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Archive for July, 2018

I’ve discovered that learning photography is not unlike studying writing. Everyone seems to think they can write a book, but it takes a lot more than just putting some words on paper to weave a good story together. There is an art form to it. The same goes for photography. Now that cameras are in plentiful supply, mostly on everyone’s phones, there is a huge surge of amateurs trying to be artistic without actually studying what makes a photo good.

Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself to be an amateur in many ways because I’m still learning. Plus I have nothing against the average person wanting to take pictures. But there are many things that I’ve finally mastered and a lot of trial and error that has made me realize why photographers do what they do, and it’s given me a little more respect for the ones who go above and beyond.

Getting up at 4am to go for a hike so you can get to a particular location by 7am is not necessarily the most fun thing in the world when you’re not a morning person. (Which I’m not.) But I gotta tell you, that light makes for some pretty spectacular photos.

Case in point:

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That flowy water effect? Not possible unless you have softer light. Just after dawn or right before dusk is best. (There’s a reason they call it “Golden Hour.”)

So how much of a difference does the proper lighting really make? Well, I happened to come across one of my first photos the other day, after I visited the exact same spot nearly two years later. It’s not a bad photo, and to be perfectly honest I was quite proud of it when I first took it. I had just barely started taking photography seriously, and this was a completely new location to me. It happened to be at the lovely Green Lakes, located in my beautiful home state of Oregon. It’s a very popular hike, often used as training grounds for marathon runners. It’s a full four miles to get to the lakes themselves, but once you’re there, it’s spectacular.

The lakes are nestled in between two large mountains, the South Sister and Broken Top. As her name implies, the South Sister is furthest south of a trio of peaks known as the Three Sisters. They’re all roughly around 10,000 feet in elevation, with South Sister as the tallest of the three.

As I went through my current pictures, I remembered taking similar photos two years ago and decided to see how far my photography has come. Low and behold, I found my original:

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Again, it’s not a bad photo. The lakes really are that emerald color (hence their name) and the looming peak of South Sister is much more intimidating in person. I used this photo in my first ever calendar that I gave to friends and family as a Christmas present. However, this shot was taken mid-afternoon, probably at the peak of the day, which is the worst lighting one can ask for when it comes to photos.

When I hiked it again this year, I went much earlier in the day and got to the lakes while it was still morning. That meant we missed a lot of the crowds, and because the sun wasn’t directly overhead, the lake looked like this instead:

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Technically, a little bit earlier would have been even better, but I’m quite happy with how these turned out overall. Within the space of an hour, this reflection was no longer visible and there were several other people in the area, including several who decided to go for a swim. I don’t begrudge them wanting to swim, of course, but that would have put quite a crimp in my style if I had still been trying to capture images.

I still have a long ways to go, I know. But I’m really happy with how far I’ve come. There are lots of doors and opportunities opening for me, and I’m thrilled to take advantage of every single one that comes my way.

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This is my beautiful family. From the left, this is my mother, myself, Brother, and my dad. This photo is one of the last taken of all of us together, during a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii. My parents had dreamed of this for years, and since we were able to stay with some friends who live there, it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been.

Little did we know that just a few months later, my wonderful, amazing mother would take her final breaths in this world.

I suppose in a way we all knew it was coming. She had been sick for a while, and though we never gave up hope that she would recover, in a few short weeks her health deteriorated very rapidly. I thought this would be it for me. When I saw how difficult it was getting for Mom to do even simple tasks, I felt dread. I got mad. I yelled at God. Several times, in fact. I denied what I knew was coming and felt only devastation.

Then she made the decision to check herself into hospice. Suddenly, it was a reality. I mean, everyone knows what hospice means, right?

But you know what? As much as I dreaded what was coming, I also felt an amazing sense of peace. Acceptance. I got to have so many things with my mother that not every person gets to experience. She was my best friend, my confidant, and the most incredible mother in the world. I got to be beside her in her final moments. I got to tell her how much I loved her and how wonderful a mother she was. How many people honestly get that opportunity?

So here’s three things that I’ve learned as I’ve processed reality during this time. And I’ll warn you, while I don’t usually tend to get “preachy” on this blog, I’m using it as a part of my healing process, so you might find more spiritual stuff than normal.

1.) Don’t let fear rule your life.

Seriously, I held myself back on so many things over the years, it’s ridiculous. I’ve always struggled with self-esteem, and too many times I didn’t allow myself to participate in things because I was self-conscious. Whether it was of how I looked, or if someone would like me or not…it doesn’t matter. The fact is, when we know the Author of Love, there’s simply no room for fear. My mother always quoted Graham Cooke when I talked about my hesitations and fears of failure. She would tell me, “Remember, it’s always a green light until God turns it red.” That means that I can step out in confidence, because I trust that if there’s a path that I’m not supposed to take, He’ll let me know. Otherwise, I’m going for it. Take opportunities as they come. They might not come back around again.

2.) God really is able of working all things for good.

Trust me, I did not think this was possible when it came to something like this. I flat out told God that there was no way He could produce something good from losing my mother at such a young age. When I confronted Him and very angrily demanded WHY, He didn’t give me a direct answer. Yet, in His own way, He still did. I know it doesn’t make sense, but He helped me realize just how big the picture was. We’re talking about eternity here. It’s so much more than we could ever imagine. Now that I look back, I see where God was preparing me every step of the way. No one could ever, ever replace my mother, but He placed a mother figure in my life in my pastor’s wife. He knew that I would need her there, so He made sure that I had that connection established. For that matter, He knew that I would need my church family as a whole. I honestly don’t know I would do without their unconditional love and support.

He restored part of my finances. Obviously I would a million times rather have my mother in this world than any other earthly good, but because she always put everyone else before herself, she made sure that my father was well taken care of financially. Through that generosity, my father is now able to give some of that to my brother and me. It’s a long story as to why the restoration of stolen finances are so important to me, but suffice to say, even now that she’s gone, she is still taking care of her children and blessing them. She always wanted to be able to give more, and now she is doing exactly that.

Her life touched so many people, I’m astounded. As a family, we’ve spoken to so many who have been impacted by my mother. And through my personal journey, I’m able to reach out to people in a way that I might never have been able to before.

3.) Don’t stay in the past.

That’s not to say that you can’t remember things, because memories are part of what shape us into who we are. But when you dwell in the past, you miss the here and now. Plus, it leaves too much room for regret. Of course there were things that I wanted to do with Mom that I will never get to now. But instead of focusing on what we DIDN’T get to do together, I remember all that we DID. I treasure every moment, every walk, every hug. I will never, ever, forget my mother, but I will not let myself fall into the trap of “What if…?”

My mother was only 60 years old when she passed. That’s it. I’m more than halfway there. Now, I’m certainly not projecting that I’m going to die at 60, because I plan to live much longer than that. But I have to ask myself, if that was all that I had, what would I do differently? How many more risks would I take? How much more time would I spend with those that I love? If I spend each day as though I’ve only got a few left, I’m going to make the most of every single thing that I do, and every person that I meet.

If that’s our mindset, then there is nothing we can’t accomplish. And at the end of our time, we can rest in the same words that my mother wrote at the end of her journal, quoting Paul:

“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

Fight the good fight.

Finish the race.

Keep the faith.

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Me and the best mom in the world.

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