Happy New Year! It’s only taken me 14 days to pull myself together for a New Years post. A little over a week ago I was fresh off of a reflecting, dreaming and goal setting night away with lots of stirrings in my heart and plenty of things to process. Instead of leaving the weekend with a “word” for the year the sweet Lord took me on an unexpected journey through His Word where He gave me lots and lots of life giving words of truth and three things to hold on to; a reminder, a promise and a plan…
I started writing this Christmas post to accompany this image from the hills surrounding Bethlehem early in December. With anticipation and expectation I had asked the Lord to teach me something new about the Christmas story this year and a few weeks into December I thought I knew what it was going to be...
When we toured the holy land we found ourselves standing in the blinding sun squinting, peering out at shepherds fields and ancient gardens that hold stories from the black of night. A place transforms based on light. A field doesn’t seem so far away from a city in the daytime when you can see it in the distance. You can’t even glimpse the stars, though they are surely there behind the veil of brilliant blue. The fullness of the light of the sun oftentimes blinds us from the small moments in powerful stories told in the dark. Yet there we stood in the shade squinting our eyes because our tour didn’t include any nighttime stops though the stories they held surely did. On that first Christmas Day a new beginning came in the dark of night lit by handheld lamps and far away stars.
I thought that was it. God comes down in the silent black of night to bring us the everlasting light. Yes, what brilliant truths that message holds! I planned to pray and ponder over it all throughout this season as my work slowed and the holiday festivities commenced.
And then the unexpected happened. An unexpected death, an unexpected whirlwind of a trip for a funeral, unexpected sleepless nights, unexpected tears, unexpected stories. Missed meetings, rescheduled photoshoots and unsent Christmas cards and gifts all added to the list of the unplanned.
The unexpected interrupted the well laid plans I had for this Christmas season. But then isn’t that just the very heart of the Christmas story?
And there it was. If a baby born to a virgin isn’t the most unexpected story I don’t know what is. I’m sure those shepherds in that dark Bethlehem field were never in a million years expecting the heavenly hosts that would interrupt their silent night. Certainly no one thought our Savior would ever come as a humble baby boy born in a back room stable within cool stone walls.
Our God is a God of the unexpected. Though none of it is a surprise to Him.
Maybe this Christmas season what I really needed to learn is instead of agonizing over unwelcome surprises in the night to lean in and look for Him there too, like the shepherds on a Bethlehem hill lit by starlight on that very first Christmas night.
“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight”
As the Christmas season has been coming upon us my heart has been heavy for those who lost someone dear to them this year. Christmastime can oftentimes be the hardest. I think back to that first Christmas without my dad. After 34 years of celebrating alongside him, things were painfully different. I know the ache. If you've experience loss, you know it all too well too. And for anyone whose lost someone this year you are in my prayers and have been on my heart for the past few weeks.
"What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Savior liveth; what though the darkness gather round, songs in the night He giveth." - from the hymn How Can I Keep From Singing
It’s hard to think of God being in the darkness when He is described as the complete absence of it. He is nothing but light. And yet it has been in my darkest times, in the blackest of nights, when I have felt His presence most near.
In those first few days, weeks and months after my dad unexpectedly passed away I found myself unable to sleep. At night my aching thoughts that ran deep pushed me outside my home nestled in the wilderness. And in the black of night I heard it sing. Every time. “Birds don't sing in the dark?” I thought. But this one did. Each night for me. As if my Heavenly Father was telling me in the darkest of places that it was going to be okay with His own perfect, unexpected tune in the darkness.
I guess that’s maybe part of why I’m so sentimental about lighthouses, the towering beacon that sings in the night. And on this late afternoon stroll on the Oregon coastline where I captured this image I liked to imagine how many times this light pierced the inky black darkness of the Pacific and lead ships safely home.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
I worked all weekend long photographing my last wedding of the year and a sweet multi-family session on Sunday. So Monday was my full on Sabbath this week. I didn’t set an alarm and slept in with my hubby. I drank not one but two cups of Santa’s White Christmas coffee. I sat on the couch and read my bible and a Christian women’s magazine @deeplyrootedmag that made me laugh and cry and feel totally inspired. I pondered and prayed. Then I loaded up and headed to my favorite park with a rented film camera and a roll of film in hand and wandered. The sound of the shutter all alone in the immense of a forest is something to take your breath away. A sweet gift. I slowed down. I breathed deep. And I waited to press my finger down to release the shutter for just the right time.
Behind the lens I smiled. And I whispered prayers of thankfulness to my Heavenly Father for quiet beauty and space to breathe just one week away from Christmas. And how forever ago when He created Sabbath he thought of me and this moment and how much I’d need it. And when he asks us to be obedient to things He knows what He is doing. He knows what’s best.
The hustle of what we’ve made Christmas pressed in from all sides on this Sabbath but I’m thankful for a moment of wandering in the quiet of the wild and being refreshed by my Savior.
On Tuesday, refreshed, I sent off a handful of film for developing and processing filled with images spanning three weddings, a sweet family session and captures from that restful stroll in my favorite park. And now we wait...
I never imagined (but should have guessed) how much capturing images on film would teach me about way more than just photography. With every roll of film I learn more and more about holding things lighter, about being slow and intentional, thoughtfully responsive and less instantly reactive, patient and purposeful but certainly not perfect. And I'm learning to be okay with that.
It's a practice in the art and beauty of patience.