Mission Proposal, Mission PurposeI’ve always believed the mission is greater than the man.
The Sierra Madre has one of the largest rain forests in the Philippines. Situated on the island of Luzon, this rugged jungle is home to a surviving hunter-gatherer group called the Agta. Several years ago, a group of anthropologists set out to study this Indigenous group of people. The researchers were curious to learn more about how the Agta valued the members of their tribe based on their individual contributions. You’d think the ones who had skills like hunting, gathering, and fishing would top the list, but that wasn’t the case. You know who came out on top? Storytellers. The Agta revered the tribe members who spun tales more than those who literally brought home the bacon, the snacks, and the drinks.
While it’s clear they hold it in high esteem, the Agta aren’t the only ones who appreciate the art of storytelling.
Stories matter. They’re important. They flavor what might otherwise be a boring lecture. They keep us entertained while we binge-watch shows on Netflix. Stories can engage and inspire and have an effect on a single life or go on to change thousands.
Who doesn’t love a good story?
And who doesn’t love telling one?
When I began to scheme about how to propose to my then girlfriend, Demi, I knew it had to be a great story. I wanted to offer my future bride an experience that would spark memories of joy throughout her lifetime. I wanted her to sigh in bliss and get butterflies in her stomach whenever she’d recall what I hoped would be one of the best days of her life. I wanted her to be reminded of how much she is loved.
Okay, fine, and maybe, just maybe, there was a smidgen of ego in my motivation. I wanted to be the awesome fiancé who crushed this monumental task. What can I say? I’m a competitive guy, even with myself.
There are a few elements necessary to create an experience that will live on as a great story, particularly an engagement story. I knew that to make it meaningful to Demi, this moment had to include special people, a beautiful location, and the element of surprise. The goal was to have a mission possible, mission proposal for the girl of my dreams.
The ring had to come from Africa, my bride’s homeland. Over the past few months of dating, Demi had dropped a few hints about the styles of rings she liked. They were clues, but I knew the finished product was up to me. After I met with several different jewelers, one in particular had some great recommendations. Over the next few months, Tom Hoyt and I had many conversations about finding the perfect ring, but when he started talking about an “internally flawless diamond,” which is exactly what it sounds like, well, he had my attention. To make matters even more interesting, the responsibly sourced ring had a story of its own, recorded in a beautifully designed book.
Giving gifts is my love language. Having found a woman who, to me, was the epitome of flawless beauty in so many ways, I knew this was the ring for her. The diamond included an artfully crafted book that described its journey. Discovered in 2014, the gem qualified as “exceptional” because it was so rare and valuable. It was kept separate from other diamonds from the moment it was found. A company in New York cut and polished the diamond, and it took five craftsmen to bring this masterpiece to its final form.
The diamond then traveled from New York to Belgium and underwent a twenty-seven-step evaluation process by renowned gemologists and diamond graders. Together they confirmed the diamond was beautiful enough and met the clarity, cut, and color requirements to carry the Forevermark promise. Many diamonds get rejected during this process. Demi’s, however, a diamond of exceptional beauty, passed with flying colors. I love that it had a unique story, like Demi, and they both came from Africa, and I couldn’t wait for those two stories to come together.
I had found something beautiful to give to the love of my life. But creating an element of surprise proved a bit more difficult. Unbeknownst to Demi, I had arranged for my family, both sets of her parents, and her best friends to be present the moment I popped the question. It’s hard enough to coordinate the schedules of two or three buddies to watch college football at my house, let alone twenty-plus loved ones from around the world. It proved a challenge, but with a lot of help from others, it happened. Special people? Check.
The big moment would come on January 9, after a belated and (wink, wink) faux Christmas celebration with my family in Florida. Over the actual holidays, I was helping report on the national championship between Clemson and Alabama for SEC Nation and ESPN. Demi and I flew from South Africa, where we had spent the holidays, to the States. At the ESPN party before the big game on January 7, Demi and I met the president of Clemson, Jim Clements, and his wife, Beth. They are some of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. They have four children—including a daughter named Grace, who has special needs—and host a Night to Shine event in their community. The four of us became fast friends. Fast-forward to the pregame show. Right after filming for SEC Nation, I looked around and noticed Demi was nowhere to be found. I sent her a text saying I had to be down on the field for the first part of the game but that we could meet up after. Her reply was shocking: “That’s fine! I’m hanging out with Jim and Beth in their box!”
What?? As a good southern boy would say, “Bless her heart.” I mean, Jim and Beth are absolutely wonderful people, but Demi doesn’t understand the finer nuances of American football allegiances! While I don’t necessarily root for Alabama, I do work for SEC Nation. By the way, the whole debacle says a lot about my wife. She may not have realized the difference between the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Southeastern Conference (SEC), but even if she had, I know that Demi always looks past what other people might see and appreciates people just for who they are. It’s one of many reasons I fell in love with her. Clemson won that night. I guess she picked the right winner that day—and ultimately the right husband. When I got up to the box later on, I was shocked. You might say Demi was drinking the Clemson Kool-Aid. Her neck was adorned with an orange scarf, and she was holding orange pom-poms. I’m surprised she didn’t have a claw painted on her cheek. Jim and Beth sure do know how to sell their team!
Demi and I arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, my hometown, on January 8. We spent the day celebrating “kid Christmas” first. All the nieces and nephews gathered together at my house and unwrapped their gifts, and then it was time for the adults to unwrap their gifts, one person at a time, one gift at a time. After each gift, we took time to talk about it. You can imagine how long the process took.
In order to create a proposal that was unexpected, I did something that you might think is borderline unfair. As we opened presents with my family that morning, I gave Demi a small velvet box. I knew what she really was hoping to find in that box, even though she’d never say it out loud. When the box clicked open, Demi’s eyes widened and she beheld . . . not an engagement ring. She did her best to hide her disappointment and tried to be gracious and effusive about her present. My gift was strategic—a slight misdirection. I figured getting her a non-engagement ring would throw her off the scent if she had any expectations of getting a real one.
Once we finished opening gifts, it was time for Mission Proposal, which would happen in the backyard of my parents’ farmhouse. The plan was for everyone to meet for dinner at my parents’ house nearby. Some of the women were suggesting to Demi that she dress up since Christmas dinner at the Tebows’ was a formal thing (not entirely true, by the way—more like jeans and T-shirts or pajamas). Before we left, and while most of the family had already arrived at Mom and Dad’s, I had something else planned to further divert Demi from an engagement trail. A friend who worked at a local car dealership had dropped off a decoy truck that Demi thought she and I were going to drive over to my parents’ to give my father as his last gift (sorry, Dad!). The day was ripe with sweet surprises but none for my soon-to-be fiancée. I was positive Demi had zero expectations of getting engaged that day.
Funny, on the drive over to my parents’ place, one of our favorite songs just happened to come on. It was “The Wedding Song” by Demi’s favorite South African artist, Matthew Mole—the very same musician I had flown in that day and had arranged to play live for her right after I’d ask her to marry me. The mood was perfectly set.