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Shauna & Brendan’s Michigan Barn Wedding

* Shauna, Nanny & Brendan, Police Officer *

I am naturally an introspective person, so when my sexy beloved, Brendan, and I got engaged, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be married, how I wanted our wedding to symbolize our love and future, and the fears I had about marriage (what if he just doesn’t like me in twenty years?). Truly processing these things allowed me to be completely content and at peace on our beautiful, sunny, winter wedding day. I share these thoughts with you in the hopes that they might help you along your own journey, but know this: Something transformative happens on your wedding day or thereafter and after crossing this invisible bridge, all the wisdom people shared with you prior to your passage suddenly makes sense (at least for me). See, I knew that “the details didn’t matter” and “it would go by quickly” and “blah blah blah” but the funny thing is, it’s all true. Your personal journey will be different and beautiful in its own way; I simply offer this wisdom as a tiny gift of what I have learned through this amazing but overwhelming process.

1. Engagement is not always what it seems. If you were raised in the United States, chances are you have been bombarded from the age of oh, two weeks, with the idea that once you decided to get hitched, you will be blissfully happy all. the. damn. time. If you aren’t, something must be wrong. This could not be further from the truth. Brendan and I had been together for five awesome years before I got my pretty ring, but once we were engaged, decisions felt bigger. Every disagreement felt like “We need to figure this out NOW because if we don’t we will always fight about this!” (Smart, right?) Fun questions like: How much of a role will our parents play in planning? What if something horrible happens to one of us? If you didn’t unload the dishwasher last night, will I always be responsible for everything? AHHH!!! It’s hard. On the other side, life is much more content and secure. We answer questions like “What’s should we eat?” “When should I get knocked up?” or “Team Gale or Team Peeta?” (Peeta, obviously.) Trust me, it gets so, so much better. When people ask me how married life is now, I answer, “Peaceful.”

2. Really examine your expectations for yourself, your beloved, family, wedding day, engagement, life after the wedding, etc. Many blogs (including our beloved APW) post wonderful stories of couples sitting side by side on the couch, poring over homemade projects and long wedding discussions. That’s all well and good, but please know that not everyone has that experience. If you find you are in the planning trenches alone, it doesn’t mean those couples that do plan their weddings together have a better relationship than you and your partner. It took me a long, long, looooong time to separate Brendan’s desire to be my husband from his non-desire to make homemade invitations. He simply didn’t care about the decorations and didn’t have the time (he was attending his grueling Police Academy during our engagement). I had to let go of these expectations. Brendan is not interested in decorating and details. Why would planning a big party change this huge part about him, one that I happen to love? Early on in your engagement, try to pinpoint your expectations and confront them. Journal about them. You will be much happier if you are able to replace them with realistic and grateful feelings. This is also true for how you expect to feel on your wedding day: blissful and stress-free, and goddess-like; and how you expect your family and guests to behave: like a happy, well-oiled machine. All of these assumptions are unrealistic. Let them go. Gratefully accept your wedding.

3. If it is important to you, talk to your parents about what they need. Then ask again. And ask again. After I read the APW book, Brendan and I talked to each other about our priorities and then we asked our parents. Or at least I thought we did. I should have asked again. It was very important to us that our parents felt honored and that we had the wedding we envisioned: small and intimate (read: not inviting my huge, huge extended family besides my aunts and uncles). This turned out to be a difficult struggle for my dad, one that we discussed but not in detail. Four days before my wedding, my dad, whom I am very close with, and I had the most emotional fight of my life. Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t change the decision that Brendan and I made, but I wish I had explored my dad’s feelings about it more. This is a crazy time for your parents. They have probably envisioned this day for longer than you have. What they are yelling or crying about (i.e., family not invited) is probably not actually about that (i.e., sad because family is not as close as they used to be). Be compassionate. Try to be understanding and calm.

4. If you are struggling with fear and anxiety, my best advice (one that I don’t always follow even though I try) is to look inward. Examine the true, deepest feelings beyond the fears and doubts. Marriage is scary stuff. Flings that only last three months are much, much easier but never, ever as rewarding. It is okay to feel overwhelmed at the thought of forever, but dig deep into your truest heart to figure out what your soul is really trying to tell you. Personally, it was really scary to thinking of Brendan being killed (yay for marrying a police officer!) especially because one of my best friends had been killed at the age of eighteen. Some of these fears showed up in my planning process. I am so grateful that I took the time to examine them and talk with Brendan about them. Here’s the thing: Truly, deeply loving someone and letting them love you back is insanely vulnerable. But if you can allow yourself to be that real with another person, this insane love flows from it. I love Brendan more today than I ever have. I have a peace that carries me through our days because I trust in our love. Now that my friends, that, is just the coolest thing ever.

5. Think carefully about the people involved in the wedding. Brendan and I were married by one of my best friends, whom Bren also adores (though he would never say adores). Because we were doing some pretty untraditional things (at least for our families), we decided to stay traditional for the wedding party. Besides not repeatedly talking to my dad about the guest list, this is my only wedding regret. I am blessed with a group of friends that I have known for ten years (three men and two women). These people have been my lifeline. They were all involved in the ceremony in some way (officiant, musician, reader), but really, they should have all been standing next to me, not just the women. I really regret not having my guys in the wedding party simply because of their gender. When you get engaged, take some time and think about who it is you want (if anyone) standing next to you when you marry the love of your life. It is super-duper tempting to rush into these decisions and tell everyone, but please take your time. The friend that was supposed to be my maid of honor dropped out five months before the wedding. I love them both, but the gal that stood at my side on my wedding day should have been there in the first damn place. Some people are better at weddings than others. Don’t take it personally. Take your time.

6. People will follow your lead. Want to have a really stressful, joyless wedding? Stress about everything. Yell at people when they don’t do exactly what you want them to do. Believe that your wedding is the pinnacle of everyone else’s life and existence. And finally, never, ever say thank you. Want to have a laid-back wedding that you (and your peeps) actually enjoy? Say thank you. Say it again. Let shit go. Smile. Be grateful for those around you. Try to understand the emotions that other people are experiencing around your wedding. Say thank you. Know that your wedding party, family, guests, and vendors will all follow your lead. If you are relaxed, they will (usually) be. If you are freaking out, you suck the fun out for everyone. What shocks me the most about badly behaved brides is that not only are they ruining everyone else’s time, but they are screwing up their own experience as well. Be selfish for your own happiness: Be thankful and happy. People will follow your lead.

7. If possible, write your own ceremony. The best thing that Bren and I did (after deciding to marry each other, obviously) was to write our own ceremony. It wasn’t the best decision because our ceremony was heartfelt or personal (even though it was pretty much the best, ever). It was the best decision because it forced us to answer the all-important question: “Why marry?” We had been together for five years, living together for three and a half years, and you can imagine the rest, so why marry? For us, it was because we believe marriage is a spiritual journal that allows two people to become their best possible selves. By sticking together through the times when it is easiest to walk away, you grow into the person you are suppose to be. I often say that Brendan isn’t my partner because he brings out the best in me (even though he does), I choose him because of the person he inspires me to be. Writing our own ceremony allowed us to have this discussion, which was really just the coolest thing (apart from actually get married) about this whole process. Even if you are getting married in a church with a tried-and-true service, have this conversation. If you view the engagement as a time for growth, the lessons you learn will be another layer of the foundation of your partnership.

8. It is one day. So, yes: Your wedding is big deal. But really, it’s over in one day, roughly four to ten hours of your life. You will need to be a wife (or husband), a daughter (or son), a friend, and a human being long after your wedding is long gone. I secretly thought I would be depressed after our wedding (all that planning and it’s over?) but really I was grateful and happy and relieved. We had a great day but this man was going to be my husband for the rest of my life! That is waaayy more exciting. Remember to ask your friends about their lives, say thank you to those helping you, and spend time (and actually enjoy it) with your beloved. Along these same lines, know that it is totally okay for your to be super pumped about your wedding but everyone else in your life also has lives of their own. Be grateful for that as it keeps you grounded in the world of head counts and homemade favors.

9. People will shock you, in good ways and in bad. This bears repeating: Some people are good at weddings; some aren’t. We had our share of disappointments and hurt feelings along the way and you will too. After receiving our super adorable homemade invitations inviting our guests to come for “Beer, BBQ, and Dancing!” (cute, right?), one family friend asked my mother-in-law if we were having a “hillbilly, blue-jean wedding.” (Stupid people.) My friend dropped out as maid of honor. Relationships change. It’s okay if it hurts. Cry and yell to your closest people if you need to. On the other hand, I was flooded (and I mean over-freaking-whelmed) by the love some people showed us. My sister-in-law threw the most personal and thoughtful wedding shower for me. My close friends threw me a blessingway (highly suggested) the day before the wedding that left me grounded and at peace. All of my and my beloved family that came in from across the county. Seriously, get ready to feel the love.

10. Finally (and most importantly): Separate your wedding from your marriage. Your wedding, no matter how beautiful, homemade, personal, or fun, does not determine the happiness and contentment in your marriage. Marriage is hard emotional work with a lot of compromise and forgiving and tongue-biting. How pretty your wedding was, how much fun your guests had, or even whether or not you liked your wedding is separate from the marriage that results from it. Even the most sane, most down-to-earth brides out there sometimes forget this (I know I did when I was yelling at Bren for not having an opinion on table seatings). Seriously, it is one day. One beautiful day that, even at its most beautiful and emotional, does not outweigh the peace that comes from putting your partner and your relationship first. And always, always remember there is something to be grateful for.

The Info—Photographer: Becky Shink / Location: Lansing, Michigan / Venue: Woldumar Nature Center

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  • anon

    I’ve never heard of a blessing-way before. could you share more about yours? It sounds way more awesome than a shower….

    • Shauna Schwanky


      It is wayy cooler than a shower. Here is what you should know:

      Blessingways are traditionally for mothers-to-be as a way of preparing her for birth (awesome, right?) But I really wanted some time to reflect with just my nearest and dearest, so we kinda created on the fly.

      It is good to have a smaller (ish) group. I had 5 friends and my mom there. Honestly, it was one of the few things that I invited only who I wanted to invite because I wanted everyone to truly know and deeply love me. Obviously, you should do whatever you like. :)

      Besides gathering a guest list, I asked my bridesmaid Meredith to take over because I wanted my gurls to be able to do whatever they like and also, I didn’t want it to be like “Oh come to my Blessingway where you can all tell me how great I am!” It was such a blessing (ha ha) to have these women want to do this for me and to take control over it.

      We drank wine (again, obviously) and ate because that is what my women do. Everyone brought me a surprise little gift that had some meaning behind it. My mama wove a crown of flowers together and I wore that on my heads (felt silly at first but secretly loved it)

      Then they did just the coolest thing: Meredith brought a little canvas with her along with crayons. Everyone took a turn telling me their favorite thing about Brendan and then their favorite thing about me and why these traits make us better people and a stronger couple. Each time a trait was said, the speaker colored in a little bit of the canvas so that once everyone had gone, the canvas was filled with all different beautiful colors. Meredith then took a hair dryer and melted all of the wax noting how this symbolized how Brendan and I are different but it is each of our strengths that make us whole. (I really do have the bestest of friends)

      Needless to say, we were all in tears.

      Obviously, there are many activities that you could do and I can take zero credit for how freaking cool it was.

    • Another Meg

      I attended Shauna’s blessingway, and when I researched it before the event I was skeptical. It turned out to be an incredible moment for the women in Shauna’s life to really ground her amidst the chaos of the weekend. It was quiet, emotional (so much crying), and lovely.

      As someone who has become close with Shauna more recently, it was a beautiful way to connect with her and the other women present on another level. It’s a moment in our friendship I will always remember.

      • Shauna Schwanky

        aw. I love you sister.

        • Another Meg

          :) back atcha

  • Karen

    This was incredibly well written. Other than to say “thank you,” words are inadequate. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  • Rachel

    Wow, this was a great post. I wish I could think of something more articulate to say but…just, wow.

    On a lighter note, yay for MI winter weddings! Also, a blessing way sounds like exactly what I’ve been trying to describe for what I’d like to do the evening before my wedding since I probably won’t have a shower or bachelorette party. It sounds lovely.

    • Not Sarah

      Bachelorette parties don’t have to be anything like what you would expect. I went to one before a good friend’s wedding. The bride doesn’t drink. It was all girls and we went for pole dancing lessons, for lunch at her favourite restaurant and then for cupcakes. It was super nice and more like a last big girls hang before the wedding. I definitely want a ‘bachelorette party’ like that :)

      • Emmy

        Truth. For my bachelorette party, my best friend rented the private room at our local tea room for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. We’re going to have tea and scones and mimosas and make crafts. I guess it more closely resembles a bridal shower without the gifts. Or child’s birthday party (tea party!!).

        • SarahHoppes

          I didn’t want any of the traditional bachelorette trappings, so my bachelorette party consisted of me going out for Indian food and a haunted house with some of my closest friends.

          • Lucy

            My ladies nailed my hen party – those who felt like it went stand up paddle boarding in the late afternoon sun, then everyone met up again at a great little cocktail bar next door to a pizza place (that serve pizza to the cocktail bar!). We drank a few cocktails, ate pizza and generally had a fun time. My mother in law and her sister turn up, my mother, my best friend’s mum, one of my gay friends (in a dress of course!). It was such an eclectic mix of people and that just worked out! Most importantly no one felt the need to embarrass me and no sex toys were seen!

  • Superfantastic

    Your number 9 point is the most important thing I got from the APW website and book before my wedding and I don’t think future brides can hear it enough. Not that it makes it not hurt when someone disappoints you, but it helps to prepare you for it and to remind you that other people are going to surprise you in good ways. Some people won’t show up for what seems like lame reasons, but other people will move heaven and earth to get there, and neither group may be the ones you expect. Also, going along with your point number 2, I had to consciously let go of the expectation that being the bride would somehow transform me into a person who exuded breezy elegance. Being the bride just meant more people would be watching when I inevitably spilled my drink on my dress (as it turned out, just a little while dancing, which was added justification to drink only champagne, since it didn’t show up on the ivory).

    Really, excellent advice and perspective overall and what a beautiful wedding. More importantly, it sounds like you have a beautiful marriage.

    • Shauna Schwanky

      Thank you so very much. I am blessed with (and work very hard for) our beautiful marriage. :)

  • CherryBlossoms

    Sometimes, it’s like the universe knows when you need to hear something. And, I personally really really needed to read this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your story & wisdom!

  • 39bride

    Awesome, awesome, awesome! I think I love every single word of this post, mostly because it rings 100% true for my experience–ditto all the way. This is the best wedding advice I think I’ve ever read in one, compact place. Thank you so much!

  • Robin

    Dear Shauna, please write more articles. Love, the Internet

    • Shauna Schwanky


  • ElisabethJoanne

    I really agree with #3. No one else knows your decision-making timeline – not the objective timeline for things like putting down deposits for vendors, nor the subjective timeline for when you’re comfortable making decisions like who, if anyone, will walk you down the aisle. So you have to go to all your important people before you consider any decision settled.

    And sometimes you have to go back to them, if it’s been months between “deciding” and putting money down. We decided on the rehearsal dinner guest list 6 months before choosing a venue. Or we thought we did. When we gave the details to Mom, we got “Is my dad invited?” and we said, “We decided 6 months ago that…” Mom’s response was “No one my age would remember a conversation from 6 months ago.” My mother’s a surgeon in her mid-50s; this was not dementia; this was “your wedding is not as important to anyone else as it is to you 2.” So we had to have the discussions again.

  • AmandaS

    OMG, I’ve never seen Woldumar look better. We considered that for our wedding, but I wanted to go somewhere that no one else in the family had had their wedding so it was ruled out.

    Beautiful beautiful pictures and posts.

    • Katie Maea

      Is it time for another Lansing APW meetup?

      • Katie Mae

        I spelled my name wrong. I can’t get the editor to work. The sentiment remains.

        • Irene

          Oops, Katie Mae I accidentally reported you when I meant to like your post!

      • Sara W

        I’m down for a Lansing meetup!

  • Em

    Thank you for this. I’m getting married on Saturday and it was just what I needed to read before the week begins. I think I”m going to be re-reading it a few more times!

  • Sara

    This is so, so good. I couldn’t agree more – some people just are bad at weddings.

  • Sheryl

    “Truly, deeply loving someone and letting them love you back is insanely vulnerable”

    It’s those places where we put ourselves out there the most where we can find the most rewarding relationships. Is it no wonder that marriage has the potential for so much when we bring everything to the table?

  • Sara W

    Yay for Woldumar! We tried to get married there, but it was all booked up by the time we got our act together. The photos are lovely and the post was great!

  • Ruby

    Amazing post – just what I needed to read today. Would you mind sharing how your wrote your ceremony. We are in the middle of writing ours. Do you have any tips?

    • Shauna Schwanky


      Congrats! First, if possible, take your time with it. The ceremony can be really overwhelming, but the process is really such a gift if you allow it to be.

      A good place to start is to compile some of your favorite readings, words, songs, etc that you think you might like to include. Don’t limit at this point, just keep adding to some document (I copy and paste cause I am old school like that).

      A second good place to start is to pick up the following: Even if you write your whole ceremony word for word, it gives you a good layout for how things should follow as well as giving you practical advice on where to stand, how to lead a rehearsal, etc. Its really just the best.

      Another great place to start is to sit down with your beloved and answer that “Why Marry?” question. It can form a marriage mission statement if you will which can lead you on your path to a ceremony. I normally give Brendan a few days notice with questions like these “Honey, I want you to think about this and then in a few days we can talk.” (less on the spot = less “because I love you” answers)

      Then, dig in. It’s okay if you re-write it ten times. Its also okay if you write it yourself and your partner looks over it. Its okay as long as you love it. Seriously, I would read our ceremony just for shits and giggles when I wanted to pre-wedding (so like…. every three days)

      One last bit of advice would be to include as many or as few people as you want in your ceremony but really think about this and who you want to ask and if they would feel comfortable about it.

      I loved the whole process. The two compliments we got after our wedding was that our ceremony was overwhlemingly personal and full of love and that we can drink our asses off (YIPEE!)

      • Ruby

        Thank you so much for your response. Also, your candid advice and grace in how you write is simply wonderful.
        All the best to you and Bren. I’ve bookmarked this post and I’m sure we will come back to it often while planning our November wedding.
        Thank you for sharing!

      • feeny

        Thank you so much for this “it’s also ok if you write it yourself and your partner reads over it”. Thaaaank you! My fhubs lives many miles away and is a head chef working insane hours but I still find myself getting upset that he hasn’t sat down to write anything yet. I have somehow tricked myself into thinking that it’s only meaningful if the both of us sit down together for hours and come away with something breathtaking and completely original. Sometimes it really helps to “hear” someone say something your brain has been trying to convince you of for quite some time.

        • shauna schwanky

          seriously, I hear you. During our entire engagement, I felt like we “should” be doing ____ (including drinking a glass of wine together while we write our ceremony side by side) Seriously, if any thought pops into your mind that starts with “I should” or “We should” or “Good Couples do ___”, I give your permission to yell at that voice.

  • becky

    Beautifully written! Thank you :) I am getting married in November in MA (yeah for winter weddings!) and this so so incredibly helpful and insightful!

  • Tess

    Thank you, thank you. This post really resonated with me and I deeply appreciate your sharing it. A little more than a month out and as others have said, I will be coming back to this one.

  • elle

    Peeta OBVIOUSLY.

    Can we just focus for a moment on the gorgeous little tulle bowtie straps of this wedding gown? LOVE.

    I think I will be referencing this post more and more as our wedding nears. Thank you!

  • KB

    #2 all the way!!! Just because your partner could not care less about flowers and colors and itty bitty details doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t care about you. I found it more touching that my fiance asked to help and took on things that he had zero opinion about precisely BECAUSE he had zero opinion. There are many ways of showing that you care – picking out color swatches does not have to be one of them.

  • Blair

    Around these parts my friends and I have this term that we use when something just too incredibly awesome comes along that there are no proper/colloquial words for it. It’s like “something dirty and inappropriate because it’s THAT insane and cool” combined with “amazing+awesome.”
    Said term:

    So. This just hit me on a cellular level. I think I fully just metabolized it.
    Lovey and I are thinking about full-on splitting apart our wedding ceremony from the wedding reception/party celebration by about 7 months and 500 miles.
    because….of this. all of this. And especially number 10.
    The idea is to essentially elope + handful of parents and siblings and friends. Then leave the rest of the party for…partying.

    Thanks for speaking, Shauna, in such a frank and open way. At just the right time. It really challenges this notion that we are terminally unique, and helps me to understand where I am at in a very authentic way.
    Also. AUGH…that last photo. Amazeballs.
    Happiness and love for you!

  • Hintzy

    Thank you for writing this! I especially love the bit about why writing a ceremony can be helpful.

  • Rachel

    I really liked everything you said in your post, but all I really want to say is I LOVE YOUR DRESS!

  • Megan

    “On the other hand, I was flooded (and I mean over-freaking-whelmed) by the love some people showed us.”

    YES. Our experience was the same, and it took us completely by surprise how “over-freaking-whelmed” we were by the love we were shown that day.

    Beautiful article! More please!!

  • Rachelle

    Such a great post! Thank you so much for your honesty and getting the rest of us ready for what the journey through engagement-wedding-marriage might be like (even though it’s obviously different for everyone, it’s nice to see how one person experienced it).

    Also, I was THISCLOSE to buying that same dress. I ended up going a different direction ,but it looks gorgeous on you! The little overlay on the shoulders is so pretty and the way the skirt flares out on that first picture… I mean, come on!

  • Lea

    This entire post rings so true, and I found so many things I needed to hear three months away from my own wedding. “People will shock you in good ways and bad” is something I’m experiencing a little bit (the “bad” part; it’s early yet) and I breathed a huge sigh of relief to hear you talk about it. Thanks, friend.

    PS- You’re gorgeous, and so is your wintery wedding :) Congrats.

  • Maria

    This post perfectly resonated with my experience from getting married. Beautifully put!

  • Helen

    This is one of my favorite APW posts ever. The advice is spot-on.

    This, exactly this: “All of these assumptions are unrealistic. Let them go. Gratefully accept your wedding.”


  • Victoria

    I just want to say that you posted exactly what I needed to hear as an engaged woman of 5 months needed to hear. There will be stupid people, and I will feel the love, and many many more. Well written. Anxieties worries separating my wedding day one day from the rest of my life with someone I love. I wanted to cry, instead I kept inside and I am really touched. I want to let you know that. As March approaches in 2 months I get to marry the man I choose to marry and who I choose to love daily! Everything we do is hard work. I appreciate you and your words of wisdom.