Last summer I photographed Kelly and Caroline Jackson's wedding in Athens, and soon after the wedding Caroline's sister, Victoria, got engaged to Chase Hollingsworth. I loved meeting Victoria and her family so I was excited for the opportunity for another Wicker-filled wedding:) But the wedding turned out to be so much more than beautiful dresses, a yummy cupcake tower, and vintage convertible getaway car. Victoria gave me permission to share her and Chase's story on this blog since it was a part of their wedding day- and I think it was the most beautiful part of the day. Victoria and Chase realized they were going to become parents last April and in November little Sawyer was born. Victoria and Chase didn't plan on having a baby and in the face of this surprise there was a lot of hard conversations. This will most likely sound really crazy to people who don't consider themselves followers of Jesus but Victoria and Chase, as a Christian couple, lived with the understanding that sex is created for marriage and blessed by God in that context. This is a beautiful teaching of the Bible because it values sex in such a way that makes it the ultimate expression of devotion and commitment and enjoyment of intimacy. But the reality is that even those of us who desire to follow Jesus' teaching find ourselves constantly falling short of them, in big and small ways. But when Victoria became pregnant it was such an obvious indication of falling short of wanting to save sex for marriage in the face of her church, her Christian friends, and her family. I think this kind of situation reveals the real heart of those around you and their understanding of the gospel. I know teenage girls would rather go into hiding or abort a child before they showed up a church pregnant without being married. I have always thought that was the saddest ironies of Christian communities, that is, having such a strong stand against abortion and yet handing out scarlet letters to young girls who become pregnant outside of marriage. But this is far from what Victoria and Chase experienced among their family and friends. I got to hear at the rehearsal dinner how difficult it was for them to tell people and to even show up at church together, not married and Victoria's baby belly growing by the day. But what I heard was family members and friends through tears expressing how much they loved them, how amazed they were at the work God was doing in their lives through all of this, and what great parents Chase and Victoria are to their precious son Sawyer. What really hit me the hardest was the pastor who officiated their ceremony. Little Sawyer came down the aisle before Victoria in a wagon, and was prayed for by the pastor. This pastor was Victoria's childhood pastor, the one who baptized her and helped her understand the gospel from an early age. And this pastor shared during the ceremony how special it was for him to officiate this wedding because of his relationship to Victoria and her family, and because of his connection to Sawyer. Pastor Rick explained how 50 years ago a teenage girl who just graduated high school found out she was pregnant and quickly got married in the months to follow. That little boy born to these teenage parents was none other than the pastor himself, and he explained how grateful he was that abortion was not an option for his mom and that God took a broken situation and made something beautiful out of it. He stood there, holding precious Sawyer, and with tears he prayed and thanked God for life and for all the Lord does in redeeming us. He prayed for Chase and Victoria that Sawyer would always be a reminder of the unfailing love and grace of God through Jesus dying for us. I was so struck by the candor and honesty of the ceremony, by the courage it must have taken for Chase and Victoria to tell their story and accept correction and counsel from those around them. Clearly most people in our culture don't share the same view of sex- and I certainly know how puritanical it seems to think people would wait for sex until marriage. So even more so do I respect Chase and Victoria in their desire to keep following Jesus and coming to church and going through counseling instead of throwing in the towel and avoiding all the difficult interactions. At another point in the ceremony Pastor Rick had the couple turn around and look at all those there that loved them and came to support them- and as they did you could see tears pouring out of their eyes. They saw how loved they are and how nothing can change that. And they could see their precious son who would forever be a reminder of their God who has unfailing love for them and make beautiful things out of dust. This is totally a picture of the gospel if I have ever seen one- Jesus living and dying for people who are in need of God's help and forgiveness. It was a beautiful story of how God takes our brokenness and creates beauty from it- something only He can do and ultimately so that we might praise his grace and character. Thank you Chase and Victoria for being such an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus even when you fall, even what its hard, and to not be afraid to tell others all the good things the Lord has done in your midst. That baby is a precious gift that I will forever remember as God's way of communicating to a broken world that we are never too far from redemption. Your marriage is surely blessed by God.