Archive for February, 2012

The Illuminated Word Project (February): Dead End

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Dead End

My friends and I have been studying Abraham’s story in the book of Genesis lately. As I have looked more closely at his life, I see the theme or barrenness in his life over and over. I see God bringing Abraham to places of death. These divine destinations are dead ends.

As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4.17-21

After readING more about dead ends below, please check out all of the six other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Jenny and Stephanie at The Pure Life Project. Just click HERE.

Dead End #1: Abraham and Sarah’s Infertility
God brings Abraham to a dead end in his marriage. He is old. His wife, Sarah, is old. And they have zero kids. In our modern, individualistic society, it is hard to understand what that meant. Even to those of us who have struggled with long term infertility, it is hard to grasp the gravity of his situation. In that culture, your social status, your security, your wealth, your hopes, and your dreams were tied up in the success of your offspring. No kids simply meant no hope.

Dead End #2: The Barrenness for Humanity
Abraham and Sarah’s infertility was more than a personal struggle or a marital struggle. Abraham and Sarah’s barrenness represented a dead end for humanity. God’s good world and God’s good humanity went way off track in Genesis 3. People questioned God’s authority. People questioned God’s goodness. People tried to be like God and live apart from Him. They sought after power and wisdom and life on their own. On the heels of this rebellion, the world spun out of control. Death, suffering, darkness, loneliness, disease, conflict, all entered the mix. Sin didn’t flatline. It grew. Exponentially. God showed that the partial judgment of the flood and of the language confusion of the tower of Babel couldn’t fix the world broken by sin.

God’s history takes a turn in Genesis 12. God begins to create a new humanity. God begins to push back sin, death, and suffering. God promises to use Abraham’s future big family—specifically a son born from his family—to fix the world broken by sin. “In summary, God says: ‘I’ll give you a special relationship with me. I’ll make you into a new, faithful human community. I’ll use you to save the world from its downward spiral into self-destruction (Keller 98).” “And I will do all of this through the son that I have promised you.

But how on earth can God fix the world through this promised son if this promised son never materializes? Simply put, if Abraham and Sarah don’t have a child, all of humanity is lost.
Abraham staked his life on that one big promise of God. He left his home, his extended family, his culture, his sense of security, and the material wealth that the world had to offer and followed God. God wants all of us unconditionally. And then Abraham waited. And waited. And waited. For 5 years. For 10 years. For 15 years. How would you feel if you had to wait so long for something that meant the world to you?

Then Sarah hatched a plan. Abraham got on board. This husband and wife strategized a way around their dead end.

Sarah and Abraham’s Plan to Circumvent the Dead End
Now if you are familiar with their plan, you know how it makes your stomach turn. If you’re not familiar, hang on. Abraham and Sarah decided to take advantage of a common infertility treatment of that day, namely surrogate motherhood. These were the days before Clomid and frozen embryos and hormone shots. Sarah convinced Abraham to impregnate her servant Hagar so Sarah and Abraham could have a baby. They thought, “Surely this will be the way God will bring life to this dead end.” Before we react with horror, we have to slow down and understand that this was common cultural practice. No, it wasn’t wise. No, it didn’t please God. But it was common, and it was the only option they had humanly speaking.

Abraham acquiesced. Hagar got pregnant. And everything spiraled out of control. You can read more, but I’ll just summarize and say that there was conflict, rage, humiliation, abuse, and blame shifting. Abraham and Sarah practically sentenced the pregnant Hagar to death when they expelled her from the family unit and left her to wander the desert on her own. Abraham and Sarah’s plan to strategize their way around the dead end backfired.

God’s Life Breaks into Abraham and Sarah’s Despair
Despite Abraham and Sarah’s plan for their self-rescue and their own disbelief, God still kept His promise. God provided a child, Isaac, in God’s time and in God’s way—through Sarah, not Hagar. God brought life into this dead end in a way that only HE would get the credit for it. God made good on his promise and gave Abraham and Sarah Isaac. This is how grace works. God keeps His promise to an undeserving people.

Dead End #3: The (Almost) Death of Isaac

The story doesn’t end there. God leads Abraham to another dead end. He commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. There is much in this story that is hard to understand. In order to keep this blog entry shorter, I will not write about those difficult parts here.

What IS clear is that:
1. If Isaac died, the promised future for Abraham and for humanity dies along with him. (If you don’t get this, you won’t get the rest of what I’m going to write.)
2. Abraham passed the test. While he and Isaac head up the mountain to the place of sacrifice Abraham professes that God will provide the sacrifice. Did you hear that? As God leads Abraham to this even bigger dead end, Abraham isn’t strategizing. He is looking instead to God’s provision. Abraham declares, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (GENESIS 22.8)
3. God provided a sacrifice. God provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac.

The provision of the lamb brings life to this dead end.

Even though this story of a couple’s infertility and the near sacrifice of their first born son seems strange to our modern ears, it is highly relevant.

Dead End #4: The Cross

The Bible teaches that promised son of Isaac points to an even greater Son or Promise, Jesus Christ. He is the far off grandson that comes to fix the world broken by sin. He breaks into humanity a miserable and sinful humanity. He lived a perfect life. He died in our place. He was sacrificed for us. He met God’s justice. He paid for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. The cross is the ultimate dead end. The resurrection is the ultimate testimony of God’s ability to bring life in our hopeless estate.

Your Dead Ends
So here are some questions to think about. . .
1. Do you see the dead ends in your life?
Do you see the pointlessness of running from your need of God by “keeping the rules” and trying to be a good, religious person?
Do you see the emptiness of running from God by “breaking the rules”?
Do you feel the heart ache of a broken world? Of disease? Of suffering? Of addiction? Of victimization?
Another way to find these dead ends is to ask yourself, What do you think IS impossible for God?

2. How do you respond when you reach a dead end? How do you try to “take matters into your own hands” when God seems to be inactive? (Keller) How is God relevant to these dead ends?

3. What do you expect or want God to do in those places?

God does not promise that we will find life in our wayward desires. He does not promise a trial free life. He does not promise that our life gets more comfortable and easy as we follow Him. He does promise that even when faced with dead ends: Nothing will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8). God will get glory in Christ Jesus and the church (The church includes the lives of his people!) (Ephesians 3.21). No trial—no dead end—can thwart his loving purpose in our lives (James 1, Ephesians 1, Romans 8). He has provided His Son. Jesus gives grace and mercy in the midst of the struggle (Hebrews 4. 14-16). He is intimately acquainted with struggle.

4. What do you need to follow God (like Abraham eventually did) when you are stuck at a dead end?

“You will never be like Abraham simply by trying to be like Abraham. Abraham passed the test not through will power but because he looked to the provision. Literally, he said, ‘My son, God will see to the Lamb.’ Abraham had his eyes fixed on a provision that he could not even imagine, but he knew was there. But we can see the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. As we look at him and rejoice in what he did for us, we will have the joy and hope necessary—and the freedom from idols and pseudo-securities—to follow the call of God when it is dark and difficult.” (p. 164 of Tim Keller’s Genesis study)

God brings His people to dead ends. God uses dead ends to show us that our own strategies to rescue ourselves and manage our sin promise life but bring death. God creates a life giving way through these dead ends. He brings life in such a way that only He gets can get the credit and praise for what He has done. The life He brings isn’t free from struggle or pain. The life he brings isn’t limited to our personal preoccupations. The life He brings is all about His rescue mission of fixing the world that has been broken by sin through His Promised Son, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. Nothing is impossible for God.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

Cousins and Fall Leaves

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Emmie, cousin Madeline, Carter, and Harrison enjoyed playing in the leaves this Thanksgiving.

Emmie helped Madeline transfer leaves from the wagon to a metal container.

I see a lot of my brother’s face in his daughter in this picture.

Here’s one HUGE reason why I think Matthew and Lindsay should live closer to us!

After the fact I wondered, “HHHHhhmmm, sure hope that was mud that Harrison was playing with and not something else.”

I love seeing Emmie and Madeline play together. It seems that once a little kid figures out Emmie, they don’t want to leave her side. This just shows how smart little kids are.

The moment of discovery: leaf throwing!!!!

The sense of accomplishment and happiness is written all over her face.
I couldn’t resist giving Matthew and Lindsay a canvas of this image for Christmas.

Emmie and Madeline practiced jumping in leaves too.

I love this last photo. I love what it shows about Emmie and the way she cares for Madeline. I love how happy Madeline looks. And I love how you can see all 4 of my parents’ grandchildren in this story. Life is good.

Harrison, a couple of Sonic Drinks, and the Park

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Harrison and I had a little time to kill after we dropped Carter off at a Laser Tag birthday party. We bought a couple of Sonic drinks and headed to a nearby park. We watched the planes land while sitting in a big tree. Then we played on the playground. The light was so pretty this day, that I carried my camera around all day long.

Harrison is very engaging and smiles a lot, and I love photos of him that show his happy face. However, I also love this picture that shows his more serious side. He looks grown up in this one.


Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I’m passionate about music. Most of my friends don’t know that about me because I don’t play regularly. I’m rusty, and I struggle to display the things that I can’t do near perfectly. But growing up, I had a couple of inspiring teachers. I devoured the Orff program at my grade school for all it was worth. I played piano for 12 years. I wasn’t “concert pianist” good, but I did have a knack for it and I worked hard. I took some fiddle as an adult, but I stopped once Emmie was born. I could hardly stay awake, let alone swing lessons while feeding a baby. Mandolin and hammered dulcimer are still on my “dream list”. It seems like now during this season of my life, photography is getting almost all the creative time that I have. And for now, I’m o.k. with that.

But what a joy it is for me to see that my daughter feels the same way about music. Emmie is very UN-like me in many ways. She isn’t as driven or as impatient or as intense as her mom. But she IS like me in terms of music. She gets it. She picks it up. And she loves it.

My mom and I both played on this piano.

Emmie enjoyed sharing her music with her friends and their families at her December recital.

Home (this past fall)

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

After school

The boys made paper airplanes one day right inside the front door.

Carter initiated a Veterans’ Day inspired craft project to honor his great grandfather and WWII B24 Bomber pilot vet, Howard Nisbet. Harrison and Emmie both joined in.

This is not a perfect picture technically, but it does capture a perfect moment. Because of our big fall garage sale and all the reorganizing that went along with it, Harrison got his own personal closet for the first time. Here he is joking, “I’m king of the castle!” as he stands on his stool.

I’m still trying to nail my editing for skin tone with my Nikon images. Colors just aren’t as good straight out of camera with my Nikon compared to my Canon, but I’m not willing to give up. (By the way, if any of you Nikon shooter friends can help me out, please email me. I would love to hear from you!) So with that said, here are a couple more family shots. Emmie is super animated when she reads to Harrison. I can definitely see Emmie becoming a teacher one day. And Carter built a space ship out of Legos.

Harrison built a Duplo train in his room. I love this toy.

Emmie re-discovered Winnie the Pooh.

Sometimes it is hard to read. . .

. . . when your brother is in the background playing with a new set of electronic drumsticks.

Carter and His Blocks

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Emmie made a comment to Carter about his buildings that discouraged him.
You can read it in his face below.

Carter always has a rough patch of skin on the bottom of this one particular toe. Sometimes it bothers him. He likes to rub it.
And it is typical for his T shirts to have marker all over them like this photo shows. I don’t know how he managed to get marker on the back of his shirt.

Almost all of Carter’s jeans have holes in the knees. I try to reserve a pair that doesn’t suffer as much abuse.

I really enjoy photographing other people’s creative process. I’d like to do more of this.

In case you are interested, these blocks are Citiblocs. You can find more information HERE.

Sarah & Lane are Married (part three)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

After the ceremony, Sarah and Lane’s family and friends enjoyed an afternoon reception.

Ready for wedding idea overload? Let the pinning begin . . .
Homemade pies instead of a groom’s cake–brilliant!

Chalkboard signage.

Campfire loaded up with baked potatoes in foil.

Baked potato bar with deluxe fixings

Pony rides and a petting zoo

Horseshoes (Bean bag toss and croquet was also an option. Twister circles were painted on the lawn.)

Fishing tournament

Hay rides

White umbrellas just in case it rains???

Sarah’s mom, Nancy, is off the charts in terms of visual creativity. She makes everything she touches more beautiful. This wedding was like a creative playground for her. I spent many hours in her home as a teenager, and I am grateful for her friendship through the years.

Prepackaged S’more kits. This campfire was (literally) the hot spot all day and night.

Sweet ring shot!!!

“Leaf Your Thumbprint” instead of a guest book. Instant, meaningful keepsake ready for display. The trunk read: LP + ST 12.31.11

Getaway vehicle

Sparklers and cowbells for leaving

I love how Sarah’s brother, Carter, is yelling at Sarah and Lane as they pass by.

Stringed lights and hanging lanterns.

And after all of the goodness of the afternoon reception, we all took a break and returned a few hours later for a casual New Years’ Eve Party.

Yummy brats. Looks like Rick has skill at the grill.

A little dancing.

Wooden bowl filled with candles.


Sparklers to ring in the New Year.

The official start to a new year and a new life together! Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer!

Thank you, West, for shooting with me and for joining my family for a few days. I appreciate your “skillz” and friendship.

Thank you Sarah, Lane, and Nancy for inviting me to shoot this wedding. I feel like I was given the finest ingredients (nice people whom I care about, creative trust, honest emotion, beautiful light, bright colors, warm weather, a unique space, and beautiful details) and challenged to make the meal of my life. I feasted on all the light and life of this day. I hope you visually feast on these images for many years to come. I took them with a lot of love for your family.

Sarah & Lane are Married (part two)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

In a sea of so many favorites, this one really stands out for me. I love it!

Sarah’s Aunt who is also named Sarah made this wonderful Rice Krispie Treat wedding cake covered in fondant. It was displayed beautifully at the front of Nancy and Rick’s amazing outdoor, open aired kitchen.

Old washing machine transformed into a cooler for drinks.

This is what it looks like when you never want to let go.

Honestly, I don’t know how they made it through the ceremony without some major tears.

Russell Boyd, a piano bar player, did a great job of playing some good music and creating a fun atmosphere. I guess it is not often that he gets to ditch the bar and play some sweet tunes on a rock overlooking a lake. I know where I’d rather be. . .

Sarah & Lane are Married (part one)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Sarah and Lane got married on New Years Eve Day in north east Texas at Sarah’s mom’s lake home.

Their wedding day was a feast–full of emotion, golden light, beautiful details, and fabulous food.

Sarah and her mom, Nancy, assembled a team of friends (new and old) to handcraft this one-of-a-kind celebration that lasted all day. And I had the amazing privilege of telling this magical story.

Lane is an old soul with a throw back look. He seems most at home in the outdoors. I think that this photo picks up on that.

Sarah’s dad married her and Lane so Sarah’s two brothers walked her down the aisle.

I have known Tim for almost 20 years and his passion for talking about God has not diminished. (It is hard to tell this story as just a photographer. I stood in Sarah’s spot almost 14 years ago when Tim married Greg and me.)

I love this shot of West’s that shows Sarah and Lane’s emotion right after their wedding ceremony.

If you didn’t read my notes above and are wondering why the pastor is creeping on the bride, I’ll repeat it here 🙂
The pastor also doubled as Sarah’s dad.

Lesson here: Please listen to your photographer when she suggests that you take your family line up shots outside–even if you get married inside. The light is almost always better.

I love this take on the awkward family photo.