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Recently, I received an email from a photography client who loved the photos I took of her family, but…ummm…herself? Not so much. She went on to describe WHY she didn’t like herself in the photos and what specific action she needed to take to remediate that problem next time they take family photos. The funny thing is, I thought she looked STUNNING in REAL LIFE and STUNNING in the PHOTOS. I never thought once that something was off with her look, her style or anything about her. In fact, I thought she was beautiful, poised and TOTALLY put together from head to toe.

I sat and started at the email, wondering if there was something I could have done differently to make this mama feel more beautiful when we took the photos, something I could have done differently with posing to make her feel more at ease, something I could have done differently in editing to make her beautiful self pop from the picture even more.

As I sat staring at that email, I realized this wasn’t about me.

Memories came flooding back. This territory was all too familiar. You see, three years ago, I was the one emailing our photographer, saying I liked our family photos, but I didn’t really like any of the head shots we took of me during the photo shoot. I felt uncomfortable and awkward in front of the camera. I shopped for myself last and bought a shirt that worked with everyone else’s clothes, but I didn’t ever really love it. I felt fat in the jeans I was wearing. The bags under my eyes were too big. I didn’t look like myself. I don’t know. I just didn’t like myself in the photos.

We used the family photo for our Christmas card that year, we printed a family 5×7 for our living room, and I put one of the family photos up on my blog’s “Meet Amy” page. But I NEVER used ANY of the head shots of myself from that photo shoot. Never updated the photo on my blog. Never updated my social media photos. Never used them in blog posts. Never used them anywhere.

When I was going through family photos this fall, I ran across the CD from that photo shoot from three years ago. I took time to look through all the photos on that CD because I hadn’t looked at them in three years and I wanted to know if they were really that bad or if I’d simply fabricated a story in my mind.


Three years later, here’s what I saw…

While the photos of me weren’t awesome, they were also very pretty.

Yes, I said it.

They were also very pretty.

The truth is, there was something INSIDE of ME during and after that particular photo shoot that wasn’t well, something ugly that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough, thin enough, perfect enough in my face. (Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it’s kind of true. Right ladies?) Instead of seeing my beauty, I beat myself up, picking apart every flaw in the photos.

Too fat.

Bags under my eyes.



Ugly, not-quite-right shirt.

Don’t like the way I look.

Three years later and a fresh set of eyes, I could see that I looked pretty in the photos. Totally acceptable. Just right for where and who I was at that time. There was NOTHING wrong with those pictures. Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were beautiful.

Ladies, for the sake of our own well being, we must figure out how to distinguish between PERFECT and PRETTY. 

Okay, so maybe you’re not going for PRETTY. Maybe you prefer to look beautiful, stunning, ravishing, radical, rogue, hip, cool, casual, fun, friendly, feminine, astute or simply put together.

However you are, WHOEVER you are, here’s what I want you to know if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures.

  1. First and foremost, the likelihood is that you DO look pretty, you DO look beautiful.
  2. Even if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures, go ahead and use the photo for your family Christmas card anyway. Go ahead and print the photo and put it on your end table anyway. Go ahead and make the 8×10 canvas and put it up in your bedroom. Go ahead and make a few copies to give your children when they get bigger because YOU are important, YOU are beautiful and YOU are needed in your family and this world JUST AS YOU ARE.
  3. Save the CD. Save the flash drive. Save the proofs. Save the memory card. Just save the photos, wherever they are. Then take another look at them three years later, five years later, ten years later and beyond. You’ll realize you were so pretty, so beautiful, so lovely. And you’ll most definitely wonder WHY in the world you thought anything different.
  4. Give yourself a chance. Give yourself a little grace.
  5. Keep yourself in the picture and call yourself beautiful because you are.


pederson-120 pinksig


In loving memory of Olivia and Steve. In honor of their families.

Music’s pulled me through the two weeks between Africa and Christmas. It’s fitting that the only post I visioned for Christmas is inspired by song.

Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant’s rendition of “Almost There” caught me off guard this week. I’d almost forgotten I’d heard it and loved it before. This time it was fresh, inspired, divinely grand – more than before.

I’ve been thinking about you…and me.

We’re almost there.

You’re almost there.


It’s a promise of love. A promise of light, life and better days ahead. A promise of a Savior, Jesus. A promise of eternal hope that exceeds all earthly hopes. A promise that our pain is temporary, absolutely incomparable to the glory yet to be revealed. A promise that we can surrender and receive the gift of grace, no strings attached.

I could’ve mustered a light-hearted post, a Christmas giveaway post or a “Christmas Wishes for You” post. I could’ve skipped a Christmas post, just forgotten about it this year. I could’ve counted my sister’s words as my Christmas post and left it at that. I could’ve decided or written just about anything, really. But my heart of heart’s telling me a whole lot of people are hurting, hopeless, lonely, overwhelmed, and seeking something more this Christmas.

Sure, not everyone.

But many.

We’re hiding in the woodwork, aren’t we?



For someone to acknowledge. For someone to tell us…you’re almost there. You’ve got this, friend. You’re going to make it.

And your life? It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. You’re here for a reason, a purpose. You’re part of a grand design, an epic story you can’t even begin to wrap your mind around.

Keep pressing on, friend.

You’re almost there.

It’s Christmas.

Your promise.

Your hope.

Your firm foundation.

The place and peace you’ve been waiting for.

You’re almost there, friend. You’re almost there.

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 7.42.08 AM

To the ones who lost their spouse this year, I see you. Whether your spouse’s death came tragically and senselessly, or you knew it was coming for years and years, it hurts all the same. Who knows WHY, HOW, or NOW? Only God, dear ones. Only God. Surround yourself with loved ones. Rest. Believe. Seek peace. Absolutely, without a doubt, cry when you need to. Know you were and are loved. Deeply. Wholeheartedly. Unconditionally. You are a fighter. You are a lover, a believer. Keep pressing on, friend. Life’s waiting for you. We’re here for you.


To the ones who felt lonely this year, I see you. Life’s demanding. Fast paced. Achievement oriented. Life leaves little time for relationship. Friend, if you’ve been lonely, take heart. Believe you’re worthy of pursuit, friendship and love. Reach out. Let someone know you’re not doing this alone, you can’t do this alone. Let your heart come undone. Be vulnerable. Take a risk. If someone strikes your fancy, make sure they know. “Hey, can we chat?” Or “Hey, you wanna go get coffee?” Let that guard down. Be a little vulnerable next year. Show your colors, friend. Start a friendship and relationship revolution. And when all else fails, turn to God. Tell him you’re lonely, trust Him to fill the void with Himself, with others.


To the ones who lost a child this year, I see you. Why was her life taken so soon, God? Why? We don’t understand. We don’t know why. Why show us the glimmer, the hope of a life filled with promise, then take her sweet soul home well before the timeline we deem satisfactory? To you, oh you, I see you. I don’t even begin to fathom your pain this Christmas, your love and your loss. Nobody will ever fill your sweet baby’s spot at the Christmas table. You don’t ever need to take down that stocking. That special spot, that special place she held in your heart and your life, it’s reserved for her and her alone. You move on, yes. Life goes on, yes. But your precious baby’s spirit lives on, too. Through your living. Through your being brave. Through your fragility, your vulnerability. Through your strength. Through your living example of what it means to trust and believe you’ll meet again, you’ll embrace again, you’ll be together again. And in the meantime, love like your heart’s on fire. Together or separated for now, LOVE.


To the ones sick and in forever limbo this year, I see you. If one thing’s for sure, you’ve been through a lot. While you’ve frequented clinics, hospitals and ERs, the world’s gone on. Sometimes it seems nobody sees, nobody knows the full extent of your pain, your half-living, half-dying life. Nobody knows the steps you’ve taken, the places you’ve limped, the ground you’ve wheeled. Only you, my friend, know what it’s like to live and know this life is truly temporary. I’ve not been sick, my friend, but I see you. I honor you. Lift your head high. Conquer that illness. Live fearlessly. Live each day like it’s your last. Be loved. Love. Trust that better days are ahead. Teach us how to fight the good fight.


To the ones wandering blankly through life, I see you. I saw you in Target yesterday, friend. Your eyes were empty. You barely saw me. You’re empty, friend. Life’s taken it out of you. You’re literally wandering, wondering, lost. I’m not sure if you even know, friend. I’m not sure you’re aware. I want to enter your world, stop you in your tracks. Stop moving, friend. Stop going. Stop trying all the things to fill the void. Stop believing you’re a robot. Friend, you’re so much more than this. So much more. You’re so much more than productivity, accomplishment and achievement. You’re so much more than your actions, your decisions, your duties and daily delights. Stop, friend. See. Be. Live. Connect. Look into someone’s eyes. Feel something, anything. Cry. Release it all. Sit down, friend. You are MORE THAN THIS. Take in the beauty. See the sights. Rest. You are not a machine. Life is better than it’s been. Take heart, friend. Take ahold of your heart. Open your eyes. I want to see your eyes. I want to see your soul. Wipe our eyes, God, so we can see. And be. All you want us to be.

We’re almost there, friends.

You’re almost there.


The promise of Jesus, a Savior.

The promise of love and peace and joy that passes all understanding.

To Mary, I see you. You’re carrying Him, baby Jesus. He who has…shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”  (Isaiah 9:4-7) Thank you for pondering these things in your heart. Thank you.

You’re almost there.

We’re almost there.

To God, our Heavenly Father, I see you. Thank you. For sending Jesus. For creating us. For releasing us from death, sin, loneliness, fear and pain. For giving us hope. For extending grace when we least deserve it and most need it. For living in us so we might see truth and life. For living in us so we can shine and be a light unto the world. For bringing and being beauty amidst our earthly existence. For everything, yes, everything. Thank you.

You’re almost here.

You’re here.




We decorate our trees with ornaments old and new. Store bought. Homemade. They remind us of good days, and days that weren’t so good at all. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas streams in the background. Memories swirl in the invisible. We’re joyful, for sure. But below the surface, there’s a longing, a yearning for more. More than this.

Christmas anyway. 


We hang our stockings by the chimney with care, in hopes Saint Nicholas will soon be there. We ponder over stuff used to fill. Maybe it’s too much. Or perhaps, not enough.

Christmas anyway. 


We place presents under the tree, sweatshirts adorned with AWESOME, tractors made from recycled goods, gift cards and chapter books. Our desire’s to show our affection, our devotion. We love because He first loved us. But we’re really not sure when enough’s enough. One? Two? Twenty? How many will it take for us to feel, to know we’ve done enough, said enough, given enough, helped enough? How long will it take for us to know we’re enough? As we are. Goods or no goods.

Christmas anyway. 


We adorn our houses with care. Snowmen, snowflakes and Santa Clauses. Candy canes, wreaths and lights up the wazoo. Our goal? To make it just so. We waffle like bobbling dolls and teeter totters. One day, life’s good. The next? It’s wrong. All wrong. Our hearts long for eternity, our instincts tell us there’s more than this. We decorate to acknowledge beauty’s waiting to be uncovered, even in the mundane, even in the most dreary and disgusting of days. Beauty matters. Even so. Even when.

Christmas anyway.


We debate the goodness of Christmas carols. One loves Emmanuel, the other claims to hate Noel. One friend has seven Christmases because of multiple divorces. And another’s at risk of landing in a shelter because they’ve fallen off the wagon…again. An old friend lost her mama this year, and let’s be real, somebody’s baby is starving tonight. We argue about going to this church or that one. We’re not really sure we have a church home anyway, but we get dressed up and go anyway.

Christmas anyway.


We prepare Pinterest-perfect peppermint mousse cups. They’re pretty. Good in theory. But horrific in reality. We taste one spoonful each and agree. Horrible. Terrible. They’re tossed in the garbage in a big ol’ bag. And two hours before guests set to arrive, we run to the store for dessert number two’s ingredients. A good old fashioned trifle from the recipe box suffices. Fine. Just fine.

Christmas anyway.


We set the table, take great care. Cooking, baking and scrubbing have consumed our days. We long for unity, community and love, unconditional. It’s grace that gathers us. There’s no other way. We pass the bowls, serve the kids, and seat granddad at the head of the table. We pray. There’s no other way. Today, we’re desperate for this gathering, this being together as one. Yes. When we finally sit, we know. We’re one body, many parts, all longing to play our part. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Christmas anyway.


We wait. For Old Saint Nicholas. Soon he’ll be here. He’s gentle and loving, tenderhearted and giving. He wouldn’t harm a soul, the father figure we’ve all longed for. Whether we believe or don’t believe, we can’t help but love him anyway.

Christmas anyway.


He’s patient. He’s love. He’s divine. He’s come.

Jesus, yes Jesus.

Come. Come. Come, this day, oh Christmas Day.

He’s Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Jesus, yes Jesus.

You’re just what we need.

A Counselor.

A Mighty God.

A Father.

A Prince of Peace.

Come, oh come, Emmanuel. God, be with us. This day.

Christmas anyway.







Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

It’s the song I’ve heard most this season. It’s the song that’s resonating most with me this year.

Last Christmas, Apple launched an ad that featured the Harris family and a “misunderstood” teenaged boy on his iPhone. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most brilliant, heart-warming and moving ads I’ve ever seen. It brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. Remember the song that accompanied the ad?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

(After you watch the video – it’s only 1 minute 30 seconds – make sure to keep reading. I’ll be sharing more about my Merry Little Christmas Giveaway!)

I wonder what it is that you need to have a Merry Little Christmas this year. Love? A big bear hug from someone who really cares? Space to breathe? Peace and quiet? Forgiveness? Words of affirmation that everything’s going to be alright? Quality time with friends and family? Understanding we’re loved by a great big God who sent tiny baby Jesus to save us from the brokenness and pain we experience every day?

I don’t know your most intimate needs this Christmas. But I do pray that the longings of your heart and soul will be fulfilled. I do want you to have a Merry Little Christmas. And I do hope that one of these three giveaway packages could bring you a bit of joy this season.

Between now and Friday, December 12th at 9:00 CST, I’m giving away three Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas packages! The three packages are pictured and detailed below. At the end of this post, you’ll find a Rafflecopter sign up for each package. Sign up for one, two, or all three. It doesn’t matter to me!

Maybe you could use a package yourself, or maybe there’s someone you could gift a package to this Christmas? Either way, it’s all good. Take a peek. See what sparks your fancy. Which package would bring the most joy? Which package meets your needs this Christmas?

For Parents of Littles.

A beautiful hardcover children’s book titled God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner, an accompanying set of encouragement notes for your kiddos, and a night light to remind your little one that there’s always light, even in the darkest of nights. And for you? The Love Dare and The Love Dare for Parents books. Because if there are two things worth investing in this Christmas and moving into the new year, it’s your marriage and your kids. Maybe this package is for you?!

DSC_2307For Parents of Teens and Pre-Teens.

Maybe, like the Harris family, you’re seeking a little wisdom as you parent a teen or pre-teen this Christmas. This package includes Dennis & Barbara Rainey’s book Parenting Today’s Adolescentas well as The Love Dare for Parents, because truth be told, we could all stand to learn some fresh ways to love our kids. This package also includes The Love Dare, because I’m a firm believer that children and teenagers need healthy, loving relationships modeled for them. Do you want to learn practical ways love your spouse even more this Christmas? Do you need a little insight as to how to navigate those teenage years? Then this package might be for you!


For One Who’s Seeking Less. Or More.

I don’t know who you are, but I know you’re out there. Maybe you’re Longing for More, and could use Timothy Willard’s book. Maybe you just need some Breathing Room, and could use Leeana Tankersley’s book. Or maybe you just need a really good cry? The Notebook DVD will help you release those tears if nothing else will. Guaranteed. When I saw this movie in the theater the first time, I thought I’d nearly break out in ugly cry right there in my recliner eating buttered popcorn and Sour Patch Kids. So if you need more. Or less. Or an ugly cry this Christmas, maybe this package is for you?!


The giveaway ends on Saturday, December 13th at 12:00 am CST. I need time to get these packages mailed and to your door before Christmas!

Enjoy, friends.

And Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.





a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway



The mood in the car on the way back from Thanksgiving wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic as it was on the way there. We were stuffed. We were spent. And we were a little stressed.

Add three days of holiday eating, one sleepless night and doctor calls due to a toddler’s overstuffed belly and ruptured eardrum, one Black Friday, 12 people in one house for three days, then news that’s not so encouraging, and you’re sure to find a carload of peeps ready for deep breaths and quiet space to regroup.

But the Christmas music played on.

We were blindly oblivious to the joy we could’ve received from the Christmas tunes until Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Then everything changed. The whole car woke up. And everyone started singing along.

What was it about this Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that had the power to light up a whole carload of travelers weary from the journey?

It was magical, powerful, noteworthy, at least for me, the one who’s hyperaware of just about everything. The joy lasted for one, maybe two minutes, the length of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s song, and that’s about it. Then everything returned to status quo.

That is, until the next day when we passed two freshly-built snowmen on the way out of the neighborhood. A similar glimmer of hope rushed through me. An innocence I desperately needed. A fresh perspective in the midst of the monotonous and mundane.

We passed those snowmen on the way out and in, out and in again. And as we passed, I felt gratitude for their creator, thankful for the frosty gift of simplicity.

So what is it about Rudolph and Frosty that light us up? Why do we listen to their songs? Why do we watch their shows year after year? Why do we buy stuffed Misfit Toys and Rudolphs with shiny noses? And why do we build Frosties with black hats and carrot noses?

I believe we deeply crave Rudolph and Frosty’s innocence. We’re desperate for the glimmer of hope they bring to the table. We long for things to be simple again, for days when all we need to worry about is singing and frolicking in the snow. We want to be jolly and happy, and wouldn’t it be awesome if all our cares washed away in the singing of one simple song? What can we do to bring back the days of old?

On the other hand, Rudolph and Frosty remind us we’re human. We relate to their simple, but profound stories. Rudolph and Frosty are courageous and bold, even in the face of adversity. They know they were created for a reason, and we see them most fully alive when they’re living in the center of their purpose. Hiding the best parts of us, letting our gifts and talents melt away into oblivion isn’t wise. It’s foolish. It’s a shame. We know we were made for more. We know there’s life and light waiting to shine in and through us.

So we watch. And we listen. We sing. And we build.

For Rudolph and Frosty represent you and me in the most simple, but profound of ways.

You and me – with gifts seen and unseen.

You and me – with gifts expressed and unexpressed.

You and me – with beauty and pain and everything in-between.

You and me – waiting for magical moments, ready to break free.

You and me – desperate for innocence and purity, longing for simpler days, slower days, days when we can give and share our gifts in community, days when we can just BE without fear of what MIGHT BE.

So yes, we watch. We listen. We sing. And we build.

Because Rudolph and Frosty? Their stories are our stories.








  1. Tom Baunsgard says:

    Great observations Amy,
    Frosty, Rudolf and and even the Grinch take us all back to our childhood memories of simpler times not filled with the angst of the everyday struggles. Were you ever in a bad mood when building a snow man?… You don’t see too many with frowns 🙂 I personally get verclempt when we watch “The Polar Express” At age 65 I still hear the Sleigh Bell! All part of the magic and joy of Christmas.
    Glad to hear you had a nice Thanksgiving Holiday and that you made the trip north to Duluth and back to Cities safely. Merry Christmas!

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