Faithfully thinking: I may not think, speak or do things like you but God can still use me

To be honest, I don’t know why I even write anymore. I don’t know much about anything and I’m full of very little wisdom. I’m a mom and a wife and I take photos for myself and that’s about it. I’ve never written a book, I don’t have a thriving business and last school year I was called a bad parent and it makes me try too hard at this blasted homeschooling thing.

Cleaning the house? Don’t get me started. Actually, if you did get me started I would be completely overwhelmed and would end up in a fetal position crying.

Cooking? I try my best but I often find myself imagining that cardboard with salt would taste better than my dinners.

Parenting? Last week my daughter bit her brother in the shoulder because he was sitting in the chair she wanted and my son is addicted to Minecraft. I have a huge “Fear of Missing Out ” (FOMO) problem but it’s mainly focused on my children because I already know I’m missing out and I’m so tired every single day of my life I don’t even care.

In other words, I’m a mess.

My one comfort is knowing I’m not alone, that I may be a train wreck but somewhere in this world there is another mom in another house feeling as inadequate as me.

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And despite how we feel, the truth is we are loved, we are worthy and we can be used by God even when others have written us off. I express doubts often and recently, after three weeks of trials stacked one on top of another on top of our family, I tossed out a few words of doubt on Facebook about God’s care for us.

I received an admonishment from a fellow Christian who told me: “Repent of your thinking” and little else because nothing comforts a person dealing with trials by telling them they’re falling short in their Christian walk. (Sarcasm alert).

Those scolding comments are something that tends to make me pause and decide I’m not worthy to talk about faith or Christ, wonder why I even thought I should and lead me to withdrawal within myself and vow to keep my inferior opinions to myself. The truth is, though, we are all on our own journey and on that journey we are going to stumble more than once.

 

DSC_5409Maybe God can use me even if I have doubts and I express them and I say things that don’t fit your idea of what a “good Christian girl” should say or should be. Maybe I show my weak moments when you hide yours but that does not exclude me from being used by God.

Those comments that don’t sound “Biblical” to you or don’t fit your personal narrative, those comments I throw out there in a moment of frustration or under the heavy burden of trial after trial after trial in a short amount of time, don’t dismiss me from God’s list of people who can be used for His Kingdom.

As I heard Pastor Steven Furtick say in a recent sermon: “There is nothing wrong with you that isn’t right with God.”

If you’re like me and feel your imperfect attitude disqualifies you from speaking your feelings about faith and God, let’s remind each other God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called and maybe what some of us are called to do is let our messy moments show so others know they’re not alone.

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To can also see my photography at www.lisahowelerphotography.com or Lightstock.

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Why artists need social media breaks

This is part of a five part series focusing on tips for creatives to keep their own, unique, authentic voice from being silenced.


Listening to your creative voice (1)I recently dropped Facebook for about a week, except for posting a few photos to my Facebook page. I stopped scrolling the timeline. I looked at Instagram maybe once a day or even skipped days. Then I started reading photography tutorials or going on YouTube for tutorials so I could focus on my own development, my own journey.  I had to break the hold comparing myself to others had on me so I could hear my own voice.

And I need to do this again because I am finding myself spiraling down into the trap of comparison and it’s drowning out my own artistic voice. When you, as an artist, spend most of your time looking at other artists, you start to lose yourself. You start to tell yourself you’re not as good as whoever’s work you are looking at. You may also start to recreate what other’s are doing, thinking that if you don’t you won’t find the success these other artists have found. When you, as a person, do this, the results are the same.

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DSC_4477-2When you are constantly looking at work or lives that aren’t your own, you lose sight of your own path; you can’t hear your own voice over the other voices swirling all around you. To ground yourself again in your own art and your own self you need to get quiet and hear what you want to say. You need to clear your mind and listen to your own creative view. When I say, ‘you’ know that I am preaching to ‘me’ because I am horrible at doing this.  I constantly compare myself to others – whether in photography, writing, or life.

I’m almost 41 and I still say to myself “I’m not as creative as this person, as talented as that, as pretty as her, as smart as him.” But when I do that I shut down my own voice. I tell it what it has to offer isn’t important or worthy or it’s own. We don’t all have to be the same. We don’t all have to create the same, look the same, or photograph the same. These statements are obvious and we know it but we don’t really hear it and take it to heart and adopt it as truth.  We see the meme or hear people say “There will never be another you. No one can do you, like you do you.” And secretly we think to ourselves “Ugh. Thank God because the me I know is awful and untalented.

DSC_2079This week my son was crying before bed, lamenting the fact he’s not as good as the other Lego creators he watches on Youtube. He talked to me about his lack of resources, his lack of money to get those resources and what he sees as his lack of creativity compared to those other creators. He sounded just like me and it broke my heart. He is talented and he does an amazing job with what he has access to.

DSC_2281-2DSC_1938.jpgIt’s true that we can’t afford to give him all the tools he needs right now but I reminded him he’s on a journey and reaching a goal in that journey will take time and hard work. Everyone has a different story and a different path that lead them to where they are. What he is seeing and what we are seeing are the highlights of these people’s journeys, not the failures or the tough times or the continuous doubts.

It does sound cliche to say there is only one you and only you can provide your view of the world, whether in photography, writing, or other forms of creativity but it is true. The way each person expresses and shares their creativity is unique and different and even if it is similar to what others have done it’s not exactly the same. Half of the fun of being a creative is the experience of learning and growing and seeing where the next lesson will take us.

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DSC_5101-2I challenged my son to take himself off of YouTube for a week and simply create for the joy of creating. Now I’m challenging you, and myself, to take a week off social media as well and rediscover the enjoyment of seeing the world through our own eyes and not the eyes of a hundred other creatives.

Rediscover what made you start to create in the first place. How did it make you feel, how did it make you see the world in a different way? Quiet the outside world and listen to the voice inside yourself and let’s see what we all create at the end of this week. I hope you’ll come back and let me know how you did.

 

 

When you forget why you wanted to create art | Athens, PA photographer

I often find myself over looking an image in my archives and it’s usually related to where I am in my photography journey. 

Sometimes I toss it aside because my focus that week is stock photography and I think, “That’s not going to sell.”

Sometimes I file it away because I think “That’s not what every other photographer is doing. No one will like it.”

Sometimes I overlook a photo because I forget why I started taking photographs in the first place.

I started to take photographs to document my life, my vision, my view of the world. 

I started taking photographs to document moments for my family and for others. 

I never started taking photographs so someone else would like them or so I’d fit in with a bunch of photographers I have never even met. 

So why do I find myself deciding what image is worthy based on what others might think?

Because I want to fit in?

 Because I wanted to sell? 

Because I wanted validation that my art is worthy if others like it?

That I am worthy because others like me?

What a stupid way to create art.

What a stupid way to live a life. 

This week I’ve been going through old images, wondering why I never edited them. I’ve been picking treasures out of my digital folders, editing and saving them.

These images may not be treasures to anyone else, but to me they are everything.

To me they are a link to what is most important, to the moments I knew I’d want to remember in the future, not the moments I hoped someone else would say they liked too.

Oct. 5, 2017 Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days | Athens, PA photographer

This is part of a new project called Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days where I capture ordinary moments in our days for the month of October. Those ordinary moments often make up very extraordinary lives. We may not all be famous or save lives on a global scale or make a national or international impact, but each of us have the opportunity to touch others, show them light, and speak life. Each of us have moments, the small moments, the little details of our day, that mean something to us, even if they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

My oldest was gone for a campout for school and I used a visit to my aunt in a local nursing home to distract myself from his absence. While we were there, visiting her in the courtyard, the weather was cloudy. Once outside the sun broke through as it was setting and Little Miss thought it would be fun to make me chase her while we waited for Grandpa to come to his car. 


Faithfully Thinking: A little more of a little less: why the fear of missing out is killing us

Our brain was not wired to process the amount of information we throw at it on a daily basis.

The shows we watch.

The news we tune into.

The podcasts we listen to.

The social media we scroll through.

The trends and news and health warnings and even the good stuff that is aimed at growing us spiritually.

It is information over load.

Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church said it well in his sermon “why are we anxious?”

“There is no way that we can’t take it all in and still have room for the peace of God,” he said. “You’re praying for the peace of God – God doesn’t have anywhere to put it. Your mind is too full. You were not designed to have the entirety of the conversation of the whole human race buzzing on your back pocket on your butt bone. Just walking around like snipers. ‘What did they say?’ ‘Where did they go on vacation?’ ‘What about that press conference?’ It was not supposed to be this way. Of course we’re freaking out. Of course we’re zombies. Of course we’re numbing ourselves and drinking and smoking and popping. Of course we can’t stop it. The devil’s got a shock collar on our back pocket and we don’t even know it.”

We are constantly shackled to the world through our devices.  Our minds are constantly filled with digital noise.

We are listening to a new song or reading a new post or receiving notifications about who is presenting something “live” on one of our social media outlets. And while they are live we are dead inside because we can’t even hear ourselves think.

We have a constant buzz of knowledge and information in our heads. So much we can’t hear our voice, our spouse’s voice, children’s voices or more importantly God’s. 

How can God speak to us if we never shut the voices off?

Notice I say “we”  and “us.”

How can God speak to ME if I never put the phone down and stop searching for help and validation in social media instead of His Word?

Ouch. That one hurt. 

Because it’s true. 

Because it’s what I heard in my spirit today when I tried to quiet the voices and just listen. I tried to listen to what God was saying and it was hard. 

It was hard to hear His voice beyond the anxiety and the doubts and the worry and the efforts to fix it all in the twenty minutes between when I woke up and my toddler woke up.  Not too mention I tried to force myself to listen and we all know what happens when you do that: you start making grocery lists in your head and wondering how cellophane works.

But then I did have a thought, that felt a lot like a reminder to my soul; a reminder that we can’t place ourself in chaos and expect to feel peace.

There are times chaos whirls around us, out of our control. Often, though, we are in control of what sweeps us up into its current. We can step back, close computers, uninstall apps, shut off devices and quiet all the voices except His.

We can decide that less is what we need.

Less people telling us how to be a better us.

Less “motivational” posts that make us feel we’re getting this Christianity thing all wrong.

Less busyness.

Less voices whispering we need to do more.

Less of us telling ourselves we need to be everything to everyone

Less expectations.

Less running toward what we think will make us happy.

Less determination that if we just have more of what we don’t have we’ll have all we need to be happy.

Is social media all evil and no good?

Of course not.

There is good mixed in the bad but less of it can mean more of what matters to us.

More of him.

More of her.

More of them.

More laughter with them. 

More of your voice, not “theirs”.

More of hearing your soul.

More peace.

More Him.

Photographing families in their own environment | Athens, Pennsylvania photographer

I’ve heard it said that if you have a dream you should speak it out loud.

I have a dream that sounds self serving but I’m speaking it anyhow.

I want to photograph families in their homes and capture the real moments of interaction.

There, I wrote it and when I wrote it I spoke it out loud.

Photographing people in their homes is a hard sale anywhere but especially where I live. It’s a hard sale because, I guess, people worry their house won’t look nice. They don’t want to clean or worry about cleaning and if they have photos taken with their family they want to do it the way everyone seems to – standing and posing next to a pretty tree or two, in a field or by a fence or a waterfall or – somewhere staged, you know? Somewhere life looks good and perfect and without wrinkles.

But sometimes, life is good and perfect even with the wrinkles.

So I am offering Family At Home Sessions this year.

Families at home.

Maybe your family is you and your children.

Maybe your family is you and your dog.

Maybe your family is you and your husband or you and your wife.

That’s who I want to photograph.
Sessions don’t have to be held in your home, they can also be held in your backyard or your front yard or wherever you make memories.

Try something unique and different.

Do you want to learn more? Then contact me or see the details page and we can talk about a new, fun, real experience in family photography.

Things I never, ever thought I’d ever, ever have to say

I thought I’d share a list of things my children have recently said or things I’ve said to them that I never thought I’d say.

One night my daughter stepped on her brother’s back and I thought she hit his rear so I asked her to apologize and joked that she needed to kiss his butt to make it feel better. His butt was clothed but still, I was kidding.

She will be 3-years old in a couple more weeks so of course she took me literally. She kissed his underwear clad butt and kept doing it while giggling.

It might have been funny except it was another chance to procrastinate for bedtime. 

“Hey!” I said. “No more kissing your brother s butt! It’s bedtime! Now lay down!”

Another night at bedtime my little brute, who often pushes her older brother away when he wants a hug, sometimes even delivering a throat punch or two, decided she would volunteer a hug for him.

 “Come here, Jonathan. Let me hug you,” she said in the sweetest little, mothering-tone of voice.  

“Awwww!” He said, touched by the gesture and ready for a long, drawn out cuddle session like he and I sometimes have.  

She hugged him maybe 20 seconds, pulled away and said curtly “Okay. We’re done here.”

Yet another night and the lights were off, time for bed.

Jonathan, 10, says: “Stars are made out of burning gas.”

Grace, sounding annoyed: “Stars are made out of stars not burning gas.”

Jonathan: “No. Stars are made out of burning gas.”

Long pause.

Grace: “Stars are not made out of burning farts.”

Jonathan: “I said burning gas.”

Silence.

Then . . .

Giggle.

Grace: “Stars are made out of burning poop.”

Jonathan: “Grace! They are not made out of burning poop!”

Sigh.

Real life.

Sometimes we are fake

Sometimes I feel like such a fake.

I write blog posts about trusting things will work out and having faith and enjoying every moment and there are days – seriously – where I just don’t feel it.

Like right now I am writing this on a computer that randomly pauses and freezes and only works if it is plugged in because the charger port or battery or something is broken and there is no money in the budget to replace it.

And it isn’t from a lack of praying  for the funds to replace it, or believing God provides all our needs. The changes in our situation simply don’t come, for whatever reason. 

I say none of this in an effort to illicit pity because computer issues and financial woes are something many deal with and quite frankly it is nothing compared to people running for their lives or not having food to eat or clean water to drink.  

I write this to do my best to be authentic because honestly I’m tired of the lack of it on social media and in the world today.

How many times will we put on a good face and smile and kick out 10 Bible verses a day to show how positive and faithful we are all while we are dying inside and questioning God and wondering why we thought we heard Him clearly tell us to take one path but then He never blessed it? Or we are questioning why a family member is suffering physically or why a young child suffered for so many years and then died in his mother’s arms.

Here we sit with empty bank accounts and broken dreams and smashed-to-smithereens budgets we attempted but fell apart from unexpected expenses. Here we sit with empty and aching hearts and minds jumbled with a thousand thoughts.

And here we sit with a thousand questions of why we can’t seem to make this thing called life work and how we got here, moving money from this account to that account, and trying to stay sane and happy like everyone else while feeling guilty about being depressed about things that seem so trivial compared to the trials of others.

 

It’s hard to be positive sometimes and to share struggles and then tie it up in the end in a neat little bow, like a sitcom or a Hallmark movie.

Sometimes there are no good endings, or at least not yet.

Sometimes we just sit in the midst of the struggle and we can’t fake it anymore.

We can’t say ‘God’s got this’ when there are days we simply don’t know or trust He does.

Do doubts make us any less of a Christian?

There are thoughts in my mind that tell me they do.

But there are other thoughts that tell me no, because many in the Bible doubted and didn’t trust and learned to live life the hard way. They were real and honest and never hid their doubts. David is one of those people who come to mind when I think of the doubters, the struggling ones, the ones who paused and had the audacity to ask God just what he thought He was doing.

Scrolling through Facebook there are quick little memes from well known pastors or authors or speakers and they are meant to be encouraging but one Wednesday morning I just sat there like a loon and I yelled at my phone “I know! I get it! And that’s what I’m trying to do but nothing is happening! I prayed and I asked God and I’m trying to stay calm and I even got a prayer journal and I watched that movie about a prayer closet and I’ll make one if I have to but NOTHING IS HAPPENING!!! I’m tired of jumping through hoops.”

My toddler, who sleeps in our room because our house is too small to make her a room of her own, woke up and looked at me and said “Well….that was just crazy…”

And it was crazy.

A crazy moment of saying “Thanks for all the cute little posts with cute little phrases but sometimes it just gets old to see these reminders over and over and over and over but feel like it’s all lip service.”

I can say something over and over and until I’m blue in the face and I can believe it, but guess what? Sometimes even that doesn’t work and sometimes even that doesn’t launch us over the road block we have hit in our lives.

I listened to a blogger talk about her struggles recently  and when she got to the part where she said “I mean for like three months we like really like struggled with our finances and like it was like hard” my head almost exploded.

Then she said “And so we like prayed and I like got up every morning and like over night we were making three figure salaries every week and it was like amazing.”

Again. My head. Ow.

Because – like – I have been on my knees about several looming life issues for YEARS not three months and I still am wandering like a lost sheep in the wilderness.

So why does California girl get her miracle “like over night” and mine hasn’t even come in 800 some nights?

I don’t know.

Yep, that’s right.

I don’t have an answer for you or for me.

Not yet anyhow.

And maybe never.

I don’t know why God chooses some to struggle for years and others to find relief in hours. I don’t know why some of us struggle with health, some with finances, some with marriage, some with loss after loss, some with self-esteem and some don’t.

Right now, right here, I am supposed to say “all I know is God is good.”

But sometimes?

I don’t feel like God is good.

And right there I bet a few people decided I should have my Christian card taken away.

But sometimes I feel like He is very far away and like good people die too early and that if He is God then why has He let this world go on with so much pain in it for so long?

I mean, seriously, don’t you ever feel that way?

Yet even as I feel that way I see my daughter and my son, children I never thought I’d have, and I remember moments in my life where I prayed and in minutes a prayer was answered.

 I remind myself that no, I don’t have all the answers, and yes, I may often feel frustrated and lost and doubt, but even when I’m ready to say it’s all pointless, like I am today, I feel something inside me urging me not to miss out on the joy of life, even with the sadness of it seems to be pushing me down.

So, I keep listening to the sermon podcasts, even when I yell at them THAT I AM TRYING BUT APPARENTLY I’M JUST NOT DOING IT RIGHT!

And I keep reading the encouraging blog posts even when I want to say “Whatever. I bet your life isn’t really that good and you probably have doubts too but you’re afraid of being marched out of the Positive Christian Mom Blogger Club.”

And I keep looking at the memes and reading the devotionals and listening to the positive songs.

Because what is the alternative?

Filling my mind with more darkness, more negativity, more hopelessness?

Seeing only the bad of life?

Seeing only failure?

Seeing only mistakes?

Seeing only sadness?

It’s not an alternative I’m willing to grab ahold of.

The negatives, the sadness and the feeling of hopelessness will be there.

But the joy, the smiles, the light peeking through the clouds will also be there and I will try my best to focus on those bright spots as well.

Do I promise I will showcase only the light times and speak as if it is like a walk along the beach at sunset? No. Because to do so is dishonest, it’s an illusion, it’s not what life really is.

Life is not all cotton candy and rainbows and sunlight.

For anyone.

No matter what they show on Facebook, instagram or to your face.

Life is not all those good things all the time but there is joy and I hope it doesn’t sound like I don’t want that joy celebrated because I do, I very much do.

But if some of your moments aren’t joyful know you’re not alone. 

Because sometimes it’s okay to not be happy your kids are growing up so fast

You know what’s really annoying?

Having to say what a blessing it is to watch our children grow up.

I see it all the time in the photography world. A mom-tog (not a bad term in my mind though it is to some) posts a photo of her oldest on instagram and writes a beautiful piece of prose about how much they miss when this growing child was young and innocent and liked to cuddle. Inevitably some other mom writes “but it’s such a blessing to see them grow, isn’t it?”

I have this suspicion that the other mom writes this because she herself knows the dark, ugly truth of parenting: yes, watching them grow is a blessing but yes, it also sucks raw, rotten eggs.

You know what?

I’m tired of us moms thinking we are horrible human beings if we admit there are days we can’t stand that our children are growing older and aren’t as sweet and cuddly as they once were.

We need to embrace our feelings even if it doesn’t fit our Pinterest list of perfect motherisms (yes, I know it isn’t a word,  but you can pretend it is).

Does it mean we love our children less as they grow out of our arms and into independence? Of course not, but we need to stop feeling less than because sometimes we cry when we see how much they’ve changed over the years.

We all know what’s behind our tears.

Nostalgia.

Joy. 

Sweet memories.

Selfishness.

Yes, selfishness.

We don’t want them to grow up and move on. Why? Because moms, deep down, feel very strongly that once their children grow up and move out they will no longer need them and worse yet? That we moms will no longer have worth, purpose, a reason to live.

Don’t get me wrong – our lives don’t completely revolve around our children’s to the point they are our only identity but then again – maybe it does for some of us.

And when we have to think about what our lives will be when they grow up and move on?

It’s hard.

It’s gut wrenching.

It’s scary.

It’s time for introspection we don’t want to face.

Yes, it’s necessary to accept our children are growing, not live in the past.

But it’s also hard and it’s ok to say that.

It is not only ok but it is healthy to honor how we feel in the moment let those emotions roll around and over and through us so we can deal with them in the open and not deep down in the dark caverns of our suppressed sensibilities

 Too often we let the opinions of others, those who tell us how we should feel, should act and react, rule us and guide us and drag us through life.

We’re not bad mothers if we cry in the darkness of the night, aching for the younger days. We’re not even bad mothers if we live there for a little while – but only for a little while.

It’s not wrong to weep about the days gone by but if we do it for too long we’ll miss out on the now.

We will miss out on who our children are now and who they are becoming.

 

There is no rule that says a mom, or a father, can’t say they are dreading their children growing older while also enjoying watching them grow.

The alternative to not seeing them grow up? It’s unthinkable and is a million times worse than watching them go from cuddly toddler to stand offish teen.

But, yes, mama, you are allowed to say “I miss my baby.”

“I miss my little boy.”

“I miss my little girl.”

“This is hard. “

There are a lot of other moms and dads who are right where you are, even if they don’t say it.

They have those hard moments.

You have those hard moments.

But, yes, they, you and I know it is a blessing and a gift to watch them grow, develop, and bloom even as we lament how fast it’s all going.