What My Parents Taught Me About Marriage

Today is my parent’s twenty-first anniversary. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love these people. I was raised by the two best parents on earth. And while it’s definitely not out of my character at all to be sentimental, I spent some time reflecting recently on what I’ve learned from my parents’ marriage. I knew a guy in high school who liked to talk about relationships and what they should look like. And I remember being kind of amazed at what his idea of what a perfect marriage looked like, and how different it was than the beauty and harmony I saw reflected in my own parent’s relationship. Mom and Dad, you’re far from perfect, but I hope I have a marriage half as imperfectly lovely as yours.

Here are just a few of the things that my parents have taught me about marriage.

Always marry the man who makes you feel truly loved.

My mom and I have had so many conversations about this. Because neither of my parents came to Christ until I was a kid, they didn’t really have any rules or requirements for a spouse. They basically just lived for the moment. Spent their time with whoever was the best looking or funniest or most convenient. But my mom still gets a special smile on her face when she talks about meeting my dad. He fell in love with her right away. He was absolutely smitten, and she wouldn’t give him the time of day. So he kept finding ways to be around her. Showing up at her work just to chat. Inviting her out with friends. Making her laugh. By the time they finally go together, she already knew how important she was to him. She was a special treasure that he cherished. And even though there wasn’t the slightest hint of Christ in their lives at that time, I can still see it now, in an even more radiant and special way. My dad treasures my mom, and she is more than thankful for him in return. “He’s was the first ever truly nice guy I dated,” my mom still says. “I knew I was going to marry him right away. There was no one else who made me feel that way.”

Put Christ at the center of everything.

The only reason why my parents have had such a wonderful marriage is because God was leading them through it. I remember having friends with divorced parents and broken families when I was a kid, and lying in bed crying about the possibility that something might happen to my parents. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand how silly that is. My parents don’t view marriage as a flex arrangement or a preference to stay together. They are committed to each other. Committed to stick out the petty arguments. Committed to put away the jealousy. Committed to apologize for the thoughtless words. But above all that, they’re committed to surrendering their lives to God and allowing Him to lead their marriage. My dad bought this t-shirt when I was a kid that says, “Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage. – God.” I don’t even think God needed an invitation into my parent’s marriage. He didn’t need to be asked or considered on an invite list. From the day they were saved, I have never seen them to anything but extend their arms to Him for grace, wisdom, and the best kind of love.

It’s okay to have inside jokes and don’t feel bad about keeping them a secret.

My parents love to joke about the “B.C.” days (“Before Children”). Oh, I’m sure their lives were crazy and fun-filled and fantastic. They can look at each other and burst into laughing about the most mundane little thing. “Wow, horseback riding. Remember that time…” “Oh, yeah, on the beach!” “And they gave you…” “And I was still scared!” “But you rode it anyway!” And by now they are red-faced with laughter and I’m sitting there with absolutely no idea what they are talking about or what exactly my mother rode on that beach. But I like it that way. My parents have their own secret language of “Doug and Carrie jokes” and “Billy Flippo stories” and each one washes them anew with memories and special connections. They’re the electric wires that shoot between them, connecting their thoughts privately and sending warm messages.

All good parents should kiss in front of their kids. Sometimes.

It grossed me out so much when I was little. Not gonna lie. It still weirds me out to see my parents kiss. But it makes me happier now than I remember being when I was a kid. Happy because my mom can still give my dad a big kiss in the kitchen and they can still blink at me like they’ve been caught or something when I wander in from the next room. (“Oh yeah, guys. Didn’t know you did that.”) But I’m secretly thankful because it reminds me that they care. That, at the end of the day, my mom is still going to kiss my dad. They’re still going to be in love because that’s the kind of people they are.

Husbands should never yell at their wives.

I have never, never, ever heard my dad yell at my mom. Ever. And I know this probably has more to do with my dad’s personality than an actual marriage counseling tip, but it taught me something valuable. Women should marry men who respect them enough not to yell. It’s okay to get “a tone” sometimes. It’s okay to be frustrated, or to even have to go into another room for a while to cool down and regroup. I’ve seen my dad do both those things and both are okay! But I love the fact that I can’t think back to a single time when my dad let his anger over something interfere with his respect for his wife.

Going gray together is a beautiful thing.

My mom has never dyed her hair. Which is amazing since she has the most beautiful dark hair in the world, and the tiny silver specks in it just make it look sleek and shimmery. I don’t know if I’ll have her luck or if I’ll start going grey when I’m twenty. But whatever the case, I love that my parents went gray together. It makes me laugh when I hear my dad grumbling about how he doesn’t want my mom to dye her hair and start looking like a trophy wife. I smile when my mom makes it clear that if dad thinks she looks good with silver streaks, then she’s okay with it too. My parents are amazingly attractive to me, salt-and-pepper qualities and all.

And finally, always put your spouse before your children.

I know my parents love me. I know that they would cross oceans, sacrifice all their possessions, and lay down their lives for me. But I know that they love each other anymore. That’s what I am. I’m the result of the overspilling of my parent’s love for each other. I’m a visual reminder of the fact that God has blessed the love of my mom and dad. That’s what makes it okay when my mom gives the last serving of potatoes to my dad. That’s why it’s fine that the first person my dad wants to see when he walks in the door is my mom. That’s why it doesn’t bother me to know that they have secrets I don’t know about. That there are things between them that I’ll never have any part in. It’s okay because that’s what marriage demands. Marriage demands a special, unique, incomparable type of love between a man and his wife. One day, hopefully, I’ll be able to experience that too!

Mom and Dad, thank you for the commitment you made twenty-one years ago to make it through this life together. I don’t know what you’ve faced in those seven thousand days, but I know that it’s going to be worth it. I know that as long as you continue to seek God together, your love will just keep getting stronger. I know that throughout all the mistakes you make and apologies you fumble through, you’ll keep getting wiser. And I know that with every sacrifice you lay down and with every humble way you serve each other, you will keep growing more and more like Christ.

Happy Anniversary, you two. Know that you’re setting my standards high.

-Rachel

The World Behind a Lens

“One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.” – Annie Leibovitz

When you guys find out that I was headed to Asia this spring to take pictures, I got lots of suggestions for a post about photography. Because, let’s be honest, anyone who knows a thing about me knows how much I love taking photos. But when I sat down to write this post, I found it really hard to answer some of the questions I’d received.

Why do I take pictures? Why am I interested in photography? Why is this part of who I am?

I honestly don’t know.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a camera glued to my side. I’m pretty sure I was given my first camera back in the film age. I was nine or ten and I got a little silver camera for Christmas. I stuffed a film cartridge in it, took it to my neighbors’ house, and started snapping away. I swear I shot a roll of film every week. Walgreens became my new hang-out. I was developing photos of everything. Snapshots of my friends and family members. Little details of our house and backyard. Goofy smiles and scenes from our outings and playdates and fieldtrips.

Somewhere along the line, someone thought to give me a scrapbook. It was probably my mom. Whatever the case, having an album just fueled my addiction. I started loving the notion of sticking photos into a book, and jotting down notes to go along with them. Before I knew it, I had six or seven completed scrapbooks. My bookshelves were heavy with the weight of thoughts and pictures. I still have them all and it amazes me how I can flip through the pages and re-live my world at ten. Or eleven. Or thirteen.

I had learned something that would completely change my life. I learned how to tell a story through photos. Even at twelve or thirteen, I knew how to take pictures of my sisters and express how I felt about them. I understood the power of words and I could sense the potency of a good photograph, but my world was shaken when I realized what I could do if I put them together. These scrapbooks were my way of telling my life story. They were the original blog, in a lot of ways.

After I received my first check from Zondervan and had put some money into savings, I asked my parents if I could finally buy a nice camera. I’ll never forget the thrill I got when that first DSLR came in the mail. I followed my sisters around for weeks, begging to take their pictures. I invited over all my friends, one by one, and conducted my first ever “photoshoots”.

I learned how to talk to people and how to take their pictures and how to really see them through a two inch lens.

Family photography was something I stumbled into. There was a market, and I fulfilled a need, and God just dropped people into my lap until I had a full portfolio and an amazing client base. I never once marketed myself, or paid for any advertisements. I just stuck to what I knew best: storytelling. Storytelling through a set of images, working as a series of individual words.

It took me a long time, though, to figure out that I was both a writer and photographer, and that these two facets of my personality actually complimented each other. I’m ashamed to admit that for several years I struggled with the decision I thought I would one day have to make. Am I going to be a photographer or a writer?

It never occurred to me that I could be both.  

I get lots of questions about my photography. What equipment do I use? What editing software do I swear by? Am I a Canon or Nikon girl?

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. You hear photographers say that all the time, but it’s so true! No one is going to judge the importance and power of your photographs based on what editing technique you use. Lightroom over Photoshop isn’t going to make a lick of difference.

I think that people react to photography based on what it says about their life. I take photos of people that I know. People who, even if I just met them afternoon, I can see and understand and love. When you know someone–when you really know and love them–you’re going to be able to capture them. You can tell their story in a way that’s beautiful and real and honest. It’s not perfect and it’s not a white buttoned-down image out of a Kohl’s catalog.

Photography is simply one person telling a story about life. Photography is expressing yourself through a single image. A solitary thought. It’s being able to freeze life for a moment and explain what is so real and amazing and breathtaking about that sliver of history.

I can’t even begin to fathom how many photos I’ll probably take in my life. Pictures of muddy knees and wrinkled eyelids and chubby fingertips. Moments of joy, of heartache, and of sheer amazement. But each one of those stories is going to tell a story. And it doesn’t matter whether that story speaks to me, to you, or to the person who stumbles across it in a photo album fifty years from now.

I love this. I love this way of living. Of constantly looking and noticing and storytelling, even if it’s only in my mind. Even the moments that never get captured will be frozen in my mind. Even the stories that never get written down will echo in my memory.

I am a writer and a photographer just like I am a human and a girl. They both just spill out into everything I do. I could never choose one over the other. No matter what life brings me, I hope I keep telling stories. I hope I keep meeting and falling in love with people and with life. And I hope and pray that God somehow uses these passions to encourage the random individuals who see my photos, hear my stories, and empathize with my life.

-Rachel

100 Questions

One hundred short answers to one hundred simple, complicated, personal, thought-provoking questions.
1.    Are you outgoing or shy?
Outgoing. 

2.    Who are you looking forward to seeing?
My family.

3.    Are you easy to get along with?
I hope so.

4.    What kind of people are you attracted to?
Funny, witty, non-dramatic people

5.    Do you think you’ll be in a relationship two months from now?
Probably not.

6.    Who was the last person you had a deep conversation with?
My roommate.

7.    What does the most recent text that you sent say?

“I sense mocking in your tone.” 

8.    What are your 5 favorite songs right now?

  1. “Collide” – Howie Day
  2. “Swans and the Swimming” – Iron & Wine
  3. “Oceans” – Hillsong United
  4. “Over My Head (Cable Car)” – The Fray
  5. “Somewhere Only We Know” – Lily Allen

9.    Do you like it when people play with your hair?
Not particularly

10.  What good thing happened this summer?
I finally got to travel some of the world

11.  Do you still talk to your first crush?

No

12.  Do you like bubble baths?
I’m a woman, aren’t I?

13.  Do you like your neighbors?
They’re nice people.

14.  What are your bad habits?
Procrastination, messiness, zoning out during a conversation

15.  Where would you like to travel?

Africa

16.  Do you have trust issues?
Sometimes

17.  Favorite part of your daily routine?
Eating

18.  What part of your body are you most uncomfortable with?
Why would I draw attention to it?

19.  What do you do when you wake up?
Check my phone

20.  Do you wish your skin was lighter or darker?
Darker

21.  Who are you most comfortable around?
My family + childhood friends

22.  Do you ever want to get married?
Yes

23.  Would you rather live without TV or music?

TV

24.  Have you ever liked someone and never told them?
 
Yes.

25.  What do you say during awkward silences?

Sometimes I imitate cricket noises 

26.  What are your favorite stores to shop in?

Anthropologie, old book stores, vintage shops

27.  What do you want to do after high school?

Travel, maybe go to college

28.  Do you believe everyone deserves a second chance?

Yes 

29.  If you’re being extremely quiet what does it mean?

I’m mad. Or I’m thinking about something. 

30.  Do you smile at strangers?

Yes 

31.  Trip to outer space or bottom of the ocean?

Outer space 

32.  What are you paranoid about?

Ending up alone. 

 
33.  What was the color of the last hoodie you wore?

Light blue 

34.  Ever wished you were someone else?
 
Of course

35.  One thing you wish you could change about yourself?

I wish I was wittier

36.  Favorite makeup brand?

Whatever’s cheapest

37.  Favorite store?
Anthropologie

38.  Favorite blog?
I could never choose

39.  Favorite color?

Orange

40.  Favorite food? 

Pie

41.  Last thing you ate?

Chicken noodle soup and a croissant

42.  First thing you ate this morning?

Jalapeno cheddar bagel + fried egg

43.  Ever won a competition? For what?

Yes for writing an essay on music

44.  Been suspended/expelled? For what?

It’s hard to get expelled from homeschool… 

45.  Been arrested? For what?

Never 

46.  Ever been in love? 

Maybe

47.  Are you hungry right now?

Very

48.  Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook

49.  Twitter or Tumblr?

Tumblr 

50.  Are you watching tv right now?

Nope. I haven’t watched TV in weeks.

51.  Names of your best friends? 

Elaini. Katelyn. Tim. Greg.

52.  Craving something? What?

Chickfila 

53.  What color are your towels?

White with the ever-present mascara stains

54.  How many pillows do you sleep with?

Two 

55.  Do you sleep with stuffed animals?

No, I haven’t in years

56.  How many stuffed animals do you think you have?

Maybe one or two from my childhood in my closet?

57.  Favorite animal?

Sloth

58.  Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate 

59.  Favorite ice cream flavor?

Graham Central Station (graham cracker)

60.  What color shirt are you wearing?

Hot pink

61.  What color pants?

Grey/green 

62.  Favorite tv show?

So You Think You Can Dance? 

63.  Favorite movie?

Breakfast at Tiffany’s 

64.  Favorite character from Mean Girls?

Karen Smith

65.  Favorite character from Finding Nemo?

Dory

66.  First person you talked to today?

My friend Emma

67.  How many sweatpants do you have?

I don’t think I own any sweatpants…

68.  How many sweaters/hoodies do you have?

Lots of sweaters. One hoodie.

69.  Last movie you watched?

Amelie

70.  Favorite actress?

Zooey Deschanel

71.  Favorite actor?

Joseph Gordon Levitt/James Dean

72.  How are you feeling?

Energetic

73.  Do you type fast?

Extremely

74.  Do you regret anything from your past?

More or less 

75.  Can you spell well?

Quite well 

76.  Do you miss anyone from your past?

Yes. I miss friends I drifted apart from.

77.  Ever broken someone’s heart?

Yes.

78.  Have you ever been on a horse?

A few times

79.  Do you like your online friends or your real friends more?

Real friends, hands-down.
 
80.  What should you be doing?

Getting back to work

81.  Is something irritating you right now?

Someone 

82.  Have you ever liked someone so much it hurt?

Yep 

83.  Who was the last person you cried in front of?

My family at the airport 

84.  What was your childhood nickname?

Rach

85.  Are you listening to music right now?

Surprisingly no 

86.  Do you like chicken noodle soup?

Depends

87.  Do you like Chinese food?

Not really

88.  Favorite book?
East of Eden by Steinbeck

89.  Are you afraid of the dark?

No

90.  Are you mean?

I can be snarky

91.  Can you keep white shoes clean?

Not if it means I can’t have fun

92.  Do you believe in love at first sight?

I believe in attraction at first sight. Love by degrees.

93.  What makes you happy?
Music, laughter, dancing

94.  Would you change your name?
I’d like someone to change my last name

95.  Favorite lyrics right now? 

You should never cut your hair // cause I like the way // you flick it off your shoulders

96.  Do you sleep with your doors open or closed?

Closed

97.  Night or Day?

Day

98.  Favorite month?

October

99.  Dark, milk or white chocolate?

Dark chocolate
 
100. Was today a good day?

Wonderful

101. What’s your favorite quote?

“But me? One day I’m thinking of

a color: orange. I write a line

about orange. Pretty soon it’s a whole page of words, not lines.

Then another page. There should be

so much more, not of orange, of

words, of how horrible orange is,

and life. Days go by, it is even in

prose, I am a real poet. My poem

is finished and I haven’t even mentioned

orange yet. It’s twelve poems.

I call it ORANGES.” – Frank O’Hara

-Rachel

How to Bake a Pie

Most of you know by now how obsessed I am with pie. And so when it was suggested that I share a few of my favorite pie recipes, I jumped on the idea!

Now, this makes me really sad, but unfortunately I can’t share with you my absolute favorite pie recipe. The best type of pie, in my opinion, is my grandmother’s homemade pumpkin praline pie. My grandmother passed away years before I was born, when my dad was just a teenager, but her recipe has been passed down through the women of our family. It’ so secretive, though, that I wasn’t even allowed to see it until I was fourteen. Then, for my fourteenth Christmas, my aunt finally passed it down to me. It was wrapped up inside a recipe box, and she made me swear never to pass it on to anyone outside of my own daughters one day. That is how good this pie is, ya’ll. Come to Virginia sometime and I’ll make it for you, but I’ll never let you know what’s in it!

However, I do have some other yummy pie recipes I’ve stumbled across through the years that I am more than willing to share, so take notes and then scamper off to create a masterful pie for your own family!

 

Apple Pie

{This is one of my favorite pies to whip up in a hurry for guests or to make use of our over-abundance of produce during apple picking season. Plus, it’s so easy to make that pretty lattice topping!)

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 4 medium apples, pared and sliced (use green or tart apples, like Granny Smith)
  • 2 9-inch unbaked pie shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Stir in sour cream and apples. Spoon into pie shell. Roll out second pie shell and cut to create lattice top. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until top is golden.

Blueberry Pie

{This recipe was given to me by my dear friend Valerie who prepared six of these pies for my graduation party last summer. She knew how much I wanted pies on the dessert table and she taste tested half a dozen recipes before we decided that this was definitely the best blueberry pie we’d ever had}

  • Pie crust
  • 12 cups blueberries
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Wash and drain blueberries. Combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in blueberries; let stand until juice begins to flow, about 30 minutes. Add lemon peel and lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken. Pour into pie crust and bake for 15 minutes at 400. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 30 more minutes, or until crust is golden.

 

Pecan Pie

{Because you just can’t beat the classic Southern Living pecan pie. Oh, and you better pronounce it “pea-can”. Otherwise, I’ll come after you…}

  • 1/2 (14.1-oz.) package refrigerated piecrusts
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bourbon (optional–the alcohol will cook out but we never have bourbon on hand so I’ve personally never used it–you may substitute vanilla extract instead)
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325°. Fit piecrust into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet; sprinkle piecrust with powdered sugar. Whisk eggs in a large bowl until foamy; whisk in brown sugar and next 6 ingredients. Pour mixture into piecrust, and top with pecan halves. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 300°, and bake 30 more minutes. Turn oven off, and let pie stand in oven, with door closed, 3 hours.

*

And there you have it! Three absolutely mouth-watering pies to try out this spring. Let me know if you give one of them a try, and how it turned out!

-Rachel

Encouragement When I’m Not Expecting It

I’m really bad at responding to emails. Ask just about anyone who’s ever emailed me. I think I’m guilty of the “mental response” syndrome. That’s when you see an email pop up on your iPhone, you read it, you imagine a “mental response” in your head, then you forget to actually type up an answer.

Um, yeah. Guilty.

But this week I actually took some time to go through and read all the emails I’d gotten through my website in the last few weeks. And I was surprised at what a lift in my mood it was! I sat down to my computer and looked at all the flagged emails and just felt kind of overwhelmed. But then, as I started opening messages and reading these sweet girls’ responses, my heart just warmed and I kept almost crying. (Yep, I’m a feeler. Not a thinker.)

Anyway, I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank all of you who have taken the time to write me very sweet things. Like the sweetheart who wrote me to say:

“So many times I’ve looked at your blog and thought, ‘If she can do it, so can I.”

And the girl who, talking about what she wanted to do when she grew up, said:

“I kept talking to my teacher and she told me, ‘If you could be anything you wanted despite what others would say, what would you want to be?’ So I thought really hard. I want to be an author and write beautiful books the way you do.”

Or the absolutely darling blog reader who wrote me to say:

“I read your blog post yesterday ‘The Nicest Thing Anyone’s Ever Done for Me.’ You talked about giving some of your time to make a little girl with a nail polish stand happy. That’s kind of what you’ve done for me. I’m determined not to give up because of you work.”

Gee, guys. You’re making me cry at work. Thanks a lot for being amazing blog readers and not hating me when I go missing in action for weeks on end or forget to respond to comments. I really do read them all and I’m thankful for each and every one of you!

God gives us encouragement in weird, random ways. Sometimes it comes through Scripture. Other times it’s through a text from a friend or a letter from a family member.

But sometimes, just sometimes, He sends us encouragement through the words of random strangers. And that’s a really beautiful thing.

-Rachel

If Life Was a Romantic Comedy

I have this secret disillusion that I suffer from a Zooey Deschanel complex. This is clearly played out in the fact that I like to wear bright little dresses, sing Beach Boys songs in the car, and talk about Steinbeck in waffle houses with random strangers. Only in my head, these are all extremely attractive, desirable qualities. I live under the false assumption that one day, while I’m peeking out over my thick-rimmed glasses there will be the JGL of my dreams standing there with a leather notebook under his arm and a puzzled look on his face.

“I’m sorry, but I’m new here,” he’ll say, pushing a stray curl back into his super alternative messy haircut. “My friend told me that there was a coffee shop that had amazing pie somewhere around here? I was just going to get a slice and finish reading this.”

Then he’d pull out a vintage copy of Frank O’ Hara’s poems and I’d notice the PRAY FOR INDIA bracelet on his wrist. I’d casually nod toward the cafe and say, “Try the apple. It’s my favorite.”

“Mine too.” The corners of his mouth would tilt up and he’d start to say something right as I started to say something then I’d laugh and accidentally tip over my glass of lemonade and he’d think it was totally adorable and would bring out a new glass for me as well as two extra large slices of pie.

We’d fall in love over Steinbeck and Frank O’ Hara and cinnamon streusel. And he’d think my glasses were SO CUTE and we’d bond in our mutual appreciation of 1960′s singer-songwriters and Hitchcock films. There would be no awkwardness. No trying to cover up who I am or what I like. The little pauses of silence would be adorkable and endearing and full of physical tension.

But reality is actually very, very different. Reality is the fact that not every guy is going to like headbands and peter pan collars. Reality is the fact that some people aren’t going to love your glasses. Some friends aren’t going to laugh at your jokes. Sometimes even the boys that you think are perfect for you are actually interested in someone else entirely.

Reality is realizing it’s okay.

It’s okay if the guy you’re absolutely crazy over doesn’t get your sense of humor. You will survive even if the cutest guy in your community group doesn’t realize you exist. No, you’re not ugly if your best friend dates someone else. That’s not really what all this is about.

I had a conversation with one of my closest male friends the other day that I can only call random. At one point, I commented on how strange we both were. “Yeah, but you’re weirder,” he jokingly said. Okay, I”m sorry but what? Why was I the weird one? “I don’t know,” he said. “Like you’re funny, but you are weird.”

I was thinking about that comment this morning in the car. Okay, so I’m weird. Okay, so I’m quirky. Okay, so I’m kind of unnoticeable sometimes and guys aren’t exactly throwing themselves at me for a date. If this was a romantic comedy, it would mean that my true love is a plaid-wearing, Starbucks-loving hipster waiting around a giant pile of old books, ready to pop into my life at an awkwardly adorable moment.

But this is reality. And real life means that maybe I won’t necessarily love someone who loves black and white film and warm apple pie. Maybe I’ll fall for someone who’s favorite activity is bungee jumping or extreme mountain climbing. Or maybe he’ll wear baseball caps. Or drink absorbent amounts of Coke.

But you know what I have come to realize?

That none of this means I have to change anything about me.

My future man can do whatever he wants. He can wear whatever he feels like wearing. Because I’ll obviously like him regardless of these things. And that means he’ll like me too. He’ll like my glasses, he’ll like my pies, and he’ll like my sense of humor.

If life was a romantic comedy, I’m sure it would be a lot of fun. We could sing, we could dance, and we could trip down stairs and look completely adorable. But even in a completely realistic world, everything’s going to turn out all right.

You’ll sing–but people might cringe and tell you to stop. That’s okay. Sing anyway. You’ll dance, but you might step on some poor guy’s feet half a dozen times. Who cares? He can either get them out of the way or choose another dance partner. Doesn’t mean you should stop dancing. And you’ll probably fall down a heck of a lot of stairs and get chocolate on your face and accidentally get your hair stuck in doors. But the right guy will think all of that is completely adorable. Or he’ll think you’re stupid and it will make him laugh and then he’ll think you’re hilarious and he’ll love you anyway.

So basically this is the most uplifting article you could possibly read. Even I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now, so you had better feel like total hot stuff. So get out into the world, read your Steinbeck, eat your pie, and write your poems. And when it’s the right time, your baseball hat-wearing Coca-Cola fan will stumble just as awkwardly into your charming life. He’ll be weird. You’ll be weird. And you’ll both be really happy.

{Just make sure he wears bowties}

-Rachel

A Celebratory Life: Molly Flanagan

 

I wish I could curl up on Molly Flanagan’s living room floor. Pressed up against her fireplace (if she has one) with fuzzy socks on my feet and a bowl of soup and crumbly crackers in my hands. I’d have a notebook in my lap for sure, and I would be jotting down every other word in between watching her golden haired kiddos running around the room.

Okay, let’s be honest though. I’ve never actually met Molly Flanagan. And there’s a pretty good chance she’d kick me to the curb if I showed up at her doorstep with fuzzy socks and soup in hand. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t email her with half a dozen questions and soak up the little truisms in her answers that reflect the deep shadows in my heart and the sunny corners of my life.

I can’t remember when I first stumbled across Molly’s blog, but I remember seeing a quote on one of the main pages that instantly captured my attention. I wanted to know who this woman was, and as I read through her “About” page, I was intrigued by the photographs and simple beautiful words describing her love of the home.

She saw the beauty in the little things. Beauty in crumbs. Beauty in dirty diapers. Beauty in smudged windowpanes. And the quote at the bottom of the page soaked into my soul in the same way that my tears have soaked into my mother’s sweater time after time again. “Material goods and self-glorifying domestic perfectionism are definitely not the heart of the home. The heart of the home is found in the relationships nurtured there and the comfort offered to one another—comfort we have first received from God, the Father of compassion, and then share with each other.” (Carolyn McCulley)

Slowly—photo by photo, word by word—the pieces of Molly’s identity began coming together. This was a strong, beautiful, extraordinarily simple woman who saw the world for what it was—a beautiful, precious, slightly smudged gift—and loved it.

*

Molly lives in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband of eleven years and their three sandy-haired kids. What I loved about hearing Molly’s story is that she didn’t start off as a storytelling photographer. You can almost hear the self-deprecating laugher in her voice as she writes about starting off as a newborn photographer who transitioned from obsessing over the floral headbands and fabric to noticing the overflowing diaper bins in the corners and the laughter of Dad and the kids in the other room. “I started to be more attracted to those simple moments than I was to the elaborate props and posing that I was doing with the babies,” Molly writes. “I realized that I wanted to take pictures of all of it, not just the sweet newborn.  I wanted to help parents remember the sleep deprived, overwhelming, amazing, heart-bursting joy of becoming a parent.”

After she made the transition from newborn to family photographer, Molly began to identify and develop her gift for visual storytelling. She became known for her candid and artistic portraits of everyday life. The good, the bad, and the usually unnoticed moments of the families around her.

As a young woman who longs to one day have her own sink of dirty dishes and car full of rumpled and grassy kids, I loved perusing Molly’s blog and seeing the ways she drew attention the beautiful details of life. “The home is often looked at as investment property or merely a place to hang your hat while not working,” Molly writes, “Yet, I believe the things that are most important in this life are the things that cannot be see with our eyes. There is life going on in our home that is deeper and more powerful than closet space, kitchen gadgets and digital cable packages.  Those unseen things should be recognized and celebrated.”

Her words convict and challenge me on so many levels. Especially now, as I’m thousands and thousands of miles away from home, I can see the truth in her simple words. I miss the jar of crunchy peanut butter our kitchen cabinet. I find myself sitting on my bed in Thailand thinking about the way the sun moves across our living room throughout the day, casting long shadows across the dusty piano and the faded painting from my parent’s wedding day. These are the details that matter. The small moments and imperfections that make a house a home. That make a group of people a family.

Once my eyes were open to the details of life, I wanted to know why. Why? Why do I have this tiny sadness in my chest that misses my mom’s Cuban rice and beans and my dad’s soft plaid shirts and the scattering of our dog’s nails sliding across the vinyl floors? Why were we created with this innate desire to miss and to love and to soak up the details of life?

Molly shared a beautiful quote with me as she attempted to answer the whys that were bubbling up in my throat. “There simply are not many grand moments of life, and we surely don’t live life in those moments.  No, we live in the utterly mundane.  We exist in the bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and hallways of life.  This is where the character of our life is set.  This is where we live the life of faith.” -Paul Tripp.

Her words that followed were simple and beautiful. “We are drawn to the mountain top experiences of life.  The awe inspiring sunsets, newly fallen snow, the first kiss on a wedding day.  But those highlights are not where who we are is made.  Who we are, is made in the times we are tempted to overlook as not significant enough for our attention.  When the alarm clock goes off, writing a term paper, sitting at a traffic light.  It is important to notice the details in life, because those details become who we are.”

So who am I? What do the details of my life reveal about my heart? I sat and thought about this for a long time after reading her answer, struggling to put together the bits and pieces of details and moments and identity.

The helpless eighteen-year-old that I am, I reached out to Molly for advice. What sense could she make of all this? How does an eighteen-year-old girl take these beliefs and convictions and understand life more fully because of it?

“God has spent the last 18 years (and generations of parents and grandparents before you) to make you who you are today,” Molly responded.  “But He has not given you all of your gifts and talents to use selfishly.  This isn’t your story.  Your story is a part of HIS STORY.  Big or small, majestic or mundane, married or single, blonde or brunette… it is His story, not yours. You are the daughter of a king with cattle on a thousand hills.  He will care for all of your needs.”

A sweet contentedness seeps through the closing few answers of her interview. “Photography is a creative outlet that has helped me to acknowledge the complex, beautiful, and broken world that we live in.  I feel like every time I pick up my camera, I am trying (and failing) to tell His story.  With my lens, capturing some bit of heavenly truth mixed with light.”

I’ve interviewed many women for this blog and come across even more women in my lifetime who I would say have impacted and inspired me. But even I feel like this interview was different. Because now I’m not thinking about photography or writing or how to be a more creative person.

I’m thinking about the porcelain cracks in my mom’s coffee cup. I’m picturing mornings spent as a family with sausage sizzling in the kitchen while we sat around the fireplace singing “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”

If it took an angel appearing in bodily form to George Bailey to convince him that it really is a wonderful life, maybe it took a stranger through an email to remind me of that very fact. When I read about Molly’s life, I want a ticket to the same fairground. I want to ride the rollercoasters that thrill and tickle and hurt and comfort her and realize that those rollercoasters are gifts from God in my life too.

So let’s spin and laugh and spill milk and wipe it up with old washcloths and enjoy life together.

I asked Molly what simple pleasures she’s enjoying in life right now and do you know what she said? Her first cast iron skillet. It’s a wonderful life, you guys.

-Rachel

[All photos by Molly Flanagan]