“The process is supposed to be fun.”
It’s one of those things that makes so much sense that you don’t know how it took you this long to realise it. God spoke this to me during a time of intense learning about how much He wanted to be involved in my creative process. He wanted me to learn to love not only the initial planning stages and the final product, but everything in-between.
He taught me these things – and so many more that would make this blog post way too long – through a project of photographing the cover of our West Coast magazine. I was given a project brief, including a portion of scripture that would be the theme for the magazine, as well as a month’s time and full freedom to be directed by God in every detail of the image. I decided to start with conversation with God. Even before reading the documents I had been given, I wanted to ask for God’s ideas. I didn’t want to be swayed by my own thoughts and concepts. During that initial time of prayer, there were around five phrases or words that God spoke to me.
One of them was, “the breaking of the bread.”
Only after I was sure that God had informed me on all He wanted to for that time, I read the project brief and scripture. The reference was Luke 24:13-35, a story we often refer to as “The Road to Emmaus.” In this story, two men who followed Jesus during His lifetime are walking to a place called Emmaus shortly after Jesus had just died. They are discussing Jesus, and how they hoped He would be the saviour of their people… but, then He died. As they are talking, a man appears on the road and walks alongside them. For some reason, they don’t realise that it is Jesus Himself! After a long walk and conversation, they reach their destination and invite their new friend in for a meal. Jesus says a blessing over the meal and breaks the bread – and, as He does, the two men realise who they had been talking to the whole time!
As I read the story, I was blown away. My eyes ran over and over verses 30 & 31 – it was in the breaking of the bread that Jesus was revealed!
I felt so encouraged that God really was speaking to me about His vision for this cover image. It would have been easy at that point to start thinking about the execution of the image. However, the encouragement when I was given the project was not to jump to any conclusion too quickly. A key part of the creative process is expanding on ideas, researching, letting your mind wander. The final product may be a representation of a split second – literally, in photography! But in reality, an entire process has gone into that split second and every detail matters.
Over the next few days, I researched a lot and asked God a lot of questions. I read the Bible, looked at photography tutorials on YouTube, listened to music, looked up words in Greek and Hebrew, thought about lighting and framing, and just kept expanding and expanding on the things that God had first spoken. By the end of it, I had 32 sketches of potential cover images. They varied from photographs of stained glass windows to mud, from people to pottery, from bread to clouds of smoke. I loved the challenge to come up with so many ideas. I once heard that the more ideas you have, the better the chance that you have a good one. It was such a great experience for me to not just go with the first thought, but to realise a tiny portion of the infinite possibilities of God.
After narrowing down the 32 concepts through conversation and prayer with my Media team leaders, it was time to start shooting. I called up a stained glass workshop here in Perth and asked if we could take photos of them working, and they kindly agreed. We scheduled a huge breakfast with our Media family and squished onto a table a little too small for us, all for the sake of art. I was having so much fun creating, and especially loved that I felt like I was bringing God’s vision to life. The next concept to shoot was someone making bread from scratch, then breaking it. But after the first few photoshoots, something changed.
The following week was, as we say here in Australia, “full on”. With other projects piling up, then my birthday, followed by a nasty cold, the cover photo project was falling down on the list of priorities. I convinced myself that it wasn’t that important, we had some good images to go with, and it was too hard to coordinate with everything else happening. I was sadly putting aside the fact that God had wanted me to take this image. The most creative Creator, the ultimate Artist, had given me a piece of His creative wisdom. It’s hard to admit that I didn’t hold onto it as tightly as I should have.
I’m going to give away part of the story now, and it’s that the “breaking of the bread” photo is the one that ended up being chosen as the cover image. I’m also going to tell you another secret:
That photograph almost didn’t happen at all.
With the deadline suddenly one day away, I decided to go with what was easy. I had a plan, though it was a little half-baked. The look of the space where we would make the bread wasn’t what I had originally hoped for. We didn’t have a lot of time to take the image. My mindset was definitely that we just needed to get it done, as painlessly as possible. I didn’t realise that the creative process had stopped being fun.
I am so grateful that I get to work in an environment where people care about my growth and my heart in addition to caring about what I contribute. That day, my leader pulled me aside to ask me about what happened with this project. She wasn’t just wondering why things had fallen aside in a work sense, but wanted to talk about how the past few weeks had been for me spiritually and emotionally as well. Through a few conversations throughout the day, I realised so much. I had been taking on a little more than I could handle. I allowed being sick to get me down emotionally. I still had room to grow in terms of communication and asking for help.
Then, I was asked to go back to the source – the One who had inspired this project in the first place.
My leader wisely suggested a question to ask God. I could admit my mistake, but I could also ask Him how He wanted to redeem the situation. I’m constantly blown away by how good of a redeemer our God is. No matter my choices and actions, He always has a plan to make things good again – even if it takes effort on my part. So, I went on a walk to the river, exposing my heart to God and telling Him I was sorry for not bringing His vision to life the way He had wanted. I asked Him how I could partner with Him to make this specific image good again.
As I walked, an image developed in my mind. I saw Chris and myself in our apartment, moving furniture and lights around our tiny kitchen. I saw clearly that it was just the two of us, despite the fact that neither of us have ever made bread before. It seemed crazy that we were going to attempt this with the deadline so close, but I had a strong sense that God was going to show me how capable He was. He wasn’t putting this responsibility on me to weigh me down, but rather to free me to trust Him. And the best part – a sense of adventure fell upon me. The unsophisticated reliance on God is what was going to make this creative process fun again.
So, we did as God showed me. It was Chris’ idea to incorporate the light table we had scored for free on the side of the road. We were intentional in every detail, asking God if we weren’t sure – even about the small things. We looked up multiple YouTube videos to make sure the dough was looking the way it was meant to and that Chris’ kneading was realistic. We made a big mess in our tiny kitchen. The bread didn’t come out looking very attractive, but thankfully I had been reminded to grab a few stale loaves from the base kitchen to use as backup for the “breaking” photos.
I’m thrilled that this is the image that was chosen.
When I look at it, I think back to my research, learning about the significance in Jewish culture of Jesus breaking bread. I love the detail of the flour on the cutting board, which wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t gone through the entire bread-making process first. I remember the effort we put into that little shadow under Chris’ hands, improvising using parchment paper over a clip-on IKEA light.
I’m thrilled that the image that almost didn’t happen is the one that will arrive at 4,500 doorsteps this New Years. I look at this image and I think about how good of a Creator God is. From start to finish, it was His idea and His execution.
I think I’ve finally realised that the process is so much fun – but only because He is the One creating, and I just get to be along for the ride.
Read the full January 2018 edition of the West Coast News here and see what God has been up to at YWAM Perth this year!