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‘Early on we wanted God as the head . . . of our relationship’

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BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY
Special to the Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

JENNIFER AND JESSE WASHINGTON

Live: West End Manor

Married: January 18, 2004

Met: Spring semester 2002, at Miles College. “It was the beginning of the semester and I was walking across campus and passed her on the steps of the dormitory. I spoke to her, and it wasn’t a very pleasant response in the beginning,” Jesse laughed.

But that would change. “We would randomly bump into each other.” One night he walked Jennifer to her dorm room after the campus lights went out. That would be the first step toward marriage.

“I did think he was cute, he’s always been cute,” Jennifer said. “But someone walking past and just randomly asks me my name…I was protective of myself, it was ‘like why do you want to know?’ It was really a mask of protection.”

First date: April 2002, at Chili’s on Lakeshore Drive. Jesse remembers having a good time and being a college student on a budget. “I was happy that she didn’t go overboard with her food selection, she didn’t order the most expensive thing on the menu,” he said. “It was cool to see that we were from the same side of the tracks… Being two kids from the inner city [he is from Ensley and she from East Birmingham], we had the same desire to want to do better than what we saw growing up. We had an early connection, we were on the same level, we weren’t from two totally different worlds.”

Jennifer said she enjoyed their moment away from “the hustle and bustle of the campus.”

“We had a good conversation and around that time we were already talking about our future; he was definitely what I was looking for in a guy,” she said. “He shared his food and his chocolate molten cake, I liked that. And that [cake] became our favorite dessert at Chili’s.”

The turn: Spring semester 2002, following a student’s tragic murder on campus.

“After the student was murdered, it put things into perspective, God showed me that life is not guaranteed… I knew she was the one, why drag it out any longer,” he said.

For Jennifer, being on vacation [2002] with her family when she realized she had “the hardest time being away from [Jesse] for that period of time,” she said. “I knew then that I just didn’t want to be without him. I had his picture with me, and I would literally sleep with his picture on the pillow next to mine. And my dad came in and saw it and said ‘oh my God are you seriously sleeping with his picture?’ I didn’t get embarrassed about it either.”

The proposal: September, 2003 at his cousin’s wedding reception in the Bessemer Civic Center where Jesse was the best man.

“I was a nervous wreck. I had no idea that I was going to propose at that time,” Jesse said. “Some time during the reception, there was the prayer that was given, and [during that prayer] I had a moment of reflection about where Jennifer and I were in our relationship,” Jesse said. “I felt moved by God, [something] came over me and I was for sure that she was the one. I didn’t even have a ring, but I felt God told me to move at that time and I obeyed him.” Jesse proposed after he gave the best man’s toast.

“I looked over there at her and I remember telling her that I don’t know where life is going to take us, but I don’t want to get there without her, and I asked her to marry me. I did consult with my cousin first, and he and his father-in-law encouraged me to do it.”

“He gets up and he does the best man speech and he talks about how his cousin found someone and doesn’t have to do life alone, and then he went on to say, ‘I, too, found me a woman I can do life with’, and . . . I’m thinking I was just going to have to get up and wave at everyone and get to sit back down, but then he tells me to come up and join him,” she laughed. “He asked me to be his wife, and my response was the most embarrassing thing… I just said ‘yep.’ And I was like ‘oh my God, did I say ‘yep’? It was a special moment that goes down in our history.”

The wedding: Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church-Hillman Station in Birmingham officiated by Pastor Edward Rodgers. It was a private ceremony with one witness. The couple both wore the royal blue of her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Inc., and the royal blue of his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. They were both sophomores. Most memorable for the bride was how informal their nuptials were, “which kind of represents us,” she said. “It was like [one day we decided] ‘let’s exchange our vows and profess our love for one another’ and then we just went on like it was any other day,” Jennifer said. “It was the same day my husband got officially inducted into his fraternity and the same day that I inducted some new girls into my sorority.”

Most memorable for the groom “was the realization that it’s done now,” he said. “The anxiety of actually planning a wedding was over, because we had done it already. But afterwards, going to my fraternity induction ceremony, telling my brothers, they thought I was joking. They were saying Jesse left Saturday and came back married.”

Words of wisdom: “The foundation that you lay is what’s going to carry you throughout the relationship,” Jennifer said. “Very early on we knew that we wanted God as the head and the center of our relationship and that’s what we started with. Feeding The Word into ourselves, and meditating on The Word…[when times got hard] we were able to be sustained by what we had already sewed into our relationships… Put God at the foundation so that as you start building, you’re able to draw off of what you’ve already deposited into yourselves early on.”

“When you’re in a marriage and starting a family you have to understand how your actions affect you home. Of course, you want a solid foundation with God in your marriage and you want it to be built on God’s Words,” Jesse said. “People take vows, but a lot of people don’t have principles. You should establish principles for the marriage and your relationship and live to honor them…

Find out what’s on the other side, the Washingtons said. “God is on the other side, you just have to make it through.”

Happily ever after: The Washingtons have three sons: Jordan, 15; Jeremiah, 9 and Jesiah, 20 months.

Jennifer, 36, is an East Birmingham native and graduate of Ramsay High School. She attended Miles College, where she studied biology. She is a stay-at-home mom, but previously worked for T-Mobile as a Team of Experts coach.

Jesse, 38, is an Ensley native and graduated from Ensley High School. He attended Miles College, where he studied communications, and works as a Fitness Manager for ARC of Central Alabama.

The couple recently celebrated 16 years of marriage and had a “Sweet 16” vow renewal at the Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham in January. They had a masquerade theme and the colors were blue and gold. The Washingtons had intentions to renew their vows sooner, but it was put off because of Jennifer’s battle with pseudo brain tumors, a brain condition that causes the same symptoms as a brain tumor: headaches, vision problems, nausea, and dizziness but is not a tumor. She is now free of the ailment.