The month of September brought on a lot of emotion. I had just dropped my littlest sister off at college when I took off on a whirlwind 3 weeks of traveling for work back and forth across the country and needless to say, I didn’t really see Justin all that much for about a month’s worth of time. I knew when we got engaged that there would be a season of waiting still to come… it was just a question of how long that season would be.
We have been waiting a LONG time to be together as husband and wife. I obviously know that not everyone waits until marriage to move in together, but that was a decision we made before we started dating and we’ve never questioned it. However, needless to say after so many years being in love with someone you consider your best friend and your soulmate and not being able to see them as often as you’d like, wake up next to them in the morning, or go on vacations alone together is really a test of patience and willpower. Marrying Justin has been my “biggest dream” for years now and I know that may sound like a silly dream to some… but it isn’t to me. I’m sure there’s a little bit of excitement from “wanting what we’ve never been able to have” mixed in there making marriage seem so great, but deep down I really believe we’re going to love it and love it a LOT. No one can convince me otherwise!! If you waited your entire life to get to have a chocolate chip cookie, watched dozens of people around you chew that delicious cookie in brilliant, beautiful slow motion when you’ve never been able to have one…. when you finally got that cookie, no matter how big or small, rich or bland it was, you would still get excited and enjoy every last bite because… it’s a cookie when you’ve never been able to indulge in a cookie!!!!! Yes, I just compared marriage to a cookie but honestly it’s 2am and I’m just a little tired and I’m just saying, nobody’s going to be able to take the joy out of this for me and really, is that the worst attitude to have when entering into marriage with someone? That you’re going to start each morning with joy and gratitude? Probably not.
So for me, our engagement session, a moment I had dreamed of since the day I first learned what an engagement session was, would mean we were one step closer to this beautiful dream of a life together. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, where it would occur, or who would be taking the photos, but I knew when the moment came it was going to be a BIG deal to me. And then I became a wedding photographer and entered into this huge industry full of talented creatives… and my dreams for our life together got even bigger and brighter than I ever imagined they would be. I found myself building a platform in this online world of blog posts and social media accounts and Justin was a huge part of the story I was telling. He became interwoven into vital parts of my business and my brand and now I’m probably sounding like a crazy person, but the point is, what started off as two 16 year olds asking each other out (okay well to be honest, I asked Justin out but that’s another story for another day haha) eventually began to turn into a form of ministry through this little business of mine. And you know what gave that ministry its biggest reach? The wedding giveaway we lost 7 months ago.
This is something I haven’t shared since the giveaway ended. It’s not a story that can be told in a single blog post but one that must be told in layers and pieces like a puzzle being put together because that’s what it was… pieces of our story that individually, I couldn’t understand… couldn’t even begin to fathom the worth of THIS piece on its own or why THAT part mattered or why something like the wedding giveaway had to happen at all. And I didn’t think I’d ever bring it up again! I didn’t want to talk about it! But I think we do God a disservice when we refuse to share our story. Because it’s a part of us… our story is the means by which God brought us to where we are and how He’s getting us to where we’re going. And we would NOT be here without that wedding giveaway.
The day we met Katelyn for our engagement session was jusssst shortly after the halfway point through our engagement. I didn’t realize it at the time that we scheduled it, but a couple weeks after putting it on my calendar, I realized the perfect timing. I also realized only after scheduling our shoot that it was going to be the same weekend that we would have been getting married had we won that wedding. It was a strange thought/realization. For weeks after losing the giveaway in February, I harbored resentment… bitterness… and jealousy. If I’m being honest, those feelings didn’t fully go away even after we had our wedding date set for next May and had so many people pitch in to help. I still asked God, “Why? Why extend our waiting so much longer??” In March, I couldn’t fathom how far away May 2016 was. I couldn’t even let myself think about it. September 27th, now that seemed close. That seemed doable. THAT was possible. But 15 months away?? When we’d already waited 5 years? The most human part of me cried out to God that He was unfair. That He didn’t have our best interests in mind. That He wasn’t good.
When we doubt God’s ability to see us through a trial, that’s what we’re really saying. You’re not good, God. You’re not right, or just, or fair. You aren’t doing good for me. You aren’t working for my good. You. Are. Not. Good.
I prayed every day through the months following the giveaway that God would change my heart and allow me to trust Him. If you’ve read my blog posts this year, you know that I always tried to still claim His truths and His promises over our life and our marriage. When your flesh is in the wrong, your spirit knows. And thankfully, you saw my spirit talking on this blog and not my terrible human heart! But I feel like I can share these things now that they’re in hindsight because I can see more clearly than ever just how good God was the entire time I was telling Him He wasn’t. Even when I doubted Him… even when I told Him His plan wasn’t enough and His provisions weren’t enough and the life He was giving me wasn’t enough… He still loved me and He still cared for me and He knew He had so much better in store and though He told me this and other people told me this… I didn’t want to believe Him. But still, every day I had to wake up and remind myself, God has the best plan. I repeated this every day, sometimes through gritted teeth and a hardened heart, but I said it. God has the better – the best – plan in store for us.
If I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t until the month of September got here that I felt fully free from those feelings of jealousy, bitterness, and resentment from losing the giveaway. I think when we can SEE and lay out and come to know the details of a plan we consider “ideal,” and then we have to give that up for something God only whispers vaguely and mysteriously about, our faith is tested all the more because we truly have to walk blindly into the unknown, trusting the Lord to lead the way and believing that He’s going to catch us even when we feel like we’ve been falling for longer than we can remember.
God caught us. God had the better plan. And oh how heartbroken I am that it took physically seeing how MY plan would have been the worst thing to happen to us for me to believe that God had our best interests in mind!! Ugh. I’m sorry, God. Believing in you now is so much less beautiful than if I would have just believed in you from the start.
On Friday, September 25th, we met Katelyn James, my self-proclaimed (circa 2011) dream wedding photographer but also wonderful friend and mentor, for our engagement session in Cape May, one of my favorite places in the world and mine and Justin’s favorite place to be with his family and explore together every June. It was hands down, without a doubt, the most beautiful, amazing, out of this world and better-than-I-could-have-ever-asked-for engagement session, from the soft diffused light coming down from the clouds above to my hair and makeup I was able to get professionally done to the perfect outfits we found to the surprise cupcakes a fellow Katelyn James bride handed to me in the salon before we left for the shoot to the gorgeous little seaside town we got to wander in to the laughs we had to the incredibly beautiful photos we now have to remember the entire evening by… our engagement session was an absolute dream from top to bottom and I’m so grateful for every second of it.
On Saturday, September 26th, I sat in Justin’s room, proofreading his cover letter for the job opening he’s currently applying for as he logged in to Blackboard to finish some essays for school and it hit me… there is no way we could have gotten married tomorrow. There was just no way. Those seven months had flown by without us even realizing they were passing the invisible border that separates the future from the past. September 27th had arrived unannounced and unexpected and now that it was here, now that we could look around us and see where life would have us regardless of whether a wedding was happening or not, we could finally see just how wrong for us it would have been. With Justin still in school… the both of us still living at home… my business still working out its kinks and getting into the rhythm of a set schedule… the constant cycle of traveling back and forth that the month of September had me in. Oh how wrong it would have been to get married on the 27th of last month! And I say this knowing that it was all I dreamed of just seven months ago! We ALL dreamed this together… hundreds of us. But God used those efforts in such mightier ways. He turned it for our good even when we were essentially working in opposition to what He wanted for us. When I prayed, “Lord let your will be done” the moment I entered that giveaway, I meant it… and He listened. His will was done, and it looked nothing like anyone would have thought or predicted, but I think that attests all the more to His being in control.
I’m going to make a bold claim here and I want it to be taken the right way. But from what I can see… if we had won the giveaway, had accepted the prize, and had tried to get married this year… I’m not sure our relationship would have survived. I think the pressure of moving out, supporting ourselves, and starting our adult life in the span of 6 months while Justin was still finishing up his degree and I was still learning how to run my business in one of its busiest seasons yet would have put unbearable strain on our relationship. I don’t know how that would have ended, but I know it wouldn’t have been fun. I’m definitely sure it wouldn’t have been the way I would have wanted our marriage to begin. I can see that only now. 7 months ago, I had no way of fully knowing or comprehending this… but hindsight is always 20/20.
On the other hand, had the giveaway not happened… I’m not sure where we’d be. After we got engaged, we had no sense of direction. We learned in late January that we’d be footing the majority of the bill for our wedding and so we really weren’t sure we’d have one. We differed in our opinions for when we wanted to get married and there was little sense of urgency. We had settled on mid to late 2017 and my spirit was so discouraged. That was the place I was in when the wedding giveaway was announced.
I’m not sure how our engagement photo post turned into a novel but I guess I just couldn’t share these images without sharing the meaning behind them. In every photo, in each moment captured, we were thinking and feeling… “This is exactly where God wants us to be, and it’s so good to know this with all our hearts, minds, and souls.” We can see God’s hand in our engagement season so clearly because we see that both alternatives to our current reality would have been incredibly trying on our relationship. We essentially have the “perfect” middleground between those two alternate, scary realities and it’s all thanks to a redheaded wedding photographer who loves Jesus and wanted to give a dream wedding away to one lucky couple. The same redheaded wedding photographer who, when I reached out to her through a very vulnerable and personal email 3 years ago because I saw she was a Christian and I had virtually no Christian women present in my life to turn to for wisdom or advice, told me the wait until marriage may seem long but that it would be so incredibly worth it. And last week she photographed me and the guy I had written her about years ago, dove right into talking about the second we first met in person, and sought encouragement about from someone else who had been in a long term relationship so similar to ours. She got to stand there with us, all dressed up, as I told her the story of my engagement ring and we walked around a place so special to us and our love story and 7 months from now she’ll stand with us again, dressed up a little fancier this time and at a place that will become special to us for a different reason. So these images below… they’re so much more than just pretty pictures. They represent years of yearning, praying, working towards this season and they are the culmination of all of God’s divine interventions in our lives this year and in all the years past. They’re beautiful beyond the bright colors and joyful expressions and pretty foregrounds.
When I hang these photos on the wall of our first home, they will stand as a reminder of God’s goodness. They will stand as a reminder to the unchanging fact that He always works for our good.