Growing up, I didn’t live in the perfect home, with the perfect parents who had the most perfect marriage, with the perfect cars, the perfect jobs, the perfect suppers around the dinner table, or the perfect…well, life. In fact, I grew up in a broken household with a (wonderful, loving, hard-working) mother who wanted her marriage to work, so badly, and did everything it took. Trust me…I was there, even when I was that 8 year old crying, screaming and closing my eyes praying that the fighting  would all just stop. My Mother tried so hard to show my brother and I what a marriage should look like, and little did she know…I took note of it all. Every time she cried, fought for it, and dropped to her knees calling His name for help…I was there, watching. She thought she was disappointing us, but what she didn’t realize is that she was teaching me everything that my heart beats for today. I witnessed things that no child should ever see, and events that will always echo somewhere deep in my heart. However, they will not be echoes of hurt, fear, or disappointment. That’s not how this girl rolls! 🙂 Thankfully, God worked wonders in my heart at the youngest of ages to show me that even though my parents didn’t have the perfect marriage…He showed me how important marriage is, and the value of what marriage should be.

My Mom is one of my biggest heroes. She doesn’t think that, even today. She thinks she’s failed me because she’s divorced, but truth is…Her heart is bigger than this earth, and I guess, somewhere in her pregnant belly 29 years ago, she was also gifting and growing another heart…mine. Even though the heart she grew for me is sensitive, stubborn in anxieties, and can get me hurt more often than not…it is probably my most favorite thing she could have given me. I treasure it, every single day and will until the last day it beats.

My Mother’s parents, my Mamaw and Papaw, stepped up to play the father role after my Dad left. They loved me, supported me, and helped my Mother and I in more ways that I can ever express. When my Mom couldn’t put food on the table, my Papaw would hand her a twenty dollar bill. When I couldn’t meet that last $100 of sponsorship for those scholarship pageants I desperately wanted to be in, they would step up, and play that role of my father. When I had exciting news to share, I would run down to their house and tell them. They would smile and celebrate the straight A’s, the blue ribbons, the trophies, and even praise me when I would get excited about the 30 doodle bugs I would dig up to show them. They wanted the best for their children, and their children’s children. They helped in the smallest, most memorable ways. I don’t know if they will ever truly know how much I noticed, or how much I’ll truly be grateful for their unwavering love in my life. I was one of the lucky ones, I truly realize this. It’s crazy how God works in your life when you’re too young to truly know what’s happening, but when it hits you, all you can do is look up, say Thank you, and try to live life by His example and doing the best you can with the cards that your dealt.

My mother is loving, sensitive, creative and wants everyone to be happy. Just like me. My Papaw loves photography, he’s really goofy, has good handwriting, and he always loves to make people smile. Just like me. My Mamaw is also loving, and sensitive, however, so stubborn and particular…and has a hard time letting go of mementoes and things that remind her of the people in her life…just like me. The one thing we all have in common, besides genes? We all value marriage. Through and through. I can’t think of three better, more influential people to have raised me by simply showing me the importance of having purpose at the roots of your heart.

All my life I have been a hopeless romantic, and dreamed of the day I’d meet the love of my life. I had high hopes for marriage, and even though that’s hard to do in this world today…I never let that get to me. I prayed for it, from the age of 14 (weird, I know), and the Lord listened. He heard my heart and gifted me with the most incredible man to love for the rest of my life at the age of 20. I’ll never be able to thank Him enough for giving me the only thing I’ve ever wanted the most in my life…and that’s having a beautiful marriage. It’s not perfect, and I would never expect it to be. I know I’m only 9 years of living life with him, and only 6 years into this crazy, beautiful marriage, but it’s by far been my favorite years of this life I’m living. We have had our moments, and our fights just like every normal human being…Pshhh! I’m not here to sugarcoat anything but what’s different for us, is that our hearts beat together as one, even on those bad days where we want to pull each other’s hair out. The value we put into being husband and wife is the only thing that I can credit, and that’s the Lord being at the center of it, no matter what.

Ask anyone who knows me…if I see an old couple…I will stop whatever I’m doing and I will just stare. Most likely, there will be a clasp of hands in the middle of my chest, and a smile beaming on my face. If they are grouchy, it makes me smile even more…because that’s real life and it’s just plain awesome. 🙂 One time, I was at the grocery store and an old man checking out had milk, Goobers, and a bouquet of flowers. I instantly wanted to cry and run over to him to ask him who he was buying them for… 😉 I can’t tell you how many times I will spot an old couple and just admire them…wishing that I could stop them, talk to them and ask them questions…ask them how far they have come, and hear their love story.

Graduating college, I was engaged, obsessed like many new brides planning the perfect day, and had every wedding magazine on my kitchen counter. I worked for a bridal magazine for a short time, then after my wedding, I thought, “Well that was fun! I should be a wedding planner!” And then that “dream” was quickly put away when I realized how many personality traits I lacked for that job (organized being one of them!) 🙂 I have always been a picture taker, and passionate about sharing my life, my journey, and well, everything that came into my life. Then one day it hit me after photographing a senior session for my niece that was just for fun…that is where I found myself. Behind the lens…documenting happy moments for people in the most exciting times of their lives… And well, I guess it’s self explanatory that weddings quickly became my concentration in my career. 🙂

All in all, marriage has always been at the root of my heart, and my life. It’s more apparent to me as each day comes and goes. So how did #lovethenelsonsproject come about? (Besides this long winded back story I just gave you? ;)) I attended Making Things Happen in Chicago of 2012, and at the end of the conference, we were all asked to lay on the ground, on our backs with our eyes closed. Lara asked us this question, and went around the room.

“Where do you see yourself in 50 years? What does your most ideal picture of your life look like? If you could choose the end result in your life, reflecting everything that you’ve worked for and towards your whole life…what would that be? Picture it, describe it, what is it? ”

People went around the room and shared their dreams and it was beautiful. However, my heart was pounding and I was getting anxious about having my answer. I didn’t know how many babies I would have…I mean, I knew I wanted a family…and I didn’t know how many grand babies I would be snuggling, or what kind of house I would have at the end of my life that everyone works their whole lives for…all I saw was this…and answered,

“All I know is that I want to be gray, old, wrinkled, in love, and hand in hand with Drew…walking down the sidewalk…That’s all I want.”

 

My heart answered, and from that day forward, everything I’ve worked for has been for that. I’ll continue to work towards that goal. Fast forward to April of 2014…

I was photographing a dream wedding in Charleston, South Carolina with the sweetest clients in the world, and it was Drew and my first time ever visiting. We fell head over heels with that city from the moment we landed. We decided to stay one more day after the wedding to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary and spent the day at the beach and exploring. We splurged for the first time since we got married and got ourselves a red sports car to explore the town in. We headed down to the beach with the windows down (you might remember our trip from this video) 🙂 and on our way back from the beach…I saw an old man and an old woman, walking hand in hand, down the sidewalk. He had on a red bow tie with crabs on it, and I felt a lump in my throat as my thoughts quickly took me back to that place on the floor in that conference room telling Lara and the room of ladies what I wanted at the end of my life. And as I came back to the present in that moment, my mouth started moving before I could even process what was happening and blurted, “STOP THE CAR! STOP THE CAR!” Drew looked at me like I was crazy, as I begged him to turn around so I could talk to that “precious old couple!” “What Shay? Really?” “YES, REALLY! Please!” He pulled the car around but we couldn’t find a parking spot near the way they were walking, so I jumped out, and ran towards them waving my hands. The old man was opening the car door for his bride as I approached them, and I startled the living mess out of them.

I introduced myself and said, “I’m so sorry if this is weird, I just couldn’t help but admire how precious you both were walking down the sidewalk just now…and I want that, with my husband. He’s in the car down there, but he doesn’t want to get towed off, so he stayed.” We talked for 10-15 minutes and they told me their names, where they were from, how many grandchildren they had, and I took a photo on my iPhone. I got their e-mail address and told them I would send them their photo and left that conversation with the biggest smile, and tears in my eyes.

I posted their photo and a quick version of the story to my instagram…you might remember this? 🙂

I got home, and wedding season started. I was busier last year than ever, and could barely keep my head above water. However, I had their photo saved to my phone (and still do) and for some reason didn’t send the photo. I don’t know why, or what excuse of “busy” or “I’ll do it soon” I told myself, but I held back.

In November, I was coming down from wedding season and was coming back from the deer lease by myself. I love music, and very rarely (if ever) will you find me in my car without my music on. But after a quiet few days in the peace and quiet of the woods, my body rested, my mind rested, and my heart had a chance to wind down from the past year for the first time since Charleston. I turned off my radio for the three hour drive back, and had a three hour talk with the Lord. In that three hour conversation, my heart was revealed to me…in the weirdest moment, not one I would expect to have my ‘A-HA’ moment where your heart beats so fast and you cry because you finally feel like you are finding your path without your blinders on. He took my mask off, and asked me to be brave…so I listened.

I got home, called my friend Nycia, and she sat there and listened to me pour this crazy idea and mission out to her. She listened. She LISTENED for TWO hours. She supported me, she lended her ears, encouraged my doubts, and before I knew it, I was planning a shoot with my Mamaw and Papaw…the biggest inspiration of marriage I’ve ever had in my life. I couldn’t think of a better marriage to start this project out with. I was the happiest I had been all year when I stopped that old couple walking down the road that day…I was the happiest when I saw that old man buying milk, goobers and a bouquet of flowers for his wife who could have been at home waiting for him, or at her gravesite. I’ll never know their story now, but what I do know is that I’m ready to change that.

I e-mailed a group of my closet industry friends who I knew “got me” even before I could explain what I was doing fully. They believed in me, and they trusted me. I will never be able to thank them enough for taking the time to answer my e-mails, to donate their time by driving two hours to my grandparents house, and gifting their talents into the best thing I ever will try to accomplish. I was trying on dresses for my Mamaw, stuffing the top with pillows (to make sure there was room lol), I ran around town trying to find a yellow tie for my Papaw, and coordinated this thing with the most awesome disorganized skills in the world, but hey…guess what. It turned out. And it turned out beautifully.

If you’re late to the game, you can see the live feature on Style Me Pretty here. But if you don’t want to jump over, here’s what I said:

This is simply a reminder to the world from the lens of a granddaughter who adores her grandparents and the love they share. I want to put hope and the true meaning of marriage back into the beating hearts around the globe. We are living, breathing and experiencing a world of instant gratification and noncommittal tendencies. We are so wrapped up in seeing the “instant-polariod pictures”, and not the huge hand-painted masterpiece of marriage that takes time, patience, passion, attention to detail, and hard work. What happened to being together forever? Why does our world look down on marriage so much now? It breaks my heart and even though I am ONE person…I have felt called to somehow, someway make a change. Nobody is perfect, but LOVE…LOVE is why we are here. Love is real, it’s unique for everyone and it has the power to change our world if we let it.

Marriage should be forever. It’s finding that person you pick to love and yet, drive you crazy, day in and day out. It’s more than color schemes, gorgeous gowns, perfectly crafted tables capes, and the perfect shoes. It’s growing old, hand in hand, wrinkle after wrinkle. It’s taking two heartbeats and working together to make one. It’s letting love win, always, no matter what.
Whomever is reading this…This right here is my heart. This right here is the most important thing I have ever been a part of and put together. As you read this, I am over here behind the scenes pouring out blood, sweat and tears into this passion project. I’m calling it Love, The Nelsons Project. I’m ready to show lovers around the world that true love still exists. There are so many love stories that we don’t know of out there waiting to be shared. The hard ones, big ones, small ones, beautiful ones, and stories that can change our lives and the way we view marriage. This is my pledge and my mission to find these stories and to document them over the course of the next year.
I want to put together something truly special…so here it goes! My goal is to compile a book of old love stories and that’s where I am asking for your help. I will travel to these couples, sit down and listen to their stories, interview them, and will photograph them together. Do you know of someone who has a love story that is worth knowing about? One that is worth sharing with the world to inspire, and that will help instill the true value and purpose of marriage back into our lives? The sky is the limit here! If I can impact one…just ONE marriage, ONE woman or man who are seeking their forever…my mission in life will be fulfilled. Help me tell these stories. Please e-mail me at hello@lovethenelsons.com and put “LTN Project- Old Love” in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!
There is so much more that I want to share here in this space, but please follow along my journey on instagram at @shalynnelson. Our hashtag will be #lovethenelsonsproject #oldlovebook
My grandparents have been married for 63 years. My Papaw planted a rose bush outside of their bedroom window when they built their house. He has always said, “Billie Wanda is the rose of my life…But it does have a few thorns here and there…”, which is the reason he’s holding a bushel of roses in some of the photos… 🙂
And to end this post, I’ll quote my Papaw…
“Walking through life together, but the trail’s getting short.”

 

The response has been nothing short of incredible, mind blowing, inspiring, and has left me speechless more times that I can count. Reading the comments on that blog post made me ugly cry (lol, I KNOW, I told you I am sensitive) but it was the best feeling knowing that people were accepting of my idea. That feeling of someone saying, “I’m proud of you” when you give everything you have into something. It was like that feeling but times 29829031092. 🙂 I feel like it’s been God’s way of saying, “Keep going Shalyn, even though you’re scared and don’t know what the heck you’re doing, or how crazy this experience is going to be…Keep going. Don’t let money, or those things that hold people back keep you from doing this. People care. People need this. Marriages need this. The generations coming up need this. KEEP GOING. Don’t. Give. Up.”

So I am. I’m going to keep going. If you have texted me, messaged me, e-mailed me, liked anything related to this project, told someone about this project, commented, shared my mission on social media…I mean, ANYTHING…I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Each one of those things have meant more to me than I can possibly express…and in every way, big or small, has pushed me when I start to get scared and anxious that this project is bigger than what I’m capable of doing. I’ve followed God my entire life, but like anybody, I’ve failed him so many times. However, he’s been building my core, my strength, and has pumped so much courage into my heart over the course of my life. It’s time I stop climbing and sliding down the rocks. It’s time I keep climbing, and not let go. This time it feels different…it feels right, and most of all, it feels like home.

If you have a love story to share, please e-mail me at hello@lovethenelsons.com. I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.

Dress: The Ivy Retreat
Hair and Make-Up: Makenzi Laine
Florals: Bristol Lane Florals
Developing: Photovision Prints