School Photos

By Valerie Matyas

Remember picture day at school? Finding the perfect outfit of which only 1/8th will be visible. Practicing a natural smile in the mirror, varying the degree of eye crinkle and teeth exposure. Experimenting with hairstyles while trying to calculate how long fresh curls will hold, or a cowlick will stay tamed.

Ah, picture day! Both exciting and nerve wracking; a moment to capture; a visible reminder of an entire school year. Missing teeth, glasses, braces, pimples, and dimples all laid bare in an 8 x 10 proudly displayed for an entire year. For better or worse, picture day makes memories forever memorable.

Our four kids brought home their school photos last week. All parties involved (both those posing in front of the camera and those footing the bill) were pleased with the results. So off the wall came the four wooden frames to engage in the annual changing of the guard. Out with the old and in with the new. 

One by one, the process is the same: before entering the frame the new photo is meticulously hand labeled with the child’s first, middle, and last name, his or her grade level, the name of the school, and the hyphenated school year. (This format matches the precise cataloguing of the numerous photos that already inhabit the frame.) Then the entire series of existing photos are arranged on the table in ascending order for their once-a-year moment to be viewed, appraised, and cherished. The ritual is clerical in nature, yet delightfully playful and endearing.

It brings me great joy to see how much each child has grown, how they have changed, and yet remain very much who they were in their youngest image. It is fun to see their likeness to one another and to their close and distant relatives. So much can change in one year, and yet the day-to-day changes are almost imperceptible. 

It makes me wonder if spiritual maturity can be noticed day to day, or if it is best perceived from a vantage point spanning many years … 

Our children desire to get taller and stronger. They want to climb higher, run longer, and swim deeper. My husband and I have told them since they were little: eat your vegetables, drink plenty of water, and get a good night’s sleep if you want to be strong like dad and mom. I wonder if we have been as verbally intentional to explain why we as a family attend worship weekly, read Scripture daily, and pray before meals, bed, long road trips, and during tough situations? Do they know those are ways to grow spiritually strong like dad and mom? 

I wonder if they understand that spiritual maturity doesn’t make you independent and less reliant, but actually more dependent on your Savior, through whom you will see more, serve more, love more, and give more?

School photos are clear evidence that our children grow physically every day, even if the incremental change is sometimes hard to see. I desire their spiritual growth to be as evident over time as their physical growth.  I want their spiritual likeness to mature and transform more and more to the image of Jesus. I want them to see the world through His eyes, and eventually, I want the world to see Him in their actions.

My oldest daughter looks quite a bit like me. My oldest son is a dead ringer for my husband. My youngest son is the spitting image of my mom’s brother, and my youngest daughter is a beautiful combination of several relatives, giving her the unique opportunity to be told, “You look just like your mom,” or “Wow, you sure look like your daddy.” Watching them grow and mature is both an honor and a joy.

I catch glimpses of the Spirit at work in their lives, too: a kind word, a gentle action, being quick to forgive or ask for forgiveness. Some days, it’s clear that they have more growing to do, but already now I see a certain family resemblance to the Body of Christ. My kids point me back to Jesus.

So school photos, likenesses, and images aside, no matter whom they favor physically, I pray that their thoughts, words, and deeds continue to grow to resemble Christ. 

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