God’s Plan

God’s Plan:
Not the Drake song, but God’s plan vs. my plan.
10 years ago, today, I had a plan to spend the rest of my life with the most amazing woman I had ever met, really the woman of my dreams. Little did I know that plan would not turn out the way I intended…

Fast forward to today (bloop, bloop, bloop…)  The boys’ nightly routine includes brushing teeth, getting in jammies, prayers, book time and going over the plan for tomorrow. But this week has included “story-time.” This story-time has been stories about Ashley. This week has been especially hard for me leading up to today but sharing stories about Ashley has been a bright spot in my evening, even if I am sad afterwards.

On Sunday night, the boys and I went for a golf-cart ride at the end of the night, came home and did our nightly routine. We are walking in the house and Baker sweetly says “I miss Momma.” I tell him that I do too. We get ready for bed, brush our teeth and then read books… Fischer says he’s too sad to sleep. I told him talking about mommy always cheers me up. So, I told them the story of how we got Baxter and that made them smile and they were able to go to sleep. (Every night since, they have asked for a “mommy” story.)

Last night, Fischer asked for another story. I told a short one about Ashley getting pulled over for not renewing her car tag. (I’ll share it in a future blog post.) Fischer wasn’t satisfied and said he couldn’t sleep. Not tired.
Being half sincere and half smart-ass, I told him I couldn’t sleep 10 years ago this evening.
“How do you remember that?”
“Because it was the night before mommy and daddy’s wedding and I was too excited to sleep.” (I should have been tired, I had spent the whole day putting Ashley’s flower bouquets and the wedding flowers together. Ashley and I being planners, saved up for our wedding and budgeted for flowers. But while “just looking” at houses, we found our dream house and took all our wedding money and put it on the down payment. So instead of having a florist do the floral arrangements, we ordered the flowers from Sam’s Club and Ashley, myself and an army of family and friends made bouquets, centerpieces, and every other floral arrangement.)

Fischer wanted to hear the story of our wedding day. I didn’t tell the story of our wedding day but of how I proposed to Ashley. Fischer never heard this story and there are key components of the story that Fischer would be able to visualize because of places he’s been in Chicago or how Ashley and I act in certain situations. (This written version is more detailed than what I told Fischer but reads better.)

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Exhibit A: my engagement to Ashley. I had a plan on how I was going to propose.
Unfortunately, this plan was doomed from the start. Especially since it was 3 months later than Ashley’s plan for getting engaged. (It didn’t help my situation when I agreed to go into Tiffany’s in Chicago during Christmas to “look” at engagement rings. Apparently, this meant “you are on the clock” like some crazy fantasy draft, where your number one draft pick is your future wife.

Honestly, Ashley had a plan for her life before I ever met her. Luckily for me, I managed to fit myself into it.)

When we got engaged, Ashley and I had been serious for over three years at that point. We had settled into our careers as teachers, we had met each other’s families, gone to weddings, did holidays together… Ashley had the adulting thing down and was nailing it as cheer coach, choreographer, and professional cheerleader; plus, we really liked being together. We knew we were going to get married… I just needed to figure out how I was going to pay for the ring she deserved.

I really started to feel the pressure on her birthday. She did not expect me to propose on her birthday but we had a beach trip coming up in a few weeks and I found out that she thought that is when I would propose. I’m sure she had constructed a plan in her head that “he’ll take me for a walk on the beach and bend down like he found something and then stay on his knee and lift up a his and it will be the most awesome ring ever.”
Well at her birthday party we went out with a lot of her friends and some of them “ambushed” me demanding I tell they when I’m going to propose.
Reality: I had been over-served and one of them nicely said how awesome it would be if I did it on our beach trip. I smiled and said “no, not yet”. Then several others kept coming up to me throughout the night and at some point, I mistakenly said “Not happening, not proposing.”

That muddled message got back to Ashley.  She didn’t say much about it. But I could tell she was upset about something… (There is a totally ridiculous story from this night that makes me look like a goof, but since some of my students read this blog, I will save it for “the book”.  At least I’ll get royalties from my humiliation.)
The next few weeks I did not hear anything about weddings, engagements, rings etc., and then our beach trip came and went with me not proposing.  (The beach trip was really me at a conference while Ashley hung out at the beach.  Not very romantic and I hadn’t found the ring I wanted for her yet.)

The next month we were busy with school, spring football, going to the lake and enjoying being a couple. Then came June…wedding season.

Ashley had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with me at some point. She asked me how I thought our relationship was going.  I said, “Awesome.” (Of course, it was going awesome, I knew when I was going to propose) That wasn’t good enough for her.  I kept playing it cool, but Ashley wasn’t having it.
Basically, Ashley said that she needed to know I was going to propose, soon.  She didn’t give me an ultimatum but let me know.

At that point, I already had the ring picked out and was going to pick it up the following week.  Problem was I wanted something special for the engagement. I had googled places in Atlanta, asked friends, nothing seemed right for Ashley. People gave me some okay ideas and some terrible ideas by the way. I.e. on the score board at a Georgia Force game, surprise her at cheer camp in front of her cheerleaders, take her to a restaurant and hide it in her food?!

Ashley and I had another trip planned for Chicago in July. My brother was having a going away party/fundraiser. Andy was going to Malawi, Africa to do a mission trip/teach. So that’s where I would propose. (Chicago, not Malawi.)

Ashley had Falcons practice so she couldn’t come in till a day after me.

I had planned to ask her dad for his blessing before leaving but it didn’t work out. I knew Lee could keep a secret but if Dot found out, Ashley would have known something was up :).

The Plan

The plan was to pick her up from the airport, go get dinner at her favorite downtown restaurant, go window shopping, and then go to Tiffany’s to look at rings again and then take her to the Chicago Water Tower and propose. (The Water Tower survived the Chicago Fire and is the second oldest water tower in the US, so it would symbolize a long-lasting marriage.)

Nice plan, nice surprise. I also called Ashley’s dad when I knew her plane was in the air to ask for her hand in marriage. Problem, he didn’t pick up. I called 45 minutes later, still no answer.

Okay, no blessing from Lee but not a huge deal, I can find some way to get a hold of him. Next issue, Ashley’s flight was delayed 2 hours, it’s pouring down rain in Chicago and her flight had to circle the city. Now I’m freaking out, but I can still figure it out and change the reservations. Finally, Ashley’s plane lands. I meet her at baggage claim. Earlier I took the ring out of the box and put it in that little pocket in my jeans. For a split-second I tease the thought of just proposing to her at baggage claim. No… not good enough for Ashley.

Ashley later told me that since I was giving her a pretty ring, I could have proposed pretty much anywhere but baggage claim would not have been her favorite. I then reminded her that baggage claim had some minor significance in our relationship. (Back when we were trying to figure out if we were just friends or dating, we had a chance encounter at Hartsfield ATL’s baggage claim. I flew to Chicago for New Year’s and Ashley went to London with UCA. We both returned on the same day. Back in Atlanta I was delayed an hour waiting at baggage claim on golf clubs that I brought back.  Her flight landed 20 minutes early. As I am angrily staring at the baggage carousel, I feel someone smack my ass and say “hey hot stuff.” It was Ashley. Not sure how we ended crossing paths that day, we hadn’t seen or talked to each other in two weeks…Later Ashley shared that she thought it was just God saying don’t forget about her.)

So, no baggage claim proposal. I get Ashley’s bags and we load up the car and I tell her we have reservations downtown. She tells me she is starving and would also want to change before going downtown. She then has me take her across the street to get Giordano’s pizza.

(Okay, reservations cancelled, I can still figure this out.) Ashley wanted the stuffed pizza… that’s going to be 45 minutes. No worries, but she is starving and orders a million apps including mozzarella sticks. (All this good food is going to put her to sleep) So now I know I’m screwed, whole plan shot, well maybe the Water Tower is still good. Nope pouring down rain.
I start texting my brother, maybe he can think of something. Meanwhile, we are waiting for the pizza and Ashley’s dad calls her phone.
Me: ($&@%!)
Ashley: “Hi dad. “Yeah, my flight finally landed, just waiting on some yummy pizza….
Mike, did you call my dad?”
Me: “Um, yeah just was checking to make sure your flight got off okay and then later I was gonna tell him that I got to the airport and that your flight was delayed.” (That worked)
Ashley: “That was sweet of you.” (my little white lie earned brownie points and didn’t give away my intentions.)

We go to my brother’s place, change and clean-up. We decide to still head downtown and I figure I’ll come up with something. It keeps raining on and off. We meet up with friends and my brother’s boss who happens to be his brother in-law. Everyone is having a good time. I think at some point all 15 people in our group know that I want to propose to Ashley, except her.

I’m getting concerned that someone is going to spill the beans and Ashley notices that I’m not drinking. I tell her that I offered to drive home so she doesn’t think anything of it. Still hoping to pop the question, I try to extend the night buying her a red bull.  She hates red bull and gives it to my sister in law (not a good idea) but everyone is getting tired and I miss my opportunity.
On the way, home my brother Chris suggests I can go to the lakeshore and propose at sunrise in the morning.
I set my alarm. I pick out something decent for Ashley to wear (I know she would want a picture). And then go to sleep. I’m so nervous that I will oversleep that I barely get any sleep. I get up even earlier than my alarm and make some coffee. (Ashley is not a morning person so she is either going to be pissed, think something is up, or be out of it and not be aware of anything. I wake up Ashley when my alarm goes off. She is still half asleep but I hand her some clothes and tell her that she needs to come with me and then I go to the bathroom. I come out and Ashley is dressed like a crazy person (Actually, I called her a pollack, but that is a derogatory term that Ashley didn’t get anyways. She is wearing a Coors Light sweat shirt, pink VS PINK shorts and leopard print shoes).
Me: What are you wearing?
Ashley: clothes
Me: Not the one’s I gave you
Ashley: You want me to change?
Me: No, just come on.
As we go down to the car, Ashley asks if everything is okay, if my family is okay. I tell her yes and that she just needed to come with me. Ashley didn’t ask any more questions, she just came with me because I asked and that I needed her to come. Ashley falls asleep in the car and wakes up when I am looking for a parking space.

We park and I tell her that I just wanted to show her a Chicago sunrise. She thinks it sweet and that I am going to have to take her breakfast for waking her up so early.

The place I took her to propose is called Promontory Point. It’s a little peninsula on the south side that juts out into the lake and you can see the sunrise perfectly and also see the Chicago Skyline. (Oprah and Stedmon got married there). We walk past two guys in the park doing a drug deal. (I’m holding Ashley close and the ring in my pocket closer.) I apologize to Ashley and she says “for what?”
“Well for bringing you to a drug deal.”
“How do you know it was a drug deal?”
“Well most people don’t meet up in the park at sunrise to dap and then walk off.”
“I didn’t even notice.”
(Ashley was not great at situational awareness until she had babies. Something about becoming a mom automatically gives you secret service skills that can identify any real or perceived threats from a mile away.)

We walk down to this wave break and retaining wall and sit down. It’s a little overcast so the sunrise isn’t that impressive. But it’s okay. Then Ashley looks to the right and says what’s that? Pointing to factories and smoke stack sin the distance. “That’s Gary, Indiana…Don’t look over there. Look at the skyline.”

She then looks out over the lake and says “It’s so big.” Of course, I had to say, “That’s what she said!.” We laugh and I know it’s the perfect time because she has no idea I am going to propose.
I begin to tell her how happy I am that she came this weekend and how much fun we have together. I tell her that I love her and that I really appreciate that she changed her schedule up to come see my brother off. I tell her how important my family is to me and that one day it’s going to be so great to have a family of our own… (When Ashley would tell the story, she would say that she had no idea I was getting ready to propose. The thought crossed her mind but I was holding her hand and it wasn’t sweaty, I wasn’t shaking, my voice wasn’t cracking… Since I wasn’t nervous she thought I wasn’t going to propose and that it was just me being sweet.)
At this point we are sitting side by side. I look around to make sure there are no other drug deals going on and then reach into my pocket. Now I’m nervous. I’m on the rocks of the wave break and if I drop the ring it could go anywhere.

I look into her eyes, get down on one knee and say, “Ashley Nicole Baker, will you marry me and make me the happiest man in the world?” I slide the ring on her finger and she says yes. I take out my flip phone and take a picture of us. She holds out her hand to look at the ring and it spins around her finger. (Not because the diamond was so huge, but because she told me the wrong ring size. She said she was a 6 and in reality, she was a 4.5.) I immediately got nervous that it was going to slide off her finger and fall in the rocks.

Ashley ensures me that she will not let it fall off and we head back to my brother’s condo and she is ecstatic. Ashley can’t contain herself and wants to call everyone she knows but first she wants to call her mom. Then she asks, “did you talk to my dad and get his blessing?”

“Well, about that…” I explain the situation and she is fine with that but wants me to call her dad first. I do and of course he gives his blessing. No sooner than I ask, Ashley is already calling her mom. We spend an hour calling and texting everyone we know and then I ditch Ashley for the day and go to a golf outing. (This was already planned and also another reason Ashley did not think I would propose.) Ashley had a shopping day planned which she then turned into wedding planning and got started on planning her big day…

Fischer loved my story and retelling it helped me to remember that my plan for life has been derailed often… I have faith that God’s plan for me has kept me on track and will continue to do so.

I can question it but HE blessed me with the most beautiful bride.

Ashley and I picked “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts as our first dance song. It sums up how I was lead to Hoschton, Ga from the Southside of Chicago to meet Ashley and fall in love. (I would share that story, but I am already close to 3000 words in this blog, so I will have save it for another post.)

I am not doing great today, but not awful. I have been able to “spend” the day with Ashley and I miss her more than a million words could describe…
I still have faith that God’s plan for me will get me through this.

These two little boys are a great reminder of that!

3 thoughts on “God’s Plan”

  1. I love hearing this story from your perspective because I remember hearing Ashley’s story so many times! A beautiful love story and a beautiful wedding! Ben and I were thrilled to be there. Sending our love, we miss Ashley dearly.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a special event! Those boys are very blessed to have you for their daddy!

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