Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What a Difference a Year Makes

One year ago, my life changed.  Not because of anything I did or planned, but because God set my feet on a new path.  One that I never would have chosen, and one that I wouldn't have believed I was capable of walking.  One that still scares me to death at times.  He called me to teach.

You see, until one year ago today, I was my own boss: Photographer Extraordinaire. I was in charge of my workload and my free time.  I had a sizable and fiercely loyal list of clients, and new inquiries came in weekly.  Every session simultaneously gave me butterflies and the warm fuzzies.  I cannot explain how much I have thrilled at being a satellite orbiting so many families as they grow and change.

Being a creative soul, this job wasn't a job, it was my dream.  How many people can honestly joyfully say that they love everything about their job? That they get excited to go to work?  And on top of that, all of the joy that I have ever gotten from being a photographer isn't mine to hoard away for myself...I get to give it away tenfold!  Those images that I capture, while heartwarming for me, can never give me the same joy as they give to the families for whom I captured them.   

Before I tell you more about this new path I'm on, let me go back a bit.  For many years, I've been desperately craving a ministry.  The aching in my heart to serve God in a tangible way kept growing and growing.  When God gave me the gift of photography (because it is a precious gift, and all good gifts come from above!), I jumped the gun a little and assumed that He intended for my business to be my ministry.  And it was, sort of, for almost five years.  I prayed with and for my clients, and I freely spoke about my love for God and our desperate need for Christ in our lives.  I felt specific conviction about my pricing, so I kept my services well under the industry standards so that beautiful family portraits were within reach for those who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them.  All good things, and all well-intended.

But I realize now how photography had become a source of pride for me.  And I also now see how very small and shallow any ministry opportunities within that field had been for me.  So God placed His mighty hands on either side of my head, and turned it. 

One year ago, under crazy circumstances, my son's school found itself wanting for a long-term substitute teacher in the middle school English department.  Since I'm that maniacal homeroom mom that more or less lives at the school running errands or subbing, they asked me.  Without hesitation, I said yes.  To three solid, 7:30am-3:30pm weeks of teaching middle school language arts and literature.  Any sane person, after subbing for kindergarten on several occasions, would have immediately invented a plethora of excuses as to why they could not perform such a task.  I didn't, though.  I said yes.  Immediately.  Without looking at my FALL PHOTOGRAPHY CALENDAR.  I just said yes.

You want to know how I know this is God's hand in my life?  Well, I've had 365 days to ponder this whole thing, and the more hindsight I get, the more I believe it was Him.  That calendar that was booked solid every week of the year, but especially during the fall season..?  It was bare during those first three weeks before Christmas break that I committed to without even thinking to check for prior commitments.  COMPLETELY WIDE OPEN.  Even on the weekends.  People, that in and of itself is a miracle of Red Sea proportions for a busy photographer any time between September and December.

Second, they asked me to teach English, the subject I love more than anything, and am independently passionate about without even being paid.  Seriously.  Third through hundredth, every single thing between day one and today has fallen into place seamlessly as I've been working toward my official state certification.  All of my applications and paperwork for certification were accepted, I passed all of the required tests with flying colors, and I was easily readmitted back into college to start working on some professional instruction courses.  I'm not saying that it's been easy, but I feel like I'm walking a path that has been cleared for me ahead of time.  I still have to walk it, but there aren't all of the obstacles along the way that are on the paths we choose or make for ourselves.

More importantly than all of what I've already shared:  the ministry I've coveted for so long has literally been dropped in my lap.  I teach at an incredible Christian discipleship school, and not only am I allowed to share my faith in Christ with my students, but it's in my job description and contract that I have to!

These kids are the reason that I took a leap of faith and filled out the job application for a permanent teaching position on day two!  They stole my heart.  No, God stole my heart by showing me His children with a new set of eyes.  Before a year ago, I purposefully avoided "the big kids" because I didn't think I could relate to them in a meaningful way.  But once I spent a couple of days among their kind, I realized how incredibly complex and wonderful tweenagers can be!  The more time I spend with these kids, the more I love them. Like, real love.  It sounds so simple and plain, but I feel like God reveals Himself to me through them and through my interactions with them.

And the more I get to know each of them and their stories, the more I understand how immense this ministry truly is.  I get to weave the Lord and His Word into everything I do.  And I get to be real with these kids.  I get to know them, and I get to pray for and with them.  When I hear some of their stories, I'm amazed, and at times, brokenhearted.  I don't see "big kids" any more; I see young hearts that need Jesus Christ's healing and redeeming power living within them.  I try my best to live my life as an example for them of a godly woman whose heart belongs to Christ.  And when I mess up, I get to humble myself and show them how to handle human failures.  Most of all, I get to love them.

So here I am, a whole year into teaching, and I can honestly say that I love it more than I ever imagined possible. Some days are really exhausting, and many are totally frustrating, but most are exhilarating and challenging in a fresh, new way.  I'm still learning myself, and I struggle with loss of control and the pursuit of perfection, but I'm learning to lean on God and trust in Him to give me what I need, when I need it. It has all been a marvelous, head-spinning adventure figuring out the balance between my home life, my mom life, my friend life, my wife life, my teaching life, and my back-in-college-for-the-first-time-in-almost-fifteen-years life.  I know who's in charge of the scales, though, and He is trustworthy.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Go Forth

Just about every day, on the television or on the radio or in magazines, we are inundated with messages of tolerance.  In most cases, what we are being told to tolerate are behaviors that, according to the Christian faith, are sinful.  Social mores are becoming looser and looser, and are deviating further and further from a foundation of biblical morality.  Television shows aimed at teenage audiences make no attempt at modesty, and many times revolve around the sexual relationships of children, even to the extent of aggrandizing teenage pregnancy and parenthood.  Adultery and divorce are practically celebrated and glorified on shows geared toward adults, completely removing any shame associated with either, and never suggesting that either be avoided.  Violence and murder is so mainstream now that no one even blinks an eye at it any more.  Drunkenness and drug use is now viewed as humorous rather than as a destructive addiction.  Curse words are inserted into every opportune sentence.  Lies and theft are justified and condoned.  Sexual perversion of all kinds are the new normal.  These few examples only represent the tip of the iceberg.

The point I'm trying to make really doesn't matter which sin is in the spotlight, though.  Sin is sin.  God abhors it all.  My personal issue is that by mainstreaming all of these sins into our culture, we're becoming more and more desensitized to them as a whole, and that numbness is very dangerous.  When we fail to recognize sin, we are more apt to participate in it.  Even scarier is the thought that we do recognize it, yet continue in it or look the other way.  Or we cower because any opposition to these sins gets us labeled as bigots or intolerant.  Sin leads to death and destruction of your soul.  Not only are we in danger of becoming blind to egregious behaviors, but we are becoming accepting of them.  "To each his own," we say, as if that person's soul has no more importance to us than the trash we put on the curb every week.  Our children see us overlooking things in others that we would never accept from them.  

As a Christian, I venture to say that tolerance means something very different to me.  One definition of tolerance is, "leeway for the variation from a standard."  The standard by which I try to live my life is the living Word of God: the Bible. God is very clear in the bible of the behaviors that are unholy and unrighteous and sinful.  And it is crystal clear that God is intolerant of sin.  He hates sin.  If He didn't intend for us to turn from our sin, if He didn't care about whether or not we sin, He wouldn't have needed to send His son, Jesus, to die for us and suffer the punishment of our sins so that by confessing our sins and believing upon Him, we may have eternal life in Him. 

While we're talking about Jesus, one of the most used counter-arguments I hear to my point of view is that "Jesus is a friend of sinners," or that "Jesus ate with sinners in their homes," et cetera.  Jesus Himself explained His doing so by saying that just as a sick person needs a doctor, these sinners need a Savior (Matthew 9:12).  Never once did He say, "keep on sinning, I love you anyway, so it's cool."  He didn't lower His standards and join in on the sinful behaviors of those He came to save.  He remained sinless while ministering lovingly to those whose lives were riddled with immorality.  He offered them mercy and grace, extending His hand to pull them out of their pit.  And when they refused to grasp onto His hand for that boost out of sin, He walked away, shaking the dust from His sandals.

Yes, He loves us.  More than any of us can ever possibly comprehend.  He did not come to condemn us, but to save us (John 3:17).  Because He loves us, He has provided Himself as a sacrifice to wash us clean of our sins.  He heals us of our unrighteousness and unholiness and tells us to "go forth and sin no more" (John 8:11).  He warns us that if we continue to sin, we will suffer much worse consequences than we've already experienced (John 5:14).  In James, we are warned to be doers of the Word, not merely hearers (James 1:22).  Do not be the hypocrites that we're warned about in Titus 1:16:  "They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good."

We live in a fallen world, and the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  In the book of Romans, we're warned not to conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:2).  That's right, we're being tested.  As Christians, we are called to become more like Christ who lives in us.  If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13).  It does matter how you live.  Period.  We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by works so that any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9), yet faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17).  Disobedience, either by commission or omission, is reshaping our culture.  The standards of society are ever changing.  But GOD NEVER CHANGES.  He is the Great I Am.  He stays the same through the ages.  That His standard never changes shows us how much He loves us.  He lays out a plan for our salvation that we can trust.  We can trust it because there are no prerequisites of righteousness that would exclude anyone.  How sure would you be of a god that is fickle and forever erasing and moving the line drawn in the sand? 

I do not claim to be free from sin.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  I'm not suggesting we go around pointing fingers.  That would be hypocritical since we're all broken in some form or fashion.  From the beginning, God knew that we would need a Savior, and He provided us His only begotten Son for this purpose.  If you're trapped in the stronghold of sin, all you need do is call upon His name, confess your sins, and invite Him into your heart.  With the power of the Holy Spirit living in you, you can overcome the sin in your life.   Once Christ dwells in you, the sin that exists in your life and in the world will offend and convict you.  You learn, day by day, to rely more and more on Christ to overcome and avoid sin.  We are to watch out for one another, keeping each other from stumbling, and showing each other mercy and grace.  We are to pray for one another and encourage one another and hold one another accountable.  "My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20)."  It's not about judging the world...that's God's job, and be sure that He will judge the world...it's about setting ourselves, as Christians, apart from the world.   

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I Heart Faces Photo Challenge:: Best Face of 2014

This past year was a year full of beautiful faces, as it was my busiest year yet with my photography business.  When I saw the prompt for this month's photo challenge over at I Heart Faces, at first I was daunted by the idea of selecting just one photo out of the literal hundreds that I loved over the year.  But my mind kept coming back to this one...a personal photo, not a professional one.  I love it so much that I have it printed in my home, on my desk at school, and it was given to the grandparents as a Christmas gift.  It just sums up Pooky.  This is my sweet, sweet boy, who has decided to just keep growing at a ridiculous pace regardless of how much I plead with him to stay little.  He is the most tender-hearted, brilliant little boy, yet he has a naughty streak, too.  But when he looks at me with this face, I'm hard-pressed to dole out the appropriate punishments.  ;) 

This photo was submitted to the I Heart Faces photo challenge:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review:: House Rules

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

This one reined me in immediately and held my attention the entire time.  The story revolves around a teenaged boy, Jacob, who has Asperger's Syndrome.  His single mother and younger brother have adjusted their entire lives to accommodate his eccentricities and sensitivities, and as a result, their lives are very tense and strained.  Jacob is wildly obsessed with forensic science, and often recreates famous crime scenes in order that his mother can attempt to solve them.  Jacob monitors his police scanner, and occasionally sneaks onto crime scenes to offer his interpretation of the evidence.  All of these nuances are simply annoying at best until the day that Jacob's social skills tutor, Jess, turns up missing.  A police investigation of her home finds evidence of foul play, and Jacob knows too many details that only the killer would know.  The police arrest Jacob, and he goes on trial for Jess' murder once her body is discovered not too far from her home.  But could this boy, who is a genius with a tender heart, really have committed such a horrendous act?  Right up until the very end of this novel, your stomach will be in knots and you'll be wringing your hands!  A great read!

Book Review:: Blindness

Blindness by Jose Saramago

I had no idea what I was getting into with this one.  Imagine a pandemic that begins with one person going blind, randomly, while waiting at a stop light.  A strange, white blindness.  Systematically, each person that the man encounters thereafter also goes blind within hours, and everyone they've contacted does as well, and so on.  In the beginning of the epidemic, the newly blind are quarantined in high security facilities, guarded by the military.  New internees begin to trickle in, slowly at first, then in droves, and the victims soon resort to animalistic behaviors for survival.  As the mysterious pathogen infects more and more people, the infrastructure of the country begins to shut down as there are not enough seeing people to maintain the working order of things.  Driving and all major utilities completely shut down.  Eventually, every single soul is blind, save one.  The wife of one of the first men to go blind, the optometrist who treated the first blind man, never lost her vision.  In order to stay with her husband, she feigned blindness and was quarantined with him.  During the span of this mysterious nation-wide affliction, she remained the only sighted person, and through her leadership, the original group of people with which she and her husband were quarantined managed to eek out a meager survival.  Once it became clear that the entire population was blind and that the military sentries were no longer guarding their facility, the group escaped into the city, only to find that complete pandemonium now ruled.  Months passed, and people were starving and dying, filth and petulance were rampant, and animals had gone feral, traveling in vicious packs.  Stores and homes had been ransacked for any scrap of food that was to be found, and dead bodies and cars were abandoned everywhere. 

As I read, I kept trying to imagine the horrors of what was being described.  I was haunted by the fact that, were something similar to happen in real life, the atrocities listed would certainly come to pass, and would quite possibly be much more horrific.  Throughout the entire novel, no one was given a name, and no specifics are given as to a time and location of these events.  Meaning you're left to fill in all of the blanks from your own personal experiences.  Which is that much more terrifying.  I found this book, while hard to read at points, to be an incredible description of human nature...both the good elements and the bad.  I definitely recommend it, if for nothing other than the thoughts it will provoke in you about humanity, hope, and the will to live against all odds.

Book Reviews:: A Girl Named Zippy & She Got Up Off the Couch

A Girl Named Zippy & She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel

Have you ever felt like you were destined to read a particular book?  Well, I can assure you, I was meant to read this pair of lovelies.  I found the first of the set, A Girl Named Zippy, on a cart at the library for sale for fifty cents.  As usual, I chose the book primarily for the cover...I mean, look at that silly little face!..and once I read the synopsis, I was sold. 

Zippy is a beautiful memoir written in the voice of the author's childhood self, recounting hilarious happenings in her home, town, and church in the teeny town of Mooreland, Indiana.  Zippy was raised by a Quaker mother, who unbeknownst to her, was rendered helpless, and motionless, by depression, and a mountain man father who was always tinkering, yet never really doing much of anything.  Zippy had two siblings with whom she only shared her home briefly before they began their adult, separate lives.  Mooreland was a town of only three hundred, and Zippy knew every soul that lived therein.  She was a wild child with a penchant for mischief and an aversion to hygiene and order, and she openly shares her struggles with her parents' different versions of faith, as well as her own.  In essence, her recollections and retellings had me guffawing until my sides hurt.  Just ask Jason:  I read in bed for about thirty minutes every night before I hit the hay, and more than once while reading Zippy, I laughed so hard that I shook the bed, waking him.  Zippy's country life reminds me so very much of my own childhood, and the "hillbilly" characters are all too familiar to me, too.  Maybe that's why I found this book to be so endearing, and knowing that Zippy is a real-life human being that is still out there in this world makes me love her that much more.  You can't make up what this girl went through!

After I'd gotten a chapter or two into Zippy, I stopped at a random garage sale one afternoon, and as I usually do, I began digging through the treasure trove of books being discarded.  While I flipped through the stack, a particular cover jumped out at me, and lo and behold, it was Zippy!  I'd recognize those eyeballs anywhere!  I practically stole the book...the lady only wanted a quarter for it...but I knew that I was in for a treat if this sequel was anywhere near as entertaining as the first.

In She Got Up Off the Couch, Zippy picks up where she left off, continuing the hilarity and introducing me to a whole new slew of characters.  Only something has changed in Zippy's tone...she begins to reveal nuances that perhaps she only saw with hindsight as she matured.  The mystery of her mother's permanence on their couch began to become clear, and her father's discontent with her mother's determination to better herself changes the entire family dynamic.  Zippy was no longer oblivious to the unhappiness in her home, and the story being told, while still riddled with humor and precious sweetness, begins to break your heart a tiny chip at a time.  But in a hopeful way.  Because obviously Zippy makes it out alive, or else she wouldn't have given us these two absolute treasures of literary wonder! 

I highly recommend these two books.  You must read both.  And then, if you're like me, you'll wish there were more to come. 

Book Review:: Drowning Ruth

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

This complex novel begins in the early 1920s, and centers around an oddly blended family, living on a small farm near the great lakes, and their secrets.  Amanda, a nursing student who becomes pregnant after being wooed by a married man, returns home to live with her sister, Mathilda.  Mathilda's husband, Carl, has volunteered to serve in the army during the war, leaving Mathilda to raise their small daughter, Ruth, alone.  At first, the reunion is a happy one,and the sisters hide the shameful pregnancy, planning an elaborate scheme to explain away the sudden appearance of a newborn on their farm.  In a cruel twist of fate, Mathilda drowns after falling through the ice on the frozen lake, and Amanda is left to raise Ruth as her own until Carl returns home from the war.  She uses the story that she and her sister concocted and gives the baby to a wonderful, childless couple in town.  When Carl finally returns injured and distant, this unlikely trio lives together throughout the years, tip-toeing around the traumas of one another, and manage to be a family, albeit a strained one. Throughout the story, Amanda conceals the truth of what happened to Mathilda, and even goes so far as to try to mold Ruth's memories of the event she witnessed as a toddler.  Her motives are always unclear, and the relationships between Amanda, Carl, and Ruth are dysfunctional and constantly in question.  As expected, eventually Ruth befriends Amanda's daughter, and certain events force Amanda come out with the truth about everything. 

The overall tone of this novel was just pure sadness and tragedy.  It perfectly illustrates the division and heartbreak caused by secrecy and lies.  The motives behind those secrets and lies may have been noble, but in the end, unnecessarily complicated relationships and changed the paths of the lives of everyone involved.