Christine Duncan

Precepts & Life Preservers

When It’s Better To Get Closer

God keeps pressing the word ‘closer’ into my heart. Can’t be shaken off. Can’t be put to rest.

It’s lodged itself there for a reason.

When it's better to get closer...

I know of a dear soul looking at life from too far away. Hating how every day feels but resisting the solution of getting closer to the very thing, the very One, who could transform it all for them if they’d only allow it.

And they battle overwhelming despair and miss out on the gift of being schooled in His absolute love, provision, and unlimited grace. They keep their distance, hesitating for reasons only they can know down inside, when if they’d just get closer, they’d become the subject of His focus, His joy unspeakable, the Life Preserver Himself.

I only know this so well because it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn many times. 

And yes, it’s always convenient to see the big picture.

But sometimes you have to get up close to something before you can see the deliberate beauty waiting in the middle of the chaos.

In fact, it was a photography teacher who first taught me this.

(And where we go back to when girls teased their bangs to incredible heights, guys were all about the mullet, and where establishing your cool-factor was as easy as being able to pretend to perform the lyrics to Rock Lobster on your Sony Walkman. Let’s take a moment to reflect. )

The first time I knew I was hooked on photography was in grade 11.

I loved any of the visual arts from an early age but a camera? It could freeze time or force you to contain inside the lens only that which was utterly important, engaging, or beautiful.

I was sold almost immediately.

You need only go as far as this blog to see that I still live with a camera in my hand.

But going back to my first taste of the power of photography, one person stands out. My first teacher, the man who sold me on how amazing a tool the camera was, John Shoveller.

A tiny wiry man with a fierce expression and edgy voice and whose eyebrows alone could tell you to get back in the darkroom and try again. (Teenagers and dangerous chemicals in the complete dark, what were they thinking?)

Mr. Shoveller had no time for students only in class to get an easy grade. He could quickly pick up on who was totally immersed (darkroom humour, sorry) and who was about to waste his time every morning at 10 am. You’d be relegated to running errands or working the broom around the massive matte board cutter if you showed up to sleep in the darkroom instead of work.

But if you showed even a glimmer of interest? He poured himself tirelessly into making you the best at wielding a camera and truly seeing what was around you. And he had incredible talent. You couldn’t help but be in awe.

But the day he taught me about the importance of the word ‘closer’ stands out.

We were on a class trip to spend the day at the county fairgrounds while it was being set up. There were endless opportunities to catch interesting photos, the grounds massive and busy.

As teenagers are apt to do when presented with freedom of this caliber, the class scattered faster than the rapture. Some hardly ever lifted their cameras that day.

But there were a couple of us who hungered for real teaching from THE source. And when we could have left to goof off and eat cheap hotdogs, we shadowed our teacher. All day. Stayed close.

Close enough to see what mattered. (And maybe irritate him.)

And the pay-off?

At one point, in the middle of letting us use his own gear, the constant stream of his own lessons learned, and vast wealth of knowledge no one else was getting by being so far away… he stopped and grabbed my elbow.

“Chris, Chris! Check out the two characters at the fairgrounds gas station way over there! They’re perfect. It’s now or never! Ask if you can get their picture together, ask for their story, what do you think? Move. Go. No, closer. Keep going. Closer, Chris!”

He was earnestly hustling me closer at an alarming rate, and all I could think was, “Two? I only see one guy leaning against a gas pump.”

It was his photographer’s keen eye that saw something I could not until we got up close and personal.

And it dawned on me.

The retro baby-pink gas pump was the other ‘character’.

He pushed me forward in glee to strike up a conversation with the proprietor, get the story behind the vintage pump, and to ask to take his portrait with it.

Here’s the whole point of this ramble.

I could have stayed my distance and gotten a picture.

I could have stayed far across the grounds and gotten a photo of a quaint petrol station that sold fresh fruit on the side and discount cigarettes. I could have gotten a picture with the sky in there, and the traffic in there, and the cows in the field in there, and hoped the subject would get picked out of the chaos enough to matter.

But because I got closer, a connection happened that could not have been possible from the other side of the grounds. A man who was bravely keeping the memory of another era alive, amused but thrilled at being noticed, bragging on the last pump of his grandfather’s that still worked, got a moment to shine and a new memory.

I’ve never worked so hard on a photo in my life. From start to finish. It was the only time I ever saw Shoveller stand over a student’s print as it lay in the developer and rinse it himself. It landed on the feature-of the-week board. Became my first sale after I sent a copy to the subject.

It hangs on my wall in my house to this day.

The reminder that closer is worth it.

The reminder for us all that closer is worth it... Click To Tweet

That closer can never be replicated or substituted for with distance.

And beyond thankful that a teacher cared to illuminate the valuable.

“How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You. To dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple.” Psalm 65:4

I keep thinking about the anguished heart-friend thinking distance is safe.

I keep thinking about another Teacher who longs to illuminate the valuable.

I think about Jesus leaning in whispering excitedly, “Come on, come in close. If you’ll just immerse yourself in Me, so much will develop, become clear, and intentional. If you focus and press in!”

When we have such a Savior, it’s much better to be closer.

Today is the last day for our blogiversary giveaway found here.
And linking up with all the goodness over at Suzie Eller’s #livefreeThursday!
Click on the blue highlighted links and join us?!


  1. Christine, this is a remarkable story! What a great connection you’ve made here. “If you’ll focus and press in..” Love this – a pastors wife used to tell us this repeatedly. Thanks for sharing this memory with us. I feel as if I time-warped with you and visited class!

    • Christine Duncan

      May 5, 2016 at 12:01 PM

      The storyteller in me totally made an appearance today, didn’t it? LOL A little longer than I like but it’s important I think to pay tribute to the lessons from the past that can shape our futures. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Meg! And the Lord just has this theme for me sometimes… “you’re not close enough, daughter, come closer still…”
      I have a feeling we would have been a total concern if we had been in class together, lol. 😉

  2. Loved the story and the push to realize that getting closer can’t be substituted. What an invaluable truth! Happy to stop by today from the #livefree community.

    • Christine Duncan

      May 5, 2016 at 12:49 PM

      I’m so glad you did, Stephanie! Thanks so much! the livefree community is an amazing group of encouragers, aren’t they? Have the most amazing day! Blessings! (and you’re entered into this week’s special anniversary draw too! Yay!)

  3. What a beautiful picture this story paints, dear Christine! I don’t know if you’ve heard the song “Closer” by Steffany Frizzell but you should give it a listen. That’s what this post reminded me of.

    P.S. Happy blogiversary! XOXO

  4. Isn’t funny how we often need an additional push to get closer? I loved the reminder to get closer rather than pull away. So good. Thank-you for your words.

    • Christine Duncan

      May 11, 2016 at 7:16 AM

      Aw, thanks for popping in, Jessica. Working on applying this, even today… it’s a constant choosing, isn’t it?

  5. Great words here. Glad to connect

  6. Would love to have seen the photo you write about. You paint such a beautiful picture.

    • Christine Duncan

      May 11, 2016 at 7:19 AM

      I keep saying I gotta go grab a shot of the picture on my wall to add to the post, you’re too right, it should be there somewhere, lol. I’ll holler when I do! Thanks, Rachel, hoping you have an awesome day in Him! 🙂

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