Lisa R. Howeler

Freelance Writer & Photographer

When I walked out of my room and into my son’s , which has more accessible windows than mine, and saw the snow on the ground I’ll admit I wanted to cry. This year it’s seemed that spring will never come. The days have been cold and gloomy and wet. I honestly thought that by now I’d be writing about bright, sunny, warm days filled with fun with my children. Luckily, despite the lack of warmth and sun, the children and I have been able to squeeze in some fun and even a few beams of sunlight.

Since we started homeschooling my son a couple of weeks ago we’ve had more time for family outings and excursions and have done a couple in between school work. We visited the farm of some friends of mine as part of my farm awareness project and not only did it give us some much needed fresh air, but it also opened our eyes even more to the hard work of local farmers and the current challenges facing them.

The other day we thought we’d venture out to a baseball game, despite cold weather being forecast, and try to catch Tim Tebow who is playing with our local Double AA team, about an hour from our house. It literally snowed during the game. That’s how cold it was. And to top it off, Tebow never even took the field, but I did manage to grab a shot of him “slapping five” or whatever players do at the end of the game.

This week we are supposed to have warmer weather but I will believe it when I feel it.

This post is part of a 10 on 10 blog circle with a group of other photographers. Each month we post 10 photos from our previous month, from either one day, or throughout the month, to share in a blog post on the tenth day of the month. To continue the circle, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

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Be sure to continue the blog circle by visiting Erika’s blog.

DSC_4035When I saw the notification on my smartphone screen and read the first few words I knew the message wasn’t going to be a fun one to read. I dreaded opening that message and maybe I should have ignored it, but instead I decided to bite the bullet and read a scolding I had expected to come in the form of a phone call instead.

The words on the page were a surprise to me, full of accusations I hadn’t expected.  In the past an encounter like this would have sent me spiraling into a deep depression and a long period of self doubt. The fact I cried uncontrollably for two hours, versus four, and only flew off into a rage-induced rant twice after the incident is something I count as progress, even if others wouldn’t.

And the fact I never even answered the person, but instead deleted the message and blocked them from my social media so I could regroup and cool down? That’s a complete about turn from my reactions of the past.

There I was, reading something written to me by someone who was hurt and had misunderstood, and I found my emotions mixed. My first reaction was the familiar anger that sets in when I feel as if I am being attacked. Then I felt sad and like I had done something wrong. I wanted to gush out an admission of my guilt, like I usually do, even though I knew at least one thing they were upset by was a complete misunderstanding.

This time, though, the anger, depression and guilt was soon replaced with a sense of unexpected calm and a feeling that what was said wasn’t going to change my mind about the decision made.While I once would doubt a decision, or even change it, based on criticism from someone, this time I didn’t let my resolve waiver. I knew what we had done was in the best interest of our family and I wasn’t going to let that decision be shaken by what someone else thought of me.

It isn’t that I am unwilling to admit my wrong in a situation, but I’ve spent far too much of my life believing I need to change who I am, or the decisions I’ve made, based on the opinions of someone else.

It’s definitely hard when we feel the judgments of others and know that somewhere out in the universe is someone who isn’t a fan of us. But in reality it doesn’t matter if other humans aren’t our fans. We all know we aren’t perfect and that the only opinion that  really matters is the opinion of The One who created us.

DSC_7694DSC_8419To be able to see progress within ourselves is so satisfying, even when we know we have so much more to learn and so many more positive changes to make. Most of us are never satisfied with who we are. We often think we’ll never improve, or bid farewell to some of our more annoying character flaws.

We won’t change or improve overnight. God knows this. He only wants us to take steps, small ones even, to become more like Him.

“Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth,” pastor and author Rick Warren says. “Spiritual maturity is neither instant nor automatic; it is a gradual, progressive development that will take the rest of your life.”

Paul wrote often about the process of becoming like Christ, knowing that we will stumble and fall, just at the disciples did, even as they walked with Christ on Earth.

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.

Philippians 3:13-14

We often look ahead at how far we have to go in our journey, but we rarely look back and see how far we’ve come. While we don’t want to dwell on the past, it doesn’t hurt to recognize the progress we have made along our journey.

Maybe we aren’t where we want to be, but if we are making small steps toward improvement, then we should acknowledge the progress, no matter how small.

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It isn’t unusual for me to hit a creative funk in the winter. Days are short, the sun hides behind clouds and it’s too cold to take the kids anywhere to explore.

I still try my best to take photographs inside the house, or whichever building we have sought shelter in from the nasty cold of winter, but honestly my heart usually isn’t in it until the warmth comes back.

This winter has seemed particularly long, probably because of the loss of my aunt in December and some stress my son was facing, but also the blasted cold weather and gloomy clouds.

DSC_7860With that Daylight Savings Time thing we do here in the States, we now have longer days (which simply means more daylight hours). This is a wonderful thing if you have sun and less exciting if it’s simply a gloomy, rainy or snowy day.

Last week marked the official  first day of Spring, but our weather hasn’t realized that yet and has remained cold, for the most part. This week we are supposed to have an upward trend and I’m hoping that will mean an upward trend in our moods too.

DSC_8308-2Despite the cold we have had sun and the sun makes the cold slightly less oppressive. It also creates some pretty lighting opportunities in some of the rooms of our house.

DSC_8313This week we are looking forward to mild, but still warmer, temperatures that will hopefully afford some more opportunities to escape the house and breathe in some fresh air.

So how about you, fellow creatives, or even you non-creative folk? What’s the weather like for you and what do you do when you find yourself in a creative funk?

Sometimes I don’t mention all that God stuff to other people or in a blog post because I want to fit in with other people or other photographers.

Ooh.  

Yikes.  

And …   ouch.

Did I really just write that?

Did I really just admit that?!

Knowing some of my Christian friends or acquaintances will read it?! 

Is it right for me to feel that way? Well, no, of course not. I shouldn’t feel the need to hide who I am so I fit in with all my photography peeps, or anyone else, and most of the time I don’t. But sometimes, every once in awhile, and less now than I used to, I do feel weird about mentioning my faith in a blog post or on my “business page” when I know it might also be read by other photographers, who may not hold the beliefs I do. 

Am I ashamed of my faith or of Christ? Absolutely not! Do I think I’m better than someone who doesn’t believe what I believe? Ummm… not at all.

And maybe that last one is why I sometimes hesitate to include thoughts about Christianity in a blog post where I am also rambling about photography. I don’t want to alienate anyone who doesn’t practice my faith and I also don’t want them to feel as if I think I’m better than them because of my beliefs. Hopefully, though, they can tell by my words that I don’t feel superior to them. 

When it comes down to it, I don’t care as much now as I once did about “fitting in” with other photographers.  We all like to be liked, sure, but it isn’t even that for me. I like having someone else to talk to about photography because in my little corner of the world I don’t know any other photographers IRL (In Real Life) who will just sit and talk about photography with me. My online photographer friends are the only ones who “get me. Like, really, get me!” (I don’t know if they really like me but they get me.)

Sometimes I think “If I offend them somehow I won’t have anyone to talk about the new editing trick I learned in Lightroom. The one no one else in my life really cares about but pretends they do because they’re hoping if they appear interested I will eventually stop talking about it.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about how often we walk through life during these sensitive times, tip toeing around everyone because we are so afraid of who we are going to offend. Think about how the pieces of who we really are keep falling off us and disappearing until we don’t even recognize ourselves, only because we feel like we have to make everyone happy and offend no one. It can become a very stressful life to live.

Think about it, though, isn’t that what Jesus did? Didn’t he offend a lot of people here on earth? I mean he didn’t exactly come here to tell everyone they were doing a great job and keep on doing everything they are doing. He didn’t walk around patting people on the back all day long or asking them to forgive him if he’d offended them by telling them they were living in sin and needed to change to make their life better. 

He walked into a temple and flipped tables. He called the merchants who had made those temples market places “vipers.” He flipped conventional ideas of religion right up over on it’s head. He told people who condemned that if they were so perfect then they could pick up the stones and start flinging them at those they thought were so beneath them. He reminded Lucifer his place in the world God created. He told us that we will never be able to work our way to heaven because He completed that work on the cross. 

While he was kind and encouraged loving others, he was also bold and outspoken and didn’t pretend he wasn’t who He said He was, even though it made him an outcast among the religious leaders of the time.  He healed people on the sabbath. He spoke when he was urged to be silent. He moved through life unconcerned what others though of him because he knew his mission was more important than their view of him.

That’s how we need to be – willing to make decisions and speak out, not based on what someone else may think of us when we do it or say it, but based only on what is right, true, and authentic to ourselves.

“I don’t want to go to bed. I have more I want to work on in my book,” my 11-year old son said as he switched off the light in his bedroom.

I’d already given him 10 more minutes to work on a book he’d started writing and I knew without the proper rest school would be hard to navigate the next day.

How many times had I said something similar? How many times had I dreaded bed time or school or work because it would make me stop the creative flow of ideas pushing at my brain, stretching it out until it might burst?

“I don’t want to go to bed, I have to finish this sketch.”

“I don’t want to go to bed, I have to write these thoughts down.”

“I don’t want to go to bed, I have all these photographs I want to edit and make my own.”

“I don’t want to do the laundry, I have this blog post I want to finish.”

“Ugh. Look at all those  dishes to wash! When all I want to do is write down this thought I had for a photo project.”

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about creative people.

1) It’s hard, at times, for creative people to function as a normal human being. Don’t misunderstand, we creatives are “normal” but we aren’t always functioning in life the way we might should be, especially if we want things like say – an education beyond creative aspirations or a clean house or bathed children or a full meal or a working car or a regular, money making 9 to 5 job.

Or sleep.

2) Creatives are often scattered brained and exhausted individuals. We stay up late completing our creative ideas or we wake up early because the idea for a blog post or a painting or a photo keeps poking us awake. Like this blog post, which woke me up an hour and a half before I had to get up and will leave me bleary-eyed throughout the day.

3) Creatives are also often suffering from low blood sugar because sometimes we are so wrapped up in an idea for a project we forget to eat. If you see a person with glazed over eyes and swaying back and forth as they walk, don’t assume they’re drunk, but question if they are a creative person who needs to be reminded to eat a full meal.

4) We creatives also often shove ourselves metaphorically into places where we don’t fit but think we should. I don’t know why. I suppose one thing we have figured out is that to be able to put food on the table and feed our family we have to actually work to make money. Money makes the world go around and we need it, unfortunately, so we often force ourselves into money making ventures that really don’t feed our souls.

5) Creatives sometimes fail at everyday tasks. Or at least this creative does.

For example, say my husband and I are at a coffee shop and he says he wants to talk to me about the messy state of our house. This is a hypothetical example, but If it ever did happen, this example would probably be accurate.

Maybe he says to me how he likes order and he doesn’t mind keeping things in order at home, because cleaning and organizing are two of his strengths, but the bottom line is that he is working outside the home and I am not so I need to step up and help out more. He’s never said all this to me, but let’s pretend he has, because, I feel, in reality, he’d really like to say it.

So, the husband is talking about cleaning the house and helping out and .  . . My mind wanders because the light is hitting the hair of a woman across the shop just right and all I can think of is what a gorgeous photograph that would make and maybe I could even get back into sketching and sketch that scene and wow! Look at all the color on the wall behind her. It completely balances out with the more muted colors she is wearing and if I took the photo standing here, or a bit to the right, there would be a triangle of light on her, like a warm colored sliver, or arrow, cutting through the dark behind her that is naturally falling from the shadows! Yes! An arrow! That swath of light is like an arrow bringing the eye to the subject of the photo.

The whole time all this is going on in my head my husband might be over on my left or  right or maybe he’s right in front of me and he’s going on and on and on about cleaning the house and knowing I have the kids to take care of when he’s at work but he could use some help and “blah blah blah blah.”  I’m not hearing any of it, or much of it, because all I can think about is lifting my camera up to take that photo.

See? Creativity can definitely be a curse and I would say a relationship killer, especially  if your spouse is the more practical kind, which they usually are because opposites attract, but also because creatives seem to instinctively know they had better hitch a ride through life with someone more practical or they are going to starve.

What are we in? 5 or something?) We creatives are often impractical, that’s what I’m saying.

Creatives are impractical people.

Don’t take that statement too seriously. I’m somewhat joking but also being somewhat serious.

Our creative brains aren’t always wired to think of the practicality of cleaning the kitchen before we cook because we just want to cook and create and make it all look pretty. Someone else can clean the kitchen and be all sensible. Being sensible is boring and squelches creativity! At least that’s how we think, which is why we sometimes have to do a bit of rewiring in our brain because if we don’t we’re going to be left alone with dishes and clothes piled high around us.

I once had a “come to Jesus talk” with a boss. That’s what my husband calls those talks with your boss when your boss is about to lay it all out for you and usually “it all” is “start doing your job right, or get out.”

I started in the journalism business to create – to write – because I loved to create pictures with words. Journalism wasn’t all about writing, though, it turned out. It was also about doing what you were told when you were told to do it and dealing with 30-something different personalities a day in the form of the often grumpy public.

After I had my son I needed a schedule where I could work “normal” daytime hours and be able to be there for him at bedtime while my husband worked a night shift. That creative part of the job I had enjoyed was pushed to the side for a more practical role in the office – typesetting obituaries and society news.

During that season my right sided brain was told it needed to be quiet for eight hours a day and maybe, if my son went to sleep early enough, it could wake up at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, Right Side didn’t enjoy being placed in the dark eight hours a day and started to try to push it’s way into the Left Side brain’s part of the day. So there I was, in front of my boss, who was giving me one of “those talks.” I knew he was right. I needed to “get it together” if I wanted to keep my job.

But then, within a few weeks, I knew I couldn’t keep it together anymore and if I had to typeset one more depressing obituary of a baby or a child or someone I knew, I was simply going to flip out and run screaming from the building. I had been working in newspapers for 13 years at this point and what I had learned was what most print journalists will learn – journalism will gobble you up, chew you up, spit you out and move on to its’ next victim.

After you’ve been spit out you’ll realize you were being chewed on slowly for years with pieces of you falling off slowly, but you ignoring it so you could keep feeling the thrill of the hunt for a good story. I might have been totally swallowed up with no life and relationships left if I hadn’t been relegated to the society and obituary desk because it was in that seat where I lost the thrill of wondering where the next story would come from. There was no “next story” working the obituaries desk; only the next heartbreaking death.

When I walked away from journalism I thought I was walking into creative opportunities but really I walked into creative and financial frustration, which is why creatives need to learn how to mix some practical into their impractical tendencies.

So anyhow, I have digressed quite a bit here because, again, theme of this post, I am a creative. We enjoy scenic detours on the way to our designated point.

So, back to the night I heard my own thoughts come out of the mouth of my child.

I thought “Oh gosh. He has the curse.”

And on the heels of that thought came a giddy rush through my soul, like goosebumps on your skin but only inside. I was reminded that the need to be creative isn’t only a curse – it’s a blessing.

6) When you’re a creative person you see life a lot differently and that’s not actually a bad thing. If it’s raining outside creatives don’t see that as something to be sad about, but rather a chance to photograph rain drops, or sit inside and sketch or paint or scrapbook, or build a desk. When someone else sees a falling down barn, creatives see a story behind the barn and imagine the people who built that barn and how they worked in that barn and interacted with the animals and each other and built a life.

When someone else sees shattered glass, creatives see pieces of a future sculpture.

When someone else sees trash, creatives see how that trash can be used to make something beautiful.

When someone else sees a tree, creatives see a chair.

When someone else sees failure, creatives see potential.

I once thought being creative and in a dream-like state half my life was a curse, but I’ve come to realize that creative people are made in the image of God, the first and ultimate creator.

If we are made in the image of God then being creative is exactly where He wants us to be, even if we sometimes seem scattered and internally chaotic.

I am so ready for spring that my brain has literally gone into a sort of hibernation that involves denial that it is still winter and we will still be getting snow and ice and cold days that require large, puffy winter coats and knitted hats. If someone says “did you know we are getting snow tomorrow?” I look at them like a deer standing in the middle of the road, entranced by headlights. 

I’ve fallen deep into researching my family on ancestry.com so that has helped to distract me from the fact it’s still winter, but it’s put a bit of a halt in my photography, which is why this month is simply a collection of some of my favorite photos from February and the beginning of March. Included is a couple of shots from my farm project. 

This post is part of a monthly blog circle where we feature ten photos from a day or simply the previous month. ]To follow the circle scroll to the end of the post for the next link.

 

To continue the circle visit Anna Hurley and check out her beautiful photos!

Sitting in our homes in rural Pennsylvania we often watched the news and thought to ourselves, “Whew. Glad that’s not happening here.”

We watched children being killed in their schools by children their own age and drug dealers being arrested and drive by shootings and little babies being killed by their mother’s live in boyfriend.

And we thought, “Whew. Glad that’s not happening here.”

We thought that until one day we were picking up our local newspapers and turning on our local news and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, it was here. 

There it was – a teenager dead – only 13, by suicide. Rumors that he was bullied and rumors that he was just depressed and couldn’t pull himself out of the pit.  Many didn’t know why but they knew it hurt. A family was hurting. A community was hurting.

And then there it was again – a teenager charged with not only threatening to become a school shooter and trying to buy a handgun so he could become one – right here, in our backyard, down the street from our homes, at the school we send our children to – but also being charged with rape.

A teenager.

A kid.

A child.

Someone’s child.

One of our neighbors.

One of God’s children.

Filled with hate at an age that should be filled with hope.

We live in a small collection of towns, two in Pennsylvania and one in New York. Their borders blend together and spill over into each other. Sometimes we like to pretend life here is fairly idyllic and that we all sit on our front porches in a rocking chair and wave at the children riding by on their bikes.

But, that’s not true, and we know it and we don’t like it.

Our towns are hurting.

Our neighbors are hurting.

Our children are hurting.

And hurt people hurt people.

Behind closed doors there are drugs being pushed through needles into veins while a baby sits to one side and plays with a rattle.

Behind closed doors young children are being ignored or told they aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or enough at all because if they were mom and dad might spend a little more time with them, stop drinking, stop shooting up or stop smacking them in the head no matter what they do.

Behind closed doors people are frightened.

They are frightened of not fitting in, of not measuring up, of there being no God, of there being a God.

Behind closed doors people ask if there was a God then why did their mom die, why did their dad leave, why is their mom more interested in drinking or smoking or snorting than hugging them and telling them it’s going to be ok?

Behind closed doors is the anger that has been pushed down day after day and week after week and year after year and now it’s spilling out and all over and it looks like arrogance and it looks like boldness, but what it is is fear, sadness, despair, loneliness, emptiness, apathy, and anxiety.

Anxiety looks a lot like anger when you don’t know where to turn.

Fear looks a lot like anger when no one listens.

Loneliness looks a lot like anger when no one cares.

Despair looks a lot like anger when you feel rejected and lost and confused and twisted all up inside like a rope tied tight on a tree limb.

Let’s be honest, we’d rather keep the doors closed. We don’t want to know what is happening behind those closed doors because if we knew we’d have to do something and if we had to do something we’d have to get involved and if we had to get involved we might get hurt.

And then it would go around and around and around again.

Hurt people hurt people.

The first time I heard someone say that – hurt people hurt people – I was angry.

I was the one that was hurt. Why should I care if the other person was hurting?

I didn’t care.

I didn’t want to care.

I never would care.

But eventually I did. 

I hurt.

The other person hurt.

We hurt together.

When we hurt together we no longer wanted to hurt others.

Maybe that’s what we need these days.

Maybe we need to hurt together.

So, it’s here now, not only there – on the news, on the TV, in the paper – in another community.

The pain is here.

Death is here, knocking on our doors.

Hate is here, walking the halls of our schools.

We can take away their weapons, we can lock them away, but until we stop the hurt they will keep coming.

The hurting want the pain to stop but if they can’t stop it they want others to suffer along with them because then they won’t suffer alone anymore.

They will find weapons even if laws say they can’t have those weapons.

They will use whatever they can to hurt and take away just as they have had things held back or taken away.

How do you stop the hurt? 

How do you heal a heart?

How do you whisper hope to a soul lost in the darkness of feeling worthless, unneeded, unnecessary? 

You don’t.

He does. 

God created us, He will heal us.

Then why is there pain? Why is there hurt? Why do humans hurt each other?

I don’t know.

There is sin and I don’t know why.

There is hurt and there was a fall from heaven of a heavenly being who said he would be God and God would not. When that happened pain entered what should have been a perfect world.

God doesn’t stop it. 

I don’t know why.

I don’t know why we are here or why we keep living or why we keep wanting to live.

So many of us want to live. 

Many say they want to die. They tell the world they want to die.

They tell their friends they’ll make sure they die, on their own terms and in their own way, but really, if they could only see through the fog that has fallen on them they would admit – it’s not that they don’t want to live it’s that they want someone else to tell them they are worthy of living.

Isn’t that what we all need? To know we are worthy. To be reminded that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by someone who loves us even when no one else will.

If we are really honest, we don’t want to see behind those closed doors because we don’t know where to start.

“But there are so many,” we think. “We can’t save them all. We can’t stop it all.”

We can’t save them all. 

Maybe we can save one.

And then one more.

And one more.

And one more.

And that one can save one and on it will go until maybe not all are saved from the darkness of hurting others but there are more than there were who can see light instead of dark. 

 

 

The little boy was leaning nonchalantly  against the door, with one hand on the door knob and when we jumped out of the van he said into the cold wind that whipped at our faces, sounding more like an adult than a child,“Welcome to our farm. Come on in.”

I smiled to myself at the sound of such serious, grown up words coming from someone so young and thanked him for the greeting. We stepped into a small, dark room filled almost completely by a large metal container, pipes running along the ceiling and walls, and a deep, metal sink at the back of the room. A small fluorescent light barely lit the room but a small window provided a little daylight.

I had started a personal photography project and series about small, family farms in Bradford County, Pa. and this was the first farm I had visited. The boy, wearing a winter coat and a knitted winter hat down over his ears, launched immediately into a tour of the barn, starting by showing my 11-year old son the nozzle where the milk truck driver would put the hose to siphon the farm’s milk collection from the refrigerated container into the milk truck. He motioned his hand up in the air along the path of the pipe system, showing us where the milk comes into the room and travels down into a clear sphere and then down another pipe and into the main collection vat.

Next he motioned us toward a door to our left and into the barn where he said his dad was feeding the cows. Cows were lined up in two rows, each in their own stall, ready to be fed and milked. They turned to watch us walk in and almost seemed to be listening to our young tour guide.

Before I could ask the boy his name or how old he was, he had a handful of the cow’s feed in his hand and began telling us it was made up of ground corn and hay and other nutrients. A man with salt and pepper hair and mustache, wearing a pair of faded blue overalls, pushed a wheelbarrow full of feed toward us and smiled at the boy and us. “He’s giving you the tour, huh?” He asked. 

I said he was and doing a good job. 

I finally was able to slip in between his explaining how the farm works to ask him how old he was and his name. His name was Parker, he said, and was six. When I asked how he knew all about the feed and the barn and the cows and milk, he said “I just do.” 

Of course I know why he knows all he does. He is the son and grandson of farmers. Each day he watches the men who have shaped who he is and who he will become work hard for the life they want and they life they need. They work not only to survive, but to thrive.

His grandfather and dad milk the cows, care for the cows, feed the cows and they run the tractors, cut the hay, grind the corn and clean the barn. He is a boy being taught that to get what you want in life, whether that be a peaceful life on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, or a life full of adventure and thrill, there must be some blood, sweat and tears shed. To reach a goal you work and you work hard.

It’s something his dad Mark knows a lot about. He thought he’d find his dream at college, but it was there he realized he had been living his dream all along on his family’s farm, right where he grew up. After he earned a degree he returned to the farm, the quiet, the tough life but the rewarding one that maybe he thought he never needed or wanted. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of us? We think we want something different from where we are and what we have when really, all we ever needed could be found right where we’d always been and among what we’d always had.

And sometimes we realize that what we want to do in life isn’t what will bring us monetary riches, but will bring us riches of the soul.

“Honestly, it is a labor of love,” Mark Bradley said. “I love working with the cows, and I love working the land.  It is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

It’s not a job.

It’s a lifestyle.

It’s a labor love.

So much of what we do that really matters is just that – a labor of love – work that might not light up our pocketbook but will light a spark in our spirit. And from that spark will come a fire that will burn through all the distractions of life and leave for us a clear picture of what is good and right and perfect about this thing we call living.