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.

 

I Was One

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Shaken deeper than deep, hiding in the shadows from authorities and creeping fears—named and unnamed,
no light, no hopeful horizon even with the bending rays of first light.

But morning breaks the mourning in thunderous quiet within an unblocked tomb, in a soft step in the garden, and on dusty Jerusalem roads.

Fear breaks,
sin breaks,

and from the inside out a cry of liquid joy flows like a stream—He’s alive.
Just as He said, but we missed it, were blind to it—to Him.

But possibility and promise have rocked the dark kingdoms, and God’s Own has broken through, leading a parade of captives.

I was one. Praise Him.

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My Easter Prayer

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Is it just another day, another ritual performed,
a chance to wear new clothes and serve festive meals,
a celebration to mark our days and orient ourselves in a new year?
Is it just another obligation,
a compartment to fit in all the praiseworthy things
we ought to feel,
hope to feel,
about One so distant, so long ascended?

Has the burning in our hearts been quenched by familiar practices
and institutions?
Has the finger-in-the-side-faith lost its exclamations,
replaced by programs, distractions, and holy soundtracks?
Has our communion in the garden become commonplace
rather than ablaze with revelation and intimacy?

Oh, God of the resurrection,
God of the unruly and easily sidetracked,
burn within my heart this day.
Renew this shabby faith, these tattered shreds of almost belief,
with an obsession,
a knowing,
a persistence,
and an urgency to love the faltering, the lost.
To be the Kingdom person you suffered to make me is my Easter prayer.

The Silence of Saturday

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Do you hear the silence in the tomb—hard and lifeless—vacuous hopes of my heart buried in a borrowed grave with one who would save us?

Do you hear the silence in the streets where palms, faded and brittle, blow to the wadis by dry desert winds—blow along with our visions of an overcoming respite?
And the pain of that black moment has dissolved in my tears and loss, and we mourn for him, but probably more for ourselves—myself.

And in the weeping and the regularity of another’s day, a great silence fills and empties me of will and belief. Behind my eyes, inside my head, the palpable quiet pushes out hope and in my hands where once we held his bread and wine, I hold despair, pressed down, dark, and bloody.