Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Passion (at least one of them)

Kihei, Maui, August 2005
Everyone that knows me knows my passion for photography. Sorry all you purists, I’m strictly digital now. I’m guessing the basis for my passion may partially lie in that fact that I’m male (is this too stereotypical?) and have been designed as a visual creature. (No offense intended toward female photographers.) Attempting to place into words what photography means to me and does for me is an intricate undertaking. Perhaps I’ll let my photographs speak for themselves and let the viewer interpret them.
Vacation photos, such as the one above, elicit emotions from past experiences. I've been challenged to avoid the “postcard” pictures and go for the less taken path. But one has to admit, postcard pictures are popular because they’re good. The picture above is no exception. It’s a good shot but we've all seen it a million times. But I still love it. There’s the sense of pride that comes from capturing a moment (I can’t believe I almost said, “…on film”), even if a myriad of people have done the same prior to you.

I’m often asked what my favorite type of photography is. In the past my usual reply was “landscape photography.” Although I don’t exclude human contribution in my work, I truly enjoy photographing God’s creation. Consequently, I prefer to say I favor “creation photography.”

I have been venturing out a bit and have begun to be more comfortable shooting people. I still prefer the candid shot from a distance to the formal posed shot. I've been experiencing wonderful results with both though.

I am eagerly awaiting our trip next week to China to adopt our beautiful baby girl. Not only will I be gaining a daughter, but unbeknownst to her, I’ll be gaining a new photo subject! Oh how I hope she likes being in front of the camera. Be on the lookout for more photos to come.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Culture vs. Morality

They say a picture tells a thousand words. Sometimes that’s true. But without context, our “truth” that we perceive may be quite off the mark. I recently sat through a workshop on teaching children about art. The presenter had us teachers in the role of the students. She presented photographs on the front screen by way of an LCD projector. We were told no background of the image and were asked to speculate as to what was happening in the scene. We were told, in essence, that there was no right answer; the truth was what we determined it to be. For approximately twenty minutes per picture we discussed, agreed, dissented, and added to what we thought each visual depicted. Now I’m all in favor of the art of prediction, making connections, and interpretation of art. My point was and still is that there was only one truth to each picture. At the conclusion of our discussion of each image, the presenter informed us of the circumstances for each visual. She in fact told us “the truth” after she previously proclaimed there was none.

So why am I making such a big deal about this? Why can’t I just let art be art? Because I’m making an analogy here. Bear with me. I’m constructing a distinction between cultural relativism and moral relativism. According to Wikipedia, “Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be interpreted in terms of his or her own culture.” In contrast, moral relativism, as described by Gregory Koukl in Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, “is a type of subjectivism. It holds that moral truths are preferences much like our taste in ice cream. The validity of these truths depends entirely on the one who says, “It’s true for me [the subject] if I believe it.”

The cultural relativist might judge graffiti, presuming it was done legally, as fine art because it gets to the core of the artist’s life experience. Referencing Koukl, the moral relativist conversely replied, “People should all be allowed to decide for themselves” when asked, “Do you believe there is any circumstance, in any culture, at any time in history, in which torturing babies just for pure pleasure could be justified? Is it objectively wrong, or is it just a matter of opinion?” UNbelieveable!

How one interprets art is far different than how one measures truth (remember, it was just an analogy). I would have been fine with the activity the presenter had us work through had she not told us there was no right answer. Had she prefaced the activity with questions such as, “How does this image make you feel?” “What do you think is happening in this scene?” I would have been content. Unfortunately, our society in large does not seem to distinguish between cultural and moral relativism. Thank God for His eternal truth!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Hero - A Tribute to My Father

June 2, 1989, I lost my hero. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe my father before, but nothing could be more fitting. How could I possibly capture all he was in my twenty two years, seven months, and five days with him into several paragraphs? (In actuality, he is in my thoughts everyday, so the clock is still running.) At the risk of failing miserably, this is my attempt.

(Right: Dad in 1961 Honeymoon in Montreal)
(Below: Grandma, Grandpa, & Heidi 1964)
It’s hard for any child to imagine his parents actually had lives before his arrival. To the best of my knowledge, here are some of the “before me” years. My father was born in Springfield Massachusetts on November 14, 1932 to Italian immigrants. His father worked several jobs but most notable in my mind was his work as a grip at MGM studios. His mother ran the house. She passed when I was quite young. My sister and I often comment that she had a face that looked as if it belonged on the bottle of authentic Italian pasta sauce. When he was a child, the family relocated (some have said fled due to Uncle Arty's mafia involvement) in California. My father attended parochial school through eighth grade and then attended Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. Upon graduation, class valedictorian if I recall correctly, he enlisted in the United States Navy at the height of the Korean War. Serving on the U.S.S. Philippine Sea (below), he worked with the carrier’s catapult and arresting gear.

Following an honorable discharge he lived in New Jersey where he later met and married my mother (below: Mom in 1961-Honeymoon in Boston) My sister was born in 1963. Following their move to California, I came along in 1966. Here in California, my father worked for Hughes Aircraft Company. He rarely talked about work but I know he worked with data processing. He remained employed by Hughes until he was unable to continue working shortly before his death. These details are of course just a quick overview of some of the specifics in his life. I’d have to consult my aunt for more specifics. What follows are my memories.

Everyone loved my dad. Everyone. He was in every sense of the word, a gentleman. By no means was he perfect and his humility would have him be the first to tell you this. As with most boys, I perceived my dad as larger than life. He was strong and could seemingly do anything. I don’t mean to have this viewed through rose colored glasses. We were not the happiest of families, made evident in the divorce of my parents in early 1981. Through all of this, however, there were indeed shining moments.

I’m a baseball fan. More specifically, I’m a DODGER FAN. Why? My dad. He introduced me to the game. He explained the rules. He taught me to love the game. He took me to Dodger Stadium to watch the team. I don’t have a specific memory that stands out. I think they all just rolled up into one. I really enjoyed the movie, 61*. But it wasn’t until the behind the scenes footage on the DVD that I loved the movie. In it, Billy Crystal describes his love for the game because of his dad. Similarly, it’s why I fall apart every time I watch the last 5 minutes of Field of Dreams.

Indian Guides
I never realized all the things my dad sacrificed for me. He took me faithfully to our weekly Indian Guide meetings. He even wore the ridiculous outfit that we kids wore. He built the coolest cars for me to race in the annual Pine-wood Derby.

Sundays at the Beach
Every Sunday we moved to the beach. We packed our car full with all the paraphernalia we’d need (and not need) for our weekly outing. Hoisted high upon his shoulder was the ice chest. I think this is where I got my early impression of how strong he was.

These simple memories might not sound to be anything extraordinary. Perhaps not. In fact, some would call them mundane. But I would not trade them for anything.

I don’t know exactly when my father was diagnosed with diabetes. I believe it was when he was when I was much younger. I don’t think I was fully aware of his disease until he suffered kidney failure in 1981, resulting in him becoming a dialysis patient for the rest of his life. Over the next eight years my father experienced just about every major complication that comes with the disease: toe amputations at first, open heart surgery, right leg amputation just below the knee, and countless hospital admissions. Had he lived longer, he would have gone blind. Witnessing this man-my father; Daddy,-deteriorate in body and at times in mind was the most painful thing I have ever endured.

Although broken in body, my father’s faith endured to the end. During this time, I came to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I invited my father to attend church with me. He showed an interest right away. He had been raised in the Catholic Church but as an adult, did not pursue it. During one Sunday service, the pastor gave an invitation for anyone that wanted to acknowledge Christ for salvation. Those responding were to remain standing while the rest of us were seated. Descending to my seat, I nudged my father as if to say, “We’re supposed to sit now.” But he stood firm. My father had received Christ. What an absolute joy. Although he went through bouts of doubt, and he wished he knew the bible better, his faith never wavered.

On the Easter before his death, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with him for numerous hours in his room. We talked about many things. I am most grateful that I got to tell him how I felt. He had expressed his grief over how certain things had turned out, namely his illness and the break up of our family. In response, I told him that he was the bravest man I knew. Although he felt horrible most of the time, my father was not a complainer.

Two days prior to his passing, I prayed that God would either heal him, or take him home. On June 2, 1989, Jesus took my father home. Although I would have loved more time with him here, his time here was done. Oh how wonderful for him to have heard the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

I love you, Dad and miss you every day. I long for the day to see you again in the presence of our gracious Lord.

(Dad in August 1981)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Journey

We had always talked about adopting. We just thought we’d have kids and then adopt. God had a different plan. It all started at a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. We've seen him play so many times; it’s hard to remember which show it was. At the concert, Steven paused to tell the attentive audience about his family’s experience adopting from China. Literature from what eventually became our adoption agency was distributed which we sat on for I don’t know how long. My wife began to investigate. She, seemingly hesitant, approached me to tell me she made an appointment for us to go to an informational meeting at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside. At the conclusion of the presentation I don’t think we said much. I was just kind of processing all the information. Unbeknownst to my wife, I was 100% sold on the idea. Walking back to the car she asked, “So what do you think?” not quite sure as to how I’d respond. Upon my, “Let’s do it!” she burst into tears. Beautiful tears of joy. The first of many from both of us. How amazing that this was God’s plan for us from before time began. Is He an awesome God or what??? This was in August, 2004.

Then next fifteen months entailed applying to our agency and compiling mountains of paperwork: birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical reports, background checks, homestudy reports, employment verifications, tax records, and letters of reference. Additionally, we were fingerprinted several times, an experience we had the privilege of repeating because apparently fingerprints expire! As if that were not enough, every document had to be notarized, then certificated by the Secretary of State’s office, then authenticated at the Chinese Consulate. But finally our dossier made it to China on October 31, 2005. That’s when our official wait began. In that time, we kept busy with everyday life. Her room was painted. Her beautiful name was chosen: Lily Grace. Time passed slowly, yet we were at peace. Knowing all is within God’s perfect timing was of utmost comfort.

May, 2007. Life changed. We were finally matched with our long awaited, long hoped for daughter. We found out who she was. God had worked the miracle of adoption through the hands of men to join us with our daughter. The following day we got to gaze upon her precious face for the first time. “I’M A DADDY,” I cried inside. My wife is a MOMMY!

From that day until now, the wait has been almost unbearable. Knowing she is waiting for us in an orphanage in China makes our heart yearn for her. Is she being well cared for? Are her needs being met? Is she happy? We are so close. This wait, since we've found out who she is, has been immeasurably harder. Soon we shall be past this stage. Once we have her in our arms, this wait will mostly be forgotten. I joke that we have much to hold over her in the future. When she gets in trouble, I can see myself saying, “Do you know what we went through to get you???” Yet the time has been good to us. Her room is filled with all-things-baby from the wonderful shower. Her room is now partially furnished. It should be complete by the week end.

Hold tight baby girl. Mommy and Daddy are coming soon.

Friday, June 8, 2007

I Can't Believe I'm a Blogger!

Blogging? Me blogging? I never would have expected this. I've never even kept a journal before. I rarely speak of what I'm feeling/thinking so the thought of putting those thoughts to paper, or keyboard in this case, is quite a stretch for me. Perhaps since I've had no readers thus far (so far as I can tell) makes it easier. So why the change? Several reasons I suppose. Becoming a new father has to top the list. As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm concerned about how I'll be as a father. This has me looking more inward, questioning myself, checking my relationship with God, making positive changes, etc. Second, my recent health concerns (I'll probably address this in more detail another time) have scared the heck out of me. But scared in a positive sense. I've waged war on the matter. I've consulted a doctor. I've had meetings with a nutritionist. I'm keeping to my meal plan. I've been walking and have finally made it back to the gym. I am 100% determined.

My prayer is that through all this effort that the complications I'm experiencing go away. But the great thing about this is that I've drawn closer to God. I've been able to thank God for this scare. I never thought I'd get to the point of thanking God for something like this. God is amazing even in the midst of adversity. Why shouldn't He be? Circumstances never change God's character. Never. If we can praise Him in the good times, we must praise Him in the bad. Romans 8:28 says "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." This remains true even when we don't feel it.

The words of the MercyMe song, "Bring the Rain" seem to fit well here. If you have not heard the song, you MUST.

"Bring The Rain"

I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I've gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It's never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
So I pray

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that's what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

I am Yours regardless of
The dark clouds that may loom above
Because You are much greater than my pain
You who made a way for me
By suffering Your destiny
So tell me what's a little rain
So I pray

Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I Love My Daughter

I love my daughter. The thought of her brings joy to my heart. I often get choked up when thinking about her. My computer screen is surrounded by her images. I'm often told how wonderful my wife and I are for all we are doing for her. That thought never entered my mind. My only response is to state all the wonderful things she has done/is doing for us. I lost my father when I was 22 due to his poor health. I'm far from being in ideal health. My daughter, and the memory of my father, are motivating me to take steps to do all I can to ensure I'll be around for her. True, timing is all in God's hand, but I'll do all I can as well.

Yes, I love my daughter. And I've yet to meet her. I only saw her picture for the first time just over a month ago. Three pictures to be exact. And they are months old. She is almost 10 months old and I've never met her. My daughter is in China waiting for us. Very soon, although it seems an eternity, we will go get her and bring her home and finalize her adoption. How can I love someone so much that I've never met? I'm reminded of a line in the movie, Where the Heart Is, (it's my wife's movie...I must have been in the same room when she was watching it) when Natalie Portman's character gives birth to her daughter. Upon seeing her she asks "How can I love somebody so much that I just met?" But I have never met my daughter and I love her. In her pictures she isn't smiling. I long to see her smile. To hear her giggle. To watch her sleeping. To feed her. To see her and her mom play together. To be called, "Daddy." To take a gazillion pictures of her. And yes, to change diapers for the first time in my life; something I've intentionally put off until I can do it for my own child. I simply can't wait to be a daddy.

As with every father, I have my worries. Will I be a good father? Will I raise her right? Will I teach her how to follow Jesus? Will I be a good example?...etc. Again, I know God is in control. I just need to follow Him and pray.