Life-changing Gifts

Thirty years ago I received a Christmas gift that would change my life.  It came from my mother, a woman so artistically gifted and impulsively creative that each year the wrapping paper and bows on the presents beneath our tree would be as splendid as the gifts within. That Christmas morning 30 years ago, it was obvious that my mom had been keeping her artistic eye on my progress in a high school photography class for when I unwrapped one unusually flat present, I was astonished to find two of my own color photographs enlarged and mounted on museum quality photo boards.  Seeing those two photographs, physical manifestations of my own emerging creativity, uncovered for me what would become one of the most important passions of my life; photography.

Truthfully my mother’s gift was not so much her present – the beautifully wrapped and professionally mounted photographs – but her magnificent insight into the fact that photography would be an excellent vehicle for someone, like myself, who had a intrinsically visual mindset.  She saw that I had an intuitive knack for pairing abstract concepts with physical forms in order to gain insights into the abstract, and understood rightly that photography could help me satisfactorily express and share my insights.  I would later come to appreciate that words, both spoken and written, held the same satisfactory power.

College, marriage, and beginning a family represented a 10-year detour from professional photography, but during that time three other passions of mine came to light; my personal love for Jesus, a strong desire to teach my children and other families about his love, and the admiration for the power of words that I already mentioned.  Little did I realize that these passions would be as important as photography when I first felt the call to join in John Paul the Great’s “new springtime of evangelization” about fifteen years ago.

Now, at that time I was the usual sort of Catholic who thought that evangelizing could only be done by priests and nuns who trekked to the farthest reaches of Africa, built concrete-block churches, and fed orphans.  When I, therefore, began to consider how to join in the new springtime while already having three children and a husband who was enrolled in a doctoral program, it seemed that my options were fairly limited.  But then I looked around at what was available to parents trying to pass the Christian faith on to their children right at home, and I saw a literary Sahara Desert where it seemed there should be a flowering Garden of Eden of catechetical materials.  It was in that moment that I saw my passion for photography not only as a gift from my mother, but also as a talent from God which I could put to use by writing and photo-illustrating Christian children’s books for the domestic church.

I saw that by tucking a simple lesson of faith into beautifully photo-illustrated children’s books I could nourish the faith of the two audiences, the child and the parent reading together, and thereby help to transform the domestic church into the flourishing garden of faith that God designed it to be.  The true test of my inspiration, and my willingness to persevere for it, would come in the two years it took to develop the books and to get my first publisher.

Into this time period stepped my husband and children with some unwrappable gifts to further change my life.  From my husband I received relentless encouragement, technical support, and enough time away from parenting and home schooling to write and take photographs.  From my children and many of their friends I received the boundless willingness to say “cheese” just about a million times.  Sometimes the greatest gifts just can’t be wrapped.

It is my fervent hope that as my six children grow I can help each one of them uncover their own passions and God-given talents as my mom helped me.  What greater, earthly joy could there be as parents than to see our children come to appreciate their own giftedness, to see them offer this giftedness back to God, and thereby become useful in his Kingdom?

It is also my fervent hope to multiple the goodness of the life-changing gifts given to me by sharing that goodness with to others.  This Christmas I will have four new Christian children’s books, the Celebrate series of board books, going into print.  Aside from sending my mom physical copies of the new books — a present that I will wrap as beautifully as I can imagine — I will also be giving her, my husband, my children and so many others the gift of joyful gratitude for their help in the inspiration, creation, and launching of the books, and the most beautiful way I can think to wrap the gift of gratitude is in a great big hug!

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