the year of surrender

I don’t always create resolutions or “find my word” when the new year comes around. Some years I’ll feel drawn toward a specific theme or prayer but it’s not something I’m particularly diligent about. Especially this year — in the midst of baby prep and my toddler’s third birthday happening right around my due date — I’ve got a lot on my mind and lists of to do’s written e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e., so the new year came and went without much of a signal on my radar.

The funny thing is, I didn’t set out to find my theme for the year, but I’m pretty certain it found me.

When I think back, it actually began pursuing me at the last bit of 2016. I’m currently expecting baby #2 and things are altogether different this go-around. Nothing major, so please don’t hear me complaining, just different.

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From the beginning of my pregnancy, I kept feeling like the Lord was asking me to surrender myself to this pregnancy. Now, let’s be real a second and acknowledge that surrender is an inherent part of pregnancy – we give over our actual bodies for nearly a year’s time, so there’s that. But this calling was deeper; more toward a yielding in my spirit rather than just my physical body.

 

So, surrender.

 

Even from the start, this pregnancy has been much more draining and taxing on me than my first ever was – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

 

At 35 weeks along, my doctor began my check-up with me laying flat on my back and her hands pressing into my belly feeling for my little boy’s position. She thought out loud, “where is his head??” as she searched and pressed.  I had been taking some peeks of him at work (I’m a sonographer), so I knew he had been breech for at least the past few weeks.

I hadn’t been concerned about it. Like, at all.
Until that moment.

Having a breech baby wasn’t something I had ever considered or expected, and I had no idea how much it affected, from a medical standpoint. My doctor briefly discussed some options if he stayed in that position, and none of them sounded especially appealing to me. A couple of them even scared me, if I’m being honest.

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With this news, I began to pray that he would turn, along with some of our friends and family. A coworker even said a prayer with me right in the middle of the hospital cafe one day. I also went to see a chiropractor who specializes in Webster’s technique – a way to open up the mom’s pelvis hopefully enough for the baby to switch positions.

After all of that, I knew I needed to accept the fact that if this baby stayed breech, there was a reason for it. A plan. A purpose. And I would just have to get over my personal preferences and fears.

 

Again, surrender.

 

I would like to tell you that I had complete trust and zero anxiety about the outcome from that point forward. But that would be a total lie.

As my next OB appointment crept closer, I started to notice my stress level rising. Questions swirled in my head, fear of the unknown settled in my heart, and lots of opinions began flying my way. I was feeling for his head all throughout the day, and I had been researching natural ways to help the baby turn. Did you know there are entire websites devoted to “flipping techniques”? It was all becoming too much.

I reminded myself that I had a healthy baby inside of me – something so many long for – and however he needed to be brought earthside would be just fine.

My prayer changed from please, Lord, let this baby turn, to me asking Him for a surrendered spirit again.

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When I signed in at the doctor’s office for my 36 week check-up, I was still convinced he was breech (although I purposely hadn’t felt of him to confirm that), and I was becoming resolved to the fact that he would likely stay that way. 

I came prepared with a list of questions for my OB regarding external cephalic versions, c-sections, risks and statistics – except these questions weren’t coming from a place of fear so much as they were to help me mentally prepare. I was ready to start firing them off when my doctor basically told me to hold my horses and let her check his position first. 

Oh, right. That is actually a brilliant idea.

I laid back on the table and she began to feel around my belly. First up high, she said slowly, “I think that’s a butt…..,” and then feeling down lower in my pelvis, “….and pretty sure that’s a head.” My mouth dropped open.

What? Had he really turned?

I was positive he was still breech. So sure.

But no, an ultrasound confirmed that I was so wrong, and I’ve probably never been happier to be wrong.

I did a happy dance with my doctor, tucked away my list of questions I’d prepared, and as I stepped onto that creaky old elevator down to the parking lot, I felt lighter. I just kept thanking the Lord for this sweet change, this sweet unexpected answer to prayer.

My Father didn’t have to do that. But he did. (And let me just say, even if he hadn’t, he would still be good and faithful.)

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee anything. This baby could shock us all by turning back around, or my labor could still end in a c-section due to a variety of reasons. But we have a shot at a natural delivery, and that was my hope all along.

So, surrender. Here we are again, old friend.

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I think it’s important that you know this surrender I’m talking about wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t quick or painless, and it wasn’t seamless. Much like motherhood, I do not have this completely figured out. (Um, not even close.) It’s a process. Even as I write this, I’m 38 weeks pregnant and I’m having to surrender my ideal timeline, because quite honestly, I want this baby out. Like, yesterday. I’m slowly and hesitantly handing over my questions, worries, anxiety, and stress to the Lord – one piece at a time. And many times, out of fear or habit or who knows what else, I still find myself reaching back for a piece I had already given over. (Feeling very grateful for a patient Father). The decision to surrender is just the first step in a long walk of following through and letting go. And then letting go again. And again. 

I’ve seen such clear evidence that the Lord is using this to draw me in closer to Him, however small it might actually be in the grand scheme of things. Because, no doubt, there are much bigger things happening in other people’s worlds than upside-down babies or pregnancy timelines. But I’m appreciative that the Lord is faithful to use what’s relevant to us – right now – to bring us close, test us, and teach us.

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Maybe your “right now” is something completely different. Maybe it seems too big and scary or too small and insignificant to submit to Him. But I promise, He can use it. And you know what?  You can surrender scared. In fact, that’s kind of the point. It gives our trust room to grow and mature. 

Our family pastor at church often says it like this in prayer, “Lord, we agree with you for the plans you have.” And I think that’s really what it comes down to: acknowledging that His plans are greater and that we want to be part of the story, not in opposition to it.

So, my answer is yes, Lord. I agree with you for the plans you have  – for me, this baby, and our story. 

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Tell me: what are you being called to surrender to right now? Or what is your word/theme for 2017?

 

 

Photographing My Daughter (amateur tips + two from a pro)

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Honestly, I’m hesitant to even attempt this post because there are ONE MILLION people out there who take amazing, inspiring pictures of their children. Literally, about a zillion people are doing this better than me. (And I’ve included links to some of my very favorite ones throughout this post). But because I’ve been asked about my Instagram photos, I thought I would simply share what works for me when I photograph my daughter. This is not a technical how-to, but more of an outline to my general approach from an I’m-just-a-mom-who-loves-photographing-my-kid perspective. A “momtog” if you will. (ha!) 

I do have a pretty sweet bonus for you, though! I happen to work as an assistant for a truly gifted photographer who was kind enough to offer some insight from a professional standpoint, so be sure to check those out at the end of the post as well. (Thanks, Denise!)

*Edit: Several people have asked what type of camera I use. 99.9% of the time I use my iPhone6. I do break out the DSLR from time to time, but rarely. And all of the images in this post are from my iPhone. 

Here are some of the things I try to keep in mind when I’m snapping a photo of Aven: 

BACK IT UP.
This took me a while to learn, and is still something I have to remind myself of. Close up shots can be so great and certainly have their impact, but when you back up a few feet (or twenty, haha) and zoom out, you capture more in the frame and can set the entire scene. It adds more visual interest because you’re really telling a whole story rather than just one page.

Here are a couple of shots where you can see more in the frame than just Aven. I think the extra elements in each photo really add to the magic.

Someone who does this well: @etst

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PERSONALITY OVER POSING. 
If you scroll through my Instagram feed, you’ll notice most of my pictures of my daughter are mid-play. I much prefer to capture Aven in her element as she just goes about life as a two year old, rather than asking her to stop and smile for the camera. Especially because right now, Aven is in the super-unnatural, super-cheesy smiling phase. She cocks her head all the way to the side, squints her eyes shut, and smiles as big as she possibly can. I mean, it’s adorable of course, but I don’t want all my pictures of her to be sporting a rehearsed smile.

Instead, I hang back and just let her do her thing. I go for less (fake) smiling, more silly. Less posing, more playing. Most of the time, I don’t even mention I’m taking a picture, but just try to catch her more naturally. I’ve noticed that this spontaneity not only makes the image more intriguing, but more importantly, it allows her true personality to shine. I love having documented these little peeks into her demeanor, expressions, and the funny quirks I might forget later!

Someone who does this well: @thegraygang  / @nihaoyall / @imayasr

 

MORE IS BETTER….
I always take more than one shot of whatever I’m trying to capture. This is especially important with kids because they are unpredictable and on the move! Chances are, out of 5-10 images, only one or two will turn out how I had hoped. Sometimes I just snap away, other times I hold my finger down to capture a “burst series” (like if she’s swinging or twirling), and if I have time to play around a bit, I’ll reposition myself between shots for variety if I’m not sure which angle will look best.

Here’s a screenshot of my camera roll after a visit to the pumpkin patch, just to give you an idea. Once I’ve taken these, I go back and delete any that definitely won’t work and then hang on to a few favorites.

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….BUT LESS IS MORE
So while “more is better” when trying to get a good shot, I try to stick with the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to actually posting those photos. 
I usually pick my one favorite of the day (or of the group of photos I’ve just taken) and only post that single image. If I do post more than one, I’ll make sure there’s some variation in the ones I choose.

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OUTSIDE THE BOX IS MORE CAPTIVATING.
For every shot you take, there is a generic, straightforward, “basic” approach. And in most scenarios, there is also a more engaging (“outside the box”) choice you could make. For example, yes, you could take your kid’s photo on the beach: them smiling at you while standing beside their sandcastle masterpiece. OR you could have them jump as high as they can in front of it while you snap away. OR you could have them stand behind their creation and peek over the top. OR you could get an action shot of them pouring the last bit of sand as the finishing touch.

The goal here is to play around and see what works best; there isn’t a right or wrong way, so just see what you can come up with!

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To help illustrate this, here are some unedited shots I took while Aven played in the garage yesterday. You can see right away that certain images draw you in more than others just based on the angle/approach alone. (My favorite is probably the bottom right.)

Someone who does this well: @mimiandfar

EMBRACE IMPERFECTION & LET THE PHOTO TELL THE STORY.
Some of my most favorite shots are blurry or out of focus from capturing Aven when she’s swinging, dancing, twirling – ya know, just generally being a little girl. And some of my most treasured pictures are the simplest. So don’t allow yourself to get too caught up in the “perfect shot” – instead, focus on documenting your child in a way that really lets them shine, and I promise you’ll be happy with the outcome.

Someone who does this well: @thegraygang / @masseya

 

Editing and other tips for Instagram:

  • Shoot in square mode on your camera so you can be sure to get all of the scene in the shot. It’s helpful to save a step and not have to worry about cropping, although now IG does allow you to post a full sized photo, which is a nice feature that I like to use sometimes.
  • Consider your overall feed. (Think about it, don’t stress about it.)  Whenever possible, I try to maintain some diversity among the images I post. Some black and white among the color pictures, various angles, close ups and then zoomed out. I also generally edit my photos the same way (rather than picking a different filter each time) so it’s more uniform. 
  • I always, always brighten my photos, even if I do nothing else to them. The editing tools in Instagram are fine, or you can use a separate app like Snapseed or PicTapGo.
  • Use the Adjust tool for creating straight lines and better balanced photos. Symmetry goes a long way in creating a more polished final image. 

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For more photo inspiration, here are some of my favorite IG “momtogs” to follow: @thegraygang, @masseya, @etst, @samscrazylife, @jlgarvin, @nihaoyall, @courtbrown, @mimiandfar, @notatallsarcastic, @mrscourtneycooper@imayasr

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As I mentioned earlier, my boss and friend Denise is a professional family photographer and sent me her top two tips for parents. (You can check out Denise’s beautiful work here and here. Seriously, if you are local and need a photographer, she’s your girl.)

1. “Get down on [your child’s] level. See the world as they see the world. We get so used to looking in the downward direction toward our kids, but there’s something magical about getting down on the ground and seeing them and their world from their perspective.” 

2. “Also, I might add that another tip (that isn’t really a ‘tip’) is to be mindful to put away the camera from time to time and just be in the moment with them.  Not every magical moment has to be recorded, and that’s okay.  Just being ‘in’ the moment and making memories is really important.”
I love both of those suggestions so much!
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I know this was a wordy post, but I had fun putting it together, and I hope it helps you even just a little bit the next time you pull out your phone to snap a picture. If you have any questions for me or extra pointers for parents, please leave a comment! 
xo, 
Shanna

you are a good mom.


I need this reminder more often than I care to admit. I’m guessing you do too? Sure, I’ll take it on a good day when I’m winning at patience and understanding, but it carries even more weight and significance when I’m feeling like One Big Mom Fail. 

We doubt ourselves too quickly and judge ourselves too harshly.

So let me remind you: 

YOU are a good mom. 

You ARE a good mom. 

You are a GOOD mom.  

and, 

You’re doing a great job. 

I know it seems so SIMPLE, these few words. And yes, it’s actually very simple. But also affirming and powerful and LIFE-GIVING. Like one giant reset button. 

Whatever’s got you stressed or convinced that you just aren’t cut out for motherhood, let it go. Relax your shoulders. Say a prayer. Try to laugh rather than cry. Reach out to a supportive girlfriend and siphon some of her excess positivity. Remember the truth: that you are enough today and every day.

For real. It’s gonna be okay. Be kind to yourself.


Let’s all find a mom to pass these affirming words on to over the next day or so. Maybe a stranger that you notice with tired eyes and a screaming kid in Target, or just a mom friend that you know could use a little pep talk. When mothers come alongside other mothers and simply say, I see you, and you’re doing great – that is the greatest gift and compliment we can give each other. 


The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11