At 26 years old, Lara Casey had been married and divorced, was unemployed and in debt and had returned to living under her parents’ roof. As she contemplated what she should be doing with her life, she finally embraced what she knew she wanted to do. She searched “how to start a business,” and not long after, she was the newly minted, self-appointed chief proprietor of an event planning business, which eventually evolved into “Southern Weddings®” magazine.
Today, Lara Casey is a married mother of one with two on the way, and she’s built her business into a nationally recognized brand. And with a new book on the market, “Make It Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live on Purpose,” Lara took a minute out of her busy life to answer some questions for SB readers about wedding planning, her life and how she strikes a harmonious balance between family and work. Welcome today’s FACE of the South, Lara Casey!
What led you to start Southern Weddings?
Ten years ago, right after college graduation, I made the decision to leave the path everyone thought I would take. Not knowing what I was going to do to pay off my college debt or pay my bills, I left theater and became a personal trainer in New York. I wanted to help people transform themselves from the inside out. Fast forward to two years later when my family’s home was ravaged by Hurricane Ivan, my brother lost the ability to walk in a snowboarding accident, and I, fresh off of a failed relationship, had left New York and moved in with my very disappointed and depressed parents. Then, one Sunday afternoon, a tall, dark, handsome Navy gent walked up to me in the gym and introduced himself. Ari was the first person to make me feel loved, not despite my flaws, but with them. He helped heal my family’s heart. Shortly after we started dating, my brother began to walk. A true miracle. My mom — a French chef — got back in the kitchen, and my dad started to smile again. I started to believe in true love. Little did I know that I would fall in love with Ari, and we would be married just five months later (in Vegas, but that’s another story!). I started a little event planning company and fell in love with the world of weddings. On our one-year wedding anniversary, Ari was deployed to Iraq. I was so afraid for him and needed something to keep my mind occupied. So, one night I found myself dreaming of pretty things — anything to keep my mind off bomb threats. I started mocking up a wedding magazine cover on my little 13-inch PC and the rest is history.
Tell us about your Making Things Happen conference and your new book, Make It Happen. Where did the conference and book stem from?
I started the Making Things Happen conference seven years ago after being inundated with requests for business consulting and coaching advice. At first, it was a way to meet a great need I saw in the creative industry to help others make things happen. Over the years, as my own heart and life have been changed, it has grown into far more. Now, the goal is to encourage people to make what matters happen. That may not mean “big” dreams in the traditional sense, but rather chasing after what lasts longer than us. We’ve now done the workshop more than 45 times and seen thousands of fears met, leaps of faith taken and new paths paved. The book, Make It Happen: Surrender Your Fear, Take the Leap, Live On Purpose, was born out of the many stories women have shared with me through the conference, my work and speaking events. I wanted a way to hand women a collection of lessons I’ve learned from the many brave women I’ve encountered. Thomas Nelson publishers approached me about writing the book after they came across my yearly goal-setting series that I run on my blog. The goal for the book and conference is the same: help women live on purpose, using all the gifts they’ve been given to the fullest — in work, motherhood, marriage and in their communities.
What is it about weddings that you love?
Our mission at Southern Weddings is to help brides plan a meaningful beginning to married life. That excites me! We truly believe that a strong marriage — not a “perfect” marriage — can change the world, no matter the mistakes you’ve made in the past or your family history with marriage. You can write a new story. My own marriage is proof of that. Also, here in the South, I love the wedding traditions! From using Grandma’s recipes to sorority songs to groom’s cakes, it all points back to family and love!
What is a realistic budget for a wedding?
At Southern Weddings, we believe you can have a wedding on any budget, but you can’t have any wedding on any budget. There are many factors to take into account: guest numbers, location, food costs, etc. If you are resourceful, you can do incredibly meaningful things with what may feel like limited resources, though.
What is the one aspect of wedding planning where it’s okay to skimp?
It’s different for each couple. It depends on what matters most to you. Once you define your priorities, you can let go of the rest.
If given the choice of spending $25,000 on your wedding or on a down payment on a house, which would you choose and why?
A house for sure! I love meaningful celebrations, but I’m deeply convicted about debt-free living, thanks to Dave Ramsey. I’d much rather have a small, intimate wedding without the fluff and invest in a home.
You have a small child, you’re pregnant, and you’re in the middle of adopting. How do you strike a healthy work/life balance?
In short, I stay focused on what matters, and I rest. I used to work 24/7 until my marriage and life started to fall through the cracks. I had to learn to fight for my time by killing distractions (for instance, I don’t use social media or email after hours or on weekends, so I can focus on my family instead of my phone); setting solid boundaries; working my tail off during business hours; and always taking breaks to go hug Grace (my daughter), stretch, pray, read Scripture or just take a deep breath. I don’t work on weekends anymore, and it has made me so much more productive during the week. Also, I have a truly remarkable team that helps me keep everything together!
What is the best piece of advice you offer brides-to-be?
Your wedding is just the beginning. It is a beautiful day, and has the potential to set the tone for what’s ahead, but remember that it is just one day. The very best days are ahead.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” This quote from author Susan Jeffers was shared with me by a mentor many years ago. This doesn’t mean throw everything to the wind and haphazardly dive in; it means stop, be still, feel whatever you are feeling and then take action. So often, we as busy women think that slowing down means we won’t be successful. However, I believe the opposite is true. Putting the brakes on and allowing ourselves to acknowledge where we are gives us the ability to boldly move forward. Practicing this has changed everything for me.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Nothing in this world — no thing you can see with your eyes — matters more than God. Also, you are far more capable than you think!
What books are on your bedside table?
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Ha! You took my top three right there! Other than those, I am so grateful for my vegetable garden, the work I get the joy of doing daily and creating. I love to paint and design new products for our shop!
Where do you go or what do you do when you need to get re-centered?
To the Bible, to prayer and to the arms of my husband. He’s pretty wonderful!
Thank you, Lara, for sharing some insight into your life with us today. To learn more about Lara Casey and Southern Weddings, visit SouthernWeddings.com.