Last Year I Was Engaged—Now My Wedding’s Cancelled

Today was going to be my wedding day.

Angie and I had everything planned. A ceremony by the beach; our reception at the winery across the road from where I grew up; thirty guests joining us from overseas.

But then corona came.

I first read of the strange Wuhan virus back in January. By February, I started to wonder if it might cause trouble for any of Angie’s family arriving from the United States. A month ago, I even asked our wedding venue if they had a cancellation policy for global pandemics. I was joking—but I was also kind of serious.

“Angie and I had everything planned. But then corona came.”

Last weekend, I went camping with friends for my bucks party. I checked my phone more often than I normally would—and for good reason. Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips as international flights became harder and harder to navigate.

With heavy hearts, we had already decided that our wedding would only go ahead if, at a minimum, her parents were able to make the trip. By the time my bucks weekend was over, it was only my future in-laws and Angie’s maid of honour who were still planning to board their flights.

When Scott Morrison announced that everyone arriving internationally had to self-isolate for 14 days, we knew it was all over. There just wasn’t time between their touch-down and our ceremony.

“Today was going to be my wedding day.”

Months of dreaming and planning came to a sudden, sobering, sickening end. It felt like a practical joke; like a twisted movie script; like someone else’s tragic life. But it was ours.

After tears and many phone calls to family, we decided that it was only right for us to still get married. But we would keep the affair low-key and only celebrate properly in a year or so, when all the current craziness was over.

Angie and I were very blessed by loved ones who reached out with words of encouragement and practical help. A very generous friend offered us her homestead as the setting for a humble garden party.

“Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips.”

We had our solution: Angie and I would marry in a private ceremony at the beach with just my family in attendance. Afterwards, we would take up our friend’s offer and host our Australian guests—including those from interstate—for an outdoor party with braziers and wood-fired pizza.

We only had a week to plan it. But with social distancing rules changing every day, the stress grew increasingly unbearable. Who knew if tomorrow, gathering sizes would be limited to ten like the USA, state borders closed, or backyard parties banned altogether?

It was all too much. On wise advice from my sister, we decided to shift our wedding forward again, and get married the day after next.

Only in my nightmares have I planned my wedding in 24 hours—but that’s exactly what we did. 

On the Sunday just passed, before love itself was outlawed, I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley. It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Afterwards at my sister’s place, we celebrated with just twenty of our nearest and dearest. It was the most lavish backyard shindig you’ve ever seen, and we are indebted to those who made it happen.

“I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley.”

Just days into our honeymoon—yesterday in fact—we checked the news. Weddings are now limited to an attendance of five. Even events hosted in homes and backyards are taboo, according to the PM’s latest advice.

Good thing we got in early.

As I look back over the last few months, it is overwhelming to think of all that has happened. Just before we returned here from the USA, Angie’s Australian visa was bungled. Had we not chased down the Department of Home Affairs in sheer desperation, she’d still be stuck at home in America.

“It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Then the Australian bushfires came. A day before boarding our flight to Australia, we heard unbelievable news from my family that the Adelaide Hills were on fire. The first news headline we saw told of our wedding venue almost burning to the ground, and heavily damaged vines in every direction.

It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen. But it has happened—and it yet will. When our thirty long-lost loved ones can finally join us, we will be throwing a very, very big party.

For now, there are a few lessons I’ve learnt from all that has unfolded.

This situation is far bigger than us. Before our wedding, I only scanned the news for how it would affect Angie and I. For days, our hopes and dreams and absurd amounts of money were all hanging on the whimsical dictates of world leaders.

We still hope for most of our money and dreams to be redeemed at a future date. But now that the stress of a cancelled wedding is behind us, it is easier to see how this situation is affecting everyone.

“We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you.”

India has just begun a 3-week lockdown. Spare a thought for the countless millions who are “locking down” in tin and tarpaulin slums.

In Ireland, laws now prevent people from attending their own family members’ funerals. Here in Australia, 35,000 people have already lost their jobs.

I don’t mean to downplay your suffering. But keep in mind that you are not alone. We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you. They need your prayers, and probably your practical support, too.

I have a phenomenal wife. I have heard of bridezillas, but Angie isn’t one of them. She has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.

On hearing that every relative and childhood friend was blocked from witnessing her marriage, Angie dried her tears and planned a second wedding. And then a third. And like me, she enjoyed the day with all of her heart.

“Angie has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.”

She understands what more people need to: a wedding does not a marriage make. All the celebrations in the world can’t outweigh the joy of a union forged by God, and inspired by the selfless example of Christ.

We’re less than a week in to marriage and clearly we have lots to learn, but I can’t imagine a bride of better character to begin this brand new life with.

God is always in control. During countless moments this week, it felt very much like God was not in control. But feelings don’t trump facts. God always has a plan. And often, his hand is seen best in hindsight.

Just before we planned our makeshift wedding, Angie and I prayed with my family. Down on our knees, we asked God to open a door. He did. Only days after walking through it, that door shut. Had we not heard God and obeyed, both of our families would have missed our marriage.

God’s timing was perfect in other ways too. Just as Angie and I were about to recite our vows to each other, all of us turned towards the ocean to watch a pod of dolphins pass us in the shimmering sun. It sounds too good to be true—and it was.

God’s hand was also seen in the generosity of others. My sister Carli dropped everything to make our day—small as it was—the most memorable day ever. She made a hundred phone calls and hosted us and cooked pizzas and took photos and did it all with a beaming smile. Our friend Donna who offered us her garden was just as caring and selfless.

“It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

During dark days, we were carried by the prayers of God’s people and their many messages of support and love.

We have too many blessings to count.

One day we will celebrate our wedding, and we can’t wait. But for the time being, we’re just enjoying being married.

Why Everyone Should Care When Christians Lose Their Freedom

Last week, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player Israel Folau tweeted a paraphrase of an unpopular Bible verse. This week, he finds himself barred from our national rugby team and the NRL.

Izzy’s fame has kept his story in the nation’s headlines. But he’s only the tip of the iceberg. Many Aussie Christians face an ugly and growing intolerance simply for holding to beliefs that hardly raised an eyebrow a generation ago.

The same day the Folau story went viral, I received this unrelated message from a concerned friend:

“I work in a health team and we’re doing lots in the diversity space. The thing that really lacks however is respect for Christians and the Christian faith.

“Israel Folau is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“Frequently in training for LGBTI we kept having to listen to negative statements about the church… I don’t feel safe to voice my views as a Christian or even defend Christianity because of backlash from my workplace and these trainers.

“Any suggestions for how to deal with it?”

If you can’t see how hostile western society has become towards the Christian faith—even in just the last few years—then you’ve probably been asleep. Worse still, you might be woke.

Speaking of woke, some readers didn’t like that I took a stand for Christians in my previous post about Folau. It would be more like Jesus, they suggested, if I stood with those not from my tribe.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

On this, I agree with them. One of the remarkable things about Jesus—and Christians through the ages—is a selfless care for the plight of others, even enemies.

But it’s also like Jesus to speak against injustice wherever it’s found.

Moreover, it’s in everyone’s best interests to speak against injustice wherever it’s found. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

With that in mind, here are four reasons everyone should care when Christians like Israel Folau lose their freedoms.

Because no one else does

It’s basically one-way traffic in the media—not just on the Izzy saga but in most stories that are broadcast about the Christian faith.

Without question, the church has its fair share of sins to atone for and plenty of trust to regain—especially after the recent child abuse royal commission.

But for the last decade, if you had only mainstream news sources to go on, you’d think most people who follow Jesus were kooks, bigots or paedophile priests.

“The church has its fair share of sins to atone for.”

Forget that four of Australia’s top five charities are Christian, or that religious Aussies give 50% more to charity than their secular counterparts, or that 91% of Australians describe the impact of their local churches as either neutral or positive.

If followers of Jesus were portrayed with more fairness and accuracy in popular culture, maybe less people would cheer when a Christian like Izzy has his freedoms taken away.

Until then, and as long as the caricatures continue, sticking up for the underdog—in this case, yes Christians—would be a very Australian thing to do.

Because inclusion is just another word for exclusion

I don’t think Izzy’s post was tactful. But I also don’t think he was trying to single out people in the gay community. He was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.

As Chris Kenny writes, other high-profile NRL and ARL players “have sullied those codes with ugly exploits ­including sexual assault, public drunkenness, drug-taking, violence, explicit videos, bestiality pics, hallway defecation, group sex and heaven knows what else.”

Yet what has spelt the end for Israel Folau’s career is a public expression of his Christian faith.

“Folau was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.”

In other words, this quite recent secular doctrine known as ‘inclusion’ isn’t exactly what it sounds like. Many groups that were excluded in the past are now welcome in mainstream society, and that’s great.

But ironically, some that used to be welcome are no longer—chief among them, followers of Jesus.

This should be cause for a rethink. Rather than celebrating Izzy’s exclusion, maybe it’s time we Aussies had a chat about an inclusion that genuinely is what it sounds like.

Otherwise we’re just repeating the mistakes of the past but inflicting them on a different subculture.

Because Christianity gave us freedom in the first place

I believe in a secular public square. By that, I don’t mean a society where religion isn’t welcome—I mean a society where all ideas can be discussed with civility and none are given special treatment.

Having said this, there’s something about our freedoms that most Australians don’t know.

Democracy and its associated freedoms are, for the most part, a legacy of Christian belief. The foundation texts of our political system like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written mostly by Christians from a Christian milieu.

“Shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.”

Medieval catholic lawyers are a responsible for natural rights which eventually developed into human rights. Reformers of the 16th century redefined the dignity of the human person and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.

The West might now be secular, but it owes a deep debt to the Christian faith. Which is why shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.

Because we won’t know what we had until it’s gone

It’s not just MLK who sees justice as an ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’.

George Orwell, author of the eerily prophetic 1984, said that “If you encourage totalitarian methods, the time will come when they will be used against you instead of for you.”

You may despise Israel Folau’s religious views. You may even despise him. But in the words of George Orwell once more, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

If we value our own freedoms, we must value the freedoms of those we don’t particularly like.

If we don’t, 1984 might be closer than we think.