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Dear Momma | Parenting With Courage and Saying No

Somehow, in our world, we’ve gotten the idea that saying “no,” that disagreeing, is a bad thing.  We forget that when our babies are little, saying “no” to playing with the electrical outlet, to running into the street without us, to going in over over our heads when we can’t swim, is necessary for survival.  We begin to think, early on, that being “friends” means nodding blithely to everything our children ask.  We don’t want to upset them, we don’t want them to think we’re not their allies, and we definitely don’t want them to think we are “strict” compared to other parents.  Somehow, we start to believe that parenting with courage  is a bad thing.



We get scared that telling kids no is bad parenting.


I’ve written before about fear in parenting.  I think it’s our own insecurity raising its ugly head, when we hesitate to do the hard thing because we’re afraid of our children being upset at us.  But what is it that makes us think, in our world, and even within the realm of those who claim to be Christians (meaning, proclaim to follow Christ, using the Bible as their authority for life), that “saying no,” or drawing a line in the sand, is a bad thing?


My dad and I have a wonderful relationship.  As adults, both my husband and I can call on him for wise advice, and we can also be sure that he will challenge us when he disagrees with us, or believes we are making a decision that will bring us, or someone else, harm.  My dad and I also thrive on the occasional good-natured debate.  (Not everyone in our family does, so sometimes it’s a source of irritation!)  Not long ago, we discussed for a second time our decision to go through a “Whole 30” challenge as a family, including talking with our then-7-year-old son about choosing not to have a traditional, refined-sugar-sweetened, artificially-colored birthday cake.  We made a modification and made him a naturally sweetened dessert with a very small list of ingredients.  It was an emotional decision for us as parents and for our little boy, but it led to some beautiful discussion with him, and as a family, about self-control, about choosing restraint for long-term good, and about how sometimes “saying no” is an act of love.




It’s ok to say no to the child you love.  In fact, telling kids no can sometimes be the best way to love them.


My dad disagreed with our “Whole 30” decision, respectfully.  A year after that birthday, we were again discussing our choice to say no to our son, and my dad’s grandpa-heart firmly opposed what he thought might have been a wrong decision.  He and I talked at length about our reasoning, and we came to one mutual thought:


It is odd that making healthy decisions, or decisions for their protection, in our childrens’ lives is sometimes viewed as deprivation.


Think about it!  Why in the world would my fellow mom think it was bad for me to tell my child no to a treat that could damage his immune system, cause tummy distress, cause behavior issues, and interrupt healthy eating patterns?  Please, don’t get me wrong.  We choose “junk” plenty of times.  We hit up a local fast food joint last night on the way home from a weekend at the shore, and my kids were as happy as clams.  I chose to wait and make my own meal at home, but the occasional splurge is a choice we can make.  And in other situations, why would another parent think I was “weird” for saying no to an activity for our teen that we knew held risk for their heart and moral character?


I think the root of criticism for other parents is often that when another person makes a decision different from ours, it somehow makes us doubt our own choices.

Instead of then questioning our choices in a healthy way, we feel threatened and want to attack the one who parents differently.  Or, instead of standing firm in our choice to parent our child in a given situation, in what we know to be the wisest and most loving way, we doubt ourselves, for fear of what they, or another parent, may think.

Criticizing other parents is a huge problem on its own, but I’m talking about daring to do the hard things for the love of our children, and not letting ourselves be bound by our own fear.  While of course we all know that we have to FIRMLY teach our children to keep their fingers (and other objects) out of the electrical sockets, we have to hold fast to our confidence as parents (and as Christian parents, to the confidence we have in the God who has given us instruction through His word), even as our children grow.



Our own parenting is adapting by the day in our current season.  We have children ages 8-19, and in seasons from grade school to work-and-higher-education.  We are constantly having to shift and adjust to parenting them with varying levels of authority.  But no matter what ages our children are, we cannot parent them from fear.


No matter what season of parenting we are in, we have to be courageous to parent our children with love and truth.


Sometimes, parenting with love and truth means saying just plain “NO.”


Do you ever struggle with fear as a parent?  Do you worry what other parents might think, or do you tend to criticize another parent when they make a choice different from your own?  Be encouraged, friend.  You haven been called to parent your children, and in Christ, you have all you need for the wisdom to do that in grace, with courage, and in love.


I’d love to hear how you walk this season as a parent, or how you’re being challenged as you do!  Would you share in the comments?


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Love In the Weeds – Finding Hope in the Seasons of Marriage

We were there to photograph my daughter and her friend, wanting to bless the friend with lovely images of herself. We wanted to capture a budding friendship, and create images for each girl to shine a light on her inner (and outer) beauty, and we brought our family so we could enjoy a sunflower field at the same time. It was unseasonably warm, and ever-the-over-planner-optimist, I’d hoped to capture some family images and a new headshot all on the same day.  But sweating while I carried gear (with plenty of help), and lacking artistic focus except for in the favor of the girls, I was giving up hope of the second goal I had.  Busy appreciating their youthful beauty, I self-criticized.  I didn’t feel pretty, and being in front of the camera did NOT sound fun.  I’m not gonna lie: I was having one of those self-centered, pouty moments, when hope in marriage seems fragile and elusive.




“Go stand over there, mama,” my girl said. She instructed her dad to join me.  May I add that sweating profusely while standing among fields of sunflowers (mixed, surely, with the inevitable weeds) does NOT make me feel romantic, either?


She wouldn’t budge, though.  She took a moment and knotted my hair into some bohemian on-the-fly up-do, and she touched up my lipstick.  She used her shirt sleeve to dab the “glisten” on my nose.  And then she told me to snuggle with her dad.




For just a few minutes, I forgot that I was hot and bothered, feeling chubby and disheveled, and let myself relax into my husband’s arms.  I let myself feel the way I’ve always wanted my photography clients to feel: free from the “weeds” of the everyday, and in love with the guy who won my heart all those years ago.  I felt like “his girl,” and I felt pretty in his eyes.




For just a few minutes, while our youngest kiddos and my daughter’s teenage friend tried to ignore our “mush,” I melted into the moment, and I let our daughter remind me of one of the things in this life that really matters: the commitment of two people to “make it work” over decades, despite our individual and mutual brokenness, for a bigger purpose than ourselves.


By pushing me to get outside myself, my daughter reminded me that the fragile gift of hope in marriage is worth nurturing.  It sets an example for the generation to come.




We’re in a season of transition as a family. My oldest two are exploring their next steps in growing and pursuing their calling. They’re primarily living in other states, thankfully close together and pursuing relationship with each other. I’ve never been the mom who couldn’t wait for them all to leave, and I’d be lying if I said their leaving didn’t leave a hole in my heart and in our home and rhythm as a family.  (Ask me sometime about the big, wretched ugly-cry that shocked me when my second headed off to hike the Appalachian Trail).  But something really cool has happened along the way.


I’ve been “surprised by joy,” as C.S. Lewis would say, in the changing rhythms of our family.


There’s a new type of interaction happening, between us as parents and our children, and between our kids, themselves. It wouldn’t be hard, though, for me to fall into a type of mourning, a grey-state, that shadowed the sunlight of what’s happening in our home. The ones still living and studying daily with us, their parents with a new type of attention to give, are both grieving with us at the parting of their siblings, and reveling in the sweetness of our ever-changing daily life.  Stopping to melt into that is a gift, for me and for them.




Heaven knows, life is full of fields of weeds.  From our inner mess to the mess in our world, it would be so easy to lose ourselves in a cloud of resigned survival.  But I’m so thankful that my Papa uses my family to make me stop and melt into the moment.  I’m praying that with or without a sunflower field, I will remember to seek the heart of my husband with tenderness and grace, to find the romance in the everyday.


How do you stop and melt into the moments, finding hope in marriage and love in the weeds?

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Christmas Trees and Making Memories {South Jersey Family Portraits}

As a portrait photographer, I have always enjoyed having the eyes of a mama when I photograph my clients: hunting for the “real moments,” finding the “real person” when making an image.  It’s a funny thing (and not, I may add, at all relaxing), to try to create those images when I’m in them.  I have had the rare privilege of catching the hearts of my children in their eyes, and they are gracious to me when it comes time for portraits.  But working to see myself at my “best angle” isn’t easy.  And while my sweet mom-in-law was on hand to press the shutter when we set up the shots, I’m not thinking it was too relaxing for her, either.  (Note to self: next year, hire a good photographer you trust who has both the “heart” and the technical skill.  So you can relax and be in the moment.  Even if you have patient kids and a sweet husband who will go the extra mile because they know it’s important.)  Still, I know a few things about family portraits…




As a professional and even more as a woman, I love photography because it’s an important part of the legacy I am called to leave.  I’ve told brides, “I’m shooting for you, sure, on your day, but even more, I’m shooting for your grandbabies, so they’ll know who you were and be able to embrace their story through you!”  This holds especially true for our portraits, because when I look at them hanging on our walls, I relive that giggle, the rare gift of a smile from our serious one, the mischievous twinkle in Blue’s eyes; the goofy banter of the brothers, the wise tenderness in our girl, and even the awkward smooch my husband and I insist on sharing to the utter embarrassment of our kids.




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I notice, as my girl pointed out, that my husband gets his soft-hearted-easy-to-cry tendencies from his mama, and that they clasped each other exactly the same way when they wiped away the tears and squeezed each other tightly…




…and how much my little-girl-best-friend looks like her Nana, and how they have a special rhythm to their relationship that’s all its own.






…and I don’t even so much mind when I forget to strike a flattering pose, because I’m just in the moment.




When I look at these photos in our album someday, I’ll remember how our college boy stole quiet moments with each of his siblings on his first visit home as a freshman, and how they coveted that time with him.




I’ll be awed that the mama who was so scared of becoming a parent, was graced with a quiver full of arrows who daily dare me to be a stronger, gentler, wiser woman.




I’ll treasure the joy that comes out of my more reserved one when he gives us the privilege to be in the moment with him.








I’ll also remember the mad dash for a few new pieces of clothing for portraits (and the fact that most of what we already owned was perfect)… and seeing how grown up my girl looked that day, and how the flying of time overwhelmed me.




I’ll hold onto the silliness of the moment of cutting down a tree in good clothes, how big brothers are the best fashion advisors, and how mini Christmas trees make good temporary closets for bare-chested little boys who want to get serious about a new tradition.






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When I see these images, I’m reminded of the gift of time with my mom-in-law, the missing of Papa, who was off hunting, the Thanksgiving meals we’ve whipped up together, the family who aren’t here, the first time we got to cut down our own tree (“the biggest one we can find!!”, they said), the wonderful forestry professor who helped us know what kind of tree we should buy, and the tv-less mornings on the sofa reading our Jesse Tree devotional and talking about what really matters about Christmas.  And my favorite image of all is the one where I’m not “pretty,” but I’m full of joy at these people who bring me to my knees and who, by God’s unmistakable grace, perfectly-imperfectly teach me about love.




Merry Christmas, friend.  Whatever your background, whatever your status in life, I’m praying with all that I am, that you know the Love of the One who went to a tree on your behalf and mine.  I’m praying that you’re making memories and capturing them, and soaking in the love of the Light of the World.  Sending you a big hug.


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Are you a mama who thinks you don’t look good enough to be in your family portraits?  This article captured my attention, and it’s the cry of my heart for my mama friends.  I promise – my kids see me with eyes of love, and they think I’m beautiful.  They’d be missing out if they grew up with no images of their mama, or of our times together.  From one girl to another, here’s my dare for you this year: get yourself in front of a camera – I promise – it’s worth leaving as part of your legacy.


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