We got our family photos taken Saturday, the first time in nine years that we’ve smiled for a professional photographer. The kids had some funny idea that a photo session means wearing stiff clothes and going into a hall in the church and sitting in front of a green screen while people you’ve never seen before make you stand super close to your siblings and put your arms in your lap and sit up straight and do your best to smile.
I guess the kids expected some family version of picture day at school.
So, when we were on the dirt and pavement in East Palo Alto, a city with grit, and leaning against an old machine shop across from a food truck and a barking dog chained to a camper, Ollie says under his breath, “I didn’t expect this,” and I ask him later what he meant.
He tells me about the last time we got our family photos taken – for the church directory – and he and Jackson wore matching plaid shirts. We went into a little back room with lots of curtains and screens and smiled stiffly at people we didn’t know. This time around we’re in jeans and boots and invited by our beautiful friend Nicole, the photographer, to be ourselves, a family. Yeah, this photo shoot is a whole different thing.
While it will be a couple of weeks until we see the photos from the shoot, the photos are secondary to the experience we had of being with Nicole in that late afternoon as that golden sun started to think about going down.
When you see someone doing something they love, you know it. You can feel it. What we’ll remember most is the experience of seeing Nicole see.
We won’t remember the bits of gravel on the sidewalk, or the kindness of the food truck drivers as we leaned against their counter. Not the excitement of the dog straining against its chain, or the orange pylons covering the mysterious metal door in the middle of the sidewalk. Not the warm sunlight as it shone on the dirt and the weeds, or the horns honking from the queue for the food truck on a Saturday night.
We’ll remember this: Nicole’s smile. Nicole’s voice. Nicole’s joy in being in the presence of her Father as she created beauty with Him.
As she took photographs, one thing became clear: Nicole was participating in the more that comes in doing what we are made to do with the Creator who made us.
When you glimpse a daughter of God hanging out with her Father, you never forget it.
It will always leave you breathless. It will always make you long for more of what He has. It will always make you think about what it is that you, uniquely, love to do.
What you love to do with God is how you worship, how you experience joy, how you feel God’s presence in you. And it will always remind you one thing for certain: being with God is always good.
“Oh, guys, you don’t even know!” Nicole said when she looked down at the viewfinder on her camera – a smile from ear to ear and brown eyes sparkling. We were captivated. She was seeing something we couldn’t see. But we believed her, and we want to see like that, too.
Witnessing her joy in being with the Father, we did see; we got to see pieces of heaven, too.
Nicole, in flip-flops and denim shorts, brown hair blowing as she stood in the breeze and the warm light of sundown shown on her face, we could imagine what she saw and where she was. She was here and not here.
She was in sacred space, wide-open space, where heaven meets earth, walking on holy ground.
She was with her Father in a garden all their own. What she saw was beauty deeper than what we can see with our eyes, and it was a beauty you can feel and hear and taste. It was a beauty she was in. And she got to do it with her God.
I need this in my life. I need people around me who see God. I need people around me who see Him by choosing to do things with their Father. I need people around me who desire intimacy with Him, want to experience beauty with Him, want to not just hear about the wide-open space that is God but live in it, inhabit it. I need people around me who have tasted heaven and who show me what it looks like to be in the presence of God in the normal, regular, surprising beauty of a Saturday night on a sidewalk as the sun is going down.
We can do this, you know.
We can taste this heaven here, now, in the sons and daughters who choose to say yes to a life doing the thing they are made to do with Him – using their talents to love people in the unique way in which God has made them to love.
We are desperate for heaven. We are desperate to eat of it and drink of it. We are filled up when we are in the presence of people who inhabit that holy ground.
Come, Father, show us, in the regular moment of this ordinary day your miracle of your beauty. Let us be people who see more than what is right in front of us. Let us be people who live knowing there is more to beauty than what we can see with our eyes; true beauty we experience with our hearts. Let us grab your hand and go further in.
Surround us with people who show us your face. Let your light shine upon us. Let us shine that light right on back, with you.
Who, in your life, helps you taste heaven, helps you be in the presence of God?
P.S. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the last day to enter the giveaway for Jonah Werner’s album, Run. Enter here.