Focus

Almost every single photo of me from my childhood includes a shadow of my dad’s thumb as he tried to navigate a big and cumbersome camera way back when. No matter how much he gripped the outside of it and tried to fold his hand, the familiar image loomed.

It was always a surprise to see what morphed onto the film because, unlike today, it was anyone’s guess if the flash would go off or if the person operating it remembered to advance the roll.

It was a lot of standing straight as a picket fence and waiting for the signal that something was about to happen.

“Wait. Ok. No. Wait. Ok. No…”

More strap adjustments, moving the lens, looking through the viewfinder to see distance.

“Move in. Move in. Ok. No. Move back. Go to the left. No, that’s too far.”

Then he would put the camera down, try to get us all better grouped, and we would begin the process again of more maneuvering.

One of my brothers taught me the peace sign. I recall having my index finger and a middle finger placed upright while the rest were squished down. I was told that this was something I was supposed to do. It was done repeatedly to be sure that I caught on like a good student. For a five-year-old who felt left out of everything that her older siblings were doing, this was something I thought made me more sophisticated like they were. For them, I was easy to program.

They would implement ideas, and I would carry them out like a machine, much to their amusement. It always was,

“Hey, Chris, try this. It will be so neat.”

My mom hated that I was taught this, and she tried continuously to break the habit. I was too little to remember to use both fingers at that age, so I was probably flipping everyone off.

She would catch me running through the house doing something they had exposed me to, like singing racy song lyrics and saying words I shouldn’t. She was up against a force of three teenage boys and me.

“Christine, stop doing that!” Even the use of my formal name didn’t deter me. If they instructed me to do something, I carried out their command, and it pretty much was a done deal and would not disappear quickly.

I tried to sneak in the hand sign while everyone was preoccupied with staring straight ahead at the camera.

“Chris! Quit it!” She would suddenly say as she noticed I was doing it again. At one point, she gripped my hand that was closest to her to be sure I was listening.

When my dad would finally count down to the actual snap, there were a few occasions I would move quickly and hold up my pinky and the one next to it more obscurely. She wouldn’t find out until later when she held the finished product in her hand.

“Chris, you need to stop doing this. You are ruining every picture we take.” That only made me want to do it more.

As taking photos became more elaborate, I had a digital camera that still required film, but it had a panoramic setting which I never used. It required a simple slide of a button over to that setting.

I noticed that the film was at the end of the roll, so I took it in to get it developed. I couldn’t recall what I had used it for, but I had two small kids at the time, so I thought I might have used it on them.

When I picked them up to pay, the amount seemed higher than usual.

I looked at the package, and there was a box checked that said ‘wide’ angle.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“They had to process these differently. You must have a camera that can take landscape-type photos, and it costs more to develop those.”

I didn’t recall doing that. Was I getting amnesia? When you have children, you ask yourself that question sometimes.

Much to my shock, there were twenty-four pictures of the same thing when I opened the package. My daughter, who was two at the time, had done selfies before they were a thing, and she had turned the camera to the panoramic setting. She had taken pictures of her lips and teeth over and over.

“Did you use my camera?” I held the smoking gun in my hand, but the answer?

“No.”

“I think you did,” I said, showing her the evidence. “I think what is on here belongs to you.”

I hid my camera after that.

On another occasion, I went to pick up pictures that had been taken with an underwater camera. When I got home, I opened the envelope and discovered that I had been given the wrong ones. Strangers were staring at me. When I went back to exchange them, the other party had returned mine, and they had opened it just like I had done to theirs, not knowing there was a mistake.

I cannot imagine what they thought when they saw the contents of mine. My daughter, who didn’t know how to use the new camera well, had taken shots of body parts. No faces. Just various poorly executed images of legs, arms, and other compromising things. I threw them all away to forget about it. I hoped the other family didn’t end up in therapy for too long.

Just like taking pictures, what you set your sites on in life, is what manifests. If you choose to think about issues that tend toward the negative, that will show up. The opposite is true as well. I have found that the more I see the good, it starts to appear easier without much effort except for thinking that it will.

This lesson probably hasn’t been taught to most of us. We are expected at young ages to fit in with our peer group. And most of humanity has its heart set on worry and anxiety.

In Romans 12:2 it says:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

I read a long time ago that the human brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If you think of a particular idea, then that is what is on your mind. Taking control of your thought life is part of the renovation process if you want to break free from toxicity. Becoming mindful of what you are thinking about helps in overcoming old, unhelpful patterns.

When I speak to strangers in public, the topic of conversation takes a turn for the worst very quickly these days. I have heard so much lately about families at odds over the state of affairs regarding politics and vaccines.

One woman told me while I waited in a line that her family is so split on their opinions that they can’t all get together like they used to. Her eyes looked tired and hurt as she spoke of a relative who she missed. There has been a significant fracturing of our society because I repeatedly hear this same story. We probably won’t fully understand the damage that has been done for a while. It’s too bad we have lost our ability to change the subject to something neutral for all.

In Proverbs 17:22, sound advice is offered:

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. (Message)

I get drained very quickly when I am in the presence of someone who continually speaks nothing but bad news, so I always try to change it. Sometimes I can, and other times my words fall on deaf ears.

Being in constant mental fatigue, many compromise their immune systems suffering sickness and disease directly resulting from what they are dwelling on. No one likes to hear that, but it’s the truth. In John 8:32 there’s good news with this:

“..and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(ESV)

God wants you to live in a place of peace, not turmoil. It’s difficult to execute when the world continues to scream in our ears.

The most disappointing result that used to happen in the old days with photography was a double exposure. This is where two photos are taken in the same frame. The film wasn’t correctly advanced, and you end up with images right on top of one another that make absolutely no sense. You cannot see what was originally in the scene because another one has intruded right over it. It’s a blurred mess.

Much like this verse from James 1:8:

“He is a double-minded man, unstable in all of his ways.”(ESV)

When this happens, you pray for something, and then you go around and undo it with what you say. Your faith in what you believe in is dead, and that will be the result. Nothing.

Wouldn’t it be much nicer to fall more on the side of happiness? To not entertain the darkness but to stay in the light?

In Isaiah 26:3, there is a clue on how to do that:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” (ESV)

It might be a bit of a battle to come against what the general population would have you participate in. It’s easy to go through your days mindlessly accepting whatever is thrown at you and reacting to it, but God can help.

If you allow it, you will come to realize that there is a higher way of living where you walk above and beyond the ‘normal’ as you turn to heaven, ask for guidance, and change your focus.

(The camera my dad used)

New View

This seemed like a great idea at the time, but now not so much. The beginning of this didn’t seem so bad, but it got worse. The descent had taken a steep dive, and the path was slippery. It was not your typical tourist jaunt laid out with cement steps and a railing. There were no smiling greeters to guide you or tell you that you weren’t going to die.

It was rugged and all natural the whole way, and I wondered why this detail had been left out of the description in the vacationer’s guide. It was bordering on treacherous. There was an entire jungle to my right and left, and while it was beautiful, it was dangerous.

She had bought the book to study what would be the most exciting and unforgettable sites to see while in Maui.

“There’s this place called The Secret Beach.”

Anytime there’s a bit of mystery and intrigue involved, she knows she can get me to listen to her. It must be my overactive imagination that pulls me right in.

“Why do they call it that?”

“It’s supposed to be hidden. Not a lot of people go there, so they gave it that name.”

When you are sitting in the comfort of your condo, drinking coffee, looking at professional photographs, you can be talked into anything. Throw on a mystifying title, and now you are in the car trying to find the elusive location.

“Let me read what it says.”

At the bottom of the paragraph, there was a slight mention of it being so undisclosed that people felt free to shed their swimsuits. I looked at her like a mother would.

“Did you see this part right here? Are you prepared for that? Am I prepared for that? I don’t know.”

“It says it’s a rumor.”

I read further, and it did, but could I trust that? What if this ended up being a whole nudist colony? Even if I’m home alone, I lock the bathroom door for privacy!

According to the rest of this blurb about one of the most enticing scenes on the island, surfers wanted the beach to themselves so they made up a wild story to scare off visitors. They didn’t want a lot of traffic to contend with.

That made sense. I hoped.

In fact, it was the least of my worries as I half slid down to wherever this was that I was going. I could faintly hear the crash of the waves ahead, but I was trying to focus on not falling into the abyss on either side of me. Both of us had to stop to catch our breath.

She knew what I was thinking, but I was trying to stay positive. Every muscle in my legs was on fire, and stopping was only prolonging the agony. There was so much sweat and effort being put into this. I looked back up from where I had come as I considered turning around. It seemed pointless because I was at the halfway mark. And I didn’t want to disappoint her. I just can never do that.

We resumed our careful movement as I tried not to imagine a sprained or broken ankle with each step. I didn’t want to be having a medical emergency on Gilligan’s Island.

The narrowness of the trail forced us to walk single file. Coming towards us was a man holding a surfboard. He had no problem maintaining his composure as he easily sprinted upward. We both moved over as far as we could. As he ran past us, he blurted out,

“There are a lot of old naked people down there!”

What was I walking into? They don’t do this in Minnesota! It’s too cold to do this tropical free for all in that neck of the woods. We zip up to our chins most of the time.

“What did he just say to us?”

She repeated it.

“Is he lying?” She asked.

At that point, I needed to sit down, and I couldn’t where I stood. So I had no choice but to keep on going no matter what was up ahead.

“He probably is. That’s what the book said.”

Finally, we reached the bottom, and it was unbelievably beautiful, not only because there wasn’t a nudist retreat going on but a majestic ocean right in front of us. There were only a handful of people that I could see, properly dressed, so I didn’t have to execute my plan of throwing my towel over her head to protect her from anything obscene.

No longer fearing the unknown, we ventured forth to fall back into an exhausted state of being. We sat there unmoving for a while, watching a single surfer perform his magic on tumultuous waves.

It was a desolate place, straight out of a book on being shipwrecked. I stood up, ready to walk again, to take a few pictures. A lady was looking out at the water.

“It’s so pretty here,” she said as I came by.

“Yes. We don’t have this in Minnesota.”

“You are not from there!”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m from there too!”

We found out we lived about 40 minutes from one another. It was a small world moment for us both in the middle of nowhere.

I noticed an older couple walking close to the water with heavy duty shoes on. That seemed strange to me. He used a huge walking stick as they trudged along. There was no way these two had gotten down there as we had. I saw them stop and speak to the people a little further down from us. There was a lot of pointing at the sand, conversing and pointing downward.

I noticed the people they had spoken to were now moving around quickly like something was wrong.

One of them saw me staring and said,

“Be careful! There are jellyfish all around you! “

The older couple shuffled over. They began pointing out every jellyfish that we were in the midst of, and while they were dead, they could still sting if stepped on. I looked around at the glistening forms that I hadn’t even realized were there.

As our bad news ambassadors moved on, I stood with bare feet on top of my tennis shoes. Both of us decided to ditch this event and return to civilization; I would not let one inch of my bare skin touch a thing, and neither did she. We balanced up against each other as we slid back into socks.

After all was said and done, I was glad I had the experience with her. There were so many reasons not to follow through with it, but we pressed on, determined to see something we hadn’t before.

I realize that is what God wants us to do. We are being called to see things in ways that we never thought possible, even though it may frighten us to the core. It’s a change of scenery with a new perspective. We aren’t to be so mentally locked down that we disregard a message that heaven is sending. If so, we will miss out, and it will be our fault. Not God, but us.

Our reasoning gets in the way. We look at something and make a split-second decision about how wrong or right it is. I have done that, and you have too. It becomes too scary instead of investigating and allowing God to show you something, so it gets immediately shut down. If it doesn’t line up with the comfort zone, then it has to go.

Is that truly living to our highest, most authentic self? The tricky part of allowing more is to surrender what we think we know. The walk is by faith and not by sight.

In Isaiah 55:8, it says:

I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”(Message)

For some of us, that’s about as appealing as being pushed off a cliff because we want to be in charge at all times with no surprises. We don’t want uncertainty and a free fall without an end. We want rules and predictability, so we feel safe and secure, accomplishing next to nothing spiritually.

So ask yourself: What’s so wrong with taking a chance and letting the One who knows it all and sees it all offer you a new view?

(Before the sharp decline)
Gilligan’s Island