Brave Girl Stories, in Pictures

I love photographs. Color photos. Black and white photos. Sepia photos. Panoramic photos. School photos. Nature photos. War photos. Historical event photos.

Not only do I take a ton of pictures thanks to the convenience of my iPhone, I have tons of old photos in boxes and frames around my house. And a few times a year I still have prints made, and I meticulously put pictures of the girls and our family into albums for each of them so that at some point they can browse through their childhood memories (in order, courtesy of OCD).

I love anyone’s and everyone’s old photos. I will look at them repeatedly and notice tiny details and reason in my head about what led up to the photo, what followed the photo, and what environment surrounds the photo. Photos tell stories, and I guess more than anything, when you boil it down, I am actually in love with the history and the stories that photos document.

In the last few months I’ve felt awkward about photographs. I want to continue to document the girls’ childhood memories and not have a big gap in their lives and in their books, but documenting a part of their life that includes sadness and grief feels…not wrong, necessarily, but also not right. And yet everyone’s life includes periods of sadness and grief, so why does it feel odd? Is it wrong to show us vulnerable? It’s not wrong to show myself vulnerable, but it does feel wrong to reveal their vulnerability and their down moments. So is the answer then to only show the pictures of the phases of our life that are fantastic? That’s also wrong. Not only is that what we all see all the time – everyone’s day  boiled down to an adorable “your story” on Facebook and Instagram – it’s not the truth.

And yet at the same time, I feel like it’s wrong when I do post some of our daily happy pictures. We are actually laughing and having fun when we’re at bowling alleys and trampoline parks and farms and our driveway, but if I show us having fun will people think we’re fine – that we’ve moved on and life is great and we’re past our little speed bump? That life is back to fantastic? Back to blessed? That’s not the truth, either.

And then…the big what if. What if happy pictures lead people to believe that what happened wasn’t really a big deal because we’re able to have fun so quickly – and if so, does that mean that what happened to our family wasn’t really all that bad?

That thought makes me angry. Just because we make decisions to find positives and to find some happy and to experience some joy – and make no mistake, those are DECISIONS we make – does not in any way make a statement as to the severity of the actions of others who hurt my girls. They persevere despite those actions. They persist despite those actions. They keep moving despite those actions.

But I digress. The point, I guess, is that I think of pictures differently now. Maybe I overthink pictures. I desperately want Ella and Audrey to look back at this time and not just think about the fact that our family changed. I want them to look back and be able to see how courageous they were. See how far they’ve come. See that they could always count on me. See that I was strong.

I think they’ll be able to see some of that. But I think they may also look back on a photo and think ‘that’s the picture where we were feeding a piglet, but earlier that day Mom really shouted at Dad.’ That’s what I think when I look at some of the photos, so I have to assume they will, too. And that makes me sad. And yet, it is truth.

I keep mulling over this snippet from The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt.

‘You really believe that there are subjects that shouldn’t be photographed?’ George said. He spoke evenly and softly.
‘Maybe I do,’ I said, thinking aloud.
‘You believe in censorship then,’ said Stephen.
I looked up at Stephen. His face was tight, combative. ‘Not censorship,’ I said slowly. ‘That’s external. I mean control from the inside. After all, pictures can lie, too, can convey falseness rather than truth.’

We need to tell more of the stories behind our photos, so that we are all a little more real with each other. Here’s our story in three photos from this weekend, and it’s really the story of the stages of girl vanity.

Audrey is in disguise in her picture. Basically, I think the young just don’t care what they look like in photos. Audrey wants to try every snapchat filter every day. I also regularly find pictures she’s taken to try to see up her own nose or in her own ear, or where she’s trying to see how big she can make her teeth appear. The young either find all photos of themselves awesome in some way or they don’t think twice about the photo after they realize they cannot see up their nose into their brain.

Girls in the middle of growing up care a lot about photos. Ella takes photos of herself all the time and although it doesn’t seem possible, I think she discards more photos than she keeps. Middle School social media is somewhat confusing, but I think it can be summed up like this: girls like all the photos posted by all other girls at their school, but then hop onto House Party with just the girls they actually like to talk about the photos they just “liked” posted by girls they may or may not like whose photos they didn’t really like. Got that? I mean, it’s so simple really.

And then there’s the old: me. Instead of “old,” maybe we’ll just characterize that group as women over 40. When we end up with a picture where only *some* of our wrinkles show, especially at a time we’re trying to grow our hair out, we call that a win.

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Be Blessed (or Blessed Be), Brave Girl

My children are smarter than me.

I say this regularly and I think people think I am being silly. It’s true and I’ll say it again: my girls are smarter than me. I may still need to provide them with instruction and guidance as it relates to riding a bike, driving a car, eating broccoli, and setting boundaries on dates, but they are solid on some of the heavy fundamentals in ways that I am not.

Audrey has been playing this new game on her ipad. You choose a song and you’re only allowed to hit certain piano keys and if you hit the wrong key, you’re out and have to start again. Tonight she was trying very hard to master a song and getting frustrated that she couldn’t do it. I thought I might distract her for a bit, and our conversation went like this.

me: Walk away from it for a few minutes and then try again later.

Audrey: No.

me: What song is that?

Audrey: Thanks to God or Blessed by God or something.

me: Why’d you choose that song?

Audrey: Because it reminds me of church. I like church music.

me: Who do you think is blessed?

Audrey: Us.

me: Why do you think we’re blessed?

Audrey: Because God loves us.

At age 7, Audrey understands a truth that I often overlook. We are blessed because God loves us. I am blessed and Ella is blessed and Audrey is blessed.

It hasn’t felt like we’re blessed in quite some time. Things are better – life is not so chaotic, we’re not crying every day, we go out and have fun and enjoy friends. In fact, we laugh every day and we smile every day and we play every day. But blessed? That’s for people who have an awesome life and who love their life and who don’t have problems. That’s for people with intact families where Mom and Dad live in one house together with the children, and they eat meals together and play games together and plan vacations together.

But the truth is we were living that “blessing” one year ago and it was a lie. We looked like we were living that blessing and 3 of us thought we were living that blessing, but that wasn’t the truth – even if we didn’t know it.

When I think about the periods of my life where I felt blessed and I said things like “I’m so blessed” or “we’re so blessed,” it’s almost always been after a particularly challenging period. So in truth, whether or not I actively thought about it, deep down I believed that blessed means better than.

I was not blessed to discover that Audrey had cancer. However, when I met other parents who had a child with a higher stage or a worse prognosis, I suddenly felt blessed.

I was not blessed to discover that my marriage was a complete sham. However, as I’ve heard stories of people’s kids taken away and bank accounts being frozen and fights over houses, my breakup really wasn’t all that bad. And suddenly I again felt blessed.

But that’s not blessed. That’s better than. That’s ‘my situation isn’t as bad as yours, so I must be blessed and thankful.’

Who do you think is blessed? Us, Audrey said. US. And I can’t quite embrace it. I really want to say, “Really? Us? You think?” Of course, I won’t say that but I am still thinking about it, and so I’m writing it down. I am writing it down because I am still so startled by the simplicity of her follow-up: because God loves us.

Blessed is what I am no matter what my situation or environment. Blessed is what I am because God loves me.

I know this is true. And yet, the truth is I am skeptical and I have mixed feelings about it. And maybe that makes me a bad Christian. I hope not, and now I have to worry about that, too. (There’s no end to the things I will allow myself to obsess over.)

Are we blessed? I know we are, and in many ways. But it doesn’t always feel like it. And it doesn’t always feel like it because I’m applying the “better than” rules. And I think it doesn’t really matter whether or not it feels like it – feelings don’t really matter in this blessing discussion. We are loved whether or not we feel it. God loves us even if we forget it sometimes. And that love isn’t dependent on how we’ve behaved or what’s happened in our lives. It is.

Today, a serious 7-year-old reminded a skeptical and silly 45-year-old of a very simple truth: blessed is what we are because God loves us.

Blessed be (the fruit loops).

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Why don’t we say Partly Sunny?

The word broken means a lot more than I thought it did.

I’ve always thought of broken as not working and not fixable. Like a mirror – once it’s broken, it’s done. Nothing but an annoying thing you need to clean up (as you’re trying not to cut yourself) and throw away.

But according to dictionary.com, broken actually has a lot of definitions.

  • fragmented
  • fractured
  • torn
  • (of sky cover) being more than half, but not totally, covered by clouds
  • changing direction abruptly
  • incomplete
  • interrupted
  • disrupted
  • disconnected
  • weakened in strength, spirit
  • not smooth

These definitions make me think differently about broken. Broken isn’t always a mirror that will never be used again. Sometimes it’s a toy that a child thinks will never work again, when really that toy just needs new batteries. Sometimes it’s a cell phone that just needs a little time to rest and dry out in rice. Sometimes it’s a leg that needs to be in a cast while it heals. Sometimes it’s an egg that’s a necessary ingredient for a cake.

Broken is not the end.

Broken is when your life changes direction abruptly.

Broken is how you might describe the flow of things when your life is interrupted.

Broken is fragmented thoughts and feelings you struggle to pull together, because you’re disconnected from who and/or what you used to be.

Broken is when life isn’t smooth.

Broken is not the end.

I keep coming back to the sky cover reference for broken: “being more than half, but not totally, covered by clouds.” That’s what life has been like for a little while now. The dark and angry storm clouds have cleared out and we’re in a weather pattern that is party cloudy – or perhaps partly sunny is the better way to look at it. (Why the heck don’t we say partly sunny?)

Days are filled with normal things like camp and dinner time and play and work and tickling and fart jokes and board games. Days are filled with happy moments. But here and there, our days have moments of sadness or anger or melancholy. Sometimes our days have many of those moments. Because things that used to function how we liked don’t function that way anymore. Because we face situations and people that challenge us. Because some of the pictures that used to hang in our house don’t hang here anymore, because some of the people that used to live here don’t live here anymore.

I love to take pictures. I so love pictures that I still have hundreds of 4 by 6’s printed each year and I meticulously place them in order in old-fashioned tangible photo albums for each of the girls. Pictures tell our story. Pictures help us to remember events and moments.

But when we share pictures online, we are telling a fragmented story – a broken story. And that’s because we tend to share only the pictures that show us happy and having fun. In part, we tell happy stories with our pictures because no one thinks to take pictures when they’re crying. And no one gets pictures of their family all shouting at one another as they try to figure out whose fault it really was that someone dropped the container of eggs. We often literally have no unhappy pictures. And frankly, no one really wants to see those pictures.

But we should see those not-so-perfect pictures, because that is real life.

Real life has brokenness. Every single one of us has days and lives filled with fragments of loving, smiley, happy, sad, angry, shouty, and cut-off-that-guy-in-traffic moments.

The girls and I love to play with Snapchat filters. If an alien 7 light years away finds our family photos 300 years from now, they are going to wonder what the heck kind of creatures we really were. One of their current filters is called Broken Mirror, which just struck me yesterday as the most “real” thing that I’ve ever seen on social media – showing ourselves fragmented. Showing ourselves broken.

My life has brokenness, and that’s OK.

That’s OK because broken is fixable.

And sometimes things that are broken end up contributing to a really awesome cake.