what the pictures don’t tell you

15 May

I go on Facebook, and all I can see are pictures of new graduates, their faces beaming with joy.

A year ago, it was me, posing with six of my best friends from seminary. Gowned and smiling, our red and white hoods hanging down our backs. We pose seriously in one picture. We pretend to do a kickline in another one. We do the infamous jumping shots–a group tradition–in another.

They are viewbook type pictures. I saw these kinds of pictures when I signed up for divinity school. Smiling friends at basketball games or graduations, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. “Be part of Christian community,” the viewbooks and websites said.

I know something now I didn’t know then: Community is not instant. Those pictures, beaming with joy, are not pictures of the awkward beginnings or tedious middles. Those pictures are the end of a story. Behind those pictures are a thousand words that have been said, a thousand moments that have been lived.

There should be a disclaimer under these photos, with our hair all done and our dresses on and our faces beaming. It should say: “Not pictured.”

Not pictured: The awkward conversation we make with someone we’ve come to admire. We want to say, “Can we be best friends and cook dinner together and hike in the woods and watch movies?” Just cut the crap, skip all the steps, and get to the part where you tell each other your deepest secrets. But instead, it is slow.

Not pictured: The spontaneous invitations to dinner, messy house be damned. We take what we have in the fridge and the pantry and bless it with prayer and laughter and long conversation, and it is enough. We are fed, bellies and souls.

Not pictured: The boy breaks up with her the night the sermon needs to be written, and so we sit there with her. She reads parts of it aloud, and we help her craft the words, and somehow, in the midst of the tears, the sermons get written.

Not pictured: The sobbing phone call telling us about a death. We gather the friends together in the little prayer chapel and pray for her, her family. For peace and love and, somehow, light.

Not pictured: When we show each other our real selves, thinking that they’ll turn away, and somehow, they still love us. They love us all the more.

Not pictured: The “I’m sorrys,” the hard words that need to be said so that healing can come, the bacon on a Saturday morning, the hikes in the rain, the way they refuse to let you live the life that is less than you deserve, the chocolate bought at just the right time, the piles of books and articles at midnight, the giddy squeals after marriage proposals, the way they notice you are crying and squeeze your arm without words–because they know what you are crying about.

In the pictures, we do our best Super Classy Lady poses or look distinguished in our gowns and hoods. But my favorites are the ones where we are jumping. Robes flying in the wind, feet askew. Faces beaming because we’ve made it, and we’ve made it together.

The pictures don’t tell you, but it’s true: The only way you get to joy like this is through the awkward beginnings and the painful middles.

Community, real community, is a gift that you can only open up your hands and receive. And it is a treasure that you have to sell all you have to buy.

But at the end of it all is joy. Pure joy.

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9 Responses to “what the pictures don’t tell you”

  1. Kristin Riggs (@joykriggs) May 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks Christina. This post is excellent. I remember fondly the year you were my RA and appreciate the effort you put in to create activities and spend time with us.

    • Christina May 23, 2012 at 9:50 am #

      Kristin! Thanks for reading and passing the link on. Ah, Basement East. Fun times. Bats and mice and floods and the lack of a real kitchen on the side that it actually needed to be on!

  2. Paul Fuller May 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    great post, Christina, great post.

    • Christina May 23, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      Paul, this is high praise coming from you. We know just a bit about community (albeit short-term), don’t we, with the barf on the bus in Syria and all those heated discussions over plates of hummus? Thanks for reading!

  3. Ginny Campbell May 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Beautiful Christina. Brought tears to my eyes. :)

    • Christina May 23, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      Ginny, I’m so glad to hear from you. We miss you & Paul and all your great salads. :) All the folks at Emmanuel, really. Say hi to them for us!

  4. jamesmichaeljoiner May 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Beautiful and absolutely true; brought tears to mine as well.

    • Christina May 23, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      James, thanks for reading and for the kind words. It’s always good to hear from another seminarian. I always love reading poetry and sermons, and I very much enjoyed hopping over to your blog and reading yours. -Christina

      • jamesmichaeljoiner May 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

        Thanks, Christina. Seminarian solidarity- esp. as you find your call among others, a parish, etc.; I’m definitely in the same boat.

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