Katie and I have been married for 12 years! (gulp). I think that means we are getting older but I believe that is a good thing. I look back at our 21/20-year-old selves and think about how naive we were in just about every aspect of our lives. There was a reason NO ONE thought our marriage was a good idea, except for us. At the time, we had no game plan beyond that; we would figure things out as we went… and we did, but not without making a TON of mistakes. Thankfully, none of them were very costly, except for a $20,000 tax accounting error. Yes, 4 zeros!!! In spite of our mistakes, God’s grace in our lives and our belief that marriage is a lifelong commitment, we’ve made through nine babies, four houses/moves, one apartment, two dogs, two cats, fair fish, aquatic frogs, homeschooling, three businesses, job-loss, spinal meningitis, countless viral bugs, college, and I’m just scratching the surface. Life is crazy/beautiful. Sometimes more crazy than beautiful.

We wish I could sum up the total worth of what we have learned in what is just a drop in the bucket of the total breadth of our lives, Lord willing, (we want to be those people who annoy our children long into our 90s) however, the only word that seems to fit is PERSEVERANCE.

Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint.

Over the last 10 years, Katie and I have had the honor and privilege of photographing hundreds of weddings side by side. Still, we can recall specific memories and couples who brought us tears or made our faces hurt with laughter. In part, we’ve believed we have had one of the greatest opportunities afforded to our generation; investing in marriage.

Frequently, we hear our couples say that their wedding day was a haze of fleeting moments amidst the crowd of family and friends. That is what emotions sometimes do, but that’s where we come in. There is a beauty within those subtle moments and our passion over the last decade has been to capture the phenomenon that is your wedding in stunning timeless photographs that you will cherish for a lifetime and generations that follow.

Together we create a first family’s first heirlooms; blending classic photojournalism with a fine art approach, our goal is to capture editorial-style images that can be displayed in anthology form.

We admit that we haven’t always invested in our marriage. We have only gone away a handful of times together. Each trip has been like a reset point; a moment to just pause. We’re able to reflect, find quiet, and process. This is so crucial and we’re so thankful for that time because it is so rare.

Rest. Something we’ve lost in our culture. Real unplugged rest. We’re finding balance too. How do we juggle #allthethings? Somethings are always in the air while one thing rests in your hand only for a moment. One really can’t multitask. You’re either doing one thing or you’re doing another, however, some of us have found ways to live in alignment largely with the help of technology. But there is a point, we all have it, where the noise and the productivity must end. We must be still. Wait. Listen.

I am so bad as this.

Maybe you’re like me. You feel lazy the instant you sit down and your phone isn’t in your hand or you don’t have a book or journal in your hand.

I was convicted of this as I reviewed my finances for 2019 and began planning for 2020. I’ve tried to set aside time each morning for devotions, prayer, meditation, and reflection and have come across the verses in scripture that speak of living by faith. What does that practically look like as I’m trying to make sense of ones and zeros, spreadsheets, and taxes?

Do I try harder? Should I give more? Should I work more? Should I work less? Maybe, I should stop trying altogether?

The silence only lasts so long in our home and listening for an answer from the Almighty isn’t as epic as I would sometimes like. Followers often don’t get Pauline encounters with Abba Father. Often it is much more subtle after long periods of nothing.

Peace. Joshua 1:9 – A promise that LORD our God is always with us. 2 Peter 1:3 – All things that pertain to life and godliness he has already granted us. This may not mean that everything is going to go our way, it most certainly will not, but when troubles come we are to remain joyful. “Let perseverance/steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

So, I pray. I continue to diligently work unto the LORD who has ordained good works for us to do. I still plan, but I give God the giant eraser, praying his will be done for his glory and not my own.

We continue to look for the beauty that surrounds us each day in the mundane and seek to find ways to remain grateful for all that we have, being content. This in and of itself is a daily struggle as we look to set goals for our life and aspire to bigger and better things.

Paul writes the early church that they are to love one another; even more than what they already had yet their ambition and goal was to live a quiet life dependent on no one. Isn’t that the goal for those of us who are entrepreneurs. We dream of self-sufficiency, free of debt, and make the freedom to write our days, but we can get caught up on the self and forget about the one who made us. We are his and we’re called to love others, not fall more in love with ourselves and the things we acquire.

Self-care is not the same as self-love. Marriages need some of one and less of the other. You can’t just take care of yourself and expect that your marriage is going to thrive, but what you can do is chase after the quiet times with God and his word and look for ways to love each other more, which often looks like the opposite of self-love. My wife is better at this than me. She just serves. Endlessly. But each evening we each take time for ourselves after longs days of schooling, work, meals, kids, and running. We realize this is the opposite for most people, they spend their time together at the end of the day, not us. We’re weird. But it works.

We’re still learning what it means to put God first and our marriage second. We’re still triaging the rest; whatever or whoever is bleeding gets the most attention. For all the ways we are insufficient, grace is enough for us and is enough for you too!

Blessings to you all this year!

James & Katie Stokes

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