The Mikel Family

I was greeted first by the littlest one. He spotted me, grinned, and hurried to wrap his arms around my knees. What an innocent, pure soul! Children are masters at breaking down walls and showing affection. His easy joy set the tone for our whole photo shoot… and despite the humidity, the Mikel family nailed it.

I can’t say enough good about the Mikels. Hard-working, grounded, wise, and crazy about each other. Betsy has been my friend since day one of college, too. I love her; I love them all!

People & Their Sandwiches

This post is an open letter written for a few specific people; you know who you are. Thank you for entering and changing my world, for helping me laugh and learn and grow. I’m so grateful.

You wonderful human. You best-thing-that’s-happened. You people-loving, arms-wide soul. I see you, and I see all your layers. The depth, scars, mysteries, triumphs and addictions. I see you.

I’m sitting here trying to break through some sort of ceiling. It might be glass… but it’s probably acrylic. Three inches of bullet-proof acrylic, the kind that scratches easily. There are words just bottled up inside me, things I want to tell you that maybe you haven’t heard before, at least not sincerely. But I mean every word. I want you to hear me.

“And the more I learn about what it feels like to stay in love, the more surprised I am, and the more I realize why for so long I have been missing it. It doesn’t feel exactly like I thought it would feel. I’m finding it in the strangest places, in the most unexpected ways. It is easier than I ever thought it could be and also harder and softer and stronger and takes more of my heart than anyone ever told me it would.” – Ally Fallon

I’ve felt this so deeply, it has become ingrained in my soul. Finally embedded here, written on the walls of this heart. Like hearing an old, familiar song, it’s more real and beautiful this time than it was before.

Together, we’ve experienced a level of transparency and humanity that only comes through physical proximity five (and often more) days every week for months. We could be alright forever, this way, but schedules and seasons have to change. If our togetherness can’t last forever, I’m so glad it has lasted this long.

What I want you to believe

Here’s what I want you to know: Nothing you do could make you any less valuable. Failure, hard days, when you give up or give in… these things don’t define you. They sculpt your soul, rub off the rough edges, fill in the empty places. When I see you, I’ll always think, “Wow, what a human. What a very wonderful person.” And I hope you’ll begin to believe it for yourself.

Eat red meat or don’t. Recycle plastic when you can, binge-watch a show, listen to music too loudly in your car, windows rolled down. Read your books, fix your hair, go to work and to class and to your friend’s dorm. Use all the hand gestures you can, and play until your muscles ache. Go to musicals, have the numbers of everyone or no one on campus, own your own strengths and refine your weaknesses. Know the souls around you, pour into them. Seek peace and pursue it. Be a leader.

Friendship, forever

This summer, I’ve fallen in love with you in C.S. Lewis’s “friendship” way. You’re one of the dearest people I know; I love your present and future self. And I’ll always be watching from over here, cheering you on.

Only the Good Stuff

It is well, it is well with my soul.

These people. This place. The best summer to date, bar none. Oh my, I’m so grateful.

But Like Going Back

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.

C. S. Lewis

There’s something extraordinary about 25 percent-less oxygen. The air might not actually be cleaner, scientifically speaking, but it seems to take up so much less space in my body. The way it pierces my lungs as I climb in elevation, the way it turns the sky into jewel-toned blue.

The mountains feel like home even though I only visit once every couple years. “For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back,” as though I was meant to be there all along.

Weekend Blips + Session Favorites

Just a couple new corners of the internet for you to explore today…

Daily DishonestyIf you enjoy hand lettering, Lauren’s page is a honeypot for inspiration!

The Ultimate Blog Checklist My favorite tip from this list is something I often remind myself of: “It’s overwhelming to think about everything that comes after the writing part. But I promise the hardest part is getting ideas out of your brain. So just sit down and write. Don’t worry about anything else until you have a draft you’re happy with.”

Bonus Blip: Dear Evan Hansen –  Do yourself a favor. Listen to the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack and prepare to tap your toes, drum your fingers for days.

The pictures I take sometimes just gather dust in my hard drive. But these are too good not to share! Here are my favorites from the past few days…

My lovely roommate found a job and doesn’t have to move away. HALLELUJAH.
Oh just my not-so-little brother, being awesome as per usual. How did he grow up so fast???
My newest coworker/ friend/ fellow book-reader and game-player is also a model. I’m surrounded by the loveliest people, inside and out.
Sugar cone and a scoop of strawberry, please.
Aaannd blueberries. Sun-warmed, on the edge of ripeness. Just 2 minutes from my house. Perfection.

The Hard Thing About Being Human

“What a hard thing it is to be human. ”

Ally Fallon

The acrid smell of burnt popcorn wafted through our apartment last night. A good idea gone bad, something enjoyable snuffed out as quickly as you can snap your fingers. And I was left smelling like smoke wondering which emotion (the high-high or the low-low) was real. I think I knew full well, even in the moment; once again, I’d succumbed to unmet expectations.

So I ate handfuls of a fresh bag of popcorn. Tried to swallow my pride along with the puffed kernels, thoughts racing ahead.

Ex·pec·ta·tion | ekspekˈtāSH(ə)n/ | Noun

Synonyms: supposition, assumption, presumption, conjecture, surmise, calculation, prediction, hope

A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

“Reality had not lived up to expectations”

A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Well, there you have it. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. A belief that someone will or should achieve something in the future. I guess that’s one reason I’ve never doubted God or “lost” my faith. My expectations are decided; my aim is true. In that case, I know I have no cause to ever, ever doubt.

Expectations are the antagonist for every relationship I’ve ever had, every argument I’ve ever fought. I’m too darn sure of everything. Expectations are set in my own mind before they leave my mouth, and at that point, it’s usually too late.

It’s a dumb word, really… and it’s been chasing me around for years. Tailing me better than any policeman could, turning up at every inconvenient juncture. I like to be right, but who doesn’t? I hate to wrestle with the unknown (and hate to be wrong) but again, who doesn’t? And yet, the expectations I set for myself, for other people, for situations… they’re unrealistic. They’re the reasons my days occasionally backslide from excellent to miserable.

Here’s what I know: Really good intentions don’t guarantee a certain outcome. In fact, they can quickly wander into resentment. What I do, I have to do without expectations. In the words of Annie. F. Downs (see here and here), the things that make me most upset are my unmet expectations. The broken relationship, the disappointing situation, that all makes sense, ultimately. It’s my sterile, colorless expectations that produce the most frustration.

I’m finally realizing that I interpret everything according to what I expect. That drives me to make decisions that don’t align with who I am, set goals that aren’t realistic. I can’t be “in control and in love.” Not with a person or my own life, and certainly not with God.

That’s the heart of it, right? I want to stay in control because I’m afraid to let go. But I can let go and still be okay. I’m financially secure, surrounded by beautiful people and a strong family. I just can’t have all my ducks in a row. Instead, I need to look at my life with compassion. Look at myself with compassion. Look at this moment with compassion. And accept the fact that I’m absolutely human.

Does this resonate with you? Listen to Annie’s conversation with Ally to inject your soul with hope.

Intellection, Input, Context

Every night I lie in bed, the brightest colors fill my head // A million dreams are keeping me awake…
The Greatest Showman, “A Million Dreams”

I’m discovering that there are things which cannot be explained, or researched to any level of certainty, or made plain in a timely fashion.

I’ve always had the ability to understand and see “things.” I knew we would move from Indiana before my dad got the job that transplanted our family. I knew my first serious relationship wasn’t going to last months before it fell apart. I knew I would earn a degree at my alma mater before I ever wanted to leave home. Call it intuition; call it blind luck. The fact is, I often know what’s about to happen before it happens.

It’s probably, in part, because my mind is wired to write. Asking questions, doing original research, compiling evidence for my case and understanding every nuance of a situation… my daily life is defined by these tasks. In fact, my top three strengths are intellection, input and context. It means I like to do research. I like to know exactly what’s going on at all times. That mindset is my reality; it always has been.

But not this time. This time, it’s different. This time, I’m left without explanation. There have been a slew of other times, too, of course… but this is the most recent. The most pressing.

The circumstances don’t matter quite as much as the lesson learned. Simply put, after almost six months of safe haven, June and July have approached behind smoke screens. It’s frustrating. It’s humbling. It’s clarifying.

“…when he hears conflicting and confusing voices in his head, he knows those voices are not from God. God is not a God of confusion. God is clear. When I regret, wonder, and question my past, I feel anxious, guilty, and foggy. But when I focus on what’s in front of me and all around me, the fog clears, the guilt fades, the anxiety subsides. That’s when I hear God’s voice because I’ve finally quieted the others. That’s when I can see His face. Through the clearing of the fog, He comes into view, and His eyes are kind.” – Andrea Lucado

God is not a God of confusion. Do I trust Him less because I don’t know what’s going on? Or is that cause to trust Him more? My mind is wired to ask questions and ponder big topics, true, but there’s a difference between careful consideration and outright overthinking. If life can be vivified by having complete understanding of any one thing, that thing should be my inability to know everything. Getting caught in a slipstream of fear and worry and doubt only lends itself to foolishness… not wisdom.

Fractions (or large swaths) of life are intentionally precarious, I think. Weeks, months, years of uncertainty provide a bedrock for other unseen things to click into place. And they usually do.

The Cross Family

Guess who I get to feature today? The beautiful Cross family!! I don’t need to write too many words… you’re sure to fall in love with their smiles no matter what I say. This is definitely one of my favorite family photo shoots ever!

Feeling Like Family

When I graduated from high school and left youth trips and empty summers behind, I thought I’d also left behind real teamwork. The kind that leaves you sticky with sweat and sunburned and exhausted, and feeling like family.

I was wrong.

I won’t go into details (you don’t care) and I won’t tell you a sob story (I don’t cry much, anyway). I will say, however, that some of the most memorable days are ones spent with a group of people, pushing yourselves to your physical limits and sharing a common goal. Plans don’t have to play out perfectly. The weather can be miserable. It won’t matter; with the right group, you’ll walk away thinking, “Wow, that was the best weekend ever.” And you’d be right.

Taryn & Brandon Cross

Ummm wow.

It was the summer of 2017. I was thumbing through my Facebook feed when a little red blip alerted me to a new message. It was from someone named Taryn Turley, someone I didn’t know and had no connections with. The message was brief, punctuated with exclamation points, very hopeful. I read through it, then read it through again. She wanted me, a stranger, to shoot her wedding! I shot back a quick response. We met at a local Panera to confirm that we were the right couple-photographer match… and let me tell you, we 100% were.

My first impression of Taryn and Brandon was overwhelmingly positive. They were kind, cherished each other and their kiddos, worked hard. I liked them right away. Over the next couple days, we filled in details and got dates on the calendar. Engagement photos in October, wedding the following May.

So the fall came and went, and Taryn and I occasionally checked in over Facebook. In the meantime, I transplanted my life from Illinois to Indiana, earned my degree, created new circles of friends, started a full-time job. Between their engagement session and their wedding, my life really did a 180.

In February of 2018, I discovered that I had double-booked May 12. Somehow, I had failed to realize that their wedding was the day of my undergraduate graduation ceremony.

Shoot.

There was a brief moment of panic, and I felt sick. Graduation was important and I just knew my family wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t wear that cap and gown and walk across the stage and…

Then it hit me. My heart and mind grew calm, like a lake in early morning, as peace washed over me. I had already made my decision: I wouldn’t walk in graduation. That was that. After a quick conference with my parents (and many prayerful hours with God) I knew I’d made the right call.

It went beyond a simple scheduling mistake, though. It was a “just so happens” moment of forgetfulness on my part, one that was absolutely necessary and perfectly timed. Taryn & Brandon were worth more to me than walking across some silly stage. They are worth more period.

May 12 dawned a little sticky, a little wet. Rain threatened for most of the day and did fall for a while, right before the ceremony. But I was determined to give Taryn the prettiest pictures she’d every laid eyes on, rain or no rain. Their big day drifted by in a happy haze of hugs, laughter, tears. And praise God, I was blessed to capture every moment.

See, here’s the thing: Taryn & Brandon did it out of order. They’ve been together since high school, and have four beautiful babies, and already live together. My faith dictates (with good reason) that marriage should come before those things… but you know what? I witnessed more joy and unity at their wedding than I’ve experienced at some weddings of full-on Christ-followers. And the fact that the kiddos were there to experience mom and dad commit to each other forever? Wow. Just wow. It was 100% worth missing graduation to be at their wedding.

Marriage is sacred. It’s more than an excuse for a party; it symbolizes a much more beautiful, transcendent truth. Taryn & Brandon took part in that on May 12, and I’m overjoyed for the future they get to share.