Well, my expert panel of judges (Chelsea of Bit of Ivory Photography, Anna of Snapdragon Photography, and Trisha of Trisha Sheehan Photography) have weighed in....and the winner of the Love Story Contest is.....well, apparently they couldn't decide. There was a three-way tie!
So, on this Valentine's Day, we'll have a quick, short poll to determine the winner. I'm re-posting the three finalists' full stories below so that you can re-read them and vote for your favorite.
ONE VOTE (per IP address) and this poll will be only open until 5pm EST today, Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th!
Good luck to our finalists - and thank you to each and everyone who took the time to write their love stories for my contest. I truly enjoyed reading them all and was glad not to be the one judging. Each of you has something special. I hope you'll treasure it today and always!
Our story begins in the summer of 2004 in Baltimore, MD, when I (Lauren) was approached by a very handsome gentleman (Aaron) in a bar. We struck up a conversation immediately and after talking for some time, exchanged telephone numbers and spent the rest of the evening dancing the night away. I was hesitant at first to give him my number not only because I had always promised myself that I would never give a guy in a bar my number, but more so because I had just been diagnosed with a very rare form cancer and I was scared for my life and for what the future ahead might hold. I can vividly remember immediately telling this handsome young man that I was in treatment for sinonasal cancer. To my surprise, unlike my ex-boyfriend who called it quits the day that I was diagnosed, Aaron smiled and reassured me that he knew that everything would be okay. From that day forward, I knew, without an inkling of doubt, that this would be the man that I would spend the rest of my life with. Miraculously, several months later we got the good news that we were hoping for. While I wasn’t yet in ‘remission,’ the cancer was gone and the scans were clear! Praise God!
Summer turned into fall and eventually winter fell upon us, and soon it was time Aaron to leave for flight school, where he would begin his training to become a Navy F-18 pilot. From February of 2005, until November of 2006, we made arrangements to fly twice a month to see one another in both Florida and in Texas where Aaron was stationed for the remainder of his flight training. We also spent hours on end sitting in front of our computers using webcams, and we always made it a point to talk on the telephone every evening right before falling asleep at night. Despite the long hours at my new job as an RN at Johns Hopkins, and Aaron’s grueling study hours, we were determined to not only make our long-distance relationship work, but to prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that even with thousands of miles between us, our relationship was extraordinarily strong. During our 21 months apart, we learned to not only truly appreciate one another, but to never for a second take a moment that we had together fore granted. We understood that people often searched their entire lives to find what we had found in one other, and that was something that would forever cherish.
In 2005, we were faced with another frightening health scare when I went in for an MRI to follow-up on my cancer diagnosis. The scan revealed that I could likely experience an aneurysm at any time, which could lead to a stroke. I was rushed in for an emergent angiogram that disproved the aneurysm scare but showed that I had a venous malformation on the left side of my brain. After such a scary diagnosis, we once again found ourselves thanking God for his blessings and mercy, as we continued to be thankful for what we had found in one other. In times of trial, fear, and uncertainty, we had each other to lean on for love and support. Very fortunately, today, I am well controlled on daily asprin therapy. In November of 2006, it was time for Aaron to graduate from flight school and become a winged naval aviator. After graduation, he had returned to Baltimore prior to moving to Virginia Beach, VA to join his training command and eventually his fleet squadron. The holidays came and went and soon we were looking at being separated again, which neither one of us could bear to endure for a second time. So after the 1st of the New Year, we both moved to Virginia Beach to start our lives together. We quickly found a house and were able to settle in quickly. It was such a natural transition without any hiccups along the way.
As the cold winter months passed and Spring fell upon us, we began to talk in detail about how we envisioned our perfect wedding day to be. However, there was one minor detail that was missing, a proposal and a ring. Much to my astonishment, on the morning of my 24th birthday, Aaron surprised me with a more romantic proposal than I could have ever imagined. The morning got off to an early start as Aaron had a 6:30 a.m. flight. That morning Aaron woke me to announce that I could open the gift that his parents had sent for my birthday days earlier. With not a trace of sun peeking through the windows, I opted to roll over and go back to sleep instead of waking up to open my gift. However, Aaron begged that I open my gift before he left for work for the day. After a lot of convincing, I got out of bed and followed him downstairs. When I sat down on the sofa, instead of handing me a package, he handed me a slip of paper that told me that I would be going on a scavenger hunt to find my gift. Needless to say, it was very early, and I was not entirely thrilled. The first slip of paper told me to go to the computer to find my first clue. When I arrived at the computer, the slip of paper read, “This clue is a reminder of the 21 month long-distance relationship that we endured. Thank you for the sacrifices that you made for me.” The next clue took me to the refrigerator and was on top of the tortillas. It talked about how our love grew over fajitas and margaritas while our love continued to grow during our time together in Texas. The clues continued and eventually I ended up outside at the Jeep with a clue that reminded me of our memorable 29 hour road trip from Texas to Maryland where the Jeep broke down when we were only three miles from our starting point. Eventually after a dozen different clues, I was led to the sofa and told to look under the pillows to find my gift. After looking behind every pillow on the sofa, I turned around to find Aaron down on one knee with tears in his eyes. In that moment, I honestly cannot remember a word that was spoken because of the overwhelming amount of emotion that had overtaken the both of us. Of course I said, “YES!” As we planned our dream wedding at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, we were faced with a taste of how being married to the military could change one’s plans at any given moment. By the time our wedding date was definitively set, we had changed the date four different times. Prior to our August 2008 wedding, we had already endured our first deployment, which left me to plan our entire wedding all on my own. Our beautiful wedding day ended up being absolutely perfect and was everything that we could have ever imagined. However, soon after our ceremony was over, we had to return to Virginia Beach where Aaron immediately began work-ups for his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Over the next two years, little did we know that we would endure two back-to-back, six and seven month, combat deployments. Today it is easy to think of those long months apart as a blur, or a hiccup in time. However, while neither us will soon forget the trials and tribulations of deployment, those days seem like they are far behind us now. Though we were a world apart and often dealt with limited means of communication, we constantly found ways to strengthen our marriage every, single day. In times when I was feeling anxious, worried, or afraid for my sweet husband’s safety, I knew that I could e-mail Aaron about every one of my worries and concerns and that he would console me and ease every one of my fears. I can also remember ending every e-mail with how much I loved him and missed having him to share a meal with, to enjoy birthdays and holidays with, and to talk to at the end of a long day. While deployment can truly test the foundations of many marriages, deployment for us proved that we had built a rock-solid foundation for our marriage through our unboundless love and support for one another. When Aaron finally returned home on July 27th of 2010, we held each other as though we would never let go.
The challenges that we have triumphed over have strengthened our marriage in ways that I could never have thought were possible. Just when I think that things could not possibly get any better, Aaron constantly finds ways to prove me wrong. We are so blessed today to have our health and such a sense of true happiness. On our wedding day we vowed to be faithful to each other, and to love and support one other in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, in joy and in sorrow. I can undoubtedly say that we will continue to live out these vows until the end of time.
So only a few short weeks later, we spent a romantic first week together in tropical paradise!!! We had lots of outdoor adventures, and sooo many laughs and wonderful memories were made. We wondered what would happen next, would anything come of us? Would the next time we saw each other even hold a candle to that first week we met? Well, we saw each other about once a month after that, and it was better every time! We did the long distance thing for awhile, then I took a travel nurse assignment in Orlando, Florida, about 2 hrs from him in Jacksonville. We saw a lot more of each other once I was there, and as a bonus I got to know his parents really well…they live in Orlando. I am from New Orleans, and Steve and his parents helped me through the difficult time following hurricane Katrina. I took a job in Birmingham, AL following Katrina, and lived there for five months. I knew no one, it was literally my first time in Birmingham. I rented an apartment, sight unseen, and walked down to the hospital to sit in a windowless office, glued to some strangers TV, as I did not have a tv in my apartment. They were nice enough to give me a place to pitch up for news updates. I was unable to get in contact with any of my immediate or extended family for many days. I had not yet met Steve’s parents, but I needed someone to talk to, so by way of email, he gave me their number. My cell phone had no service, as New Orleans was my area code of service, so for several nights, I stood in the pouring rain talking to his parents from a pay phone a block away from my apartment. Oh, those people were saints to me at the time, and still are. Steve visited me several times while I was there, and I spent my other off time driving across 3 states to see my family who was evacuated to northern Louisiana. I lost my grandmother at that time as well, Steve and his parents helped me through that as well. He had seen me at my worst, and still somehow managed to fall in love with me!
Once I was in Orlando, and we were seeing a lot more of each other, I planned a surprise for him. His college friends were scattered all around the southeastern part of the country…well, I got them all together in Jax Beach for his birthday weekend. He had NO IDEA!!!! It was so cool to plan the surprise. I had not met any of those college friends yet, but spent lots of time emailing and speaking on the phone to all of them. It was like we were old pals by the time we actually met for his birthday! He says it was that weekend he knew for sure I was “the one”.
As I sit and type this, I look around our house and see gifts we have given each other, photos that captured our best memories, and the unfolding of our world as a couple and family. Next to me is a globe that I had engraved for him, it says “there is no place in the world I would rather be than next to you”. Man, is that ever still true. I see a picture of my daughter when she was a few weeks old, I see my son’s first bike, I see our wedding photographs….so amazing that we have this opportunity to spend this life together.
I was perusing my photos to find a “recent” picture of us together. I literally could not find one picture of just the two of us since I was pregnant for my first child! The picture I submitted to you was from July of 2008…..that was the last time we took a picture as a couple! This leads to me think that getting professional pictures from a photographer with your vision would be AMAZING!!!! As I realized it had been so long since we had a photo together, of just us as a couple, I got really sad. If it weren’t for “us” there would be no family, so how could we have neglected to still capture “us”???? What if something happened to one of us, we would not even be able to come up with a recent photograph of us together. We are great about taking pictures of our children…but we should remember that our bond also needs to be remembered. Taking pictures together is a really important way to keep that up. We used to be really, really good about taking photos of us together. We miss those days, at times, and to just get a moment of that, just long enough to get a picture, would feel really good! We have supported each other through marathons, triathlons, pregnancies, deployments, long sleepless nights with sick babies, full time jobs, full time back to school, and a myriad of other things. It would just mean the world to have this phase of our love captured by your talent. Just to have that hour together, focusing on each other would really feel phenomenal!
You were kind and giving to us through Op love: Reunited when my husband was deployed. He missed the first 6 months of our son’s life, I hate for us to look back and realize we may have also “missed” us during this time in our life. Thanks for even considering “us” as the ones to put in front of the lens. He lived for those photos you sent while he was away, by the way. You have such insight to the souls of families, and it is cool to get to express that through your work. My husband and I love to laugh together, and love to live together. We think our love is pretty special. We think this life we are making together is pretty cool, even in all its chaos!
They go together like a Wink and a Smile!! It was a warm July evening as most are in Texas and Jessica arrived early with her bottle of water just as she did every Tuesday. She glanced around the large room and listened as Ella Fitzgerald’s warm voice filled the air, “Let’s fall in love/ why shouldn’t we fall in love.” It seemed so appropriate in the 1931 mansion in which she stood. She loved the wood floors and the history of the building; it all seemed to take her back in time.
As the class began the two instructors in the center directed all the women to make a large outside circle and all the men to make a large inside circle. “Welcome to Lindy 1. Here we will teach you the basic moves of the Lindy Hop,” the gentleman said as he took his partner and demonstrated the basic swing out and a few other moves. Jessica took a place next to a much older woman who stood across from her husband and cordially greeted the young man standing across from her. Class began and slowly Jessica and her partner practiced the moves and tried to imitate the instructors. Five minutes passed and the instructors instructed the men to move to the left one person. Jessica had a new partner. This pattern continued with all the men rotating partners every 5 minutes. Jessica was new in the area. After completing school and obtaining her teacher’s license the opportunity to try someplace new struck her. Her younger sister was attending The University of Texas at Austin and loved the city so Jessica had picked up and moved there. Being with her sister was wonderful, but Jessica wanted to make her own friends and decided swing dancing was one great way to meet people. As luck would have it she had already met Kay, a young women who was also new in town and who also taught children with special needs. She had no desire to meet a guy; in fact she thought that might be a little awkward -meeting while dancing. No, she had come to have fun, learn to dance and make friends. The classes were always followed by a couple of hours of dancing in the grand ballroom where all the students and instructors, including those in Lindy 2, 3, and 4, could mingle and dance. It was a great way to practice and be social. Thursday nights there was another dance, but no classes and soon Jessica was coming every Tuesday and Thursday. There was one young man who caught her eye though. He was definitely the cutest in her class. He had short blond hair, sweet blue eyes and a thin athletic build. He was a good dancer and a confident lead; this was certainly not his first time dancing. What struck her most about him was how much of a gentleman he was. He always thanked her after a dance and anyone else he danced with, opened doors and was just a true considerate gentleman. Every Tuesday and Thursday they danced a couple of dances and slowly got to know each other.
One Thursday during the dance Michael asked Jessica if she was available on Friday to go out to dinner and a movie. Awkwardly Jessica blurted that she was babysitting and ran to tell Kay about the invite. Kay, who was aware of the affection Michael and Jessica shared, realized Jessica’s innocent honesty and suggested that she ask Michael if Saturday was okay since she wasn’t babysitting that night. Jessica had not realized that her honest answer might be misconstrued as a lack of interest and went back to Michael and arranged the date. The prearranged date arrived and Michael was not feeling well, but was unwilling to cancel the date. They had a nice dinner and went to a movie and then Michael went home early, as he wasn’t feeling well. After that the two saw each other frequently at dances and a couple other times a week.
One day, about a month later, Kay and Jessica were talking and Kay mentioned that Michael was leaving in about a week. “What do you mean leaving?” Jessica blurted.
“Didn’t you know he was in the Navy?” Kay responded slowly
“Yes, but what does that have to do with it?”
“ He has to go to his next command,” Kay spoke softly.
They had talked about it, but Jessica had never known anyone else in the Navy and had never realized that that would mean he would be leaving at some point. She was very much enjoying there time together and did not want it to end.
On his last day in Austin, Jessica and Michael met at a restaurant on Lake Austin to say good-by. After a nice lunch Michael and Jessica sat on the grass across from the water and talked. The day was also Michael’s birthday so Jessica had brought a gift for him, a little bag of goodies for his drive to Charleston, SC. Michael had brought Jessica a bottle of wine and a card. Although they had seen each other regularly for the past month they had neither held hands nor kissed. After exchanging gifts Michael went to hug Jessica, but somehow they ended up bumping into each other’s faces. Michael was terrified thinking that Jessica had been anticipating a kiss. Jessica, not anticipating or really wanting a kiss yet thought the whole awkward mess was funny and couldn’t stop laughing. Over the next couple of months Michael and Jessica stayed in contact by telephone, talking a couple of times a week. Jessica wasn’t sure if this would amount to much; the distance relationship was hard and her faith was very important to her and was not something they shared. In December, Michael returned to Texas to spend Christmas with his family in New Braunfels about 45 minutes away from Jessica. They both realized that they still cared for each other deeply. New Year’s Eve arrived and they made plans to spend the evening together and shared their first kiss. This kiss marked a new phase in their relationship. Now both Michael and Jessica felt free to share their feelings openly knowing that the other cared for them. Two days later Michael was leaving again to return to Charleston and thus began their long distance romance. The next year passed with frequent visits between the two. Michael moved to upstate New York and then to Groton, Connecticut and all the while making time to see each other or talk as much as their schedules would allow. Jessica was teaching at a local private school for children with special needs and Michael was always rotating through various shifts and schedules. Once a month one would visit the other. They explored Boston, Montreal, Quebec, Charleston, New York City and Washington DC together and Jessica who had never been in the northeast was getting to exploring this part of the country with a person very dear to her heart. In December, a year after their romance really started to pick up tempo, Michael returned for Christmas to spend some time with family, friends and of course Jessica. They again made plans to spend New Year’s Eve together. Michael took Jessica to the restaurant they had been to on their first date. It was a nice restaurant and crowded on this special evening. Soft music could be heard under the exuberant conversations. Michael and Jessica were taken to their small table right in the middle of the crowded room. They talked and had a nice dinner. After the plates were taken away Michael came over to Jessica got on one knee and asked her to be his wife. Speechless, Jessica could only nod yes and went to hug and kiss him. They ordered dessert and in their euphoric state, gitty with the prospects of the future together, held hands and delighted in being together. A few people came over to congratulate the happy couple, but most of the other customers were oblivious to the rejoicing occurring nearby. In the following days Michael informed Jessica of his impending deployment and the wedding day was scheduled for a few days after his return.
A number of years and children later, Michael and Jessica are still jitterbugging around the house to the delight of the little ones and you can still hear Ella Fitzgerald’s warm voice fill their home, “Now is the time for it, while we are young/ Let’s fall in Love.”