What I’m learning about myself through Photography

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.

Self-portrait (Second Attempt)

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.

Nana at 99

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.

Playing with light

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.

Sarah in the hotel room

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.

me in the mirror

Remembering the Journeys

Usually our girls are allowed to sleep in on Saturdays until about 10:30 am. Sometimes however, they get to go home for the weekend or for most of a day to spend time with their families. When this happens, they usually get up before 10:30, which means that I get some rare one on one time with them as they make breakfast and get ready to get picked up for their visit.

These times are special to me because I often get to have very real conversations with them. Yesterday was a prime example of that for me.

As one of my girls was waiting for her mom to come pick her up for the day she told me much of her mom’s story, and therefore much of her own. I can’t provide revealing details publicly, but I can say that her life’s story was full of struggle and perseverance.

I hope one day she is able to publicly tell her story. It’s a powerful one, and she’s a great storyteller.

But her story was a very good reminder of the stories and the journeys these girls carry with them each day. We have high expectations for each one of our girls, as we should, but sometimes it’s good to remember where they’s come from and how they got here.

First Morning After the Adventure

Right now I am sitting at an octagonal table in my living room. The table sits next to a set of four windows lined with about fourteen pots of variety of cacti and succulents. Sarah and I really like houseplants. There’s more succulents scattered around the house. Our senior assistant seems to think them to be a bit excessive. The first time she came into our home she grumbled, “You guys have a lot of plants.” She clearly did not approve.

It’s supposed to unseasonably warm today, but I can tell that it is quite windy outside. And looking out my window now, it looks colder than it probably is. The sun looks to be fighting to make an appearance. But I see no blue in the sky. Only a grey ceiling of clouds.

I sit here in silence. Sarah took the girls to church and dropped off the boys to a lenten Sunday School class. She let me stay home and be by myself. Which was nice and unexpected.

I’ve been up since about 5:40 this morning. I first heard the fan turn on in the bathroom and then a loud door slam. “Probably Ezra,” I thought to myself. After a few moments of silence I started to wonder what was actually going on behind that door. I got up and went into the bathroom to see Ezra just finishing up and flushing the toilet.

He scurried back to his room through our living room and again slammed the door. I opened it quickly to see him jump into bed and get under the covers.

“Stay in bed, you two.”

Micah, who had been sitting up waiting for his brother to return from the bathroom, laid back down and I closed their door to hopefully get a few more moments of rest before having to watch them while Sarah continued to rest.

I got about twenty minutes before I heard Ezra come out of his room for the morning. It was about 6:00. Sarah and I have now established some new routines. Today is their beginnings. One of the biggest and most important elements of the new routines is that I am the one to get up with the boys every morning until it’s time for me to work with the girls at 7:20 am or so during the week. On the weekends it’s a bit later.

I got up this morning and took a couple pillows and my comforter off the bed to go rest out in the living room while the boys played with each other. I threw the pillows down in front of our door, and laid down with my blanket. I didn’t want them sneaking a chair over to the door to unlock it again, and we don’t have a long enough couch for me to lay down on, so it was the most logical place to rest.

The boys played fairly well with each other. There was some bickering and some pushing here and there. Another recent change is that if the boys fight over a toy, the toy gets taken for a time until they will be able to earn it back. I didn’t have to take away a toy because after my one prompt of them needing to share with each other or else it would be taken, they figured out a system of borrowing that appeased them both, at least for the time being.

It’s Sunday, and eventually when 8:00 rolled around I turned on CBS to watch Sunday Morning. Ezra borrowed my phone to play a game and Micah played with toy cars.

Sarah eventually got up and made a plan for church. I had forgotten about the boys having Sunday School, so we had to start the battle with Micah about getting dressed. It’s been horrible recently, and has been progressively getting worse. He refuses to put on pants and shirts because they “mess with him.” He doesn’t like tags or seams. He has given up on wearing jeans altogether. Every day it is now a battle just to get clothes on him.

Eventually we got them both dressed, but even walking out the door Micah was still complaining about his pants, threatening to take them off at any moment.

Sarah is going to have to go to the store to pick up brunch foods. We didn’t have the ingredients to cook brunch this morning. The reason why we don’t have the ingredients for brunch this morning is a story that goes back to yesterday’s adventure. An adventure I still am unsure I have the words to address quite yet. But I will soon.

Helpful Resources in My Life Right Now

Over the course of the past two years or so I’ve been on somewhat of an individual and intentional faith retreat. I just made that phrase up, so I’m not sure if that even makes any sense, but that’s just what it feels like. Since moving to the Omaha area, my wife and I have felt fairly homeless in each church community we’ve attempted to be a part of, for varying reasons. As Sarah and I have navigated all sorts of challenges and twists and turns in our life together, I have been assessing my own faith and its foundations in my life. There have been all sorts of people, podcasts, books, articles, TV shows, conversations, and simple life encounters that have helped me progress on my journey. There are a few that are especially helpful right now in my life that I thought I would share.

The Bible for Normal People

A podcast is hosted by Peter Enns and Jared Byas.

They interview people about regarding their view and interpretation of the Bible. Although I don’t particularly feel like Peter and Jared are all that great at interviewing people, the people they have interviewed have been great.



What is the Bible? 

A new book by Rob Bell.

I’m not even halfway into this book right now, but for me I find Rob’s understanding of the Bible extremely helpful and encouraging. One of my favorite lines is when he was asked if he takes the Bible literally. And he says that he doesn’t take the Bible literally, he takes it literately. Some people may think that he therefore is a heretic or a has a very low view of the Bible, but as he explains his views and understanding of the Bible, you quickly realize that this view is actually a higher view of the Bible when contrasted to those who believe that it is only right to take the Bible as literally as possible.

I also listen to Rob’s podcast and watch his Facebook live videos and it’s hard to not find his joy and excitement contagious. Sometimes when I just need a lift of positivity I go see if Rob as put anything out recently because he’s always carefree, full of grace, and laughing.

“The Science of Sinning Less,”

Christianity Today cover article for May 2017

I work with at-risk teenage girls. I am constantly thinking about behavioral strategies while also thinking about trying to instill an inner willpower for good in these girls, my own two little boys, and myself. This article uses a simple but powerful metaphor to explain how self-control, willpower, and our behavioral routines are all tied to our spiritual development and our daily life.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

A poem by Wendall Berry that I revisit nearly every day for inspiration. So many great lines. I love the message it teaches.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Finding God in the Waves

A book by Mike McHargue.

I read this book a couple months ago, but I think of it constantly. I love how much “Science Mike” connected the functions of the brain to our person and our faith. I think he found an incredible balance in his book of how to understand what we know about the science of our brains and how God relates with us and this world.

Hidden Brain

A podcast by Shankar Vedantam

I love sociology, psychology, and anything about the science of the brain. This podcast addresses all of those areas and I usually find the discussions in this podcast extremely interesting and applicable. 


The Leftovers: Season 3

A TV show on HBO. 

The Leftovers may be one of the best shows on television in the last few years. Season 2 might be my favorite season of TV since The Sopranos. But this season is also incredible, and it feels like it has the most biblical references of any of the seasons. The psychological dread that I feel as I watch this comes dangerously close to how I feel when I watch the news regarding Trump, too. But the mystery of what is to come (there are only two more episodes left in the series) is extremely exciting and I can only hope that it ends better than the last episode of Lost. (It has the same writer, but he said he learned his mistake. We’ll see…)

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1

A TV show on Hulu.

This is a dark show in many ways. It’s another dystopian story that feels a little to close to home. But the biblical imagery that it uses is extremely provoking and has caused me to do a deep dive into the story of Jacob and his wives and his wives’ handmaids. Lots of interesting theological elements to wrestle with. In some ways it feels like the age of biblical patriarchs recast into a modern context, told from the women’s perspective. 

The story of Jacob 

Found in the book of Genesis in the Bible. 

There are so many aspects of the life of Jacob that seem very strange to me. But I have been fascinated with his story for about a month now and have done lots of reading and research about him and his story as we know it. Perhaps the most significant element of his life that I have found to shape how I’m thinking right now is his wrestling match with God, as it is explained in Genesis. He wrestles with the angel, his hip is knocked out of place with a touch, and he holds onto the angel with all his might and refuses to let go until God blesses him. After the wrestle his name is changed to Israel, which roughly means, one who wrestles with God. And _this_ is the name that the Jewish nation takes on. And I think we can find good meaning for ourselves in that exchange with God. 

The Paradoxical Commandments

A book and “commandments” by Kent M. Keith.

These commandments hung on the walls of Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta. They speak to a deep sense of purpose and meaning that we can possess which seem to be upside down. They seem to be counterintuitive. They seem to be paradoxical. 

I made them into a PDF if you’d like to check them out. 

Paradoxical Commandments