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It happens all of the time.  I will be scrolling through facebook reading random posts about people’s good fortunes or burnt dinners and looking at selfies of people who clearly love themselves…. when I see a post about someone with cancer. My heart stops for a moment, I feel sorrow for the family and I may say a quick, “Jesus, please be with them during this difficult time” prayer, or even write an encouraging Bible verse on their timeline so they know I was thinking about them.  And then something happens….my life goes on.  I continue my day, play with my children, pin another pinterest crock pot recipe that I will never make, and all is well.  Cancer may be something that goes away for me when I log out of facebook, but unfortunately for the lives of those with cancer and their families…it doesn’t go away with a swipe of a finger.  Cancer is alive and it has a face….and right now to me, it’s the face of my Uncle Rick.

My Uncle found out he had cancer this past September, right before he walked his beautiful daughter down the isle to say “I do”.  Just a few days after the wedding, he had one kidney removed and hopes were high that all of the cancer was gone. After some testing, they found it was a rare renal cancer and it had spread to my Uncle’s brain. This news would have most people waiving their white flags in surrender, but my Uncle is a fighter…and he is fighting still today. 

(This image was taken on Katie’s wedding day after giving her dad a card {it must have been a Hallmark card}….it was hard to keep my camera steady. What a beautiful, absolutely perfect day….)

If anyone has gone through cancer, you know it’s a roller coaster ride of scary twists and turns, good news, bad new…uncertainty. My Uncle’s cancer not only affects him…but everyone around him.  He’s not only my Uncle, he is a son, a brother, a husband, and a father.  For the last forty years he has been beside my Aunt Janet…he’s her best friend. I can’t even imagine what she is going through, the thoughts that fill her head when she sits still, the conversations she has had to have with him about the future.  Worrying about the unknown, about waking up in the middle of the night with no one to wrap her cold feet around, about how she will survive a week, let alone a day without him. It makes me want to climb the highest mountain, throw my hands in the air and scream until I’m hoarse, begging God to make every one’s pain go away.  

(my kids playing Lego’s beside Uncle Rick’s temporary bed)

 I think about my cousin Katie…how she puts on a cheerful face and plays with my daughter, when in the back of her mind she is probably thinking, “What if my dad isn’t here to see his own grand babies? Who will read them their favorite story? Who will sneak them treats when I’m not looking, kiss their boo boos and let them stay up late?” 

I think about my cousin Parker and how his heart must be hurting…worrying about if he will have to be the man of the house and take care of his mom.  I think about my Uncle’s father and how helpless he must feel, worrying if he will have to say goodbye to his only son. 

(my daughter sporting a Rick Strong hat)

One thing that struck me this weekend as I visited with my family, was that even though they are worried, even though they are scared…they have such an undeniable hope. They are still able to laugh and find the joy in things that would make most people cry. For instance, my Uncle is losing his hair to radiation, so my Aunt thought she would use a lint roller on his head to see if it would help with the shedding….c’mon, you can’t help but giggle a little bit. 

Their hope doesn’t come from doctors or nurses, their hope comes from the Lord. They trust God is going to walk them through this journey, because although they don’t know what the future holds…God does.  It’s already been written… Uncle Rick’s life has a purpose that God has planned long before he was born.  And as we are still believing and praying that God will heal my Uncle, we also acknowledge that the Lord’s healing may not be the same kind of healing we are wanting…because an ultimate healing is to be with God.  As I was sitting staring at the “welcome home” sign in their living room, I couldn’t help but realize how temporal this life we know is…this is not our real home. And if you know Christ, just imagine the “welcome home” you will receive when it’s finally time to leave this earth…to be brought into the glorious gates of Heaven with the loving arms of Jesus wrapped around you. Do you have the hope of Christ?

I love you so much Uncle Rick! #Rickstrong!

Who’s face do you see when you hear the word cancer? Is it yours? Is it a loved one or a dear friend? Leave their name in the comment section here or on facebook, and I will pray for each person…because cancer has a face…a name. 

I have been on a quest lately to find my youngest son almonds processed in a peanut free facility, because he is allergic to peanuts and I don’t want to take a chance with cross contamination. During my search, I became seriously discouraged by what I found. Because of two minor outbreaks of salmonella from almonds, the FDA mandated that all almonds from the US be pasteurized. Pasteurization in theory is good…it kills all of the bad bacteria…but unfortunately in getting rid of the bad, it also kills the good stuff.  When pasteurizing almonds, the two most common methods are using a high temp steam on the almonds or spraying the almonds with a nasty chemical called propylene oxide or PPO (which is a highly flammable, carcinogenic toxin…sounds tasty). Many almond growers can’t afford the steam method, so they are forced to spray this crap on your “raw” almonds….thanks FDA.  So now, not only do I have to make sure the almonds I buy are peanut free, I have to try and find ones that aren’t sprayed with PPO…and they aren’t cheap, but what is these days? And wouldn’t you know it, God would take my research about almonds and lay on my heart an area in my life that needs some work: How I talk to my children.

I want my children to be “good”, to be respectful and to listen. If you are a parent, you know this can be a daunting task, especially when they have siblings to fight with. When they don’t make wise choices, I tell them how they should behave…in a sense, like pasteurization, I want to wipe out their bad behavior…I mean, who wants to have spoiled nuts kids?!  But, there are times that I don’t talk to them in love….I talk AT them…showing no patience, no peace…just frustration and anger. Sometimes I say things I don’t mean and I’m ashamed of myself… it’s like word puke coming out of my mouth and I can’t stop once I start. So, in my attempt to make them “better” behaved, I’ve actually been making them worse by not showing them the grace that God shows me everyday.  I never imagined parenting would be so hard….that these beautiful little beings could make me laugh with indescribable joy and cry with my face in a pillow all in one day. They are my everything, and I want to build them up, to give their sweet souls peace..not tear them down because they didn’t brush their teeth long enough or pick up their ten million Lego’s on the floor. 

God, please forgive me for not taking every opportunity to show them your love and mercy. Help me to daily speak love into their lives and be an example of patience and grace. I don’t want to just  focus on their outward actions; I want to focus on the state of their hearts. Amen.

For as much as I want to be…I’m not a planner. So why wouldn’t I decide to do a last minute Valentine’s Day shoot with my kiddos?  I don’t have a studio and a bunch of cute backdrops, and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money or time trying to make something…so I came up with this simple backdrop for a total of $17…I know it could have been cheaper, but I didn’t feel like cutting out hearts. I bought a pack of scrapbook paper at Michael’s for ten bucks and then bought some red hearts at Target from their dollar spot.  My boys ripped out the scrapbook paper for me and we just taped it to a white backdrop that I had (you could use a wall as well).  It doesn’t look so pretty up close, but I knew it wasn’t going to be in sharp focus and it would give me the look I was going for.  I placed the backdrop in my dining room across from three windows and there you go…I had a quick, inexpensive Valentine set up.  Now go take some pics of your kiddos!!

Every January 1st, it stares me in the face….the not so anticipated new year’s resolution. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan.  I don’t really need one more thing to put pressure on me…especially the pressure of failing that shiny new year goal…whatever it may be.  I think to myself, if I couldn’t do it last year, what makes me think I can do it this year?…because undoubtedly it’s probably the same resolution/s I’ve had every year…And when I do fail, because no one is perfect (no matter how hard I try), I kick myself over and over again because I couldn’t maintain the level of expectations I set for myself.  So, are resolutions bad?..No, absolutely not.  But, how I respond to myself when I can’t maintain my (often times unrealistic) resolutions is bad. What am I going to do about it? If I say I will change, doesn’t that sound like a new year’s resolution?! I guess what I am hoping to accomplish is to live this next year with goals in mind, but not putting so much pressure on myself if (and when) I don’t live up to them……For example:

I would like to spend more time alone with God, but I will not condemn myself if I only read a page from a devotional book

while sitting in the bathroom. 

I would like to feed my family more clean meals (yes, I’ve jumped on that wagon), but I will not condemn myself when I take them to McDonald’s on occasion….because a kid needs a happy meal every once in awhile even if the chicken isn’t real. 

I would like to actually “enjoy” cooking, and if I ever get into a nice dinner making groove,  I will not condemn myself for using store bought meat and tomatoes from a CAN…because I just know if I eat too much chili using canned tomatoes, I will surely kill us all….

I would like to spend more time connecting with my children, but I will not condemn myself if I can’t give them my full attention every second of the day. 

I would like to be a better photographer, but I won’t condemn myself when I can’t devote as much time to it as I used to because I want to have more time with my family. 

I would like to learn to play the guitar with my son, but I won’t condemn myself if I only learn the basic “g” and “c” chords and never get beyond the “smelly cat” song talent. 

I would like to be more patient, but I will not condemn myself when I have moments of yelling…because let’s face it, I have four children and my patience was near gone after two. 

I would like to be an all around better person, but I will not condemn myself when I don’t live up to my expectations of being that “better person”……

My hope for you and for me this year is to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and to be happier knowing that we are perfectly imperfect!  

What do you hope for this year?

photo by Ashley Sommer Photography

At 11:45 tonight my baby girl will be one! I simply cannot believe it.  I waited for nine long months to find out if we were going to be blessed with boy number four or a girl…and sure enough, we had a you..Adley Rose. You have changed our lives so much, I can’t imagine it without you. 

(some emotional images captured by my friend Janelle at Happinest)
I couldn’t even look at you because I was crying so hard. I kept saying, “it’s a girl? no way, are you sure?!”

And just like that, we celebrated your first birthday this past Sunday. You were so adorable when you opened your presents. You were excited about everything. 

 Today, I followed  you around a bit and took your picture to remember your big day of turning was exhausting for you. 

I love you so much moo moo!