The email in my inbox held an easy ask: “Would you be willing to be one of the moms interviewed in a video shoot for Willow Creek’s Mother’s Day services?” Sure. Yes, I can do that. Glad to help.

It was the P.S. that gave me pause: “One more thing: please send us a photo of your family.” The simple request put me at a crossroads. We have taken a family picture every Christmas for 29 years, so sourcing a photo wouldn’t be hard. The problem was choosing which photo to send: Do I send our most current picture—the first Christmas photo taken with our new granddaughter, Cadence, age three months? 

Or do I send the family photo from five years ago—the last Christmas photo with our middle daughter Katie, who died six months later?

    Christmas 2007


Christmas 2007

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Katie’s premature death means we can never have a photo that holds both. Whom will I choose? Who wins?

Losing a child means forever facing little crossroads like this—choices of past vs. future, of what was vs. what is, and what is to come. If I choose this year’s photo, will people think I’ve just moved on? Will they not realize Katie forever holds her place in my heart?

I worry about this. But I worry more about becoming someone stuck in the glorified days of the past, following the siren song of self-pity, holing up in memories of the life I had loved when all my kids were alive. And by choosing a family photo that is five years old, I realized I would be making the statement to myself, “This is who our real family is—frozen in time, unchanging.”

Every time I face such crossroads, big or small, I try to be intentional about choosing “now”. Choosing to accept rather than deny. Choosing to let go rather than hold on. But at each crossroad, I first must fight a small inner battle. And every turn toward surrender requires some wrestling and then a moment of grief. It’s never easy to let go. I suspect it never will be.

Both photos sat open on my laptop. I clicked between them. In my gut, I knew what I must do.

I opened the Mother’s Day email, hit Reply, and attached the file that read, “Family Photo 2012.” The one from this year. The one that captures both the absence of my middle daughter and the presence of my adorable new granddaughter. Sorrow and joy, both.

I hit Send.