Monday, February 1, 2016

Remember January 2016

This quote from Spencer W. Kimball has always been one of my favorites.

I can't find the words to write today, but I need to find something to fill this empty space. 

One goal I set for 2016 was to take a picture of the sunset every night of the year. I only missed two nights in January, and instead of quitting then and there, I added sunrise pictures the next morning. 

One requirement for this project: No photo editing software--pictures must be straight out of the camera (I did a few on my big camera at the beginning of the month, but I think iPhone will be default for the rest of the year). As I look through the images, many bring back that exact moment in time: evenings spent at the cabin in the snow, on the airplane to and from Idaho (and not leaving Idaho, I may add), how much time I spend in the car around 6 pm on many of the days, the color of the sunset reflected on the Superstition Mountains . . .  and how much I love sunset in Arizona.

One night--January 16--I caught the exact moment of the best sunset of the month. These photos haven't been enhanced in any way.

  This is what the Arizona sky often gifts us.

After I took those photos, I thought I had nothing left to shoot of the sunsets and nothing left to learn from this goal. I mean, what can top flaming cotton candy? But by the end of the month, I had learned a few things about photographing the sunset--and about myself.

Many nights I would glance outside and gauge by the color of the light if the sunset had reached its peak colors or not. I would take a few images then realize that what I had captures was too early--I was too impatient to watch the colors evolve and deepen. I do this in life all the time. I want to find the answers to every problem--often looking for answers before all of the questions have been asked. Sometimes, if I can hold on just a few moments more, I can see the beauty that is waiting to emerge from the gloom of the day.

Or some nights I found that I had missed the best part entirely by waiting for it to "get better." I would second guess the sky--that can't be all there is tonight, can it? I do this all the time as well. I look past the beautiful parts of difficult days, thinking there has to be more for me today--there has to be an answer or a conclusion or relief from the fight. I go to bed at night and see how much I missed because I couldn't enjoy what was present, the good that was overshadowed by the bad. This may be the bigger mistake, because every day has a sunset. Every day has something good to offer, despite my missteps or failure to see.

This is my photo from last night--the last sunset of January 2016.  A storm was blowing in and dust in the air reflected the waning light. And I missed the best part of it, or so I thought.
Brad and I were talking around the table after all the kids had disappeared to avoid dinner dishes, and I watched the colors behind him flare and then fade before I could get my phone. I found myself antsy to get outside to check my picture off the list for the day, but I refrained. I sat. I listened. I weighed the choices and chose the more important. I learned something in that moment. It's not about the best colors or the peak moment for a photograph. This is a journey, and each photo will mark a place on that path. Each day will hold its personal "sweet spot," and it's my job to recognize it when it arrives.

In the future I think I will separate my sunset posts from my remember posts, but today they will be together. When I look back through the files of my life, I will remember January 2016. It will stand alone. It may haunt me for a while--this roller coaster ride of emotions and experiences. It's been one of the most trying, most difficult, most emotional months of my entire life--probably ranking second of all time.

It's been that hard.

I thought I was saying goodbye to hard when 2015 ended, but I was wrong. What I do find comforting is that the goals I've set for myself to focus 1) upward on God, 2) outward on others, and 3) inward on myself have shaped me for the better. I'm beginning to remember who I am. I'm beginning to remember the joy of serving others. And most important, I'm beginning to remember how much I need God's guiding hand in my life--guiding my choices, guiding my parenting, guiding my prayers--and giving me strength beyond my own.

I am so far from solutions. I am more mindful of my flaws and my imperfections. I struggle to breathe some days because I'm swimming so far below the water line. In the past, I would see this as failure. Instead, through hours of prayer and work, I'm beginning to see that I can mark the difficult journey with colorful sunsets and small ordinary joys. 

And the photo from my favorite sunset of 2016? From the maternity floor of the Madison County Hospital.
The most extraordinary and beautiful of blessings from January 2016. 

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