Each of us on the Spoken Bride team is in a slightly different season of life: engaged, married with two babies and a husband in grad school, married with three babies, business travel, and a husband in the military, married with four kids and running a business. Yet at the heart of our lives and vocations, we are each, quite simply, striving to walk in Jesus and Mary's footsteps, dying to ourselves for Love's sake and seeking the Father's will in all things while sanctifying our families and the men we love.
As varied as our daily lives are, we all shared the same reaction to Blessed Is She's recently released Scripture study for couples, Waiting in the Word: Our Vows--all four of us were blown away, stormed by beauty and raw honesty. The study employs praying with Scripture using Lectio Divina and is divided into four sections, each focusing on a different aspect of Catholic marriage vows: Love and Cherish, Promise to be True, For Better or Worse, and Until Death Do Us Part. The authors--Jenna Guizar of Blessed is She, Laura Kelly Fanucci of Mothering Spirit, Nancy Bandzuch of Do Small Things with Love, and Nell O'Leary of Whole Parenting Family--take turns sharing powerful stories of their married experiences, in all their glory and brokenness, alongside verses that echo the promises spoken at the altar. Meant to be prayed with your husband or fiance, each section concludes with a series of discussion questions and a spiritual or practical exercise for couples. We got to chat with Nell about the study, its inspiration, its fruits, and the writing process.
Waiting in the Word: Our Vows is a new addition in the already abundant collection of Scriptural and practical resources for married couples. How did the four of you decide to create an offering that specifically uses Lectio Divina, and what sets it apart from other marriage books?
This is the third offering by Waiting in the Word—the first two were for Advent and Lent, respectively. Laura and Nancy were the ones inspired to create a Lectio Divina series for Catholic women. Laura is a theologian who practices the prayer method, and the four of us fell in love with it as a rhythm for the busy mom to truly feel, live, and breathe Scripture during her hectic day. Our Vows is different from other marriage books in that it offers many things in one: you can simply read the devotionals and glance at the Scripture as you can, you can dive deep into the Scripture verses, you can ponder the brief reflections offered at the end, you can step through the suggested questions and activities with your spouse, you can journal on each verse, or you can simply pick and choose what’s feasible for your schedule in a given week. We aimed to make it doable for the busy woman, without the guilty feelings that often hang over us when we don’t finish an entire book or study top-to-bottom.
This study is written with the after-I-Do's in mind: miscommunication, the loss of children, apathy. It's the starry eyes of newlywed life tempered by brokenness, by sin, and by tragedy. How would you recommend newly married couples, who might not have encountered these valleys yet, use it to pray and talk together?
We have had several women participate who are engaged or newly married, women who haven't encountered the particular challenges in each week’s reflection. In sharing from four different married women’s experiences throughout the study, we’ve found something really does speak to everyone. Not every woman has lost a child, struggled in her intimate life, or moved across the country. But every woman in a relationship has at times felt misunderstood, unappreciated, and annoyed. We were careful in our crafting to find Scripture verses that resonated with basic human interactions so the study could speak to women wherever they were on their path.
We loved the book's format of meditations from the four of you, followed by Scripture verses to meditate on and then by discussion questions and a practical next step for couples. Did you intend for the format to echo the steps in Lectio Divina (read, meditate, pray, contemplate, act)? And can you share some of the process of how you each contributed to piecing the chapters together?
The rhythm of this study came forth from much chatting and collaboration. It does mimic and echo the four steps, but that was more an organic process than a pre-planned one. This was Laura's, Nancy's, and my first collaboration with Jenna and Blessed is She, and this study did differ slightly from our other studies because it included spiritual excercises to do with your spouse. We each drafted our reflections and selected Scripture verses on a particular aspect of our marriage vows, as well as designed the questions and activities. Then we took our time reading each other's reflections before adding on our short additions to each section. Lauracarefully examinined our Scripture selections, Jenna and Nancy worked on the design together, and Nancy fashioned the entire e-book and formatted it. I got to play editor.
There's such vulnerability in these pages as each of you come forth with scars and personal struggles. There's sometimes a pressure to never reveal these struggles out of concern for giving Catholic marriage a good rap, or with the assumption that striving for authentic, sacramental love is enough and weaknesses don't need to be brought to light. What was your experience of writing about your weaknesses? Also, we'd both agree that this sort of raw honesty is so needed in our circles. What, would you say, is the reason why?
Marriage is such an incredible sacrament to live out, and our flawed human nature and marriage's inherent challenges make it even more incredible. When we, as Catholic women, can share our struggles, not for the purpose of being a “downer,” but to reach out for affirmation and encouragement, our vows become easier to live out. We need grace from God, and love and understanding from our fellow women, to stay the course. For all of us, writing from a place of authenticity was a joy, particularly since we all write and share regularly on our blogs and as contributors to many publications, including Blessed is She. Raw honesty is especially needed in our circles because women need to know struggling doesn’t mean you’re less holy or less Catholic. Struggle is an opportunity for grace and help. Marriage vows are hard to live out each and every day. When we acknowledge we need help, we can then ask God for it, seek it in our communities, and build stronger marriages around us.
Have any of you gone through the finished study with your husbands? What was the experience like?
We are all still in the process! So far, we’re finding the questions and activities really draw us out of our normal conversation patterns and get us to address and discuss aspects of the day-to-day that have gone overlooked in this busy season of life.
Lastly, we'd love to draw from your years of married experiences. What's the best piece of advice or wisdom you'd like to offer a new bride? And for fun, do you have any wedding planning tips to share?
My best advice for a new bride is to take a breath before you react. Your husband will say (crazy!) things and do (insane!) things like ask why you need another box of ice cream bars or throw your silk underwear into the dryer. Adjusting to each other and observing who that person really is that you fell in love with, with patience and love, takes time. Go easy on him in the first few months and years. And for your wedding planning, remember to focus on the sacrament. Even if your best friend steps on your veil and the one bridesmaid refuses to get her hair done by your salon, and your mother-in-law really wants the weirdest party favors, the day isn’t about all that. It’s about taking vows before God and celebrating with your loved ones.
Waiting in the Word: Our Vows is available at Blessed Is She.