Engagement Story

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Js 1:17

Step Zero: The Contest

"Jon, have you registered for Bailey's 'Digging for Diamonds' thing yet?"
"Oh, ah, I'm going to go do that tomorrow when I'm in Cameron Village"
"You said that like 2 days ago"

A subtle start, but the actual event and ring winning have more to do with Rachel than me. She prodded me into simply applying for the contest, which, cough I did.

"Hello welcome to Bailey's" said the prim and proper saleswoman, shielded behind a case of golden gems.
"Hey there," I said, clad in worn-in jeans and a 2 year old, but still fashionable fleece jacket.
"So do you need a clue?" she said bluntly.
"Ah..." I assumed she sensed my caste status.
"For the Bailey's Scavenger Hunt downtown this weekend?"
"Oh! Yes." I remarked. I had tried to register for the event, but thought I had been too late; I never received the conformation email. "I'll take one of those."
"Here you go," she handed me a mini-diploma sealed with the iconic Bailey red ribbon.
"Thanks and where can I sign up for the Digging for Diamonds competition?"
"In the back of the store, right that way"

I nodded in appreciation, tucked away my 1st clue for the event I was not fully registered for, and v-lined for the back of the store. There's a lesson in marketing for you. I'm pretty sure that's why they put basic necessities like deodorant, milk, cheese, bread, etc, in the back of stores. By the time I found my way to the back of Bailey's I was hedged in by jewelry stands, cases, and smiling faces making sure I was well and if I needed some water or beer.

I grabbed a registration card and filled it out. It was pretty basic, about the size of a 3x5, with questions like, "When is your anniversary?" to which I replied, "Hopefully Soon."

I folded it in that special way we all fold our contest-applying cards and left.

Step One: Scavenger Hunt

"Remember your bike, downtown's a big place"
"Check! Did you ever get fully registered for this thing?"
"Not exactly, but let's go anyways. All they can do is say NO."

We parked the Explorer a couple blocks away from the Capitol building. We basically rode in and rode out of this competition. After waiting in a very long registration line, we reached the front and I explained to the registrar that I had not received a confirmation email. She shrugged and took out a tattered sheet with 6 or 7 different names on it, and asked for my name. By the skin of our teeth we were registered, and I even got the last large promotional Bailey's red t-shirt. There we were, donning our red shirts, hopeful and yet stressed. Rachel had school responsibilities later in the day, which meant our adventure would be cut short. And that was probably a good thing. Once the contest began, we got terribly lost. Then, we got turned around. Then we missed a couple answers (lowering our point total and basically cutting our chances of winning). Then we got tired and left early. Not exactly a great story, but at least we got our shirts and a workout.

Step Two: Buying a ring

Some weeks later after some conversation with the guys in my small group, I was introduced to Brad, a jeweler from Summit. At the same time, Rachel found a ring she really liked online. Who am I kidding, she found it on Craigslist. I contacted the gentleman who owned the ring, and we met at Brad's store. Talk about weird. Turned out the ring was legit, asscher cut (Rachel's fave) diamond in a weighty platinum pave setting. Came in a jaunty wooden box as well. In the end, for the whole shebang, he wanted about a thousand dollars more than I was willing to pay. So nix the Craigslist guy, moving on to buy the ring straight from Brad.

After a week or two, Brad got his hands on a couple of gorgeous asscher cut diamonds. It was a Monday I believe, November 23, 2009, that I was scheduled to meet up with him and take a look at the rocks. That Monday I did not have to open at Caribou, hence I was sleeping in. I got a call around 8 a.m. and did not recognize the number, so I screened it. An hour later I listened to the message and it went something like this:

"This message is for Jon, my name is Claire and I'm calling from Bailey's Jewelry store in Cameron Village. If you would give me a call back I have some news for you, my number is ......."

I shook my head at the end of the message and stared intently at the ground in front of me. I yawned and then I remember feeling my heart jump around like a paddleball. I slapped my face a few times and immediately called the number back and a woman said,

"Bailey's Jewelry, how may I help you?"
"Hi, (rubbing my head) um, is Claire available?"
"Sir what is this regarding?"
"I got a message from her that said she had news for me"
"News?" This obviously was not Claire. "Sir, she is unavailable at the moment, would you like me to put you through to her voicemail?"
"I can call back later"
"Very good sir, and good day"

I made that last line up, just to illustrate how ritzy Bailey's is. Ritzy, but down-home, and as I would discover later, down-home in a good-old-time religion kind of way.

I waited about 45 minutes, having showered and eaten, and called Claire back again. This time success. She explained that they had chosen my 3x5 card out of hundreds of entries, and that Rachel and I were going to compete in the "digging for diamonds" promotion. We would be on the field at Carter-Finley, trying to dig for diamonds?

"You are blowing my mind here"
"Well! I'm glad to hear it! I see under the anniversary section on your card, you wrote, "Hopefully soon!" Are you two (cough, nudge) going to get engaged soon?"
"Yes, hopefully soon! Now (doubtingly, from not reading the rules), how many other couples will be competing for this thing?" I pictured one hundred people sifting through some makeshift sandpit elbowing each other to increase their 10% odds of winning.
"There were two cards chosen, yours and another gentleman's, so it will be you and Rachel vs. the one other couple"
"You are blowing my mind here"

Only by the sixth degree of separation have I known anyone who has won anything that big. I won a drawing contest in 4th grade, and a couple distinguishing awards during my athletic tenure at NBCS, but nothing to shake a stick at. My step-mom won a bike once. My friend Chip won some backpacks and hiking gear, that was awesome. But I've only won an orange book bag and a few pieces of paper. I tried to call Rachel.

Then I tried again.

And I tried again.

And again, and again and so on.

She was in a training session at Wake Med all daaaaaay looooooong.

I frantically called/texted family members and close friends. I told the 3x5 story to perfection there at the end of my call list.

"I just filled it out, and like out of thousands of entries (later found out hundreds), they picked us. In between the first and second quarter of the State UNC game we'll be "digging" for a ring?
"What does that mean?" (Everyone's response)
"I (!), I'm not really sure!"
"Huh, well good luck and we're praying for you!" (Basically everyone's response)

And I drove to Durham, met with Brad, told him the story and that we'll need to hold off on his ring for a while.

Step Three: Anticipation

"Rachel, where are you? I've tried calling all day!"
"I'm on my way home from Wake Med"
"I'll meet you at Champs!"
"Alright, is everything okay?"

I sped over, jumped out of the car and ran to her door. She cautiously opened the door and I grabbed her and said,

"We're digging for diamonds at the State UNC game."
"What??" She ran to the couch with weak knees.
"I got the call today! We got picked, us and another couple!"
"But, weren't they supposed to choose the winners last week?" She paid closer attention to the rules.
"I don't know I got the call though! I have to run, small group tonight, bye!"

The days following were filled with anxiety and pep talks, with meetings with Bailey's reps and Wolfpack Sports Marketing. I learned we would be dismantling a pyramid of shoeboxes, trying to find a jewelry box with a red ribbon on it. We would run one at a time, and open the box once we returned to the 5-yard line. Whew.

We talked strategy. The box would probably not be on the top, wear good running shoes, wear our red Bailey's shirts, etc. If we lost we were going to clap for the other couple, go shake their hands, and be happy that we had the opportunity. I did make one personal stop at Bailey's to thank Claire and the Managers. Little face-time couldn't hurt, you know.

That week was remarkably weird. Teetering on the edge of incredible chance. Psyching ourselves up and then bringing ourselves back to earth. Deep breaths could turn into sighs. Elation to deflation, if you're picking up what I'm laying down. Hello Saturday.

Step Four: Game Time

The free tickets put us on the 50-yard line, in the upper deck. We were told to head down to the field house when there was 5 minutes left in the first quarter. What an anxious first quarter that was. Rachel's sister Rita was sitting with my sister and her friends, and met us to walk down. It was like tiptoeing down a long hallway staring at a door. "This element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it could not otherwise have attained. (Frank Stockton)"

Walking fervently, almost there, five minutes and thirty seconds left on the clock, Rachel stopped and ran to a bathroom. And there was a line. Five minutes and no seconds left on the clock, she bursts out of the exit door and we scurry to meet Christi from Wolfpack Sports Marketing, and the other couple. I remember a thick haze and various echoes as we walked down the field entrance ramp. It was a surreal descent. We were dictated rules and guidelines by the field staff, where to stand, when to run, how to open the boxes, etc. The owners of Bailey's Jewelry were waiting for us behind the field goal post. While chatting with them, we revealed we were wearing our red Bailey's shirts from the scavenger hunt downtown.

"Those shirts are great! How many points did you get in the contest?"
"Hmm (thinking of a way to tell them we quit early), well, we did not place in the top ten. But one of my friends won tickets to the haunted house"
"Great, great. Are you two looking to get married soon? We're expecting a good reaction from the couple that wins"
"We are planning to, yes"
"Well then, (Mr. Bailey leaning in) dig deep son, dig deep"

The first quarter ended and we were rushed onto the field. It felt more like a stage, with 60,000 people staring at you. The announcer initiated the contest and introduced both couples. A 5-foot tall pyramid of boxes was placed in the end zone. We took our places on the five-yard line. Then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Link to the video

Yes, I did run away with the box when we won. That happened. I don't know why I did that. You can't tell from the video, but the blur of the day caused me to dismiss the instructions on how to open the boxes. There was no need to unwrap them; the top and bottom of the boxes simply slid apart. Without that info, I grabbed the first box and tried to unwrap it. At this point Rachel says

"What are you doing! Just pull the boxes apart!"

At that point she reached in and rips the box apart, taking a piece of my finger as well. I'm not kidding.

I now have a scar from it. We each got a little something for our fingers, for the rest of our lives that day.

The yelling, the jumping, the shouting, the disbelief; there was a moment in the midst of the celebration when we took a breath, stood still, looked kinda to the left and right, and figured out we were being waved off the field. The other couple came over and shook our hands, and Rachel hugged them. Full of adrenaline and short of breath, one of the Bailey men pulled me over to the side and put a little black box in my hand.

"Go ahead, open it"

Immediately following State's 28-27 victory over UNC, Rachel and I went to Bailey's to get the ring sized. We were met by a overjoyed staff, with whom we shared this story from start to finish. They sized the ring for free, and offered us other complimentary services since we are now in "the Bailey's family." We even got a tract in the ring cleaning kit they gave us, encouraging all Bailey's customers that there is a more valuable gift than any piece of jewelry; Christ.

Step Five: Where's My Ring?

Here comes the tricky part of the story. I had not asked her dad yet, you know, for her hand, permission. I reasoned like this:

If I approached him like, "Hey, I might win a ring, so if I do, can I marry Rachel? Providing for her? Sure, I'm already entered into 32 other contests that will hopefully get us a house, car, Wii, and a dog. And yes, I play the lottery every day, because I believe in our education system."

That was my reasoning anyway. Now I had to outdo the event of proposing on a football field. Yeesh.

"Is my ring in a safe place? Are you taking care of it?"
"Yes, it's in my room, just give me some time to plan."

About two years ago I made Rachel a collage for her birthday.

All these pics are memorable places that our relationship has taken us. From our first date, to places we played frisbee, to baseball games, it's all in there. I left the bottom right square empty, claiming it was "a tribute to the innumerable events we will see and experience." And secretly, even at that point, I knew we'd get married, so I was setting myself up in a way.

I called her dad, had the fateful talk, and the wheels were in motion. I spoke with him on a Thursday (12.17.09), and planned on proposing that Saturday. I arranged for both sides of our families to meet at Caribou Coffee, in the conference room, at 7:00pm. Caribou was the perfect place to, well, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

I enjoy cooking. Rachel enjoys my cooking. Meals are intimate experiences. If humans did not have to eat we would not spend half as much time together. So I figured I would make some shrimp parmigiana, prep a salad, reminisce, and pop the question. Before I did, I would need to snap a photo of the inside of her living room.

The plan worked to perfection. I asked her roommates to vacate, and called Rachel telling her to get ready for church. Summit has services on Saturday nights now, so that worked. I ran by Harris Teeter and bought up the goods to make my memorable feast, and sped over, heart racing, to her apartment. Knocked on the door, and was greeted with a incredulous stare.

"Why do you have groceries? We're eating before church?"
"I thought instead of church we could have a nice dinner"
(Disclaimer: church is important)

Step Six: The Dance

The whole time I was preparing dinner, I felt Rachel's eyes squinting over me, trying to figure out my angle. My angle was pretty obvious. We just won an incredible ring, and now had to create a special occasion.

I followed Rachael Ray to the T and threw together a pretty nice dinner. My Rachel made the salad and we sat down to eat. I wanted to have dinner over candlelight, but we didn't have any matches, so we had dinner over candles. About 3/4 of the way through I started recounting all the experiences we had, how the Lord had drawn us together; how we had made our relationship work over distance (her stint in Richmond), and generally how we are perfect for each other. This part was perfect.

"I got you an early Christmas present!" She said. "Smartwools!"
She threw them to me, then I opened them, finding Smartwools.

I went to my bag and pulled out an 8x10 photo.

"I've got an early Christmas present for you too!" I handed her the photo.
"This is my collage...Oh! You filled in the blank square!"

She refocused her eyes.

"Is this my living room?"

And I took a knee and the rest is history. That's how that part of the story has to end, because I really can't recall what I said, just that I was partially interrupted when she tried to sit down, and then rose quickly to tackle me. That's not all.

Catching back up to myself, I insisted we rush out and get coffee before calling all our parents and friends.

"Are we going to Caribou? Are both of our families waiting there in the conference room?" She said.
"(Sigh), Noooooohoohooho, I just need some coffee, you know. It's almost 7pm, that's when I usually have a cup."
En route to Caribou I received 3 or 4 texts asking where we were. Apparently our families, who had never officially met, had been officially standing in the dark with each other for 16 minutes. We were running a bit late. Thankfully everyone parked across the street, making Rachel think I really did just want coffee. We parked and walked in, she showed her ring to Ellen, a fellow employee of mine, and off to the conference room.


Coffee and desert with both sides of the family.
Thanks for reading, and praise be to the Lord, who gives perfect gifts and provides us light to enjoy them.


  1. best story everrrrrrrrrrrrr. so excited for you both! love yall! Leah

  2. Great write-up for an excellent story!