Y'all, my best friend is getting married.  (Translation: Grab a cup of coffee and settle in...this post might be a little long!).

Most of you probably know her, but for those of you who don't, meet Lauren Elese Ramsey [soon-to-be Brakebill].  To me, she's "Ram".   A few of you also probably know him, but for those of you who don't, meet Christopher Michael Brakebill [soon-to-be "Rambill", as we have so lovingly decided their new last name should be].

Ever heard of an LDR?  Let me break it down:  Long Distance Relationship.  Chris and Lauren have had a rather long one... Seattle to Orlando!!  They couldn't have gotten much farther from each other... at least not in the Continental U.S.

Here's the story: "The Houseboat Girls" all slowly moved from the boat to land -- a house on Grainger Avenue -- therefore making us "The Grainger Girls" (and eventually "The Grainger Golden Girls" for halloween!).   That street was also home to a house of guys a few doors down from ours.  We spent a good bit of time in their backyard around a campfire, or in one living room or the other watching the next flick on our movie "syllabus", and often just making a quick run to the grocery store or to Sonic when a resident or two needed a work/study break.  It was like being in college again, except a few years out.

The Grainger Guys had a honorary guest over frequently and he took a liking to our lovely Lauren.  At first, none of us really thought it would turn out to be anything.  They went on one date, she wasn't super interested, and for almost a YEAR Mr. Christopher had his eye on the same girl whether she liked it or not.  Lauren grew to really respect Chris, but she didn't think much more of it...

...until a weekend at the cabin.

Every year a few of the guys have an annual LOTR (Lord of the Rings) weekend at a family cabin.  Typically there is a "No Girls Allowed" Policy, but we did our best convincing and earned ourselves an invite (one they are NOT extending this year, which we think is super lame, but probably understandable!).  Right before that weekend, Chris accepted a job offer to work for ESPN in Seattle -- a dream job working on fantasy football.

Before he left he really wanted to tell Lauren how he felt about her (what did he have to lose?) so he wrote her a letter and gave it to her the morning she was leaving the cabin.  While he attempted to get the coffeemaker to work for her, she decided, standing there in the cabin's kitchen next to him, to read the letter before she left...and the rest is history.

A few weeks later, Chris moved to Seattle, and the long distance relationship began.  Lauren was still living on Grainger here in Knoxville, but they managed to find some way each month to make it to the same city for a weekend.  Lots of Skype.  Even more texting.  Tons of phone calls.   An occasional letter or gift in the mail.  One way or another, they made it work.

Chris called me one day and said "we need to talk about jewelry soon".  My response: "Six months. Then we can talk."  Poor thing, it had been more than a year of waiting for him, so torturing him with even more time was painful.  Side note: If you ever wonder whether your best friend is really serious about a guy, see how long they last across the United States...then you'll probably be a little more convinced they're inseparable.  Chris and Lauren's LDR could take the distance... and the ring designing began.

After a few more long months, Chris began planning another weekend at the same cabin...

Lauren is one of the MOST observant people I know, so planning anything (while living with her!!) without her knowing is practically impossible.  She kept guessing earlier weekends and assumed an earlier weekend would make sense because she would be moving to Orlando to begin grad school soon.  In order to throw her off, Chris pulled a genius move: he mailed her a box that said "DO NOT open until June 29th" -- one weekend later than she thought, a weekend that wouldn't be ideal.  Of course, her first thought was "there's no way he mailed me my ring and then tortured me by telling me not to open it!!"  Completely threw her off.

During the earlier and more ideal weekend, while Chris was supposedly hanging out with our good friend Henry (who had gone to visit him) in Seattle, we all planned a few days at the cabin to watch Star Wars.  Lauren was super excited about it and we knew she was clueless because she showed up in a sweatshirt and her hair on top of her head.

[Sidenote: Lauren loves succulents.  She also loves Stanley's Greenhouses, so it was just fitting to do this part of our photo session there in South Knoxville. Plus, I LOVE how it turned out!]

In the weeks prior, Chris had Lauren's friends and family record themselves reading pieces of  "the letter" he had written to her.  Then he compiled it all together into a short video.  The genius part: The intro to the video was like the beginning of Star Wars, except it read just like the letter.   We started watching "Star Wars" and she lost it.

As soon as the video was over, Chris had other friends waiting outside with sparklers in order to get her to walk around the house and back into the kitchen -- the same kitchen she first realized she loved him -- where Chris was waiting with a gorgeous gold diamond ring.  She (of course) said YES!!

Lauren and Chris love to cook together, so they thought it would be fitting to have a cupcake-making photo session!  So fun!!  A huge shout out to the Shifletts for letting us borrow their awesome kitchen.

Save the date.  :)

The letter.

And the box he tricked her with...which had a coffee mug -- and not a ring -- in it!

We finished our session at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge right at sunset.  Beautiful ending to a fun and creative session.

One of my favorites.

I've walked through this process -- from getting engaged to preparing for a wedding -- with many, many girls:  a few of them friends, most of them clients... never a BEST friend.  It's very different. It's awesome.  It's hard.  It's more emotional.  It's beautiful.  It's redemptive.

After Jess and I finished editing these engagement photos and sent them to the couple, Lauren sent me an beautiful email and I want to share an excerpt from it with you:

I just looked at each one of our engagement pictures and felt SO good and am so overcome with joy and other emotions. I don't know if it's love or my about-to-marry-this-incredible-man goggles, but as I see these photos, I see us. I FEEL us. And I wonder if this is what everyone feels when they get their pictures. It's amazing really, what you do. For an emotion to transfer through a still image is art. It's not a job, or a filter, or a few thousand clicks of a mouse. It is art. Carrie, I know you've heard it before and you'll only continue to, but I want you to hear this loud and clear, from your best friend who loves you in and out, who has seen the ups and the downs of this gift in you: you have an incredible, beautiful gift. Your vision and heart for the celebration of the beginning of marriage is inspiring. It is very hard to fight for meaning amongst the web of "important decisions." But it is so worth it.  Just know, I am fighting for true focus within this system and I know it's possible, a focus on the beauty of the love and redemption of God in relationship with this man is made possible by grace and SO much joy.  When I look at these photos, I see truth. 

I have obviously never been a bride, yet I am confident that the Lord has intentionally placed me in a position to walk through this process with engaged women daily -- and even more confident thanks to the encouragement from Lauren and other friends.  I believe he gives me an odd capacity to do so, but I can't help but always be aware that I'm giving advice to girls who are in a position I've never actually been in.   I don't understand it, but I know it's right where I'm supposed to be.

With that said, the uniqueness of walking through this with Lauren means that as she grows in this process, so do I.   I am getting to experience this process more on a first-hand basis than usual and I'm learning even more about the excitement and frustration that many of you feel/have felt while planning and preparing for one of the biggest days of your lives.

Lauren, I am honestly honored to be your Maid of Honor.  Every step of this process has been an honor.  I have already told you this before, but you are helping me to know what it feels like to be a bride without having been one.  I feel like I'm healing and growing in this process because you are feeling it.  Through you and because of you, I am (and will continue to be) a better friend and wedding photographer to many other women.  You're a rockstar best friend and I can't wait for you to Mrs. Brakebill!

Chris, I can't wait for you to be Mr. Rambill.  :)  I'm excited for you to my best friend's husband.  I am thankful for your role in her life and I'm looking forward to many, many years of having you around... which I guess will be many, many years of you getting to have me around.

I love you both!  Thanks for letting Jess and I wear you out with photos!

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