Soo... this is an unusual blog post. It's not about a wedding or a family session, it's all about me. YUP, lil' ol' me. Last year while I was at Mystic Seminars, I decided to embark on a personal photography project, to take self-portraits throughout the year, to try to create some images that showed more of who I am. More of who I think I am, who I want to be, who I am becoming.
And so I did, I took some photos. I set up my camera on a tri-pod and used a self timer and a remote trigger. I tried to think of how to display who I am. It was challenging. It required some soul searching. And some strange looks from people as I ran back and forth in front of my camera. People asking "Want me to take your photo?" and I'd respond "Well, no, I'm doing a self portrait project, so that would kinda defeat the purpose. "
Some of them I love. Like the one of my husband and I. I took that one on our anniversary. My husband is such a good sport :) There was a tripod precariously balanced around us on the bed. Worth it.
I also wanted to include in this blog post something I've recently discovered, something I'm still mulling over and digesting but something I wanted to share. I wrote the following the night I returned from Mystic Seminars this year. I really feel like it's come full circle, that this self portrait project was part of this discovery for me so I thought I'd include this as piece of it. So here it goes:
I just finished sharing with my husband the enormous revelation I had at Mystic. I cried my way through it with my mostly lost voice, being interrupted throughout by our children getting out of bed or needing something. And being the incredible listener that he is, he hung in with me as I tried to convey the enormity of what I experienced and the clarity I discovered, the truth God whispered into my heart.
Last Sunday morning, right after the last worship song finished at church, my brother in law grabbed me and said he felt he needed to pray for me. And if you know David, then you know that when he prays for you/talks to you/listens to you there's usually tears involved. So of course I start to cry as he prays for me. He says that God wants to say something new to me. That he wants to give me a new promise. He finishes the prayer and says, "If any of that resonated take it, if not just throw it out." And I just kinda wipe my tears and nod and hug him and that was that. I thought "Well sure, who wouldn't want to hear a new promise from God?"
Then I go to Mystic.
And over and over again from different speakers and conversations I hear the same theme "Be yourself!"
Well I start thinking and wondering, who am I?
Am I a stay at home mom who is completely drained and exhausted by the demands of her children whom she adores? Is that the true me? Am I a committed church goer who has gone on mission trips to places like India and Haiti as a missionary and an evangelist? Is that the true me? Am I a doubtful cynic who questions a lot of the typical "Christian" or "Republican" presumptions and wonders if maybe the majority of the western Church could do a heck off a lot better at loving the world Christ died for? Am I a yoga-loving, dragon boat team coaching runner who loves to win? Is that the true me? Am I a compete goofball with no inhibitions who says the first thing on her mind and acts in a way that makes people think she must be drunk when she actually hasn't touched any alcohol? Is that the true me? Or am I a seasoned competent wedding photographer who can consistently serve her clients with professionalism and poise amidst the chaos of a wedding day? Is that the true me?
I'm all those things, and yet I still didn't feel like I had an answer to who I am. And so I didn't know how to "Just be myself" I have conflicting selves. I am different people at different times. But why? What causes me to be one way or the other? How can I be all these things at once?
After a few moving presentations from the speakers, I feel like all this stuff, all these feelings have settled at the bottom of me over the last 5 years. And these speakers grabbed a big stick and started stirring. Which made me feel like everything became this murky, dirty water and I kept reaching into it trying to find something to grab, something solid and it was all just watery muck.
While talking to someone on the way to one of the organized evening outings(bowling party) I found myself explaining why I don't drink alcohol. I said "Well mostly it's that I can't stand the way it tastes. Why would I pay money for something that's bad for me and tastes nasty? But also, most people drink because it lets them loosen up, it lets them sing that karaoke song or get out on the dance floor or say what they're really thinking. They drink to let down their inhibitions and enjoy themselves. But I already don't have these inhibitions. I am drunk already. I'm already singing loudly despite not having a good voice, I'm already dancing some ridiculous flailing, goofy dance and I'm most definitely already saying what I'm really thinking. I'm already uninhibited. The only inhibitions I have are the ones keeping me from murdering people so if I do start drinking watch out!" And they said something like "that's good, you should put that on your about page!"
So later that night while I had a minute to myself I started writing it out. I got the jist of it down but then sorta got stuck. I couldn't bring it to any point, any reason why that mattered. I'm drunk all the time without drinking... so, what? What bride would want another drunk at their wedding?
That night I went to dinner with some awesome French photographers, we talked about American culture and French movies and I taught them how to play shuffleboard, which they totally took to right away and beat me. We parted ways a little later that evening since they wanted to go find some pot, so I walked back to the hotel. In the lobby I found a group of Mystic attendees hanging out and I joined in. Lots of great conversations happened, I connected really deeply with one gal and we talked about our marriages and God and children and our aging grandparents. It was amazing. I kept talking and being inspired and laughing and learning and just soaked it all up, not feeling tired at all till we all finally realized it was 2:30am and we should head to bed.
Once I got into my bed I realized how tired I was. And so I thought I'd be out in moments. But my brain wouldn't shut off. It was swirling and churning. It was like a phone that's continually searching for a signal, reaching and looking, trying to find that source that connects it to the world. And at about 4am I could take it no longer and got up and started writing all these thoughts that were in my head. Here's what I wrote:
I get drunk off attention. Attention is what I crave, it is what I am motivated by, it is LOVE to me. When I have it, when I get full, undivided, interested, clear eyed, engaged, intentional attention, I come alive. I am free of fear, I am full of joy and inspiration and fun. When I don't get it. When I feel ignored, insignificant, uninteresting, or annoying and unwanted, I am sober AF. I'm the wettest blanket around. Party is over.
After scribbling that down in the darkness of my hotel room with two other sleeping roommates, I crawled back in bed and was finally able to drift off.
I spent the rest of Mystic having this confirmed, studying myself and feeling like I'd reached out into that murky water and God gave me an enormous solid rock of truth for me to hold onto, that explains so much. I looked back and saw that consent "attention = love" popping up over and over again throughout my life. Attention from my parents = love. Attention from teachers and authority figures = love. Attention from my husband = love. A gift that shows you paid attention to me and noticed something I would like or need = love. My desire to pick up a camera and pay attention to something that matters, something significant, something interesting, something beautiful = love.
I mean I've known for a long time that my love language was Quality Time. But it's not quality unless there's attention given. And even though I know other people have different love languages and my husband has even tried to speak to me with the others, they never did compute as love to me unless they involved attention.
And I realize that there's a problem in this realization. The problem is that attention is limited. We only have so much. We can't pay attention to two things at once, as hard as we try, we just can't. We have to choose and in a way this makes the attention that much more precious and valuable because there's only so much. When we pay attention to something we're ignoring everything else that is calling to us. And we of course have to sleep some time. We have to pay attention to ourselves from time to time. We have a limited amount of attention and everything in this world wants it. Everything.
And then I was mulling this over in my head while I drove to pick up my daughter after returning home from Mystic and I felt God say: My attention is not limited. I am never distracted from you. I am always paying attention. Always.
And the tears began to flow and I breathed such an enormous amount of relief and peace and security and love, love, love.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:3-4 (ESV)