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What Photos Stir Within Us

Friday, March 3 Lent Calendar* Invite: Look at old photos and give thanks to God for sweet memories.

All sorts of feelings can arise when thumbing through old photos. If I come across a photo from when I am in 6th grade, I feel a knot in my stomach. Do you remember that awkward time of beginning puberty? I was uncomfortable in my body, but even more so, we had moved to a new town that year. I had no friends. I was sad everyday. When I look at a photo from that time, I can feel the angst in my present day body.

When my uncle died of lung cancer, my aunt was going through old photos for his memorial She mailed me a few photos that she came across in the process. I opened the mail one day and a photo of my mom and dad and me as a preschooler slid out of the envelope. I felt a pang of sadness for what never was… growing up with my dad. My parents had divorced when I was five years old. I hadn’t seen my dad in nearly 25 years. I didn’t even really know him, yet I felt grief.

If you are thumbing through photos and a sense of discomfort or angst or pain or anger arises, let yourself feel it. Pause. Then offer those feelings to God. Perhaps there is a memory that needs God’s healing touch. For instance, when I look at photos from 6th grade that make me feel angst, I imagine Jesus’ presence with me at that time. How did Jesus look at me then? I begin to understand that he ached with me, that he looked at my loneliness and wanted me to know he was my friend. Then I remember how my stepdad bought me a puppy that year. The feeling of gratitude arises within in me, for that little pup was one of my best gifts ever.

Other photos bring the warm fuzzies. When I look at pictures from our wedding day, my heart still pitter patters. I think it can be renewing to look back and remember such feelings, especially if you are in humdrum days of marriage. When I look at pictures of my babies, I swear I can actually smell new baby yumminess. Now that two of my children are adults and one is a junior in high school, old photos hit me hard with how fast time marches. At the same time, I am overwhelmed with the overflowing abundance of goodness and beauty we have experienced together as a family. Photos also remind me of hard things we have gotten through together, like when I look at photos from when Jude was in PICU after his diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes. The photos help me remember how faithfully we have worked together, that we are stronger and kinder because of it.

Today I have photos scattered across the dining room table as we follow the Lent calendar. They are not organized. I have had aspirations of creating beautiful scrapbooks. In reality, I have three pages of photos in a paper scrapbook from when Aidan was born and have basically gotten no further in the past 22 years. I have thousands of photos on my phone, most of them unorganized in online albums. Fortunately, my mother is an excellent scrapbooker to our benefit.

Whether your old photos are orderly or disorderly, printed or digital, photos help tell our stories. They help us listen to our lives. I think of writing pastor Frederick Buechner who said, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” May you experience the mystery and grace of your life as you offer angst and pain to God for healing and give thanks for sweet memories and the faithful God who, though we may not always see it, is in every snapshot of our lives.

*Find the daily Lent calendar here; or for the Lent calendar more specific to Ascension Lutheran Church, go here.

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