Monday, August 25, 2014

Picture an Ordinary Life

During the time between my grandmother's passing and her funeral, the four granddaughters sifted through photos to put together a memorial collage. Looking at those pictures, many of which I'd never seen, was like walking through my grandparents' life together. As we narrowed them down to create a collage that adequately captured my grandmother's spirit, one in particular jumped out at me.  I couldn't stop staring at it.

There was my grandmother in her mid-twenties, looking as glamorous as a Hollywood starlet in her dress, scarf and sunglasses. Even though she was stunning, what captivated me about the photo was how unpretentious it was.

As I kept looking through photographs, I realized several truths:

The best picture tells a story. 
Every picture I found told the story of my grandmother - a woman who loved her children, a wife who quietly tolerated (and secretly enjoyed) her husband's silliness, a woman who loved to paint ceramics, a sister who was also a best friend. The majority of photographs I see today are quite different - our meals, our homes, our projects. They, too, are telling a story. Is it one worth telling?

The best picture is a true representation of its subject.
In this photograph, my grandmother wasn't trying to look like a beautiful woman having the time of her life. She was simply riding in a boat and most likely turned around to keep the wind out of her face. She didn't select select her attire because she knew someone would be taking her picture. She didn't assume the perfect pose or choose just the right time to smile for the camera. 

In August 2002, Jamie Leigh Curtis was brave enough to allow a magazine to publish photographs of her that were not retouched. A dozen years later, we are still naive enough to believe that Hollywood images are real. Not only do we believe it; we have surrendered to the pressure. How many of us are willing to post unflattering photos of ourselves, our families or our homes on social media? Luckily, we don't have to. Technology allows us to edit and filter our photos to our hearts' content.  Despite all of our talk about being genuine and authentic, we've gone to great lengths to convince others that we live the lives depicted in our perfect photographs and social media posts.

The best picture is a treasure.
As you might imagine, we didn't find a multitude of pictures from Grandma's youth.  Photographs were rare in those days, but I also believe people were more discerning. Not everything was considered significant enough to be documented for posterity; there was far too much work to be done for that. Now we take pictures with our phones. We never have to miss a chance to snap that perfect shot. I wonder, are we so preoccupied with capturing the moment that we miss making the memory? Have we become so accustomed to life behind the lens that we miss the beauty in front of our eyes? Has the sheer abundance of images in our lives cheapened their value?

The best picture points to something other than the photographer.
We didn't find one selfie of my grandmother. Each picture was taken by someone else wanting to call attention to her. We live in age where much of what we do screams Look at me! We are the stars of our own videos and photographs, our social media feeds, and our lives. I don't even have to turn my phone backward to take a photograph of myself; I simply hit a button and the camera rotates to me. The glaring truth of our narcissistic culture.

My fellow blogger Kim is a gifted photographer.  She has an eye for finding beauty in the ordinary. That's a rare gift these days, even among Christians. We've forgotten the value of an ordinary life. We aren't the first. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was blinded by her desire to be like God. She was surrounded by the beauty and gifts of the Lord, yet being an ordinary woman was not enough for her. Sound familiar?

I'm tired of believing the trick photography of our enemy. I want to rediscover the value of a life that isn't picture perfect. I want a life that proclaims the beauty of the ordinary. I want a life that doesn't call attention to me. I want a life that tells the story of an extraordinary God and the treasure of His gospel.
Ordinary does not mean mediocre. Athletes, architects, humanitarians, and artists can vouch for the importance of everyday faithfulness to mundane tasks that lead to excellence. But if we are not headliners in our various callings, it is enough to know that we are called there by God to maintain a faithful presence in His world.
- Michael Horton
Tabletalk, August 2014


  1. I love old black and white pictures. And I love the Horton quotation. It was a good article.

  2. "I wonder, are we so preoccupied with capturing the moment that we miss making the memory? Have we become so accustomed to life behind the lens that we miss the beauty in front of our eyes? Has the sheer abundance of images in our lives cheapened their value?"

    I couldn't help think of weddings I've been to where the phones and even iPads get whipped out as soon as the bride walks down the aisle. Part of me wanted to laugh at the absurdity of our culture and the other part wanted to shout, "Look at her with your own eyes, not through some device!"

  3. Your grandmother was beautiful! It is a different generation for sure. Even with Christ at the centre, self and the spirit of the age wars against the Spirit of God. Thank you for such a thoughtful and challenging article.

  4. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Melissa. How precious to have had that special time sorting through photos of your sweet grandma...I am sure you were blessed to be part of it all. Technology definitely has its drawbacks. May the Lord help us all to simply live where He has planted us with eternity always in focus. Blessings to you! Camille