Seize the Joy

A couple months ago I had the pleasure of speaking to the women at my church about capturing joy in their lives – both figuratively and through photographing themselves and their families. I am LDS, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So this blog post includes some scripture and other spiritual bullet points.

In an (Ensign) article titled “Seize the Joy”, author Winnie Dalley says:

Carpe diem – “seize the day.” As I look into the smiling eyes of my infant son and experience the warmth of his vigorous, chubby little body wriggling in my arms, I feel the fulness of the moment and sense a glimmer of eternity. I say to myself, Seize the moment, seize the day, seize the joy. A scripture naturally comes to mind: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25, the Book of Mormon). What a joy it is being a mother!

The sounds of my feuding preschoolers arouse me from my reverie. “She scratched me!” wails four-year-old Kendra. “She took away my dolly,” cries Brittany, age two. And before I can do anything, Kendra proceeds to bop her younger sister on the head. Soon there is crying, then there are attempts to get even, then more crying.

After pleadings and stern admonitions, I finally manage to placate each party and achieve a cease-fire. I breathe an inner sigh of relief, grateful for some reprieve. Then Brittany begins: “Mommy, I want more cookies.”

“Honey,” I try to explain to her, “you already had a lot of cookies today. You need to eat other food besides cookies to help you grow big and strong. How about some yogurt?”

“No, I don’t want yogurt; I want cookies. I want some, I want some now!” She starts crying ferociously, then screaming and then kicking. It seems impossible to reason with my little two-year-old.

Spencer, the baby, is crying too. He was patiently sitting in his swing, where I had placed him in my efforts to deal with his sisters’ crisis. But now he is no longer content by himself. I hurry over and pick him up. He looks into my eyes, and his pouting mouth slowly curves into a smile. I cannot help but give him a kiss on the cheek. Every baby is a miracle, I think to myself, a marvelous work of our Father in Heaven.

In the meantime, Brittany’s tantrum is showing no signs of subsiding. Kendra gets up on the couch and starts jumping. “Honey, don’t do that,” I tell her. “You might fall down and get hurt.”

“No I won’t,” she insists, continuing to jump without the least concern.

“Stop jumping right now,” I say, my voice rising.

Nearby in the kitchen, a mound of dirty dishes waits for me in the sink. The laundry is not done, the carpet not vacuumed, the bathroom not scrubbed. Toys are strewn haphazardly all over the living room and kitchen floor. A pile of unpaid bills sits arrogantly on top of the bookcase, exerting silent authority. All of a sudden, the negative aspects of the moment seem to outweigh the positive.

But it is really not so. I remind myself that I need to look beyond the temporal mists and regain my eternal vision of clarity.

A house does not have to be perfect to be a home of joy, a child does not have to behave perfectly to love and be loved, and every moment of life does not have to be perfect to be of value. Too often, I realize, we fail to see the glorious reality of the simple joy that abounds in the seemingly mundane routine of day-to-day living. Instead, we tend to idolize the past, idealize the future, and devalue the present. We complain abundantly, we worry too much, and we appreciate too little.

What better way to show our appreciation to Heavenly Father for what we have than to embrace our lives, albeit “ordinary” and “unexciting,” with joy?

A couple things come to mind after reading that:

1) YES. In fact: all the yeses.
2) How? How can I make a habit of savoring the positive when my life is at times mundane? At times crazy, out of control, please-don’t-tell-anyone-we-live-like-this? And at times just plain aggravating?

Often, I don’t see the joy. Particularly when the house is a mess, nobody can stay on task, or get along, and I have a million unfinished tasks pulling my mind in a million different directions. I liken this to striving to feel the spirit more. This life is full of worldly distractions vying for our attention. When it gets loud and crazy is when I feel the least peace. However there are moments amidst the chaos where I am reminded that I am on the right path. I am doing some good. And the SPIRIT seizes ME. I think the same goes for joy. Sometimes, it seizes us.

Ashley Montagu

There are times in our life where we create joy for ourselves, for our families. Think holidays, birthday parties. We get carried away with the details: matching outfits for church, the perfect party decorations, a detailed photo-biography of everything in its perfection. I am guilty of creating picture perfect moments. I’m sure my parties seem overdone to some. My home overly decorated for the holidays. I always think to myself “This is my happy place, even if it is at times too much”. Enter, the stress zone. I will get caught up in perfecting every little detail and suddenly am wondering WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

Maybe for you it isn’t so much about picture perfect parties or holidays. Maybe it’s an inability to say no. We want to be involved in every local event. Or every volunteer opportunity at school. Or every church function. Regardless of what it is, we find ourselves wondering WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

Take for example my daughter’s magical 8th birthday party. The theme was fairies. I had a floral centerpiece with little fairy cutouts peeking out behind rocks and branches. I had all the right “themed” foods. I made wands for all the girls.

Fairy birthday party

Fairy birthday party

And while I was busy photographing the perfect cupcake pyramid, what did I miss? My child waiting anxiously by the door for her guests to arrive. That, THAT is what I should have been taking a picture of.

Ask yourself, what am I missing when I become too focused on a “picture perfect” life? If picture perfect is our goal, are we really making memories? Are we really enjoying the moment?

[nggallery id=104]

One of my favorite authors (Anna Quindlen) said “The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the 3 of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting done a little less.”

sleeping children

We have to remember to BE in the joy. Are we part of the moments we are capturing? Are we living in it? Or are we living moment to moment instead?

“Sometimes I don’t [take a picture]. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it, right there, right here.” – Sean O’Connel (Sean Penn)

Wise words.

Sure there is a tricky balance between preserving a moment and breaking away to capture it. I hear lots of moms say “I never have my camera nearby when I need it!” It’s always better to stay in a moment though isn’t it? I make the couscous choice to stay in the moment a lot. And I think its a good rule of thumb, that it’s better to be in the moment than to break it.

Which brings me to another point. One thing often missing from our images, is us. Yep. Mamas we have to stop avoiding the camera. Why? Lots of reasons. It’s easier to be the documentarian. The kids are cuter anyway. But the one that’s most common? “I don’t like the way I look.”

I get home from a fantastic family vacation and I eagerly begin looking through the photos I took and realize I’m not in any of them. Sad face. For this reason I make sure we get professional family photos taken at least every other year. It’s an investment that’s important to me so that I am a visible part of our family history. And also so I can see in photos that I am happy, that I am loved and treasured by my children and husband. And so they have a record of me loving them – me who birthed them, me who lies awake at night wondering if I’m doing an ok job, me who is up until 1am with them working on school projects. Do I wish I was 15 lbs. lighter? Don’t we all? But why should I give power to those insecurities? Power that overshadows my presence in those important family memories? Furthermore what am I afraid of? That my children will look at our photos and notice my hair isn’t done? I’m not wearing makeup? That I have a tummy roll? Do you think about any of those things when you look at pictures of YOUR mom? Isn’t it amazing that we can see the beautiful, witty, endearing qualities in our closet friends, colleagues, family members and yet stew for hours over our own imperfections?

A photo any mother would dream of having, even though I do't feel it's my most flattering moment.
PHOTO CREDIT: Paige Wilks Photography

Beyond making sure you’re in the photo once in a while, it’s important to print those photos! To fill our homes with memories. Learning to story tell through photography does no good if the photos only live inside your computer. Seeing those stories – in frames, in albums, on the walls – is an important component to creating joy in our home and family. I love walking into somebody’s home and seeing pictures everywhere. What great memories and conversation pieces they provide! Likewise as a child I loved going to my grandmother’s house and pulling out her basket of photo albums. I looked through the same ones over and over and never grew tired of them.


Capturing details in our photographs helps us remember the season of our lives. Baby toes. First smile. First steps. In “Naked Babies” Anna Quindlen said “A second birthday party. or a first haircut, or that bright beautiful terrible day when you peel him off you at preschool are one thing, and waking up one morning, going down to make coffee, and finding yourself vying for position at the sink with someone whose eyes look levelly into your own and whose feet are bigger than yours is quite another. “Hey, Ma,” he says. “What’s up?” And because you’re looking for it, you can see the faintest shadow of what used to be down on his cheek, down so fine that it once felt like silk when you ran your lips across it. Before the coffee is done, before the sun rises to half-mast, before you’ve turned away so he cannot see your face, that down will be a beard, and he will be a man.”

Way to go Anna, making me bawl.

Since “the best camera is the one you have with you”, I’m going to conclude with a few basic iphonography tips for those that need/want them.

2 basic needs to achieve a good photo are light and perspective. These are as easily attainable on a cell phone as they are with a big girl camera.

Decide if you want light directly on your subject (for a clean look), from the side (for a dramatic look), or from the back (for a more artistic effect). If you are indoors this means finding a nice big window. If you are outdoors this means finding soft, low light, either at sunrise or sunset.

A few different angles to consider when deciding what perspective you want to give your image:

-bird’s eye
bird's eye perspective

-eye level
eye level perspective

You may even feel brave enough to try a looking up perspective! Could be fun if your kids were running around in circles above you. Or swinging overhead.

If you want to get a little fancier with your iphonography, here are some tips regarding exposure and focus. Tap the area of the screen where your focal point is. Your child’s face, perhaps. On my iPhone, a little sun symbol pops up and I have the option to slide up or down along a line to increase (brighten) or decrease (darken) the exposure. Play around with that! You can get a totally different look depending on what feeling you want your image to portray. You can also capture a more focused image this same way, by tapping the area of the screen you want most in focus. A symbol indicating that you’ve locked focus will appear.

If you want to get a LOT fancier, here’s a couple tips for creating more visual interest in your photos. The first is called “the rule of thirds”.

rule of thirds

Envision a tic-tac-toe grid over your photo. Then position important compositional elements and leading lines on or near where the lines intersect, in others words, in the outer thirds of your image.

Another way to create more visual interest in your photos is by framing. An image is much more interesting if you include some context, such as a child playing between 2 trees. You may also consider your position in capturing the image. For instance, peek through a bush, allowing some of the branches to be a part of the outer edge of your frame. Or take a photo through a window or doorway, allowing the window/door to be in the image, naturally framing your subject and giving it some context.

A peek inside my book lover's world.

A peek inside my book lover’s world.

Last but not least, here are some fun tools:

-instagram (most popular)
-Pic Tap Go
-Afterlight (fun wallpapers)
-Retouch (great for removing objects)
-Instaflash (perfect for evening out your lighting)

-olliclip (includes wide, macro, fisheye)
-holga (funky light leaks and bokeh)

-chat books (most popular and user friendly – can design straight from your phone)
-artifact uprising

Documentary photography Molly Flanagan says “Normal is beautiful. It doesn’t have to be anything but what it is.” So take that photo of your kids giggling uncontrollably in the messiest room of your house. Preserve that moment when they snuck out of the house during a rainstorm and got muddy from head to toe. Let your husband photograph you and your kids crowded together in your bed first in the morning, before you’ve brushed your hair, or your teeth, or put on a bra. Remember, the moments of happiness that we enjoy the most take us by surprise. It’s not that we seize them, it’s that they seize us. (Ashley Montagu)

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