May 13, 2021
It’s tax season. Again. This is a different kind of year for everybody, and our long-past April 15 deadline never turned into a deadline. But, the new deadline is approaching and taxes are STILL inevitable. It feels so true, doesn’t it? I think most of us grew up knowing what this statement means: “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Death is certain. Having to pay taxes is an inevitable part of being an adult in the United States of America. But, I also know that there are SO many more things that are absolutely certain.
I am CERTAIN we will always marvel at our planet and it’s natural and supernatural mysteries. Some of us will ALWAYS shake our heads at the illogical, seemingly irrational decisions made by a “hangry” toddler. And, though many of us struggle to believe and to remember this, I am CERTAIN (because He says so) that God will always be there.
Some things are SUPER certain, right?
Many other things don’t seem as certain: like the political stability of the Middle East, or the health and future of our ecosystems, or whether or not the Minnesota Vikings will ever win the Super Bowl. And taxes can be uncertain, too. This year, my husband and I intend to purchase new photography, but that decisions depends entirely on….our taxes.
There are SO many uncertain things right now, and it often leads us to ask the question, “Why?”
Why does our health always seem to be in jeopardy? Will we always fear the stripping away of our liberties? Who will explain to the nations how and why the King of Love, not appeasement and tolerance, is the key to peace?
The question “Why?” can reveal fears we never knew we had. It can also show us that we are incredibly….well, uncertain.
This might seem like a simple, humble comparison, but I often struggle with asking the question “Why?” when I’m directing film. Almost EVERY DAY on the set of our last independent film “He Leadeth Me” this was our anthem. This film was a nightmare (and an absolute DREAM) to produce. My producer and I finally stopped asking “Why?” and just started laughing. It was comical as to how many things never seemed to be going well and all at once.
Standing behind the camera, holding the camera, I asked “Why?” every minute of every day.
Many of you know that we had very little resources to work with. I felt this the most when I came to the realization prior to principle photography that I was going to have to be IT. It was apparent that I was going to have to be camera operator and director of photography!! I was SO disappointed, because it’s always been my dream to JUST be the director and not anything else. Working on independent films, you quickly learn that everybody’s dream is to do just ONE job because it takes everybody to do everything all the time.
I remember the ONE day that forced me to step up my game. The camera was difficult to maneuver, hard to focus, and painful to hold. But, I had DAYS of filming ahead of me and I needed to get it right! We were standing in the courthouse at Bonanzaville, U.S.A (a historical museum in Fargo, ND). We were scheduled to shoot all of our courthouse scenes. I told myself, “Sarah…you’re a photographer. JUST DO IT.”
Oh! Right!! I’d completely separated my directing life from my photography life and hadn’t realized I’d done so! Suddenly, I looked through the viewfinder and saw the movie through a photographer’s eye (duh). I told myself to start shooting like I knew how to shoot. The only difference was that I was using a 4K video camera and not a digital DSLR.
It took me days to really find my groove. Honestly, it took our THIRD round of pick-ups a year later to hit THE day and scene and moment where I finally felt like an artist. But, I quickly realized that this adventure was not only producing a better director and cinematographer, but a far better photographer in general.
“WHY, God, didn’t You give me the resources both You and I knew we needed???”
Why? HE knew I had SO much to learn, to better prepare me for what He’d have me do in 2021. I can say today that I was a far better cinematographer because I was already a photographer. But, I’m a FAR better photographer now than I ever was because of those difficult, HARD days of shooting “He Leadeth Me.”
You can be certain of one thing for the rest of your life: God is certain. And He is intentional. He has a PURPOSE for everything and He does not make mistakes. He isn’t making mistakes in Israel, He isn’t making mistakes here in the United States, and He’s not making any mistakes in YOU.
There is purpose in everything. You can be certain.
“For I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor the present things, nor the future things, nor strength, nor the heights, nor the depths, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 – 39)
Below is the reflection post I wrote following the shooting of “He Leadeth Me.” It is so valuable for me to look back and know that there are so many more certain things than death and taxes, like God’s daily faithfulness in EVERYTHING we do. Look back at what God has done in YOU and in your life! It’s beautiful.
He Leadeth Me Reflection Post | Originally Published In 2018
My head is spinning. This is normal. Production for us is not “industry standard.” At least, not as it is right now. And yes, we know: it’s downright impractical to shoot a feature length film in two weeks. We’ve heard it more than once! But, we enjoy the challenge. It’s too expensive otherwise. Our hefty volunteer entourage can’t afford to take more than two weeks off from work, if that. Someday we’ll shoot a “short,” leaving us with plenty of time to do what we need to do.
Thus far, it hasn’t happened. I write LONG, and I think I always will. I shake my head at the ridiculousness of our situation, and my pride, but I blame the adrenaline. It puts me (and probably only me) in a state of denial. Someday we’ll sleep, I say! Let’s do this thing. Most of the time I don’t see the eye-rolls, if they exist. Nevertheless, people keep coming back to me. They even bring friends. I’m flattered.
So, for the fifth time, we did it. We shot a movie. I can tell you the honest truth: I’d do it all over again. In fact, for many days now I’ve grieved the loss of this production. Standing at the gas pump in Fergus Falls. I keep thinking to myself: “I want to fill up and drive to Worthington and not look back…let’s go.” Production’s not even over, really.
This summer, we have what we call “pick ups.” We have a few seasonally-influenced scenes to shoot at the appropriate time (all the way into October). A number of scenes might not meet our polished expectations. This might demand a re-shoot (which we honestly look forward to because it gives us another reason to see faces we normally don’t get to see on a regular basis). But, for the most part, the bulk of our movie (over 180 scenes) have been completed. The footage is RAW, literally, and I can’t wait to get my fingers on the editing. It currently sits with my producer, which is creating a tremendous amount of withdrawal in me I didn’t know was possible.
All that being said, there is so much to the experience of shooting a film that you simply can’t replicate it, even in pick ups. Stories. Jokes. Missing cakes. Tears. Confessions. Real things. It happens only once, uniquely, and very little on camera if at all. Sometimes I hear the stories and witness the antics, but sometimes these conversations happen away from me when I’m knee-high in location mud with a camera cord tucked into my shirt and perspiration dripping down my legs. Sometimes what somebody experiences in a simple conversation on location but in the quiet moments between takes and in a different corner of the building changes somebody’s spiritual future. This is why I keep learning and loving and losing myself in this ministry…so that can happen. Introducing someone to Jesus is that important.
There are ten very important things I’ve learned (or continue to learn) shooting the second version of “He Leadeth Me.”
1. Have a trusted partner.
The first time I did this project, back in 2011, it was solely me. My husband was a very integral part of my support system, and I’m always thankful for that love, but I was the planner, the doer, and the cinematographer. Our pre-production process was very simple back then, but I still hear comments from my producer today as she ponders, “How did you do this by yourself?” To which I reply, “I did that, sure…but not this.” Without a good partner, a producer who keeps me grounded and my financial dreams realistic, this process would never be possible.
Alixandra came to me at the age of fourteen, a beautiful young girl auditioning for my second theater production at Fergus Falls’ A Center for the Arts. She put effort into everything she did that day and was the only kiddo that dressed up for the audition (and not like Laura Ingalls Wilder, the coveted role…take note, mothers). My heart was drawn to her immediately, and she not only became our beloved Laura but one of my dear friends and most trusted partners in crime.
At our lowest point in the pre-production process, Alix and I both vowed to stand out in a field and shoot this movie with our cell phones if it came to that (and at times, we thought it would come to that). It wasn’t until we were sitting in our first official (and hard-earned) production hotel room, awake until 2:00 in the morning discussing production because we chose to, did I realize what a truly unique gift I have in her.
I always knew she was talented, insightful, and a director’s dream, but watching her passionately, selflessly and very hopefully discuss our story, our frustrating and almost-defeating technological situation, and her desire to perform her character well told me what a rare soul she really is. When I had the honor of directing her in her most difficult, personal scene, I was humbled yet again at the privilege of being a part of her very important life. This film wouldn’t be possible without her. I owe her a very great deal.
2. God is always present in the interruptions.
A blog post wouldn’t be long enough to explain to you the countless technological situations we faced and the financial burdens of this project. Our initial monetary goal (all inclusive yet basic) averaged about $38,000. It’s a price tag we’ve never put on anything in this ministry before. As I approached the board with this number, a part of me said, “Yeah, right.” Another part of me, said “Why not?” This is the part of me that lived and breathed the last number of months the reality that God provides wonderful and bountiful things. And enough. He always provides enough.
We still have expenses, especially with our upcoming pick ups, but we rejoice at the truth that God has already provided about $12,000 so far for this project and he will continue to provide for all of our needs. Step back with me and see what this means for us: we’ve never had that much money for anything! Was it our first goal? Of course not! Was it far more than we expected? We’re still picking our chins up off the floor. Add this to the very real and very true story I’m about to tell you.
Initially, we ordered a Black Magic Ursa Mini camera (the same camera we used to shoot our soon-to-be-premiered fourth film written and directed by Timothy J. Larson called “Reclamation”). The nearer we got to production, the more in contact our treasurer was with borrowlenses.com, our supplier. They called him, just a few days before shipping, updating him on our order: they were having inventory issues and wanted to know if we’d take the Black Magic 4.6K Pro, a superior camera, at the same cost (with an additional discount on our entire order). Yes! What a gift! A few days into production it was evident that something about this camera wasn’t working. We noted that the interior fan, which cools the machinery in use (which is a very big deal when shooting in old vintage buildings on days well into the 90 degree range), simply wasn’t running.
This caused, on more than one occasion, the camera unit to overheat and potentially corrupt footage. We contacted the supplier again. They chose to send a second camera free of charge. Merciful Lord, we needed it. It sped up our shooting process by giving us a second unit option (meaning that we could have two production teams working at the same time). Wouldn’t you know…we unpacked that beautiful second camera and the fan in the first camera started to buzz like a bee, and for the first time. With two fully functional, absolutely gorgeous pieces of equipment, we could shoot those 180+ scenes in two weeks without the added cost. What a wonderful interruption.
God wasn’t just present in the technological and financial interruptions, either. There were interruptions every single day: malfunctioning SD cards, not enough power or light, a lead actor with food poisoning, rewriting scenes on location, a monsoon of a rain storm, missing props, missing costumes, missing scripts. Yet, there is so much beauty in what we can’t control. Allow me to explain.
One evening, the night of one of our hardest days (one of my hardest days, anyway), we had scheduled one of our most pivotal, emotionally-charged scenes. At 9:30 p.m. we crammed into a tiny cabin at Pioneer Village with our lights and one camera and two actors. All day we watched the weather radar. There were severe storms heading straight for us from Sioux Falls, and yet all day they sat.
They shaped a “V” around Worthington and Pioneer Village. While we started to shoot at 9:30, we saw lightning in the distance and the wind started to pick up. “Oh Lord, please let us finish,” we prayed, and we worked. The actors buckled down and threw everything they had into those few takes. I said, “cut” and the crew moved the lights to get the other angles. We sweated it out (it was at least 80 degrees inside that cabin and we were running out of SD card space).
Quit? No! We couldn’t afford to quit. Not now. So, Pete and Joe threw even more of what they thought they’d run out of into that final take, and I said, “Cut! Let’s get out of here!” Then, and only then, did it start to rain. We hurried the equipment to the vehicles. We threw costumes, props, and everything else we had into whatever space it’d fit. I set the camera, covered in a towel, inside the van and slammed the door. It started to pour. The wind picked up. The thunder pounded (it hadn’t made a peep all day, blessed Jesus) and it monsooned all night in Worthington. Thank you, Lord, for the “V.” Thank you for hearing our prayer. Thank you for being present, always, in the interruptions.
3. Be brave in new territory.
I had one expectation going into this project: that I’d have a director of photography and that I’d get to spend my time and energy directing the actors (with an external monitor, no less!). Sadly, this wasn’t meant to be. I might have seen my expectation realized, if I’d compromised, but when you follow the Spirit and the Spirit says no, you prepare to do the difficult job of being both DP and director. I knew in the innermost part of my heart that God was asking me to be brave, which caused quite the fast cinematic education. On the first day of shooting, I felt comfortable and relatively familiar with being both director of photography/camera operator and director. After all, isn’t this what I’d done on the first film? Absolutely.
But, on the second day, while shooting at Bonanzaville in Fargo, ND, I didn’t feel so confident. I couldn’t find my “groove,” I couldn’t capture what I was seeing live. I was feeling most inadequate, frustrated, and even begged Nick, one of our leads and my pastor, to pray for me as my pastor and asked him, “Why didn’t God provide me with more people?” Nick had no answer, but he prayed for me anyway and the Lord gave me courage. Not answers, just courage. I knew, without a doubt, that the “sweet spot” was just within my reach. But, I had to find it, trust it, and do it.
What an exhausting day that was, but by the end of it, I’d learned to watch and listen and wait, and I’d learn to do what I already knew how to do: to be a photographer. It took time, it took a number of takes, to remember that God had already prepared in me the ability to see things via a lens, to feel things with light and color, to capture faces and performances and story. I’d done it countless times before with my DSLR. These photos were simply motion picture and just as dearly loved and valuable. From that point on, I trusted myself a whole lot more and found joy in being the one person with the privilege of seeing all of these performances as an audience member will next year at premiere.
Nobody else but me had the time to see what was happening within the frame of the camera, at least not until we employed a second shooting unit with that treasured second camera. And wouldn’t you know? That was it. Without realizing it, I had naturally gained a trust that was needed to hand that second camera to Dawson, our number six intern, because I knew that if he could see what I see and knew how to take a photo as a photographer should, he’d be absolutely fantastic. So really, it wasn’t about me learning how to do it myself…it was about me learning to trust the process enough to hand the responsibility back to somebody else. Learning rarely involves just one person. It’s funny how quickly we assume that education is all about me.
4. Wanting more is worth it.
The first time we shot “He Leadeth Me,” we used Bonanzaville in Fargo, a cemetery north of Elizabeth, and two buildings at the thresherman’s site in Dalton, MN. It was so fun and unique to transport our story into a different era, namely 1932. This time, though, I knew something needed to change. I wanted some of the familiar places, like the cemetery and the beautiful courthouse at Bonanzaville, but I also wanted a fresh, new look for our fresh, new revision. Vision, really. So, I started the search where anybody would: the internet. I sought locations all over the state of Minnesota and into North and South Dakota in search of village museums, preserved homes, and historical societies that would allow us to use their spaces for relatively cheap and even for free.
We snagged the Dalton Opera House, a hidden gem, and secured Bonanzaville for a second time. The idea of traveling for anything else was a bit daunting, yet I knew we couldn’t stay in the same place forever and move forward. At that point, my search fell on the Nobles County Historical Society in Worthington, MN, and their preserved Pioneer Village. They were instantly interested in the idea of us shooting on location in their village and also directed us to the George D. Dayton House downtown. I’d never heard of George Dayton, but eventually had the semi-universal “ah ha” moment when Dayton’s department store and Target were mentioned in conjunction with this important and notable man. I was instantly intrigued by what I saw in both places and, after a visit, knew this was the home of our story and the house of our beloved “Judge Ethan Carter.”
And so, the reservations were made! Let me tell you: walking into that house, being given the royal tour, made us feel intimately connected forever to the Dayton house. The beauty and care of the house lent considerably to the “lived in” feel we were looking for. Along with this, the Pioneer Village, standing tall and proud near the interstate, is a solid testimony, too, to many dedicated individuals and to the heart of the historical society in Worthington. We were loved, encouraged, and cheered on by all of them at both places. Volunteers stayed up late to lock the gates after our midnight wraps, even in a prairie-style monsoon of a hurricane. Building sponsors at the Pioneer Village personally saw to it their buildings were cleaned and painted for the shoot.
The site manager of the Dayton house visited the set and showed us, with great love, the ins and outs of George Dayton’s history in conjunction with his beautifully personalized home. We were photographed, written about, and sought after by interested locals who wanted to know more about what we were doing in their town. The community became a part of what we did and who we are. After a 60-person turn-out this spring at an open casting call, we really weren’t all that surprised which is why the community is why we will always go back.
At times in pre-production I wondered if it was worth going outside of our local vintage hot spots, worth all of the effort it took to raise money for our hotel. Now, though, I wouldn’t change things for the world. Investing in another community is always worth it, because that’s what the Church does. Get out of your comfort zone, people, and meet some more people. They have a lot to give.
On a side note, we’ll be premiering the film in Worthington as our thank you to this beautiful group of Minnesotans.
5. Never underestimate the heart of an intern.
They slept in tents, in the RV and in a semi-comfortable hotel. They also slept on the floor of the Dayton house, in vehicles mid-transport, and in the “judge’s bedroom.” Interns, our five high school students and one graduate, gave so much of their time, energy, and summer vacation to work harder than anybody on our set. As a professional teacher, I love providing character-building opportunities for growing people.
This experience is like no other, and there’s simply no way to describe how hard it is until you live it. Anticipating early mornings, going to bed late late late, and shoveling food in your face when your hands find a second to be free: it’s about survival, mostly. Hauling, lifting, hanging lights, taking them down, running batteries back and forth between the RV and electricity to the Pioneer Village buildings that have none: this is something you can’t describe until you find yourself breathing hard, sleeping hard, and living hard in the midst of a stressful production process.
And yet, what started as an excited, naive group of students evolved into a rugged, focused, invested group of young adults by the end of it. Their stamina, both mentally and physically, grew. They found their voice and offered suggestions and hopes for their role in this project. They encouraged one another, played when they could, and carried that camera around whenever they had a chance. Most importantly, they listened and watched and learned, and they called their parents when I told them to. They saw these scenes unfold and lived out in front of them. They were speechless, often. After I’d say “cut,” they’d follow up with, “Whoa, Mrs. Larson, I have tears. That was amazing.”
They were star-struck with our actors, more star-struck with each other, and made plans to shoot their own movie this summer with the resources they already have. They took their jobs seriously, which made me wish I’d given them more to do. Most importantly, they were seeing the Father’s love in a different way.
One of my favorite moments on set happened early one morning. Diane brought the girls to me exhausted. Her concern has always been as sincere as mine and she took wonderful care of them, but we knew the process was taking its toll on these young bodies. I noticed instantly that two of them looked absolutely run down, and I said to them, “Follow me.” I took them upstairs at the Dayton house and tucked them into the “judge’s bed.”
They eagerly crawled under the blankets, raincoats and all, and fell fast asleep. About an hour later, I asked Nick (“Judge Carter”) to wake them up. One of the girls sat up and rubbed her eyes and said, “Wow. I feel like my dad let me sleep in his bed,” and something in my heart leapt. This young lady wasn’t just following the story and helping to shoot it the best she knew how, but she was internalizing the very essence of what our story is about: father.
You see, she’d already witnessed the prodigal son story unfolding in front of her via the scenes we’d already shot because she was right there, in the thick of it, strongly and bravely holding a boom mic. Because of this, she’d heard and seen many things. Daily, hourly, she was being reminded of the Father’s love and how deeply connected to it she really is. When an intern personalizes and claims the father too, even when her part is technical, I know we’re doing our job as an artistic, Christ-loving unit. This ministry is not just to the audience and not just about the actors, it’s for everybody. I get tears every time I think about it.
6. Keep the Sabbath.
As important as it is to work hard and diligently, it’s even more important to give one’s body, mind and spirit a moment of solitude, worship, and Sabbath. On Sunday morning, our only Sunday in Worthington, we had the morning off. Originally, in the mindset of our perfect pre-production world, we intended to participate in a local worship service at one of the churches as a unified cast and crew, but because of how exhausted everybody was, we instead encouraged all actors and crew to sleep and to wake up naturally, not to an alarm.
I did this as well, though my mind was always racing. To still the motion in my heart, I decided to quietly slip away from the hotel room and drive to the very still, very beautiful Dayton house. I powered up the computer and pulled out my notebook, doing everything I could not to “work.” But, I have a personality that fights this so much, and I soon found myself viewing footage. I enjoyed the opportunity to look back, uninterrupted, at what we’d already accomplished. “Stop, Sarah, stop working!” Finally listening to myself, I turned on my phone and found www.myoakhillchurch.com.
Oak Hill Church in Bloomington, MN was my husband’s and my first church as a married couple. It was the first place we served Jesus together. Pastor Nick Mundis was our first official pastor in this critical and special time of our lives, and he’s increasingly become so important to us and to this project. I found his sermon from the previous week, turned it on, and enjoyed every single waking moment in that quiet, sun-filled kitchen. What happened to me? I realized at that point that I had been so spiritually starved, having given so much of myself for a number of days, that I desperately needed a reboot. The Word provided a soothing reminder, a familiar pastor’s voice delivered it, and all in a setting uninhabited for a good hour or so.
I have to say, though I enjoyed every minute of shooting, this was my favorite moment in the entire two weeks I was there, and it got even more special when my husband, who had driven down from Fergus Falls to surprise me, left his own hotel room and found me at the house in order to spend a few moments together before chaos ensued. It’s so easy to serve loudly and busily. It’s so easy to worship with our hands and our planning and our relationships. I love Jesus! This is why I invest so much! But, if we forget him in the process and if we forget how to sit still and to listen, we miss so much.
That morning, at the same time, Pastor Nick was back in Bloomington functioning on zero hours of sleep (having traveled all night from Worthington to the Twin Cities in order to serve his congregation there). He was listening to the praise team practice before the service. He shared with me a video of their song, and I wanted to cry. The music was healing, the words ringing out in that quiet Dayton place, and it struck me that here were two very different servants of Christ in two different towns in desperate need of so many different things and yet much in need of the same Jesus, begging our Father to sustain us on that day.
This is what ministry is, friends: encouraging one another, worshiping together even from a distance, and enjoying the quiet “gardens” Jesus prepares in our hearts when we move all unnecessary distractions. In all walks of ministry, friends, rest. Please. Rest.
7. Stories need people.
Not all stories need people, but our story and our arts ministry certainly do. I love the prodigal son parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15, partly because it’s familiar and can be applicable in all situations and in all time periods, but also because of its intimate focus on the relationships between people and even more specifically between us and our heavenly Father, the Creator. As I’ve said before, one of the most wonderful parts about shooting the majority of “He Leadeth Me” in Worthington has been the interaction we’ve had with key leaders and historians in that community. But, in order to successfully tell this story (regardless of where we are at any given moment), we need capable and talented individuals willing to sacrifice much of their personal control in order to create this adaptation.
Actors come from all places. We have performers in our film representing South Dakota, the Twin Cities, Alexandria, Fergus Falls, and Fargo along with neighboring communities like Elbow Lake and Battle Lake and little places in between. We also have a lot of different actors with lots of different needs and goals. Some need time to immerse themselves in the scene before they can perform. A few of my actors only need to glance at their script once or twice. Both men and women need the freedom to improvise to make their performance more “real. Others would much prefer I tell them exactly what to say and do. A few come prepared. Some do not. Most grow intimately connected with their character and communicate a great love for the person they depict.
Some are able to disassociate themselves quite easily after their last take and plant themselves back into reality, “leaving it all on the screen.”. Others need to express through tears the difficulty of letting go. Some wave goodbye proudly at the end of the day, like saying goodbye to a job, while others linger in their favorite room or building, emotionally feeling the impending “lasts” as they pack their belongings and say good-bye to their character and those who played opposite them. It’s all beautiful, unique and one of my favorite parts of being a director.
Not only have I developed a great respect for the characters that have been nuanced and fleshed out by these artists, but a greater respect for the people performing the art. I get the privilege of watching them empathize, sympathize, harmonize with one another. By playing roles that are strictly opposite of who they are, I see eyes opened to a whole different part of humanity that needs our love and forgiveness. By watching others play roles that are almost eerily and strikingly similar to who they are as a real person, I see hearts and spirits exposed to their own situations.
In reality, we are all broken! Stories reveal this! We have broken spirits, broken hearts, broken marriages. We need family, we need love, we need grace. This is where ministry happens! I have actors tell me, “This is too much like me. This situation is exactly my life.” I can only respond, as a responsible director and human being and follower of Christ, by saying, “Then you show people that someone out there in the big, wide world understands what they’re going through, because YOU get it.” It’s a scary, exposing circumstance for these actors, but this is a wonderfully freeing, supportive, and loving environment in which to do it in.
I want to take this moment to thank one specific actor who absolutely has my deepest respect in a very unique way because of his unique situation. Kip came to us from Alexandria only two to three weeks prior to shooting. He came to fill one of our lead roles, “Reverend Arden Cole,” when another actor had to step down. It was a humbling experience for all of us to trust the situation and the Lord’s open doors, but without a doubt Kip was a gift to us and the Lord provided him before we even knew we needed this person. It wasn’t long into the shooting process in Worthington that Kip contracted food poisoning. What a miserable, upsetting, devastating situation for all of us. It nearly killed us to see him in so much pain, and it naturally bothered him to think that he was slowing down the process.
As much as I appreciated that sentiment, I insisted to him that rest was mandatory. I wanted him to spend a few days recovering at the hotel. We rewrote scenes on the fly to accommodate for our loss of actor and time. As Kip regained his strength, we looked for his smile again, his laughter and his presence. What a relief it was when he finally said, “I ate a whole meal again.” We cheered at his return to set!
This was Kip’s introduction to Redeemer’s Song Ministries, and I chuckle. This is never what we would wish upon him or any “newbie”…or any returning participant, for that matter. But, God is always in the business of teaching and sustaining. We don’t know why God would allowed this to happen to Kip, but if the only reason was for us to grow a deepening love and appreciation for this valued member, then so be it. Because it worked.
8. Where Jesus is, Satan prowls.
I’ve mentioned the difficult technological struggles and the illnesses. I’ve written about the frustrating financial situation and the weather, but I have not talked about the real, underlying stressor that always exists in the midst of our ministry (in any ministry) and that’s the real unseen, horrendous spiritual warfare that appears in our midst and yet often remains undetected. I don’t believe weather by itself is a curse nor do I believe illness by itself, either, is a curse aside from the initial curse in the Garden of Eden.
For Kip, it was absolutely miserable.
I do, however, believe that bad things will happen. Bad things will be an inconvenience and often leads to heartache. But, at the same time, God is absolutely, one hundred percent still in control. The warfare, for us, is in our hearts, in our response to the misery, and in our spirits. This is where Satan prowls.
This has been one emotionally exhausting roller coaster. We have money and then we don’t, many people and then we don’t, open doors and then we don’t. We have time and then no time, electrical power and then nothing, SD card space and then it’s corrupted. Send it back. Ship it back. Wait some more. All actors on standby. Let’s look for that prop again, because I know we brought it to Worthington. We didn’t. Let’s brainstorm. Let’s hurry up and wait. And wait some more. It’s enough to make me want to toss my hands in the air and cry out, “LORD. Why?” And that’s what I did. Finally. It happened, and Satan prowled.
We stood outside the Dayton House after a stressful few days, standing in the rain. It was early one morning when the pressure was real and we very quickly discovered that our key was lost. I couldn’t take it anymore. I let them (whoever stepped up to figure it out) deal with it and I went and found some refuge on the giant wrap-around porch out of site.
And I cried.
My spirit was broken. My heart was so disappointed. I didn’t fear not being allowed inside the house again, I feared the time we’d lose trying to figure it out. Weeping, I rubbed my tired eyes and sank into the beauty of that front porch and the misty rain while my producer and the crew brainstormed options. I just couldn’t lead anymore. Before I fled for the porch, Alixandra whispered to me, “Did you see the email from Kurtis? Go read it.” So, that’s what I did on that porch. I opened an email from a friend of ours to find in the subject “Not Anxious, But Thankful.”
He’d shared a devotional with us in such a timely manner that it could only have been initiated by the Holy Spirit himself. Here’s what it said: the spirit of the devotional revolved around a verse in Philippians, chapter 4, which reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) Oh, Lord. Hear our prayer! And I said to Jesus, “Ok. Here I am. Sustain us. Provide for us. Give us peace. And time.”
Less than an hour later, an intern found the tiny key located in the grass at Pioneer Village between the church and our little cabin. It had dropped off my key chain the night before as we raced to shoot that very important scene at the little cabin…as we hurried to beat the storm.
Oh, the storms. They feel like curses! Yet, if you look in scripture, it wasn’t really the rain that tormented those disciples in the fishing boat, tossing them back and forth on the sea when the sudden storm appeared. The rain was only doing what it was created to do. Even more so, it wasn’t Satan cheering on the rain. He doesn’t have time for weather. But, he did have a goal, and it was to encourage the fear and doubt and hypocrisy in the hearts of those men as they questioned God’s love and timing.
I don’t believe Satan was concerned about the rain in our situation at Worthington, either, or the lost key, or the failing equipment or the sick actors. He was far more interested in kindling our despair, our frustrations, our irritations. He wanted us to curse our Father, ]to believe that the Lord isn’t good, to feel absolutely unequivocally alone. This is warfare, ladies and gentlemen, because none of what Satan says is true! He lies. He lies to us every day. What difference does it make if we shoot a beautiful film or if we succeed? What difference does it make if it rains? The film is not our end goal, our hope and vision. Eternity with a God who is truth is our one and only love.
Eventually, I breathed a sigh of relief and closed my email. I breathed in the fresh air and thanked Jesus for sending rain to a very dry Worthington. The intern hurried back with our key and we opened the door to the Dayton house and cheered and worked hard because we love the Lord, the God who always sends rain. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The battle rages, but Jesus Christ is victor, always. Satan knows this. The only thing he has left is the act of prowling, and he won’t be doing that for long.
9. Always trust the Creator.
One of my biggest pet peeves on set is when somebody says, “Can you see that in the shot?” or “Are you getting those cars in the background?” or “Make sure you don’t shoot that exit sign.” It makes a cinematographer highly annoyed not because they don’t appreciate the encouragement or help, but because it places a lack of trust into the situation where trust is vital. I can see things in the viewfinder nobody else can see…which means I can also see things that everybody else can see. And yet, before you think me to be that arrogant, I needed people to see things that my tired eyes tended to overlook.
My eyes were strained and fatigued from being the primary camera operator. My brain was fuzzy. It attempted to process the current scene, the script as a whole, and where my actors were for the next. I had too much going on not to rely on others to help point these things out to me. At the same time, I felt distrusted. That’s a very hard thing for a director to deal with.
I’m reminded of how often we question and doubt the Creator. How many times have we asked the Lord, “Can you see that? What about that?” The problem with this is that we take for granted that God can see all things. Period. He knows what that person has done to you, if you’re in a financial bind, what you’re doing and how it’s hurting other people. God knows what you need at any given time, because he created you!
I would miss out on so much joy, so many opportunities of watching events unfold, if I demanded immediate answers for everything all the time. Trust the Creator. Don’t always trust your tired, human cinematographer. But you can, without a doubt, trust the Creator.
10. Where he is, it’s what I want.
With every movie I direct, there’s always a “favorite” location. The first time I shot “He Leadeth Me,” in its most humble state, it was a toss-up between the cemetery and the court house. With this version, it was undeniably the judge’s study. George Dayton’s study is gorgeous. It’s rich with history, it’s ornate paper and wood and fixtures timeless. A giant bookshelf and desk combo is a testament to a previously existing judge who once owned the house following Dayton. All of it created a stunning backdrop for some of our most intimate conversations in this movie. Yet, there were so many other beautiful, mesmerizing locations that I couldn’t wrap my head around why this room of all places was my favorite.
There were days (and late nights) I’d shut myself in the study and sit at the large desk to remove all distractions from me. Sometimes our fictional judge would visit me (I think Nick loved this room as much as I did) and sometimes a stray intern would wander in, take a dinner order, and return with a hot plate of food (priceless service). Sometimes our child actors would come racing through the space on a mission. We could hear their laughter all over the house from that place at the giant desk. It also received a lot of traffic because one of the four modern bathrooms adjoined there. Nevertheless, the introvert in me stole a quiet moment or two in the warmth of the giant window and enjoyed those breathless minutes to myself.
On the last night in the house, I couldn’t tear myself away from there. I shut myself in the room and tried not to cry, snuggling into the judge’s chair and trying not to feel guilty about not helping with clean-up. I rested my head on the desk and played with the new fountain pen I purchased for our lead, the pen I forgot to buy ink for. Then, it hit me: “I know why I love this room. I love this room because he’s here.” That was it! This is the room in which the father meets people where they’re at. He convicts, condemns, forgives, loves, and adopts. It wasn’t about our judge the actor, but rather it was the very essence I spoke about that made our intern sit up in the judge’s room and say, “I feel like my dad let me sleep in his bed!”
It’s that very same thing, the Spirit of the One who made us. The Spirit of the Father who adopts us. The Spirit of the God who gave us a purpose and a reason to do what we do in that house. It’s Him. And He’s always present. This is why I loved this room so much.
After this realization, on that very last (and stormy) night, I stood. I opened the giant pocket doors. We’d opened and closed these doors one hundred times during our stay in Worthington. I turned the lights on, gathered the props, shoved the desk back into its rightful, modern place, replaced the chairs and turned off the vintage lamp, returned the tablecloth and silver tea set back to its spot, straightened the George Dayton books for sale, and turned the room back into a display for eager and interested guests and visitors. We had to do this with all of our locations: we returned everything back to the way it was before we came.
We brought “Rock Valley, home of Judge Carter, Shawn Harper, and all the others” into Worthington and were responsible for taking it out again. It was time shut the door on the doctor’s office, praising Jesus for the foresight to save the comedic scenes with Demetre and Jack for last. We locked up the church, closed the school, returned all items to the Ludlow farm house. Diane packed up the RV and I loaded up the interns. We took a picture by the Pioneer Village sign, checked out of our hotel, and I gave Tina, the Dayton House manager, one last long hug. Was it hard? Absolutely. Was it with resignation? Absolutely not. You see, the Lord might be present in one place, but he is also present everywhere else. When he says, “Follow me,” I go. We go…right out of there and on to the next big thing.