Over the last several years I have developed a new ritual in my life, choosing a word for the year. I usually start thinking and praying about this in December and by the beginning of January I have found my word. This year I have struggled with this ritual. My hip pain had been gradually getting worse and made it difficult for me to walk. I decided to have the hip replacement surgery in January and that loomed over my plans. Recovery hasn’t been as easy as I had hoped. In fact there have been many days of discouragement, days when I wondered if I would ever walk normally or go for a hike again. Finally a light has opened up - not because I have recovered from the surgery but because I have to come to the point with God to say, “OK if I am to never walk normally or hike again, then I will trust you to lead me in a new way.”
Now the word comes to me: PURPOSE. As Christians we have a big purpose - to fulfill God’s good purpose which is to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. The question then is how do we accomplish this purpose. What is our purpose this day that will bring about God’s purpose? It is a question we must ask each day. We have to be open to the way God will answer. I do believe that God has given each of us special gifts and things that we enjoy. So we must continually seek for ways to use those things to accomplish his purpose. This year I want to be diligent in searching for his purpose every day of my life. I want to be open to what God’s purpose for me right now is. I want to continue to enjoy photography and writing the blog but I also want to make sure that it is his purpose for me and be willing to give up either one.
A part of the ritual of choosing a word for the year is to choose a verse for the year. Here is mine for the year:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Philippians 2:12-13, NIV
These were the words that Ken Duncan, Australian photographer, used to introduce himself. Today I found him in an ebook that I had purchased awhile ago and had forgotten about. So I started reading his book again and it made me want to find out more about him. I went to his website and also found a documentary movie he had made called “Chasing the Light” that I was able to watch on Prime video. These are some of the things that I learned from him today and some of my thoughts while reading or listening.
He always had on a T shirt with something printed on it. It is his quiet way of getting out his message of speaking his faith. One he wore said” Faith or Fear, Your Choice.” In all his conversations he acknowledges God, shares God. It was interesting to see how the interviewers in the video kept skipping over this. He wasn’t pushy but he was honest. I want to be like this with my faith. So much a part of me that I have no fear of speaking it and speak it in a way people can listen if they choose to.
“The beauty of nature gives people a peace to know there is hope. There is a God and he is in control, don’t worry about it.”
“Writing and photography are the same - they are both a form of storytelling.” - So here I am telling stories that I never thought I would, with both words and pictures. I would have never guessed this.
To make a good image you must put down your camera and connect to the land. Come back again and again. Come with respect of the land. When we do we will see something bigger than us. Great shots come out of respect for the land.
“The land holds the record of the passing of humanity - the stories are in the land.” Maybe that is why I like photographing the Smokies so much. This is the land where my grandparents and mom grew up. These Smokies hold stories of people who came to live in this beautiful place.
“Great photos are given to you if you just call out and see what happens.” - kind of sounds like “be still and know that I am God.” Then you say, “I did that, no God did that.”
The places we go to photograph are more than just locations, they are places where you meet God. “To really see a place you must look at a place without a lens and you will see God there.” Sometimes I will take a picture and sometimes I won’t. The image needs to tell something that can’t be described with words.
“Sometimes I feel like God’s great test pilot. I want him to use me that way.”
“For me clouds are a canvas for God to paint on.” I have come to love clouds and always looking trying to see if they are going to be canvas for God this day.
These words made me cry. He has given voice to want I feel inside and haven’t been able to put to words. I have so much to learn about photography but I am so grateful that God give me this gift and that slowly and surely he is teaching me to see. I already see beauty where I would never have seen it before.
Sometimes the ideas for my post come fast and easy. There are words and the pictures comes to mind. Other times I struggle - there are words but no picture and vice versa. Yesterday was such a day. I had this idea and even a picture but it just wouldn't come together. I couldn't make a good connection. Now looking back on it I think I know why - actually I can think of 2 reasons. One is simple, I got distracted by the dark hole of the Internet so my mind was no longer concentrating on God. The other reason is more important - the words were wrong. They weren't what was meant by the scripture, they were ideas more from culture then God's word. So now I am thankful that the words wouldn't come. They wouldn't have glorified God. The lesson for me - don't force it. It may be that by forcing something you could finish a task , meet a goal, but you stand the chance for loosing so much more, getting it wrong.
To Learn and Grow, this my phrase for the year, my guiding word for the year.
I was led to these words by a line from a song by Ken Medema in his song, “Ocean Breezes,” a song about looking back and looking forward. This whole song captured where I find myself in this second year of retirement but these words especially made an impact on me,
This is my choice I want to leap into this strange new day
To taste and to turn, to love and to learn what I could not know yesterday.
There are so many things that I can learn now that I don’t have to work, so many things that my life experiences make possible for me to understand in a new way. I want to learn more about photography, of course, but more I want to learn about God’s word. I want to deepen my understanding of theology. I want to do more than just learn facts; I want to apply what I learn to my life and grow closer to Christ, closer to my family. I will use this verse as my verse for the year.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Psalm 32:8, ESV
So I want to move forward into this new year, to learn and grow
Writing has always been a part of my life. When I was in school I wrote for assignments. In my professional life I wrote a lot also - lesson plans, official letters, research (thesis, dissertation, and a few published works). This kind of writing, while work, always had a format and an outline. I write for myself in journals - both a teaching journal and a personal prayer journal and since I would be the only one to see this, no structure was needed. But this is so different.
I have never really considered myself a writer. I wrote for my job and have a knowledge of the pedagogy of the writing process but I have never really studied writing or ever thought about being a writer. I know grammar and style rules but these aren't enough. Writing these daily blog posts is really different from any kind of writing I have done before. My photography was the catalyst behind the blog and website in the first place but it is no longer the singular agent. While I have a general purpose for the blog as a whole, when I start to write each day I don't have a specific purpose for writing that particular post.
A friend asked where I start to write, which made me think about how I write. Sometimes I start with the scripture that I am reading that day. The wonderful thing about being retired is that I can spend lots of time in the morning reading and praying. Since I have come to see the blog as my new job (see previous post) I begin the day with reading my Bible. Right now I have several things I am reading - devotion books and bible studies. I am also reading the Feasting on the Word commentary (see Favorite Books page) which follows the revised common lectionary (I can't thank my pastor, Ellen Di Giosia enough for this). There are some days when a scripture I read immediately brings an image to mind. There are some days when I go to my images and a scripture comes to mind. After I find both the scripture and the image then I start to write. I don't use an outline which is very different from the way I wrote professionally. I did develop a kind of format by having the two sections of each blog. I just put down ideas and then with the magic of technology re-arrange them. I try to make sure that I put something about where the image was taken. I spend a lot of time on word choice and I think about how each specific word can make a connection between the scripture and the image. Some days the writing is quick, it just flows, and other days I struggle and it seems to take forever. I also want to keep the writing brief and use an economy of words - which is really the hard part. As I have been writing I have noticed that I was more and more just writing sentences separated by spaces and then trying to make connections between them. So this week I have started using my ipad note taking app to draw the ideas and then make connections between them using arrows.
I have now written 92 posts over a three month period. I look back on some of them and I can't believe that I actually wrote that well. And then I think, really I didn't write that. Those ideas weren't mine - they came through scripture and time listening to God and my images. (I usually pray before I take my camera out and ask for God to teach me and show me something that day - so even those aren't mine.) I am surprised that I still really enjoy this kind of writing, even though it is hard work, and I am not tired of writing. If I had spent this much time on writing something for work I would have been exhausted by now.
I am not sure when all this writing will end or the picture taking will stop. I want to always point to Jesus and not to me. There is a song (Jesus, the One and Only) that I remember from Travis Cotrell's album for one of Beth Moore's bible studies that begins with these words: "There is a name above all names, let mine be lost in his." I want my work to be like this. I am honored and grateful for the kind, supportive words that you have posted or told me in person but I want to just point to Jesus and bring glory to God.
I ask that you pray that I will be open to God's leading and speak only his words. I feel a little selfish in this next request but it has rained so much that I haven't even been able to get my camera out of the bag. I pray that I have the opportunity soon to hold my camera in my hand and pray for God to show me something beautiful in his world.
Thanks for reading,
It has been a little time since I posted which I have spent with my son and daughter in law as they welcomed our granddaughter into the world. I am so grateful for this gift of retirement that allowed Thomas and I to spend extended time with them.
For 37 years I was a teacher. There were different teaching positions, good and bad years, hard and easy years. The last 4 years were probably the hardest. I was ready for a change and so greatly relieved when I walked out of my office for the last time. I didn't know what the change would be. At first I just wanted to rest. We also planned a long trip, adventure as it turned out, to celebrate being able to travel at some other time than school breaks. After the trip was over and we were back home it was time to think about a new job. Retirement gives you an overwhelming list of possibilities; places to volunteer, social groups to join, time to read and learn, time to do your hobbies, time to travel. So how will I use retirment
The thing about following Christ is that he always does the unexpected - his plans are greater than ours. Five years ago I would never have thought that I would call myself a photographer. I just can't believe I define myself in that way. I also would have never have defined myself as a writer. But here I am writing a daily blog about my images and scripture. I have come to think of this as my new job, one given to me not sought after. I do the things of a job. I work hard at writing and editing photos. I study scripture more. I practice and work to learn more about photography. I have a daily routine but one that is not determined by a clock. I work at maintaining a website and an email newsletter. I am also grateful that I can give this work away for free. Thomas and I have been fortunate and have planned financially so at least for now we can afford for me not to work to meet our daily needs.
I have been amazed at how the website grew from an idea to a reality and seeing God's hand in all of it. I see how God took the idea and helped me work out how the blog would work. I have been amazed at the words he has given me. This morning I went back over my posts and I can't believe that I wrote that, having never been a writer or even enjoying writing. I have also felt so supported by friends and family who daily read and hear and see God in the words and pictures.
I have come to think about my new job as ministry. I have never really thought in terms of ministry. Ministry means something different to each person, I think, and each Christian must work that out for herself. In my search for new resources, my pastor, Ellen Di Giosia, pointed me to an amazing resource about the liturgical year called TextWeek. In exploring the site I read about the creator of the site Jenee Woodard. She sees her work on the site as ministry, which she defines as what she does with her life to explore what it means to be human and to use her gifts to serve others resulting in joy and delight. I like this new understanding of ministry. I want my new job, this website, to be my ministry. I don't know how long the blog will last or where God will lead me next. But I do know that as long as I serve him, he will take the gifts he has given me, even the new one of photography, and do things I never even imagined. I do know that right now the website is his and it exists to bring him glory. I pray it will always do that.
For the past several years I have chosen a word for the year to remind me of important things. I praying about what I word I will choose for the upcoming year towards the end of the current year - and God has always given me a word.
My word for this year is: Illuminate
Until I started photography I really didn't notice how many times light is mentioned in the bible. Light and darkness are strong metaphors used to describe so many things. When you take a picture you are capturing light on a sensor so without light there is no image. The quality of the light that is present changes what is captured by the camera. As a photographer I am trying to capture light. To illuminate is to use light - to capture light, to bring understanding.
As I was thinking about how to share my images on a website I came across the verse that became part of the title of the website, "The unfolding of your word gives light." There was the metaphor of light again. If I am going to keep this website up I will have to have light - God will have to illuminate my thinking as I read his word - he will have to bring images to mind that I have taken. I know that without his illumination there will be no words to share.
Another way that I have seen the word Illuminate recently is in the St. John's Bible. If you don't know what this is, it is the first illuminated bible in 500 years. This year I had the privilege of hearing Donald Jackson, the calligrapher leading the creation of this bible, and seeing copies of the St. John's Bible. I am not sure why but from the very first time I read and saw images of this bible I was touched in a way that I never expected and I can't explain. It just touches my soul, make me think, and makes me cry for its beauty. It started me thinking about art and its purpose in my world and the drive to create - to illuminate.
So this is my word
to be illuminated by the unfolding of God's word which I want to study in a deeper way
to learn to better capture light, illuminations, with my camera
to share my illuminations with others
Do you have a word for the year? How do you chose your word? How do you use your word during the year?
All the photographs in this site were taken by me. If you use or share anything from my website, please link back to this page. Thanks.
Soli Deo Gloria,
1 Corinthians 10:31
© 2018, 2019, 2020 Karen Milligan
Soli Deo Gloria,
1 Corinthians 10:31
© 2018, 2019, 2020 Karen Milligan