I am SO excited to share today's What Marriage Means to Me post with you! When I first came up with the idea for this series, I invited my cousin Courtney to contribute. Courtney and I are less than a year apart, so I was blessed to have her as a best friend as well as a cousin growing up. She got married three years before I did (thus winning me a bet we made when we were 10 about who would get married first) and has already experienced both great tragedy and great joy within her marriage, so I knew she would have a wise perspective to bring to the series. See what she has to say about what marriage means to her... and you might want to grab the Kleenex.
Hi. My name is Courtney, and I'm Jessica's cousin. :) Jess, thanks for inviting me to share my view on marriage. It's led to a wonderfully quiet afternoon of reflecting on the gift of my husband and the distinct value of marriage in my life.
I recently had pictures printed for a gallery wall in our dining room. Three of the pictures that are hung side by side are of our hands clasped together during three vastly different seasons of our lives. When I'm standing in the kitchen looking toward that wall I'm reminded of the value of marriage in my life... a gift that has extended over just six years for Shaun and me, but has shaped much of who I am.
The first picture of our hands was taken on our wedding day. Shaun and I dated for just five short months before we were engaged. We didn't know everything there was to know about each other, but we were committed to choosing each other and growing together for the rest of our lives.
That picture takes me back to a time of complete joy, as well as unforeseen disappointments and struggles. But it reminds me most of all of the promise we made to each other to stick with it... that divorce was not, and is not, an option... that every day holds the opportunity to choose love.
And for the past six years I've enjoyed a relationship that is unlike any other kind of relationship in my life. There is something so sweet about sharing every aspect of life with the person who knows you best and still chooses to care for you and grow with you.
The picture immediately to the right of that was taken at a memorial service for our first baby boy. After nine months of a perfectly healthy pregnancy, Shaun and I were devastated to learn that our baby had died before delivery. On May 17, 2009, Zachary Michael was stillborn.
That picture of our hands holding tightly to the other, white at the knuckles, reminds me that, although there were days after losing Zachary when it didn't seem like marriage was worth the emotional investment and it would have been easier to grieve alone than simultaneously with another person, our marriage was cemented in ways we will never understand.
There was only one person who felt so deeply and mourned so openly with me during that time – it was Shaun. He was the only other one in my life who had lost our son. And his presence and vulnerable courage during that time were a gift to me. I was more proud to be Shaun's wife that day at the cemetery than I was at the altar when I said, "I do."
In the third picture, our hands are actually separated by tiny, chubby fingers hanging on tightly. Eighteen months after Zachary died, we gratefully welcomed Kaylee Hope into our family. There is nothing that makes my heart swell with more pride than watching Shaun dance with Kaylee in his arms while the sound of her hysterical laughter fills our house. Having a family together has been one of the greatest blessings of our marriage. Full of its own unique challenges, yes. But watching my husband be a great dad to our daughter makes me so excited to parent as a team with the person I love most in the world.
It feels like we've lived a lot of life together in just six short years, and it's a daily decision to put each other first and choose love, but I'm so thankful for Shaun. I look forward to the days and years we have ahead of us to learn about each other, lean on each other, watch our children grow, and enjoy the commitment we made to each other on our wedding day.
~~~Courtney and Shaun live in Seattle with their daughter, Kaylee, and are expecting their third child later this year. Courtney kept a blog for the first two years after Zachary's death, which you can read here.