Behind the Portrait

Dear Joy,

I recently hired a sweet and talented friend-of-a-friend photographer to take some family photos. I take all the pictures in our house, and I kind of wanted to see what I looked like, playing with my family. I wanted to see what my home looked like from someone else’s point of view. I wanted to remember where we’re at right now, so that if and when everything changes, I’d have these frozen moments to go back to and smile about.

I got the photos back, and they were absolutely lovely. I wasn’t going for perfection, but they were, for us, perfect. This photographer captured everything I wanted — squishy toes and us snuggled up, reading books. Marty throwing Joshie over his shoulder and tickling him like crazy. A walk to our favorite nature path. Sippy cups and coffee, bacon and eggs, pancakes and sunshine. Magical.

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You know how sometimes you look at pretty pictures of giggling, matching families, and (subconsciously, maybe) think, They’re together. She’s happy. Beautiful kids. Perfect marriage… You know how you think that? Well, maybe you don’t think it. (You, Joy, are very level-headed.) But I do. I do, definitely do, think that about other people. I’ve thought it about you and your sweet family, vignetted by tropical rainforest, sun setting behind arms entwined. You’ve written about your own struggles, and still, those adjectives swirl around in my brain. Together. Happy. Beautiful. Perfect. 

Dwelling too much on the picture-perfectness of other people is basically soul poisoning. And lots of times, I catch myself trying to convey that soul-poisoning perfection to other people. I think that’s partly why God gave me acne, or a formerly cat-infested house, or toys that fall out of the car and roll across the parking lot when I open the side door, or little boys who go poo poo all over me during church, or a mouth that sometimes accidentally says the most horribly awkward things. These things, and so many others, keep me imperfect, humble, honest. You can’t walk around faking perfection with toddler doo-doo on your sweater sleeve.

I’m so very thankful for your last post — your heart-wrenching, down to earth letter — because you were real. You tell it like it is, you choose beauty and truth, and you’ve left lots of women reeling, because they’ve been lifted up by your honest words.

I’m striving for that same honesty, in my writing and my life. Because it’s not about offering snapshots that paint impartial pictures. I need to be the real me, the broken me, because that’s when I can point to where I get my strength, and why I keep doing what I’m doing. Through pictures, conversations, music, friendships — how we live our lives — let’s celebrate beauty and laughter and God’s good, gracious gifts. But please, please know: I’ve got french fries ground into my carpet, and an attitude that needs adjusting, 9 times out of 10. I chug coffee, brush off the crumbs, smile and nod, smile and nod…

You’re not fooled, right? Good.