Learning Life While Taking Pictures

Yes, I became one of the millions who all of a sudden became a photo snapping fool after discovering that I could actually use the camera on my iPhone that was within an arm’s reach 24 hours of the day. After learning some basic rules from my pro photographer buddy (Thanks Rene!), YouTube videos, and learning from some fine artists on Instagram and Flickr- I think I am actually gaining some skills on the art of capturing life. But that’s not what this post is entirely about. The bigger “picture” (Yes, pun intended) is about what I do with my life, how I can lead my family, and be a blessing to my friends, community, this world.

For the past 7 years of taking at least 1 photograph everyday, I realize that no matter how much technology is crammed in this pocketable and delightful device, the camera is still very limited when compared to dedicated cameras. I discovered from the limitations of a phone camera that it is more about what I do with what I have instead of focusing on what I lack. Isn’t that life? Ok, here are 3 of some of the lessons:

Photography Lesson #1
: Composition is crucial. I learned that the decisions about where the subject is positioned inside the rectangular frame and what stays in the frame and what does not need to makes a difference.

Life Lesson #1: How I compose my life is crucial. I need to be intentional and thoughtful of my priorities, relationships, and endeavors. I know it is easier said than done, but I need to live every day with vision. How do you compose your life each day? What are the subjects that you are focusing on? Are there things and people that do not have to be in the picture?

Photography Lesson #2: Lighting is everything. Great lighting usually results in great results. Poor lighting brings a lot of challenges.

Life Lesson #2: Lighting is everything with the decisions I make. Of course, most choices made in my waking moments are not a matter of life and death, but informed, thoughtful decisions usually have positive results. Doing some homework, getting insight from the sages in my life, and applying God’s Word are the best ways to bring light into my situations. Jesus made this claim, and I believe it, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Do you believe Jesus can do that to the point of trust?  I think we can all agree that life’s best learnings are the ones when we say “Ah!” because the light bulb turned on a situation. So, what is the source of your light?

Photography Lesson #3: Edit with a purpose. Most photographs aren’t complete without an editing process. Enhancing or desaturating color, adjusting lighting, and even cropping something out are done to develop an aesthetically pleasing and engaging image. The great thing about digital editing a photo is that you can “undo” an edit you are not pleased with. Even after the photograph has been taken

Life Lesson #3: The things that we focus on are not going to be complete at first. There is always a process. Adjustments have to be made. Things may need to be cropped out. What and how I change the things in my life determine my results. I have been learning that less is more. How about you? Are you adjusting your attitude to get the right perspective? Are you ok with everything being a process? You may not be able to “undo” some decisions, but you can always change you.

Just recently another photographer friend gave me his dedicated camera with a lot more features and capabilities. Thanks Gilbert! However, the bigger picture (there I go again with the pun) is to do the best with what I have in my hands right now. Don’t wait for whatever upgrade or next big thing you are waiting for. Do the best with what you currently have. Remember, lighting is crucial, so get light. Be thoughtful with how you compose your life. Make changes with purpose even if it is just changing you. You may not get it right the first time. It’s a process. You will be glad you did. Your family will be glad you did. The world will be a better place.

Yes, I took the picture of that surfer on the beach with an iPhone.

Using Boundaries

Could you imagine driving the day our government lifted all traffic laws? It would be a great start to get on the open road and put the pedal to the metal without the worry of getting pulled over by the police. Most likely, you wouldn’t make it to the open road. The chaos of multitudes of drivers driving every which way would make your journey treacherous to say the least.

Traffic laws were put in place to save us from ourselves. Do you know where I am going with this? We pay attention to the lines in the street. Just like the painted white lines in this highway keep the drivers and their passengers safe while enroute to a destination, so do the universal boundaries that govern the areas of our life: our health, money, career, and our family. I believe that God put them in our lives to bring benefits to our lives not hamper them. People have tested boundaries from the beginning of time. I can tell you that gravity does not exist, but the moment jump off the roof it doesn’t matter what I believe. I will be going down in a hurry and injury and pain will be the result. These boundaries exist.

Take this perspective and apply it to your parenting. Use the boundaries to guide your children to keep them on the road to well being.

Make the boundaries clear and consistent. I recently drove through the local mountains in a thick fog. Visibility was very poor. In some stretches of the mountain road I had to rely solely on the reflective center line to navigate through the fog. Make the boundaries clear for your children. Write them down. Put them on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror. Tell your children. Have your children repeat it back to you what the boundaries are. Don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t change the boundaries based on your feelings or your convenience. By doing these things you are making boundaries clear and keeping them clear.

Follow though. I have been in of countries that had traffic laws but didn’t have the traffic officers to enforce the laws. I remember in one city street, the drivers made 8 lanes out of 4 marked lanes. It was nuts. Men got out of there cars to handle their disputes that turned into fist fights, meanwhile bringing traffic to a halt. The chaos and violence were a direct result of a lack of follow through. Whatever you decide as the correction part keep it consistent. It isn’t based on your temperment. It should be based on your children’s development. The purpose is to get your children to think about their actions and attitudes.

You might be familiar these words that start off Psalm 27, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” King David, the writer likened himself to a sheep and God as his shepherd. David stated that the shepherd’s rod and staff comfort me.” Isn’t it interesting that the “sheep” said that it was the instrument of correction that brought him comfort. That is because the rod isn’t just for correcting. It is more than that. The rod is used to protect. David himself was a shepherd and killed a lion who preyed on the sheep. The staff he used to prod and correct the sheep was also used to eliminate danger as well.

The point of discipline is to help your children create those boundaries in their hearts to guide them when you aren’t around. Your discipline of your children should go beyond telling them, “No,” and correcting them just because you are at your wit’s end. Help your children establish the boundaries for themselves. Who’s old enough to have taught your teenager how to drive a car? I am sure that you didn’t decide to permanently stay in the passenger seat to teach your child how to drive. It was a much shorter process than that. You intended for your teenager to know the rules of the road for him/her to operate the car without you. Shouldn’t we have the same intentional process with our children?

What are your thoughts? Your input is appreciated.

Lead Your Family Above the Noise

We get bombarded all day and night with messages. We are pounded with billboards, website banners, pop ups, commercials on tv, and jingles to name a few. I don’t have a long commute but do listen to sports radio while running errands. My kids and I sing 1-877 Cars 4 Kids. Why? Because it’s stuck in my head! And yes, I sing it with a heavy twang like the singer in the commercial.

I don’t know the exact formula of marketing, but I do know it’s powerful. Kids programming is about 10 minutes or less of the actual show before the kids are hammered with a commercial. Of course they are going to ask you for to buy stuff all day. Did you know by the way, Sea Monkeys are still around? Yeah, the same Sea Monkeys that we read in the comic backs back in the day?

So much of the tv shows and radio programming out there is just noise, and we have to rise above the noise ourselves as individuals and bring our families with us.

Get clarity for yourself first. You are in control of the screen door to your mind. What are you allowing to influence your mind? What are you screening out? My email inbox is at least in the hundreds daily. Twice a day, I do a mass delete of emails and save the bill reminders and the handful of emails I will actually read. One of those is a Bible-verse-a-day. Here’s what was in this morning’s inbox, “There is a way that seems right to a man and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death.” Proverbs 16:25. My purpose for getting that daily verse emailed to me is to entice me to read the entire proverb to get the full context. I will meditate on that like chewing on some beef jerky and set the course of for the day. It will show up in my speech and what and how I talk with my family.

Next thing, is just to turn it off. Turn off the news. Turn off the reruns. Put the tablet running YouTube videos down. Get outside. If you stay inside do something else. The main thing is to turn off the noise when you have the ability to do so.

What do you instead of watching tv all day or having a device in your face? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and we will continue on in a couple of days. Make it a great Monday above the noise!

Lessons from the 3 Foot World

I get to work with children and have been for over 25 years, but working with 2 and 3 year olds who are not my biological children is not always the easiest task. Last year, one of the toddlers frantically ran to me for me to pick him up. He wasn’t a talker and of course wasn’t going to tell me that he was within a microsecond of throwing up. If you can imagine the nightmare of a 3 foot human being rushing you with chunks of half-digested food ejecting out of his body towards you. Ok, way too much information, but I had to give you the illustration. 

I have learned a few things from observing these toddlers:

  • Fart jokes don’t work. Fart sounds sometimes do.
  • Bubbles are magical. They are.
  • If it can fit in their mouth, it is highly likely it will go there.
  • Tight hipster jeans have no place in this world.
  • Mucous. It’s all over the place.
  • If all else fails, just cry. That’s what they do.
The bulleted list may not be the most important of important things to know about toddlers, but if you are about to become a parent of little people or want to, then hopefully it helps. The best thing you can do for your little one is be there. They like holding hands. They like sitting together reading a picture book or watching a video. They look doing something together like solving a puzzle. They like showing off their skills going down a slide. In my observation, little ones like being together with the people they love and trust. If a parent asked me in church, “What is the best thing I can do for my toddler?” My answer would be, “Be with your child as much as you can.” Be present and really be present. As my wife would say to me to put down that phone, it could be turn off that tv, or stop reading the magazine for you. Spend time with your little ones and pay attention to them. The majority of the time, they aren’t going to tell  you to leave them alone. 

I once had a 2 year-old who is now old enough to be a parent of one. He just asked me the other day if I wanted to watch a movie with him. I am learning that even adult kids want to be with their parents every now and then and that you never really graduate from being a parent. What is it that you do with your kids in everyday situations? If you have some tips, please share!

Single Parent Success

Being single and not wanting to be single can be a frustrating and lonely experience. Being single and being a parent is very challenging. Now mix the two. Being single and a parent who doesn’t want to be single takes to another level of challenging. I was divorced and had custodial custody of my son for a number of years. Just like many seasons in life, I wish I could have done some things differently as a single person. In retrospect, it is all about the perspective and approach you take towards life as a single parent. Be honest with yourself. Where is your heart and head? Getting a few things figured out  will help you become a healthy individual which will help your children in their development as well.

Learning Contentment vs. The Pursuit of Happiness. It’s not about making yourself happy. “Wait, I can’t be happy?” Of course you can. Learning to be content with your current marital status is the key. Take the saying, “I’m happily married” and apply it to your situation, “I’m happily single.” If you want to married, don’t rush to get to that marital status. Maximize your opportunities while you are still single. Going on trips, pursuing a hobby, taking an online class, starting a business while making friendships are some of the things you can do now that take on different dynamics when you are married. What can you do while you are single?

Being Alone vs. Being Lonely. I remember being in a house party during the holidays almost 2 decades ago. The house was full of people, yet I felt lonely. I looked at my couples-friends. There were about 6 married couples that I can remember. I focused on what they had and what I didn’t have. I didn’t have a spouse. I didn’t have a mate. It is all about how you see things. Is it not? I should have jumped in a time machine and traveled to 2016 and saw that out of the 6 married couples only 3 of the couples were still married. Learn to appreciate the value of being alone. Albert Einstein said, “I live in that solitude which is painful at youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”

RomCom vs. Reality. It is not a good idea to base your life on the romantic movies we all know and love. The lonely protagonist in the movie overcomes her lonely state with an amazing and tear-jerking good ending, but it is how she got to the good ending that is not realistic. We set ourselves up when we then think we are the exception to the rule of building healthy relationships just like our romcom actor. It only took her 90 minutes to attain the love-life of love-lives! Let’s be real here. Many of the leading ladies and men of these romantic movies we watch have horrible relationships. That’s not the standard you want to set up in your life. Focus on being healthy instead of being happy. 

If you are a single mother or father, one of the greatest things you can provide your child is stability. You are their rock. The last thing they need to see is their parent going from one relationship to another. Is that an easy thing to do? Many times, no. Is it the best thing to do. Yes, it is. Maximize this season of being single to focus on yourself. Nobody wants your emotional baggage. You don’t want your baggage. When you are a healthy individual without the baggage, then you won’t settle to be in a relationship with someone who has baggage. Maximize this season of singleness to focus on your children. You are setting them up for success. You want them to be emotionally healthy as well. If you are choosing to re-marry, then the dynamics change to a step-family and mixed-family situation. If you and your children are not healthy, then what? Getting married doesn’t heal broken individuals. 

If you think this will help a friend please share it. If you have a thought you would like to add, then be part of the conversation and comment below. 

Thanks Dad

Thank you for teaching me how to fish.
Thank you for teaching me how to tie a necktie.
Thank you for yelling from the stands to keep swinging the bat even though I struck out 2 times during the game.
Thank you for correcting me when I was out of line with mom.
Thank you for walking with me to the playground the day after I got pushed down by the bully at school.
Thank you for letting me take a sip of your beer even when you knew I would spit it out.
Thank you for sword fighting with me even after you said that you were tired from work.
Thank you for teaching me how to shoot a BB gun.
Thank you for showing me how to use a sling shot.
Thank you for singing the song to every tv show theme even if you didn’t know the words.
Thank you for holding on to me on my first roller coaster ride.
Thank you for celebrating with me the first time I ever beat you in basketball.
Thank you for teaching me how to swing a hammer and change a tire. (Not at the same time.)
Thank you for helping me make my first secret clubhouse with chairs and a bedsheet.
Thank you for picking me up at the theater after I missed the last bus.
Thank you for helping me with my science project.
Thank you for picking me up from the principal’s office after I got in a fight and the first question you asked me was, “Did you win?”
Thank you for not being afraid to cry when I graduated.
Thank you for never giving up on me.
Thanks for being there for me like you said you would.

Happy Father’s Day to the men who chose to be dads. What can you add to this list of thanksgiving? This was the “from a son’s” version. If you are a daughter, what could you add to this list?

Your Children And Social Media

girls playing on street

Would you let your child freely interact with strangers? That question is the basis for my thoughts and opinions on children using social media. It is hard to have a simplistic grasp of the explosion of social media. We can share our lives via photo, video, sentences, and a song in an instant. We are interacting in ways that we couldn’t imagine years ago. My 80-year old low-tech dad just followed me on Instagram. Times have changed. Social media has opened avenues of communication that allows the participant to access dozens, hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people. Where do our children fit in the social media picture that is increasingly becoming an integral part of our daily lives?
That brings me back to the first question. Would you let your children freely interact with strangers? The answer for my children is no. In public situations, when strangers approach my children, I make sure I redirect the interaction between me and the stranger. When I’m shopping, I don’t let my children leave my side to interact with people I don’t know. Why would I allow my children to do that on the internet?

Things to think about…
  • Predators are rampant on the internet. They are all over the internet in every social media platform: FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Personal profiles can be easily be created to misrepresent the user. A predator wouldn’t typically identify himself as one on his profile. People are not who they say they are. I just checked into my Instagram account and someone started following me. The profile pic was stock photo of a model. Who knows who the real person is behind the account? I don’t. Neither does your child.
  • Peer pressure to post things for shock value. We are a “like-hungry” society. We crave more likes and reposts on the photos, videos, and words we post on social media. People pay money to buy followers on social media platforms. “Likes,” “Favorites,” “Repins,” and “Reposts,” are the fuel that make social media go. That pressure is on our children to fit in their digital world as well as their physical world. We all know that the easy way to get attention to internet activity is to promote sex and vulgarity. The pressure is on our children to promote the same things!
So when can my kid join in?
I’m going back to my theme. The permissions I allow my children to be in the physical world is similar to the interaction I would allow my children to have on the internet. If I allow my son to work at the local movie theater, where the bulk of his interaction is with people he doesn’t know, then yes, I would allow that in his digital world as well. With boundaries? Yes, and I will set them. Freedom without responsibilities and accountability is not freedom. The process is all about trust, and trust is earned, not given.

What is your involvement?
Parenting is active. Anytime, you don’t interact with your children or you do not actively supervise your children’s activities, it is very likely that your children will go beyond the boundaries. Street signs remind me about the rules while I drive to keep me and others around me safe. Those road signs are not consistent on the internet. The parent must be guiding his/her children, and that includes setting limits on time, content, and interaction. I can and will tell my child, who can and cannot be his internet friends.

The key rule in my house is that all devices stay in the living room. All interaction on all devices happens here. My pre-teens in the house and friends that wanted to video chat today. It had to happen in the living room. I did not have to be in the chat with them, but at least I was within view and earshot of their conversation.

Our children need boundaries the same way a river needs banks. When there are banks, the river is a source of life. When the banks are gone the river becomes a flood. I believe in saying no with purpose. I believe that setting boundaries for your children will help them create boundaries for their own lives.

What are the boundaries in your house for your children? Is it clear? Are you actively involved? Do you have any ideas and tips to share? Comment below.

A Vision for your Family

My daughter and I watched these mice run on the wheel almost mindlessly at the pet store the other day. We giggled as we watched their little legs go as fast as they could to keep up with each other and keep the wheel going quickly in rhythm without stalling the wheel or falling off.

It may seem that way with us bi-pedalers as well. Have you felt that way? Have you felt like all you’re doing is running on a wheel and really going nowhere? You wake up, get the kids ready to go to school, drop them off, go to work, get off work, pick up the kids, take them to practice, inhale dinner, off to bed, squeeze in a workout, watch a funny pet video on FaceBook, post selfie on Instagram, sleep in front of the tv, then repeat the next day?

Surely life should be more than that. It is, however, it is up to us to get the meaning out it all. What I am trying to do that is actually harder to do than running on life’s wheel. I am approaching the wheel with more intentionality. I am finding out that this approach requires living life with vision. It may be foreign thing to do, but have a written mission statement for you and your family. You may believe in having a specific calling on your life to do something that has a positive impact in this world. How does that apply to your family?

Here’s an example of a vision statement for a family.

Our family mission:
To love each other…
To help each other…
To believe in each other…
To wisely use our time, talents, and resources to bless others…
To worship together…

I don’t think there are copyrights to vision statements, and this one may work for you. Find out your core values; the things you won’t budge on because they are convictions of your hearts. If you’re married, ask your spouse. Ask your children. Don’t try to cover everything. Narrow the list down to the principles and goals that are the most important to you.

Don’t assume that you all want the same goals. In my college days, I landed a sweet job working in a youth program that steered students away from drugs and gangs. A young teenager was sent to me by a school principle to give a pep talk to. He had been in a lot of trouble and was on his way to being expelled from school. I illustrated to him the American Dream; the wife, the house, car, and a cool dog in an attempt to give him an alternative future. I remember the boy looked at me squarely in the eyes and challenged, “Why do you think I want that?” I was speechless. It caused me to reexamine my core values. Think about your core values? Are these principles  really what you believe? Are these goals real what you want?

Once you have formed thoughts into words, then write them down. Post it somewhere where everyone can see it. Make it your creed. In other words, make the vision statement words to live by. Live by them. Stick to them.

Don’t “try” it. Do it. Take the first steps. Talk to your family. When you come up with your vision statement share it in the comments below. If you think my message is important please share it.

Zoltar Awaits

Zoltar was waiting
The man had no clue
With 50 cents debating
His fortune was due
He dropped the 2 quarters
And Zoltar began to talk
And gave the man orders
Of where he should walk
Life directions for a half a buck
Zoltar likes how it rolls
He gives the man some luck
And keeps his unknowing soul.

Thanks for reading my poem. I saw Zoltar while my friend Stephen Davis photographed unsuspecting tourists on the pier. I know it’s a silly poem, but don’t we get just as silly when we base our futures based on strips of paper inside fortune cookies and throwing coins into a fountain? Let me know what you think. I appreciate your feedback!

A Surfer’s Conversation

The godfather at the local break sat his listeners down as he preached from the back of his van to share one more key to his version of life. 

“It’s all in the conversation,” he pointed out. “Take this one guy. He wanted to be with this girl so badly, that he woke up at 5am just to join her morning session. He tried to convince her that he was as experienced as she was in the water, but she saw through his stories. She told him later that she just wanted to be friends.”

“Some guys chat from the moment they get their toes wet. They talk while they paddle out. They talk while sitting in the lineup. They talk while you’re trying to paddle into a wave,” the godfather added. “If they’d talk less, they’d catch more.”

“There’s nothing you can do when high tide turns the break into a swamp,” the godfather continued, “I can’t tell you how many guys end up watching and talking before walking to the closest coffee house to talk some more.”
“All I can say is…” the godfather paused as if he had changed his last point in mid-breath, “make your words count and paddle more.” He ended his surf-sermon, hugged his listeners, knowing that he would get to preach again the next day.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. Some people are just more artful at conversation than others. Mike, the surf teacher is a real person and a real storyteller. People like him produce a lot more smiles in this world. Isn’t storytelling and conversations make life more exciting? I appreciate your feedback, and if you like my content please share it.

Check out the Steller version here.