How We Met
At 16, Joel was diagnosed with medulloblastoma – a cancerous brain tumor. I was 13 and probably out there doing 13-year-old things, not realizing my future husband was battling for his life against cancer. During his diagnosis, Joel underwent a high-risk surgery to remove his brain tumor at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. He then had extensive amounts of chemo and radiation.
Fast forward 13 years later. Joel is healthy, cancer-free and working at Mott as a child life specialist. And for me? Well, I had found my way to Michigan. After losing a very close friend to cancer, Myles, I knew I wanted to make an impact on pediatric cancer and with my skill set, that was through fundraising and through Make-A-Wish. I worked at Make-A-Wish for several years and even interned at their national office, but ultimately, I ended up on the Michigan Medicine development team doing my part to fundraise directly for various pediatric healthcare initiatives. However, after a couple years in Michigan, every part of me wanted to move home to West Virginia or somewhere south. I had a great job in Ann Arbor, but living single in the Midwest and far away from my family was taking its toll. Every time I tried to leave, something fell through and I ended up back at square one. But now I know why.
Meeting Joel was more than fate. It was a work of God and I am forever grateful for His plan.
In December 2015, I attended a work event called Santa Day at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Basically, it’s a day when donors who help fund programs at the hospital dress up like Santa and deliver patients toys. I was there to escort a Santa to the hospital. Each Santa is also paired up with a Child Life Specialist. That’s how I met Joel. I remember being in a super crowded room and Joel making small talk with me and that was about it (once we started dating he admitted he looked me up after the event on Facebook because he thought I was cute). He thought I had a boyfriend at the time, so he never messaged me.
Fast forward to March 2016. I was at work and opened my email to a Make-A-Wish Newsletter. The very first thing I saw was Joel. They shared his story about his cancer survival and his wish he received from Make-A-Wish Michigan. My jaw about hit my desk. I couldn’t believe he was a wish kid. If you know me, you know how much that organization means to me. Call me crazy, but I am pretty sure I could feel what God was up to. I didn’t hesitate and found Joel on Facebook. I sent him a message and after some back and forth conversation, we decided to hang out.
Our first “unofficial” date was June 26, 2016, at Frita Batidos in Ann Arbor. Joel had a huge burger and I was so nervous I nibbled at fries (so unlike me). After the fact, I called my cousin Cait and told her I was going to marry him. I also took myself to Blank Slate and bought some ice cream because I was starving. Joel and I went on several dates and took our time getting to know each other. We shared our first kiss on September 21, 2016, exactly 13 years to the day of when Joel came out of a successful brain surgery. It wasn’t long after until we both knew this was it and started talking about our future together.
how they asked
In late July, Joel and I headed to Montana for vacation with his family. Since I met Joel, he always talked about how much he loved Montana. He grew up going out there to his family’s property and camping and he was so excited to take me. I know what you’re thinking. “Shae how did you not know he was going to propose to you out there?” Two reasons: one I’m gullible and two everyone lied to me for so long.
Let me tell y’all.. anytime I got a wee bit hopeful that the engagement would happen in Montana, something killed that flicker of hope that I had. I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I could barely wait to be engaged to Joel. But also, everyone lied so well. Anytime we talked about getting engaged, he told me it would happen by the end of 2017. Every time I mentioned it to my mom, she told me he didn’t ask my parents for permission yet. She was sneaky. I also didn’t think he’d do it without my parents in Montana and there was NO WAY my parents were going to surprise me. My dad had a job where he couldn’t miss work and my mom hates flying. Besides that, Joel even sent me to the ring shop 7 days before our trip for my ring size so “he could get to work on finding a ring”. Seriously… Any bit of hope I had was gone at that point. But boy was I in for a surprise.
After two days in Montana, we woke up early Sunday morning and Joel asked me if I wanted to do our devotion before going on a hike. We had been doing daily devotions since we got there, so honestly, I didn’t think much of it. I knew we were having a party that night to celebrate his god sister’s birthday, so I figured that’s why he wanted to devo in the morning. I knew there wouldn’t be much time that night. He grabbed a blanket, our Devo book (Blue Like Jazz) and we headed down to the river. I read our devotion and as it ended Joel got quiet. Then he looked at me and told me he wanted to marry me and get engaged. I said, “I do too. one day.” And to which he replied, “No like I want to get engaged today.” Because we have talked about this SO many times, I just thought it was another conversation like the rest. Until he got down on one knee. I buried my head in my hands in disbelief and just kept asking “are you serious?” over and over. I couldn’t even look up. But when I did, I saw a teary-eyed Joel who was ready to put a ring on my finger. I said yes and he slipped the ring on my shaking hands. I was in disbelief. His brother had his drone and zoomed in and we danced the Single Ladies dance down by the river. There were a lot of tears and hugs and kisses.
After we calmed down, he asked if I was ready to go up and see his family. I asked him a million times if they knew and he said yes. I asked if he asked my parents and he said yes. I was so confused. I walked up the path to the camper staring at my one hand and holding onto Joel with my other. When I made it to the top Bruno Mars “Marry You” started playing and his whole family cheered. We were greeted with hugs and excitement. It finally hit me that I needed to tell my mom it happened! I picked up my phone to Facetime her. She answered and I told her. Before I could finish explaining the story, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around to see my mom, dad, and brother standing there with open arms. I basically fell to my knees. YEP. Joel flew my dad, mom, and brother to Montana and put them up in a cabin for a few days so they could be there for our engagement.
It was the most special day of our lives and we will never forget how much love we felt from all our immediate family in one place. I will cherish those memories and that feeling for the rest of my life. Joel and I are getting married in Dexter, Michigan on May 26, 2018.