The Art of Real Photos

THERE ARE A FEW THINGS I BELIEVE IN WITH CONVICTIONS HARDER THAN FAST-SETTING CONCRETE. People should say “I love you” and not assume it. Anyone can wear red lipstick. Everyone should buy copies of their favorite books. And photographs should be printed, not stored on iPhones.

This is tricky to write about because I am a die-hard iPhone user. I recently discovered VSCO, and these days I’m almost more tempted to snap photos on my phone than I am to drag around my DSLR and 50mm lens just to get one good shot. “It’ll be so much easier to just take my phone,” the voice in my head says.

But the same voice in my head that prods me to wear lipstick and buy Steinbeck novels reminds me that, twenty years from now, THESE iPHONE PHOTOS WON’T MATTER. The grainy, faded quality of the 945 KB photographs that look so nifty on my phone screen won’t have the same effect on whatever device I carry in my pocket in the year 2034. Will I cringe and wish I’d packed a camera in that tote? Will I drop my phone in a lake or shatter it on a concrete driveway and instantly feel the loss of images that never escaped their small metal case?

One thing I’ve discovered this year is that there is nothing more wonderful than the feel of freshly printed photographs in your hand. Glossy colors. Sharp edges. Faces you love and places you miss magnified and glorified beyond a tiny screen. I put them in frames, in books, on walls. My bedroom is covered in the wide smiles and crinkled eyes of the friends I’ve made around the world.

I’VE NEVER ONCE REGRETTED PULLING OUT MY CAMERA TO TAKE A PICTURE. But there have been days–entire trips even–when I came home, flipped through the photo roll on my phone, and wished I’d actually captured the way something looked with my camera. Because temples and country roads and beautiful people don’t always look the same on a grainy screen. Sometimes it takes light and space and the click of a shutter to steal a moment and hold it capture.

iPhones definitely have a place. And I’ll probably instagram just as long as the rest of them. But they aren’t meant to replace the magical quality of real photographs.

SO BRING YOUR CAMERA ON VACATION. Take pictures of your sister on her tenth birthday. Go to your local Walgreens and get photos printed. Hang them on your wall and slip them into frames. Keep books, not camera rolls, of memories. These things will last.

I want to make a promise to myself to always choose my camera over my iPhone. Even if it’s heavier. Even if it’s less convenient. Even if it’s less stylish and more awkward. These moments and experiences are rare and beautiful and I promise to capture them in the best way I can.


P.S. If you are a photography lab snob like myself (whoops!), I would encourage you to think about printing a photobook with Artifact Uprising. I have been making year-end photobooks with them for the last couple years and I’ve never found a product to compare. Smooth, buttery pages that feel like magic under your fingers. So worth it. For you, and for your children.

{I wrote this after reading Christa-Taylor’s “Why the iPhone Has Made Photos More Valuable”}

What I Hope My Daughter Knows About Feminism

My little girl,

TODAY I THOUGHT FOR A LONG TIME ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WOMAN. I went to the bookstore and stood in front of feminist manifestos and sex-oriented workout magazines. Words–jumbled into slogans and titles and catchphrases. Commenting on my body and my rights. And the whole time, as my eyes skimmed the bold red typeface, I thought about you. Because it’s easy enough to feel the dirt sliding through my fingers when I try to keep grip now, in this world that’s still changing and falling and crumbling. Your generation will probably find the dirt more slack and the hill more steep. By the time you read this letter, you may be ten, or fifteen, or twenty-two, in a world that might still push and pull you. And so I want to encourage you with these words from a time when there was hope to assure you that you will find hope again.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU COULD EVER KNOW IS THAT YOU ARE VALUED. The feminists of this world will excite you with anthems ringing from the loud speakers about how you need to take charge of your own body. But please please don’t ever simplify your limbs and organs and bones like that. Your fingers leave prints designed by someone else. Who are they touching? The soles of your feet were stitched before you first opened your eyes or clenched a fist. Are they cracked and bleeding or are they tough? My darling, your legs and hips and breasts aren’t up for grabs. They aren’t any man’s, or any culture’s, or even yours. They were given to you by someone who loves them more than you do, and your job is to treasure them, not flaunt them. These parts of you–the tough spots and the rough spots and the tender private ones–are precious. No one can ever make you feel like they have a right to own you, or that you have the ability to give yourself over. Your value doesn’t lie in your dominion over your body, but in your embracing it as the gift that it is. I’m sure it’s raw and dented and dimply in places, but you were made to treasure it and keep it safe for the One who loves it and made it just for you.

Feminists will tell you that one of the greatest struggles of our age is equality between men and women. As your mother, I want you to know how I see you in relation to men. I see you as precious. As worthy. As equal. But your fight shouldn’t end there. Don’t settle with being a woman who crusades for the rights of females. BE A WOMAN WHO VALUES THE RIGHTS OF HUMANS. You are a statistic, to be sure, but you are warm flesh and hard bones and a beating pulse. Fight for the bones and hearts of others. Take your eyes off your marching feet and see the needs that surround you. Don’t let feminism or tabloids or talk shows or anything else constrict you to a you-centered life.

There’s a lot of confusion today about hearts and who they beat for. Before you grow up and fall in love with an imperfect human like yourself, I want this truth to sit in your bones: NO MAN WILL EVER BRING YOU FULL AND COMPLETE JOY. But denouncing and hating men won’t either. Your main purpose in life won’t be marriage. And it won’t be a career. If you fall in love and give your heart to a man, it will be because you want to. And if you live on your own and wear a suit in the morning, it will be because you want to. You’ll work hard if you sweep floors and wipe noses and you’ll work hard if you sit up for conference calls and change communities.

NO MATTER WHAT PATH YOU CHOOSE, I WANT YOU TO LIVE WITH A FACE TOWARD THE FUTURE. A conscious decision to love not only your own life and body, but the lives and bodies of others. The well-intending feminists of this world will tell you that you need to make your own decisions about life and limbs and heartbeats. They’ll try to convince you that convenience is kindness. I want you to know, daughter, that it’s not. Kindness means not always choosing what is most convenient. Sometimes kindness is heartache and struggle and endurance.

I HOPE YOU’RE KIND TO THIS WORLD. I want you to be known as a woman of grace. Love your brothers and friends and boyfriends and husband. Don’t be a girl who tears men down, but a woman who builds humans up. State your mind. Speak your opinion. Know your worth. But love, love, love.

My daughter, I don’t know what kind of world you’ll face when you finally read this letter. Or what kind of woman you will be. But I say these things to you for the same reasons I say them to myself. Because I love you. Because I love me. Because we are women and that’s not always easy, but it’s more than worth it. It’s beautiful to hurt and ache and bleed just like it’s beautiful to succeed and live and rejoice. The things you choose to do and believe will define who you are and make a way for the women who come behind you. Be a strong woman. Not an angry one. Not a bitter one. Not even a feministic one. But a woman who is strong in her weaknesses, glorious in her cracks, vibrant in her failings, and loving in her actions.

YOU WERE CREATED FOR SOMETHING SO MUCH GREATER THAN SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES. God made you a woman and He put you in this world for a reason. Don’t be misguided by the cheers and rants and manifestos places in your line of vision. Embrace the life and the body and the opportunities you’ve been given, and always fight for the lives and bodies and opportunities of others. That’s not feminism.



P.S. I wrote this letter after watching Emma Watson’s speech on gender equality at last week’s United Nation’s meeting. I found it fascinating. You can watch it here.

The Summer Days are Over

I WOKE UP THIS MORNING WITH COLD TOES AND THE SUN ON MY FACE. It was the only part of my body that was warm. Light heating the bones of my cheeks while my fingers clutched at a blue fuzzy blanket and my bare legs curled up in sheets. The first full day of autumn and the first sunrise that felt cool and white and different.

THIS YEAR HAS FELT LIKE A NEVER ENDING SUMMER. I remember seeing ice bucket challenges on Facebook in March and April and laughing at my friends who yelped at the splash of cool water on a nippy spring night. I sat on a sidewalk in Thailand in my swimsuit with curls sticking to the sweat on my neck while little boys dumped ice on my head. It was a muggy night in middle of spring and my bones already felt like they’d absorbed enough sun and sweat and heat to last a lifetime. And that was only May.

Waking up with an open window and cold fingers makes me honestly believe that something is changing. SOMETHING SUBTLE, BUT SOMETHING REAL. You’ve all heard me talk about seasons before and while I love them because they’re metaphorical, I also love them because they’re physical. Muggy mosquito-filled nights do eventually change into cold mornings. Everything feels new in the fall.

We said goodbye to summer with a campout on the first cool weekend of the year. A couple weekends before my birthday, my best friends and I gathered at the house I grew up next to. We pitched tents with our bare hands and built a fire and roasted hot dogs over hot coals. No one went to sleep until 1 AM and when I woke up with the sun it felt like something new was being born.


At around 11:30 PM, my phone buzzed in my back pocket. I pulled it out and glanced at the text. It was from him, and he was far away, and he asked a simple question. “What’s it like?”

“There’s a little fire that warms our feet and the sound of hundreds of crickets in the dark woods around us. A man with a thick beard and warm voice plays the guitar and everyone laughs at the silly songs and fades into silence at the love ones. Funny stories, scary stories–the true and imaginary kind. Melting s’mores and sticky hot dogs. Songs and jokes from my childhood and faces I love in old lawn chairs and big hoodies.”

Words can’t always put feet and arms and shadows and dimples to the stories you want to bring to life. But this is the only way I know how to describe these things.

I hope you have a happy fall. And I hope you eat pumpkin spice things or make fun of pumpkin spice things and make apple cider and wake up with your window open and your fuzzy socks on. And whether you use words or photographs or sketches or tweets to remember it, I hope you still do just that.



Giveaway to Giveback: Ayu Sewing Project

Lately my ideas about fashion and style have really been changing. I used to be a “more is more” kind of person. But since coming home from Asia, I can definitely see a drastic change in the way I get dressed. After living for four months with only a handful of outfits, I learned to define what I love. To live on less. To choose carefully and wear things that are important to you.

I came home and gave away four trashbags full of stuff. And as my tastes change and my style evolves, I find myself wanting to spend money on things that won’t benefit just me.

That’s why I got so excited when I discovered Ayu Sewing Project.

A friend pointed me to this project, based out of Indonesia (where I’ve BEEN–isn’t that crazy??), that empowers women to provide for their families while staying at home and enjoying them. I read the stories on the website, about these women with their warm, soft hands that touch cheeks and pour milk and sew beads and lace around other fingers. I could scroll down and see every face. Read every story. As a story-oriented person, my heart tightened and then overspilled with love for these women in homes eight thousand miles from mine. I wanted to see life like they did. What would it be like to live on less than $120 a month? To keep the children home from school because you couldn’t afford to pay for a test? To go to a stranger for money because your baby was crying and you didn’t know where the next bottle of milk would come from?

I read the stories translated from their own handwriting and immediately went to my wallet and pulled out a huge chunk of my gift budget for the year. I then proceeded to order seven or eight scarves. Two for me, two for each of my sisters, colors and patterns for my mom and my best friend and even women at church. I didn’t know what to expect when I got them and opened the packaging, but I wanted to cry at the gifts in my hands. Photographs of the women who had held this fabric in their hands. Beautiful scarves stitched in the front rooms of brightly painted village homes, while kids played hide and seek in the alleys outside.

I knew this was something I wanted to share on the blog. So I contacted the lovely people behind the Ayu Sewing Project and asked if they’d be willing to do a giveaway for my blog. They emailed me back almost immediately and offered to send THREE scarves to my lovely readers! But don’t just sign up for a free scarf, you guys. Go to the site. Buy one for yourself. Buy one for your mom. Buy ones for your friends and sisters.

We spend so much money and time and effort looking nice. But for what eternal value? Whose lives are changed by the Target sweater you’re wearing? What will your Old Navy boots mean to someone else in fifteen years?

This is important to me. This is a way–a small way, almost tiny enough to cup in the palm of my hand, but a way nonetheless–to make a difference. To invest in a person, not a company. To place money in the hands of women and families with lives and futures.

Ayu is the Javanese word for beautiful. Not just because of the rich batik silk. Not because of the white smiles against tan faces. Not even because of the lovely concept of empowering women in another country.

This is beautiful because God filters all this through His hands. Because something as simple as a strip of silk wrapped around your neck can put milk in a bottle and pencil lead on a test paper. We give not because of what we think we can do, but because of what we know He is capable of doing. It’s beautiful and grand and humbling that the dollars we skim off the top of our paychecks can fill the gaps in someone else’s life.

I’m excited to give away THREE Ayu scarves this week. My family and friends are already enjoying theirs, and I hope you’ll get your hands on a few scarves as well.


1. Comment! Tell me what giving back means in your life.

2. Additional Entry: Like both Rachel Coker and Ayu Sewing Project on Facebook

3. Additional Entry: Share my image about the giveaway on Facebook

3. Additional Entry: Pin any of these images onto Pinterest with a description linking back to the giveaway

4. Additional Entry: Go to Instagram and share my image. Be sure to tag me in your description!

5. Additional Entry: Tweet about the giveaway! Be sure to tag me @rachelcoker3


Comment after you’ve done each of these things so I know how many times you’ve entered! (Note: The three scarves pictured are NOT the three scarves included in the giveaway. When the winners are announced, I will email photos of the three scarves I have and you can choose which scarf you’d like on a first-to-choose basis)

Once again, please don’t let your involvement end here. Go to and order a scarf or two. Wear them proudly this fall. Give them as Christmas gifts. Use them as a conversation starter to explain why you care about people and want to love the way God does. They will take 4-5 weeks to ship from Indonesia, so be sure to order them soon!

The giveaway will be open now until Friday at midnight, then I’ll announce the winners on Saturday!


n i n e t e e n

TODAY, I’M NINETEEN. And to tell the truth, I don’t really know what that means.

As is the case with most people, I’m bad at describing myself. Give me a friend, any friend, and I can detail out their lives and features and likes and dislikes in a simple but deep way that will make them sound like a character come to life. Tiny ears, freckles under eyelashes, strong cravings for chai tea with milk and thumb-oriented texting habits.

But tell you about myself? Sketch out who I am as a nineteen-year-old in words constrained by a twenty-six character alphabet written in stark black figures on a white computer screen?

That’s a little scary.

BECAUSE I KNOW WHO I AM, BUT YOU NEVER WILL. You can learn my likes and my dislikes and you can find the freckle by my hairline and you can recognize my signature tiny sneeze and cracking ankle bones. But you’ll never really know the rhythm of the blood in my pulse or the thoughts that wake me up at two am or the taste of salt on my lips on a hot summer day. Those are secret things. Me things. Details and patterns that make me who I am and that will bleed through when the makeup and interests and hobbies are stripped away.

When I was visiting Elaini in Portland a few weeks ago, we had the idea to take pure and simple photos, in black and white, that did nothing but capture the essence of who we are. No wind machines. No sunset light. No bokeh or bright walls or props. Just long lashes and dimpled smiles and clear white skin.

WE SAID WE WERE DOING THIS FOR OUR CHILDREN. Because even though my daughter will never know what I was like at this age–how my hands felt, how my laugh sounded, how my hairspray smelled–she will have this. These photos. These words. This small, incomplete, scratch-the-surface picture of their mother at nineteen. So even though it feels silly and incoherent and vain, this is important. This is what will last. Not my unblemished skin. Not my size 6 figure. These words.

THIS IS WHO I AM AT NINETEEN. I’m a writer, but I don’t always shape the right words or pitch the perfect sentence. I see life in slow motion, then sped up like a silent film. Little moments seem to last forever and big events dissolve in an instant.

I like warm, soft things. Gooey apple pie with crust that crumbles on your lap. Sweaters that curl under your fingertips and boots with laces. I will roll the windows down regardless of the current state of my hair and my radio only has one volume. Loud. I get lost in a crowd and I’m quiet in the noise, but I like the bustle and movement of things and lights and sounds.

I’m a loyal person. A trusting person, to a fault sometimes. I cry a lot.

MY HEART IS STITCHED ON MY SLEEVE IN TECHNICOLORS FOR THE WORLD TO SEE.  I’m not afraid to shed tears just like I’m not afraid to stiffen my lip and voice my feelings. I’ll always tell you to take the risk, but I’ll cry with you if it doesn’t turn out.

From as early as I can remember, I didn’t have much of a left brain. I was a storyteller, fabricating nonsense. Elaborating tattle-tales. Asking questions and coming up with my own answers. Raising my voice and using my hands and assigning titles and backgrounds to the world around me. I love a moment in its simplest form. I crave things with history–dresses buttoned up by others’ hands and books left on old mahogany shelves and items that have had moments upon moments before.

Geometry muddles me. I’ll probably never care deeply about US History. I’ll always want to know about China and Russia and Peru in the 1300′s. I’ll rarely read books from start to finish but I’ll gush about them anyway and my list will never be completed.

ONE DAY, WHEN I HAVE KIDS, I’LL TELL THEM STORIES ABOUT MY LIFE. They’ll probably be smudged with sentiment and enlarged with the telescope of time. The joys will shine a bit brighter and the lows won’t be cleaned of their dirt and fingerprints. But they’ll hear the stories in my voice and read the feelings in my hand and know that through all these years and over all this time, I’ve been someone who noticed her life.

In three hundred and sixty five days I’ll be twenty and maybe my hips will be wider or my hair will be shorter or my tastes will be more refined. But right now I am thick brows and tan lines and I smell like cinnamon soap and coconut conditioner and my words are loud and sometimes funny. AND EVEN THOUGH THIS ISN’T ALL OF ME, IT’S ALL A PART OF WHO I AM. And I am nineteen and I am alive and this life is wonderful.



Portland Recap

ONE THEME FOR ME THIS YEAR HAS BEEN TO HAVE ADVENTURES. For all I know, this might be my last year at home, without the pressures of marriage and kids and college payments and bills. Without high-pressure commitments and stress. I don’t make much, but it’s it’s enough. I don’t have a bazillion friends, but I have a few amazing ones. And I haven’t traveled all over the world, but I’ve been to some pretty incredible places.

Portland this summer was a warm blanket of ice cream, sunsets, mosquito bites, sore muscles, laughing faces, sing-along car rides, and fourteen days spent with the best people I know. I wouldn’t give up these memories or experiences for anything.



P.S. Check out my friend Elaini’s blog!


Every Writer Has Something to Learn

When I was twelve years old, my mom signed me up for personal writing lessons with an author who lived several states away. We didn’t really know anything about him, or his work, or his credibility, but I was aching to write and my mom couldn’t offer much help. She read the first short story I wrote in sixth grade and realized that I was one of those kids with a gift, and that one of the best ways she could love and encourage me was to help me develop that gift.

So I took online writing classes and developed a really great bond with my tutor. He was a published author. His books were in libraries. He taught me about eliminating adverbs and setting up a scene and sketching out my characters and writing decent fiction work. A year after I stopped working with him, I was signed with Zondervan for the publication of my first book.

And a few years after that, I started offering writing lessons myself.

I love working with talented middle and high schoolers across the country, developing their natural gifts for writing and giving them a passion for storytelling. I’ve worked with over a dozen young people so far, and I’m opening up a few more slots this month for additional students who want to work on their creative writing skills!

The way it works is really simple. It’s an emailing mentorship, so it doesn’t matter where you live or what your daily schedule looks like! Once a week, you will receive a new assignment that you will have five days to complete. For most students, these are either short stories that they can come up with and write, or longer novellas and novels that we work for several months on. Each week, you, as my student, would be expected to write three to five pages or so (depending on your skill and amount of free time), and then send it back to me so I can look at your work and critique it. I offer personalized advice based on your strengths and weaknesses, so no two student’s assignments are the same! The weekly assignment would be based off of what I noticed in the your writing from the week before–I might talk about settings, characterization, speech tags, redundancy, etc. I’m very encouraging and would let you know when you succeed at something, but I would also critique you on your weaknesses and help you to grow in that area! (Hopefully by now you guys have realized that I’m not a super mean person)

It’s a fun program and has really allowed me to get to know my students on a personal level and help them reach their full potential as writers. Logistically speaking, I charge $95 a month (so it’s similar to taking music lessons) and usually ask that students agree to a three-month term to start off with. That means that if you took lessons starting in September, you would just agree to stay with me from September through November (although you would pay one month at a time). After that, you could just take it one month at a time for however long you wanted lessons!

Because the month of September is halfway through, you have a great opportunity to sign up at a discount for the first month. Just three months–September through November–isn’t that big of a commitment and is a great way to test the waters and see if there’s an improvement in your stories. Then you can jump back in come January and dig even deeper!

If you or one of your children is interested in lessons, please shoot me an email at We can talk more about lessons, I can check out some of your work, and hopefully we can become great friends and better writers together.


It Happened One Summer

There comes a point in every child’s life where her world is turned upside down. Through one insignificantly significant airplane ride, or handshake, or final line of a poem, or kiss, her tightly stitched universe unravels and lies in jumbled threads on the ground. And even if she’s experienced dozens before and knows she’ll live to see dozens afterwards, everything is different.

You’ll experience this phenomenon many times throughout the course of your childhood. On a crisp September day you’ll pull into your driveway and turn the keys in your ignition. And, looking up, you’ll see the last flicker of sunlight wink through a tiny hole in the reddening leaf of a Japanese maple. And your heart will go “Oh.” And at the end of an eight pm flight as your plane tilts and pulls you toward the fiery, darkening earth, you’ll sink through the thin orange clouds and wonder why you ever thought you were truly alive before this moment.

These captures are always few and far between, but each one will make an imprint on your heart the size of a kiss or a keyhole. And on cold January mornings when your steering wheel is ice beneath your fingers, you’ll warm with the thought of that leaf and that sky and those moments.

But at some point in your childhood, you’ll experience a summer that will change it all. In this summer, the moments will be strung together in a dizzying tangle of instants and memories and events that will build you up and rip you down and both break and heal your heart.

For an eighteen-year-old girl who grew up in a yellow house in a dinky little town in southern Virginia, this was the summer that everything changed. I sat in fifteen different airports. I saw the sun rise from thick airplane windows over blinding glaciers and snow-capped mountains and green jungles. I sat alone in a maze of rolling suitcases and crying babies and hugging lovers. At two am’s in foreign countries and faraway states, I  curled up into hard-backed waiting chairs and closed my eyes, clutching a faded orange backpack to my chest.

This summer, I learned what it meant to be lonely. To sit in a room full of spinning, laughing people and not know what to say or where to move. My hands felt heavy. My eyes felt washed out, like bright sheets that had spent too many afternoons hanging on laundry lines absorbing the light of the sun. I’d seen so much. Felt so much. That now my senses were tingling and numbing from the heat of it all.

I’m beginning to realize that perhaps I’m not really a girl anymore. Will I ever know another summer as a child? The next time I jump off a dock into a river, will the water feel as warm? Will soft pretzels touch my tongue the same way? Will scraping my knees seem less painful and more insignificant in the stretching rawness of the world I’ve seen?

But this was also the summer I learned to really laugh. I didn’t giggle on the champagne bubbles of parties and swishy skirts. I belly-laughed at the underlying beauty I saw when the paint of the world was stripped away. Under the hurt, there was hope. Dirt-filled fingernails still reached out to hold the hands of others. Fires tossed up dancing hot sparks. At the end of every trip there was a bed, and in the sphere around every bed there was a home.

I don’t know what exactly I’ll do now that I’m home or what adventures I will have after the summer of 2014. I’ll grow older, and my hair will get longer or maybe shorter, and I’ll meet new people and touch new hands and look down from more mountains and take more pictures. And I know that I  won’t forget these nights, these dawns, or these aching, reborn moments in between.

This was the summer I first stepped back onto American soil with a heavy, churning heart and almost cried at the English signs in the JFK Airport. It was the summer I first left a place that wasn’t my home to come back to a place that didn’t quite seem like the same old home either and felt my heart torn between people and places and memories. But it was also the first summer I cried over the Gospel. The summer I first felt deeply connected to hearts I might never see again. The summer nights where I pressed my cheek against my pillow and thought for the first time about the world that was bustling and moving while my world lay still and dark. It was the first summer I held hands with a boy and felt bigger, stronger fingers cover my own and another uneven pulse through the skin. The first heartbeat of a future and cold nights and gloved palms to come. It was the summer I sat on her floor with four giant trash bags full of stuff and hung a map on the wall and realized how much life I have left to live.

You can’t re-live the moments that change you, but you can recognize them and string them out and paint them for what they are. Hearts of thunder and nights thick as smoke. But blazing with the un-ignorable pulsing truth that you were created for something so much better than the rush you’re surrounded by. It makes the laughs burn brighter and the aches sink deeper and it carves the joys of life into your fingerprints, so that everything you touch leaves behind residue of the life that has been burned through you.

I’ll never see this summer again. But every future summer will be touched by it.


Moments When You Feel so Small

I’ve been in Portland, Oregon for the last week and a half visiting my dear friend Elaini, like I did last summer. We’ve been licking drips off ice cream cones, dancing around the spare bedroom to Taylor Swift, sticking our hands out the car window, swing dancing until midnight, and everything in between (which I’m sure I’ll share lots of photos of soon). My heart is so full, full, full and I can’t stop smiling.

Last night we drove up to Crown Point and sat on a stone wall while the sun sank and smudged the mountains pink and blue. After traveling to countries eight thousand miles away from my own and standing on mountains and sitting in lagoons, I still can’t shake that knee-trembling experience that comes with seeing something beautiful.

Elaini propped her elbows up and waxed poetry on the shades of orange and the shadows in the water and I clung my camera to my chest and soaked the colors into my skin.

It’s difficult, the more you see of the world and the deeper you understand it, to feel like you deserve moments like this. That in a moment where my eyes hurt from the brightness of a pulsing sunset and my fingertips numb from a mountain breeze, mothers are watching their children die. On a night when my heart is brimming with the laughter of my best friend, someone is walking out on a loved one. We ride in the car with the windows down and the music up as the same sun rises on bare dirty feet and empty corners.

You start to hate yourself–to despise these moments of beauty that you are blessed enough to experience with a smile free of pain and discomfort and harsh sad memories.

But then you realize that this, all of this, is still for you. That the God who comforts the brokenhearted and rebuilds each broken bone and whispers love into your heart on your coldest, hardest day has hung the sun and smudged the sky for you.

This is a harsh world. Stark with sadness, cold with death. But praise God, it doesn’t look it. And this is a crazy, tilting life. But I will stand on mountaintops just like I will bruise my knees and I will soak this in just like I will one day pour it out. And there’s a broadening to this universe when you stand in these moments, your hands cool and shaking, and realize that you are here to experience it all.

And won’t that just be grand.