A Pile of Stones

Several people asked me to keep blogging about our adventures in our new town, Othello.  But I haven’t made the time.  These past two months have been the busiest, craziest months in my life.  What has happened since Brian accepted the job in Othello… So much.   This blog entry is a big pile of stones.

That sounds funny so let me explain.  A pile of stones is something that’s mentioned a few times in the Bible (See Genesis 28:18-22 or Deuteronomy 27:2-6 for examples). The stone pillars were made by God’s people to create a tangible reference for remembering what God had done for them.  So this blog is for me to remember.  And it is a bit of a long story.  And for many reasons, I have debated sharing.  But if I don’t write it all down here, as it truly is… then I will forget.  And someday, probably many days, especially on those days when I am waiting on God, or going through a tough time, or hurting and possibly questioning God’s faithfulness, I will come back here to remember. And like the Israelites, who left their stone pillars in a place for others to see- that’s my intention in leaving my stones here.

I want to preface this post by confronting the things I’ve had to work through before choosing to write this.  This also is for me to remember.  Because so often I default to feelings that have nothing to do with what God’s Word says and have everything to do with fear or me judging myself/others.

Preface #1, What I’m about to share is not a life or death story.  I am aware of the atrocities of war, starvation, evil and terrorism that exist in this world.  Sometimes I allow myself to be heavily burdened by the sadness that is all around.  And when something hard happens in my life, it is easy to quickly put it in a box and label it as, “that’s not important.  Other things are way more important than that.” Or “How can I be so selfish when other people are suffering so greatly in the world?”  Or, my favorite way of chastising myself, “This is a first world problem and I am a spoiled brat for feeling this way.”  The truth is, the pain of others should put my troubles in perspective.  I feel it is so very important to care about other people and their hurt, and do something when appropriate or possible.  But while I believe that God puts certain burdens on my heart to pray for or to act on, I was not made to carry the burden that is everyone’s pain and suffering. That pain is for Jesus Christ.  And yes, I am his hands and feet.  But I become absolutely useless in my life if I sit here and judge my own experiences against the heart-wrenching experiences of others or inversely, the “uber-amazing-so-much-better-than-mine” experiences of others.  There will always be someone in worse shape than me.  There will always be someone who is doing better than me.  God made me for this journey.  And if I fail to share it because I am afraid of what others will think or how trivial I perceive it, then I think I miss the whole point of glorifying Him with my life.

Preface #2, God cares about the little things.  I don’t remember if it was last year or a couple years ago, but I remember Tim Tebow got a lot of flack for asking God to help him win a football game.  There were pictures of Tebow on his knees side by side with pictures of starving children on their knees going around on Facebook.  It was a startling image.  People couldn’t believe someone would “use” God like that when God obviously had better things to do.  I don’t know all the answers to these things, but I do know what the Bible says. It says to bring all of our burdens to God- even the little ones.   (See Matthew 6:26-34 or Luke 12:7 to see how he feels about birds and hair for example).  Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine for gosh sakes.  He could have sat there at the wedding and just said, “Don’t you know so-and-so’s mother is dying of cancer and so-and-so’s daughter was just hit by a donkey and you want me to do what?!”  But he didn’t do that.  I think if so-and-so’s mother had come to him (as so many did) and said, “heal me Jesus,” he would have seen her faith, had compassion on her and healed her.  His power, his love, his compassion, they are big enough, strong enough and mighty enough to carry it all.

When I bring my problems, heartaches or burdens to God (no matter how big or small) and ask him to hear me, he never fails me.  If I ask for something specific in my life sometimes he says no.  Sometimes he says yes.  Sometimes he says wait.  But I know, when I choose to seek God,  I always find him and he is always available- even when the answer is waiting.

Which brings me to this period in my life… a period I’ve affectionately labeled as The Waiting Place.


The Waiting Place

Brian pulled up behind the long line of cars- most of which had turned off their engines and settled in for an unknown wait time.  Snoqualmie Pass was temporarily closed for rock blasting.  A few people trickled out of their cars- as if that might somehow make the time go by faster.  The semi next to us turned off his lights.  The sun had set and the sky was getting dark.  In Bonney Lake, our children were being put to bed by a friend.  We hadn’t even made it to Othello to see the prospective rental we’d jumped in the car at the last moment to see.  No calls to possible landlords, prior homeowners or real estate agents were being returned.  Craigslist taunted me with it’s lack of listings.  Brian sighed and shrugged his shoulders.  “We’ll see…” And then as we idled there for a minute, he suddenly rotated the keys and muttered, “Better take these out before the car dies again.”  And of course he was right.  Twice in the past few months my otherwise perfectly functional Honda has died on us unexpectedly during periods of waiting.  And the thing is I would have forgotten about it and we would have been stuck there, dependent on the kindness of a stranger with jumper cables with a long line of impatient motorists behind us.  But tonight, of all nights, Brian remembered.  And for some reason the absurdity of it struck me and I began to laugh uncontrollably.   And then the laughing turned to sobs.


Someone gave me a Dr. Seuss book when I graduated high school, “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”  It shares the tale of leaving the familiar, going through ups and the downs, struggles and accomplishments and coming upon different things or places in life…    It’s a philosophy book disguised as a children’s story.  And by far, the worst (or most “useless”) place of all the places Dr. Seuss talked about going was The Waiting Place.

The place, he said, where people are… “just waiting.  Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow.  Everyone is just waiting…  NO!  That’s not for you!  Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.”

Now that I’m in my early 30s (emphasis on early) and have experienced more than I did in my late teens, I have to say, Dr. Seuss was right about The Waiting Place -in that it sucks.  But the truth is…  The fact is… sometimes you have to wait.

As much as you rage, kick or scream against it, sometimes waiting is required. And while it may seem useless and painful at the time… The Waiting Place is one of the most life-altering places to visit.

These past couple of months, we’ve had an unwelcome, extended stay at The Waiting Place.

Brian had his job interview on the second of July.  Like we have before any of his interviews that were more than an hour away, we researched the area and possible places to live.  Finding a rental home would be necessary.

We lost our home to foreclosure last year.  It was a really hard, humbling experience for us.  We made choices along the way I would never change.  And we made mistakes that I regret.  It was a mixed bag of circumstances, choices and frustrations.  But it happened.  We found a place to live last summer that met all of our needs and we dealt with and processed what took place, and gradually let go of the stigma and shame.  But in Pierce County, where foreclosures were common and rentals plentiful, it was easy to continue on and forget our options were truly limited.

And finding a rental home in Othello seemed improbable.  We learned that even before his interview.  So while Brian interviewed for a job he was just as likely to get as the last five he’d interviewed for, I took Caleb and Naomi and drove around looking at real estate listings.  No harm in dreaming.  There wasn’t a lot of sightseeing to be done in Othello after we looked at the parks, it was set to be over 100 degrees that day,  and my six-month pregnant self didn’t feel like getting out of the car.  So we went exploring.  We saw several different neighborhoods, before we drove up to a neighborhood outside of town by the golf course.  That’s when I saw a street named Hummingbird and immediately, my heart got involved.

If I ever get a tattoo it will probably be of a hummingbird.  It reminds me of memories with my grandparents at their home in Anacortes.  I can smell my grandma’s cooking, hear the chimes of the clock in the living room, my grandpa’s voice and her laugh, see the red shag carpeting of their rec room, and visualize the flowers and garden gnomes that sat outside their kitchen window.  Hummingbirds used to visit there.  And for me, they symbolize family and home.

So there I was, turning off of Hummingbird and onto a quiet street called Meadowlark and there it was.  A home I instantly felt connected to as I sat there idling in front of it.   There were flowers and shingles and trees, and a green little street sign next the garage door.  Caleb called it the “orange house.”  Across the street there was another cute home for sale (the “yellow house”).  I’ve always liked yellow houses with white trim but looking at the listing, I could tell that house would be pretty small for our growing family.  Instead, I sat and dreamed about the life we might live at the orange house if Brian were to get that assistant principal job, and five minutes later, I felt the pit of my stomach as the reality of our situation came over me.  And I drove away.

But even so, I thought, IF Brian gets that job, I want to try and live there.  And I dreamed about the orange house on Meadowlark Lane all the way home.  Three days later he got his dream- the job.  So pursuant to my dream, Brian called the listing agency.  He got off the phone and said there was no way.

Brian signed a contract with the school district that said he would live in Othello.  So we did everything we could think of to try and find a place to live.  I checked Craigslist multiple times an hour.  I tried to find options on Facebook.  We reached out to several real estate agents.  We were praying constantly.

Then a house came available.  A home that had been vacated by an outgoing elementary principal and her family.  Brian called me from work to tell me that the secretary for the district had said the elementary principal had agreed to rent to us.  I looked it up online right away.  And then I cried.

It wasn’t a terrible house.  It had charm.  But it had dark wood paneling.  One bathroom.  No dishwasher.  Orange linoleum.   A tiny backyard with no grass.  Brian and I decided to go see it and meet with a realtor who had agreed to try and help us look at other possibilities.

The house was small.  It couldn’t have been more than 1000 square feet upstairs.  The basement had steep stairs, cement floors, and low ceilings with pipes that made it pretty much useless.  It was on a busier road.  Two of the three bedrooms were covered in dark 70′s style wallpaper.  The floor creaked.  The living room was tiny.  Ugh.  I just wanted out of there.

The one realtor who was trying to help us, showed us three more houses that day- one that was nice but still small and would only rent if it didn’t sell  and only if we agreed to a rent-to-own at the height of our rental budget.  Another house that wasn’t even for sell yet, but there was a possibility it would go on the market the following week and the most likely buyer would be someone who wanted to rent it out.  The only problem (besides the fact it wasn’t actually for rent) was that house had a garage that had been converted into an additional rental for one person which meant we’d either have to rent it as well or share the house with a stranger.  The final option- we didn’t even go inside, since the owners were home and apparently didn’t know about us.

Miraculously, two other places were listed on Craigslist that day we had designated to look at homes.  The first house was filthy and smelled like cigarettes and spoiled food.  The second option was a big apartment in an industrial area with no outdoor space and very steep stairs.

We were discouraged to say the least.

On the way home, we drove past the houses on Meadowlark and saw a different house for sale.  It had been on the market for over two years.  We called the realtor.  The realtor called us on the way out of town and said he’d see if the owners would consider renting and if so, perhaps he could show it to us that day.  We turned around and prayed earnestly- so hopeful- could this be God’s provision?  And then we were called back ten minutes later and told it was a no-go.

I got desperate enough to write a letter to the owner of the house on Meadowlark, thinking if only they knew us, perhaps they would consider renting.  I didn’t hear anything for several days.  When I received a phone call two days after our house hunting trip, I couldn’t believe it.  It was the owner’s realtor calling to thank me for the letter and to ask questions about our situation.  I was shaking I was so nervous.  I had told several of my friends about my dream to live at the “orange house.”  Could this really be happening?  I prayed and prayed as I thought, “Oh God.  Are you giving me my dream?”

The realtor had said she didn’t think the owner would want to rent to us if it was going to be over a year, but she said she would call me back.  But she didn’t call back.  So Brian called the next day.  And again, it was a closed door.

Here’s the thing- I knew I didn’t NEED a fourth bedroom.  I knew I didn’t NEED a dishwasher.  Or a second bathroom.  Or a backyard with grass.  Or a big living area.  Or trees in the front yard.  I knew those were just desires.  But it stung.  For so long we had prayed for Brian to find a job like this and here he was- getting it!  And I knew in leaving Pierce County, I would be leaving my friends, family and my job as a photographer- and I wanted a nice house.  I wanted something I could invite friends to.  I wanted a place my babies could run freely.  I wanted a room for our new baby.  A private bathroom dang it.  And even as I felt those things, another side of me told me I was being ridiculous.  A side that I don’t think came from a good place, to tell you the truth.  It was the side of me that beat me up and told me how petty and selfish I was being.  The side that said my desires were nothing and I was a baby for feeling the way I felt.

But then again- it didn’t matter that my feelings were real or valid.  They were just feelings.  I told my hysterical four year old the other day something that it’s taken me awhile to learn myself.  I told him that it’s okay to feel a certain way but we still need to act in a way that’s appropriate, even when we don’t feel like it.  And maybe that’s what eventually happened to me.  I still felt excited for Brian and our family, disappointed with our housing options, and overwhelmed beyond belief but one day I woke up and decided it wasn’t worth it anymore.  It wasn’t worth fighting against.  I felt myself surrender.  The night before I came to that realization, Brian had seen me once again in tears over another disappointment and he questioned whether he should have even taken the job.  I realized that the situation was taking the joy away from something Brian and I knew was the right thing.  We never questioned whether he should take the job.  We had prayed for God to lead us to the right job for years.  We knew because we’d been earnestly seeking his will, that God wouldn’t open a door like this for us to turn away.  I always felt it was the right thing- even when our housing situation seemed impossible.  So it was then that I sat down and began to write.

It was a pros/cons list.  And it was about the elementary principal’s house.  We’d save money- pro.  We’d be close to parks-pro.  Etc.  But ultimately the biggest pro, and one I don’t even know if I wrote down, was that it would end the waiting period.

A few weeks before at our church the pastor talked about how as humans our priorities often involve wanting things to be painless and timely.  We want hardship to be nonexistent, but if it has to exist, make it fast and easy.  But God’s priority is more focused on our transformation to be more like Him.  And often, the transformation comes during the time between… The time in The Waiting Place.

Fast forward a few weeks and we were able to move into the little house.  We had asked for and received permission to paint and peel off old wallpaper.  Brian started work on August 5th and I stayed in Bonney Lake to wrap things up before we officially moved.  He spent a few evenings alone attempting to remodel the bedrooms.  It was a bigger project then he could anticipate- one of the rooms had no texture underneath the wallpaper and the other room looked like a giant sticker had been peeled away with little pieces of residue and wallpaper everywhere.  He drove home Friday night to get started moving Saturday.  We had a large group of friends show up and help while I took the kids and got away.  Our friends helped us out tremendously.   When we arrived to the house in Othello the next day with the largest moving truck U-Haul makes, an additional trailer, two exhausted kids, a very pregnant belly and a stinky dog- the bedrooms were a disaster.

Thankfully we had offered to donate to the high school football team if we could get help from some of the players for our move.  And a bunch of kids showed up.  What a blessing that was.  We even had dear friends from Spokane drive two hours just to help out.   Within a few hours, the house was absolutely packed.  The garage was full.  The back patio was a mess.  But we had made it.

We slept on the couch for two weeks.  The house was crazy.  Brian was working long hours.  We drove back on several weekends so I could finish up my photography jobs.  My parents came out and helped us paint the living room and unpack the kitchen.  Thanks to my dad’s wise suggestion we hired a contractor to finish texturing the master bedroom. After doing the best I could with two kids, 90+ degree weather and a bunch of heavy lifting jobs I couldn’t tackle, I reached the end of my rope, packed up the kids and drove to my parents’ home in Snohomish for a few days.  While we were gone, Brian finished Naomi’s room and put away a lot of the boxes.  I came back and started to settle in.

Caleb started preschool.  I wrapped up my photography jobs and we started going to church in town.  We met people and made friends.  I enjoyed making meals and caring for the kids.  It felt pretty good to slow down.  Othello is special.  It has a small town feel, almost a throw-back to the 50s type of place- lots of great (mostly Mexican and pizza) food, very friendly residents, diversity, beautiful parks and schools, a lot of hometown pride… It is everything we imagined for our children to grow up in.

In fact, I started feeling pretty good about everything- except our house.  I don’t hate it.  It has become our home.   But I realized I wasn’t excited about our baby coming in November because I didn’t know where we’d put him.  Nap time and morning time are tricky because of the creaky floors.  Dishes are the things of crazy-making.  The kids each got their first bee stings thanks to a nest outside.  It’s been a hard adjustment for me.

Brian reached out to a lending company just to see what our options might be in a year- that’s when we found out it would probably be at least two years from November before we’d get a loan.  I felt like the walls were coming in on me- and most days I kept it together.  When I would start to feel down, I would make myself thank God for the home we had been given.  But some days, I allowed myself to feel sad.  And the saddest I felt was the day I cancelled on two new friends, not because I didn’t want to spend time with them, but because I panicked about what would happen if they showed up at my home with their families- where would I put them?  How could I make them feel comfortable?  Where would their kids run?  I ended up telling them (which was true) that I had overdone it the day before and needed to take it easy.  But deep down, I knew the real reason I cancelled was because I felt the home we were in couldn’t accommodate more than a couple visitors and I freaked out.

The same day I cancelled with my new friends, we got a crazy storm here in Othello.  A big chunk of shingles were ripped off the roof and an antenna crashed down onto the garage.  The next day, as Brian picked up shingles off the road, the neighbor across the street came over and chatted for a few minutes.  We had never talked with him before.  He mentioned the neighbor across from him had had to quickly leave town.  When he mentioned the neighbor across from him moving- my heart raced a little.  A week before, Brian and I had noticed a moving van at the two story yellow house kitty corner from ours.  We had commented how nice it would be to rent a house like that.  Suddenly, the wheels were turning in my head.  Maybe… Maybe…

I talked with Brian about it.  We had agreed to rent the small house we were in for a year.  And we did not want to go back on our word.  So we prayed about it, and felt like we could at least ask our landlord if they would consider renegotiating the length of our lease.  We also agreed that if he said no, that was a closed door.  But if he said yes, Brian agreed he would try getting in touch with the owner of the yellow house.

Our landlord came by last week to check out the roof situation and pick up his lawnmower.  Brian came in after he left and said they would be just fine with a six month lease.  It was an open door.

After asking a couple neighbors, Brian didn’t get the name of the owner and didn’t know when he’d be back- so he decided to leave a note on Friday night.

Saturday morning I looked out the window, and there was a vehicle in the yellow house’s driveway.  The owner was home!  Would he or she respond to Brian’s note? I left to go work on pictures and spend the day in the tri-cities with a new Othello friend.

Around three, I called Brian and that’s when I learned the neighbor had actually contacted him.  In fact, he invited Brian over and Brian had already taken the kids to the house and met them- an older couple who showed him their home.  “But don’t get excited.”  Brian warned me.  “They want to meet you.  But they are thinking of putting the house on the market for 90 days and then if it doesn’t sell, might consider renting it.”

My friend and I got back to Othello around 8 that night.  Brian had already called and told the owners when I’d be home and if it’d still be okay to stop by- they had said to come on over.  My friend offered to watch the kids so we could go over to the house ourselves.  So Brian and I walked over sans kids.

I started noticing everything.  The big tree in the front yard.  All the flowers.  The big front porch.  White shutters.  I knew I didn’t even care what the house looked like on the inside.  Brian had said it was “okay.”  The owner and his wife greeted us at the front door.  I liked them instantly.  But I wasn’t sure what to say or how to act.  This was awkward.  I wanted to break down- I wanted to beg- I wanted to tell them everything- I wanted them to rent me their house.

She quickly began to give me a tour of their home.  Brian had lied.  It was way more than “okay.”  There was a front room, a coat closet, a downstairs bedroom and bathroom with a shower, a big family room with french doors leading out to their giant backyard with underground sprinklers and a raspberry patch- which incidentally reminded me of my grandparents.  The kitchen was massive and had a built-in dishwasher.  She had added cabinets she explained.  There was a pantry.  She said all the appliances would stay in the kitchen.  We moved on to the utility room.  The garage was huge with a work area and a fridge they would leave…  At that point I stopped her,  “Please don’t show me anymore if you’re not going to rent to us.  I can’t handle it.”  She laughed and said, “That’s what your husband said.”

They took us upstairs and showed us the master and its walk-in closet, the newly remodeled bathroom with a big tub, three more bedrooms… “We talked over dinner,” She explained, “And we’d like to work with you.”

She went on to say that they had been through enough in life that they felt when a door was opening like that, you better walk through it.   They felt like this was the right thing even though they hadn’t even considered the possibility of renting before that day.  Brian had already told them about our foreclosure.  It wasn’t even an issue.  We told them about our little dog.  Didn’t matter.  We sat down and talked with them and I asked about their desire to put the house up for sale for 90 days.  She said, “If we did that, there’s a chance we’d lose you while you were waiting and we don’t want to do that.”  And then they did something I had only imagined in my wildest dreams.

They offered to let us rent their beautiful home.   She suggested a price lower than we could have expected.  She assured me that would be enough to cover their mortgage with a little extra.  We told them about our six month lease.  I explained, “Because of the photography work I did in August, we have money set aside that we can use to pay two rents for a few months and move in slowly.”   We talked about the length of our lease, he said “One year, or maybe two?  Maybe if you like it after living here, we could talk about a rent t0 own option?”  Brian and I couldn’t believe it.  I know there were tears in my eyes when I said something along the lines of, “You know, when we first came out here, I was so fixated on a house I had seen up by the golf course that I would have never appreciated this house like I do now.  You can’t believe what an answer to prayer this is.”  They smiled and later asked, “Do you guys want us to leave the patio set?”

I woke up that night wondering if I had dreamt it all.  Did that really happen?  Was that even possible?  Everything I had wanted- not needed- but wanted- was it possible God was giving me all that?  Why?  I didn’t deserve it for sure.  How could they trust us so wholeheartedly so soon?  I couldn’t sleep for two hours as I lay there amazed.

Brian dropped off our damage deposit the next day while the kids and I stayed in the car.  He came back a few minutes later.  “You ready for more?”  He said.  “WHAT?”  He smiled and shook his head.  “They told me they’d still be out by November but they know we’re going to be slowly moving in because of the baby and everything.  So they don’t want to officially start charging us until December.  If we move in sooner, we can just let them know and they’ll prorate it for us.”  I sat there, overwhelmed, “What did you say back to them?!”  Brian shrugged his shoulders.  “Wow.”

And so, I’m leaving this pile of stones to remind myself that even when it seems silly, it’s okay to ask.  It has nothing to do with whether I deserve it or not.  And it may not be the dream thing I imagined.  It may not be what I want to hear.  And it may involve a period of waiting.  It may be a period of closed doors.  But today, I write this because I’ve seen God answer something in a way that is so tangibly touched by him- I can’t even believe it.  A yellow house with white trim?  A porch?  A guest room?  A place for friends to gather?  A big backyard for my babies to run?  A raspberry patch to remind me of my grandparents? A dishwasher? A nursery for our new baby?

Being here in Othello with my family is an incredible blessing- more than I could have ever asked for or imagined.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  ~Matthew 7:9-11

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” James 1:17

Pictures below are from the past couple weeks.  I only took a few photos during August.  Lord willing, my next post hopefully will have a baby theme.  I will also plan to post pictures of the yellow house after we move in:)

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A change of heart

Last summer I sat down and wrote a post about going for my dreams.  And I shared those dreams of having it all with everyone so I would be accountable to do the work to get them.

Then a funny thing happened.  My dreams… they changed some.

When Brian and I got married, we made a list of things we would do after we had a family.  We dreamed about the home we would create, the values we would instill in our children, about travels and memories we would make.  We wrote them all down and put that piece of paper away.  But every now and then, when I’m cleaning or daydreaming, I’ll come across that piece of paper and compare the life I’m living with what’s on the list.

You see, I had every intention of making my business successful.  And I thought I could have both my personal and professional dreams come true.  Many women do it, I reasoned.  And I could too.  But dreams are just dreams without actions behind them.  So I got to work.  I entered into an agreement with the Landmark on the Sound.  They agreed to let me rent a beautiful space in their building, and I proceeded to make that space my own.  We painted, decorated, and cleaned.  I met with and hired wonderful hair and makeup talent.  A friend moonlighted as my assistant- reaching out to folks who would spread the word.  I photographed a number of beautiful women and delighted over the results.  I created lovely marketing materials that I passed out and shared.  I spent many nights working, working, and working.

I laid the foundation for my photography dreams.

But as I began to build those dreams, I realized how much it was costing me.  Not in money, per se, but in my personal life.  Every weekend I devoted to my work.   I relied heavily on my husband whenever he was home.   I frequently locked my kids out of the office.  I began to dread spending time with my family because every hour spent with them meant the pile of retouching or marketing tasks I had to complete would go unfinished and I would fall further behind.  It put a strain on Brian and mine’s relationship.  Everything felt like a battle between the business and my family.  Even though I kept telling myself we needed the money and if I only I could get my butt in gear I could do it for them…  But the truth is, I was doing it more for me.

I love my work.  I love photographing people and creating images.  I love packaging everything and presenting it in a beautiful way.  I love the satisfaction I feel when a client gushes over their images.  My business has at times, made me feel valued.  Important.  Special.  And I couldn’t imagine my life without it’s validation.

Sometimes I would pull out the list Brian and I had made all those years ago and wonder how we would ever get there.   Those dreams had never changed.  I knew our values weren’t being reflected in the life we were living.  I was unhappy with how things were going.  And I blamed myself for not being able to figure it all out.  I felt like a failure.  Meanwhile, my business got busier and to be honest, I felt proud.  But I couldn’t help but wonder…. Was I missing something greater because I couldn’t fathom the idea of letting go of my business?

Was this really our dream?

I felt trapped.

And then Cousin Gale died suddenly right after Christmas.  My sweet Cousin Gale; he was 80 years old, Iowa-born, lived and died.  In a lot of ways, he hardly knew me.  But he never let me forget we were family.  He always responded to my Christmas card.  He called me when we finished the WWII book.  He kept asking me to bring my family out for a visit. Two summers ago, we made the trip to see him.   He loved playing tour guide as he introduced us to distant relatives, the gravesite of my great grandparents, the house my grandpa grew up in, the town Grandpa came home to after the war…   With Cousin Gale, I felt something so rare:  my relationship with him was one of full acceptance.   Perhaps because he was fully present, available and genuinely interested in my life.  He loved family.  It was all he ever talked about.  And his life was rich because of it.

After his death in December, I began to seriously re-evaluate my life and wonder what it was I truly wanted.

A real business takes incredible commitment.  It takes so much out of you.  And I decided I no longer wanted to give it so much.  I wanted my weekends back with my kids.  I wanted to go to church on Sundays.  I wanted to enjoy evenings at home with my husband.  I wanted to invest in old friendships and make new ones.  I wanted to stop all the self-loathing I felt over being a distracted spouse and mother.  And I decided to accept that not earning money did not make me “less than.”

I heard a saying years ago at youth group that I’ve always remembered, “the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.”  And I wondered if possibly it was simply the wrong time for me to pursue my business so wholeheartedly.

So we decided for me to back off.  I didn’t make any formal announcement or declaration.  But I quietly surrendered.  In January, I told my husband that 2013 was his year.  I wanted to support his dream of becoming a high school administrator.  I wanted to help him any way I could.  If I got profitable work, I took it AND I enjoyed it.  But I didn’t pursue it on my own.  In essence, I let go.

When people asked me how my business was going, at times, it was awkward.  I felt everything I just typed out, but how do you express stuff like that in casual conversation?  I had such mixed emotions.  But strangely, I also felt at peace.

Then in March, we were surprised to find out we were expecting a third child in November!  At that point, I felt my decision to focus more on my family was confirmed in my heart.

I have to say, I am really enjoying my time with my children.  Brian and I have become more intentional with them.  My relationship with Brian has been better.  And my relationship with the Lord has been strengthened.  The decision to step back was a personal choice.  And at times, I miss the adventure of being busy.  But, in the end, what I really want is to glorify God with my life.  I want to be the type of person my Cousin Gale was- one who is fully present, loving and joyful.  And I’m finding validation in who I am in Christ and not in my business.

Then last week, Brian was offered an assistant principal position at Othello High School (near Moses Lake).  It’s been five years- two years of continuing education, three years of countless applications, multiple interviews, and lots of rejections- and he finally has his turn to tackle his dream.  I am so proud of him.

It means we’re moving.  It means big changes.  It means there’s a lot up in the air.  It means the pace of life may slow down even more for us.  But I’m excited.  I feel God’s provision already in the way my heart has been prepared over these past few months.  What seemed like an impossible situation and an impression to step back earlier this year has been transformed to a new reality.  And it doesn’t feel like a loss for me.  It’s a gain for us as a family.  My business will be taking a hiatus for the time being.  I will probably cut down a lot of my overhead costs including my website and keep my blog and/or facebook going.  I expect my blog will become more personal and even less photography-related.   I expect I will one day go after professional dreams again.  Only God knows.  But in the meantime, I’m living this dream with Brian and our children.  And I have to say, it’s sure to be an exciting adventure.

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We had a beautiful video made ( if you haven’t seen it you can check it out here).  But unless you’ve had a glamour session yourself, it’s hard to describe exactly what it’s like.  A few weeks ago, we invited Tracy from ChickChat to have a contemporary glamour session at the Landmark.  Since every one of these types of sessions is for two, she offered the additional spot to a fan of ChickChat.  And Lena was the lucky one Tracy chose. Lena shared with me about her experience so I asked her if she’d be okay with me passing on what she wrote (along with a “before” photo which she provided) :

“Janell – I just wanted to say thank you and let you know a little about my experience of my recent Glam Shoot.  I was admittedly a little nervous, I am not typically a person who spends a lot of time on my hair and makeup.  From the minute I walked in I felt welcomed.  Shauna and Missy made me feel comfortable.  They were excited about the clothing options I brought and offered me some yummy food to eat while I got “primped.”  My nerves started to melt and I absorbed their excitement and I felt like I was with friends.  Once the shoot started I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work, you told me how to stand and where to look.  You kept saying “beautiful” and “LOVE!” but I still wasn’t sure.  When you showed me a picture on your camera, I looked gorgeous!  I was in disbelief– no photo editing, just pure beauty.  In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, working, and taking care of my son I don’t have time to take care of myself. After the shoot I felt I could run a marathon, I was so confident.  Since the shoot the feeling has had a lasting effect– I am more comfortable with my after baby body, I know that my smile and eyes even my body are beautiful!  Thank you for this experience, I know you put a lot of time, energy and heart into this shoot— Your special touches made this shoot a memorable experience.  Every woman should do this at least once!  -Lena”

Here are some images from Lena and Tracy’s shoot.  If you are interested in doing something like this for yourself or a loved one, be sure to scroll to the end for a special offer:)

So fans of ChickChat (and anyone reading this blog post), here is my special offer to you:  All contemporary glamour sessions scheduled between January 2, 2013 and March 30th, 2013 are available to you at half off ($700 $350).  Sessions include makeup, hair and a photo shoot for two….  But if you mention “ChickChat” your session can have up to six people- for no additional session fee.   Bring your mom, your sisters or your friends get pampered, photographed, and make a day of it.  Email me, janell@woodmoorephotography.com for further information and scheduling.  Sessions are offered exclusively on Fridays and Saturdays in Des Moines, WA and space is limited.  Prints and products are offered separately.  To be eligible for this offer, deposits for winter bookings must be received prior to December 31st, 2012.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Something I’m so excited about…

I’ve fallen in love with something and I can’t help it.

I call them glam sessions.  Some people refer to them as contemporary portraits or glamour photography.  Maybe I’ll come up with a signature way of describing them someday.

But for now, I’ll just say this:

I’ve photographed a few boudoir sessions in my career as a photographer.  It wasn’t quite what I wanted to do.  But, I wanted to do something for women to help them see themselves as beautiful.   I came up with an idea for doing these types of sessions.  I tried to create it on my own in the Fall of 2010, but I didn’t know how to market it.  I shelved my idea.   Over a year later, I watched an Australian photographer named Sue Bryce explain her definition of glamour. What she shared resonated with me.  And although I had only planned on focusing on seniors and weddings this year, I’ve spent the last six months falling in love with a way of photographing women that is not only visually impactful, but so incredibly empowering for them and for me as a woman.  We’ve all looked in the mirror and at some point felt like we weren’t enough.  But what if, for one day, you could let go of that?  And just be?  Live in the experience of being beautiful, pampered, and sharing it with someone you love?  I can’t describe what an amazing gift that is.  The pictures are almost secondary to the experience.

So you’ll be seeing a lot more of these types of shoots from me.  They’ve become a bit of a passion project.  The more I shoot these, the deeper I fall. I’m invested in this.  And I am loving this- every shoot gets me more excited. I’m photographing women at the amazing Landmark on the Sound and working with a great (and growing) team of incredible hair and makeup professionals.  Here’s a video to show you what this experience looks like.  And the pictures below- do you see Missy and Nicole’s eyes?  They’re gorgeous and they know it.  That’s what I want for every woman.

Huge thanks to Amber (and Chantal) at the Landmark.  You’ve been so generous, helpful and fun to work with.  Missy and Korrine- we’ve done this as a team.  And I’m so thankful for you both.  To Anne Marie, who couldn’t be at this shoot but has also offered her talents and passion for this.  And to Nicole and Missy- thank you for trusting me and letting me show the world how fabulous you both are.  And finally, to Peter- you’re an excellent filmmaker and I’m so grateful for what you’ve created with the video. Thank you all.

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Cary Grant

My husband and I were married on August 6, 2004.  At the reception, my maid-of-honor and best friend from high school, stood up and gave a pretty funny speech.  ”Janell,”  she said, “When we were growing up, you were always dreaming of your Mr. Darcy, Cary Grant or Gilbert… And well, you got Brian!”  The room erupted in laughter.

I have always been a dreamer and my best friend was right that night.  I had imagined a romantic leading man-type to come and sweep me off my feet. Sometimes dreams meet reality and there is disappointment.  But sometimes reality is actually better than the dream.


It was dark and raining.  It was coming down so hard the rain looked like it was painting on the windshield of my car. I sat there, thinking about going in and wondering what the future would hold.

It was the Fall of 2002.  And I was 21.

I took out a pen and started to write a new letter to “him.”  I had gotten the idea from a book series I had read when I was a teenager.  The main character in the books had written letters to her future husband and stored them under her bed.  Someday, her plan was to give her husband the letters and he’d know her as she was then.  Every time she wrote a letter, she also prayed.  Since the time I was a little girl, I had always been full of romantic notions.  And I (like most people) longed to truly be known.  So the concept resonated with me.  Throughout high school, into college, through heartbreaks, crushes, and fleeting relationships, I had written letters to my future husband.  At first it had felt silly.  But over the years it became comforting and familiar.  It felt like an act of faith to write to someone I couldn’t be sure existed.  But it became much like any journaling, and I found myself instinctively reaching for a pen and paper when I wanted to share something new or exciting with someone I hoped one day would truly care.

So on that evening, in 2002, I wrote a short note about being in that car, waiting for the graduate school orientation to start, wondering when I would meet the recipient of my letters.

Then I got out of my car, walked into the hall and saw him for the first time.  Brian Wood.  He was wearing a black leather jacket and sporting a comb over.

He was not Mr. Darcy.  Not Gilbert.  And definitely not Cary Grant.

Instead, he was himself.  Generous.  Goofy.  Intelligent.  Kind.  Patient.  Good-hearted.  Tender.  Humble but confident.  He didn’t care about the judgement of others.  He loved kids and had a heart for teaching.  He was easy-going.  He loved the Lord.

He was everything I had never known I needed.

There were no trumpets sounding or romantic music serenading us.  And I had no idea Brian would be the man I married.

It took me six months before I even saw him as a potential love interest.  Then after six months of dating, he proposed on Thanksgiving 2003.

We’ve been married 8 years today.  For a wedding gift, I gave him a scrapbook full of all those letters I had written and mementos from our relationship. But those letters and mementos were just a start.

When you marry someone, you don’t have any idea what the years will give you.

In the beginning years of our marriage, we’d take lots of little overnight getaways.  We enjoyed luxury hotels and fancy dinners.  We had a little town home that was perfect for us.  We got a dog on a whim and decided she’d be our baby for awhile.  I got my dream job.  We bought a larger house because we could and we wanted a family.  We bought and sold cars.  We got another dog to keep the first dog company.  We lost pregnancies. I started my own business.  We vacationed in Europe.  We invested in trying to have a family.   When our son finally arrived, we forgot about the pain it took to get there.  We learned why people say “it goes so fast.”  I quit my dream job.  We learned what real sleep deprivation is like.  We lost some of our grandparents.  We lost more pregnancies.  We had another baby.  We had to downsize.

But what’s mattered most isn’t what’s happened to us- how many things we’ve had or lost.  How many trips we could take or not.  Not even what type of home we’ve lived in.  What we’ve found mattered most was that we were in this together- for better or worse.  No going back.  If times got tough, we held onto each other and prayed for strength.  It hasn’t always been easy.  We’ve learned how important being grateful is, because circumstances come and go, years pass by quickly, in the end, you live your life.  And we’re living it together. (For a great message on marriage that really inspired us, click here.  It’s the message from July 1st).

Today, we woke up- our eyes glazed over from a rough night.  The room was hot and our 9 month-old daughter was up every couple of hours from 11pm on.  Our 3 year-old son was up and ready to go at 5:30 this morning.  We barely had time to wish each other a “Happy Anniversary” as we rushed around trying to brush teeth, change diapers, and Brian headed out the door.  Hopefully we’ll have a little date tonight thanks to my folks and a Christmas gift certificate we’re finally redeeming.  Maybe I’ll even be romantic and try to write him a letter.  Or just read him my blog.

Someday, my children will grow up and hopefully fall in love.  I hope at least one is a dreamer like their mother, because dreams are great things. But I also hope they don’t forsake a beautiful reality for those dreams.

Marrying Brian was one of the best decisions I ever made.  These 8 years have been the best of my life.   I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I am thankful he gave up the comb-over.   I’m also thankful God gave me Brian Wood and not Cary Grant.

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