actual photodump part 2

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payton still doesn’t know how to spell my name, sad.

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a letter to you from me

control is a funny thing.

the older i get and the more i experience life, i learn that i have both more and less control over myself, other people, and the circumstances around us all.

i learn that i am a drop in the bucket, a vapor in the wind, a flower quickly fading, a grain of sand, a piece of the puzzle. who i am and everything i have is a complex combination of the attitudes, desires, decisions, mistakes, victories, struggles, joys, beginnings, and ends of a billion other forces in this universe we all exist in.

forces: my family, your family, your family’s family, your doctor, my old dentist, (thank God for) my new dentist, my kindergarten teacher, the U.S. army, the French army, the cash me ousside girl, Mila Kunis, my cousin’s hairdresser, the dangerous way shrubbery sometimes blocks your view when you’re trying to make a left turn, the dog park that forever stunk until the apartment complex finally decided to rip it up and turn that space into a patio, the administration of my university, the queen of Lebanon, the 1950s American ideology of the feminine mystique, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the tornadoes that wrecked houses and lives in North Texas last year, the amount my church collected from the offering last Sunday, the stranger who sat next to me at Starbucks this afternoon, the newest drug the FDA approved this morning, the weather, nature, time, animals, natural disasters, the stock market, Satan (yeah, he gets in the way sometimes), popular media, the government, the healthcare system, fashion trends, rich people, poor people, educated people, people who never finished the third grade, my future grandchildren, your great-grand uncle.

every moment you and i live in is, at the time that it happened, at the tail end of an infinitely long series of events made possible by a million gazillion trillion forces at work.

too many little forces to count.

they’re little, because there’s one big force holding them all together. cutting through the chaos, the good, the bad, the joys, the sorrows. making a story, painting a picture, growing a garden, healing the broken, redeeming the unredeemable, finding the lost, breaking every chain. this force is bigger than i can ever imagine, this force is bolder than i can ever hope for, this force is more alive and real than i often believe. this force is a person. my God. my Savior. my Friend. my Lord.

outside of time, my God makes the impossible possible and the possible impossible. He says i am finished but also, at the same time, a work in progress. He says i have nothing to offer but that my heart – as proud, twisted, selfish, and confused as it often is – brings him unspeakable measures of delight. He says to focus on the things that are above and to deny myself but He comes to my side and hears my every cry even before it escapes my mouth. He is concerned about big things. He is about changing the world and saving nations. But He stopped and sat next to me when i woke up in my bed yesterday and covered my face in my hands because my heart hurt. He held me in His arms when i sat at church later that morning, chest heavy from the ache i felt keenly inside. the ache of having to lose something, someone. the ache of knowing and having to accept a change in how you relate to me and i relate to you.

i didn’t expect you. i didn’t know there was more to you than the lanky, obnoxious grad student in my classes who didn’t know how to shut up. i had never really paid much attention to you. i thought i knew who you were, but i was wrong. i didn’t know you had a story, that you were different. i didn’t know you would see me and think that i was different. i couldn’t predict you would look past what everyone else saw when they looked at me–and see what made me, me. you were my biggest surprise.

i thought i knew what i was looking for. i had an image, albeit fuzzy, of what that was in my mind. you didn’t come anywhere close to fitting that description. and yet – i fell for you. i fell pretty hard. i fell in love with your heart.

your heart is strong, your heart is pure, your heart is humble. it is wise beyond its years but so hopeful and trusting almost to the point of innocence. it believes all things, hopes all things. it’s suffered much but refuses to close itself off to the one Force who can protect it best. your heart doesn’t believe in shortcuts and knows that true beauty is forged out of fire, out of the waiting, out of the testing, out of the prayers. your heart is beautiful.

you couldn’t understand why i “gave you a chance”, but i, on the other hand, found myself unable to resist you. you are rare. you are special. you are one in a million. you took my breath away. you stole my heart and then broke it for its first time.

i don’t know what the future holds. i don’t know if i will look back on this in two days, two years, or two decades and think this is the stupidest thing i’ve ever written and be ashamed. i don’t know if we will end up together or not. and i know you don’t know either. but He knows. He is, at this very moment, spinning together a million little forces on behalf of you, on behalf of me, on behalf of this world, on behalf of His glory. He asked me if i wanted to see His glory, and today i promised Him i did. and so i give up control. control over who and what you mean to me. control over my heart, over my emotions. i trust that He is good. i trust His ways are better. i trust that He cares for me just as He cares for you.

i trust that He’s doing a good work in you and that He’s doing a good work in me, too. remember how i said control was a funny thing? well here’s why: i control whether or not i let Him do that good work in me. i control my response to His grace and His mercy overflowing onto me. i control whether i will let Him lead me by gentle and still waters. i control if i will allow Him to show me something wonderful and bigger than i could ever imagine. it is my prayer that i allow Him to mold me into everything i was created to be – today, tomorrow, forever.

and wherever you are right now, i pray the same is true for you, too.


i absolutely love my sister’s writing. so proud of everything she is and all that she will be. what a painful yet beautiful and powerful story.

It doesn’t matter what you do . . . so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching . . . The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


Double-major at America’s first research University,

Fulbright scholar to the Netherlands,

on track for one of medicine’s highest paid specialties.   

R.A., T.A., C.A., fellowships, grants, scholarships.

This will be his legacy.

so who am I to bristle when he holds me close and burns my boundaries

who am I to protest when he promises strength yet crushes my dignity

and who am I to argue when he sings of bliss, and so

I scrub his plates and pour his tea, I hem his pants at night, handstitch,

I soothe his restless brow, and then I’m diagnosed as “Basic-”


The first time he hits me,

I laugh. Uncomfortable with my own strength to formulate a “no,” I laugh,

and so does he.


I know he is a good man, so why do I IV-drip tears into our coffee,

why is every day a clinical on my incompetence,

why are insults and anger his prescription for my humanity?  


My father says, “that is how all men are.”

My mother shakes her head, every angle broken, and for the first time,

I know something is deeply, horribly wrong with me.


I am a child again, screaming from the balcony as fists meet faces, bookshelves topple,

shards of glass litter the floor like confetti from a drunken teenage dance.  

I am one of five million children exposed to domestic violence each year.


Packing stale bread and chunks of cream cheese for our lunches because

“Mommy’s missing again,” and my sisters are hungry, but I cannot be late to middle school.

I am three times more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood.


Sobbing on a blue rug on the bathroom floor because who will teach me what to say

when I testify in court as key witness against my father, the man who tried to kill my mother?

I am six times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.


And when my father scoffs and says “it’s in your head; define ‘hit’,” I realize

I am one of the ten million Americans abused by their partners every year.


That was my past.

But this will not be my legacy.


I will fight the lie that tells me, in my mother’s voice,

“You deserve it”

I will block out the roar of my father’s hands that says,

“This is normal”

And I will face the love that was not real, the jeering, sneering suffocation that

shoved me against the wall after a hard day of rotations, that said my friends and family were hobbies not worth my time, that ridiculed everything about me except what he could handle, that tried to buy my silence and soul with a Christmas present off of Amazon,

and my mouth will formulate a “no”.


For every child in this room who has traced another’s handprint on their flesh,

I will say “no”.

For every girl and boy in this school who believes they have lost their body and soul,

I will say “no”.

And for your future spouse, your future child, those who may one day fill these seats with hopeful hearts and open hands,

I will teach you to say “no”.


Out of these ashes, beauty will rise.

And from one story, truth multiplies.


You see, if I suffer, and you suffer, and we both stay silent,

hope dies.

And if I suffer, and you suffer, and I speak, and you hide,

you lie.

But if I suffer, and you suffer, and we both speak out knowing we love those who are exposed, but clinging to the promise that today’s darkness will bring a brighter tomorrow,

truth will arise.    


Change is painful, slow.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung

and possibly broken.

If you want to make sure of keeping it intact

you must give it to no one, not even an animal.

Lock it up safe

in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.

It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

To love is to be vulnerable.”


Your past is not your legacy.

The bitterness mingled in your blood is not your identity.

And if I can stand before you today and say that in your ashes, I see beauty,

then day by day week by week year by year

you can break free.


Take this moment,

and it will become your legacy.

this isn’t about

working less or more, necessarily. this isn’t about homemade or takeout, or full time or part time, or the specific ways we choose to live out our days. it’s about rejecting the myth that every day is a new opportunity to prove our worth, and about the truth that our worth is inherent, given by God, not earned by our hustling.

sink deeply into the world as it stands. breathe in the smell of rain and the scuff of leaves as they scrape across driveways on windy nights. this is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dreamland. now. you, just as you are. me, just as i am. this world, just as it is. this is the good stuff. this is the best stuff there is. perfect has nothing on truly, completely, wide-eyed, open-souled present.

shauna niequist