go ahead, take a picture

In my breakfast room I have a picture of Jeff and I in Banff, Canada, where we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Everything about the picture is perfect. In fact, it’s so perfect our friends often tell us the mountains look like a fake backdrop.

But you know what I love most about it? It’s not the perfect lighting or even the amazing scenery. It’s what happens when I look at that picture. I can almost feel the cool mountain air blowing across my face, or the soft warmth of the ivory scarf I wore on my head like a 1950s movie star. If I listen closely, Ari Hest is singing “Cranberry Lake” on the XM Indie radio station we listened to incessantly.

Now, when I am chasing my kids around the house and catch a glimpse of that mountain scene, it helps me to slow down. In my worst moments, when I feel so exhausted and frustrated that I am ready to quit the mom job, that picture helps me to take a deep breath. On days when all I see in my life is unfinished to-do lists and crazy schedules, it reminds me that Jeff is not just a business partner or the guy who gives me a break at the end of the day; he is still my best friend and favorite date.


the beautiful mountains of banff, canada
I love taking pictures. Don’t let the Banff picture mislead you – I’m purely amateur; I don’t use a fancy camera with a giant lens hanging around my neck that looks like it weighs as much as a small child. I just like taking regular old pictures with my little red canon that fits in my back pocket.

The problem is that every time I pull out my camera I hear the Indigo Girls singing, “Don’t take a picture | Remember this in your heart.” Or just as I am about to capture one of my kids’ firsts or a lazy stay-at-home summer play day, I remember the words of writers I love encouraging me not to ruin experiences by documenting them instead of living them.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes documenting moments helps me to live them, to remember them. And a huge part of creating our stories is being able to understand, hold onto, remember chapters from our past.

remembering through a different lens

One balmy August day in 1992 my family unloaded all my belongings onto the diagonal sidewalk that led up to the South Quad dorm of the University of Michigan. My memories of that day are blurry, disjointed. But when I see my mom’s pictures I remember details that have long since faded. I remember that day through the lens of who I am now, but seeing those pictures reminds me of who I was then.

When I look at the pictures of me rolling my eyes at my mom in my oversized Gap polo, I also see the excitement and pride and fear all mixed together that I felt that day. The 18 year-old girl in those photos didn’t know she would major in English or forgo the greek system to become an RA. She didn’t know her college boyfriend would be just that, and her future husband wouldn’t show up in her life until she was 23. She certainly had no idea she would become a psychologist or have four kids.

Here is what I don’t think when I look at the pictures of that day: “Wow, I wish my mom had stopped taking pictures and just let us enjoy the moment of me moving away to college.” No. Instead, I am grateful she thought that it was important enough – that she thought I was important enough – to want to remember, to document silly moments like putting sheets on my very first bed away from home.

The pictures my mom took that day fill in the gaps of a story I am writing. It’s not a story for Facebook or Twitter. It’s not even a story for my husband or kids. It’s the story of how I am living this one life God has given me. And the story is the same, pictures or not, but I am thankful I had a mom who wanted to help me remember the earlier chapters.

fill in the gaps


the skylanders photo session
When my son turned eight we had a Skylanders party (for those who aren’t surrounded by young boys on a daily basis, Skylanders is a video game / action figure racket of epic proportions). My boys and I planned the party together, and once the big day arrived I took pictures. A lot of pictures. I took pictures of kids playing Skylanders and of the Skylander themselves (I’ll be honest – those were the favorites). I got candids of kids doing the scavenger hunt, eating the Skylander-themed food and opening presents.

I know the party would have been just as cool without photos. Maybe it would have even been a little more fun without a mom snapping away on her little red camera.

But one day very soon that eight year-old boy may be too cool for Skylanders or birthday parties in his backyard or his little siblings being at his party. He may no longer think that his dad dressing up like a villain and chasing all his friends around is the best part of the party.

But today he is the boy who loves all those things. And I want to remember. And when that day is a distant memory, I want him to be able to remember too. I want to fill in the gaps.

Of course I know there’s a balance. If we’re only and always behind the camera or camcorder or iPhone and never actually in the moment, then we miss out. If we’re capturing moments to publicize them for other people to show how smart or cool or interesting we are, well, that’s a different conversation entirely.

But when pictures remind us of who we are or where we’ve been, when they help us mark and celebrate moments that seem to pass too quickly, then perhaps taking pictures isn’t something we should feel guilty about after all.

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