Written by Sydnee Mela
Photography from Family Collection
This week we want to share a piece from our most recent volume of Cultivate : Creativity Unlocked. The Happy Historian was written by Cageless Birds staff member, Sydnee Mela. As one of our resident photographers, Sydnee spends much of her workday bringing visual aid to our mission as a ministry. She is passionate about empowering people with the value of remembrance and capturing their history and legacy to pass on for generations. In her piece, The Happy Historian, Sydnee unpacks the importance of documenting your life with the Lord. As you read these words, may you be inspired to look back and reflect with the Lord and delight in your story the way He does.
My family has albums and albums of old photographs stored in closets and attics. Each time I come home, I dust off those albums from the shelf and reflect on decades of captured memories. These photos are raw and unedited. They exist not to impress but to recollect moments in our family's story. In these old pictures, I see the family that came before me and before them; all the preceding generations tell a greater story.
My grandma was the primary photographer of the family. She had great intuition and timing; she captured moments when people weren’t looking, when nothing was set up or ready, when we were being ourselves. In her photos, I’m able to catch life as if I’m in her frame of mind. I am able to experience the sincere love of my grandpa in the way he held me as I would fall asleep in his arms. I remember the laughter and conversation of our traditional family gatherings on Sunday nights, eating her roasts and mashed potatoes and gravy and drinking her favorite lemonade. As I look at photos of them dancing the night away, I hear their laughter and the songs they would sing. My heart is imprinted with love when I see the love they shared and have passed on to me. Forgetting is easy. There are beautifully significant parts of my story that I have lived yet can’t remember. God has graciously filled in the blanks through my grandma’s photographs. I am thankful for her cheerful willingness to be the one behind the camera. Without her photographs, the treasures of the past would be forgotten.
Last year, I sadly realized that many of my photographs tended to remain on my phone or hard drive, lost in a digital photostream blackhole. It was rare that I printed them or put forth the effort to create any sort of photo album. As an only child, I felt the beautiful weight to continue my family’s recorded legacy. So I decided to start a project. I took one photo every day of something that I wanted to remember: a special event, a person dear to my heart, anything of significance. I captured faces, moments of friends laughing and talking and sitting on the couch, board game nights with high competitiveness, meals cooked together at home, screenshots of Facetimes with family, river walks and deep woods exploration. Nothing necessarily monumental, just wonderfully simple. These were the everyday consistent moments that, in a subtle way, were forming my identity. I desired to remember all the little moments that I was living, so at the end of each month, I would print select photos and add them to a photographic journal of remembrance. Instead of letting the months slip by, every month was an intentional pause of remembrance and thanksgiving with God. Every thirty days was an occasion to celebrate the blessings the Lord had given me, to slow down and reflect, causing me to bless Him. This photographic journal became an invitation for others to join in my story. I became a woman of celebration, aware and inclusive. This is the gift my grandma gave me, to be a happy historian; I am passing on the albums.
Prompt: Printing our photographs enhances history so we can touch, visualize and enjoy our story with those around us. I challenge you to record your life’s moments with your camera, especially those times that seem like your ordinary, "mundane" routine. Print them out and store them in a special album or book. Reflect as you put them in the album, remembering all that has happened in your life, the people that surround you and all the gifts God has given you. Give thanks to God for the beauty that is coming forth through and around you. Life is a quick, dazzling story; your story is worth being told.