Erika and Paul met at a Christian group's Hawaiian Murder Mystery Party in 2014. They were both involved in the group and had signed up to attend, however, that particular day both had reservations about going. Although they felt wary, they followed through on their commitment to do so, and it turned out to be the absolute best decision either of them ever made. Shortly after the party, Paul contacted Erika by way of the group's email listing and asked for her number. Paul asked her out and the rest is the beginning of their love story. Now, this lovely pair is ready to take their next steps as parents after two successful years of marriage. Check out their alluring maternity shoot in Houston, Texas, captured by Wesleyann Knetzer.
Wife's full name, age and occupation: Erika Cook, 39, Marketing Executive & Bakery Owner of Haute Caketure
Husband's full name, age and occupation: Paul Cook, 44, Gym Owner of InnerCore Fitness
Place of residence: Houston, Texas
Wedding date: Nov. 5, 2016
Honeymoon Destination: South Africa
How did you know your partner was the one?
Erika: I knew he was the one because he made his intentions clear from day one. Everyone sends their representative out for the first dates and eventually, you have to figure out who they really are. I never had to do that with him. I've never, ever had to guess or ask myself "What are we doing? Does he like me? Are we exclusive?" He was the same person since that first day at the Murder Mystery Party and the entire time we were dating up until he asked me to marry him. It continues to this day. He was the man who actually introduced me to what real love is - not superficial love, but real honest love.
Paul: I had been in talks and prayer with the pastor of my church about finding the woman that I would spend the rest of my life with. He asked if he could pray with me about it and that's what we did. We prayed that a good woman, the woman god has sent for me, would be revealed. Ironically, two weeks later at the Murder Mystery Party, there she was. There was a draw to her and I knew that I wanted to get to know her better. So I asked her for a date and in the conversation that we had during the date, I began to realize that there was something there. I eventually wrote a letter of prayer to god about it and gave that letter to her on our wedding day.
What makes your love special?
We really are the same person. We've heard other people say that before, but our love takes it to another level. We speak the same things at the same time, finish each other's sentences - all of that. But we take it even further. We order different things at dinner but it always ends up being what the other wants so we switch dinner plates nearly every time we eat out. We tell each other "I love you" by blinking both eyes together at the same time. We focus on the little things that matter and make sure we take care of those, in addition to the big things. His life is to celebrate me as a queen and mine is to celebrate him as a king. We strive to give each other the very best that we can.
Tell us about your partner:
Erika: Paul is the most amazing person. He is so loving and attentive and I can't get enough of it. His jokes tend to not be funny and fall flat, but the effort in which he delivers them - you can't help but laugh. He really cracks me up. He is the type of guy that will get up in the middle of the night (this is pre-pregnancy) just to grab a snack for you. He is supportive through everything. I had pneumonia once and was supposed to participate in a charity run for cancer honoring a few of my sorority sisters. Because I was so sick, he met up with them and took my place. Everyone was shocked because he really didn't know any of my friends at the time, but he did it to honor me and them. That's just his character, a true standup guy.
Paul: I love her personality. She is like a walking TV commercial. She knows every single song on the radio and every line to every movie. She laughs at her own jokes and makes pretty corny ones too. She just has a zest for life that makes me feel like the sun is shining bright in the midst of a hurricane. Erika also has incredible faith in god. When I'm struggling to get through any situation, she has a way of assuring me and making me believe that god has already worked out the problem that I'm trying to figure out. She inspires me to be better and do better and helps me to strengthen my own relationship with Christ.
I had been expecting it for some time but felt like he would never do it. There were several occasions when we would go somewhere and Paul would set me up by saying, "I have a huge surprise for you. You're going to love it. I'm so excited about it, I can't wait. I want to tell you but I can't." And then he would reveal a surprise biplane ride or a romantic trip somewhere. Never a ring.
So when we went on vacation to Costa Rica for my birthday, I was hoping but not certain that it would happen. Again, Paul used the "huge surprise" line, but day after day went by with no ring. I even thought I saw a ring box on the X-ray at the airport, but while we were waiting at the gate, he pulls out a GoPro, which was the perfect ring box size. That knocked the wind right out my sails and I let that balloon sail off into the sunset. My birthday came and went. No ring. Beautiful snorkeling excursion. No ring. Amazing rainforest hike. Nothing. Day after day went by without any new hardware.
By the time the last day of the trip arrived, I had completely given up the ghost. We went into the city to a call and he bought me a silver diamond ring charm as my birthday gift, to which I teased him that 'I guess this is the only ring I get for my birthday.' He laughed it off, but he knew better than I did that he had bigger plans. He totally made a jerk out of me by the end of the day.
Once we got back to the hotel it was time to start packing to leave. Since it was our last few hours, he suggested we hit the happy hour and watch the sunset. I agreed, after all, what else was there to do?
While we were sipping our drinks, listening to music and enjoying the rest of the evening, Paul said that we should get someone to take our picture in front of the sunset. So he gives my phone to a random stranger at a nearby table to take it for us. Here I am posing and "smizing," getting my Tyra Banks on when all of a sudden, BOOM, he's down on one knee. I was completely confused and couldn't figure out what was happening, then the realization hit me, and the tears started to flow. I didn't say yes at first. I actually ran. But I came back, said "yes" and that was that. I was floored!
We were engaged at sunset on the top of a mountain in Costa Rica. In one word... perfect.
From the Wife:
I've learned that it's OK to be not so independent. For so long I was used to doing things on my own. "She's got her own thing... Miss Independent," my life was the very epitome of those words. But when I got married, I started to understand that it's OK to lean on someone. It's alright to be vulnerable and express that I need help. I was always taught that my burdens are mine alone and no one else's; so I kept a bunch of feelings inside and just dealt with them in my own way. I've learned that that's not necessarily true. My husband helps me to bear my burdens. He gives me clarity in a world of chaos and holds me up when I'm weak. I'm not Miss Independent anymore. I'm Mrs. Cook.
From the Husband:
Every day is a new day. Each one may present its own challenges, obstacles and new adventures. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new about her. But the most important thing is using teamwork to get through everything and never forgetting that we have each other's back.
What is your most memorable moment as a married couple so far:
Erika: For me it's when I surprised him with the news that we were expecting. I sort of got revenge on him with the engagement and had someone take our picture in matching shirts at a restaurant. So instead of telling us to say cheese, they told us to say "We're pregnant." He was like, "Whaaaaaaaa?" It was great.
Paul: I would give the same answer as her. Finding out that I was going to be a father. But to give something different, it would be the opportunity to be with her in South Africa and learning about the culture and really how, with our interracial relationship, apartheid would have impacted us and our ability to love each other. It was a very emotional trip that taught us a lot about ourselves, each other, and our history.
What's the best part about being married?
We truly bring out the best in each other. Every day our goal is to make it better than it was the day before. We don't always get there, this is real life people, but the reality is there's absolutely nothing we won't do for each other. We push each other to be the best we can be and know that everything that we do is for the benefit of the other and our relationship.
What's the best advice you received about marriage that you actually use?
Learn how to communicate. We are both stubborn so this is a big one for us. When we both feel like we need to get our points across or that we're not being heard disagreements can happen. But we've learned how to take a step back from things and talk through situations when we aren't in the heat of the moment. Because at that point, no one gets heard. Communication also helps us to learn something new about each other every single day, which helps us grow as a couple.
What was the inspiration behind your shoot?
The inspiration behind our shoot was just to show the best of our authentic selves. We love to play dress up, but more importantly, we love to laugh. Our photographer is amazing at capturing those moments for us, even when we're not expecting it. She just let us do our thing and snapped away while we did it.
Were there any memorable moments from your shoot?
Erika: My favorite moment is when Paul kissed my belly. He's going to be an absolutely amazing father and I know that he will dote on our daughter and be the best role model for her.
Paul: I think my wife is so beautiful pregnant. Seeing her carrying my child only enhances her beauty, so watching her pose in all the photos sticks out for me, because there's no one more stunning to me than her.
How do you balance your marriage, work and family life?
We always try to keep in mind the work-life balance and have date nights, take trips and do mini vacations together. We love to explore the world around us and experience new things together. One of our favorite things to do is cook and work in the kitchen together. Our wedding favor was a cookbook with some of our favorite recipes. It was called "The COOK book. Making love in the kitchen." The way to our hearts is definitely through our stomachs. We do our best to experience that every day.
Now that you're preparing to be parents what are you both most excited about?
Erika: I'm most excited to see Paul as a father. He's going to be amazing. He's also going to be her best friend. I can't wait for the father-daughter dances, the tea times, and sporting events. She has him wrapped around her little finger and she's not quite here yet.
Paul: The first time I get to hold her and give her a kiss.
Is this your first child together?
Do you know what you are having? Or do you want to be surprised?
We are having a daughter. We couldn't wait to find out. We didn't even do a gender reveal. We had to know immediately, the suspense was driving us nuts.
What has changed about your relationship now that you are expecting?
So far not much. We have grown closer in knowing that our lives will be changing very soon, with the coming of our tiny Cook. The way we look at each other not just as husband and wife, but as father and mother has changed us. We're watching each other grow.
How do you think being parents will change your life?
The Bible says "a child shall lead them." Becoming parents will definitely make us better people. Our daughter will teach us how to be more patient and how to love more deeply. Through the example that we set for her, we aim to inspire hope and change for a better tomorrow.
Congratulations to the happy couple! We wish you many years of wedded and parental bliss.