LIFEOGRAPHY | Richmond Virginia Mechanicsville Maternity, Newborn, Baby, Child & Family Photographer » Lifestyle Portrait Photographer

Some days a mama is proud. And today is one of them. My 7-year-old son and I have learned a lot in the last few weeks about love, compassion and serving others. What began as a response to a tough day evolved into a project that we hope will inspire and encourage others. exists to send kind words and encouragement from our mailbox to yours — no strings attached, just a boy’s heart to spread an uplifting message: You Are Loved.

It’s been a fun homeschool project too: he learned how to buy a domain, set up hosting, create a blog, content, logo and add photos. These are the kinds of things that make me so grateful to walk beside my children in their education.

If you have a moment, take a peek and feel free to ask for a note. He would love to mail one to you.

  • Vanessa - Liam – I have to say this is an AWESOME venture!!! How great you are sending kind words to people. I wish more people had a giving, kind heart like you! Keep up the great work. 😉

    Stephanie – This is a testament to what a great mom you are! Love it!ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - Thank you Vanessa. It has been a labor of Luv for both of us. Not sure it says what a great mom I am — I fail so many times each day. But, I am grateful for grace – and that with each day comes a fresh start to keep our eyes and hearts on things that are true and right!ReplyCancel


Sweet Scout:

This week, women in our country are celebrating natural beauty.

And, right now, you are three. When I ask you, “What makes you beautiful?”, you smile coyly, and gaze at me with your doey brown eyes and reply, “My heart does, mama!”

We live in a world where mothers must teach such truths from the very beginning. Your impressionable ears and mind and eyes are bombarded with falsehoods. With billboards and Disney princesses and photoshopped magazines and well-meaning strangers who compliment you on your beautiful smile, a pretty dress and curling locks. From the beginning women are admired for what others see on the surface. And my love, it is in our nature to cling to this. To believe that what they say and see is true. And that only what can be seen is what is beautiful.

But this is wrong my precious girl.

Pretty is not beauty without kindness and gentleness and love. If ugly lives inside you, then no $50 cream or surgeon’s scalpel can cover it up or cut it out. Beauty cannot be bought. You won’t find it in a pair of jeans that hug your hips just so, in a 30-day workout that tones and tightens, or in a diet that cleanses and flattens. It doesn’t matter if your lips shimmer if the words that come from them are dark and angry and hateful. If love doesn’t live in you, you will never be satisfied with others or yourself. You will never feel beautiful.

You will strive and strive but never arrive. You will listen to the chorus that screams you are not enough, thin enough, tall enough, tan enough, pretty enough. But they will promise that you can have these things — if you buy into the hype and the products that sell because of our own self-loathing.

My love, mommy knows because she has done these things. There was a time when I knew that people saw my body first and not my brains, or my compassion or my abilities. And when meeting expectations of others becomes your focus, that’s when the ugly creeps in. It is an easy route to rely on pretty my love. But the cost is steep. And the scars run deep.

You are radiant my daughter, when you love the Lord first. When you showcase your heart and not your body. When you love fully and wholly and care for those who deserve it the least but need it most. When you serve others instead of others’ expectations. When you stand up for good instead of tearing down. When you love.
When you love.
Love Him.
Love them.
Love YOU.

Love yourself as you are because you are fearfully and wonderfully made my beauty-full girl. Love your flaws. Embrace imperfections. But, guard your heart. Your most precious resource. It is where beauty lives and grows, and shines forth.

And when I am old and my pretty has faded. When I am withered and am but a shadow of the girl and mama I was. When my hearing has lessened and my sight is slim, I will ask you what makes you beautiful. Scout, I will ask you then, but I will pray now that I hear, “My heart does, Mama.”

Because it always has.
And you will know it is true.
And you will tell your own beauty-full girl.
And she will have your heart, just as you have mine.

With love and hope,


Follow on in the circle to Emma Wood – beautiful words, beautiful images, a beautiful soul. You can also connect with the circle of writers on our Facebook Page: Letters to Our Children.

  • Ginger Unzueta - Stephanie,
    You’ve been one of my favorite photographers since I began this journey but you are also an amazing writer! I love your words and how I can relate and understand to so many things you share! You have the most beautiful heart and I cannot wait to hang out very soon!! XoxoReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Ginger – The feeling is mutual. Always so grateful for the beauty in you that shines through your kind words!ReplyCancel

  • Lori - Gorgeous words, as usual, My Friend! She’s a lucky girl to have inherited your beautiful heart.ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Lori – you are unfailingly kind – and such a beautiful, kindred soul. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Sunshine - I wish someone would have told me this when I was younger. But now I get to tell my girl. Reading this I had to take a deep breath, it hits so close to home. Great words!ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Oh Sunshine – thank you for your note. I wish so too — for both of us. I am so grateful we know these things now and can pas them on to our own daughters. You are a beauty-full mama.ReplyCancel

  • Rashmi - Such wise words Stephanie. I am so keenly aware of this with two daughters, 10 and 8 in age. While we don’t get those magazines and they don’t really watch the telly, they hear things like ‘skinny’ and ‘chubby’ in school. I am so mindful of always loving how i look in the mirror and never criticizing myself. I hope my girls, like your Scout always always see that true beauty comes from the inside and with age it only gets better and better… not the opposite way around. Love your heart and love this letter. xoReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - I always appreciate your perspective Rashmi. Your girls are much further along this path and I can only imagine what it must be like to navigate them in a world that had a different definition of beauty. You are so amazing for being such a beautiful, loving example. oxo.ReplyCancel

  • shalonda - oh Stephanie such a beautifully written letter to that doe eyed little girl! such soft words that make a big impact, and serve as a good reminder to us all…I truly believe our children are a true reflection of us and that is glaringly evident here, bc ms s obviously got such a beautiful heart from you my friend…ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Shalonda – you are so sweet to say so. I love that we mamas stick together to encourage one another.ReplyCancel

  • Debbie Wibowo - A beautiful little girl with such a big heart! Your letter is beautiful and I can imagine one day in the future where she will look back and read this letter, and her strength is renewed.ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Thank you, thank you Debbie! I hope so — all of our babies are going to be so blessed by these snippets one day. Just love this project.ReplyCancel

  • Kirsty - Stephanie, this is your best letter yet – so relevant to all of us in this world today more than ever – so important that we pass on to our girls so they know, that beauty is more than skin deep – that we can love and do good and our beauty will shine – thank you for giving us a perfectly down to earth, from the heart reminder xReplyCancel

It’s super thrilling to share that I’m featured in Practical Photography Magazine’s March 2014 issue. The editors requested one of my favorite shots for an article focusing on shooting the body: my grandmother cradling my infant son in her hands. I used to peruse this gorgeous publication at Barnes & Noble when I was just beginning my photography journey. It is based in the UK and offers a wealth of information on technique and gear to both nascent photographers and seasoned professionals. Check it out online or in your local bookstore.

Commercial photography

  • Lindsay Erickson - Oh Steph! This is my absolute favorite work of yours. Made such an impact I can’t think of you without remembering these beautiful moments captured on film. So excited to see them published. I lost my grandparents a couple years ago and I thought of these and wished I’d done something similar. They are precious!ReplyCancel


For him, friends are a big deal.
They are talked about and treasured.
And thought about.
And on the tip of his tongue when he wakes.
They are important to the most extroverted boy I know.
And love.
He doesn’t spend entire school days with peers–
But still, play comes often. In the neighborhood.
At church. At the YMCA. On Fridays.
On Fridays, when he attends a school–
An enrichment program that opens its doors to homeschool students.
There are field trips and clubs.
A yellow school bus.
Playgrounds and parties.
An opportunity to enjoy the best parts of what a classroom education can be.
And today,
the worst.

He is seven. And excitable. And energetic. And relentlessly optimistic.
He will beat most at chess.
Or monopoly. Or cribbage.
He reads at a level well beyond his years,
and speaks that way too.
But, he cannot always read you,
or your subtle communication signals.
He will talk. And talk. And talk more, if you listen.

But he will love you.
And want your company.
And make you feel important.
And if you are not lovable, he will find something to like about you.
He is kind.
And would not intentionally offend.
Although, sometimes he does,
as growing boys are wont to do.
But, I know his heart.

Today he bounded out of my car and into his school,
with a smile stretched wide and a green backpack stuffed with Valentines.
There was no class list because there was not a formal exchange.
But he painstakingly addressed them the night before,
to the friends he would see on Friday.
To his favorites.
And a few extras in case he missed anyone.
And I prayed for his day.

At pickup, I saw him,
walking toward me.
Crawling in. Buckling. And then it came.
A knife piercing the air and my heart.
My mama heart.
“No one gave me any Valentines. Not one.”
And a pause.
“Except one of the teachers.”
And I just inhaled.
And tried to think of what to say,
that would mend,
and erase,
and fill up the empty.
When inside I was overflowing.

Not everyone brought cards or candy to exchange,
he said.
And that helped.
It helped us both.
But there is a boy who is often unkind to him,
that this son of mine insisted on giving a Valentine in spite of that,
because he knows love is right,
and love wins.
That boy simply said “You spelled my name wrong.”
When this love offering came.
When kindness that was not earned was given.
When it was scrawled in a 7-year-old’s handwriting
who didn’t ask his his mother for help,
because this was just from him.
And I nearly fell into a thousand pieces.

But his tears didn’t come,
And so I held onto mine. Then.
He still had fun, he said.
And ate maybe 15 cookies.
And chips.
And other stuff.
Which is a big deal for a kid that most certainly never gets 15 cookies at home.

And despite it all,
he was down, but not broken.
He was grateful for the day.
The party.
The playground.
And the time
with “friends.”

And I was reeling.
I wanted to shout,
“That boy is not nice!”
“He does not deserve your love!”
But that would be a lie.
And a mother’s battle cry.
The cry of a broken heart,
and not a restored one.

So instead I asked, “How are you?”
And he said. “It’s okay.”
“It’s okay that I gave him one and my friends because
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Mom.'”
And that was nearly my undoing.
Of my heart, unraveling.

And through it, I was grateful for our God.
And for Grace.
And His love,
that I do not deserve.
And for this boy of mine,
who sees so far beyond the ugly,
that he looks at the good,
even with sad eyes,
and a let down heart.

He loves.
He loves.
And they may not see him.
You may not see him.
But I do.
I know his heart.
And the love of Christ shines through.
Through his dark and my dark.
And it is light.
And it is love.

Tonight I am still broken.
But he is okay.
And he is loved.
And there is much to be thankful for
He knows love.
And love always wins.

  • Steve - Beautifully written.

    It is better to give than to receive. Not only is it true, but you learn in life it happens to be that way quite often and knowing that truth makes it just a bit easier.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Fry - Oh Steph. This pierced my soul.ReplyCancel

  • Clair - What a beautiful tribute to your special son. It does hurt when love is not returned. (Though I’m sure that the lack of Valentines doesn’t accurately reflect his friendships at school. Teachers should probably do something more formal or not at all. But that is just a side note.) I feel sad when my happy little social butterfly gets her feelings hurt. Your story so eloquently celebrates the good news of the love of Christ and it’s these tender loving souls who know it best. Thanks for sharing this, Stephanie, as it has helped me see a greater perspective.ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Clair, thank you for your sweet words. I adore your kind heart — you have such a gift of encouragement!ReplyCancel

  • beth cupitt - oh, this happened to us to. he said he was the only one in the class that didn’t get a single candy gram. i hate this part. i don’t know how to make it better. like you said, he seems less upset than i am. i guess it’s all part of the process. but this part stinks a little.ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Hugs to your sweet and strong boy too Beth. I know we don’t have the answers, but knowing we are not alone makes things just a tad brighter.ReplyCancel

  • Courtenay - First, Michael read your post. “She really is so talented.She has a gift for words.”
    Tell her, I said. She’d appreciate your insight.
    Today, I experienced your words, and I looked for his comments. None! So here they are. But I need to add my thoughts, too.
    Your words move me into your mind and I feel your pain, your love, your indignation. We love you and your family, and learn the lessons with you. Thank you for sharing all of your emotions and wisdom – not just the good and easy ones. ❤ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Courtenay and Michael – You are both such a treasure to us! Thank YOU for always sharing love — and loving on my little ones. It means more than you could ever know – and there really is no way to repay you for that. Much love – SReplyCancel

  • Tim - Beautifully written Stephanie!ReplyCancel

  • Emily - Thank you, my friend. Such beautiful words and a beautiful reminder. What a precious son you have! Love you.ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Thank you Emily + Tim. We miss you and your mazing boys (and sweet girl!) so much.ReplyCancel

  • Ginger Ingley Unzueta on Facebook - my eyes filled with big tears Stephanie. i so can relate to this.I love the way you shared this. you are a beautiful writer.ReplyCancel

  • Lifeography: Modern Family Photography on Facebook - Ginger Ingley Unzueta Thank you sweet friend. You always have the kindest words. oxo.ReplyCancel

  • Jackie Kirsten - Stephanie,

    I can really relate to this, I am a homeschool mom of two kids, seven & three year old. My seven year old daughter also really longs for friends. It is more challenging where we live in the Netherlands. We don’t have programs like this in schools here. Really sweet of your son. I’ll go to his website and ask for a letter for my daughter. She really like receiving a card. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Stephanie - Jackie – Thank you so much for your note. It is tough sometimes isn’t it? Liam was so excited to get your request. It will be on it’s way this week. I hope it gives her a smile.ReplyCancel

  • Amy - I don’t know what to say. What a beautiful, touching truth. I’m just amazed by the candor and compassion in your pictures and your writing. What amazing gifts you have. Thank you so much for sharing them.ReplyCancel

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. – Mark 8:34-35

This morning a crowd of families anxiously gathered outside of a place they had long awaited. A massive metal door slid upward. Light poured in. And they came. And smiled. And were hopeful. And were blessed.

Today I had the opportunity to photograph our church’s new building dedication. It is a monumental step in the life of a church plant – a space to call your own. To call home. To serve as a base for outreach in your community. Although we haven’t been here since the beginning, this is our Florida family. Today was a day to celebrate and remember and praise. And I was grateful. Ever so grateful for that.

If you’re in the area, Trinity New Life Church is a welcoming, diverse group of folks (friendly too). We’d love for you to stop in.