A few years ago, I stumbled across a Groupon offer for a family portrait session. For the amazingly low price of $20, we would receive a one-hour photo session and a CD with full rights to all of our edited photos. It was a steal! We needed new family pictures and this might just take care of Christmas gifts for the grandparents, too. Score! I snatched it up.
When the appointed day arrived, we put on our Sunday best and drove across town. I thoughtfully packed a canister of puff snacks to keep the baby happy and promised the older boys McDonald's for lunch if they listened and smiled. All bases were covered. And then we arrived...at some sort of unlabeled office/warehouse/strip mall type building. No windows, no signs - just a series of plain doors. I reasoned that obviously this was a newer photographer using Groupon to grow his business. No problem with that, right? We somehow identified the correct door and found ourselves being led down a cramped black hallway to a studio in the back.
It was weird and a little creepy, but now we were committed, so we straightened our clothes and began to follow the photographer's instructions. The kids were less than enthusiastic. I held the backs of their shirts like leashes and hissed encouragement through my smiling teeth. When all else failed, I bribed them with puffs. The photographer pulled out a toy to use as a prop, and we promptly lost all focus as the boys gathered around that little bead maze like it was the coolest toy on earth. My husband and I were sweaty, frustrated messes when it was all said and done, but still, I had hope. Every photo session I've ever been in has felt forced and awkward, but through photographer magic, the results have always defied expectation. This would be the same. Definitely.
We took the boys out for their McDonald's lunch and waited. And waited. And waited. More than a month later, I finally tracked down the photographer and got my hands on our CD. I took it home, loaded it in the computer, and prepared myself to be amazed. And I totally was.
The pictures were awful. Our "edited" pictures had visible backdrop rigging, shots where we weren't even close to looking, and shots where children were actively escaping or just collapsed in a heap. In the pictures where everyone was actually looking and smiling, the poses were strange and awkward. These were definitely not Christmas gift pictures. So, I did the only thing I could do. I immediately uploaded the whole mess to Facebook and spent the next hour giggling through the comment fest that followed. For that amount of fun, I declared the $20 well spent and moved on.
But here's the thing, those crazy unusable pics have become some of my favorites. They're a hot mess - but really, so were we. Trying to balance three boys (ages three and under) was never pretty. Why should it photograph well? I look back at those pictures and I smile at our crazy. I read through the comment fest when it pops up in my Facebook memories and I laugh every time. I may forever display an 8x10 of one particular shot because it is just so real and it so perfectly captures who we were then.
It is easy to look around and to compare ourselves to others and then to try and fix. We want to look pretty and put together. But sometimes, often, that's just not our reality. My reality then was that I had three small children who trailed chaos in their wake. If I'm honest, not much has changed since then. That's just how it is. If I am continuously fighting that truth, then we all lose. But if I create space for it, if I give us a break from trying to be perfect, from standing up straight and smiling at the camera, from putting on a show, then we can settle in and be who we are right now. We can revel in the gift of today. We can discover, that even in the middle of our hot mess, God loves us and has a plan for us. Right now, right here in the middle in our messiness, He has use for us! But if we undervalue who we are right now in the race to become what we think we ought to be, then we'll miss it. Let's not do that! Instead, let's celebrate where we are, give thanks and create space, and narrow our focus to the next right step. We'll still get where we're going, but we'll find the journey so much more interesting.
Jenn is a book-reading, quietly nerdy introvert who has, one choice at a time, managed to completely surround herself with chaos. Wife to one incredible man, and homeschooling-mama to three crazy-awesome boys, life is almost never quiet...but in each day there are moments - brief pauses in the crazy - and it is there that she finds God. He is in a quiet breeze through the trees, in a one-on-one conversation, in a lingering glance at a sleeping child's face. It is enough.