Sunday, August 31, 2014

What It Takes To Focus

My mornings are already missing the sound of birds, the ones I called mine, who came calling all summer just outside my window. How do they just know when to pack up their feathers and fly? They didn't even let my premium bird feed and darling bird-feeder distract them from what they are most deeply designed to do.

The air has lost its heaviness too, even in the heat of the day.  And when I walk in the morning I pull on a sweatshirt, though the last days of August lingered warm in the afternoon.

Then, September comes waltzing in today, singing to the tune of cicadas, humming from the top of the maple tree.

And it's a holiday. 

An extra day we are given in America, so we can pause from labor. That should add some margin to our life right?

Does that ever really happen when the garden is overrunning with weeds and tomatoes? When the grass is long? When the laundry is stacked high along with the dishes? When there are people who need a meal, or a hand or a heart to just stop long enough to really hear what their beating heart longs to say.

We all fight it don't we?

Some weeks and days and moments, more than others.

This thing of how to focus.

The word focus has its roots in a Latin word that means, fire. Used in photography, focus, is the point in which any number of rays of light meet.


Light rays intersecting at a certain point.

Those are great visuals.

In this world, there is so much darkness, shades of grey, and people whose songs are blue. How do we stay focused on what is really important, when we're running ragged and weary and empty?

It's proven that people who multitask are just kidding themselves about how much they are accomplishing.

My husband is relieved and when I slip into that mode, he reminds me.

I need reminding, and I need to figure out what is paramount, or I will miss what God really has for me.

It is a fact, that you cannot walk a straight line, without a fixed point to follow.

Now I realize that our life-paths are not a straight line, but the you can understand the visual lesson. 

Jesus is the fixed point. 

In this life, I have lived long enough to tell you a lot, about what-not-to-do.

I have focused on getting to church, but passed by those who could have used me to be the church, to their current need. 

I have focused on my children, which is all important and good, but neglected a greater thing they needed to see.....  which was for me to really love my husband. 

I've focused on the news and the overwhelming weight of the whole-wide-world and missed the neighbor across the street who needed me to reach out and help them. Today.

Even though I don't have time to read them, there are neuroscientists writing entire books, on the real cost of distraction in the world.

All the technology, the noise, the goals, the lists.

They point out that all of our connectiveness has actually caused a disconnect.

These good things sap us of our energy to do the things we really need high-energy to do.

There are studies proving that our lack of focus is attributing to lack of self-control, poor grades and low job performance.

It is all blamed on not being able to focus.

The scientists have all sorts of great ideas how to make a shift, from all they see being the problem with lack of focus in our world. 

They say we need to get quiet. 

That we need to be mindful, not mindless. 

Science is proving what the Bible has said all along. 

Every single day, the world will always be full of crushing news, endless needs and things that pull on our heart. 

But it does not help anyone when I focus on the noise instead of God first.

It only saps my energy and resources and time. 

This last week I came back to the Center, the Cornerstone, to the point of real Light.

I turned off all the social media. I got quiet. And I remembered what I already knew.

Spending time with Jesus is the most important thing I will do on any day.

Every other choice and decision will have more clarity and impact because of it. 

You and I, we want to do some things that other people are too afraid to get out of the boat and try, don't we?

We have to focus on Jesus, or sink in our attempts to do it by ourselves. 

The problem in not how to focus, but on Who we focus.

This week will you join me? 

Turn off the noise. 

Sign out of your computer, facebook account, phone, get off of the trending news feeds. 

Breath deep.

Sip some of real life slowly.

Center all of our attention, on the One who knows the beginning from the very end, and has amazing plans for our lives.

He is waiting. 

The world will still be there when we return.

Perhaps, we will be able to hear the real melody of our life in the right-now moments.

Because right now is what counts and these moments will soon be the past.

 May our eyes see with deeper clarity and our hearts pump with compassion and purpose.

The One is who is light, the One who has no darkness in Him, He is the Center focus, through which all our things should intersect.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

When You're Chasing Light

With the lens cradled between the thumb and fingers on my left hand, I position the camera's body to my eye and half depress the shutter button with my right index finger. I’m trying to tell the camera what I want to focus on. I like what I see through the lens, so I snap a picture and look at the results. The picture is good, but I want more light flooding in, so I open the aperture another f-stop. 


Looking at the image, I see all the soft bokeh light behind my current subject of adoration and love that I could capture it in picture form.

It is a little crazy, but so worth the pause in my day.

The moment captured, took only a few fleeting seconds -once I kicked off the cruise control from 65 miles per hour, and pulled over to the side of the road, as all the other people on the highway hurry on to the next thing. I’m standing here on the side of the road chasing the light that is unfurling and will be gone in a few more ticks of the ever moving clock.

I’m an amateur photographer.

Honestly I only use a few settings on my Nikon at all, and those... not so well. 

Despite the fact I only know what I like when I see it, I find photography a creative outlet for my passion to see the world through His light.

My first awareness of this love for photography came in high school. I worked in the camera department at K-Mart. Of course that information there….. completely dates me, but you already knew I’m only young in spirit.

My longtime, high school friend, Hazel Kamna and I were both infatuated with cameras, lenses and light.  

As I remember it, she had a great camera and eye for beauty and I had a camera that was okay with an eye for old barns, bottles cloudy with age and rusty relics from the past.

We would take her darling youngest sister, Melissa, (who had the most beautiful skin ever) and we would travel the back roads of our world, shooting pictures all afternoon and sometimes all day. Trust me, it was one of the most responsible ways I ever spent time in my teenage years.

My friend was great at capturing the beauty of people in ambient lighting.

It is still true of her.

She is a beautiful person herself, who sees the beauty in others.

She would see the light bouncing off of hair or a face and had a way of making magic happen with that moment. Those were the days when you shot off a few rolls of film, sent them in to be developed and waited to see how they turned out. When the long awaited results were in your hand, only a few shots were much to be excited about and the moments that we were trying to capture were long gone.

Still those photos gave form and artistry, to emotions and pieces of our deepest, most honest selves. 

I took a college class on photography almost thirty years ago. It was fitting that I was trying to learn to develop film in a darkroom, when in my real life, there were mostly shadows and only flickering moments of dim light.

We chased light on rainy nights trying to capture the streaming red, yellow and greens traffic lights reflecting off of wet pavement and the night sky with stars like shining pinheads of white, streaming forth. We hid in the dark to develop black and white photos and I learned how to tell my camera to make snow, really white, when our cameras wanted to turn everything to a certain shade of grey.

I never did like shades of grey or just black and white, but it taught me a little of real life, of working with shadows and being still and looking for how the light strikes an object.

That was before I know the One who is Light.

Lately I've been thinking how I love photography, because pictures help to tell a story.

And to me, every story, is of Light intersecting with all of life. 

If we are blessed, that kind of beauty is captured and illuminated through a lens into a single image. And hopefully into thousands of moments captured.

Those first moments of a tiny life inhaling oxygen or the glow on a small child's face, as they embrace life just for what that moment is. Or the story told of a person, in the deep lines of their bronzed face or of hands worn thin from years of hard work. 

With photography I can grasp a tiny bit of God and His glory and save it for later.

Because in the everyday moments there is often a disconnect, in all of my connectivity.

This world of ours, on fast forward. Swimming through a world-wide-web of words, only a few under 140 characters, not just scrolling but literally rolling through status updates, tweets, and Instagram moments. All the phone calls, e-mails, text messages and to-do lists.  

Photography brings me back to center. 

It helps me to move from, "the to-do's" and helps be to embrace, "the to-be's".

This is what happens, when I pause, focusing on one subject.

My perspective changes.

When I center my attention on how to capture the wonder my eye is seeing, I get a glimpse of the One who is Light.

This is the lesson God has been teaching me all summer.

I need to focus -really focus....on what is important in my life.

In an ocean of noise and business, the lens helps to narrow in on textures, colors, lines, patterns and light. It is beauty and light colliding, that remind me of God's glory and the wonder of the world He created even through it is so full of darkness and hard things.

Yes, that is one of the main reason I love photography. 

It keeps my focus on all that is light, life and beauty. 

Could I encourage you to slow down too?

Really slow down and focus with me?

Notice how, God paints the sky new every single day, weaves a single flower full of color and texture, or how the light illuminates a person's face.

We can take these patches of light and weave them around our life and it helps us keep perspective.

Light intersecting all of life.

Living this one day as light-filled people. 

His light, brushing up against those who need to know they are in darkness. 

My heart desires to tell stories.

To do that, I have to see individual beauty, frame and compose lines and bring to life a visual image for readers. 

Photography helps me to do this, in a unique and completely individual way. 

Because the truth is, we are each a light and we were made to shine.

So no matter where your days take you, look for the path of light as it intersects with your life.

In fact I hope you will chase after moments of light. 

Your life is shining as only it can shine, though you friend. 

May we keep our focus on Him. It will take conscience effort to do that and then we will get to decide how much light we let flood into our hearts

I'd love to have you share some of your thoughts or photos here friends.

Or send it to my in-box, but whatever you do, chase the One who is light and let your light shine this week.

Love and grace to you all.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Every Cloud Is A Flag To God's Faithfulness

You've seen it before.

How the night sky is a vast inky darkness, with only a few stars piercing through like pin-heads of light. 

Then, as if on cue, across the contour of the eastern horizon, night evaporates into thin layers of dusky pink, with thresholds of soft light rising.  

The beauty climbs slowly, highlighting clouds with wispy edges, hanging on to light.
And just as if the lights are lifted on a stage, the sky is illuminated with stunning rays of pinks mixed with orange and the center stage is taken by the sun as it begins its march across the sky one more day.

The sun in all its golden streaming light-glory and clouds curling as they wave across the sky. 

On this morning, I grab the camera again, in an attempt to capture the beauty of them. 

I have photo files named, “sunrise obsession,” “cloud obsession,” and sub-files under each of those files to contain all the images I have taken this summer of both.  

As I child I would lay on my back, my brother often by my side, in the deep cool grass and imagine what we saw in the expanse of the sky. It was easy to see sheep and elephants, trucks and bunnies. And we imagined that we would grow up to be brave and good and have happy lives. But real life brought high walls, dragons to slay and flags flying at half-mast.

And today my imagination runs thin as the daily news, blares horror, tragedy and confusion. The internet chimes in with good people pounding their blog fists of messages that divide too, in the name of unity.

So for a few days I've had to walk away from it all. All the noise and the news.

I go back to the basics. 

Sitting in my favorite place, in the first minutes of a fresh day. Reading the Word and what God has to say about all of life. How Jesus came, because there is only One answer to all of this worlds, problems. The epic battle of sin and the war that was won by Love.

And His Love and His Word are pure, clean, filled with hope, love, righteousness and faithfulness. 

In those pages there are no longer lines that divide, but passages that say, "Christ is everything and in everything." (read here?) 

And in Him we are all one.

As I let the sweetness of damp morning air wash over me I come back to the truth of God’s faithfulness no matter what the world spews out.  The red cardinal comes to eat just outside my window, announcing his arrival with sharp snapping sounds, repeated over and over. Somewhere in our subdivision there is a rooster that crows out long and loud. It always makes me smile to hear him the middle of manicured lawns and rows of neatly kept houses. The dove flaps out her mournful sound as she goes to a place of safety and the meadowlark takes his stand on the fence post, belting out his song.

And these pages of the Bible are light, peeling back the dark. 

The spiritual stratosphere of my world is reminded that God is able to be in all places, at the same time, bringing power and healing. And He is faithful.

Most often He uses people to do deliver grace and love.

Without suffering, grace is hard to see or to give away. And the people who give the most grace have probably suffered and received it.

Most mornings lately, I walk in the coolest part of these summer days with neighbors who are now friends. I snap pictures of clouds that draw up thin lines in the sky with cool colors of morning. Some days they rise high, with the promise of rain, or hang low overhead like a thick blanket to shield the light. 

Indeed I've come to love clouds this summer.  

From low hanging wisps to roaring thunderheads they herald a hint of the wind that carries them. 

I heave a sigh of relief that God is in control of the things that seem so out-of-control.

Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking when He left this earth to be run by the likes of people. People like me. People like the ones in the news. All of us capable of doing to other people, what we read and hear about.  

All the killing, the stealing and the destroying. 

I think we all ache to live in a world that is set right and is the way that it was intended to be. I want Jesus to show up every day and fight the bad guys and to rescue the oppressed. I want faith to be easy. I want to sip lemonade under a large umbrella, and watch puffy clouds float by. 

But Jesus sends his followers into the world to heal it. We have the Holy Spirit, working through us, imperfect humans to be His hands and feet to the needs around us. We are to be the voice for those who cannot speak. We are to be the arms that hold those who weep. 

This whole thing about Jesus being on earth and dying and being raised from the dead? It is hard for some people to believe that He did all that to solve the problem of sin in the world. 

But He did. 

And He did one more thing. 

He ascended into heaven. (Read here?) 

And when He ascended, he went into the clouds. 

Well of course He did!

Thank goodness, His status in Heaven is not dependent on whether people believe it or not, but it is our status that changes when we believe.

And in the end the Bible says that Jesus will be coming back and guess what He will be riding? 

He will be riding on the clouds.  

I love that. 

The day is coming when the long night and deep darkness will be destroyed. All light will burst forth. No more childish ways or imaginations. The news everyday will be the Good News. 

So friends let’s keep our eyes lifted up. 

And until that day, we love and serve those in our lives and cling to the faithfulness of God.

Then I saw Heaven open wide - and oh! 
a white horse and its Rider. 
The Rider, named Faithful and True.

Revelations 19:11

Linking up with Jennifer and Holley this week. 
They are beautiful. 
Their words are encouraging.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Redeeming The Broken Hallelujahs

I remember her, skipping along the row of lilac bushes, her skin naturally bronze as if she had been kissed by summer sun year round and her tousled hair, curled natural with perfect ringlets framing her darling face.  She was a beautiful child who ran as if she didn't have a single care, but I knew her life wasn't easy.

And as she grew up sometimes our paths just seemed to cross.

Not that she knew who I was, but I noticed her. I can tell you that she grew up into a stunning woman and gifted artist. One who tried to hide her pain behind a beautiful smile.

And too soon, long before you would think it could be time, another cherished soul slipped beyond the thin veil of this earth, into eternity.

It has left me wondering if she always felt hopeless. 

I get that she just longed to numb all the pain and sweeping emptiness inside of her as she slipped her hands around another drink.  And was there really anything at all to ease the throbbing pain that pulsed deep in her heart? But the hardest question that presses into my earth bound skin is this: Did I speak love and life enough to her, when I had the opportunity?

Smack in the middle of one of the hardest, seasons of my life is when I first saw her scampering across that yard with her little cherub face.

I was walking in darkness that can be felt. Agony that burned deep, which no drink, no drug, no human could alleviate. In that season I learned that time does not heal, even though so many people said that it would. Maybe they were just hoping that it was true, because they had no real answers to help someone feel whole, who had their life shredded. 

I see it all the time. Women like her, women like me, acting and reacting to the deepest places of their brokenness. All of us with these unique blends of  history, circumstances, desires and dreams. 

Behind the lifestyle I could hear the heart crying out. I could see my old self, my young self, in them. I know that there is a longing to be something else besides the choices.

Often we see the rubble of someone’s poor decisions and think they should just stop it. Just shape up and live a better life or admit you have a problem and pull yourself up by the bootstrap and do better.

But trust me, I know, it doesn't work like that.

And another funeral and another beautiful life lost, reminds me that, well, it could have been me.

Don't be fooled that time marched on and I am just so amazing that I stopped traveling the road of self-destruction and trying to kill myself, one poor decision at a time and now everything looks all glossy and lovely.

If you knew me three decades ago, you know that it's hard to recognize the person I am now. 

Not just because of  age, though there certainly is that, but I would hope you hardly know the woman who's words you read, because, that younger woman was lost, careening down a path, heading for a fiery crash.

But God.

My deeply damaged heart, all wounded from life and loss, could not be healed with another self-help book or pep talk. It is only what Jesus has done in and through me, that I am profoundly changed and not reduced to the sum of a single dash, between two dates, all set in stone.

I could have been any one of the women I've met, who can not seem to stop wallowing in the aftermath of the life handed them. It was me who was angry, bitter, abandoned, the one people walked away from because it was just too messy to stay.

But then, I believed.

With faith like a child I believed in this wild, beautiful hope that scripture lays out for us.

Once I believed in what Jesus did on the cross for me, you know, that He left His throne in Heaven, was born a baby on earth, lived a sinless life, died a horrible death on the cross and was raised from the dead -yes even after I believed in that hope alone, it has been a journey to release the deep places to the light of His Word and let Him heal me, redeem the years stolen, and to fight for me. 

A journey for me to give my deepest, darkest most painful places to the Lord. To allow Him to fill, heal, satisfy those place. In fact, He alone has stitched together all the tattered pieces.

Someone else said it, "we have to be broken to be healed and empty to be filled." And the empty places were designed to be filled by God alone friends.

If you knew me before Jesus, then you knew me when it was just ugly.  

Some people can't even get past who I was then. Bless them, I understand.

If you know me now, you are looking at what Grace has done. 

And in response to being rescued from the very deepest pit of hell, I will speak of where my freedom comes from, until I have no breath left in my lungs. And I will write about it, I will sing it out loud and I will have it etched on the stone they lay over my body when I am gone. 

I believe in Jesus.

He is the Healer. 

If you come here, that is what you will hear about.  

What He is doing, teaching, moving, speaking into my life. 

Because there are still hurting people everywhere, and Jesus is the answer that they long for. 

This life is short. Pain runs deep and it lies to us and tries to boss our hearts around.

So that beautiful, messy woman whose life is gone, she reminds me not to waste time just talking about my favorite brownie recipe. Though there is certainly a little time for that, but I want to spend my life loving people even though they hurt me, even though they make the worse choices ever. I want to tell their stories. I want to hug them and have the most important conversation that any of us can have.

Do you know Jesus?

Is today the day that you could just trust Him with all your broken hallelujahs?

What is holding you back? I'd love to talk to you about those things. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

An Anthem Of Grace

The melody drifted softly from the intercom.  

Some sweet kind of song.

The lyrics were muted by the whispering, hushed voices, and one small child’s happy screech. 

Glossy floors waxed with thick layers of polished onyx inlay, create a winding ribbon which we follow down the long corridor. I’m distracted by the faint smell of coffee which seems to be coming from the opposite direction.

And that’s the way I want to run. 

The other way.

Hospitals seem so impersonal. So rigid. So cold.

The sound drifted off as easily as it had arrived and we all stared with blank looks as the numbers light up and the elevator rises.

There are thin places rising in my heart too. 

Places that are raw and exposed.

We are here to usher in a new life though, not talk about the hidden deep things in my soul.

In these last months I have heard some of their whispers, while the silence of others has been deafening. 

I get it some days how we people think that if you do things right and pray hard and memorize a few verses that everything will turn out great in this walking with Jesus life.

And trust me, JQ and I have spent years trying to figure the parenting thing out. Too often we have believed that if our kids turn out great, that we must have done enough of all the right things.

But what we know is that it. is. all. grace.

And now this one tiny beating heart who didn't ask to be born....

One pint size miracle, that we have peered through the sound waves trying to capture a glimpse of her so many times, in the last months. 

Once, I saw her little chin and thought it must be her mamas. Another time she covered her face as if to save the beautiful reveal for later. 

I’m so grateful that if there was a choice -that if life was an option, thank goodness, love won out.

That's what Jesus did for us when He hung on the cross. 

His love won out and now it is all about the grace He extends to us. 

It makes me thankful for the ones who do it all backwards.

For all those who are messy and messed up and remind me, what real grace is. 

And Grace is free. 

It is a gift that can not be earned but only accepted.

And we accept it and embrace it. More than that, I extend grace and cling to it. 

Mostly I’m sitting here in a waiting room with palms opened to the sky, praying that God in heaven is hearing my heart.

Thank goodness, God’s grace is exactly that. GRACE! There is nothing we can do to earn it. The person who looks like they follow all the rules and who can sing in tune while doing it all right, falls as short as the ones who look like they are doing it all wrong. 

Isn't that why Jesus came? 

And now, God’s elaborate grace is displayed in this package of skin.

This tiny human, with the perfect number of fingers and toes, and fist clenched. This squalling life, pushing forth, tearing open all the misconceptions of what God’s grace really looks like. 

We cradle grace in our arms.

And when we understand that we can never be right-enough, then we begin to understand how God’s grace really works. 

As she first drew life and breath into her tiny lungs, from overhead the song rang out.

The lullaby.

The sound we had heard hours before. 

The song they played over the intercom every time a new baby makes their debut.

The rhythmical, pattern of sweet beauty in song.

Notes that harmonize and weave the gentle message of glorious joy.

Another miracle.

New life. New beginnings. New grace. 

And all that is real life, is ridiculous, extravagant, grace. 

The Brahms Lullaby, plays soft, steady and sweet.

It is an anthem to Gods grace.

An alleluia to the story He is weaving.  

When God writes a story, He often starts with small unlikely beginnings. 

And this story begins with a tender lullaby, a psalm, an anthem of grace.

© Rhonda Quaney