This is the last chapter of Love Story. We would like to thank all of you who have taken the journey with us into remembering the story of how our relationship began. We are truly blessed by your encouragement and support. Love, Tony and Julie
Like moving from one season into another, Julie and I transitioned into a relationship “space” that we'd yet to venture into. The two of us were together, engaged, in Cape Town, and living (temporarily) at my family’s home. The wedding was looming. T minus 31 days, to be exact, until the celebration commenced!
It was the dead of winter in South Africa, and as I sit here, typing and remembering, I’ve realized that Julie and I have never enjoyed an autumn or spring season together. Not a full one anyway. Can you believe it? Because of the way our travels between the U.S. and South Africa have worked out, we always seem to find ourselves in a summer or winter. Stark contrast. And seasons aren’t the only vessel through which this reality has shown its face.
Contrast, in many ways, seems to be a constant theme in our life together so far.
Consider our home countries alone. The wealth, perspective, landscape, comfortability, freedom, and independence associated with each place is often the invert (or close enough) of the other. And our home countries played their inevitable roles in testing, shaping, and sharpening who Julie and I are as individuals.
Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Because of our differences, Julie’s capacity to sharpen me is huge, and my capacity to sharpen her is of equal proportion. The same notion holds true for our capacity to do just the opposite—to repel, to create gaps, to drive wedges, to fight.
“Why was it, Lord, that we were never in the same boat?” I ask.
Perhaps you were. Perhaps one of you was looking forward from the bow while the other was peering backward from the stern.
I struggled to settle back into my groove in Cape Town, into the role I’d always played in it. In the limelight and at the center of attention were two places I was very comfortable being in this hometown of mine. But all of a sudden, I felt out of place, lost, secluded, unsure of my purpose, unsure of where I belonged. Fresh off a plane from America, I didn’t feel like I “fit in” in South Africa anymore.
The jokes were no longer funny, the usual way of life wasn’t as appealing as it once was, and my positivity, grace, and love were being put to the test. I wish I could tell you that I passed with scores of humility, but I’d be lying if I did.
Looking back on the month leading up to the wedding, I struggle to find the words to describe it.
One month felt like three. Julie's struggles seemed petty to me, so I struggled to understand her and to show her love. Packing up her American life and moving (permanently) to a foreign land didn't strike me as enough reason for her to be upset. The house was cold, and there’s no central heating in South Africa. (There’s really no central heating anywhere outside the U.S.) The weather was wet and freezing, and it seemed to seep its way indoors.
My family is different from hers. My family’s home is different from hers. The food is different, the jokes are different, the culture is different, the way things look are different. Everything is different. And Julie, an introverted solitude-seeker, couldn't walk the neighborhood alone. “It’s not safe,” I told her. She had to stay inside, so she spent a lot of time in her room.
I dealt with her struggles very poorly, but honestly, I felt like I couldn't even deal with my own. In a sense, it was an “every man for himself” few weeks. We fought... a lot. Julie walked the neighborhood alone (once) much to my dismay. And much to hers, I followed 10 strides behind.
Julie and I are both highly passionate people. Stubborn, bullheaded, unwilling to backdown to anyone or anything. We’ll both die to win—that’s something our mentors have told us more than once. The bright side (if there is a bright side to fighting), however, is that we never retreat from each other. We never “lose” each other in the midst of a battle, because we’re always engaged—armed and ready to go to war!
Our goal as a married couple is to turn our fighting into sharpening. As iron sharpens iron, amen. To stop firing in the trenches. To point our guns at the issue, not at each other, then blow “the thing” to freaking pieces.
Soon after our arrival in Cape Town, there was a change in atmosphere. Our American family and friends arrived eight days before the big day, and what I thought would be a time of relief and relaxation was a time of intensity…. in every way possible. Emotion levels and sensitivity were at an all time high. I’d always been that wedding weeks are crazy, but now, I’ve personally lived it out. Oh boy, I'm glad to say I survived, because there for a second, I thought I was going under.
Hiring a 14-person van for 15 of us was mistake #1. And I think every mistake thereafter related to the first. There were too many people, too many age groups, too many personality types, and too many interests to please everyone (with one mode of transportation, at least), which in turn led to the disappointment of many. We were in a pressure cooker, and as a result, Julie felt guilty, and I felt stressed. Guilty enough and stressed enough to not really enjoy time with our families and friends.
You see, when you’re swimming against a strong rip current, you’ll reach a point when you just need to relax, keep your head above water, and float it out. Figuratively speaking, we’d reached that point, but we didn’t take the advice of the water experts. We didn't relent. We fought… and fought… and fought… our entire way through.
I remember Greg Pampell, our dear friend and the pastor who married us, sitting with us the day before the wedding. Much to our relief, he normalized our emotions as individuals and as a couple. Then he prayed for our marriage and for our families.
I really wish we’d been better prepared for the crunch.
I wish I foresaw the pressure coming our way. I wish I had more accurate expectations. I wish I responded with love, grace, and gentleness. But I didn't. I wasn't prepared, and I didn't foresee that week slapping my cheek with such force. I acted out of my default settings: brokenness, protectiveness, defensiveness, and pride.
I hurt many people with my words. I took many things personally, and my attitude failed me in the midst of trying my best. I realized very quickly that I wasn't God. Many things were out of my hands, and I couldn't fill the gaps. My incessant need to fix things was trampled on by the weight of all that needed fixing. Luckily, I serve a God that holds the entire universe—past, present, and future—in the palms of his hands. And He has the ability and space to hold even more.
I am an eternal optimist, and despite the pressure, there really were many great memories made that week. We got to spend quality time with our family and friends—all people who are near and dear to our hearts. We surfed at Muizenberg Beach. We toured the entire Cape Peninsula and saw the penguins at Boulders Beach. We strolled the streets of Kalk Bay, had a few braais (BBQs), and sang a number of country songs late into the night. Some went up Table Mountain, some walked through Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, and others snuck away to a few wine farms. The night before the wedding, the boys (zzz) spent quality time together at a restaurant and enjoyed deepening existing friendships over rare steaks and a Spanish guitar. I think the girls assembled bouquets.
We experienced a lot of victory. God worked in people's hearts. Relationships were tended to, and later that year, they were mended. The Lord worked in our hearts as a couple and brought a great deal of peace into our home environment. When the day finally arrived, the day I’d been waiting for since January 2nd (the day of our engagement), there was peace, there was excitement, there was grace, and there was absolute beauty.
There was redemption.
Oh, have I mentioned that for the entire week leading up to the wedding, it rained? I mean, it rained everyday! Yes, all of our outdoor activities were experienced with looming showers and gale force winds. But on June 7th 2014, God did something real cool. He opened up heaven over Cape Town and shone His glory down over our stunning outdoor garden wedding. It was perfect. It was, without a doubt, the best day of my life. Not one thing went wrong. Well maybe one thing… it went by way too quickly!
Kellie (aka Dr. Gray), Leslie (aka Sista Lez), and Chelsey decorated and set up the food tables. Chase and Ashley, who sang and played all of the music for the ceremony, rehearsed their set list. Natasha and Richard set up for the reception celebration, and Jordan (aka The Jord) served as fashion advisee and stylist for me. His wax, oil, and hairspray ratio for my desired hairstyle was impeccably accurate, and his portable steamer was embraced by many!
Daniel (aka Big Diesel) and Derek (aka Berryl) brought a sense of calmness and stability—something only those two men bring into my world. All in all, we had the the most relaxed morning. Julie’s makeup artist even commented something of the sort. “You all are the most chilled wedding party I’ve ever seen!” Julie did her own hair, made her own earrings (minutes before walking down the aisle), and assembled her own flowers. She was adamant about keeping things simple.
The ladies popped a bottle of pink bubbly in the bridal suite while the guys sipped Jack Black lagers on the rooftop. Before I knew it, guests were arriving, and I was changing from my white V-neck into my suit shirt, tie, and jacket. It was showtime!
Daniel, Derek, and I went up front, soon to be joined by Chase who was playing “Old Pine” by Ben Howard. My dad seated my mom and my 80-something year-old great aunt. Grandaddy seated Julie's mom and grandmother. Then the bridesmaids very elegantly cruised down the aisle with their beautiful, rustic fynbos bouquets.
And then there was silence. I was facing the midday sun and felt its warmth all over my face. It felt like a perfect summer’s day. Not too hot, though. Just perfect. The sky was mostly clear, apart from a few cirrus clouds, sitting roughly at 18,000 feet and looking down on us from above. I fought the urge to look around for Julie. I knew she must’ve been somewhere near. The crowd's silence loomed. Their anticipation (and mine) quickened. Then Chase moved from the introduction of his song and into the chorus. It was time.
I looked to my right and there she was, regal as I'd ever seen a woman. Poised with confidence, yet struck with absolute humility. She reflected Jesus. I knew it was a big deal for Julie to have 60 sets of eyes on her all at once, but she walked as if she’d done so everyday of her life—like it was nothing.
"Where did she learn how to walk like that?" I asked myself.
All of the beauty on earth was dwarfed by her elegance and finesse. My fiancé was coming down that aisle. My soon-to-be wife. I'll never forget how my brother played his guitar that day. It was a huge honor to have Julie ushered to me by the melody of his strumming and picking.
I took three strides forward, meeting her a bit early. I extended my left hand and guided her with my right. I walked her to the space across the way from me. The sun reflected on her hair like gold, and in that moment, I wished it was time to kiss the bride.
Greg did an awesome job leading our ceremony. We trusted him fully and gave him complete freedom to do what he felt called to do. His contemporary approach to Christianity allowed people to keep their hearts open and soft as he shared the truth of the Gospel. Within minutes, we were exchanging rings, a completely unrehearsed and swift success. Julie’s best friend, Jennifer, sang an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace” while Greg prayed over us. Lots of people prayed. Then, after a small amount of dialogue that's still a blur to me, I heard what I’d been waiting to hear...
"Tony, you may now, briefly, kiss your bride."
And oh did I, with faded tones of giggling and laughter in the background, kiss my bride. It must’ve been a record or something! Julie and I were announced as “Mr. and Mrs. Barwick,” then we walked back down the aisle, into a flurry of white rose petals (Julie’s favorite) and a life focused on marriage, ministry, and relationships.
To read our fully story, please visit the Love Story page.