No excuse . . .

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I really need no excuse to make my potato soup, but when the weather starts turning and I start my fall sneezing, the timing seems so much more right!

My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Approval Pending

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Recently, I started a couple of stock photography accounts to try and generate some passive income from the myriad photos I already have on my hard drives, as well as to be an impetus for continued creativity in my now retired life. (Notice re-tired means that you get to recycle all the “tired” you have felt for years!)

When I first started submitting images, I had more accepted than rejected; and yet, any rejection was a bit of a pinprick to my sensitive artistic self. How dare that anonymous reviewer not see the value in my work! After a while, I came to terms (kind of) with the idea that even though I might like an image enough to put it on my own wall, it was not necessarily going to conform to the criteria set forth by the agencies for products made available to their customers. Okay, got it. It’s just “business.” (Read that with a Corleone accent.)

I have submitted a lot of work over the last few weeks and have a lot of images in my portfolios. I have even sold quite a few, mostly for .25 a pop. Wow! Big stuff! But every so often, a particular reviewer rejects all or almost all of what I have submitted; and it is very deflating, making me doubt my photographic skills, my imaginative vision, my raison de vivre—okay, that minor depression is momentary, right before it turns to anger. Who are these nameless people hiding behind my computer screen anyway, who can deflate my ego with one keystroke of their preprogrammed criticisms? Dolts who fail to see the inspiration in my work! Sigh.

It takes a few moments, but I usually land back on my feet. I regroup my thoughts and fractured ego, realizing that I must try to be more detached about this process, not deriving my worth from what image gets accepted and what doesn’t. The reviewers are not uniform in their approaches to critique—it is not a totally clinical review process. They can be very subjective. At times, I will be uploading photos, and the reviewer, who is apparently on line at that moment, will be accepting everything as quickly as I post the items. I dive into a frenzy of uploads because I have a live one! One who gets me!

They like me, they really really like me!

But every so often, I will check on my uploads, and the reviewer has rejected every single image, some of which were already accepted in another agency. And I think: Okay, I will punish you. See, I am not going to upload for at least two days! That will show you!

Or not.

It doesn’t always take much, but that got me thinking. One of the agencies has pictures awaiting review in a file called “Approval Pending.” And I think for many of us, that is how we live our lives. In our work, our relationships with our family and friends, we live with approval pending. Our sense of value, our acceptance of person as well as product is fragile, contingent on the compliment, the Like on social media, the sacrifice of time spent, the nod of affirmation that contradicts our self-doubt and our feelings of a lack of significance. The Like is life! The affirmation is worthiness! And if we don’t get enough of it, if approval is forever pending, we spread the net wider and wider trying to find the thing that will for once and for all validate us. As if affirmations could erase betrayals or Likes could in any way be substance to build a life on.

As a person of faith who has placed her life in God’s hands, I must realize not only in abstract theory, but also in concrete practice, that my Approval Pending category is always filled with Yeses, always filled with acceptance. If I look to anything or anyone other than Christ from which to draw life, I will always be working on a deficit, always needy, always disappointed.

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God, thank you that Your acceptance is enough. You have not rejected me, but have drawn me into Your forever family. I cannot do anything to earn Your love, nor can I miss any arbitrary standard of submission that would cause You to reject me. When I am tempted to draw essential life from any other person or thing, when I am tempted to run after the newest illusion with a promised reward, would You remind me that approval is not pending, but is already mine because of the cross. There is no need for Likes when in You I have all Yeses.

Displaced–Blessing or Curse

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In Henri Nouwen’s book called Seeds of Hope, he writes that “displacements threaten us and give us feelings of being lost or left alone.” He goes on to say the following:
“Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize. In and through this recognition a conversion can take place, a conversion from involuntary displacement leading to resentment, bitterness, resignation, and apathy, to voluntary displacement that can become an expression of discipleship [. . .] To follow Jesus, therefore, means first and foremost to discover in our daily lives God’s unique vocation for us [. . .] our concern for a career constantly tends to make us deaf to our vocation [. . .] God calls everyone who is listening” (144-148).
And I am listening.

It is perhaps normal to wrap purpose up in accomplishment, to wrap acceptance in a profession up in calling, but a person’s worth and calling ought to be separate from all the doings, otherwise when the doings are done, there is nothing left in the identity we have so carefully created for ourselves. Is God in the midst of all that process? Is not at least part of working and the creating of identity led by more than just human inclination and desire? Of course—mixed in with His will, my will, the will of others, this crazy combination of spiritual and carnal. And unraveling all those threads, well . . . who could ever?

But the truth is that when you think you know, at least in part, who you are and what role you currently play in the world, you want to be the one to decide when and how that role should be redefined. There have been many times in my life when that decision was taken out of my hands. I was younger, and I grieved, but I adapted. I found a new path forward. A new open door. Why this latest displacement hurts so much, I am not sure, except that because I am much older maybe it feels like there is no other door to walk through now. Maybe it feels that a forced retirement underscores that I am past usefulness more so than a voluntary exit from a job would have felt, even just one or two years later.

It has been a painful few months, having lost my job. The grieving and reorienting have provided rather a topsy-turvy emotional ride. Regarding Nouwen’s “displacement leading to resentment, bitterness, resignation, and apathy,” well, I am somewhere between bitterness and resignation, I think. My desire is to skip apathy and move right into seeing this as freedom—a freedom to zero in on vocation, stripped of career obligations. Can my involuntary displacement become voluntary as it pertains to my following Christ? I hope so, but I am not quite there yet. That will perhaps be the determinant of whether displacement is a blessing or a curse.

 

Seeing with New Eyes

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I had cataract surgery done a week and a half ago. I chickened out last year–something about a knife near the eyes bit! But I was getting desperate, so I did not read any contraindications and just went for it. I had not been able to drive at night for over 2 years, and even daily activities were becoming a strain. I probably should have asked more questions, though, because rather than a piece of cake, this “routine” surgery was more like liver and onions–more uncomfortable than I thought it would be.

I am very chemically sensitive, so having gotten through the procedure with fairly minor and endurable hiccups, the worst part became the reaction to the steroid drops which are needed for speedy healing. This is a five-week process, and I have quite some time to go, but I hope the worst is over.

That was the bad and the ugly. The good part is that somebody turned on the lights! Whites are whiter and colors are brighter, not to mention that everything has distinct edges and not fuzzy, ever-changing ones. The green in the traffic light is . . . well, green green! It is almost like a different color. It is not preferred by me to undergo any surgery, but given the positive change in my sight, I think it was worth it!

My eyes are blue blue again. Haven’t been like this since forever! You don’t think about it because the discoloration and hardening happens slowly over time.  Even my own photographic work is brighter and more colorful. And I have discovered I am a much better photographer than I thought. 🙂

We don’t become aware of the hardening process that alters so much of what we see because it happens bit by bit, year by year. And only when it cannot be ignored any longer do we even recognize it is something to be dealt with. I am thinking that is kind of like what happens with our hearts. If betrayals and loss, disappointments and disillusionment build up, then over time the hardening becomes something to radically deal with. It interferes with our ability to prosper and see life and mission clearly. But it starts small, and it builds layer upon layer. I am not sure how to prevent that from destroying my joy, but my desire is that I would become aware of the hurts that bind and settle down into my spirit.

May I hold lightly to pain and hold tightly to renewal is my prayer.

I Was Once a Thief

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I was once a thief, deliberate, conniving, and unrepentant.

Sort of.

I got twenty-five cents for a weekly allowance, and it was the good old days when that kind of coin really meant something. Well, . . . not really. It didn’t buy a lot even then. And hence the devilish temptation.

Between the one-room school and home was the general store where everything from gum to gum boots smelled like the owner’s cigars. There was cold soda pop in the cooler and a variety of gum and sweets under glass. Nothing was as good as an Orange Crush or Hires Root Beer after a grueling day of study under my teacher Aunt Luella in elementary school. But my twenty-five cents never lasted long.

Every evening, Daddy had this habit of emptying out the change in his pockets and placing the coins on a little ledge that ran along the bathroom wall. Those shiny silver quarters called to me something fierce. To be honest, I also heard the call of the tarnished ones just as clearly; and one day, I anesthetized the prickling of my delicate conscience with the anticipation of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit and a pop.

Having crossed the dark line, the second time was easier, and the third easier still. I got to the point that I did not even wait to see the money on the ledge. I would rifle through Dad’s pockets in the closet.

My larceny progressed day by day and week by week from one coin to two or three, and I stored them on a convenient little shelf inside the metal box spring that supported my mattress. I had found in the trash can this handy little cardboard box, which had a drawer that slid in and out—the perfect size for prepubescent contraband. As it happens, it was also the perfect size to house new condoms, but I did not know that at the time!

I was cautious not to let my candy spending sprees attract too much attention, typically only spending a quarter at a time; and if Mama ever asked where I got the money for that treat, I would just tell her I had not spent my allowance yet.

Sadly, my mom was much better at math than I was, and eventually my pernicious ways were found out. There was also the thing about my face turning red any time I tried to lie, which was a real deterrent to the life of crime I was bent on. When confronted, all my dark deeds came tumbling out in a sobbing, wet confession.

I fully expected a spanking and a repayment plan that would last into high school, but a fifty cent fine, a prayer, and a hug was all that was required to set things right. It was rather a relief to be caught since the cold, hard cash chaffed my sensitive conscience and never quite gave the satisfaction promised.

As it turned out, no sweet was as sweet as a pure conscience and the soft forgiveness of my parents and my Lord.

Daily Prompt: Uneven

I visited Virginia City, NV, a few years ago. The old part of town looked like it came out of a Hollywood western, complete with rustic building facades, saloons, and wooden sidewalks. Strolling along, you had to be careful where you planted your feet because probably like bygone days the  planked sidewalks were uneven. Sometimes where one board met another, there was a lip that could send the unwary sprawling.

Now in my town that would be an occasion to sue. But in days gone by, the assumption was that you watched where you walked and took charge of your own life. Though efforts were made to safeguard the community, it was assumed that life happened, so walker beware.

It seems that in this day, we want everyone to be aware for us and to be held accountable for any mishap–whether it be a physical situation or a misspoken word. Life is uneven–sometimes a result of our own choices and sometimes others’. To take responsibility for our actions and own the resulting consequences is a skillset that needs cultivating.

So yes, I am taking that Facebook post down right away!