our wedding: the reception & goodbye

Here it is: the last wedding post! Finally, after the getting ready and the formals and the ceremony and all that came with it, we come to the part that everybody knows, since we’re all being honest, is the most important: the reception. Oh, how fun.

Our very first thing that Will and I did as a couple was celebrate with our families. We had about three seconds after walking out of sight of our guests before all of our bridal party and family streamed in, and everything exploded into hugging and kissing and laughing all at once. And so we spent a little bit of time together as a new big family (and took a few pictures) while our guests wandered over to the other part of the castle.

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Our reception was set up in the courtyard opposite the ceremony, which was about three feet away and mirrored the first (palm trees and all). We rented long farmhouse tables and set dinner up family-style, so that everybody could get as little or as much food as their heart desired without having to get up and stand in line. On the other side of the courtyard, we had a little dance floor and a lounge area for those who wanted to get off their feet. The wonderful Charleston-based Event Works did our rentals, and my incredible friends set up all the decor beforehand.

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Now, a note about dinner. We loved our food, which was expertly prepared by Carefree Catering and was, really, one of the most talked-about aspects of our wedding. I’ve heard before that it is impossible to have wedding food that tastes anything other than mediocre, at the best. That, my friends, is a lie. Ours ranged from a selection of cornbread style muffins to pulled pork to the best crabcakes in the whole wide world. And thanks to the folks at Carefree, it was truly great in every way.

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I really could not say enough wonderful things about our speeches and toasts. My dad made me laugh, Will’s best man left me inspired, and my maid of honor made me cry big happy tears, to say the least. I felt, and still do, so grateful to have these people in our lives.

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Will’s and my first dance was to “Lucky” by Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz. As I’ve said before, we spent a great deal of our relationship long-distance, and so the song meant quite a bit to us. All I could think about was that we’d never have to say goodbye again. It was sweet and great and just what it should be.

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My dad and I danced to “My Girl” by the Temptations. Ever since I remember, he has been singing that song to me, and so it was chosen without a second thought. The two of us took dance lessons before the wedding (it turns out that my dad is quite the dancer) and so we swirled around the dance floor happily.

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Will and his mom, on the other hand, danced to “How I Love You” by Rob Laufer. Their dance, actually, lasted for only about a minute and a half before Will’s sister ran onto the dance floor to be with the two of them. His brother was waved over and then I, after being reminded that I was now a part of their family, joined them. The whole affair caused a great mixture of laughter and tears.

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And then things went the way that receptions normally go. The dance floor was opened, the cake was served, and we simply celebrated.

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I do want to take a moment, being a sweets-sort-of-girl, to celebrate our desserts. Our cake was wonderfully done by Myra at Incredible Edibles, and was a brown sugar cake with salted caramel + chocolate ganache with toffee bits. We also served a buttermilk cake with fresh peach conserve filling, so that guests could choose between something a little more heavy and something on the lighter side. Both, in my humble opinion, were delicious.

At some point in the wedding planning process, I had also had an idea for a custom-done sammy cart, where guests could choose from a variety of ice creams and cookies, and then have somebody make a ice cream cookie sandwich right in front of them. To my dismay, I couldn’t find anybody in the area who offered the service, or would even consider it. That is, until I found Bruster’s Ice Cream. These incredible people listened to my ideas and responded simply with, “We’ll make it work”. And they did. Our cookie options were Triple Chocolate, White Chocolate Macadamia, Peanut Butter, and Almond Butter, plus Brownies. And our ice cream flavors were Butter Pecan, Mango Ginger, Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, and Black Raspberry. It was so delightful to see my thoughts bloom into real life, and of course, we loved our sammies at the wedding.
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And then we danced. And danced. And talked to our family and friends. And danced.

The whole reception felt carefree and alive, with lights twinkling above and the sea breeze sweeping through every few minutes. Our grandparents sat on lounge chairs and sipped sweet tea, while my young cousins swirled around the dance floor. People ate lots and laughed lots and, of course, did the Cha Cha Slide and Gangnam Style and whatever else they thought of. I hope that our guests felt appreciated and honored and joyful, and that it was a night worth remembering for them, each in their own way. I, for one, was deliriously happy.

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When it was time to go, I changed into a little dress from Anthropologie’s BHLDN collection, and our guests all gathered with sparklers. Will and I walked along the pathway as they all smiled and waved and said goodbye, and then he surprised me by spinning me around, to finish it all up. And then we drove off into the dark. It was a gorgeous end to it all, and we felt loved beyond measure as we set off into our new life together.

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Well, friends, this is the end. Thank you, a thousand times, for reading. Our wedding was incredible and I know that for me, it has been great fun reliving it with you… but now I must admit that in the end, it was just one day. And so I’m off to write about every other crazy, thought-provoking, sweet thing that life has to offer. Adieu, for now. I’ll hope I’ll see you next time.

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p.s. Thanks, once again, to Nancy Ray Photography. You’re the best.

our wedding: my vows

William David Middlebrook, today, on our wedding day, I promise to honor you, cherish you, and hold you in my heart
. For now and for always, I will accept you for all that you are, encouraging your individuality and embracing you in all your complexity. I promise to listen to you, to seek your opinions and trust your judgments
, and to honor your desires as I would my own. I will savor our time together and, to the best of my ability, choose patience over nagging, gratitude over complaining, and forgiveness over bitterness each day. I vow to be open and honest with you, to always seek to learn more about you, to be your best friend. I promise to smile at you, to encourage you, to surprise you, and to seek new ways to bless you. In every way that I can, I will lift you up. I will be generous in my laughter, effusive in my affection, and unyielding in my fidelity. No matter what comes our way- in times of delight, in the fullness of dreams, in moments of sorrow, conflict, or loss- I promise to stand by you as we together seek to honor God with this life. Today, in the presence of the Lord and of our family and friends, I vow to do all this and more, to be your wife and only yours.

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our wedding: the ceremony

I want to begin this post by saying “thank you” to all of you who have taken the time to look through our wedding photos. It really has been so much fun to share them with you, and your sweet words and encouragement are very much appreciated. So thank you. And welcome to part III: the ceremony! All in all, Will and I had a small wedding, with just under 80 people. Our ceremony was intimate and sweet, with our closest friends and family gathered together amid the palm trees, each ready to love and support us from the beginning of our marriage onwards. To be honest, most of what I remember from this time is simply feelings- waves of wonder and awe and rightness at finally getting married, a sense of gratitude for the presence of those around me, excitement and happiness and pride… all blended together in such a way that it is hard to define it even now, over four months later.

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Before the ceremony began, our guests gathered in the same little courtyard where we would read our vows. They signed our guestbook- a gorgeous thumbprint tree handpainted by PaperTwig on Etsy- and spoke soft words and peeked around corners to wave to me as I waited in an adjacent room. We had asked one of my dearest friends, also, to facilitate a ring-warming during this time. As our friends and family entered the area, she offered them a chance to silently “warm” our rings with their blessing, prayers, and wishes for our marriage. In between guests, she prayed over them with her own prayers, and so blessed us beyond measure. When I look back, this is another one of those decisions that I am oh-so-thankful we made… it made our ceremony feel even more intimate and sweet and consecrated.

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We began the ceremony, as most people do, with a song. The processional was lead by our grandmothers and mothers, who walked down the aisle to “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop” by Landon Pigg. Aren’t they lovely?

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They were followed by our bridal party…. when it was time for them to walk down the aisle, the song “Let the Words Escape” by Chris Rice began. In my opinion, this song is one of the most beautiful ones out there (and is the inspiration behind the name of the blog, too). It opens, “Love, how did I find you?/ Was I even breathing before I knew your name?/ Who could ever have planned this?/ Arranged the whole planet to all turn out this way?“, and just gets even more gorgeous from there. My dad walked me down the aisle, and we came around the corner as the music crescendoed (“I love you/ How can I say/ I love you?/ Let the words escape”).

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I mentioned in another post that we had decided upon an unplugged wedding, and that we loved the difference it made in our day. Before the ceremony, we asked our guests to avoid using cameras and cell phones throughout the wedding. This way, they could be fully present and fully focused during both the ceremony and reception, and we would be able to see our loved ones faces’ rather than a bunch of cameras and phones pointed our way. It was wonderful. Truly, truly, truly wonderful.

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In truth, one of the things that stands out most about our ceremony was, well, how hot it was. Throughout most of the sermon, I was actually very close to fainting… between the sun and the standing and the gown and the heels, I was mostly preoccupied with trying to stay conscious. As soon as we began to say our vows, though, my mind cleared. We were able to complete the ceremony without any major incident, and I was kept very well hydrated throughout the rest of the night. But honestly and truly, the fact that our wedding was flawed did not put even the smallest dent in all of those sweet feelings I mentioned earlier- the excitement and gratitude and joy. In fact, it perhaps served to strengthen them even more. Our wedding was not some sort of show, where everything just had to go off without a hitch. Instead, it was hot. It was very hot. And that made it all the better.

Plus, at the end of it all, we become husband and wife.

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our wedding: the formals

As promised, it’s time for part II of our wedding photos… yay!

There are certain things, when I look back at our wedding day, that I am 100% grateful that we decided to do. Getting comfy sandals to change into during the reception, for example, or having an unplugged wedding (more on that later). Doing a “first look” was one of those decisions. Will and I were both so incredibly thankful that we went this route! It was such a blessed, quiet, joyful time, where the two of us could really connect before the craziness of the day. We hugged and kissed and told each other “I love you” a thousand times, and I could not be more grateful for those moments.

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Aren’t our friends just wonderful? I could never tell you how lovely, how supportive, and how encouraging they are all. Here’s a little post celebrating the bridal party, if you want to know more. Needless to say, I felt so blessed to have them all by my side.

After the ceremony, we took formal family photos… where Will and I spent lots of time hugging all of the people we love.

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And then the two of us had some “oh my goodness, we’re married!” time together. Hence, the looking-at-the-ring, smiling-like-crazy, on-the-verge-of-tears photos below. Oh, and that sign behind us? That’s custom-made by a lovely Etsy seller, Teressa. It’s a verse from Song of Solomon (4:3), and reads “I have found the one whom my soul loves”.

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And that’s us! I feel so grateful that our day included sweet time with both my husband and our dearest friends, where we could smile all we wanted… and especially that Nancy was there to catch it all! It was a gorgeous time.

My next post will move a little backwards- there, I’ll share all about the ceremony. For that, though, you have to wait. At least, for a little while.

p.s. As for credits, I should mention that the fabulous Flowers on Broadway did our boutonnieres and bouquets. They did, in my opinion, an incredible job.

our wedding: getting ready

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How could I ever begin to describe our wedding? It was, in each and every way, perfect. I could have never hoped for a more beautiful day, for more laughter, for more love and support from our incredible friends and family. Thanks to the lovely Nancy Ray of Nancy Ray Photography and her husband, we have absolutely gorgeous photos of every moment.

Both the ceremony and reception took place at Atalaya Castle, in Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, SC. This beautiful beachside structure was originally the winter home of the philanthropist Archer Huntington and his wife, sculpter Anna Huntington. It’s a gorgeous of square of corridors and rooms, with two palm-lined courtyards in the middle, close enough to the beach to hear the waves.

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Our programs (pictured at top) were designed by Kacey from the Etsy shop HooplaLova. The invitation suite (directly above) was designed jointly by myself and my mother-in-law. Needless to say, she’s quite incredible.

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Will and I were so lucky to have wonderful friends, who flew across the country- from California and Texas and Illinois- to love on us for this day. Ami, of Ami Bridal Creations took care of both my hair and airbrush makeup, and was kind and attentive and incredibly talented. She did an excellent job and made me feel more beautiful than I have ever felt.

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And such was our “getting ready” process. It was a lovely time, full of anticipation and smiles and hope and “are you excited?”s; of me checking to make sure, for the twentieth time, that I had my vows; of peeking out into the courtyard to see guests arriving. And as for what comes next… well, you’ll have to wait for the next post for that.

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p.s. For those of you who might be wondering, my dress was Wtoo’s Camilla, my hairpiece was from Etsy’s Silver Pencils, and my shoes were by rsvp from Zappos. The groomsmen, on the other hand, were wearing Perry Ellis Suit Separates.

a poem for you

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To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics

and to endure the betrayal of false friends.

To appreciate beauty;

to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better

whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,

or a redeemed social condition;

to know that even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

– Bessie A. Stanley.

p.s. photo here.

relationship tidbits: silence and respect

Here is my rule, one that I very much believe in and do my best to live out and would recommend to anybody who is in a serious (and healthy) relationship:

Never speak badly about my husband.

When I made my vows, I promised to love Will, to seek goodness for him, to build him up and treat him with respect. I vowed to be his partner and his confidante, his faithful lover. I promised forgiveness and patience and gratitude. Complaining about him to my friends or my mom or to my co-workers… that is the very opposite of those things.

Yes, there are times when I feel tired, annoyed, or upset with Will. We fight (often). Sometimes, he makes me cry. Other times, his habits get on my nerves. We grate on each other, we annoy each other, we anger each other just like any other couple. But, instead of venting about those things, I choose to uphold my marriage vows. I cannot imagine how humiliated I would be if I overheard Will complaining about me to a friend…. and I would never want to place him in a similar situation. Instead, he deserves my honor and my respect. No matter how innocuous it may seem, I will not put him down in front of others. I will not place him in a position to be ridiculed. I will not lower somebody else’s (well-earned) opinion of him.

The two of us are tied together, with our lives and our beings and our desires intertwined… so much so that I cannot imagine pulling away from “us” to belittle him in front of others. If something needs to be said, it should be said between Will and I, not vented to a third party. If it cannot be resolved between just the two of us, it is time to go (together) to a mentor or to a counselor. Outside of those situations, venting is simply damaging. As I have said before, making our relationship public would not do anybody good.  Instead, my mantra: silence and honor and respect. Our relationship, I believe, is well worth holding my tongue.

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p.s. photo here.

p.s.s want more tidbits? try these.

relationship tidbits: a cup of water

“Whatever one of us asked the other to do – it was assumed the asker would weigh all the consequences – the other would do. Thus one might wake the other in the night and ask for a cup of water; and the other would peacefully (and sleepily) fetch it. We, in fact, defined courtesy as ‘a cup of water in the night’. And we considered it a very great courtesy to ask for the cup as well as to fetch it.”

 -Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

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Will mentioned the above quotation from one of our mutually-favorite books the other night, and it got me thinking… on our best days, this is what our relationship is like. I can ask him to do anything, and he will happily do it. He knows that I wouldn’t ask unless I truly wanted it: wanted it enough to ask despite the consequences. And he does the same for me. We lean on each other, in that way.

p.s. photo here.

Interested in reading more tidbits? Here are a few links for you.

i’m back

Hello, friends.

Here I am, taking a deep breath for the first time in what feels like forever.

I’ve been gone from WordPress a little over a month now. A month filled to the brim with all sorts of emotions, endless reunions and goodbyes, beginnings and ends, lots of hugs and crying and long car rides. I quit my job this month. I welcomed dozens of loved ones into South Carolina, greeted them with eyes brimming over and long, long hugs. I got married, too, became a “Mrs.” and took a new name. And then I embarked on my honeymoon, leaving all those lovely people with a wave from the car amidst a sparkler farewell. Days later, and I’m back to pack up the contents of my life, and in a matter of hours, will say goodbye to my childhood home. Early Tuesday morning, Will and I will load up the car and drive 1,200 miles across the country to start life anew.

As I said, it’s been quite a month.

I have so many things to tell you… I can’t wait to get started.

But for now, let’s begin with a picture.

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Our first dance. The beginning, really, of everything.

p.s. We have Nancy Ray Photography to thank for the lovely snapshot. You’ll see more of her work as we get it.

being jealous of cancer

“Love seeks its whole good in the good of the beloved, and to divide that good would be to diminish love.”

-Thomas Merton

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Here, my friends, is one of my most shameful and saddest truths: even in my greatest moments of love, I am terribly self-serving.

I first considered this concept when I was in high school, after reading C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces: “selfish love” seemed to me to be the overwhelming theme of the book. But it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I recognized the profundity of this truth in my own motives. You see, a dear, dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the middle of our fall semester that year. She had gone to the hospital after noticing a lump on her collarbone, and when she returned, five of us gathered in her bedroom, holding on to each other’s arms, faces white as she relayed the news. I immediately canceled my plans for the weekend and within hours, had re-oriented my life around her well-being… my memories of those days are equally about “her” and “I”. She made the decision to continue living on campus as she underwent chemotherapy, and so her doctor’s visits and medical decisions are inextricably tied together in my mind with the shades of my own concerns, of schoolwork and preparing to study abroad and the beginnings of a new long-distance relationship. And though I wish I could say that these concerns were simply those of love- that I was solely concerned for the heart of my friend- I cannot pretend that my motives were so pure.

Instead, it was a blundering, confusing period where it seemed that everything I did was could be interpreted as both caring and self-serving, for my own benefit and for others’. I was constantly attempting to identify my own motives, and continuously finding it impossible to distinguish between wanting to do what I did for her, because it made her feel loved and taken care of, or for the glory and comfort of doing it. There was a clamoring of people when the diagnosis was made public… everybody, all of the sudden, wanted to be right there. As the news spread and her chemotherapy begin, I watched my friend as she had to gently turn well-meaning friends away. “I’m tired of talking about it”, she would tell us, “please keep them from knocking on my door.” I saw the dark circles under her eyes and without pause, took up the task. But as I stopped the flow of classmates, I tried to examine my heart: was I doing this simply because she needed sleep, she needed rest and privacy, or there was underlying pride in being the close friend, one of those in the “inner circle”? And looking back, I know that the truth was that it was both.

Throughout those months, I wanted to be the one to take care of her when she was sick. I wanted to be the one who took her to chemotherapy. To be the person who she came to when she was sad, who kept acquaintances updated, who made sure she got out of bed on the days that were tinged with depression and hopelessness. And so I did those things, and more. I missed class, went to the hospital in the middle of the night, shaved my head when her hair began to fall out in clumps. And in many ways, those were incredible things… in the midst of every one of those moments, I felt deep love, mingled compassion and grief, for my friend. I do believe that all those actions were good, in the deepest sense. And yet, my heart was tinted with the desire to be the closest, the most helpful, the deepest sacrificing, the best. It was selfish love, love that sought both the good of my friend and myself, a love dimished.

And so, I titled this post, “being jealous of cancer”. Not because I wanted to have cancer, but I wanted to name my friend’s battle as my own, as well. In those months, I was blessed enough to see our community wrap around this beautiful friend, to be a part of something filled with deep compassion and bold friendship. And so I struggled to be worthy of this group of friends, to love lavishly and selflessly, to repent of my selfishness and gain more of the generosity I saw so clearly in others, to have a fullness in love.

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Is there any way to do something truly loving, in that it doesn’t divide the good? Is it possible to love simply for the sake of the beloved? In myself, at least, I am sure that it cannot be done. Whether it is found in my response to tragedy or in my daily interactions with those around me, my affection towards others is always bestowed with the knowledge that it also benefits myself.

But what can I do except to ask for God’s grace, and continue to love to the best of my ability? For now, that will have to be enough.

*My friend recently celebrated three years of remission from cancer. She is, simply put, thriving.