This weekend, I went through all my pictures from the past year to make our annual family yearbook. I took around 7,000 pictures and pared it down to about 550. The final yearbook ended up being 131 pages long; it took about fourteen hours to make. Though this mass-ingesting of memories was due to procrastination, it was so healthy and encouraging for me. Some memories---and lack of memories---caused some remorse and/or pain, but that's healthy too as I can try to improve on those things in the next year. Here are some insights:
-Quantifiable productivity is overrated.
Almost every day I collapse on the bed and think, "Wow, I didn't get much anything today." However, looking back on the year, I learned that the beautiful, relational moments that happen every day are what really matter. Though I often feel like I want to do something "more" with my career than caring for my kids, I'm only more and more convinced that playing with them, talking to them, and giggling with them is all so important and fulfilling.
-Failures and pain make way for happy memories.
There were some truly yucky memories from this year---January through May was probably the most emotionally painful time in my life---but even in the midst of those times, beautiful things were happening. Some photos caused a twinge of "Oh, I remember crying that day" or "This was just before Peter and I got into a difficult argument," but pain is forgotten more quickly than happiness. For the Christian, joy is not an option. Joy is how we live, even in the midst of pain, because we know that suffering is temporary but happiness in Jesus will go on forever. Looking at all the happy pictures that happened during such gloomy times reminded me of that.
-Body image is a stupid thing to obsess over.
Looking back over the first part of the year, I felt ashamed when I saw pictures of my flabby arms or an undesirable paunch of fat. But in those pictures, I saw my kids looking at me with love and not disgust. They don't see pictures of us and think "Wow, Mom, you look pretty haggard there." Since I've spent the second half of the year being pregnant (and as a short person I get very bulkily pregnant), I haven't had control over what my body looks like anyway. Health is extremely important, but healthy habits show up on different people in different ways. Interior beauty is what I should really be shooting for, and looking back over a year of memories shows the emptiness of pursuing otherwise.
-The biggest learning experiences are not academic, and they usually come with difficulty and struggle.
I saw strength and progress in some of those pictures. A baby who became a little girl. A young lady who, at first, demanded to be carried when we went on hikes, but soon found herself taking the more difficult course for the thrill of it. A boy who used to fall apart emotionally, but as time went on had much more control over his feelings. A wife who used to make a big deal out of small things but is now learning that it's not worth it to damage a relationship due to the a perceived need to control. A husband who, over time, changed his pursuits and expenditures; there were far fewer pictures of manly toys and vehicles by the end of the year (accompanied by great joy when he finally sold them.)
-Whether my house is clean or not has almost no bearing on how happy our days were.
For most of the sweet memories, I wasn't taking a big picture of our living room. I was taking pictures of faces. Photos (and the memories that accompany them) don't tell us how proficient my homemaking skills were on any given day. My presence and my attitude, though...yep, that mattered.
-Time spent behind screens doesn't make lasting memories.
Sure, I had a couple pictures of the kids watching a movie, but it's not like they're going to fondly remember playing on the iPad or sitting in front of the TV like they'll warmly recall riding on the swing or baking banana bread. In twenty years they won't say "Mom, I'd love to see that picture of me watching TV" like they will say "Mom, show me that Lego structure I built" or "I love the artwork I made back then!" Even worse, none of my happiest times have been behind screens! There's great value, I think, to watching a good movie with Peter after a wearying day, but I probably spent close to a thousand hours on my phone, and I can't imagine that a small black screen deserved that much of my time and focus. I feel deep conviction about how much time I've given my kids---and myself---in front of screens when I know it's doing so little for our well-being.
-Time spent with friends is extremely valuable.
That was another painful aspect of going through these pictures. There weren't as many photos of time spent with friends because I think we were a little more isolated this year. We all suffered for it. I had overstretched myself in hospitality last year, then this year I gravely overcorrected by, in many ways, closing my home (and my life) to others. I really regret that, and I cried as I told my husband about that sad observation. I hope next year is better.
-"Pics or it didn't happen" is kind of true.
Unless I took a picture of an event or a memory---or unless I at least wrote it down---chances are hefty that I've forgotten it. Some things don't need to be remembered, but many things---especially field trips and vacations---exist in large part for the memories. Documenting them thoroughly (and trying to do so skillfully!) is how we will remember all the other ways our senses came alive through our various experiences. I don't regret taking "too many pictures" at any point; I only regret not taking enough.
-Some of the sweetest moments will never be photographed, and that's okay.
There have been so many moments---even this morning, when the kids and I flopped around and giggled in bed for thirty minutes---that are never captured by a camera. And, as my previous point stated, I probably won't remember them ten years from now or even a week from now. But it's those millions of tiny moments that shape who we are, and there's a kind of intimacy and specialness about experiencing things once, and privately. I fondly remember a time in college when I was reading the Bible in a field and found myself surrounded by dragonflies; God's presence was so evident, and the truth of His sovereignty was burned in my mind so clearly in that moment that I've never been the same. I tried to explain it to Peter but he---or anyone else---could never understand why or how I was so impacted by that beautiful moment with the Lord. Whether it's the big unphotographed moments or the small ones---a shared time of weeping, a kiss in the dark, an unsolicited smile from a shy child---it's okay if no one else will ever experience them or if even we ourselves never remember them. They were given to us by God, they shaped us, and they were beautiful.
In conclusion, I highly recommend making a family yearbook. I chose a pricier photobook site so this year's book cost $82, which is insane, but it's such a worthy investment that we enjoy throughout the next year and---Lord willing---for the rest of our lives, and maybe even after we're gone. Looking through thousands and thousands of pictures proved to be a very worthwhile pursuit as well.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today