North Central Wisconsin Senior & Portrait Photographers James & Katie Stokes Located in Medford, Wisconsin // Personal // Page 2
This has been a year filled with adventure, home-life refinements, and growth. Our family added Eveline and Flex, our Pekachu puppy. This year we have been watching our children grow and mature, some more than others. We are reminded daily that life is precious at every stage of life. We continue to have our eyes opened to God’s grace in our lives. In spite of our ourselves, he has sustained us through it all! Often we are our own worse enemies, believing the lies we’re told. For us, every part of our life has been a leap of faith, hoping that through our failures God would be glorified in our weakness both as parents and as entrepreneurs. It isn’t that we have a “leap off a cliff” type of faith, but more that God has brought us to the edge without much choice. I am thankful for that!
The overwhelming lie we hear and tell ourselves often is “you’re not enough!” I have to admit and confess that perfectionism and the illusion that “we have it all together,” is something we perpetuate and allow others to believe. We think our lives and homes should be clean and tidy and our Instagram feeds should be perfectly curated with beautiful images. As a child and even into my college years, I wanted straight A’s, a 4.0, I wanted it to be perfect. This is how I funded my expensive hobby, photography; my father fiscally motivating my efforts. While having high expectations can be good, I fear it has robbed me of joy and hindered my walk with the Lord and certainly robbed me of YEARS. So much of my value I feel came from what I could do and how well I could do it. Do I have value even when I am not doing anything? The hard truth is yes, especially for someone who HATES sitting still.
Even in our brokenness, by God’s grace, we are HIS! It is in the stillness that we can commune best with him. A struggle I think for any parent. Sadly, my joy has not been KNOWING God. It hasn’t been the focus of my heart and the framework I have built my life around.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
Until a few short years ago, my main focus has been school and paying for it! Over the past seven years, it has been our business. How can I be the best? Through it all I have leaned on my own self-sufficiency. Thinking that I can do it all on my own; online schooling, self-help, YouTube. This is a lonely and isolating place to be and it isn’t where God wants us.
While the Bible tells us to be dependent on no one and to lead a quiet life, It never says we have to do life and faith alone. While God does demand perfection, but it is never something we can do apart from Christ. Our salvation is rooted in our complete dependence on Jesus! And because he has already done the work we can rejoice in his free gift. Sometimes harder said then done, especially when everything isn’t going the way we would like.
The perfection God asks of us is of a heart that finds so much fulfillment and satisfaction in the God of grace that it is able to extend grace to those who don’t deserve it.
None of us deserve Grace and in our journey as parents, there is a constant tug-of-war between the law & gospel, yet so much of what causes tension and disharmony is setting biblical emphasis on worldly unrealistic expectations. In short, projecting our own sinful desires into the expectations of our children; how clean they keep their room is not a reflection of how much we love them or how much God loves them. They are not valued because their handwriting is neat or they scored the winning goal in the soccer game. They are valued first because God made them and second because they were given to me to shepherd. Grace meets us in navigating what are realistic expectations and what is disobedience. Addressing the hearts of your children is far more important than addressing why their sock drawer is always left open. I am a person who is often looking for ways of making things better. That is a nice way of saying I see flaws. Lots of them. In everything. I spend hours perfecting skin, removing blemishes, cropping out ipads, and culling out the not-so-wonderful rejects that no one ever sees all for the sake of creating the illusion of perfection. My soul can become burdened by this. Altering binary in a virtual world can feel frivolous and cumbersome for a person who longs for relationships, adventure, and simply moving. It points to the reality that we were made for more!
We live in an age where work isn’t so much a location as it is a state of mind and one that is very hard to escape. We’re always connected. The news feed, inbox, and calendar dauntingly move forward to infinity. The constant stream of information at our fingertips keep us longing for more, to satisfy our innate hunger for knowledge. Our distraction and our constant search for entertainment are idols that rob us of joy. GUILTY. So where is that balance?
The answer: I don’t know, but God does. He promises that when we put him first everything else will come into order. Our God, the one who created the Universe out of NOTHING and holds it all together for his glory, will sustain us and provide for us! He is a God of order and structure beyond all measure, yet has mercy on his children. As parents and as business owners, it is our goal is always to become more like Jesus and to raise disciples, serving other well, administering grace and kindness in all its forms. This takes a lot of prayer!
In a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, Jesus loves our children more than we do.
This year instead of heading out west, we decided to go Nort’! This July 7th, Katie and I will be celebrating our 8-year wedding anniversary. We honeymooned in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and thought it would be fun to show the kids some of our favorite destinations and give them a history lesson in J&K. We stayed in a quaint little cottage near the beach on the Les Cheneaux Islands at the Hills Point Resort. We took day trips into St. Ignace and Mackinaw City to walk the pier and visit Fort Michilimackinac. The kids were able to play in the sand and explore in the kayaks – really just be kids. Katie and I hope one day to bring all of our children and grandchildren to enjoy the beauty of Northern Michigan. Our lives have changed so drastically over the last 8 years. We an only imagine what life will look like 10, 20, 30 years from now. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to escape for a few days during the year. Vacation rarely is relaxing, but it is always an adventure!
Hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July! We’re so very blessed in this country – may God continue to bless this Nation and our children.
Katie and I wanted to wish all our couples a Happy Valentines Day! We’re so very blessed to have each other and we’re wishing you all the best as you plan the day you start your journey as Husband & Wife. After 7 years of marriage, and 6 years of photographing weddings together, we have learned to appreciate the small-unplanned surprises in life. Not everything goes exactly as we envision and rarely do things go according to plan, but at the end of the day we have each other. That is what counts. We have each other’s side, back, front and everything in between. I couldn’t have planned a more meaningful life than the one God has created for us. We are grateful for every blessing our imperfect love has allowed: our children, our businesses, our home, our friends, our family, and the clients who make it all possible.
Valentine’s Day’s origin is a complicated one woven in myth and romanticism & I’m not sure anyone knows for certain of how it all came to be, but I am reminded of a love that gives sacrificially, a love that sees no lines in the sand, a love that serves even when tired, a love that takes out the trash in subzero temperatures, a love that risks life and limb to find the right cold medicine at 3:00 am, a love that cleans messes and doesn’t point them out, a love that gives up everything! I am fortunate enough to have known this love and know this love daily and on this fact alone – I count myself a rich man.
When the flowers, chocolates, dinners, & love letters fade, what will you have? According to one of our favorites movies, Moulin Rouge!
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and to be loved in return.”
There is some solid truth to that and one that comes with a nostalgic melody that often causes us to break out into song. This Holiday may your gifts to one another exceed monetary value and extend far beyond today and your wedding day, may it continue to influence your life and the lives of others, may it transcend this generation and continue into the next. Love is our greatest adventure!
This year has been a great adventure! So many of our prayers have been answered and we have been shown an abundance of Grace, so much more than we ever could have imagined. Our family has grown and we’ve seen so many wonderful place and done some incredible things. We have enjoyed another year together on this earth and for that we are eternally grateful!
2015 will mark our eighth year of marriage & our fifth year in business as full-time photographers. Those are milestones to us and we are counting our blessings. As we approach another year, we take time to reflect on where we have come and where we hope to be. We ask, “what are we doing this all for? What is the point? Is creating pretty photographs and raising a family enough?” These questions and more are brought to the table and as ideas and goals are tossed onto the drawing room floor, I come to the same place of unrest.
It isn’t that none of it isn’t good enough, rather it is the opposite – our life is so good and yet we feel called to be apart of something much bigger. The wanderlust hasn’t silenced, but grown louder over the last few years. That feeling of wanting more is dangerous one and can lead to discontent and an anxious heart longing for the next best thing. Where can we go next? What experience can we have that is better than the last one? What can I buy that will make my life better? I too often ask myself these questions, not only in my personal life, but also for our business. How can we continue to strive to be more and yet be happy with where we are?
We’re called to be content, in times of both plenty and hunger, abundance and need – in every circumstance – and yet be diligent stewards of what we are given. This tension is where we live; striving to follow the Jesus’s teachings. I cannot even begin to understand all the plans that God has for us, but we prayerfully move forward with hope that He will continue to write His story through us. We are his letters. 2 Cor. 3:3. And as we continue to tell the stories of others, we are constantly reminded of our own, which was bought with a great price.
So we must continue to glorify God with what we have been given and look for new ways to share His Good News! Our greatest adventure on this earth is living out His commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and love one another: just as I have loved you. LOVE IS OUR GREATEST ADVENTURE!
So when feelings of wanderlust arise, I need look no further than the person next to me to experience the adventure that comes from loving sacrificially. Right now Katie and I are in the season of raising and teaching our six children. They are our mission field, one day we hope they too will go and fulfill the Great Commission. We seek to cherish every moment we have been given with these little souls and we cannot wait to see how God will use them for His purposes. Lord willing. We are being shown how much work there is yet to be done in our own lives; a work that will take an eternity. One day, we pray God will give us a new harvest.
While God’s creation is truly AMAZING and it all points to His awesome power, taking it all in and serving our family isn’t why we are here. We are called to a higher purpose; to love and point others to Christ, making disciples through sharing the Gospel of His life, death, and resurrection. I pray that our life and our work is doing that. We want what we do to be a blessing to others and showcase the majesty of His wonders in all our lives.
Thank you for allowing us to be apart of your journey and we hope you have a blessed New Year filled with many more opportunities for adventure! God Bless & Happy New Year.
If there is one thing we have learned from being parents, it is that life is messy.
But within the chaos and unpredictability of life, there is beauty in the imperfection. We have to be very intentional about living in the moment, breathing – taking it all in. In a second, the day is gone and routine pushes us along like some perpetual rollercoaster. Silence, a rare gift, and one we don’t find often, but certainly cherish when we are blessed with it. On occasion we will fill it with the sound of a shutter in an attempt to slow the train of fleeting moments we so desperately cling to. While we live them day in and day out, I know we will look back and wonder where those little faces went and think how did we do it? The answer will always be by God’s most amazing grace!
Grace. That place we want to live, yet struggle to find the air necessary to breathe a sigh of thankfulness. Pray. Our daily walk to live closer to our Heavenly Father asking that he would continue to direct us on his path. Faith. Believing that through all the challenges and failures that lie ahead and behind us, God is, was, and always will be there looking out for out eternal good.
Our daughter came into the world in a hurry; something tells us that she will be living up to her name. She was longed for and is so full of life and light. God is gracious. We have truly enjoyed this first week of Eveline’s life and are very much looking forward to all the sweet memories we will make together, Lord willing.
Time is so very precious. We are learning how to be stewards of all we have been given, especially our children. Katie and I are still in awe of how God answers prayers and not just our own. So often we forget to write down all the ways that God has shown Himself to us through His word and answered prayers.
God gave us a daughter
She is healthy
Mom is healthy
Our hearts are not anxious
We want for nothing
God has governed our time and schedule
God has given us opportunities to share the Gospel
He forgives us
He fights for us in our defense
He is patient in showing us our sin
He is fostering relationships we have yearned for
Our children love Jesus
Our hearts are full
My uncle is alive
Season filled with remarkable clients
This list should and could continue for pages, all undeserved gifs. We are eternally grateful. Truly blessed and not because we deserve it.
While in Utah, I had the pleasure of spending a later afternoon with these two talented creatives! From Photography to Fashion Makeup, these two are one remarkable duo. One of my all time favorite things is sharing what I’ve learned and experienced, generally through trial and error. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I am more than willing to share what I have learned over the past 10 + years spent behind a camera + computer. I am still learning and hope to continue to learn until my final breath.
If I could go back and have a talk with my 14 year old self holding a Pentax Plus. If I could only utter one word it would be “believe.” This one word has changed my life. The problem was I didn’t believe … I could do it. While at the time, I didn’t know what IT was, I know I wanted to do IT and I wanted to be the best! Fear prevented me from chasing my dreams. And excuses kept me from believing, but faith, no matter how small, has the power to transform us.
I still don’t believe that I can do it, at least not alone.
How can we take credit for anything as if we did it all on our own? All we have, all we are, and all we ever will have is a gift. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 None of it is earned or deserved. Our life is not our own, we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Therefore I must honor God with all I have! This doesn’t stop because I own a business or because I am a photographer. Photography is the platform that God has given me to further showcase how remarkable HE is, not how great I am. I am but a lump of clay that I pray God is using for his special purpose. We’re called to live quite humble lives, but at the same time proclaim the GOOD NEWS!
So what does any of this have to do with photography? Great question. I am still figuring it out, by God’s grace.
I want to speak your love
Not just another noise
I want to be your light
I want to be your voice
Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I do not want to say a word
Unless it points the world back to you
Hawk Nelson: Words
This is my WHY! I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
If only I had believed the truth; the truth that caused every ounce of my being to surrender – to give up what I wanted, to stop writing my own journey. TO STOP WORRING. I wanted all the pieces to fit together PERFECTLY. Instead of trusting the words of Jeremiah 29:1, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I tried to make plans that didn’t include Him or his word.
Moving forward, I now know Jesus as the author and perfecter of faith, who said “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” I was once a lost sheep and I expect that I will continue to stray from the path that God has planned from me, but patiently he calls me home.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
This is one of my favorite verses in the bible. It depicts such a remarkable moment of compassion and grace between a father and son. As a broken man, I long to love my sons (& daughters) this way; forgiving, compassionate, and patient. God has been so incredibly patient with me. I am learning to expect less and give more. I pray for the heart of a servant (and the mind and body of a superhuman.) I’m still waiting for the superhuman part, but coffee works for now.
I am not perfect. My photographs are not perfect. Nothing about me is perfect, but God is and he has given me everything good for doing his will. I have great comfort in knowing that I have everything I need to live out my purpose on this earth. So to those who are searching, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, all the while giving credit to the one who gives you the very air within your lungs and the light that passes through your lens. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” This is the best advice I could give to anyone.
Utah Portrait Photographer
Our rebrand has been a long time coming and so has this post. It is hard to put into words the process by which a company becomes a brand. The brand is a story. But it’s a story about you, not about the brand. Seth Godin said this and other insightful things as to what a brand is and how it affects what we buy and how we shop. What we buy and who we hire are all extensions of ourselves. The goal for us is to create meaning and to have that meaning convey a story that attracts the people we want to work with.
For us, our business has never been anything but us. From our approach to our style and website, we did it all. It was difficult to realize that sometimes you’re too close to situation to be able to critically analyze what you’re trying to convey. Often it is our inability to make decisions that keep us from our reaching goals. Knowing this made it easier to hire a professional designer to take on the daunting task of telling our story and pleasing Katie and myself, which is not an easy challenge to say the least.
October Ink, a Salt Lake City, Utah design studio, was the perfect fit for us and Jayne did such an incredible job taking our jumbled thoughts and putting them into something tangible and beautiful. For us, it was hard to completely say goodbye to the design we had created four years ago, but we also know it didn’t quite fit who we are and where we wanted to be.
A Pinterest board served as the starting point in creating what would become the inspiration for the logo, pattern, & fonts. I had been working on this for over 6 months and it had become a collection of images that truly spoke to my overall aesthetic and my personality. It is hard to put your personality into words without feeling cliché and it is even harder in this industry to doing something that feels original. The same goes for creating a logo. Our goal has always been to stay true to ourselves and to create a business that not only served our hopes and dreams but served our clients well and conveyed a message of trust and integrity. The challenge is not so much that our business has changed, but that we have changed. Over the last 7 years we have evolved and our business along with us. Out styles and preferences have evolved and we have grown as people and photographers. We have a clearer picture of where we want to be and the types of images we want to create. When people say they put their heart, sweat, and tears into something – it is true! Owning a small business is a labor of love and it truly isn’t what people often think it is. It is the challenges and the uncertainty that makes me feel alive and it is the emotional and mental struggles that push us forward each day as a husband, father, and small business owner. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in Katie – she is the backbone of everything we do and without her none of this would be a reality and our children would starve, truly.
We have learned that you cannot measure success with a bank balance and how we feel about something doesn’t necessarily make it true. It is very easy to become overwhelmed by all the things you could be doing or the ways in which you could be improving both personally and professionally, but unless you allow yourself the room for grace and failure, life will pass you by and success will remain just a word.
Moving forward with our vision, we wanted to refresh the way we looked and yet maintain the feeling of familiarity and nostalgia. Our goal was to create a sense of newness and allow us to engage our new and future clients in a fresh and authentic way. We are still James & Katie and we do things the same way, but we are always striving for ways to improve and grow and we felt this was the perfect start!
Just for fun here are a few images SOOC (Straight out of camera) and then the edits. Images are an extension of a brand and cohesion is so important when it comes to delivering a quality product every single time.
Katie and I would love to hear what you think and we thank you all for supporting us on our journey!
Special thanks to October Ink for doing such an incredible job and for making our vision come to life.