The Wenger family hasn’t had it easy. In fact, I might say that their lives the past few years have been like trudging through thick mud. Hard. Painful. Nearly hopeless at times. And yet, there is a light each one of them that spills out through their eyes when they laugh. Every last one of them. Mark and Debbie have 5 children. Two boys who live out of state and 3 daughters. Ruthanne goes to USC and flew out a few days after our session to attend classes in Bhutan for a semester. Ruthanne was incredibly ill for a few years back. So much so that she had to live hours away with each parent switching off every few days. Ruthann is full of life and healthy now and I was so drawn to her obviously creative spirit and the way she loved her younger sisters. I was even able to grab some photos of her sweet boyfriend Stewart (best photo assistant/umbrella holder ever!)
Joanna and Abigail both live at home and both struggle with chronic pain, inflammation and anxiety mostly related to lymes disease. Abigail is so cheerful for someone who hurts all of the time. Her cheefulness and bright attitude is genuine and not put on for pictures. Joanna was very shy and sweet. She loves horses and children and both help a lot with her feelings of anxiety.
For these photos, I was only able to photograph the three daughters.
I made the drive down to photograph this family on a rainy afternoon after a particularly draining week. I nearly cancelled but I knew I needed to push through. There’s something so powerful about using a gift I’ve been given to bless someone. It just fills up my soul in a way nothing else can.
This session did just that…and so much more.
It was raining and energy was low and anxiety high for the two youngest daughters. There weren’t a lot of options nearby for portraits so we did a lot in the home and I’m so glad for that because they are my very favorites.
Debbie is a youthful beauty who is incredibly warm and welcoming. She spends her days and nights caring for her two sick daughters. Meds, oils, doctors visits, always constant. She told me that one of the hardest things about the girls being sick was how she could never predict how the day or hour would be so plans were made and broken a lot. Sometimes Abigail is in so much pain that she can’t even hug her and only touching the tips of their fingers together will work to show her affection.
Debbie was wearing her treasured nest necklace with 5 pearls representing her children here on earth and a larger pearl that reminds her of the 5 babies that she lost. Debbie also has a battle scar, a reminder of the thyroid cancer she was diagnosed with last year. Her beauty and strength in this time was so incredible to behold.
Mark is a professor at Columbia International University (a place where my husband and many of my family members attended college…small world!). He is hard working yet he was so tender with his girls. He did not mask the hardships of the past few years but his thankfulness for what they had was free flowing. He told me of an terrible car accident 4 years ago, that nearly took all of their lives and which has caused a lot of anxiety in their girls. The accident happened on a cross country trip that they had saved and planned for years for. He also shared about a tree falling on their house, a botched roofing job and mold that had nearly ruined their earthly possessions. My favorite thing was watching him love his family. He loved them completely and without holding back, and whenever he laughed (which was often) his eyes twinkled. The night I did the photos, after I left, Mark got the devastating news that his brother had an aggressive brain tumor.
I have to say, for a husband and wife to have gone through what they have, these two have such genuine love and admiration for each other. And they don’t just settle for surviving. Their deep love is so evident in each touch and glance.
I teared up when I found an “adventure book” (from the movie “Up”) and opened it to find that page after page was blank. There was also a camper parked in the driveway collecting dust with family handprints on the front. Both waiting for easier times than this.
“One day” they whispered.
Their adventurous spirits have not been squelched.
We took a good long time with photographing the girls. Aches and pains and anxiety kept things from moving as a usual photo session would. In the end, we finally got some genuine smiles from Joanna after the neighbor twins came to play. And boy when she smiles, she doesn’t hold back! What a beauty.
Seeing the sisters dance in the rain, tenderly hold a face during a panic attack, be patient, be kind. It was all very hard and very moving.
As you look through these images I hope that you see the joy and hope that I saw. I hope that if you feel like you are trudging through mud, that you wont feel alone, and I hope that if you know someone trudging through mud that you can find some way to share your gifts (cooking, listening, yard work, or even something as simple as picking up a child from school). Because the blessing is there, two fold.