It’s taken me a while to sit down and write out this story. Not because I haven’t wanted to, and not because I didn’t know what to say. But I wanted to do this moment justice and treat it with care. It was a moment that, for a long time, I didn’t think would happen. I told myself I didn’t want it to happen. And I told anyone with two ears the same thing. I was on a mission to let the world know that I was extra-special in my independence and utter defiance of the idea of marriage.
But the truth was, I didn’t want to chance going through what my parents went through. I didn’t want a relationship that might look great but silently crumbles apart in ways that are inexplicable and heartbreaking. I didn’t want the option of committing my whole life to someone else, and then dealing with the chance that I could be betrayed, devastated, or left.
That was scary, so for a long time, I was fiercely and obnoxiously independent. I didn’t want to lean on anyone else for help, success, or happiness. I made my own way. All of that worked out alright for me during those years; I did grow into myself and discover my values, likes, dislikes, and what I want out of life. And honestly, I still don’t think marriage is for everybody, as long as that choice is made out of pure intentions, and not fear.
My relationship with John has been different from the start than any other that I’ve experienced. He courted me, he respected me, he was honest and upfront every step of the way. He’s open to constructive feedback and also loves to learn as much as he can about the world, history, everything really. I mean, the guy took not one, but TWO spreadsheets classes in grad school because he enjoys learning about Excel that much. I joke that he’s an 80-year-old in a 28-year-old’s body. (He knows it’s true.) He is analytical and logical, while also sensitive and kind. He loves animals and spicy food.
Through our relationship, I’ve found a whole different side to myself that has allowed me to set down some of those walls I’d firmly built in the years leading up to it. It’s still hard for me to be vulnerable (passive aggression is my much stronger suit, unfortunately), and I’m working on being better at voicing kind words, showing appreciation, and allowing guidance or suggestion instead of always thinking my way is the best way… Even if it is most of the time. 😉
But I adore the support, comfort, and partnership of our relationship, and I have learned I’m still able to embrace my own autonomy within this two-person unit. We’re two totally different personalities choosing to love and encourage one another every day. I just feel at home with him.
How It Went Down
Okay, enough rambling. You’re probably here for the actual proposal story, so let’s get to it.
In November, John and I found ourselves planning a somewhat spontaneous Thanksgiving trip to our favorite mountain town, Asheville, North Carolina. Clearly unconcerned with the concept of overkill, we were excited to take our third trip there — in less than a year. We planned on visiting his family over Christmas and mine in early December, so instead of spending Thanksgiving at our home, where I’d be less inclined to chill, relax, and enjoy the holiday break and more likely to be cleaning and making to-do lists, we figured a road trip to a familiar town full of breweries, hiking opps, and sweet, quiet charm would be the better idea.
So, we booked a pet-friendly Airbnb and loaded the car with our pup, new hiking boots (our early Christmas gift to each other), and a cooler of some pre-cooked Thanksgiving dishes for an extra-long weekend in the Smoky Mountains.
Our first full day there was Thanksgiving, and we started the day by throwing Piper in the car, bundling up, and lacing up our new boots for a five-mile hike on a trail called Black Balsam Knob, about a 45-minute drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway from our rental home. I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise, while taking in the scenery, before we participated in the gluttony of the holiday. John had another plan in mind.
If you’ve never been to the Smokies, I can’t recommend it enough. Even in the cold, with winter’s effects creeping in, it’s stunning. We wound our way through the steep hills, driving through tunnels and along tree-lined cliffs, as the leaves turned from orange-red and yellow to copper to brown the higher we went. Once we got to the trail, even the bare trees in that high altitude were a beautiful, almost-architectural accent to the blueish-gray layers of mountains as far as we could see. I just love it there.
John had been quiet that morning as we got ready to head up. We layered on jackets, scarves, beanies, and gloves, and brewed a French press of coffee to take on the road. He’s not quite as much of a morning person as I am, and definitely not as much of a talker, so his quietness wasn’t crazy unusual. I thought maybe he was missing and thinking about his family on the holiday, or something like that, so I did my regular thing: got us out the door as fast as possible (I had mimosas and mashed potatoes to get home to!), belted country and worship songs on the drive up, and laughed at all my own jokes… As you can tell, I was a huge comfort and most definitely not at ALL a nuisance for sweet, anxious-as-heck John.
The hike started with a dense half-mile-or-so of trees, before opening up to bare, easy rolling hills (those are the “knob” part of Black Balsam Knob) that allowed you to see views of the Smokies for miles and miles without trees to block your surroundings. Atop our first hill, with a sprawling view of the mountainscape around us, John wanted to stop. He kept saying we should get Piper some water and he wanted to rest. Me, being the very me that I am, wanted to keep going. She’s fine, I told him, as I reminded him more than once that we weren’t even a mile into the five-mile hike, so we’d better get a move on.
Ugh. This gal sure knows how to ruin a moment. But, looking back, it is really hilarious because I am so very go-go-go (can you tell?), and John is so very stop-and-smell-the-roses, and our juxtaposition in this life approach brings us a lot of laughter, eye rolls, challenge, and growth both individually and as a couple. So, I think in hindsight, it was kind of perfect that this came out in this life-shifting moment. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
As I reluctantly began to take in the breathtaking vision of God’s handiwork in front of me (it truly was incredible), Piper was to my left, having the time of her life wrestling a stick, and John was behind me fishing through his backpack to get the water none of us needed yet. Or, what I thought was water. I turned around right when he pulled his hand out of the backpack holding a small, black box that, in fact, looked nothing like a water bottle.
It took about two-and-a-half seconds to register what was happening, and then my heart about flew out of my ears. (I’m not really sure how else to describe the physical response my emotions created in the moment, but that about does it.) He said, “Before we keep going, I wanted to ask you a question. Will you marry me?” The man doesn’t mince his words.
My dorky response was, “Oh my gosh! Yes! What the heck?” And that’s how it’s done, folks. We were engaged.
He handed over the box and it hit me that he was so nervous. He wasn’t just being quiet John that morning; he was about to ask me the biggest question of our lives. THINK I’D BE QUIET, TOO.
Turns out, that hill was the best and most beautiful vantage point we would hit during those five miles. Good call on John’s part to stop for “water” so early in.
Engagement photos by Jessica Steddom.