The moment before the photo

Confession: I'm terrible at documenting moments via pictures. I have a sister in-law who is great at it; she always seems to remember her camera, snaps a photo at just the right time, and makes awesome picture books for her kids. She isn't a professional photographer, but her pictures have captured some beautiful moments.

My style is much more...lazy casual. I take photos on my crappy cell phone and then do a mass printing of them two times a year. I give my kids the stack of photos and task them with putting the photos in their plain colored photo albums void of scrapbooking embellishments, fun captions, and stickers. I made two photo books for them once on Shutterfly, and each time it was a huge pain in the ass. I tend to be paralyzed by choice, but I also can't make an uninformed choice, so I spent an hour scrolling through all 1,764 embellishment options...for one page. My kids love these Shutterfly books and look at them often, but they also look at their giant, simple photo albums just as much.

My inability to snap photos at just the right moment paired with my preferences for interior design, means that we only have two actual photos hanging in the public spaces of our house: a picture of Nate and his dad and a black and white photo from K's adoption day in July 2015.

K's adoption day stands out clearly to me despite it happening smack-dab in the middle of one of the craziest seasons of our lives. We had just finished moving into our new house in central Nebraska the day before her adoption. The week leading up to this day was filled with moving, unpacking, cleaning, painting, and other moving related nonsense. We woke early to make K heart-shaped pancakes and drive the two hours back to Omaha.

If you've ever been to an adoption hearing, you know they are fairly anticlimactic. The judge for our case was especially dry, so within ten minutes of walking into the courtroom, the hearing was over. It had been a long nine months to get to this point: there were emotional family team meetings, safety concerns, and a turbulent transition process. When the judge asked us if we'd be willing to make a commitment to K, Nate and I both fought back tears as we said yes.

Of course, our tears were partly rooted in joy as we realized that this beautiful, resilient girl sitting in our laps was now 100% ours. We cried at the beauty of adoption: just two years prior we mourned the pain of infertility and a lost infant, and now we had two kids that shared our name via foster-adoption. Our tears were also a reflection of sadness as we realized what this adoption meant for our daughter: it meant her first family didn't work out. We cried for the loss that our new daughter will always carry with her, and we cried for her first family--for the pain that surrounds all parties in adoption.

Friends of ours hired a photographer for us to capture K's adoption. After the court hearing, we walked a few blocks to take our first official family photos.  It was the end of July in eastern Nebraska, which means that it was unbearably hot and humid. The move, little sleep, and the heat were a dangerous tonic. The photographer kept a good sense of humor throughout the whole hour, and patiently guided us into poses that would make for cute pictures, but the four of us were miserable.

K frowned through most of the photo session. I'm sure the heat was the culprit, but deep down I worried that she was unhappy with her new family arrangement. My fear consumed me and caused me to irrationally snap at her. I don't remember what I said, but I remember the immediate sense of nausea I felt after the words slipped out of my mouth. I wanted to reach out and grab the words, tear them up, stomp on them. I remember my husband's gentle (and sweaty) hand on the small of my back trying to remind me to go easy. I remember K's lip quivering.

Nate reached out to our new daughter and squeezed her arm. He bent down to her level. "I know you're hot," he whispered. "We're almost done. A few more photos and then we'll go play somewhere cool."

We followed our photographer to a new spot up against a warehouse converted into an art gallery--a red brick building with windows long fogged over. Nate hoisted the kids up onto the window ledge and reached out to tickle each kid. They burst out in giggles, and immediately the tension was gone. The kids tickled each other, and Nate and I laughed alongside them, and the photographer captured it all.

There is so much joy evident in this candid shot of our new family, but I think it's just as important to remember the moment right before the photo. Nate and I have learned that creating a family isn't all picture-perfect moments. We've discovered that there will be trials and bumps along the way, and we could let these define our family or we could acknowledge them and then find ways to laugh.

On the days when everyone is vomiting, when the principal calls to tell me of an issue with one of my kids at school, when my anxiety feels out of control, when my husband struggles to enjoy his job, when I think about all the pain in the world--on those days, it's tough to laugh. We all need something or someone in our lives who can remind us about the redeeming moments in life. For me, it's this picture. What/who is it for you? Feel free to leave your responses in the comment section.

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