Updated: Aug 6, 2022
Every time I try to write about this, I get extremely emotional and I don't feel like I can do it. I worry that I can't do this topic justice. Like I could never totally wrap my head around the life of a soldier. Or maybe that I don't deserve to write about something so incredibly important. But this story needs told so here we go.
Meet Afghanistan war veteran, Lindsey Shellenbarger. Lindsey and I had Geometry together back in 2002 (ouch...that hurt to write!). We probably had other classes together, but since I hated Math classes, I remember it vividly as I spent most of my time passing notes, cracking jokes, and people watching instead of paying attention. Sorry teachers everywhere, but I was that kid. Lindsey and I bonded over our mutual dislike of Geometry and school in general. She taught me a lot about horses and I would talk a big game about getting out of our little town and seeing the world. It's funny how things work out sometimes.
Our Junior year, Lindsey became pregnant with her first child, her amazing daughter, Tina. As an ignorant 16 year old, my first thought was that her life was over. But Lindsey was tough and was never one to run from a challenge. After high school, she gave birth to a second child. I remember thinking she was buried and she'd never get an opportunity to do anything besides be a mother. As someone who was almost 11 years old when my sister was born, I saw firsthand the demand it took to raise a child. I had no idea how Lindsey was doing it. Then I found out she had joined the United States Army. Yes, you read that right. A young mother to two children felt she was being called to do something more. She answered that call to serve her country.
Lindsey was stationed in Food Hood, Texas, but was deployed to the Kandahar Airforce Base in Afghanistan from 2008-2009. Lindsey was with the 502nd HR Co. and they were deployed as support under the 189th CSS. She bravely and proudly served her country. While I was in college, falling in love with my now-husband, going to movies with friends, and enjoying many other freedoms this country gives me, Lindsey was thousands of miles from her home and family fighting for those freedoms. If I'm being honest, sometimes when Lindsey tells me stories from overseas, I feel guilty. My life hasn't always been easy, but I never volunteered to put myself in jeopardy for others. I just wanted life to be carefree. But that isn't real. That doesn't happen without people like Lindsey.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2021...Lindsey's wedding to Jason Shellenbarger. A simple, yet beautiful backyard wedding at their rural home outside of Toledo, IL. While this doesn't seem super unique to others, Lindsey had one special thing she wanted to do to honor her fellow soldiers who didn't make it home. As she said, "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have made it back. So without them, this wedding wouldn't be happening." Cue the tears, right?
From a distance, you'd never notice Lindsey's handwriting on her bouquet. That didn't matter to her. She wanted the 2,455 service men and women we lost to be listed on that bouquet. Lindsey went to Hobby Lobby and asked an employee how to accomplish this task and then she started writing. She wrote until the early hours of the morning for days. Unfortunately, her original work was destroyed in a heat transfer accident. That didn't stop her from writing as many as she could on that remaining ribbon, including the final 13 we lost on August 26, 2021 at the Kabul airport attack.
My assistant, Lauren, did most of the set ups for these images. All I was doing was trying not to cry while praying I got photos worthy enough to show off Lindsey's hard work. I can't imagine her level of loyalty to our country, the hardship of her sacrifices, and the high level of pain that comes with losing friends and fellow soldiers in war. I do know this. I thank God every day that he kept Lindsey safe and that he gives us people like her to protect us.
Below are a few more photos from Lindsey and Jason's wedding day. There's nothing quite like the smell of the smoker preparing dinner, the sounds of the horses running and country music in the background, the chatter of friends who live "next door", but never see each other because "next door" is a mile down the road, or the genuine feeling of appreciation in the air for the the sacrifices this family has made before, during, and after Lindsey's service. Talk about your perfect wedding day!
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