Dealing With Spiritual Desolation During Engagement + Married Life

DENAE PELLERIN

 

Desolation characterized most of my dating and engagement relationships with my husband. At one point in dating as we sat outside an Adoration chapel, I confessed, “I don’t think that I believe in God anymore.” 

He looked at me and said, “I will love you regardless and pray for you, because that must be so hard for you.” 

Photography:    Jordan Dumba Photography   , from the author’s wedding

Photography: Jordan Dumba Photography, from the author’s wedding

Faithful for so many years, I was sitting in the midst of the answer of my prayers for a Christ-like man to become my spouse, yet I could not experience the presence of God in a way I once knew. 

My husband’s response to my struggles brought forward an image of a tender Jesus, patiently waiting for me--not a dictator waiting for me to conform. How broken my image of God had become; where I feared him and lived in compliance. 

As we approached our wedding day, I began feeling anxious about whether or not this sacrament would give me the “high” I longed for--that connection I once had felt with the Lord. I began to fear: would it mean something is wrong if that didn’t happen? What do I have to do to make sure I “feel” something? Is my lack of faith a sign that this vocation is not for me?

Faithful trust pulled me forward, helping me believe that even without the spiritual high, God would be present and our wedding day could bring glory to him. 

I also began reflecting on the gift of desolation, which allowed my mind to discern my vocation without the clouding of emotions and “signs” that could lead me to confusion. My past prayer journals showed me how my soon-to-be-husband was exactly what I had always longed for, and I had an immense sense of peace at the thought of marrying him. 

I vowed to put intentional effort into everything about our wedding, as though I had complete trust and faith in God. As I began contemplating the intricacies of our nuptial Mass, I was drawn towards readings and songs that kept me grounded in the truths of the Catholic faith I could believe in this moment, the hope I held for our future, my past experiences and journey to a place of faith, and requests for assistance from God and the saints. 

One of the reasons I chose the parish we were married in was for the stained glass image of the Annunciation right above the altar. For years I had been attending the parish; often during Mass, I would gaze upon the image of Mary kneeling before the angel. At one time, I had a great devotion to Mary and her words “Let it done to me according to thy will” were the words that came to me in moments of great risk and faith.

In this time of desolation and uncertainty, I found comfort and affiliation in the image of me kneeling with my husband, and Mary, before the angel. 

On our wedding day we approached the altar to Sara Groves’ “He’s Always Been Faithful to Me,” a song that proclaims a truth my heart cannot always make. 

Our Gospel reading was the Beatitudes. As the line “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” was proclaimed, it pierced my heart. As a social worker and pro-life advocate, so much of my desolation had come from experiencing immense brokenness and not seeing God’s power within it. 

That desolation had brought me to a place of hopelessness and struggles with sin. Yet here on this day, I heard the voice of the Lord telling me he saw me. 

He saw my merciful heart for others and in response, his mercy would extend, overwhelm, and overlook all the brokenness I had been feeling and experiencing. I was-- and had always been-- enough for him, despite my struggles with lack of belief. 

It did not overtake my body like so many experiences of the Holy Spirit had before;, it was not a fire lit in my soul. The experience was so intimate, and what I realize now is that it was an acknowledgement to the constant burning, which had been there even when I could no longer see.


 About the Author: Denae Pellerin discovered the truth of Christ at an evangelical summer camp as a youth and later made her way to the Catholic Church because of her public Catholic education. Denae loves Catholic Social Teaching, Marian Devotions, and Women-Centered Pro-Life Actions.

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A Reflection on Veiling and Intimacy

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

How did a recent Mass reading about the Ten Commandments lead me to tears over the gift of the body and the hidden, particular relationship spouses share with one another?

Photography:    Fiat Photography

Photography: Fiat Photography

The Book of Exodus accounts how, after times in conversation with God, Moses would descend Mount Sinai radiant; literally and visibly changed by the encounter. The Israelites were uncomfortable at the sight, “afraid to come near him.”

Ultimately, we read that Moses makes the decision to veil himself when he comes down from the mountaintop, covering the radiance upon his face. He only removes it when alone and in the presence of God, in prayer.

How beautifully analogous this sense of veiled radiance is to the way our own prayer lives can or should be, and to the nature of marriage. How there is deep joy in being unveiled, naked before the Beloved, but only within the most intimate, free, and trusting setting.

Why is it I felt shy in front of friends and family after returning home from my honeymoon? Why do we struggle to hide our stupid, seemingly uncontainable grins from others after a moment of transcendence in prayer or in our relationship with our spouse?

It’s hard to re-enter the world right after those mountaintop experiences, still wearing that radiance. Part of my desire to do so, I’ve realized, is a wish to keep the experience sacred. Hidden. Not out of shame, but out of reverence for the gift.

On her wedding day, a bride veils herself, reserving the fullness of a face-to-face gaze for her bridegroom alone. At every Mass, the tabernacle is kept covered or closed until the Liturgy of the Eucharist--the holy union wherein time stops and heaven meets earth.

It is when these respective sacraments are complete--consummated--that an unveiling takes place, honoring the goodness of the body: those of husband and wife, speaking the language of their wedding vows in the flesh, and that of Christ himself, broken, poured out, and given to his bride the Church.

Just as Moses encountered the living God in a direct, personal way, so too do the sacraments draw us into his presence as closely as is possible on earth. And we are indelibly changed: Ven. Fulton Sheen reflected on the knowledge of another that is revealed to spouses in marriage. There is no return to how things were, he says, for “neither can live again as if nothing had ever happened.”

Whether you’re in the season of discernment, of preparing for marriage, or of living out married life, may all earthly joys reveal to you the love of our divine Beloved. May you be encouraged in freedom, unmasked, unveiled, and radiant with his love.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Has Comparison Played a Role in Your Vocation? Thoughts on Humility + Authenticity.

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

In my attempts to dialogue about the Catholic faith with charity and respect, to help others feel seen and heard, and to treat differences of opinion with a sympathetic, analytical mindset, it’s easy for me to believe I’m immune to pride. 

But that outlook is, in itself, prideful.

Photography: Christina Canaday, c/o    Something Blue, LLC

Photography: Christina Canaday, c/o Something Blue, LLC

The Pharisees, in Scripture, seem so different from me on the surface: confrontational, rule-bound, unmerciful. And yet, when I consider the deeper implications of their attitude, I see the painful similarities to my own bad habits, particularly in regard to comparison and pride.

Seeing your imperfections hurts. But they don’t define you. Read more here.

As my husband and I planned our wedding, we’d pat ourselves on the back for spending thousands less than wedding websites said a typical celebration would cost. As I cut sugar and flour from my diet in the month before the big day, I hoped family and friends would admire my fashion savvy and my looking thinner in the strapless ballgown I couldn’t wait to wear.

As we entered into newlywed life and, later, into parenthood, I’d mentally congratulate our willingness to travel and explore our new state when we could’ve stayed home instead, and our first child’s behavior he was calm and occupied in public.

What is it that distinguishes pride from being proud of yourself? Certainly, it’s not bad to spend within your means, to approach your appearance in a healthy way, to cultivate a fulfilling life and to parent attentively. But what about the areas of our wedding in which we overspent? What about the times my husband and I just didn’t feel like doing something social media-worthy? What about the times our baby fussed or struggled while we were out?

When I look at the root of these occasions, I see a desire for others to perceive me favorably, rather than a desire to be an instrument of the Father’s gifts.

I recognize the sense of underlying comparison, as if my choices make me superior, as if they define me, rather than just existing as choices. In my pride, I see the times in which can’t deny I’ve valued the earthly over the divine--a priority of myself above all else. How far I have to grow.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Christ condemns the Pharisees as “hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “actor.” 

Actors in ancient Greek theatre wore masks. When I consider my temptations to comparison and pride, I’m forced to confront the masks I want to wear: that my husband and I have a good relationship and have our lives together, that my appearance can garner attention, that my children’s good behavior is a direct reflection of my parenting. Again, these desires aren’t all inherently bad, yet in my desire to let them define me and to help others see me in the best light, I see the Pharisee in me, and I am humbled.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Saint Augustine in describing humility; the virtue of rightly understanding our nature and identity within the order of creation: “Man,” wrote Augustine, “is a beggar before God.”

Have you experienced similar thought patterns as mine--the belief that the choices you make in your engagement and marriage need to reflect well on you, and the fall into pride? Recognizing the masks we wear hurts; removing them is painful. When I remind myself I am seen, and accepted by the Lord in this journey of growth even without my masks, I find myself consoled and encouraged to live more authentically. More humbly. To examine the roots of my desires and strive to align them with God’s glory, not my own.

This week, I encourage you to examine your own desires: do you want to achieve them to draw attention to yourself, or to Christ within you? I can assure you that I’m right there alongside you, trying always to break my habits of comparison and to pursue greater humility. In our rawness and weakness, we are loved all the same.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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4 Secular Novels Featuring Insights into Authentic Love + Catholic Marriage

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

Can non-spiritual reading have a place in your formation and prayer life?

Catholic author Walker Percy said, “Fiction doesn’t tell us something we don’t know. It tells us something we know but don’t know that we know.” 

The Catholic faith offers us a rich treasury of theologians, ancient and contemporary, who have shed light on Scripture, the sacraments, prayer, and more, in a language we can comprehend in our humanness. And certainly, there are a wealth of resources on relationships and sacramental marriage, in particular.

I’ve found my world-view changed for the better by the religious works I’ve encountered on love and marriage. Yet the truth is, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable admitting that spiritual reading isn’t my favorite genre. 

A lifelong literature lover, it’s taken time for me to articulate what I now deeply believe to be true: stories that convey goodness, truth, and beauty--those that reveal the nature and purpose of the human person and human love--can be just as powerful as theological writing in showing us who we are and directing our hearts to God. 

While spiritual writing provides a good and necessary framework and lens for our understanding, literature, for me, brings these truths to life in a tangible, embodied way as we experience characters’ interior lives. Together, they supplement one another and offer an enriching education in self-knowledge, love, and faith.

Here, for fiction lovers like me, a selection of novels beyond perennial Catholic favorites like Austen, Waugh, O’Connor, Percy, and Berry, that illuminate the human heart and offer life-giving insights into love and marriage.

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza

This story of estranged siblings and parents re-entering each other’s lives for a wedding jumps seamlessly through time and memory, sharing such recognizable, true-to-life accounts of longtime marriage, growing up with siblings, experiencing your first love, and the pain of distance and division. I finished this book in tears, filled with the hope that no matter how imperfect our earthly relationships might be, our hope lies in our resurrection at the heavenly wedding banquet.

Sample passage: “I have looked up at this sky since I was a child and I have always been stirred, in the most secret depth of me that I alone cannot access, and if that is not my soul awakening to the majesty of my creator then what is it?”

Circe, Madeline Miller

The centuries-long lifetime of the witch from The Odyssey, who famously turned men into pigs, is reimagined in this beautiful novel. Reading about the Greek gods’ immortal nature—and Circe’s resulting years of solitude and loneliness—I was repeatedly struck by the fact that eternal life means nothing without the divine Beloved; the Bridegroom. It is the love of God that gives meaning to our creation and existence.

What’s more, I found myself deeply moved by the incarnational, embodied dimension of love, as this book explores through the nature of gods and men: Christ took on human flesh and a mortal life out of love. Our mortality is not the end of the story.

Sample passage: “I have aged... Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I am vain and dissatisfied. But I do not wish myself back. Of course my flesh reaches for the earth.” 

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan

How does the Lord work within the discernment choices we make? After sacramentally entering into a vocation and experiencing doubts, does it matter? This bittersweet story of two Irish Catholic sisters who immigrate to Boston in the mid-twentieth century delves into the daily rituals and intimacies that make up both married and religious life, with encouragement to seek God’s will in all things.

Sample passage:  “Think of a marriage, husband and wife. The piece of paper, the white wedding dress, they don't promise anything. A person has to stay there, fight for it, every day.” 

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Love as an act of the will, rather than a flight of emotion, is integral to an authentic communion that imitates Christ’s own love. Is it possible, though, that an overcommitment to duty over emotion can become a source of regret?

As I read this story of an English butler and his relationships with his master and a fellow, female servant, I considered how the things we don’t say frequently speak as loudly as the things we do. I found it a poignant reflection on the human need for vulnerability and expressing affection.

Sample passage: “If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.” 

I love pondering the ways in which the worldly echoes the sacred; the ways in which popular or secular media expresses a universal truth that aligns with human nature and the Catholic faith. What novels can you recommend for insights into love and marriage? Share in the comments and on Spoken Bride’s social media.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Surrendering Infertility to a Loving, Creative God

ERIN BUCHMANN

 

When my husband and I were engaged, we looked forward to someday raising a family. We did have a few conversations about that Big Unknown: what if we’re unable to have kids?

But we--especially I--didn’t consider it to be a real possibility, or even necessarily a totally negative one. “Of course we’ll be open to life and try to have a family, but if kids aren’t part of God’s plan for us, we’ll be fine with that,” I thought. “Besides, then I’d be able to continue with my career. That would be nice.”

Now happily married and having discerned together that the time is right to try to conceive, months start to pass by. Despite our careful NFP charting and frequent visits with our gynecologist, we’ve not been able to.

 Frustration set in, and emotions ran the gamut. Being unable to conceive when it suddenly seems like every other couple around is either expecting or juggling a handful of kids is really, really hard. 

The words of a hymn my childhood parish sang jump to my mind with fresh relevance: “The kingdom of God is challenge and choice.” The presenting challenge: physical infertility.

 With regard to how we approach this challenge, God gives us a choice: do we let ourselves fall into a sinful, selfish attitude of impatience or anger toward him, presuming to believe our wedding vows somehow entitle us to a child? Or do we instead imitate Our Lady’s response of unhesitating trust in God’s plan: Fiat, let it be done unto me according to your word?

Just as God had a unique, perfect plan for Mary’s fertility--one she had almost certainly not foreseen a moment before the Annunciation!--he also has a plan for yours.

 Your seasons of physical fertility and infertility are willed by him for the sanctification of the world and the salvation of souls. In my own experience, this time of physical infertility has actually been incredibly spiritually fertile.

As Christ has been helping me carry this cross, He has been moving my heart in new ways. He has been planting gardens in my heart in places I didn’t know there were stones. He has been immersing me deeper into the mystery of his love as he and I and my husband live out that love in our marriage.

Where did his gardening work begin? With the label of “infertile.” In my mind, our being unable to conceive at this point in our marriage meant we were never going to have children. Further, as it appeared from our NFP charting that my body was the reason for our unsuccessful attempts at achieving a pregnancy, I saw myself as broken. Having had a rocky relationship with my body before, this feeling of brokenness was particularly poignant--and painful.

As I was praying (and crying, to be honest) after receiving communion during one particularly difficult Sunday Mass filled with many families, I heard Christ’s voice speak to my heart: “Is my life inside your body enough for you?”

When one is in a state of grace, Christ’s life is present in that soul. But when we receive him in the Eucharist, Christ comes to dwell physically inside our bodies also. My body is most certainly not broken, for the Most Precious Body of the creator of the universe lives safely inside me.

 Christ’s transformative work on my heart has continued further. Although my body is not broken, medical help does offer assistance in restoring to the female body the ability to conceive a child and then sustain that pregnancy.

My husband and I began seeing a Catholic gynecologist during our engagement, when we noticed our marriage-prep NFP charting wasn’t looking like the examples in the textbook. When we found we weren’t able to conceive after we married, our doctor prescribed medication intended to normalize my hormone levels—and I resented taking those two little pills.

 The Catechism teaches “spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity” (CCC 2379). I researched the jelly out of those two medications and found them totally within the lines of moral legitimacy. But I still begrudged taking them.

I asked my husband for his thoughts on the whole matter, including the Catechism’s perspective: “Honey, what do you think? Does ‘exhausting legitimate medical procedures’ mean I am morally obligated to keep taking those pills until I reach menopause?!”

My husband paused and thought for a time. I waited.

“I don’t think it’s morally wrong to eventually stop taking the pills, if time has confirmed they aren’t helping,” he began, “but we’re not there yet. Not enough time has passed for us to reach conclusions like that. For now, I do think a decision not to take them would say something about your openness to pregnancy. Is taking two pills really too much of a burden for you, if they may be helping your body function as God intends it to?”

That brought all my defensiveness crashing down. Here, Christ brought another tangled piece of my heart into his healing light.

I realized taking those pills is one way I am called to work with God and my husband to make our marriage one truly open to the arrival of children. This is, concretely, one way I can assent to my role as a co-creator with them.

My daily “yes” to taking the medications can embody, in a little way, my continual surrender of my desire for a flawless body, my ambitions for my career, and my fear of the unknowns that would accompany motherhood--all for the greater good of fostering a marriage that is fully open to the Lord’s plans, whatever they might be. Fiat, let it be done unto me.

Personally, this season of infertility has been a blessing in disguise. Christ has taught me in so many new ways what it truly means to be a wife and a mother.

 As a religious sister once shared on a middle school retreat, God intends each and every woman he creates to be a MOM: a Master Of Magnanimity. We are called to be generous of mind and heart, willing to endure hardship and discomfort in order that great things might be accomplished through us.

For me, this has meant a daily surrender of my desires and fears while coming to a deeper acceptance of my body exactly how God has made it.

The lessons Christ wishes to teach you during this season might be different, but through all the challenges and choices, never doubt that he has amazing plans and the perfect timeline in mind for your fertility. Our loving, creative God will never be outdone in generosity. Never give up hoping in, trusting, and walking with him.


About the Author: Erin Buchmann enjoys daily Mass, outdoor adventures, crossword puzzles and Ben & Jerry's. She and her husband reside in Virginia but dream of the day they'll move back to the Midwest.

Stressed By All the Tasks and Projects of Wedding Planning and Newlywed Life? Words of Wisdom from St. Teresa of Calcutta.

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

When asked where she drew the energy to serve the poorest, sickest, and most unseen individuals of her city day after day, St. Teresa of Calcutta expressed that time and attention are gifts to be given from one human heart to another. It wasn’t about quantity, she emphasized, because “love is inefficient.”

Love is inefficient. A privileged world away from the streets of India, these words rang out nonetheless as I prepared to enter into my vocation. 

Throughout my engagement, and on into marriage and young family life, I have experienced love’s inefficiency and am better for it.

I experienced it the afternoon my husband and I met halfway between Pennsylvania and West Virginia and attempted to create a wedding registry in a single afternoon. Arguments ensued as we felt the temptation to materialism and pressure of limited time together. 

I experienced it in my desire to spend significant time with each of our wedding guests as we circled the tables at our reception, wishing I could sit down for an extensive catchup while knowing there were dozens of other friends and family members to greet. Feeling the tension of being gracious for photos and hugs alongside the need to continue moving through the room.

I experienced it in our new apartment after our honeymoon, frequently prioritizing cleaning, unpacking, decorating, and thank you notes over quality time with my husband. And I continue experiencing it now, fighting digital distractions and my desire for an orderly home while striving to be present and attentive to my children. 

Have you been through something similar? A goal with a need for convenience and speed--a need for efficiency--that can come at the cost of your relationships and your spiritual life.

Wedding planning and the transition to married life bring with them countless tasks to resolve and check off, yet I’m reminded that love is my ultimate vocation and ultimate priority: reverence and thanks to the Father who has given these gifts and opportunities; sacrifice for and sincere attention to my family.

Though I remain far from perfect in this dimension of love, I’ve often recognized that perceived inefficiencies and inconveniences that I view as slowing me down until I can enjoy the “real” goal of time, conversation, and leisure with those I love, aren’t actually steps along the path to an end point at all. Instead, the Lord repeatedly shows me that in detours and on the path itself, I am prompted to embrace inefficiency and be present for the moment in which he has placed me. 

If that means our wedding registry could have been broken down into separate tasks as my husband and I enjoyed our weekend together instead of running to accomplish as much as possible; if the dishes aren’t done but I’ve gotten to read on the couch with my kids, what might seem like inefficiency is, in reality, an opportunity for connection, encounter, intimacy. An opportunity for a greater love.

What might seem like a distraction or inconvenience from a task at hand can, with a changed perspective, become invitations to realize our own poverty: without the Father, we’re capable of nothing.

When we reject the idols of efficiency and productivity in wedding planning and in daily married life, we allow ourselves to step forward in trust, to embrace his mercy, and to let our eyes be opened to a true seeing and deeper understanding of those we are called to love.

We love hearing your experiences and growing together in sisterhood. What areas of engagement or newlywed life have brought you struggles with efficiency, and how have you overcome them? Share in the comments and on our social media.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Reflections in a Chalice

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

There are several moments from our wedding day frozen in my mind as a still life memory. These memories become as clear as a picture when I tell a story from that day. Sometimes, an external trigger causes one of those freeze frame moments to captivate my full attention like a daydream.

Recently, as I participated in the Liturgy of the Mass on a routine Sunday morning, I was transported to a vivid memory, but relieved the moment with entirely new perspective.

During the Eucharistic prayers, the literal surroundings faded out of my periphery and I was transported to the Eucharistic prayers during our wedding Mass. On our wedding day, I noticed a reflection in the chalice; the image fused itself to my mind as a picture I will never forget. It wasn’t until the most recent trigger of that moment when a rush of the Holy Spirit brought meaning to my grace-filled memory.

I felt my husband kneeling by my side at the foot of the altar. Our beloved priest lifted the chalice high above our heads, as he stood with power and grace in persona Christi. As I looked up in wonder and awe and complete surrender to the beauty of that moment, I was captivated by mirror image of myself and my husband, dressed in white, on our knees in prayer and thanksgiving. Our picture was the image in the shimmering gold of the chalice.

The chalice is the cup which holds the red wine: the juice of the fruit of the vine. Through the Eucharistic prayers and the Liturgy of the Mass, the wine becomes the Blood of Christ.

The contents of that chalice become a mingling of water and wine, humanity and divinity, mercy and love, death and new life.

As we knelt far below the greatness of that chalice, my husband and I were the visible reflection in its surface. This image is a metaphor of a powerful truth: on our wedding day, we became the visible reflection of Christ’s sacrifice, physical bodies to share sacrifice as love.

This is the call of the vocation to marriage.

In marriage, a bridegroom and his bride become the image of Christ and the Church. The two become one reflection of Christ’s love. Like the blood turned wine, acts of sacrifice are transformed into acts of love. Like the intoxicating effects of wine, the fruits of love are intoxicating in the most holy, joyful, and abundant ways through marriage and family life.

In the sacrament of marriage, God offers brides and grooms a gift. He offers men and women the glory of the Passion, so husbands and wives may both receive God’s love and become co-creaters of new love—new life—to share Love within in their homes and communities.

Where did the wine, the blood, in that chalice come from? Jesus carried a wooden cross on his back then he died upon that cross. The pain and agony of that experience is real. In the same way, there will be pain and agony in our marriages. But this is not the end. As we see a foreshadow of our vocation in Christ’s story, we too can have constant hope in the joy of the resurrection: the infinite pouring and sharing of love for ages to come.

The next time you attend Mass, pray for the eyes to see your own vocation on the altar, being broken and shared as a visible sign of love. God desires to share these graces with us. This is the joy we are called to live on this side of heaven.


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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