There are hundreds, some serious, some lighthearted, all intended to share truth and encouragement with his readers. Due to the sheer volume, this will be a labour of love transcribing poems one by one over many months. I will add one or two poems every few days as time allows. 

As a minister of the Gospel, Dad's style was simple rhyming poetry on spiritual themes. If you like them, feel free to subscribe by email on the site so that you can receive them in your inbox as they are published.

You can find the site by clicking this link: My Father's Poems

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Light

This is the transcript of a devotional talk I gave tonight to the First Alliance Church Photography Group monthly meeting. I post it here by request for those who wish to read it again.



Q:  On which day of creation, according to scripture, did God create light?
A:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.  Genesis 1:1-5
He separated light from dark, it says. What does that even mean? How would they have been merged together except in shadow? Was it always dusk?

Q: On which day did God create the sun, moon, and stars?
A:  And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
Light existed before the sun. 
Light existed without the sun. 

In the King James translation of the Bible, there are over 300 verses that contain one or more occurrences of the word “light”. Here is a key verse:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:15)
Light is an integral part of photography. Without light there is nothing to see, nothing to photograph. As photographers, we must constantly be attentive to the exposure to light. Without light, there is only dark, but with the proper exposure, we can see and capture the most minimal and elusive light.
The Psalmist says to God, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9 NIV) or as another translation puts it, "(You are) the light by which we see.” (NLT)
Light is required to bring out the greatest beauty of certain works of art, such as oil paintings or stained glass. A spotlight on an oil painting, sunlight through stained glass. No matter how gifted the artistry and beautiful the art, it takes light streaming through it or on it to bring out its glory. (1)  This applies spiritually as well.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Once again in this verse, we see light and dark separated. Jesus, the son of God, separates the light from the darkness.

How are stained glass windows made? They are made of broken pieces, fused together, to make a finished whole more beautiful than its parts. “Each of us is a stained-glass window. Jesus is that Light.” (1)

But a warning comes to us from the Apostle John who writes: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20 NIV)

With the right exposure on our cameras, even the darkest places can be illuminated enough for us to see what is hidden in the darkness. I would like to suggest the same goes for the exposure that the light of Christ brings into our lives. Our original beauty goes back to the garden, when God created light, he said it was good. Every day when God created, he called that creation good. But on the day he created man and woman, he said it was "very good." In our broken world and our broken humanity, in the middle of the the muddied and muddled glass of our lives, there are times when our original beauty is dimmed by sin or by shame or by hiding.

Yet, as photographers we all know that darkness can accentuate the light. It brings drama and power to our compositions. The same is true for life.
How can you appreciate light if you have never known the fear of darkness? How can you appreciate love if you have never known the absence of it? How can you know what it is to be found if you have never been lost? How can you know mercy if you have never needed it? (2)
The darkness shows us our need for light but we were never designed to stay in darkness. Jesus says we are called to be different: “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

He has called you out of darkness into light. 

In his light we see light. Jesus is the light by which we see. His light can be refused, refracted or reflected. What will you do with Jesus, The Light of the world?

Choose life. Choose light.




(1) Inspired by a quote by Leonard Sweet
(2) John Fischer, The Catch, January 10, 2014: "When Angels Fold Their Wings"

Related posts: 
How the Light Gets In
Light, Reflection, Shadow

Shovelling is My SuperPower


Today, in a stunning tribute to her late husband, the Widow Harback decides to shovel the deck. After all, the temperatures are rising and the sun might actually remove the lingering ice if she could just lift off the top layers of snow.

Uncharacteristically energized after clearing the driveway, sidewalk, and the large ridge left behind by the city snowplow, this small additional expenditure of energy shouldn’t take more than a half an hour, thought she.

Entering the west side of the yard, she notices fresh footprints, no older than just before yesterday’s new snowfall. Puzzled, she follows them as they go up to the gate, which is now dangling at a quirky angle, connected only by the top hinge. The footsteps go past the gate, up three stairs to the garage side door, which is never used as it is blocked by skis and other items inside.

What? Someone trying to break in her home? It doesn’t feel particularly threatening in the bold sunshine while she’s holding a shovel and wearing her super-powered, sweat-infused snow clearing outfit. Who could it be? The housemate is out of town. The son is back at school. The housekeeper isn’t due till later this week. Besides, they all have keys. Who could possibly want to get inside her home and break down the gate to do so?

Has she gained a stalker from the ill-fated coffee meet up with the “I’m-still-stuck-in-my-divorce” man from ChristianMingle.com?

Nah.

Not to be deterred from her noble goal of clearing the deck, Widow Harback boldly tightens her leather gloved hands around the neck of the shovel and strides round the front of the house to the east access. Stepping across the buried flower beds by the window where the snow is least deep, she notes that her boots are not sinking in the drifts, but she is walking on top of them. It’s a miracle, nigh unto walking on water!

No, actually. Not so much.

Turns out the snow has hardened to rounded icy mounds in the numerous thaws and refreezes of a schizophrenic January in Calgary. This does not bode well for the mound on the deck…

Still, she strides on.

Follows the rabbit tracks into the back yard, through the back gate which she'd remembered to prop open last fall to allow for the jack rabbit freeway from back to front.

When she reaches the back yard, the traverse across warranted snowshoes, but she had not packed adequately for this long a mountaineering trek. She struggled through, battling blazing sunshine and made it to the stairs. She's on the lower level by the walk-out basement and the final peak (named Upper Deck) requires an oxygen-assisted ascent via ice picks and crampons.

Okay, well, perhaps not quite like that.

She climbs the full flight of stairs slowly, clearing snow off one step at a time. The 15-20 cm piles of snow fall easily to the ground but an ominous layer of ice 3-5 cm thick stubbornly clings to each stair.

She notes the half hour mark is long past at this point and her stomach reminds her it would still like a bit of breakfast. She makes her first shovel thrust.

Crunch. Nothing.

Another. Crunch. Nothing. It only takes a few swings of the shovel to realize the entire deck is one massive frozen snowball. Sigh.

Widow Harback pauses for a moment, in gratitude and remembrance of her husband. She whispers a prayer of thanks to God for loaning him to her for 31 years. The deck will never be swept fresh clean like Mr. Harback kept it, but what a privilege to have enjoyed that act of kindness for 31 long Canadian winters! She should have been more appreciative while she had him around to appreciate.

Hopes dashed, but somewhat relieved that this unrealistic goal exceeded even her Super-Snow-Girl powers, she makes sure both exit doors onto the deck from the house are free and clear in the unlikely event of a fire, returns to the house for a well deserved shower and begins composing this blog in her mind.

Perhaps it should have stayed there.

Perhaps I should have breakfast before I write about Widow Harback's “Super-Snow Girl” adventures in the future. I believe I may have just attained my PhD (Pile it Higher and Deeper). (Told you I was good at shovelling).

Thank you for listening, and watch your step as you leave.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

This is the Air I Breathe


My son and I had the wonderful opportunity to do an "Intro to Scuba" dive while in Kailua-Kona over the Christmas week. We booked with Kona Honu Divers and Terri was our instructor. We were in a small group of three and did two dives, the first to 30 feet depth and the second to 40 feet. The scenery was magnificent, the crew very professional and efficient and our instructor was highly experienced and very attentive.

I was anxious the night before and during my descent. A friend who was a very experienced diver had lost his diving companion a year ago in an unexpected equipment malfunction that blocked the airflow. This was heavy on my mind. I knew the risks for us were small, the equipment well-maintained and help right beside me. I felt the fear and did it anyway.

The biggest rule I'd been told was "Remember to breathe." As I was introduced to the equipment pre-dive and began to practice breathing through the regulator on the boat, I found it an odd sensation. The air barely trickled in. When you can't breathe, nothing else matters.

"I'm not getting very much air," I complained.

"It's on-demand," came the reply. "You'll get as much as you ask for. It depends on how hard you inhale."

I sucked harder and, sure enough, had a full free flow of as much air as I needed. Good to know. It was something that suddenly dispelled my anxiety, as I realized I could control my air intake. It also helped to note that each of us was equipped with two regulators, so if one failed, the second one was available. With four of us and two regulators each, that gives eight opportunities to get air in a worst-case scenario.

We were given instruction on the trip to the dive site and tested on our skills at the surface before our descent. I was the last to descend and took longer because of the need to allow my ears time to adjust to pressure changes. The second dive should have been easier but I had more difficulty with my buoyancy compensator and unintentionally floated to the surface once despite my adjustments. The rest of the dive I struggled with maintaining the right level in my BC so I couldn't really relax and enjoy the surroundings until the very end.

I think about the beautiful song, "This is the air I breathe... Your holy presence living in me." To inhale God's spirit is also on-demand. He is ever present, living in me, but I must be open to this presence, the filling, the on-demand life, asking for, taking in, trusting and receiving all I need for the task at hand.

Lord, let me breathe you. Always, only, ever, taking in all you are, allowing you to fill me with your presence, keeping me breathing, keeping me level, surrendering and relaxing into the adventure so I can explore new depths with You.