This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, was published March 15, 2016. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.
Last weekend, my siblings came in town with their kids. Our Mom and Dad wanted to capture the gathering with a quick picture with their grandchildren.
My siblings and I corralled the nineteen grandchildren (ages 14, 13, 11, 11, 11, 10, 9, 9, 8, 7, 7, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 15 months, 9 months and 4 months). We shepherded my father from the house to a little couch in the side yard. Mom followed and sat next to him. One by one the kids filed around them.
As we worked to get a formation where 21 faces could be seen, chaos erupted.
A little girl became upset (her brother was teasing her); a little boy started crying (convinced he’d contracted Lyme disease, unlikely as he’d been bitten by a mosquito, not a tic); a two-year-old wanted nothing to do with the picture (a promise of limitless ice cream could not change her mind).
And yet, through teasing and tears, bug bites and chaos, we got a picture to commemorate the gathering.
More than that, from the experience, these three life lessons came into focus:
1.“Love is a Verb.” As one parent ran to get a favorite toy for an upset child, another helped with a crying baby. As one cleaned up spit up, another brushed the hair of a child whose roughhousing disheveled it.
In love, there is no passivity, no sitting back, no waiting for others to jump in. Real love demands action. Love is the great motivator and compels continual forgiveness, persistent compassion and striving toward something even bigger than itself.
2. Life requires adaptability. As more little ones came around their grandparents, everyone had to shuffle to make room and make sure everyone could be seen.
Most of us are creatures of habit and like things as they were. “The good ole days” isn’t just the beginning of a story our grandparents shared, but one now repeated by most of us! It’s critical to remember and celebrate that life is constantly in flux, otherwise, we’re at risk to be driven toward protectionism and longing for a past that will never exist again.
3. Perfection is unattainable. The majority of Facebook posts and holiday cards are Photo-shopped or at least only THE BEST photo of hundreds taken before it. It also turns out when someone responds that everything is ‘just perfect’ in their work, finances, family, and life: They likely aren’t telling the entire story.
Life isn’t perfect. It can be messy, sad, unfair and undignified. And yet, seasons of adversity are often followed by joy, with overlap between the two. Instead of pretending all is perfect, be okay with the mess life can occasionally be; instead of being disappointed at what you did not perfectly capture, be grateful for all that you did.
For you see, in looking back, the best pictures, experiences, and memories often aren’t the ones we envisioned, but the unexpected ones we were lucky enough to experience.
Our final picture includes a 2-year-old with tears streaming down her face fleeing, a girl in the back moving away from her brother’s teasing, a young boy despondent by self-diagnosed Lyme disease, grandparents trying to hold onto their 19 grandchildren and a bunch of unseen parents behind the lens encouraging (and threatening!) their children to look at the camera and smile.
This picture captured two grandparents, with a combined 14 decades of ups and downs during life, surrounded by 19 grandchildren in various stages of growth, distress, joy, tears, smiles, fears, hopes and dreams.
In other words, the final picture captured one moment, in one family’s life, perfectly.
My friends, being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It simply means that you’ve decided to look past the imperfections.
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