August 27, 2016

Featured Posts

Lisa – My Only True Companion – Like A Cold Beer, Baby!

www.brendonpinolaphotography.com

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In the previous three blog entries, I have dedicated those pieces to my father, mother, and sister, Allison.

Perhaps most significant of events in my life, I am getting married to Lisa Ciuffetelli in October of this year, and at this point in my life, she will become my best friend and closest companion.

Lisa and I talk at least twice a day, as we continue to carry forward a long distance relationship, for just a few more months. She lives in Texas and I in Nashville, Tennessee. Our communication methods also include Skype calls and of course, plenty of texting throughout the entire day.

This morning Lisa texted me something about a sarcastic comment with seasonal employment, something about working. Honestly, it was one of those long, late night conversations. I did not even remember her comment, seeing that I no longer hold onto little things I cannot control. It simply speaks of her character – she was fearful she had hurt my feelings. She cared enough to make a point of it this morning.

I am convinced Lisa is the most compassionate person I have ever met in my life, which is such an amazing quality to have. For better or worse, this personality trait also makes her a sincerely sensitive individual as well, someone who tries to empathize with those hurting from hard circumstances.

I recently wrote this poem about Lisa. She is my family’s new sibling. She is sweet. She is tasty. She is like a cold beer on a hot day, baby!

Like a Cold Beer, Baby

I like my women
Like a cold beer.
Whether a blonde, brown pilsner,
Pale, or IPA,
I am good with clear hops.
Smoothe, tasty, and tall to drink
Like anything that doesn’t think too hard,
Doesn’t go too fast,
Doesn’t chill too quick,
A beautiful sight makes me thirsty.
While quenching my need,
I drink another to rest,
To watch a good game,
And to relax after a day’s work.
The pretty refreshment makes me smirk.
Like my baby girl, it is pure enjoyment.
A good woman is like a good beer.
It is something to savor
And something to appreciate.
The love of a woman is to be a blessing
Like any moment with a beer.
Memories of community are irreplaceable.
Beer provides excuses for social enjoyment
As my lady lover stands in my corner.
The simple things are the best things.
I grab my beer. I grab my lady’s hand.
We remember a shared bliss.
I receive a sweet kiss.
For a brief minute,
It is my beer I no longer miss.
It is her touch.
It is her smile.
With a beer in my hand
And my lady on my shoulder,
I am as happy as a Georgia Peach.
I am the luckiest man in the world.

4/1/16

My Sister, Allison – If given a superhero identity, her name would be “The Courageous Encourager!”

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Sisters possess this amazing rockstar steady encouragement factor! When I have been clinically depressed many times in my past life, Allison, my sister, has been there to listen, there to encourage, and there to hold my hand in efforts to comfort me, even if just over the phone, because distance would not allow us to be together.

For this attribute and many other honorable traits she exemplifies, I dedicated my third major poetry and photography book, Eighteen Blessed Detours, to her.

Recently I have not been myself. That is the curse of an ailment I cannot often control, an illness that sucks the life out of me, sometimes on a daily occurrence. The remembrance of my sister laughing, playing, and even cheerleading makes me feel a little bit better these days. Like Peter Pan, she is part of my happy thoughts as a steady encourager.

It is not as though I do not count my blessings. It just feels like a cloud hangs over my head that never lets daylight in, until of course, I talk to Allison, and even more recently, Lisa, my fiancé. As my top two personal fans, they both have a way with words to make me feel a little less down.

In the fight against what sometimes feels like constant drag of stagnancy, Allison reminds me that God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives. She is like Joel Osteen with a white shiny smile and hairdo that constantly looks great on camera and video.

Allison is an amazing mother. She is a rising star in her business as an entrepreneur. She is additionally an awesome sibling and constant foothold of strength for those who need a reminder that when we think we no longer can, God can! And sisters serve as the guardian angels to show that God absolutely can!

Better than a Joel Osteen glimmering example of excellent dental hygiene, Allison is also like a Granger Smith “Backroad Song” that we sing at the top of our lungs in a Voltswagon Jetta as the smell of sand and South Carolina beaches surround us in scenery and sight. With a cooler filled in blue iced cans, sisters just cheer brothers up with cold beer drinking in savored marshmellow meadows and classic country playing in the backdrop on scratchy old car speakers.

Sisters are courageous, masterful encouragers in hard times. Somehow, in tears or in smiles, they hold brothers together. They try their best to empathize. They support. They reassure. And perhaps most importantly, they restore faith when all seems lost.

Yes, if I could give Allison a superhero identity, I would name her “The Courageous Encourager,” because for me, she really is my constant courageous encourager.

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My Mom – if given a superhero identity, her name would be “CiCi, the Defender!”

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“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” -George Washington

Moms have a special place in the hearts of those they protect and defend, a son, more specifically.

For example, in my own life story, when attending a home Auburn game, my second year as a graduate student in 2009, my favorite team played West Virginia (WV) in a tsunami Saturday night game. Before the game, a drunk WV fan advanced towards me in a harmful stance after some exchanged innocent smack-talking. At five foot even, my mother, Diana Cartee, stood in front of me with a pointed finger towards the assailant, like a student suddenly in trouble in an elementary school classroom. That index finger waved in front of the drunk fan’s face with the tenacity of a tiger, and for some reason, he ran away in fear of my mother’s wrath.

It downpoured the entire first half of the game, with a given rain delay. My Mom stood the entire time in the student section, drenched in water, to spend time with her son, in an ever so stylish navy blue poncho. Now that is expressed love beyond measure….to cheer the Auburn Tigers onto victory with a historic win of historic memorable proportions.

To the displeasure of my relatives, including immediate family, I have seen my Mom get into fights with family when wronging her son and possibly even verbally taunting me. It is almost like a common emotion shared….when hurting, my Mom hurts for me and with me. When happy, my Mom is the first to celebrate with me when sad, the first to cry with me. When I am angry, my Mom’s mutual anger intensifies beyond the reaches of the famous Avenger superhero, the Hulk. Her green madness expands beyond superhuman strength. Her fight to avenge the weak, in my defense, is a powerful force! Like protecting her own children, she will do the same for her own grandchildren, Ayden and Brogan, to whom she is better known as CiCi. Yes, moms defend the weak when the weak, in our vulnerable state, are unable to defend ourselves.

Moms rescue those who need rescuing in vulnerable mental states. At one point, in my life, when suffering from a down spell, I wanted a dog more than anything in the world to distract me from the hate of those who prejudicially judged my mental illness, including my own family members. Thus, I bought a purebred Boston Terrier who I just so happened to name King David. He was never given away. Because Mom loved me and noticed the heartache of her son (something other dumb family members could not recognize in their own ignorance), King David stayed with us for the majority of his lifetime, eight years in all.

Moms sacrifice. Moms give. Moms defend. Mother’s Day, as a single twenty-four-hour period, does not necessarily suffice to recognize the daily blessings a Mom brings to a son’s life. Sometimes you have to stop, like smelling roses, to see the impact made in continual service.

Nothing brings Moms more happiness than seeing their children and the spouses of their children enjoy life, and my Mom will do whatever it takes to assist her son and daughter with the challenges that come forward. She defends her children, no matter what the circumstances. That is just what my Mom does. It is natural to her. It is what makes her CiCi. It is what makes her Diana Cartee. It is what makes her a great Mom that other female counterparts could emulate and learn from….someone who loves and gives unconditionally.

Thank you, Mom, for your continual acts of kindness, especially for those who really need such acts in times of desperation.

Your son,

James L. Cartee III

My Dad – If given a superhero identity, his name would be “Captain Invincible!”

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I have been subject to witness several lame father figures in my lifetime, not my Dad. No, not my Dad! Simply said, and bragging about it, my Dad is my hero and the absolute best Dad in the world. In fact, some have often mentioned how they envied that I had a Dad, who continually played a part in my life, whereas their father took off on a permanent vacation where no one has any recollection of his presence, long to be forgotten.

Please know I also feel similar sentiments towards my Grandfather Cartee. He is a man of honor who often made his presence known at important life events and sometimes just showing up to spend time with me, for no specific reason at all, other than to see me.

Here are some reasons why I proclaim such a dignified title in honor of the man who has changed my life for the better in so many ways. He simply is, meaning my Dad shows up to the simple events. He attended my graduations from high school and the colleges I attended and sporting events when I was younger. In addition to my mother, he is the first to buy one of my books when I publish “yet one more.”

I do not consider fatherhood to be easy; however I do not think it is rocket science either. My father takes care of those he loves. When you love someone, one might argue it comes instinctively natural and easy to just do what a Dad does. With a family and wife in mind, you want to be a better person. You want to strive for greater, because you have someone depending on you as if your life depended on it, and more often than not, those lives do depend on your efforts for income.

Sometimes our greatest strengths are in our greatest efforts to fight for those we love. We try because we love. Dad loves me and my sister. He tries, He shows up. He is present. Sometimes that approach to simply be is the best way to be a great Dad and person of strength. I must admit that my father has done so in extraordinary ways, in ways that many other lacking fathers could learn from.

Sometimes all you have to do is watch the person you aspire to be like and follow their example. At least, as I am about to marry Lisa in October, that is what I am doing, while the thought of children is not in the so distant future.

My philosophy is simple here: I want to be an awesome father! I watch my Dad and do what he does. And if perplexed, I just ask him a thousand questions and follow his lead on what to do. In regards to his track record, he has rarely led me astray.

As we say in a southern manner of respect, if I had my Bud Light in hand, I would say, “Dad, this Bud’s for you! I love you, man, and thank you for everything you have done for our family, especially for me!”

If I could give my father a superhero title, it would be “Captain Invincible!” He is one of the most resilient men I have ever known. He rarely lets me down. And when needed, he is almost always there to support me, especially in regards to my mental illness. While no one is perfect, my father, as a Christian leader and servant, is about as close as any man I know can get!

The Engagement Story – James Cartee and Lisa Ciuffetelli

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Lisa and I originally met online through a dating website named OKCupid. We have had a blessed journey while getting to know each other in the last two years. There have certainly been some growing experiences up the point of our engagement. I will admit this truth – Lisa is the first and only woman I have ever dated who fought to keep our relationship healthy and intact. With a personal spiritual revelation, she always showed, in many ways, that she wanted to be with me!

In addition to her relationship with Jesus, her never-ending passion to become a better person is certainly one of her finest and most attractive qualities. Her strong will towards self-fulfillment therefore also inspires me to be a better man for her and a future family with children as a father.

Many people keep asking the story of our engagement. So I decided to write a blog entry about our Memorial Day weekend adventure.

Lisa arrived on a plane from Austin, Texas, where she currently resides, into Birmingham, Alabama at approximately 3:30 p.m. Lisa enjoys a good shopping experience. We had planned a photography session for Monday morning. Of course, we did what every couple does for an engagement photo session; we went shopping. I bought Lisa a jean skirt, a boutique green dress (the one in the pictures included in this blog entry), a formal navy blue dress, and a new pair of tan sandals. I wanted her to feel appreciated for all that she does to support me in my own goals and personal endeavors.

That Saturday evening, May 28, 2016, Lisa and I went to eat at Flemings Steakhouse, located in The Summit shopping mall, where I ate a shrimp and scallop delicacy with a Caesar salad and grilled asparagus. Lisa ordered tuna filets with a shared vanilla crème brulee. Of course, we also had some wine to top off a wonderful evening. We went home to watch a movie afterwards.

After a brisk walk the next morning in Homewood, Sunday, my sister, Allison, and Mom surprised Lisa by taking her to lunch and to get her nails done for the photography appointments, a manicure and a pedicure.

At approximately 5:00 p.m., I took Lisa to the Vulcan Statue Museum and Park – a landmark for the city of Birmingham, much like the Statue of Liberty in New York City. While Brendon Pinola, one of the best wedding photographers in Birmingham, took pictures from a distance of approximately 50-60 away, with the city skyline in the background, I specifically planned to propose to Lisa at sunset here at this location. I hired Brendon to shoot both this occasion and an engagement session the next Monday morning on Memorial Day. Lisa was unaware that Brendon would be shooting us in the distance with his zoom lens in addition to a brief photography session that evening in her new green dress and sandals.

We toured the museum and went to the top of the viewing tower to then eventually come back down. As I pretended that we needed to go over to the side of the park viewing platform for the best view of the city, I quickly bent down on one knee. Lisa nervously asked, “What are you doing?”

I replied, “I have been thinking about this question for a long time. Will you please marry me? Will you please be my wife?”

While Lisa hesitated for a few long seconds, I grew a little worried in anticipation. She whispered, “Yeeeesssss.” I breathed deeply in relief, thankful for the answer I had long hoped for. Even with all my planning and special treatment, Lisa was unaware this would be her long awaited weekend. She was crying almost uncontrollably. It was difficult for her to spew out an answer in the overwhelming feelings of the moment. She knew an engagement question was coming soon, just not this past Memorial Day.

After the actual question of the hour and our first photo session with Brendon, we went to eat at The Village Tavern, where my Mom, sister, Allison, and five other mutual close friends waited to surprise Lisa in celebration of the occasion when we arrived at the restaurant. Three mutual friends drove all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama just for the dinner and then back in the same evening. While I cannot remember what Lisa ate, I order and relished a fresh trout fillet, lightly breaded and fried in bourbon sauce.

After a late dinner, I was exhausted. I had spent the previous two weeks planning Lisa’s visit. We were not quite in the mood to go out further to another bar restaurant to extend the party. Instead we chose to relax and watch another movie at my apartment.

The next morning we met Brendon for our second engagement photography session, continuing with more Birmingham landmarks, including Morris Avenue, The Peanut Depot, the Rotary Trail, and Railroad Park.

In addition to celebrating the event with close friends and family, the photos with Brendon presented a frozen moment in time. We recorded the special moment for just Lisa and I. Our eyes locked both in shock of the moment but also assurance we had each found our soul mate. Sharing the photo sessions was probably my favorite part of the experience, especially when Brendon was so cleverly able to catch the moment when I actually proposed to Lisa.

I look forward to spending the rest of my life with Lisa Ciuffetelli, soon to be Mrs. James L. Cartee, III!

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*Special thanks to professional photos were taken by Brendon Pinola of Brendon Pinola Photography. He is a great photography if you seek such services.

“I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they come from.” A Motto from Captain America that will change your life!

At the end of this video, listen to the line that makes this blog post powerful for those who step on the little guys (or little girls)!

 

 “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.” Psalm 82:3 (NLT)

I have watched the movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, more times than I can count, and the main character and superhero, Captain Steve Rogers, never backs down from a bully and fight, sometimes at his own detriment, saying “I can do this all day.” He keeps getting back up time and time again even with blood spewing down his shirt out of his mouth, depicted as the fool who will not go down without fighting time and time again. I admire his-never-back-down attitude.

Rogers constantly seeks to serve his country in the allied war against Germany. He continues to be denied by doctors to pass the military physical (so he can inevitably go to war), using several fake names and home states in the process. His small stature eventually transforms into the muscle-bound Captain America, and his dreams come forward to go to war. When finally successful to attain an approved appointment with the health clearing exam to join the military, a doctor behind the super soldier campaign asks Rogers, “So you want to kill Nazis?” He then responds admirably, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they come from.” Through a series of tests at boot camp, Rogers takes risks for the “little guys,” the underdog you cannot help but root for as an audience member.

My cowriter and close friend, Tim the Upbeat Retired Guy, believes that I write too critically of others in my life sometimes on this blog and then in my book, One Flight Short of a Cuckoo’s Nest. I must personally admit I have never really liked bullies (guys and girls included). I do not really care where that bully comes from. I am not one to give a free pass to any leader who uses authority to push other people around. The range includes all kinds of individuals from all walks of life, politicians, academic institutional deans, stewards, and presidents, and perhaps even spotlight ministers. Like Captain Rogers, I am not looking to hurt anyone or ruin someone’s reputation. I will simply not tolerate those who bully others around.

An example in my life comes to mind: While in high school, I wrestled on the 2000 Alabama State High School 6A Championship team. Our team grew close in extraordinary ways, and we really had each others’ backs, all for one, and one for all! When one person stood in trouble or in the line of fire, we all did. No one messed with our girlfriends or with each one of us. We especially had no tolerance for a guy disrespecting or bullying a girl. There is just no room for that on my watch! While in the hall one day, one of my best and closest friends, Elizabeth Sanders, was picked on and degraded verbally by her boyfriend, Patrick, at her locker, whispering condescending comments into her ear while she frowned to the point of tears. Her boyfriend was a real jerk, and I never really liked him anyway. In fact, had I been the man I am now, I would have asked Elizabeth out when she was single. I told her boyfriend to back off and stand down. My good friend, brother in Christ, and wrestling team mate, Jonathan Dobberman, stood there by my side when I faced Patrick. Patrick responded, “Who is going to make me?” I said, “Me and my wrestling army!” That was the end of the conversation. He walked away, and with a grateful hug for me around my shoulders and slight smile on her face, Elizabeth quietly said, “Thank you!” What can I say? Some of us have bigger mouths than others. And Patrick even later that day apologized. Those who stand for what is right often reap the rewards (and sometimes the costs) for doing so.

Where am I going here? Scripturally as soldiers and warriors of Christ, we are not meant to back down for a just cause as men of God. We are meant to defend the cause of the orphan, the disabled, the widow, the homeless, and those who cannot stand up for themselves in any way.

I recently have dwelled on yesterday’s excuses, reasoning, and mind doubts of why I so often lack to take action today, not against bullies, but moving forward with life. Yesterday is gone and so are those excuses!

We excuse ourselves from the hard struggles, challenges, adversities, and tasks in life and remain okay with that. Well, I am not okay with a subpar existence, and I will never be okay with a bully. While words written hurt the bully who takes action, the narrative of God’s soldiers triumph every time. When you play the political game to drown one who suffers, I cannot simply stand by and let that go. I will write. I will fight. And I will speak out.

I don’t want to kill or hurt anyone. I just don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they come from.

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Until the End of The Line – The bond of family that no force can break…. (Captain America’s Motto)!

“Then finish it….cause I’m with you til’ the end of the line.” –Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, in the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).

You will find the scene depicted here with the memorable quote. It would benefit you to watch this and truly understand the significance of my written words here.

I have learned the value of family relationships with a blunt reminder when two close loved ones died this past year….two grandparents fighting an incurable cancer. My father recently turned sixty years old with two grandchildren and Lord-willing, three more to eventually come. My grandfather (my father’s Dad) turned eighty-six. As I grow older, a natural hardship with life tends to be the loss of those precious to us, and more continue to pass with each new year forward.

My grandfather is James Louie Cartee Senior. My father is James Louie Cartee Junior. And my name is James Louie Cartee, the Third. I have never figured out where Louie came from; however I am grateful to still have these two men in my life….continually present to help me in any hardship that comes my way.

Many families break up. Many families fall apart. Again thankful, my mother and father never separated for any reason. That same observation is true with my sister who has now been married for slightly over ten years. While strong marriages last over time with a promised commitment to the mind, body, and soul, many fall apart for often various complicated reasons. Humans, by nature, are sometimes very selfish and even flakier when it comes to true commitment. Humans want the easy path, and therefore some people easily quit—no matter what the difficulty, always running away from their problems.

My father and grandfather never gave up on me, even when I failed to believe in myself. The same evident truth can be said of their commitment to marriage with one person.

I took the reality for granted that I could lean into others, family and friends. I never needed to ask the question if they would be there. I just always knew the answer. I’m with you til’ the end of the line.”

No matter what happens….no matter what conflict occurs….and no matter when I fall to my face, both men serve to stand at the front lines with me, side by side, hands held in unity.

While you really need to watch the two movies or read the comic books to understand my references in the video above, the scene illustrated represents the bond of family and solid friendships in my own personal circles. Captain America, known by his common name as Steve Rogers, refuses to fight once best friend, James Buchanan Barnes. Several years before in the 1940s (now modern day 2014), Barnes was experimented upon with a risky surgery to replace an amputated limb with a metal cast, super-strength arm. He was then tortured and brainwashed for several months to turn evil. He almost died due to previous war injuries. Fictionally he was cryonic-frozen, where his cells slowed to endure a lifespan much longer than any normal human being. Therefore he would resurface and fight Captain America seventy years later, from the historical time period of when their real friendship started.

Before I venture too far off the scene’s plot, The Winter Soldier was Rogers’ nemesis in this movie sequel. At the end of the movie, Rogers refuses to fight, even though he would probably have killed Barnes as a result of his combat skills. In previous battle sequences with the movie, as also hinted by the comic books, Captain America possessed a distinct fighting advantage over “Bucky” Barnes, the Winter Soldier. Rogers believes in the deeper good that still exists in Bucky Barnes. Some characters viewed Barnes as a lost cause who would never again return as his original self, the comrade who once fought by Rogers’ side and not against him.

In his refusal to fight back, Captain America falls to the water as the helicarrier plunges to its destruction. Unconscious, a metal arm reaches to rescue Rogers before drowning. The plot infers that The Winter Soldier can still do good and act honorably, no matter the evil committed or the brainwashing with memories erased.

That is also the bond of a grandfather, father, and son, all whom share the same bloodline and the same name that understands commitment with renewed faith. I never ask for help because of the men I know both these individuals to be. I know that each of us would and will always say, “I’m with you til’ the end of the line.”

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Let It Go! – The Spiral of No Control

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I wrote this poem as I asked myself three questions. I often struggle to let God take control of my life. I want to do things on my own initiative, even though I rarely have control over what occurs around me. With the obvious answers to these listed questions, it becomes apparent that our future is undetermined. Today must be enjoyed because the present is all we have. The moment, now on this day, is what matters most. The future lies beyond our reach. Therefore, without stressing too much over little things, it only makes sense to let go and wait for God to drive the steering wheel in the direction He will have us go. This mentality makes life a lot easier with less worries. Enjoy the poem of this related theme below, titled Spiral of No Control.

 

Spiral of No Control

Can I control it?

No, it was beyond me.

Did I cause it?

No, the cause I could not foresee.

Can I cure it?

No, illness sometimes just comes to be.

If the answer remains “No,”

Give the matter to God

And be certain to know

That we must just let it go.

3/28/16

RISE, (Insert Your Name Here), RISE! (with Post-Easter-Thoughts)

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Do we take Easter seriously beyond the Sunday we celebrate the holiday? I think often times we forget that the remembrance of Easter should occur on a daily basis for all Christians. The resurrection defines us for who we are in relationship with Jesus.

I once heard a minister say, “When you fall down, the only direction to go is up.” When we lie on our backs, the only way to move is upwards. Sometimes it becomes a matter of what you decide to do when experiencing a valley, rather than a mountain top adventure. Our inclination to perform makes matters worse, rather than giving our circumstances to God. We try to control the situation on our own volition.

The resurrection gives us the power to rise again. Easter is not just another holiday reminder to attend Sunday School in the latest spring fashion wardrobe with clothes purchased from Gap or JCrew.  It is a time to realize our greatest difficulties are overcome by the authority of Jesus Christ when He broke all barriers to be crucified and risen again.

We become more than our own strength through His Sacrifice. Turbulent dark trials then show a glimmer of hope in the light. With our backs pressed against the wall, we remember that nothing can stand against us because Jesus stands for us.

Resurrect. Rise. And remember that Easter gives us the aptitude to overcome any obstacle through the potential of the Holy Spirit.

The best news of the Christian gospel is that the supremely glorious Creator of the universe has acted in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection to remove every obstacle between us and himself so that we may find everlasting joy in seeing and savoring his infinite beauty. -John Piper

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Nicaragua Pictures….visual storytelling demonstrates the Glory of God!

Mission Trip to Nicaragua with Hope Missions, August 2015 – Why write? – When you can see the story in the eyes of a visual storyteller….

“Sometimes I arrive just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter.” -Ansel Adams

*Please know these photographs are the sole work and craftsmanship of James L. Cartee, III, under copyright for usage solely by him and Cartee Communications, unless granted permission to another entity.

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