I Do, Choose Love
By Lisa Nee
There had been dark days for 26-year-old, Julianna, of Ansonia, Connecticut. She couldn’t shake the grief of losing her grandfather, her struggle with depression was deepening, and episodes of anxiety became more frequent. Julianna eventually quit her job, remained at home, and isolated herself from the outside world.
“I was losing interest in life. I had so much anger,” says Julianna. Yet, she felt the need to do her part to support the nearby families of the Sandy Hook elementary shooting.
“For as hard as it was for me to go out and be around people.” says Julianna, “I knew that doing what I could for the families affected by this horrible tragedy is what I needed to do.”
On September 8, 2013, Julianna was once again doing her part by volunteering at a fundraiser for the Sandy Hook families. It was here, in Bethany, CT. that Julianna first met Scarlett Lewis who was just beginning to spread the Choose Love message.
“For a mother who has gone through something so tragic,” says Julianna, “and she is choosing love and spreading that, it’s an inspiration. And she was so kind and filled with gratitude,” continues Julianna, “She was thanking every volunteer and posing for pictures.”
Little did Julianna know that earlier Scarlett, had also thanked an unassuming young volunteer firefighter named Ian, who had offered to assist with parking cars.
“Doing service has been my life since I was a kid,” explains Ian, “It was my way of feeling connected. Otherwise. I’d pretty much given up on a social life” Ian adds, “I really gave up on finding someone to love.”
Once Ian had finished his car parking duties, he wandered the event and eventually made his way to a table where he said hello to a friend, but instead of talking to his friend, Ian spent the entire afternoon speaking with a stranger.
“He said hello, and it was an immediate connection,” recalls Julianna.
There we hundreds of people there that day, music, games, people doing tricks on horses, activity everywhere, but Ian and Julianna felt they were somewhere else.
“It was like we were the only ones,” says Ian, “like everyone disappeared.”
Julianna remembers, “As I was volunteering and giving back, I started to feel more love and meeting Ian just confirmed it for me.”
The next morning, Ian and Julianna continued their conversation by phone and then in person.
“We both had darkness in our lives; we had a lot of anger and isolated ourselves,” explains Julianna. “I didn’t dwell on that,” Julianna continues, “I thought let me show him, love, let me show him how much he is loved, and we will go from there.”
“I just felt I had to be with her,” adds Ian, “that is all I wanted more time spent with her.”
From the first day they met, there was an instant connection.
For two people who had experienced so much hurt, opening their hearts to love would take courage.
“It wasn’t even scary,” says Julianna, “thinking this is what it is like to meet your soulmate.”
Three months later they were engaged,
“We just felt so right about it,” says Ian” there was no second-guessing or regrets. It was this is it, let’s make this official.”
And on May 20, 2014, eight-months from the day of their first meeting, Julianna and Ian were married at Lake George, New York. It was an intimate ceremony with close friends and family and an honored guest they had never met.
“We had so much gratitude for the spirit of Jesse being with us every step of the relationship,” says Julianna, “that we wanted him to be a very present force in the ceremony.”
Julianna created a special ring box with Jesse in mind, “On the cover,” describes Julianna, “there was the special green and white ribbon and, on the bottom, I wrote We Chose Love and Jesse’s name.”
Julianna added a special message on the bottom of their ring box, to honor Jesse’s spirit.
Every guest also received a specially created mason jar with a butterfly design, and Jesse’s name inscribed on one of the wings.
It was a beautiful, breezy afternoon, but before the day was over, there would be one more surprise guest.
“There was this butterfly,” recalls Missy, a guest at the wedding, “You really noticed this one butterfly flying around like it wasn’t going to leave.”
“I felt something on my hand,” says Julianna, “I looked down. and there was a butterfly just sitting on my left hand, near my ring finger”.
“I think Jesse saw how much I wanted to give back to the community during such a difficult time.” explains Julianna, “And maybe Jesse chose Ian for me, and me for Ian. Two broke people who found each other and decided to remove the darkness from their lives and Choose Love.”
The ceremony was complete, but Julianna and Ian felt there was still some unfinished business.
“We are quiet people and shun attention,” explains Julianna, “but in our own way we wanted to shout from the rooftops what Choose Love has done for us. It was always on my mind to somehow let Scarlett know, but I didn’t know how.”
It was a thought Julianna would carry with her for the next five-years.
November 29, 2019
“My Older son TJ, had asked for a Christmas tree,” says Scarlett, “Jesse was shot just eleven-days before Christmas 2012. I did not return to the house. I had my brothers go to my home, take down the tree, and donate all of Jesse’s gifts. Since that day,” explains Scarlett, “we haven’t had a tree, and our entire living room had been neglected. This would be the year we would have a tree and get the living room Christmas ready.”
Reupholstering some old chairs was on the check-list, and for the first time in fifteen-years Scarlett, walked into the local fabric store.
“A lovely young woman was assisting me in looking at the different cloth.” recalls Scarlett, “She was very informative and patient.”
It wasn’t until recently that Julianna felt well enough to go back to work, but by chance, she interviewed for and got the job at the fabric store in Newtown.
“I saw her come in, and it was like wow,” says Julianna, “and as much as I wanted Scarlett to know our story, I was also very concerned about telling her how the happiest day of my life was connected to the worst day of her life.”
It had been five years since their initial meeting at the “Choose Love” fundraiser and a lot had changed.
“I was thinking this is Scarlett Lewis!” explains Julianna, “The woman who has touched lives around the world and met so many influential people and I was intimidated. I thought I’m just this stranger working in a fabric store.”
While browsing the aisles with Julianna, Scarlett paused to pick up a meaningful piece of fabric.
“I was looking at some sweet fabric with angels on it, and I said, this would make for wonderful pillows because my son is an angel.”
“I looked at the shop assistant, and her hands were shaking,” says Scarlett, “She nodded with tears in her eyes and said, “I know who you are.”
Scarlett pulled Julianna into a warm hug.
From that moment, the story just began to tumble out along with a flood of tears.
Scarlett listened in awe as Julianna recalled meeting Ian at the fundraiser, how they honored Jesse’s spirit during the wedding ceremony, and that if it weren’t for Scarlett sharing Jesse’s story and spreading the Choose Love message she and her husband would not have met.
“Scarlett was great,” says Julianna, “She told us that Lake George, where we got married, was special to Jesse too because they vacationed there every summer.”
“I just felt so filled up with love,” says Scarlett “I’ve seen Jesse bring so much love into people’s lives and this is such a unique way, I’ve never heard of someone getting married,” she exclaimed.
Scarlett dashed out to her car and returned with some belated wedding gifts.
“Julianna, just felt like family,” says Scarlett, “and I wanted to give her something.”
“She gave me a little duckie with Jesse’s name on it,” recalled Julianna, “and what really took my breath away was the slate plaque engraved in Jesse’s handwriting with the words “Have a lot of fun,” says Julianna, “I didn’t know this was a message Jesse had left for his brother before he died, but what I do know is that, have a lot of fun, has been the motto for our marriage.”
“Ian and I have started a new chapter in our lives,” explains Julianna, “we have conquered a lot of challenges, and I am always encouraging us to have a lot of fun.”
“If I were to meet the person I was before that day, we met Scarlett,’ says Ian, “I would not recognize myself.”
“It’s like choose love is the best marriage counselor,” adds Julianna
A few weeks after their first meeting in 2013, Ian and Julianna were looking through pictures on her Facebook page. Ian stopped on one picture and said to Julianna, “Do you recognize anyone?” The picture was a selfie of Julianna and a friend at a hockey game, and in the background was Ian. Some other shared pictures and memories convinced Ian and Julianna they had been close enough to know each other yet remained strangers.
“What this says to me” explains Julianna “is that the perfect person can be in your world and until you get rid of your anger and fears to make room in your heart for love you may never meet.”
Ian and Julianna have said, “I do” to Choose Love, today and every day, five-years and counting.