Thursday, July 12, 2007

Beautiful Smiles

What do you do with all those Christmas cards and photos once the holidays are over? I know it's the middle of summer, hardly time to be thinking about Christmas, but in my dining room sits a nice little stack of candy-cane, holly-and-berry, and Baby-Jesus-in-a-manger cards with photos of smiling families wearing coordinating red and white snowflake sweaters.
What to do with all the cards and photos? The cards I can part with, as expensive and gorgeous as they are. I appreciate them for a moment and then into la basura they go. But the photos? Unbearable to throw them away, even for this minimalist. I can just imagine all the effort behind getting the dog to smile, much less the two squirming kids. All those smiling faces.
A few years ago I came up with a plan. I purchased two large poster frames, filled them with those smiling faces, and hung them side-by-side in our breakfast room. There - LOTS of smiles to greet us each day. Smiles literally from around the world, many belonging to dear friends we rarely talk with, but somehow that once-a-year communication keeps them close. Beautiful smiles, white teeth smiles, a child missing his front teeth smiles, and the never-got-around-to-getting-braces smiles. But all the same, hopeful smiles looking toward the holiday season and an exciting new year.
I took down the posters today to change out photos. This has not been an annual event. In fact, I haven't touched the posters since I first hung them.
In 2003.
A few things have changed.
"Wow, look how this family has grown," I thought.
"Oh my, did they divorce two years ago, or three?"
"Look how darling he is as an infant... and now he's at Children's in Dallas fighting cancer, 4 years old."
The photos drew me in, and I started looking more closely. Spent a few more moments processing the smiling faces and considering what 4 years has meant for this particular family, for this missionary, for this cousin.

A radiant bride, clutching hands with her groom, their arms raised in jubilant triumph among floating flower petals... where has 4 years brought them? Through depression, marriage counseling, deep Bible studies with a deep church family, now raising two young boys. Beautiful.

A dark-headed single guy with a sly grin sporting top-of-the-line camping gear... this beloved friend was killed last year in a one-car accident on an icy Sunday morning, driving to church to deliver a sermon. Beautiful.

The artsy black-and-white photo of an L.A. film director and his striking wife... he now calls himself "the reluctant pastor" as he shepherds a growing church in the heart of Hollywood. They have recently uncovered a diagnosis for their China-adopted daughter's detachment behavior, convinced their 6-year old son that he is indeed human and not a super-hero, all the while leading mission trips to India and Africa. Oh, and on the side, he's still directing projects for an international music diva.

The 4-year old girl leaning on the fence of her family's new home... I have yet to hear her speak, but I know she does, more and more. Her family, her teachers, her friends have shown her Jesus in their patience, their encouragement, and their understanding. Beautiful.

The family of five (seriously) dressed in coordinating fair isle sweaters... there is a fourth baby now, and one of the boys has been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness. Much fear and uncertainty for the days ahead, but also a commitment to their marriage and dependence on God's sufficient grace. Beautiful.

Another family of five swinging and grinning on a hammock... 4 years has taken them to a new city, away from both sets of grandparents, to pastor a church and buy a home in the hood. No kidding, I think their new house costs about 50 K. Beautiful.

A single twenties-something girl with bright eyes smiling into the camera, the words and logo of her ministry imprinted on the photo as a reminder to pray for her... she continues as a single thirty-something with bright eyes, continuing to serve in the same ministry. Beautiful.

A toddler and her barely-older brother, both toe-heads with matching smocked Christmas outfits... they, along with their baby sister, have since endured a painful divorce and now live out of state. Their mommy is exhausted, but strong and dedicated, and overflows with Jesus. Beautiful.

A couple from the Northwest with gentle smiles, his head cocked back from the camera, her arm swung lazily around his shoulders... they've endured two cardiac valve replacement surgeries since this photo was taken, one of which occurred a month before their son's birth. Now they juggle a a two-year old boy wonder, a new baby on the way, and medicine/lifestyle choices to keep daddy's heart beating regularly. Beautiful.

I could go on. Every photo carries a story. Amazing what 4 years can bring.
A friend came by this morning and told me of a book he read recently, "A Change in the Flight Plan." It was written by a physician/recreational pilot after receiving an ALS diagnosis. My friend then read me the Scriptures he clings to as his wife currently fights ALS. She was diagnosed less than a year ago, and now she struggles to pull a blouse from her closet. Yet her spirit is strong and accepting, filled with supernatural peace, supernatural joy. Beautiful.
In the midst of growing families, job changes, cross-country moves, devastating illnesses, new babies, cancer, and blended families, I can see God in these photos if I look deeply enough, take the time to notice. And those smiles? Beautiful.