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Author: Emily

Bride (and dear SW friend!) Stephanie shares her Merrimon-Wynne wedding!

If I had to choose one bride out of the hundreds we’ve featured who most closely mirrors our mission at Southern Weddings — creating a wedding day inspired by your love story’s details, and celebrating not just the wedding but the marriage — let me say first that it would be a very tough competition. Y’all just get it, and we’re so grateful for that!

BUT, that being said, today’s bride, Stephanie, would be near the top of the list. You’ll remember we asked her to share her wedding planning process earlier this year, and it’s with great joy that I’m able to share her wedding to Rob today! I know you’ll be as inspired by the meaning they packed into their celebration as you are by Steph’s joy at tying the knot. Take it away, friend!

Thanks to Blue Ribbon Vendors Ally & Bobby for sharing these wonderful images with us!

Tell us your love story in one sentence. From the moment Rob and I met (online!), we knew we had something incredibly special and lasting; God perfectly orchestrated our relationship and its timing, and we were certainly worth the wait for each other!
Tell us all about the proposal! Everyone asks if I was expecting Rob to propose when he did. I did, and I didn’t, all at the same time! There were only two things I had mentioned in passing to him about a proposal: I wanted it to be private, and I wanted to be totally surprised. On October 1, I worked a 12+ hour day in Chapel Hill at one of my weddings, then drove home to Raleigh. As soon as I pulled up to my home (yes, still wearing my vendor apron from the wedding, and yes, it was 11:50pm), I saw Rob outside waiting for me. He immediately came over and got down on one knee, pulled out a diamond ring, and said the sweetest things in the world. I was still in shock and a little speechless, asking him “wait, what?” a couple times as he told me how much he loves me, how excited he was to spend the rest of our lives together, and how much he wanted me to be his wife. By this point, I was shaking and crying (happy tears, of course!) and beaming! I remember saying “yes, yes, a million times yes” when he asked me to marry him. I’d always dreamed of what it would be like to be proposed to and get to share this news with loved ones, and it was even better than I had imagined.

When did y’all get married? Rob and I were married on April 1, 2017. (Rob always likes to say that “we’re two fools in love” since we got married on April Fool’s Day!)
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? around 200
Tell us the highlights of finding your wedding dress. Since we had a shorter engagement, at the very top of my priority list was finding a wedding dress. I have to admit that I have dreamed of going wedding dress shopping almost my entire life, and it was surreal to think that it was finally my turn to be the bride! I thought I found “the dress” at our first appointment (the second dress I ever tried on), and was about to place the order when I decided that I wanted to sleep on it. It turns out that I “slept on it” for over a week without giving the dress much thought, other than that it didn’t feel very “me.” Two weeks after my first appointment, all of our parents were in town to meet and to celebrate our engagement, and my dad was especially insistent that I needed to go try on dresses again that weekend. The night before our appointment, I couldn’t stop thinking about the very first dress I had tried on two weeks prior. It turns out, that dress was the only dress I tried on at our second appointment, and it was THE dress!! As soon as I tried it on again, I literally could not stop beaming! And I mean, beaming. Seeing it and feeling it on me felt so perfect. When we FaceTimed my sister to show her again, all four of us were in tears (all happy tears!).

We easily decided on Raleigh as the location for our wedding, as it’s home for both of us. We both loved the Merrimon-Wynne House, and we really didn’t consider another venue. We had been to a couple events there together, it’s my very favorite venue in Raleigh, we knew that it was the exact aesthetic and ambiance that we wanted, we had a large guest count of 200+, and little decor would be needed to bring our wedding design to life. It’s also in the heart of downtown Raleigh, which was super important to us. 80% of our wedding guests (and 100% of our families) live out of town, so we wanted a venue in Raleigh. As much as we love our church that’s only four blocks away, we knew we would strongly prefer a venue where we could have the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception at one venue – and three separate spaces within that venue.

Did you decide to do a first look? Why or why not? We did not do a first look, and it was the perfect decision for us! Even as a wedding planner, I’ve known for years that I didn’t want a first look, and when I asked Rob his opinion, he was very firmly anti-first look, too. Rob and I both very much wanted to see each other for the first time as I walked down the aisle to him. That moment was so sacred, emotional, joyful, and special, and it’s one of the most vivid, happy moments from our wedding! We did decide to hold hands and pray around a door before our ceremony, which was one of the best decisions imaginable.

The ceremony was the most important part of our wedding day, and we tried to really focus on making it meaningful and reflective of our love – and most importantly, on Christ’s love for us and for all. We wanted to infuse our personalities into the details as well as keep things reverent and holy. From our vows, to the song choices, to the wedding party prayer, to our pastor’s homily, to serving communion together… we loved our ceremony and all that it symbolized. It was the perfect 74 degrees and sunny day for our outdoor ceremony (I literally prayed it would be 74 and sunny throughout our engagement!), and we said our vows underneath the sunshine, slight breeze, and a wooden cross adorned with Spanish moss and flowers.

Our pastor, whom we also did our premarital counseling with, was our officiant, and his homily was so touching and heartfelt. Our wedding party gathered around us and prayed over us while we were at the altar, and we had two of our favorite Bible passages read by my sister (and matron of honor) and Rob’s groomsman. As our first act together as husband and wife, we served communion to all of our wedding guests. Rob and I decided to use traditional wedding vows, as our parents, grandparents, and generations before had done. We did add an additional line, though, which read: “I vow to always pursue your heart and love you the way God does: unconditionally and never-ending.”

I think selecting music for your wedding is one of those areas in which a couple’s personality really shines through, and that was something we wanted to do! For our grand ceremony exit with streamers, I was absolutely set on walking back down the aisle with my new husband to Ben Rector’s “White Dress.” Rob compromised, and he jokingly suggested that he and his groomsmen walk down the aisle to Star Wars. I think he was shocked when I happily agreed! So our groomsmen walked down the aisle (with a little extra swagger, I’m convinced!) to Star Wars’ “A New Hope, Throne Room.” I love “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to that. In keeping with tradition, Rob and I couldn’t imagine me walking down the aisle towards him to anything but “Canon in D.”

What was your favorite detail from your wedding? We wanted our wedding, ultimately, to glorify God, to celebrate our love, and to celebrate all of our family and friends. I couldn’t wait to see the Carriage House at the Merrimon-Wynne House transformed into our wedding reception, which truly was seeing all of my longtime wedding dreams come to life! Honestly, getting to become husband and wife with Rob and joyfully celebrate by being surrounded by our incredible family and friends was the very best part of our wedding, and it was truly perfect in every way!

What was Southern about your wedding? Everything?! Ha! Most importantly, our wedding focused on marriage, honoring our family and traditions, incorporating and honoring our loved ones who had passed away, Southern hospitality and a feeling of warmth, joy, and welcome. We displayed family wedding pictures on the mantles of the house, we included my grandmas’ favorite flowers in my bouquet and our centerpieces, I carried lace from my mom’s wedding dress around my bouquet, I borrowed my sister’s veil, my grandma crocheted me a garter to wear on our wedding day, and we displayed marriage advice and wisdom that I collected from both sides of our families. We also had a custom leather Bible cover made by a friend with our names and wedding date, and inside, our guests wrote prayers, congratulations, and favorite verses on ribbon-adorned notecards as our guestbook.

I did a first look with my sweet daddy, and Rob and I waited to see each other til I walked down the aisle. My flowers were also very Southern, like the abundant dogwoods and Spanish moss we incorporated. Our venue is a gorgeous white historic Southern home, and it exuded Southern personality, very much setting the tone for our wedding day. And the size of our wedding party was most definitely Southern: we had 24 people in our wedding party! Our best friends are such a cornerstone in our lives, and we wanted to include and honor them as bridesmaids and groomsmen.

What was the hardest part about planning your wedding? I think the two hardest parts about wedding planning, for us, were budget and guest list. Our parents are so incredibly generous and gracious, and we had a sizeable budget (that we also contributed to). We tracked every penny and were super conscientious of what we were spending, as we wanted to honor the budget and stick to it. Many of the weddings and shoots that I have planned have much, much higher budgets than ours, and I tried very hard not to compare, especially since I’m surrounded by high budget weddings every single day. I wanted our wedding to portray us and be beautiful but at the price we were comfortable spending. And we knew that our wedding day was just day one of marriage, and we wanted our marriage to be even more beautiful than our wedding!

During our reception, we chose two of our favorite U2 songs for our wedding party and us to enter to. Our first dance was oh so sweet and special, and we swayed, twirled, and danced to Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” At the very end of the reception, after our guests walked outside for our big exit, we had a private last dance to Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” It was so incredibly special to be held by my new husband as the very best day of our lives was beginning to wind down, thinking about every moment from our wedding, and relishing every single moment.

What did you serve for your wedding cake or dessert? Why did you choose it? We served a fairly traditional three-tiered wedding cake, which is honestly the best cake we ever had. We still receive compliments about it to this day, and I love swinging by the bakery to pick up cupcakes in our wedding cake flavors! I never would have said that Rob or I were “cake people” before our cake tasting and wedding, but our wedding cake was absolutely divine, and we still talk about it all the time! I wanted our cake to fit our design and be fun and unique, so we went with a dusty French blue buttercream icing, a soft texture, and a wreath of fresh flowers and greenery. We chose three different flavors for our three tiers: dark chocolate cake with mocha buttercream (Rob’s absolute favorite!), strawberry with fresh strawberry buttercream, and vanilla with salted caramel fleur de sel. Heavenly, delicious, and such a statement!
If you are comfortable responding, what range did your wedding budget fall into? $25,000-$50,000
What was one way you saved money or cut costs at your wedding? I like to think we did an excellent job at saving money and sticking to our firm budget! From the beginning, we prioritized what was most and least important to us as individuals and as a couple. This definitely came in handy throughout the wedding planning process, as we saved many, many thousands of dollars in various ways. It does help that I’m in the local wedding industry, which was very advantageous and wonderful. We got to work with the best of the best vendors, whom I already work with regularly and who were exceptional at our wedding. We chose to have all of our wedding (ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception) at one venue so we didn’t need to hire transportation for our guests, we went with just beer and wine for our bar, we hired our favorite DJ instead of having a band, and we opted not to have a videographer (though we thankfully have our entire ceremony and toasts on film!). All of these decisions (and many more smaller ones) drastically impacted our savings, and we are both so glad we prioritized where we did so that we came in on budget and still had the wedding of our dreams!
What was your most memorable moment from your wedding day? I asked Rob to answer this too, and he said that seeing me walk down the aisle was the most memorable, magical part of our wedding day. He remembers thinking, “there’s my wife!” – and I remember him waving to me as I approached him! Rob also said that our reception entrance was unlike anything he’s ever experienced, as he was hit with a wave and roar of excitement and cheering as we entered our reception! I’m not sure how I can narrow down my most memorable moment from our wedding day, as every single moment is etched in my memory so vividly. Holding hands with Rob around a door and praying and talking together is definitely one of them! I remember Ally, our photographer and dear friend, coming over to me after I had put on my wedding dress and veil saying that it was time to pray with Rob. I was suddenly hit with overwhelming emotion: endless excitement, nervous, giddiness, and happiness! I started tearing up as I walked towards the door, and I couldn’t help it as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Getting to hold my soon-to-be husband’s hand, hear his voice, and pray together was incredibly memorable, touching, and sweet, and I was filled with peace and excitement. It was far and away one of my favorite moments of the day! Every moment of our ceremony is so vivid too, and I remember standing at the altar, facing my handsome husband, holding hands, and seeing his huge smile as we listened to our pastor. I literally heard birds chirping as we recited our vows with the softest breeze through my veil. I remember thinking that life couldn’t get any more perfect in that moment – and how abundantly grateful I was to the Lord for all of it. Moments after our ceremony exit, we ran into the main house, and it was just the two of us for that brief minute as our bridesmaids and groomsmen walked back down the aisle. Our photographer Bobby also happened to be in there, and I remember twirling around with Rob, kissing him over and over again, excitedly exclaiming that we were married, and looking at our rings. I showed off my dress, and he said all of the sweetest things. It was also unbelievably surreal to be surrounded by the most loving, supportive, encouraging, and fun family and friends, all in one place – and to celebrate us! Our wedding day was just plain fun!!
What advice would you give to someone currently planning a wedding? I also asked Rob to give his answer to this question, and his response is the best. He said that anyone planning a wedding needs to know what’s ultimately most important – and that’s marriage. At the end of the day, your marriage is even more important than your wedding, and I agree with Rob completely. Rob also said to marry a wedding planner, or hire Steph to plan yours! ;)

Photographer: Ally and Bobby | Planner and Designer: Stephanie Shaul Events | Day-of Coordination: Happily Ever After | Venue: Merrimon-Wynne House | Florist: Serendipity Designs | Wedding Cake: The Cupcake Shoppe | Caterer: Beau Catering | Rentals: Cottage Luxe and CE Rental | Brass Candlesticks: Greenhouse Picker Sisters | Ceremony Cross: Homemade Bride | Cocktail Napkins: For Your Party | Ceremony Streamers: Flutter Fetti | Taper Candles: 100 Candles | DJ: Steve Stowe via Bunn DJ Company | Guestbook Bible: IV Leather Goods | Invitations, Programs, and Signage: Sage Paper Co. | Place Cards, Escort Display, and Day-of Signage: Stephanie Shaul Events | Invitation Stamps: Verde Studio | Bride’s Gown: Allure Bridals | Bridal Salon: New York Bride and Groom | Bride’s Earrings: Moon + Lola | Bride’s Bracelet: Kate Spade | Rings: Diamonds Direct | Hair and Makeup: Teighla Norris | Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Alfred Angelo | Groom’s Tie: High Cotton Ties | Groomsmen’s Ties: The Tie Bar | Officiant: Tyler Jones from Vintage Church

Ally and Bobby, Cottage Luxe, Serendipity Designs, Stephanie Shaul Events, Bunn DJ Company, High Cotton Ties, and Teighla Norris are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
5 Comments
  1. avatar Stephanie Shaul reply

    Hooray!!! Thank you so, so very much for sharing our wedding day; it’s truly such an honor to see it on Southern Weddings! Our wedding day was, without a doubt, the happiest, most wonderful, most fun day of our lives, and it was the best start to marriage we could have ever asked for. We’re so grateful to our incredibly amazing family and friends, as well as all of our unbelievably talented vendors, for making our wedding so perfect and love-filled. It’s so surreal to see our images shared, and it brings back the most vivid, joy-filled memories! And as perfect and beautiful as our wedding day was, marriage is ever better. All our love!!

  2. avatar Alexia Conley reply

    Stephanie, what a gorgeous wedding! I love all the care and detail you and Rob put into your big day. So fun reading your wedding story and finally seeing all the stunning photos!

  3. avatar stella reply

    congratulations!!

  4. avatar John reply

    Wow! Congratulations on your wedding! :) Gorgeous gorgeous wedding.

  5. avatar Weddingpixie reply

    Wedding cake looks absolutely scrumptious!! Congrats, bride and groom look so happy

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Photographer and educator Katelyn James is a very dear friend to Southern Weddings, and one of the sweetest gals we know. When she recently mentioned that she and her husband Michael have been working with a marriage counselor almost since they said “I do,” we were intrigued. It’s a topic that doesn’t get talked about a lot, but one we think deserves more love! We asked her to share a bit more about their experience today. Take it away, Katelyn! – Emily

When Emily asked me to share about our experience with a life coach/marriage counselor, I was excited… but then I had a split second of feeling a little uneasy about sharing this part of our life, because there are so many stigmas surrounding the idea of counseling, coaching, and therapy! Then I realized that that is the very reason why I SHOULD be sharing! Just last night we had friends over for dinner, and the fact that we meet with a life coach every two weeks came up. The first thing out of the wife’s mouth was, “Oh, he would never do that! He’s so against counseling of any kind!” I get it. It seems like only those who have super SERIOUS issues go to counseling or have a coach. Well, Michael and I have found that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Michael and I started meeting with our life coach (who is really more like a marriage counselor) over three years ago. At first, we weren’t convinced that it was a necessity. I mean, isn’t it normal to have marital tension, and use tones with one another, and feel conflicted about the balance of working together? Isn’t it totally understandable that we came from different family dynamics and that affects the way we show up emotionally with one another? Isn’t is normal to have weeks of not feeling like we’re on the same team?

I think those things ARE normal… but they don’t have to be. I actually think that the most damaging thing a couple can do in a relationship is just accept the unhealthy parts of their marriage and never dive deeper into the reason they are happening in the first place.

My dad is a pastor, and he always talks about how so many marriages have unhealthy tendencies that get masked by the “children” phase of life. Kids come, and life becomes all about them. It’s exciting and new and fun, but what happens when they are off to college and it’s back to just you and your spouse at home again? When it’s just the two of you and those struggles that you had before kids? They’re going to be waiting for you, which is why you see so many divorces happening when kids reach the end of high school and begin college. The little things matter, and they add up!

Michael and I knew deep down that we wanted to have a third party speak into our life. We love our parents, our siblings, our best friends… but there is something so powerful about having someone meet with us that isn’t biased towards us in any way. Our life coach lives in California, and we live in Virginia. We don’t meet in person, and we don’t even meet face to face. We commit to a simple one hour phone call every two weeks.

The actual commitment of the calls isn’t hard… it’s doing the HEART SEARCHING that’s hard. It’s being honest with how you’re showing up in your marriage that’s hard! Michael and I have grown so much in the last three years. The conversations that we are having with our life coach are the type of conversations that we would have never experienced without someone helping us dig deeper. No one enjoys digging deeper into the mess of their life, but it’s necessary in order to create a new vision for your marriage!

It’s hard to explain what we’ve gained from meeting with our coach in just one paragraph. To put it simply, it has been life changing. Michael and I have a greater understanding of why we are the way we are. The beautiful thing about our coaching sessions is that we have learned to recognize and see more clearly what is truth, and what we make up to be true about what another.

For example, assuming that Michael is mad, frustrated, or annoyed with me based off of his interactions with me totally discredits what could be going on in his world. A lot of tension and tone stems from outside stress. Choosing to respond to Michael based on what I KNOW to be true about him (that he loves me, cares for me, and wants the best for me) instead of the immediate circumstances has been a game changer.

Life coaching or marriage counseling isn’t just for those that are heading down a path of destruction… it’s for healthy marriages! As a photographer, I’ve spent a lot of money on education to improve my craft. My marriage is so much more important than my business, and so it only makes sense that we would invest in our relationship, as well.

If you’re considering hiring a life coach or marriage counselor, I recommend gently bringing it up to your spouse. This is something that you both need to be willing to do. Don’t be frustrated if it takes a few conversations to get on the same page! Sometimes I look forward to our calls, and other times I dread them… but no matter what, I always end our calls knowing that we’re fighting for our marriage together and there’s nothing else that is more important! We are learning how to love each other in a healthier way and even though we’re far from perfect, we know that God is doing amazing transformation in our relationship!

Thank you so much for sharing your heart, Katelyn! For those interested in learning more about Katelyn’s specific coach, you can visit Julia’s site.

All photos by Jillian Michelle Photography

emily Written with love by Emily
1 Comment
  1. avatar Amber Stapp reply

    I love this! What a powerful article with such an important message for all couples! I’m inspired by this wonderful couple and their commitment to creating the best most God honoring marriage they can. Blessings to them both. And their baby is gorgeous!!!

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Friends, today is my fifth wedding anniversary! You may have caught my ongoing Instagram stories party, where I’ve been sharing some of my favorite photos from different parts of our celebration (if not, you can always see the full feature here and here!). I love celebrating an anniversary because not only does it give me an excuse to pull out my wedding album, watch our wedding film, and go out to dinner with my best friend (yum!), it’s an opportunity to stop and reflect.

An anniversary is the perfect time to cheer yourselves on (something I think is so important!), to remind yourselves of everything you love about the person you married, and to give thanks for all the ways your life is better for having your partner in it.

Like a new year, an anniversary is also a time to consider ways you might be able to improve. John and I are far from perfect, but we have done a few things right in our first five years of marriage. Today I wanted to share five, in the hopes that they might be an encouragement to you!

1. We draw strength from something outside of ourselves. One of the most beautiful things about marriage is that it’s a place where your ugly can show, and you’ll be loved, unconditionally, despite it. That being said, I know I’d be a much more selfish, unforgiving, ungracious, record-keeping wife without a Father who is continually calling me to die to myself and love others as I’ve been loved. We would not have the marriage we do without our faith.

2. We’re willing to change. When I think of the couples I know who have gotten divorced, it’s very rarely because of something dramatic and awful. Usually, the answer is something along the lines of “we drifted apart” or “he’s not the same person I married.” This seems kind of strange to me, because wouldn’t you expect someone to change over time?! Stanley Hauerwas, quoted in Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, says it well: “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing that it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered into it.”

When change comes, John and I have committed to growing towards each other. Towards each other, not away from each other, and not side by side. We expect each other to change (as high school sweethearts, it was inevitable!), and when we do we (imperfectly) seek to understand it and grow along with it.

3. We trust in our relationship without reservation. This is a hallmark of our particular marriage. We’ve never given each other a reason to doubt it, and so we’ve never been tempted to do so. We don’t treat our love for each other like it’s conditional, or could be threatened to be taken away, or withheld as a bargaining chip. Even if we are angry or frustrated, at bedrock, we both know without a doubt that we are acting from a place of unshakeable love.

4. We don’t ask the other to fulfill needs they can’t. This one can be so hard, friends! While my and John’s lives are deeply, inextricably entwined, we try to take responsibility for our own happiness first instead of looking to the other to fulfill every emotional need. Practically speaking, for us, that means building an inner confidence, maintaining equilibrium through each other’s bad days (you have to put on your own oxygen mask first!), and again, going to God to be reminded of our true worth.

5. We enjoy each other. You know that saying, find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life? I like to switch it up a bit: marry your best friend, and you’ll never work a day in your marriage. That, of course, is not entirely true — even the best marriages have harder days and easier days — but if you truly LIKE your partner, and love spending time with him or her more than anyone else, everything else seems to fall into place. One of our favorite ways to be reminded of how much we like each other is going on evening walks together – we are totally on T.J.’s bandwagon!

Whether you’re celebrating your first or fiftieth anniversary, know I’m cheering you on, friends! And if you’d like to share, I’d love to hear something you’ve done right in your marriage in the comments :)

emily Written with love by Emily
2 Comments
  1. avatar Mike reply

    Love these wedding photographs! The bride looks so happy.

  2. avatar Jessie W reply

    Love #1 <3

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