Madison and Austin

How We Met

Austin and I met on a Wednesday in the fall of 2008 at a church youth group. This was my first time there and the friend who brought me is super punctual and wanted to get there early to do some homework (lol, Skye) before service and to see some friends. Two of them being Austin and his twin brother Hunter, who were there early because they played in the youth’s worship band. They came over to our table and said hello. Skye complained about some Chemistry homework, saying she just couldn’t do it, and Austin said one of his Christian jokes, you know, the ones where you take a Bible verse out of context and apply it to your life? He said, “C’mon Skye, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you…” She rolled her eyes and I laughed, wondering if he really spoke this way on the regular.

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Looking back, it was a totally dorky thing to say… but it was in that moment that I knew I wanted him in my life forever. So, naturally, I friend-zoned him. Hard. After about a year and a half of Wednesday night post-youth phone calls, awkward teenage flirting, him dating my best friend, some frates (friend-dates), church events, and COUNTLESS people telling us to stop beating around the bush and date already… he asked me to be his girlfriend on April 7th, 2010, just before midnight (7 is his favorite number). Then began our adventure through the rest of high school, college, and now graduate school and big-kid jobs… He has been my biggest support, loudest cheerleader, and greatest companion through the last seven years.

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Madison and Austin's Engagement in Orlando, FL

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How He Asked

It was our 7-year anniversary of dating and we had very little planned to celebrate. I was in the middle of wrapping up my second semester of grad school while Austin was finishing his last semester of undergrad while working, so life was stressful… we were very much okay with playing it by ear. All I wanted was to escape for the weekend somewhere on the beach with Austin and some cocktails. So, we planned to pack a bag, head out west, and “go from there.” If you know Austin at all, this plan should not surprise you. Little did I know he had been planning the most amazing surprise of my life for the past two months. It all began at my mom’s house, where I woke up around 8 am to her smiling over me with a letter in her hands and simple instruction. It was a brown envelope with a gold number 1 on it.

It began with a “Good morning, beautiful” and a promise to redeem himself from our horrible Valentine’s Day months before with a day that was all about me. This was so funny to me because he had never planned anything for us without me at least knowing about it. I was shocked and so excited.

As I walked back in from the garage, I stumbled upon letter number 2 on the path near the fence. With a skeptical eyebrow raise and half-smile, I picked it up. My half-smile quickly grew into a massive grin as I read the sweetest words, thinking back to that dark night when we were 16 standing in the same spot I was standing in when we had our first kiss. I looked up at my mom’s bedroom window wondering if they were recording me as I reminisced (they were).

I went back inside, busting at the seams with love for this guy and grabbed the last of my stuff. I wondered if this was more than an anniversary surprise… But my thoughts were interrupted when my mom told me that I needed to take my stuff out of my car and into hers because she was taking me to get my nails done. She said I had to have nice nails for my anniversary dinner with Austin tonight. Mmhmm, likely story. We entered the salon and my mom just stood at the door and stared at me, grinning, her eyes darting to the left of the room. I let out an annoyed, “what?!” before my eyes landed on my bestest friend at a nail station as she slowly turned her head to face me, grinning with excitement.

I, as I often do when I see Natalie after a long time away, started to cry as we hugged. If you know me at all, you know how much this girl means to me. I knew she would be in FL this weekend, but not anywhere near me, so she started to explain why she was here. Her story checked out in my head but of course, the skepticism was still present in the back of my mind. I decided not to ask questions. After the excitement of reuniting with Nat, mom pointed out that Austin’s mom Michelle was there too! We all ended up getting our fingers and toes painted, and laughed and caught up on each other’s lives… little did I know, they were all in on a massive secret I had yet to discover…

As we left the salon, Austin’s dad Chris and my Step-Dad Jeff pulled up and said, “your chariot awaits!”. They transferred my stuff from mom’s car to theirs, we said goodbye to the girls, and drove east. Then, they gave me letter number three. Austin told me he was on the golf course (typical), and that I was in good hands. At this point, I didn’t care that I was completely clueless… I was just so pumped to keep receiving all of these surprises and hearing all of the silly answers to my questions about where we were going and what was next.

As we drove, I wondered where we were going. But once we passed the turn to go to Austin’s house, there was only one other location that meant anything to me in this direction… DeLand, FL! Where I called home for four years in college at Stetson University. There were so many special places in this town that held countless memories for us, but the one place that stuck out more than the rest was a place that housed the incredible community that shaped us into who we are today. Young Life West Volusia was a huge part of our lives for the 4 years I lived in DeLand and even beyond that. It gave us a new perspective on life, taught us about God’s love, and gave us the best of friends. This is where letter number four was.

Next, was definitely one of the best parts of my day. After leaving the YL house, my handsome chauffeurs took me to one of THE most important places to me in this town. A house that became my home, full of sisters who love me completely and have changed me for the better… I pulled into the parking lot of the Zeta Tau Alpha house at Stetson and Jeff and Chris told me to go to the front door. After I knocked, I was greeted by 4 of the most amazing women I met through this organization. They led me to one of the rooms where more and more sisters surprised me, all there to help me get ready for my “anniversary dinner”. All of these women mean so much to me and I couldn’t be more grateful Austin included them in this incredible day. As the guys brought the loads of stuff I had with me, I began to ask a million questions, mostly about what I should wear. The girls said that I might as well leave my outfits in the car because I wouldn’t be needing them… There were already three dresses for me to choose from in the closet my mom had purchased days prior. LIKE, WHAT?! These people thought of everything! Of course, she picked out the most perfect dress. In the room, there was a large round box with the number five on it. Inside was two bottles of wine and some champagne, along with letter number five.

For the few hours that I was there, my sisters and I sat on the floor reminiscing, and caught up on life. I have missed this so much. These women, this house, these memories… it is all truly so special. I cannot imagine my life without them. As I got ready, sitting in a chair with two of my littles curling my hair, and my best friend doing my makeup, I thought, “this is totally how it’s going to be on my wedding day.” Y’all, the butterflies wouldn’t stop. How incredible are my friends? After they dressed me, it was time to go! Outside, I expected to see finally see Austin but I was pleasantly surprised to see my adorable father and Step-Mom in the parking lot! “Hey there, I’m your Lyft driver!” my dad yelled in a dorky accent to us as we walked through the grass towards him and Judy. I was yet again in awe at the intention Austin had when planning this day to include all of the special people in my life. Next, we took a pic & the girls sent me on my way. What a great memory.

As we drove down I-4 west, Dad handed me letter number 6. I was giddy. This was totally more than an anniversary surprise… right? I was bound to find out soon because there was probably only one letter left. And I’ve been through every best friend and family member I have today, so Austin has to be at the end of whatever road my dad was currently taking me on.

We entered downtown Orlando and I knew this had to be the stop where I would FINALLY get to see Austin. We pulled down a familiar street and I saw him. The most handsome guy, wearing my favorite color and the sweetest smile. My stomach flipped and I let out a squeal and some dance moves as we pulled up to Kres, the restaurant I assumed we would be having dinner. I noticed he was holding a Jared bag and was immediately confused. That’s way too obvious, right? It was probably just an anniversary present… I jumped out and hugged him big, still gushing with excitement but finally feeling some relief. I had missed him all day, crying at every love song that played and whenever I would think about the details of the day so far for more than a minute. I could literally feel my heart swell up. And finally, we were together. It was around 5 pm and the restaurant was pretty empty. We had a HUGE dinner and some complimentary dessert before we exchanged gifts. After he opened my punny present and sweet card, it was my turn. And he gave me the last card, letter number seven.

So, I had a lot of emotions while reading this card. It began with nostalgia and excitement about sweet memories, thankfulness for the presence Christ had throughout our relationship, and joyfulness about our future… and then a huge pit grew in the deepest part of my stomach. This is the part that shook me: “…I promise that after school, everything will change and we will set out on a whole new adventure! I just need you to trust me.” Fighting the tears, confusion, and utter disappointment, I opened his gift. It was a necklace with “trust me” etched in the metal bar… My mood immediately changed.

Now, this gift was very sweet, don’t get me wrong. Trust was a huge part of our last year together through the impatience and frustration of being ready for marriage but not having an ideal timeline. So, I looked up, confused and frustrated, and he had on his typical “Austin” face and told me to put it on. He said he wanted it to be a reminder to trust him and The Lord when I get impatient with life and our relationship. But all I could think about was whether or not this meant that I had to wait another year to get engaged to this guy. Was this incredible day with all of these people and surprises and love notes really just for our anniversary?

He acted like he had nothing more planned and that what we did next was up to me. I was frustrated but didn’t want to take away from this great day, so we decided to go to a cool speakeasy called “Hanson’s Shoe Repair” he and his brother found that wasn’t too far of a walk away. So, we grabbed our leftovers and left, hand in hand. We got to the spot and were literally the only ones there (at least I thought we were). He ran to the bathroom and I kept fighting the disappointment sitting in my stomach. We went up two flights of stairs to this really cool patio bar that was 100% our style. I first noticed the market lights and the bar, and then I saw it. A handmade wooden sign on the door that read, “Trust me.” My stomach flipped again and again and my jaw dropped as I looked back at Austin who had the cutest smirk on his face. He took my purse, put our things on the table, and guided me out the door to the patio. This. Was. It.

Our song was playing in the background (Take The World by Johnnyswim <3), there were candles, mirrors, and hand painted signs with Bible verses and song lyrics everywhere and I was in absolute awe. We swayed back and forth, soaking in this moment. Once the bridge came in the music, he took my hands and said the sweetest words. The words I had been so anxious to hear for years. He got down on one knee and asked me the most anticipated and important question of my life. “Madison DeeAnna Combs, will you marry me?”

I couldn’t speak through the overwhelming joy I was feeling… It felt like we were in a movie as “Diamonds” by Johnnyswim jammed through the speakers as he put on my gorgeous ring and we headed for the door. There, waiting for us was Austin’s twin brother, Hunter, and my older brother, Maxwell. I dropped to the floor in reaction to seeing Maxwell because it had been a while since we were last together. He is one of my absolute favorite people in the world and I am SO thankful that he was able to see us in this moment. Everything was perfect. But, it wasn’t over yet. After running through the streets of downtown Orlando, grabbing a beer and some time to debrief what just happened with my FIANCE, and taking an excessive amount of selfies, he took me to the Mall at Millenia. What more could there be to make this day any better than it already was? And as we walked up to a restaurant called Earl’s, 6 very important people were waiting for us, each holding a rose.

Mom and Jeff, Dad and Judy, and Chris and Michelle. The constants through our relationship, the most important people in our lives, and the ones who have been there to support, love, and challenge us throughout the last seven years. Our parents. They were gushing with joy and asked if we had news to share with them… The excitement was obvious as we all hugged and laughed and cried, celebrating the long-awaited engagement between Austin and me. They each gave me a rose, and mom gave me two, to symbolize the seven incredible years that not only Austin and I had spent together, but the years they all had been able to watch us, cheering from the sidelines. They let us lead the way inside and what happened next was the most incredible act of love I had ever received. As I looked throughout the restaurant, applause erupted from all over. People around me were clapping, strangers and their families joined in as we walked passed them, and then I realized what was going on.

My eyes fell upon more than 60 of our closest friends and family, all cheering and smiling from the back of the restaurant, all here to celebrate us.

I look back on this day, still in awe that it even happened, and that so many people cared enough about us to keep the secret and help us celebrate all day and night.

The thought in the details is what gets me. It was absolutely perfect. I can’t thank Austin (and my best friends) enough for doing all that he did to pull off my best day ever.

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