This is probably my favorite photo. Like, seriously. I could look at this picture forever. It is such a gift to me. A good friend of ours captured this moment a couple of years ago. We’d asked her to take some family pictures and after posing with the kids for about an hour, we wanted a couple of pictures of just the two of us. I know the exact location where this picture was taken, a little more than a mile from our house.
I can’t remember what I said that made her laugh, but Kristen perfectly captured Sunny’s smile. When you get her to really laugh, Sunny’s eyes get all squinty and she starts to cry and that’s the kind of laugh that is captured in this photo. The only thing that would be better is if the picture came with a soundtrack. After being with her for 20 years, I know exactly what this picture sounds like.
Another aspect I love about this picture is that Sunny is the focal point. She is in perfect clarity in this shot; I’m offset and a bit on the fuzzy side. (Literally. Check out that sweet beard.) And I think, more than anything, that’s why this particular piece of art speaks to me: it captures my perspective. This is the point of view that I most cherish in my life. I know I am the one to see her for who she truly is, to see her with precision and clarity. I’m reminded of this every time I look at this photo.
This afternoon, over lunch, we played a little game with the kids. As a way of celebrating her birthday, I asked the kids a series of true or false questions about their mother’s favorite color (blue), her favorite movie (Beauty and the Beast), her favorite musician (Harry Connick, Jr.). The kids did pretty well; in fact, they answered most questions correctly. But they were most impressed that I knew so much about her. In fact, I would argue that I’m the world’s foremost expert on all things Sunny Shates Bybee (with Sunny Shates Bybee finishing a close second).
Over 20 years, my perspective of Sunny has crystallized to this: she is the best person I know. In this space one year ago, I wrote about her enduring goodness and the past 12 months have done nothing to change my opinion. I have never known anyone who wanted to do the right thing more consistently and more completely than Sunny. To be honest, early on in our relationship, this would sometimes drive me batty. (For those of you who knew me growing up, you’ll recall that there was a time when this wasn’t exactly my strong suit.) But today, I’m simply thankful for her goodness, the force of which has made me a better person in more ways than I can enumerate.
Beneath this smile, there is steely strength and resolve — qualities that have been tested over the past few years. Hers is not the smile of the charmed life free from the burden of sorrow and worry. Rather, it is the smile of one who trusts completely despite evidence to the contrary. It is the joyous expression of one who walks daily with Jesus.
Sunny, today is your birthday. It’s the day we celebrate you and give thanks for your birth. We cherish you for who you are to us: mother, daughter, friend, wife. You’ve been in my life for 20 years, but I honestly cannot remember what my life was like before you. And, for the record, I don’t want to. I only pray for many more years in the picture with you, for time brings clarity and your beauty and goodness grow deeper with each passing moment. I can’t wait to hear what this picture sounds like 20 years from now. I love you and happy birthday.