My story with Ashley is a unique one.  She and I have known each other through mutual friends, beginning around the time I moved to Knoxville 4 or 5 years ago.  We've also shared a roommate... well, sorta.  A mutual friend lived with Ashley before and after living with me.  Ashley has always seemed like a great girl, full of joy, and I've always known she was a really talented woman.  She has an eye for art and fashion, not to mention some mad skills in music [I envy her ability to play a cello].

But somehow in all of our passings, we've never really gotten to know each other.

This spring, I went to Ashley's house to take Valerie's bridal portraits.  When I say house, I really mean "manor".   Since last fall, Ashley has lived in a beautiful old home in Knoxville.  It's full of character and perfect for her style and personality.

This time of interacting with Ashley was very different than most any other time before.  I could tell that something in her had changed, and it was resonating with the changes I had experienced over the prior few months.  I found myself drawn to her story.

You see, the plan was that she would be living in this beautiful home with a husband.  I'm sure she envisioned their photos on the walls.

We do our best to make plans, but if we're willing to submit those plans to the Lord, he'll determine the actual steps.  Those steps are almost always beautiful.  I'm just often surprised by the times when those steps are painful.  The older I get the more I'm learning to see the depth of the beauty in the pain.

Ashley didn't get to wear that wedding dress on the day they had planned.  But if you ask my opinion, I think she's more beautiful than before.  I also think she's got a trust in the Lord that's much thicker than before.  I believe the Lord has a beautiful plan for her, and some of the beauty you see in her has sprouted from the pain of this past winter.

I'm sure Ashley has walked through more rejection and pain over the past year than she ever planned to experience.

From what I can tell, she also knows herself more than before.  But more importantly, it's evident she knows her Creator more. When you talk to her, you can tell she knows love more fully and her ability to trust is a little more like Abraham's when he was sent to sacrifice Issac.  Standing on this side of that wedding day, her questions don't have to have perfect answers.  She knows she's in a much bigger story.

A few months ago, I wrote about celebrating and I think Ashley would echo a few of the same opinions.  There's beauty and richness to this stage of her life.  And it's worth documenting.

These are not the pictures she thought she'd be taking.  Yet, these are of a woman who holds great riches.

She glows when you talk to her.  I'm sure there's a fullness she hadn't known before.  I'd also bet she has a deeper longing for a day when we'll meet Jesus, a day when He'll come to get his bride.

Ashley was kind enough to share some of what she is learning...

The truth is, I've had a real love/hate relationship with my house. In the last 10 months I have laughed and cried with friends, worried, loathed wall colors, painted over those colors, pulled weeds, and been shocked by the flowers and berries that have popped up in the garden I inherited. I've gone a little overboard writing sad songs (so I've been told) and I have tried to expand on my love of neutrals. There are inconveniences that come with a house built in the 20's, and I have walked through my yard multiple times thinking "a girl like me has no business being in a house like this."

Its funny to me that I had this plan and then it was just gone. Sometimes when that happens you just have to stare at the wreckage for a minute and then walk away. So I went away for about a month and when I came back everything was still there. As I stared at a massive pile of leaves, God began to make it clear that he would answer my cries for help no matter how devastating or trivial the problem (Psalm 34:17;18 and Romans 12:12). This carried me through the months and seasons and continues to do so today.

The day after my 28th birthday, Carrie Jo came over to take my pictures just because she wanted to, my roommate Kara styled the shoot just because she wanted to, and I got to spend a day feeling loved by two dear friends. I have learned that to grow into the person God intends you to be, things can't always happen the way you want them to. You've got to hang in there and not close yourself off to loving people. Burdens can become blessings and things you hate can become things you love, but if you build a wall to protect yourself you may never reap the reward.

I have been in my house for almost four seasons and I am so humbled by the way God has chosen to work in my life and by the people he has used to help me. I'm so grateful for defining moments and blessings I never deserved. I am a completely different person than I have ever been and that's okay. I am hoping for many years, many changes, failures and victories.  Not just in my house, but my life in general. I want to look back in fondness on the good and bad things in my life because God brought me through all of them.

Ashley, you are one hot woman.  The photo above is one of my favorites. You look like you belong in a magazine!

Thanks for letting me spend time in your home and thanks for letting me bring my camera along.  Thank you for letting me share your story; it's a beautiful one and I'm eager to see more of how your story will unfold.   You are brave.

"For each new morning with it's light..." - Ralph Waldo Emerson