When Jenn and I talked about doing some photos together, I decided that rather than choose one of Chicago’s many scenic spots I would have her shoot in my home. I figured it would be more intimate, and offer a glimpse into my daily life (and severely tiny apartment). When I got the photos back from her, I realized that it was the right decision. I loved looking through all the meaningful details of our life and I loved that I was able to include Cory in some of our photos as well. And, of course, Rafa and Katie too. These photos will forever mean so much to me as they ended up capturing the first moments of our pregnancy (I surprised Jenn with the news when she arrived!) and provided us with the photos we shared with our family and friends to announce that we were expecting. I am so grateful to Jenn for being willing to take a break in her busy summer to spend an afternoon together and feel so honored to now own a piece of her talent.
The first time Jenn and I spent time together we had dinner that lasted four hours. We couldn’t stop talking. Not only is she an incredible photographer, she’s also an amazing woman with a passion for life and people and making a difference in the world. Jenn, I am blessed to know you, my friend. And to the rest, if you don’t know Jennifer Kathryn, go visit her website for a taste of just how talented and passionate and amazing she is.
When Amy and Cory first told me their plans for getting married at a local Chicago restaurant and celebrating into the night at an old school bowling alley, I was intrigued. Now this is a couple who wants to have fun. My first impression of them was spot on. They are truly a couple who enjoys each other’s company and desires to share that joy with the people around them. And yet, there’s a sweet seriousness to them as well. They wrote their own vows and carefully planned out their ceremony knowing that it wasn’t just another element to consider, it was the act of promising their lives to one another. And as I listened through a cracked door, straining to hear their beautiful words to each other, my eyes filled with tears when Amy so confidently stated, “I believe in marriage.” Now that is music to my ears.
A big thank you to Stephanie Bassos for letting me share these photos and relive such a fun and memorable day. And to Amy and Cory, it was a pleasure getting to know the two of you. I feel so honored that you welcomed me into your lives and allowed me to share your wedding day with you.
In light of it being my anniversary today, I thought it was the perfect time to share Part II of my story. In Part One, I shared about my time in the Gulf Coast, how it changed my heart and my life in a very real, very big way, and became the catalyst for some of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken.
And although that’s not technically part one of my life story, it feels like the first episode of a two part series that has defined my life as a whole and made most of the early stuff make sense. I never in a million years thought I would earn my Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. When I thought about doing therapy with couples and families, working with parents and children and helping to repair dysfunctional patterns and broken relationships, I thought, NO WAY. No thank you. I had had enough of that in my upbringing, why would I succumb myself to listening to it every day of my adult life? I wanted to deal with serious mental illness and work with people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I loved the challenge of it. I loved advocating on behalf of people who couldn’t speak up for themselves. And I loved that it never hit too close to home.
Because home for me meant a great deal of deep-seated anxiety and fear. I was terrified of being alone, of being abandoned and unloved but I was also terrified of letting people in and allowing myself to be loved. You can imagine how this played out in my dating life. Afraid of being alone, and too anxious to allow things to progress at their own pace, I jumped into relationships too fast and too blind ultimately causing myself more pain in the end. So it made sense that I eventually decided against marriage entirely. I gave up believing in it. Why should I? I had never actually seen it work in real life.
My parents divorced when I was two, and subsequently remarried my step-parents and divorced again before I entered high school (ironically, they both divorced in my 8th grade year). None of my aunts or uncles had marriages that lasted and neither did my grandparents. What was a good marriage? I honestly had no idea. I could tell you what it wasn’t. It wasn’t physical or verbal abuse. Or adultery. Or constant screaming and yelling. Those things I knew about. But tenderness and mutual respect? Hard work and compromise? Commitment? They were like foreign languages to me.
Fast forward to that push of a button when I signed up, without any preparation or forethought whatsoever, for a service trip to the Gulf Coast. The two weeks I spent there completely changed me and when I came back home, I knew that something was off. I had been in a relationship with a wonderful man for almost two and a half years, had a five year plan literally drawn up to allow us time to get married while I finished my Ph.D., and thought I was accomplishing everything I had set out to while in college. There was nothing inherently wrong with my life. And yet I felt unsettled, and trapped. I was so eager to find stability and settle down that I ended up sacrificing many of the things I wanted in life. Like a relationship that gave me butterflies. Or taking risks like moving out of California. I saw the next ten years of my life flash before me and I knew I wanted more. I knew that by ending my relationship I was risking never finding someone as loyal or kind. But I also knew that I had to risk giving up something good in order to find something great.
That decision wasn’t easy. In fact, it is still the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. It was excruciating–for both him and me but also for our families. My parents thought I was crazy, and feared I was making the worst mistake of my life. And even though I was confident enough to go through with it, I wavered daily, painfully questioning what I really wanted (and not really knowing). Did I break up with him because I was scared of marriage in general? Or was it because I was scared of marriage with him? For months, I didn’t have the answer. However, as time went by and as I gained more and more clarity (and distance from the situation), I realized that I did actually want to be married. I wanted to believe in it, to believe it could work. And I didn’t want to have to settle for it. I wanted the fireworks as well as the companionship.
And I think that’s partly why I felt more open to earning a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. My heart had been broken, and softened, and I was drawn to the idea of helping others find fulfilling relationships. And for myself, I wanted that too.
I could talk at length about my two years at Northwestern and all that I learned. It was by far the most eye-opening, educational, and transformative two years of my life. I dug deep into my own experiences, found the courage to touch on my own pain, and did a whole lot of introspection (our fancy therapy term for soul-searching). After my first year in the program I decided to enter my own individual therapy, which I continued for nine months. It was during my time in therapy that I met and started dating Cory, and it is to the complete credit of my therapist (God bless her) that I was able to acknowledge my anxiety, sit with it instead of run from it, and allow the relationship to move at its own pace. Was it easy? Hah! That’s why I went to therapy once a week. But I’m telling you, it was worth it.
Cory and I dated for a year before we got engaged and although my anxiety was probably lower than it had been in my early twenties, it was still very much there. I was still terrified of letting myself be seen and loved, afraid that if I opened myself up, he would leave me. To Cory’s credit, he was patient and understanding, he listened when I explained to him why I reacted the way I did, and he was willing to learn about and care for my sensitivities. And to my credit, I finally had words for what I was experiencing and could speak to my emotions clearly and rationally (if not in the moment then certainly afterwards). I wouldn’t have been able to do that without my education or my time in therapy.
Through my own healing, as well as through the lives and healing of my clients, I came to believe in marriage again. My cynicism and doubt washed away and my hope was restored. And two years ago today, I took the biggest risk of them all. With no guarantee for a happy ending, and the full knowledge of all the bad that could happen, I promised to love the man by my side until death do us part. He was the great I had hoped for.
Two years have passed, and although it’s such a short time in the grand scheme of things, I’ve learned so much about myself and marriage in that time. Vulnerability is still a daily struggle for me, and maybe always will be, but I’ve learned that it’s an absolute in marriage with no room for compromise. I’ve learned not to overreact (as much), to allow conflict and frustration to happen, and to try (and try and try) to speak his love language, not mine. And more than anything, I’ve learned that marriage is worth it. It’s worth everything I’ve ever had to go through. The heartache, the anxiety, the fear. All that it took to get me to where I am today.
And to my husband, my best friend and partner in life (and soon-to-be co-parent!), happy anniversary. Here’s to ever-learning and fully experiencing this one wild and crazy life together.
To say our lives have been turned upside down is an understatement. And the baby hasn’t even arrived yet. It’s amazing how my whole outlook, plans, goals, and dreams for the future changed once I found out I was pregnant. And it’s not like it was a surprise! We planned and planned and planned, the best we could, for this moment. Yet the very thought of bringing a life into the world has changed me in ways I never could have imagined.
I suppose that’s how it is with most parents, in some way or another. I mean, it’s a BABY.
For me, though, the changes I’ve undergone in the last few months have really shaken me up. For a long time I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mom. I always loved children, always felt confident around them, but I just wasn’t sure it was for me. My sister was born when I was 10 years old and I did everything I could to help with the newborn tasks. I changed diapers, fed her bottles, carried her around on my hip. She was the best thing to happen to me when I was young and I loved every minute of watching her grow. I suppose the real culprit behind my fear of becoming a mom was the idea of family–and marriage. I wasn’t sure those things actually worked anymore and I definitely didn’t want to bring children into a life of dysfunction and divorce.
That’s another topic for another time (part II of my story). Suffice to say, I worked A LOT on myself. And I came out on the other side full of hope and renewal. I stopped investing in relationships that weren’t good for me and I started looking for a true partner, someone who could meet my needs, be gentle with my sensitivities, and bring out the best parts of me. And I found him (thank the LORD). I also happened to find someone who desired to raise a family and who, in my unbiased opinion, would make an incredible father. My desire for a family actually changed before I met Cory but it certainly heightened as we began to dream for our future.
But I rarely do anything without a plan and I wanted to make sure we were in the right place before we even thought about having a baby. I wanted our marriage to be healthy, our finances to be stable, and our physical health to be, well, perfect. We followed Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and got serious about paying down our debt, we scheduled physicals and dental appointments, and we started cutting out all the bad things in our diets. We also paid a lot of attention to our relationship and worked hard to improve the areas we struggled in. And then the time came to actually do something. I wavered for a bit until I realized I would never, in a million years, feel completely prepared. Comically, I thought we’d have awhile before anything actually happened. I was wrong. It all happened very quickly (which I am incredibly grateful for by the way).
You would think with all that preparation, there wouldn’t be any surprises left. Here’s what happened instead: I lost all of my ambition. Literally two months before we got pregnant I was dreaming of going full-time with my business, relaunching with brand new services, logo, and website, and becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur. I was invested, motivated, and determined. And focused too. But guess where my focus shifted? To my new family. Suddenly, my business ventures weren’t top priority. It didn’t matter how many weddings I booked or how quickly the relaunch happened. I didn’t care all that much to stay current and relevant with numerous Instagram and Facebook and Twitter postings. I went into hibernation instead. (To be fair, I also felt nauseous most hours of the day and was beyond exhausted.)
My number one priority became motherhood. And I know, I know, how important it is to keep your sense of self intact and not lose sight of your own ambitions. I never thought that would happen to me, honestly. And I felt SO LOST. I wished my business was five years established, not two years new. I wished I was settled in a career for a number of years instead of taking so long to figure out what I wanted to do. I wished for a lot of things actually. It was as if every other part of my life was ready for a baby except for my career. And let me tell you, for most years, my work was the only thing I had clarity on.
I think it took me the entire first trimester to finally feel OK about it. I was also battling a slew of new hormones, which never makes anything easier, but regardless, it was a big change for me and I needed to figure out what to do about it. As with any big question in my life, I didn’t gain any clear cut answers. I just gained peace and perspective.
I realized that a) it was right for my priorities to change. Regardless of how career-minded and focused I had been in the past, I was growing a baby in my uterus. My focus should probably be on that. And b) it was OK to take some time off from my ambitions. Maybe I wouldn’t fully establish my business in 2014 but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be there the following year. Or even the year after that. There are no rules when it comes to these things. And thankfully I have a good number of mom friends who have blazed the same path of uncertainty for me, all the while with a huge dose of grace, honesty, and faith.
So what does 2014 hold for me? A brand new baby that I can’t wait to meet. As the days pass, and as my jeans grow a little tighter, I get more and more excited, and emotional, about that thought. I’m gonna be a mom. Do you know what an immense and humbling blessing that is?
And what do our priorities look like now? Well, they’re quite simple. Although I’m still serious about the goals I set at the beginning of the year (see here), my goals for at least the next five months are very direct and very focused:
Stay healthy and eat right.
Eliminate all of our credit card debt by January.
Educate myself on all things baby. This includes A LOT of reading and researching.
Continue to make my marriage strong.
Prepare myself spiritually to become a mom.
Prayerfully support & encourage my husband as he prepares to become a dad.
That’s it. That’s all I’m focusing on right now. There’s nothing in there about writing a number of blog posts each week or finishing my website. Those things will get done in time and when I have time. Instead, I want to read as many books that I can, dutifully take care of my body, and enjoy these months with Cory before our two becomes three. And most importantly, I want to stop and think about the kind of mom I want to be, the kind of parents we want to be, and really pray for God’s guidance and wisdom as we take on this incredible responsibility.
One of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott’s book Operating Instructions, written about the first year of her son’s life, is this:
Maybe if I can learn to breathe and go slower, I can somehow help Sam be spared some of the craziness I had in my life, all that chasing down of these things that I thought would make me okay or would prove that I was okay.
Still, you know what the name Samuel means? It means, “God has heard,” like God heard me, heard my heart, and gave me the one thing that’s ever worked in my entire life, someone to love.
Cory likes to remind me of the time I said that becoming a mom would be the most healing experience of my life. I do remember saying it although I don’t tend to think about it all that often. I don’t know if that’s true but I imagine it could be. In a way, I get a second chance at creating the kind of family life I always longed for as a little girl, and I hope and pray, with every fiber of my being, that I can provide my kids with a fun, loving, laughter-filled home. Right now though, I get to marvel at how God heard my heart and gave me someone to love more than I ever thought possible.
Here’s to motherhood. It’s bound to be a wild ride.
All photos courtesy of Jennifer Kathryn Photography. Jenn was the first to document our pregnancy and I am beyond grateful to her for it. More photos to come soon.
I love sharing my couples’ engagement photos. For one, it gets me excited for their upcoming wedding. And two, I enjoy being able to share about them during the planning process. Tina and Tyler are getting married in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, which holds a very special place in their hearts. They’ve spent their entire dating relationship visiting Tyler’s parent’s cottage so it made perfect sense to hold their wedding there too. One of Tina’s many hobbies, and talents, is photography and she’s incorporated a lot of her photos from their trips into their wedding details (which I just love). She’s created all their paper products and has thought up some really wonderful details too. I’ve really, really enjoyed working with her these past months and getting to know both her and Tyler, and their adorable pup Leavitt (who lovingly chewed my shoes the last time I was over!).
Of course, when they thought about where to do their engagement photos, they figured, “Why not the lake?” So photographer Julia Franzosa (with whom I can’t wait to work!) traveled up north for a session and captured these gorgeous shots. If these are any indication of the beauty that’s to come in September, consider me a very happy wedding planner.
One of the reasons writing has been light on my part these days is due to all the preparation being done on the backend for my big relaunch. While I don’t have a set date yet, I’m thinking beginning to middle of July. OK, I’m hoping for the beginning to middle of July. But the website is almost done, thanks to the wonderful Super Runaway, and I’m in the process of writing the content and gathering the images. And I have a really awesome photoshoot coming up in a couple of weeks. Things are coming together, slowly but surely.
I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t tell you that waiting for this to happen has been a test of patience. When I first started, I was so motivated and excited. And little by little, as the months have passed, I’ve felt less motivated and less excited. Not because I’m not looking forward to relaunching my business or implementing some really important changes. More because it’s taken awhile and it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re waiting… and waiting… and waiting. Which is why I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the inspiration behind my new brand and give you a sneak peek at what’s to come.
The redesign began with 10 words. Ten words I wanted to define my brand.
- Peaceful, calm
- Focused on what matters
- Values driven
I decided to use the ocean as my guide, and ultimately my theme, as it’s the one place that calms and centers me. I want my business to offer that as well. I want my blog to be a place where people can come to center themselves, to get inspired, and to refocus on what matters. And I want what I do to be meaningful — and calming too (as we all know that wedding planning is anything but).
These were two of the concept boards that Liz from Super Runaway put together for me as we designed the new site. Needless to say, I loved them. And I love going back to my original Pinterest board and looking through all the images I gathered to inspire these boards. They still fire me up.
OK, you wanna see a peek at my logo too? I don’t think I can keep it to myself any longer. I’m SO HAPPY with it. All the credit goes to my amazingly talented husband who hand-drew the logo and then edited it to perfection.
You’ll notice something is missing. That’s right, my business name is changing a bit as well. I decided to drop the “Weddings” part of my name since weddings aren’t all that I do. I also provide marriage preparation and education, which will play a much more central role once I relaunch. I’ll save those details for the big announcement but in the meantime know that exciting, new things are to come. And I can’t wait to share them with you.
There’s a lot that I can say about Ben and Adriana. When I first met Adriana a couple of years ago, I instantly loved her. It’s impossible not to. She’s genuine, kind, fun, and just possesses a special something that makes you want to be around her. She’s also incredibly talented and creative and has a vision for making things spectacular (which is fitting as she is the owner of Life Made Pretty, a boutique design company). Ben is just as talented, but in ways that perfectly complement Adriana. He is a master of web design and spreadsheets (and made me the most technologically advanced layouts which I loved). Together, they define what love is. They are each other’s most encouraging supporter, best friend, and partner and it was such an honor to be by their side as they committed their lives to each other.
Adriana designed everything, and did the flowers for her own wedding. Talk about a superstar. Elements of the reception included hanging branch centerpieces covered with blooms and crystals, gorgeous lit chandeliers, pops of turquoise and pink, and candlelight. It brought the loft to life.
And talk about a gorgeous bride. Moments before I sent Adriana down the aisle, I couldn’t even look at her for fear I would completely lose it. After so many months of planning, knowing everything that her and Ben had been through during their engagement, their day was finally here. I can’t tell you how special that moment is to me, and how much I love being invested in my couple’s lives. I’m so glad to call Ben and Adriana dear friends and I look forward to many more home-cooked meals together (cause Adriana also rocks it in the kitchen).
A big, big thank you to Jason Curescu for sharing these beautiful photos with me!
Happy Memorial Day weekend, friends! Any fun plans? Trips you’re about to take, BBQs you have planned, weddings you’re attending? I will be coordinating Amy and Cory’s super cool wedding this weekend, a wedding I can’t wait to tell you all about. Let’s just say it includes an urban garden and 10 pins. Follow me on Instagram to see some sneak peeks through the day. Next week I’m excited to share some photos from one of my Spring weddings and maybe even Part II of my story.
Whatever your extended weekend consists of, I hope it’s happy. Let’s celebrate this unofficial start of summer!
Photo found on Pinterest via Smitten Studio. You should take a look at the rest of the photos. They’re amazing.
Obviously our hearts are with the people of Oklahoma, and Texas as well, after the devastating tornadoes this week. Like probably most of you, I’ve been watching the news and listening to the stories of survival. The stories that come out of tragedies like these never cease to amaze me — the stories of hope and help, of resilience and faith. They always take me back to my time in the Gulf after Katrina, and even though it’s overwhelming to think of the years it takes to rebuild after such a powerful natural disaster, I know that people will be there to lend a hand.
As I listened to the people interviewed about the homes they lost, and everything in them, I heard a familiar theme: It’s just stuff. We’re alive and that’s what matters. It’s just stuff. Honestly, how many times has that thought crossed your mind? Never? It’s not a common song we sing, is it? As Americans, we take pride in what we own. We hold tight to our possessions. And sometimes it seems as though we’re on a constant mission to amass more and more. I have to be honest, when I think about losing all of the things I’ve worked so hard to buy, it makes me a little weepy. Sure, there are things that have sentimental value, like original photos of my grandparents or artwork made by my husband, but they’re still things. And they’re not more important than _________ (fill in the blank).
Hearing the stories of people helping one another, of teachers risking their lives to save their students, of generous donations puts it all into perspective. That’s what matters in the end — acts of selflessness and love. Life isn’t about stuff, it’s about loving your neighbor, lending a hand, and making a difference. And our homes aren’t made great by the furniture inside them or the artwork on the walls or the beautiful decor. They’re made great by the people inside them and by the love that pours out of them. I know these homes will be rebuilt, many on the donations of the people across the country and by the hands of volunteers, showing us again that good always comes from tragedy and that what matters most in life always prevails.
If you’re interested in learning more about, and following along with, the rebuilding efforts in these areas, visit Habitat for Humanity.
Here’s a fun assignment. Get some place comfortable — relax in your seat, lay on the couch, sit on the ground — and quiet your heart and your mind. Clear your head. Then close your eyes and visualize yourself in 10 years. Where are you? What surrounds you? What does it feel like, smell like, look like? Let your mind create the scene and fill it out.
As cheesy as it may sound, visualization exercises can be really powerful. In fact, the visualization exercise that Lara walked us through at the end of our first day at Making Things Happen was the most eye-opening, centering experience of the entire conference for me. As she walked us through the exercise, I was astounded how easily the images came to me and how real it all felt. I can still close my eyes and picture exactly what I saw that day.
Which is the point, I think. Because whenever I’m feeling frustrated or tired or lost I go back to that vision of my future. I picture it all over again, let the sights and smells and sounds wash over me and re-focus me. I didn’t picture myself in 10 years with fame and fortune. I pictured myself surrounded by my family, in a home filled with love and laughter and community. I pictured myself surrounded by my beloved supporters, people who believed in me from the very beginning. And I pictured myself doing what I love and being oh-so-content and fulfilled. Those are my life goals, after all. To build a loving, hospitable home. To cultivate a fun, fulfilling marriage. To raise beautiful children focused on what matters. To surround myself with true community. To make a difference in the world and inspire others to live their best life. To be healthy, content, and grateful. All that other stuff just doesn’t matter in the end.
Put aside that list of goals for a second and just picture yourself in 10 years having accomplished the things you really wanted to accomplish in life. Where are you? What are you celebrating? Who surrounds you? How do you feel? What does your life look like?
Now write down your vision and use it to remind yourself of what you’re really striving for. Go back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed and burned out. Or when you’re confused about your next steps. Let it guide you. Let it inspire you and fire you up!
(And yes, I agree that it’s a lot easier to do a visualization exercise with someone walking you through it. If you need a guide, give me a ring.)
Photo found via Pinterest from Indigo Crossing Tumblr.