The love that didn’t last

Looking at her young face staring back at me from the vintage, monochrome photograph it suddenly struck me how young she had been when her world fell apart. Her story was family folklore, passed down as one of those subjects discussed in hushed tones and only around certain family members.

Here she was, though, appearing to me younger than I had ever imagined her when I had heard the stories as a child, a teen and even as an adult. I saw in her eyes a bit of fear, maybe trepidation, but also a lot of grit mixed with the slightest hint of humor.

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When she’d met the man she would one day married she was head over heels in love. He was handsome and charming, and loud and boisterous. Some, though, especially her family, called him trouble.

She wrote love letters to him and told him she couldn’t wait until they could be alone again, married and on their own.

The details are hazy, the story one fractured by memories not as strong as they once were, possible family biases, maybe a bit of resentment and a whole lot of “he said, she said.” What is known is they married, he did something that hurt her deeply, her family chased him off with a shotgun and she came home with a 2-month old baby and soon to be divorced, something not often heard of at that time.

The baby was born with the last name of Hakes, but a line was struck through that name and it was eliminated, one might say. When the divorce was final the baby’s last name became Robinson, his mother’s maiden name, and stayed that way, even when she became an Allen through a new marriage, years later. Family lore, accurate or not, says her family wouldn’t allow the little boy to have his father’s last name. So, the baby, my grandfather, was Hakes by blood but not by name.

Raising a son alone, so young, with a broken heart and maybe added shame, must have been close to impossible, even with the help of her family. I often wonder how those events shaped her inner being, how it maybe led her to throw up walls that it took years to let down, if she ever did.

It seems when we get older we are told new stories about family members, or more of the story or maybe we just listen better and find out what we had always thought was the full story really wasn’t.

More pieces to the puzzle of the story of my great aunt, taken away from her family to live in a mental hospital and then a nursing home were recently given to me, correcting my belief that she was placed in the home at a young age. Instead, she was apparently closer to 30 when her parents had her committed and one reason was the fear she would harm my dad, who was about three or four at the time.

And she wasn’t really abandoned there, as I had previously thought. Instead, she withdrew into herself after years of odd behavior and her parents felt she was safer in the hospital. They also had limited income and only one vehicle to visit her with or bring her home.

So while I heard new information about my great aunt’s story recently, the story that remains a mystery for most of our family is what really led to my great-grandmother Blanche leaving Howard Hakes. It’s not really a topic you bring up when meeting distant relations only at family funerals every few years.

“Hey, so whatever happened with that whole divorce thing with Blanch and Howard anyhow?” you can’t simply ask. Or, “Was that Howard a real jerk or what’s the real story?”

It wouldn’t exactly be polite dinner (or funeral) conversation.

There are the family “rumors”, of course. He liked his parties, women, and alcohol, was the one rumor. Blanche, had finally had enough, some say, and she left Waverly, NY, considered the “big city” back then in the early 1900s and returned to her family’s farm with her young son, Walter, who happens to be my grandfather.

It’s always a bit awkward to write about family drama when some of those family members who might know more are still alive so I will admit that I know very little about what led to the end of the marriage. Not too mention, because it was so long ago and I never met Blanche and was only about 2 when my grandfather died, I don’t have a “dog in this fight” so to speak. I don’t see either party as an enemy or at fault, simply because I wasn’t there, therefore I truly have no idea.

What I do have is a wonder about how Blanche felt about it all, and even how Howard felt. And when you get right down to it, what did Walter feel about it?I wish he was around for me to ask.

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Whatever led to the failed marriage, it came and my grandfather was raised without knowing his father. It wasn’t until Blanche died, well after my grandfather was an adult with two adult daughters and one young son, that Howard showed back up. My dad remembers he was about 13, returning from a Boy Scout camp out,  when a man approached him in town and told him, “I’m your grandfather.”

Later that day, sitting with my grandfather on the porch of my dad’s house, now remarried and a father of other children, Howard tried to make peace with his firstborn, asking him, “Well, your first born is always your favorite, aren’t they?”

“I don’t play favorites,” my dad remembers my grandfather saying in a deep, stern voice.

My dad was the baby of the family, his sister Eleanor was the oldest and sister Doris the middle. And no, Walter wasn’t going to play favorites.

Maybe Grandpa was telling Howard he wasn’t about to accept an attempt to suggest one child should be loved over another as any type of apology for being an absent father.

Even if my grandfather couldn’t accept the failed attempt of an apology that day, some sort of peace was made. Visits were had, half-sisters were met and Howard’s funeral was even attended many years later.

Two, faded and short, letters are tucked away in a jewelry box in my parent’s room and my parents aren’t even sure where they came from. It’s clear they were written by Blanche to Howard and start with “My Love.”

“They are heartbreaking,” my mom told me one day. “She really loved him.”

And she did. Telling Howard she hoped his new job was going well and that she couldn’t wait “until you are here in my bedroom with me again.”

Gasp! In her bedroom?

Scandalous stuff for 1900.

Maybe so scandalous some in my family might not think I should air the family’s “dirty laundry.”

But, if we are honest, every family has their own dirty laundry and some of that dirty laundry isn’t really dirty, but just heartbreak caused by broken people.

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The teachable moments of parenting fails

DSC_1871“I’m hungry.”

It’s not WHAT she said that drove me crazy, it’s WHEN she said it.

It was midnight.

Bedtime had been stretched out insanely long for months now, something I hoped to remedy soon, and my last straw was being asked to get a snack at midnight.

By a 3-year old.

By my 3-year old.

Right then I acted like a very mature, 40-year old woman and flounced out of the room and told her if she wanted a snack she could go get one BY HERSELF!!!

I was done with dealing with hungry toddlers whining at me in the middle of the night. I was done with 11-year olds staying awake way past when they were supposed to be and being grumpy the next morning. And for that moment I was done with never seeming to have a break and dare I say it? With being Mom.

I shut the bathroom door and pouted in the dark for maybe two minutes before she opened the door and I remembered we still hadn’t got a lock for that blasted door.

She was whimpering at me in the dark and looking pitiful and of course I felt even more guilty about it all so I led her to my room where I knew there was one of those applesauce squeezable packs, tucked away in my purse for those days we are out somewhere and she says she’s hungry (this child is always hungry). I gave it to her, reminding myself she’s just a little girl and she can’t help it if she gets hungry at midnight. Even I get hungry at midnight sometimes.

It also wasn’t her fault that her mom hadn’t stopped her and her brother’s playing and told them it was time for bed much earlier in the evening than I had.

I took her to bed, telling her I loved her, and then I laid in the dark after she was asleep and felt guilty for yelling at her and her brother right at bedtime. I kissed her head so many times I’m surprised I didn’t wake her.

5a4c8-dsc_5772Then I tiptoed into my son’s room, where he had already fallen asleep, and kissed his head. Suddenly, in that darkened room, a sliver of light from the street leaking in, he wasn’t 11 anymore in my eyes. He was still five and innocent and little and all I wanted to do was scoop him up and hold him against me.

But he’s too long now and I knew if I attempted to scoop him up I’d fall over backwards and drop him and I on the floor, cut open his head and we would have to call an ambulance. That’s how the brain of a mom works – we take a simple idea and blow it into the most scary outcome we can imagine.

Being a parent is hard. Harder than I ever imagined. We all have tough days and boy do we blow it sometimes. Even when we blow it we love them and they love us. We all make mistakes and fall right on our faces in this parenting journey.

Maybe you feel you have failed as a parent too. We know we are not alone, yet we often feel we are alone because parents fear sharing their fails. We fill our social media feeds, and even our personal interactions, with images and tales of our children’s accomplishments and our successes. We rarely share about our blunders.

No one wants to admit when they have made a mistake and certainly not to other parents who we think have it all together. The truth is, no parent has it all together – no matter what their highlights may show. Maybe as parents we need to be a little more public with those moments we fail in, be brave and show other parents they aren’t alone in their struggle.

What makes us good parents is that we recognize we are not perfect, we apologize when we need to, and are not afraid to admit our mistakes. In fact, maybe not being afraid to make those mistakes makes us even better parents.

When our children know we can admit mistakes then they know that, yes, mistakes are always going to be made, but we can always learn how to improve from them.

And when we admit our mistakes to other parents we can learn from each other.

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The Farm

The little boy was leaning nonchalantly  against the door, with one hand on the door knob and when we jumped out of the van he said into the cold wind that whipped at our faces, sounding more like an adult than a child,“Welcome to our farm. Come on in.”

I smiled to myself at the sound of such serious, grown up words coming from someone so young and thanked him for the greeting. We stepped into a small, dark room filled almost completely by a large metal container, pipes running along the ceiling and walls, and a deep, metal sink at the back of the room. A small fluorescent light barely lit the room but a small window provided a little daylight.

I had started a personal photography project and series about small, family farms in Bradford County, Pa. and this was the first farm I had visited. The boy, wearing a winter coat and a knitted winter hat down over his ears, launched immediately into a tour of the barn, starting by showing my 11-year old son the nozzle where the milk truck driver would put the hose to siphon the farm’s milk collection from the refrigerated container into the milk truck. He motioned his hand up in the air along the path of the pipe system, showing us where the milk comes into the room and travels down into a clear sphere and then down another pipe and into the main collection vat.

Next he motioned us toward a door to our left and into the barn where he said his dad was feeding the cows. Cows were lined up in two rows, each in their own stall, ready to be fed and milked. They turned to watch us walk in and almost seemed to be listening to our young tour guide.

Before I could ask the boy his name or how old he was, he had a handful of the cow’s feed in his hand and began telling us it was made up of ground corn and hay and other nutrients. A man with salt and pepper hair and mustache, wearing a pair of faded blue overalls, pushed a wheelbarrow full of feed toward us and smiled at the boy and us. “He’s giving you the tour, huh?” He asked.

I said he was and doing a good job.

I finally was able to slip in between his explaining how the farm works to ask him how old he was and his name. His name was Parker, he said, and was six. When I asked how he knew all about the feed and the barn and the cows and milk, he said “I just do.”

Of course I know why he knows all he does. He is the son and grandson of farmers. Each day he watches the men who have shaped who he is and who he will become work hard for the life they want and they life they need. They work not only to survive, but to thrive.

His grandfather and dad milk the cows, care for the cows, feed the cows and they run the tractors, cut the hay, grind the corn and clean the barn. He is a boy being taught that to get what you want in life, whether that be a peaceful life on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, or a life full of adventure and thrill, there must be some blood, sweat and tears shed. To reach a goal you work and you work hard.

It’s something his dad Mark knows a lot about. He thought he’d find his dream at college, but it was there he realized he had been living his dream all along on his family’s farm, right where he grew up. After he earned a degree he returned to the farm, the quiet, the tough life but the rewarding one that maybe he thought he never needed or wanted. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of us? We think we want something different from where we are and what we have when really, all we ever needed could be found right where we’d always been and among what we’d always had.

And sometimes we realize that what we want to do in life isn’t what will bring us monetary riches, but will bring us riches of the soul.

“Honestly, it is a labor of love,” Mark Bradley said. “I love working with the cows, and I love working the land.  It is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

It’s not a job.

It’s a lifestyle.

It’s a labor love.

So much of what we do that really matters is just that – a labor of love – work that might not light up our pocketbook but will light a spark in our spirit. And from that spark will come a fire that will burn through all the distractions of life and leave for us a clear picture of what is good and right and perfect about this thing we call living.

When the garden is gone

I must admit I’m sad to see our garden now gone.

I miss the garden even though it didn’t yield much in the way of produce. Our backyard seems so barren and drab now with the garden dead and the left over plants brown and brittle and crushed under the weight of the snow and frost.

For awhile this Fall we had unseasonably warm weather. That warm weather meant the grass was greener longer, which was welcome, but not normal and I don’t like when things are abnormal when it comes to my routine and environment.

 The days became shorter, nights and mornings cooler and I knew soon there would be less sun. Because things had been so weird in the world the past several months, I was actually yearning for the normalcy of warm weather fading into cool weather and cool weather slipping into cold weather. I wanted, in some ways even, for it to get darker earlier, though it meant less sunlight and time to play outside with the kids. Yet, even as I yearned for the normal cold of winter, in the pit of my stomach I felt dread because weird things seem to happen in my world when the days are shorter and the sunlight is less. Most years it’s is depression that sets in and invades everything in my life.

Last year it was depression but it was also sickness and the loss of our dog and then for three months straight I vibrated inside like I was sitting 24/7 on an engine.

No one could figure the vibrating out – not my family, not doctors.  A couple blood tests were off but nothing pointed to a medical cause of what I could only describe as internal vibrating. Not being able to pinpoint a reason for it scared me and the more fear set in, the more I vibrated, night and day. 

When it started I thought it was my ears. They had been stuffed and full all winter and my balance was off. No one else thought it was my ears. They thought it was all in my head. Soon I began to think the same thing and even now, I still wonder. The only people who could relate were two friends – one who had something slightly similar during panic attacks and another who said a friend who had recently lost her brother told her she had been vibrating inside for weeks and felt it was from extreme stress. 

I hadn’t faced any trauma, though, so what was wrong with me, I wondered. Losing a pet who had been part of our family for 14 years wasn’t the same as losing a brother, even if the loss of the dog was intertwined with overwhelming guilt for me since I believed, and still believe, I could have reduced my little dog’s suffering if I’d only focused more on his needs and less on my own.

The vibrating wasn’t a symptom of any medical conditions, a doctor told me. It was much more likely my physical symptoms were stemming from mental anguish, anxiety and a complete loss of normalcy and security in my life, she said. In other words – I was suffering a near mental breakdown, or at least that’s how I understood what the doctor said.

In the next month heart palpitations and nighttime waking caused by feeling like I had stopped breathing kept me awake most nights. I felt like my body was turning on me, trying to kill me. I soon  realized it wasn’t my body that was trying to kill me but my mind. And even more than my mind it was spiritual forces influencing my mind and driving me further into panic, fear and sheer terror.

 Were my symptoms real?

Honestly, there are days I still wonder. 

I stepped up my electrolytes and started to stretch muscles and do lymph node massages to try to drain the ears. I listened to sermons day and night about fear and rebuking evil. Slowly the vibrating stopped and one morning I woke up and it was gone completely.

Even now I can’t be sure what combination helped the most, or what was really going on, but I know prayer was the only thing that got me through.

Trusting Christ, using His words to fight a battle waging around me in the spiritual realm was what I needed most. This is not the first time I’ve found myself battling demons and knowing things were moving against me spiritually.

Before the battle was against the very fabric of my family. This time it was my health and like before I only saw the physical battle. Even more during this battle than the last, I was spun out of mental control. This battle told me I was going to die and leave my children alone. These thoughts didn’t just tell me my family would fall apart but I would lose Nmy life.

There are times I still feel the dread that it will all happen again but I know I now have weapons I didn’t quite understand how to access before. And I’m still learning.

A sermon by Joseph Prince about the battle for our mind is something I have listened to on repeat for almost a year now.  

Prince talks about our mind being where the main battles are waged in our life. And those battles are launched in the spiritual realm, not the physical one. 

The battles we often see as physical- the health concerns, the financial worries, the tension within our families- are being waged in the spiritual realms and we can’t fight them the way we would in the physical world. Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons and our main weapon is fervent, focused prayer.  

Speaker Priscilla Shirer saysin her book “Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan to Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer”:

“If I were your enemy, I’d magnify your fears, making them appear insurmountable, intimidating you with enough worries until avoiding them becomes your driving motivation. I would use anxiety to cripple you, to paralyze you, leaving you indecisive, clinging to safety and sameness, always on the defensive because of what might happen. When you hear the word faith, all I’d want you to hear is “unnecessary risk.” 

And that is what happened to me – I was crippled mentally. I couldn’t fathom anything positive coming from what was happening to me and I lost interest in everything I loved. I clung to my house and my bed and yes, I felt having faith was a risk to me, to have my hopes and dreams shattered around me.

When I find my thoughts drifting back to last year, to the darkness and the fear, I try to remember what finally pulled me through – placing my focus not on my enemies of Fear and Dread and Infirmity but on Christ and my knowledge of Him wanting the best for us, even when we feel like our lives are totally out of control.
 

We may not always understand why we are in the midst of our trials but we always know who is the author of our story and He was there when our story began and He will be there when our story ends.

One of us. One of the mourners.

Out of the two of them I worried about telling my 11 year old son the most. I dreaded it, in fact, but then I dreaded more the delay in being able to tell him; a delay caused by his spending time with a friend and then unexpected weather. My daughter is only three so I knew telling her her great aunt, who was part of her grandparents home and who we saw almost every weekend, had died would be hard, yet somewhat of a vague concept to someone so young.

But I knew he, at 11, would be hit with the full brunt of the reality of it and I knew his innocence bubble, chipped away at by the death of his dog earlier in the year, would be shattered by the blow. He’d been at a friend’s house when we first heard the news and we left him there to be shielded for a little while longer because we knew that’s what she would have wanted – him having fun instead of at home and grieving. 

Then, when it took longer than we hoped to get to him, so we could break the news, we felt at a loss and like someone else in our family, not just her, was missing. We wanted him with us so we could grieve together, as a family.

When the news was finally given and the tears rushed down and the arms tightened around his small, grieving frame it was a type of release and a new type of prison all at the same time because now he was no longer shielded, but one of us, one of those who knew loss and who mourned

She had been one of the first to hold him, to kiss the top of his soft, fuzzy head the day he was born. She’d rocked him, cuddled him, played games with him and even though she was bossy in her later years, as her health worsened, she was the one who joked, who blew wet kisses with fart noises on his cheeks, and always told him to “get over here and give me some sugar.” She was the one who pulled him close and made him promise to “never stop being the sweet boy you are, baby.”

Goodbyes were never said without a hug and her slobbery kisses. Afternoons were rarely spent without her falling asleep in the chair and then waking up for him to show her his latest project.

Sometimes she was grumpy.

Sometimes he was grumpy.

Sometimes we all were.

Sharp words were blurted, flounces made, doors slammed. But then apologies were made, embraces came and “I love you” was said.

Oh the emptiness felt in that house without her there.

Oh the emptiness felt in our hearts.

The pain of the loss is like hands squeezing hard on our insides.  

We wait for her to come down the stairs and tell us something funny she read online or show us her latest gadget. We think we hear her move above us in her room. We think we will soon hear her sing, as she often did, to be silly, the first few lines of “You Are My Sunshine.”

So we laugh in her honor. 

We sing to remember. 

We embrace and blow fart noises on faces to never forget how she touched our lives and made it better just by being her.  

Don’t let someone else tell you what God is calling you to be

When you search the internet for the word “calling” one of the definitions is “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.”

In the Christian definition we often use the word to describe God’s plan for our life and we often believe God lays one calling on us and we are to do nothing but that ONE thing. This idea is further perpetuated by some in the Church who feel it is their job to suggest to others what their calling in life is.

When a well meaning friend or family member or church member says God called you to whatever it is that person believes you have been called to you can take what they say and think about it, but there is nothing that says you need to claim it. Remember that person  is human like you and not God and their definition of what your calling is not necessarily God’s definition

Today I heard an interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes and Pastor Steven Furtick. In it Jakes warns to not let what others say your calling is limit what God can do in you and through you. As someone who has not been limited by one title, Bishop Jakes has recently written a book, “Soar: Build Your Vision From the Ground Up”, about learning what God’s plan is for your life.

“I never knew the way people described you would become a prison until they did it,” he said. “When I met me I was not a preacher so I didn’t know they would incarcerate me with the title. You are at your best when you are authentic to your core and you have to be what you are, not what they call you. You understand what I’m saying? Some people will call you a name and you will start living up to that name and it limits you from what else God wants to do in your life. . . . What happens in life as we evolve as a person is we can not allow ourself to be incarcerated by anything people would describe us as because we limit what the Holy Spirit can do in our life.”

There are many women who are writers, mothers, artists and business people all in one.  There are many men who are fathers, entrepreneurs, employees and men of God preaching on Sunday.

There is not always one thing you were meant to do and now you’re not allowed to be anything else. Being a mother is the highest calling there is but I know mothers who harbor guilt because they want to be a mother and an artist, a mother and a business person, a mother and a writer but someone has told them, well meaning or not, that their calling is to be a mother and only a mother.

This guilt and unrealistic expectation is especially true in the Christian community where women are often told “your calling is to be a mother and that’s where God wants you in this season of your life.” Oddly I’ve never heard the same thing said to a man about being a father. Have you? Wouldn’t it be odd in our society to hear someone tell a man, “God wants you at home with your children and to pursue no other calling until they are old enough to go to college and live on their own.”?

Though I understand the premise behind such comments toward woman and while I believe God desires women to be the caretaker of children and engrained this maternal instinct in our sex, directives that a woman should desire nothing more than to be a mother and wide often heaps guilt on women already prone  to guilt biologically.

Some women believe that they must pour everything they are into motherhood and if they fall or fail (failure based on their own standards I might add) they failed at the only calling God ever gave them.

Yes, God called women to be mothers but no, He does not call all women to never pursue other passions, interests or callings in addition to being a mother. He never told Esther he couldn’t use her because she was a woman and meant to be a mother only. He never told Abigal, wife or Nabal, that she couldn’t  be a peacemaker between her husband and the warrior David (1 Samual 25:1-38) because she possessed a womb and desired to be a mother.

Therefore I don’t believe He has told other mothers their only calling is to care for their children. Yes, there are women whose main calling is to raise her children, but it doesn’t have to be her only calling.

So often we think we only have one calling and we need to find that one calling. If we don’t find that one calling we have failed in life, we have failed God. I have held on to this one calling lie for the majority of my adulthood, searching it out like one might search for the lost grail, waiting for it to be shown to me with a bright light from heaven. Unfortunately, that just isn’t going to happen and I have begun to accept that my “calling” may go beyond one vocation or role.

Hearing Pastor Jakes remind me not to be limited to what others have called me to be. Hopefully we can all remember to not limit God and to encourage others, especially mothers, to join us in taking the chains off God. Let’s take God out of the box we have put him in and let him show us a path of limitless opportunities,  possibilities and callings.

 

Photographing families in their own environment | Athens, Pennsylvania photographer

I’ve heard it said that if you have a dream you should speak it out loud.

I have a dream that sounds self serving but I’m speaking it anyhow.

I want to photograph families in their homes and capture the real moments of interaction.

There, I wrote it and when I wrote it I spoke it out loud.

Photographing people in their homes is a hard sale anywhere but especially where I live. It’s a hard sale because, I guess, people worry their house won’t look nice. They don’t want to clean or worry about cleaning and if they have photos taken with their family they want to do it the way everyone seems to – standing and posing next to a pretty tree or two, in a field or by a fence or a waterfall or – somewhere staged, you know? Somewhere life looks good and perfect and without wrinkles.

But sometimes, life is good and perfect even with the wrinkles.

So I am offering Family At Home Sessions this year.

Families at home.

Maybe your family is you and your children.

Maybe your family is you and your dog.

Maybe your family is you and your husband or you and your wife.

That’s who I want to photograph.
Sessions don’t have to be held in your home, they can also be held in your backyard or your front yard or wherever you make memories.

Try something unique and different.

Do you want to learn more? Then contact me or see the details page and we can talk about a new, fun, real experience in family photography.

Faithfully thinking: Don’t base your value on the fake world of photography

Photography today is creating what isn’t real. It’s manipulation of you, the viewer. That beautiful scene with that family in an open field with amazing sun?

Nine times out of ten that’s not real. It was edited in Photoshop.

The power lines were painted out, the sun flare was added with an overlay and that kid who photo bombed the whole thing was quickly and quietly dispatched with the gesture of the mouse and click of a few keyboard commands like the photographer mafia.

That little girl sitting on a box, in a perfect white room, no clutter, no mess, no toys scattered around her, enjoying the wind of the fan blowing in her face?

Also fake.

The toys were pushed to one side, or brushed away via editing software.

Fake.

Fake.

Fake.

And more fake.

Much of what you see in the photography world is fake.

It is airbrushed.

It is whitewashed.

It is cloned out and over.

It’s made to look pretty because people like pretty.

 

People like fake.

People like fake so they don’t have to face reality.

The problem is that even when a person knows it’s fake they tell themselves it’s real.

They compare and contrast their life with the fake.

Their house isn’t that clean.

Their kids aren’t that well dressed.

Their walls aren’t that white.

Their sink isn’t that clean.

The pictures in their frames aren’t that professional.

Their life isn’t that perfect.

Newsflash: no one else’s is either.

They just don’t want you to know.

I found myself awake too early after a long night helping my oldest with a stuffy nose and watering eyes, caught up in the popularity game of social media. Because that’s what it is – a game. An attempt to fit in with the popular kids, to be in the “in crowd”.

I was playing the game hard.

And I was losing. Hard.

I didn’t have as many likes, as many followers, as many comments.

Maybe I was posting at the wrong time.

Maybe I needed to network more.

Maybe I needed to edit differently.

Maybe I needed to kiss some more virtual butt.

To me the lack of likes and comments was equating to not being good enough, not being talented enough, not being important enough, just not being enough.

Because I don’t feel good enough as a mom and a home keeper (seriously, God, are you sure this is where you want me? I am horrible at keeping a house clean!)

I have found myself second guessing all my photography, my edits, thinking constantly abit how others edit and that If I don’t shoot or edit the way they do then I won’t fit in, I won’t sell with stock photography, I won’t measure up.

I really wish more people would stop trying to make themselves look enough.

That I would stop trying to make myself look and feel enough.

God says I am enough but because I stare at a phone or computer screen too much I don’t hear him.

I can’t hear him over the shouts of “Keep up! Keep up!!” In my head.

The demands to make my house look like her house.

To dress my children the way she does.

To edit photos like he does.

To write like her.

Cook like her.

Look like her.

Pray like her.

Trust God like them.

Hear God speaking to me daily like him.

Know God’s purpose for my life like her.

To speak positivity and prosperity over my life and have it all change in two weeks like the lady on that podcast.

Over and over and over those thoughts spin in my head.

There is only one way to silence them: recognize you are NOT THEM.

God has a unique plan for each of us.

Each plan is unique because each person is unique.

Stop playing the game.

Stop comparing.

Stop trying to be what you see in the pictures.

And by you I mean “me too.”

 

See beyond the shine and know that there is dirt.

You can’t see the mother crying just outside the frame, worrying she dressed her children “wrong” and her photos won’t look as nice as her sister-in-law or cousins or friend’s photos.

You can’t see the dad feeling inadequate because he works 50 hours a week but is still deep in debt.

You can’t see the toddler who threw a tantrum; the teenager who feels less than and rejected; the grandparents who only see their grandchildren in photographs because their daughter has been angry at them for years for things they apologized for over and over.

But really?

You can see all of that.

You can see all of it.

Because when you look at that pretty photograph, know that in it are real people in a fake scene.

Real people who struggle, who hurt, who cry, who suffer, who want to be loved and who are loved by the same God who loves you

Don’t stop asking if you can hug me

There we were driving over the back roads to the small Christian school my son attends and just like that summer was over.

Sure we had one more day before school officially began but on that humid summer night I felt a tight feeling in my chest and knew it was because the carefree days when I could hug him on a whim anytime throughout the day had come to an end for another year.

Here we were – his fifth grade year.

Fifth grade.

 

I felt a catch in my spirit. I mentally reached out for an imaginary lever to slow it all down but like usual the lever wouldn’t work.

I was sure it had only been a few weeks since I’d walked him into that school for the first time, him frightened and crying because he didn’t want me to leave. I cried too, all the way home, and at home.

At the end of each day I picked him up and he ran fast to me across the gym with his arms wide open and the widest, most excited smile on his face.

His hair was soft against my cheek and I loved the way he leaned into me, his comfort at the end of a long day.

On this night, a parents night to learn more about the new year and meet new staff, he ran away from me to see what was new. He’s independent now, excited for a new year and in some ways he doesn’t need Mom anymore.

But then there are those nights I hear him at my bedroom door and he tiptoes into the darkness and I ask what’s wrong.

“Can I have a hug?” he’ll ask, like he often does throughout the day, no matter where we are.

 “I just need a hug,” he says, and I know he wants to sleep next to me for the rest of the night.

I give him the hug and let him sleep next to me because I know one day he won’t want me to hug him or hold him, at least not very often .

I kiss his head on those nights and I feel his hair soft against my cheek and I close my eyes.

I breathe it all in because for these few moments, maybe a few hours, he needs me to be his comfort again.