How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I'm clinging;

Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth--how can I keep from singing?

Three years ago today, I officially photographed my first and only wedding (I've unofficially photographed many others). And I'm so glad it was this one. Two of my best friends married each other in a ceremony of great love and deep faith, and the celebrations both before and after expressed the way that they live each day: with joy, laughter, compassion, hope, and openness. Even though we don't live in the same city anymore, they teach me how to be a better human, wife, and Christian every day, simply by being who they are as individuals and as a couple. Happy third anniversary, Sarah and Jamie! And cheers to many more. 

The big sister's toast.

I'm switching up Friday posts a bit, because I want to share the toast I gave at my little brother's rehearsal dinner one week ago in New Orleans. I had fun writing it, and it garnered way more laughter than I expected, which was fun for this gal who definitely did not get her brother's comedic side. All the more apt that writing about him would bring it out in me. We had a fantastic weekend celebrating M&M, and can't wait to see what's next.

Mason is the cause of my first memory, and it's a bad one.

For those of you who don't know, he was born on October 30, which meant that I, a toddler, got to spend a couple of nights at Nana and Pop-Pop's house, including Halloween night. I still have an image--may I repeat, the first thing about life that I actually remember on my own-- of the front door opening to reveal a cluster of scary monsters.

And it didn't get better. As you can see from these photos, I was clearly not pleased at the new little thing that was now taking up my parents' attention. [Claire takes time to show the gathered wedding party the two photos that she made sure to print out before leaving for New Orleans.]

I suppose I slowly got over the shock. Mason was annoying, as most little brothers are, but the times I was most frustrated with him were when we'd play one on one basketball and he'd demolish me, even though he was smaller than me. Being the perfectionist older sister, I'd start to "beat up" on him, and he would just laugh and laugh. But we'd also have fun skating on that same patio pretending we were the Mighty Ducks.

Once we hit high school and had pretty much the same friend group, I realized my little brother is pretty cool. He is hilarious, and can always make me laugh. Even though we're two years apart, we got our drivers licenses on the same day (oops, my bad); He introduced me to some of my favorite rap songs, and I would always willingly let him drive us around, blasting Outkast or Flo Rida around Decatur.

Along with these great qualities, though you may not be able to tell from his teeny tiny first grade level handwriting, he is clever and sharp, incredibly smart. For a kid who hated school, he sure does well at it. He has a strong moral compass, and has always known what he believes and why he believes it. If he wasn't so set on PT school, I'd say he would have a good career in social justice--and maybe he'll find a way to do that too.

Of course, being not just a man but an Asbury man, he loves sports, and being an Asbury man from Atlanta, he isn't surprised when they disappoint him. But he keeps coming back. How many Saturdays growing up did I spend at Briarlake soccer field, basketball court, even for one season the baseball field? And then he found tennis, which catapulted him into high school and through college and beyond- without which he wouldn't have made many of the friends in this room. As an Asbury woman who also grew up with sports ingrained in my psyche, I'll never forget sharing my experience of being Steph Curry's college classmate with my NBA-loving, Duke-hating brother; getting to introduce the two of you is still one of the best gifts I'm grateful I could give. (We won't talk about last Sunday night.)

Mason dated a lot more than I did in high school, so when he told us that he was "kinda" dating this girl from college, I took it in stride. Then we found out her name was Macie, which, not gonna lie, made us all do a double take and then laugh a little. The best part may have been the first summer they were dating, in 2009, when they showed up to a party both wearing the exact same yellow Ralph Lauren polo. Twinsies!

But it was clear that Macie wasn't just any other girl, and I could tell that as I spent more time with the two of them on trips and weekends at home over the next seven (!) years. They have the same sense of humor, which is what stands out to me most, because if Mason is going to spend the rest of his life with someone, she needs to have a sense of humor. Macie also pushes him to be his best, and vice versa. It's wonderful to see how content Mason is when he's with Macie. They support and ground each other, and have succeeded in dorms, long distance, and now as the proud parents of two cats (which you can officially thank me for, since I'm the one who found Lucky on the side of the road at the beach).

 For me, Macie "officially" joined the family when she was so involved in helping to care for our grandfather after his stroke before he was moved to hospice care. She was in nursing school at the time, and would go over to Emory ICU when she had time and be with my family and help the nurses. This is when Mason and I both lived out of state, and so it meant extra much to know that Macie could be there when we couldn't. My favorite story is when Pop-Pop-- still feisty, though he couldn't speak-- tried to pull out his catheter, and Macie had a fierce but silent fight with him to make sure it stayed in. I wish I could have seen that! Your care of him and our family during his final days made me really feel like you were part of the family. He called you his little New Orleans girl, and I know he's celebrating with us in spirit.

Mason, I'm so proud of you and I'm so happy for you both. Sean and I want you two to know that we'll always be here to encourage you, listen to you, and have fun with you. You're the best brother ever, and I'm so happy to be getting an official sister! May you have a long and happy marriage, full of laughter. Cheers.

Wedded List

Wedded list, wedded bliss - get it? Okay, bad puns aside, I don't know if it's because my parents' wedding anniversary is tomorrow (happy 31st, Mom and Dad!), or because we have two brothers getting married in the next three months (whee!), or because wedding/engagement season is approaching, but I've been thinking back to my own wedding planning this time two years ago. There were many different elements to it, but all in all, it really wasn't a stressful experience. Our pastor friend and marriage counselor told us, "If you have a choice between complicated and simple, choose simple every time." Even with good intentions not everything could be simple (ordering alcohol in bulk for 300? Ugh, math), but that was a mantra that I tried to return to as often as possible, and it paid off. So with simplicity in mind, here are my top ten wedding planning tips.*

*Every wedding has different dynamics, and a plethora of them. These are things that worked for us. They don't work for everyone and I'm not trying to say they do. Also, I'm writing as someone who was a bride, but this applies to grooms too. Also, I'll probably think of ten more by tomorrow, so this list is fairly fluid. Okay, caveat over.

10. If possible, get engaged in a spot with no cell service and don't tell anyone for at least 24 hours. Let it soak in. Enjoy it. Before other humans start asking you if you've picked a date yet.

9. Address the invitations yourself. Savor the excitement of writing the names of people you love. Do it on Friday nights while watching TV. (And hold on to The Knot's Guest List Manager as your Christmas card list for all time.)

8. Got a friend who's a great photographer? Ask her/him to take your engagement photos.

7. If it doesn't totally screw with your color scheme, tell your bridesmaids to buy a dress in X color and length that suits them. Everyone ends up looking good, feeling comfortable, and wedding party members who are already traveling don't have to spend more money than they have.

6. Seating charts: people will survive - perhaps even thrive?! - without them. 

5. Publix wedding cakes are just as delicious as high-end bakery cakes. Promise.

4. Spend your wedding morning with your favorite girlfriends - all five or 30 of them. Drive yourself places on your wedding day. Do some normal stuff.

3. EAT BEFORE YOU GO INTO THE RECEPTION. By yourselves. For at least half an hour. Ask the server for seconds. Do it.

2. Before you leave, make a point to thank the people who made it happen - not just your parents and wedding party and officiant, but the people who might not get thanked otherwise, like the wait staff, the events coordinator, the caterer. Sure, they get paid, but I will never forget the smiles as I shook their hands and said "thank you" to their faces. It was clear that the bride taking time to do this meant something.

1. If you like the people at your wedding - and I hope you do - find a way to spend time with them after the wedding, especially if they're in from out of town. Hang out with them at the hotel after the reception. Get them together for brunch the next morning. You've got your honeymoon and the rest of your lives for one-on-one time. Savor the folks who made you each who you are, and the new family that you're all building together.

Cheers to the future!