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What Working for Chip and Joanna Gaines Has Taught Two Latter-day Saint Women

by | Nov. 01, 2018

Mormon Life

Located in downtown Waco, Texas, Magnolia Market at the Silos welcomed an estimated 1.6 million visitors in 2017, reportedly drawing more people to the state of Texas than the Alamo in San Antonio. Magnolia Market is really pretty simple: it consists of a home décor shop, a bakery, a garden and a grassy field surrounded by food trucks. So why do people come from all around the world just to see it?

Magnolia Makes the Map

America was introduced to Waco, Texas-natives Chip and Joanna Gaines on May 23, 2013, when the pilot episode of “Fixer Upper” first aired on HGTV. The show was picked up two months later and in April of 2014, the show’s first season premiered on the network. For five seasons, viewers watched Chip and Joanna Gaines transform their hometown of Waco, Texas, one fixer upper at a time. The Gaines helped shine a new light on the city of Waco, which has since attracted new residents and millions of visitors from all over the map.

Before moving to Waco for a job with Magnolia, Emily Snyder, a member of the Church, was intrigued by the charm of Magnolia. Her interest was piqued because of her work with Clayton Christensen, the author of “The Power of Everyday Missionaries.”

“We (as members of the Church) do a lot of work with our missionary efforts and we do a lot of pushing the word out. Their book (“A Magnolia Story,”) talks a lot about faith, but “Fixer Upper” almost never does,” Snyder says explaining her fascination. “Yet, they’ve got thousands upon thousands of people flocking to a town in the middle of Texas that they’re desperate to be a part of.”

A Uniting of Faiths

Kelsie Monsen, a designer who has worked for Magnolia for the past two and a half years, says Magnolia has “a feeling and a spirit there.”

“I think that’s what draws people to it,” Monsen says. “Growing up, I assumed things were very black and white when it came to different beliefs. Coming here and seeing the testimonies that people have of Christ and the work they do in His name, and just the spirit that they have—to see Christ dwelling in all different people and in different ways—was a huge eye-opener to me.”

Snyder and Monsen didn’t know each other prior to working together for Magnolia, but it is clear they have become close friends. In addition to sharing the same employer and the same faith as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Snyder and Monsen are both from Utah. But they are also in completely different life situations. Kelsie Monsen is the working mother of three small children and Snyder is a single, recent MBA grad, who is currently working to achieve 41 dreams before she turns 41 next summer.

Their journeys to Waco may have been completely different, but both roads led to Magnolia.

Emily Snyder’s Journey 

Emily Snyder, now Magnolia’s Chief of Staff, grew up idolizing her mother, who she describes as a “masterful mama.”

“She’s so good at it,” Snyder says. “She has all the answers. Her priority is us all the time. She’s completely fulfilled being a mother.”

Snyder became a teacher because she felt it was the closest thing to training to be a mother. But after five years of teaching, when Snyder wasn’t married and there was no sign of children in her future, she decided to make an unexpected career move. She accepted a job to work as a secretary for the Relief Society general presidency feeling that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“I recruited her to work in our office because I loved her personality,” Sister Julie B. Beck, the Relief Society general president at the time, says of Snyder. “She’s having an adventure, and it’s not what she would pick. If she were to pick, she’d be a mom by now.”

After two years of working in the Relief Society offices, Snyder’s adventure continued. She tried to go back to teaching but felt a need to move. She ended up in Boston where she was able to become an administrative assistant for Clayton Christensen at the Harvard Business School. Working at HBS inspired Snyder to go to business school herself, and she enrolled in Columbia’s MBA program.

She remembers the question that inspired her route to Magnolia. “You won’t be a traditional MBA student and candidate,” someone told her. “You’re not going to do the traditional path, so who is doing something that you’re really interested in and excited about?”

Snyder made a list of companies she thought highly of, but in the back of her mind there was always a constant pull toward one company: Magnolia.

“The first year of business school, they say, ‘Think about what you want to wear every day to work,’” Snyder says. “And I remember thinking, ‘I want to wear what Joanna Gaines wears. I want to still do really good work and great things, but I don’t want to have to be dressed to the nines.’”

Snyder’s family has a motto: “No Regrets.” It was this motto that persistently nudged Snyder toward Waco. She knew she would always regret it if she didn’t at least present someone at Magnolia with the idea of interning and helping there, even without compensation.

She recalls, “So I cold-called and cold-called and emailed and tried to find the line between appropriate and not crazy. I found it and brought them cookies and they let me do an internship.”

After completing her internship and graduating from Columbia, Snyder was offered a full-time job at Magnolia, her dream company. She loves what the company stands for and says Magnolia is even better than she thought it would be.

“Magnolia represents hard work and good values and family and deliberateness and getting back to the basics, taking out technology, being on a farm, not high-end,” Snyder said. “[Chip and Joanna] are approachable, and that alone is a bridge-builder across so many people and cultures and belief systems. That is what everyone wants.”

When she arrived in Waco, Snyder decided to take full advantage of her time in the deeply-religious city of Waco. She began attending a different church service every Sunday before her ward at 11 a.m. Within the different congregations, Snyder found many different ways to talk about relationships with God and different ways to form community.

“Tragically, I feel like as Latter-day Saints, because we are so insular and we do so much for each other as members of the Church, we forget that God loves all of His children just as much as He loves each one of us,” she says. “I remembered Jesus Christ in a way that I hadn’t remembered Jesus Christ for so long because everything (in Waco) is about Jesus Christ.”

Choosing to Live Deliberately

This deliberate effort is just one example of Snyder’s desire to live her life without regret. For the past five years, Snyder has made a list of things she wants to accomplish in that particular year of life. She noticed that her friends were measuring their life progression with their kids’ milestones (ie: first day of school, baptism, etc.) but because she has no kids, Snyder needed to create her own milestones. The items on the list are achievable, things like taking a floral design class, organizing a conference for single adults in Boston and submitting art to an exhibit.

“It’s just been such a beautiful, beautiful thing for me of realizing I’m not a victim to any of my circumstances,” Snyder said. “I am the one completely in charge of fulfilling the measure of my creation. ...I’ve just seen miracle after miracle of situations and opportunities that should not have been handed to me but because I wasn’t waiting to be acted upon or waiting for approval. God wants me to be everything that I choose and want to be, but I have to choose to want it.”

Snyder recognized this quality in Chip and Joanna Gaines. It is what drew her to them.

“They’re doers. They don’t just sit around and wait for life to happen to them, they do it,” she said. “This is a couple that is very, very deliberate about their choices and I want to be a part of something that is deliberate and conscious about what home creation is. Whatever home and family looks like, that has to be deliberate and conscious because it doesn’t just happen.”

Deliberately creating a home is important to Snyder—it is what she watched her parents do—but she realizes now that creating a home is not exclusively a parental responsibility.

She explains that the Bible Dictionary defines home as being “second to the temple.” To Snyder, it is “The place where you can drop walls and feel secure and stable, and safe,” where people can be “all that they are, good or bad.” Creating a home is “creating a sacred space for people to know God and to know Jesus Christ and to trust Him and then love themselves and trust themselves.”

Snyder has truly learned from the best and says the opportunities she has had often lead her to pinch herself, but whether her boss is Clayton Christensen, Julie B. Beck, or Chip and Joanna Gaines, Snyder has learned one thing from all: “Being a man or a woman of God looks very different. There are many ways to be faithful and to be godly.”

Embracing an Unexpected Path with Kelsie Monsen

Kelsie Monsen never planned to be a working mother.

“I was raised with the notion that a woman’s place was in the home,” Monsen, a native of West Jordan, Utah, says. “It was extremely important to go to school to get an education, but when the time came to start a family, I always planned on staying home with my kids full-time.”

But just a few weeks after having her first child, a baby girl, she felt a need to continue to use the talent she had previously honed as a graphic designer for Denton House Interiors and Deseret Book. She started an Etsy shop, began doing freelance work, and sold her work at fairs and local art markets. In addition to bringing the fulfillment she sought, the ability to help support her family financially while her husband was in graduate school was incredibly empowering.

Monsen was in the middle of what she describes as “one of the sweetest seasons” of her life as the mother of two kids under 2 when life began to feel out of balance.

“I had lost the joy my work usually brought. I had no desire to create anything and found little inspiration in the world around me,” Monsen says. “I was burned out and scared that this shift was an indication that my time making art was over. I knew I needed to figure out what I wanted my life to look like. I wanted to be an amazing mom but I also wanted to create.”

She remembers one day praying to God to help her know what to do, when a profound prompting came to her. She recalls, “I was so discouraged and it was at that moment that this deep feeling of peace came over me and the thought came into my mind clear as day, ‘I know your potential better than anyone in this world, and I want you to reach it more than anything.’”

She had no idea at the time what God had in store for her, but she knew she needed to let go of her fears and insecurities and simply trust in Him. It was around this time that her husband began looking for a new job in a number of places around the country and Waco was the only place that felt right to both of them.

The Monsens moved to Waco just eight months after the Silos opened and Kelsie was soon offered a job at Magnolia. While it was a break Kelsie Monsen could have only imagined, it also required making a very difficult decision. She knew she had the opportunity of a lifetime at Magnolia, but she also battled feelings that she was going against her beliefs regarding the importance of a mother’s role in the home.

Ultimately, Monsen couldn’t ignore the many doors that God seemed to be opening for her, making it possible for her to be a present mother to her children while also pursuing a successful career.

“God is giving me these cues where it’s like, ‘It’s okay for you to work and to still be pursuing this thing. The kids will be taken care of,’” she remembers. “So that has been a really big boost for me, because every day it’s so hard. It’s so hard to leave them and to know that I’m missing out on time with them.”

She continues, “He knows and is mindful of how much we care about what we do with our kids, and He has helped provide the care we’ve needed.”

God has helped her find a way to make it work, and the experience has taught her the value of seeking personal revelation.

“I guess you could say God saw so much more in me than I felt like I had, and it was out of the typical plan that I felt like I should be following,” Monsen says. “Since my time here, I’ve learned there’s a different path for everyone. They all look different, but they can all be right.”

She knows Waco is where she and her family are supposed to be. The miles to Magnolia have strengthened her faith in a God who loves each of His children individually and of a Savior who is an active player in each of our lives. While living in a town full of Christians of different faiths and working for a company that is founded on religious values, she has seen her talents magnified and has discovered renewed purpose as a mother.

“I joke with people that God didn’t just open the door to Waco for us,” she said. “He kicked us through it. With every fork in the road, He’s been there nudging me along. And not only has my faith grown through this experience, but my abilities as a designer have too, and that’s a really humbling thing to see.

“Through all of this, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how small we think we are in this world—God knows and loves each of us more than we could ever know. He cares about the decisions we make and wants to help guide and direct us to reach our full potential.”

Lead image and all other images by Jasmine Mullen for LDS Living
Morgan jones 08512

Morgan Jones

Morgan Jones comes to LDS Living after writing for the Deseret News since 2014. She published more than 480 stories and served as Senior Web Producer prior to her departure from Deseret News. Jones is a passionate storyteller and loves having the opportunity to share stories that deserve to be told.

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