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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Walk With Me: A Wedding Promise of Stability

Last summer (July 17, 2021) we enjoyed celebrating the wedding of my daughter, Jessica, to John Holland with a beautiful ceremony officiated by my dear friend, Joyce.

This summer (June 25, 2022) I was so honored to be the officiant for the wedding of Travis and Sam, one of Jessica’s college friends. It was such a joy to walk with them in creating their ceremony and so humbling to be a part of their special day with family and dear friends.

It was a spiritual experience for me to consider again, after 37 years of marriage, what it means to make a marriage commitment—to promise “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death does us part” (Sam and Travis’ vows to each other) and to walk together on life’s journey.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the famous French author of The Little Prince, wrote in Wind, Sand and Stars:

“Love is not just looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction.”

I shared these words during the wedding ceremony:

“Walking together, in the same direction, is what your marriage commitment will require. The primary reason we commit to relationships, to promise stability, is to be there for the other. In a consumer-driven society, we are encouraged to buy new, better, more but the ancient monastic practice of stability encourages us to stay put. Nathan Oates writes, “Stability doesn’t mean you’re not trying to improve or that you don’t work on the problems. Just the opposite. It means you’re going to work hard, and you expect problems. This isn’t a fairy tale. This is learning how to love.”

Promising to stay, to walk together in all of life’s joys and challenges, is the vow of stability. One’s relationship can grow deep roots, in great love, by understanding that the other will always be there for you.

Selfies with the bride and groom!
Continue reading “Walk With Me: A Wedding Promise of Stability”

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

I believe more each day that it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together. Advice to young couples: Stick with it. Don’t give up.  I promise, with effort, love, respect, and forgiveness, your marriage will endure and you will be so happy it did!

A marriage is made of moments.

Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off. Continue reading “The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments”

Stability and Wintry Weather

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Winter weather gives us the opportunity to practice stability. The Benedictine vow of stability provides for our need to be rooted in Christ, to be grounded in the present moment, and practicing gratitude regardless of our circumstances and of the uncertain future.

Seasons come and go, “but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) We learn from the seasons that they, as all things do, indeed, pass. The icy, chilly weather prevents us from traveling too swiftly; there is something to learn from this staying put. This paradox, that we must stay grounded while the seasons change, encourages us to move a little slower and to learn from the present moment.

The cold and icy weather give us no choice but to stay put. Perhaps when we are going through “icy” relationships or experiences, we can apply the Benedictine principle of stability as well.  Continue reading “Stability and Wintry Weather”

July 11: A Big Day for Being Benedictine

St. Benedict is special to me for a few reasons. First, we share a birthday. I admit I was disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth, Mary, or Theresa would be my special saint.

Instead, I see an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary-looking bird, a crooked cane, and an unusual name I had only associated with Benedict Arnold. July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. I had never heard of him and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to this image of St. Benedict, thinking that I should have some connection with my patron saint.

Fast forward 26 years. With a full and busy life—married with a young daughter, a career as a high school teacher and club sponsor—I felt a deep longing for times of silence. I answered the call of my heart and responded to an advertisement for a silent contemplative prayer retreat. I discovered an oasis of peace just a few hours from home in the cornfields of Nebraska…called St. Benedict Center.

Continue reading “July 11: A Big Day for Being Benedictine”

Being Benedictine: Beginning the Journey

Some things change your life forever—getting married, having a baby, getting a new job, or a promotion. Finding St. Benedict Center in June 2002, twenty years ago, makes my “forever” list. It was the beginning of a connection that has changed my life in countless ways. It started my journey of Being Benedictine.

As a busy mom, wife, and teacher, I had a desire for silence and prayer. I learned about a four-day silent contemplative prayer retreat at St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska from an advertisement in our local newspaper. I loved the silence; although the twenty-minute meditation sittings throughout the day were a little more challenging, I knew I would come back to this oasis of peace.

St. Benedict Center sponsors many retreats each year—these opportunities have nurtured my spiritual longing and love of learning. I wasn’t sure if I would come back for a silent retreat, but I knew I would return to this sacred getaway soon. It started out that I came two or three times a year….and it gradually increased over time to be once or twice a month. There was one summer that I came every week, and it was suggested that I build a little cabin out back. I’ve particularly enjoyed attending retreats given by the monks of Christ the King Priory, visiting monks, and by authors like Macrina Weiderkehr (who became a dear friend), Joyce Rupp, Anselm Gruen, Helen Prejean, and Michael Casey. I have even come back for more silent retreats too, and I eagerly look forward to them now.

Continue reading “Being Benedictine: Beginning the Journey”

Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness

The Tesla Roadster is said to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds. Whoa!

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Who really needs to go that fast?! I understand better than most what it is like to be running late, hurrying to my destination and feeling like I need to drive a little faster—I’ve been known to have a lead foot in these cases a few too many times.

But is it smart, safe or the best thing for us and others? We know it is a wiser choice to slooooow down.

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Likewise, I know all too well about reacting emotionally in challenging situations. My temper can go from zero to 60 in about 2 seconds. It is a benefit to slow down my thoughts, emotions, and reactions a bit to gain a better perspective.

The local, national or global news can cause one’s heart to race, from zero to 60, in the time it takes to read or hear just one reported sentence. It is all too easy to get caught up in the “swirl and chaos of fear, violence, and anger assaulting our world today. Practicing soberness means being detached from emotions, both overly negative or positive feelings. It is not good to be “drunk” on either extreme.” (Discerning Hearts)

Alternatively, we can meet all challenges with an attitude of soberness.

Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome and former prior of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, has a podcast series on the Benedictine understanding of sobriety. He will also return to Nebraska to lead a retreat at St. Benedict Center, July 29-31, 2022 called Sober and Merciful: Saint Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness. Continue reading “Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness”

The Sower Sows

May 2022 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources

Lectio Divina—Parable of the Sower, Mark 4: 1-20

Book Discussion—Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates. (Introduction)

Lectio Divina

Mark 4:1-20 A sower went out to sow

We consider the question: How does the Parable of the Sower apply to the Benedictine value of stability? Words and phrases that resonate give us a rich perspective of the sower, the seed, the soil, and the fruit.

The sower sows regardless of thorns, rocky ground, little soil, or rich soil. The sower sows—a committed action to continue to sow.

Continue reading “The Sower Sows”

Stay With Me

April 2022 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources

Lectio Divina, Matthew 26: 20-50, The Cross of Christ

Book Discussion, Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates

Of Gods and Men, 2010 French film directed by Xavier Beauvois

Additional Resources: Paraclete Press Lenten Series on Stability with reflections from Nathan Oates, Kathleen Norris & Michael Patrick O’Brien, Jonathon Wilson Hartgrove, and Ronald Rohlheiser. Links below.

Lectio Divina

Matthew 26: 20-50, The Cross of Christ

Discussion

Stability “is the commitment to a purpose, a place, and a people…At its root, stability is the blend of two biblical concepts: patient endurance and standing firm.” (Stability, Nathan Oates) After reflecting on Matthew 26: 20-50, we consider:

How is the virtue of stability present in the gospel story? Are there similarities between what happened to Jesus in Gethsemane and what is happening in Ukraine?

Many people of Ukraine will not flee their country. “This is my home,” they say. Despite the many risks, they stay. They are rooted in their homeplace, their land. Jesus also stayed; despite knowing he was to be betrayed, despite the possibilities the next day would bring. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for Jesus. Everyone betrays him, even the best of friends. It would have been much easier to give up when left alone.

“My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” We all struggle with the virtue of stability, but Jesus stayed IN HIS sorrow; he could have fled. Despite our difficulties, we need to die before we die as Jesus did. Jesus’ steadfastness, his stability, was rooted in doing the will of God. “Your will be done” is an exclamation of surrender that gave Jesus the courage to stay. He died before his own death; he surrendered his will. He was able to face his suffering because he had consented to let God work out what would happen next. As St. Benedict said, “keep death daily before our eyes.”

Continue reading “Stay With Me”

About SoulCollage® 

Cultivate your creativity and spirituality through a variety of prayerful, creative, and contemplative practices including SoulCollage®, praying with art, poetry, music, and more.

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SoulCollage® is an intuitive process using images to create personal cards. SoulCollage® helps name the parts of ourselves that we value and also want to work on as well as naming the parts of the Divine that we often overlook. A visual journal to discover your inner voice, this process can be a spiritual practice of tending soul while expressing self. People are amazed at the beauty of their cards and their ability to access their inner wisdom using images.

What is SoulCollage®?

 Collage is a creative and intuitive act of cutting and pasting images. Easy and accessible for all ages, it is a powerful form of self-reflection and prayer. Images can guide you to a new awareness and reveal a deeper level of thought and feeling. If you have never tried creating a collage, you will be amazed at what you can learn from this process. Holding an image in prayer is powerful; it is much more than just a craft project.

Creativity is about the process, not the product. It’s not a competition and it’s not a race. It’s about listening to self and spirit.

How to create a SoulCollage® card:

Step OneTo begin, gather some supplies—magazines, special photos and images, old calendars, scissors, glue sticks, pencil. Ideally, you will glue your images on a 5 x 8-inch card (available from SoulCollage® or from a hobby store cut into the desired size.) You may select any size you desire, but I’ve found that limiting the number of images and making critical decisions about what “belongs” in your collage is part of the practice. A working frame could be helpful in selecting the images that will fit on your card by cutting a 5 x 8-inch center out of a piece of cardstock or paper that is the same size as a SoulCollage® card.collage 2014

Step Two: Begin looking at images and setting aside those that tug at your heart. Often images just gravitate to you, so there is no need to hurry the process. Be contemplative about exploring images, selecting those that speak to you either positively or negatively. Perhaps an image disturbs or disgusts you, or you do not understand what draws you to an image—don’t be afraid, just go with it. If an image speaks to you, set it aside for possible use. It can often feel that an image selects you when you surrender to the process. Don’t think too much—trust the process when images “pull” at you.

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Step Three: When you find a collection you want to work with, start playing with two or three images that attract you and feel like they belong together. Loosely trim or tear them out of their original context and imaginatively place them in a new context by framing or fitting them together, using various arrangements and layering to increase an image’s visual power. Play with different backgrounds either horizontally or vertically. Let your intuition speak to you.

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Step Four: There are no hard-and-fast rules in SoulCollage®, but you might consider a few tips. First, it is a good idea to limit each card to a few images that represent the same mood or energy, and second, try not to use words in your cards. Words tend to pin down the meaning of a card, instead of allowing an open interpretation when working with your card later.

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Step Five: When it feels like your card is complete, cut carefully around the edges of final images, using smaller, sharp scissors for areas of detail. When gluing images down, use a lesser-quality magazine as a base, turning to a fresh page after gluing an image down (much less messy than a sticky kitchen table.) Smooth away wrinkles with a rolling pin, art roller or brayer and gently brush away glue rubbings.

Step Six: There are many ways to go deeper with creating, journaling, praying with or reading your cards since they are the reflection of your innermost thoughts and feelings. In the ancient prayerful practice of Lectio or Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing”, we allow words and images to speak into our hearts. See what you can learn by naming your card and journaling with “I Am One Who…” as a sentence starter. Using I am One Who StatementsA Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth.

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Some Creative Card Practices:
  • Create a card that expresses your prayer style, a prayerful expression, or an aspect of the Divine. For example: What names do you have for God? What are you praying for?
  • Create a card when you are in a positive emotional state, a negative one. Ask God for help understanding your emotions.
  • Find an image of an animal that draws you in. Think about why this image, this animal, appeals to you. We breathe life into our cards by speaking from them in the first person. What does your soul say?
  • Find 2 or 3 backgrounds that speak to you. Set the same image in front of each of them. How does the meaning of your card change?
  • “I am One Who” sharing. Roleplay in the first person rather than talking objectively about your card using “I am One Who…” Describe yourself as if you are the image. This is a different practice than writing “what this card means to me…” Consider where you are, what you are doing, what the image may want, need, fear, expect or intend. Keep saying IAOW…speak, speak, speak. It’s even better to practice this with someone who can write down what you say, or tape yourself and listen back.  Speaking is more right brain, writing is left brain. Journaling is revealing, but speaking brings something new. “I said that? 
  • Praying with your cards. Draw a card a day to hold in your heart throughout the day. What insights do you get about how to pray today?
Blog Retreat Gallery collage
Creating with a Theme

Creating cards can be in response to prompts or themes, as in the Not-Just-For-Advent retreat, or can be intuitively created with no special purpose in mind. Here are some ideas based on the cards I have created:

Journaling with Your Cards
  • Responding to QuestionsWhat gifts do have to give me? What message do you have for me? What do you need from me? What are you afraid of? More exciting possibilities here.
  • Initiating PrayerStanding in the Flow
  • Writing Poetry— The Door is Open
Reading Your Cards
First Retreat Collage
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SoulFully You Retreats are a safe, sacred space for your own creative process to emerge, in your own way, in your own time, to become SoulFully You. Attend a scheduled retreat or invite me to plan a special program or retreat (many themes below) for your organization or group. Half-Day, Full Day, or Overnight Retreats available. Blog posts about SoulCollage® HERE.

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Future SoulFully You Retreats

June 1-3, 2022, St. Benedict Center

December 2-4, 2022, Advent, St. Benedict Center

February 3-5, 2023, Full Snow Moon, St. Benedict Center

May 5-7, 2023, Full Flower Moon, St. Benedict Center

December 1-3, 2023, Advent, St. Benedict Center

May 28-30, 2024, St. Benedict Center

December 13-15, 2024, Full Cold Moon, St. Benedict Center

June 10-12, 2025, Full Moon, St. Benedict Center

December 4-7, 2025 Advent, St. Benedict Center

By arrangement, many themes available.

SoulFully You Retreat Themes

Self and Spirit—honoring different parts of our self and qualities of the Divine

Discover Your Inner Monk—desire for silence, solitude and seeking God

Discover Your Inner Artist—cultivating intuition and creativity

Calm Your Inner Critic: Perfectionism, Expectations and Judgment

The Joy of Creativity—cultivating gratitude and joy through creativity

Personality and Prayer—a variety of prayer practices including music, creativity, words, movement and more.

Creativity as Prayer—a variety of creative prayer practices including SoulCollage®, creating mandalas and more.

Seasons of Your Life—Learning from the seasons of birthing, dying, transforming, solitude.

Journey to Wisdom—what is wisdom, seeking God, using your SoulCollage® cards to access inner wisdom

Awaken Your Creativity— You are Created in God’s Image, using creativity to grow spiritually

Circle of Stones—Explore the power of spiritual friendships and contemplative practices to ground you in the present moment; powerful retreat for a circle of friends.

Full Moon: Living in the Fullness of God

SoulFully You: A Journey—labyrinths, sacred walking, movement prayer and other contemplative practices

Lent and Advent Retreats

Benedictine Spirituality–prayer and work; obedience, stability, and conversion of life.

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Reflections on SoulFully You Retreats

Contact me if interested in planning or attending a retreat.

From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold

“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”

–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend

We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!

My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.

The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.

“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”

Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today, Laura Swan

Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.

When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)

The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:

Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding

When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.

This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.

God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.

God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.

God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.

It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage.  It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.

May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.

May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.

May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.

God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen

Family was an important part of the wedding ceremony and weekend. Both dads and John’s brother shared toasts and the mothers shared a blessing.

A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce.  Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.

This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.

“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”

Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.

John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:

When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.

“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!

As part of their wedding gift, I created a SoulCollage® card called “John and Jessica Becoming.” A wedding photo will be added to the card soon.

We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.

Other blog posts on marriage and family:

What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jessica Becoming

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