Our Trek to the Manger has begun, and as I reflect on the small group discussion questions for the first chapters of our adventure, I’m reminded of my long-time traveling buddies: My precious family.
This post, shared several years ago, is especially appropriate today. It makes me wonder who your traveling buddies are? Feel free to share in the “reply” space below.
My Smiling Children
My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. Besides the family we’ve created together, many of the best gifts we’ve been given over the years are memories that have been marked in living color by Kodak (or, more recently, in digital form). This year, our daughter spent hours putting photographs to music so that she could give us this gift of memory-on-DVD, commemorating our years together as a couple and as a family.
Watching this beautiful collection of photographs emerge onscreen brought more than one tear to my aging eye (especially poignant because our daughter wasn’t actually home for the viewing, but had just moved into her dorm room three states away). It was easy to count our blessings as we watched images of our family in its many ages/stages of life, dancing across the screen to carefully chosen music (songs like ‘Never Grow Up’ by Taylor Swift). The speed with which these years are being spent washed over me with each sweet lyric, each milestone passed.
Perhaps most striking to me, though, were the smiles… what GREAT SMILES! My husband and my son – smiling! My kids standing right next to each other – smiling! Age 2 and age 12 – full of happy, toothy smiles in such a variety of locations and situations and events. I admit to thinking, as I watched our lives play out onscreen (smiling all the while), that I must be a better parent than I give myself credit for, to have so many happy moments to remember – so many smiles for the camera.
We do a pretty good job of putting on our happy faces for the camera, don’t we? Is it because we know this photo is going last and become a memory, so we’d better make it count? Or maybe we want so desperately to be seen as happy and at our best that we ham it up for the camera (and take advantage of the delete option when a captured moment hasn’t captured us looking quite like we want to look)?
If you’re like most grown-up children in America, you’ve been told a million times to ‘smile for the camera!’ This simple (yet repetitive) directive certainly has created a muscle-memory over the years, making our cheesy smiles almost instantaneous whenever a camera is pointed in our general direction.
After years and years of being reminded to ‘smile!’ before the flash goes off, it’s no wonder that our automatic response to the camera is almost always a grin. The consistency of this message, though a silly cultural phenomenon, has resulted in beautiful collections of family photos like mine (well, maybe there’s some good parenting in there somewhere, too).
It makes me wonder, though… what if we were as consistent with other messages to our children? Things like:
‘LOVE your sister!’
‘HUG your brother!’
‘CARE for others!’
If a simple command like ‘smile for the camera’ can predictably produce a legacy of family memories, imagine the world-changing potential of the family whose repeated messages produce behaviors (not just expressions) that last!
As much joy as camera-induced smiles can bring years later, imagine the joy that our lives lived in loving relationship could bring to a world full of hurting, broken skeptics whose only smiles come when a camera is involved.
Today I challenge you, no matter how old your children may be, to harness the power of the consistently spoken message in order to plant seeds of loving, smiling action in the gardens of your homes.
And while you’re at it, linger over the last family picture that made you smile – and thank God for the ‘Cheese!’