1000 Words About A Picture (okay 1072, but whose counting?)

29 11 2010

I wrote the main portion of this story back in March of 2006. It seems like a lifetime ago, so I added some thoughts and touched it up a bit. The picture above doesn’t really have anything to do with the story other than I love the how it reveals the fun we had that day. Read on…

When I was a kid one of my most favorite things to do was to help my dad with the new member photos at our church. Being that my dad was the Minister of Education, it was his responsibility to take these pictures with one of those top-of- the-line Polaroid cameras. This was during the late 70’s and our church used a manual camera model that I can still remember today. Mainly because of the sounds and the smells. If you are over the age of the 30 you can probably remember the same senses. The sound of the POP the flash made. The quick whiff of phosphor and melting plastic of the flash. The ripping of the photo from the metal cartridge. It had two positions… first a yank… and then a slip.  And there it was. The shiny black skin that covered the yet to be developed image on the photo paper.  There was no color image to be seen under that layer of gooey, sticky disposable jacket.

And then there was the wait. It was my job to hold the recently birthed sleeve for exactly 60 seconds. As an eight year old this was the longest minute I’d ever known. I would wiggle around to try and see my Dad’s wristwatch as he took the next shot. I can still remember the brown leather on his old Seiko. I remember straining to see that second hand. As soon as the time was right I would ever so carefully peel back the film to reveal a perfectly focused black and white image. It’s no wonder why our digital cameras today refer to black and white as a “special effect”. And then there was the pink spongy alcohol swab. You had to wipe it across the image to seal the picture. I probably still have 100 of those swab canisters in a box in my Mom and Dad’s attic. They were prefect for carrying things like dirt and bugs to school.

What brought all this back to my mind recently is how my life and the lives of those around me seem to be in such a state of wanting. Wanting to see what’s about to be. What’s around the corner. The analogy is dead on. God has created a picture of how He wants it to be. The pop of the flash happened the instant God gave it to us. The pull of the image from the camera will always be a tough one. It feels like it’s out… and then it feels like it’s jammed again. One more pull and it comes out so smooth its like dipping ice cream with a scoop that’s been soaking in hot water.  The real rub comes at this point. Revel the image too quickly and you’ll destroy the impression forever. Wait too long and big chunks will peel off with the sticky goo. It’s got to be right on time. I think this is why my dad never let me see his watch during the photo sessions.  He knew instinctively that I would watch the clock and lie to myself about where the second hand began just so I could peel back the picture sooner. He made me keep asking, keep straining to see when it was time.

I also remember that it wasn’t just me that wanted to see the picture. The family whose faces would appear on that 3×5 photograph also wanted to see. Everyone it seemed wanted to see. Some more that others, but everyone did want to see the frozen moment in time.  It was common in those days for photographs to have to be developed. We were used to it. And for those who had never been through it, there were plenty of others around to help explain how it had to happen.  There was another unique thing about these new member photos. Rarely, and I do mean hardly ever, were people ready to have their picture taken. They were never prepared. The question would be asked, “Now what exactly are you going to do with this picture?”  It’s amazing to me how we feel like we have to be “ready” for our picture to be taken.

There are some of you that would rather eat steel wool than to have someone take your picture.  My youngest son is not one of those people.  He’s always ready and mugs a smile whenever even a Smartphone is pointed his way.  My oldest has been through enough family portrait studios and Christmas card photo sessions at the grandparents’ house to grimace and give the rolling eyes to the wary photographer. Namely me.

I’ve learned that the best way to get great looking images to shoot the unaware. The candid looks that friends and family (and even the simple acquaintance) can recognize as being a perfect representation of “them”.

I think God is like that.  He’s not happy with the staged, touched up and ready portrait. He desires to see the spontaneous reaction of the life we live. The image He has created for us did not take hours to prepare for. There were no make up sessions or trips to the mall to pick out an outfit or staying inside once we are dressed so we won’t mess up the pants that were just pressed. None of that.

I do think though that waiting is still part of the deal. Call me old school, but I believe in the wait. The brutal longing to know all the details is part of the plan. I mean what would Christmas morning be like if we knew, without a doubt, what every box contained. Faith is like that. It’s knowing that there will be gifts under the tree… but not what’s in the boxes.

Christmas is on its way and picture post cards will be crossing in the mail from far and wide. Imagine the picture that God has of you.  Is it one you have prepared for or is it one He has taken while you were unaware?  Is it one worth framing?


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