Recently, I received an email from a photography client who loved the photos I took of her family, but…ummm…herself? Not so much. She went on to describe WHY she didn’t like herself in the photos and what specific action she needed to take to remediate that problem next time they take family photos. The funny thing is, I thought she looked STUNNING in REAL LIFE and STUNNING in the PHOTOS. I never thought once that something was off with her look, her style or anything about her. In fact, I thought she was beautiful, poised and TOTALLY put together from head to toe.
I sat and started at the email, wondering if there was something I could have done differently to make this mama feel more beautiful when we took the photos, something I could have done differently with posing to make her feel more at ease, something I could have done differently in editing to make her beautiful self pop from the picture even more.
As I sat staring at that email, I realized this wasn’t about me.
Memories came flooding back. This territory was all too familiar. You see, three years ago, I was the one emailing our photographer, saying I liked our family photos, but I didn’t really like any of the head shots we took of me during the photo shoot. I felt uncomfortable and awkward in front of the camera. I shopped for myself last and bought a shirt that worked with everyone else’s clothes, but I didn’t ever really love it. I felt fat in the jeans I was wearing. The bags under my eyes were too big. I didn’t look like myself. I don’t know. I just didn’t like myself in the photos.
We used the family photo for our Christmas card that year, we printed a family 5×7 for our living room, and I put one of the family photos up on my blog’s “Meet Amy” page. But I NEVER used ANY of the head shots of myself from that photo shoot. Never updated the photo on my blog. Never updated my social media photos. Never used them in blog posts. Never used them anywhere.
When I was going through family photos this fall, I ran across the CD from that photo shoot from three years ago. I took time to look through all the photos on that CD because I hadn’t looked at them in three years and I wanted to know if they were really that bad or if I’d simply fabricated a story in my mind.
Three years later, here’s what I saw…
While the photos of me weren’t awesome, they were also very pretty.
Yes, I said it.
They were also very pretty.
The truth is, there was something INSIDE of ME during and after that particular photo shoot that wasn’t well, something ugly that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough, thin enough, perfect enough in my face. (Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it’s kind of true. Right ladies?) Instead of seeing my beauty, I beat myself up, picking apart every flaw in the photos.
Bags under my eyes.
Ugly, not-quite-right shirt.
Don’t like the way I look.
Three years later and a fresh set of eyes, I could see that I looked pretty in the photos. Totally acceptable. Just right for where and who I was at that time. There was NOTHING wrong with those pictures. Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were beautiful.
Ladies, for the sake of our own well being, we must figure out how to distinguish between PERFECT and PRETTY.
Okay, so maybe you’re not going for PRETTY. Maybe you prefer to look beautiful, stunning, ravishing, radical, rogue, hip, cool, casual, fun, friendly, feminine, astute or simply put together.
However you are, WHOEVER you are, here’s what I want you to know if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures.
- First and foremost, the likelihood is that you DO look pretty, you DO look beautiful.
- Even if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures, go ahead and use the photo for your family Christmas card anyway. Go ahead and print the photo and put it on your end table anyway. Go ahead and make the 8×10 canvas and put it up in your bedroom. Go ahead and make a few copies to give your children when they get bigger because YOU are important, YOU are beautiful and YOU are needed in your family and this world JUST AS YOU ARE.
- Save the CD. Save the flash drive. Save the proofs. Save the memory card. Just save the photos, wherever they are. Then take another look at them three years later, five years later, ten years later and beyond. You’ll realize you were so pretty, so beautiful, so lovely. And you’ll most definitely wonder WHY in the world you thought anything different.
- Give yourself a chance. Give yourself a little grace.
- Keep yourself in the picture and call yourself beautiful because you are.
One year ago today, I boarded a plane to Kenya, Africa.
I always dreamed of serving in Africa. I always knew I’d go someday. But I never, ever dreamed it would be so soon. You see, it wasn’t my choosing as to when, how, where, or with whom I’d travel to Africa. One random weekday in early June, I looked at a poster on our pastor’s office wall and casually shared that I always dreamed of serving in Africa. He promptly invited me to join a 10-day mission trip to Kenya that was scheduled for November.
I wasn’t planning on going to Africa. Okay, let me clarify a bit, pastor. I wasn’t planning on going RIGHT NOW. I wasn’t expecting you to ask me. Give me a couple years, okay? Give me some space and time to think on this, yes? Give me a few years for my kids to get older. Give me a moment to make every detail right. Let me get the timing just perfect for my husband, my friends, my family and pretty much everyone around me. Then, and only then, I’ll most definitely say yes to your invitation. Can’t we all just agree that five or six months is not nearly enough time to prepare for a life-changing trip to Africa?
Needless to say, I spent nearly three months thinking and overthinking that trip, and finally said yes less than three months before our group was scheduled to depart.
Given my reluctancy to accept God’s invitation to go and serve in Africa, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I found myself on the outside, watching a group of orphaned and abandoned children worship in the most authentic and abandoned way I’d witnessed in 39 years of life on earth.
I was there. Fully present. Fully immersed in their worship.
But I was sitting on the outside.
Wishing I could be one of them.
Wishing I could live and linger in a place of wild, worshipful abandon for the rest of my life.
Yes, this was without a doubt, a glimpse of heaven on earth.
But I was sitting on the outside.
This is a guest post written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular guest posts on my blog since February 2015. The purpose of her posts is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I’m also hoping the posts will help readers recognize that we all have hopes, dreams, challenges and mountains to climb regardless of our mental health status. If you’d like to read the posts I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the guest posts she’s shared on this blog, check out the mental health page. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.
Being grateful can improve one’s health. As I reflect on the past year, I have so much to be thankful for! I have two kids who I would do anything for, a great support system of professionals, family and friends, the ability to help myself and seeing gains for my efforts. I have found more peace in myself now than I ever have before. To me, Thanksgiving has a new meaning this year. The good, the bad and the rest that doesn’t always make sense. These are all the pieces of my life that I’m thankful for.
My parents were out of town for over three months due to my dad’s lung transplant, but have been back now for a little over two weeks. My dad is home this Thanksgiving. I am grateful that my parents get to spend the holiday with us. My dad had some lung rejection issues, and he ended up in the hospital for ten days right before they came back home. His team of doctors will be checking his antibodies soon to see if the lung rejection is still happening. If his antibodies are bad, he will have to go back to the hospital for further procedures. The transition to them being back home has not necessarily been easy, but we are working on adjusting to accommodations that work for everyone. We are moving forward with my dad’s health with optimism. We are planning for a great future with him around.
I’m thankful that Raegan, my six-year-old daughter, is starting to understand my mental health issues. She likes to show her friends and people who stop by clips from when I was in movies, television shows and commercials in my 20s. I was in the movie Four Christmases. Raegan laughs pretty hard when she sees my hands up in the air in the background. She often asks me what happens when I don’t take my pills. I forgot them one morning, and she asked if I could drive alright without them. I told her that I would be fine, as long as I took them soon. Raegan is reading very well and with great expression. She loves math, her class and her teacher. She is very wise and kind as well. She has her temper tantrum moments. Xander, my two-year-old son, is loving life. He is pretty rambunctious and is an explorer. He is full of questions, loves school (Early Childhood Family Education) and is an extremely kind and loving son. He loves exploring so much that it’s difficult for him to sit still during ECFE reading time. During gym time, he’s been running around pretending he’s a dinosaur. The other kids don’t seem to know what to think. He is proud to call the other kids in the class his friends. My experience with Xander at school has been different because I feel more chill and comfortable about everything. I am thankful for my two children. They keep me going, even when I’d rather isolate myself from the world.
I need a support system to help me discipline and work with my kids. My parents, friends and a team of professionals help me with these issues. I take advice from each and every one of these people to help improve my situation. I am trying to help myself so I can be more independent of some of this help, as I have been over the past few months. I’m working with what I’ve been told, and am starting to figure out a parenting plan that I can do more independently. Now that my parents are home, it’s east to revert to dependence again. But I have gained confidence over the last three months as a parent. I am a parent who can prepare meals, stay organized and help with homework. I am thankful for all that I have been taught about parenting, and I plan on utilizing those skills throughout life.
Overall, I am very satisfied with how far I have come as a single parent. I am grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life, and am happy my mom and dad are now home, at least for now. My kids, support system, my ability to help myself and peoples’ responses to my gains have guided me towards more independence in life and with my children. I hope that over the years I become more confident in my myself and my skills. Every day is a new journey!
Let’s face it. The 2016 presidential race was brutal and divisive. While so many hoped that the election would put a stop to all the divisiveness, the election of Donald Trump seems to have caused an even greater divide within our great nation, the United States of America.
Will we heal?
Will we hear the other side?
What will it take to bridge the gap between us and them?
Questions loom and linger.
How will we move through and beyond?
Some are grieving. Some are angry. Some are numb now. Some just don’t understand.
Is our country safe anymore?
What will come of our world?
What will a Donald Trump presidency look like?
Will the protests subside, or will they go on for four or eight years?
Will we ever be able to cross the divide?
So many unknowns.
So many uncertainties.
There is no clear or right answer except to remember we are ONE nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.
So what do we do?
Where do we start?
Perhaps we need to step back in time.
This week, my offering to a world that’s in awe, a world that’s divided, a world that’s uncertain and in need comes from my 4-year-old daughter.
In the midst of my grief over what’s transpired during this deeply divisive presidential election, my four year old has shown me what it means to love and live, through and beyond the turmoil.
When asked who was running for president of the United States, my four year old was able to name Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I think she would probably be able to name them if she was shown their faces. But that’s it. Nothing more. She knew their names and that they were running for president. I’m quite sure she doesn’t even know what President of the United States means. But one thing’s for sure. My four year old has taught me what it means to love and live, purely and simply, even when the world’s going mad.
Let’s learn. Let’s turn our ears towards the young. May we learn something profound, something our soul’s forgotten.
LESSON ON LOVING & LIVING #1: Find ways to compliment people and love on them even if you disagree with them.
This week, my 4-year old daughter wanted to write cards for her friends. She got out a piece of notebook paper and had me fold it into four. Then she got some post-it notes out. She wanted me to help her write notes to her friends, Sydney, Henry, Edry and Rylan, on the post-it notes. I wrote as she dictated. It was pure and simple. One sentence or two. That’s it. A compliment. A way to show her love to her friends and neighbors. Then she signed her name after each one.
Perhaps we can glean wisdom from a four year old’s simple and idealistic world.
Find ways compliment people and and love on them even if you disagree with them.
LESSON ON LOVING & LIVING #2: Surround yourself with diversity.
As I was driving to the gym with my daughter on Thursday, she randomly shared this story. “I have brown hair. My friend has white hair and a white face. My other friend has black hair and a brown face.”
“That is so awesome!” I replied exuberantly. “I’m so proud of you that you have all kinds of friends. It’s fun to have lots of different kind of friends, isn’t it?”
What was most notable about this conversation was that my daughter made that statement with NO judgement. It was a matter of fact. Pure and simple fact. She recognized that her friends were diverse, that they had different physical traits. But she didn’t place any judgement on those differences. There’s something refreshing about that to me. We can recognize differences without casting judgement.
It’s hard to admit, but it’s sometimes easiest to hang out with people who look, act and think like us. But hanging around a monolithic group of people who think, act, and behave EXACTLY like us doesn’t do anything to expand our worldview. The more we’re able to surround ourselves with diversity or AT LEAST open ourselves up to seeing and hearing the other side, the more likely we’re able to expand and diversify our worldview. Diverse perspectives and worldviews are critical to bridging the great divide.
Perhaps we can glean wisdom from a four year old’s simple and idealistic world.
Surround yourself with diversity.
LESSON ON LOVING & LIVING #3: Create art.
This week, my 4-year-old daughter brought home oodles of art from preschool. Handmade cards with drawings. Colored pages with paper punches lining the sides. Red, purple and pink pieces of construction paper cut into mountains, hills and rectangles. I’ll be honest, I usually throw away a bunch of this stuff because a mom can’t keep everything or it’d lead to boxes upon boxes of memories. But I’m keeping every single one of my daughter’s art pieces from this week. They’ve been gems to me in a week of presidential, political and personal turmoil.
If you make any sort of art, you MUST continue creating during these days of uncertainty. The world desperately needs your art, your perspective, your unique way of expressing love and joy, despair and destitution, anger and peace. The way you see life, the way you express it through your art? It’s important. It’s noteworthy. It’s crucial and life saving. We must continue making art, even when it seems completely pointless. We must continue making art, even when it seems like everyone’s too busy to see it. We must continue making art, even when the world’s gone mad. Keep making art. Keep creating. Keep putting it out there. We need your art more than ever.
Sing. Dance. Paint. Write. Photograph. Collage. Decoupage. Knit. Crochet. Quilt. Sew. Garden. Decorate. Build. Woodwork. Mosaic. Make jewelry and pottery. Whatever it is you do to create art and beauty in this world, do it and keep doing it! We need art now more than ever.
Perhaps we can glean wisdom from a four year old’s simple and idealistic world.
Bridge the great divide.
He called me first. I was on the phone with my husband, so I wasn’t able to answer. Then I received a text. Having received a phone call and text within seconds of each other, I knew the message was urgent and required a prompt and personal response on my part. My husband suggested I hang up and return the call immediately.
“Hi. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your mom this week. We all know it’s going to happen at some point, but it’s still never easy,” I said.
“Thank you very much,” he responded. “Actually, that’s why I called. I need to write up something about my mom for the back of the bulletin for her funeral, and I was wondering if you’d be able to do that for me.”
“Sure,” I said, without giving it much thought. After all, just six days prior a writing colleague suggested that I should consider writing peoples’ life stories. It should’ve been no surprise that I was presented with an opportunity so soon after the suggestion was made to me.
He told me he’d spoken with his siblings, that they’d gathered some information about their mom and her life story, and could I possibly put all of this together and write it in a nice format for the back of the bulletin?
Undoubtedly, YES I can.
Who would say no to such an honor?
Basically, I was being asked to write this woman’s obituary.
I took the son’s notes, spent time putting them into paragraphs and emailed the final draft of the obituary to him around 10:00 p.m. that night.
The next morning bright and early, he shared the draft with his siblings. They removed some information and added some information. He called and asked if I could rewrite and refine the obituary with the changes in mind.
Undoubtedly, YES I can.
I made the changes and emailed the obituary back to him within 30 minutes. He needed to get it to the pastor that morning.
She passed away on Monday. I sent the final draft of the obituary for the funeral bulletin at 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday. The funeral was Thursday. Today it’s Friday.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14
All of this has me thinking…
What did I learn from writing this woman’s obituary?
It is with great honor and respect of this woman’s life and death, that I share just a few of my learnings. Perhaps one or all will guide your path, your life, the light you shine during your short time on earth.
- In the end, your life will be reduced to a few short paragraphs in an obituary. What would you like those paragraphs to say? You are not victim to what happens in your life, nor are you victim to what shows up in your obituary. You have a chance to change the trajectory of your life NOW.
- Whether you believe it or not, whether you believe you’re making a difference or not, you WILL be a part of someone’s obituary. Your name is important. Your contribution and service to others is important. Your presence and dedication to others is important. Whose obituary will you be on, and how are you contributing to their life today?
- Isn’t it beautiful to have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended relatives and friends? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a powerful influence in your grandchildren and great-grandchildrens’ lives? How will they remember you once you are gone? What legacy will you leave for future generations? How about extended relatives and friends? What relationships are you fostering now that will actually hold weight on your death bed? Who’s the friend you can’t imagine life without? Who’s the cousin or aunt or great uncle for whom you always had a special affection?
- Your mistakes, your sins, your faults, your terrible mishaps, and the worst moments of your life will rarely show up on your obituary. People will remember the BEST of you. What do you want that BEST to look like?
- LOVE is perhaps the one and only thing you want to show up most on your obituary. Love deeply, to the best of your ability.
- Work hard, but definitely not too hard. Work with your heart. Work with the end in mind. Do you want to be remembered for earning $200,000.00 a year, or do you want to be remembered for being a great leader? Do you want to be remembered for never missing a single day of work, or do you want to be remembered for being committed and dedicated to whatever you did? Do you want to be remembered for being “over” hundreds of employees, or do you want to be remembered for being a faithful mentor and guide? Do you want to be remembered for all the awards you won, or do you want to be remembered as a servant heart? The list could go on and on. Be wise about your work, for the days are short in this one wild and crazy life.
- What are you doing to stay busy in your down time? Watching TV? Watching your iPhone? Vacuuming? Dusting? Or would you rather be remembered for something cool and interesting like knitting, skydiving, woodworking, writing, traveling to all the continents, pottery, jewelry making, or something super cool like that? Find and develop your interests now and as you’re able. Who knows? Maybe someday your grandchild will find your box of antique rulers and bottle caps, and will think it’s the coolest collection in the world!
- If your entire life had to be summarized in just ONE sentence, what would you want it to say? What do you want to be known for? How do you want to be remembered? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for future generations? What changes can you make that will begin to shape and mold the ONE sentence that describes your life? Hint: It’s not necessarily about WHAT you did, it’s more about WHO you were. “She was always such a graceful lady.” “He was such a funny guy.” “She was such a kind and generous soul.” “He was committed to his family.” “She was faithful to the end.” “He never gave up on his dreams.” “She sure went through a lot, but she was one tough cookie.”
- What do you believe at the core of who you are? Believe me, your core beliefs will show up on your obituary. What do you believe, and how is that being expressed in your life? It’s worth pondering today and every day.
- What would be devastating and terribly unfortunate if it never showed up in your obituary? What are your dreams, your plans for your life? Is there some goal, some life aspiration, some way of living and being that you need to commit to so that someday when your obituary is written, it will actually show up and be remembered? What is your one true calling? Are you short-changing yourself? Are you foregoing your dreams for daily pursuits that don’t have any long-lasting legacy power? Are you selling your soul for things that won’t really matter at the end of life? If you were to die today, what would be missing from your obituary tomorrow? Move towards the thing that’s missing.
That’s it. That’s all I learned from writing someone’s obituary.
Be blessed. Be a blessing. Live life as if it counts. Live today as if it’s your last.
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