If you know my daughter, or if you follow our #vessiedressesherself hashtag on Instagram, you know that the child has an affinity for dresses and skirts. The bigger, the more sparkly, the better. I let her dress herself with just a few rules:
1. Must be weather appropriate
2. No jammies
3. No costumes outside the house
The particular dress in question- the cause of much weeping and gnashing of teeth- broke all three of these rules, and I wasn't going to budge. Another tidbit of info you may know regarding my daughter is that she has a flair for the dramatic. But here's what I want her to know about being pretty:
You were in tears on the stairs and I was in no mood to play hostess to your dramatics. We were in a rush. We're not usually in a rush, to be honest. I avoid rushing at all costs and I can mostly get us out the door in a timely manner, but today... we were in a rush. And now this display. And all over a princess dress.
The waterworks on you will surely someday earn you critical acclaim. But this time, real tears welled up in your eyes and rolled down your red cheeks. This time, your tiny four year-old self was truly in the midst of a tragedy. But I said the same thing I usually find myself saying to you in instances such as these,
"You're being ridiculous..."
You quieted. Then sniffled.
"But Mom," you whispered, "if I don't wear a dress, I won't be pretty! I'll be so ugly!"
And you meant it. In your world, your lack of a princess dress was honestly the gauge against which you judged your prettiness. And I was crushed. Who told you that? I mean it. I want names. Who told my barely-been-on-earth-long-enough-to-know-what-pretty-means-daughter that what it meant was a glittery dress and sparkly make up? But more than that, who told you that without those things you would be ugly?
Listen to me, child... pretty is not a physical trait. It's a heart trait. It's a soul trait. Pretty is what happens when your heart is open and loving and kind. Pretty is the sparkle in your eyes that happens from recognizing the pretty hearts in other people, and from building them up over and over when they don't feel so pretty. Pretty is when we see people the way Jesus sees them, and love them the way He would love them... And you have it, baby. The prettiness. That heart is pure, sparkly gold and I've seen it make other people's hearts feel pretty too. Including my own. But pretty didn't come from a box at the store. It came from within.
It's an understanding that you and I and all other women have that regardless of what we're wearing on the outside, our hearts are all the same, and we have to care for each other's hearts in order to keep them that way. Pretty, I mean. And your heart is my responsibility. It's my job to remind you what pretty really is. So let me be clear:
You might not always be fancy, but you will always be pretty.
Your clothes won't always sparkle, but your heart always will.
You can put on make up, but you can't cover up a hateful heart.
The world will sell you glitter in excess, but no amount of flash and shine can ever make you love yourself... that has to come from within... from that pretty heart.
Don't sell yourself short, baby. That that cheap, flimsy dress couldn't possibly hold the entirety of your worth. It doesn't even hold a candle to your beauty. You are made in the image of a God who loves you. You are lovely because he loves you. Inside and out.
It's been a beautiful year for us. We bought our dream house, started a business, began homeschooling, and closed a chapter of my photography journey. I wouldn't trade a single second of it, and I can't wait to see what the Lord has in store for 2016!
Here's a look back at our year:
So how'd it go? Was your Thanksgiving as happy as your Christmas cards are promising me it was? Did the turkey turn out perfectly and on time? Pies set all the way through? Everyone got along and there was no awkward conversation at the dinner table? Was your Thanksgiving outfit on point?
Yeah, us either.
This year, we decided to do something unprecedented: we cooked our own meal, in our own home, for just the four of us. This was a big deal for me, because I'm used to doing Thanksgiving at my grandparent's or in-law's house. Sometimes I bring a pie or a salad if I'm feeling extra thankful. But this year, since it's our first year in the Ahlgrim Haus, we wanted to do it our way, and on our own time.
And my favorite part? My husband volunteered to do ALL the cooking. So here's how it went:
Thursday morning, Ryan got up and started smoking the chicken. (That's right. We're so rogue that we didn't even eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Deal with it.) He also made all the sides and pumpkin pie for dessert, while I kept he kids entertained by watching the parade and letting them help me decorate the Christmas tree. The tree is now only decorated on one side on the bottom third. It's perfect.
The chicken wasn't cooking fast enough, so we sat down and just ate all the sides (which were amazing, by the way) but before we dug in, we took a self-timer photo of the whole clan at the Thanksgiving table. In our pajamas. And out of nearly thirty frames, ZERO got our faces in focus (Although, that half-decorated Christmas tree in the background is looking sharp!)
Here she is in all her out of focus, unedited, sleepy-eyed, pajama-clad glory:
And yes. I do this for a living. Not nearly as easy as it looks...
We did put on real clothes and venture out to see family (and have an extra slice of pie or seven), and one of us thought it was a grand idea to stand in the rain on Thanksgiving evening to get two TVs...
He was right. We have two new TVs.
It was crazy. It was so unplanned and thrown together and so out of character for us, and it looked nothing like the prettied up versions of Thanksgiving that we always want to project to the world... and you know what? I loved it. We had the best Thanksgiving I can remember... perfectly imperfect.
I hope yours was too.
Our century-old home has over a dozen windows on the ground floor alone, and many of them still have the original antique glass in them. They are magnificent. Each piece is unique and has waves and twists and imperfections that make them special. When the afternoon sun filters through trees and through the wavy glass, it makes the light dance across dusty old floors and various pieces of furniture- almost as if they were ablaze with fire. They’re a filter, these windows, and looking through them is a bit like watching the world through water- shapes bending and moving, refusing to stay still- and everything seems to move just a bit more slowly. Looking through them can be disorienting and hypnotic and peaceful. I can’t decide which I love more- the light burning in, or the water dancing out…
My daughter will be four in a little over a week, and thinking back on our last five years is like looking through the wavy glass. I can remember desperation and hopelessness in the year-and-a-half that it took to finally conceive our little girl. I remember months of being uncomfortable in my new, rounded body, carrying life inside of it. I remember a delivery that was a breeze, and weeks after that were some of the loneliest times I’ve ever experienced as I battled post-partum depression and desperately clawed my way back into light. From there, it’s all a blur of moving shapes that refuse to stand still- watching her fly through milestones and learn new things, another positive pregnancy test, and seeing my baby hold my new baby. Fits of screaming and flailing as we learned our new normal and she stepped into her role as “big” sister, even tiny as she was. Phases I thought we’d never grow out of; the bad ones, yes- refusing naps, throwing food, and oh the potty training regression- but the good ones too: open-mouth kisses, learning to walk on wobbly, chubby legs, sweetly sleeping with her feet tucked underneath her tiny frame…
But here we are four years later… dancing in the burning light of our wavy glass windows…
Simplicity and genuine fullness of life is the underlying theme in our household. We tend to keep a tight rein on our schedules and have mastered the art of saying no to unnecessary obligations. Yet somehow, it happens every year around this season: I find myself disenchanted with a life of simplicity. As the leaves begin to turn and the holiday season looms, the feeling of wanting more creeps up and my heart races to find a cure for this chronic feeling of nothing-ness. Fill the space. Pack the calendar. Buy all the things.
My flesh tells me that the work I do is not enough. Wife and mother is not a job description. Do something. Make something. Contribute.
But this year is different. I am making a concerted effort to remind myself every day that the work I do is holy not because I am the best at it; not because I lit it well, photographed it, and used the best filter to post on social media. It’s for whom I do the work that makes it holy.
I want nothing more in this season of our lives than to feel sunshine on my face each day, fill my lungs with fresh air, behold the faces of the ones I love the most, and taste all of the Lord’s goodness. Everything else is just excess.
The first morning didn't start off the way I wanted it to: I overslept. And then I did something I swore I wouldn't do: I let the kids have donuts for their first day. I told myself I would just inject a little more coffee into my veins in order to handle the sugar-crazed maniacs into which they were certain to morph, but as I reached into the K-Cups box, I found it empty.
For two hours they asked if it was time to start. Vesper just couldn't wait! And when 9 a.m. finally came around, I took a deep breath, and rang the bell to signal the beginning of our very first school day. They ran in giggling and screeching. It was awesome. And the rest of the week has been awesome too!
I know it won't always be like this, but I'm grateful for an easy first week. I'll post again this week answering some questions we've gotten about our methods and routines and madness regarding homeschool.
In the meantime, thank you for the encouragement and the prayers and the well-wishes. I've gotten text messages, phone calls, Facebook messages, wall posts, and Instagram comments all encouraging us in our first week, and I have to tell you it has meant so SO much to us. It truly means so much to know that we have a tribe behind us cheering us on. I hope you and your littles had a great start to the year too!
I know what you’re thinking. It’s bearing down on you hard, isn’t it? This upcoming holiday for celebrating dads. You’re desperately trying to avoid thinking about it. Maybe you never had one. Maybe the one you had wasn’t around. And maybe when he was, you were worse off than when he was gone. Maybe your dad did awful, unspeakable things to you. Maybe he lied to you over and over and hurt you physically and mentally. And maybe he never provided for you the basic things a child needs: Safety. Comfort. Peace. Provision.
If you’ve ever lived in a house full of anger or abuse or neglect- built on a wobbly axis, threatening to tip at any moment, scared to even speak lest you disturb the balance of one person, spinning out of control- you know. You know how the actions of the one to whom you are supposed to look for guidance can completely mold you- harden you, or leave you shattered and destroyed. Leave your heart hurting. Leave your hands trembling, reaching upward, wanting. Leave your eyes darting, waiting for the next attack, potential assailants lurking in every corner of your life. When will the bottom drop out? When will the sky fall?
Some of us respond in anger. Some of us responded by plunging headlong into romance after romance, seeking to fill the void. Some of us responded by participating in destructive behaviors- drugs, alcohol, food- in order to numb the pain. And some of us have tried over and over to pull ourselves out of the void and use it to create our own way. Always the burden remains. Always rooted in fear.
How can you trust when the one who was meant to call you his own left you trembling, gasping, flailing?
Listen to me, friend:
There is one who calls you daughter. He calls you beloved. He fights for your heart daily. He longs to hear you call him ‘Father.’
He never tells you he’ll be there, and then leaves you waiting.
He never promises provision without providing.
He never leaves you in the middle of the night.
He never hurts you.
His love is not dependent upon your actions or deeds.
You can never make Him love you less.
You cannot earn his love. You don’t need to.
He never chooses another over you.
He never lies to you.
He is not your dad.
He is not your dad.
He is not your dad.
Take heart, friend. Look up. Don’t hide your face. Your father is not absent. He is with you always. He has loved you always, and loves you still. Rest in Him this Father’s Day.
My name is Chelsea. Redeemed. Wife. Mommy. Photographer. Light Chaser. I hope you find light here too.