Category Archive: Stories & Reflections

December 20

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Earlier today I was ready for the DPP to be over. Like… Okay, we’ve had twenty days and I am done. There are no more things to shoot. If I have to shoot a closeup of my toaster then I am beyond all saving. I saw the light vanishing on the western horizon and went to grab my camera thinking I could salvage something from the Christmas lights hanging in the dining room. I took my shots and moved on to another task. And then the sun began to set. And crazy vibrant colors filled the sky. I caught it, and my heart just filled with the beauty from my back deck.

I’m finding that our march towards December 25 feels just like the DPP. I’m kind of slogging towards it. My semester ended last week and I feel fairly worn out in body and spirit. I want to rally but my pep is low. Still, there are these moments of amazing glory like what I experienced in the sunset tonight. I found such a moment reading the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke this morning. After a semester of studying the world of the New Testament, Luke’s words jumped at me from the page.

We read about shepherds so often at Christmastime, but this morning I tried to imagine the scene in more detail. First one angel visits the shepherds and the glory of the Lord was intense! The humble shepherds were afraid, as is frequently noted in the Bible when a human comes face to face with these supernatural beings. What happened next must have absolutely shattered their minds. A whole host of angels lights up the sky and praises God with these words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). Angels are made to praise God, and for a brief moment those shepherds are privy to what hardly any human has seen. They witness the worship of the Almighty God by the ones who are allowed to worship Him day and night, always. No wonder the shepherds then head over to Bethlehem fast to see this Savior! What a sight to witness.

We’re made to worship. Sometimes we get a little drum of worship in our hearts, a little stirring that makes us feel small. For me, it’s the Tunnel Walk just before a Husker game—there’s nothing like seeing that in person and feeling the amazing excitement from the crowd. It’s overwhelming. At other times I feel that sense of worship during a really good concert. My heart and mind both swell with joy. I can sense that same joy, only a thousand times greater and more powerful, when the shepherds personally witness all those angels worshipping God in the skies that day. Every week when we sing songs of worship to our Creator at church, we join with those angels, and all the saints that come before us and behind us, in worship of the One most deserving it.

Today I get a small glimpse of glory in a sunset, but one day I’m gonna get the real deal and I’ll be joining those angels for all eternity. Slogging through the present, even as I move towards something as great at Christmas Day, I’m reminded that I’m made for something much greater.

The Mayor Has Left the Building

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Today was my dad’s last day at Chick-fil-A as he’s moving back into a position in his chosen field. Though based on the comments I’ve received from friends and strangers alike, you may have thought hospitality was his field! Anyone who has been around Dad in a hospital environment or church nursery knows that he’s the Chief Baby Whisperer. He’ll grab your baby and willingly walk the halls while you worship or run to the restroom or, say, eat your chicken sandwich in peace for a minute. It’s been a joy to watch my dad’s smile light up the restaurant and I’ve heard time and time again that he’s shown grace to parents and children alike within that space. I’ve heard of his sweet care for a little one with Down’s Syndrome and of his humility in cleaning up those common-yet-unfortunate playplace pee accidents. Many of my girlfriends have met and hugged my dad at Chick-fil-A and another friend, upon meeting my mom and learning the Mayor was my dad, looked at me and said, “Now you completely make sense!” (which was perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve ever received).

So as David Lawton moves back to the realm of nursing, we all suspect that his care and hospitality will simply move locations. I’ve learned so many things from my dad, but perhaps most important is knowing that his heart, which loves God first, reflects that love to others wherever he serves. May God bless this new journey, Dad! We’re proud of you.

Pumpkins, Leaves & the Memories of a Season

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I march into autumn convinced that summer is the best season, but find my senses being wooed by a few cool breezes, the vibrant shades of leaves falling to the ground, and weekly Husker football games. I don’t want to be happy as the days grow shorter and my beloved and warm sunshine veers to the south. But fall charms me anyhow and sooner or later I submit to its loveliness.

Something else comes at me in the fall though, and it’s October, the bittersweet October. More and more women are beginning to talk about pregnancy and infant loss this month, which is, fittingly enough I suppose, the month I miscarried ten years ago now. My body remembers before my mind remembers, and even when I recall that October was when I miscarried, I don’t * feel* like it should be a big deal. It was ten years ago. And honestly, it means different things to me now because life looks very different now.

Ten years ago Livia was two. Jeremy and I were within the first eight years of marriage. Our family was young and we were going to grow.

In 2016, Livia is in middle school. Jeremy and I have been married for 18 years and our family is not going to grow. At least in traditional, expected terms it will not.

I’ve played the “What If” game a little bit this fall. What if that baby was alive? She (let’s call this baby a “she”) would be nine. Livia would have a sister and we would have a second child who was permanently ours. It’s a strange but sweet thought, an alternate reality that doesn’t demand much time or consideration, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

We still miss that baby. She was a little fetus with a heart that we heard beating in ultrasounds. We wonder what this child will look like in glory someday. Will unborn babies look like babies or adults? Is there a cutoff for getting that new glorified body or does every human fertilized egg get one? For now it’s all a mystery to us—from the missing to the heavenly existence.

I came across this small write-up of my miscarriage experience and letter to Baby that I contributed to A Musing Maralee and it all still holds true. That trip to Arizona still reminds me of being newly pregnant, picking out pumpkins still reminds me of the twinge of morning sickness I had ten years ago, and Fall Fest at Zion Church still reminds me the one where I was grieving, but not grieving alone.

I carry that child with me every fall. I think my very cells will not let me forget her. I think about all the women around me who carry memories in their cells as well, memories that brush them with sadness and joy and guilt and pain as the seasons come and go. This is life, the bitter and the sweet, the memories that combine smiles with tears.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I made my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

-Psalm 139:7-16

Renewed Day by Day

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This morning I helplessly watched my daughter trip and fall on the stairs leading to school. I was pulling away from the curb, amidst the sea of SUVs and children in crosswalks and as I turned back I saw her slip and go down. Far from a moment where you maliciously laugh at someone’s fall, I felt like abandoning my car in the middle of the street and leaping out to scoop her up.

That’s what we moms excel at, right? Scooping up and cuddling and protecting?

I find myself operating at higher-than-normal anxiety levels lately. I’m responsible for a variety of different things and I can feel my mind skipping on details like an old record player with a damaged record. That’s pretty typical of anxious minds, they skip and get stuck and then speed up, only speeding up helps nothing. If I focus for a few moments and make sense of just one of the thoughts in my head, I see this: my daughter is getting older.

I’m the first in line to declare how awesome it is to have a child mature. It’s an amazing thing to watch her grow and learn and change in a multitude of ways. I am SO proud of this kid. But the brain-record began skipping a bit yesterday after I heard her belting out lyrics to a favorite song and the line, “I wanna feel your touch” came from her 11-year-old lips.

It was startling, that’s for sure. It was nothing racy or concerning really, but wow, hearing that line from my precious daughter’s mouth was a bit jarring! People, WE ARE NOT FAR OFF FROM THIS NEW REALITY. Someone hold me!

Letting her grow. Protecting her eyes for now and working to reach her heart. Not being able to pick her up when she falls. I cannot do these things well on my own. It occurred to me this morning, as I watched our principal trot over to make sure Liv was fine, as I watched her walk without any trouble into the school building, as I reassured myself that she couldn’t do so if she was injured, I realized how much I need my mind renewed to the truths found in the Bible. It’s a *daily* thing.

On my own, without renewal to God’s promises, I’m a skipping record. My brain can’t touch down, it spins and spins over all the details I’m worried about, all the people I’m thinking about, all the things I’ve said I would do. But none of it can take root and turn into anything beautiful as long as I’m not settled in God’s word.

I think of 2 Corinthians 2:16-18 that encourages me to take heart. Outwardly life may look one way, but inwardly we can be renewed day by day in Christ. It gives me an eternal perspective and reminds me that God is in control.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9

Yes! This is the power of our God. The God of Moses, the God of Joshua. Who can tear down walls with shouts of praise? Our God. Who cares about you much more than the lilies of the field or the little birds that sing on your back porches as spring approaches? Our God. Who will pick you up off the steps time and time again, even as you trip and stumble and try to rescue yourself but are ultimately helpless? Yes, our God. He is mighty to save. And he loves you. And me. This is the message I need to hear day after day. My memory is short. My brain, it skips. Lord, renew us. Amen.

Unemployed, in Greenland?

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I read about a high school classmate’s successes the other day. It only took a few minutes—and yeah, a few Google searches—before the deprecating voices crept in.

This guy? He’s got his doctorate. He’s teaching and writing and researching and influencing how many scores of people in his field. And what am I doing?

It’s that last question that takes me down a really unhelpful and discouraging path. The path is littered with other questions, each rating my lack of measurable success and making me feel smaller and smaller. Where are the books you’ve planned to write? How about the children’s book you were going to photograph? The graduate degrees? The office with your title on the door? “Are you still unemployed?”

That last one wasn’t my own. I was on an insurance call not so long ago. It had been a really productive morning, I was cruising through life, getting it done left and right, and the question brought me to a screeching halt. “Are you still unemployed?” Well dang. Now that you say it… I guess so.

I let my self-worth, in that moment, be defined by the word “unemployed.” Three syllables of condemnation—to my ears, at least. I stopped and considered it and realized, Holy cow, I AM unemployed! My mind raced through all the ways I felt employed, thankyouverymuch. Sure, I take in a very small amount of money through my photography business at the moment. But money’s all we’re talking about here, right? If she had asked, “Do you work?” I could’ve explained the thousands of things I do on a daily basis and it would’ve added up to all kinds of labor the world sees as employable labor. I DO STUFF, lady. But what I really wanted to say was: I am worthwhile.

I had a conversation with a friend today where I learned how many birthday parties her kids go to each year. I can count on three fingers how many parties my child has been invited to in the last 12 months. I wasn’t grieved by the comparison because I know that my kiddo has a small friend set, but I paused internally and wondered if I should spend time being grieved by this. In the end, I think I’ve landed on a sweet understanding and it’s that birthday parties in grade school are equal to lines of resume earned by your 20th high school reunion. You can use these things to measure success, but—and this is a big but—you should not.

Friends matter. Degrees matter. Job titles and books and salaries actually do matter. But they are not ultimate things. They do not get to define a person. They are not what gives you value.

You are born valuable. Made in the image of an Almighty God, you are not worthy because of what you do, you are worthy because He made you. And He loves you. This love story has been around a long time, it was set in motion before the world began. It involves a Creator who is far more than a disinterested party somewhere in the universe. He made man special and he made man to be in relationship with him.

My takeaway is that I have a choice about how I spend my time. I want to put money and accolades in their rightful place. I want to use my gifts to serve the world around me—and sometimes that looks the way it looks today where I have this privilege to be UNEMPLOYED and yet not care because being unemployed does not define me. Whether I have three friends or fifteen, I want to love well. Whether I’ve written one blog post or five top-selling novels, I want to write well. Whether I volunteer for the PTO or for making church coffee, whether I am awesome at folding laundry or barely keeping us in clean clothes, whether I take my neighbor cookies or serve at the City Mission, I want to work with my whole heart. And I want to work from a place of worthiness; not because my work defines me, but because I am already safe and whole and loved by God.

**Blog title taken from the one of the most quotable movies ever, and one of only two VHS movies in our possession when we moved from Oregon to Nebraska in the summer before 7th grade. Do you know it?

Being Exposed, Finding Mercy

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I had this trajectory in mind for my life, one where I’d gradually get wiser and more mature and more self-sufficient over time. I assumed that I’d age and develop all these great traits and that I’d need people less. Because, you know, I would have so much to offer people—and somehow that seemed to go hand-in-hand with being a pillar of self-sufficiency.

What I’ve discovered is that, yes, it’s true that maturity can come with more life experiences. And if one pays attention to those life experiences, there certainly can be wisdom gained. But it is absolutely not true that wisdom and maturity go hand in hand with independence. In fact, the opposite is true. In the Christian life, age and maturity leads to greater humility and dependence—first on Christ and second on people.

I first noticed my incredible need for others when we stepped into the world of foster care. We were thrust so far outside our comfort zones that I knew the only way we’d survive would be with the help of those around us. More than the hand-me-down clothing and more than the toys dropped on our front doorstep, we needed prayer. The spiritual truth of our fostering reality was that we were incredibly weak as we served children. In fact, I don’t know that we’ve ever felt weaker. Suddenly juggling the needs of foster children—and the many unknowns—we were also managing all the normal job, household and parenting duties as before. The need for others to pray, asking God for sustenance, felt huge to me. Somehow I knew deep down that I would need to ask for a lot, and thus I immediately set up a support circle who would pray when I asked them to.

A remarkable thing happens when people pray, and I can’t really explain it entirely because it still seems so mysterious to me. God listens. He engages, he dialogues, he answers. And in turn I’m drawn to see his hand of mercy in a new way. But when a need for prayer is opened up to an entire group of people, guess who else sees God’s gracious care? All those people. Together we’re drawn closer due to our communal neediness.

It feels really vulnerable to be the one asking for prayer. Sometimes I feel like a big burden when I ask those closest to me to pray for me. When everyone prayed for our foster kids, it felt easier on my pride because it wasn’t for me! How nice, right? If you know anything about my physical woes, then you know that I’ve had to ask for prayer time and time and time again. And if a large season of time goes by where I’m not asking, it’s because I’m not telling you something. That’s how many physical needs I’ve got going on—I need a lot of prayer. Each time I email a group of friends, it takes a huge dose of humility to press the send button. Deep breath in of need, deep breath out of pride. And in that need, God shows up. He shows up in the words of friends preaching the gospel to me yet again. He shows up in the acts of mercy shown to me by loved ones. He shows up in ways of healing that I’d never choose or imagine.

The trajectory of life isn’t one where I am full of so much strength and goodness that I never have needs. Rather, the trajectory includes my humility, which forces my knee to bow to God’s greatness and requires me to acknowledge the great depth of need I have in all realms. In this I get to see that God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good. And what a beautiful thing it is to see that goodness! I am sustained by his mercy.

August Photography: Days 20-24

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From top to bottom:

Day 24. Dad, Uncle John & Aunt Carol (not pictured) tear out Dad’s back deck.
Day 23. Night light.
Day 22. In attempt to mess with me, Dad got in my shot. I’m using it.
Day 21. Jen shooting a chalk artist in conversation with a passerby. Haymarket.
Day 20. Cozy bed at last light.

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Shooting daily is… something else. It’s challenging. It’s fun. It’s tricky and it messes with your head. I tend to feel inspired for the first few days and then overwhelmed by Day 4 or so. By Day 8 I think I’ve given it all I’ve got and I encounter brief misery. And then a spark of inspiration flies and I’m encouraged to keep up with the project.

Is every shot in a daily photo challenge going to be a fantastic work of art? No. But don’t give up. Out of a full month of shooting you may have one image that surprises you, or three shots that are interesting. Or five shots that are frame-worthy. DON’T. GIVE. UP.

We live in a world of very short attention spans. When I notice that I *think* in terms of a Facebook status (I’m way too long-winded for tweets), I know I need to invest my brain in a novel. In general, we don’t persevere and we’re not willing to long suffer much. When it comes to art—whether you’re a painter or a photographer or a writer—you can’t give up. You have to make a million pieces of drivel to find the gold. Or maybe you have to shoot 30 pictures in order to be satisfied with one. I suppose that depends on how hard you are on yourself. The thing is, you need to continue to shoot. To draw. To paint. To write. You have to push past the voices that tell you that you can’t do it, that you aren’t any good at your craft.

Just keep shooting. As John Russnogle used to tell me all the time. (Thanks, John.)

Momentary Affliction

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I went for a consult first. After years of avoiding the dentist—not my dentist, not my neighborhood dentist, just all dentists—I found myself in the reclining chair of my fears. I had a literal mouthful of problems to address, most of which my tongue could easily have told you about. A break on this tooth, a too-large gap on this one, a chip here and a chip there. It wasn’t pretty. How ugly was it? The dentist showed me. Not in a mean way, but in an educational, the-more-you-know kind of way. On his big screen he pointed out what was going on and what we were going to do about it.

Now, friends. I deal in the world of lovely images. Pretty pictures. Even the not-so-pretty ones are far more interesting to me than the state of my mouth. What was meant to be educational and instructive was, to my mind, a nightmare. Let’s just say I’m not a dentist for good reason. I don’t want to see my own mouth, or someone else’s for that matter. I don’t want to see anyone’s feet either. And though I’m fascinated by childbirth, I’m cool without seeing a cervix, too. Though I am the daughter of two nurses, I did not inherit their skills whatsoever.

Today I saw x-rays of my hands. For a decently tall woman, I have surprisingly child-like hands; they surprised the PA who commented on their delicacy compared to the burly hands she normally sees (lots of elderly men, I suppose). And like my experience in the dentist’s seat, I was shown images that I’d rather not see. Rheumatoid arthritis, up close and personal, doing its slow work of gnawing away at my joints. In the big picture, the little pictures of my hands were no big deal. The disease process has not altered my hands in two years and for that I am grateful. Really, it wasn’t until I was sitting in my rheumatologist’s office that I realized that I feel pretty good overall. Sometimes it takes a pause for reflection before I realize how good things are. But the hands revealed a little bit more. They showed tiny bits of damage. Small spots where RA is present. I was shown places on one wrist where bones were smooshed together when they should’ve been separated by more tissue.

I walked out of the office like a balloon with a tiny pinhole in it. Not utterly deflated, but reminded of the truth of my mortality. RA is working within me. And I’m battling against it with all the tools I have. But it’s there. Try as hard as I might to dismiss it, it’s undismissable.

As good as my life is, I know it won’t last forever. Whether I live on this earth for 37 years or for 73, it’s going to go fast. How glad I am that I’m made for more than this! What a relief to know that this life isn’t the only one I get to live. Though I’m relatively content with the body and life God has given me—relatively being the key word there—I really look forward to the resurrection someday. In Christ, I’m going to be a new creation. What’s true in my soul today will be true in my body. No more damaged joints—maybe I’ll do lots of cartwheels in glory? No more cavities. No more need for doctor’s appointments with x-rays I do not want to see. What a relief, this promise of Glory. It’s enough to patch up the pin-pricked balloon. For a few moments at least. ;)

Quiet Time on a Tuesday

The words came back. Floating around my mind, a phrase repeats itself here and there and I remember what it felt like to have words. To need to write. To create. To dream a little. They feel wispy still, as though they’ll be erased or disintegrate if I don’t open my laptop immediately to capture them.

I’m reminded of the word “margin” and wonder how important it is for artists to have it. There’s another word. “Artist.” I’m not meaning to be pretentious by using it, but I could tiptoe around the term and would still mean the same thing by it. Back to margin though. I wonder if having space in my life means that words have reentered my world. I wasn’t even aware they had gone and now suddenly I’ve missed them for the last ten months or so. Words! My friends!

My eyelids have gotten heavy, reminding me that siesta time is near. A well-worn ritual of my days, the afternoon nap—or if not nap, then at the very least a napping posture for reading—is here and as I walk upstairs to announce quiet time, I see my daughter in her room. Sent there to clean it, she’s about halfway done with the daunting task. I’m proud for even that half is hard to do sometimes. Laundry, toys and art supplies have been arranged in puddle shapes around her room and she, like her mom years before, is distracted by something at the moment. She’s digging in a bag of markers, desperate for black. When I finally announce quiet time, she is filling a sheet of notebook paper with blue crayon. Long blue scratchy lines are perpendicular to the perfect college-rule notebook lines. She’s happy for a kiss. I’m now glad I didn’t offer the double-stuff Oreos squirreled away in the pantry because she’s content with a mom kiss, the color blue and an hour to create stretched before her.

I suspect that it’s margin that invited words to come back into my head once more. I’ve found room in days this summer, open spaces on my calendar. I’m staying up late with my husband the night-owl and sleeping in late with an 11 year old who loves to do the same. I’m reading and reading and reading and that alone feels incredible. With no vacation yet on the books, I’ve staycating and giving myself permission to enjoy summer. It’s taken weeks and weeks since our foster baby left for me to give myself that permission. And while it still feels awkward to not know what’s next for me to do in the big picture, today words are my gift. And I welcome them.

The Magic Frog

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Story by Livia Tredway
Collaborative editing by Livia & Rebecca Tredway

Long ago when frogs were magic there lived a frog named Alex. He lived in a puddle and if you caught him he would grant you three wishes. Now our story begins.

One rainy day there was a little girl named Melissa who loved splashing in puddles. She found a really big puddle and wanted to splash in it. A strange croaky voice called out, “You may not jump in this puddle, little one, for it is magic and it is my home.”

Alex the Frog hopped out of the puddle. Melissa, surprised, asked curiously, “What are you doing in this shallow puddle?”

Alex said, “I’m not a normal frog for I can talk and I am magic. This puddle is magic, too. That is why it’s my home. My name is Alex.”

Melissa said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Alex. I did not know that it was your home. I thought it was a normal puddle.”

Alex was indignant. “Why I never! This is a very SPECIAL puddle and if you catch me I’ll grant you three wishes.”

Melissa said, “That would be nice!” She bent down and gently scooped up the frog.

“Now I shall grant you three wishes,” said Alex the Frog.

“Let me think,” Melissa murmured to herself. And then out loud she said, “I wish that you could be my best friend. I have always wanted to be friends with a frog!”

“Wish granted,” Alex croaked.

Melissa smiled sweetly and exclaimed, “Yay! Now I have a new friend!” She tenderly patted him on the head.

Alex sadly croaked, “I never had a friend before. Melissa, can you teach me how to be a friend?”

“Sure, poor Alex! Well, I guess I’m your first friend!” And they both laughed and played together for a while.

Then Alex paused and said, “It’s time for me to grant your second wish.”

Melissa realized she liked having a frog friend but wanted him to stay with her in her own home. “I wish you could be with me forever,” she said.

“Wish gladly granted!” And then Alex asked, “Where am I going to stay?”

Melissa laughed, “Come with me, silly.” Alex hopped onto her curly red hair and curiously croaked, “Where are we going, little one?”

“To my home,” she replied happily.

At home, Melissa prepared a cozy bowl with a little bed for her frog friend Alex.

He said, “No one has ever been this nice to me before. They just thought I was a gross and disgusting slimy frog.”

She patted him gently on the head and said, “I like having a frog for a friend.”

“That’s the nicest thing anybody ever said to me,” Alex croaked happily.

“Well, you are my best friend and I love you,” Melissa said.

Then Alex pointed out, “If you want me to grant your third wish I can now.” But she said, “No, I don’t need anymore wishes. My wish is right here with me.”

Alex thought to himself that Melissa was the sweetest girl in the world.

Melissa told him, “Our friendship is my most treasured possession!” She swooped down and kissed him right on the lips. Alex blushed a little and then they both laughed.

This is the story of the frog and the girl who loved him.

The end.