Look at the Horizon! Finding Peace this Holiday Season and in the New Year

Look at the Horizon! Finding Peace this Holiday Season and in the New Year
The coast of Crete, Greece. Photo by Thanos Papazoglou on Unsplash.

“Look at the horizon!” yells the Greek man in clear but accented English.

He’s standing right in from of me, but he might as well be miles away.

We’re off the coast of Crete and I’m lost in my body, all-too focused on being uncomfortable as I lean against the boat’s transom, digging my heels into the swim platform while the 6- and 8-foot waves wildly toss us back and forth.

The 6mm wet suit is thick and unwieldly on my limbs. A 15-lb belt cinching my middle feels like 50. And the tank on my back is a true 40 pounds.

But the guy keeps working to secure my gear in tandem with another behind me. I sit mutely with my hood and mask atop my head and offer them my feet to be flippered as they triple check the oxygen flow into my regulator, my pressure gauge, the security of each belt on my shoulders and across my chest.

It’s my very first dive, and my own voice thunders loud between my ears.

Yeah, you’re trained, but this is too much.

It’s too rough. Six and 8-foot swells? Really?

WHY isn’t it calm?

It’s gonna be cold.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

“Ready?” I hear my husband say to my right.

They’re preparing him too, and his voice is like a call from home.

“Yes,” I exhale, much more surely than I feel.

“Look at the horizon!” says the man again, this time so close I can feel his breath on my face. I look into his brown eyes and he points upward and beyond, smiling.

“Prevents seasickness. You will feel better.”

Mariners have known for thousands of years that standing on a boat with your feet spread apart and looking to where the sea meets the sky can help alleviate nausea. On land, we all sway naturally back and forth about 4 centimeters every 12 to 15 seconds. Scientists have now concluded that on water, focusing on a distant point may help the brain understand increased body sway by enabling it to differentiate between two sources of movement – the ship and the person’s own body.

Strapped into my scuba gear and staring at my feet, I was working myself into a nauseous state, and my new Greek friend could see it all over my pale face.

But taking his advice brought me out of my angst. Looking at the sea, the rocky coastline, and the sun shining full behind it minimized the size of the relentless waves, and I gained courage to take the leap off the end of the vessel and into the depths.

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone in some way or another.

Remaining in the present is essential. We’ve found it’s good to embrace the sanctity of every day. Nothing can be taken for granted.

But have we also lingered so long in our present mindset that we’re now staring at our feet, overthinking our burdens, and lamenting every wave?

In metaphor, a daily look at the horizon teaches us two things:

1) Our suffering is lessened when we regain a broader perspective; and
2) We are stabilized by focusing on an immovable point.

Who or what is your immovable point?

This Christmas and in the year to come, let’s heed the whisper that calls to our hearts saying, “Trust me. I am the One your soul desires, and I will bring you peace.”

When I finally jumped into the water that day back in 2018, I saw a stone anchor from a ship that sank 2,000 years ago – around the same time that Jesus was born. My focus on the horizon, and giant stride past my fears, was well-rewarded.

“It truly is all about love.” – An Interview with Photographer Bruce Barone

“It truly is all about love.” – An Interview with Photographer Bruce Barone

Sometimes a photograph is mesmerizing. The artist has captured the ineffable – that something just beyond the reach of words. When that force is goodness, I can’t stop looking. I want to see more of it through the artist’s eyes.

And so it was that I discovered photographer Bruce Barone on Instagram. Born and raised in New Jersey, in his childhood Bruce was two great kids rolled into one: a baseball player who wrote poetry. He discovered his passion for creating images, stories, and combinations of these while still in middle school. His creations eventually led to a career as a corporate photographer, writer, and marketing executive at Hearst Magazines (Good Housekeeping, Cosmo, Esquire, House Beautiful, and Town & Country). He later moved to Massachusetts and started his own design and marketing agency, then an art gallery and photo studio in a renovated factory.

Today, gorgeous shots of his garden, family, and everyday beauty delight me and all of his many, many followers and customers. It is my joy to interview him here on Like the Dewfall.

You do weddings, portraits, nature, and documentary photography. How have you noticed your approach change in the years you’ve been working, and what experiences have contributed to maturity in your portfolio?

That’s a great question and required of me some deep thinking. I think my approach has been fairly consistent over the years, maybe because my love of people and nature has been consistent. The French philosopher and Jesuit Catholic Priest, (Pierre) Tielhard de Chardin wrote: “Seeing: We might say that the whole of life lies in that verb – if not ultimately, at least essentially.”  I think we can find, see, and experience an epiphany in the richness of the ordinary day. To see. To be astonished. To embrace truth.

Often, I ask myself, “What am I called to do?” and “How can I make the world a better place?” To paraphrase Rumi, the 13th century Persian, poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic; I remind myself: you need to be permanently astonished–this is the real work of religion. Maybe of art. The second thing you need is love; draw upon love for energy. And the third thing is sacrifice–give the drop that is ourselves; we are given an ocean. To be astonished, to become more like a child. Gifts are all around us. Be nourished by being amazed–it is a great thing to be alive.

Simone Weil, the French philosopher and political activist, said: “Absolute attention is prayer.” Seeing. Astonishment. Prayer.

Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, writes:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

We design the world by the way we choose to see it! Yes; I choose to see beauty and to share that wonder, that astonishment with all.

How would you describe your general philosophy when it comes to your work?

I believe my photography reflects my passion for life, a love of life, nature, beauty; a calling to share this vision, This, I believe, is my ministry. I believe I have been given a gift from God. A gift for seeing beauty–-creating artful, remarkable, memorable photographs. Drawing on a degree in Art and English, inspired by Nature, a passion for telling stories and years working as a writer and photojournalist helps me to follow my heart–bringing a heightened sensitivity to all my photography. I believe I am making the world a better place with beautiful photography.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened while you’re working?

True story. I was photographing a wedding one sultry summer day. As was my custom, I was wearing a dress suit and carrying two cameras. When the ceremony ended I made a dash for the outside so I could photograph the bride and groom leaving the church and walking down the 20+ steps to their limo.  My assistant stayed inside to photograph them walking down the aisle. Perhaps, my pants were too long. I’m not sure, but no sooner had I started to walk down the steps when I lost my balance and tumbled down a few steps. I was OK; just a bit shaken up. And my cameras were okay. Only a few people saw the tumble!

What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken to get a shot? Did it pay off?

I am not sure if this a risk, but I can be fairly outgoing and once on a lunch break when I worked at Hearst Magazines in New York City I stopped at a friend’s bar for a beer (It was very hot that day!) and a bite to eat and sitting at the bar were the members of the band The Clash. I was giddy with excitement. I loved them and had just seen them in concert. I sat down at the bar next to Joe Strummer, the leader of the band. After some small talk, I asked him if I could photograph him outside. He agreed. I must say he was a very nice man. He passed away in 2002 at age 50. He’s drinking the beer in the photo. Bandmate Mick Jones behind him. Actress, singer Ellen Foley on the left. I don’t know name of woman on the right.

In all of your life, professionally or otherwise, what are you most proud of?

First, my children and my wife. And second, my gift for bringing beauty into people’s lives.

A stranger once wrote to me the following:

“Thank you for making my life more beautiful with each of your photographs. Thank you for your art.”


Another wrote:

“You have shown me to see the world with a completely different set of eyes. Every single day you bring beauty, joy, depth and a new perspective into my life. I cannot thank you enough for being the beautiful, kind, loving, gentle, and soulful man you are.”

What personal qualities do you think you still need to develop and why?

Focus and persistence because these are tools to help me bring greater and brighter light into the world. I often find myself procrastinating!

What are you most grateful for right now and how do you express that gratitude?

My children, grandchildren, my wife, my dog. My gifts. I express this gratitude with love.

I understand that you are Christian. Was this always your faith? If not, when you did choose to follow Christ?

Some family history…My great-grandfather was one of the first Baptist ministers in America. My mom was a Sunday school teacher at our Congregational Church. One of my sisters was the Director of Christian Education at a Congregational Church. I taught Sunday school. (Funny story. One year I had my son and a girl named Julia in my class. They must have been in third or fourth grade. Years passed and they met again working at summer camp. They now live together in Denver.)

I was a Deacon. I often spoke in church. Once, after giving a talk about stewardship, people said you should be a minister!!!

So, yes. Faith has always been part of my life.

Why is your faith important to you and what benefits do you receive from pursuing this path?

It gives me guidance. Hope.

You recently gave a classic black and white photograph of Ducky’s Hot Dogs on the Asbury Park Boardwalk in New Jersey to Ducky Fornicola’s family after he passed and cited Luke 6:38 and Hebrews 13:16 in your blog post about it. The gift meant a great deal to the grieving family. How does Christianity affect the way you run your business and interact with people?

It truly is all about love.

What does the word ‘grace’ mean to you? 

Grace for me is God’s gift. It is always there. I think of it as the path in the park, the river nearby, the stars in the sky; it is always available to me, the good that is always present.

How do you see evidence of grace in your life?

Grace flows like a river to me and through me, filling me with hope and renewing my faith, guiding me, an ultimate gift of perfect love.

Thank you, Bruce, for your the time and love you’ve shared with us here.

“I Am Not You” Are Not Fighting Words

“I Am Not You” Are Not Fighting Words
My husband and me, last month. Photo taken by our daughter.

It was a spring morning, relatively early in the pandemic, and he stood outside our bathroom door, trim and handsome in his jeans and button-down, waiting to talk to me.

I turned off the hair dryer, tossed my wet mop out of my eyes, and faced him.

We needed to discuss plans for the day.

“I usually take a kid with me to the store. For company,” he began.

“I am not you,” I replied.

We stood there in silent understanding, the full smile of his green eyes perfectly mirroring my blue ones.

What he knew – even before speaking – was that his introverted wife really needed time away from the entire household.

What I knew – based on years of experience – was that I could count on him to help.

We both knew that playfully highlighting our differences still creates good sparks.

I am not you.

The truth of that statement has grown louder over the 22 years we’ve been married.

When you say your vows and pledge to become one, you unite in a multitude of ways, but the soul’s essence remains intact. We are, each of us, a masterpiece, uniquely made by God and endowed with special gifts. Marriage is a discovery of shared and individual purpose – a voyage of great design for our life together and the as-yet-untold ways we can each serve and find joy. Joined, but distinct in many, many ways.

He is a great cook. I am merely satisfactory. (Our daughter once asked if he buys chicken at a different store.)

He is rational. I am a feeler.

He is not stubborn. I most certainly am.

I’m not saying he’s perfect, but I do appreciate and love him. Especially for the ways his traits complement mine.

One surprising bonus of being home together for 5 months, is witnessing his gifts each and every day, and this is key.

Some say that after the pandemic the divorce rate will skyrocket, and I fear that it might be so because the question many might not ask is this:

‘What gifts does my partner offer?’

Recognizing the good in others does not preclude the good in us.

But failing to appreciate those qualities on a regular basis practically guarantees that we will mire ourselves in selfishness.

The more we neglect to value the gifts and abilities of others, the more egocentric we become.

Yet, that’s all too easy to do when we’re feeling put-upon and exhausted with worry and stress.

We need to make selfless love our top priority.

Because no one wants to live with a self-centered person.

The world doesn’t need any more of those.

So, heads up! Hopeful, giving hearts. And a willingness to ask for clear eyes and grace to see God’s goodness everywhere (especially in our partners), as we move onward, together.

We All Feel Like Rudderless Boats. So Now What?

We All Feel Like Rudderless Boats. So Now What?

If someone asked me to ‘quick – pick a word to describe the current state of the world,’ I’d choose rudderless.

Right now, it feels like we’re each in a dinghy being tossed around relentlessly on unforgiving seas without any way of directing ourselves toward something firm, stable, and ultimately life-sustaining.

Like land.

We are – collectively and individually – uncertain and uneasy, and we want life to be better, right this very minute.

But that’s not happening.

Our reactions are overly dramatic. Not because we’re bad people, but because we’re human people, and we get tired of being adrift.

We feel rudderless, but we are not.

Let’s think about rudders for a sec…A rudder is a basic tool, a simple, relatively thin slat of wood or metal used to steer a craft. It’s not a motor and it will not propel a boat forward. However, theoretically, a boat will move toward its end goal via the wind or the current if someone strong and steady on board persists in using this plain device. The slat is called a rudder if it’s mounted on the back of a boat or a ship.

But dinghies often don’t have rudders.

Instead, they have oars.

Oars steer a boat. With a little elbow grease, they also move it forward.

Brilliant.

As I stood at the base of the Currituck Lighthouse last week, I thought about this.

Currituck Lighthouse, Corolla, NC.

Built in 1875, the lighthouse is an old version of what mariners refer to as an ‘aid to navigation.’ The brochure I picked up said the light “filled the ‘remaining dark space’ on the North Carolina coast between the Cape Henry light to the north and Bodie Island to the south.” Even today, its automated flashes come on at dusk and cease at dawn, alternating 3 seconds on and 17 seconds off, a burst of 1,000 watts visible for 18 nautical miles.

The light serves as a guidepost.

A promise.

A beacon of hope for seafarers caught in darkness.

What fills your dark space right now?

Are you looking for the light, picking up your oars, and pulling hard to move toward it?

The spiritual life is not idle. If we don’t pay attention to where we’re headed, we drift out to places that stir fear in our hearts.

When you get tired of rowing, are you keeping an oar in the water so you can steer and shift direction?

Are you continually fighting the wind and currents, or are you navigating them with a discerning eye and a hopeful spirit, believing that in time they will carry you closer to where security and peace reside?

When we fill our minds and time with enriching words and activities – moments that redirect us toward the Source of Love and all strength – we are better equipped for the long and unpredictable journey.

No matter what’s happening for us right now, let’s stay ‘oars in.’

And more than anything, let’s trust in the surety of the Light.

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

Yes, 2020 Is a Dumpster Fire – We Don’t Need to Toss in the Sofa

Yes, 2020 Is a Dumpster Fire – We Don’t Need to Toss in the Sofa
Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

It’s been said that right now the media world – especially social media – is a dumpster fire – a raging cauldron of junk that entices and mesmerizes onlookers until they too are throwing anything and everything into the bin to see how the flames catch and destroy.

There is a war of ideas being waged, many of which are truly important. Sanctity of life. The inherent value of every person regardless of color, faith, creed, sexual orientation, or any other delineating factor.

But have you noticed the prevalent tone that’s taken hold?

Anger.

We’re seeing a ton of it, and it’s making our hearts pound every time we look at a screen.

A 2014 article for Smithsonian Magazine entitled “Which Emotion Goes Viral the Fastest?” said that “Joy moves faster than sadness or disgust, but nothing is speedier than rage.” Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and one of his colleagues analyzed 7,000 New York Times articles published during a three-month period to see which ones were most frequently shared. They “found that users reacted most angrily—and quickly—to reports concerning ‘social problems and diplomatic issues.’”

Makes sense, especially in the current climate.

But if we’re honest, we also know that the problem is not just with reports coming from other people.

Sometimes we want to insert ourselves – maybe throw a big, fat, sofa into the fire – the TRUTH that will smack stuff down and burn for longer than the other arguments.

Right?

Wrong.

A nasty, vituperative quality can invade our words when we start to claim the moral high ground, even if our cause is true and just.

It is possible to have righteous anger, to act out of that space, but it requires a level of self-control that, I would submit, none of us have on our own. The minute I start to argue vociferously, I sense an inner change, a shift away from equilibrium because I was designed by the Creator to rely on His peace. I must remind myself that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) but without Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).

In a time when the world needs loving, kind voices, people of faith have so much to offer. When there’s tumult all around, it’s good to ask, ‘How do we share our concerns honorably and charitably? In ways that aim for unity and understanding? Bringing hope and light into spaces churning wildly with hurtful discourse?’

First – a simple acronym that’s posted in multiple places in my kids’ elementary school. Maybe you’ve seen it:

Before you speak …THINK!

T – is it true?
H – is it helpful?
I – is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind?

Pause and speak first to the Spirit, contemplating these things.

And second – let’s consider the fruit of our words to make sure we are consistently moving in accord with God’s will.

St. Paul explained in Galatians 5:22-23, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control.” Look at the ‘fruit’ in your life – the relationships that matter most – and see if over time they don’t reflect the efforts of your consultation with God. Our hearts change the more we talk to Him and ask for His guidance.

Why? Because God loves every single one of us as if we were the only human He ever created. His love is unconditional and eternal. There is nothing like it.

Today, we go on, leaning into the goodness of God.

We allow the Spirit living in us to more fully infuse our hearts and minds.

We speak with great, gentle, and tender love.

And we wait for better times with the hope that surpasses all understanding.

Where is Grace in Isolation?

Where is Grace in Isolation?
Photo by Whitney Wright on Unsplash

The daughter was three, sitting crisscrossed in a slim rectangle of sunlight on a patch of hardwood floor next to her parents’ bed. She didn’t know what Mommy had experienced, only that she hadn’t been up for many, many days.

“Mommy?” the child asked, “Do you want bread and butter?”

It was all she knew how to make, the only thing she could give someone who might be hungry.

The mound of covers murmured an assent, a barely audible, “Mmm hmm…nice.”

In the kitchen, the girl placed a slice of wheat bread on a paper towel and smeared margarine on it, tearing gaping holes in the piece with the knife as she committed herself to her work. Chunks of ‘butter’ were everywhere, but she was proud, so proud of her effort, and confident that Mommy would eat it.

In the bedroom, Mommy’s long white, shaking fingers emerged from under the blankets.

“Thank you, honey,” came the nearly inaudible voice. And a few minutes later, “That was delicious.”

The girl returned to her spot on the floor and remained there. For how long, I’m not sure. It happened more than once.

It was 1976 and my mother had just had back surgery to remove a disc she’d ruptured while falling down a flight of stairs, pregnant with my sister. Eight months later, friends cared for my healthy baby sis at their house for awhile and I stayed home with my parents. We had some other help, but there were times when my dad was at work and since I was a quiet, easygoing child, my mom and I were left alone for a couple hours at a time.

I did my part. I kept Mommy company. I made her bread and butter.

Fast forward 44 years to a global pandemic and we’re all like kids making ‘bread and butter’ daily, sitting in one place, tending to the needs of those right next to us, sensing that perhaps something slow and important – like healing – is happening within, while also acknowledging the reality of clashing tensions between an urgency to proceed with life and paralysis to make that happen on acceptable terms.

While healing is usually hidden, there are options with pain. It can be put on display, or concealed until secrecy simply isn’t an option anymore.

Is this time of quarantine highlighting the wounds of your loved ones?

Is it shedding new light on the places where hurt is carried in your home?

How about some harder questions….

In what ways is the past influencing present anxieties?

And your deficiencies? Are your own imperfections and worries glaring too? If you are not a channel of peace to those you love, why not?

Hippocrates, the ‘Father of Medicine,’ said in his Precepts, Part 1, “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”

The Truth is, opportunity presents itself perfectly. As King Solomon wrote 500 years earlier, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens….A time to kill, and a time to heal…” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,3).

A time has been opened to us for serious reflection.

We can turn the hurt over to the only One who can truly heal.

Now is an occasion to see grace right where it’s being offered.

But how do we do that?

We allow ourselves to soften.

We wonder.

We watch.

We open our hands and look up.

We sit and listen so we’ll know how to serve and to recognize grace as it appears.

Where was grace in 1976 when a mom was in bed, suffering at her literal core, her 3-year old on the floor by her side?

It was everywhere, saturating the room with sunlight, forming a bond between a daughter and her mom, and expressing love in small hands carrying simple gifts.

We can find it again today as we spread butter on bread in a million different ways, again and again.

Put Your Ounce of Faith Into Action Before Today Ends

Put Your Ounce of Faith Into Action Before Today Ends
Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

The small headline caught my eye: “Local food bank need rises 200% – Donations decline under state’s stay-at-home order.”

The story was hidden under the ‘bigger’ one about a couple hundred protesters honking car horns on the capital’s streets, venting anger and frustration, demanding that the state reopen for business.

They’re part same issue, of course – how to handle the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. No one has clear answers.

But the alarming facts about hunger and unemployment have spiraled out of the air like a U.S.-sized tornado. Over the last 5 weeks 26 million Americans have filed jobless claims. The sum of filings may suggest the unemployment rate hovers around 20%.

Translation: too many people have suddenly lost the ability to pay for the necessities.

Of 200 U.S. foodbanks belonging to the nationwide network Feeding America, 98% said this week they have experienced a surge in demand concurrent with the pandemic outbreak, and 59% say their inventory has decreased. As demand increases, what’s been collected and stored to be given out doesn’t meet current needs. What’s more – about 50% of the clients now visiting food banks are new clients – people who didn’t need assistance just a few weeks ago.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over. These people are your neighbors. And mine.

We pray for them, and we have faith that God will provide. But we can’t stop there. The Lord sent manna to feed the hungry Israelites, but today He’s sent you and me.

Scripture tells us,“[F]aith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)

God expects us to live out our love for Him in our deeds, and He needs us to do His work in the world. His undying Love is expressed through us – people who allow our faith to shine through our hands and hearts.

So, how can we help?

  • The primary need is funding for food banks, and we can all donate online without ever leaving our couches. Click here on Feeding America to find your local food bank with your state or zipcode. Go to it and contribute $10, $20, $100, or any amount you can. Then, if your budget allows, set a reminder on your phone to make the same donation again in 2 weeks, or monthly, until this crisis ends. Wholesale purchasing amplifies your gift, so your dollar will go farther with an online donation than if you buy groceries and drop them at a food bank in person. At the Anne Arundel County Food Bank near me, every $1 donated equals $7.85 of help.
  • Donate time. Be a driver, package food, or even volunteer virtually by making donor thank-you calls or writing thank-you notes. For example, in Maryland, the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore is looking for volunteers ages 13-60 to sort and box food. Inquire locally to see what’s needed in your area.
  • Check in with your favorite pantry or shelter and offer the team support. One of my favorites is The Father McKenna Center in Washington, DC. Ask if you can drop off blankets, clothes, or other supplies when you are out. They know who needs what; if they can’t use what you’re offering, they’ll know who will.
  • Forward this post to your friends and family. Remind them that we can all do something. Especially right now.

Each person is a reflection of the divine, and Love Himself demands a response. To stand by and do nothing when people are suffering is to look upon God and turn away. So let’s turn our efforts toward the beautiful faces of people in need and do whatever we can to offer our assistance.