My gift from Bill this Christmas was an electronic picture frame, the kind that you load with digital pictures from your phone or computer, and it randomly scrolls through them throughout the day. It sits in the living room beside the couch, where we can see it easily, and I find myself glancing at it every now and again, smiling from the memories it contains.
I wish I could load more pictures on that frame, but our earlier memories consist of physical photos stored in boxes. Ours is the generation that had to meet the challenges of transitioning from an analog world to a digital one. Our children have been patient with us as we learn to communicate in new and ever-changing ways and figure out the complexities of the devices we now depend on.
If I could load those older pictures onto my frame, though, I would see camping trips and birthday parties, walks through the park, and school plays. We raised our children in a small town, with all of the benefits of a close-knit community where you are known and watched over. Many of the pictures would include the friends who became like family as we sat on bleachers together or winced our way through school concerts, of hometown parades and church activities.
That frame would contain a picture of Alex as a preschooler, eyes bright with laughter. Of Kelsey, arms around her friends, and Emily sporting glamorous outfits from our dress-up box. Of Ben, shooting baskets in the driveway and snuggling the dogs. Of our international students cooking in the kitchen or learning how to spit watermelon seeds over the edge of our deck.
There would be pictures of picnics in the woods and of building the backyard treehouse, of missing teeth and tee-ball trophies clutched tightly.
There are other pictures—those taken by my heart instead of my camera. Of sticky hands holding me close to hear little-girl secrets, the summer nights where we watched the bats flit around the porch light, the stories and the prayers. Of the nightly dances, little bodies spinning around the family room to our favorite songs and then collapsing to the floor in giggles.
Perhaps someday I’ll find a way to digitize those old photos and load them onto my electronic frame. But it’s the pictures untaken that live most vividly in my memories and oh, so tenderly, deep in my heart.
Whether in frames or boxes, we hold onto our happy memories, an older version of curating our lives before the advent of social media. Because we don’t snap pictures of tantrums, do we? Of the lies and defiance, the visits to hospitals and police stations, the long nights of illness or comforting broken teenage hearts?
Those picture boxes we hide, along with the ones containing our shame and regrets, our rejections and loneliness. Those memories don’t scroll across our electronic frames or find their way onto our Instagram pages. But all of them, taken together, form a life. A life in daily need of the embrace of our Savior. Of the everlasting arms holding us up to laugh and grieve another day.
Mary experienced the miraculous, that cold night in the barn. The Bible says that she treasured up those experiences in her heart. Did they carry her, when all of her hopes hung suspended on a cross?
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall,” the prophet Jeremiah cried. “I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” But that was not the end of his story. Nor was it the end of Mary’s, or of ours. Because in Jeremiah’s next breath, he declares the truth: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Jeremiah was given a glorious description of Heaven. Mary witnessed the resurrection. And those two things allow me to hold hope for the pictures that I keep in the basement of my memories. Because in the end, the darkness will only serve to highlight the joy.
I smile at the pictures scrolling by in my new electronic frame tonight, grateful for those happy memories. Grateful too, for the privilege of life, and all the frames and boxes that remind me that His love has held me every single day of it.
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