Monday, October 27, 2008

Extreme Makeover

My husband recently found a picture of the two of us from 1984. He showed it to me, shaking his head in embarrassment.

“I can’t believe I wore glasses like that. So huge, they nearly cover my face,” he exclaimed in disbelief. “And look at my hair. Long and parted in the middle.” I didn’t need to look at him to know he was rolling his eyes.

I think he looks rather handsome. It is one of our better photos together. We aren’t out of touch with reality; our appearance is completely in vogue – for the time. There are no other eyewear choices. Every frame is a modified aviator style and poor vision means “coke-bottle” lenses. For men, hairstyles are long and sleek.

I am glad he isn’t criticizing my appearance. I can do that all by myself. Round face and form, thinly disguised by the plus-size blouse that billows around me all pastel and pink. My hairstyle is only slightly updated from the ’70s "Farah-Do" I wore in high school. A scarf graces my neck awkwardly in one of fifteen different bows I tried to copy from the latest book of fashionable scarf tying, aka One Hundred Ways to Wreck a Rectangle.

We’ve seen it all before. Wedding photos, so precious a month after the big event, are stashed away with chagrin in cupboards and closets. Too-cool teens shred elementary school photos rather than admit reality.

Then we reach parenthood and what do we do? Pull out the camera and take 24 snapshots in three minutes of the baby in the bassinet. Grandparents take even more. With the innovation of the short-lived disc camera, photos are snapped and film changed in the blink of an eye. It is so novel, my mother-in-law fills four discs in one weekend and we aren’t even sight seeing. Tired of her paparazzi impersonation, we nearly excommunicate her from the family for her indiscriminate choice of photo ops.

Digital cameras hit the scene just in time for the birth of our only child. What a delight. I can snap to my heart’s content and then delete those that are less than perfect. Though none of them are. I have to buy larger photo albums because “In that one his head is tilted so cute” and “In this one he’s got the sweetest little smile” and “Look at that giggle, you can almost feel it” and “Isn’t it funny how his fist looks like he’s getting ready to preach a sermon?” or “Look at how he can grab his toes and pull them up to his mouth!”

Then he hit puberty. “Oh, I recognize that cocky tilt of the head.” Pitch. “That’s his sarcastic smile.” Toss. “That’s the way he shakes his fist when he disagrees with me.” Shred. “Why can’t he keep things out of his mouth?” Sigh. Well, there’s no point in wasting a whole scrapbook page for one photo.

Everywhere we turn, we are reminded of ways in which we fall short of perfection. Our appearance is the easiest to criticize. Moments frozen on photographic paper expose our inability to be beautiful and poised. We become judge and jury, our own panel of American Idol judges, voting ourselves out of life’s “competition.”

Our children grow and act out. We feel like Parent School drop-outs. We make mistakes at work. We don’t get the promotion we anticipated. Trip on a flat surface. Yawn without covering my mouth. Spill our coffee for the umpteenth time. Down the front of a white shirt. Tear our slacks on a nail just as we’re supposed to go on stage. Use the wrong fork at a fancy restaurant. Insult a friend. Forget the words to the song we’re singing. Miss that appointment you waited two months to get. Blurt out what I really think. In public.

Moments frozen in memory expose our humanity. These we stash away in a multi-zippered backpack of insecurities. We carry it around, as it grows heavier and heavier. We buy into a bigger one where we can place new chunks of embarrassed self after each blushing event. We begin to bow under the weight of self-condemnation. We want to take off the emotional backpack but find it too familiar, a security blanket of sorts, until we stumble under the weight.

Then we hear the voice of Jesus: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

The psalmist knew this experience: “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saves those with a contrite spirit. The Lord redeems the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. We look to him, and are lightened: and our faces are not ashamed.” from Psalm 34

Lord, let me expose my heart to you today, instead of making heavy frozen memories of my own failures. Stamp your image on my heart; reflect on my face, resonate in my voice. Walk beside me in the yoke of partnership. Help me learn from you how to be humble instead of humiliated, gentle instead of critical. In place of my frantic pursuit of perfection, let me learn to rest.


  1. I'm sorry to hear you have doc issues (post below). Yes, it's pretty hard to look at old photos without feeling embarrassed. Our society has trained us thoroughly in its critical ways.

  2. Good thoughts on picture-taking and our own failures! :) Fashion is a funny thing for sure.