Tuesday, July 14, 2015

in which andrew + charissa begin their grand and wong adventure :: el paso, tx wedding photographer

We will go tandem as man and wife
Pedaling down the road of life
I'm half crazy all for the love of you
You'd look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two
|| nat king cole ||
Once upon a time, Charissa became friends with a girl named Naomi. Now, Naomi says she remembers meeting Charissa when they were very little but Charissa has no remembrance of this. Naomi's older brother Andrew also remembers meeting Charissa (though she has no memory of this either) at his house for a ministry event when she was 12 or 13 and he remembers thinking her blonde hair was cool (because curly blonde hair has always been his favorite.) What Charissa does remember is more officially meeting Naomi and actually connecting that same summer, and they began to exchange emails. They kept up through sporadic emails, seeing each other occasionally, and often reconnecting in the summers. Fast forward to the summer of 2010 and because she was Facebook friends with Naomi, she saw Andrew's senior pictures and thought he was so so good looking. ;) 
Later that summer, he and she were both missionaries where they taught bible clubs to children. She got to know Andrew better, but it was her friendship with Naomi that especially deepened when she came along and helped Charissa with the bible clubs just for fun. For the next few years, Charissa did ministry with Andrew in the summers and saw and spent time with him during the year when visiting his family to hang out with Naomi. She was constantly crushing on him and constantly teased about him, but Naomi was always supportive of not making her feel like she had a silly crush and didn't really know for certain if her friend did like her brother but did see a lot of ways that they were good for each other. However she did cave once and say, "You should marry my brother so we could be sisters and bosom friends forever!" ;)
More and more Charissa saw Andrew becoming an incredibly amazing and godly man and her crush grew from an infatuation to a genuine respect and admiration for his character. As they started really seeing God work mightily in each other's life, they spent their summer ministry internship finding every excuse to need to do some project or errand together. She watched him lead the group in fantastic teachings and with a constant calm through all situations and she delighted to follow him. A week after the program ended, he asked her on her first date. Since it was his first date too, they were incredibly nervous. The next months were a time of Andrew trusting and following God, and Charissa growing in trusting Andrew. They were always thankful to have each other to do all of this growing with. One day Andrew told Charissa that he was planning to ask her to marry him, but that he believed God was leading him to wait. The following week was a time of each individually seeking God for the purpose of engagement and wondering what this next season of growing towards God together would look like.
Andrew never did ask Charissa a thing about rings. They never looked at them together, and she was completely unaware that he was looking for one. After some failed attempts to find out her ring size he used Naomi as the classic sneaky sister cover to find out instead. ;) While some girls know from the time they're young exactly what type of ring they want, Charissa just knew she didn’t want any of the normal engagement rings. The typical big shiny diamond wasn't what she wanted for herself. She wanted a ring that meant something; a ring that specifically spoke about her own marriage! A sentiment that resonates with me seeing as though my engagement ring matches my last name. ;)
 One night, while praying for this next season, Andrew guided Charissa to a lamppost and, completely unexpectedly, got down on one knee and asked if he could watch her grow more beautiful every day for the rest of their lives. He then gave her a stunning and perfect ring. The band, three chords braided together all of the way around, a symbol of what holds their relationship together. It stood for their desire and belief that they never wanted their marriage to be just them. Yes, they find life to be better together but they also want Christ, their Savior and very intimate Friend & King, to be right in there, intricately involved in every part of their life. Thus, the braid: husband + wife + Christ. A very strong trio, though two of the links by nature are weak, that third strand holds it all together.
The jewel he chose is a star sapphire to match her birthstone and the color of her eyes. When light hits it just right, a stunning starburst appears and is truly breath-taking. He chose this as a way to symbolize Charissa. That she is like the jewel, and when that One, Life-Giving, Light, theLover of her Soul, shines on her that is when she is the most beautiful. That night, that ring, the whole proposal was just like every date and their entire relationship: lead by God. :)
Somehow, being a photographer has resulted in me having a large quantity of Facebook friends that I've never actually met in person. Whether they are other artists whose work I admire, sweet people who have expressed that they like my work, lots of mutual friends of people I do know personally, and all kinds of people in between. Charissa was one of those "other photographers" who I found myself friends with and I vividly remember anytime I saw a picture of her and Andrew while scrolling through my Facebook feed I took a moment to stop and say "Man! They are so stinkin' adorable!" Needless to say when I saw her engagement announcement I immediately thought "Whoever gets to shoot their wedding is incredibly lucky. They are crrrrazy cute." Which is why when her email asking about me shooting it arrived in my inbox, I was elated! I was more than happy to fly to El Paso to capture their big day and, as the Lord would have it, I ended up shooting Charissa's best friend's wedding the Saturday before hers and Andrew's! (Here's where things totally turn into a dream come true.) Her bestie Rebekah didn't marry just anyone...she married Andrew's older brother, Samuel! That's right...best friends marrying brothers...doesn't get much more delightful than that. :) Because of how their individual love stories played out I decided it would make a little more sense to see Andrew and Charissa's post first but I can't wait to share Rebekah and Samuel's wedding day soon! Getting the chance to come serve the Wong family two weekends in a row was one of the highlights of my 2014 and my whole photography career!
The story behind their venue is so amazing and remarkably special! Charissa's dad is a pastor and he was contacted by a young man who had gone away to school who the Lord had recently saved and when he was back in town to visit he wanted a church to go to. Charissa's family ended up connecting with the young man's whole family. Charissa's mom started a bible study with his grandma, mom, aunt, and sister; 3 generations of women very hungry for the God' truth! Andrew and Charissa's wedding was about a year later and this whole family showed so much love and were unbelievably generous!  The ladies contributed and offered abundantly....they wanted to get the wedding cake, the grandma did all the alterations on Charissa's wedding dress, the actual venue is the home of that young man's parents and they not only hosted the wedding but actually finished redoing the whole patio literally the day of so the reception could be held there. His aunt made all the food and was the wedding planner, and his sister did Charissa's makeup! And what did they want in return? Simply for Charissa's mom to keep teaching them the Word of God. Praise the Lord for the kind hearts of His people! 
Andrew and Charissa's venue was covered in sweet sayings and precious pictures of them together. Staying true to the very essence of all that makes them them, there was a delightful mix of wanderlust and homey comfort. These two love being together and they like to seek out adventure...maybe climb a hill at midnight, take a Sunday afternoon ride on their tandem bike, try a brand new food and watch each other's faces on the first bite, Andrew plays songs on the guitar and Charissa likes to listen to them, or just telling each other about their day. Every color and decoration spoke a little bit about the personality and fun of their relationship. :)
When I wrote this post  about finding my wedding dress I hoped that it would be helpful to other girls who were in similar situations as I was when I was wedding planning. It never even crossed my mind that I might actually have the privilege of convincing some of my own brides! Turns out Charissa ended up getting a text from one of her bridesmaids who saw the blogpost...one thing lead to another and she ended up falling in love with Simply Bridal's Chloe and it really was a great dress for her. :)
The bridesmaids' ensemble was precious...loved everything about their look!
Her sweet Mama on one side and her dear Mama-in-love on the other side. Or almost Mama-in-love in this picture anyways. ;) So much support and love surrounded the bride!
If you can't tell, this group of guys was full of shenangians and fun. :)
Wooden bowties for the guys with their names engraved...such a cool element! And this is the aforementioned Samuel by the way...brother to Andrew and, at the point of this picture, very newlywed husband to Rebekah, Charissa's bestie. ;) 
Little sister, Janelle :)
Bosom friend, Naomi...whose dream of becoming Charissa's sister finally came true.  :) 
Newlywed bestie AND NOW SISTER, Rebekah. :) 
The little sign-in station was the cutest! From the blankets to knock off the late November chill, tissues for crying, and Instax pictures as a way to remember and document their sweet guests. :) Charissa mentioned to me that while Andrew and she both have many people they know and love and are thankful for, they decided they wanted their wedding to be small and intimate. They chose people who have especially invested in their lives and whose marriages they want to learn from. :)
Andrew's nephew Jedidiah was the cuuuutest ring bearer. Sorry not sorry for the many photos of him in this post. ;)
Look at these adorable Wongs! All smiles, ready to watch the next newest Wong family be established. :)  
Can't get over how lovely the bridesmaids' "bouquets" were! Ok, they weren't technically traditional bouquets, but instead lanterns with flowers cascading from them! Such a unique and exquisite element!  
For the unity portion of their ceremony they braided three cords around a cross to depict the same message as her braided ring. "...A threefold cord is not easily broken"
"Charissa, outside of the gift of my own forgiveness, you are the greatest gift God has ever given to me. I don't deserve you. You are a daily reminder of God's goodness and grace.
You brighten every day. You find beauty everywhere; and if you can’t find it you make it. With you, laughter and joy are always right around the corner. But beneath the delightful person who captured my attention years ago, I’ve found a woman fiercely passionate for your friends, family, and, most of all, your Savior. You are surrendered to His hand in your life to mold you and guide you. And that is beautiful. You have attracted my friendship, captivated my affections, and inspired my love. Together we have explored a world of love I didn't know existed. You are more than I could have dreamed for. As wonderful as all the romantic moments have been, it's the side-by-side everyday type things that made me sure I could do the rest of my life with you. All of life is better with you by my side.
You have drawn out of me a man I didn’t know existed. You’ve graciously brought the gospel into my life through forgiving me when I make mistakes and pointing me toward Jesus when my heart goes after other things.
In my own flesh I am unable to make and keep the promises that marriage demands. Yet in the gospel we have the freedom and power to pursue the highest callings because of Jesus who has done it perfectly. And so because of His righteousness, I pledge myself to you.
I vow to serve you when my cup is full and when it's empty.
I vow to open my heart to you in the heights and the depths.
I vow to focus my eyes, thoughts, and desires on you and no other woman.
I vow to seek God's will with you for our family despite what may be more easy or popular..
As Christ does for me,  I vow to lay my life down for you and seek His image growing in you day by day."
"Andrew, I stand here today, honored to be the woman that you have chosen to love life with.  God’s love and your faithful pursuit of me has brought us here to this place, where we forever become one. Years ago, I decided that I wanted a man who would always love Jesus more than he loved me. It is your complete submission and abandoned will to Christ that gives my heart the calm to trust and follow you for the rest of my days. The steady way in which you follow God and desire to please Him has been an anchor to my sometimes wavering heart. When I begin to stumble, you lift me up. When my hands get cold, you warm them. Your presence inspires bravery in me. But together with Christ, we have been as a threefold cord, one that cannot be broken. So today as we choose to live the rest of our lives together, it is with Christ woven right into the center of our relationship that I know we will be able to thrive and love and learn together. Due to His overwhelming joy, we will know years of laughter and smile wrinkles. His awe-inspiring glory will be the cause of many breathtaking moments. The passion of His heart will compel us forward, to places we can act as His hands and feet. His incredible mercy will love us and hold us together in the seasons of life when we feel we cannot take another step. His creativity will cause us to not just do life for the sake of getting it done, but to always seek out the best that He gives us in this life. Andrew, you are my best friend because you have shared your heart with me, your love for people and bridges, and because you make the most mundane activities into grand adventures. You are my lover because you have held me, put my head on your shoulder when it was needed, and you constantly give me better than I deserve. 
You are my partner in the Gospel because you inspire me to always know God better, to serve Him with a steadfast heart, and to always be willing to sacrifice my comfort for the needs of another. Your convictions, your strength, and your empathizing heart are all gifts that our loving Creator has given you. As He has molded you more into the man that Andrew in Christ is to be, I see the superman that is under the Clark Kent clothing. I see the soft and sweet carer that desires to put every one around him at ease. While at the same time, he carries a strength that is willing to stand by the Truth, even if it makes others uncomfortable. While you care for other people, you care for Christ and His Kingdom most. I believe that as you continue to grow into that man, Christ’s greatness will ever continue to pour out of you. As your wife, the desire of my heart is to be a catalyst for your greatness. To be a motivator towards your loving God. And to be an encourager when you cannot seem to get there. I vow to live inside the warmth of your arms and always call it home. I vow to love you for you, not what you can do for me. I vow to speak when words are needed and to share the silence when they are not. And I promise to choose you for the rest of my days. I vow to always be available for kisses and to give them to you frequently. Today and forever, I entrust my heart and soul to you, under your leadership, protection, and tender loving care. As Christ ascended to earth in complete submission to His Father, in love and adoration for, He gave up all. So do I, give up myself, to no longer be Charissa Dowdy. But to mold my life to you and forever be Charissa Wong, my soul permanently braided with yours."
Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wong!! 
Sneaky "just married" hideaways ;) 
You'd think these two were the ones who just got married! Oh wait...! ;)
When I asked Charissa to tell me a little bit about Andrew and what she loves about him, she said...
"What I love about Andrew is that no matter the circumstances raging around us, he always reminds me that these tumultuous events and my emotions do not define reality. 
He is the place I can go to be home, no matter where we are. 
Andrew is a steady calm. 
While some may get ahead of themselves or be too overwhelmed to begin at all, Andrew will faithfully take the tasks at hand to complete them with diligence. 
The fact that he will always love Jesus most makes me admire and look up to him."
Andrew's response when asked what Charissa is like and what he loves about her was...
"Charissa is like the moment the sun breaks through the rain clouds and fills the fresh clean air with radiant brightness. 
It doesn't really matter what's going on, 
you just want to stop and enjoy life more when she's around.
Sometimes she's a gorgeous rose that takes your breath away, but most of the time she's a delightful sunflower that makes everyday kind of things so much better."
As the sun set and the sky grew pink, we finished up their portraits with the "purple mountain majesty" of El Paso. That was one of the most stunning parts that I really loved about being able to visit twice so close together...those mountains are truly breath-taking! They made an incredible backdrop.
Not that these two even need an amazing backdrop to look good!! 
This tandem bike is another thing that defines their relationship...it has been the source of many of their adventures and so it was only fitting that it be part of their wedding day. Seriously, how cool are they??
Finally fully family. <3
And Naomi: the bright-hearted, kind, supportive, and hilarious fifth wheel. ;) Look at all those Wongs!! How often do you end up marrying one best friend and becoming the sister of your other two besties?! Even Disney couldn't write a fairytale this wonderful!
I loved all the centerpieces and details of the reception. They were almost entirely handpicked by Charissa and her care and attention to detail really showed in how well everything came together. There was a free-spirited, bohemian, eclectic, colorful, rustic vintage aesthetic similar to being in Anthropolgie. :)
These vintage postcards were a very neat touch and totally true to Andrew and Charissa's old-school romance vibe! 
Their cake was one of the most fun and delicious that I've ever photographed! If I remember correctly, one layer was green tea flavored and I honestly was tempted to eat my weight in it. So so good!
And the perfect caketopper! This couldn't be more exactly what Charissa imagined when she thought about what she wanted but she couldn't seem to find one! Not in stores, not on Etsy... She ended up finding it while in Seattle with her mom at the famous Pike Place Market! Not only was it a red tandem, it even had "Better Together" (basically their tagline)! It's amazing how God orchestrates such awesome things for His children...even in the smallest areas of our life! 
I try not to ever forget that my job as a wedding photographer is so much more than just taking pretty pictures and spending way too many hours in front of a computer. My job is to capture memories as accurately and beautifully as I can...for the clients, for future generations...memories that may or may not be stored up in their minds, memories that fade with time. Capturing moments that are fleeting, frail, and special is such a weighty thing. Charissa's sweet grandmother passed away a few months after their wedding and it was then that I was reminded how much my clients are entrusting me with: not just the privilege to document their first day as husband and wife, but ultimately to encapsulate what it was like to have their loved ones all together in one place cheering them on, building them up in such a huge way. Charissa and Andrew took her grandmother's hands in theirs and said "Thank you. Thank you for teaching Charissa how to be a woman...a woman who sews, a woman who cooks, but most importantly a woman who loves Jesus and depends on Him even on the days when it feels better to just give up. Thank you for every 'I love you' and prayer you lifted up. We couldn't be here if it wasn't for you, Grandma!" These are the unforgettable moments. These are the photographs I am thankful and humbled to make.
Oh sweet Jed. ;)
As everyone was munching on the delicious food, beaming at the adorable new Mr. and Mrs., and chatting around their tables...some straaange out of town relatives burst through the door! 
i.e. Charissa's mom and aunt ;) )
Suffice it to say their crooning ballad and wild country bumpkin persona was hilarious. Later Charissa's mom said that someone did that at her wedding and so she's been saving up the plan for the next generation for awhile. ;)
One of Charissa's older brother's who was the M.C. for the night seemed to be quite shocked and amused by the surprise serenade until... 
...He was joined by all her other brothers and they sang this song from Nacho Libre that I could hardly photograph because I was literally crying laughing! Soooo ridiculously funny!! 
The best. Just the best.
Samuel had the nearly impossible task of following up their song with his best man's speech but somehow he had the whole room go immediately from roaring laughter to smiles and tears. :)
Janelle also gave a heartwarming tribute to them. They are both blessed with such sweet siblings!
One thing I have to mention from Mrs. Dowdy's speech that was a real tearjerker was when she said, "On many days when I have been down Charissa has been a beam of sunshine in the midst of clouds. So Andrew, today I'm giving you my sunshine." *Crying right now just typing that!* I was so moved by her saying that because Andrew had described Charissa as sunshine as well! They cherish the same things about her! Those are the type of things which let parents know their child has found someone who is going to love their child like they did and they can rest assured that there is so much more sweet than bitter in letting your child run into the arms of someone like that. :)
These brothers better be praising God from the rooftops because it's not everyday you find a gorgeous pair of besties to fall in love with you. ;) Family turned friendship and friendship turned family. :)
And while we're on the subject of family and friendship, I have to say again how blessed I was to be a part of the Wongs' life two weeks in a row! And this lovely lady was one of the reasons I loved it so much. She is a one in a million and I was honored to call her my friend by the time it was all said and done. That's another part that is great about my job! When I shoot weddings I don't just befriend and connect with the bride and groom...Lord willing I can walk away having genuinely bonded with the whole family and wedding party. I definitely did with these two weddings. :) Eeep! This is making me want to take another trip to El Paso just to see them. :)
The night triumphantly ended with golden glowing lanterns intermingling with starlight. 
And the bride and groom rode merrily away on their bicycle built for two...the chapter of one adventure coming to a close and the start of the next chapter brilliantly beginning! 
My heart is bursting full now having come to the end of this lovely post. I hope you can tell it was one of my favorite weddings...mostly cause they become favorite people! I mean it's not everyday that you connect so well that you match the wedding! ;) Oh you sweet adventuresome pair...may the Lord be before you and behind everywhere you go and may you keep blessing the world with your big hearts and infectious smiles, with your passion for Jesus and love for each other. In this case I'd say whole-heartedly, two Wongs definitely make a right. ;) <3

4 comments:

  1. Adorable wedding!!! You captured it so well!!!

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  2. Does it have to end already???!!! What a wonderful wedding in every fashion!! Thank, Alix, for sharing your gifted work and the wonderful work of our amazing Lord in bringing these two kindred spirits together!!

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  3. I so loved reading through this post! Those were some of the sweetest wedding vows I've ever read/heard before. So much beauty and love in one post!

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  4. These pictures are so amazing!!! And I love everything about this post. =) Great work!

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