Wednesday, November 11, 2015

365 Project - Day 365

"Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it's all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size - abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." 2Corinthians 12:7-10

This photograph is my celebration of my 1 year anniversary of breaking my ankle. I suffered a severe break of my left fibula while rushing out of the house on Day 3 to capture the early morning fog. Unfortunately, I had both my camera and my most expensive lens in my hands when I came crashing down. While the few days that followed were trying, the 350 days after have been exhilarating in many ways. I certainly developed as a photographer while shooting more than 30,000 photographs during the past year. But more importantly, making the decision to blog rather than simply post the photos has developed the holistic me.

And now I am closing out this project with this self-portrait as my finale and tribute to both physical and spiritual growth. I love everything about this photograph. I moved around to find an ideal spot. I like the mix of light and shadows, the messiness of leaves and acorns, that my healed leg is planted, the camera and tripod silhouette, the multitude of long bold shadows, and the fact that I am running toward the camera as I press the remote trigger. As I said the other day, it is unclear to me how this ended up as the final photo, but leaving it here makes perfect sense. It has been important to me to learn from the break. My most profound lesson came as I was listening to a Joel Osteen CD recently. It is a sermon I have heard repeatedly given it is stuck in my car's dashboard. This time I understood.

Joel describes admiring a sunset in India, when he feels God questioning about His greatest creation. It was in that moment, after listening to this sermon multiple times, that I finally made the connection. I realized I had been rushing out of the house that morning to photograph something God considers ordinary, when He needed to me to focus on the extraordinary. Yes, fog, sunsets, landscapes, flowers are beautiful, but His most prized possessions are people. To be candid, most of the time, when I hear this call, my response is, "you're asking just a little too much of me."

My assignment is clear-ish. I have been assigned a people project. Why me? Not sure. It is a difficult project and I needed an adjustment to remind me that lovely photos of the fog had absolutely nothing to do with that assignment. On top, I wasn't so sure I was fit for His race and had confessed as much. So perhaps I was running away. The break accomplished 2 things: the narrowing of my focus and the assurance of His omnipresent strength. I did not stop taking photos of lovely things, but I did double-down on people.

From here I will move on to completing my task and also start a new photography project. My next project will be a 52 Week project. I will orchestrate selected photography exercise, planning mindful execution. More importantly, however, it allows me to focus on my assignment.

Love and Blessings!

Today's Photo: Grace: The weaker I get, the stronger I become!

"When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place." C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

365 Project - Day 364

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." e.e. cummings

I hopped into the taxi early Sunday morning said, "Good morning" and gave the driver my destination. After a couple of minutes, when we stopped at a traffic light, the driver turned around and said, "you're a nice lady." What he meant was, "you're awfully cheerful for this hour on a Sunday." He proceeded to explain that most of his fares are grumpy, bearing few smiles and much less of a sense of humor. He and I talked the rest of the ride. The trip was a gift. He started the heart of the conversation by sharing the importance of laughter. He said that a doctor had told him that laughter, loud hearty laughter, will keep one from getting cancer. To which I responded, "of course, laughter is the best medicine, right?" Then, we discussed health and food choices and with the most beautiful Indian accent, he explained the importance of the enzymes our mouths create when we eat fish. As we finished our ride, he repeatedly insisted that I remember his advice on staying young. I promised, but I couldn't resist asking him to guess my age. He guessed 20-30 years younger and when told him how wrong he was, he said, "No it cannot be - stop - and don't say that again. You look so young." I am simply living proof that laughter improves your health.

I can't recall the last time I had so much fun taking photos. This was pure self-indulgence. Our garden was full of leaves. I couldn't resist taking photos. A light rain had just finished, but a mighty Fall breeze was at hand. IMHO, the best way to capture the dizzying swirl of leaves at this moment was to become one. So, I laid down, selected a hyper focal distance and when the wind kicked up, I stayed as still as possible and clicked away. Most of the time I was giggling while the leaves fluttered around me. It was far too much fun.

One of the things that I enjoy about this photo is the crispness and clarity of a few of the leaves and the blades of grass. It does foretell that when we are ready, we are able to stand strong against whatever may attempt to derail us. Yet, all winds are not meant to destroy.

One of my most enjoyable lessons during this 365 project has been the appreciation of simple things. We are given gifts every day. Some magnificent, some average, some plain. And, all are more than enough, if we are grateful to the giver and if we use those gifts as seeds for growth. Being a leaf was an extraordinary gift. To some it may seem trivial, for me it was exceptional, more than enough to fill my cup with joy. I join e.e. cummings in saying, "I thank God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."


Today's Photo: The Joy of Dancing Leaves!

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person's strength." Proverbs 17:22

Monday, November 9, 2015

365 Project - Day 363

"You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however." Richard Bach

When I initially planned my final week of photos, I planned this as Day 365. Practically, it should have been. Oh well, 2 days off isn't too awful.

I was driving home last night, more tired than I should have been and could only get one station on my car radio. WHUD and was playing only 70's music. I can't recall the last time I had heard many of the songs, but I knew nearly every word to every song. I belted out every tune like I was young girl spinning 45s in my bedroom. These words from Ricky Nelson's Garden Party resonated, "But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself." The rest of the lyrics are "meh", but the chorus works for me. Similarly, the photo below is all me. Could I have made different and more impactful choices? Absolutely.

The Bible is my confirmation Bible. I have a lot of Bibles. I pulled a few off the shelf. This one, to my surprise, had my name handwritten inside along with the date presented to me. It has always had a prominent place on my shelf. I actually thought it belonged to one of my grandmothers. I chose to open the book to Philippians, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13) I am enjoying our study of prayer in our church series. The moleskin is my new prayer journal. When writing prayers recently and looking at this photo, I noticed that the penpoint in the photo was just about on Philippians 1:6,

"And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

The camera is the first I acquired on my own. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of my Nikon FE2. I won a contest at work some 20+ years ago and chose it from the catalog as my prize. The camera, instead of a pair of skis, or a grill or a bass fishing boat or jewelry, etc.

The ball is a Ball of Whacks from Roger von Oech. "Most people think of success and failure as opposites, says von Oech, but they are both products of the same process." Roger von Oech is a creative genius and as I move into my next phase of photography projects, I will take the time to stretch my creative muscles. I believe my creativity and the ability to interpret situations differently than others is a terrific advantage. The piece inside the Bible is from the ball. A reminder that even the smallest creative exercise or influence can give way to big change. Every von Oech exercise puts this theory into practice, "Take advantage of the ambiguity in the world. Look at something and think what else might it be?"

The candle ... "He said to them. 'Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is canceled is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear. Consider carefully what you hear,' he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you - and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what thy have will be taken from them." (Mark 4:21-25) We must develop our gifts and shine our lights brightly giving in some form to as many people as possible.

When I mentioned to someone that I was nearing the end of this project, they asked if I had learned much about myself along the way. The answer is a resounding, "YES!" I had forgotten how much I enjoy writing. Making this a nearly daily process has brought both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Yet, every moment I persist with that pen, I win.

I used this cross previously to photograph a silhouette with my crutches. The photo is one of my favorites. This small cross always appears larger, serving as a reminder of the omnipresence of God. Emerson's may be one of the best perspectives, "All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen." I intended more by this cross, however. Jesus was clear about our ability to gain strength through our relationship with him, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."(John 14:12-14)

Now that's a promise I expect to collect. Blessings.

Today's Photo: 365 Project Self-Portrait

"And who knows you may have been chosen for just such a time as this." Esther 4:14b

Friday, November 6, 2015

365 Project - Day 362

"Joyful is the person who finds wisdom,
the one who gains understanding.
For wisdom is more profitable than silver,
and her wages are better than gold.
Wisdom is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
She offers you long life in her right hand,
and riches and honor in her left.
She will guide you down delightful paths;
all her ways are satisfying.
Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
happy are those who hold her tightly."
Proverbs 3:13-17

When I committed to today's project on "thinking," I could not decide how to capture my perspective. Then, we were offered this fantastic evening filled with rambling clouds and bright moonlight. I did not realize it at the time, but I needed to rush to capture the shot I wanted, because the clouds were beginning to clear. Unfortunately, as I folded my tripod, I noticed that I had forgotten to turn off vibration reduction and it was too late to reshoot. The clouds had cleared. If only I had taken the time to think.

It is often easier in life to drift like these clouds, or to follow the crowd, to agree with others, or to do as we are directed, without thinking for ourselves. In fact, we are trained to live life this way. There is little room for academic creativity when we are growing up. We are more often instructed than engaged. There is a right and a wrong way to do everything, right? Children are to be seen and not heard. There's a damaging consequence to this. Those children not taught to think, seek, explore, evaluate and conclude for themselves will follow someone else's path later in life.

We create a unique personal power when we exercise our mind. We must not, therefore, simply rely on answers from others. Ask questions. Seek knowledge. Explore. Take risks. Find opportunities to discern reality. Insist on facts.

Be confused. Be curious. The more advanced thinkers will ask absurd and dangerous questions. Wisdom often comes from poking in these crazy spaces. So, we should dare to discover new worlds and new truths.

Our mind is also a battlefield. It takes less energy to focus on negatives and our mind is perpetually choosing between positive and negative thoughts. When we consciously choose positives, we develop a rhythm or muscle, if you will, that will affirm our lives. As a result, new habits form. To stay in this space we have to clear our environment of negative forces, lest we unwittingly adapt to their rhythm.

The interesting bit is this: the more we think for ourselves, the less likely those negative forces want to hang around us anyway.


Today's Photo: Think

"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it." Henry Ford

Thursday, November 5, 2015

365 Project - Day 361

"Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:12

As with all of the final projects, this took multiple attempts, much to the amusement of my son who was playing Destiny on his Xbox just behind me. I tried over and over to get these Fortune Cookies in view, in focus, with proper collision and standout contrast. I nearly gave up, but I had no backup plan.

This exercise was a living example of the challenges we can face day to day. Yet, I learned so much while working through the difficulty of bringing my vision to life. I'm thankful it was hard and I'm grateful that I had no alternative. While my son was saying, "mom, why don't you just give up," I could honestly respond with, "because I intend to figure this out and make it work." I might have suffered temporary defeat, but I knew that if I stuck with it, thought about what I learned with each try, made corrections and kept at it, I would not succumb to permanent failure. Quite the contrary, I would be richly rewarded. As one of the fortune cookies in this shot says, "Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb about." Through trial and error, in this instance, I certainly progressed my intelligence.

One of my favorite quotes about adversity is by Napoleon Hill, "Each adversity brings with it the seed of equivalent advantage." You know the first several times I looked at that, I read, "good things can come out of each difficulty." Then one day, it suddenly dawned on me that I had it all wrong. In fact, Hill's view (and it's somewhat Biblical) was this: imagine a scale with your troubles on one side and the possible good outcomes from those difficulties on the other side; that scale will balance. Say what?

"Instead of shame and dishonor, you shall have a double portion of prosperity and everlasting joy." Isaiah 61:7

It is fantastic to imagine that out of every challenge, difficulty or seeming defeat there is the opportunity for equal goodness or in the Biblical view, we get double for your trouble. It is only the opportunity, however, we must find the advantage. There is an art in discovering that advantage. It requires us to open our minds to possibilities versus limitations. Rather than run from adversity, therefore, I say - embrace it. Be courageous. Seek out challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. You can only become wiser, more talented, more knowledgeable. For it is true that "We acquire the strength we have overcome." Ralph Waldo Emerson

My perspective: Try. Fail. Learn. Revise. Try harder. Fail more. Learn anew. Celebrate vibrantly. Then revise and repeat.


Today's Photo: Celebrating Adversity

ps: This was a random bunch of fortune cookies that arrived with our latest Chinese take out. The other fortune you see here is, "Happiness is not pleasure, it's victory."

"My experience has taught me that a man is never quite so near success as when that which he calls 'failure' has overtaken him, for it is on occasions of this sort that he is forced to think. If he thinks accurately, and with persistence, he discovers that so-called failure usually is nothing more than a signal to re-arm himself with a new plan or purpose. Most real failures are due to limitations which men set up in their own minds. If they had the courage to go one step further, they would discover their error." Andrew Carnegie as discussed with Napoleon Hill

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

365 Project - Day 360

"We know from daily life that we exist for other people first of all, for whose smiles and well-being our happiness depends." Albert Einstein

Candidly, the last 365 days have flown by. I rarely planned ahead for my daily projects; instead, I often let each project happen and then speak to me. For these final days, however, I planned all but one of the projects. The unplanned one due to a miscalculation of the number of remaining days. No worries - it worked out just fine!

Each of these final projects were uniquely challenging. Today's photo was, perhaps, the least successful, but also quite meaningful.

We all struggle to find our place in this world. You can call it passion or purpose or meaning or something else, but we are each called to light a candle in the darkness within this world. Be it figuratively or literally. And, we will not be satisfied until we do so because this desire to do good is somehow baked in to our DNA. Improving the world doesn't have to be grand or full-time, but it needs to be. If not, our soul is turned upside down and set on a collision course with disaster. Are people inherently bad? I don't think so. Without being given guidance that helps them understand that they are needed in this world; that they have gifts without which the world is diminished; that the tide ebbs and flows with a different rhythm when they do not exercise those gifts, then their light is consumed by darkness.

Regardless of the roles we play in life today: business executive, politician, parent, teacher, sales person, consultant, advisor, photographer, etc., being exceptional requires service. Our success is dependent on whether we approach our position with this attitude, which is one way of saying we are served when we serve others. As in the Albert Einstein quote above, our own well-being depends on helping those around us. Or in the words of Arthur Ashe, "True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It's not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."

In closing, it bears repeating that we all have gifts the world needs. That means everyone has need of you. What an awesome truth! If we neglect, therefore, to share our gifts, the world is deprived, and well, you are also cheated of the blessings you would have received from giving. On top, there is less light in the world.


Today's Photo: Be the Light

"Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back - given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity." Luke 6:38

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

365 Project - Day 359

"A beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But finally a city of man." A Beautiful City, from Godspell

Godspell was one of my favorite musicals when I was growing up. I used to listen to the music over and over. We were fortunate to hear a fantastic version of "A Beautiful City" sung by the group pictured below, composed by a 2015 graduate of NYU's Tisch School. I have been moved to tears during our recent visits to NYU. There is something magical about that school. When the outgoing president addressed alumni and parents, I thought he was funny and endearing. Actually, he was very much both of those. If he has been as good natured around the students, they have been fortunate to have such a leader.

"We need more creation and less destruction ... you will be creating you!" I suspect comments like these, made by the Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts, are what moves me to become teary-eyed during my NYU visits. This dedication to the creative process, both internally and externally, coupled with the drive to have a positive impact on the world are fully aligned with the hope I have for my children.

As a parent and mentor, I feel responsible for ensuring youth believe in the pursuit of their passions in a way that creates a sense of abundance and a drive for changing the world. It makes sense, then, that when we follow our dreams and fulfill our deepest desires, we build a more beautiful city.

Today's Photos: Following Dreams

"So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine (let's have some wine!)
You are the city of God" Light of the World, from Godspell