Junior year was my busiest year. We attended every Clemson home game, spent tons of time with friends, and honestly just enjoyed our time together. I was heavily involved with FCA, while also balancing school and a relationship, in addition to making new friends. I served on the Communications Team. I managed the new FCA website, took photos at various events, and helped to create graphics and promotional materials.
Braden’s grandparents took us on a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee this year, and we also made a separate trip to Chattanooga to go see NEEDTOBREATHE in concert. Any time I hear their song “white fences,” nostalgia hits and all I see are winding roads in the mountains covered with fall leaves. That album was the sound track to the ride up there, and one of our favorite concerts we’ve been to together.
In December of 2011, I was selected as a member of a missions team to go to Leogane, Haiti. Not only was this my first mission trip abroad, it was my first time on a plane.. ever. I was terrified
. Luckily, our team had become fast friends, so they helped calm my nerves. It’s hard to sum up my Haiti experience in a few words, but I blogged about the whole experience a few years ago on an old blog, which you can read here
. To say it was an incredible experience wouldn’t even begin to give it justice. The Lord wrecked me on this trip and opened my eyes in so many ways.
That summer of my junior year, I interned at United Way of Oconee County. I started as an intern, and ended up getting hired part-time until the end of the following fall semester (Fall 2012). I absolutely loved the people I worked with & really enjoyed my time at United Way. My internship technically ended at UWO’s annual meeting in August, but I ended up earning one of their first ever scholarship’s, which was such an unexpected gift and blessing.
Senior year was GOOD. I had found my place at Clemson, had a solid group of best friends, and was having the most fun being in a relationship with Braden. Senior year went by so fast, but this next little portion of this post was my favorite moment by far.
It was December 7, 2012. My Friday morning started out like any other. The only difference was that I had a text from Braden, which wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, but it was a witty little poem asking me to FCA’s tacky sweater shag that evening. Reading back over it now, it still makes me laugh. It was so unlike him but definitely convinced me that we were only going to the shag that night.
“I love you Jess, what more can I say
I guess I’ll show you in a romantic way
I’ll pick you up around 5:45
So that we can celebrate all the good in our lives
Dress nice because we will start our evening
at one of your favorite restaurants in Greenville
But this is just the start of our night,
Will you go to the tacky sweater shag tonight?”
I got excited and spent the day trying to figure out where we could possibly be going in Greenville. I have quite a few favorites and I couldn’t settle on one. After class I started getting ready for our date that night. I had trouble picking out an outfit because I had no idea where we were going. I ended up going to my girl Brin’s apartment and borrowing a dress. All the while, she knew exactly what was happening!
As promised, Braden showed up on time with 20 roses in hand. At this point in our relationship, he had only brought me flowers on one other occasion, our one year dating anniversary. He handed the flowers to me and said happy 20 months. At that point I didn’t see any red flags, I just thought it was really sweet and thoughtful.
We got in the car and headed to downtown Greenville. We chatted like normal on the drive, but he mentioned that he had some exciting news for me once we sat down to dinner. Naturally, all I could think about was this supposed “exciting news,” and why did it have to wait until dinner? We pulled up at Nantucket Seafood Grill
, our “fancy” date night spot. We were seated by the window where we could see people ice skating, Christmas was only a few weeks away so twinkly Christmas lights were everywhere.
As soon as we ordered our drinks he finally found an appropriate time to tell me the exciting news. Braden had been co-oping at BMW Manufacturing for the past year, and that night actually marked his final day as a co-op. That was super exciting news and it’s funny now, but the only time we had been to Nantucket prior to this night was the first day he got paid by BMW haha.
After dinner we headed back to the car because it was so cold outside. I had no idea where our next stop was, but as soon as he pulled up at McPherson park downtown I knew something special was about to happen. This park is special to us, because this is where we first said I love you on July 15, 2011. At this point, I was thinking “okay, maybe it’s about to happen here” thinking I had figured out what was going on. We got on the swings and he asked me if I remembered what happened there. I said of course I remembered, my heart beating out of my chest, thinking this is it. Right after that moment, he hopped up and started walking back towards the car.
I felt a little disappointed because I thought I had solved the mystery. I was sure that he was about to propose in the park. Well, I was wrong. When we got back in the car he asked if I wanted to head to the tacky sweater shag. With a disappointing sigh I said “sure.” The drive back to Clemson was a little quieter, my mind was wandering trying to figure out when on earth he was going to ask me to marry him.. and the fact that I did not want to go to the tacky sweater shag (introvert probs haha).
We pulled up at the Madren Center, which has held many FCA dances during our relationship. I didn’t think much about the Christmas lights on the dance floor, because I figured the Madren Center had held an event there. I’m one of caution, so when we started walking towards the dance floor framed by lights, I thought we were somewhere we shouldn’t be. He plugged his iPod into the speakers that had been set up earlier in the day. I figured out then that he had already planned this, and it was no coincidence that the dance floor was set up.
We danced to a few of “our songs” and I could feel his heart literally beating out of his chest. At this point, I could tell he was getting a little nervous. During a certain part in one of the songs, he said a bunch of sweet things that I can’t remember and then asked me to marry him. Literally every bit of this moment is a blur to me!
As soon as he proposed, my two wonderful friends Annabeth and Jenn came out of the bushes, they had been taking pictures the entire time! Braden grabbed my hand and we ran towards the lake. Before I knew it, fireworks started going off over the lake. We are all about the grand gestures, haha. I later learned that so many of our friends played a role in making this night possible. There was a boat full of boys to on the lake shooting these forewords off for us, and some of our friends were on the roof at the Madren Center watching the whole thing unfold.
Once we got our bearings he said that we could leave. I wanted to call my mom, but he convinced me that my sweet friend Brin would want to see me call her and hear my moms reaction over the phone. Obviously not thinking clearly, I agreed, under normal circumstances I would’ve thought that was kind of random. We pulled into where Brinley lives and Braden started distracting me, he kept telling me to look at my ring and telling me about it. When I looked up we had pulled up to the clubhouse. I don’t remember what he was saying, it’s still all a blur, but the next thing I knew he had opened the door and all of our family and friends yelled SURPRISE!!!
We spent the remainder of the night celebrating with friends, taking pictures, and basking in the fact that we were finally engaged. I floated on cloud nine all night long, and literally didn’t sleep all night because I had so much adrenaline.
I’m going to summarize the end of college in short. The spring semester flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to graduate. This time in my life was so bittersweet, I was ready to move on from college but also loved my season at Clemson. I’ll forever be thankful for the opportunities, friendships, and growth that formed in that beautiful place. Post graduation, I had accepted a job at Nationwide Insurance in Simpsonville.
Long story short, I knew this job wasn’t for me, and ended up quitting after being in the office for two weeks (yikes haha). At this point, we were engaged and getting married in 3 months. Panic set in, wedding planning was stressful, and I was overwhelmed – I’ve shared about 5 truths about being engaged and all the struggles here
. I took the last few months of engagement to figure out what the heck I wanted to do – and as many of you know, we started fully pursuing Jessi Nichols Photography the week we got back from our honeymoon in September of 2013. You can read all about what got me to that point here
To wrap this up, here are a few engagement photos of Braden and I circa February of 2013 🙂 next up for this exposed series I’ll be sharing our wedding day!
*engagement photos by Lauren Miller Photography!