- I loved performing, but hated the business of the business – having to “sell” myself every day and be someone else. I became very depressed.
- November 2002, Grampa Cecil passed. Grandpa Cecil taught me who God was. He lived a humble life. He changed us all. His passing was a wake up call. I needed to do the hard thing and follow my heart.
- Much to the dismay of my parents and friends, I flew back to NY after the funeral and walked into my agent’s office and quit theatre.
- I had no idea what my identity was at that point. I just knew I had to find a path to take that would allow me to feel at home in my own skin and like I was helping people.
- Depressed, scared and alone, I knew I had to put myself back together somehow. I wanted to feel alive again. I joined a gym. I hired Ray Dashiel to be my trainer, and had no idea just how much he would change my life and my heart forever.
- I fell in love with the transformation of training. Several months later, Ray encouraged me to become a personal trainer myself.
- Determined to prove I was worth something, I worked my tail off and quickly became the top trainer at Crunch nationally. I worked from 5am to 11pm every single day of the week, including Sundays. I became a contributor to Shape Magazine and lived the high life in NY. Things were getting better. I got engaged to another trainer that I worked with. We were to be married in December 2004 at my parent’s home in Florida.
- September 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated our family. My fiance and I left everything – clients and all – and moved to Florida to help them rebuild their home (the location where we were supposed to get married just a few months later). There was no place to live except with my family in a shattered house. No jobs. No plan. We just knew we had to be there to help them.
- The community helped us put the house back together for the wedding – the only thing everyone had to look forward to at the time – and we were married just three months after Ivan hit. It was a wonderful celebration of hope. People were transported away from the sorrow and heaviness of where we all were. Much like the world of threatre production I had known all my life, I fell in love with using lighting and music and color and texture to transport people. I fell in love with the art of creating celebrations that changed and opened hearts. With our small town still in ruin, for a moment, we had escaped to joy. It was magical.
- Two weeks after the wedding, my little brother suffered a spinal cord injury while snowboarding in the back country in Vail. The doctors said he would never walk again.
- Between the stress of the hurricane and my brother’s tragic accident, our marriage quickly became transparent. It’s hard to explain in words on a page how it all happened. There was no big fight or falling out. We were best friends. We had only been married for two months. It just became clear that we should have remained best friends.
- I then endured the most difficult time of my life and went through a very painful divorce. My parents were already completely crushed with losing a house and with my brother’s accident, so you can imagine what this felt like. Enter the largest weight of guilt. I still struggle with being ashamed of my divorce and hate even typing the word. I share openly about my divorce at the MTH workshop and in person with people, but this is the first sentence I’ve ever typed about it on the internet because reading about it is very different than me telling you about it. But, I’ve prayed a lot about it and believe that being totally transparent is what God wants me to do. As most painful things go, divorce ended up changing me for the better.
- Writing this part of my story in just a few short sentences doesn’t even begin to tell you the magnitude of how this changed me. It made me face myself in the mirror and question who I was. My white picket fence life – the perfect debutante (yes, I was a debutante) life – fell away to make room for a new reality. I started to find myself. I started to seek God deeply and find my true identity in Him.
- I was desperate for help and found a therapist to guide me in navigating all of this change. Michael has been my mentor every since. I would wake up every day and heed Michael’s advice to “feel the fear and do it anyway” (a quote from Susan Jeffers). If I felt sad, he told me to just let the feeling wash over me and let myself feel sad. If I felt angry, I should let myself feel it. If I felt fear, I should own it and name my fear. To name your fears is to DESTROY them. I started to feel alive again. I started a private blog to write out my thoughts. I started to paint daily. I decided to audition for a local theatre production of Hello, Dolly. I started to sing my life out and realize that I was enough. My past did not define me. My flaws were not faults. God loved all of me.
- My family started to change, too. A miracle… my little brother proved his doctors wrong and began to WALK. I’ve skied past the place of his accident with him now a dozen times. My brother is remarkable. He made me believe that anything is possible. The impossible IS possible with God.
- I needed to get out of debt and pay for my therapy sessions, so I began training people at the local gym.
- I also started my event planning company, Bliss Event Group. I was determined to make something of myself after all of the challenges I had faced. Being the newly divorced wedding planner felt like walking through fire, but I wanted a better life.
- One Sunday afternoon, I was working out at the gym and in walked a tall dark handsome Navy gent. He asked me to train him. I cautiously obliged. For the record, I had sincerely sworn off relationships forever. This gent’s flirtation made me laugh. I kept thinking, “he has no idea what he’s getting into!”
- Little did I know what God had in store for me. Ari Isaacson swept me off my feet. On our first “date”, which I just thought was dinner and not a date, I dove right in to tell him everything I had been through. I was committed to honesty. And something remarkable happened. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t judge me. He just smiled and said, “Well, here’s where I am in my life…” and told me about his challenges, too. It was the first time I felt accepted for who I was, flaws and all. My past did not define who I was in his eyes.
- We quickly fell in love. My family fell in love with him, too. He helped heal my family.
- Five months later, Ari asked me to marry him, and we – for many reasons I’d love to tell you about over sweet tea – eloped to Vegas on the way Ventura, California. Read the whole story here. Divorce and the hurricane and my brother’s accident taught me that LIFE IS JUST TOO SHORT not to love fully and take risks for what matters. So, I said “I do” again. But, with a very different heart.
- I took another leap of faith and applied for my dream job in California. I circled all the people I wanted to work for in one of my favorite wedding magazines, and I emailed them all. I got a job with Mark’s Garden and Corridan and Company.
- I was like a kid in a candy store, surrounded by the best in events! My first meeting with Mark was with Mindy Weiss and a famous pop-tartlet. I was starstruck. But, not by the pop-tartlet… by the incredible creativity around me. I couldn’t believe you could do this with flowers and lighting! I worked an event where they installed a dozen giant magnolia trees around the dance floor. I kept thinking, “Southern brides need to know about this! There is more to weddings than stuffed chicken and tulle!”
- At the height of the Iraq war, right before our one year wedding anniversary, Ari got deployed to Iraq for eight months. I left my inspiring jobs and went home to Florida to stay with my family while he was away.
- I got worried about Ari a lot. I couldn’t watch the news. I waited by my phone to hear from him day and night. I needed a project to keep my mind occupied. One night, I found myself dreaming of pretty things – anything to take my mind off of bomb threats – and decided to start mocking up a wedding magazine cover on my little PC on Microsoft Publisher.
- The next night, I played with it again.
- The next night, I started to dream up photo shoots.
- The next night, I started to look up domain names.
- The next night, I decided I was nuts. And I started to email friends about doing some photo shoots. They thought I was nuts, too.
- The magazine was born!
- We thought we’d just print a tiny run and put it in local grocery stores, churches and bridal shows. God had a different plan.
- April 1, 2008, we started a blog. Back when no one really knew what a “blog” was. Times have changed so quickly! The blog snowballed and, what started as an exciting new place for local brides to get inspired, became a national hot spot almost overnight. Bride and wedding pros were so excited about something new and different in the South.
- Fellow bloggers were really kind. SO supportive. I remember getting supportive “welcome to the blog world” emails from Kathryn from Snippet and Ink, Janie from The Bride’s Cafe, Liene Stevens and many others. I felt like I was finally home. Part of a community that got me. Part of something that really mattered. A platform that could reach people instantly to inspire them.
- The blog started to gain popularity and, just as we printed our very first issue (that I used my life savings to pay for), Ari thankfully came home safely from Iraq. Life felt complete again. I was starting fresh with Ari and a whole new venture. I felt like I was living the American dream.
- We settled back into life in California for just a few short weeks before Ari was going to be finished with active duty to start his radiology residency at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
- I took a big risk and sent a letter to Curtis Circulation, who helped all the big titles get on newsstands. “Happy dance” is a mild way of describing the PARTY that ensued when I got an email from them saying they wanted to sign us. Yahoo! We did it! We were going to be on newsstands all over the US.
- I got all my ducks in a row. I applied for a trademark on the magazine name.
- I had my husband safely back from war, a blog that was making waves and a new magazine that was just about to be sent off to newsstands. We were packing our bags to move back to the South, closer to my family. Life was good.
- The day we moved from California to Chapel Hill, just as the movers took my desk out from under me, my mom called to tell me I had gotten a letter from a lawyer that said the name of our magazine was too similar to something that their client, a giant publishing company, had trademarked. Bam. Smacked in the face with my biggest business roadblock even before we got out on newsstands. The options were: fight it and lose with money I didn’t have or not fight it and lose anyway. I didn’t have a lawyer. I thought I had done everything right. I had never even heard of a “cease and desist” letter. I was the smallest fish in the pond and I couldn’t understand why a giant magazine was coming after me. I was, to put it mildly, devastated.
- So, naturally, I did what any new kid on the block does and I wrote the scary lawyers a really nice letter, kindly asking them to not make me pull the copies that I paid my life savings for. I was just a girl with a dream, working from my tiny apartment with my cat and a husband who had just come back from war. If they would just let me put these copies out that I already paid everything for, I promised I’d change the name of the magazine the next time around.
- The scary lawyers ate me up for that sweet letter. They sued me for it, as an admission of guilt, and I was forced to start over. I had nothing left except a tiny glimmer of that big vision that was just crushed before my eyes. I was embarrassed, depressed and I had no idea how to fix it. I did the only thing I knew how to to and I prayed hard. Was I supposed to keep going with this? It sure seemed like God wanted me to go a different direction with all these road blocks. Was I supposed to do something else with my life? HOW was I supposed to start over with nothing?
- I can’t quite describe what moved me to ACT, but I just knew in my gut that God wanted me to keep going. I wanted to inspire people to LOVE and love deeply. I wanted a platform to show people that they could plan a deeply personal beginning to married life. I wanted to share my heart. I didn’t know HOW I was going to do it, but I knew WHY. The HOW followed. In retrospect, I see God working so clearly to change me and make me stronger and make me fall flat on my face so I’d be able to help others get up. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
- I took on some wonderful ladies to help me run the blog and give the magazine a new start. We applied for a new trademark on “Southern Weddings”. My newly-hired lawyer assured me this trademark was a shoo-in (Southern speak for “sure winner”). I cautiously started over and sought advertisers for the first time.
Momentary pause in this story to say THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO BELIEVED IN US FROM THE START and thank you to the people who didn’t believe in us, too. I’m so grateful. Every YES pushed us forward and every NO refined our hearts. Every doubt made us question who we are and, in turn, made us stronger and more focused on what mattered. Every encouragement – and there were thousands – gave us wings. Personally, I’m grateful because, each person who has been a cheerleader for us, gave us the ability to inspire brides to focus on what matters and to see the possibilities. Every cheerleader helped us get to the point where we could sustain great jobs for creatives who keep this mission going and who make it better every day. Because, really, I don’t “own” this magazine anymore. You do. The ladies on this team with me are the voice, the sponsors are our family and the readers are our dearest friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As I type this, I’m replaying so many conversations and email exchanges in my mind. To the many people who have hugged us and high-fived us and supported us… you made the magazine, not me. I lit the match, you kept the awesome fire blazing. And we’ve made s’mores on it together every since : )
- We went back to press with a new name, new content and a new outlook. I was determined. As I sat and watched the new copies come off the press, my phone rang. My lawyer said slowly, “Lara, I’m so sorry. The trademark has been rejected.” Bam. Hit again. What uncanny timing God had on my path. Amazing. Knowing full-well that the words I was about to speak were plum crazy, I told my lawyer, “We can’t start over again. Fix this. Appeal it. I don’t care what the trademark office says. Fix it.” So, he did what I said (he thought it was impossible, too) and we appealed it. There was a 1% change we’d win. I took the 1%.
- The issue debuted to RAVE reviews. It was a phenomenal success and we sold out in 3 months. We sold 30% above the national average with that first issue. Readers were delighted. Sponsors were thrilled. Our distribution agents were elated. And I was plain scared. The success of the magazine was so bittersweet. The more popular it got, the more scared I became. I kept thinking that any day I could get another scary letter from scary lawyers who wanted to crush my dreams.
- Just as we sold the last box of magazines, I was at my desk and got an email from my lawyer. I had become somewhat conditioned to cringe every time I saw his name pop up in my inbox. This time, my cringe turned to tears. Giant, grateful, happy tears. “Dearest Lara, I’m so pleased to tell you that your trademark has been approved”. [Y’all, just typing this story for you has me in tears again!] I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. I cried at my desk for a few minutes before shouting my joy to the rooftops and to just about anyone whose number I had in my phone. Finally. Finally. Finally! I had my green light. It wasn’t about a trademark or a piece of paper…
It was about “failing” at a career I was “supposed” to do and weathering the aftermath of a hurricane and debt and divorce and my brother’s accident and losing what I thought was everything to gain something that really mattered: my calling. God throws us into the dessert sometimes to make us stronger. That He did. Ever since my brother’s accident, this verse became branded on my heart. It carried me through. Hope had carried me from impossible to possible.
Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
– Isaiah 40:31
My brother was not only walking again, but snowboarding like a champ. I was soaring with him in spirit.
- Suddenly, with this green light, I felt like I could take on the world. So, I did. In retrospect, I see how fearful I was of tragic things happening to me again in business. It took me several years to stop fearing going to get the mail. I decided to say YES to everything. Now that I had my big green light, I took every speaking engagement, every interview, every travel request and plea for help out there. And I was planning weddings still with my event planning company (which had grown like crazy by then, too!). A magazine, a daily blog, an active wedding production company, speaking engagements, conferences. I was like a freight train in Georgia! Full speed ahead!
- Enter my closest friend at the time… BURNOUT. With all of my travel and my fear of losing everything again, I worked 24/7. My marriage suffered. My health suffered. I was moving at the speed of light and listening to fear instead of God. Fear kept telling me, “work more, don’t rest and sacrifice your relationships for success.” Well, friends, fear is a liar.
- June 2009, just as I launched Lara Casey Reps (my luxury wedding consulting firm), I headed to engage!09: Grand Cayman. On day 1, I wrote out my fears during Simon T Bailey’s presentation. Fear punched me in the gut as I realized how backwards my thinking had been. I was losing what really mattered for something so temporary and ultimately unfulfilling: my pride. I walked on the beach that day and cried.
- I came back and started over. I hired a new staff – two women who I was plum scared of because I knew they were going to challenge me to be my best – and I started making major changes in how I did things. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn I had to start making decisions to improve my average and the average of people who were surrounded by me as well. I had to change.
- Ari and I had become roommates. Translation: we never saw each other and when we did, I’d be working and he’d be disconnected. We barely had a friendship.
- I tried my very best to make everything happen on my own. I soon realized I just couldn’t do it all. I needed God. I started going to church by myself and listening to sermons online.
- Fast-forward. The business starts improving. Life starts improving. By the grace of God, we slowly started to put our marriage back together. It took both of us committing to the work of marriage to turn things around. And turn around they did! When I say that God made miracles happen in our lives, I mean it in the truest sense of those words. Miracles, people. The work of marriage is the best work I’ve ever done and work I want to do for as long as I live. No matter where you are or what you are feeling, I want you to know that Love is worth it. Love with a capital L! True Love is possible with God. It’s not about changing someone else. It starts with you. “Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person, it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances.” – Rainer Maria Rilke I choose Love. Love never fails.
- November 2009, I got an email from a wedding planner asking me how I make all of these things – so many businesses – happen. I started to email her back and something (God) told me that it would be better if I just blogged my response to her to try to help others. I was scared out of my mind and had a dozen people proof read my post first. I was scared because this was the flat out vulnerable truth about how I thought about life every day. I was scared to talk about God and how I really made things happen because I knew I wasn’t perfect. How could I talk about God if I wasn’t perfect?
- Shaking, I hit publish on How to Make Things Happen, Vol 1. Minutes later the comments started to pour in. Emails, calls, texts! Within an hour, there were almost a hundred comments on the post. Hitting publish on that post changed my life forever. It taught me what positive risk is all about.
- Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with emails and consulting requests. Being on the phone all day every day just didn’t feel right, though. It was missing something. So, my good friend Jeff encouraged me to take this blog post and the ideas in it and take it on the road as a workshop.
- I decided to try it out and started asking for feedback on where the first Making Things Happen Intensive should take place. This cute little face kept popping up on my Facebook page and was the first person to reply to my plea for insight. Emily Ley said, “Come to Florida!”
- Something about her energy and constant encouragement drew me in. I took another leap of faith and chose one of my favorite places on earth for the first intensive… right down the road from my hometown: Watercolor, FL.
- December 21, 2009. The first Making Things Happen Intensive was indescribably powerful. I had no idea what would happen. The “First Class”, as we call them, brought their hearts and souls to the table full-force and they are still some of my dearest friends: Gina Zeidler, Emily Ley, Ashley Baber, Alicia Rohan, Christopher Confero, Valerie Metrejean, Shelby Peaden and many more. By the end of the day, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room and people were fired up!
- After Watercolor, not knowing if anyone would sign up, I took the biggest leap of faith and planned a 13-city tour. Booked the flights. Booked the hotels. Opened registration. We sold out by New Year’s Day.
- Jeff Holt and I toured the country, helping others think differently about their lives and businesses. All the while, I was still struggling to find myself. I was constantly battling my innate desire to please everyone around me and my need for true soul rest and authenticity. I was doing the hard soul work right along with everyone else.
- Emily Ley and Gina Zeidler had taken the principles in Making Things Happen and they had really run with them after that first Watercolor workshop. Both of them ended up leaving their full time jobs to pursue their creative passions shortly after. Their hearts inspired me, and deep down, I knew I needed to be surrounded by people like them if I was really going to CHANGE.
- I called Emily one afternoon and took the leap of faith to ask her to join us on the Making Things Happen tour. Moments later, she told me she just found out she was pregnant! It was an exciting day!
- I asked Gina to come on tour to document it, too.
- The three of us, with a budding friendship, met in Houston in November 2010 to begin the tour. We visited Houston, Phoenix, San Fransisco, Los Angeles and Maui (where I first met Natalie Norton who changed my life forever). It was a dream – the trip of a lifetime – and the beginning of deep friendships that changed everything.
- On our Los Angeles stop, we visited my Grandma Bunny and made this video of her. This is one of my favorite things ever. Thank you, Gina, for blessing me with this!
- At Grandma Bunny’s house, I experienced something that changed my life forever. Emily was seven months pregnant and little B Man, as we called him, was kicking up a storm through our travels. I remember so clearly when I sheepishly asked her if I could put my hand on her belly to feel him kicking. Now, keep in mind I had my life planned out at that point. I was going to focus on being a working woman and then maybe Ari and I would think about babies when he was done with residency and fellowship in five years. I placed my hands gently on her belly and felt little Brady’s “frog kicks,” as we called them. Kick kick kick. And there went my heart soaring! I can’t put into words what rushed through my body at that point, but God planted a seed in my heart that it was time – despite all my logic about the perfect plan and timing – to have a baby. Oh my.
- Fast-forward two months and Gina, Natalie and I flew to Tampa where Emily was just two weeks away from meeting her sweet Bman. With a very pregnant Emily, we did the Making Things Happen workshop in Tampa and then headed out without her to do the early 2011 Tour.
- February 16, 2011, Emily gave birth to beautiful Brady Dennis Ley.
- Three days later, Ari and I decided to start officially trying to have a baby. Yep, that’s pretty much how it happened. It was fast and we were scared but something in us just felt like it was time.
- Three days later, little did I know I was pregnant. God had a plan. Even on that first day, as I caught a flight to Las Vegas for WPPI and the MTH Intensive, I knew I was pregnant. I felt this overwhelming peace and presence of God. It was one of the most centered, God-filled trips I’ve ever had – yes, in Vegas! I had scheduled a photo session with Elizabeth Messina and I told her then that these were likely the first photographs of my baby. I just knew.
- I flew from Vegas home to Chapel Hill for a week and then to Pensacola to visit my family. Late one night, just out of curiosity, I went to Rite Aid and bought a pack of Chiclets – one of my favorite childhood treats that my mom would get us – and a box of pregnancy tests.
- The email I sent to my best friends – Emily, Natalie, Gina and Marissa – the next morning:
Last night I went to CVS and bought a packet of Chiclets. My favorite gum from when I was a kid. I also bought a pregnancy test. I’ve been feeling all sorts of weird. Heart rushing, an odd calm, peaceful. Either an elf has been punching me in the chest at night or I did a heavy chest day in the gym without knowing it or…
I took it.
It was negative. I was in my dark bathroom. I ate more Chiclets. I got in bed, a little disappointed. I prayed. I heard God say…
Do you trust me or not?
I went on an hour and half walk with my mom this morning around Gulf Breeze. It was wonderful. Came back and just about stepped in the shower when I looked down at that pregnancy test from the night before. Bright morning light in my bathroom. In the famous words of Emily Ley, I said..
“What does TWO LINES MEAN!?”
I tried not to get excited. The second line was faint. But there. I took another test.
TWO LINES !!!!!!
!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Clear as day. I fell to the ground, in AWE OF HOW GREAT GOD IS. I cried and cried – praising Jesus for dying on that cross for all of us, for me, for NEW LIFE. Oh my word! I cried and I prayed. How is this possible!?! I didn’t know what to do. I took a shower. I prayed about what to do. How exactly does this work God??? What do I say? Who do I tell? Is this REAL!?
I wasn’t going to tell my mom. I wanted to tell Ari in person first when I got home that night from my flight. But, it just fell out while microwaving oatmeal…
Mom… I’m pregnant
She beamed with joy, hugged me as I cried, and said, “Oh baby! You are going to be a wonderful mother!”
On the way to the airport we stopped at my dad’s office to tell him. He cried and beamed with more joy. I’ve never seen them so excited. He is elated. I don’t know what I was expecting. But, this is way better.
Flights canceled from weather. Coincidence? No. Another night with my very excited parents : ) So, I told Ari on the phone. I couldn’t wait.
I didn’t even know how to write this email. Or if I should send an email. Or get you all on Skype. Or fly to your houses. Seriously. I considered it. I love you so much that an email or a Skype call or a phone call feels cheap. Or not say anything at all because who knows when God takes these things away…
But now more than ever, I hear Him say… Do you trust me or not?
I didn’t know how to do this or what to say, but all I can think is – no matter what happens – I’m so grateful to be RIGHT. HERE. With Him. With friends who I love with all my heart… that I never thought I’d have. Thank you for helping to lead me to this day. A different person than just a year ago. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for the last week and weeks and months leading to today. I feel ready thanks to God working through YOU to encourage me and teach me. I hear your words of encouragement in my heart. Thank you for being patient with me so many times. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for leading with love by example. I love you to the moon and back.
No matter what happens from here, I am humbled and in AWE…
- I was pregnant and this is where I feel like all the best parts of my life began. Pregnancy was a journey of learning to say YES to what matters and let go of what doesn’t matter. I had to learn to start saying NO. I had to prepare for my life to completely change. I decided to stop planning weddings and focused all my energy on streamlining the magazine and my consulting work to make the biggest impact possible and make time for what really matters.
- During my pregnancy, a miracle happened in my marriage. Ari started coming to church with me. God changed everything.
- Grace was born on November 22, 2011, ten days past her due date but perfectly on time. See Grace’s birth announcement video here.
- Labor was the most pain I’ve every experienced and what followed were the hardest days of my life. Read Grace’s birth story here and read about my journey with postpartum depression here.
- God breaks us to build us back up again, stronger and more like Him.
- Amidst my depression, God was working miracles right before my eyes. My greatest daily prayer was answered when my marriage changed completely with Ari’s faith. Two months later, another miracle. Ari started studying the Bible with my 76 year old dad and then baptized my dad. This fact still blows my mind! God is GOOD.
Friends, the impossible is possible with God. This is where my story really begins and I’m so grateful you’re here with me.