My Cousin’s Wedding and Grandmother’s Wedding Dress

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My beautiful cousin Laura was married to Gabriel this summer on the 4th of July, their original wedding date! The ongoing pandemic caused them to postpone their larger wedding celebration til next summer, and Laura and Gabriel decided to move forward with a small family ceremony and luncheon on their original wedding date. This year is clearly not an ideal year to be married, but, as I often share, love is not canceled and celebrations can still occur! I absolutely love that Laura and Gabriel pivoted their wedding plans and were able to find such a beautiful, meaningful, and personal silver lining for them and for their immediate families. While we all hated that we couldn’t be there to celebrate their love and their new marriage in person, we are all so glad that their parents and siblings could be there, that they were still able to be married as planned, that it was such a joyful and beautiful celebration for them, and that we have been able to watch such a touching video and see such marvelous photos from their intimate wedding day!

It’s also incredibly special and moving that my cousin was able to wear our Grandmother’s wedding dress for their wedding! I’ve shared a little about my maternal grandparents over the years, including sharing about my grandma’s wedding planning book and their 60+ years of marriage. My grandparents, Dwight and Thelma Sparks, were married on June 8, 1953 in Ohio. My beautiful, beautiful grandmother wore this stunning, classic wedding dress (images below), and it is so special to see my cousin wearing it again almost seventy years later. My grandparents were married for 63 years and had such an inspiring, love-filled, dedicated marriage. The Sparks family legacy is so strong because of my grandparents, their marriage, and the love, dedication to family, and strong values that they instilled in all of us. It was a marriage that has certainly inspired countless people who knew them and loved them. They raised four wonderful, smart, loving daughters and nurtured, spoiled, taught, and loved all of their grandchildren (and great-grandchildren!) so, so much. As their granddaughter, I have always known how deeply blessed I have been to have such incredible grandparents and role models in my life. Their faith and family came first and foremost, as anyone can attest to. Grandma and Grandpa loved traveling abroad, traveled far and wide to visit their family, and hosted large holiday gatherings at the 4th of July and Christmas in their home. Many of my fondest memories in life come from our time with our grandparents and family in Ohio, for sure. We’ve always had the most loving, fun, close-knit family, due in large part to my grandparents’ love, legacy, and focus on family. I could go on and on about all that I have learned from my grandma and grandpa, but that would be an endless list!

Their marriage and love has impacted so many, from the young couples they mentored to their daughters and sons-in-law to their friends and community to the youth in their church and most definitely to their grandchildren. I can only hope and pray that Rob and I (and all of my cousins and their spouses) have a marriage as strong, fun, full of adventure, family-focused, and Christ-centered as theirs. Their love for one another was truly something special, and it’s something we all got to witness even more so as my grandma’s physical health deteriorated while my grandpa’s mental health and memory declined. No obstacle was too big for their love; that’s for sure, and while we miss them tremendously, I know that they’re reunited together in Heaven (and likely square dancing!).

Seeing Laura wear our Grandma’s wedding dress is the most meaningful nod to a woman that we love, admire, and miss so much. It fits Laura perfectly, and she was also so radiant wearing it! The off-the-shoulder design and long sleeves are so classic, timeless, and elegant – and perfect for twirling, too! I could not get over how beautiful and glowing Laura was on their wedding day as she married the love of her life, and their joy shines through so vividly. A million congratulations to Laura and Gabriel on their wedding and marriage… we sure can’t wait to celebrate with y’all in person next summer!! Wishing you two a lifetime of love, laughter, and joy as you begin your marriage!

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Some thoughts from Laura:

The silver lining of the pandemic (and totally changing plans from our original wedding day) is that we made our wedding completely intimate and personal. Only our immediate families were in attendance. We had an outside ceremony where Gabriel’s two younger sisters sang 1,000 Years by Christina Perri and my brother and his older sister each read quote we had picked out. Afterwards, we celebrated with an Indian food picnic at my childhood home on the patio and enjoyed apple pie and chocolate cake for dessert.
I am extremely grateful to be married to the love of my life!! I think going from a long-distance relationship to living together and not leaving the house (other than walks outside/grocery) is a big transition, but he is so gracious and giving. It has been a wonderful time to try our hands at cooking, baking, and mixology! I am also so glad that we had room to be flexible with our wedding budget and were able to hire a videography service. I think the video memory is invaluable to remember how unique our wedding day was.

all photos of Laura and Gabriel’s wedding by Zimmerman Photography

Five Years in Raleigh

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Five years ago, I moved back home to North Carolina, but this time, to a new city: Raleigh! I grew up mostly in Charlotte, North Carolina, lived in Chapel Hill for four years during college at UNC Chapel Hill (go Heels!), and then left North Carolina to live in Washington, DC for six years after college. When I took Stephanie Shaul Events full time a little over five years ago, I simultaneously moved back down south to the land of the pines with a new city to make my home and to build and expand my business. And what a wonderful, fulfilling, happy five years it has been!

I’ve now celebrated 6.5 total years in business and 5 years full time with Stephanie Shaul Events. I’ve done countless styled and editorial shoots, had every one of them published in national or regional publications, helped others through many mentoring and coaching sessions, spoke at several conferences and workshops, met countless inspiring, talented vendors and industry friends, built a lot of community, and planned so many beautiful, meaningful, joyful weddings for the most incredible and inspiring couples. I adore my job as a wedding planner and designer, and I love seeing how much my work has evolved and grown since launching my business at the beginning of 2014. I now take on just 10 full planning and design clients each year so that I can focus on them with so much heart and attention, and I work with these couples to create, plan, design, and produce intentional, magical, personalized, and stunning weddings that reflect them as a couple. I am incredibly proud of the work that I have done and how my business has evolved. As long as I can bring more beauty, joy, and love to the world and serve my couples well, I know I’m doing my job right.

In March of 2016, I finally tried online dating and ended up meeting the love of my life, my husband Rob, on my very first day! We fell in love so quickly and knew so instantly that we were meant to be. I’ve shared much about our relationship and our love throughout the years, and it truly has been the greatest gift in the world. Rob and I got engaged six months later on October 1, 2016, one of the happiest days of our lives! I loved blogging about our wedding planning process on Southern Weddings, and I also loved the process of planning and designing every bit of our wedding. We easily decided that Raleigh was the perfect location for our wedding, as it’s home for both of us and where we wanted to welcome our families and friends. The Merrimon Wynne House in downtown Raleigh was the only venue we considered, and the rest is history. Our wedding day was the single happiest day of my life thus far: marrying Rob, beginning our marriage, getting to celebrate with all of our family and friends, the gorgeous weather, the beautiful details, and the abundance of love and joy on that day were spectacular.

As perfect as April 1, 2017 was, marriage is that much sweeter. Being married to Rob is the best of the best, and we’ve celebrated almost 3.5 years of marriage now! As cheesy as it sounds, I fall more and more in love with him every day, and marriage is such a blessing and a gift. We’ve had so many adventures together, shared in so many traditions, traveled near and far, and so much more.

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When I moved to Raleigh in 2015, I had my own apartment and even had it published on The Everygirl and in a coffee table book! A year after Rob and I got married, we bought our first house in June 2018 and have spent the last two years making our house a home (home tour coming very, very soon!). We’ve hosted countless dinner parties, many holiday events, lots of Friendsgivings, a whole lot of articles club/book club/game nights/girls nights/guys nights, and even had my sister’s family live with us for a few months during the pandemic. Buying our own house even spurred Rob into taking real estate classes and becoming a full-time real estate broker! He’s so good at what he does and serves his clients so, so well.

In these past five years in Raleigh, a friend and I started a monthly articles club (we’re just about to celebrate five years together!), some friends and I started a book club, Rob started a fantasy football podcast with his best friends, we joined our wonderful church, Vintage Church, as members while we were engaged, we serve (when allowed to meet in person, of course) on the greeting and communion team, we help lead our weekly community group, and I volunteered for several years with pre-schoolers at the Raleigh Rescue Mission downtown. I feel so fortunate and grateful for all of the community that has been built, the friendships that have been made, and the places we call home and where we spend many of our days! We have made many lifelong friends here, for sure. Raleigh has no shortage of wonderful people, places, organizations, things to do, places to eat, and communities to invest in, and it definitely feels like home for us. We have our favorite coffee shops, our favorite breakfast spots, our beloved date night spots, favorite parks, favorite day trip locations, favorite neighborhood to go for a walk, favorite bar to watch NFL football, both of our college campuses within thirty minutes, and so much more. I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton with this quick recap of these past five years, but suffice it to say, Raleigh definitely feels like home!

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It’s been a full five years, and I have endless things I’m deeply thankful for. I can’t wait to see what the next five years have in store for us! Raleigh, I sure do love you, and it feels so good to know I’m doing the work the Lord has called me to do in the city that He’s purposefully placed me. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe it!

If you’d like, you can take a peek at some blast-from-the-past blog posts about taking my business full time, my move to Raleigh, our engagement, and our wedding!

An exciting announcement

On the road to full-time, part one

On the road to full-time, part two

Why Raleigh?

The Everygirl

We’re engaged!

Our wedding!

professional photos of us by the wonderful Kyla Shattuck

Finding the good in 2020

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2020. What a year, right? However, despite everything that’s occurred this year, I am still determined to find the good in this year. I have been reframing my perspective, placing my hope in something far greater, clinging to faith and belief, and finding joy in the littlest victories. Life – this beautiful, wild, wonderful, unpredictable life – is happening now. Despite life looking far different right now than most of us ever predicted or planned or hoped, nevertheless, life is unfolding right now, moment by moment. Instead of wishing these fleeting days away or hoping for a return to the past or growing angry at the present (sometimes easier said than done), I am choosing to find the good in this year and to celebrate the little moments however I can.

When I look back on this year, what do I want my story of 2020 to be? How will I have handled this year? Will I have merely survived or did I choose to thrive, even amidst the hardships? What will I remember? What did I do to love God and love others well? How did I help others and how did I create joy in our own home?

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Though I don’t have all of the answers and am, of course, quite far from perfect, I’ve been reflecting on the little moments of joy, the lessons being learned, the goodness of this year despite the trials, and the hope that comes through faith.

Some ways that good has emerged throughout the year already:

Our marriage. Rob and I have been able to have more time than ever to devote to each other and into strengthening our marriage. For the last five months, we’ve had so much more time than we usually do to really invest in one another, as we’re together all day, every day. We already spent a lot of time together (we both already worked from home), but over the course of the last five months, we’ve been together pretty much nonstop. And truly, there’s no one I’d rather be quarantined with for all of this uninterrupted time together! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m really glad we both love and like each other a whole, whole lot. We’ve had deeper and longer conversations than ever before, have time to be still with one another rather than running to the next event or activity, and to pause an savor quieter times together. We’ve also had the time to focus on the little things – and not the grand adventures or the travel – that bring us closer together and really connect us. From long walks to playing games together to happy hours on our deck and more, I’m grateful that this pandemic has blessed Rob and myself with so many hours and months together. I believe our marriage is stronger for it, and I’m really glad he’s not sick of me yet! Joking aside, I know how blessed we are to have a happy, thriving marriage where we value, respect, love, support, and encourage each other. We’re not perfect by any means, but our marriage is a constant source of joy and love, and even more time together has only strengthened us.

Time with my sister, brother-in-law, and newborn nephew. At the start of 2020, I never, ever would have predicated that my sister, her husband, and their newborn would become our roommates during a pandemic! Just typing that sentence still feels a little surreal. Long story short, the three of them live in New York City, and at the very start of the pandemic, when their baby was just a month old, they decided it was safer to leave New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic at the time, and come to North Carolina. For a myriad of reasons, they lived with us for a few months while we all quarantined together! It may sound a little crazy, but it was SUCH A BLESSING. I can’t even begin to tell you how special this time together was, despite the very difficult circumstances for them (leaving their home at a moment’s notice, having a newborn, having a newborn in the middle of a pandemic in the heart of the pandemic, recovering from having a baby, trying to navigate parenthood, working remotely, leaving behind their home, their church, their friends, and so much more). Let’s just say, they are strong, brave, and resilient! My sister has been my lifelong best friend, and we’re both married to Robs (two incredible men!). Despite how close we are, I think we’ve always known we wouldn’t live near each other, as their home is NYC and ours is Raleigh. Our nephew being born and having him in our lives is the single best thing to happen this year by a landslide! So you can only imagine how very, very special it was to have them live with us. Getting to watch him grow and develop before our eyes was the deepest joy, as was spending hours every day with him, reading and singing and walking together. It may not have been ideal circumstances, but having them live with us is something I’ll forever look back on, and it was the biggest blessing imaginable. From cooking challenges to filling out house to the brim to swimming in the kiddie pool to turning our home into NYC for the day to double dates at home and game nights and fun conversations on the couch… it was simply the best and helped make a hard season of life so much more joyful.

Our home as a haven. On a similar note, Rob and I had always prayed that our house was more than just a house and would have, in some way, a bigger purpose. We feel like this year, our house has felt even more like home and has been used for something much bigger than just ourselves. Whenever we had dinner parties or friends over before the pandemic, those times were small tastes of what we imagined for our home. Being able to wholly and gladly welcome my sister’s family into our home felt so purposeful and so aligned with what God has always wanted for our home. I can only hope that they felt incredibly welcomed, loved, and cared for every minute of their stay with us. We want our home to be a haven, especially given the current conditions of the world: where you can come to feel safe, loved, welcomed, invited, and comfortable. We have long wanted our home to be filled with love, warmth, and generosity – and not just the two of us. And though we had to get creative with how to rearrange our rooms to accommodate four adults and a baby (and all of the home offices that needed to fully function!), it was so much fun and worked so seamlessly. Our home has never been happier than when there’s a play mat and changing station and bouncer taking over the living room, or when all three bedrooms are completely filled. The foundation of our home is built on welcoming and loving others, and I feel like we’ve been able to do that this year in a very unexpected, big way – and a time I’ll never forget.

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Creative ways to stay connected with friends and our community. While it’s been incredibly hard not to see our friends and much of our families in person, I am proud of how well people have come together virtually, have found creative ways to stay connected and live life, even if not in person, and have seen over and over the sheer importance of community and relationships. There’s little more important than this, and I feel that more than ever before. Even if not in person, this year has reinvigorated many of my long distance friendships, I’ve made use of Marco Polo with family and friend group videos, kept in touch more than usual, had virtual baby showers and bridal showers and graduations and yes, even weddings, been on countless Zoom calls, been able to have articles club every month online, had virtual game nights and double dates, had our weekly community group online, and gathered virtually with our church every Sunday. While, of course, I very much wish that it was safe to be with all of our loved ones in person as we usually are, and I miss gathering together more than I ever thought possible, there have been some wonderful pivots and adaptations made to stay connected as best as possible.

Cooking and our cooking challenges. I’ve shared much more about how we’ve embraced cooking here and also here, and it’s so true: our adventures in the kitchen and our cooking challenges have been such fun saving graces this year. We’ve been at home more meals than ever before (we have yet to go to a restaurant and have gotten food delivered just a couple times), so cooking is a bigger part of our days than ever in the past. Some nights we have frozen pizza or a very simple meal (no shame in that; we love it!), but all of this time at home, as well as having family live with us for a few months, has been pretty revolutionary for our cooking prowess and experiments in the kitchen! From several firsts (poaching eggs, making hollandaise, homemade biscuits, homemade pimento cheese, shrimp and grits, and so much more) to cooking our way through the Half Baked Harvest cookbook (seriously, the best!) to experimenting with new homemade ice cream creations and making our own popsicles to crafting cocktails and organizing our favorite recipes and finding new favorites that are in our constant rotation… it’s been so much fun to cook together, to become even more capable and confident cooks, to enjoy time with my sister and brother-in-law in the kitchen and around the dinner table, and to create new, happy memories when there haven’t been too many ways to do so this year!

Ample time outside. I am thankful that the stay at home orders coincided with spring, my favorite season, as time outside was so crucial for my mental health. It makes me a little nervous if we need to be cooped up this winter, I must admit. I have never been so grateful for our yard and our deck/outdoor space, and having this has made a world of difference. I love being outside and feel so connected to nature and my faith when I am. From reading on our deck to meals outside to walks around our neighborhood to picnics in our yard and really just so much time spent doing anything and everything we can outside. We’ve explored further from home as phases have opened up more (but have still been incredibly socially distanced and cautious). Being in nature, going on walks, enjoying our little lake, breathing fresh air, and watching the flowers bloom, birds chirp, and seasons change has been lovely and so beneficial, for sure. I feel very thankful to have a home with a bit of outdoor, private space, as fresh air is so good for the soul.

My faith and becoming closer to God. I’ve had this conversation many times with some of my close friends, and it rings so true: if I didn’t have faith and hope during this year, it would have done me in. Even during harder seasons and days, I know that joy comes from the Lord, and I firmly believe that I was put on this earth to glorify God in all that I say and do. I’ve had more consistent, purposeful quiet times in the morning than ever before, reading my Bible and daily devotionals, in prayer, and writing in my gratitude journal. I’ve also felt closer to God, since it’s often in our hardest seasons that we cling to Him the most. I believe that He is good, He is sovereign, and He works everything – even a pandemic – for His good, even when I don’t always understand it. I also don’t want to live my life in such a blur that I don’t savor and delight in the beauty, wonder, everyday miracles, and joy that life is made up of. When I pause to take it all in – or in this case, am forced to pause – and when I don’t rush through my day and my to-do list, my eyes are even more opened to see the inspiration and beauty in even the smallest details and littlest moments that surely make life richer.

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What about you, friends? It’s not easy, and it certainly doesn’t always happen, but I want my story of this year to be filled with so much more focus on the good things. There have been a lot of hard circumstances, news, days, decisions, headlines, and moments this year, but I know God is still here and He is still good. There is still so much joy and gratitude to be found and recognized. I want to reframe my perspective of this year so that good is still claimed and blessings can still be counted. We have been given a lot of gifts this year, even when it can be hard to see or know that. Everything I’ve shared here is proof that, while it has definitely been a harder season than ever imagined, we have been given opportunities to claim this year as a good year, to triumph through the struggles, to do the best that we can with where we are, to live our lives with faith in something far greater, to thrive however we can right now (even if it may feel like anything but), to serve others and live selflessly and share hope and joy, and so much more. This is my story, and this is how I choose to live it: seeking goodness, loving others, and filled with hope.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33