I’ve never known a love story quite like Johanna & Zach’s (and I thought I’ve heard every kind of love story by now). To give you an idea, here’s the moment Zach chose to ask Johanna to be his girlfriend: when she sobbed uncontrollably after just having received the most grim prognosis imaginable … about her brain tumour. Now, she is a “walking talking miracle,” and their faith & love has never been stronger. They’ve gone through more together than most Couples, and deserve the most wonderful, peaceful, and inspired life in their small town along Lake Michigan, where they can perfect acro yoga sequences on the beach, read the Bible together, grow their businesses and spread more goodness into the world.
Their unique intimate Wedding took place at Villa Tabiki on Playa Coson, Las Terrenas, Samana Peninsula of Dominican Republic. The whole experience was unforgettable, but their acro yoga shenanigans & photos with horses are WOW.
Johanna: “Our love story developed very, very slowly. We are both ballroom dancers, and our paths crossed about once a year at different dance events for 4 or 5 years before we ever took the time to actually talk or hang out. One year we finally decided to party after a dance function, and a friendship was born! Zach got snowed in with my family when he came to visit us for one Christmas, and he was so much fun that we decided to invite him back the next weekend… and nearly every weekend after that. Despite the great friendship, it took almost another full year before he managed to convince me that letting him out of friend status was a good idea.”
Zach: “There was so much about Johanna I loved before physical attraction and romance became a part of our relationship. That friendship has been a strong foundation to build our crazy love on! The weekend that really sent us down this road was when I got snowed in at their house for a couple of days unexpectedly. We had tons of fun and talked for hours. After that blizzard, I was at her house nearly every weekend since.”
The wedding morning at Playa Coson began with acro yoga, great laughs, and meaningful connection – a perfect way to set the tone for the Wedding Day.
Johanna’s jaw-dropping dress is from Allure Couture.
Top three things Zach loves about Johanna: “1. Without question, I love that Johanna loves the Lord more than me. 2. She is always dreaming big and wants to become more than she is today in every area. She works out her body, works out her mind, works out her faith, works to improve our relationship, all the things that count! 3. She is SO DARN SEXY.”
Top three things Johanna loves about Zach: “1. I can totally be myself around him. And being myself bounces between the overly mature, wants-to-have-deep-discussions-adult, and the goofy self. Goofy self takes childlike pleasure in puddle jumping, doing happy-pants dances when my yoga boutique Uniquely Yoga has a great day of sales, or diving head first into deep snow drifts when the opportunity presents itself. 2. Zach is up for ANYTHING! He doesn’t patronize me and joins right in, doubling the silly. We will stop mid conversation at dinner to press our noses to the window and oooh and ahh over a magnificent sunset. If we have plans for the weekend, and when he shows up ready for them, and I say “I’ve changed my mind: instead of going rock wall climbing today, I’m feeling a coffee shop and a good book,” and just like that, he’s game. 3. As an engineer, he makes lists for everything. And he carries those habits into his role as a fiance. Some of those extra lists include:
- My sizes and preferences in clothing brands that I love so that when he buys me presents for no reason, they will fit and I will adore them.
- Favorite things that I like to do for dates, and things that I’ve casually mentioned wanting to try.
- Things he feels like he messed up on that he doesn’t want to repeat (like something he said that really hurt me, or something he did that didn’t sit right with me).
Zach regularly reviews those lists to make sure he isn’t forgetting or making the same mistakes over again. How amazing is that? 4. He massages me. A LOT! When I was fighting a brain tumor, I had constant debilitating migraines, and his head rubs were the only thing that could make them stop for awhile. My symptoms are gone, but he still keeps it up!”
Johanna: “The night he told me that he wanted to date me was a moment I won’t ever forget. (ps. He said he wanted to date me eventually, but not yet. Romantic right?!) … I had just returned from the neurosurgeon in Indy that afternoon, and the doctor had told me that the brain tumor was larger than before, and inoperable. I was crying for hours straight, and Zach picked that time to tell me that he wants to date me?! I thought I was dying, and he thought it was a good time to express his attraction!“
Ideal day together according to Johanna: “All of our best days happen outside, and include snuggle time in the morning, Zach massaging my sore muscles (this happens regularly, as we work out a lot and I am basically always sore!) Then we fire up our motorcycles and head off to Starbucks for coffee (salted caramel mocha for me: nothing else will do!) Reading our Bibles together, then back home to ride the horse and enjoy the sunshine. Cap off the evening with some acro yoga, either at the barn or at the beach. Silver beach has fantastic sunsets, so watching them together finishes off our day perfectly. And if it’s a cheat weekend, then pizza and Ace Pear it is!”
Ideal day together according to Zach: “Morning cuddle & massage. Breakfast has to happen somewhat soon because my belly needs it; totally ideal is going out to a yummy breakfast restaurant and having a cup of (great) coffee to sip on while we just talk and get ready for the day. In any order, our day would have a few of these activities: Bible study, reading, a workout (yoga, run, etc), horseback riding, motorcycle ride, maybe some boutique shopping, and more yummy food! Nighttime is a tough call… either cuddle with a movie, or go out DANCING! We like clubs and country line dancing places. There aren’t many near us so we don’t get out as often as we’d like. That would be a “normal” ideal day. We also love to plan something fun and special, like a day trip to Chicago or head up to a rock climbing gym in Kalamazoo. In the summer, a lazy beach day is also amazing.“
Johanna & Zach on the Proposal:
“The proposal was one of those where despite amazing planning, everything possible went wrong. In fact, it went so terribly wrong that we won a nationwide contest put on by Rogers & Hollands Jewelers for the proposal most deserving of a do-over! It’s a long story. You can read the whole thing here:
Zach: “I hate to say this, but I have been a pretty large disappointment (in Hollywood terms) when it comes to romance. My most romantic memory is a combination of moments in the Bahamas about 6 months after we started dating. There are two specific images – one was when I came down to the beach, Johanna had already been down there walking around by herself for a while. She was wearing a beautiful white cocktail dress, and when she saw me coming she turned and ran toward me. It was a total movie moment of this beautiful girl running into my arms on the beach… PERFECT. Later that night we were relaxing in the most amazing infinity pool at this luxury villa my uncle paid for (we were there for his wedding) and just stared out at the ocean, looked up at the stars, worked in a few kisses hoping nobody was watching, stayed out late, it was magical. We never wanted to get out of the pool.”
Johanna: “One of the most oddly romantic memories remains the day Zach asked me to marry him… he planned an awesome trip to Nashville that got ruined by the death of Blue Angel, a major thunderstorm, on top of that, an upset stomach, AND a trail guide from the loony bin! BUT we ended up winning a contest and some free wedding jewelry out of it, so we are counting our blessings on that mess up!“
Johanna’s favourite things to find in the fridge: “Ace Pear Cider. And leftover rhubarb crunch!”
Zach’s favourite things to find in the fridge: “Context is important here… I am lucky just to have something in the fridge. So in reality, the answer to this question is eggs, milk, strawberries, etc. Just to make this more fun, let’s pretend my fridge isn’t often empty. In THAT case, I would love to find a delicious craft beer, a quiche, an oreo cake, steaks to grill, maybe brussel sprouts to roast. Not all at the same time, that’s a really weird list.”
Johanna: “Zach changed my whole world. I was super athletic and a very hard worker, but stuck in a dead end job that I hated because I didn’t believe in myself enough to get out of it. If you had said “start your own business” I would have laughed in your face, and then cried myself to sleep. Then along came Zach. With his guidance and support, I quit my dead end job and started not one but THREE businesses. Now I actually read business books for fun, and the word entrepreneur has a whole new promising ring to it!”
Zach: “Probably the biggest change people see in me since dating Johanna is the adoption of really great new activities. I didn’t own a motorcycle before her, didn’t do yoga, didn’t ride horses, didn’t like to run, didn’t wear cowboy boots, didn’t do much rock climbing, and the list goes on. The biggest real difference is in what I believe about marriage and the potential of my life from this point forward. She has been with me on a journey of the heart and mind to grow deeper in wisdom and true love. We do the hard work, the inner work of the heart, together. That has made all the difference in the world and gives me actual confidence our marriage will be unlike any other, not just fluffy “we are in love” confidence.”
Johanna: “I love that Zach thinks about things before he does them. Because of this, I know that a gift bought for me was premeditated, time spent was carefully portioned out and cleared from work, and that he is intentionally being with me when he is present. He has sacrificed a lot in time spent driving over our 2.5 years of our long distance relationship. And even years into dating, he will still be crazy if the occasion calls for it, no matter the cost to his sleep schedule or next day of work. He once drove 5 hours from a business trip in Ohio to arrive at my house at 3 am because life had dealt me a pretty rough week and I was crying on the phone!“
Zach: “I love that Johanna “recovers” quickly from a negative emotion in a really healthy way. I love that she is expressive and emotional. That means really high positive energy, but also some swings to negative energy… instead of trying to attenuate emotion (which hurts both high and low moments) she has matured into a strong woman who can be mad, sad, or whatever is in front of her in the moment but not let it ruin the rest of the day or week like other women I know. I also love her laughter, her smile, how she steals a kiss whenever she wants, her style, and her adventurous spirit to try anything.“
Johanna: “I love that Zach has great abs, adorable long eyelashes, and the man can dance! I mean REALLY dance. The wiggle your hips ballroom dancing with the stars hotness kind of dance. Who can resist that? He also has a motorcycle, which I find to be an extremely sexy feature.”
Zach: “I love her butt in a sexy pair of jeans.”
JOHANNA & ZACH POST-WEDDING REFLECTIONS:
1) Most memorable moments from the Day / Wedding week?
“Absolute favorite moment? Evening before the ceremony. Since we chose to do a small destination wedding and had our guests stay with us at the villa for most of the week, it was a truly unique time. The night before the wedding, we all sat around the table after dinner, and everyone spoke into our lives. They shared bits about why they believed we were wonderful together. Before the trip, I’d anticipated plenty of pre-wedding jitters. However, because we spent the night before the wedding being blessed & reminded of why we were together, I went into my Wedding Day without a single butterfly of anxiety.
I also loved the time we spent collecting shells on the beach. I didn’t have an aisle runner for the ceremony, so all our friends & family spent time walking the beach every day, collecting beautiful conch shells. We had so much fun in the process (and even conked heads a time or two diving for the same piece). In the end, I got to walk towards my future through an aisle of seashells (and love)!
The ceremony was everything I dreamed. Saying our vows with our toes in the sand and the roar of the ocean in our ears was as time-halting as I had hoped. That moment was not rushed, or performed, or in any way a blur. It was beautiful.
Last but not least, HORSES! We had one of the world’s best trail rides two days before the wedding. My entire family loves horses, so this was a special treat. Wonderful Nicole, the owner of Rancho Playa, took us on a beach horseback ride to be remembered. We rented the horses again for the day after the ceremony, for our “Rock the Dress” photos. Nicole went out of her way to clean them up and make them as beautiful as possible for the shoot. (I would not advise this for just any bride looking for romantic photos, as horses are unpredictable, and can be tough to manage in a wedding dress. However, I have been riding since I was a small child, and felt that it fell well within my comfort range). The horses behaved marvellously, and some of the horse photos Katya captured rival anything I’d previously drooled over on Pinterest!”
2) Do you have any regrets? What would you have done differently if you could?
“We chose our villa before we knew much about where everything was located in DR, and I unwittingly locked us into a location far away from wedding vendors. It was 4 hours from Punta Cana (the more popular spot for weddings), and most vendors either didn’t want to drive that far, or else they charged exorbitant prices for travel. This resulted in many days of anxiety while searching for an arbor and chairs for the ceremony, as we followed random contacts, and even got a friend involved in translating, just so that we could talk to a local who “maybe owned a wedding arbor.” Honestly, I was bracing myself for it to be just Zach and I standing on the beach with nothing, and our guests making themselves comfy in the sand, but the arbor did arrive, in plenty of time for setup! It was beautiful and perfect!
I was also rather anxious about having to do my own hair and makeup, but he Best Man’s girlfriend volunteered to help out, and she ended up doing my hair, and once again, everything worked out.
Lastly, I figured out how to make my own bouquets and brought them with me (they turned out fantastic and I ended up loving them even more than anything I had seen on Pinterest).”
3) What inspired you to have a destination wedding? How did you pick the right venue?
“I had been to many weddings where the Bride emerged from the ceremony hurried and flushed, confessing that it was such a blur, and they could hardly focus on it because they were thinking about the reception after, and all that they had yet to do. I did NOT want that. I wanted to be fully present, and I also didn’t want it to feel like a performance. Zach & I wanted our ceremony to be real, genuine and present. For me, standing in the sand, feeling the warm sun and hearing the waves is the most peaceful place I can imagine… so, a destination beach wedding was a no-brainer!
We narrowed down options by choosing the warmest beaches in the world in January, then began looking for villas large enough to sleep 10-12 guests. We found places in Belize, DO, and a couple of other small islands, but in the end, Villa Tabiki on Samana Peninsula of Dominican Republic had everything we wanted at the very best price. Many places we had looked at were close to the beach, and one of my ‘must haves’ was for the property to be right on the beach. Villa Tabiki also had several other perks, such as breakfast and chef services included. This was a huge bonus: it allowed us to fully rest, relax, and just spend time together as a family.”
4) What inspired your colour palette / decorations / any DIY elements / any unique details or traditions?
“Certain shades of teal have always been my favorite, as well as more recently, mint green. Since I couldn’t choose between them, I decided that our wedding colors would simply be “the colors of the ocean.” What an incredible coincidence that Villa Tabiki in fact happened to be decorated exactly in those colors! Blues, greens and sand colors dominated their bedrooms and dining area. It was absolutely amazing. We didn’t decorate the villa at all!”
5) Any comments about vendors, resort etc
“Photographers: Obviously, if you are getting married in Dominican Republic, hire Katya and Rob. They are so incredible. They didn’t just feel like photographers. They felt like family. And they didn’t just blend in without causing any ripple in the fabric of our experience, but rather they joined in and added so much life to the whole experience!
The Venue: The Villa Tabiki, although remote, was amazing. The staff didn’t speak much English, but they did their best, and we did our best, so together we made it work 🙂 We were especially impressed with their chef: he worked with us to put a menu together for the whole week, and then went out daily to purchase freshest ingredients, himself.
Transport – We used http://dominicanplus.com/ and we were very happy with them. Nice vehicles, always early to pick us up, and pleasant. Some of our guests rented vehicles, but wished they would have just arranged for the same transportation we had, as they ended up getting lost and arrived to the Villa several hours later than planned.
Nearby Attractions: Rancho Playa – for horseback riding, Nicole is tops. We had such a wonderful time here, and if you want to get out for a trail ride, I highly recommend her. – http://www.ranchoplayalt.com
Resort vs. renting private home – some Brides may prefer a resort wedding, for a potentially hassle-free planning experience. Personally, I’m very happy that we chose to rent a villa, so that we could have our own private beach, our own pool, and our own staff instead. The price was actually less for 5 nights and 10 guests at the villa than for just 2 guests at the resort for our honeymoon the following week (Secrets Sactuary in Cap Cana). Villa Tabiki was amazing, and I recommend them highly!”
6) How to stay on budget while still getting the wedding of your dreams?
“Saving money on the ceremony:
DIY… in moderation! You can drive yourself crazy trying to make ALL of the decor yourself, and sometimes it is just as affordable to buy the entire item as it is to buy the parts to make it. My DIY’s:
- Bouquet. I made mine and my maid of honor’s out of “True Touch” flowers. They are fake, but they feel exactly like real ones. So much prettier than silk, and more durable than live. Plus it cost me all of $100 to make the bridal bouquet, the bridesmaid bouquet and 5 boutineers.
- Air B&B! If you are doing a destination wedding, and have only a few guests, you can often find killer deals for lovely homes RIGHT on the beach. (Keep in mind this may lead to more things that you have to DIY though. lol)
Saving money for the reception:
- Get married in the off season… having our wedding on the beach in January, and our reception at home in February cut our cost nearly in half. It is amazing how many vendors will give discounts in the off season.
- If you are serving a nice dinner, go easy on the appetizers… the cost of those can skyrocket quickly! Most guests are happy with simple ones, like veggie trays, fruit trays and crackers and cheese, since they really don’t want to fill up before the dinner anyways.
- Decorations… choose a venue that is beautiful all by itself, and go light on the decor!”
7) Guest list: how did you narrow down your guest list to a reasonable number?
“Since we wanted to do a destination wedding, and we knew that we wanted it to be at a private villa rather than a resort, we just limited our travel guests to the bare minimum… My parents, his parents, his best man + 1, and my maid of honor + 1. Then we had a large reception when we returned home, to hang out with all of our friends who weren’t invited to the actual ceremony. This turned out to be amazing in more ways than one. The actual ceremony was wonderfully intimate, and the at home reception could have our full attention! For the reception, we were able to be there in full wedding attire, greeting guests as they arrived, rather than like at a normal wedding, where the bride and groom are off taking photos while guests spend an hour or more waiting at the reception. We still kept the reception formal, and we even spoke our vows again in front of the guests, so they could feel like they were part of the wedding too.”
8) Communication: any challenges in keeping your friends & family informed about your wedding plans?
“Zach’s parents were actually teaching a Bible class in Italy for 3 months, and only got home a couple of weeks before we had to leave for the wedding, so keeping them informed was tough! But they are very flexible, and we tried have everything that would need decided in place before they left (what to wear, rental cars, flights, etc.) so that they could just relax on their trip. Other than that, it was a breeze. Both of our families just wanted us to have our dream wedding, so they let us plan it completely and only gave input when asked. Pretty much the ideal family.” 😉
9) Bridal buys: shopping advice for stationary, accessories, wedding dress etc
“My dress was an Allure Couture gown, and I got it at Becker’s Bridal in Fowler Michigan. That place has been around since 1934, and they have one of the most amazing wedding dress experiences that I could imagine. They have 16 dressing rooms, and over 3,000 different gowns in stock. Unlike a chain like David’s Bridal, where I felt rushed and over crowded, Becker’s makes your shopping trip really special. You get your own stylist, who helps only you while you are there. You can try on as many dresses as you like, and take your time. They have three 360 viewing rooms, so you can see your dress from all angles.
I am a graphic designer, so I actually designed and printed all of my invitations myself. If you don’t feel qualified to do this, places like vista print offer some pretty affordable options. And just because I saved money didn’t mean that it was easy. Lol. It took a LONG time to cut out all of those invitations, and tie raffia & little starfish around them. If you can afford to have a company do all of your invitations & send them direct mail, me, my family and our aching backs would recommend that as an area to splurge!”
10) Any advice for future brides/grooms!
“Just because you spend a lot of money on your dream dress doesn’t mean you need to baby it. I picked the most gorgeous dress I could imagine, and took it to the DR! I carried it through airports, stuffed it on a plane, and got it ready for the big day with the help of my Mother-in-Law and a small hand steamer. Then, once the wedding day arrived, I wore it through the sand, into the ocean and even did some acro yoga for killer wedding photos, after which i rinsed it in the shower, laid it out to dry and put it on again the next day for an amazing Rock the Dress shoot on horseback! You would think it would have been toast after all that, but it didn’t even have a single snag, and we shipped it off to the dress cleaners on a rush job, and had it back in time to wear for the home reception a few weeks later. It looked brand new. So my advice to you is WEAR THE DRESS!“