Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bad Day / Good Lesson

I am, for the most part, an optimist. Call it innocence, call it a Pollyanna attitude, heck, call it naivete -- but I am, generally speaking, a glass-half-full type of gal. Usually.

Not today. I had a bad day. They can't all be winners; I'm human, after all. I get grumpy and mopey and tempted to set my Facebook status to: "Jena hath the blueth." Today was one of those days.

It was stupid, really. I saw some images of myself that I thought were awful, and I was too lazy to get a handle on my self-talk and the whole thing quickly spiraled into a lively little internal rendition of "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms." I think the whole process took about forty seconds or so, and THUD -- just like that, my spirits hit the floor. Fickle, these silly human-being emotions of ours. One minute, we're humming; the next minute, we have the blueth.

The thing that was frustrating about the whole deal was that this is so not new to me. I've been down this road before, and pulling myself out of these such potholes "should" be a snap by now. So, take the depression and self-pity and then pile a little guilt on top, and you have a recipe for a pretty bleak day.

UNLESS . . .

Unless you take isolation out of the mix. Which, because God is merciful, I was able (or forced?) to do. As God would have it today, I ended up in a discussion with a dear friend of mine, a friend whom I recently had the privilege of taking by the hand and walking toward Christ. And today this friend -- this friend who is now a sister (insert chills here) -- happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I confided in her, from the trenches. I was real. I told her what was up, what the struggle was, how silly I felt about the whole thing. And she responded in the most beautiful way I could have imagined.

She fed me the word of God.

She with whom I spent those hours several months ago, encouraging her with scripture, did me the ultimate favor of reminding me of those very transforming, life-giving truths. She searched her Bible and sought out wisdom for me, applicable to the battle I was fighting between my ears. And she did a darn good job of it.

And gradually, assuredly, my perspective was renewed. There is something very cool about the reciprocity of it all -- the counselee becoming the counselor during a time of need, the people-needing-people, the word picture of iron-sharpening-iron (Proverbs 17:17). This beautiful design of reciprocity and inter-dependance reminds me that we're all in this together, that ain't none of us got it all figured out.

If all's well that ends well, my bad day isn't turning out so bad after all. Because as I go to bed tonight, my heavy heart is lighter and I'm no longer singing myself glum lullabies about eating worms. Rather, I am singing about the amazing, gigantic God who sees into our hearts and knows just what we need, and about the very cool talent He has for placing just the right people in our path.

Nope. I don't have it all figured out. But I know the One who does.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Seeing Myself in the RAW

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words; we're visual learners, us human beings, and we like images. We like color and detail and brightness and contrast.


Last week, I had a two-hour photo shoot for a book I've written. This was a completely new experience for me; never have I "played" for hours in front of an assembly of photographic equipment and smiled for over 400 photos. (That's a lot of "say cheese!") Once I got over my insecurity, it was pretty fun, really. I felt like a magazine model, and I may or may not have created a little fantasy in my head about having to hurry up and get this cover shoot done before hopping the next plane to Milan for Fashion Week.

My photographer, Peter, made it easy enough to smile for the camera, as he is also a Broadway actor who can do an uncanny impression of Christopher Walken, which made me laugh until I spit and snorted. (We didn't use those shots.)

We were several frames into the shoot before he turned his camera around to show me an image on the LCD screen. "I mean, look at that," he said, kissing the tips of his fingers. "Is that gorgeous, or what?" I took a step forward, leaned over, and looked at the little screen. And silently gasped.

For lack of a gentler term, I looked. . . old. I couldn't understand it; I had just had my photo taken the day before, with my friend's digital camera, and I hadn't looked old. What had happened to me in twenty-four hours?

Peter later explained to me that when a professional photographer takes a picture of his subject, the camera takes in every aspect of the person -- every bit of visual information -- and presents the image completely unprocessed, in "RAW" format. The image is then processed and retouched later; shadows are adjusted, color and skin tone are corrected, etc. Evidently, our modern-day digital cameras do this automatically, which is why the images we see of ourselves on them are kinder and gentler than the one I was seeing on Peter's camera screen.

I thought about this throughout the evening, each time Peter showed me a proof and kissed his fingertips and said "Stunning!" or "Lovely!" or "Gorge!" I wondered how he could say such things, with my undereye circles and crow's feet and laugh lines so naked and exposed on his LCD screen. I figured either he was being extremely kind or he was rather full-of-it.

And then it hit me: he was already "seeing" the finished product in his mind's eye. He wasn't seeing the flaws on the screen; after hundreds of photo sessions, he had learned to see the images not for what they were, but for what they would be when he was finished with them.

The allegory wasn't lost on me. I realized then that this is how God sees us. He looks at us and sees all -- the flaws, the imperfections, the problem areas -- and yet He is able to look beyond what is to what will be. He peers into our hearts, and nothing is hidden from Him. Almighty God is always able to see us in "RAW" format -- like it or not. But His vision isn't limited to that. Just as Peter saw beauty in my raw photos, envisioning what they would be once he was done working on them, God sees beauty in us, despite our weaknesses and blemishes. He sees what we will be when He is done working on us.

I imagine that Peter's work is endlessly easier than God's, since photos don't fight the process like people do. Peter's work on my raw photos probably took a couple of hours. God's work on my raw heart is taking considerably longer to complete. I am grateful that God doesn't charge by the hour.

All in all, it was a humbling experience, even after my little Milan fantasy. If you have an opportunity to see yourself in the "RAW", I encourage you to be a visionary and cut yourself some slack. . .

God isn't finished with you, either.