Not long ago, my Mom found this photograph and gave it to me to take home. The picture was taken in the Spring of 1975 – I was so far an only child, not quite one and a half, and mom was pregnant with my sister Sallie.
Judging from my facial expression, my first tour of the White House was not a rousing success. Now having known a fair number of toddlers, there could be any number of reasons for my scowl. Maybe it was naptime, or I was hungry, or the sun was in my eyes, or I was grumpy that no one was carrying me, or that my Dad was walking too fast, or that he could not stop snapping my picture. Whatever the underlying causes, it appears that I am minutes from sharing my displeasure with all the wide world, and not least my parents!
Which is part of what makes it one of my new favorite photos. As I follow my Dad away from the White House, as I do my best impression of a long suffering Dust Bowl farmer for his lens when he turns around to take a photograph, my Mom is there standing behind me, smiling — smiling not at the camera, but down at me! She is smiling at grumpy, needy, hungry, tired 17 month old me. She is smiling the genuine easy smile that I have seen light up her face all of my life – the smile of simply taking delight in the goodness of something – and the smile is all for me, even in that moment before I turn into a little whirlwind of recompense for the many injustices visited upon me.
Now being a mother myself, I understand that smile a little better than I once might have – my mother is smiling at my very existence, at the miracle of my being somehow part of her and somehow separate – increasingly separate. It is a smile of one who knows that even as I continue to walk away from her, she will continue to stand behind me, watching me in wonder.
God’s love is like that. Even as we walk away scowling and complaining, God stands behind us smiling. For the many who for whatever reason cannot look over their shoulders, they miss that smile – just as I would never have seen that smile of my mother’s on that day (though I have seen it on other days) if it had not been for my father’s fortuitous turning and snapping the photo – seeing the smile for me and preserving it for another day.
Do you know what it is to see God smile in delight at you like that? If not, I hope that you have someone in your life who reflects that delight back to you – some person whose delight in you is undeniable, inescapable!
And if you do know God’s delight in you and in all creation, might God be calling you to be a “photographer”? How might you show a scowling and beloved creature the loving gaze of the creator just out of their view – a loving mother whose delight in them they themselves cannot yet see?