It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. As accurate as this aphorism is, the frame often says more than the picture. The picture captures our attention, but without the frame, our eyes would wander over the painting without focus and intentionality. This became exceedingly clear as I looked through an old photo album of a family vacation in 1987.

We traveled from Indiana to Michigan to be with three other families weeks after Dan had back surgery. The photo showed our combined families playing baseball under blue skies in an idyllic setting right next to the beach in Muskegon. 

Behind the scenes, I recall a different scenario. My husband had eaten dinner on the floor while watching television and lying on a block of ice to drone out extreme back pain for almost an entire year. Eventually, Dan had back surgery and stayed nine days in the hospital. I was in my first trimester with our son after three heartbreaking miscarriages. Each night as I lifted Dan from the bed to the bedside toilet, I begged, “Jesus, please help me not miscarry again.”

Driving Dan back to our home in Winona Lake was harrowing because he needed to lie down and remain still. It was nearly 100 degrees that summer, and we did not have air conditioning. I was seeding over an acre of lawn, which required dragging six hoses and sprinklers twice a day. The end-of-the-tunnel celebration was a beach vacation with college friends.

The reality of being with three other couples (who were well) and ten young children was brutal. Dan had to sleep on a couch near the kitchen, and Annie and Amanda slept with me in a single bed. He was miserable, I was miserable, but we couldn’t tell our friends. We didn’t want to ruin their vacation.

The guys wanted to help Dan get to the beach to feel the breeze and be a part of beach time. It seemed crazy, but they said they could get the van close to the water and Dan could have a good afternoon in the sun. Unfortunately, the van got stuck in the sand, and the worry that we’d never get it out was the last straw. We tried to laugh it off, but that night I shimmied away from my daughters and tiptoed out of the bedroom. I crept downstairs and sat with my head on Dan’s chest, and we both cried. We felt so alone.

There’s always more to the story we tell ourselves and the life we find ourselves in.

Happy wedding photos. Graduation day. The gathering at Thanksgiving. The perfect family photo with matching sweaters and forced smiles tells a story. Still, without the frame, it is too easy to lose focus and see only the moment recorded.

Dan and I often use the word “Muskegon” as the frame to engage some of the difficult moments of our life, especially related to travel. A recent missed flight brought the beginnings of a smile to our grimacing faces as we waited in line when one of us muttered, “Muskegon.” If we survived one of the worst vacations of our lives, we would somehow make it through this moment.

Dan once said, “Having a nadir helps redefine the zenith.” Often, I don’t know what he is talking about, but I get it. As good as the word “Muskegon” is for us, it is still not enough of a frame. I need more than the worst to reframe the bad. I need beauty as the frame for every picture. I am a slow learner, but the closer I get to eternity, the more my frame for every photo, picture, and story is the resurrection.

Suppose the resurrection is true, and it is a wager we all make. In that case, one day all death and heartache, all miscarriages and surgeries, all horrible vacations and tedious days will bear a glory we can’t fathom. How? I don’t have a clue. But I don’t need answers when what I long for is beaming outside my window.

This fall, our three Japanese Maple trees were ablaze with glory. Each day piercing light shone on the red, yellow, and orange leaves as green “helicopter” seeds fluttered to the ground. Every moment possible, I would sit in the room and tears would come at the beauty I knew would not last. Nothing will last. The bad, the good, and the ugly all will fade. But the resurrection promises that I will one day look at all I have experienced, loss and joy, and then see a face of utter, complete beauty that knows my name.

Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 44 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting, and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! b