She had coordinated their outfits. How often does a young girl with a little family get the chance to have professional photos taken? So, she thought and planned and chose carefully. Before getting her son out of the carseat, she probably told him about what fun they were about to have. She let him take his favorite dinosaurs inside, and promised vanilla milkshakes for big smiles on cue.
This was an important picture, after all. Her husband was a minister in the church, and this photo would grace the church directory, which she knew would live on forever in junk drawers all over town, a spot to look up their cute little family, to remember how they had changed and grown as the years passed by. She wanted to leave a good impression. She wanted this to be a picture that said, We have it together. We know what we’re doing. You can have confidence in us.
But, she realized not long after their appointment started that things were not going to go well. Her little boy was restless. He didn’t want to stand where he should. He didn’t feel like taking pictures. And, as she and her husband tried every parenting trick they could think of, bribing him with everything that they knew he loved and threatening to take away everything that they knew he loved, he cried. And this was how her long-awaited professional picture turned out.
She was mortified. She refused to allow what she considered to be a photographically documented parenting fail into the church directory. She chose a more dignified picture of just herself and her husband. But, she did get a copy of this photo. And, she framed it. And, now that her son is a brilliant, well-behaved, respectful ten year old, she can look back on this day and laugh.
Every time I see this picture, I’m reminded of how motherhood can simply punch you in the gut now and then. We make so many plans. We coordinate outfits. We choose schools. We lay out rules. We make lists and charts. We plan surprises and try to make good memories for our kids, and we have a picture in our mind, like the picture that my friend had on the day she walked into the church to have this photo taken. She thought they were going to sit up straight and smile at the camera and come away looking like a million bucks. But, instead they wrestled with a two year old and got sweaty and apologized profusely to the photographer while church members waited in line to have their straight-sitting families photographed.
And yet, everyone who has ever seen this photo has loved this family more for it. Why? Because it captures, in one frozen millisecond of time, a reality of parenting that we have all experienced. When things just don’t turn out the way we had pictured.
So, what do we do when things don’t happen the way we thought they would? We can bury forever the memory of what went wrong. We can live in humiliation, regretting that anyone ever saw that we are human, that we aren’t always in complete control, that our kids aren’t perfect. Or, we can do what my friend did. We can frame the memory instead of burying it. We can hold it up to people and admit that we aren’t perfect. That we need God’s help to do this job. We can ease everyone’s fear that their family should be perfect, just by holding up an image of our own family that isn’t flawless, and laughing about it.
Because this is what parents need. This is what helps to bring us peace and joy in this crazy journey of raising children. When we’re honest enough to admit that, no, we really don’t have it all together, even though we’re Christians, or even though we’re the pastor’s family. We all have days that just don’t turn out the way we had pictured. And, we’re all in this together, led down this chaotic and blessed road by the Master of Creation, the Creator of the family, the perfect Father. When the dignified picture we had in our heads turns out to be laughable, we are humbled to remember that there is only one perfect Parent. And only one perfect Child.
The rest of us? We’re just doing the best we can. And we’re framing the memories, imperfect as they may be, so that the world will know that it’s only by God’s grace that we get these children raised. Through it all, we can trust Him. We can lean on Him. And, yes, we can laugh, even when we’re a little bit mortified. Even when real, true, and deep sorrow overtakes us because something has ruined the picture that we envisioned, we can depend on the promises of a God who has never failed. The Great I Am has visions that we know nothing about. With humility, with patience, and with faith, we follow Him. And somehow, in all our imperfection, He gets glory.
Many thanks to my best friend in the world, Christi Beerley, for allowing me to use her picture and to have a little creative license in describing picture day. I have always loved this picture and the precious little boy in it.