Picture this

Imagine letting go of should.

Now that all the painting is finished, I’ve set upon putting our pictures back up on the wall, replacing outdated photos and reorganizing the displays. Unfortunately, wall pictures always evoke a peculiar sense of guilt for me.

I don’t do formal pictures.

Everything about formal pictures stresses me out: who to go to, when to go, what to wear, what to order. And then, once I stress through all those hurdles, the pictures have a posed look to them, even (or maybe especially) the casual ones everyone seems to be fond of nowadays. Because no matter how natural photographers try to make it, our family does not walk barefoot through lapping ocean waves wearing matching jeans and white shirts. Ever.

We’ve had formal pictures taken twice–once when the kids were 1.5 and 3, once in Florida for my parents’ wedding anniversary–and the kids have their school pictures, but otherwise that’s it. No monthly pictures of them as babies. No formal Christmas shots. Many of my friends have these beautiful displays in their homes of the many formal pictures they’ve had taken over the years. Displays I’ve admired, even envied. Displays I feel like I should have. I’ve stood at the foot of such displays, and then I stood at the foot of the display I created this week. How very different they were. But this week I realized:

I don’t do formal pictures.

Instead, we have pictures of all stages of our lives, from the pictures of B and I as teenagers to pictures of chubby sleeping babies. Messy pictures. Slightly off centered and out of focus pictures. But pictures I love, mostly because they instantly take me back not just to an age but to a moment.

The waterfall in Kauai, which we visited after spending all day at the beach. K and I have seawater curled hair. We were hot and sun-worn, sticky and sandy, and when I look at that picture, I feel the sun, sand, and stickiness all over again. Our first camping trip, with the trail along the Pacific Crest along which we had to carry both children. M making K laugh in front of the Christmas tree, her baby laughter so uninhibited. B and I in high school, hanging out in the very city in which our lives would someday wind up.

The few formal pictures I have stick out. The bear the memory of the stress, the manufactured moment. The should. And now I’m glad that I never got around to more formal pictures, because they might have replaced some of these others, the ones that are right to me.

For some people, formal pictures are right. Perhaps it’s an important tradition, or a special experience. Plus they’re crazy beautiful. Maybe someday they will be right for me, too. But pushing myself to do something just because it works for someone else speaks to the conformation to this world that God wants us to avoid: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Trying formal pictures might have been a chance to renew my mind by opening it up to something different, but so is reconsidering the beauty of my own wall display in comparison to the displays I think I should have. My response–the connection I feel to our messy pictures, or the lack-there-of with the formal ones–allows me to see His will for my life. Not where I think I should be, but where God wants me, and where I am.

Maybe others will read this and think, I should have more messy pictures! But no–what I mean is that should is such a troubled word. Instead, be as God intended, no more and no less. Whatever my walls–or home, or clothes, or life–look like, I pray that it reflects God and His will for our lives. The fact that that looks different from other people is just an abundant reflection of the creativity with which we are fearfully and wonderfully made, not a reflection on my shortcomings. Messy or formal, that’s what I hope to picture overall.


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