I struggled with writing blog posts recently. I start to write them and then feel too overwhelmed to write everything on my mind or too underwhelmed by what I’ve already written.
I think a part of it has to do with the fact that I haven’t written in quite a while and I have so much going on. I want to just write, have it be insightful, and hit the publish button. But I just haven’t been able to do it. It’s extremely frustrating.
I’ve determined that I need to slow myself down and commit to some smaller routines.
There are three things I want to do on a regular basis: read, write, and take photos. If I can do those three things, I will feel accomplished this fall.
The first step is to commit to setting some time aside to read. I have a number of books I am wanting to finish, and I seem to push them aside when things get busy. But now that both my sons are in elementary school for the day, I do have time to read. So I’m committing to myself to read at least three times a week. I find that when I read I get inspired in so many other ways.
Reading helps me pay attention to the details around me. It is really important to me that I notice moments of meaning and love and beauty around me. Reading good authors helps me pay attention to the details in my own life that I might otherwise overlook. This in turn helps me with my second goal, which is to write.
When I notice moments of meaning around me, I feel a strong compulsion to write. Not necessarily for the world to see. Not necessarily for me to feel like I’ve noticed something deeply insightful. It helps me maintain a sense of gratitude. So I want to make sure I write at least twice a week.
When I am able to walk through life with a sense of gratitude, paying attention to life’s moments, I am then inspired to get out and take photos. I love taking photos for all sorts of reasons, but being able to capture a sliver of time, a moment that will never be again is magical to me. I want to make sure to get out of the house and take photos with no real agenda other than capturing moments that capture my eye at least once a week.
These are routines I want to have established in my life. Potentially rituals, honestly. I just want to be more of a disciplined person. I haven’t been consistent with that in my life. I know that I can, and so I am determined to set up these routines that I know are life-giving to me.
I’m not sure why I wake up in a better mood some days and others I don’t. I assume it has something to do with the amount of warm morning light I see, and probably the amount of restful sleep I get, too.
But some days I wake up and I feel like I’m ready to take on the world and its issues.
It has to help that I saw wonderful sunlight coming through my bedroom window blinds creating deep dark contrasting lines onto our dresser, right? My son stood in sunlight pouring in from my window with his bowl of Frosted Flakes. It immediately caught my attention and put me in a better mood. I snapped a photo with my phone and posted it on Instagram.
The morning routine the last couple weeks has been nearly a ritual. I get up at 6:00am for the girls in my home that leave for morning weights and fitness. They have about five minutes or so to get what they need from the kitchen and then leave for the field house on campus.
I’m often groggy, as are they. But by this point in the summer it’s just what it is. My six and five year olds often wake up around this time, and so I attempt to be as quiet as I can so that I don’t accidentally wake them up. My wife on the other hand is always in a deep sleep laying motionless in bed at this point in the morning (and well-after).
It was recently the summer solstice, so the sun rises even earlier than I do right now. I can’t say that for most of the year.
At 8:00 or so, I begin my coffee ritual. I pour and measure my beans, grind them, and brew them using whatever method suits me for that day – Chemex, Aeropress, French press. They all have their perks.
At 8:15 the rest of the girls in my house get up and ready for their day. It’s kind of a chaotic scramble. Sounds of cereal bowls being filled, toast popping up from the toaster, the smell of the cheap Folgers coffee the girls drink fills the air. (I don’t let them touch my good stuff.)
Before the girls leave for the morning, their dishes are placed in the dishwasher, the floor is swept, their rooms are clean. They leave at precisely 8:52am each day because that is the amount of time it takes to get to school by 9:00 without finding extra time to get into the trouble that so easily entices them.
A little before 8:00am my wife flops herself out of our bed with a sense of bitterness because it is, once again, that time of day where she has to get out of bed and do stuff.
She gets the boys ready for summer school, prompting them about five or ten times to put on their daytime clothes, socks, and shoes.
The boys have been up for at least an hour and a half at this point in the morning. They’ve begged me for seconds and thirds of their morning’s cereal. I usually give in. But sometimes I don’t.
My wife takes the boys to their summer school while I carry out the morning routine with the girls. She usually gets back right as the girls are leaving for school, at 8:52.
The next couple hours of time are precious. They are the only part of the day in which we do not have the boys home with us. They get picked back up at 11:50, and we have to leave at 11:30 to go get them.
One of our girls is sick in bed today. She’s not been feeling well recently. But when that happens one of us has to remain at the house. So in a way, we are trapped at home for the day. But that’s ok.
So today I decided to go outside on the front patio, to enjoy the sunlight and that wonderful morning air. I made another cup of coffee, grabbed an Annie Dillard book, my camera, and came to sit and read.
Reading authors like Annie Dillard only can last so long before I want to write something down myself. And so here I am on my phone, in my Notes app, writing. It’s ok. I find it extremely relaxing. No boys running around to account for. My wife went back to bed, as she does. And so it’s just me, my camera, my coffee, and Annie.
I smell summer flowers. I hear so many summer sounds. Both the sounds of nature and of our industrialized modern world. The repeating melodies of songbirds mixed with the growl of motors from various lawnmowers and lawn equipment. The chirping squirrels and the beeps of people going in and out the door of the police station, which is the building adjacent to me.
The clouds are moving quickly today. A slight breeze keeps things cool. It’s supposed to get up to 85 degrees today. A true summer day.
A spiderweb stretches from the blue patio umbrella to the flowers to the chair, swaying in the wind, shimmering in the sunlight.
A bird dances a half-hearted dance on the roof of my building. What is she looking for?
A bee lands briefly on the vibrant flowers in front of me, but didn’t seem to find anything worthwhile.
The clouds are slowly getting bigger and puffier, and the sun is being hidden more and more frequently. The patio goes from nearly too bright to just right, but both are nice in their own way.
A few of my neighbors have passed by with warm mid-morning greetings. A couple even thanked me for the “good word” I gave on Sunday at the Protestant church here on campus.
I spoke on the book of Micah this past week, filling in for the Pastor who was away giving a message at summer camp at Lake Okoboji in Iowa.
I have only read two pages of the Annie Dillard book I took off the bookshelf. But I figured this would happen. And I’m totally ok with it.
I have been watching HBO’s Chernobyl and have been quietly horrified by the show. Throughout the first three episodes there have been these unsettling scenes showing countless unnamed people who are affected by the disaster. Most of the time they are totally oblivious to what is going on. There’s a haunting slow motion scene of children dancing and spinning and running around as radioactive ash falls like snow all around them.
The viewer wants to yell, “No! Don’t do that! It’s radioactive!”
The show tugs on your humanity. It yanks on it, actually.
All these kids. What will happen to them?
There is a scene in the third episode with dozens of dazed people lining up in an old gymnasium, having their papers checked so they can be evacuated from their town. All these nameless people with names. All of them just going about their lives in small towns in Russia, totally upended by the disaster.
All these people. What will happen to them?
I think this show is powerful for me because it causes me to ask so many questions.
About existence. About humanity. About God. About good and evil. About the value of a human life. About power. About truth and lies. About politics. About technology. About science and advancement. About innocence and guilt. About duty. About heroism. About pragmatism. About history.
It’s powerful because we are drawn into specific individual lives within this story, while constantly being reminded of the sheer number of human beings that exist. The show lets us sit with the uncomfortable reality that there are a few individuals with incredible amounts of power that determine the fate of millions of people, potentially all of humanity’s existence. We are always one disaster away from living in a total wasteland of a planet.
This show is both humanizing and dehumanizing.
We are constantly being shown examples of individuals making the hard decisions, even at the cost of their own lives. We root for these people and the courage they embody in the face of a nuclear hell.
We want to believe that people are this good. But once again as I watch I think to myself:
Are people this good? Did this really happen? Am I that good?
I’ve always thought that the best told stories have people to root for, and often people to root against. And boy, does this show have that. There’s the constant use of the literary device of dramatic irony that this show masterfully uses; we generally know what is going on in the show because this is an actual historical event. I’m guessing most of the viewers know the basic details of what happened, but not much else.
One of the characters in the show is pregnant. My mom was pregnant with me during this disaster, granted over 5000 miles away. I was born in August of that year, so as I see pregnant women or small babies in this show it causes me to identify with them in a unique way.
There’s so much more I could still say that is on my mind about this show. I probably could write a whole post about how I think this show gives us all the elements of storytelling we were hoping for in the last season of Game of Thrones but didn’t get. Maybe the strength of this show is a bit inflated because of how much of a letdown the last couple episodes of Game of Thrones were. Game of Thrones ended this past Sunday.
And as the last few episodes of this show air, maybe I’ll write again about it with some thoughts. Or maybe some conclusions I’ve drawn from all the questions the show causes me to ask.
The cooler temperatures have stuck around well into the fifth month of this year. Winter stretched on for what seemed much too long, and the cooler temperatures of early spring seem to be overstaying their welcome.
Most mornings this season I have woken up to gray and dreary days. And for whatever reason that dramatically impacts my mood. Even though I am aware of this, I am unable to change it. And that seems makes it worse.
On the flip side, days where I wake up to ribbons of sunlight dancing on my bedroom wall I am simply a better person. My patience is much higher. My energy levels are high. And I’m motivated to make healthy decisions.
How can something like sunlight or the lack of sunlight impact me so much?
It’s frustrating that elements like weather can affect me so much. My mental health is very important to me. And so I need exercises to help me remain healthy on the gray days as well.
Interestingly enough, physically exercising does help my mental health quite significantly. The catch 22 there is that I have to have the mental fortitude to see past my current mood and remember how I feel after working out. When I choose to do that in the morning, it impacts the rest of my day positively. I just have to convince myself to do it.
Reading. Journaling. Writing. Listening to podcasts. Keeping my apartment clean. These things definitely help me, too.
I do very much love sunny days with dramatic light and shadows all around. A cool breeze. But I can’t put so much weight in letting those days impact my mood, either. I set myself up for failure when I do that.
I live in the midwest after all.
Recently my wife was on a walk and talking with one of the newest girls in our home. (We have nine teenagers that now live with us.) The sun was shining, there was a nice light breeze, and there are flowers all around.
My wife made a comment like, “Doesn’t this weather just make you so happy! It’s so beautiful! The smell of the flowers, the warmth of the sunlight, the cool breeze.”
The girl replied, “Not really.”
Kind of shocked, my wife asked, “What weather do you like?”
“I don’t like weather.”
Depression is a daily struggle for many people. When the world seems to lose its colors, people tend to stay in the shadows. We all want to experience the highs of life. Many of us attempt to escape the lows of life through drugs or alcohol.
And yes, you will experience a high that way. It just doesn’t last very long, and the crash back down to the bottom is a hard one.
We want to think that life is made up of mostly highs, but it’s not. But the thing is, life isn’t made up of mostly lows either. Life is mostly in the middle. It’s often…blah. Monotonous. The same stuff every day.
Some of us struggle to live in that middle area. The in-between. We’d rather experience lows or highs than have to live in that middle area every day. But for those of us who find ourselves in that category, much of life is learning how to find rituals and routines that we actually like. Structure that creates environments that we are more likely to notice the little details of life that have meaning if we simply pay attention.
There is a bigger narrative going on behind the everyday routines of our lives. When we start to notice that bigger narrative, I find that our brain starts to be ok with the in-between. Because at first we think the devil is in the details, but with closer inspection we realize that’s where God resides and carries out his daily business.
Last Thursday my Grandma died at 99. Then one of my heroes, Rachel Held Evans, died on Saturday at 37.
These two occurrences have kept me in a reflective mood.
When I’m in a reflective mood like this I feel a deep itch inside me that seems to only be reached through writing. I’m not really sure why that is, but I’m glad to be able to do it.
The thing is, I just have lots of random thoughts, impressions, that kind of bounce around in my head. I’m not really sure if any of them are connected or even coherent when put to words.
I am constantly thinking about the layers of history we are a part of at all times. The physical places I inhabit on a daily basis have been inhabited by generations before me in all sorts of ways.
We had the funeral for my grandma at the church she was a lifelong member at. It’s where my dad’s family grew up going to church. We had a little lunch reception after the funeral in the basement kitchen and cafeteria area. The same one that my dad and his siblings hung out in as kids. Same walls. Same floor. Probably the same photos hanging on the wall. And here we all were, almost the entire family sitting together. New generations coming to celebrate the life of and mourn the death of my grandma.
That’s not really deep or inspirational or thoughtful even, but I’m always intrigued by how time folds in on itself in various physical places. How timelines of various people and family scatter for years upon years. Sometimes decades. And then those timelines intersect again. Blips on the timelines of our lives, but significant blips that are all shared. Blips that ultimately help define what a family truly is in this world of ours.
Childhood memory is interesting and complicated. After the funeral we went over to my aunt and uncle’s house and stayed there for some time talking and looking through photos. Swapping stories. And my mind transports me back to the times when I was just a kid around these very same people. Running around carefree. Now I’m the adult, and my two boys run around with their cousins.
Nostalgia is a tricky thing. But at times like this, the nostalgia kind of has a very dull pain to it for me. The good ol’ days are no more. The days when I was young and these adults were all young, and through my young eyes everybody seemed happy. But we are all now looking so much older. And time has spared no one, some it has stolen away.
Rachel’s death is still so freshly affecting my heart to a point that I’m not sure I’m able to write about it quite yet.
But as I ask the questions of why I am reminded of how she wrote about why children ask so many questions. It’s not really for a clear definitive answer. They want attention, they crave a conversation. And so it perhaps is most beneficial to tell them a long story about why the sky is blue or what the moon is or why elephants have long noses rather than to give them some scientific answer.
Her point in all that was that God rarely seems to give definitive answers to our why questions. Instead, he chooses to tell us stories. And his stories are long and filled with all sorts of depth of meaning and attention. Oh how he must love us.
So I say all that to wonder how Rachel’s death fits into the story God is telling us today. What is going on in this crazy world of ours?
On January first I set some goals for myself. Perhaps the biggest one was to lose weight and make healthier decisions. As part of that I gave up snacking in between meals and drinking soda, period. No exceptions. I also got a spin bike on January 8th to encourage exercise. I’ve used it every single day since (except for the one night I was in Kansas City and I used the elliptical in the hotel gym).
As of yesterday I’ve now lost twenty pounds since January 1st.
I’m very happy about my progress. It was my goal to lose twenty pounds by Sarah’s birthday, which is March 27th. So I’m a month ahead of my goal. The next big milestone I want to be at is another 15 pounds, and I’m hoping to get there by August 20th, when I leave on a hiking trip in the Rockies.
It feels good to lose weight. And it has actually been an easier journey than I had anticipated thus far. I just assume that if I was serious about weight loss, I’d have to give up most of my eating habits. But it’s not true. I have stopped eating fast food for the most part, and I’ve just been smarter about the amount of foods that I do eat. I haven’t cut out carbs or anything. I don’t really think I could. I just have been doing things in moderation. I’m pretty sure I’d lose weight even faster if I stuck to a strict diet, but I haven’t been. I haven’t felt like I’ve punished myself at all.
There are still lots of great foods to eat to stay healthy. I have been avoiding foods that taste really good for the moments you’re eating them, but then almost immediately you feel kind of gross (Burger King, for example).
I don’t have anything deep or really thoughtful to say. I just am encouraged through some intentional effort that my body has been responding by losing weight. And I feel better these days. I have more energy. I feel healthier. Lots of good changes.
It seems fairly cruel that grief isn’t bad enough on its own. But it’s so individualized that it’s hard to communicate how you feel grief to others.
It’s a very deep-seated emotion. It’s low. Rumbly. Persistent, yet fluctuating in its intensity.
And perhaps the most frustrating element of grief, or at least the most universal aspect of it, is that even though it feels like grief causes time to slow down, or even stop for you, that’s not really what happens. The world continues on in its indifference. And the starkness of that, that’s hard to deal with.
Words. They don’t do grief justice. What am I supposed to say? I feel sad? I’m upset? I’m mad? I’m disappointed?
No one in my family has died. No one found out they are sick with a terminal illness. No one was physically injured.
One of the teenage girls that lives in my house has been struggling with her behaviors recently. Since right before going to Christmas break. Who knows what really is going on. Perhaps it’s the stress of being a senior. Perhaps it’s the unknowns of what she is going to do once she leaves our home. Perhaps it’s the pressure of being the first person in your entire family expected to graduate from high school.
Whatever the case, she’s been struggling with her behaviors. She’s tried to game the system to get away with things even though her behaviors haven’t truly warranted the privileges she’s been given.
She overreacted to being given a consequence last night. She flipped chairs. She threw all the stuff out of her closet in anger. She yelled. She cried. She screamed into her hands. She flopped onto her bed and sobbed.
Her reaction, her temper tantrum, even though I sympathize with her situation, at this point is simply unacceptable as an eighteen year old young woman. She comes off as threatening. Aggressive. It disrupts the home. Her unpredictability creates too many question marks related to safety. And at that point, the good of the whole home, including my two young boys, has to take priority. These are her behaviors that she’s choosing to do, and so the consequences are inevitably on her.
So last night after talking to my supervisor, she was removed from our home to be in a temporary intervention home. It was a very hard decision. One that I pushed back on because I knew that if she left, there was a very slim chance she’d be returning to our home.
I’m not sure why exactly I was holding on so hard to a girl who has been threatening and violent at times. I rationalize her behaviors too much perhaps. Perhaps her personality, which is one full of humor and interesting introspection, caused me to look past some of the behaviors she’s exhibited in our home.
Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe I’m just loyal to a fault. Or I work from the fallacy that since I’ve put in all this work, especially relationally, that we can’t give up now.
But “give up” is the wrong framing of this situation, perhaps. I most definitely am not giving up. None of us are. It’s more of a letting go.
But that’s so damn hard for me.
The frustrating thing about people making bad decisions is that we can’t make better decisions for them. We can give them opportunities. We can set up empowering environments which recognize their dignity as human beings. But we can’t make decisions for them.
And for whatever reason, some people are hellbent on having to learn things the hard way. They take what seems to be the easy route, but in reality the easy route is the rockiest terrain.
And so why do I say I am grieving?
A relationship has been severed, or at least dramatically changed. She no longer will be in my home.
That’s really hard for me.
I’ve given her so much of myself. She’s grown a lot in the time she’s lived with us. And I just struggle to let go since we’ve gotten her this far. I wanted to be celebrating her graduation at the end of the year, taking photos of her and her family celebrating. But that won’t be happening now. And that is a loss. That is a cause for grief for me.
I really liked having this girl in our home. I have some really great memories from the past year with her. It’s hard to let go.
After she calmed down a bit yesterday evening, before she left our home, she set the table for dinner. Micah came running out into the dining room and saw her and told her “Hey! I missed you today!” and gave her a big hug.
These girls become a part of our family. Our boys see them as their sisters. And I hate that our kids get normalized to their sisters having to leave when they exhibit bad enough behaviors consistently.
I’ve tried to use some words to describe the situation. The details which lead to the grief that I’m feeling. But I haven’t truly attempted to expose what I actually feel like. How grief impacts the interactions with have with other human beings. Because those other human beings are not experiencing grief. No matter how badly I feel, their lives aren’t dramatically changed. So you have to navigate the world where you can adapt like a chameleon to the moods and emotions and needs of those around you.
And that can be exhausting.
But because grief is a deep-seated emotion, it does give opportunity to connect with others deeply if you so choose. And if other people are willing to connect in that way, too. My wife and I see this situation differently. We process the world differently. That’s normal and ok. But it makes it hard to process it together. I have to learn how to express myself in ways which are able to be understood. I think grief affects our rational thinking. It’s almost like it pushes us into a desire to blame anyone, anything. And when that happens, it seems to impact those closest to you.
And so I strive to be patient. To avoid blaming. And sit with my feelings before I blurt out emotionally charged thoughts which are highly subjective and often incorrect, and therefore harmful.
Photography exposes more than just what was captured with the click of a shutter. It shows what the person who took that photo finds interesting enough to capture. And when you look at a collection of photos taken by one person, that collection as a whole starts to expose elements of whom that person is.
At the beginning of this year I started getting more serious about taking photographs on a near daily basis. That’s really not something all that new for me. But this year I wanted to be more intentional about the photos I took, and then be more reflective about my general photography style, so to speak. What are the common themes that I find in my photography? What kind of moments cause me to take out my camera? What kind of light is common in my shots?
What does my photography say about me? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself so far this year.
To be able to answer that question, I decided that I needed to understand what the photography of the masters that have come before me says about them. I knew I needed to learn from them to truly understand what my own photography says about me.
So I’m currently on a journey of both creating photographs, while also digesting the photos from the masters of the past (and present). So I have been watching documentaries and reading books about many of the top tier influential photographers. I’ve gotten a number of photo books filled with incredibly inspiring photos.
I have been learning so much about photography. About light. About composition. About portraiture. And it seems the practice of studying the masters and then going out to take photos myself, then studying my photos, then going back to the photography of the masters has been a great way to do it. It gives me a bit of validation of what I see as good photography, and challenges me to notice what makes a great composition. What makes a photo stand out compared to others.
So far I’m learning that photography is something I find therapeutic. I’m introverted, so taking photos gives me a way to express myself to the world in a controlled and intentional manner – just the way I like it!
Thankfully I’m not deeply motivated by follower or subscriber counts, or by how many likes a photo of mine gets. I simply love the process of taking a photo of a moment that interested me and then sharing that moment with the world.
I often get excited to go out simply because of the possible photo opportunities that may arise. I have my camera with me pretty much 90% of the time anymore just in case there’s a moment that presents itself that I would want to capture.
My camera challenges me to be brave and interact with other people. But at the same time, the camera is a tool for me to realize that even though talking with strangers can be intimidating, other people often want to be noticed and appreciated. A huge challenge I have for myself this spring is to get out into the streets and take photos of random people. Some candid, but my real goal is to ask for posed street portraits – probably my favorite genre of photography.
For the longest time I didn’t know what my camera and lenses were capable of. What were my limitations? Would the photo I want to take be possible with what I have? And I’ve come to realize, eh, that was just an excuse. I’m never going to have photos that look as great as the posed large format film portraits of celebrities with great lighting. It’s about capturing moments and people and things that catch my attention in this world. I can ask to take a photo of someone, and they can say yes, or they can say no. And that’s about it.
I have various chapters within my photography journey. I think I’m in a new chapter, pushing forward with more boldness. As I’ve watched the photographers that have given me so much inspiration, I’ve noticed how they were unfazed by people’s reactions of them taking photos. I think that’s been one of my issues for the longest time. I didn’t want to seem rude or weird out in public with friends, family, or even around strangers. But the moments that get captured are much more important than any reactions I get out while taking photos. Keeping that in mind is the key. There’s not a worse feeling to me than wishing I would have had my camera with me so I could have captured a specific moment. That regret is way worse than any reaction I might get for taking a photo.
And so, I press on within my photography journey, challenging my own boundaries so that I can get the sorts of shots that I want and notice all around me.
Recently a neighbor of ours lost her baby at 30 weeks.
Last night I was sitting at the high school basketball game next to her and her husband. All of a sudden all of the babies and young children were everywhere. All around us. And I couldn’t help but think of what that must be like. It must be so incredibly hard.