The task seemed insurmountable to me. The need to go through and consolidate the contents of shoeboxes filled to the brim with pictures of some of the earliest years of my childhood.
These shoeboxes were overflowing with pictures. Pictures of cats. Pictures of cars. Pictures of clouds. Pictures of leaves. Pictures that had some semblance of clarity and pictures that were so blurry that it’d be impossible to pick out my intended subject. Mostly, they were pictures so dark and formless I can only assume I was quite adept at taking pictures of the insides of my pockets.
(Coming soon to an art museum near you!)
The task became less insurmountable once I got started. I became quite good at going through them. I saved the ones that were artistic and creative. I tossed the blurry ones. I saved the ones that depicted special family memories. I tossed the ones for which I, for whatever reason, already had a digital copy. I saved the ones I’ll want to show my grandkids someday. I tossed the ones I’d be embarrassed to show at all.
The task placed me in a strange mixture of moods. On the one hand, I was energized by my sorting and sifting and tossing and treasuring. On the other hand, I was sentimental when coming across great memories and smiling faces that have brought light to my life through the years.
And then… I came across the jackpot.
A shoebox filled with pictures that had once resided in frames, or were stuffed in wallets, or were taped in lockers, or were packed in suitcases. Pictures that had always meant something special to me because of the people in them. Pictures that I haven’t come across in over 15 years.
Instantly, the memories flooded back to me. With the cats as a willing audience, I attempted to explain what was happening in each picture. When they stopped listening (about 30 seconds later), I shared stories with Megan, highlighting the memories I had with each person depicted.
Then came the school photos - the ones we passed around to our friends each fall - most of which had handwritten notes on the back. I didn’t learn very much from reading these notes, and I couldn't remember all of the events to which they referred, but I sure did enjoy reliving all the memories I could.
Then, I saw it. A picture of me with my first Homecoming date. Dinner and a Dance. One of the best nights of my very young life. Granted, I was about 7 and she – a close family friend – was 19. The sun was probably still shining when she dropped me off at home. Nevertheless, I took this date seriously enough that I got her flowers. From my mom's garden. And just look at my smile!
In a time of my life when I struggled to deal with what I now refer to as “bullying”…
In a time of my life when nightly prayers always included a request to wake up looking like what I then referred to as “normal”…
In a time of my life when the world was starting to lose the wonder and perfection of childhood innocence and when I began to recognize the reality of brokenness and pain…
Here was someone who helped me work through it all. Who reminded me of my worth. Who reminded me I was loved. Who reminded me I belonged.
I smiled when I looked at that homecoming picture and saw the smiles on our faces. I chuckled when I noticed the flowers on the table - my mom still has that mum planted in her garden! It was good to be reminded of good people who bring goodness into the world just by being themselves.
And then I found the senior portraits of this same friend, with edges slightly worn from once being included in the folds of my wallet. Smiling, I turned them over and discovered the note she wrote on the back, slowly reading each word as if I were reading them for the first time.
“When you look at the sky, and see the clouds billow, know that God made them, and He is happy. When you see the stars twinkle and hear the bells chime, know that God made them, and He is happy. When you smell the sunshine lighting the gardens and feel raindrops on your face, know that God has created this, and He is happy. When you walk through your life and see all kinds of people in all kinds of places, know that God made them, and He is happy with their goodness. When you look in the mirror, know that God made you, and He is happy. Love You! –M”
I’m not sure if I knew then just how powerful these words were. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t aware of the importance of the message found within them. I know I didn’t know a thing about the theological concept of Imago Dei.
But what I do know is that sometimes I’m at risk of forgetting the truth of its message.
What I do know is that sometimes I’m at risk of forgetting to share that truth with others.
What I do know is that it’s a message that needs to be heard just as much now as it ever was.
The God who first made the world and everything in it… the God whose creativity brought about clouds and raindrops and stars and wind… the God who made all manner of wondrous things… made us, knows us, and loves us.
As we walk through our lives, we see all kinds of people in all kinds of places. My fear is that sometimes we’re at risk of forgetting that God made them. My fear is that sometimes we’re at risk of forgetting that God is happy with their goodness. My fear is that they may never know they’re loved.
I give thanks to God for friends whose compassion and love have the power to share God’s love and goodness not just through their words, but through their smiles, through their hugs, through their acceptance, through their presence. I give thanks to God for the powerful witness of these words... words of hope for such a time as that, and which still hold a message of hope for such a time as this. I give thanks to God for coming across a not-so-subtle reminder of love: God’s love. The love of God’s people. The love which each of us is called to share with others.
May we, in our day-to-day lives, never forget that we’re loved.
May we, as we travel life’s journey, never forget that God made us and is happy with our goodness.
May we, with each word and step and breath, never forget that we’re called to share that love with one another: not just our friends, not just our family, not just those who are just like us… but everyone.
I’m reminded of a charge the Rev. Rosalind Banbury often uses at the end of worship services: “Remember that you are a child of God loved by God, and don’t let anyone take that away from you. But remember that everyone else is a child of God too, and don’t take that away from them.”
God made them. God made you. God is happy with your goodness.
Look in the mirror: you are loved.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
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