Gratitude is not a natural state. At least not for me. Waking every morning, an hour early, and spending those first waking moments writing down the things that I am grateful for…cozy socks, hot coffee, my grandsons laugh, a new pen, my pillow…I could go on for paragraphs (just check out my Instagram feed if you don’t believe me), this practice has changed so much for me.
It forces me to every day look at whatever might be happening and ask, “What about this is good? Sometimes it’s not easy and it comes down to the tiniest thing but it’s proof that the little things really do make a difference.
It keeps me in the present and reminds me that each moment is a gift and not to be taken for granted.
“Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
Just two years ago I was coming home from a job that, most days, brought me to tears. It was a job that I thought I wanted. It was a step up the corporate ladder. Steady pay, good benefits, a gym and cafeteria on site…I sincerely believed that was what I needed in order to have the life I wanted. How could I have gotten it so wrong?
Today, my office was my jeep, my equipment…my camera. My boss, was me and my agenda…be inspired! I wandered around a few gravel roads, had a little hiccup when I had to find my way around a flooded bridge, but didn’t mind when the detour brought me face-to-face with a beautiful old white barn. Next up, a greenhouse. After a long, cold and wet winter, greenhouses are one of the first places that are going to reveal signs of spring. I spent almost an hour walking up and down the rows of various starter plants. Tomatoes, peppers, impatients, geraniums (some in bloom) and a whole host of houseplants and gardening tools.
Back in my Jeep I let myself zig-zag through neighborhoods and backroads, daydreaming and only partially aware of my next destination; an old farm smack in the middle of what was once a rural Iowa town but is now a growing and thriving suburb of Des Moines. Careful to not trespass I captured several shots of the old barns as I lamented about the passing of time and wondered at it’s history and the people who had worked and roamed here. Slightly saddened I headed, once again, in no particular direction until I found myself close to another greenhouse. This one, newer and not as advanced in their growing took much less time to peruse. Taking note of some of their displays in their gift department, I made a plan that would finish out my day with a couple more barn photo ops and once last garden store visit.
I loved today. I sometimes wish that I could spend all my days as my own boss but then I remember how much I enjoy my other job, the one that actually pays the bills, and I’m torn. Two years ago I was working in a cubicle, tied to a phone and a schedule that told me when I took my lunch and bathroom breaks. Today, I have my own business on the side and full-time job at a garden center, and I love them both. I know that some day I will need to make some tough choices about the direction I want to take but right now…I’m living everyday with a grateful heart and appreciating that I finally took control and stopped living what I thought was the expected and started living MY best life.
A rabbit scurries off the dusty porch. The hinges squeak and the screen door makes a “slam!…slam!” behind me. I unconscientiously wipe my shoes on the rag rug at my feet and as my eyes adjust, I step further into a simple but quaint living room. A small lamp in the corner barely illuminates the room but it adds a coziness that draws me in. There is no tv, just a small radio that reminds me of my grandmother. A worn loveseat and small wooden rocker fill the space. An open doorway behind the rocker reveals the tiniest kitchen I have ever seen and just beyond that is bedroom big enough for a side table and a twin bed covered in a faded quilt. When I open the white, wooden door of the closet, I am surprised by it’s heaviness but even more surprised at it’s contents.
What do you see?
This is my why. This is why I wander the streets and gravel roads. This is why I enjoy spending time alone. This is why no matter where I go or what I’m doing, my gaze is easily distracted. This is my why. I am not a naturally gifted story teller but I see a story in everything around me and photography allows me the opportunity to tell those stories.
What is your why?
2018…wrap it up in a pretty little box and tie it with bow. It blew in on hopes and dreams and left on fumes of failure. That’s the trouble with setting goals, you might not be successful…but then again…
It could be that you look back and in the midst of all those incomplete or failed attempts you start to see patterns and instead of the blanks you notice the string of check marks, the small but significant wins. Sure you didn’t meet your goal of drinking 80 ounces of water everyday but you did develop a habit of starting your day with a full glass. Perhaps that stack of books you intended to read is now collecting dust on the corner of your desk but you did manage to unclutter a closest and your office space.
These are just a couple of examples of how I was not successful, but 2018, for me, was a huge success and I owe it to all of my failed attempts. It was through the disappointments that I began to really understand myself and what truly matters to me and those around me. Perfect example…I decided that I wanted to jump on the bandwagon of improving my marriage. Nothing wrong with that, right? My goal; set aside one evening every two weeks to be designated date nights. So far, so good? Not really. By the end of February we had managed one single, solitary date night. At first, I was furious with myself and with him. The more I tried to push the idea the more damage I caused. For several months I tried to make sense of why we had failed so spectacularly. Here’s the thing…wanting to improve is never bad, setting goals is important but when you’re talking about improving and goals that include another person, you really need to make sure you include them in the planning stages, not just the finished idea. By simply telling my husband that I wanted to improve our marriage and here’s how, what he heard was, “I’m not happy”, and here’s what you’re going to do about it. The result…date night was not something to look forward to, but something imposed upon him. Add the idea that he thought I was unhappy and well…Date Night Disaster 101.
More importantly, be sure the goal is right for you and your circumstances …I jumped on a bandwagon. I kept seeing all these people talking about set date nights and well, why not? What a great way to spend more time together and work on our communication and talk about our future, and…and…and…but what it really did was make me take the good in our relationship for granted and instead focus on everything I thought was wrong. Of course it’s not perfect; we’re imperfect people but we have an easy eb and flow. We get along and seldom argue. We both have our own hobbies and neither of us is completely dependent on the other. We joke and kid around and have fun together. There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal to improve but the goal needs to fit the circumstances and it needs to be set for the right reasons, not because it seems to be what works for everyone else. This year my goal for our relationship is to appreciate it. To focus on the good and instead of looking for the bad, it is my goal to be brave enough to confront it when it appears.
At the beginning of 2018 I was so excited about the goals I had set for myself. It had taken me a couple weeks to work through the process provided in the planner. It was the first time I had ever really taken that hard a look at my life and I walked into the new year confident that I was going to succeed. I didn’t. The number of blank boxes far outweighs the sporadic colored-coded check marks for each completed task and that’s a huge disappointment but the knowledge and clarity I gained about myself, my relationships and dreams is so worth it. This year my goals are simple and authentic to who I am. This year my goals are not to impress or to improve others. This year is about owning what I’ve learned, forgiving who I’ve been and moving forward.
“No one gets to tell you how big your dream can be.” Rachel Hollis
A couple months ago I somehow stumbled across the title of Rachel Hollis’ latest book, “Girl Wash You Face”. Little did I know the impact it would have on me and my life. So much of what she says just hits me in the gut. Deep down, I know these things she says, but for some reason I desperately need to hear them…over and over.
I am my own worst enemy. I allow my negative self-talk and the opinions of others to decide my dreams, my next steps, my limitations. I let my perceptions of what other people might think of me to keep me frozen in fear. I spend hours planning and making lists and planning some more. Filling out goal sheets and writing down my biggest dreams. I work very hard on paper but in real life…I’m a slug. A capsized turtle, waving my feet frantically but getting absolutely nowhere. The worst part is that I’m terrified to do anything about it. Or, I was.
I’ve stayed in a relatively safe little box, knowing that as long as I didn’t push the lines too far, everyone would be okay. I could have some small wins but never really accomplish the dream and if that meant that no one was inconvenienced or made uncomfortable then I was able to talk myself into conceding. After all, isn’t that what you’re suppose to do? Compromise. Dream a little but stay inside the boundaries of what’s practical and makes sense to the masses?
Meanwhile, another year is passing by and where am I? Still inside the comfort zone, not even straddling the fence! No closer to my dreams. The problem with compromising the dreams laid on your heart is that no one wins. That’s what I’m learning. Trying to keep your plans inside what makes sense to everyone else is an insane way to use the gifts you been given. It robs you of any joy you may have felt when you first discovered your passion. It drains you of inspiration and motivation and it produces halfhearted work that you’ll never be proud of.
I do think it’s important to take into account the people in your life that are affected by your choices. I think it’s vital to be considerate and find ways of achieving your dreams fully without being negligent and irresponsible. I also think sometimes you have to be selfish. When your dream is taking you places you never imagined and your not compromising your integrity you have to let it take the lead. Not everyone in your life is going to agree or understand it. That is okay. Those who love you and support you are going to do so even when it doesn’t make sense. Those who don’t, won’t.
You won’t know, if you don’t try and you’ll never find your mountain top if you don’t start climbing. I have no idea how this little caterpillar happened to find himself at the very top of these dried up weeds but I’m impressed. If this little guy can get to the top of his mountain, then why shouldn’t I?
I heard myself say the words and I felt the sting of tears.
Sitting at the coffee shop with my best friend, the previous weekends memories flooded back. I had gone to Kansas City and spent the entire weekend walking around places that I had not been in almost six years. I was not prepared for the emotions that overwhelmed me with every step. Days gone by, spent with my kiddos on assorted adventures, discovering new places and making memories that were now bringing me to the brink of tears. Vivid pictures of them walking in front of me as they held hands and giggled…driving through tree lined streets, telling silly jokes and laughing till we cried…exploring open houses and fighting over whose room would be whose even though they were homes far too large and rich for anything we could possibly need or afford…moments long gone but now so precious to me.
I had gone with the intentions of taking in the Plaza Art Fair and just spending some time to myself to sort out some decisions that I needed to be making about the future. Instead, it was an unexpected trip down memory lane, and to be honest, it was exactly what I needed.
I arrived on a Saturday and headed straight to the art fair. The weather was perfect and the fair did not disappoint. As a photographer I think it’s important to pay attention to other people’s art from time-to-time and see what others are drawn to. It was wonderful to witness so many photographers selling pieces of their work and the crowds that spilled in out of their tiny spaces. It’s intimidated and exciting to see such beautiful pieces on display but as I walked up and down the aisles and spent time really taking it in I was surprised at the shift I noticed in my own attitude. A few years ago I had walked through this art fair and left feeling completely dejected and unworthy, believing that I would never have work good enough to display. Now, I find it inspiring and while my work still isn’t up to the standards that were on display that day instead of it leaving me crushed I can see it as something to aspire to.
Leaving the art fair with my confidence in tact was unexpected but not as surprising as the hit it would take over the next 24-hours. Tired from the drive and walking I went to bed early. The next morning I was up early and found myself in an area outside Kansas City that I had only ever been to with my kiddos. When we first moved to Missouri in 2006 my husband found himself hauling cattle. This meant that he would be gone for at least a week, most often two weeks at a time. It was a huge adjustment for our family. The weekends he was not home I would take the kids on “adventures”. Open houses, hiking, exploring all the different suburbs and finding activities that kept us busy. Revisiting one of those places, on this particular weekend, brought up so many memories and emotions that I quite simply was overwhelmed by it.
That perfect Sunday morning I sat at a little table in front of this beautiful door and allowed myself to dream. My dream was big and when it began to scare me, I just kept dreaming bigger until I had a sudden moment of realization that brought me crashing back to earth. A week later, while sharing it with my best friend over coffee I crashed again as I choked over the words “…that is a part of my dream that I will never have.”
My dream was about my future and who I hope to be. It included vivid details about where I lived, where I worked, what I wore, what I drove, the people I would know and what my typical day would be like. It’s meant to be an exercise that gives you vision and motivation but it also made me face some realities that I have been ignoring. I really do believe in living your best self and that the only personal responsible for my life, my joy, my successes and failures; is me. However, part of that joy and accomplishment means that I cannot just go and do whatever suits me or whatever I dare to dream up because I’m not going to have joy and success in my life if I disregard the people in my life who matter to me most. Seeing my dream completely crumple around me based on the realization that there were certain aspects that I would most likely have to forego because it would be a detriment to some of my relationships was hard but then I heard someone on a podcast talking about this very thing. They used the example of how we think if we move to a certain place, live in a certain kind of home, etc. that we think it will make our dreams come true but the reality is that, that is just geography. You’re still going to carry all the same baggage into that new place. God really does work in mysterious ways sometimes. While I allowed myself to dream in vivid details, that does not mean that every detail matters or has to be a reality in order for my dream to come true.
My kiddos are no longer little. My oldest is about to have her own baby! Going back to this place, and remembering those wonderful moments made me realize just how quickly life is passing by. In just a couple short months another year will be beginning and when I look back on this past year I see a lot of growth but I also am aware of the fear I continue to allow to keep me from moving forward. Sitting in that space on a Sunday morning, surrounded by memories of time spent and gone was hard and bittersweet but it was also a chance for me to take stock and listen to my heart. I had gone believing that the art fair would help me find my direction and in some respects, it did, but it was my time spent reminiscing that continues to impact me as I begin to plan and make choices about what lies ahead. Maybe, sometimes, the best way to figure out what you want for your future is take a little trip back in time.
“Exploration comes before expression.” David duChemin, The Traveling Lens course.
How you feel about a place cannot be completely known until you have had time to explore it. Walk around it, take in it’s sounds and smells. Feel it’s rhythm. Learn its history. Sure, you can get a feeling or a vibe almost immediately but until you spend some time and peel back the layers, your initial impression is shallow and surface-level at best.
In a lesson from David’s course he talks about spending an hour or two just sitting in a place, wandering around, getting lost (my favorite), and just allowing yourself to become a part of it before you pull out your camera and just start snapping pictures. I loved the advice and decided to put it into practice the next time I went out with my camera. Now, I am one who loves to wander and get lost and spend time in a place, but doing it intentionally and paying attention to the place itself instead of focusing on what I was going to snap a shot of next was, quite honestly, completely frustrating, at first. Old habits are hard to break and so are certain mindsets.
Once I got out of my own way and just gave myself permission to relax, I started walking a little slower, stopping and staring a little longer or closing my eyes and just listening and feeling. That’s when it became amazing. My first priority was no longer about taking photos but instead became more about my surroundings, how they made me feel and what drew my attention. What inspires me and makes me want to get a closer look. That’s when I started to feel a more natural connection with my camera. I was reaching for it less but the action itself became more natural and instinctive.
This is the kind of photographer I want to be. I want my expression of a place to be more than just what I see. I want it to be what I feel. I also want it to be the kind of person I want to be. Taking time with someone, getting to know them beyond first impressions and dismissing snap judgments, I think would make great photography but also makes for a better life and a better world.