The story of how we met is insane and goes against every parental warning against stranger danger. But it couldn’t have been more divinely aligned.

In 2014, I was sitting in a college class one day scrolling through my phone before class began. On the Instagram Explore page, I saw a photo I really liked – a really beautiful and sad portrait of a dead raccoon. I click on the photographer’s profile only to see that the raccoon picture is part of series of roadkill portraiture. “This photographer is great,” I think to myself. I notice that we have no mutual friends, no connections, and that we’re states apart from each other. A totally random, split-second chance encounter. I wonder pretty often how different things would be if I had checked my Explore page 5 minutes later or sooner. Would I have ever seen the image?

Fast forward about 3 months… I’m still following the roadkill photographer but I know nothing else about him. But, sometimes he posts long captions about his beliefs, his love for Jesus’ message, and other musings… and I’m freaking out because I’m resonating SO much with what he’s sharing. It wouldn’t be for another 3 months until I noticed that mystery photographer dude is now liking MY photos… and leaving comments on some. “You live in Florida?” he asked on a photo I posted from an earlier trip to Florida that year. “No, I live in KY. But I go to Florida every year with my family!” The little comment convos become more frequent, until one night when I notice that the mystery photographer has DM’d me to tell me he thinks I’m “cute.”

But, I have always had a low tolerance for flirty, empty remarks. This guy seemed way too interesting to me to just be worth one random flattering remark and nothing more. So, I responded: “Thanks! Who are you?” Romantic.

What followed was a two-week long DM convo about everything under the sun. Turns out mystery photographer boy was Brazilian, living in Florida, and had just gotten home from a months-long hitchhiking trip out west with his best friend. I had never met someone so interesting. It was fun and fresh and different… and I was unsure about it all so I decided I shouldn’t get too invested. Until he told me clearly and intentionally that he wasn’t talking to anyone else, and he was serious about wanting to get to know me, and that he’d wanted to ask me out on a FaceTime first date. His clear intentions and thoughtful manners won me over quickly, and things moved really fast from there because we were both so interested in each other. We dressed up for our first date over FaceTime, and he even brought flowers. We basically just smiled really big at each other the entire time because it was crazy to be somewhat face-to-face for the first time with someone I was already falling for.

The next three months of my fall semester were full of voice texts, daily phone calls, and FaceTime calls on nights that weren’t too busy. We talked all day every day (and sometimes all night) and let me tell you, it’s a sure-fire way to fall in love with someone who lives 16 hours away. With my parents blessing, we made plans to meet in person after New Years, when I finally had a break from school and shooting weddings.

When the day finally came for me to fly to Fort Lauderdale, I had never been so nervous/excited before in my life. I remember sitting on the plane waiting to exit the cabin and shaking SO hard. Walking into the terminal at Fort Lauderdale Airport was also a whole different level of nerve-wracking because I hadn’t been on plane since I was 3 and I had no clue what to do. I was looking everywhere for him, and didn’t realize that I had to actually leave the terminal. After following the directional arrows leading out, I saw him at the end of a long corridor standing totally still while people bustled around him (all the adrenaline made it seem sooo cinematic and extra LOL). He was holding up a sign for me that read “Squid,” the nickname he had given me. I remember my first thought being “HOW DOES HE LOOK SO THREE DIMENSIONAL” (because when you exclusively communicate with someone through FaceTime, 2D is the only way you know how to perceive them, which I think is a hilarious and distinctly modern issue). We had a smushed-nose first kiss because we were both so nervous and excited, and then we sat on the bench and stared at each other for like 7 minutes (not lying – it was adorably awkward). Later that day, he took me on a SUPER fancy seafood date and quickly learned what a picky eater I was (he has since influenced me to change my ways and now I eat everything… oops) but we went to get chicken nugs at midnight the same day so it evened out.

We spent the entire next week together – meeting his friends and family, waking up at 5am and going to work with him at the coffee shop (I would sleep on the couch in the sitting area until he got off around lunchtime – totally not weird for the patrons to witness, I’m sure), and then spending the rest of each day touring of all the places he grew up going to. Abandoned hotels, Brazilian restaurants and bakeries, Swap Shop (the weirdest/most interesting/best people watching place ever – if you’re ever in Fort Lauderdale, add it to your list).

Seriously, this week was so special that just typing this out makes my heart feel warm. We had spent three months just talking to each other. We were already in love by the time we met in person, and yet I had NO idea what his day to day life was like. Diving headfirst into his world was one of the coolest experiences of my life, and I think this week will always hold an incredibly special place in my memory.

After a week in Florida, we hopped on a plane to Kentucky where my parents picked us up at the airport. So his first time meeting my parents was followed by a two and a half hour car ride, which I thought would be weird but ended up being awesome. It was my turn to show him my life in Kentucky. With it being the dead of winter, I was worried things wouldn’t be as fun as they are in the summertime (if you’re from Kentucky, ya know what I mean. Things are just dead in the winter). But luckily, Portugal LOVES wintertime and chilly weather since it doesn’t exist in Florida. I showed him all around my beloved Bowling Green with frequent stops at Spencer’s Coffee, GADS, and Riley’s Bakery throughout the week. We went to Mammoth Cave, Shanty Hollow, and took night drives around town in my stick-shift pickup truck. I showed him around WKU’s campus and all the places that I grew up going to. Another really special week spent together, learning each other’s lives.

One of the days that week was spent in Louisville, where my sweet friend Mary Helen gifted us with our first photo session together which was so much fun. I was so grateful to finally have photos together after being apart for so long!

Portugal was scheduled to fly back to Florida the day before my spring semester started, and I was *not well*. I drove him to the airport early in the morning, said goodbye, and drove home sobbing. That first week of school was so.dang.hard because we didn’t know when we would get to see each other again. Two days after he flew home, he called me and said “I just realized that I have the next day and a half off of work… I’m gonna drive to Kentucky.” And homeboy straight up finished his shift that day, got in his car, and drove THROUGH THE NIGHT to Kentucky (16 hour drive). He arrived early early in the morning and so I skipped my morning class so we could nap together (lol). We spent the rest of the day together hanging out at the house and making dinner with my family, and then the next morning he woke up early and drove back home (not without more tears)

We knew that long-distance was not going to be an option, because saying goodbye was WAY too hard. So, Portugal effortlessly decided to quit his job, pack up his life in Florida, and move to Kentucky so we could be together properly. This was enough to convince my parents that were REALLY for real, and they welcome him with open arms. He lived with us in my parents home while I finished my spring semester, feeding me smoothies and teaching me how to enjoy vegetables (this mans totally led me out of my picky eating habits.) That spring and summer was the best – he finally got to experience peak Kentucky, and he started shooting weddings with me too.

We got engaged that summer, and all of this truly is a big fat “LOL” because I was never ever ever the girl who dreamed of being in a relationship. Marriage was so low on my priorities list, and yet meeting Portugal was enough to convince me that I was willing to change my mind on that. It’s true what they say, cliche as it might be: “when you know, you know.” For us, there was no point in waiting because we knew we didn’t want to continue living our live unless we had each other. As quickly as things moved for us, I look back on these memories and feel nothing but intentionality and purpose. I learned so much about commitment and humility as I was learning to love Portugal. We were both saying YES to something we didn’t fully understand, because somehow we knew that no matter how difficult the road ahead got, being together was worth it to us. Looking back on the bebes in these pictures makes me think about how much they had yet to learn, but I also think so much about all the FUN that was awaiting them.

Ain’t no one else I’d rather grow old with.

– Shelley



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We take a limited number of weddings every year to allow us to wholly invest our care, intention, & excitement into your day. To reserve your date, start here and share your story with us: