Photographing the Milky Way

Photographing the Milky Way. Photo taken by Heshan Fernando of Fernando Fotography, 2014. {praylivecreate.com}  photo by Heshan Fernando

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

Heshan and I took our first Milky Way shot this summer in mid-August at Montauk Point State Park.

He’s been dabbling in astrophotography since learning about it earlier in the summer. Usually there’s a science to shooting photos like these. The Milky Way only shows itself during certain months in our hemisphere, and photos have to be timed around the right level of darkness, cloud cover, and moon rise times. (I didn’t know this before, but the moon actually rises at a different time every night.)

After doing the research, he learned that conditions would be perfect on one day and one day only in August, so he made arrangements for us to drive the three hours east on a Friday night and capture the shot. We got there just as the Milky Way was showing itself, and we could see it as soon as we got out of the car. It was truly incredible – I’ve never seen a night sky like the one we saw that night.

We set up the camera just outside of a parking lot where a few RVs were camping, and it was so dark we couldn’t see more than an inch in front of our faces. You can turn on even small lights when shooting stars, because it disrupts your night vision, so we shot in pitch dark and linked arms to make sure we stayed together. A fox ran out as we were pulling in and a few deer came out to say hi while we were shooting. The ocean was behind us as we took this shot, and we were almost brave enough to walk down the rocky path to the shore until an unidentified animal ran out at us.

I’m not going to lie…. I ran screaming in the other direction. We never made it to the shore.

We did capture this shot though, and it’s pretty high up on my list of photoshoots we’ve done together (Heshan does all the photo work, and I’m there for moral support). We tried again a few times in Maine, but this shot is by far and away my favorite, just because of the perfect conditions and the memory of our first star shoot together.

The light you see here is the result of adjusting the shutter speed and aperture on the camera settings to capture as much light as possible from the stars. Heshan caught it with a Canon 5D Mark III and post processed in Lightroom.

 

 

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Dose of Hope: Conquerors

God's Word Says We are More Than Conquerors {praylivecreate.com} #Bible #scripture #faith
I’m not really going to do this one justice by saying anything that isn’t said in the verse below, so I’ll leave it at that. But it’s a powerful one, and this is one of those verses that I need to read slowly and with intention, usually a couple times – because it’s deep and it’s amazing and it says so much about what God has done for us through Christ. It’s a serious amen.

Romans 8:31-39 (NIV) More Than Conquerors

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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What I Learned and Loved in August (And September’s Goals)

What I Learned and Loved in August {praylivecreate.com}

I skipped a month of what I learned and loved, but I figured this post served as a good wrap up of where I was in July. So here’s what I learned and loved in August…

I learned that nothing really depends on me. When I chose to follow Jesus into less, it was because I didn’t have anything left, and I knew that even if I couldn’t get everything right, I could say no a whole lot more. Honestly, nothing really changed except that I got the first hint of emotional and mental space that I’d had in years, and I learned who can and can’t handle hearing the word no in my life. I also saw God carry me in ways only He can do. It reminded me for the millionth time that I am not my provider and also that I don’t need to have answers to anything in life, I just need to rest in Him.

The names that God chooses to call us say a lot about His feelings for us. I’ve said it a bunch, and I’m honestly not done saying it that I think if we all really believed we’re chosen, loved, blessed, belong, gifted, forgiven, known, and secure our lives would look so much different (and less busy!). I’m preaching to the choir on this one, because it’s something that I know but fail to live out when I’m wrapped up in the day to day demands of an especially demanding city.

I also learned that Holland built a system that would allow the nation to flood low-lying areas of the country with water that was too shallow for boats but too deep for troops to cross in case of war. From my understanding, the system was never used, but that didn’t stop them from building a series of forts throughout the country that are now used as public parks or bed and breakfasts. Interesting, right?

I fell in love with Maine during our anniversary / birthday trip last weekend. We spent the weekend in Portland with a stop in Kennebunkport on the way home. I’ll probably be sharing more about it soon, but it’s hard to say which town I liked more. Coming home has been both easier and harder in some ways, but overall seeing how people live outside of NYC and getting to experience a slower pace of life was so good for us and it gave us both a lot of hope for whatever God has in store.

And lastly, I’m re-learning how to use my voice. In the past, I was a pretty outspoken person. But somewhere along the last three years I toned it down, because there were bills to pay and people to please to make that happen. Honestly, if there’s anything I’m learning right now it’s that people who need to be pleased aren’t really worth the time. My biggest priority for this month is continuing to ask God to come in and bring His best and give us confidence to not mind the fall out along the way. Which leads me to September’s goals!

September’s Goals

- Say no even more. There are still a lot of areas where I’m working on this, and some of them are harder than others (i.e. they involve upsetting a lot more people). So it’s staying on the agenda.

- Host a movie night. Heshan and I used to host monthly movie nights as an opportunity to get together with everyone we know, break bread, and have a fun night together. It’s been a few years since we’ve had one and we’ve done a really good job of being anti-social over the past month, so we’re hoping to get a new movie night on the schedule for this month.

That’s it’s for me. What did you learn and love in August and what are your goals for this month?

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Dose of Hope: Secure

God's Word tells us we don't have to worry about our own security, because we're secure in Him {praylivecreate.com} #Bible #faith #scripture

As Heshan and I are following Jesus this year – not just being “Jesus followers” but asking how we can actually follow Him – a couple things are becoming pretty obvious. First, we’re not so good at this thing. We move slowly and we ask questions and we doubt and freak out. And second, we can’t do this if we’re worried about our own security.

But you guys – Heshan and I can be big worriers. We don’t worry about the same things, but when our personalities combine, there are all sorts of situations that cause one of us stress. Like where Heshan is going to work (his job changes annually right now while he’s finishing up his PhD), how we’re going to pay the bills, how we’re going to budget our energy in a city that takes everything we have. We’ll worry about our dreams and our fears, and honestly there are entire months when I worry about how obnoxiously loud it is all night long when all I want to do is sleep.

Would it be crazy if I told you that I’m aggressively praying that God would shake up our lives right now? I’m asking Him to come in and take control and bring His best, even if it doesn’t look best to me or Heshan or anyone else around us. And I’m asking that because I don’t know what else to specifically ask for, but I do know we need a change, a renewing of our minds, and a re-setting of our focus like our lives depend on it.

Which brings us to this place where Jesus is challenging us to let go. To give up our thoughts and fears about our own security and recognize it’s always been in His hands. Which is just so like God it’s not even funny. I know this stuff in my head and I even love this stuff in my heart, but I’ve found it’s way harder for me to live this stuff out with my hands, even on the days when I’m ready to run away, move to Idaho, build a yurt, and live off the land.

As we’re walking through the names God has for us, He’s emboldening my heart and asking me to live with truths that I sometimes know but really need to know. I believe that God is calling each of us into deeper relationship with Him and into fuller life, and that it all starts with knowing who we are in Him. He calls us loved, chosen, blessed, gifted, known, forgiven, and He says we belong. And inherent in all that, plus spelled out like crazy throughout His love letter to us, is the promise that we are secure.

All of our worries and our fears can’t hold a candle to what God has in store and to His love for us. So I have no idea what that looks like for Heshan and me, but I know I can pray for His best and I can pray for the strength to let go of whatever I’m holding onto to make me feel secure. And this week I want to think about security together and talk with God about how our security is in Him.

Our Lord, we belong to you. We tell you what worries us, and you won’t let us fall.- Psalms‬ ‭55‬:‭22‬ (CEV)

The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.” – Exodus‬ ‭33‬:‭14‬ (NLT)

For I hold you by your right hand— I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you. – Isaiah‬ ‭41‬:‭13‬ (NLT)

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – ‭Joshua‬ ‭1‬:‭9‬ (NLT)

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:8 (NIV)

#follow - kissing yes-itis and the ways of the world goodbye and following Jesus into fuller life {praylivecreate.com}

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Some Bible Verses About Hearing & Doing

a collection of #Bible verses about hearing & responding to #Scripture

It’s been a little while since we’ve done a connecting the dots post (see generosity and our thoughts). I have a lot of fun typing these up so I hope you guys enjoy them. As usual, I’m basing this one off of a message I heard at my church, this one by Jason VanDorsten.

Jesus’ brother James wrote a lot about not just hearing the word, but applying it to our lives.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. – James 1:22-25

Jesus himself addressed applying  the Word during the Sermon on the Mount.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27

James again, getting straight to the point.

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:17

The apostle John also wrote about how faith must be lived out and James gives us some tangible examples.

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. – 1John 2:4-6

 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27

And let’s end with the words of Jesus, the only person to ever walk this Earth and perfectly live a life of faith.

…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

What verses come to your mind when you think about real, living faith?

Stephanie from praylivecreate.com

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What I Learned About Life on Our Two-Year Anniversary

Heshan and I were married two weeks before my 30th birthday and three months before his 32nd. While I sometimes wish we’d met and married earlier, started a family in our 20s, and gotten a head start, overall I know that the timing was perfect for us. Last weekend we walked over the threshold of our two year anniversary, and I started thinking back to our wedding day. I didn’t have any fairy tale ideas as to what our wedding or our marriage would be like before I walked down the aisle, but it’s safe to say that I also had no idea what was in store (and how much harder but better it would all be than I had imagined). If pulling off a wedding was our first big feat as a unit, then it was also full of a few lessons that have held true for all the days since.

Photo by Annabelle Dando

1) We can’t do it alone. Our wedding day was definitely a labor of love for the people in our life. We knew right away that we wanted to marry on a budget. We also knew that we didn’t want the focus to be on us so much as on our family and friends who would travel to celebrate with us and also God’s love for us as a community. We chose to put a verse from 1 Corinthians 13 on each table as a reminder to ourselves of what love in community looks like. Steph and I painted 5×7 frames from Ikea and she printed off each verse and inserted it over craft paper. We added butterfly stickers from a scrapbooking set from Michael’s.

Photo by Annabelle Dando

My mother-in-law gifted us with all of the flower arrangements on our tables and down the aisle. We ordered in bulk from the floral section of our grocery department, and she glued red ribbon at the top of each vase. I didn’t see these until our wedding day, and they took our breath away.

Photo by Annabelle Dando

Heshan and I wrapped peaches in copper tissue paper that we hand stamped with a short quote about love. We wrapped wire leaves around the top, and our friends set them out at each place setting as a gift for all of the guests. Our wedding was literally pieced together with the hard work of people we love, and our marriage looks a lot like that today.

Photo by Annabelle Dando

2) It doesn’t always go according to plan, but it all works out in the end. When Heshan proposed, I was convinced that I could plan our wedding for $3,000 in just a few months. My initial plans involved a big backyard, a pot luck buffet, grocery store flowers, and homemade cupcakes.

In the end, our wedding took place at a gorgeous tree farm in Southern Maryland (complete with bunnies and butterflies), and we couldn’t have asked for a better setting.

Photo by Annabelle Dando
We went far above our $3,000 plans, thanks to the generosity of family and friends. While we did buy flowers in bulk for the centerpieces and aisle markers, Heshan spent up to include special details like the bouquets and a photo booth for family and friends.

Photo by Annabelle Dando

Photo by Annabelle Dando
One of the best decisions we made was to work with Annabelle Dando to capture our day. Looking back at our photos, I’m so grateful for way she documented our big day and captured the moments that flew by so quickly. (Also, she’s an incredible woman through and through and it’s clear everything she does is done with love.)

Photo by Annabelle Dando
3) We’re blessed with a lot of amazing people
.We had a small wedding with only 44 guests, but the people who made the trip to celebrate with us have been the ones who have stood by us every day since. We married at a time of big transitions for both of us, and in the past two years we’ve formed friendships with people who I wish could have celebrated with us on our big day. But the people who were there continue to be huge blessings in our lives. We’ve gone on adventures and international trips (I totally count Canada as international, you guys), we’ve held pot lucks and movie nights (and maybe even a few Fruit Ninja nights too), and even though life seems to be calling some of us in different directions, they’re the family God’s given us and we’re thankful for them everyday. They also climbed up on ladders to string those lanterns you see in the photo below, so we’d like to think they risked life and limb for our big day. (P.S. our friend Erin totally got engaged after catching that bouquet, so I’d like to think our wedding day was kind of a big deal for her, too.)

Photo by Annabelle Dando

Photo by Annabelle Dando
4) Everyday should be a celebration
. Everyone says it, but it’s true. The wedding day is just a day. At the same time, it taught me a lot about taking time out to celebrate. It’s easy for me to focus on the bills and the jobs and stress of living in NYC and spend my days waiting for that amazing “someday” that I keep praying for. As we’re moving forward in our marriage, God’s teaching me the value of celebrating the everyday and finding that “someday” today. He’s also teaching me to continue splurging on the meaningful things even when I want to be tight-fisted, to make time for community, and to live with less fear and more faith (and a lot more dancing).

Photo by Annabelle Dando

Photo by Annabelle Dando

Photo by Annabelle Dando

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Dose of Hope: Known

God says He loves us and knows us by name {praylivecreate.com} #Bible #scripture #quotes

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

We already know that Jesus chose us, but I rarely think about the fact that God says He knows us. Yesterday morning I was reading Greg Laurie’s daily devotional, and the verse above stood out to me for that reason. Paul said that God knew him inside and out. He was completely known.

It kind of blows my mind when I think about it. The Bible says God knows us. But how often do we struggle even with knowing ourselves?

When we think about all of the ways God loves us, it can be easy to think He loves us most when we’re at our best. But He’s so emphatically clear that that’s just not the case. He knows us – He knew us before we were born – and He loved us and chose us as we are. The real us. The real version of you and the real version of me.

He knows when we’re scared but pretending to be brave. When we’re tired or anxious or just in need of a long nap and some serious TLC. He knows when we’re hiding dreams way down in our hearts. When we’re thrilled. When we’re feeling alone. When we’re struggling with doubts or depression or whatever burdens we may be carrying.

He knows which of us need rest and which of us need adventure. He knows exactly where we are and who we are.

We’re known by God. Inside and out. He looks deep into the heart of who we are and knows us, and He calls us His own.

When I think about that, it makes me realize how important it is that we’re known. How awesome it is that God can say, “I formed you and I made you and you are completely mine.” We’re known with all our quirks, all our hang ups, all the things we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or show to others, and knowing that in light of the fact that Jesus calls us chosen, loved, forgiven, blessed, gifted, and belonging, gives us a better picture as to who God says we are.

(We’re known and still we were chosen. We’re known and still we belong. We’re known and God calls us gifted. We’re known and He says, “you’re blessed.” He knows everything about us, and we’re forgiven. We’re known through and through and we’re loved.)

God’s ways are way higher than mine, and I can’t comprehend them. But I know that His gospel is true, that Jesus laid down His life for me, and that I’m called to lay down my life and pick up the freedom He has for me. As we walk through the names that God has for us, I’m overwhelmed with how liberating they are. Because we’re known and loved for who we are, we can be truly loved by others. We don’t have to settle for less. And because we’re known and loved as we are, we can forgive others imperfections and love them as they are too. (I know this is complicated. I’m speaking in generalities here.)

We can get to know ourselves, even if the real us is different than the person other people want us to be. And we can lay down at night knowing we’re known and loved. We’re exactly who God picked out when He said, “You, yep, you. You’re mine.” And He’s perfecting us all the time.

And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.  – 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 (NKJV)

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 (NLT)

Here’s to living life to the full and being known…

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