Friday, December 5, 2008

Wife Rule #90: Take a Family Portrait

I love looking at the large family portrait hanging at the end of our hallway, the one that shows our family sitting together on the rock jetty closest to Grandpa's beach house. Every year we attempt a family portrait here, but it has proven very difficult to capture the golden moment when all the essential elements intersect for the perfect picture: the transient, fiery light from the setting sun, at just the right angle and hue; the milky, liquid blues in the sky as dusk approaches; the reflected evening light off the darkening water; and just enough sand, rock, and background to elicit soul-warming memories of this place we love to visit.

Sometimes when it's quiet and late and the picture is illuminated by lamplight, I can almost smell the salty breeze and hear the gentle churning of the waves and feel the cool sand between my toes.

Oh yes, and there's also the people.

I haven't forgotten that the most essential, and perhaps the most challenging aspect of any portrait of our young, bustling family is, after all, the family. It is often daunting to capture a shot where we don't have to use a computer afterwards to swap out any heads or other appendages. Scott by himself was on a streak for a couple of years where it was rare to find any shot where his tongue wasn't hanging out, and both eyes were open and pointing in the same direction. Combine that with wiggly little ones, and the strange magnetic pull that draws their fingers to their noses, and you can start to understand why during any given family picture shoot, we take approximately one hundred million pictures, until our kids' grins have turned to grimaces or tears. Most family portraits end with at least one kid completely melting down and the rest of us looking rather constipated.

But taking them is worth it, and I'll tell you why. First of all, just take a look at those adorable little mugs: nine-year-old Dawn is clearly on the verge of blossoming into a gorgeous young woman; seven-year-old Rachel has the world's best picture-perfect flirty smile; Scott is a strappingly handsome young five-year-old, the object of affection for all the girls in his Kindergarten class (I have no doubt); Andrew is, well, just take a look at him with his wrinkled up three-year-old nose and grinning, protruding jaw, and you can't help but want to pick him up and squeeze the little bugger with all your strength; and Charity--precious, tiny Charity--can only best be described as an adorable little ball of Cindy-Lou-Who cuteness combined with the angelic aura of someone who is wonderfully, celestially pure and new. (Yes, she does get her way around our house a lot!)

But the value of this snapshot goes far beyond our kids' unimpeachable cuteness or their parents’ obvious photogenic gifts. You see, we have hundreds of highly-entertaining pictures showing the general state of happy chaos that accompanies us through most of our existence (boogery noses, messy hair, half-naked kids streaking through the back yard, etc). But this family portrait is an ideal--a vision of perfection--captured and frozen in time. Yes, we had to work hard to get it. Yes, we took dozens of shots to get just one that was even as good as this one. Yes, this shot is not what we normally look like (the only typical color-coordination of our clothes is that we all have the same food spilled down our shirts). But the ideal shown here is about our family being reflected in the best light, under the best of circumstances, with everyone looking and acting their best, even if just for a moment.

It's important to have ideals in families. It's essential to have goals to work towards. It's vital to remember that by casting aside all the hard labor, the petty problems, the real difficulties, and the endless doldrums of day-to-day life, there is tremendous value and beauty and eternal promise in the concept of family. There's a reason why love flows so easily and abundantly within a family. The spiritual warmth, peace, and purpose that are hinted at by serene, smiling faces in a family portrait are why God gave us families.

At this Christmas season, let's remember that Christ came to earth to belong to a family, a human family like yours and mine, that was full of imperfections and difficulties. He came to show us how to overcome, to hold up the highest ideals as a standard and to enable us to eventually reach them. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He provides the perfect--and only--pathway to the joyous eternity we all want. And He does it for families--our close-knit, earthly families, as well as the broader human family that we all belong to as children of our Heavenly Father.

So take a moment to hold your dear ones close this season, and try to remember why we have families in the first place. And if it helps you, like it does for us, take a family portrait.

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