Rachel and Russ

Image 1 of Rachel and Russ

How We Met

Russ and I met in September of 2001 when we were 7 and 6 years old at our home church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He had recently been adopted from Ukraine by one of the assistant pastors at my church, Mr. Jerry, with his older sister Anna. While I don’t remember this myself, Mr. Jerry told me that he walked in and needed to get working on preparation for the church service that day. I apparently offered to take Russ, who spoke no English, down to our Sunday class and took off dragging him behind me. Our Sunday school teachers offered Russ some donuts and orange juice, which he had never tried before, and I distinctly remember the confused and sour face he made after first trying it. Ever since that day, orange juice has been our inside joke.

Russ and his family moved from Chattanooga to Nashville in 2005, when we were in fifth grade, after his dad got a new job. I remember I was very upset because I had the world’s biggest crush on Russ at the time. We didn’t talk or see each other again until the summer of 2007, when his family moved back to Chattanooga to run a local camp. I was attending the camp with my friend Sydney from school and was shocked to show up and find Russ there. We definitely flirted all week and I remember him chasing me around during free time trying to throw water on me. I came back from camp that week and wrote an emphatic journal entry, professing my rekindled love for Russ.

Image 2 of Rachel and Russ

I spent the next summer at camp, once again flirting all week and even coming up with a code name for him so the other girls in my cabin didn’t know who I was talking about. We kept up a little after that summer, texting every once in a while. One time when we were talking, I got a text from him asking me to be his girlfriend. I ecstatically said yes, only to find out shortly after that his boy scout friends had stolen his phone and pretended to be him. I was sufficiently embarrassed and disappointed.

Russ and I saw each other only a few times over the next four years. We lived in different areas of town and went to different schools, so it was rare that we bumped into each other. I went up to camp in the fall of 2010 for a retreat with my youth group and, knowing it was his birthday that weekend, I made sure to stop by the grocery store to grab him a half gallon of orange juice to bring as a present. In the early spring of 2013, I went up to camp again for a retreat with the youth group. I remember how nervous I was driving up because I knew that Russ would be there and I still had the world’s biggest crush on him. I had nervously texted him a few times before that weekend, asking about heat in the cabins and how many blankets I would need, just trying to start a conversation with him.

My little brother and I got to the retreat late as we had stayed home for dinner to celebrate my mom’s birthday. When we got there, the group had already eaten dinner and the camp staff had started cleaning up. I saw Russ from a distance, working on dishes in the kitchen. I remember one of the female leaders saying to all of us at the girls table, “Girls, y’all need to make sure you marry a guy who isn’t afraid of doing dishes.” I remember looking at Russ and trying not to stare or smile too big because I knew what a catch he was. We hung out and caught up that entire weekend, and (finally) started dating soon afterwards.

I moved to Texas to attend college that fall and Russ stayed in Tennessee, so we have been long distance for almost our entire relationship. I’m thankful for the long history and foundation of our friendship, because I don’t think we would have been able to make it through long distance without that!

how they asked

I was home in Chattanooga for Thanksgiving and Russ had planned a double date for us with his best friend and his girlfriend, who we often hang out with. Fall colors in Tennessee are incredible and I had missed them the past three years, as I was away in Texas. Usually all the leaves had fallen by the time I came home for Thanksgiving, but because of a long drought this year the leaves lasted!

Russ knows how much I missed seeing “real Fall” as I would say, so he took me up to Signal mountain the afternoon before our double date for us to look at the colors over the valley. We went to a spot called Signal Point where he and I would always meet and hang out in high school. It was incredibly crowded with out of town tourists and families enjoying the great weather, so I took a few pictures of the leaves and the river valley, but we didn’t stay very long.
What I didn’t know is that Russ had made plans and a timeline with three of my friends to set up the proposal. We had eaten lunch and left Signal Point a lot quicker than Russ had planned, so he started to stall. He tried to take us by the brow of the mountain, where you can look over all of Chattanooga, but they had blocked off the area where you could park, so we just had to drive by. He then proceeded to “need gas” and then “need the bathroom” and ensured both of those pit stops took up about 20 minutes together.

Finally, after I sat in the car alone for 20 minutes, he told me he wanted to go by Falling Water for a bit. This is an area on Signal that boasts a beautiful overlook, a waterfall, and some fun blue holes to hike to below. Russ and I always went up to Falling Water to hang up a hammock and talk for hours and it’s one of my favorite spots in Chattanooga. At this point, we were 45 minutes ahead of Russ’s timeline despite his attempts to stall, and he had frantically told my friends to run down the trail to Falling Water and set everything up. Russ was driving about 15 miles per hour on the way to the trail and it was really starting to get on my nerves. I didn’t notice, but we passed my friends trying to get away from Falling Water after setting things up.

When we got to the top of the trail I gave Russ a lot of grief about going down, because the sun had started to set and you aren’t allowed to go down the trail after dusk. I’m kind of a rule follower, so poor Russ had a hard time convincing me to go, but I finally caved because he was adamant.

He walked behind me down the trail and when I got to the bottom, I looked towards the cliff and immediately noticed a beautiful set up of luminarias, roses, and candles.

Image 3 of Rachel and Russ

Russ had cut the bags to say “Will you marry me?” and I turned around to look at him and he was already on one knee, holding the most beautiful ring I’d ever seen!

Image 4 of Rachel and Russ

We are pretty sure that I said “is that mine?” in awe of the ring before I even answered his question… but of course I said “yes!” ecstatic about the chance to spend the rest of my life with my best friend!We weren’t supposed to get to Falling Water until after dark, according to Russ’s plan, so that the candles in the luminarias would have their full effect. But because I threw off his timeline by a good 45 minutes (ha, whoops) Russ proposed in front of the most vivid and beautiful sunset I had ever seen from the mountain. It was breathtaking and an incredibly special moment. We returned to my house after because the double date had been a decoy all along, and I was surprised again by a small group of our family and closest friends. Every aspect ended up being perfect, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned!

Image 5 of Rachel and Russ