Of Jobs and Jesus: Merry Christmas from Sarah Sue

I have two jobs. By weekday I am a counselor, sitting and talking with people who are trying to cope with life’s confusions and difficulties and surprises. By weekend I am a photographer, driving to pretty parks and chasing babies and doing crazy dances to get a smile. (By night I am a masked avenger, but that’s another story). Counseling and photography are, to me, wonderfully complimentary professions. Both deal with people and require quite a bit of creativity. And in both, I do my best to see and interact with beauty, albeit in very different ways.

As a counselor, my interactions with beauty often take place from a distance. Beauty functions as a beacon – a shining source of hope – but rarely a close companion. Generally people choose to come to counseling when they find themselves in a dark place. They’re down in the hole, sitting in grime and wondering if beauty ever actually existed at all. As a counselor, it is generally unhelpful to say “Hey but don’t worry because… beauty! That grime’s not as bad as you think. Let’s just pretend we’re in a tropical paradise – mind over matter right?” Attempting to manufacture beauty for someone who is mired in the depths usually does more harm than good. Instead, my role is to climb into the hole and sit down in the grime saying something like “Well here we are – it’s pretty grimy down here but at least we’re together.” With time, I can begin to remind them of the beauty that exists outside the hole. And with even more time, we can begin to climb out. The process is slow and, at times, frustrating for all involved. As a counselor, if I am going to be helpful over the long haul, I must be careful to not let myself become mired in the same hole that my clients are in. It’s easy, as a helper, to spend too long in the grime, to get a bit stuck, and to forget about the beauty that I know exists.

For me, this is where photography comes in. I’m sure there are very sophisticated artists out there who would disagree with me, but in my mind the purpose of photography is to find beauty and to capture it in a way that allows others to experience it too. This, to me, is an incredibly freeing goal. As soon as my camera is slung around my neck, my eyes are trained for beauty. Now over time, I have developed an ability to see beauty where others might miss it (I’d like to think that this makes me a good photographer). And in these moments, with the help of my camera, I am able to capture that snippet, that bright corner of reality, and share a beautiful moment with those around me. This mission is, in some ways, the exact opposite of counseling. As a photographer, I get to say “Look, I get that the world is a dark and broken place… but look at this. There is beauty and I can prove it.” Now I am writing this as if my mission as a photographer were very altruistic – the sharing of beauty with those who might otherwise miss it. But let me be honest here. Often, the goal is much more selfish than that. Often my time with my camera is spent rebuilding my own faith in beauty, enjoying the minutia of this world, and shaking off the grime of that deep dark hole.

There is something of heaven in both of my jobs. As Christmas approaches, we remember the divine leap that the Almighty God made in coming to earth and living a human life. I have heard sermons about his Counselor role that have made my heart ache. This holy, blameless, and loving God stepped down from his throne and into a world full of brokenness. He lived in the midst of the selfishness and the ignorance and the sadness and the confusion that is humanity. In an act of grace that I will never fully comprehend, he crawled down into our human hole with us and sat down in our human grime and provided us with an eternal advocate – One who gets it because he’s been there. One who can ultimately wipe away our tears because he, too, has wept.

I have heard fewer Christmas sermons about his Artist role. Because our Creator God is truly an artist. And when he made this world and the people in it, he stepped back admiringly and called it “good”. Though marred, this world is his masterpiece. Our God appreciates beauty. It came from and points to him. And on Christmas, he himself entered into his great work of art. Ultimately, he did not come to sit in grime and darkness. He came to remind us of beauty – the beauty that is here already and the beauty that is coming through his work of restoration. And what’s more, he enjoyed the beauty of his creation while he was here. He made friends, he went to parties, he ate food and admired nature. And he himself became a part of the artwork – an example of a man living an upright life and loving others well.

There is much more to the story. Jesus’s work was multifaceted, impossible to summarize. But this Christmas, these pieces bring me comfort and joy: God can handle my grime and he can see my beauty. I am, to him, one of those bright corners of reality worth capturing and treasuring. You are too.

Merry Christmas.

A Word About Transitions

I’m doing it again. Another post without photos. If you can’t remember my justification for including this sort of post in my blog, take a look back here. I, Sarah (of Sarah Sue Photography fame) am in transition. And transitions are beautiful, painful things. Today I wrote some transition musings in my journal and part of that journal entry is worth sharing:

Seminary is over. I’m back in Houston, trying to figure out what real life is supposed to look like now. Life is full of joy and sadness. Some days it feels rich and exciting and some it just feels exhausting. My comfort in the midst of this is the knowledge that God welcomes my wrestling with Him. The collision of transition, joy, and sorrow has of course given rise to confusion and questions, to which only my Maker has the answers. And so I wrestle with Him as I always have, struggling to know the unknowable. But there is a difference this time. My wrestling matches used to be full of anxiety and self-loathing, fueled by the conviction that questions are tantamount to unfaithfulness and therefore God must hate my questioning heart. It is only recently that I have begun to recognize the childlike trust that leads me to take my questions to Him, rather than hoarding them fearfully within myself. I wrestle with God because I trust that He is good, that He has the answers, and that He is big enough to withstand my clumsy offensive. He engages in my wrestling match because He loves me with the type of intimate, vulnerable love that makes room for conflict. Scripture says that perfect love drives out fear. As I better understand God’s love for me, I fear myself less – my sin, my confusion, even my unbelief. None of them can dampen His unshakeable love for me.

In Genesis, Jacob’s wrestling match ends with pain and blessing – seemingly odd bedfellows who have, nevertheless, popped up hand-in-hand quite often in my own story. We aren’t given all the details of Jacob’s blessing but are told that he was allowed to see God and was given a new name. My hope during this time of transition is that my wrestling will give me a clearer view of God and His unchanging character. And that He, in His love for me, would shape me more fully into the person He created me to be – transforming my identity just as He transformed Jacob’s name. There is pain in this transition, which is to be expected. Newton’s first law states that we bodies will tend to travel in a straight line once we get going. A push in a new direction is bound to hurt. A steady, straight path is comfortable, predictable, and easy to control. But yielding to the push is better. Of course, I will continue to wrestle. But only because I know the One I am wrestling and He is so very good.

Happy Easter

Yes, this is a photography blog. And no, this post does not contain any photos. Allow me to explain myself. As I see it, this blog serves two purposes: to promote my business (yep, I’m a realist) and to share things that I find beautiful. This morning I sat and wrote in my journal about something beautiful. And because of that beauty (that lies very much in the subject matter rather than the writing), I have decided it is worth sharing here. My journal entry is as follows:

This morning I’m thinking about a movie that I randomly decided to watch the other day mainly because it was free on Amazon Prime. Babel – a title intending, I assume, to conjure up our human incapacity to communicate dating back to the Biblical tower. Oddly, though, it made me think about Jesus. (**Spoiler alert** – movie details to follow). The movie starts with two little boys living in a rural part of a North African country. Their father buys a rifle so that they can shoot jackals in order to protect their herd of sheep. The boys feel excited and powerful with the rifle, having been told that it could shoot 200 km. They decide to test it by shooting at a bus that is driving down in a valley. They feel disappointed because they see no effect from their powerful toy – no explosion, no screaming or running or leaping flames. The bus eventually stops, which is the most dramatic immediate result they see. The ultimate results, though, are devastating. This act eventually leads to the death of one of the boys, the near death of a tourist, and a deteriorating international relationship. Clearly, on the surface this has little to do with Jesus. Indeed the parallel is quite limited since the results of the boys’ actions were disastrous while the results of Jesus’s actions are glorious. But I love the example of something so huge, powerful, and far-reaching seeming at first to be so small, even insignificant. I have long thought that if I lived during the time of Jesus, I would probably not have recognized him as the Messiah. Unfortunately, I can so sympathize with the Pharisees who “knew” what they were looking for – a military and political leader who would guide the Israelites to victory over the Romans in true Old Testament style. Big, visible, immediate results. So Jesus’s ministry and message must have seemed not only off the mark but dangerous – “Don’t listen to the man who wants you to wait when we must fight, to trust when we must move, to love when we must conquer, and to continue to hope when the end should be here already!” They must have felt like those little boys, waiting and listening for the explosion; needing some sort of irrefutable evidence that something BIG was happening.

They didn’t know that Jesus’s way was infinitely better. That the effects of his actions – seen and unseen – were farther reaching than they could ever imagine. That Jesus’s intention was not to glorify Israel but to glorify his Father, so that all who know Him can bask in the glow of that glory. That he did not mean to conquer Rome but to conquer death. That He was paving the way toward the day when he himself will dry every tear from the eyes of his people.

Of course, there are parts of this plan that I don’t pretend to understand. More time waiting and hoping has meant more time for people to experience pain, betrayal, hunger, death. More time for us to struggle in a world marred by sin and brokenness. When I think about this reality, I want to shout “Lord Jesus, come quickly!” And yet, on a day like today I see that the snow has melted and small signs of spring are beginning to bud. And it makes me think – what a privilege to get to see this winter coming to a close. What a privilege it is to experience first-hand the depth of brokenness, the biting frost of winter, so that I can begin to understand how incredibly penetrating and life-giving is the warmth of Christ’s love. The tree outside covered with pink flowers is reminding me today that Christ died and he rose. In ways visible and invisible, he is making all things new. And when we are able to see the full story, I have confidence that we will look back on that Easter 2000 years ago and feel blown away, dazzled, overwhelmed by the gravity of that event. Happy Easter indeed.