. . .to the Divorced Parents of the Bride or Groom

photo: jesseleake.com

A Letter To The Divorced Parents of The Bride and/or Groom


While the postings I usually write are primarily for the couple planning their wedding, this post is different.

I want to speak with the parents – the divorced parents – of a bride or groom.

I want to share with you something of the unique perspective I’ve been given in my role as officiant.

I love weddings for many reasons, chief among them being that I love stories.

As an officiant I hear a lot of stories. Stories that make me laugh, that inspire me or simply gobsmack me with their whack-a-do-ness!

And then there are the heart-aching stories, many of which involve parents who happen to be divorced.

Not all “my parents are divorced” stories are tragic. In fact, I’ve met divorced parents who have somehow managed to remain friends – and who genuinely like the new spouses. Hard to believe, I know, yet true.

Then there are the other stories – stories of unhealed hurt and bitterness that propel people into saying and doing things that are astounding.

Bradley’s (all names changed) Catholic parents divorced when he was seven years old (their marriage was not annulled). His mother, who attends daily Mass, told him that if he invited his father’s wife (of ten years) she would not be able to attend the wedding.

Janet’s mother told her that if she asked her father to escort her down the aisle, she wouldn’t attend the wedding because the sight of him smiling would make her sick.

Alice asked her mom and step-dad (who had raised her) to walk her down the aisle.

But her father was paying for the reception and he wanted to walk her down the aisle even though he had disappeared from her life when she was ten and only re-emerged three years ago.

And, yes, he threatened to not pay for the 4-star reception if her mom and step-dad walked her down the aisle.

Just last week I Zoomed with Caryl, a bride whose parents divorced when she was ten years old.

Her father remarried a year later. Caryl developed a warm relationship with her step-mom. Eventually, her father divorced her step-mom, but Caryl remained friends with her.

Caryl’s mother is now engaged and her father is again engaged – to a woman eight years older than Caryl. Caryl’s step-mom is remarried. All six people will be present at the wedding.

Caryl’s father hasn’t talked to her mother in years.

Caryl’s mother and first step-mom can’t stomach her father’s fiancée and don’t want her in any family portraits.

And the fiancée? Well, she’s demanding a corsage identical to the one Caryl’s mom is wearing.

Are you confused?  Do you hear just how outrageous all of this is?!

When Caryl began to explain the “flow-chart” to me, she was laughing at the absurdity of it all.

By the end of our conversation, she was crying.

And Tony, her fiancé, whose own parents have been happily married for thirty-five years, looked on concerned and bewildered.

The pressures of dealing with it all, the pain of seeing so much hatred among people she genuinely loves and cares for, has taken its toll on Caryl.

She’s weary from the demands that each of these people is making on her.

As both an officiant and a communication coach, I offered her some tips on how to assert herself and set boundaries. But what she needs is more than “tips.”

What she needs is KINDNESS. 

She needs for each of these people to be kind to her and to her fiancé. She needs them, at the very least, to be civil and sensible with each other.

And so, as you grapple with your own pain, which does need to be respected, I plead with you to not let your pain cause you to forget about your daughter or son, who is trying to be a peacemaker, who is trying to respect her or his relationship with your ex-spouse, who does not want to add to your hurt, yet who cannot bear the burden of your pain.

I’m not demeaning or dismissing your raw feelings.

Trust me, my own extended family is whack-a-do enough for me to know your ex may have never offered you the kindness you deserved.

Now, though, you have the opportunity, dare I say the responsibility, to offer your child all the kindness that they deserve.

I don’t know the story of your divorce – and maybe your daughter or son doesn’t even know the full story.

But as an officiant, I can tell you that I am saddened from meeting brides and grooms whose hearts are torn by the flame-tossing insensitivity of their divorced parents.

I know it’s not your intention to hurt your child – but you are.  In more ways than you know.

It’s been said that the “truth hurts,” so here is the truth –

you simply don’t have the right to douse your child and their partner with your anger and bitterness. 

Surely, this is not the wedding gift you want to give them?

STOP the demands

STOP the ultimatums

STOP the drama

You do have the power to stop the madness.

Your daughter or son deserves the best of who you are on their wedding celebration.

How can you even think of offering them anything less?

Get the support you need – and deserve. Ask your son or daughter to recognize your pain.  Ask without emotionally blackmailing them.

And then ask them what they need from you.

Even though I don’t know you, I am going to ask you, on behalf of your son or daughter, to do what may be the bravest thing you’ve ever done:

Bless them through your hurt and pain –

and don’t let that hurt and pain cause you to hurt them

on their day of hope and renewal.


What You’re Really Do In Your Vows

Attention is the most basic form of love

Tara Brach

Clippings and jottings and tidbits. . .

I’m constantly noting overheard pieces of conversation – people and moments that strike “my fancy” – excerpts from online articles. I collect and store – and then forget about them because I store them in some oddly labeled folder on my computer.

Now, in these numbing pandemic days, I’m revisiting what I’ve stored away – and I’m surprised. Sure, a lot of it I cannot figure out why I wrote down – whatever it is I wrote – BUT – there are those items that still move me.

Bear with me as I share a few tidbits with you – they’re random and not obviously connected to weddings – BUT – I promise that I will tie them together by the end of this post!

I was moved by a workshop participant, Heather, who began crying because she was afraid of being fired and didn’t know what she would do if she got fired.

A contestant on the reality TV show, “The Great Escape” cried at the thought of leaving the competition, saying the poignant words, “I have nothing waiting for me back home.”  For most of the show he acted like a jerk all so he’d get noticed.

I guest spoke in the college class of a professor friend of mine, who screamed at a student because she came late. My friend accused the student saying, “you don’t appreciate me.”

A clerk at a local store smiled broadly when I complimented her. She brushed off my compliment with, “I’m just doing my job.” And I quickly replied,  “You were just doing your job, BUT not everyone does their job as well as you do yours.”

I once gave a sermon in which I said that the great gift of Jesus is that He is the reassurance that God recognizes us. I reread that line from the sermon and thought, “Wow! That’s deep!” I’m not sure I have the same faith as I did thirty years ago when I wrote that line. . .

What do any or all of these snippets have to do with weddings?

Each of these vignettes flashes on a person who is afraid of being unrecognized and unappreciated. 

And what I’ve learned from my work as a communications coach and trainer is that each one of us has a deep need and yearning to be SEEN, to be recognized, to be understood.

If you think about it, a wedding is THE day of recognition and appreciation.

What are your vows, if not words of recognition and appreciation for who your partner is in your life and for what they have contributed to your life.

In your vows, you say, “I see you for who you are and I love you.”

In your vows, you say, “I pledge to see you for who you are all the days of our life together.”

Your vow is your pledge to be THE witness to your partner’s life.

LOVE is the faithful act of appreciating, recognizing and witnessing this remarkable person who is your partner.

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?

If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within


Creative Wedding Vows

I recently spoke with Cathy and Matt (names changed) who will be getting married at the end of the month. 

When I asked what they had decided to do for their vows, Cathy told me that she loved a reading in the collection I’d sent them that’s simply entitled “Celtic Reading.” She wondered if it could somehow be used for their vows as they were not comfortable writing personal vows and yet were hoping for something with richer texture that mere traditional vows.

I played around with the reading and here’s what I came up with.

Essentially, I divided the reading so that they will antiphonally offer the verses to each other and then, segueing from the reading’s last line, they will seal these sentiments with the traditional vows.

They loved the creativity and heart of these vows AND I will say, I think they are desperately romantic!

What say you?!


You are not the air that I breathe, you are the sweet scent that drifts upon it


You are not the sounds that I hear, you are the music of my life


You are not the food that I need, you are the nourishment of my soul


You are not my will to survive, you are my reason for living


It is with you that I experience the wonders of the world

It is with you that I triumph over the challenges in my path


It is your partnership that will lead me to the fulfillment of my dreams

It is your friendship that guides me as I grow and learn


It is your patience and wisdom that calms my restless nature


It is through you that I know my true self


I do not take you for granted, I cherish you


I do not need you, I choose you


I do not need you, I choose you

And then here you each segue into the traditional wording, 

I,_____, in witness of the people who love us, today choose you,_____, to be my wife / husband, promising to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life. 

I,______, in witness of the people who love us, today choose you,_______, to be my wife / husband, promising to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life. 

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?

If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within


Tips On How To Give a Toast!

Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.
Rose Franken

While couples often ask me for advice on how to write their vows, it is their parents or a member of their wedding party who ask me for advice on how to give a toast.

Here are some of the most common questions I’m asked on HOW TO WRITE A TOAST

How should one begin the process of writing a speech or a toast?

Don’t wait until the night before! Carve out time – no distractions – and think about the couple. Can you recall the moment when you looked at them and realized, “This is real!” What makes them “work” as a couple? These are the insights that will guide your writing.

Should I even write anything or just speak from the heart in the moment?

Few, very few people, are capable of speaking intelligently from the heart “in the moment.” You MUST have your toast/speech written out. You may know it so well that you won’t have to read it BUT you must have written down (and edited) what you want to say.

I get really anxious in front of large groups, what are some ways for me to practice?

Why are you nervous? What are you telling yourself? It’s not about YOU! Your toast/speech is your “gift” to the couple – and to their families and friends. You are not auditioning for a job interview. Besides, most people don’t like to speak in public so majority of the guests are relieved that’s it’s you and not them speaking! To help calm your nerves, when giving the toast be sure to stand near the couple and look at them – let their smiling faces steady your nerves.

I’ve been asked to make a speech on very short notice, help!

Remember – less is more! Your speech doesn’t have to be long. What is a sweet (not embarrassing) memory you have of the couple? What insight into the couple does that memory give you? That insight is one of the reasons everyone loves the couple. Tell them that and then wish them a lifetime of more memories like the one you have of them. That simple!

How can I make an impression with my toast?

Two things to keep in mind –

  1. A toast is tricky – most likely, you know one of the people better or longer than the other BUT you are toasting the couple and not just your friend. Speak to how “your” person was transformed in some way after meeting their partner – thank the partner for what they’ve given to “your” person.
  2. When you’ve come to the end of your toast be sure to turn to the guests and invite them to raise their glasses and join you in toasting the couple. Then turn to the couple, raise your glass and actually give a “toast” i.e. “To a lifetime of health, happiness and joy!” You want your toast to have this kind of rousing ending!

If you’re worried that your best man (woman) or maid (man) of honor is going to say the wrong thing, go on too long or do something that will make you grit your teeth then treat them to a coaching session with me.

I can show your “Toasters” how to gift you with a toast that will make you smile –and maybe even make you get teary-eyed!

Drop me a note and let’s explore how my Toast Coaching can help!
[email protected]

Paradise – Toni Morrison

I came across this excerpt last week as I was looking for readings to add to the collection I offer my couples (if you’d like a copy of that PDF of readings, please email me, [email protected])

Once again, Toni Morrison has stopped me in my tracks and challenged me with her searing and insightful reflection.

That final line stabs me in the heart. . .


Toni Morrison

Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. 

Love is none of that. 

There is nothing in nature like it. Not in robins or bison or in the banging tails of your hunting dogs and not in blossoms or suckling foal. 

Love is divine only and difficult always. 

If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God. 

You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. 

You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. 

You do not deserve love just because you want it. 

You can only earn – by practice and careful contemplations – the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it.


Putting Your Wedding Day In Perspective

For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart.  

It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.

Judy Garland

Earlier this week I officiated a micro-wedding for an out-of-town gay couple that had decided to combine their wedding and honeymoon. They invited just ten relatives and friends. The ceremony was held at their hotel that had a breath-taking roof-top view of LA.  

When I arrived, Frank clasped my hand and said, “I’m so nervous, I don’t know if I can say my vows.” I reminded him that there would only be ten people, to which he nervously responded, “that’s a lot!”

The point is, it doesn’t matter if you’ve invited ten people or twenty times ten people. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay. A wedding is an out-of-body experience!  

While I “get” why people are nervous, at the risk of sounding obnoxious, I have to ask: “But why are you nervous? What are you telling yourself that makes you scared?”

I know this is a heretical statement – BUT – your wedding day is not “the” most important day of your life.  

Your life together is an ongoing series of most important days!

I think your wedding day is “the” day that can be a touchstone for all those other “most important days.”



Not so Long Ago. . .

I am gobsmacked to realize that THIS is the kind of ad my mother was exposed to when she got married!

More, More Advice On How To Write Your Vows!

I want to be your friend forever and ever.
When the hills are all flat and the rivers are all dry.
When the trees blossom in winter
and the snow falls in summer.
When the heaven and earth mix—not till then will I part from you.
The Yueh-Fu

true story

Ben (names changed) called me the day before his wedding in a panic: “how do I write my vows?”  I was surprised because Ben had struck me as an organized guy. Besides, he’s a violinist and often plays at weddings, so he’s heard many, many vows. In that moment, though, he sounded like a drowning man! 


I told him to just speak from his heart, but this only confused him more:

“How do I do that? What else should I do?” 

“Nothing, just speak from your heart.” 


I reminded him that a vow is not a pre-nup. 

It’s a pledge of the heart and, as such, is not a detailed listing of everything that he’s going to do and not do in his marriage.

His vow is but an echo of what is deep within his heart.


Ben and his fiancée, Marissa, had been high school sweethearts and dated throughout college. She, too, was a musician. 


At their ceremony, Ben made his vow first (as is tradition). Marissa’s eyes were glistening as he spoke movingly from his heart.


When Marissa went to speak, she was so overwhelmed with the intensity of the moment that she reached out for my hand. I thought she was just giving my hand a squeeze so as to steady her nerves. But, she held my hand tightly throughout her vows. 


I’ll always remember that moment.


Not just because it was the first and only time that a bride held my hand while offering her vows!


Not just because I felt self-conscious.


I’ll always remember that moment because it was achingly tender.


Over the last twenty-five years I’ve officiated many, many ceremonies and so I easily can forget how difficult it is to find the words to let someone you love know that there are no words to describe your love.


Ben was not the last groom to call me sounding desperate. 


Jason was a groom who still had not written his vows by the time I arrived at the ceremony site. 


I calmed him down by reminding him that his fiancée, Ellen, would kill him if he didn’t have thoughtful words to offer her! 


We found a quiet place away from his groomsmen. I scrounged around for some paper on which he could write his vows and then left him by himself. 


Jason thought he’d be debonair and wrote his vows on his tux jacket’s pocket-handkerchief. He started to sweat during the ceremony and at one point wiped his forehead with the handkerchief – and, yes, he wiped away his vows! 


And while Marissa is still the only bride to hold my hand, she’s not the last bride to cry while saying her vows. 


Cheryl sobbed so hard that she wasn’t able to get through her vows. When she seemed unable to say anything more, I gently moved on to the exchange of rings. 


After the ceremony, annoyed with me, she wanted to know why I hadn’t done something to calm her down. Short of throwing a glass of cold water in her face, I didn’t know what I could have done!


I don’t think anyone can teach someone how to compose a vow. 


A toast or a speech? Sure. 


A vow, though, is such an intimate expression of devotion that it defies instruction.

I still believe that writing your vows is as simple as “speaking from your heart.” 


The act of writing your vow is an opportunity to:

  • slow down
  • create time to retreat into your heart
  • consider why you’re promising what you’re promising to whom you’re promising in this crazy world of ours


In terms of the practical side of writing your vows, I urge you NOT to:

  • worry about crying while offering your vow
  • worry about how long it will take to say the vow
  • worry if your sentiments are corny or cheesy – I’ve never heard vows that made me roll my eyes!
  • share your vows with each other ahead of the ceremony as they should be a gift


In terms of giving structure, order and flow to your vows, what I’ve noticed works most elegantly is:

  • Begin with a memory, an anecdote, a story of a moment in time when you suddenly realized that your partner was “the one.”
  • Grounded in and flowing from that memory, tell your partner what you appreciate, treasure and value about them.
  • Grateful for the memories and gifts, state what you vow to do and be for your partner.
  • Somewhere in the midst of all this, be sure to say, “I take you as my husband / wife” because that little phrase turns your words of love into a vow.


It really is that simple!


I’m always honored when a couple invites me to bear witness as they give their word to each other—as they enter into the mystery of life and love. 


It is an exquisitely intimate moment.  


I’m in awe of the generosity and courage, the hope and faith people show in that moment of giving their word, which is their life to each other.


I salute you and cheer you on!!

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?
If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within

Love – “in sickness and in health”

I love you not because of who you are,

but because of who I am when I am with you.

Herman Hesse

Over the years I have gotten spoiled as I’ve officiated at some wonderful 4 and 5-star resorts. One of my favorites is The Montage in Laguna Beach.

I’ve been using the quarantine as an opportunity to sift through old files and notes I’ve kept with the intention of turning them into blog posts. Well, here’s a “snapshot” memory I am only now getting around to sharing with you. . .

I was early for Yvonne and Bijan’s ceremony at The Montage. I grabbed a corner table in the lounge. The piano player was doing his thing, filling the room with heartening classic lounge numbers.

As I was reviewing my notes, I noticed a couple (70’s) at a nearby table. The wife was in a wheelchair and from the way her body was positioned it appeared she had some sort of neurological disease. On one side of her sat a Nurse Aid and on the other side sat her husband. 

At one point, the woman’s husband reached over and rubbed her shoulder while held her hand. So gentle. So tender.

I thought of Yvonne and Bijan. Of the vows they were a little more than hour away from gifting each other: “in good times and in bad – in sickness and in health.”

I again was reminded that there is no way any bride or groom can fully comprehend the depth and scope of those words!

I then happened to glance on a young man a few tables away (30’s). He was intently reading a Bible, highlighting passages in yellow marker. He seemed so out of place in this 5-star resort lounge.

He looked not only intense – he looked unhappy.

I thought if only he would lift his head out of the Bible and look over at the couple, he would see the truest meaning of Scripture – Love.

Late Fragment

Raymond Carver

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

And Even MORE Thoughts On Writing Your Vows

I’ve been spending these pandemic days perhaps much like you – by watching a LOT of Netflix!

I’ve come late to the Netflix phenomenon having resisted the allure and selling of the streaming service. And so, I’ve been bouncing all over the selections, embodying that old cliché, “like in a kid in a candy shop.”

What does my Netflix binging have to do with this week’s post? Well, while I give high marks to the heartwarming “Say I Do!” series it’s from a new trending movie I’ve gotten my inspiration. 

The movie – The Old Guard.

According to the blurb, the Old Guard is an “American superhero film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka, based on his comic book of the same name and follows a team of immortal mercenaries on a revenge mission.

The film stars Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

I’m really not into superhero flicks and not into SyFi – except ­– when I’m bored out of my mind!

Besides, it stars Charlize Theron so it had to have some substance.

The movie was entertaining and I give it “two-thumbs up.” BUT – I’m not here to do a movie review. 

I want to tell you about one particular scene that involves two male characters, Joe and Nicky. 

Joe (Muslim) and Nicky (Catholic) met and killed each other while fighting on opposite sides in the Crusades. Since they’re immortal they kept on fighting each other in different battles over time – until they fell in love (none of this is shown) and became fierce lovers through the ages.

Now, in this current time, they’ve been caught by the “bad guys” and are being transported in a heavily-armored vehicle. The guards taunt and mock them for being lovers. 

It is in this moment that Joe calmly, fervently spits back at them these words, professing his love of Nicky:

This man is more to me than you can dream.

He’s the moon when I’m lost in darkness, and warmth when I shiver in cold.

His heart overflows with the kindness of which this world is not worthy of.

I love this man beyond measure and reason.

He’s all and he’s more.

Who would have guessed that such stab-me-in-the-heart words of love would be uttered in a SyFi action flick?!

As you wrestle with finding the words for your vows perhaps you can take inspiration from a battle-worn Crusader!