December 16th, 2017. Our wedding day.
I can still feel the jitters that flooded my body as I drove to the venue with my sister. It was 7 a.m., and we had a few last-minute-touches to finish before we could totally relax. Most everything had been completed on the Thursday prior, but I wanted to make sure everything was in it’s place. We both let out a sigh of relief as we took in how beautiful everything looked – it was perfect. And by perfect, I mean to Christian and me.
Almost six months has passed, and I can still remember every detail. I could re-live it again and again, because it was truly one of the the best days of my life.
Three years before our wedding, I photographed my first. It was the first of many to follow, and with each one came new ideas and inspirations for my own one day. I never saw a wedding as this girlish dream of being a “princess for a day” or anything like that; it was always the beginning of a lifetime for me. And the way I saw it, everything within that day shouldn’t just be frivolous, but hold a lifetime of meaning.
As I reflect on how we made our day meaningful, I thought it might be helpful to share some valuables that I have learned from photographing weddings and planning my own. Why? Because there is a huge expectation that is placed on this single day, and I hope to shed light on the true meaning behind it as well as practical tips you can apply to your own.
And so I give you… the seven lessons I learned from being a bride //
1. Treasure the engagement period while preparing for the marriage.
This is the first, and most important “tip” I could give you. The greatest oversight I watched so many brides make is filling the entire engagement period with plans and throwing out the purpose. What a waste of such a gift! After Christian proposed, we were like giddy kids — SO excited of what was to come. But with every good thing that awaits, there is always work to get there.
I remember the day so clearly. I was riding in the tractor with Christian, and we were freshly engaged. He presented me with a question: “how can we make this time meaningful and best prepare for marriage?” First of all – thank you, Jesus, for giving me a leader like this man! Everyone who knows him knows how intentional he is. It’s practically his buzzword! But this was a profound question that deserved a well thought through answer.
If I could sum up our answer in three words it would be: focus on Jesus.
The eight months that followed were filled with excitement, anticipation, blessings, and a whooole lot of growth. God was bringing two very imperfect people together and beginning to form as one, and let’s be honest, He had His work cut out!
But one of the best decisions we ever made during our engagement was getting thorough counsel from a seasoned couple in whom we respected and trusted. I cannot tell you how many times throughout the six months we’ve been married that God has used the wisdom shared through them to give us guidance. It has been a gift that has kept on giving, and we are so thankful.
So we cannot encourage this truth enough. We know the planning gets crazy, and that all of us have busy lives, but take time to prepare. After the wedding day, you’re left with a marriage, and the foundation of it begins during the engagement!
2. Prioritize what means most to you & spend your money there.
I think it’s safe to say that most everyone has some kind of budget they are working within, whether that be small or large. And it’s not as much how you spend it, but where you spend it.
If your budget is large, your options are going to be greater with where and how much you can spend it on. But if you’re like me, you may have a pretty small budget (relatively speaking) and you’ve got to get scrappy to make it work! This is where getting intentional comes into play.
The first thing we established when planning our wedding was answering the question “what is most important to us?”
Our list went something like this:
Quality, meaningful photographs
An outdoor venue that doesn’t need many decorations to make beautiful
Our guests having a great time
Once you answer that question, the decisions become more clear because you can funnel through the distractions of Pinterest photos and hone in on what really matters to you.
We spent about a third of our budget on each of those things listed above. Which meant we hired an amazing photographer, booked a gorgeous venue, great band, and had a good meal for our guests. But the areas that didn’t mean as much to us we. got. scrappy.
All of my florals I ordered in bulk; my bridesmaids put together their bouquets, I put together mine, and we all worked together to make the boutonnieres. Our grandmothers & mothers carried a single rose. I chopped down tons of branches from a few cedar trees in my parent’s back yard, and used it as the primary filler for the arbors, railings, and tables so I could use my eucalyptus I bought to just “sprinkle in.” I bought only a few decorations because the venue already had a closet full that they allowed us to use ( for free!) and I only bought things that we could re-purpose in our home (like the framed photographs, letterboards, and the rug in our ceremony!) We decided to go with donuts instead of cake, except for a small one to cut, because who doesn’t love donuts?! My Mom did the entire meal (yes, she’s a superwoman, and YES, she wanted to do this), and had some precious friends help serve it at our reception. I bought my earrings for $2 at a flea market, and my shoes and fur jacket were pre-owned finds on Poshmark. (p.s… I wear these shoes still.) My dress was from BHLDN, which I ordered online at a reasonable price. I also did my own hair and makeup.
Because our budget was small, and we only had the funds to pay for the things that truly mattered to us — we didn’t worry about fancy invitations, monogrammed napkins, tons of floral arrangements, or a 10-layer cake. Those things are beautiful details, but they didn’t truly matter to us, so we just left them out.
Christian and I have said before — we got everything we could’ve ever wanted in our wedding day. Not that we got everything, but all the things that mattered to us.
It is so worth it to sit down and prioritize what is most important to both of you. Everything gets simpler after that.
3. Set aside time for just the two of you by doing a first look.
I know what you’re thinking — “here comes the photographer rant about the importance of doing a first look!”
But hear me out: I would not encourage this if we did not find so much value in it on our wedding day.
Months prior, Christian requested that I walk down the ceremony aisle when we did our first look. He wanted to watch me then in the same way that he would hours later. Of course I agreed, and we then chose a “first look” song that was meaningful to us to add to that moment. I cannot put words to how incredible this time was. Seeing my soon-to-be husband for the first time in privacy allowed us these precious moments to reflect on what was to come.
The week of your wedding is busy. Me and Christian probably talked less that week than ever before because of how much was going on. Family was coming in, to-do’s were being checked off, etc. It was just difficult to really focus on what was about to happen because of all of the adrenaline and chaos mixed into the week. But when we had that hour-and-a-half of untouched, peaceful time just the two of us, to take our portraits, laugh together, and talk about all we were looking forward to — it could not be touched. Those were some of our favorite moments of the day.
And guess what? When I walked down the aisle for real, it was still incredible and surreal. From the guy’s standpoint (for you gal’s out there!), Christian says that it actually made that moment more special. He cried, I cried. And he isn’t even a cryer! But I truly believe that having that time together during our first look only made every moment after more meaningful. The best part of it all is that after our ceremony was finished, we were able to go straight to the reception and enjoy our friends and family that were there, knowing we had gotten amazing photos beforehand.
If you want a relaxing, stress-free, meaningful day with lots of amazing photos afterwards, do a first look.
4. Choose a lasting wedding party.
Who to put in your wedding party is one of the most difficult decisions. It probably shouldn’t be that way, but I think we get so nervous about hurting someone’s feelings that we sacrifice having a wedding party that is truly made up of people that we know are in it for the long haul.
But think about it this way: you are about to commit to someone (your spouse) for the rest of your life. It really only makes sense for the people standing up there with you to be long-term as well.
I will admit, I had it easy. I have sisters, and six (not counting in-laws) to choose from. My husband, on the other hand, did not — he has no brothers. But when we decided we wanted a small wedding party, it really made us focus on those that were closest to us and would probably be around for a long time.
Also — Christian and I have a lot of really sweet friends and family that were not in the bridal party, but we still looked for ways to honor them. The bridal party is not the only way to show how much you value those relationships!
All in all, we were so happy that we had this intimate group of people in our wedding party that gave us peaceful rooms to get ready in, meaningful conversation throughout the day, and so much joy.
5. Make it meaningful.
Whatever you do — make it so, so meaningful.
Your wedding day is one of the most significant, special, and life-changing days. Honor that.
Don’t forget what the day is all about when you are looking up inspiration for your dream wedding bouquet — incorporate the beauty of what is to come. That is what will leave a lasting impact on your guests, and you.
Christian and I are both passionate about our relationships with the Lord, so having Him at the center of our wedding day was top priority. That focus went into the music we chose, the prayers we wrote for each other and had read during the ceremony, and even the atmosphere we desired to create at our reception.
Think about what means the most to you and your spouse, and incorporate those things into your wedding day. It may be that you both love to dance, and so you make sure to have a great DJ/band to make a great dance floor. Or you value generosity, so you incorporate some kind of “thank you” favor for people to take home with them. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, but it should represent who you are!
Life, and your wedding day, go by way too quickly not to be intentional. So add meaning in everything you do!
6. Enjoy every moment.
It seems like a given, maybe, but I can’t tell you how many brides & grooms I have watched not enjoy their wedding day!
From one bride to another: Do not clutter up your day with worrisome thoughts about things that may not have gotten done, or something not going exactly as planned. It’s okay. Be in the moment and focus on the things that are going right (example: getting married!!)
I remember a moment during our reception that I heard of one of our close friends leaving because they were too cold. I thought, “oh no! Everyone isn’t having a good time because they are freezing outside!!” But that was silly thinking. Because even if a handful of people did have to leave because of the weather, there were more that didn’t. In fact, one of my favorite moments of our reception was watching our friends & family dance around one of the outdoor heaters!
Things not going perfect make everything more memorable. Just embrace it, and enjoy every moment you’re given!
7. Take the time to say ‘thank you!’
This is the final, and one of the most important points.
There are soooo many people out there supporting you during your engagement and on your wedding day. Think about it – even people you’ve never met before are sending you gifts! These aren’t things that are just “a part of getting married” or that you “deserve” for getting married, these are incredibly kind gestures from people saying they support and desire to help you.
I know thank you letters are dreaded, and that there very well might be hundreds that you have to write when all is said and done. But isn’t that the absolute least we can do to show our gratitude?
When you consider the hours of time that your Mom might spend helping you plan, or the money that your parents contribute to make it happen. The wedding party that you chose that has to spend lots of time showing up for you and money to buy that dress/suit. The hosts for your shower(s) that put thought and money behind them. Your guests that send you gifts, when all they know is your parents, just to show their support. Or the one’s that carve time out of their day to be at your wedding.
I think we often take these things for granted because they are what is “expected.” We think it’s okay to criticize someone for giving us a $5 gift, when maybe that’s all they could afford, and we should be grateful they are giving us anything at all.
Whatever form that you do it in – whether verbal, written, or even typed – just take the time to say it. We all could use a little more thankfulness towards others in our lives!
And on that note, if you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading!
I truly hope that each of these lessons learned from my own experience will help you in yours whether you are a bride-to-be, will be someday, or a former bride that can pass on encouragement to others.
And a huge “thank you” to all of the incredible vendors that helped make this day amazing:
Venue – Rasberry Greene
Photographer – Jen Menard
Videographer – Joe & Callie
Band – Sam Mooney