They sat on a sandy beach with a calm ocean behind them, deep blue reflecting a cloudless sky. They were picture-perfect.
Four girls and two boys. They wore khaki colored pants, bleach white shirts. They sat like seagull sentries guarding the sand — their parents, blonde haired and blue-eyed, proudly off to the side watching over them with possessive, proud eyes.
They were picture-perfect.
I sighed as I stared absently at the picture on my refrigerator, held on by a magnet from some unknown realtor.
Why Can’t We Look Like That? I grumbled silently.
When I pull out a family picture, people think I’ve pulled out a picture of the Ramones or a picture of a group of actors auditioning for an independent film. Why do some people have ‘it’ and we don’t? Furthermore, why do we have to fight every time we take a family picture? Why can’t WE be picture perfect?
There. I admitted it aloud. It was yet another area where I felt my background as a third culture kid and my insecurity as an adult came into play. I didn’t know how to do family pictures. One year when we had only three children we went to Sears to get a family picture taken. This was a big deal for me. The result? We got a picture with Micah’s head bowing toward the ground, all you could see was the baby fuzz on an otherwise bald head — so small was he, he couldn’t hold his head by himself. When someone asked me why I had picked that one to blow up into an 8 by 11 inch portrait, I shrugged. “I don’t know” I said, shaking my head! “I guess it’s because Cliff and I looked good and we knew that our years of looking good were coming to an end.”
But it’s far more than any TCK insecurity. It’s about expectations and reality. It seemed that all of our family stuff would come out in pictures while other families were able to keep the pictures happy. I had expectations of these family pictures; expectations of this family, and they were not being met.
Expectations confuse reality. Expectations yield discontent. Expectations kill relationships.
That truth pounds in my ears.
Family pictures, beautiful as they are, mask much of what it means to be a family. The real story comes not through pictures, but through day by day life together. Those huge fights, that you think will never be redeemed? They bear the stamp of grace when forgiveness and restoration happens. The ordinary of life seen through laundry, dirty dishes, dust, and pans that need washing? That’s where patience and discipline grow.
There’s so much more to family pictures then the gloss and color; then how coordinated we are and how beautiful we look. No matter how picture-perfect in the studio, every family bears the marks of a broken world. And that’s why most families prefer the candid shots, sending those picture-perfect shots off to others.
As I pass by the refrigerator again – I look one more time at the picture-perfect family. Can I accept it for what it is? A beautiful picture of a lovely family — a family that has its own stuff, put aside for a day where beach waves, blue sky, khaki and white could work its magic with the help of a skilled photographer.
Because there’s no such thing as a picture-perfect family.