What is a Culture of Encounter? Creating One on Your Wedding Day + Beyond



What can 21st century brides learn from a priest and sister who lived one hundred years ago?

Encounter is a gift women uniquely are able to give.

Blessed James Alberione and Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, two founding members of the Daughters of Saint Paul, recognized the mediums of film, music, radio, and literature as goods that can share with the world what is true, good, and beautiful. Against the odds of transatlantic travel, the Great Depression, limited resources, and simply fear, Father Alberione and Mother Thecla’s conviction in the Father’s call ultimately led to the establishment and development of a thriving, faithful order of sisters.

The Daughters of Saint Paul travel the U.S. and worldwide using media to evangelize, and have hubs in several cities across the country. In these cities, the order’s materials and publications are sold in stores known as Books & Media Centers.

On a recent visit to the sisters’ Provincial House in Boston, I was struck by one of Father Alberione’s thoughts on his mission and took a picture of a plaque expressing them: the order’s book centers, he said, “are not places of business, but centers of light and warmth in Jesus Christ. The book center is not like any other book store. It is a ‘church’ where the Word of God is distributed...it is sacred...Light, holiness, and joy are the goals sought. The counter is a pulpit.”

The counter is a pulpit. This idea echoed a deep desire I feel to help those I encounter throughout the day--however briefly or extensively--to feel seen and heard.

Making meaningful eye contact with someone, conveying sincere interest in him or her even in the answer to the simple question how are you?, wishing them a good day; all these actions reveal a Christ-like love and tap into something essential: the human heart’s longing to be known.

In the nature of femininity and womanhood, I see a particular ability to help others (even including strangers) feel valued and known. To create a culture of encounter--one that seeks to acknowledge and respect another’s dignity, to push past surface-level interaction, to look up from our phones. The word encounter conveys a true seeing and a dissolving of walls. That’s a dynamic--a culture--I want to help create.

Saint Edith Stein wrote, “the destiny of every woman is to be bride and mother.” Your personal pulpit might not be a store counter, but in the workplace, in your family, on your wedding day.

The sister hosting my visit described how the order’s centers are true their name; genuinely, she said, they are centers of conversation, trust, and faith. She described how passerby coming into the store quickly sense they’re in the presence of those who will truly listen to them. Frequently, these guests will share past or current struggles and pour out their stories.

When we, as women, receive another’s story with respect and attention, we give a gift of encounter. Every woman, no matter what her vocation, career, hobbies, or personal style, is called to receive love and let her love be received as a gift. She is called to be a shelter for others’ hearts, a refuge. She is called to a rich interior life--Our Lady herself, an ultimate example of womanhood, “kept all these things” at the birth of her son, “reflecting on them in her heart.” In moments of transcendence and of the ordinary alike, as women our gifts of receptivity and interiority allow us to communicate love and attention to all we encounter.

What does encounter look like on your wedding day? It looks like letting your love speak for itself, drawing your guests to enter into the Mass. It looks like a few moments to hug or shake hands with guests during your reception meal. It looks like showing attention and care to your bridal party and families. It looks like total receptivity.

All of it points to an encounter with the one is love himself. Like Our Lady in her joy at the Visitation, let your soul “magnify the Lord.

Not every encounter you engage in will be profound or lengthy, nor should it create a spirit of moral superiority or righteousness. Developing habits of attention and receptiveness to others, though, is an embodiment of who we are: brides, women, with a particular genius for interaction and encounter.

Consider what it is you desire to embody and reveal to others with your unique strengths. Aim to reveal the love of God: a love that is particular, unconditional, all-encompassing, abundantly merciful, and forever faithful.

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


Love and Sacrifice Say the Same Thing.



What is beautiful draws our senses to the sacred. At a recent wedding I attended, a harp, organ, and choir lifted their melodies to the heights. The groomsmen wore tailcoats; the bridesmaids, embellished gowns the color of jade. Even these breathtaking details, however, were nothing compared to the radiance of the liturgy, or the couple themselves.

After a tear-filled procession and Liturgy of the Word, the celebrant’s homily illuminated an essential truth of our vocations, one embodied in a particularly tangible way through the call to marriage: love and sacrifice say the same thing, but only to the extent that we embrace them.

“You love,” he said, “as much as you sacrifice, and you sacrifice as much as you love.”

What does this mean?

As a wedding guest, I took these words as a prayer for the couple about to become one, that they might spend their lifetime willing one another’s good and fulfillment.

On a personal level, I heard them as a call, insistent and clear: along this path, my husband’s and my pilgrimage to the eternal wedding feast, our vows merit that we love with the entirety of our hearts, even when emotion runs dry and when we’d prefer not to make the effort. That we embrace the good times and bad, knowing that in making a gift of our actions, time, and entire selves to one another, we’re free from enslavement to self-serving desires.

I often consider the link between the words integration and integrity when it comes to relationships. That is, the times when the complementary parts of who I am--body and soul, reason and emotion, and more--are well-integrated and not in conflict with each other, are the times I find myself treating my husband with the greatest sense of integrity.

These are the times when my love for him and the sacrifices I’m willing to make for him--taking on extra chores when he’s busy, respecting our budget, putting our kids to bed on the nights he has to bring work home--speak a language of wholeness and good will.

When our hearts are integrated, love and sacrifice say the same thing: I give of myself to you, I place your present wants and needs before my own, I enter into your burdens and carry them alongside you.

In the times I turn to my own selfishness, preferring personal convenience or comfort above what’s best for my marriage and family, I see our relationships being chipped away at. I see them quite literally dis-integrate.

Thanks to grace and mercy, these breaks can be restored to something like their former wholeness, and only in eternity will they be brought to perfection.

Only in eternity. The words of this wedding homily, an occasion of such heavenly rejoicing, drew my attention down to earth and to the tension we live out in our vocations. We are earthly and imperfect, yet our call is focused on eternal life; on bringing our spouses and children (biological or spiritual) to the banquet by way of love.

And how to pour out that love? Through our acts of sacrifice. Saint John Paul II said, “There is no place for selfishness and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.”

By praying for your spouse, by serving and assisting him without keeping score, by keeping your shared goal of each other’s fulfillment and salvation at the forefront--even when it feels too hard--you become living icons of self-emptying love, bearing Christ to the world.

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


How My Running Shoes Prepared Me for Marriage



I got married on October 6, 2018. A year before that, my husband and I I had been dating a little over a year. And a year before that, I was living by myself in Los Angeles, recently dumped by someone I thought was (finally) a good guy for me. And I wasn’t Catholic. 

How quickly things can change.

It took a lot of personal growth and therapy for me to make the transition from a clingy, single Episcopal girl to a confident, engaged Catholic woman. However, I truly believe the thing that prepared me the most for coming home to the Church--and to my marriage--was running.

Running eased my anxiety. It led me to the Catholic Church. Ever since I became engaged I’ve desired to express the ways my running habit taught me how to be in a healthy, adult relationship.

Below, quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s explanation of the sacrament of marriage, and how they relate to my running life.

God himself is the author of marriage (1603).

 Like anything else, my marriage starts with God. At the time I was dumped by the guy I was dating in Los Angeles, I was training for my first full marathon. The date of that race was February 14th--Valentine’s Day. I don’t think this was a coincidence.

 In my training, I learned exactly how strong I was physically and mentally. At the same time, I was learning to remember I deserved love. Not despite the fact that I was single. But because I was created by God, who knew me intimately and wanted the best for me.

This combination of a spiritual revelation with my physical accomplishment made the race day even more special. It was like I was spending Valentine’s Day with God; the support and encouragement from all of my friends that came to cheer me on during the race was directly from Him.

Marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's own pleasure (1609).

I think running creates saints in the same way marriage does. While training for my marathon, there were many times I had to say no to going out late with friends to prepare for an early-morning long run the next day. Going out was a short-term pleasure, while doing well in my race was a long-term one. Sometimes it’s necessary to forgo one for the other.

Running really helped me distinguish between earthly and heavenly pleasure, a distinction I can now apply to my marriage.

When, for example, my husband is coming home from a work trip on a Saturday at midnight and I need to pick him up from the airport, I get grumpy about the obligation--especially since we’ll need to wake up early for Mass the next day. But I want to be a good person in general by helping out someone in need. I want to show my husband my love by picking him up myself, instead of asking someone else to do it. And I want to experience Jesus in the Eucharist the next day, even though I may be bleary-eyed and would sort of rather be sleeping in.

Though that’s a small example, and though it’s always a struggle to get myself out the door for a run when I would rather be binge-watching something, I think being a regular runner ensures that I experience this rejection of my ego constantly.

Marriage helps to…open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving (1609).

 Before I started learning more about the Catholic Church, I was a little hostile to some of her teachings.

No sex before marriage? I can understand that for one-night stands. But what if you’re in a committed relationship?

No artificial birth control? Puh-lease. I want kids, but I don’t want dozens of them!

 Running gave me the necessary understanding to dive deeper into these teachings once I was open to doing so. My husband and I had engaged in premarital sex, but once I realized sex was a beautiful way of engaging in the marital sacrament, we stopped. We weren’t even engaged yet--and it would be almost a year and a half until we were--but we knew why it was important.

It wasn’t easy, of course. But neither is running 26.2 miles, or climbing a couple of feet off the ground with nothing but a tiny rope (my husband’s favorite form of exercise is rock climbing).

And since we both could do that, we knew we could save sex for marriage, whether it was ultimately with each other or not. 

As for the artificial birth control issue, I am forever grateful to the Church for offering Natural Family Planning. I took up running because I wanted to be the healthiest version of myself I could be. The sport taught me to pay close attention to my body and discern what was normal, and what needed to be addressed through self-care or the help of a professional.

So it was easy to translate that mentality into tracking my fertility once I learned about NFP. I wasn’t even engaged when I started using the sympto-thermal method, but it was so useful for me even without the prospect of marriage. I am now in the process of becoming a sympto-thermal teacher myself, since I hope to teach single women in particular that fertility awareness can point out health issues long before marriage is even on the horizon.

 Whether you’re single, engaged, or married, I encourage you to try running. It’s a great way of learning more about the virtues Jesus and all of the saints modeled for us. And I believe it cultivates a mindset that will help your marriage flourish.

About the Author: Johnna Wilford helps women design health and wellness routines that fit into their lives. She is a RRCA-certified running coach, a POP Pilates instructor, and a SymptoPro Fertility Educator in-training. She is also the Co-Founder of the online community Catholic Women Run.


Why I Value My Love Story's Flaws



Sometimes it seems the best stories are the ones that involve the most hardship. As a writer and bit of a romantic, I always hoped my love story would be a good one. However, I did not realize until after I was married that the many difficulties my husband and I faced while dating were the very things that would make our story exactly what I hoped for, one worthy of retelling.

This theme has continued into our marriage, and I have come to realize that our struggles are cornerstones, forming a strong foundation for the life we are building together; one that will hopefully last many decades and weather even the worst storms.

My husband and I were very fortunate, because we were each other’s firsts. We shared and experienced those magical little romantic things together: the specialness of the first date, the thrill of holding hands for the first time, the shyness of the first kisses lightly placed on cheeks. We made the most of our tiny college town, slowly filling every corner of it with memories that would never be forgotten.

But we also had to learn love’s hard lessons through each other.

I slowly came to the realization that this other person did not always see things the way I did, and I had to accept that his fears and opinions were different than mine, yet still deserving of respect.

We experienced the difficulty of growing up and changing while spending late nights and stressful study sessions trying to understand who we were after all of this.

During those formative years, it was all too easy to blame our own individual problems on each other.  After too many cycles of forgiving, forgetting, then falling into the same harmful patterns, it seemed like we were doomed to keep hurting each other, and we parted for what I believed to be the last time. He transferred schools and went back home while I returned to a very lonely campus to finish the second half of my junior year.

We were young, gullible, and at times, very dramatic. But we loved each other, and in the end, after some space and time, desperate prayers and tireless persistence on the part of my dear husband, we called our friends to tell them that we were not only back together, but also engaged and getting married in a few months.

Even though we were long distance, both of us living and working from home at this point, being engaged was truly incredible. It felt like the world was sparkling and everything we planned, whether it was the flowers for the church or the layout for our new apartment, promised to be perfect. We were married on a beautiful, warm day in February, and the wedding was even more than we hoped. It was intimate, elegant, and full of visible love.

But as our married life began, a distance fell between us we had never experienced before, and it seemed to grow and warp as the first week of marriage stretched into the first six months.

There was so much we didn’t understand, so many ways we were unprepared for what was coming. New responsibilities caught us by surprise and normal mood swings were interpreted as personal attacks. We felt like we came from different planets, and the peace we had reached together only months before seemed to crumble in our hands.

In our first year of marriage, we moved twice, changed jobs, lived long-distance for over a month, confronted broken promises, and fell under the curse of chronic illness. Money was tight, tensions were high, and hurts ran deep. And so we prayed. We prayed harder than we ever had before, reached out for help, and remembered our vows. We had committed to each other, and we were not going to give up now. Scott Hahn once said,

“The grace of the sacrament does not make marriage easy, it makes it possible,”

We called upon that grace to save us. In response, God healed us and gave us the eyes to see the reasons for our hardship. We were able to recognize him guiding us as we renewed our promises.

When we stood before our family and friends on our wedding day and vowed to forsake all others for each other, we had no idea those vows would be tested so quickly. I always assumed the “for better” part came first, and the “for worse” part came later, and learned that is not always the case. Yet through our Lord’s grace we stayed. Our love became like a broken bone, stronger once healed than it ever was. As we live through our second year of marriage and continue to face new hardships, we have been able to lean on each other.

When we wake up side by side and look into the eyes we fell in love with, we both feel so grateful God gave us to each other. We both are brought to tears when we think of everything we would have lost, had we given up during the hard times. And now, as we both wonder at the movement of our little baby still growing inside me, we cannot wait to watch our life continue to grow through the hands of the Lord into so much more than it ever could have alone.

In the song “Enough to Let Me Go,” the band Switchfoot writes,

“If it doesn’t break your heart, it isn’t love.”

Even though I liked the song, I never understood that verse. This love story of mine has changed that. Marriage can be truly heartbreaking, but not always in bad way. Sometimes it breaks my heart because it is just so incredibly good.  My poor, feeble brain cannot comprehend or process the outpouring of love, delight, and gratitude that surges through me when he wakes up and smiles at me or takes my hand in the grocery store while we talk about ridiculous things.

Our love story is only beginning. Though I may be biased, I can say I’m thoroughly hooked and cannot wait to see what the next chapter holds, even if it’s a difficult one.

After all, God is the original author, and he knows how to write a good ending for every type of story. Especially a love story.

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About the Author: Abigail Gripshover is a part-time editor/social media manager and full-time housewife.  When not working, you can find her catching up on book club readings, rearranging furniture, or organizing her planner while listening to music.  She lives at the beach with her wonderful husband, and they are expecting their first baby. 


My Marriage Prep Experience Was More Intense Than Most. Its Surprising Fruits.



Six months after our college graduation, as I began a corporate job in my hometown and my boyfriend moved across the country for military service, he made a surprise visit and proposed on the campus where we fell in love. Giddily, we walked hand-in-hand. I looked up at him and asked, “Now what?” to which he replied, “Let’s go to the church!”

With the exception of extreme circumstances, the Church calls us to take time as a couple to prepare for marriage. Due to our long-distance circumstances, my fiancé and I hoped to get married sooner rather than later, in the church we attended together back in college. Excitedly, we walked into the office, asked, “how can we get married here?,” and were given a booklet of instructions. It was here I learned the Church must be notified at least six months in advance of a couple’s desired wedding date to ensure sufficient preparation for the sacrament.

A few days later, my fiancé and I were thrilled to find an available date that worked with his military commitment. We met with a priest to discuss our formal preparation with the church over the next nine months. Along with a retreat and written materials for pre-marriage counseling, our priest requested we meet with him 6-8 times throughout our engagement. This posed a challenge, with our eight hour separation and work obligations--our visits were limited to one weekend every few months. At this first meeting, he assured us that as long as my fiancé could call or Skype into the meetings, this would not be an issue. We were pleased with the plan.

When we shared these details with our families, my parents were taken aback that the parish required so many pastoral meetings. My fiancé and I were confused by their reaction.

Other family members, including grandparents, continued to surprise us, asking questions like,Why do you two need to meet with the priest so many times? Isn’t it enough that you want to get married in the Catholic Church, when so few couples do these days? Though they’ve encouraged my faith throughout my life, my family viewed the time commitment as burdensome during an already stressful period of separation. 

I liked our priest, however, and I rationalized that it was not a huge time commitment. Still, when my spouse and I attended a Pre-Cana retreat and learned from other attendees that frequent meetings were  fairly uncommon, I was a bit surprised. Most other parishes in our geographical area did not require couples to commit to more than a Pre-Cana retreat and a meeting or two. Friends of ours getting married in another state were only required to do a Pre-Cana retreat.

So as our first official marriage preparation meeting approached, I grew frustrated: Why do we have to commit to so much more than other couples preparing for marriage in the Church?

It took time and prayer to find an answer. My fiancé and I were facing the stress of the military, illness in the family, uncertainty about my career plans. We both worked long hours, and the wedding was suddenly six months away.

After our first meeting, it hit me: we were not spending enough quality time with God. The Father had his hand in us getting married at this particular church. He wanted to make sure we were prepared for the sacrament. Taking time to go the church where I would marry my husband, either in person or attending by phone, gave me much needed time for prayer and reflection.

 Our priest’s approach also provided valuable insight into our expectations for marriage. I learned right away that my vision was far too idealistic. The priest pointed out that on our formal assessment, I agreed with the statement, “I will always love my intended as I do now.” I now see that as naivety. Of course, love matures and grows. Through our conversations, I grew more realistic about the future and potential challenges ahead. We created a budget, discussed how we might share household responsibilities, and came up with potential date ideas--all as part of our marriage preparation.

 As much as we kept Christ at the center of our dating relationship, the busyness and stress of engagement made it more difficult--and the commitments with our priest ensured we still made the Lord our priority.

If you are preparing for the sacrament and feel burdened by the obligations, talk with your fiancé and encourage each other to fully commit to what the Church asks of you. In the case that your parish does not require a marriage prep course, I push you to take the leap yourself and schedule some time to talk as a couple with your priest. Our Father gave us the beautiful gift of marriage. And like all of the sacraments, we must ready our hearts in order to fully enter into it.

About the Author: Megan graduated from John Carroll University in 2017, where she studied Management, English Literature, and Spanish--and met her husband. The couple currently resides in Tennessee, where Megan works as a data analyst. Together, they enjoy day trips, movie marathons, and spending time with friends and family around the country. Megan's passions include baking, reading, and taking on DIY projects.


Struggling to Balance Work, Vocation, and New Motherhood? You Aren't Alone.



On my wedding day, it was easy for me to look at the man I loved, excited to create a home and family with him. To shepherd him to heaven and let him do that for me. When I looked at our friends joining the priesthood or struggling in single life, I was even more overcome with gratitude. How lucky was I to have found my vocation so young, and to have a partner who would help make things easy and joyful!

I was right in how blessed I was, but easy is now the last word I would use to describe my vocation.


I hear love is a verb. It’s much easier to choose sacrifice when you’re on a honeymoon high and want only to dote than it is to let your spouse sleep in the middle of the night when your baby starts screaming.

I knew marriage--and the Catholic faith at its core--is to lay down your entire life and will for Christ. Doing it joyfully has been the most humbling lesson of my life, one I could only learn through the throes of marriage.

When I got pregnant earlier than I anticipated, I didn’t expect my joy to mingle with sadness. We had talked about children and thought my staying at home with them would be best for our family. Yet my career was such a huge piece of my vocation that leaving it earlier than expected felt a lot like dying.

So here I was at twenty four, trying not to blame my husband for this position while feeling like it was his fault, trying to put on a good face through an incredibly painful pregnancy, and trying desperately to let go of the sadness I felt to be having a child. I felt like a terrible person for sharing love with guilt.

And then our son was born. My world exploded and our marriage crashed into an entirely new dimension. We had just learned how to live together, communicate, and give things up to make the other happy, only to make room for another even needier human. The baby needed so much attention we literally had no time for our relationship as husband and wife.

I worked for seven months more, thinking if I worked while my baby was young, I could still have that time to chip away at this non-mother piece of me before my son got too big. In every moment I wasn’t caring for my son, I was struggling: to hit deadlines, to make us food, to clean the house. To take a shower once every few days. Ultimately, I realized it wasn’t possible anymore and drove to work sobbing as I prepared to give my notice.

It’s a story I’ve hashed out many times in the months since. And I’m home now, which makes me both terribly sad and indescribably happy. It’s only recently that I’ve had enough perspective to reflect on what this all has done to me--to the three of us--and the what now? piece I had been desperately searching for.

Why is this admittedly self-centered tangent even relevant to marriage? Because marriage, as I’m learning, is not about me. And it is not easy.

Being a wife, a mother, a Catholic--and hopefully someday, a saint--means taking on a cross and laying down my life. I’m not trying to be heroic about this, and it is not something I do only with grace every day.

But in the months since letting go of my job, my son has grown so much more full, happy, and joyful. He is leaping across the expectations we had for him; bringing joy to everyone we see, everywhere we go; he is flourishing, in large part, because of the new attention I’ve been able to love him with. He needed me.

My husband and I have, for the first time since I gave birth, had time together. Because I’ve had some time to get chores done I no longer need to work until midnight, I’ve been able to get our son down for bed at the same time every night. We have our nights back to heal, take time together, talk about where we are struggling, and date each other again.

My husband saw how sad and scared I was and has been able to love and comfort me; I was finally able to be vulnerable with him. And I was able to see how I was stretching us all too thin, and in making a decision to give something up for him, he is flourishing too now. There is a peace and a calm in our house that had been missing when everything felt desperate and urgent.

Being a partner--being in it this deep with my husband--is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I don’t have all the answers yet, and I may never have them.

I am not advocating that women give their identities up for their families. That’s not a vocation.

But seeing the fruits of my particular call in this season have reminded me my life is bigger than me, for more than me. And so is marriage. Leaving my job, for this season, was a decision best for my particular family, and maybe not for yours, which is alright and good. Perhaps I will find a more flexible job outside of nine to five that lets me work again in the future. For now, I will grow a little boy’s soul and be a balm to his father’s. Being a Catholic, being a Christian, being a spouse, means dying every day for something greater. And eventually, it will mean wanting to.

When we were dating, my husband and I frequently read the writings of John of the Cross--He read to me from The Living Flame of Love a few minutes before proposing! I’ll leave you with a piece of these words. This is marriage, and this is our joy:

O sweet cautery, O delightful wound! O gentle hand! O delicate touch that tastes of eternal life and pays every debt! In killing you changed death to life.

What Does it Mean to Belong to Your Spouse?



The song my husband and I chose for our first dance includes the line, “I want to belong to you.” The words resonated deep within, evoking something free, intimate, permanent.

As we said our vows at the altar I felt the weight of commitment and distinction, grace made tangible and distinctively binding us together. The very gravity of our promises made them romantic to me: faithful love forsaking all others, fruitful love that wouldn’t stop at the two of us, free love that willingly desired exclusive belonging, total love that saw all of me.

I thought I got it at the time. I thought my husband and I shared a healthy sense of vulnerability and a spirit of loving encouragement and correction. In many ways we did, and continue to.

But in the months and years since, I’ve seen the ways in which seemingly small matters make me fall short of letting myself belong entirely to my husband, calling me into communion over division.

There have been times I’ve clung to wounds received and inflicted in past dating relationships, allowing them to hold sway even after I thought I’d moved past them. It’s only been more recently, as I’ve waded fully into this pain for the first time, that I’ve shared the fullness of embarrassment over my past actions with my husband. I hadn’t intentionally withheld these thoughts earlier in our relationship; their magnitude and resulting unrest only surfaced later on, the fruit of deeper insight and self-examination.

Holding on to the past, I realized, was a distraction from my present.

I was sacramentally united to my husband and desired to rid my mind and heart of the past. He loved me still. He encouraged me to offer my humiliation--a true sense of being humbled--to the Lord, praying for freedom and interior peace.

There have been times I’ve retreated inward, too embarrassed and ashamed to admit fault in actions both minor and major. Yet each time I’m tempted to keep my mistakes to myself, I feel the restlessness creep in. The overwhelming desire to share, tempered by fear. Being seen in the fullness of who you are is thrilling, though terrifying. He loves me still.

Even in my shame, I am loved. Even in admitting the regrets and misjudgments I’m scared to bring up, my husband is gentle and forgiving. I’ve come to understand belonging to him as an invitation to take off my masks. An invitation to reveal who I am and who the Father calls me to be.

A healthy sense of belonging to my spouse has, for me, amplified an awareness of ways in which I ultimately belong to the Lord.

However imperfect in this life, the purpose of each vocation is to make manifest God’s love. My husband’s love—so patient, merciful, total, and accepting—shows this to me. I am known; I am seen; I am beloved. It’s not unlike the sacrament of reconciliation, in which we find ourselves tenderly embraced in our brokenness. We leave armed with the grace and resolve not to remain the same, but to stay the course in pursuit of greatness. The word reconcile, after all, is rooted in the Latin word for “to bring together.”

Are there small cracks and nagging divisions tugging on your own heart, drawing your attention to ways in which your relationship can grow in total honesty, trust, and intimacy? Though always a work in progress, I can’t attest more to the joy and freedom of transparency and accountability that embody the Father’s love. Saint John Paul II has interceded for us from the start, and I frequently recall his motto, totus tuus. This phrase, “totally yours,” expresses his trust in Our Lady to bring him to her son; in our marriage, we make this our same prayer.

If you find yourself, like me, suddenly seeing ways in which you can belong to your spouse more entirely, I encourage you to enter into them, even when you’d prefer to run. Sit with your mess, let yourself feel any pains of your shortcomings, and move forward--with prayer, practical steps, and, if necessary, spiritual direction or counseling--knowing you’re not just moving for movement’s sake, but toward a beautiful pursuit: being brought together--reconciled--with both your earthly and heavenly beloved.

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.”

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