I’ve been slightly obsessed with bridal portraits lately, taking any chance I get to take pictures of beautiful girls in beautiful white dresses. I asked Stef if she would model for me and she mentioned wearing her own wedding dress. I didn’t think much of it at the time, knowing her testimony, but as I shot her during our session, the amazing redemption that the pictures I was taking represented was pretty astounding. As I prepared this blog, no words I could put to these pictures would do Stef’s story justice so I asked if she would be willing to share for y’all to read. I’m blown away by her perseverance and her unwillingness to let the world make her heart hard. I love her story because she’s just another testimony to the fact that our identities and what they are rooted in are EVERYTHING. Read on to get a glimpse of my sweet friend’s beautiful heart.
When the Dress Fits but the Boy Doesn’t
On this day, 3 years ago I would have just celebrated 3 months of marriage.
Instead, on this same day, I had just called off my wedding and moved home to Kentucky. I was in intensive counseling and seeing doctors weekly in order to recover from a verbally and physically abusive relationship which had left me struggling with bulimia, depression, anxiety, and overwhelming suicidal thoughts.
I wrestled with actually calling off the wedding. In the beginning, we had agreed just to postpone it, but this was different. This would be the end. I have asked myself so many questions over the last 3 years: How could I let myself get to such a dark and sick place? Why did I try so hard to stay and make it work? Why was I 3 weeks away from my wedding before pulling the plug in order to literally save my life? I had said to myself, “He has so much potential.” “He could be the most amazing man of God one day!” “It would be so beautiful if he led our future family in the things of God!” That wasn’t the man I was about to marry. He wasn’t that man at all.
The dress I’m wearing in these pictures is THE dress. My wedding dress. Crazy. I tried to sell the dress, but after getting scammed a few times – I was over it. Scammers were the last thing I wanted to deal with after calling off my wedding. So, the dress hung lonely in the back of a closet at my parent’s house for the last 3 years. It was only seen when I accidentally opened up that closet door… It hung there quietly tucked away until earlier this year when my parents sold our childhood home. They were moving and we needed to relocate the dress. It was decided that it would come to Nashville. Joy (sarcasm intended). One month ago I saw my wedding dress for the first time in almost 3 years.
What I felt was different than I expected. Different than the time I accidentally stumbled across the dress in that tiny closet at my parents house. In the first few months just the thought of the dress made my whole body hurt. Now I was intrigued. I was curious to see the dress. I wondered what emotions I would feel looking at it 3 years later? Would I be okay? Or would every awful memory flood back like an undercurrent of pain trying to drown me before I could even take a breath? I gently took it out from under the plastic covering that had kept it safe. I looked at the beautiful, sweetheart neckline I fell in love with as soon as I tried it on in the shop. I lifted up the soft flowing skirt with the hand sewn beaded flowers hiding between its layers and, y’all, I was actually okay. I saw the dress, my wedding dress, and I was fine. Instead of the dress overwhelming me with memories of loss, pain, disappointment, hurt, sickness, tears, bruises and the thin, frail frame my eaten disorder reduced me to – the dress now held totally different meaning.
Staring at this white silhouette I saw purity, wholeness, freedom, newness, life, joy, redemption, and gladness. I saw myself, now, 3 years later. I saw how much I have overcome and how brave I have been. I saw healing. In that moment, looking at my almost wedding dress I was so incredibly proud of the woman of God that I am now. I am proud of my story.
I’m really thankful that this was my response to seeing the dress because a few days later, as God would have it, my dear friend Marissa asked me if I wanted to do a bridal shoot with her… And of course I said yes. In one month, I went from finally being able to look at my dress to wearing it for a bridal shoot. The dress no longer controlled me and neither did thoughts of him. It didn’t hold the meaning it used to. It wasn’t a story of failure or loss. It is a story of bravery and overcoming. I felt so incredibly alive. I was able to wear my beautiful dress without any negative thoughts or feelings. While standing there proudly, posing for bridal portraits, I was reminded of the truth that God can truly use everything for His good and, if we let him, he will wrap us again and again in His newness and love. He has used my every mistake for good! He has turned my life around and I am walking in His will again. It’s been a long journey. It hasn’t been easy. To be more honest it’s been pretty brutal and littered with mistakes. In those first few months, just waking up and making it through the day was cause for celebration. The last 3 years has been the hardest thing I’ve ever walked through, but my friends and family have showered me with so much grace, love, and patience. They have wiped my tears and held me on the worst days (there were a lot of them). Now, by the grace of God, they are helping me zip up my dress and they are watching me stand proudly for these photos. It’s a different day than what was written on my wedding invitations, but it’s even more beautiful. These are the stories only Jesus can write.
On this day, 3 years ago, I would have been in a loveless and abusive marriage that I believe would’ve have killed me one day. Now I am full of joy, contentment, and more at peace than I have ever known in my life. I am healed and I know these things to be true:
I am enough.
I am worthy
I am whole.
I am seen by God.
I am chosen by God.
I am loved by God.
He has made me new.
He can make all things new.