Sunday, September 30, 2012

HINGE MOMENTS REVEALED

Lonely
It's Sunday and I'm at rest. A half a day's respite from the flux of family issues and people moving in and out of my life. It's 90 degrees outside and I could be at the beach but no, I'm indoors alternating my reading between 2 books, Quitter by Jon Acuff, and Caged by Cameron Conaway. 

I took this photo with my iPhone while walking the streets of Santa Monica this summer. My eyes were riveted to the older lady and her pug watching life parading past from the upstairs window and hoped she didn't mind getting her picture taken. When I raised my phone to take the picture I was surprised as well as saddened to realize the geriatric spectator and her pet were cardboard cutouts. One of my greatest fears is living my octogenarian years plagued with regrets for not possessing the courage to take risks with my dreams. The tragedy being a cardboard cutout version of myself.

I bought Quitter hoping it would provide a magic formula to effectively quit my mindless day job and make my dreams to become a full-time photographer and abolitionist a reality. But I was slammed with Jon Acuff's words in the first chapter: 

"We demonize our day jobs when we dream. We make them enemies of what we really want to do. But if you dream the right way and learn how to quit the right way, your day job can actually be your dream job's greatest ally." 

Gulp.

I'm only a few chapters in but my perspective has been shaken with a magnitude of 8.9 on the Richter scale. It's the in-your-face-booya wisdom I needed to read especially on a Sunday when I battle depression over the prospect of my dreary day job on Monday morning. Jon writes about a hinge moment. It "occurs when you are planning to do something standard and normal, something you've done many times before, like turn a key in the ignition. And then seemingly out of nowhere, something, a small detail usually, hinges you in a different direction."

He poses five questions which help determine your own hinge moments. "Ask yourself these questions. Love yourself enough to actually write down your answers." While I read over the questions my answers popped into my mind like overzealous microwave popcorn. 

1. What do I love enough to do for free? 
Hello, easy question! 
Photography- I love it so much I DO do it for free which has been detrimental to my business. I've learned to value my work in portrait and event photography but with street photography it quickens my blood. Trolling the streets  with my camera doesn't provide income. I photograph on the streets because I LOVE the people, the thrill of candid shots, and the unexpected. 
Abolitionist- For the past 5 years I've volunteered for a non-profit organization, My Refuge House, to help victims of human trafficking/slavery in their restoration, rehabilitation and reintegration. I've used my photography to raise awareness during various human trafficking conferences. When I meld the two together-photography and abolitionist work-I am fully engaged with love for the work
Writing/Blogging-I write because it's as essential as breathing. I'm never without a journal and I'm grateful for technology and the writing apps on my phone. I write on my blog not for revenue, comments, or number of views but for the love of writing.  


2. What do I do that causes time to feel different? 
All of the above. When I'm photographing, volunteering, or writing, the hours are filled with so much exhilaration I ignore my stomach's insistent growling. I'm deaf to my body's pleas of nourishment when I'm involved in one or all of the things I love doing. 

3. What do I enjoy doing regardless of the opinions of other people? 
Again, all of the answers in question #1. I was raised in a family where affirmation was a foreign concept and I've learned to operate without it. The source of my fulfillment and enjoyment manifests from utilizing the gifts God placed in my hands. Regardless of the number of "likes" I receive or the number of followers I've acquired across all social media sites, I will continue to photograph, write, and volunteer because they make me happy. I will admit, though, that sometimes I fall into the trap of comparing myself with others. I DO question why another photographer's image garnered hundreds of likes on Facebook, why a blogger has thousands of followers, or why a volunteer was invited to an event. But falling into that abyss is short-lived because I'm quickly reminded of why I love being a photographer, abolitionist, and writer.

  4. If only your life changed, would that be enough? 
This is the question that I struggle with a little. If all my years as a photographer, advocate, and writer didn't impact anyone's life but my own I'm not sure if it would be sufficient. Part of why I do this work is to influence or help someone. I always say I can't save the world but my experiences can help someone. I won't stop being a photographer, abolitionist, and writer but I'd like to believe my efforts are helping someone.


5. Are there any patterns in the things you like doing? 
The decisions I've made and the experiences I love are centered around people and community. To me my photographs are uninteresting and lack depth if people aren't my subjects. My abolitionist work is all about helping the voiceless. My writing is an outlet for my mind and heart to help others through my voyage of revelation. 

What about you? What are your hinge moments? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

OUR VOICES HAVE BEEN HEARD

No child should be exploited!
For the past five years I've volunteered my time, donated my finances, and devoted my life to fight against human trafficking with the non-profit organization, My Refuge House. It began with my friend, Jessica, who read the book, Terrify No More, by Gary Haugan, President of International Justice Mission(IJM). Her burgeoning idea to build a safe house for young woman and girls rescued from the sex trade spread like wildfire through her small church, New Heart Community Church. Within months the entire congregation read the book and banded together to make My Refuge House a reality. This tiny church in the city of La Mirada, California sacrificed its own needs to ensure the restoration of victims residing in My Refuge House. It was the gospel in action and a beautiful sight to see. 

Since then I've worked alongside like-minded fellow soldiers whose hearts burn to eradicate the scourge of human trafficking/slavery. We've attended fundraisers, benefit concerts, meetings, and conferences. There were petitions to be forwarded and signed. Through this work I've connected and networked with the most inspirational and amazing people who labor tirelessly and diligently to fight against modern day slavery. I've photographed a handful of Freeze Projects, an organized event to raise awareness of human trafficking, and continue to utilize my photography in any capacity needed. 

In 2009, I traveled with my friends Jessica, Abby, and Bienelisa to the Philippines to work with the girls residing in My Refuge House. During that time I was able to visit the IJM headquarters in Cebu City and attended meetings with the staff. Russ Bermejo, former IJM social worker and Director of My Refuge House, recently reminded me what I blurted out while standing in the middle of the IJM offices. "I'm not easily starstruck or watch t.v. but this reminds me of Hollywood!" A week prior to our visit in the Philippines, IJM successfully rescued girls from a brothel in the heart of the red light district. Russ recounted his story of suspense, adrenaline, meticulous execution, and danger while on this rescue mission. 

The abolitionist's work is fraught with frustration when we're faced with ambivalence from people or the daunting number of people enslaved in the trade. Statistics tell us millions of people are caught in the web of human trafficking and I'm unable to wrap my mind around that. But the obstacles and setbacks we encounter fail to deter us from the work we do because thanks to IJM there are success stories that validate our efforts. Like President Obama expressed, "IJM  as a leader in the anti-trafficking movement – a group that “like the great abolitionists before them” is “truly doing the Lord’s work.”

Today, the voices of abolitionists around the nation were heard. President Obama addressed the issues of human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative and my face was slick with tears.  Here are a few impacting statements he made, taken from ABC's article Obama Outlines Efforts to Prevent 'Modern Slavery':
“When a man desperate for work finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling for little or no pay and beaten if he tries to escape, that is slavery,” he said.
“When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promise of a better life and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists, that’s slavery,” he continued.
“It is barbaric and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world,” he said.

“But for all the progress that we’ve made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here in the United States,” he said. “As president, I directed my administration to step up our efforts, and we have… because we can’t ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves.”

Our convictions run deep on this social injustice that renders its victims voiceless. We aren't looking for accolades in our work but search for useful ways to defend the victims of human trafficking and slavery. Humans should never be a commodity and children should never be exploited. 

We spoke, we shouted, we praised, and we were heard. For this I will continue to labor as an abolitionist and use my voice to defend and fight for the oppressed. I was born for such a time as this. You can read more about my involvement with My Refuge House here

The video below is President Obama's speech addressing the issue of human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Monday, September 24, 2012

MY LEGACY OF LITERACY

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Rylee & I during our visit to the Cerritos Library
It's easy to lose myself in the mind-numbing drudgery of a Monday morning. It's become second nature to slip into my zombie-like state wasting commuting time as I drive to a job that merely serves to "pay the bills." Although I'm grateful, I walk into my job resembling the undead. Void of emotion, passion, excitement, motivation, and energy, I question my purpose in the grand scheme of Life.

What is it about Monday mornings that make me feel insignificant?

Scrolling through the camera roll on my phone my heart constricted at the picture of Rylee and me. It wasn't the answer I was searching for but an answer nonetheless. 

Part of my legacy is the gift of literacy I leave behind for my grandchildren. When Rylee whines and begs me to take her out of the house I drive straight to the Cerritos Library. My deepest hope is to plant the seeds of a bibliophile into the fertile soil of Rylee's pliant heart. Diligent watering of this gift is significant and meaningful. 

These pictures are what's sustaining me on this Monday morning. Happy and blessed Monday to all of you! Remember, everything you do matters. 
 

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Friday, September 21, 2012

NO MORE WALLS

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“Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”― Anaïs Nin


Ordinary life tamps me down. Life filled with compromised immune systems, human limitations, disappointments, disillusionment, responsibilities, and obligations strangles the flow of selfLESSness. The battle between self and serving others rages with ferocity. 

It's not about me. It is NOT about me. 

So I shake my fist at the image in the mirror who says life is about serving ME. 

When ordinary life shackles me I escape by searching for the ones who question their existence. I tell them they matter. 

I escape by looking for those who serve others despite their exhaustion. I send them a verse as a reminder that their songs are being sung. 

I escape by honing on the broken-hearted and defeated. I provide hope illuminated in my photos. 

No more walls of self-imprisonment. 

It's not about me. 




Saturday, September 15, 2012

FEED YOUR BRAIN THIS WEEKEND

Jon Acuff (author of the book Quitter) tweeted this photo last week and I died. For a bibliophile like me who doesn't watch t.v. (and abhors reality shows) this image tickled me silly. I devour books the way a chain smoker consumes ciggies. There is never enough time to read the books I've checked out and borrowed at the library. 

This weekend take a break from the weekend to-do list, pick up a book, sit back, and feed your brain. It will thank you. 

Happy reading! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

NOTICE THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE

Searching
Labor Day was waning and I was exhausted. I just picked Rylee up from where she spent the holiday weekend when she asked that we stop at "Old McDonalds." As much as I believe that Mickey Ds is the devil incarnate I'm a sucker for my grandkid especially when she tells me she's "so hungry Gramma." She was gone for 3 days and I couldn't say no. I know, I know, shoot me! 

Walking through the double doors I noticed brown weathered hands clasped together resting on top of the table to my left. No food, no drink, just the hands. 

I was in my usual frazzled state when I ordered the food and tried my best to pay attention to Rylee's conversation. My eyes drifted to the person whose hands I saw when we entered. He was alone, hands still clasped, and looked lost in thought. I noticed he pointedly avoided meeting anyone's eyes even as I stared at him too long. Others walked through those double doors and barely glanced at him. 

Rylee and I sat outside on the patio near the playground and I had a direct view of the lone man sitting inside. I couldn't tear my eyes away from him. He was compelling in the way he sat alone not bothering anyone or asking for money. I became curiouser and curiouser. I counted ten people who walked in and out of those double doors but not one person acknowledged the man's presence. 

On our way out I passed by him and my nostrils were slammed with the aroma of urine. A tell-tale sign that he was homeless. His light blue pants and jacket weren't tattered but smudged with dirt in several places. Questions raced through my mind in milliseconds: What's up with this guy Why is he sitting here not asking for money? Why is he trying to be invisible? 

A heavy nagging tug on my heart pestered me as we walked to the car. I told Rylee about the homeless man sitting in Old McDonalds but she didn't notice him. She was already strapped into her booster seat and I inserted the keys in the ignition when I paused. The weight on my chest was so heavy I knew I couldn't drive away without letting this man know that I noticed him. Rylee hammered me with twenty questions asking why I turned the car off? Why we were going back inside? What are you doing Gramma? 

I explained that we needed to give this man money because he had no food to eat but would not ask. "Remember how we always pray for the homeless people before we go to bed? Well, he's one of them and we need to help a little bit."  I walked in again holding Rylee's hand in one of mine and with the other I placed the five dollar bill in the semi-circle of his clasped hands. In slow motion (or, it seemed to be) he woke from his reverie, looked at the money, gasped, smiled, and looked up at me with shining eyes. I mean, really looked at me. I smiled in return, nodded my head, and left. 

It's about the gesture. Not the words. 

I can't remember if he said thank you. His smile and the bright lucid eyes conveyed enough. 

I don't usually write a blog post about my random acts of kindness because I believe it diminishes the authenticity of my intention. But this was an opportunity I couldn't miss because Rylee's old enough to absorb the lesson I'm trying to teach her. 

I want to teach her to walk through life noticing the invisible people. As she matures I want her to view people through the lens of a compassionate and selfless human being. Too many of us pretend that the homeless don't exist because acknowledging their existence would mean a breach in our pseudo secure life. 

Most of the time I carry my debit card so I don't have cash available to those who solicit money. And on other occasions I discern the disingenuous request coming from them. I don't always experience the persistent heavy tugging  to give to the homeless but when I do I try to act accordingly. 

The invisible people walk among us. Acknowledge their presence because they too have a story. 



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

REMEMBERING 9/11 | PHOTO ESSAY BY MAGNUM PHOTOGRAPHERS

Nine Magnum photographers reflect on how they covered 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Guantanamo Bay.

Monday, September 10, 2012

DEAR 16 YEAR OLD ME

“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.” ― Albert Einstein
 
I've been following the blog Chatting at the Sky and the blogger, Emily Freeman, urged her readers to write a letter to their teenage selves. She's released her book, Graceful, and I plan on getting my hands on it soon. Initially, I smiled and giggled at the thought until I realized I had a tremendous amount to say to my sixteen year old self. I'm not one to dwell or linger in the past as I feel it hinders me from moving forward to my full potential. But the more I thought about what I would say to my teenage self I decided not to let this opportunity pass. 

Dear 16 year old Me,

Hi there! It is I, your future self twenty-eight years later and wiser. I have this burning desire to smack you upside your head. Why? To knock some holy sense into that fantasy-filled, insecurity-ridden, no-confidence head of yours.  


First, I DEMAND that you step away, burn, or donate those horrific romance novels you're filling your head with. It will skew your view on love and relationships. Those trashy novels will alter the course of your life in a way you never expected. Second, slow your damn roll and stop trying to accelerate your youth. In 3 short years you will find yourself fulfilling the role of mother and wife in the most haphazard way. 

I want to shake you until you appreciate the skinny, lanky, awkward body you have. Turn off the t.v. and stop watching the music videos with the big booties filling the screen. Trust me, when you're in your 40s you will fall in love with the body your mama gave ya and appreciate your skinny self. I do applaud you for discovering your love for exercising and working out because it will be so much easier to keep the middle age bulges at bay. Oh, and get this...YOU WILL RUN HALF MARATHONS AND ACTUALLY LOVE IT! Yes, you will I promise you. Don't roll your eyes at me. 

You can quit pressing your lips together hoping it will decrease their fullness. Having the nickname "bongo lips" won't be annoying after ten years because big lips will be so in! Women will be draining their life savings to have a nasty drug called Botox injected into their lips to create long lasting fullness. The kind of fullness that looks like a hive of bees went to town on their lips. OH, and seriously, stop it with the useless pectoral exercises. One day after you have your first baby and your mammary glands are beyond engorged you'll be crying from the agonizing pain of your D-sized milk filled boobs. You will NEVER EVER want to have a boob job again and will lovingly appreciate the little God blessed you with. 

So you secretly love Ray B. with all your heart and it kills you to talk for hours on the phone with him while listening to his yapping about girls, girls, and more girls. You want him to like you back so badly but so do a LOT of girls. Hey, it's okay! Because you and that dumb boy will get together 24 years from now and he will be ready to love you and commit to you. He'll still blather on about girls, girls, girls but this time you're secure enough to know he's just a guy being a guy. But for you at 16 I want to yank the phone from your hands and stop you from answering his phone calls. You don't HAVE to endure his blabbing about other girls just to be close to him. You CAN have dignity, you know. Just be patient


I know you'll become fed up with Ray for not making any moves or reciprocating love. I also know that in a year's time you'll throw caution to the wind like a deflated balloon, say F it all, and give up your virginity to a complete L-O-S-E-R. How I wish I could be there at the precise moment and wield divine intervention. That careless decision will set the tone for your lack of self-respect.

You keep looking for love in the wrong places which will determine the rocky path your life will take.  I know why you yearn and long to be loved. Your dad never affirmed your worth and I hate to break it to you but he never will. You'll accept it one day but in the meantime find it within yourself to love YOU. This is crucial because 3 years from where you are now you will allow yourself to receive physical/mental abuse because you believe you deserve it. YOU DO NOT!

I won't tell you to squash your rebellion although it's going to get you in a LOT of trouble. It's the part of you I want intact because it will prohibit you from being complacent, turn you into a non-conformist, and provide the courage to walk your own path later in life. I assure you that you won't care about trying to make people happy, fitting in their mold, and busting your butt to meet their expectations. You will make mistakes but will learn from them. Although, I urge you to amp your rebellion up a notch when it comes to your parents crushing your dream to be a photojournalist as if it were a pesky insect. Taking the safe route into the medical field is a regret you'll carry every day and will weigh your spirit down.

I'm aware of how embarrassed you are of your "pizza face" but be happy because it will clear up as you grow older. Endure those weekly trips to the dermatologist because they will pay off in the end. Don't be shocked but may I suggest you cease this obsession with name brand jeans/purses/shoes now? Because when you're comfortable in your skin you'll turn your button nose up at any label that screams "designer". I know! I know! Believe me, you will! You'll find your own unique style in vintage and second-hand stores like Buffalo Exchange. Oh, and Forever 21 will be your best friend. Screw those Jordache jeans that never fit your bony butt. You'll never want to relive the 80s again even when the fashion mavens resurrect those horrid styles. So quit dwelling on trying to keep up with the rich kids because they won't matter in a few years.


I should warn you now that you don't have to be in control of EVERYTHING. You can't overprotect your heart  from being broken. It's called being human and you'll learn to accept its limitations with grace. I know that you'll attempt suicide three times in the upcoming years but let me slap you with this truth: NO ONE and NOTHING is worth your life! Got that? I can't stress it enough. There will never come a time when the world ends over a certain situation because the blinding sun ALWAYS shines after EVERY storm. You'll weather severe ones and come out a fierce warrior afterward. I promise you that your presence in people's lives will make a significant impact and you'll realize killing yourself was a lame idea. Like, ohmigod, totally lame! 


I know it's no consolation for you but the abuse you'll experience for ten years in your first marriage will act as the catalyst to your fight against human trafficking. It will be your life's calling to battle against this social injustice,  volunteering your time and photography for the non-profit organization My Refuge House. And you thought you were a coward operating in fear! I guarantee that you'll outgrow this fear and will be undaunted in your fight against this evil. 

I wish I could take your bad decisions away but they're stepping stones that will lead you to the woman I am today. You'll embrace your imperfections with solid confidence. Eventually, you will tap into the source of your invaluable worth and won't allow anyone to rob you of it again. Learn to be good to yourself now instead of discovering it later. Oh, and listen closely to the the string of people who try to talk to you about Jesus because you'll think it's the last thing you'd want but is actually the peace your heart was searching for. It'll prevent you from practicing the occult, addiction to drugs/alcohol, renouncing God, and getting into some serious trouble. 


The presence of your younger brother and sister might be an irritation but take a step back. Put your book down and pay attention. Time has a way of fast forwarding without waiting for you to catch up. One day you'll admit that your mom was right: you kids will only have each other so get along. You'll hurt both of them deeply and I want you to circumvent those moments if possible. Don't marginalize your relationships with them because they're the ones who will be there during a family crisis. And there will be plenty in the coming years. 

BE patient, love well, forgive quickly (although this will be a long process), and take courage in EVERYTHING you do because this is my promise: you will love who you are and your 40s will be the best years of your life! Be thankful for the failed relationships you'll experience because they're lessons that will help you in your commitment now. You're a fighter, a survivor, and one bad mama jamma! Never fail in being true to who you are. 


With the fiercest love, 


44 year old Me


P.S. I've enclosed some photos for you to keep on your journey as token reminders to NEVER give up on your life. Remember you ALWAYS have something good to offer. 

This is the 16 year old you I'm talking to! It's a page from Ray's album, remember? BTW, after you have your kids your hair will become stick straight and your hairy legs will become a figment of your imagination. Your legs will only need to be shaved every 2 months. 

This is who you will be: a mother and grandma. It is your reason for existing, loving, and living. You'll go through hellish times with your kids but your fighter spirit will bring you out of tempestuous times.

There you are with your sister and daughter loving life on a Sunday afternoon. Yes, you & your sister will be best friends! I kid you NOT! And you will have many sister shenanigans together.

Posing with your bad boy at the 2011 Disney Half Marathon. I TOLD you you'd LOVE running half marathons! OH, and in your 40s it's actually cool to profess your obsession with all things Star Wars. 


Tadaa!!! You and Ray together 28 years later! I know I couldn't believe it either. 

This was taken last week. This is the 44 year old you who's comfortable in her skin, embraces the imperfections, and loves life even though it's not where it should be. 

Last but not least I leave you with this photo I pilfered from Facebook. Never mind what Facebook is, you'll find out soon enough. You'll despise it more than you'll love it. But take those words and let it grow in your heart. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I'M REALLY NOT OKAY WHEN I SAY I AM

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My granddaughter, Rylee, climbing up to me.
I woke up this morning shrouded in a heavy emotional funk. It felt like I rolled out of bed with a mink coat on my back which I find detestable. But that's how I felt and I couldn't shake it off despite my attempts at being grateful for what I have. 

It's back to school time for everyone and my Facebook feed was littered with photos of my friends' kids on their first day of school. Pangs of nostalgia stabbed my gut like indigestion and I realized why I was feeling f-u-n-k-y. 

Loss. 

Last night my 21 year old son, Tristan, asked me if I was okay with him going to church with his girlfriend. Although I felt a twinge of pain I said yes and let him know it was his choice. I'm the master at pretending I'm impervious to pain so Tristan was clueless to my struggle. I used to attend his girlfriend's church and know the majority of the congregation. They're ALL my friends. 

I encouraged Tristan to continue nurturing his relationship with God and assured him it didn't matter what church he attended. I would never hold him back from being with his girlfriend whom I love or stop him from going to her church because I want him with me. I couldn't have chosen a better family to welcome him with loving open arms. But it's the perennial letting-go every parent experiences that leaves us in bereavement.

I deeply valued and LOVED our time together at church. For a whole year my son and I bonded over bible study and Sunday service. I'm protective over my time at church because it's precious to me. I'd rather sit alone than bring someone who doesn't understand or share my faith. But I was honored to watch my son grow into a man of God; one who was seeking him with his whole heart. I ceaselessly prayed for this and was eternally grateful to see my prayers answered. Tristan and I had deep conversations about God, faith, relationships, mistakes, and love. Every moment I had with him I tucked into the tiny recesses of my heart. 

When the first day of school photos scrolled down my Facebook page this morning it reminded me of the times I wished I could press the fast forward button on my kids' teenage years. I counted the days until they graduated high school like a desperate prisoner awaiting release. Looking back now I would've punched my ignorant self in the face. I would've told her to savor the moments, even the tumultuous ones. I wasted so many years by never being fully present in the lives of my kids. 

I read a blog post today from a good friend of mine who described the morning she received news her brother had passed away. At the mention of her parents I began sobbing at my desk for their loss and continued bereavement. I couldn't imagine their abysmal pain because no parent should endure the tragedy of burying a child. Reading my friend's words felt like acid dousing a fresh wound. 

The past is not mine to manipulate or control. There's nothing I could do to alter it and every parent faces the consequences of squandered time. It's not wise to dwell on the sun setting on my time with Tristan but better to appreciate the quality of moments we spent together in the past year. It's imperative to remember that our relationship is one where he feels safe confiding in me and our mom/son moments haven't ended. Maybe the next time he asks if it's okay with me I'll have the courage to tell him yes...and no.