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August 22, 2001

When I received the postcard in the mail this week, I cringed a bit before posting it on my fridge. It's a reminder that tonight at precisely 6:10 PM I'm getting my picture taken for my church's new photo directory.

As one who doesn't feel I photograph well, getting my photo taken is pretty much always a cause for cringing. There's the vexing question of what to wear, and the fruitless hope that my hair follicles and facial pores will stop conspiring against me seemingly every time I want to look half-decent in a photo op.

But behind these surface and admittedly self-centered concerns lurks a larger issue relating to the symbolic nature of having my photo snapped for the church directory: I'll be alone. When I begrudgingly signed up for my "sitting time," I noticed my appointment is sandwiched between that of a newlywed couple and a family of five. And I know the end product of this appointment a photo of just me trying to fill the frame with a brave smile and manufactured confidence will appear on a page of couples and families. In my mind, I envision my page in the directory looking somewhat like a round of the Sesame Street game, One of These Things Is Not Like the Others. To be honest, if I hadn't been encouraged to be included in the directory because I'm part of a committee that's helping to launch a new ministry in the church, I probably wouldn't have signed up.

I thought I was alone in these neurotic photo fears, until I was with a carload of single women from my church headed to a movie this past Friday night. Kathleen, a member of the church staff, brought up the upcoming new directory and reminded us all to make appointments to be photographed for it. Her well-meaning words, however, were met with eye rolls and groans. I was surprised, yet somewhat relieved I wasn't the only one viewing this appointment with the same mixture of duty and dread with which I usually approach a dentist appointment or a plateful of lima beans.

When the groans died down, we exchanged our specific feelings and fears: "Will I be a complete odd-one-out on a page full of families?" "Will people pity me when they see a picture of just little ol' me?" "If it's just me, I don't need to be part of the 'official record' of the church's attendees, do I?" "Is there such a thing as a family of one?"

Though I related somewhat to all the concerns, the latter ones reminded me of the way I've felt about the vacation photos from my solo travels mainly of me and a monument or me and a mountain I have tacked and framed throughout my apartment. I've sometimes wondered if visitors to my home have thought me egotistical to have these solo snapshots displayed. I've been tempted to explain that the pictures aren't about me as much as they are reminders, on days when life seems too mundane, that God's blessed me with the opportunity to go to these cool places that have moved and inspired me.

Though I related to the feelings expressed in that theater-bound car last Friday night, I was somewhat dismayed at the way this carload of normally confident career women degenerated into self-conscious concerns especially in the context of a place where everyone should feel included and loved: the church. And I was even more dismayed that I was as self-conscious and neurotic as the best of them.

As I listened, the thought hit me that we were taking ourselves too seriously that others weren't going to scan the pages of the directory for single faces and attach near as much meaning to them as we thought they would. Most likely these directories would wind up in our church attendees' stacks of phone books, maps, and other miscellaneous papers of life only to be retrieved when someone couldn't remember what's-her-face's name.

And yet we were also not taking ourselves seriously enough. My single friends in that car are active members of our church, serving on committees and even on staff. Suddenly I remembered the words of our pastor the Sunday before when he'd urged "anyone who calls our church home" to make an appearance in our directory. He didn't say "anyone who's a part of a traditional family" or "anyone who's been married in this church" or "anyone who's made a significant enough contribution in volunteer time or offering dollars." As people who'd regularly attended and participated in this particular Body of Christ for several years each, of course we needed to be included in this directory.

Without our faces, this "family tree" wouldn't be complete other singles would go on feeling like odd ones out and families in the church would see a skewed picture of who really comprises our community of faith.

I'll try to keep all this in mind during my 10-minute window of time tonight to sit and smile and make my presence known in my church home. And maybe someday in the future when God has planted me somewhere else, I'll sort through a drawer and stumble upon this very directory. As with my vacation photos, I bet I'll look at my smiling face in the context of the cool surroundings this time wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ instead of monuments or mountains and thank God for the wondrous privilege of being in this place that's moved and inspired me.

Camerin Courtney

2003 Christianity Today. Used by permission.