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.

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.”