It’s happened to many of us at one time or another. We scroll through social media, viewing endless images of smiling faces and spectacular accounts of our friends' lives, children, jobs, vacations, relationships, celebrations and accomplishments. Carefully-chosen photos of happy expressions may mislead us to believe “everyone else” is enjoying a carefree, untroubled existence. While we want to celebrate upbeat news, limited glimpses into their wondrous endeavors occasionally cause us to feel something along the lines of, perhaps -- crummy? Especially if we are temporarily bogged down in life’s mundane moments and struggles.
Like me, you may genuinely appreciate friends and family who take time to commemorate special occasions and post their news. Social media is an easy and enjoyable means of doing so, and I often take advantage of the opportunity.
Yet missing from the cherry-picked images and cleverly worded captions are perhaps the meaningful “backstories” connected to these special moments. While I do not advocate oversharing every personal detail on social media, as a writer, I disagree that in every instance, a picture is “worth a thousand words.” Images can be deceiving.
I acknowledge that my own smiles captured on social media could inadvertently mislead others into believing that our family has not known crises, heartache and struggles. (Note: I won't stop smiling, it is one of the healthiest things I do!) Yet this perspective helps me to remember behind every carefully posed photo are lives comprised of both mountaintop and valley experiences. The “real stories” are just as important, if not more than, polished images.
Without a doubt, some of the exciting declarations we come across have been hard-won by a journey involving a struggle, setback, lesson learned, heart break, or a life-altering experience. These comprise the untold stories leading up to a single “photo worthy” moment.
One particularly meaningful family photo comes to mind. Years ago, our youngest son had the honor of representing Indiana for the Children’s Miracle Network. As a guest at the White House, he and a handful of other kids were extended the privilege of speaking with and sitting alongside the first lady. If there was ever a moment for a parent to hope their child could project the façade of well-mannered perfection, that would be it! When the camera clicked, two-year-old Grant happened to be crying uncontrollably. (This outcome wasn't a total surprise, as he had missed his nap and been shuttled all over Washington D.C. to smile for members of congress and famous celebrities.) In the photo, my husband can be seen embracing Grant, whispering helpful sentiments in an attempt to calm him. His efforts were for naught! Eventually, the image of the group taken in the White House rose garden was splashed across every major newspaper in the country. A “perfect” photo might have allowed me to whitewash the difficulties we and our sons faced on an hourly basis due to the challenges of Type 1 diabetes, in that season of toddlerhood. The authentic perspective helps me to celebrate what is truly worthy of acknowledgement. It was not being honored at the White House the resonates with me today, but how even the most difficult challenges have provided opportunities for us all to grow and become the best version of ourselves. A chance for the Almighty to teach us lessons we would not have otherwise learned. Grant’s willingness to courageously and victoriously face the “hard” in life helped him to become the incredible and capable man he is today.
Soon, we will likely post photos as we celebrate the milestone of our son receiving his college diploma. While I won’t be able to include the entirety of his miraculous backstory, therein lies what is most noteworthy, and in truth, more important than showing the world his handsome, smiling face. It was no secret that we were a breath away from losing Grant at 11 months of age, when a collaboration of Indiana medical professionals saved his life. One year later he became the single patient in a game-changing medical case study, paving the way worldwide for a new insulin pump protocol to treat infants and toddlers with Type 1 diabetes.
No single photo could possibly convey the totality of the many challenges each of our sons have overcome due to their tenacity, character, humility, faith and courage. Without “the real story,” some might believe us to be something other than a grateful family, humbled by each hurdle negotiated, blessed by the support of a vast, compassionate community, and sustained by the Creator of the universe. God’s unfailing mercy has poured over us, changed us and taught us that there is always hope and blessings from sharing the hope that is within us to a broken and hurting world.
22 years ago in the darkened, fear-evoking Intensive Care Unit of Riley Hospital, we never imagined celebrating such a momentous occasion with Grant. Thus, if you happen to view our joy-filled photos in a week or so, or perhaps come across thousands of posts from both friends and strangers laden with happy impressions, remember to look beyond the false appearance of “perfect lives.” Each smile-filled image may very well be tethered to an unseen journey carrying “the real story.” One that might very well evoke a ripple effect of encouragement and hope across the globe – much more powerfully than a single snapshot.