23 weeks

Pulling out of my neighborhood, I battled mid-afternoon traffic,  trying not to speed. Glancing down at the clock on the dash, my heart started to race. Tiny tears tried to make their escape from the corner of my eyes. I knew what I was about to face would not be easy.

I took a deep breath and did the only thing I could – I prayed. I pulled into the hospital parking, slung my turquoise camera bag over my shoulder and began to make the long walk to the NICU. Hospital sounds and smells inundated me the moment I walked through the doors. I walked faster, scared that I wouldn’t make it in time.

The curtain was pulled aside and I saw them for the first time. A precious couple, in their late twenties or early thirties. The mom, clad in a hospital gown was pale and looked like she passed the point of exhaustion hours before. Next to her was her husband, a rock of man, and somewhere in the folds of the blanket he held was a perfectly formed, tiny baby. She was 23 weeks old -so very small. The tubes which ran from her mouth to a loud machine in the room was keeping her lungs open – keeping her alive.

I was there to take photographs of mom and dad saying hello to their baby girl…and then saying goodbye. So I captured everything – her tiny fingers and toes, the fuzzy hair covering her head, her little chest rising and falling with each breath. She had a first name. She had a middle name. And she was beautiful.

The hands on the clock raced while I worked behind my camera, and before I knew it, it was time for them to say goodbye to their little girl after less than 24-hours of her presence. The tubes disappeared and I was able to capture this little family during the precious moments they had left together. I tried to give them privacy, but I heard as the mom whispered through tears, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay with us baby?”

I packed up my bag and they thanked me for those priceless photographs I had captured. I had never met these people before, but I knew I would never, ever forget them after this day. I have never experienced their same pain, but I do know what it feels like to hit rock bottom, as if your world has caved in. And so, one broken human being to another, I asked if I could pray for them. They agreed and I asked the Lord to cuddle this little baby in His arms.

And then I said goodbye to their little baby who had changed my life forever.

Because, the night before, I had started to believe a lie. It had been another long week and I was discouraged and tired. So I gave in. I started to believe that I would never do ministry again. That in my job, I didn’t really have the opportunity to help people. Through tears, I told my husband how much I missed making a difference in peoples lives. I believed the lie. I put ministry in the box labeled “church” and thought I couldn’t really make a difference unless I worked at a church again.

And yet, the very next day God proved me wrong. He rocked my world. I had tried to put the vast sum of His work in a box called “church”. And while the church is helping millions throughout the world, God is even bigger than that. He can accomplish His ministry to people in anyway He sees fit. And there are people hurting everywhereThere are so many people who need to be hugged or prayed with; people who need to be cared for.

God reminded me that as long as I’m walking with Him, He’ll use me, no matter where I am.

platform

Tim Tebow, NFL

“….And that’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Chris. It is the most important thing in my life, so every opportunity I have to tell him I love him, or I’m given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I’m going to take that opportunity.”

Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks

Jeremy Lin, NBA

“I’ve learned how to be open and bold about my faith, but in terms of my influence, I just try to lead in a godly way.”

“My new years resolution: love God more deeply and intimately…”

Colton Dixon, American Idol

“…being a Christian is who I am. It is a part of me musically.”

“Idol is more than a singing competition. It’s a chance to share who you are. I just happen to love God.”

“…I follow a guy named Jesus. I’m just trusting in His plans. Whatever that may be.”

It seems as if several Christians have risen to such prominent positions as of late. The church-going, bible-reading, and praying kind of Christians.  And instead of shying away from the opportunity to speak about their faith, they are boldly proclaiming it, in some cases to the chagrin of the public. 

When I was a teenager I used to pray each morning as I drove to school. Most of the time it was a “help me to find a parking spot and get to class in time” kind of prayer. But I also remember praying for God to allow me to be a witness for Him at my public high school. I remember saying something like, “God, give me an opportunity today to share my faith. And when the time comes, make it so crystal clear and give me the exact words to say.” 

I don’t know what your platform is, but I know you definitely have one. We might not all be NFL quarterbacks, but we all have a circle of influence. It might be at school, at work or possibly even at home. There are people you come in contact with daily. How are you influencing them?

While in high school, I only saw a small group of my high school friends come to know Christ in a personal way. But four years after graduation, I received a Facebook message that I will forever remember. It came from a boy who I somehow conned into coming to church once or twice with me in high school. But he hated Christianity and anything that had to do with it, and probably thought I was some kind of crazy, religious wacko. We lost touch after high school until he sent me the message.

The Facebook message read, “Remember how I used to be so anti-christ? Well…I’ve discovered the truth and have become born again. I dont know if since coming to Christ if I’ve thanked you for planting that seed and not giving up on me despite how much I refused it.”

My jaw hung open in shock. I ran downstairs and opened up a box of old journals. Scrawled in my chicken scratch handwriting on old, dusty notebook pages were prayers I had written years before. Prayers for the boy (now a man) who had sent me the Facebook message. Prayers for him to find purpose in life and most importantly for him to come to know his Creator and Savior in a personal way. 

After high school I gave up on him ever “becoming a Christian”. But, God never gave up on him. And God used my small, seemingly meaningless sphere of influence, my tiny platform, to “plant a seed” in his life that would later be watered and harvested by someone else. 

People watch the way you live. And they take note of what you say. I wonder how many people have googled “God” since Colton Dixon said he wanted God to shine through his performance first and foremost. I wonder how many people have gone back to church for the first time in years since reading Tim Tebow’s biography. 

And I wonder how many will come to know Christ because of a simple prayer made in a car on the way to school. I hope at least a few. 

How are you using your platform?


the dress

It’s my favorite question to ask the bride when we meet for the first time.

“Have you found the dress yet?”

And then, her eyes light up and a smile creeps across her face as she describes in explicit detail the gown she will wear. Somewhere in the fog of detail, her and I forget we’re meeting in the studio to supposedly discuss photography packages. Instead, we’re both caught up in a steady stream of lace, ruffles, pearls and satin.

Months later, I’ll find myself stowed away in her dressing room with a camera in hand, capturing giggles from bridesmaids and picture-perfect curls being formed. And then my favorite long-awaited moment comes. She slips one leg into the mess of fabric. The gown is pulled up and laced tightly, she’s adorned in simple jewels and she turns to take in her reflection for the very first time.

And for one brief moment, the room goes still. I forget about my camera, and we all sigh in unison. The vision before us can only be described as breathtaking. It doesn’t matter how many weddings we shoot, or how many brides I meet – the moment she first appears in all her anticipated glory is nothing short of epic.

And the moment always reminds me of that upcoming wedding hosted by God himself in which all of humanity has been invited. A wedding which will make the Royal Wedding look like child’s play. Christ is the groom and we, the body of believers, are His bride.

The cotton candy colored sky and the white-topped mountains are only a foreshadowing of God’s glory and creativity, which will reach its peak with the wedding feast ushering in a new heaven and new earth.

The wedding attendees will be clothed in special garments. Like any typical girl, I’ve already begun thinking about what I will arrive wearing. My dress won’t be self-made or even purchased from a famed boutique, because it could never, ever be good enough. The way I live my life on earth will determine the beauty of my future dress, and as Isaiah writes, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Isaiah’s defines filthy rags as menstrual garments– how ridiculous to think about showing off a used tampon! In the same way, it’s ludicrous to assume that any of my “good deeds” could impress a holy God. For my sins far outweigh any good I have done.

However, God Himself will provide a garment for me, which will be unequalled! “I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.” (Isa. 61:10)

I won’t be able to enter heaven without my special wedding garment, this robe of righteousness. Only God can give me the glorious robe; it’s a free gift. And I’ve already accepted it. Have you?

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Matt. 22:11-13

*Picture courtesy of Jeff Mullikin Photography

the record

On a train traveling to Ludwigsburg, Germany sat a young man. Head in his hands, paying no mind to his fellow travelers, he did nothing to try and stop the large, crocodile tears that fell continuously out of his ocean blue eyes. For twelve hours, miles of landscape passed by the windows and the steam engine continued to hum. Alois squeezed his eyes shut and balled up his fists in desperation.

Though he was only 18, life had lost all of its purpose. There was no longer any rhyme and reason. He had successfully escaped from his communist-led homeland of Czechoslovakia.  But what waited on the other side; freedom and happiness? No. All he had known had been pain, hunger, and disappointment.

He was supposed to be alongside his three friends en route to Australia and a better life. But, his visa had been denied and he was sent back to the refugee camp in Ludwigsburg. He would depart the train there completely and utterly alone; no friends, no family. There was no one in Germany to share his pain and sorrow. His escape had been for nothing. He had left his family back in Czechoslovakia and they did not even know he was alive.

Alois contemplated jumping from the train and ending it all. He felt numb; lifeless. To God, he prayed, “If you are really up there, look at me, what is happening to me? My three friends go to their new lives, and I go back to nothing. I do not have one human being in Germany to go to and I am at the end of my strength.”

Alois is my grandfather and he has an incredible story; a story of disappointments and sorrow, but also a story of God’s passionate love. My grandfather (or as I affectionately call him, “Opa”) penned his story. As I read this section, I suddenly felt a bond form between him and I, which I never knew we shared.

You see, I too sat in a seat, while tears fell constantly down my cheeks, believing my life was over and nothing was left. I shoved my face into the crevice of the seat. For 14 hours on a flight to London I battled my own personal demons. From all looks of it, God had abandoned me.

Without any forewarning, my marriage had fallen apart. My greatest fears had become a reality. My dream job was ripped away. Everything was gone. My heart was broken into countless pieces and I was deeply scarred.

Sixty-one years after my grandfather contemplated the value of his life, I followed in his footsteps. But, thankfully, Opa kept his record.  Yes, it was began as a record of his lowest moment on the train to Ludwigsburg. But, it became a record, which later tells of him meeting my Grandmother in Ludwigsburg. A record of passionate love between a daredevil of a man and his sweet bride.

Without the rejected visa and train ride back to Ludwigsburg, my Opa would never have met my Oma. Without that day, my mom would not exist – and neither would I.

I called Opa the day I read of his suicidal thoughts on the train to Ludwigsburg. He said, “Jeni, you know that was probably the lowest moment of my life. But, as I look back on it now, it was the best moment of my life.”

God has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? We blame him for orchestrating the devastation of our own personal tragedies. And, maybe we are fair to do that. Because, more often then not, He is behind our worst moments. But, while we cannot see past the reality of that single moment of pain, the same box does not bind God. He sees  the glory that awaits. In His tender way, He smiles down on us and says, “I know child. I see. But, please, just wait. just wait…”

Opa and Oma showing me the route of the train to Ludwigsburg, Germany