a summer in front of the camera

This will go down as the summer of cameras.

It all started a year or so ago. First, my girls wrote an impassioned letter asking for more diversity in Barbie dolls. That led to an invitation to be part of an American Girl (also owned by Mattel) segment on Good Morning America. Then, as we prepared to leave for NYC, our local news did a piece on them. 

As we hung out in the green room, our family was conspicuous. (Okay, let’s be honest. Everywhere we go, our family is conspicuous.) The girls had their moment, we had a wonderful trip to New York City, and then we returned home. 

More than seven months have passed, but when one of the Good Morning America producers needed a family to feature for a Deals & Steals product feature, they remembered us. We were in a vet hospital waiting room when they called. Who is calling from New York?, I wondered.

“Hi, Shannon! This is Julia from Good Morning America.”

Um, wait. What?

She asked if we’d be part of an upcoming piece. I didn’t know it would involve a trunk full of goodies. I said yes. We figured out details the night before with the ABC11 team. That morning, I had one of my heroes Robin Roberts in my ear, welcoming the Dingle family to their segment and later thanking our local affiliate “for bringing the Dingles to us.”


Just a few weeks prior, we had been featured by a different ABC11 team, Troubleshooter Diane Wilson. She shared the story of our struggle to get a lift for Zoe’s motorized wheelchair. Like the first GMA segment, this began as a blog post. Someone sent it to Diane, and she contacted us, and the segment aired while we were at the beach. A precious woman named Angel saw it and called her dad, who owns Medical Supply Superstore in Durham. One thing led to another, and they were giving us a lift for the van at no charge. Diane and her team ran the story tonight at 5:50pm, and the video will be up with the written story here.

(Side note: Sorry to all the other networks, but ABC11 has won my allegiance. They are dear to us now. NBC, you have me right now with your Olympics coverage, but I’m just using you. I’ll be back with my first love, ABC11, for the news as soon as you leave Rio.)

And today we had more filming at our house, as you see in all the pictures throughout this post. This time we spent most of the morning and early afternoon shooting footage for a short piece about a non-profit we love. The story of Hope Reins and their work is going to be told through the lens of our family, in particular one of our children’s stories.

Friday we head out to Hope Reins to do more filming on site there. Our kids are excited, and I expect it’ll be a delightful day. And then? No more cameras in our future, other than me behind my camera taking back to school pictures soon.

(Not. Soon. Enough. I love my people dearly. But I love them better when someone else loves them for part of the day and when we all have our predictable routine back.)

 A few days ago, one of my kids asked when the “popcorn-rotsy” (paparazzi) would start following us. You know, since we’re getting so famous now. “Internet famous,” one corrected. “Um, that’s the biggest kind of famous nowadays,” the other replied.

Bless it all.

All this filming has me thinking about all our stories, both those on main stages and those behind the scenes. We’ve spent more time in front of cameras this summer than ever before. More than one comment has been made about a reality show for us. We were actually contacted once to be on one; we said no thanks. I’m an extrovert, and I’m thankful for all the good that’s come from being in the camera’s eye, but I’m also feeling a little overexposed at this point.

We all have a public version of ourselves and a private one. Authenticity is having those match as closely as possible. I’m not saying we go out in public in our pajamas, but our hearts and integrity are the same in our homes as in our schools, as in our churches, as in our neighborhoods, as in how we treat our best friend, as in how we treat the waiter, as in how we treat the presidential candidate we like the least, and so on. When we’re in front of cameras, I think there’s a temptation to portray the ideal self we want to be instead of the real self we are… and when we do that often enough, that real self gets lost.

This past year has involved a lot of rediscovery of my real self. Not too long after I started leading the special needs ministry at our old church, a well-meaning mentor forged connections for me to speak at national children’s ministry events. In hindsight, I don’t think I was ready. I was 29 with young children, trying hard to live up to what this pastor saw in me. I exhausted myself, only realizing later that I didn’t have to prove anything. He introduced me to those people and pitched me as a speaker because he already believed in me.

The problem? I didn’t believe in me.

I’ve spoken at more than 20 conferences all over the country, from Washington to Pennsylvania and California to Florida and Texas to Illinois and more. And still, I ended up in my therapist’s office for the first time last fall because that external affirmation wasn’t enough. All the invitations and likes and positive feedback were nice, sure. But instead of taking them as evidence that I had proven myself, I saw each as a fluke. “Someday,” I’d think, “they’ll all realize I’m a nobody who doesn’t belong here among real speakers and bloggers and writers.” I almost didn’t launch this new website, even after I had finished the design, because I didn’t think I was worthy of it.

You see, it doesn’t matter how many news stories or cameras are in your life if you’re still hustling like you have something to prove. It doesn’t matter if a blog post goes viral if you are certain you’re a one-hit wonder. It won’t matter if you’re featured by Christianity Today, Slate, and Daily Kos in the same summer if you consider all the positive comments to be off-base but all the negative ones on-target.  

When people ask why I haven’t written a book yet, I don’t give the real answer. I say something a little different each time, and the reasons aren’t lies. But they aren’t the reason, the primary one. I’ve never admitted it publicly: 

I haven’t written a book yet because I’m not sure my voice matters. I’m not sure I really have something meaningful to say. I might have the word tattooed on my wrist, but I’m still not sure I’m really enough.

The cameras have been lovely, truly. The conferences have too. But? I’m looking forward to some time without travel or news crews, some moments once school starts when even my children’s eyes aren’t on me. I’m looking forward to quiet in my home when it’s just me and my dog and my Bible. I’m wanting to get to know the real me again and to let God reshape me into someone so confident in him that I don’t need to prove myself to others.

And? I'm hoping to dust off my book proposal drafts to get serious about one or more of them. It's time.

I’ve enjoyed the summer in front of cameras. I have. But at the same time I’m grateful for the coming days out of the limelight. For everything, there is a season, after all.  


I've been walking down memory lane a lot lately. During one of those strolls, I pulled out my old literary magazine from high school and came across this:


She smiles, laughs in public;
the whole world thinks she’s happy.
She goes home, and the tears come;
Her mask of ebullience falls to the floor.
— Shannon Saunders (Dingle)

I wrote the poem in middle school. As if those years weren't challenging enough, I went to three different schools in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades respectively. I tried on different facades in each: the extroverted Blossom-wannabe who petitioned the principal to allow hats as part of the dress code in sixth grade, the more withdrawn poet in seventh grade who wrote the lines above (and many others verses that aren't fit for public consumption, because most of my middle school scrawl was, well, more middle school-ish), and the bubbly eighth-grade cheerleader who also sported a collection of flannel shirts and pretended to care as much as her boyfriend did when Kurt Cobain died.    

Then I submitted the poem to be published in high school. I had chosen one primary mask by then: perfection. If I could be smart enough in advanced classes, fast enough in the pool, well-written enough in the school paper, dramatic enough on stage, skilled enough on the golf course, godly enough at church, and spirited enough in student government, I'd matter. That's what I thought, at least. I remember spending hours trying to choose the right quote that would show that I was worthy, wanting something witty with a pop culture reference but settling for a verse I hoped would convey that I was good enough. 

Now, as a grown woman, the words of my younger self's poem still resonate. As I wrote last week, striving for enough-ness is still a thing for me. Wearing masks can be too, even though I wrote a year ago about wanting to be a truth teller rather than a mask wearer.


My masks are falling. I'm confronting the lies of scarcity I've been telling myself. I'm wearing bright colors of nail polish and setting up a home office of my own for the first time ever and trusting friends in a whole new way and considering running more 5Ks and connecting more deeply with Lee and... well, I might call it a mid-life crisis except I'm only 33 and hope to live past 66. So let's call it my 1/3-life crisis, k?

Or maybe not a crisis at all. Maybe I'll go with breakdown - ahem, spiritual awakening - a la Brené Brown. (Side note: if you haven't read her stuff, start here and then here and then here. You're welcome.)

Whether it's a crisis or breakdown or awakening, this walk down memory lane has been good for me. It's nice to finally be growing up from that middle school girl who wrote about pretending.


I haven't blogged here lately. If you've read any of my other writing or even just FB posts, you know I'm going through a season of major transformation. I didn't choose a word for 2016 like I have in years past, but if I did, it would be this:


All my life, I've struggled with feeling like I was never enough - good enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, faithful enough. Into adulthood, every other sermon or viral post or book about marriage or parenting felt like a reminder that I wasn't wife enough or mom enough. If anything bad happened, even when it wasn't my fault, I blamed my own scarcity. Of course ______ horrible thing happened, and it's obvious why: I'm not enough.

Then as I began therapy last fall, I started to wade through some hard emotions and felt flooded by it all. I wanted to hide away from the world. I wasn't sure if my friends were friend enough to handle what I was dealing with. (Plus after having lost two of my closest friends in the past two years - one who couldn't handle the new realities after our last adoption and one who lost her life too early to depression, both losses whispering the lie that I wasn't enough as a friend - I felt legitimized in doubting the strength of any other relationship.)

And? If I'm honest, I found myself doubting that God was God enough for it all.

I know that's a pretty risky statement from a ministry leader and Christian writer and speaker, but I'm not going to pretend. I know my God can handle my being real (and, of course, he already knows precisely how I've been feeling), and I hope you can too. (If your first reaction is to try arguing with me because you're uncomfortable with my doubting, please sit with that feeling instead of leaving a comment. I think there's more value in dwelling in discomfort with someone else than in trying to fix them.) I'm beginning to believe that we need more vulnerability and less confidence in self from faith leaders, so I'm willing to risk putting my weakness out there instead of trying to project a perfect speaker/writer/minister image.

My gut instinct was (is) to try to be enough on my own to handle everything, all while feeling like I can never measure up to being enough. Yep, that's exactly as emotionally exhausting as it sounds. 

I'm learning, though, to believe...

I am enough, as I am. Nothing I do or say will make me more enough for my God, my husband, my kids, and my friends.

My friends are enough for me to share my true self and still receive love in return. (And? Community matters enough to keep seeking it, even when mistrust and self-reliance feel more comfortable to me.)

God is more than enough, for anything and everything I need. The full sufficiency of the gospel and his love for me is enough that all of my labors to earn what he has already freely given are completely unnecessary.

I think this act of learning to reject the mentality of scarcity - scarcity of self, scarcity of genuine community, scarcity in my estimation of who God is - will be a life-long lesson, so I wanted an ever-present reminder. If I'm underestimating the healing that is to come, then maybe someday when/if this is no longer a struggle, this symbol might one day instead be a stone of remembrance. I considered having the word enough inscribed on one of my new bracelets, which bear the Chinese symbol for love, a Luganda phrase which means I love you very much, and a few symbols with deep meaning for me. But a bracelet I could take on and off didn't seem like the right fit. No, I wanted to brand this reminder on my skin.

I am enough.

You are enough.

God is more than enough.