My dear companions,
A few years ago, I looked pretty much the same as I do right now.
My heart, though, looked a whole lot different.
This story goes back even further, however. At a time in my infant years, I learned a word — a very special word at that. It is called love. I did not understand the meaning of this word at the time, nor the significant weight it carries. Each night I heard it, always paired with a gentle kiss on the cheek and a tuck into a blanket with my furry stuffed friends. It came and went like the sun and the moon and the stars. I felt a certain safety with it, but only because I knew it would keep coming back and ringing in my ears. There was something very sweet about the word, but I did not know it yet. I returned the word anyways - simply, plainly, and heartlessly.
I grew a little older and began to hear the word more frequently. The word I once heard so routinely began to ring slightly different in my ears. What I had heard as a word of security began to transform into a word far from that. It was confusing, general, and sometimes even unsettling. The four letter word was used as lightly as “goodbye,” seeming to carry no more weight than an empty voice. It was simply a sound, and I still did not understand its tune.
There were only small increments of time between hearing the word spoken, that I would hear its speaker taking it back. It became a word that was signed and traded, but not lived. It rested between pen and paper or routine greetings. I then began to question if the word really was at all like the sun and the moon and the stars. For while it came casually in routine, it shined no light at all. And often times, it hid in the night sky. I heard it traded frequently when the sun was shining, but when the sun went down, the word as well, disappeared.
There then came a time when I was introduced to the word in a different form. At first, it seemed to be delightful and more significant than ever before. It had a definition that seemed so promising. It was filled with passion, infatuation, and affection. Little did I know, however, this so-called form of love was the same masked thief of joy that would mislead and abandon my soul. It was in the peak of my immaturity and naivety when this “definition” of love replaced my confusion. Society dug the hole of depravity right in front of my eyes, and I walked right on in.
Down in the pit, still slightly naive, I became trapped in superficial quotes telling me what love is. The pit became a boundary, limiting me to see nothing beyond the lies that equated lust with love. I became more vulnerable than who I was in the infant stage. Wandering and lost, I clung to one who welcomed me in, despite the discomfort it brought. I was told all was well every time something was taken away from me, but all was not. I became blind and numb to the thief piercing my heart.
It was then, at the bottom of the pit, where I was shown what love truly is. I was rescued from my depravity by the merciful Savior and Shepherd who was calling my name. He opened my eyes to see that this label the world had put on love is really a word called hate. It is self-serving, deceiving, weak, and unsteady. It seeks to be pleased and to feed the lies of the heart. Its mission is to destruct.
He then introduced me to love — l-o-v-e.
Love is sacrificial and selfless. It is the light that shines in the darkness. It welcomes the undeserving and seeks out the lost. It grows and multiplies. It freely carries burdens. It is constant and alive. It sustains, builds, uplifts, and protects. It heals and mends. It remains when the sun goes down and does not hide from the needy.
Love, my dear friends, is the Son of God bearing our burdens by dying on the cross for our sins, and it's a beautiful thing.
As the calendar’s caps continue their cycle, it seems as though the season’s cycle is a monotonous drag. The months slowly pace by with dreary skies and cold cracking skin. The last bits of autumn’s warm life have surrendered to winter’s fate. The dead lands are only given breath by the harsh wind’s blow. All eyes remain on winter’s hands as it moves slowly around the year’s clock, eagerly awaiting another time full of more life and song.
There is a certain solemn beauty in winter however. A beauty that is appreciated all the more when our retreat from nature’s cycle is taken captive by an understanding host for the momentary picture of life. When the eye that hides from the arctic skies, opens to greet the familiar company, it finds intense peace and an unfamiliar form of beauty’s dress.
It is evident why one would see no beauty in something lacking abundant life, as if it is simply a layer underneath a glorious picture that has yet to be painted. And it becomes clearer why one would only be in awe when the white veil falls, bringing life to the dead, beauty for the broken, and hope for the helpless scene. But this picture too, quickly fades away.
But delight can be felt, despite the snow’s fortune to melt. For perhaps it is the presence of the dead that reminds us of life; the need for the season’s cycle. When the eager eye rests, and takes the time to focus on the tree’s roots and the tree’s life, rather than the tree’s state—a new picture is unveiled. We now see a picture of strength. Not life which is dead, but life which endures by the strength of its roots; life who's growth remains despite the outward dress, and life which has hope for the seasons to come.
Delight can also be found in the hidden sounds, as beyond the eye, there is the ear—the listener that can hear the beauty that the eye will always miss. Perhaps in winter’s whistling winds and the roars of rushing waters, there is a hidden song—a song orchestrated by nature’s finest instruments which purposefully play each of their parts, joining in union to create a piece verging the core of triumph and might. The wind whispers and howls as it calls out to its neighbors, foretelling the struggle that a snow may soon bring. The feet of creatures now step with clear and vivid heed to the land, and the chirping and hustling in the forests are amplified by the bareness of the scene. The crack of ice slowly makes a frightening cry, meanwhile shouting warning in order to protect. The snow falls in softer keys, gently forming a collection of delicate comforts. The waters clamor their approval and slowly approach the finale. The instruments look up…to the uniter of the entire song—the conductor of the unique and marvelous masterpiece. And the conductor, finished with his beautiful instruments and the purpose each has fulfilled, brings the performance to an end in complete stillness and rest.
A lot of times we live believing that when life becomes a hot mess it's to hard to find a solution to the problems, so we should just run away from them. We try to escape the clutter and pain and the life that we are living by simply running away and restarting. Soon after, we realize that we are in the same situation all over again. The cycle continues. Pain, escape, momentary happiness, repeat. What we are running from always tends to follow. "Why does this keep happening?" is what we often ask.
The answer is simple. Because we run. Stop running from your problems. Stop, take a minute, and look at the bigger picture. Look at God's grander scale of your life instead of seeking answers in that individual situation itself. Open your eyes to see it all instead of squinting to see what solution there may be in the world's narrow scope. See that loss is often gain. See the light of the situation and work through it...not away. Conquer the pain. Persevere to find purpose.
This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to partake in one of my favorite things-traveling. Along side of my family, I packed my bags and headed out the door, anticipating the adventures that awaited us thousands of miles away. While trekking through the western parts of the United States, I discovered 4 important concepts.
1. It is HOT. Heavenly, overwhelming, and treacherous. Oh, and over 100 degrees in most places.
2. The pain is always worth it.
Hiking miles up mountains each day was by no means easy at all. There were times some of us felt like it was impossible to make it to the destination. The constant agony moving through different parts of the body were certainly a hurdle to overcome to reach our goal. However, with the encouragement from one another and hydration provided to us in the dry lands, we were able to push through. We kept on moving, and eventually made it to the grand view and all of that pain just seemed to dissipate at once.
Life can be quite the hike at times. We face challenges that hurt us and tug at our hearts-challenges that make us feel like we want to give up. Sometimes we are blinded by the world to seeing the purpose in perseverance. Through the power of the Lord our life is given purpose. Through Him we can conquer our hardships and find meaning in them rather than burden. Through Him we can see how our loss can be gain.
3. Stay on the trail and follow the blaze.
One of the first and most important rules you learn as a hiker is to stay on the trail and follow the blaze. It is strongly encouraged to stay on the path, not only to prevent erosion on the side of the mountain, but also for your own safety. Danger awaits outside of the trail: predators looking for their prey, the uncertainty of what steps to take that are stable, and the often inevitable- becoming lost.
We often find ourselves at a crossroad and have decisions to make. Every decision you make determines the direction you are headed. I encourage you to consider this before you decide to take a step off the path that you should be headed. Once again, the trail may have some rough points at times that will tempt you to veer off and take what looks like a shortcut, but beware, for it is really the road to destruction.
Proverbs 4:26-27 - Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
4. See God's grand design.
Among the many different and unique places I saw and explored throughout this trip, there was one key similarity. They were all God's design. My reaction to these sights was immediate awe in His glory and power. It humbles me to feel just how grand His creation is. This Earth, my friends, was no mistake.
Meet Valerie: this girl is the definition of a free spirit. She dances and sways with the wind as if she herself were a part of it. Her heart overflows with kindness and her laugh is one full of life.
One thing that I especially loved about capturing Valerie was that she wasn't afraid to get a little dirty.
Interesting fact: the white dress that she is wearing in the field photographs is actually her mother's old wedding dress. Not only did this pair well with her handmade flower crown to complete the Bohemian look she was going for, but it was also very special and unique.
Meet Christianna, who is now a sophomore in college attending Penn State University and double majoring in linguistics and Spanish. This girl (also known as my favorite sister) is quite an intelligent human being. She is pretty much a walking dictionary, thesaurus, history book...you name it.
These photos were actually taken in April 2016, before she graduated. Luckily, the orchards had just reached their blossom's peak and composed a beautiful scene. We also took advantage of the rustic buildings at the old train station in Martinsburg during this shoot!
Meet Madeline, a high school graduate attending Davis & Elkins College this fall.
Maddy is vibrant young lady FULL of laughter. It does not take much to get this gal to smile, for she is always finding something to be happy about. It was so much fun taking Maddy through the lovely streets of Shepherdstown and capturing her natural beauty in it! Best of wishes in your future Maddy! You're going to go so far in life!