Weekend Retreat

Weekend Retreat

I spent this past weekend on a muddy patch of land out in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. I slept poorly in an ill-lit cabin with squeaky plastic mattresses, dined on mediocre cafeteria food, and spent all day cooped up inside working for 14 hours straight.

It was fabulous.

The weekend-long scrapbooking retreat provided our group of women with the two most precious commodities — time and space — to work.

If you don’t scrapbook, forget what you imagine scrapbooking to be. In fact, don’t even call us scrapbookers.

Call us visual story-tellers.
Call us paper artists.
Call us family biographers.

Armed with tweezers and a precision ball-point glue pen, I watched the young woman across from me create her wedding album with finely wrought die-cut lace and letters, sequins, and handmade flowers, melding the accoutrements with an artful presentation of photos.

Myself, I took the 300+ photos I’d carefully culled from the 3,851 photos we’d taken in 2016 and printed them in preparation for the weekend. But, first I had cropped and edited them in PhotoShop, adjusting lighting and occasionally cloning out glares or other pesky photo flaws. I turned about 130 of those photos into 25 pages that showcase events from a STEM competition to soccer season to a dance recital to a chance encounter with a baby chickadee. {Lest you be too impressed, recall I have the rest of those photos — around 170 by my count — to still deal with.}

I’ve been chronicling our family history in this way for 12 years now and have completed over 13 albums.

I’ve gone from traditional (paper) scrapbooking to digital and back again. I’ve gone from creating elaborate pages that involved shaping thin metal wire into letters and hand stitching through paper— a labor of love where a single page could take hours — to making simple collages online, printing them, trimming them out, and quickly adhering them to a coordinating background paper.

I’ve learned there’s no right or wrong way to do scrapbooking.

These days, I land somewhere in between elaborate and bare-bones. Some pages shape up in no time, quick and simple. For others, I may diecut a custom title or element, add brads or eyelets, ribbon or washi tape. Occasionally, I go the full nine yards with glitter and sequins and fabric flowers.

There’s something joyful in the messy, colorful melange of ribbon and paper and stamps and staples and scraps on my work table. There’s something satisfying in taking a few ho-hum photos and {through the creativity of editing, cropping, arranging, and embellishing} transforming them into an engaging page that documents the event, tells a story, and looks beautiful. It’s a case where two plus two doesn’t equal four — but quite a lot more.

For me, that’s what scrapbooking is all about— multiplying the magic of a few simple photos through skill and artistry.


But, more than the artistry, this weekend I was struck by how, in scrapbooking, as in life, we can get hyper-focused on what’s in front of us and forget the big picture {no pun intended}.

Here are two key points I was reminded of:

Lesson #1:  Tell The Story

This weekend, I was showing my friend Amy a close-up photo of a juvenile red-tailed hawk and telling her all about it, and she said: “Don’t forget to tell that story.”

It was a well-placed reminder. I had gotten overwhelmed with documenting the never-ending holidays, sports, birthdays, and outings and was just going to slip the hawk photo into a sleeve without explanation.

I was skimping on the enchantment of the seemingly small-yet-momentous encounters. No doubt there will be only one time in our lives that we get close enough to a red-tailed hawk to touch it and end up saving its life with some hastily defrosted raw hamburger meat.

And, so, I told that story.

I think this lesson transfers over to our daily lives as Christians as well: How well and how often are we telling the story? 

I struggle with evangelism, I do. I often stay silent when I should proclaim. I say my part here, online, and fade into the background in real life. It’s easy to praise God in Bible study or one-on-one with your Christian friends, but how often do you share what Jesus means to you and how faithful He is with others outside that safe, like-minded circle?

If your answer is, “not nearly often enough,” you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. I get it. There’s a fine line between preachy and powerful.

So, how do we go about sharing our faith?

It’s easy to espouse a Hallmark-card version of Christianity with pat Christian-isms and inspirational quotes. There’s nothing wrong with “Let Go and Let God,” or “All I Need is a Little Coffee and a Whole Lot of Jesus,” but an honest expression of who — and whose— we are, and how that plays out in our lives … well, that’s priceless.

Put simply, I believe we are all called to share testimony of God’s goodness in our lives. 

Lesson # 2:  Allow Yourself Joy

At some point during a crop {scrapbook-ese for a scrapping session}, you are going to do it. You are going to look at the person across from you whipping through spreads like there’s no tomorrow and moan: “I’ve only done __ number of pages.”

She’s done twice that.

We all need to be reminded that it’s not about how much you get done. Can I repeat that?

It’s not about how much you get done.

You will always be “behind” — in life as in scrapbooking. There will always be more {errands, cooking, cleaning, office work, exercise, hobbies, etc.} than you have time for. Personally, I‘m always struggling to fit in another training run {half-marathon in T minus 13 weeks} or a weekly yoga class, as well as time to write, time to read, time to pray {the cooking and cleaning, not so much}. 

But, we can get so addicted to the product that we steal all the joy out of the process. We can become so enamored of checking things off our to-do lists that we rarely do things for the sheer pleasure of it.

Don’t force yourself into scarcity mode every day, struggling to fit 34 hours of living into the 24 hours we are allotted. Be a rebel: Plan a whole day of nothing and see how it opens you up to greater productivity {ah, the irony!} and happiness for days afterward.

Our God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” He desires for us to find joy not only in our love for Him and our obedience, but also in the simple things that surround us on His exquisitely crafted earth.

I’m a firm believer in taking joy in small, everyday things:

  • Don’t clean the bathroom, but do make homemade brownies with fresh, real whipped cream and eat dessert tonight by candlelight— just because.
  • Do go for a quiet walk ALONE in the closest woods you can find, instead of hitting the gym.
  • Do take an entire afternoon, evening, or day offline; read a juicy novel curled up next to your dog, cat, husband, etc. 
  • Do create one or two elaborate scrapbook pages that make your heart sing instead of 10 that leave you cold.

This is a sampling of my joy-list — yours probably looks entirely different. The point is this: Allow yourself to savor life and fully appreciate God’s abundance.

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  1. SO enjoyed and appreciate this post. You have inspired me to pull out my photos and assemble the images of our family memories!

  2. Reading your blog about scrapbooking, I was very impressed. I’m trying to begin scrapbooking about the life of my brother who died 3 years ago. I have some photos and ideas about what to put in the background, but seem to be stalled as far as what to write and how to present more photos that will give an idea of who he was and his world of book, chess, travel and other activities. I may find more info from you as I read further to make my scrapbook experience more fulfilling and bring my photos life that shows a person who lived well with the Lord. I tend to be a perfectionist as well and hate to start without an idea of what to put on the page. This goes for my writing as well. I need to just start and let the process begin!

    • You are exactly right, just start where you are! Think of what a tribute your work will be to your brother– however imperfect, it is better to begin and learn as we go. I have resisted the urge to redo any scrapbook page, no matter how much “better” I think I have become. And, I still have those pages which, even after all these years and albums, that just doesn’t work out. I let it be, and move on!

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