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.

Nothing but the Good Stuff

1. A prelude to summer: The whir of lawnmowers, and the scent of fresh-cut grass wafting through my open windows.

2. I’m convinced that The Glenn Beck Program, my go-to for real news, should always be enjoyed while washing dishes or vacuuming. (Monday’s broadcast was especially laugh-inducing, by the way.)

3. Whole wheat maple syrup banana oatmeal muffins. Nothing but the good stuff, plus chocolate chips and cinnamon for garnish. They’re rising in the oven as I type… and they’re better than a candle for good smells!

4. Exceptional stories, the kind that cause laughter and tears all in the same sitting.  I don’t typically cry over a paperback, but goodness, I nearly did with this one.

5. A baby garden to water. This “chore” has become the best part of my post-work routine.

What are you thankful for today?

Honeyed Sunlight + Addicted to Outrage

Amber-toned wood, slashes of honeyed light, that saucy, defiantly joyful morning warmth. The way it scrubs in colors, deepens contrast, illuminates, shrouds. I could sit and stare for hours.

“So they regarded the end of the political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.”

Sebastian Haffner – Defying Hitler

It’s remarkable that Haffner’s words could apply to 1924-era Germany or modern-day America. They do, in fact, apply to Germany; but we’d do well to understand their context and note the similarities.

In this chapter, Haffner explores the events that eventually led to Hitler’s ruling party. “It was at this time,” he writes, “That, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those would remain non-Nazis.” Haffner was a non-Nazi, but he witnessed most of his peers succumb to the Fuhrer’s dictatorship. Their childhoods had a backdrop of political fever, one that also provided “raw material for their deeper emotions.” Their entertainment was accompanied by poverty, hunger, death and chaos, but it was a happy trade: sensationalism for peril. Those often come as a pair.

“Young people themselves were familiar with nothing but political clamor, sensation, anarchy, and the dangerous lure of irresponsible numbers games. They were only waiting to put what they had witnessed into practice, but on a far greatest scale.” – Haffner

Haffner’s perception rings with truth for modern-day America. Many Americans are addicted to outrage, as talk-show host Glenn Beck has so accurately surmised. They are ravenous for disposable entertainment by way of scandal. The livelihoods and reputations of many men, for instance, are destroyed by the Me Too movement. These men may be in the wrong, but only a few are deemed innocent before proven guilty. In fact, I can’t think of any. Their indiscretions (usually having occurred many years in the past) are eagerly picked apart by media and exploited for our entertainment.

Surviving on a diet of outrage simply isn’t feasible for the long-term. It’s addictive; it leaves behind only emptiness and boredom. Americans must acquire the ability to “make an ordinary private life great, beautiful, and worthwhile, how to enjoy it and make it interesting.” Otherwise, we’re likely to face a future similar to that of the Germans in 1924. We’ll be primed and ready for a revolution.

Happy Saturday thoughts, I know. Maybe I just listen to too much talk radio and read too many history books. 🙂

The Acute Desire for Approval

“Evil is the greatest explanation for God.”

Perhaps it’s the rain. It feels especially unwelcome after such a sunny weekend. Or maybe it’s the quietness that fills a space after guests leave. (Those silences make me realize that my home should always be used for hospitality, and often.) In any case, my thoughts are doing a remarkable interpretation of laundry churning in the dryer.

So today’s post is from my sermon notes, because at least those were ordered and cohesive.

The Acute Desire for Approval

I’ll admit it. At my core, I crave approval. I think everyone does. We all want to be significant, we want to matter. In the words of my pastor, we have an acute addiction to approval. What do we forgo when we let it control our lives?

A Distraction from Our Calling

Although not inherently wrong, my very human desire for approval is most certainly a distraction. When I spend my life seeking the approval of others, I fail to relish the approval of God. More importantly, I sail straight by His calling for my life. Rather than dwell on truth, I press “replay” on the thoughtless words someone said, or the situations my foolishness left me in.

Put that way, it seems incredibly stupid, doesn’t it? I’m probably the only person who does this: I cooperate with negative thoughts! My failures don’t define me, but I tend to believe that they do. It’s an awful slope to slide down.

But evil is indeed the greatest explanation for God. When I slip towards self-loathing, the only and best solution is to immerse myself in what God says is true. I’m incapable of manufacturing lasting approval for myself. It must come from the One who created me and knows what will happen tomorrow.

Created for Freedom

The truth is that we were created for much more than a life defined by mistakes. We were created for freedom, and to live in that freedom each day. That’s a key tenant of the Gospel.  As per my pastor, here are a few ways to live in freedom:

1. Repent. When lies begin to fill your mind, do a mental (or perhaps a physical) about-face. Immediately remind yourself of the truth.

2. Lean. Choose to rely on God’s power rather than your own. Stop fixing yourself.

3. Stand. Ground yourself on God’s promises, and realize your craving for approval is an echo of a much deeper desire for relationship with God.

4. Stop. Quit trying to earn the approval of people! You’re wearing yourself out. Forgo people-pleasing in favor of honoring God with your life.

Speak truth to yourselves, friends. God is greater; believe it, whether you’re filled with hope or overwhelmed by churning thoughts.

Weekend Blips

We’re going heavy on the tech this weekend! These articles are simultaneously exciting and terrifying. We live in an interesting age, people.

Humanity, not technology

“Sure, technology is absolutely critical. But marketers must remember that technology has a purpose, as well as limitations, and as far as I know, it has yet to replicate the authentic empathy and emotional intelligence of humans.”

No commentary required.

Teaching AI to act responsibly

I appreciate the balance Michael Blitz offers. Too often, AI is touted as our savior. Before we allow machines to run our lives, we must consider all the implications. Learning to code a moral compass is an essential, often overlooked element of technological advancement.

When your calling is hard to find

And finally, a bit of hope that transcends technology. Living in pursuit of purpose (not passion) requires a mindset and lifestyle shift. The results are so freeing, though. “Look around you, God is saying. You are called to serve me right now, in the situation you’re in, whether you’re washing dishes or sitting in your cubicle.” 

Michelle & Denver

In my mind, “Fireman’s Building” doesn’t immediately intersect with “wedding reception.” But wow, Michelle and Denver took that blank-canvas space and transformed into something quite lovely.

M & D got married in the cold throes of January. They chose to delay their reception until this weekend, though, with near-perfect results. Almost all weddings have themed decorations; theirs was the Medieval age. Human chessboard, Maypole and all.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. But when I stepped into that unassuming building, I was greeted by pink roses and baby’s breath, long tables, linen napkins and neatly arranged platters of cheese and fruit. *Insert happy photographer.*

People matter most to Michelle. At lunch, she served her aging grandmother before getting her own meal, pausing to make sure the salad had the right dressing. Michelle also spoke with nearly everyone who stepped into her path, treating each as if they were the only person there. I’ve known Michelle for a few years; that open-handed sweet spirit has always been an inspiration.

And of course, the happy couple. Is it possible for love to be more genuine?

My Thoughts, Inspired by a Lake Conference

It was like a youth trip. Rising before dawn, staying out until heads nod, several unbalanced meals and too many cups of coffee. And the people, of course, huddled into a 16-passenger van, gripping water bottles and Pop-Tarts.

I needed that trip. I needed a long car ride, a few meals out and extra cups of coffee. I needed to shift about in uncomfortable chairs while listening to speakers. And of course, I needed the obligatory stop for fast-food on the way home, and miles’ worth of stories in the back seat.

Trips that require 5:30 a.m. alarms and note-taking and a little rule-breaking… there’s nothing finer. It filled the epilimnion of my mind with new ideas.

ILMS was over my head. But by the end of the conference, I felt more enlightened… enough to use the word “epilimnion” when referring to my mental processing, anyway. With each 30-minute session, I learned a condensed version of lake-related science. From the history of the lakes in a nearby county to the uses of DNA found in a river. Sandwiched between numbers and terminology, I enjoyed swaths of time laughing, sipping coffee and exploring the conference center.

In the end, ILMS provided resources to enter an interesting, largely untapped field of information, one I’ve only pursued since January. Luckily, my job partially relies upon my understanding of lake science! (Like I need an excuse to do research. Spoken like a true life-long learner, I know.)

That wasn’t all we did, of course. There had to be a bit of exploring:

After I got home on Friday, I felt something I haven’t felt for years. I sank into my favorite living room chair, watched the sun create patterns on the carpet. I wasn’t sure how to define the familiar, distant emotion. And then I realized: I felt lonely. That happy loneliness which comes with loving people and sharing experiences. Belonging. The feeling began to dissipate as quickly as it arrived, but I snagged the corner and held on for a moment. Just to savor its presence.

I’m coming full circle. By way of my coworkers and my work, memories are being replaced and renewed, and I am being set free. I’m so grateful.

Weekend Blips

Ford Yates Photography

Every heard of Ford Yates? Me neither… until a coworker introduced me to his work a few days ago. And now I can’t stop skimming through his portfolio. If you love outdoor photography, this is definitely the photographer for you. Prepare to be inspired!

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour tells the heart-stopping story of Winston Churchill and his enduring strength in Europe’s greatest hour of need. Churchill is unwilling to surrender to Nazi Germany: “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is within its mouth,” Churchill roars at his war cabinet. In a matter of days, this master of the English language rallies his country and yanks them away from the cusp of destruction. If you need a little extra courage to carry on, watch Darkest Hour.

Fun Therapy

My latest podcast addiction! “Fun Therapy with Mike Foster dives into the horribly messy parts of our stories (with a smile),” the description states. Truly, though, don’t we all need a few more genuine conversations about hard things? Ask a friend to listen to Fun Therapy with you; it will likely spark valuable discussions about God, relationships and your understanding of the world.