I’ve been thinking about something my son wrote entitled, Don’t Stop Imagining. He is pondering the things he imagined doing as a child against the reality of spending his days instead, doing what people expect him to do. He ends it by inviting his readers to post a photo of themselves doing something they never imagined they would do.
The irony as I ponder his post is this: at 55 I am just now starting to do the things I think I’m uniquely poised to do in this world. Things for which life has prepared me, through no advance planning of my own. At the same time, I am reflecting on things I have ended up doing that I never imagined. They are all things a single photo can’t fully capture.
Like this: I never imagined being a clown. I never wanted to be a clown. But on this one occasion when I was an intern, on my way to becoming a pastor, my supervisor, who was also a professional clown, told me that on the last day of preschool (for our 200 little ones), “we” would be clowns.
Reluctantly, I pieced together a minimalist clown suit. Unable to juggle or do magic, I decided my schtick would be that I wouldn’t speak. I left the house reluctantly, hoping the preschoolers would easily recognize me. It was good that my smile was painted on because not one did.
This little one in particular was terrified, hiding behind her daddy’s legs when she saw me. It took a good 10 minutes of me, silently waiting, and smiling through face paint, for her to slowly move toward me and shaking …bravely, lean in. Her dad snapped the photo.
I love this photo. Not because I like clowns or me-as-one. I love it because I never imagined I would spend much of my time on earth helping people be brave. And yet, this is what I am blessed to do. I pray shaking people into surgeries. I walk them into funerals. In ordinary arenas, I collect stories of people enduring, overcoming, and finding courage in community. I baptize and preach, love people and teach, bless and cry, witness both dreams and people, die. And, I also see the weak regain strength, the timid curse the pain that binds them, the fearful break free from unhealthy systems and relationships and addictions. I watch people rise up against all odds, through the power of the one who brings life out of death–endless loop.
I am humbled when I realize all that I would have missed if I had done what I once imagined myself doing with my life. If I had actually become an architect, or a photographer, or … ok .. a rock star, I might have endless photos today showing myself doing those star-studded, photo-worthy things.
Instead, I have photos of myself doing ordinary things–sometimes reluctantly. And, they are deeper and more memorable than I could ever have imagined.
When this child walked away, her dad asked her if she knew my name. She told him, because of the decoration on my face, she thought it was probably Star.