Wedding Day Memories

I think about my wedding day all the time. It was kind of a blur, very overwhelming, but so very special. I would be lying if I said that it was perfect and there is nothing I would change if I could go back, but despite all the little things that went wrong, it was still the best day of my life because it’s the day I became one with the man God made just for me.

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a whole year since I walked down the isle wearing the most beautiful dress I’ll ever own. What a day.

I thought I would share just a few of the many things that made my wedding day so special. These little details are my favorite parts of our wedding, because they are what truly made it “ours.”

For those of you that don’t know, the church that we got married in burned down just a few months ago, making us the very last people to ever get married there. When the church burned, all I could think about was that our (future) little girls will never get to see where their Momma and Daddy got married, and it’s also the church where Grayson grew up. Thankfully, we have pictures and precious memories, because they last a lifetime and now, more than ever, they are worth more than gold.

On the front doors of the church, we had two of my great aunt’s wreaths with big red bows. My aunt lives on a farm in a small town nestled in the mountains of North Carolina and it was so special having these fresh, fragrant wreaths as the first decorations people saw when arriving at our wedding. I also have to mention that Grayson stood at the doors and welcomed each and every guest as they arrived to our wedding and I didn’t even know it until after the fact. I love how he took the initiative to add another personal touch to our day.

Everyone who knows me knows I love anything monogrammed, so it was only fitting that the doors be adorned with our initials (I ordered these unfinished monograms from Jane.com and spray painted them white, only $13.99 each).

My wedding gown is a treasure in itself. It would take me all day to explain how I found it or even begin to describe the precious memories I have with my Mom the day I put it on for the first time, but I’ll just say that it is exactly what I’ve always wanted, down to every last detail.

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Another special part of our wedding weekend was spending the night before my wedding with all my best friends. We sat up talking all night and I wouldn’t trade that time of fellowship with them for anything in this world. As a gift, I gave them monogrammed satin robes to get ready in the day of the wedding and pearl Renmen Abonde bracelets. It was so special seeing all my girlfriends wearing a little piece of my ministry so beautifully on such a special day.

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One special touch Grayson was excited to incorporate into our wedding party’s attire were the American flag socks his groomsmen proudly sported. It was such a fun, festive way to bring out something Grayson loves- our country- and it still matched!

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Both of my grandparents passed away before my wedding, and I knew I wanted to do something special to honor them on my wedding day. I considered several options, but I’m so glad I chose to add a photo charm to my bouquet with one of my favorite pictures of them. I loved having that sweet reminder of the kind of marriage I hope Grayson and I have.

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Our wedding day was completely covered in prayer, which is another reason that the whole day was so special to me. Grayson and I chose not to see each other before I walked down the isle, but we did pray together. He stood on one side of the door and I stood on the other, and we took turns lifting each other’s name up to our Father. There aren’t even words for what this few minutes meant to us. It was such a peaceful, precious reminder of the magnitude of the promise we were about to make before God and everyone we love.

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Right before it was time for the wedding party to go line up, my bridesmaids, flowergirls, mother-in-law, and Mom laid hands on me and prayed over the celebration that was about to take place. My deepest desire was that our wedding be a true worship service, and that it would point everyone there to Jesus above all else. This time of prayer truly set the tune for that, and I’m so glad we paused in the middle of the chaos to call on His name.

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I can’t even really talk about walking down the isle to my groom without crying. My entire life, I always thought that my Paw would be there to walk me down the isle, but when he passed away my freshman year of college, that dream was shattered. I didn’t have a peace about anyone walking me down the isle, although I am close to several wonderful, Godly men. A few nights before my wedding, the pastor who married us (who has watched me grow up, served as my youth pastor, did our premarital counseling, has mentored me over the years, and always been like a daddy to me) called me and asked if he could come over to our house to talk. Three days before my wedding day, he sat at my Mom’s kitchen table with me, Grayson, and my Mom, and had big tears in his eyes as he asked permission to walk me down the isle. It was one of the sweetest gifts anyone has ever given me, and I have never been more honored than I was to walk down that isle on his arm. It’s a privilege his only daughter so graciously shared with me and me alone, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that it’s exactly what God intended. So, the reason you see my groom standing at the altar waiting on me with no pastor, is because that pastor filled two very important roles that day, and I’m forever grateful for both.

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Our ceremony was special for the obvious reasons- saying our vows, “I do’s,” and sharing our first kiss as husband and wife- but other special parts of it were Grayson singing a song called “Better Today” by Anderson Coffey and our congregation standing and singing “In Christ Alone” together in worship. To this day, when we hear that sweet hymn, my husband and I share a knowing look and we get to relive just a little snipit of our wedding day all over again.

We chose to walk in to our reception venue and be introduced as husband and wife to the song “You’re the One that I Want,” from Grease, which was so fun (and Grayson’s idea!). We also wanted a way to honor his parents, so we chose “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago, which was their wedding song, as our first dance.

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Our wedding cake was made by a good friend of Grayson’s family, and it was just as delicious as it is pretty. We toasted out of the same glasses that my grandparents used for their 50th wedding anniversary, and there were a thousand other little decorations and sentiments at our reception that added that special, personal touch. From my great aunt’s famous mints, to sparkling Christmas trees dotted around the room, to our decision to have a “dessert first” dinner so that our guests could satisfy their sweet tooth while waiting for us to finish pictures, I loved every little detail.

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The last thing I’ll mention (although I really could go on forever) is the dancing. Grayson and I both wanted a fun, upbeat reception full of dancing, and we knew from experience that this only happens if the bride and groom dance, too! We danced every dance and had the time of our lives with all of our favorite people. Seriously… the most fun. We left our reception totally and completely exhausted… but oh, so happy.

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Photos by: Erica Serrano Photography 

Where Were You?

September11-Flag

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since tragedy struck our nation. The image of the planes hitting the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon is so devastatingly ingrained in our minds, that it seems like all someone has to do is say “9/11” and the image is there in our minds, hitting us all over again. It was such a heartbreaking, cowardly act, and truthfully, there are no words to really encompass the kind of evil that took place that day.

I remember, just like you probably do, exactly where I was when the attacks took place. I was sitting at my desk in Mr. Collette’s 4th grade class at Calvary Christian School when another teacher came by our room, interrupting him, asking him if they could have a word with him in the hallway. He was in the hallway for what seemed like an eternity in my 4th grade mind, but despite the absence of our teacher, the classroom was eerily silent. It was almost as if we could sense that something was wrong. When he finally came back into our room, his face was ghostly and he was pushing a cart with a TV strapped to the top. He said, “America has been attacked, and this is something you all need to see.”

That was the first time I saw the planes crash into the buildings. I saw it another thousand times or so before the day was over, and even more in the weeks and months to come, but I’ll never forget the first time. I had so many questions, but even in my young heart, I could feel the hurt of our nation.

My Mom picked me up early from school that day, much like many of my classmate’s parents did, and we went to a prayer meeting at the old Charlotte Colosseum led by Pat McCrory. We mourned the loss of precious lives together with complete strangers, unified by our love for our country.

Where were you? Are there any specific ways that I can pray for you? Do you know survivors or families of the victims? I would love to know your stories and pray for you.

“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

The Broken Sea Shells

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I remember waking up early at the beach as a child, the first thing I heard was the crashing of the waves through the cracked sliding glass door to the hotel’s balcony. The first thing I saw was my Momma, wrapped up in a robe, sipping coffee and reading her Bible on the balcony, glancing up occasionally at the beach with such awe. Look what Jesus did. Look how massive. Look how constant.

That’s one of my best memories, and it’s funny, because the older I get, the more I think about times like those. No matter how far I wanted to walk down the beach or how many sea shells I tucked into my Momma’s hand, she always obliged my desire to find “just one more.” I’m so thankful she always encouraged my excitement, no matter how big or how small my passions might have been.

My favorite thing to do at the beach was always look for sea shells. To this day, I still call them “she” shells, and I have a large collection of the thousands of them I’ve picked up lovingly over the years. I still love looking for shells, and this weekend, I had the opportunity to do just that.


Isn’t it funny how we always look for those perfect shells? The unbroken sand dollar, the starfish that still has all five legs, the uncracked conch… What is it about us that makes us think only the seemingly unscathed shells are beautiful?

When I was walking down the beach staring at the broken shards of what were once probably beautiful shells, before they’d been crushed and tossed and jarred and cracked by the powerful force of the ocean, I couldn’t help but thank my Savior.

Oh, you’re broken, I don’t want you.

Oh, you’re damaged, I don’t want you either.

Look at that big crack! I can’t use you!

I’m so glad God doesn’t look at us that way. He loves us so much that He sees beauty where the world sees brokenness. He knows that the cracks we’ve earned in our hearts by being tossed around by the world have given us character, molded us, and often times, led us straight to Him. What you think are flaws make you beautiful in your Father’s eyes. What a gift.

You are altogether beautiful, my darling. There is no flaw in you. Song of Solomon 4:7

Sweet as Southern Peaches + Sunday

This Sunday was the dreamiest. We made a little road trip to meet my great aunt and uncle at Fishers Peach Orchard near Greer, S.C. to pick the juiciest, most beautiful peaches. They were just hanging in big clusters and the light peeking through the trees in the orchard was breathtaking. I think we’ve found ourselves a new late-summer tradition!

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Chicken Tetrazzini (in a fort!)

Last night, I surprised my husband with a new recipe and a blanket fort in our living room. The look on his face was priceless, and it was so much fun eating dinner together in this cozy little candle-lit fort. We might just never grow up! Being his bride is the most fun I’ve ever had.

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I had never made chicken tetrazzini before, but I was very pleased with the way it came out and the leftovers I had for lunch today were just as good if not better!

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. fettuccine noodles
  • 1/2 cup butter (plus more for buttering the baking dish and for your water when boiling noodles)
  • Chicken breasts or tenderloins (boiled or grilled)
  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions:

  • First, preheat oven to 300 degrees
  • Boil and drain your noodles
  • Then, cook chicken however you’d like. The original recipe I used said to boil 4 chicken breasts, but I grilled about 10 small chicken tenderloins and pulled them apart with a fork
  • Next, put butter, both cans of cream of chicken soup, sour cream, salt, pepper, and white wine in a bowl and mix it all together
  • Add cooked, shredded chicken to this mixture
  • Fold cooked, drained noodles into the mixture
  • Slice several pieces of butter and place on bottom of 9×13 baking dish, then spoon in the mixture
  • Sprinkle both the parmesan and mozzarella cheese on top
  • Cover with tin foil, bake 45 minutes
  • Uncover and bake for 15 more minutes

Weekend Fun

This past weekend, Gray and I made our way to Carrboro, N.C. (nestled between Raleigh and Greensboro)  where some of our dearest friends live. Kayla and I met our freshman year of college and our friendship has only become stronger as the years have passed. We have been through so many phases of life together just in the last five years- from living together, encouraging each other through breakups and makeups to sharing in the joy as each other got engaged, helping each other plan our weddings, standing beside each other on our wedding days, stumbling through newlywed life and the home-buying process together, and now welcoming her little one into the world! Little Berkley Stalker will be here in just a matter of days and he’s already so loved.

You can’t put a price on a friendship like this, and I thank God for it every day.11755794_10207221284156069_3337934158899378133_n 11760046_10207221284916088_2147295126678019843_n 11800499_10207221285396100_2843991354142917279_n11800054_10207221283476052_2416351216681779538_n 11800234_10207221283116043_1088406953484322993_n11742782_10207221283236046_584534852618842789_n

Confident Expectation

This past year has been nothing like what I imagined my first year in the “real world” would be.

I’m not sure what I thought this year would bring – it’s not like I was imagining some kind of fairy tale or anything – but whatever this was, was not what I had envisioned. All within a years time:

  • I graduated from college
  • I started a small business out of my home to fund the mission work we do in Haiti
  • I got my first dog (the sweetest, most precious golden retriever)
  • I made my first “big girl” purchase (a car)
  • I went back to Haiti, and Grayson went for the first time
  • We lost my grandmother, after an excruciating month in a coma-like state after having a massive stroke
  • Grayson and I bought our first home
  • We got married
  • We went on an amazingly wonderful honeymoon
  • I began my career
  • Grayson changed schools for the 3rd time in three years (because of moving)
  • We lost our Pastor who had been serving my church for my entire life, baptized me, and took me to Haiti for the first time
  • I lost my cousin, Tony, after he fought a horrible battle with cancer
  • Grayson’s home church burned to the ground right in front of our eyes

Needless to say, that’s a lot for anyone to handle. Those are some of my happiest and most devastating moments, and I honestly don’t know why the Lord allowed all of it to happen at once. But He did. And I know He loves me. And I’m stronger because of it.

This is the thing, though- I have been thinking about the fire at Bethlehem Baptist and wondering how to even begin writing about it, because I see it from lots of different perspectives. I see both the heartache in it all because of the precious memories there and the stress over finances for the people employed by the church itself or the daycare, but I also see the good that has already come from it, the unification of the community, and the opportunities for growth that God set into motion the very second lightening hit the steeple. As Christians, we know that God works all things together for good for those that love Him (Romans 8:28), and that truth is what got the wheels in my mind turning about a specific thought: expectation.

It seems like every time I think of the word “expectation,” it’s in some kind of negative context. Like, I have these expectations and they leave me disappointed if things don’t go like I thought they would or should. But, lately, God has convicted me about this word. Instead of having expectations about what I think things should be like, I should be waiting with confident expectation of what Jesus is going to do. For instance, my church is approaching what may be the end of our long-prayed-over pastoral search, after having a (wonderful, precious) interim for almost a year. We are so excited and there is a contagious new energy awaiting this position being filled that has put a spring into almost everyone’s step. It’s this situation that has got me thinking even more about expectation. Instead of expecting this new pastor to be a certain way or do things a certain way or handle things a certain way, I want to have no expectations other than what God is going to do. What if, instead of letting ourselves get disappointed when things don’t go as we expected, we asked ourselves the question: what is God trying to do through this?

It’s not always easy to approach life with this attitude, but I think the best way to train our minds to look at life like this is to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus sees the big picture, He wants us to have the best, most abundant life, and He can make beauty out of ashes.

God’s Protection

It’s time for me to share a story. Some people dismissed the events I’m about to tell you about as “nothing,” and it may have very well been “nothing.” But next time, it may not be… and it could have changed from “nothing” to tragedy in just a fraction of a second.

A few months ago, as I was pulling up to church on Wednesday night for supper before prayer meeting, a car pulled over on the wrong side of the road across from the church caught my eye. When I got out of the car to go inside, I heard a rustling in the woods and saw a man wearing a masquerade mask standing in the woods, watching our church. Terrified, I called 911 immediately, and as soon as they pulled up, he ran to his car and sped off, clearly up to no good. They did catch the man a little ways up the road, but all they could fault him for was not wearing a seat belt.

I was shaking all over and something in my gut told me that something just wasn’t right, but what could we do? Prayer meeting began and I was sitting about midway up on the right side closest to the inner isle. About halfway through the service, I heard the double doors at the back of the church creak open, and as I turned my head, our eyes locked. It was the man in the masquerade mask, standing in the center of the isle at the back of the church. He was wearing a huge coat, his hair was disheveled, and his eyes were wild, darting from one side of the room to the other. He hesitated for a second, then took a seat a few rows from the back. My heart was beating out of my chest, and I decided that it was my responsibility to protect my family. I got up as calmly and discreetly as possible, walked out the back door, and called 911 again. He was back, they hadn’t stopped him, he had on a mask, he could have a gun. Help.

It only took a few minutes before the police surrounded our humble little church building. Our fearless leaders, Tony (youth pastor and associate pastor) and Josh (head of the deacons), who had been at Youth Meeting, had been alerted of what was going on, and came quickly, speaking to police, keeping the few people who were aware of what was happening calm, and letting the ladies working in the nursery know what was happening so they could get the children to a center room, and lock the doors.

During the service, Pastor Max was fearless. He stood bravely, behind the pulpit, and preached through what could have easily been his last sermon. The man in the mask moved from the back of the church up to the front during the middle of the service, making jittery movements, looking around, and fidgeting with the mask. It was the most terrifying moment of my entire life, and I watched through a window, as some of my precious church family in the pews began to pick up on what was happening. I watched as their eyes widened, then closed in prayer, asking God to protect us, and change this man’s heart if he had ill intentions.

After the service, I saw some people bravely greet him, thank him for coming, and walk away. He could have been an angel, for all we know, and of course we want everyone to feel welcomed at our church, but I don’t think he was. I think, sometimes you have to trust your instincts, and my instincts told me he came there to kill.

The police couldn’t just barge into the sanctuary and tell the man to leave, because technically he hadn’t done anything wrong, just suspicious. He could have just been crazy or mentally sick… or he could have been a gunman that changed his mind because he felt the presence of God. We will probably never know, but what I do know without a shadow of a doubt, is that God protected us that night, and He allowed us to see a glimpse of what people all over the world in countries that don’t have the freedoms we do in America face everyday. It was my worst nightmare coming true, and nothing mattered except Jesus. Yes, I knew that if I was to die that night, I would instantly be in the presence of the Lord, but it was so terrifying.

This morning, when I heard about the shooting that took place yesterday at the church in Charleston, it all came flooding back. I still remember every detail of that night as vividly as if it had just happened yesterday, and there will never be words to explain how grateful I am to God that He spared our lives. What happened in Charleston could have happened to us, and my heart goes out to the families dealing with the loss from this tragedy. It breaks my heart that we live in a world where evil is not only accepted, but embraced whole-heartedly, and everything seems to be tolerated except for Christianity.

It’s time for us, as Christians, to start speaking up, standing up for the religious freedoms that our country was founded upon, and sharing our stories.