A month after moving back in with my parents, I drove down to Dallas to shoot a wedding. I've shot dozens of weddings before -most of them clients that have had no previous contact with me, but I usually worked with my former boss, an energetic Frenchman who has not only guided me as a visual artist and inadvertently educated me on Edith Piaf's discography, but also has become a good friend of sorts, welcoming me into his family, he and his wife generously supported me in my final push to graduate. Shooting those weddings I became accustomed to verbalizing what our goals were, praying before we began, dividing and conquering the reception (my least favorite part of weddings), and even venting a little and reviewing what our technical struggles were of the day. I miss that. And it was a feeling that was especially acute in Dallas. I had spent the whole weekend chatting with strangers usually about the bride and groom, how they're connected to them, or about my work. They're very draining and empty conversations that are a necessary part of my job, which I really do love, by the way. Besides working on my own, the recent changes in my life were keeping me on edge, to say the least. I had no idea what my next step was or what exactly I wanted or who would still be a part of my life, post grad. Post grad. The magical word that suddenly makes this whole scenario make sense.
I remember feeling so overwhelmed by loneliness at this wedding when I had a little down time to grab a bite to eat at the reception. I sat next to a glitzy woman in her late fifties, who began to talk with me, oddly enough asking about my personal life and telling me about her grandchildren. I latched onto this woman like a kid and a pacifier. She radiated encouragement and positivity, two characteristics that were completely void in my life. I confided to her I had no idea what direction I needed to head towards, now that I was out of college, an adult. She reached over and grabbed my arm, looked my right in the eyes and said in a thick southern accent, "You take it one day at a time. You should journal. One day it might be bleak and hopeless but you keep on. Two months from now who knows? Maybe you'll have little more opportunities and more confidence. Soon enough you can look back at all your journal entries and go "wow! It's been six months and look how far I've come." and you'll realize how much God has planned that you would never have imagined." I think about those words so much.
It's been seven months since I've graduated -a speed I've never experienced before. The past year as been nothing but curve balls, which has been both awful and satisfying -as most things in life are. I rock back in forth between embracing adulthood and struggling to let my adolescence go, between enjoying my simple, quiet life and despising the lonely and settled aspects of it. And that woman is absolutely right: I would have never imagined the things the Lord has placed in my life thus far. Since driving back from that Dallas wedding seven months ago, I moved to a tiny little town with no job (I can't believe I did that. My parents are incredible people to wholeheartedly support me in my madness), lived with five strangers, made five new friends, worked at a restaurant, got a full time job with a camera company out of the blue, moved again, got a house with my cousin, booked half a dozen weddings and traveled quite a bit over the summer, and have tried to plant some roots into a new church close by. It's a simple life, not the glamorous life I conjured up in my noggin all through high school and college. There are things about my life I truly regret. There are people I've let go that I miss terribly. I'm genuinely happy working and learning at my job -having the opportunity to teach and network with all kinds of professionals. I miss my family more than I thought was possible. I'm a little blind-sided by the weight of personal responsibilities. I adore having my own bedroom, a luxury I've never had before. I like how personal my relationship with the Lord is now, even though it's quite imperfect.
Sometimes I get home from work and kind of chuckle at how boring my life kind of is and how much I still like it anyways. Sometimes I get home and hate the emptiness of my house and the lackluster responsibilities that must be done in it. Sometimes a friend calls and tells me they've been offered a job that pays five times as much as mine does. Sometimes I have to encourage others as they're struggling to fit back into their families after being away for four years. Most of the time I want to bang my head against heaven's door and wail, "What the hell does it mean to be twentysomething!?" because I'm baffled. But there are three truths I've clung to this year. And if there's one thing I've learned in the last decade it's that it's not what you don't know, but what you do know and refuse to do. So here's what I know and what I'm trying to do about it:
1. My life is a gift. Each day I wake up, the Lord hands me this day, in which good things exist that I need to take the time to unwrap and thank Him for. The gift of having bills to pay and the ability to pay it off is a genuine gift from the Lord. Being single is a gift handed to me each day that allows me to move about my life freely and invest in people I would struggle to make time for otherwise. Even being lonely is a gift that helps me understand quality always trumps quantity and allows me to have time to grow in my relationship with Christ one-on-one, which has been surprisingly awkward yet rewarding this year. And then there are the obvious good gifts that I just need to be diligent to thank Him for, that often go under my radar as things I expect in my life that really are gifts, not understoods.
2. Pslam 16:8 "I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." And Pslam 119:9-11 "How can a young man keep his paths straight? By keeping it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek you, let me now wander from your commandments. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." These verses are my mantra these days and they are truths I want to speak into my life on a daily basis.
3. The song "Sigh No More" by Mumford and Sons. It hurts to listen to sometimes because of its truthfulness in my life. The growing pains are at times excruciating and there is nothing that comforts me more than to realize that "Love will not betray, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free, be more like the man you were made to be." Listen to it! Now!
At the end of the day, my life is still a mess (surprise!) but I’m living with the small ounce of faith that God is picking up the clutter and arranging it for His glory. So here I sit, slouched on my bed, a little nervous that I’ve exposed such an unsure place in my brain for the whole web to peruse through. But it’s okay because I think that deep down everyone is still growing into the person they were made to be too, even if their life looks totally different than mine and their changes may not be as drastic as mine appear to be. (Plus, almost everyone I know is a mess too.)
one of my hobbies is browsing photography blogs, photo competitions, and other artsy web spaces. i have been doing this unintentionally since high school but more intentionally since my intro to photography class i took my sophomore year of college. it serves three purposes really: i enjoy it, it's great for inspiration for my own work, and it's relaxing. the only downfall of doing such is sometimes it leaves me feeling inadequate and wanting to throw the towel in in one of the greatest joys in my life. but talking with other photographers, i guess it's a normal thing.
i came across a ton of great work over the last month and these are the ones that really stuck out to me, for varying reasons. these are my current inspirations.
please note none of these images are my own, i tried to give credit where credit was due, but i'm unsure of all of the photographers.
Love Actually consistently makes it on my top five Christmas movies to watch before the holidays end. I just love Hugh Grant falling for the chubby girl and how Emma Thompson unwraps that Joni Mitchel CD only to begin to pick up the pieces of her broken marriage. I love how Christmas is its own character that brings all those crazy stories together. One scene that always puzzles me though, is the story line of the young man in love with his best friend's wife. The young man decides to confess his forbidden love and through a note, his message reads, "But for now let me say, without hope or agenda, just because it's Christmas - and at Christmas you tell the truth. To me, you are perfect and my wasted heart will love you." I was always confused by his statement that at Christmas one tells the truth. I don't know if that's just something the writer coined for the screenplay or maybe if it's part of British culture, or if it's just a fact I was left in the dark from. But I like it.
There's something about Christmas that seeps so much excitement, cheer, and coziness that it has to compensate for something. Sometimes I wonder if it is the truth, like Love Actually seems to suggest. So often, when it comes to Christmas, I'm left with the impression of deep longing for what's just out of grasp. We long for meaningful relationships so we patch the ones we have with greeting cards and gifts. We long for peace on earth and so we're compelled to drop a few coins in a bucket to join the jingle of bell ringers. We long for harmony and for a little under a month we're free to smile and tell strangers "Merry Christmas!" when the realities of the complicated tangles of Christmas for each of us is naively swept under the rug for that brief interaction. But it's beautiful, nonetheless. It gives me a glimmer of a future of peace and restoration. Sometimes I don't feel like that day will ever get here. Instead, I'm comfortable to patch up my life with Christmas tradition and artificial interactions, not that those things around wrong. But especially this year, I see where I want to hide in the merriment. I don't want to unwrap my Joni Mitchell CD or have to walk away from the one i think is perfect. But it's Christmas. And at Christmas you tell the truth. So here it is.
The is my last Christmas as a kid. I'm graduating college in a little over a week and I'm being gently placed in a very scary world of responsibility, starting over, and loneliness. This might be my last Christmas with my Pop, who is advancing in Alzheimer's Disease more quickly than I would care to acknowledge. There's a lot I dread at the thought of Christmas, what it means for the new year. I'm leaving some of the greatest people in the world. I know it's time to go, it's been a good run here. I don't want college to be the best years of my life though. But where else am I going to have friendships that thrive during the hours of ten pm and three am? Where else am I going to catch ducks and let them loose in the dorm? I worry I'll struggle for a while to find people who are going to be my new kindred spirits. Things are going to look a lot different -I'm okay with different. I'm just struggling with letting go of the familiar.
I'm not very good at being an adult. I haven't been one long and I'm afraid of messing up or being stupid. Add all the weight of trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, the responsibility of providing for myself and taking care of student loans, wondering what life without insurance is going to be like for a while ... it's hard to have peace some times. All of this is a fantastic reminder that Christ is enough though. He is my provider. He is my rock, refuge, shelter, fortress, friend, father, lover. I have more than enough in Him. And my inabilities and bumblings are not contingent on His plan for my life.
But there is so much more to this holiday season than my existential funks and life transitions. Christ has come, grace was made flesh, and I have a living hope through his life and death. No matter if I'm living out of a card board box or my parent's house or a New York penthouse a year from now, may my circumstances not mar the Gospel and its truth in my life. And that's when I realize, on this cold quiet night, that all is well.
Now the whole world will not be the same,
For love has come down and grace has a name!
Love actually is all around us.
Happy Christmas, interweb.
Over the summer I was with my grandfather, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It was just the two of us in the house; I was there tidying up the place while my grandmother went to a hair appointment and my pop sat in his cream lazy boy, drifting in and out of a nap. It was not unusual to have silence accompany the two of us but with my recent move back to my hometown, the realization of my pop's health was hitting harder than I had hoped. I normally love simply being in my pop's presence -especially if we're both occupied. He could talk all day to a fence post and still have a few words to spare and often times it's hard for me to swallow his stories or simply hear them after a handful of times. But that day was different. I hated that he didn't have much to say. The clock in the kitchen just seemed to tick louder and the dryer became obnoxious screeching. I started thinking about how I'll probably be the first grand kid whose name he can't quite remember, and began dreading the day he stopped telling the story about the time I got homesick camping with him or when I used to recruit him to buy me McDonald's cheeseburgers at an obscenely young age. I felt angry that he'll probably never meet my future spouse, or see me being an adult -living out all those life lessons he tried to instill in us. My eyes even began fogging up at the thought of a Christmas without that stupid "yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause" letter that he reads every. single. year.
The ambient noises of the house laid on my ear like a cheese grater, my chest so full of anger I could barely focus on cleaning the bathroom mirror.
"Hey, Baby girl?" those three words could never still my heart like they did when my Pop's voice floated in from the living room.
I swallowed hard. "Hmm?"
"We sure appreciate you coming over and cleaning today." And that's when it hit me -people have flaws, they get under your skin, the can be cheesy and outdated, you take them for granted, and in the case of family, you're stuck with them forever. I knew in that moment I had the greatest Pop in the whole world. And he was going to continue being the greatest, even when the memories stop being swapped, and he can't remember who I am. I know I can't love something more than I can miss it. I've decided Alzheimer's is not worth getting angry over; I'm just learning to let the good times roll, just me and my Pop.
"Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" Is. 55:2a
This is the question I feel the Spirit pressing in on me lately. I've been living cheaply and cutting corners when God straightforwardly calls me to obedience. Plain and simple. I've come to the realization that I long to be a disciple without having to practice being a disciple.
This is nothing new, really. When I took piano lessons back in the nineties (oh goodness) I used to make my piano teacher play the song for me so I could "just hear what it sounds like" before she assigned it to me. The next week I'd play it for her and it sounded pretty dang good, only she never caught that I was playing by ear and the only way I even looked like I remotely knew what I was doing in front of that sheet music was because I listened to her play it that one time. Sure, she was pleased, I was pleased, I got my silver star next to the song and we moved on. The problem with it all was that I never really learned music. The ends and outs. I learned just enough to get me by. It was a decent situation then, but today I cringed listening to a Dario Marionelli piano piece, wondering if that could have been me if I hadn't been so keen on cutting corners. The frustrating thing about this all was I had no good reason to do this. I did it simply because I could. And it saved me thirty minutes a day that I usually wasted on writing half baked novels that makes twilight look like a masterpiece. I trashed a bunch of them over the summer cleaning out my room at my parent's house. What a waste.
I'm seeing this pattern continue in my daily disciplines with Christ. I want to be on the front lines of the Gospel where all the action is but I'm refusing to keep myself spiritually fit to be qualified for such a place. I want the glory on behalf of God. I like people thinking I have my crap together and have a great relationship with God. I'm all about honesty but when it comes to where I spend my time, I want to lie and magically re-prioritize my life. God has pressed me and pursued me to seek a more diligent life with Him but it's been messy because I'm a rebel. It's been so hard to admit that over the last year but it's so true; I like being my own independent person who doesn't have to answer to anyone. Ha. This reminds me of a very wise man I worked with last year. Rick used to say. "Bri, be real. But be dignified." I'm sure I'm being real but I'm not sure if it qualifies as dignified. Sorry, Rick.
I know that I'm not alone in this though, because pride is at the root of each one of us. We all are fighting or losing to the urge to make ourselves the center of our lives, it's just that it looks more obvious in my life than probably most.
The Holy Spirit has encouraged me though in this time of realization and disappointment.
"Each time he said, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me." 2 Cor. 12:9
I am slowly learning what it mean to surrender wholly to Him, even through my seasons of disobedience. I am learning more about Christ's grace when I have moments of obedience and moments of flagrant disobedience. He truly loves me and that fact alone overwhelms me in my darkest times. I'm thankful I've got a Dad who supports me and a King who presses me to pursue holiness for his glory.
"Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on the water is east to impulsive pluck, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a different thing. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he followed Him afar off on land. We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through the drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in the mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes."
Here I am saying God, I want to give you more than my convenient five minutes. I need to be kept by you because I'm prone to wander. Teach me a lesson in humility and what it means to be loved by you in the mundane. I need you to run with me the race that's set before me because I know with no uncertainty that I will fail if you aren't with me.