This I Believe #1: Love Comes Cropped 3x5

I've been wanting to jump on the This I Believe bandwagon for a long time. These three-minute essays, which appear on NPR's All Things Considered, Tell Me More, and Weekend Edition Sunday, are at the heart of a national media project that gets people writing, sharing, and talking about the values and beliefs that guide their daily lives.

My plan: to write the rough drafts of what I believe here, let the ideas percolate, and then submit them down the line. Let me know what you think!

This I Believe #1: Love Comes Cropped 3x5

I get hung up on photographs of myself. I never look as pretty or slender as I think I do in the mirror. I never look fashionable or dramatic. I never look like the fascinating type of person -- you know, the kind who's not beautiful, but arresting -- that pro photographers are always putting in fancy exhibits as "Anonymous Girl #5" because of their undeniable, irrepressible character.

Yet, I love having pictures taken. I love grinning and posing. I love how beautiful I feel in that moment. I am addicted to the possibility of finally having the perfect shot -- the one image that could go in a gallery, sit on my grandchildren's mantles, and prove why a man could fall in love with me across a crowded room.

You can see what a tall order this can be. And you can see why I'm always hopeful, never fulfilled. Except, however, when it comes to the person behind the camera.

I am thinking specifically of my dear friend Mark. He has an artist's soul and eye, working magic and taking risks with his regular Kodak digital camera. In fact, he never stops snapping, to the point where I'm sometimes embarrassed that he's pulling out the lens at such inappropriate moments.

Secretly, though, I'm thrilled. Because if he's documenting my life in such ordinary detail, then chances improve that one of those shots will be THE one: the real, amazing Julia captured forever in time.

As a result, I have albums upon albums of pictures from Mark. Pictures of me laughing, singing, sighing, putting my hair up, appearing in reflecting pools, dancing, eating breakfast, rolling my eyes, making jazz hands, sporting pigtails and winter hats. Some are adorable. Some are unflattering. All are intimate, as they reveal the way my friend looks past photography as record-keeping, and instead uses it to amplify what I mean to him.

That's why Mark's photos are my favorites, despite my visible imperfections. When I flip through the images, I see my life through his eyes. Each frame shows the joy I am to him, and what fun we are having, and what adventures are still to come the next time he finds us bored and with camera in hand.

Turns out, that is the real Julia in the shots. I'm the goof, the drama queen, the co-conspirator, the friend. A shutterbug who didn't care wouldn't bother snapping me so much. Instead, I have one who cares in abundance, and who lends his perspective on my existence with every click.

And what do the final images tell me? That character trumps being photogenic. That every word, action, and expression I make shows others who I am -- undeniable, irrepressible. And that I will always be beautiful to those who love me.