As a lifestyle family photographer, I was thrilled when Natalie Makuh asked me to their house in Arvada, Colorado to photograph a very special tradition to celebrate their wedding anniversary as a family.
Ok, ok, I was actually terrified. She has three fabulously beautiful children, and I knew from a previous family photo session they are full-on, full-energy, and full of awesome ideas about “how else we could take pictures.” Also, I really love family portraits in nature, tall grasses glinting in a setting sun, distant mountains in the background, etc, etc. I even tried to convince Natalie to bring her tradition to a local park I had in mind, but she thought the kids would take direction best in their own environment where their tradition started.
So I said yes, and I’m so, so glad I did.
I felt so honored to have been invited to this intimate celebration of the love that started this whole crazy circus. With everyone dressed to the nines (Natalie in her original wedding dress, Elliot in his suit), their oldest little girl helped them repeat their vows, then they turned up the tunes and had a dance party. Finally, when the rainstorm outside let up for a minute, and we dashed out for some family pictures, all nestled up together in their finery, full of kisses and snuggles.
Natalie and Elliot were celebrating 10 years of marriage, and as I drove away, reflecting on their kindness toward me, their gentle communication with each other and their kids, and the sweet spirit that seems to resonate through the whole family, I thought, Huh, I bet they’ve learned a thing or two in their years together.
I reached out to her after our shoot to see if she would share their story, and I’m pleased to include some of our chat for you to enjoy because there’s so much we can learn from each other as we walk this journey of being family.
Holly Freeman Photography: I know you and Elliot are originally from Nederland, Colorado but can you tell me more about how you met?
Natalie: We met at age six when his family started coming to my dad’s church, so we basically grew up together. In high school, I was taking an algebra class that was too hard for me, Elliot was the nerd who tutored me, and that’s when we discovered we made a really good pair. We were just friends, didn’t go down the ‘we’re-in-love-path’ until we were 20. I was one of the few that treated him like a friend and didn’t have ulterior motives, and it was the same with him. He just wanted to be my friend. I think in the back of our minds we had other ideas, but we put it off until we were close to the point where we could do something about it: making money, living near each other, etc. Probably the best advice I had from my parents was to hang out, but don’t say you’re going to be with this one person forever when you’re too young. My mom said, “You’ll just know,” and I think that’s true. We got married at 22.
HFP: What are some of the challenges that come with being married for 10 years?
Natalie: Well, two weeks before our wedding, Elliot was commuting to work, passed out and totaled my car. He was still a college student, his diabetes wasn’t under control, so when we were first married, every time he left the house, I was convinced I’d never see him again. We’ve had to work together to get that under control, which has meant going to doctor’s appointments together and asking questions. There have been nights when I’ve woken up, checked his blood sugar and given him insulin shots all while he was sleeping.
There’s been financial stress because of his diabetes, too. Whenever he’s lost a job, our first thought is health insurance.
In terms of conflict, he would make me really mad when we were first married, but he just doesn’t get mad. I’m the fiery one. We get through conflict with a lot of discussion and prayer. We discuss something forever, and then put it off for a day, then talk about it again, and come to a place where we sort of agree. There have been very few times when we’ve come to a point where we could not agree, where neither would back down. I was just thinking about this, actually, reading over my vows: I pledged to submit, so when we’ve come to a conflict, I’ve had to let him make the decision.
HFP: Wow, my husband has explicitly said he doesn’t want that kind of responsibility. Elliot is okay with that?
Natalie: The outcome is on him, and I don’t think that bothers him. He takes the responsibility seriously.
HFP: What have you learned about yourself through your marriage to Elliot?
Natalie: I’ve learned to slow down a lot, to take life in stride. Also, I’ve learned that I’m valuable to him and to our family. Honestly, he was the only person who wanted to date me, who saw who I really was, and he has convinced me over the years that that person is valuable.
HFP: What resources have you used to strengthen your marriage over the years?
Natalie: Our church has been huge, just hearing the sermons week after week. It’s shaped Elliot, as someone who didn’t have a great father figure. The senior pastor is a great dad and husband, and the stories he tells over and over, year after year have been the biggest influence. Also, we have a group of close confidential friends that has been vital. You can tell them anything, and they’ll come back with encouragement and good feedback, will pick you up when you’re feeling muddy.
HFP: Any advice for those just starting out?
Natalie: Communication is huge. You just aren’t going to get anywhere if you aren’t telling each other things. You have to vulnerable—10 years in, I’m still reminding myself. It’s ok! If you never say it, you can’t expect the other person to respond to it. You have to be willing to speak, to listen, to hear their heart and to get to the bottom without jumping to conclusions. You have to remember that in conflict, the feelings are stronger than the truth. So you have to set aside your feelings in order to dig for the truth, and sometimes that means setting aside your feelings for quite some time. And you have to respect each other’s feeling in the process, too.
This is the kind of family that just ignites my passion as a family photographer. Natalie and I chatted a few more minutes and of course, got to talking about our mutual love of family pictures. She texted me this cute idea from their home in Arvada for keeping new and relevant photographs in their living space that I thought I’d pass along. . .
Any cute ideas of your own? Please mention it in the comments below. Want more tips and encouragement for your journey as a family? Scroll down and hit "Subscribe."