Once upon a time, my dad taught photography to high school students.

And while he never had enough money on his pastor’s salary to afford the best equipment, I do remember him spinning dials and talking about stuff like shutter speeds, apertures, and focus until my eyes started to glaze over.

When I was fleshing out the secondary characters at The Wardrobe Dinner Theater, I knew that Dani’s roommate Liz had a photography hobby and that she was resistant to any talk about God.

Which is why FOCUS became the perfect analogy to capture Liz’s journey.

She needed to focus on the right things in life. Through the lens of a camera. On the stage as an actress. On faith being a loving relationship with God instead of a list of religious rules like she’d been taught.

Of course, I needed to have the perfect hero in her life to help nudge her along the road. Enter Ryan, an award-winning photographer with a strong faith and Liz was on her way.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is a sledding and snowman-building outdoor adventure that ends with a spectacular crash and an almost kiss. (If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about!)

But the earlier part of that same chapter captures Liz’s shifting focus onto the things that matter. Scroll down for a glimpse into the scene where her heart begins to melt and her life begins to change…

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day when the world turns their attention to romance and love, I just want to offer a reminder that the ultimate Love comes from above and is the only Love that truly satisfies.

What about you? Are you a closet photographer or do you have a different creative hobby? What’s the wallpaper image on your phone and why? What’s the most recent picture you took?

From Focus On Love – Chapter 7

The crisp air filled her lungs and awakened her senses as Liz stepped outside her apartment. Ryan had called for her address and said he would be there within ten minutes. But with a grumpy Gloria inside complaining that her parents had canceled their plans at the last minute to fly to the Bahamas instead, well, Liz would rather brave the wintry scene while she waited.

She tugged a knit hat over her low braids and tucked the matching mittens into the pockets of her parka. As prepared for the snowy weather as she could be, she paced down the concrete hallway toward the stairs, the swishing of her ski pants keeping time with the thunk of her snow boots. She reached the outdoor stairwell, then gasped at the view.

An overnight cold front had christened the trees with a glittering glaze. Contrasted against the deep blue Colorado sky, the pristine white frost coating each individual branch and twig sparkled in the rising sun.

The perfection called to something deep within her and she spun back toward the apartment to retrieve her camera. A few minutes later, with the bag hanging behind her and several dozen images already saved, she squatted in the stairwell and zoomed the focus onto a single frost-covered nub, capturing the crystalline detail. Before her eyes, the warmth from the sun began to transform the sharp angles into a softer sheen. She captured the transition as a droplet formed, grew, and eventually released. With her fast-action shutter, she should have a few stunning shots.

The nerves in her fingertips began to tingle as she switched focus to another tree and moved down a few steps.

By the time she’d reached the sidewalk, the crystalline paint dripped everywhere. If she’d been a few minutes later, she’d have missed the moment when everything changed.

She lowered the viewfinder with a sigh as a truck pulled in to an empty spot nearby.

“I should have guessed you’d be out here with a camera.”

She turned to face Ryan as he leaned out the open window. “You should have seen it. It was magical. And gorgeous.”

“Yes, I see.” He eyed her rather than the trees.

A sudden warmth flooded her cheeks as she swung her camera bag around to her side and hurried around to the passenger side of his truck. She’d be wise to remember that while flirting was fun, it was too soon to feel anything more than friendship for Ryan, no matter how tempting.

After climbing in, she scooted to the middle of the bench seat. “Check these out.” She scrolled through the pictures and showed Ryan the previews.

His eyebrows rose. “Like you said. Gorgeous.”

A different giddy feeling rose in her chest only to war with the knowledge that humility should be the word of the day, considering the company she kept. Ryan’s awards were well deserved.

She smiled anyway and stowed the camera in the bag at her feet. “So where are the others?”

“Cheryl and the kids were still Skyping with John this morning, so they’ll meet us at the turnoff to the property.”

“The property?”

“Nothing we own. A friend of theirs from church has a ranch in the mountains and offered an open invitation to come up to sled and such. She gave me directions, but I’m not sure my GPS will get a signal past the foothills.”

“That’s why we’re meeting them at the turnoff. I get it.” Liz settled against the cushioned seat as Ryan backed out of the parking spot. It would be interesting to see him around his family instead of in a professional setting. Did he know how to relax and have fun?

As they turned west, he reached over to adjust the volume on the radio. Haunting lyrics poured from the speakers as a man’s voice sang, “I love the Maker and the Maker loves me.”

If only that could be true.

Yet based on the expression on Ryan’s face as he sang along—off tune, a fact that made her smile—he believed it.

And when they met the rest of his family, she quickly discovered he wasn’t the only one with faith in God. Especially when seven-year-old Matt tugged on his uncle’s sleeve and told him how they’d prayed with his dad, that God would keep him safe and bring him home soon.

It wasn’t that many years ago her faith had been as childlike.

And yet instead of downplaying his nephew’s earnest plea, Ryan picked up his five-year-old niece with her enormous green eyes and gathered them all into a circle. With little Hannah on one arm, he wrapped his free arm around Liz and bowed his head.

“Father, on this day set aside for giving thanks, we’d just like to say thank You for listening to us when we pray. Thank You for keeping John and his unit safe. And thanks that we have the chance to spend the day in Your beautiful outdoors together as a family and with our new friend Liz.”

Cheryl chimed in from her other side. “Thank You for the gifts You’ve given us, and thanks in advance for providing a job for me. Thanks for Ryan’s willingness to take a hiatus to come help us, and thanks for the opportunities for him to take pictures around here, especially at the dinner theater.”

What kind of man put aside his own career and ego and fame in order to help his family? What would it be like to be loved that thoroughly?

Yet she’d already gotten a glimpse of that generosity through his invitation to help with the awards-night photo shoot and candids tomorrow night at the theater, especially since it took money away from this close-knit family.

A warmth that might have originated with his arm around her waist or the emotion he sparked in her spread through her chest and brought a few tears to her eyes.

She had a lot to be thankful for too. God, thanks for my job. For the chance to take pictures again and even to make money doing it. And thanks for this amazing man who is sharing his family with me today.

“Will you sled wiff me?” A tiny voice to her right alerted her to the embarrassing fact that their impromptu prayer circle was disbanding. And drew Liz’s attention to the missing tooth that was causing the lisp.

She swallowed to clear the emotion from her throat. “I’d love to, sweetie.” Hannah’s hot-pink stocking cap matched the trim on her coat and highlighted the blonde hair so like her mother’s.

“Uncle Ryan and Matt went to get the sleds.”

“How long have you known my little brother?” Cheryl knelt in front of her daughter.

“Little?” She glanced over at Ryan’s height and the way he easily reached into the truck bed and lifted out several sleds.

“He’s still little and annoying when I can get away with teasing him about it.”

If only she’d had a brother to deflect the family pressure. Not to mention that Jerry the Jerk wouldn’t have weaseled his way into the business quite so easily.

Cheryl tugged Hannah’s mittens into place before looking at Liz. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Liz counted back the days. Had it only been—“A week.”

Too soon to be falling in love, even if she couldn’t deny her instant attraction or the uncomfortable discovery that Ryan had already awakened in her a dormant desire for photography…and faith.

“Hmm. I would have thought it was longer, the way you worked together Tuesday night.” The gleam in Cheryl’s eyes hinted at a possible fishing expedition into her brother’s social life.

“Um, he’s really easy to get along with.” Perhaps she should turn the tables to find answers to her own questions. “Does he have any secret flaws I should know about? Besides not being able to carry a tune?”

Cheryl laughed. “True. He got his singing voice from our dad. Along with being annoyingly talented at what he does. But he’s always on the move and never stays in one place for very long. Plus, he drinks all the coffee in the morning.”

“Oh…I guess I should have realized he was staying with you.”

“He sure is. Why rent a furnished apartment when I’ve got an empty guest room? He’s great with the kids, which will come in handy once I get a job.” Cheryl nodded to where Ryan helped Matt adjust his grip on a sled, nudging Liz’s side with her elbow. “He’s going to be a great dad someday.”

Liz choked at Cheryl’s over-the-top hint and Cheryl laughed. What was it with this family and their bend toward romantic teasing?

Except there was truth hidden beneath the fun.

And she was falling fast. For a photographer, no less.

(Get more of Focus On Love here.)

Backlist Bonus: Focus On Love
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