Written by Alex Street
There is no end to the possible connections with the art, stories, and lives all around us. God can use just about anything to grab your attention on this wild ride, including a 40-year-old photograph, stories of Jesus, and a girl from Toronto.
My dad, David Street, was a photographer for 40 years. He passed away three years ago, and I have his entire photography library in storage. This includes about 20,000 negatives and a few hundred large prints. His work was respected and well known many years ago, but what impact could it possibly continue to have now?
Last September I was speaking at a retreat with a group of 150 teens and hoped to combine our storytelling abilities as a photographer and as a speaker, father and son creating something new with something old. It’s downright beautiful really.
As I walked through the four talks over the weekend, I had selected some of my dad’s prints to have with me on stage representing the theme of the story I was telling at that moment (personal life stories, Saul from Acts 9, or about Jesus meeting people). Saturday morning is when it got really interesting, and by Sunday morning, I was blown away.
Saturday I stuck another hundred or so prints on the wall around the room, art-gallery-style, and invited everyone to spend time looking at them to try and find one or two that described their faith journey right now. The opportunity for conversation after this was outstanding! So many people were able to put language to something they couldn’t before: “My life is like that road— – I can’t see what’s next but I want to move through it” or “I feel like that dancer, poised and ready for what’s next in life.” And then there was the rodeo horse.
Sunday morning after we had wrapped up the last session, a girl came to me in tears saying she had a question. “I know these photos are special for you because they’re your dad’s, but I’m wondering if I can have one?”
The boldness of her request had me intrigued. As I attempted to process just how attached to these photographs I truly was, she walked me over to an 11×14 black and white print of a cowboy falling off a rodeo horse and holding on with only a few fingers.
“This is my life,” she struggled to admit to me, “I feel like it’s such a wild ride and I’m just barely hanging on.”
“What happens if you fall off?” I asked her. She looked at the photo, looked at me, took a deep breath and said, “I guess, I’ll brush myself off, get back on, and keep going.”
I smiled, “Okay, you can have it.”
Then I sent her off with a bit of a blessing, “When you look at it, may it remind you of how God encounters you in all kinds of ways, and is always cheering you on to keep going.”
What impact does your work have in this life? The truth is, we may never know. It may have to be transformed into something totally new by someone else years from now. This stack of random photos of dancers, cowboys, CEOs, and celebrities was somehow able to help transform the life of a young girl from the city on a wild ride, looking for hope to keep going.
I wonder how God might be trying to get your attention today?