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The Struggle to be Present

As a documentary photographer, I find myself seeing our typical days differently than a lot of other people. Every simple moment is an opportunity to photograph: a trip to the park, a picnic lunch, my kids playing bubbles and chalk in the front yard - they all scream at me to grab my camera and catch the story before it's gone. That's especially true for me personally with a wide spread between my daughter and my son of 8 and half years. I have seen the other side, and the saying of, "the days are long but the years are short" couldn't ring more true for me. So, life can sometimes be a crazy balance of work and play as I try to pick and choose what part of my children's lives I will hold onto with my camera, and what part I will simply choose to be present in and hold onto with my mind. The hours of editing pile up quickly when you add in client and volunteer work, and I am very often confronted by the ugly guilt monster when I sit down to my computer. In the last year, I have watched as that balance I had hoped for slowly began to eat at time with my children and then time with my husband, including our sleeping hours.

But life keeps on moving, and like it or not, we have to make tough decisions about the limited amount of time we all have for this one life. It's never easy to say no to one thing so you can yes to another, but I have experienced that finding balance is more about keeping track and setting limits than anything else.

I have a great friend, Stephanie Haynes, who has written a book called Cultivating Peace, which includes some wonderful tools, like the Schedule Tracker Planning System. This planner helps you track your time and become more aware of where it is going. Finding that peace and balance is both a process and a daily decision, so I am certainly a work in process.

Another go-to tool I really like is a simple app on my phone called Quality Time that keeps track of all the time I spend on my phone. Every time I unlock my phone, it shows me the running balance of my time on my phone and at the end of the day, the app I spent the highest amount of time on. It has really helped me be aware of where I am spending my time. There are even ways you can schedule a break or take breaks within the app.

In addition to that, I set myself some limits when it comes to editing my pictures. I work for an hour while my children watch a show, then I re-engage for a while. I make a strong effort to go to bed when my husband does, which as a night owl and photographer, is right when my editing mojo kicks in. I do these things because I don't want to forget the reason I started down the path of documentary photography in the first place. I wanted to hold on to the precious memories of the people I love that I realized I had been missing.

Of course, even with books by great authors and tools readily available at my fingertips, I still struggle to find what I feel is a great balance. In that struggle, I then find myself losing my patience with the people I love the most and wishing that I had just stayed in bed for the day. Instead of retreating though, I ask for grace and forgiveness from my loved ones and Christ, and work at learning where I could have done things differently to not have gotten frustrated and been more present to find that balance. In the end, one of the biggest things Christ calls us to do is love one another and I don't want to miss out on that. I pray that as Christ is present in your days, you are able to feel His calling for that balance as well.

Melissa Kayser is a documentary family photographer, whose mission through her photography is to get families reconnected to each other and abide in God's love. You can find her work at, and follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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