I usually write about photography and environmental/conservation issues here as this is our nature photography site. However, tonight I wanted to write about my faith and hard times I am going through right now and how God uses photography to reach me and encourage me during difficult times. Our church has been studying Philippians 4 for the last several weeks and it has been such a beautiful study of God’s word. The first verse of Philippians 4, written by the apostle Paul tells us to “stand firm in the Lord”. I have been focusing on this in the last few weeks with so much uncertainty in all of our lives right now. Then, last Monday, I received a call from my dad in California letting me know that my mom had taken another turn for the worse in her battle against FTD (frontotemporal Dementia). While I had no intentions of air travel during Covid, I got on a plane the next day to see my mom and say my good-byes to her. It is too raw and painful to write about the details of that day, but I wanted to share some insight from that evening and how I once again found God to be so present in my sorrow.
One of the reasons that I love photography so much is that I can lose myself in it. It is so therapeutic and healing and is usually a time that I feel so close to God as I am in nature surrounded by His creation and incredible love for us. I was processing some of my feelings while taking photos at this pier at one of the areas in Newport Beach I grew up at. I thought about how I have been learning and practicing “standing firm” in trusting Him, and I just felt that watching this pier was a perfect analogy for me.
I stood in the water at the Newport pier with waves lapping up around the bottom of my tripod and my skirt and photographed each time the waves hit the pier. While the waves hitting the posts were not very strong, I thought about all the times I had seen this pier in large sets of waves and the power they would hit the wooden posts with. While I watched these softer waves over and over, I started to think about how many times this pier, that was built in 1940, has withstood extreme weather and huge waves. It has “stood firm” for 80 years so far no matter what kind of environmental factors have come at it. Somehow, God used this to remind me that I can do that too. I have a choice to stand firm in my faith in Him and He clearly reminded me of this during that evening after one of the hardest times in my life that day. We all obviously have storms that come at us in various forms – family loss, health, finances, relationships etc, and I know from past experiences that these are some of the times I feel closest to God. At other times, it can feel the opposite. There was about six months during our son’s battle with chronic Lyme Disease, during the three years that he spent so sick in bed, that I felt so alone. I didn’t feel God’s presence and I remember falling on the bathroom floor and crying out to Him, “Where are you? Why aren’t you with me?” These are the times when the hurricanes hit us and may really do some damage to us. I think what I learned most during this time was to choose my way back to God even when I didn’t feel it. I did find Him and God used my sick son to share with me the power of Jesus and the peace and presence he felt from Christ during this time he was so, so sick. I wrote an entire blog about that several years ago and it always helps me to go back and read it in times of struggle.
During one sermon on Philippians 4, Pastor David Platt stated that as believers, “In times of suffering, the only choice is to find joy and rejoice in the Lord or we won’t make it. Joy begins with our focus, it isn’t a feeling and it isn’t dependent on circumstances. When we believe that Jesus is better than the best things that this world has to offer, we can find contentment and joy.” And I absolutely believe that Jesus is better than anything here on earth. I truly did feel God’s peace and even joy that night as I reminisced about all the days I spent with my mom at our beaches over the years. It definitely was a perfect example of the term bittersweet.
While I clearly haven’t grieved through all my feelings of loss and we don’t know exactly how much time my mom has left on this earth, I am going to continue to ‘stand firm in the Lord”. Loss is part of life here on this earth and we have a choice of how we handle loss and suffering. I often find that in these times, God draws me in so close to Him. I am never alone, even when I feel like I am, and I know that He has got this. I am thankful for these photos that I took and that they will forever remind me of the sweet release of my mom to Jesus and how I felt His presence in amazing ways. Praying that continues through the days to come as they will be very difficult.