Anna's Proposal at Petit Jean National Park

Words by Robert Brooks | Illustrations by Anna Hunter


The Beginning

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  I arrived at Hendrix College at Conway, Arkansas in 2008 and needed to overhaul my image and try to come into my own. One different method I wanted to try was to be more assertive and outgoing. One night I finally had my chance to not be the shy, silent boy I was and take that leap. Her name was Anna Hunter. Ever since that night, and one rather terrible pick-up line later, she would prove indispensable in making me the person I am today. Though we did have a rocky patch towards the end of our college days, she never left my thoughts. I often wandered, ‘how is Anna doing today?’ or ‘I wonder what she’s been up to recently’.


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The Accident

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  Simultaneously, both of our personal lives both took a turn for the worst. I was involved in a workplace accident that nearly took my life. I was exposed to sulfuric acid and steam when our reactor failed. I was rushed to the hospital where I lost consciousness, awaking later in another hospital 12 days later. I spent the next month in the hospital undergoing surgery after surgery and wound care after wound care in order to stabilize and heal the burns I received. A complex process of grafting was used to help speed up my recovery. This involves taking skin from different areas of my body and applying it to the burned parts of my body. For the longest time, my back and legs were tender and unable to withstand prolonged exposure to pressure. This made lying in a hospital bed that much more severe. When the doctors deemed me stable enough to return home, I was discharged from the burn unit where care and recovery was a grueling process. On the average, baths and wound care would take upwards of 3 hours on a quick evening. Therapy to prevent the seizing of my effected limbs and appendages began shortly after my discharge.
  I spiraled into a dark place between a constant dull pain of my burns and the acute pains of wound care and therapy. Unfortunately it was around this time that Anna suffered the devastating loss of her brother to a natural disaster accident.  The pain we were both enduring through these dark times was deafening. We did everything we could to support each other. But I can definitely say that these tragedies were the catalyst that brought us together. It was in this darkness that I could really see the lights in my life. Family, friends, hobbies… and Anna.


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The Recovery

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  The best part of my day was her. It was always her. I knew in my heart that she was the one. Just the thought of her was enough to bring me out of my slumps.   She would come over just to read to me while I was recovering. The books were usually Harry Potter. I often listened to her cite The Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix, The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows. I'd have to say the Goblet of Fire was always my favorite because Harry finally learned magic and became able to defend himself. It was the first time he started showing real maturity.


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The Ring

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  It took some persistence but I was finally able to get coffee with her one morning. At that time, I revealed how I felt and that I wanted to try again. It was do or die as Anna had just informed me that she might be moving away to Washington State. Thankfully, she remained in Arkansas, and after several dates and a couple months, we decided it was time to go all in. Later that year, I started designing the ring.


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The Perfect Plan

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  We then began talking about the future. Myself, a pursuit in pharmacy, and Anna, the pursuit of her Masters in Illustration. After a tortuous time waiting for responses, we finally heard the good news from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I then resolved to propose to her before we left for Georgia. For anyone who’s seen The Office, in many ways, I felt similar to Jim. I couldn’t wait any longer as I was just too excited to be engaged and married to Anna, my Pam. I wanted her to know just how much she meant to me and how much I loved her. I knew it had to be perfect! I finally narrowed in on what was to be the proposal: a private event with the two of us and our favorite photographer. This was my chance to show Anna how serious I was about our future together. I knew Danielle was the one we wanted as our photographer so it was imperative that I snag her before she was booked. The serendipitous part of contacting Danielle is she had every intention of contacting us with a special project she was wanting to undertake. By May 2017, Danielle and I decided in on July 2nd to be the big day.
Now came the fun part, getting Anna involved. I was able to avoid suspicion to my plot AND secure the day in question. About a week later, Danielle reached out to Anna according to plan. We had the perfect cover. Danielle introduced Anna to the idea of doing a love story photo shoot as a set of ‘test subjects’ and though this was no lie, it did not give way to the secret. Anna read to me the conversation betwixt Danielle and herself. Trying to keep my joy and excitement from spilling out, I could only make the comment, ‘yeah, that sounds really fun’ as Anna kept describing the events of which I was very well aware. Things were moving smoothly toward the big day.


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The Wait

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  Sunday finally came and I was all versions of happy, nervous, excited, and anxious. As I donned my outfit, I discreetly took the ring out of its cozy box and placed it into the pocket on my waist coat. Though I knew it was securely tucked away in the pocket, I couldn’t help but nervously check to make sure it was still there every 15 minutes. Every hug, embrace, or form of contact caused me anxiety as I was always scared it would give away my ultimate goal before I had the chance to pop the question. As the day pressed on, I began to calm down and get into a groove with my girlfriend and hopefully-soon-to-be-fiancé. After a full day of photos, our final shoot location was all that remained.


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The Big Reveal

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  Anna unfurled her folded piece of paper, on which contained the reasons she loves me, or so I had planned with Danielle. What was actually on the piece of paper was a poem that encapsulated everything I ever needed to hear from Anna to know that what I was getting myself into was exactly what I’ve always wanted. As she finished up and I wiped the tears from my eyes, it was my turn. The words began to flow from one idea to the next. Each one building off the other, but through my nervousness and anxiety, I can’t recall most of what I said in the preamble but the one part I will never forget is the reaction I received when I gave her the line, “…and from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.” At those words, her expression went from joy and cheer to confusion and worry. Knowing I had a very short time to keep happiness intact, I continued on. “I’m sorry that I lied to you one more time.” After that, I dropped to one knee and pulled the ring out of my pocket. As I presented the ring her eyes lit up and she was rendered speechless. When I finished speaking, there was a silence that continued for much longer than I anticipated. Pretty sure she was stunned! The moments dragged into what seemed like hours until her words finally caught up with her stuttering nod. She said ‘Yes’…. ‘Yes’, ‘Yes!’…. ‘Yes!’ and we embraced with Debussy’s Claire de Lune playing in the background. It is my belief that Anna deserves fun surprises for candid memories, pampering to her hearts content, and most of all, someone who will support her in all her endeavors with all their strength, all their heart and all their soul. That is what that ring represents. Until death do we part.


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The Great Adventure

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  When people discuss a proposal, they always talk about how it’s one of the scariest things you will do in your life. As someone who has recently done such as that, they are correct! What they don’t tell you is the exhilaration and the elation you feel alongside those anxious worries that creep in. For all that I am and all that I will become walking side-by- side with Anna, this event is one I will cherish for the rest of my life.


Amber and Jeff's Alaskan Adventure

  On August 1st, 2014 I packed my car to the max and moved 1,027 miles across the country to Bethesda, Maryland to work as a travel nurse.  On that summer day I chose to leave my loving family, best friends and my job. I left behind the comfortable life I had in Arkansas in search of something more.  I wasn’t sure what that “something more” was and I was uncertain that I would ever find it. But I knew I had to travel. I had to get lost. I had to find myself and with a little luck I found him. 

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  I was excited and absolutely terrified at the same time. What if I didn’t make it? But what if I flourished? I ended up staying in Maryland for eight months then traveled on to New York City where I explored for six months. While in these two cities, I learned more about myself than I ever thought imaginable. I loved and I lost. I fought and I failed. I learned what things I wanted in my life and what things I did not. The whole year was a whirlwind of emotions and lessons that I will forever be thankful for. Because of traveling I was able to recognize how strong I really am. 

There’s something about being surrounded by the unfamiliar that gives you strength. Maybe it’s because you are free to be the purest version of yourself or maybe it is just because you encounter more opportunities the farther you get from your doorstep.

The beauty of it, though, is that the world won’t judge you for your mistakes. And if the people in it do, it won’t matter because you’ll be on to the next place soon enough.


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 Amber noticed the roots of this tree and how closely they resembled the human heart. 

I was finishing up my last week in New York and was all set to head to Texas next when my recruiter called me and told me that the hospital had canceled my contract. She told me not to worry, that it would all work out. By the end of the week she had me a job offer at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. A few weeks later, I was settled in my new apartment, only a two hour drive from home. I worked my first few days in a lab with people who left a good first impression of the place. And then, in the middle of all my chaos, there was Jeff. He was a full time nurse there in the cath lab where I was going to be for the next thirteen weeks. One of our first conversations was him rattling off a handful of jokes that actually made me laugh, even the stupid "knock knock" one. He claimed he had to get a feel for my sense of humor.  I could not tell you if I loved him the first moment I saw him or if it was the second, third or fourth time; but I do remember the first moment I looked at him and realized that somehow the rest of the world seemed to vanish when I was with him. It's amazing how love finds you when you least expect it. Jeff and I became buddies without expectations. Over the next few weeks he became my closest friend. We were constantly joking and sharing funny pictures and videos we found on the internet. I’m certainly sure our co-workers recognized what was happening before we did. We stood there in the room, just friends, while everyone could see that we were only existing for each other.  

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As the weeks passed, our friendship grew deeper. We talked about our friends, family and our love of football and dogs. I filled him in on all the details of my past year traveling and he told me all about his busy life and his experience of owning a gym while still working at the hospital. We both knew that we had met someone special but neither of us were looking for anything serious. I had just recovered from an unhealthy relationship that left me doubting that love still existed. I believe that every painful love I have been through was just an incident to crack open the deepest parts of my core and allow me to explore a passion so rare that I would find a love that was almost never meant to be. I was only in Memphis for a short amount of time. My contract was nearing the end and they hadn't offered an extension yet. He was so busy between the gym ownership and the hospital that he didn’t have much spare time.  I knew there was no way this would ever work out.  


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  The extension offer finally came and towards the end of December. At the time, Jeff was hosting an ugly Christmas sweater party at his house. Of course I helped him plan this shindig. We worked on our own ugly sweaters, Christmas decorations, lights and food. And it was during the crafting of a solo cup Christmas tree that our fate was set in stone. We were so unexpectedly compatible. We shared the same strong beliefs, a similar sense of humor, morals and values, and very close dreams and aspirations for the future. I knew right away that he was it. Was I ready for love again? When someone makes you feel alive again, well it is worth the risk. I could tell he was just as scared to love as I was, but yet we both carelessly climbed into each other's embrace and before we knew it love had found us. To say our love has been the greatest adventure would be an understatement.


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“There’s something about being surrounded by the unfamiliar that gives you strength. Maybe it’s because you are free to be the purest version of yourself or maybe it is just because you encounter more opportunities the farther you get from your doorstep.”
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There isn’t any questioning the fact that some people enter your life, at the exact point of need, want or desire - it’s sometimes a coincidence and most times fate, but whatever it is, I am certain it came to make me smile.
— Nikki Rowe

Ari and Sam's Dominican Republic Elopement

One of the most intimate depictions of a couple we have crafted yet is the story of Ari and Sam's elopement in the Dominican Republic. With open hearts and pure honesty, we spent two days roaming the island in a introspective journey that eventually led to sacred vows. The following story was written by Ari.

On the morning of August 21st, 2013, in the front row of an Astronomy classroom, our lives changed forever. I flurried in a minute late in a pink trench coat, hair still wet from a rushed shower, and quietly sat down next to a tall, well-dressed guy wearing blue wingtips with pastel sox. Neither of us were feeling very hopeful about our love lives at the time. We had both had a tumultuous year, and Sam had thrown himself into his passion for mathematics, studying for hours on end, while I was uncertain about the future and didn’t know what I wanted out of life.

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We may not have known our fate, but it didn’t go unnoticed on Sam’s part that a pretty girl had chosen to sit right next to him. I too noticed that he was quick to join the study group I invited him to, even though he was a brilliant student and had absolutely no need for a tutor. After a few weeks of discussing the Doppler effect, catching each other’s eyes over the lab room table, and developing private jokes, we found ourselves in a cafe, stepping into the rhythm of effortless conversation, probably irritating the waitress by ordering nothing more than two teas and lingering, completely engrossed in each other.

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“We had no idea that we would soon uplift, adore, teach, and passionately love each other in ways we didn’t think existed outside of movies and books. Soon, everything that had ever happened to us, good or bad, would be reconciled and finally make perfect sense because it all had made our lives together possible.”
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Afterwards, we wound up at an electronic music show in a dark, very hot theater at a modern art museum. We were nonetheless exhilarated to be together, and when he held the door for me on the way out, gently grabbing my shoulders to move me to the inside of the sidewalk (a classic, gentlemanly move I had never heard of until then), I completely forgot about the atrocious techno music ringing in my ears, and swooned over the feeling of being cherished and respected in a way I had never known. I could tell by the way his lips curled at the edges that he had enjoyed the night just as much as I had, and there would be many more dates to come.
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“We would later laugh about how terrible the music was, but what I didn’t tell him for a long time was that when his green cashmere sweater grazed my skin on the armrest we were sharing, I shivered and had a simple thought strike me, clear and true: “I am going to marry him.”
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As our relationship developed, the serendipitous and fateful “coincidences” from our past that we discovered astounded us. We found out that the hardware store his family had owned for over 100 years was right behind my grandparent’s house, and our families had known each other for generations. Sam went to high school with my uncles, and I went to high school with his cousin. All this time, we had been running in the same circles, just barely missing each other, but our lives had finally aligned. We decided we didn’t believe in coincidences anymore. These were all blazing signs from the universe, telling us our paths were meant to join.

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Sam encouraged me to rediscover my passion for writing, get my poems published, and earn an English degree with honors, while I stood by him as he delved into his love of mathematics and realized his dream of becoming an actuary. From wondering where rent money was going to come from to oceanside hotel rooms in paradise, the two of us have worked to manifest a life of prosperity and joy, never limiting one another or allowing each other to say “I can’t do it”.


 
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Over the next four years we built a life together involving various tiny apartments, two crazy chihuahuas, a spontaneous trip to Cuba (and other wild traveling experiences), the invention of many recipes, death-defying ski lessons, even more death-defying slippery drives on mountain pass roads, inside jokes, salty ocean kisses, “I’ve-never-told-anyone-that” moments, convertible rides, good beer, late nights, spontaneous trips to random county fairs, dancing, cuddles, tears, obstacles, and all the love we could ever want.

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We’ve made it through sweltering summers without air conditioning, scrounging up quarters to wash our clothes, and we have sipped champagne with gold-flaked desserts at the Ritz Carlton. We’ve weathered some of the darkest days imaginable hand-in-hand, and we’ve spent other days in absolute bliss. We know when to be good influences on each other, and we know when to throw caution to the wind and be partners in crime. Through trials and triumphs, we have been each other's constant ally.


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With our love story in mind, we were moved to tears, laughter, more tears, and absolute euphoria as we stood on a beach at dusk in the Dominican Republic and recited handwritten vows that we had already made in our hearts years ago.

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Although we chose to wed privately, our loved ones surrounded us in spirit, and we are grateful for their support as we set out to live the rest of our days together: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part, and beyond.

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Ashley and John's Rustic Industrial Wedding at Fairlane Station

In a world of social media celebrities portraying lives that are seemingly always happy, I think the majority of us feel discouraged to be real because we've confused facade for reality.  However, getting to know Ashley on a personal level during her bridal session was blazingly refreshing. I'm still reeling from how deeply she recognizes that life can be imperfect, heartbreaking and yet simultaneously beautiful. She exudes raw honesty and grace which makes sense when you realize that she spent a great deal of her life expressing emotion through dance as a ballerina. She is also very passionate about helping others and standing up for social justice. I walked away from her bridals with the feeling that it was one of the most impactful shoots I've ever experienced, so I've included some of her bridals in the wedding story. I believe you can feel her strength and brilliant mentality through these images. And through her words, their love story delves into an unforgettable message.

"We went to high school together but didn't go on our first date until ten years after. Everything with John has been one adventure after another. We were long distance at first and we both admit that we didn't think it would last because the distance was extremely hard. In the same breath, we both admit that we couldn't quit whatever it is we were doing. Instantly I knew he was meant to be someone special in my life. He was meant to change me for the better. While dating, we really jumped in head first and skipped the dinner date, cliche stuff. We opted to show each other our individual worlds instead. I took him to a Democrats party and he took me to Wakarusa. We probably went to 100 concerts in that first year. After a year and a half, he moved to Fayetteville so we could concentrate on loving each other with every fiber in our being without the fear of impending doom that distance brings. John's personal goal for every day is to make me laugh, and he succeeds even when I'm in no mood for jokes. We dance in our kitchen on a regular basis. We make it a priority to have fun together every single day. Concerts are still a big part of our life, in fact John proposed to me right in the middle of a concert. This journey is only three years old, yet I have learned so much, grown so much, and smiled so much more than I ever knew was possible. We've been through so much in the last 3 years - external matters that cause heartbreak - but John's emotional support is everything I need to survive even the cloudiest of days. John often reminds me of a lyric we hold near and dear, "life is not the mountain tops, it's the walking in between, and I like you walking next to me." We are having so much fun as newlyweds! We built ourselves a home while engaged and we're living happily ever after with our two dogs and our cat. The future will undoubtedly hold more ups and downs than imaginable, but there's no one else I would want by my side." -Ashley Reeves



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Life is not the mountain tops, it’s the walking in between, and I like you walking next to me.
— Ben Rector

Alec and Claire's Farmhouse Backyard Wedding

Alec and Claire married in an elegant ceremony in the backyard of an Arkansas farmhouse. Alec is a designer and Claire is a vocalist, both exemplifying their artistic expression in their beautifully thought out details. Their simple style kept our focus on their sweet moments and powerful connection with family and friends. They also included an espresso bar as a part of their reception which stays authentic to the history of their love story.  "We met in a worship band on a November night, dated through a number of quiet coffeeshops, loved the band Colony House, met each other's families, tried to win over each other's friends, fell in love in the Arkansas humid summer, realized we never wanted to be with anyone else, waited, prayed, and got engaged. We loved doing literally everything together. We became close over simple dinners in Denver, but also because of Target runs for popcorn. We bonded over the hardest things and best things about our own stories as well. Things that happened before we knew the other one was even around. As humans, we desire to be loved and known - when you find someone that not only likes all of your secret quirks but actually LOVES them...? Something beautiful happens.

"The great thing is, it really isn't about "our" story at all. It isn't about the perfect Instagram wedding hashtag or the number of home goods we received at our showers (12 cutting boards and counting). Our heartbeat is for God to change us as we encounter others in the days to come. To know them together as a couple deeply - sharing the same acceptance we found in one another. We believe we can do that through the beauty, creativity and love that He has placed inside both of us."