Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The End…and the Beginning

Have you heard? I am so, so proud to share with you that my new ministry and website, SPOKEN BRIDE, launched yesterday! Click on over to read more about our mission, see our first wedding feature (the photo below is a preview), and find out about how you can submit your wedding and writing for our site. If you're a Catholic wedding vendor, applications are open for our Vendor Guide and we'd love to see your work! And don't forget to follow along on Facebook and Instagram and to tag your wedding and those you attend with #spokenbride so we can see and share in your witness.

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Photo Credit: Maison Everett
And that, friends, brings me to my last post here, at least for now. From now on I'll be writing over at SPOKEN, and I hope you'll join me there. All the wedding content, husband-gushing, spiritual reflections, love stories, and baby news that've accumulated here over the last four years is here on Captive the Heart to stay, and I hope the About, Book, and Spoken Bride tabs in the menu give you a clear roadmap to whatever Catholic wedding needs you have. If they don't, or if you just want to chat, I'd love to hear from you at Truly!

I've been putting off writing this, trying to come up with something at least moderately reflective about what my life was like when I started this blog compared to what it's like now, but I think I said it already in last week's post on Mother Teresa's spousal love for Christ. It feels fitting to be wrapping up this site on the Feast of the Visitation, a day when two women deeply, giddily, profoundly rejoiced in each others' happiness. I've loved the community you helped me create here and have been so happy becoming real-life friends and email and social media correspondents with you, hearing about your engagements and wedding days and seeing the pictures, and praying with you as a sister through the better and the worse. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and this isn't goodbye!

Venerable Fulton Sheen's Three to Get Married gave this blog its name. As I flipped through it again recently for the first time since I was engaged six years ago, this passage captured me in its description of heady romance come back down to earth, resolute in sacrifice and fidelity while still loving and remembering that initial glow and looking forward to the future. It suits my season in life right now, and I think it also suits this time of transition:

Every great thing begins with a dream, whether it be that of the engineer who plans a bridge or of the heart that plans a home. The soul draws upon its infinity and colors it with the gold of paradise. No one ever climbs to the heavens without passing through the clouds. This foretaste of heaven is good, and even heaven-sent. It is the advance agent of heaven, telling the heart of that real happiness that lies ahead. Actually, it is bait, a blueprint, a John the Baptist, an announcer telling of the program to come.

Here's to the future, here's to Spoken Bride, and here's to you, my beautiful sisters. I fully expect to hear from you soon, and until then I'll meet you in the Eucharist.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mother Teresa's Example to Me as a Bride, Looking Ahead & An Announcement

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During Lent, I decided, along with Emily of Raising Barnes and Stephanie of Bluebird Songs, to make my way through Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light for a little spiritual reading book club.  I have to admit, even after Pentecost I'm still making my way through, but the experience of reading about this beautiful woman's call to found her order as a "call within a call," among immense obstacles in the form of her spiritual director and bishop wanting to be sure the pull on Teresa's heart was from God and, most significantly, in the face of intense spiritual dryness and a complete absence of feeling the Lord's presence, left such an impression on me.

I first heard of the book from my best friend's younger sister, who at the time was discerning entering the Poor Clares.  At the time, I saw Mother Teresa as immensely beautiful and holy, so much so that she wasn't the most relatable, though certainly very admirable.  The book sounded interesting, yet I'm aware now that during my conversion in college I was protected by grace and didn't really experience much darkness or spiritual attack, so that being the focus of the book didn't really draw me at the time.

I found a copy in a used bookstore after I graduated and decided to read it because of Tersa's missionary nature, as I was spending that year on mission.  It was also the year I was engaged, and what stood out to me most, and still did on this second reading, is how literally Jesus and Teresa were like spouses. As I read during Lent, I noticed how Jesus constantly called her things like his little bride and little spouse, and noticed the sacrifice to which she went to do his will, even when in doubt and even when it caused her pain.  Before the publication of Come Be My Light, most of the world didn't know that the beautiful sister in blue and white, perpetually smiling and visibly joyful, was thirsting for God, crying out to him for years as she felt, quite literally, locked out of heaven.

What's more, Mother Teresa's spousal love for Christ stood out to me as a pure, beautiful form of obedience.  As a sister, Teresa took the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and later felt drawn to make a fourth private vow: she promised Jesus that she would refuse him nothing.  How simple, I thought, yet so immense to consider as it's actually lived out, especially when you consider her dark night of the soul.  

I asked myself what Andrew's and my relationship would look like if, after discerning that a request of his was a worthy one, I were to simply do it, out of love for him and a desire for both of our sanctification.  Obviously, things like chores don't require much discernment, but our major life decisions do, and the level of trust required of me would be huge.  I told my husband this, and after he thanked me for being so willing to love him in this way, he said, "You have to remember that I'm not God. I don't have every answer figured out, and don't have the perfect knowledge that he does of every right path for us."  Smart, smart, good-lookin' man. He'd started the book, too, and told me he'd also been inspired by Teresa's obedience to Christ, her beloved spouse.  But what he pointed out to me is that of course we can't make each other into idols and blindly assume that everything we ask of each other is something we should actually do.  Still, we agreed, what an amazing model for a marriage to imitate Mother Teresa's faithfulness and desire to seek the Father's will in all things, in the form of constant daily obedience.

Reading the book six years ago as Andrew's fiance, Mother Teresa's divine intimacy with Jesus felt like a huge, but worthy, ideal to strive for, though I knew I'd fall short and would have to go easy on myself. And now, nearly five years into my marriage, I actually feel pretty sobered by the realization of just how damn much I fall short. Andrew's weeks of intense studying for his comps exams a few months ago were one of the most stressful times our relationship has ever encountered, and Come Be My Light was a powerful motivation for me to realize this time is God's will for us.  I saw, and continue to see, so clearly how a willingness to put yourself aside so entirely for your spouse is worth the constant effort.  It's worth our eternity.

Depending on my mood or how I've acted on a given day, that realization is either discouraging or inspiring, but I keep reminding myself that being down on myself is not of God, and neither is feeling frustrated with my abilities in my marriage.  Instead, it's an opportunity to beg for grace and try to receive it well.

So that's our life as we prepare to celebrate our fifth anniversary two months from now.  I look back at photos of us as newlyweds and see two twenty-three year old kids with stars in their eyes, aglow with the joy of a lifetime to come.  And truly, the joy we've experienced is impossible to put into words.  The stumbling blocks, the sorrows, though; they're just as incommunicable.  We still have stars in our eyes, but we're tempered now by the times we've failed each other in sacrifice or patience or quick apologies or even simple kind words.  

I told Andrew recently how sorry I still feel for all these long since forgiven moments, and though we both understand we should still hold each other to a standard of truest love, he said knowing that we've fallen short has still brought us closer to each other and to holiness.  When we got married, he said, we loved each other completely (with all the effort and intention that entails), because we knew a completeness of each other at the time.  The longer we've been married, though, the more complete that vision of each other has become. He told me that in some ways, the trust we founded our vows on is even more trustworthy and entire now, after being tested by our seeing the deepest flaws and weaknesses in each other.  Our love, and commitment to keep loving completely, remains, and is richer than it was on that July day five summers ago.

Approaching a milestone anniversary, three moves and two babies from when I started Captive the Heart in 2012, feels like a good time for a transition.  I mentioned to you a few weeks ago how thrilled I am to be collaborating with three dear friends on Spoken Bride, a wedding and lifestyle blog for Catholic brides and newlyweds launching on the 31st of this month, the Feast of the Visitation.  At least for now, I'll be focusing my writing efforts there.  Spoken will feature real, beautiful Catholic wedding photos and love stories alongside the kind of wedding-related content that's here on Captive the Heart, so my words might take a turn a little away from the personal toward the editorial. I'll still be telling stories and showing you pictures of my babies here.  I'll be writing my last few posts here over the next few weeks, and will continue sharing articles, graphics, and photos you won't find on the blog on Facebook through the 31st.  I am so unbelievably excited for this new ministry and the truth and beauty it has to offer. I hope you'll join me!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Four Ways Your Wedding Website Can Help You Evangelize, with Love.

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I was twelve at the time, but I can still remember my first encounter with a wedding website for my youngest uncle and now-aunt's wedding.  My aunt wore those black Steve Madden platform slides that mysteriously have made a comeback this season (Maybe that's why I can't get on board with the slide/overalls/mom jean trends?  They hit too close to childhood!), and within a few months all of my aunts, me, my sister, and a few of my girl cousins all had a pair, too.  In other words, she was the coolest, and during those days of a younger internet, so was having a wedding website.

Obviously, it's way more common to make a website these days, but I still love reading about a couple's big day and love story when I get invited to a wedding…or, you know, even if I'm not invited but someone I know is engaged and I still want to read about their big day and love story.  Please don't think I'm too crazy.

Aside from the normal deets like the who and the where and the RSVPs, directing guests to your wedding site also gives you a unique opportunity to share your faith with your family and friends.  Stating why you believe what you do, in your own words and in a way that's truthful, casual, and aimed at the heart, can go a long way in making your Catholic wedding an invitation to deeper understanding and a witness to the beauty of marriage in the Church.  I suggest...

Telling the story of a saint who's had a hand in your relationship.  True stories of virtue and holiness speak for themselves, and they also offer you an opportunity to break down why and how Catholics call upon the saints' intercession.

Short explanations of parts of the Mass, like communion and the Rite of Marriage, for guests who might be unfamiliar.  On the page with your Mass details, briefly and charitably talking about modest dress in the chapel, who can receive communion and why, and why the Rite of Marriage matters for the sacrament can all go a long way in making your guests (particularly non-Catholics or those who've been away from the faith) feel at ease and not experience any surprises that could be misperceived as exclusive or judgmental, like a non-Catholic not being permitted to receive the Eucharist.  If you're looking for a starting point, this post speaks to some common questions unique to Catholic marriage, like vows, music, and cohabitation.

Host an open-invitation holy hour after your wedding rehearsal.  One of the most beautiful moments of my life was praying with my best friends Teresa and Beth after Beth's rehearsal, before heading to dinner, in the chapel on our college campus where we'd all, at some point, smiled and cried thinking about our future husbands, babies, and marriages.  The tears poured down as we knelt shoulder to shoulder and as I marveled at how the Father had answered each of our hopes and prayers so specifically and so abundantly in the men he gave to us.  At another wedding I went to, the bride and groom had their priest and a few friends lead anyone who wanted to come in an hour of Adoration, confession, and Praise and Worship the night before the wedding, and heaven really did touch earth during that hour.  Following suit, by planning a holy hour and sharing it with your guests via your website, is amazing for both you as the couple getting married and for everyone who will share in your wedding with you.

Invite your guests to leave their intentions on your wedding site, and pray for them.  I love writing a message in a couple's online guest book and requesting songs in the, well, request box on their site, but two of my friends also included an Intention Box on their wedding website.  Guests' prayer requests weren't public, so only the bride and groom saw them, and I found their promise to pray for everyone attending in such personal ways so incredibly generous and beautiful.

I hope these ways of evangelizing to your guests really do call your family and friends into communion with you and express what you stand for in a loving way, especially if there are sensitivities among them where faith is concerned.  Above all, though, I truly think the best, most important witness of all is one that doesn't even need to be typed and posted--quite simply, the joy of entering into marriage with a pure heart, radiant, evident joy, and desire for complete self-gift is impossible to ignore.  Don't worry about it being your personal responsibility to change anyone's mind about the Church; just be yourselves, the selves who so clearly wear their love for all to see, knowing that love flows from Love himself, and what you value and what sets your marriage apart will be crystal clear.  I promise!

Did I miss anything on this list?  Tell me how you've shared the Gospel with your guests through your wedding site or otherwise!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Inspired: Bridal Shower Style

Three weeks before Aaron was born, Andrew drove me to his brother's house and said we were going on apple picking, but we had to stop at his grandparents' first.  Suspish.  At the time, I hadn't had a baby shower yet, and while I was firmly in the camp that no one is required to throw you a party, I have to admit I'd been wondering about all the complicated plans Andrew had been making, that seemed to keep changing.  So I put on a simple dress that I could theoretically pick apples in and let him walk me to the door.  Sure enough, there were both of our families, a cake, and a bunch of blue decorations.

The point is, a shower--baby or bridal--is a gift, and sometimes you know when it's happening, and sometimes it's a surprise.  If you do know when your bridal shower will be, do you have an outfit picked out?  Personally, I don't love the spotlight, but on the few occasions where I knew a lot of attention would be on me at a party, I had fun choosing what to wear because at showers, it's so much fun to be dressed up with other women and appreciate their style choices.  Sparkly shoes, pretty nails, or a blowout would generally be lost on my husband (like, he might notice and admire those kind of things, but doesn't think they're necessary and hence just doesn't particularly care about them), but sharing in all of that with girls is special.  Not the entire point of the day, of course, but definitely special.

So here's an easy bridal shower style formula you can adapt to your style: a white outfit, a little something that sparkles, and something bright or shiny to make a statement.  Inspiration here and links below:

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CLASSIC LOOK / peplum dress / scallop heels (they have blue soles with a heart--hello wedding shoes!) / MAC lipstick in Pink Noveau
ROMANTIC LOOK / off-the-shoulder dress / Becca rose gold highlighter / geode earrings
MINIMALIST LOOK / romper / Mrs. necklace / slides
Your turn.  Which of these looks would you choose, and do you have a favorite way to style a pre-wedding outfit?

P.S.  If you're getting your makeup professionally done for your wedding day, the day of your bridal shower is a perfect time to do a test run!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My New Catholic Wedding Project: Introducing Spoken Bride

If things have been a little quiet around here lately, it's because I've been working on a project that's been in the works for almost a year.  I'm thrilled to introduce you to SPOKEN BRIDE, a new website that combines lifestyle articles for brides and newlyweds, visual inspiration from jaw-dropping real Catholic weddings, and community for Catholic wedding vendors.

Last summer, my friends Jiza, Elissa (she took that gorgeous image above from Maura of Made In His Image's wedding!) and I started talking about what a need there is to foster connections between Catholic wedding photographers, planners, and designers in order to help them find clients who appreciate their fire for the sacrament of marriage, as well as the need for a resource that provides visually beautiful images and inspiration on par with the culture's wedding sites, yet made deeper and truer with spiritual richness.  A few weeks ago, our friend Andi joined us, and things have been rolling, and rolling fast, since then.  SPOKEN BRIDE launches May 31, the Feast of the Visitation, to close the month of Our Lady with a nod to her identity as the purest, most humble, obedient, radiant bride, in the best sense of the words.

I couldn't be happier that this dream, a long time coming, now has some real internet roots, and we have high hopes for SPOKEN becoming a distinctive, noted resource for lots of brides.  Read more about us and about our mission here.  Meantime, I'll still be posting here, at least through the end of May, and am currently discerning how SPOKEN and Captive the Heart will intersect.

Want to get involved?  This community will be dependent on submissions and involvement from y'all, so we'd love to have you!
  • If you're engaged or newlywed, find info about submitting your wedding or engagement shoot here.
  • If you're a photographer or other wedding vendor, click here for more on joining our Vendor Guide and having your work and your business featured on the site and in our forthcoming directory for brides.
  • Do you have an article idea?  Deets on submitting written work are here.
Please pray for us as we start this ministry and share it with your friends, ministry partners, and fellow vendors and creatives!  I hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Family Updates

My last post about my family was to tell you how Lily was born and how much I liked labor tubs. Since then, I've become a mom of a five month old and a two and a half year old, both in the same week (And actually, oops, Aaron's birthday is on the 16th of the month and Lily's is the 13th, but I always think hers is the 16th, too.  Second child stereotypes…). I've also become wife to a PhD doctoral candidate, which is the title Andrew gets after PASSING COMPS, YO. I'm unspeakably proud of him. Here's what else has been going on.

Andrew: Like I said, passed the biggest exams of his life and never has to take another test. Read a book for pleasure for the first time in months, recommended it to me, and we both loved it.  I just finished this one, after months of wanting to see the movie. Have you read or seen it?

Aaron: As adorably, hilariously obsessed with trucks as ever. Proof: asked what the palms were on Palm Sunday, and while I tried to explain, interrupted me to say it was the pump from a concrete pumping truck (You didn't know what that was before you were a boy mom?  Me neither!). Asks to walk by the construction site across the street from us every day, which we do while walking to pick up Andrew from the metro. Graduated from Pack 'n Play to hand-me-down race car bed, killed his nap, and killed it good. We're working on enforced rest time, if enforced means sort of encouraged on my part--some days it's more tiring to chase him back into his room to play quietly than to keep him with me all day! Hugs and kisses his sister all day long, with gusto; caught stroking her head when she woke up from a nap, saying, "It's okay, Lily" and repeatedly shoving her pacifier at her. Verrry gradually potty training. Asks us questions all day long, loves drawing clouds and cars (lots of circles, mostly), learned how to play this game, and despite typically trying toddler willfulness that's sometimes made worse by lack of naps, is just so affectionate and wonderfully himself and makes his mama so happy to talk to and watch him.

Lily: Learned to roll from back to belly and tries at every opportunity. Giggles like crazy whenever her brother jumps off of something, leans over to kiss her, or shakes a toy in front of her face. Only wants to stand, never sit, on our laps.  Grabs at things with increasing accuracy, whether toy or teething ring or her mommy's hair. Constantly vocalizes during the day, usually sounds that can be best described as "ga-ROO!" It's unclear who is more amused by this. Wakes up four times a night.  Hopefully this will change when she gets kicked out of our room this week.  Hopefully.

In many ways, the last few weeks have been a transitional sort of time for our family, as we adjust to Andrew having slightly more free time than he did at the height of his studying, and me having slightly less between my book release and the death of naptime. Sacrifice is a funny thing; we are far from perfect at it, but the more habitual it becomes, the harder it is to let someone sacrifice for you--joy is a fruit of putting another person before yourself, and as much as I complained some days during the comps madness, I sometimes wish there was more I could do for Andrew now, when it's not an absolute necessity that I do most of the chores or baby caring. It's not that I want to be in control of everything or be praised for things that I do; I just want to be able to help my husband, and now that our roles have been temporarily reversed (I.e. I have more deadlines and pressing priorities than he does right now, whereas it's been vice versa for the past few months), I struggle to let him help me without feeling guilty. Please pray for us as we discern how to balance each of our responsibilities in the best way for our family.

But honestly; look at those brown-eyed babies. Life is sweet, friends.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What Aziz Ansari and JPII Both Showed Me About Love

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I downloaded Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance from the library to read in the hospital after Lily was born, thinking I was basically in for a quick read of a comedy book.  The thing, though, about downloading library books instead of borrowing the physical copies, is you miss out on reading the dust jacket, and maybe it was just me, but I actually had no idea the book is more serious than that.

Ansari set out to write a book just filled with his observations and quips on love and dating, but the more people's text messages he read aloud during his stand-up shows, and the more he talked to older generations and noticed what set their relationships apart from ours, the more he noticed young adults have a range of self-destructive habits when it comes to the intersection of dating, technology, and social media.  He changed tack and worked with sociologists and huge focus groups to get at the core of why people our age have so many complaints about finding love, and I'd argue that the book functions primarily as a social study, not as a humor book--the jokes are sprinkled throughout and are direct responses to the data.

Props, Tommy Fresh. If you can get past what I thought was pretty judiciously used cussing (and, full disclosure, mentions of a few acts that Catholics just can't get behind), I admired the heck out of this book and recommend it.  For a well-liked, truly funny celeb to call out behaviors like sexting as an opening line and refusing to commit to a relationship for the reason that things like Tinder and online dating make it seem like someone better is always around the corner, in a way that's sharp but non-judgy, letting the facts and testimonies speak for themselves, is bold.

And perceptive.  Like the JPII-lovin' cliche that I am, I couldn't ignore the echoes of Love and Responsibility I heard in the stories from Modern Romance.  I want to share them here because I know when you're surrounded by a solid, faithful community and/or are in a relationship that strives for holiness, it's a little too easy to be hard on our brothers and sisters who are out there dating the culture's way.  Whether someone recognizes it or not, every experience of longing for romance, of desire, and of wishing there was something more is an experience of longing for God, the only one in whom we'll find true love and true rest.  Each of us want that; each wandering, restless, aching heart.  Here's the proof:

Every human person is loved and willed into existence, entirely unique, and has immense dignity in God's image and likeness.  And each of us is someone, not something.  John Paul II used the phrase "unique and unrepeatable" to describe the human person in his Christmas Day homily, 1978, and it became sort of a hallmark of his outlook on human dignity.  In Love and Responsibility, he wrote, "it is because it is directed towards a particular human being that the sexual urge can provide the framework within which...the possibility of love arises."  In other words, any attraction should be aimed at someone, specific and special, and not just anyone for the sake of attraction alone.  Our generation gets it.  One young woman, jaded by online dating, said in one of Aziz's studies that "People are not products.  But, essentially, when you say, 'I want a guy that's six foot tall and has blah, blah, blah characteristics, you're treating a human being like one."  The online dating chapter of the book concludes a section with, "even people who meet through Tinder or OkCupid are much more likely to turn a random first date into a meaningful relationship if they follow the advice of [one young man who participated]: There's something uniquely valuable in everyone, and we'll be much happier and better off if we invest the time and energy it takes to find it."

The thrill of falling for someone new is amazing, but can lead us to idealize that person and be too hard on him as he reveals more of himself over time.  The Pope warns against letting emotion overtake reason, saying, "values are bestowed upon the object of love which he or she does not necessarily possess in reality.  These are ideal values, not real ones."  The idealized person can become "merely the occasion for an eruption in the subject's emotional consciousness of the values which he or she longs with all his heart to find in another person" (raise your hand if you've ever started planning your wedding seconds after meeting a new guy who's Catholic and single?).  Meantime, Modern Romance, while it makes a point not to be too down on online dating--it suggests using it not as most people do, as a way to find a relationship, but as a way to get a sense of who's nearby whom you might be interested and then to get off the computer and go talk to them face to face, without all the preamble--does make the point that the sheer number of possibilities on dating sites can overwhelm us with choice to the point of inaction, or can increase the restlessness we're already feeling.  "Seeing all these options," says the book, "are we now comparing our potential partners not to other potential partners but rather to an idealized person whom no one could measure up to?"  And when things don't go perfectly with a seemingly perfect person, "you conclude there's something wrong with the person or the relationship since it isn't as exciting as before, without ever giving companionate love a chance to bloom."

We ache for completion; for a union that can ultimately be fulfilled only by God, which manifests itself in our search for a soulmate.  Because of our uniqueness as persons, it makes sense to me that we want to be in love with someone uniquely suited to us (here's my take on soul mates).  Before reading this book, I'd never known or thought much about the fact that our grandparents' generation often met and married someone from their hometown or even their own childhood neighborhood or street, whereas it's not uncommon for young adults our age go to college and, later, work, far from where they grew up.  These couples tended to have an initial rapport, friendship, and attraction that turned into abiding, romantic love because to them, giving up on their marriages wasn't really an option (by choice, not just by social attitudes toward divorce).  I think that level of devotion and the will to love is beautiful, and marriages like my grandparents'  inspire me for the very reason that they are so lovingly, faithfully committed, but I have to say, I'm incredibly thankful to have been born when I was.   We're blessed living in a culture where marrying for love isn't a dreamy alternative to settling or to marrying for other social reasons (as good as those relationships might be); it's a reality.  It's just the navigating the dating world to get to that reality that's the hard part…

I initially set out to write my college senior thesis on the parallels between Love and Responsibility and Jane Austen's novels.  All the romantic missteps!  That JPII talked about!  That's what all of Jane's characters were doing!  I was so excited, and it probably didn't help that I was only a few months into my obsession (TOB-session?) with the Pope's writings.  Then one day, the professors I was working with sat me down and pointed out that, well, as much as the literary characters were living proof of the Pope's observations, there was no historic or academic connection between the works, a.k.a. back to the drawing board.  I ended up writing my paper on Austen and Aristotle, and I know now that my teachers were right.  But even if there's no actual link, the fact that there are so many similarities between the ideas of a 20th-century cardinal and an 18th-century young woman, both celibate, who knew the heart so well just goes to show that John Paul's writing is powerful stuff.  So yeah, Modern Romance is, you know, modern, and timely.  The cries of our hearts don't really change, though.  Ever ancient, ever new, baby.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Reception Entertainment for Kids

Last summer, I wrote about my take on having kids at your wedding.  Basically, my opinion is the more the joyfuller, but having now attended several weddings as a parent, I know how tough it can be to enjoy the day and relax as a guest with little ones (and their varying potential for destruction and scenes!) in tow.  I will be forever grateful to my cousin for having had the idea of providing a bucket of trucks at her garden reception.  Two-year-old boy heaven for Aaron.  Heeaaaavvvven.

As wedding season gets rolling, I want to expand on my past suggestions of considering reception venues with outdoor space for kids to play and offering activities and a special favor, handed out early, to keep them entertained.  I looked around online for you, and want to specifically share these  ideas and products that I know I, as a mom, would find insanely thoughtful (links in the caption):

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1. Coloring pages and puzzles (these adorable ones found here, plus another sweet and prettily designed activity book here)  2. Disposable or Polaroid cameras and a photo scavenger hunt project (this one is a good inspiration) 3. Wedding Mad Libs (make up your own or borrow these from Martha Stewart Weddings)  4.Card & Board Games  5. Bubble machine (never underestimate)  6. Corn Hole (Etsy has amazing wedding decals you can add to blank boards, like these and these)  7. Lawn Dice  8. Outdoor Bowling
I asked around and a few other brides suggested having an area of your reception sectioned off with comfy blankets, pillows, and movies (I foresee this being pretty clutch for parents at an evening reception), asking your DJ to have one or two kids-only songs on the dance floor, and having a Q+A-style guest book where you can ask your guests to weigh in on things like what love means, what the best dinner for two is, their intentions for you as newlyweds, and their best advice for a happy marriage--even the guests who can't write themselves will probably have something to say! 

We don't have any weddings on the calendar for a while, but I know my days as a kid-toting guest aren't over.  So tell me, what sorts of kid-friendly offerings have you encountered as a guest, and are you planning anything special for your own day?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

INVITED: Available Now, How to Order It, and 2 Bridal Giveaways!

After three years of working on this project so close to my heart, including months of marketing and sharing my excitement with you, my book has been released with a…well, not quite with the bang I'd hoped for.  Thanks to past revisions to the final release date and to other mysterious internet workings, Amazon isn't currently showing INVITED  as currently available to purchase; just for Pre-Order.  BUT!  Good news.  If you click on the availability link under the format box with the price (for instance, "20 new from $16.95"), you can add the book to your cart and it will ship from Pauline Books to your door.

Speaking of Pauline, have you snagged your 20% discount coupon from them yet?  You can still download a copy of Andrew's and my Rosary meditations for couples here, and as a thank you, a coupon to buy the book from Pauline's online store will arrive in your inbox.

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Now to the fun stuff.  Glitches be darned, I want to celebrate the release and thank you for all of your support with TWO giveaways just for brides today!  If you're engaged, you are eligible for a huge bridal gift box containing this fragrance sampler from Sephora to help you choose your wedding scent (try out the 15 samples, including Tory Burch, Tom Ford, and Elizabeth & James, then bring the included voucher into a Sephora store to get a full-size bottle of your fave), a $50 gift card for BHLDN, Anthropologie's gorgeous line of bridal accessories, shoes, lingerie, and other amazing things, a copy of INVITED, and a copy of The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, a brand new book by a married couple of 16 years on navigating every season of your life together.  I read it last summer and it's beautiful.

You're also eligible for a second present if you're a bride-to-be!  I want to say thank you by surprising you with a gift from your wedding registry.  Andrew and I recently got into Parks and Rec and I can promise you it won't be like this.  Unless you want it to be.

I'll be choosing one winner for the gift box and one for the registry gift on Sunday!  Winners will be announced next Monday, the 11th.  Here's how to enter:

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Make sure your email is linked to your account in the comments so I can get in touch if you win, or that you include your email address in your comment.  Best of luck, friends!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Rosary for Engagement and Marriage: a Free eBook and a Thank You

If you'll oblige me with some clickin' today, I have a gift for you!  Pauline Books puts together a lead page for each of its new releases, and usually offers a preview of the upcoming book or some other little extra as a thank you to readers who visit the page or are generally interested.  As we were putting together mine, I was asked what sort of extra I wanted to offer.  I suggested a customizable download of the sample wedding program included in INVITED since my wedding program was such a source of stress, but, oops, they couldn't give away too much of the best book content.  I debated writing a little something about how I chose my wedding dress or my first dance, or specific ways we saved money.  But that all sounded  I don't want this project to be about me; I want it to be about you, your relationship, and your wedding.  Your path to holiness.

So instead, I eventually came up with the idea of writing a short prayer book for couples to use during their engagement and later in their marriage. I told Andrew about it, and he suggested writing prayers to accompany the Rosary.  The Rosary has been one of our favorite ways to pray together since the first months we were dating, and over time we've become fairly consistent in the intentions we pray for each of the different mysteries.  This book is our sharing some of those intentions, a little piece of our spirituality, with you, and we hope they take root and bear much fruit in your relationship.  You can get yours from INVITED's lead page here, and directions for loading it onto your Kindle here.

As a thank you for downloading the eBook and supporting INVITED,  you'll also get a 20% discount coupon to use when the book is released on Friday!  And by the way, I also just want to thank you for supporting my book in general.  I mean it.  Check back next week for two sweet release day giveaways, and meantime, in the spirit of Full of Grace, here's a roundup of past posts on praying together:

Join me in praying for all of the brides who'll find these books in their hands, and as the release gets closer, I'd love to offer it for you.  Email me with your intentions or leave them in the comments, and let know how I can specifically pray for you! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Clinging to the Cross: JPII's Final Good Friday

On this holiest, most solemn day, I'll get myself out of the way.  I just want to share with you an incredibly beautiful, new-to-me story and image and let them speak for themselves.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Jason Evert's Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves and learned the details of JPII's final days for the first time.  He died during Easter Week, and the book describes the Pope's last week on earth.  At the time, he had just undergone a tracheotomy, concerned he might never speak again, and his body was weary.  John Paul embraced his weakness for the burden that it was, calling it his own Way of the Cross.  As Holy Week of 2005 drew to a close, he was too weak to leave the Vatican for the Good Friday service and Stations of the Cross, so a TV was brought to his private chapel and he watched the service and prayed the Stations there.  He clung to a crucifix nearly the entire time.

Of course, as soon as I read that account I went straight to Google, and the image of this great saint embracing Christ made me sob.  It wasn't just the postpartum hormones.  Here are photos from this sacred moment in time, if you've never seen them before.

Even as the sky darkens and the earth shakes, even as Christ temporarily departs from us, there's joy on the other side and our hope is in the Resurrection.  Have a fruitful Good Friday, friends.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

To First Look, or Not To First Look: What to Consider and How to Decide

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Are you planning a first look with your hubs-to-be on your wedding day?  Five years ago, I thought the idea of seeing each other before our wedding Mass was crazy, partially because I figured that was just how the tradition went and didn't really know otherwise (this was about six months before Pinterest!), and partly because of that line from the movie 27 Dresses about how amazing it is to watch the look on the groom's face, not the bride's, during her walk up the aisle--the first time I saw that movie, I'm pretty sure I hadn't yet had any boyfriend experience beyond a few dates here and there, so I was all over that idea.

And you know what?  Seeing Andrew waiting for me at the altar, tears in his eyes and the most radiant smile on his face, is one of the most cherished memories of my life.  I love that we saw each other for the first time that day right as our wedding Mass started and we were about to become one.  I will say, though, that my general take on first looks has changed since then.  I was coming from the mindset that if I chose to buck a particular wedding tradition, particularly one so tied in with other aspects of waiting for marriage, then my wedding wouldn't be traditional enough or fit in with the holy witness we hoped to express.

Obviously, the Scripture and tradition of the Church are still non-negotiables for me, but I've come to a more subtle understanding of cultural and social traditions surrounding weddings--that's to say that while traditional customs like the bride and groom waiting for the ceremony to lay eyes on each other are very sweet and worthy of consideration, I no longer think tradition alone should be reason enough to choose them.  It's good to approach the idea critically, I think, with an understanding that if you don't want to see one another beforehand, it's good not to pursue tradition just for its own sake, and that if you do, it doesn't make you untraditional or somehow violate chastity.  If you're trying to decide whether or not to do a first look, here are a few points to consider in your decision-making.

There is great joy in the anticipation of seeing each other at the altar. Like I said, I treasure the memory of locking eyes with my about-to-be husband when the church doors opened and I walked toward him.  The Church, the Body of Christ, is about communion, and that's a major aspect of the sacraments, whether they are celebrated in communion or whether they draw us (or draw us back) into communion, or both.  It's a privilege for the community to witness the moment the couple first glimpses each other in the fullness of their identities as bride and groom.  I asked a few brides about their experiences, and Jenn said, "because it was the firsts time that day, all the weight of the moment and what we were about to do was felt, and it was kind of like seeing each other for the first time all over again."  So beautiful.  On the other hand…

...A first looks lets you steal a peaceful moment. If there's one thing I wish had been a little different about my wedding day, it's that I literally didn't have one second alone to talk to Andrew or just take in the experience together, until our first dance, at which point we just laughed at the fact we were married, and that we didn't know what to talk about when all eyes were on us dancing!  Everyone tells you your wedding day passes in a blur, and though in some ways mine did, I'm also happy to have crystal-clear memories from quite a few moments during the day.  But driving off from the reception together, at 11 P.M, felt like the first time all day we could sort of absorb everything that happened.  As happy as we were to see each other at the altar, I think that, in hindsight, we would've also really enjoyed having a quieter opportunity to be together and talk before the Mass.  I think if I'd seen Andrew for the second time as the Mass began, I would've been even giddier than I actually was, excited to return to him and knowing not just on a visual level, but an emotional one, what was in store for us.

Your wedding portraits will probably look different if you opt to see each other before the ceremony than if you don't.  Not better or worse!  Just different, because each choice has a different effect on your timeline.  Since most weddings are in the afternoon, and since taking bride and groom and wedding party pictures take a while, most photographers will snap these images before the Mass if the couple decides to do a first look, and after if they don't.  That means a good deal of your portraits will be from the daytime if you choose a first look, and that you might join your guests at the reception sooner than if you stay taking photos after the ceremony for a while.  If you choose to not see each other before the Mass, there will be that bit of extra time for photos in between the ceremony and reception, and your photographer will probably have you duck out of the reception for one or two bride and groom portrait sessions while everyone is dancing and hanging out, wherein you'll end up with more evening or sunset photos.  Regardless of which option you choose, remember that your guests are there to see and celebrate you, and it's polite to keep each sesh relatively short.

 The Rite of Marriage actually prescribes that the couple walk up to the altar together at the start of the Nuptial Mass.  I know!  The USCCB also points out this opportunity (this links to a video; skip to about 9 minutes for more on this).  I actually had never heard of the tradition of bride and groom entering the Mass together until I went to the wedding of two friends who are both Theology scholars and explained in the program that "Processions, as with everything else in the liturgy, are theologically and symbolically rich.  The most important persons of the day come in last: the ministers of the sacrament for which everyone is gathered.  The bride and groom, who confer the sacrament of marriage upon one another, enter the church last and together, signifying the import of their role in today's celebration and their equality as celebrants of the sacrament."

I told you they were scholars.  Basically, the bride and groom aren't the most important peeps of the day just because, you know, it's their wedding, but because they, not the priest, are the ones ministering the sacrament of marriage--it's an entirely different sort of being the center of attention, one where the real attention is on God and his grace.  Anyway, choosing to adhere to this part of the rite and enter the church together sort of necessitates seeing each other beforehand, so incorporating a first look into it is a nice way to celebrate the moments before you walk through the doors.  Kate said she and her husband "wanted to walk down the aisle together because we were both coming together before God and liked the symbolism," and incorporated a first look into the time before the Mass.

Each of these points invites you to consider different aspects of planning out your day, but if you're having trouble deciding, I suggest considering both of your top priorities for your wedding (other than conferring a clutch sacrament, that is).  Is it photography?  Is it making sure you get to spend time with your out-of-state friends?  Is it tradition with respect to the why and how, not just tradition for the sake of tradition?  Above all, I recommend not viewing a first look as a moral question, but one of practicality and your personal preferences--no matter what you choose, I can promise you won't forget that initial glimpse of each other in your wedding outfits and that first time your eyes meet on your wedding day.  Breathe those moments in, bathe in them, remember them.

Are you planning on a first look for your wedding?  Are you not?  I'd love to hear the reasons behind your choices, and if you're already married, stories of your experiences!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tough Wedding Questions Answered, and a Giveaway: Win a Copy of INVITED Before It's Released!

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If you're reading this, you might be engaged and fielding questions from friends and family members wondering why Catholic marriage involves so many rules, and you're looking for a way to charitably clarify it all.

Or maybe you're one of the ones wondering.  Maybe you have questions yourself, and want to know more than just "the Church says so." So let's change the conversation today.  I think it's time to talk about the truths of the Catholic faith in a way that's not just about rules, but about freedom.

My homes Pope St. John Paul II said, "freedom is for love."  In light of your spouse-to-be, that means that putting him or her first, over and over, will in time become a habit and a choice you actually prefer to putting yourself first.  In light of the Father, it means teachings that seem like rules are actually directives intended solely to make us most whole, most fulfilled, and most alive, giving us the ability to choose what's best for the other and for our relationship with God.  What does that look like in the concrete aspects of wedding planning?  Here, three frequently asked Q's about marriage in the Church, and three answers.  Whether you're asking or answering, I hope these words are imbued not just with truth, but with love.

Why wait to live together or sleep together when you're already engaged?  I get that this is hard.  So hard.  When two people have promised to marry each other, it's tough to see why they shouldn't just go ahead and act like they're married.  But maybe we're asking the wrong question.  Consider, instead, what the point is of serious dating and engagement. At that point, both people in the relationship are committed to each other, whether through their communication or through an actual engagement ring, and if, during that time, you're preparing for the long term, it's important to know what virtues and good qualities your partner possesses, and how his or her virtues will help you become more virtuous.  Someone who opts to live together before marriage is essentially saying they are okay with living and sleeping with someone they aren't married to--a wedding ring won't automatically change that outlook.

Granted, the likelihood of unfaithfulness in that sense is a little extreme, and I know there are couples who live together and genuinely have each others' best good at heart.  Ultimately, though, the fact that your partner wants the fun and romance of married life but not the true commitment of having spoken marriage vows conveys a lack of self-discipline and patience--would most people want to be married to someone who could control their desires and say no, or someone who couldn't?  Choosing to wait until after the wedding to live together is a way to grow in that discipline and self-control.  So, the point of a committed relationship isn't to see how much one can get from the other, but how much one can give, by loving selflessly.

Why can't you use secular music for the ceremony?  My old roommate once came home from a night of going out of curiosity to a country line dance, and she was so alight with the novelty of it all that I asked her to teach me some of the dances.  For the next half hour, we seriously galloped around our apartment while the Dixie Chicks accompanied us via iPod.  Loudly.  Moments like that, of complete abandon and exuberance, lift you to the heights.  "Abandon" and "exuberance" can also describe the experience of getting married--of freely, entirely surrendering your will because you know the joy that's in store.  But, it would be weird to have a country line dance song, let alone the galloping, playing at your wedding Mass, even if the end emotion were the same.  Obviously, most couples would prefer to have something more romantic than that playing when, say, the bride walks up the aisle.  But it's the same underlying principle: music needs to fit the context of the setting it's played in.  So, if your wedding ceremony is set in the Church, the music needs to fit the purpose of worship.

Why can't you write your own vows?  CCD throwback, anyone?  Every sacrament of the church has a specific rite that must be followed in order for the sacrament to be valid--if a priest doesn't follow the prescribed language of consecration, for instance, the Eucharist for that Mass is invalid.  Getting married is the same--in order for the sacrament to take place; that is, for the couple's bond to literally be transformed and suffused with grace, the bride and groom need to speak the language of the Rite of Marriage.  It's more than just input these words, get out this result--it's allowing yourselves and your love to take on something entirely, sacramentally new and humbly inviting God into your life together, knowing it takes three, not two, to live out your promises.

And now, in a totally not transparent transition, I'll say that my book, INVITED, addresses more on each of these questions, along with other hard teachings like chastity, birth control, and divorce, in an in-depth way that I truly hope communicates the wellspring of joy and true freedom to be found in a sacramental marriage, and in a way that feels like having coffee with a friend.  But it's not all theological talk.  There's worksheets to help you get organized, set a budget, and make sure all of your spiritual and practical wedding preparations get taken care of.  There's what I hope are endearingly embarrassing, rather than just outright embarrassing, stories of some of Andrew's and my arguments and missteps during our engagement and first months as newlyweds, and what we learned from them.  There's honest talk about choosing a dress, shutting up your inner temptation to compare yourself, sex and what it's meant for, and (spoiler) even a Rick Roll.  Come on.  I had to save the best thing for last.

Want a copy?  The book's official release is April 1, but I'm unbelievably excited to share 3 copies ahead of time (and it's okay if you're not engaged)!  Enter below, and head to Instagram for extra entries.  Giveaway ends this Sunday, the 20th, at 11:59 P.M.

And can I be completely honest with you?  As happy as I am to see my book about to be released and as exhilarating as it is to think of the ways it might resonate, I'm also SO nervous for these words I've been putting together for the past three years finally making their way into print for anyone to read. Marketing and self-promotion are no joke, and my constant prayer over the past few weeks is just that I might decrease and let the book, and what I hope is its evident passion for helping couples understand authentic, life-giving love, speak for itself and take center stage instead of me.  So please join me in asking the Holy Spirit to guide this project into the hearts of whatever brides--stressed out, returning to the Church, looking to elevate their romance to the divine--and marriage prep programs most need it.  And please pray that the Spirit might lead my own heart to the right balance of promotion and humility, which I don't take to mean silence, but a full awareness that it's not about me.  Much love, friends.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

It's a Date: INVITED Book Release

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Earlier this week, the sisters at Pauline Books and Media told me a set of author copies of Invited was on its way to my doorstep.  After a semi-fiasco involving the mailman calling Andrew to tell him he had a package for us and could he let him in, Andrew chasing the mailman to the other building in our apartment complex after finding out the mailman was outside the wrong door, then Andrew being suspected of mail fraud and having to show ID to claim the thing, I opened up a box with 20 fresh copies of my book, tied together with lace and sprinkled with silk flowers.

Save the date, friends.  Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner will officially be released April 1!  Want one early?  I'll be giving away three copies next week, along with some other wedding dare-I-call-it-swag as the release gets closer!  Follow along here and here to stay in the giveaway loop.                                                                      

Join me in praying for the brides and couples who will find this book in their hands, that their marriages be abundantly free, faithful, total, and life-giving.  And if I could also beg your prayers for our family, Andrew's comps for his PhD are next week, Aaron recently quit on me for naptime, and I find myself constantly thirsting for a deeper sense of peace and rest.  Tell me how I can pray for your intentions, and let me know what you're up to this weekend!  Is it wedding season for any of you yet?

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Collection of Novenas and Prayers for Engagement and Marriage

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Like, I expect, pretty much every other Catholic our age, Andrew and I have spent a good amount of time on the wedding circuit.  There are few things I love more than witnessing our friends entering into their vocation.  Although, obviously, every couple and every wedding is different (unique and unrepeatable, yo), it can feel…not repetitive or tedious, but exceedingly similar from wedding to wedding if I'm not careful.  Seeing the same friends, going through the same process each time of packing up an outfit and choosing a gift, even dancing to a lot of the same reception songs; it's too easy to feel on wedding autopilot sometimes.

But I don't want auto.  Bearing witness to a sacrament between two people I cherish, Love incarnate and grace come down to earth, should be anything but.  And truly, I have cried at every faithfully Catholic wedding I've been to, amazed at the love and anticipation between the couple and renewed in my determination to live out my own wedding vows with intention and joy like I promised I would.  It's the pre-wedding time, with its flurry of to-dos as a guest (particularly when I've been an out-of-town guest), that distracts from the sacrament.

That's why Andrew and I decided to start praying novenas for our friends in the nine days leading up to their union, ending on the wedding day.  We like to ask the couple about some of the saints they have a devotion to and try to choose a novena to one of those particular saints, but if we can't find one or forget to ask, we pray this one to St. Joseph for his example as a wholly loving spouse, his chastity, and his guardianship of the Holy Family.

To my surprise, praying these novenas together has borne fruit not just in the relationships of the couples we prayed for--at least, that was our intention--but in our own marriage. We have our own personal litany to saints we've come to love individually and as a couple, whose intercession we ask at the end of the Rosary, but to tell you the truth, I had mostly ever prayed novenas in times of desperation before (e.g. St. Raphael-where-is-my-future-husband, St. Gianna-please-let-Aaron-learn-to-breastfeed, St. Peter Damian-when-will-my-baby-sleep-through-the-night).  Since we started saying the wedding novenas a few years ago, though, I've come to love adding the prayer time into our spirituality as a couple, as well as the length of time a novena affords to ponder different aspects of a saint's life each day and to be mindful about our intentions for the entire duration.  Full disclosure: even though I've changed tack on the desperation thing, we do have a steady St. Joseph of Cupertino-please-let-Andrew-pass-his-comps thing going on right now.

If you'd like to join my husband and me in giving this pre-wedding gift, or, even better, if you'd like to begin praying for your own engagement and coming marriage, I hunted these down as a starting point for you:
Novena for a happy and faithful marriage: Amazingly, I'd never found this prayer before writing this post.  Inspired by St. Josemaria Escriva's homilies and spirituality, it's by Opus Dei and is truly beautiful.  There's one set of reflections for engagement, and another for marriage.  Andrew and I are planning to start this after we let Joseph of Cupertino off the hook!
A Theology of the Body-inspired novena that invokes the intercession of the Holy Family, the archangels, and JPII for the bride and groom.  In other words, boss.  This will be our personal go-to wedding novena from here on out. 
Novena to St. Anne, mother of Our Lady: Held up in the Church as a model of a holy wife and mother (I mean, how difficult a child could Mary have been to raise, but still.  Not just anyone could've been the grandmother of God!), asking St. Anne's prayers for imitating her example is an act of humility, generosity to your future husband, and an affirmation of your feminine worth. 
Prayer to St. Jude for the healing of a relationship: Self-explanatory.  In the past, I saw healing as something only necessary for major wounds or transgressions, but the longer we have been married, the more I have seen the value in total honesty and a will to forgive and repair even the smallest sources of division. 
A sweet, simple marriage blessing that would be a wonderful addition to your nightly prayers.
I should contemplate this more often, I think, but in a way, wedding guests have a responsibility for spiritual preparation just as the bride and groom do.  Prayers for the couple's marriage and, God willing, future family, is powerful and invites us as guests to experience the wedding in a way that draws us out of passivity; not because it's about us, but because together with the couple, our eyes are fixed on something greater.

I'll end this with two devotions I've recently added to my daily prayer.  First, here's a prayer for your husband that, to me, speaks the language of the self-emptying, other-focused love I strive to give Andrew.  It's beautiful for both engagement and after marriage.  Second, I found this nightly examen for married couples a few months ago and have been motivated but, frankly, embarrassingly humbled by its promptings to hold my tongue, to spend my time intentionally, and to cultivate a servant's heart for myself and more for my husband and my family.  So good.  I'd love to know what prayers you say for your relationship!  Spill.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Advice for Planning Your Nuptial Mass: Interview With a Catholic Wedding Coordinator

Kate C. and I went to college together.  She started dating her now-husband at the start of her freshman year! Kate got involved with being a sacristan for the daily and Sunday Masses on campus, and our chaplain later suggested she apply for an open wedding coordinator position as an extension of her sacristan duties.  A few years after I graduated, we ran into each other at my friends' wedding, which she coordinated during her senior year.  In my experience, figuring out a wedding day timeline, from getting ready to traveling to photos to the Mass to the reception, was one of the biggest challenges, due to the sheer number of vendors, locations, and logistics involved.  So, figuring she's seen the gamut of wedding Masses and gained some serious insight into planning the liturgy and how it fits into the rest of the day, I asked Kate to share her experience, along with a few secrets!

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Kate, her husband Joe, and their impeccable cake manners

Well first, let's talk about what a church wedding coordinator does.  Can you tell me about your responsibilities?  How is being the sacristan for a nuptial Mass different from being the sacristan for a regular Mass?
The responsibilities of a sacristan are to set up, clean up and care for the church before and after a Mass.  A church wedding coordinator can also be the sacristan for weddings, but is primarily there to make sure the wedding goes smoothly and to act as a liaison between the church and the couple.  As a sacristan at a nuptial Mass, it means my focus is split between the preferences of the priest and of the bride and groom for things like how the chapel is set up.

Working on your college campus must have meant you knew a lot of the people at the weddings you coordinated.  How often were you scheduled for the weddings of your friends and acquaintances, and what was it like to be there for their Masses?
I enjoyed seeing my friends fall in love and get married at the Mount. It was an honor to see them get married, and a blessing to watch so many couples follow Christ's teachings so passionately, despite their weaknesses.  I guess was truly able to see the human element of marriage more clearly by watching my friends, relatives, and acquaintances get married.  As a coordinator, I went to a wedding once or twice a month. During my senior year, I went to about 20!

You're a twin!  You were engaged at the same time, and you've mentioned to me, in the past, the craziness of helping plan your sister's wedding.  What was it like, and did you bring in any of your official wedding coordinating experience?
Yes, I have a twin sister.  The dynamics of two weddings within a year of each other is another blog post!  For now, I'll say weddings, babies, and funerals change family dynamics, and because of that, it's important for brides to take care of their mental and spiritual health.

Your job, as a sacristan and coordinator, is to help the bride and groom's wedding Mass go as smoothly as possible.  What's the most helpful thing a couple can do to simplify things for themselves and make your work easier?
The most helpful thing a bride can do is plan ahead.  I know that there are a lot of tiny details and they can be overwhelming.  Two essentials are, first, knowing who will pick up flowers for the church, and second, choosing your readings ahead of time.  It saves both the sacristan and the bride headaches. The couple should also keep extra copies of their selected readings and music.  I can't tell you how many liturgical ministers lose music and readings!

I'd love to hear stories from some of the weddings you've worked on!  Are there any particularly profound moments that stand out to you?  Any funny or otherwise memorable ones?
One couple, an acquaintance of mine, shocked me when they chose John's account of the Passion for their Gospel reading (NB from Stephanie: This is the wedding where Kate and I ran into each other!) .  It was interesting to hear of the sacrifical nature of marriage so openly discussed at a wedding. 

At another wedding, I spent 30 minutes talking to the visiting Franciscan Priest about whether he should wear shoes during the wedding. He insists that the sanctuary should not be marred by unclean shoes. He said if Moses didn't wear shoes in the pressence of God, he shouldn't wear shoes near the tabernacle where Christ is pressent fully.

I also once consoled a flower girl who cried when she realized she wasn't going to marry her brother, who was the groom. She was about 5 years old at the time. I think it was a testament to her brother's character and faith. I was privileged to see this unique family welcome their son's bride into the family.

How did your coordinating experience come into play when planning your own wedding?
When I was planning my own wedding, my experience helped my husband Joe and I plan our wedding liturgy with ease. We knew we wanted a Latin liturgy, so we were able to communicate our desires with the three concelebrating priests.  Even though Joe didn't get the full Latin mass he hoped for, my experience as a sacristan helped me work on a compromise between us and the priests, to have Latin responses to the Mass parts.

Any other advice or planning secrets you can share with Catholic brides-to-be?
Obviously, prudence about what to compromise and when is necessary.  Just because you're getting married doesn't mean you'll get every wedding detail that you want.  As long as your fiancé is the man of your dreams, the details will fall into place.  The happiest brides (and the ones most ready for marriage) are completely focused on God and their fiancés.  These brides are invested in wedding planning, but they know even if they don't get this or that, their marriage is what's paramount.  So, don't stress out, roll with the planning punches, and focus on spending your life with your fiancé.  Honestly, no flowers, pictures, or decorations can compare to building a life with him. 

Here area couple things that are good to know for planning your day: First, any flowers you purchase to decorate the church may act as a donation, including vases.  Different churches have different police, so ask the sacristan how the flowers are handled after the wedding Mass.  Second, though you technically don't have to pay to get married in the Church, parishes may ask for a small donation to help pay the priest, sacristan, and other staff.  Third, delegate tasks to others the day of your wedding.  You will not have time to do it yourself!  Things like handling the flower delivery should be handled by a friend.  Lastly, note that you won't have the church for the whole day.  You may have only 2 or 3 hours to get in, get married, and get out before another function needs to start.  So, try your best to be on time!

Just for fun, I would love to hear your best piece of advice for Catholic marriage, in general!
Remember that love is not a feeling, but an action. You will not always like your husband but your vows compel you to always choose him, over and over, for a lifetime. That is the secret to love and marriage: one must choose love repeatedly. 

Thanks so much, Kate!  Here, if you're planning your nuptial Mass, a few other offerings to help you out:


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