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Shi’ma: making NOW count.

Portrait of Chris Billey This post is by Chris Billey. Chris and Tammie Billey are portrait and wedding photographers from the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a combined experience of 18+ years of photography, their philosophy is to capture life through the way they feel it. They have two incredible sons who they love to spend time with.


A little over a year ago, I lost the most influential and prominent woman in my life – my grandmother.  My grandmother raised me beginning when I was very young. She instilled in me her wisdom. She shared her home and life – every step of the way guiding me as a mother and a teacher. She eventually became disconnected from this world, but she still was able to teach me to be a man.

A little history about my grandmother.

Grandmother was born on the Navajo reservation and raised by her grandmother.  She became part of the government’s attempt to “assimilate the savage.” She was moved from her home and sent to a boarding school. There she was forced to speak English and eat “American” food.

She eventually ran away to live a traditional Navajo life.  When she was 13 she developed an infection on her ovaries, and doctors made the decision to do a hysterectomy.  Decades later she met my grandfather, who at the time was a single parent raising his 3 children.

My grandmother adopted and raised my father.

Image by Chris Billey of his grandmother

I enter the picture

Fast-forward a few decades when my family entered the picture.  My single mother was desperately struggling to support 3 growing children. Grandmother stepped in offering to raise me.  At the time we lived next door to my grandparents, so my connection to them was already strong

She raised me through high school and watched me join the Navy. After my years of service, I returned home to my grandmother who, along with my mother, urged me to continue my education. I left again.

Years passed, but I kept in touch with Grandmother. Over the phone, she shared stories of her childhood and filled me in on the local gossip. I listened just to hear her voice. It was when she started telling me of people I knew who passed away that I realized she too would some day pass.

So I made as many trips back as possible to visit. I made it a point to have her teach me our traditions and about her life. I gave her time with my children. I wanted them to know who she was and what she stood for. My children learned her love, her conviction and her compassion.

The end is near.

One morning in October 2011, I received a phone call from my sister. She told me my grandmother was hospitalized with a severe stomach infection. I left that day to check on her. While my sister and I sat by her bedside awaiting the results, we shared stories of my youth. We laughingly relived the stupid and immature things I did.

I also read to her, and we conversed in Navajo. She talked about my grandfather. She recalled how great man he was, and how much she missed him.

When the tests came back, the doctors concluded it was much more than an infection. She was battling an aggressive stomach cancer.  The cancer had already grown to the size of a grapefruit. It was quickly spreading. She was terminal.

The doctors advised us to simply make her as comfortable as possible. My grandmother cried a bit when she got the news, but then she sat solemnly. Finally, she looked at us and said, “I’m ready.” My eyes welled up, and my heart sank; it was her time.

image by Chris Billey of Phoenix, Arizona

The final moments

I cherish the last four days.  My brother joined us, and we continued laughing and swapping stories. Grandmother’s health quickly deteriorated, and she no longer was able to move or communicate.  I held her hand and gave her water. I did all I could to comfort her. I spent nights sleeping by her side.

Word spread through our community and our family. Many came to visit and pray.  She touched and blessed so many lives; it was a beautiful thing watch.

On the morning of November 10, 2011, I awoke early in the morning. My brother sat holding her hand and talking to her.  At that moment I had an urge to watch the sunrise as if to fulfill a calling.

After sitting in the hospital for days, it was an inviting idea, so I walked out of the hospital just in time to watch the sun break the horizon. The air was cool and crisp; sunrise was beautiful.  As a photographer I relish in the light. I stood for a few minutes enjoying an almost spiritual experience.

My phone rang, waking me from this trance. Answering, I was met with the somber voice of my brother, “She’s gone.” I stood and slowly exhaled. The news stung, and a deep, rumbling pain in my stomach set in.

I was filled with a sense of pride and gratitude. I was so thankful I was there, and I spent those last precious moments with her. In the final days of her life we all knew the end was near, yet she met it head on.

Grandmother was grateful for the life she lived, the children she raised, and the lives she changed. I was a part of that life, and she is a part of mine. She was loved by so many, and she is greatly missed.

Cherishing NOW.

We all lose things in life. I’ve learned these losses should never define us. Our losses should help us appreciate the things we have and look forward to the experiences we will create.

In the end no one ever says, “I wish I would have worked more.” We wish for more time. Let’s make we have now count.  Too often we overlook what’s important to us – the act of living, sharing our experiences, our lives, our gifts and our hearts.

Time is something once spent you never get back, so spend it wisely and have no regrets.

I do the best I can to be grateful for each day I am allowed on this Earth.  Here today, gone tomorrow is a reality for every one of us. When my time comes I will have the experience and the testament to say, “I’m ready.”

Until the next world.

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New Beginnings


For multiple reasons, I am really looking forward to 2013. It’s new. It’s fresh. It’s a new beginning.

Instagram Image by Andy Bonduant - what is your Word of the Year

2013 also is a culmination of events, decisions and journey I’ve been on for the past 2 years. I refer, of course, to my Word of the Year project.

In 2012 I completely and wholly lived my word – RISK. Here is just a short list of the RISKs Kia and I took in 2012:

  • After months of deliberation and various options, Kia stepped out of her family business.
  • Kia started a new business.
  • I decided this (The Collective) was not my full-time future (leaving me without another true vocational option).
  • I accepted the same position, in the same church I had worked at 8 years earlier. How is this RISK? It’s a church in the midst of serious decline. If it doesn’t turn around, very soon I may not have a job.
  • Kia and I took the first steps toward moving from our current home/studio to be closer to the church 30 minutes away.
  • We’ve made some really tough relationship decisions.

Everywhere I look, the present or future looks much different from the past 5-10 years.

Open Space.

Why do I tell you all of this? It’s my way of encouraging you to create your own Word of the Year project. It has changed my life in ways I never saw coming.

I firmly believe there is a God. I believe there is a God who loves me, wants the best for me, and wants to connect with me. I believe God used the Word of the Year project to bring me to a place where I fulfill the call and destiny in my life.

In 2012 my word was RISK. In 2011 my word was FREEDOM. Interestingly, the way I’ve learned and grown from both of these words is different. As I stated above, 2012 was a year of action. I was taking RISK. However, 2011 was much different.

2011 was a year of learning – hearing God speak to me. I know, this may sound crazy to you, but He does speak. He speaks to me in various ways – YouTube videos, circumstances, people, conferences, books, and more. He never talked in an audible voice, but He spoke like a thought in my head…an A HA! moment.

Maybe the most significant time I heard His voice was very early in 2011. I read a portion of the Bible from the book of Genesis. It was the story of Isaac (son of Abraham).

Isaac was very rich, but he had moved about as a nomad. His wealth was in the form of livestock. This livestock required lots of water, which meant he needed wells. As he moved about, he would find a well, but it was always disputed. Who owned it – Isaac or his neighbor? So he would simply drop the dispute and move on. Finally, after multiple wells (and arguments) he found a well that no one else claimed. To note this, he named the place the well was found Open Space.

This was the first lesson I learned about FREEDOM. Freedom is finding open and undisputed space. I shared about it here on The Collective in March of 2011.

It’s just the beginning.

Why do I bring this story up? Choosing a Word of the Year is more than just 2013. It’s about the rest of your life. It’s about this year and next year and the year after that.

The first FREEDOM lesson I learned 2 years ago, I am just seeing come to pass. Finding open space (FREEDOM) meant taking RISK. It was the list I ticked off above.

All this brings me to 2013 – my new Word of the Year.


I’ve come to understand I don’t really have a clue about what this means specifically. What I know is in general. As I stated above, my 2013 Word is a culmination of the last two years. Finding FREEDOM and taking RISK will take me from who I was/who I am to TRANSFORM me into who I will be.

My prayer is true TRANSFORMation will take place in my life in 2013.

I have don’t know what this means. I don’t know what all it includes (my job, The Collective, my family, etc), but I’m all in.

What is your Word of the Year?

Will you join me? Will you create your own Word of the Year project? Will you take steps to change your life for the better?

I dare you. Go all in. You won’t be the same.

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There is no such thing as work/life balance.

Is work/life balance possible?

Is there any such thing as work/life balance

Image courtesy of Flickr user fisserman

Alain de Botton is an author. He wrote the book Religion for Atheists. I’ve never read it, but the premise sounds interesting. Honestly, I had never heard of de Botton until recently. I have Twitter to thank for the introduction.

Someone retweeted a Tara Gentile retweet of de Botton. Follow that? If you are on Twitter, you did.

Here is the Tweet -


Not so fast!

If there is something worth fighting for, it’s work/life balance. If I save the world yet manage to lose my kids, how have I won? I haven’t. I lose.

Are there seasons in life when work or life will have more of my attention? Yes.

Do I want to simply live in a comfort zone? No.

Our life is a whole.

Life doesn’t separate business, life, art into their own little compartments. We do. Everything is jumbled together. One affects the other. You can try to separate them, but I guarantee you in the long run this viewpoint loses.

Fight for your family. Fight for your business. Fight for your art. Fight for your life.

In our world, fighting for balance is stepping out of the “comfort zone”.

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17 years ago.

Highlights from 1995

If you were alive 17 years ago, yesterday, here are a few things you might have been talking about.

The top songs from that year:

Cover for Notorious BIG album

Top album of the year, History Past, Present and Future Book I by Michael Jackson.

You might have been talking about one of the summer’s blockbuster hits:

  1. Batman Forever
  2. Apollo 13
  3. TToy Story (the original)
  4. Pocahontas
  5. Ace Ventura

Or you might have just seen my favorite movie from 1995 – Braveheart.

You could have been following one of these top news stories:

  • The Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh
  • The OJ Simpson murder trial
  • The Kobe, Japan earthquake (killing over 5,000 people)
  • The 49ers winning the previous Superbowl.
  • The record setting pace on the Dow Jones – up to 4400 in August!

August 12, 1995

My highlight from 1995 happened on August 12, 1995. That Saturday, Kia and I were married. It remains one of the best days of my life.

Over the past 17 years, Kia and I together have watched major news stories come and go. We’ve attended and graduated from college. We started and quit jobs. We opened and closed businesses. We’ve brought 4 children into the world. We’ve bought and sold homes. We’ve dreamed and cried.

We have done it all together.

Kia Bondurant of Louisburg, Kansas in the Kansas City areaIt’s not easy.

Let me be quick to distill any brewing myth…it’s not been easy. We’ve had to fight for our marriage. We’ve had to learn to cling to one another.

This past year has been one of us drawing closer together than we’ve ever been before. In this year, I’ve seen Kia’s strength, creativity, vision, passion, fear, intensity, anger, and love more than ever before.

I’m proud to say Kia’s my wife.

Happy Anniversary, Kia Antisdel Bondurant. I love you.


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Hiding from reality? 5 ways to become more real.

Ready Player One

Ready Player One book cover by Ernest ClineA couple of weeks ago, I read, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s a goldmine for anyone who enjoys sci-fi, the 80′s, video games, role-playing games, or a mixture of any of those. It’s a kind of nerd’s paradise.

It’s set in postapocalyptic United States in 2044 and follows Wade Watts. Young Watts, like most of society, escapes to an online “world” called OASIS – a sort of Matrix like reality. The creator of OASIS is James Halladay (a Steve Jobs-ish character) who has recently passed away. Wade (along with millions of others) is on a scavenger hunt to win Halladay’s estate – making the winner an instant billionaire.

There are lots of subplots, but the most interesting was the strange and sad dichotomy of living in the real world versus living in OASIS. Life has become more real on OASIS than in the real world. I was reminded of Tamara Lackey’s comment in her WPPI 2012 presentation.

The problem with the 24/7 social media inundation is we stop feeling…we become numb.

If fact, Cline in his conclusion, writes these words spoken by Halladay to Wade:

I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. 

That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?

Do you hide from reality?

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