The Creepiest Photo I Never Took

I co-teach AP Literature in a high school near my home and as we’ve progressed through the last month, we decided to read 1984, a dystopian novel that looked forward from 1949 at 1984 and made predictions that are now almost all a part of our society.

The events of our world (and of the predictions about the 1984 world) have continued to shed light on some scary speculations about whether the government has access to our cell phone and computer cameras, and the more I research, the more interested I become. A world where there is no privacy? How incredibly remarkable and also how wonderfully terrifying!

And I wouldn’t even think twice about the possibility of it happening to me, except something strange showed up on my phone a few years ago.

While thumbing through some Christmas photos of my family while spending some time in Oklahoma, I came across a photo nothing less than startling. The photo below is something that I’m not sure how to explain, and was right in the middle of a slew of happy photos between friends opening gifts and a walk that we had all taken the day before. I wasn’t taking photos of the TV, and I haven’t ever been overseas or in danger.

This is not a prank, but I wish it was.

Do you have any thoughts about how this could have possibly ended up on my phone?

The photo is dated December 17, 2013 at 12:46pm, CST.

So, what do you think could have happened? Was it an accidental, anonymous drop into the wrong person’s phone? Is it just a harmless photo from a random street in another country? What does the wall say behind all the smoke? Where is this?

I’ve even looked it up online, trying to find ANYTHING, but have yet to turn up any results.

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So super sleuths: What do you think? Can you find this somewhere else on the internet? (Because that would help me not feel so weird.) Comment below, or on Instagram or Facebook.

-Steph

**EDIT: A few people found where this picture was from. It’s a photo taken during the start of the Aleppo controversy, and I must have accidentally saved it. Still creepy, but less creepy than what I thought. Thanks for your help, friends! 

A Sword In The Hands Of Babes

Parents – this one is for you.

I’ve never had children of my own, so my advice to you comes from a place of humility and also 8 years of continued experience with Junior High and High School students who are still helping me understand their culture. So, take this for what it is: An effort to bridge the gap and persuade you to hear me out before allowing your children (7-17 year olds) to participate in social media.

Social media is a beautiful weapon. A sleek, slender, and sharp sword that is useful for finding out about the world through swift swings and clean cuts. “Friendship” is defined on social media by whether you “follow” me, and I “follow” you back, but if we’re both following each other, how will we arrive at a better, more learned place? And friend requests – these wretched things – they are a trap. A trap that is a slap in the face to any person who “wants to be your friend” which is, unfortunately, the start of this falsehood. If you want to be their friend, then there are no issues (at least on the surface) that will be perceived. How dare you, however, click the “ignore” button. It sends your brain a message that you are choosing to not choose them and that they are not someone who you want to be a part of your intimate life. (That we act like Facebook is our intimate life is a joke in and of itself.) And to them, your “refusal of friendship” means that you are rejecting them as a person, because you’re rejecting the opportunity to invest in them as a falsified, happy-never-sad human of the inter webs. I mean, who doesn’t want to see all the cool things that I am participating in? Aren’t YOU doing cool and unpredictable things with your life? And if not, why not? Live a little. Don’t be so basic. Drink fancy coffee drinks and drive a fancy car. Have adventures in the wilderness and go to concerts with thousands of other people and eat at places that you’ve never been – but don’t just do these things; post about them.

Social Media “Way Back When”

I have been working in a school for the past few months, and while the experience has been incredible, it has brought to light the fact that social media is not often used for good. My struggle comes from knowing that I am among the last few generations that survived high school WITHOUT Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and the like. The only things that we had were MySpace and Xanga.

MySpace was an old, haggard man who hadn’t had a job in years and just needed a few friends. It was so poorly laid out that if you were unlucky enough to have one, there was no way that you would ever be able to figure out how to actually use it effectively. In fact, I went back to find my MySpace, and it was an eerie experience; we were all trapped in time, forever frozen on our profile photos and top 8’s from when we were young, right where we left our forsaken MySpace accounts to go and pursue bigger and better dreams (Facebook).

Xanga, on the other hand, was sort of like your angst-y little sister who wanted you to write down all of your feelings so that she could use them against you later by reading your diary out loud at the dinner table. However, it was a HTML programming dream. I could make my background ANY color I wanted, as long as I knew the 6-digit code that was preceded by an octothorpe (a hashtag for anyone under the age of 28) and gave you any color from the color wheel (that you’d have to look up) that you could possibly want! Easy-ish to use, Xanga functioned as a diary of sorts, where you would post, and others would comment or like your post. This was the first experience that I had with people saying mean things about me that weren’t to my face, but also not behind my back. Cue hateful social media!

Facebook enters the scene with a smug look on his face and a long jacket, concealing all that he had to offer, but all at a price. You’d need to be in college (and more importantly, have a college email address) to get the goods from this thrifty and attractive young gent. And so I waited and waited until finally, I was only a few MONTHS from graduating high school and getting my ticket to a better life and then Facebook opened up… to everyone.

Now, was I mad? No. Absolutely not. I could get a jump start on climbing to the pinnacle of social media and figure out how to use the dang thing. If it was anything like MySpace, I was out. But MySpace was a ragged deal compared to this shiny new toy with all its buttons (Like, Friend, and Poke – which was never cool) and all of its communicating capabilities (at that time, Notes, Comments, and that was all). It was social media heaven, and I didn’t even have to program my background! But there was only one problem; it was open to everyone.

Social Media Now

Cut to 2017 – there are children all over the world who are anywhere from 10 to 18 using social media, but not to wield it like a precious heirloom handed down from generation to generation. No. They’re swinging that stupid weapon around in the air thinking they’ve got a clue what they’re doing, and they’re slicing people up left and right. (Children are not the only ones, but for the sake of this post – and out of respect for your time – I will not go into how several adults are using this weapon even more destructively than children.)

Sharing videos that promote hate.

Cyber-bullying other kids, even when they don’t know them personally,  and telling them that their idea/photo/life is stupid. (There is no difference to these kids in their minds between real life an what they post on social media, because they post everything that happens to them in their every day life.)

Commenting “KYS” on kids contributions on social media that they don’t like. (ATTENTION ADULT WORLD: Kids say that KYS is an abbreviation of “Kill Yourself”… but don’t really kill yourself. It’s supposed to mean “stop saying stupid things”, essentially. But if a kid already feels stupid and feels like the world would be a better place if he was dead, KYS isn’t a good way to talk him OUT of committing suicide. Also – “yourself” is one word… #English)

Modeling what a adults do on social media by posting that “Donald Trump is an idiot” or “Hillary Clinton can go to Hell” – and we’ve got to stop it.

Social Media Smart Parents

The problem is that we’ve put a sword in the hands of babes, and expected them to not hurt people in the process. Not every child/student who is on social media is trying to ruin the lives of others, but most often, if they’re not bullying, they are being bullied in some form or fashion.

I used to be so quick to say “When I was a kid, other kids were mean to me, but I just got over it and these kids should too” but I’ve found through repeated exposure to this generation who has not ever lived without it, that cyber bullying is a problem. And not only for the “bad” and “mean” kids.

When I was in college and Facebook has started to use apps as a way to bring other organizations on board, there was an app called “Honesty Box”. Now, Honesty Box was only available to be used by people who were your friend (you had both consented to be “friends” on Facebook) and they could comment things about you, to you, without revealing their name. The first couple of weeks were fantastic. Nice things were coming from all sorts of different people, but all anonymously. I’m sure that you’re already expecting where this ends, but around the third week of having Honesty Box attached to my profile, I received a message that to this day rings loudly in my mind. “You are arrogant and you only sing to get attention” were the most mild comments to me. Music was my declared major, so singing for attention was quite an insult. I loved singing, but now reconsidered if I should do it at all. And arrogant? I mean, we’ve all struggled with pride, but when you use the “a-word”, things feel more personal. More hurtful. And I was an adult at a Christian college, surrounded by adults who were also attending a Christian college, and who were all my friends on Facebook.

I deleted Honesty Box from my profile and tried to forget the hurtful things that a faceless, nameless, entity had sent me, but it’s been nearly 10 years, and I am not sure I’ll ever forget. Likes carry less weight than hatred.

If you want to be a “social media smart” parent, I have a few tips for you.

  1. Get Social Media. If you do not have social media and don’t know how it works, how will you know how to keep your children safe and friendly on social media? You need to educate yourself, but reading articles won’t do it justice. Even if you don’t want to post and comment, getting a Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or the like is the best way to know what you want your kids to be exposed to.
  2. Only allow your child to get it when YOU are ready. If you’re not ready for your child to be exposed to the world of memes and Saturday Night Live and bad lip readings of political debates, don’t let them be. You are the parents, and while children should have freedom when they are “of-age” – 18 years old in my opinion – you are responsible for making sure that they experience things when you deem it the right time. Yes, they may fight you and say “I am not cool unless I have a Facebook, Instagram, Cell Phone, etc.” but they will survive.
  3. Make the lack of social media a rite of passage to look forward to, not a punishment to resent. We are missing a vital part of what most other cultures have, and that is rites of passage. If you explain to your child that social media is a rite of passage, a gift for coming of a certain age instead of a punishment, they will appreciate it more and treat it more like a gift.
  4. Go on social media fasts as a family. If your kiddos already have social media, make it a priority to fast from social media as a family, and do something else to fill up that time. Social media is the breakdown of real relationships as we know it, so it’s important to teach them “everything in moderation” at an early age.

What are some other things you would suggest for parents heading into this stage? Leave your comments below.

Ten Years Ago Today

It was October 16, 2006 and I had just celebrated a milestone birthday. October 4th, 2006, I turned 18 years old, and I finally decided that I was going to be friends with my mom. I figured because I was now “officially” an adult, I should actually put a little bit of effort into my relationship with my mom.

I called, and asked her if she’d be okay if I came home for lunch from high school, and with a positive “Of course,” she also agreed to make my favorite lunch: Macaroni and Cheese… with hot dogs.

I left 4th hour and headed off to my house which was across town, but I didn’t care, because I was going to get to spend some good time hanging with my mom. Finally. We didn’t ever really have a close relationship, and it was finally time to start figuring that out.

When I got home, the house smelled delicious – pasta with creamy cheddar cheese… and the twinge-y smell of hot dogs. A lunch for kings, really. But mom didn’t want to talk about being friends; no, but about how much time I was spending away from home.

“You are never home. You’re always over at                ‘s house.”

“Well, I like being there. She’s my best friend and I like spending time with her family.”

It quickly became apparent that my mom had been drinking. Maybe only a little, but still enough to sway her opinion and demeanor toward her oldest and only daughter.

“You love them more than us. More than your own family.”

“Mom, I don’t…”

“Since you love them more, why don’t you move out? Move in with THAT family?”

I stood up and headed toward the door because I was going to be late back to school. Also, she was hurt and now I was hurt. As if I could love some other family more than my own?

She followed me out and as I separated us with my car door, she separated us with words. Terrible things that I still can’t quite share to this day. And in her defense, she wasn’t completely sober. She yelled as I drove away.

I showed up to my 5th hour a little late and my senior year English teacher, Mrs. M, asked me if I was alright. She could tell. Everyone could tell. I was exposed and raw from screaming and weeping all the way back across town to my school.

“No. I’m not okay”

“You want to take a minute in the hallway?”

“Yes, please.”

It took me the whole hour to get it together. Mrs. M understood. Everyone understood, except me.

I worked that afternoon, and when I got home, my mom had packed her floral suitcases. (I have somehow ended up with them as a stark reminder of this day.) She told my dad she was leaving, and told him to ask me why.

But we can all refuse to be victims of our circumstances and I am stronger and better because of October 16th, 2006.

I Got An Election Tattoo

Well, I finally did it. I went for it. I got an election tattoo.

It really took me a little bit to decide on what I wanted, and once I finally realized that I wanted to remember where I stood in the election (and really, any election) I went and got “inked”.

Now, if tattoos and politics are actually offensive to you, you should stop here. You have permission to keep thinking the way you want.

If you’re brave enough (and you’re not offended by my wild rebellion) keep reading.

It was November of 2012, and Obama and Romney were on the ballot. I was really struggling with the election, but not because of the candidates.  I was really having a hard time with it because of how many people were posting RIDICULOUS things on Facebook. And more specifically, how many CHRISTIANS were posting ridiculous, life-sucking, burn-them-at-the-stake things about the presidential candidates.

Christian, you are entitled to your opinion, but you must know something: You are ruining your witness.

By posting slanted, hateful comments about either of the presidential candidates EVEN IF YOU THINK IT IS TRUE, you are contributing to hate and gossip about another person.


“But everyone else is doing it!” Yes… and you’re not 7 years old.

“I am just saying what everyone else is thinking!” Wrong. You are not everyone. You are one in nearly 319 MILLION people in this country. You may be saying what you and some of your friends think, or maybe even the majority of one of the two main parties, but everyone is not thinking what you’re saying.

“People need to know the facts!” I completely agree. And unfortunately for you and I, we are not able to be completely informed on “the facts.” We are all receiving information second-hand or even third. We are allowing the media to sway our opinions and then saying exactly what they want us to say. We are pawns. Don’t buy in.


I was visiting a friend in Waco during that November, and the election was in the next few days. I had decided to get a tattoo of an anchor, because of two things: It was an early Christian symbol and also because of John 18:36 when Jesus says something we all need to hear today.

“Jesus answered [Pilate], “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

In the verses following this, Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, and Jesus essentially responds, “Yes – to bear witness to the truth.”

Where I stand in the 2016 election and in any other election is: Jesus is the king of a kingdom that is not under the rule of Rome… or the President of the United States.

While politics are important, what should be most important to us is loving others instead of boldly stating a political stance on social media.

"Anchored in a Kingdom that is not of this world."
“Anchored in a Kingdom that is not of this world.”

A Challenge to Bloggers

500 words isn’t a lot of space to say much. In fact, I’ve already used fifteen words explaining next to nothing. And while writing (especially when anecdotal in nature) with more words can sometimes be more entertaining, I want to challenge myself as a writer to be concise, and write posts about things that I’m highly passionate about – in 500 words or less.

What can someone say in only 500 words?

Can a message be fully conveyed and researched and communicated in such a small amount of verbiage?

Yes, I think so.

How?

I have no idea.

This has been spurred out of reading some of my past works and wondering what I was really trying to say. While the thought process flows so quickly (and sometimes even makes sense) I want to make sure I’m saying what I want to say, and not filling up the space in between with things that don’t matter as much as the main point.

So my challenge is to write 5 entries with 500 words or less in each of them. And my five topics will be things that I’m highly passionate about. Things that take research and probably be more controversial than kind… like women in church leadership. And why you shouldn’t say “I’ll pray for you” to someone who is hurting.

I’m excited. But I also want to issue this challenge to other blogging friends of mine. Pick 5 topics, and write 5 posts in under 500 words. And then let me know if you’re taking the challenge as well!

I can’t wait to see what comes of this and I can’t wait to start working on my first today! Here we go!

-Steph

Can We Ever Be “Fixed”?

We are all trying to fix things that have been broken in us. Whether a situation that happened TO us as a child or something that we chose that we wish we hadn’t, we all have the same motive: to fix what was broken. The only problem with trying to fix something that already happened is that we cannot go back to that moment. We are nearly doomed to forever play out the same scenario, potentially finding some solace in a few victories, but ultimately leaving ourselves more disappointed than before. And in addition to that, when we try to “fix” things, we often get tangled up in the “fix” that comes from that pursuit. Let me explain.

Say that there is someone who as a child was verbally abused by their same gendered parent. They feel safe around the opposite-gendered parent, and probably around most others who are of the opposite gender as well. But everyone needs both male and female influences in their life, because the genders are different. We learn valuable and different lessons from both genders, and we are more well-rounded for it. Whether teachers, parents, or co-workers, we are better for it. So this child feels more safe around others of the opposite gender and thus, there is no mystery involved in how they function and love and care. But there is mystery about their own gender. In an subconscious attempt to potentially fix what went wrong with their same-gendered parent, they may venture into curiosity about who they are as a person. If they’ve never had a healthy relationship with someone who is the same gender as them, it’s possible that they would seek that sort of relationship out in an attempt to find someone who “really loves them.” And when they find someone who is not verbally abusive, it would be easy for that child (who is probably now a teenager) to feel extremely cared for and maybe even adored by that person, because they’ve not experienced the healthy about of love from anyone like this. But that person will eventually hurt the child/now teen and they will believe that this is equivalent to their verbally abusive parent, and look for another person to fill the void they are experiencing.

Now, while the example I have given is fictional in detail, the premise of the story is the same. It doesn’t matter whether you struggle to impress your parents, were sexually abused as a child, or had a great childhood but were wronged as an adult; we’re all looking for The Fix; the thing that can turn it all around and make whatever we are lacking full again.

There was a man that I worked with whose father had not been in the picture for a long time. His reaction (unbeknownst to him) because of the abandonment and rejection he felt from his father was to find men who would care about him similarly to how a father should. But because he was a man, and “adults don’t need parents,” he found solace in them as friends. And eventually a few as best friends. And finally, one as a partner. Because no one should have to go without their father, but sometimes, we don’t have a choice in the matter. And no one should have to find a replacement, but we’re all looking for a fix.

So what am I saying exactly? Let me give you one more example, and then I will explain.

A girl had a decent relationship with her mother and father, and even though they were divorced, she had a decent amount of time with both of them. Her grandmother (her mom’s mom), however, was wretched to her and her mother both. Because this girl’s mom had only learned how to be relatively strict and tightfisted because of her own mother, this girl found that it was difficult to connect to her mom. The girl grew up and became a mom herself, but because the generational cards had been drawn, this girl too struggled to be a mother. And her first child? A little girl. The distance between each of the female relationships in her family made it difficult for her to know how to relate to her own daughter. She tried, but failed over and over again, and was finally so disheartened and embarrassed and frustrated with her unmet expectations that she turned to drinking, like her mother and her mother’s mother before that. The only way she knew how to cope was to drown herself in the sharp spirits of vodka and wine and all things in between. And why? Because if you cannot fix something relationally, it’s so much easier to quit and give up than it is to press in and push harder and work longer until you’ve achieved what you wanted to fix to begin with.

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for weeks, but things have been a little out of control in our neck of the woods so I’m finally getting to it. And before I continue, I want to make clear that this post is a reflection on myself as a person, not on the people I surround myself with. I have such a wonderful and growing support system here in Colorado, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. With that being said…

For me, I struggle to make friends because I had several difficult relationships with friends growing up. Even into adulthood, I have found that I don’t quite understand how to be friends with other girls. It’s frustrating and sometimes weird, but it’s just the way it is. The only problem is that in the past, I have tried to fix what has gone wrong before in friendships by somehow inadvertently finding people who are very similar to those who have hurt me, and trying again. But my expectations are so unrealistic that I often end up disappointed.

I’ve decided something, though.

Instead of analyzing every friendship and trying to force my way into being close with others, I will wait on the Lord. And I will let things fall into place without me forcing them. I refuse to be like a toddler trying to put a square puzzle piece into a space where only a  triangle will fit, but instead – let the Lord show me how to fix the puzzle, piece by piece. It doesn’t come naturally, and it most certainly doesn’t come quickly. However, I know that I am being held everyday, and while I want to “fix” my past by finding people who won’t ever hurt me and will always do right by me, that’s an unrealistic expectation for friendship. Sometimes, friendships hurt and others will choose what’s only best for them. But I trust that the Lord has given me the desire to be close to others for HIS GLORY, not for my fulfillment.

And I’m growing a little more everyday, closer to Him.

-Steph

Take the Leap, and Get Flying! (Photo Blog)

Last October, we headed out to Estes Park on a little staff retreat with our co-workers from the church. Now, if you’ve never been to Estes in the Fall, let me tell you – it’s worth the trip. There are elk EVERYWHERE and the weather is chilly but not too cold. It’s a brilliant experience. Seriously, so worth your time.

We’re out on this staff retreat, and we have a couple of hours before dinner, so Kylle and I decided to go and roam around for a bit. Partially to find elk to photograph, and partially because we don’t ever get to just take walks together. We’ve always got a youth group or a herd of dogs… you know; #uthminlyfe. (That’s YOUTH MINISTRY LIFE for all of you who are still missing out on hashtags…)

Our walk did not disappoint. We got to hold hands and also, we found lots of wildlife. Here are some of the photos:

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One of my favorites. Can you see the three deer?

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Ah. And there they are after running away from us.

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Walking on down the hill, we ran into this guy. Beautiful.

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I love that his antlers run nearly parallel with the branches behind him.

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In all his glory. He was the most photographable, but there were about 4 elk here together.

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Even though it’s not framed well, these little guys were brilliant.

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Perched.

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And then looking down…

This last photo gets me every time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve posted it before, but I just can’t get over the fact that this bird is looking down, seemingly as if he’s worried about jumping off this roof and flying. It’s not his first flight (because how would he have gotten up there in the first place if it was?) but he’s looking over the edge, apprehensive about this next one.

And isn’t that how we respond to life? We soar to new heights, and then get worried about jumping off again. The more risk you take, the more responsibility you have. And so, with this picture I am reminded that when I am excelling in things that I love, they will continue to be more risky, but it’s worth it. It’s not my first flight, so I’ve got to just go for it.

Take the leap, and get flying!

-Steph