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.
I'm not one for putting unnecessary restrictions and obligations on myself, so resolutions aren't really my thing. Instead, I choose a sort of underlying theme for the year. Last year it was "Be Present," and I think it helped me keep my priorities in line throughout the year. But this year, my theme for the year has some big changes that will come along with it.
This year's theme is "Live well..."
This will be a year of not just living life to the fullest, but redefining what it truly means to live *well*- as in, healthy- Redirecting my thoughts about loving myself from giving in to staying strong. Because I love my life, but let me tell you how I've lived it for the past several years: I'm lucky enough to not have any major health scares, but I do suffer from allergies, eczema, frequent headaches, dry mouth, irregular cycles, digestive issues, hip bursitis, sciatica, and chronic neck and back pain. I exist in the no-man's land where exhaustion meets insomnia, and I can't remember the last time my brain felt sharp. I basically subsist on a steady flow of Tylenol and coffee to manage pain and exhaustion. And honestly? Management isn't enough. I want to feel alive again...
Because here's what happens: I think that I'm doing everyone a favor by pretending I'm fine. I push through dull aches and pains until I become desensitized to them. I store it up and shove it aside and a few nights of uncomfortable sleep becomes weeks and months or a year's worth of an issue that is now serious. And I'm done.
I'm done with food that isn't food and being unable to function without medicine or caffeine. I'm done with ignoring what my body is telling me is wrong. It's time to start giving myself and my family the wellness we deserve.
My husband and I started a slow-carb diet in the Fall with great results, but soon realized it wasn't a sustainable option for long-term nutrition. We've settled on a complete lifestyle change of eating mainly whole, unprocessed foods and being diligent about doctor visits: dental, chiro, annual, etc.
No more shrugging off dentist appointments or ignoring back pain or allowing fast food to turn into a habit. This is the year of wellness for us...
What's your 2016 theme going to be?
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:
I mentioned a few posts back that I'm taking time off from my professional photography business in 2016. It's a huge change that I'm excited and terrified about all at the same time! I won't be taking on any clients, but I am really looking forward to a few projects I have rattling around in my head. I’ve decided instead of becoming stagnant, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to relearn myself, and acquire some new photography skills.
Photography is something that will always be a part of who I am. It’s something I’m very passionate about, but I’ve photographed other people’s families for so long, that I’ve sort of fallen into a routine and neglected to really reach outside the box for a while now. I also haven’t been appearing in photos of my own life as much as I’d like. (This is a mom problem. We are always the ones behind the camera and rarely are we able to step in front and express who we really are and be captured in the moment with our family.)
So at the beginning of the year, I’ll be starting a personal project- a Self Portrait Project! One Self-Portrait per month, for the entire year. By the end of the year, I’m hoping to have gained some insight into myself as a person- a wife, a mom, a woman- as well as some new photography skills. It will be a creative stretch for me that will require me to think outside the box, and I'm looking forward to the challenge!
I’ll be posting the portraits on the blog each month, as well as a few on Instagram, so you can follow along with the hashtags #everydaylightself, either way, I hope you'll come along for the journey!
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…
“What’s your favorite childhood memory?”
My husband asked me this not long ago, and while I consider my childhood happy, it was difficult to conjure up a specific memory that I felt embodied the essence of it. Shouldn’t that be an easy question to answer? Something joyous should always come easily to the forefront of the mind, right?
I won’t pretend I had a rough upbringing, but I was raised by a single mother who often worked two and three jobs to keep us afloat- long days and nights with little to show except full tummies and happy faces on her children. Many of my friends have wonderful childhood memories of going on vacations and visiting fabulous places. Or having big elaborate birthday parties and expensive Christmases. We never took so much as a weekend vacation, but our hearts were always full.
But then I remembered….one single moment that I feel was the most perfect and happy of moments for a little girl:
I’ve just awoken to a summer morning, sunlight blinding as I opened the metal screen door and sleepily step onto the astro turf-covered front porch. The pastures are lit up bright neon green from summer’s morning light, and the most perfect breeze blows through the front porch. My mother is on the west end of the porch, paint brush in hand, painting a large bookshelf white to go in my room. An airplane buzzes overhead and the wind chime clangs in the background. She looks up, and smiles.
That’s it. That’s the moment. Unceremonious and completely insignificant on a grand scale. And I often think of how my mother couldn’t have known that this was the moment that would be etched into my brain when I pictured my childhood. Her hair undone, a messy shirt thrown on, paint covering her hands. And then I think of all the moments in my own children’s lives that I’ve tried to make so picturesque and perfect. All the messes to which I’ve said no, and all the times I’ve insisted we not go out to play when the weather wasn’t ideal; and I wonder what they’ll remember about their childhood…
So today is a yes day. We’re embracing messy hair and dust on the floors and dishes left undone. No struggling against the ever-strengthening current of perfection. Today, we just play, because today could be the day. Any moment could be the one carved into their little hearts and burned into their memories. Today could be their moment in the porch.
Around this time every summer, I watch the days start to get shorter and shorter. It's happening already. I can feel summer drawing to a close. My sticky skin feels he faintest hint of relief as shadows get longer each day.
But the ending of this particular summer feels significant somehow. It's the last time we'll mark the end of the warm season by beginning a school routine. For the first time ever, I'm cutting my own summer short by beginning to plan curriculum and set up a school room. It feels like the end of an era... from here on out, things are only bound to get busier and busier by the season. Activities will take precedence over impromptu date nights and our days of early bedtimes for the kids are numbered.
If I think about it too much, my head starts to spin. I get overwhelmed not at all the things left to do, but at my complete lack of control in it all. Then I have to remind myself: it's not about losing control; it's about finding a new normal. Soon, we will fall into a new routine, and yet no day will be like the one before.
My heart is excited for this new season! But for now, I'm hanging onto these last rays of summer...
click images to enlarge
My name is Chelsea. Redeemed. Wife. Mommy. Photographer. Light Chaser. I hope you find light here too.