Friday, August 28, 2015

What I Learned from Flawed and Imperfect Photos

At the start of June I attended and photographed a Holy Yoga retreat, which I wrote about here. When it was over, I promised the attendees I would soon post photos on Facebook for them to view. I delayed that promise almost three months.

Confession: I dragged my feet about posting the retreat photos because I saw flaws and imperfections. They are blurry. Grainy. Crooked. Disorderly. Misframed. The color balance is off. There are lots of technical issues, and the photographer in me sees them and challenges myself to improve. But I posted them anyway, because I promised! (And I begged for grace, knowing I had lots of moments of low light with two pro cameras and a phone camera that each have different settings and limitations!)

The day I finally posted the photos, I sat on my couch after a particularly grueling morning battle with Jackson before the school bus arrived. My heart was ravaged from his daily war with me, and I was so irritated with him that I couldn’t even unfold my fingers to hand the situation to God.

I ended up on Facebook because I wanted to post the photos from the last day of retreat. I started organizing the photos and looked again at every single one. Click by click and beat by beat, my heart stopped hammering from anger and slipped back into my Daddy's rhythm. My breath slowed and I could tangibly feel the peace and the rest I experienced in the room where we gathered for retreat. My frustrations were crowded out from the front of the line as memories cut into the queue and my eyes were filled with holy images.IMGP5431-2IMGP5434IMGP5455-2IMGP5513IMGP5515-2IMGP5530

Imperfect, yes. Flawed, yes. Technically terrible, yes (some!). But this is where the holy intersects the horrors of daily life: when I see imperfections magnified, I'm humbled at how my best can't even pretend to measure up to True Perfection. When I am confronted with Grace, I know crooked and disorderly are simply toeholds God uses to climb the rock wall around my heart. When I consider the blessing of getting to capture moments of pure surrender, I remember the reason for the blur in the photos is because God's Beloveds were moving their bodies to worship Him.

The air in my house remained lightly scented by the morning shakedown, but thankfully the rot wasn't so pungent anymore. I still don't have an answer to those battles, but I don't expect a quick fix anyway. As much as I would love it, there is no PhotoShop for eight year old boys. I don't have enough editing software in the world to fix the flaws and blurs - the ones from this morning, the ones in the photos, or the ones in my heart.

I'm okay with that now, and I'm resting in Daddy's arms today.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Was the Conference?

SheSpeaksGradButton300“How was your trip?” or “How was the She Speaks conference?” or “How did your book thing go?” is the question of the month for me. And while I want to give a quick answer because I know most people are asking as a nicety, I also want to give an honest answer.

The problem is the honest answer is convoluted and complicated.

I could reply with the shortest answer and say, “It was a great experience. I learned so much, met so many lovely people, and had encouraging meetings with publishers.” The people asking about my trip as a nicety are happy with that answer and reply, “That’s good news!”

Then there’s the medium-length answer: “It was a great experience. Nine of us began a deep friendship in 72 hours, which formed the foundation for a weekend where God blew my mind. I got an inside look at the life of a writer and how it affects so much more than I expected. And my publisher meetings answered a lot of questions and gave me good feedback about where to head next. Then I ended the conference with a clear conviction from God about taking a pause for intention and direction.” The friends who are interested and intrigued are satisfied with that answer and follow it up with a few questions to flesh things out and may even end it with a promised prayer or a request to keep them updated on the way the book and process unfolds.

Then there are lovely souls God has placed in my life who specifically request set-aside time with me so they can say, “Tell me EVERY detail!” and they truly want to hear every. stinkin’. part! The rest of this post is partly for them, and partly for me so I have a record when the day comes and my memory has fuzzed over the details.

It’s been a month since the conference, and I’m just now sitting down to wade through all it entailed. Yes, I’ve thought through it since then and I’ve talked about it too. But writing it through a keyboard is a deeper level of processing for me, and it’s something I didn’t feel ready or free to do quite yet. Until today! So let’s start at the start.

IMG_3799The first best part of the conference is the part about my Group of Nine. The night before the conference officially started, I had dinner with eight women God hand-picked for me. These women immediately plunged in and loved with abandon. They asked about the details of each others’ lives, cried with each other, laughed and encouraged. It was incredibly beautiful and a rare gift. These women stood by me throughout the conference, saved seats for me at meals and breakout sessions, fed me gluten free food when I couldn’t find anything to eat, prayed over me without being asked, invited me into their hotel rooms and their hearts, and stood beside me in worship. They are one of the biggest reasons I had such a moving experience at the conference.

IMG_3833The second best part of the conference is the education I received. From the opening session (where Lysa TerKeurst’s family joined her on stage to talk about how Lysa’s calling has changed the course of the family’s life) to the closing session (where God used Whitney Capps to speak painful – but necessary – truth into my life of MEnistry instead of ministry), every single session I attended gave me an irreplaceable education about not only the publishing industry, but the social media world we live in and the majestic God we serve. I learned from national bestselling authors, an English professor, small business owners and engaging speakers. They pointed me to God’s mission of redemption and reminded me even the slightest, smallest details can point to our Creator. Yes, even the sessions about concise writing and using active versus passive voice. If writing is the megaphone God asks me to use to get His message out, then you’d better BELIEVE concise writing and word power matter when I share His message!IMG_3838

But learning the tools of the trade is only a third of the educational part. You see, I’m such a nerd about learning that I geek out when I meet professors and authors and teachers. One of the coolest parts about She Speaks is attendees have access to authors and speakers, so I made it a point to meet almost every speaker after his or her session to give my thanks in person (and a handwritten thank you note). I saw quite a few women getting selfies with authors, too. While that isn’t my style and I’d rather have a photo of the speaker herself (instead of a photo of ME with the speaker [I mean, who really needs to see more of ME?!]), I did take one with a speaker to send back to my friend in Missouri.IMG_3841

The last third of the educational part of the conference is the two meetings I had with publishing companies. I pitched my book, explained  why it matters in God’s kingdom, and got the best news I could ever hope for (besides a publishing contract right there on the spot, which I’m not convinced would be the “best” news anyway): I. AM. NOT. CRAZY.

Glory, hallelujah! Do y’all need me to repeat that again? Let’s do it anyway: I. AM. NOT. CRAZY. And not only am I Not Crazy, but I also got great feedback on how to make my Not Crazy reach a new level. I left my last appointment floating on air, like driving with the windows down and my favorite song cranked to MAX VOLUME. And then… and then I settled in for last session of the conference, taught by Whitney Capps.

This is where the BEST best part of the conference intersected me. This is where God pulled up a chair, put His hands on my cheeks, and gently drew my gaze away from the lights and dazzle and turned my eyes toward Him. He had been there all along, through the dinner on Conference Eve to the notes we sang in worship to the one-on-one publisher meetings to the “You got this!” signs posted in the ladies’ restrooms. Except… my eyes had been dazzled as I repeated, “Yes, *I* do ‘got this’ and I am gonna rock it!” and quietly bought into the idea of my dream coming true because of me.IMG_3847

Through Whitney’s teaching about ministry (calling focused on God) vs. MEnistry (calling focused on me), I was asked to let God shape my treasure instead of trying to shape it myself. God used Whitney’s words to remind me of the ministry I am already President and Coach and CEO of: the ministry of Dan, Katie and Jackson. During the session, the Holy Spirit plainly whispered something to my heart:

Let it go.

How do I know this was the Holy Spirit and not my own self talking to me? Because my response was to say “No way!” and run away as fast as I could, and keep driving with my windows down and my favorite song cranked high. In a moment of prayer I even said, “But, God! I got great news about my book today and I have a PLAN and isn’t this what you called me to do anyway?”

The words “I” and “MY” echoed in my ears as I realized somewhere along the way, I turned His dream for me into my dream for what I want regardless of the cost. In His loving-kindness, God was faithful to His promises and still blessed me in my self-centeredness. And He whispered a response to my heart that amounted to this message: You have to let it go, so I can make it even better than you ever dreamed, Elizabeth. I responded with, “For how long? Forever?” And I felt Him say, “No, just until we’re both ready. Let it go, be the mom and wife I need you to be through the end of the summer, and we’ll talk more about this when things settle down.” I know from past experience that God blesses my obedience, so I opened my hands and said a small, tiny, “Okay.” And then He said part two:

Give it away.

“WHAT?!” was my response right before I realized exactly what God meant. In the process of writing my photography devotional, I’ve been very protective of my art. I haven’t put it on social media or even let anyone keep a copy of my samples for fear they might take it and repost/steal/abuse it. (Don’t laugh. It happened for real to my friend Danielle!) I had crossed the dividing line of Savvy on Social Media and crawled into Greedy and Possessive Mine-Mine-Mine! God knew this and could see where my heart had been clawing at keeping His truth all for myself. If I believe my purpose in living is to be an Encourager, Name-Caller and Truth-Teller for God, then I need to be willing to actually give the truth to people who need (and want) to hear it. Give is contrary to hold-on-to-it-and-only-let-others-peek-at-it. Give means letting it go and trusting God with the very thing that was HIS TO BEGIN WITH ANYWAY.

Oh, yeah. Can I get an amen and a hallelujer?IMG_3882

I sat at the end of the session at the end of the conference, and knew in my core God was right and He would be with me through the Letting Go and Giving Away. I knew – and still know – that He is worth my trust and He always exceeds my expectations. As a response to His requests, when the session ended I pulled the two copies of my book out of my bag and found two women I met at the conference. I presented a copy to each of them, spent the rest of the evening saying goodbye to friends, stuffed my conference notebook in my bag, and walked away from She Speaks. After that night, I only pulled out my conference stuff once when I was at my sister’s house, to show her the pamphlets and giveaways I had received and to organize my notes so I could keep them boxed up for a while.

Did y’all get that? I walked away.

I spent the remainder of summer being present. No more waking two hours early to write. No more plugging the kids into a screen so I could research books for my proposal. No more emailing friends and acquaintances for networking and endorsements. I closed the laptop for two weeks straight.

I spent a week at my sister’s, saying yes when we decided to drive to the beach…IMG_3931

…and yes when Jackson wanted to play Foosball…IMG_3780

…and yes when Katie wanted to lay in the Eno hammock…IMG_3677

…and yes to tree climbing in Boone when we visited my niece’s house and college.IMG_4114

When we returned from Missouri, I said yes to date night at a Hillsong concert with Dan…IMG_4358

…and yes to more swimming with the kids…IMG_4369

…and yes to exploring a creek with friends.IMG_4273

Saying YES to God looks a lot like saying YES to the people I love.

Now where does this leave me? School is back in session. After quite a few days to sit still in God’s presence and adjust to the new routine, I felt God give me the green light – NOT to race ahead, but the green light to start sniffing around and asking questions. I have lots to learn about blogging and platforms and expanding God’s reach through me. (Not “expanding my reach for Him.” There’s a subtle difference!) But as my friend Jon Cook counseled me last week, “Nothing about this should be rushed. Let God build your platform in His timing.”

Long ago, I read a quote that said God answers prayers in three ways:

    1. Yes.
    2. Not yet.
    3. I have something better in mind.

I can face the future knowing His timing is right for me!

“In all things, God works.” (Romans 8:28)



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