“Spiritual” and not “Religious”

photo: kallima-photography

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this,

in which there is no I or you,

so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,

so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.

Pablo Neruda

Most couples who tell me that they are “spiritual” and not “religious” grew up in homes that had some church affiliation. While a person/couple has drifted away from those early church rituals, they still believe in God.

They desire a ceremony that honors the sacredness of what they are doing without being denominational.

How do I craft a ceremony that honors that sacredness?

By keeping in mind the truth of what a ceremony is supposed to be about.

And what is the great “truth” of a wedding ceremony?

God is never found in a church building simply because it is a church building.

People bring God to a church building. So it is with a wedding.

Family and friends, knowingly and unknowingly bring God (the spiritual) with them to the ceremony.

It is their love, joy and wishes that make a ceremony spiritual .

A couple say to family and friends

“Come celebrate the great good we have found in each other, and bear witness as we give our word to each other.”

A couple enters into the mystery that is life and love when they give their word, their vow, to each other. 

The spirituality of the ceremony comes from recognizing and honoring that mystery.

In an age when talk is cheap, what could be more spiritual than to give your word to your beloved with an open heart?

The spirituality of a ceremony also comes from recognizing that family and friends become the “collective memory” of the day.

In years to come, they are to remind the couple of the love they bore witness to.

A wedding ceremony, when done right, renews and refreshes by reminding us of what life is all about – friends, family, love, loyalty.

What could be more sacred, more spiritual than creating that simple, yet profound oasis of a reminder?

All of this is the great and spiritual truth of a wedding ceremony.

And for me the “fun” part comes in working with a couple to create signature moments within the ceremony that highlight these themes and realities!

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

How To Resist Emotional Blackmail!


True freedom can only come from doing things differently.

Susan Forward


By the time I met with Moira, she was distressed to tears.


The problem was her mother, who criticized almost every choice she had made in the planning. Moira’s mother expressed her disappointment with tears, tantrums and long silences.


The proverbial final straw was when Moira, her mother and her four bridesmaids went gown shopping.


Everyone except her mom fell in love with “the” dress. Apparently, the bridesmaids teased her mom for not supporting Moira in her choice. Later, Moira’s mom broke down sobbing, accusing the bridesmaids of being disrespectful.


She demanded that Moira force her friends to apologize and if they didn’t, she wanted Moira to un-invite them as bridesmaids. Moira refused and told her she thought she was “nuts.”


And so they went round and round. Tears, accusations and all the stuff of emotional blackmail.


The mother eventually admitted that, most likely, the women did not intend to be rude and she went so far as to say she may have misinterpreted what they said. Still, though, she wanted Moira to demand that they apologize.

At the time we met, things were frosty between Moira and her mother.


Moira said she’d had it with her mother and didn’t care if she came to the wedding or not.


Of course, though, she did care. Why else would she cry when she said she didn’t care!


She later told me that this is how things went between her and her mother.

They argue

Don’t talk

Then get back together – without ever resolving what first led them into not talking.


I suggested she approach her mother in a new way because she really needed to have two different conversations with her. 


The first conversation needed to be about the general pattern with which her mother dealt with their disagreements.


They had to talk about her emotional blackmail, i.e. unfair demands followed by teary tantrums. Only then could they talk about the specific dress incident.


For the conversation about her mother’s melodramatic ploys, I suggested she do something along these lines:


Ask your mother if the two of you can have a talk.  Reassure her that you’re happy she’s interested in the wedding and that you know she wants it to be a perfect day. 


Remind her that you can’t imagine any of it without her being with you.


Reaffirm that you do take her input seriously and that when you disagree with her and  go with what you want, it’s not a rejection of her support.


Remind her that just having her by your side through all of this is the greatest gift.


Oftentimes people are difficult because they don’t think they’re appreciated. Most likely, some of that was going on with Moira’s mother.


Once Moira reassured her mother that this whole planning process wasn’t a referendum on their love and relationship, she could then move on to a discussion of the dress and the bridesmaids.


I suggested a script like this:


I love my wedding dress. 

I know that it’s not the one you liked. It is, though, the one I love and I’m glad you were there with me when I found it. 

I’m sorry that things got out of hand with the girls. I don’t think they meant to be cruel or hurt you in any way. And I think you know that, too. I know they want to speak with you and I hope you let them explain what happened.


I’m not getting into the middle of this, though, and I don’t want you to give me ultimatums. I feel that you’re pressuring me to take sides and to punish good friends for what is just a misunderstanding. 


I don’t want this dress to remind me of something that grew way ugly and way out of proportion. I know you don’t want that, either.






Sure, since this is not how Moira and her mother were in the habit of talking to each other.


It is, though, a blueprint for talking assertively and for drawing boundaries.


Moira resisted, saying that she thought her mother would still throw a fit.


I urged her to give it a try – it’s not like her mother was going to be more reasonable using any of the old tactics.


Now, you might be expecting me to write that Moira tried my approach and all was happily resolved with her mother.


Well, not exactly.


Moira did reassure her mother that she appreciated everything she was doing and explained that rejecting her suggestions was not a rejection of her.


That went a long way to calming her mother’s insecurities.


However, Moira’s conversation about the dress did not go as well. Her mother dug in her heels.


Ah, pride!


Within a week, though, Moira’s mother realized she wasn’t going to get any traction from harping about the incident.


After their talk, when Moira’s mother wanted to drag it up again, Moira would firmly, politely stop her. She reminded her mother that this was not her problem and that her mother needed to take it up with the girls.


Eventually, Moira’s mom and the bridesmaids had their talk and she got her apology.  And Moira stayed clear of it all.


As the wedding drew closer, Moira’s mom tried to stir up some drama but by then Moira felt more confident in speaking directly to her, setting boundaries.


Old habits die hard, yet by the time Moira walked down the aisle, she and her mother had laid the groundwork for a healthier, less drama-filled way of talking with each other.


And Zach, Moira’s husband, was a very relieved man!



If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!




There IS a Solution to EVERY Seemingly Unsolvable Situation!

photo: meg smith

During a recent meeting with a couple, I asked the bride if she wanted to be escorted down the aisle by her just her father or her father and mother.

She quickly glanced at her fiancé and hesitated in such a way that I knew something was up.

Turns out, she and her parents are in a strained period of their relationship. And while they’re going to attend the wedding, there’s not a lot of warm, fuzzy love going round.

The bride asked if she could just walk down the aisle alone.

Basically, she and her fiancé can do whatever they want—hey, this is their wedding!

However, my experience has been that no matter the length of the aisle it is an ENORMOUS walk for any bride to do alone.

And so we came up with an easy and, I think, elegant solution.

The groom’s parents will walk down first, followed by the bride’s parents.

The groom will stand on the aisle at the top last row and wait for the bride as she makes the walk, on her own, from the back holding-room. Then, together, they’ll walk down the aisle.

Given that they’re paying for the wedding and have been together almost five years, there is a symbolic logic to their walking together at the beginning of the ceremony.


Yes, this is not traditional.

However, this solves the “problem” of how to tell her father that she doesn’t want him to walk her down the aisle.

More importantly, the bride honors her feelings and she and her fiancé have a ceremony that speaks to their integrity as a couple.

Trust me:

There is a simple and elegant “solution” to any and all problems

you may encounter in the planning of your wedding!

A Letter to Parents Whose Children Decide Not to Get Married In a Religious Ceremony

Do we trust God to act in all the events in our lives,

or only the ones that meet our approval?

Barbara Brown Taylor

Last weekend I officiated a wedding that the groom’s parents boycotted because he was marrying a woman of a different faith (not the couple pictured above). His father was embarrassed and worried about what his relatives in their country of origin would say.

The groom spoke of his father with love, compassion and understanding.

He was hurt but somehow not angry.  I marveled at his generous spirit.

Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve had one or both sets of parents boycott a wedding because of religion.

And so this post is intended for the mother or father who is thinking of not attending their child’s wedding because they don’t approve of them marrying outside “the” faith.

My intention is not to scold. Rather, I invite you to reflect on my perspective. . .

Over my years of ministry I’ve come to realize certain things that I believe are true about God and religion.

I ask that you forgive me if at any time I sound presumptuous or arrogant. That’s not my intention.

“I’m spiritual, but not religious” is what many engaged couples tell me.

Although they grew up in homes that had some religious affiliation, much like yours, they themselves no longer attend weekly church services.

While many of these couples have drifted away from the church rituals of their upbringing, they still believe in God.

They desire a ceremony that honors the sacredness of what they are doing without it being religious, i.e. denominational.

With many of these couples, their parents, like you, still go to church and, like you, often times are disappointed with the couples’ decision not to have a religious-based wedding.

I believe God is never found in a church building simply because it is a church building.

People bring God to a church building. 

Family and friends, knowingly and unknowingly, bring God with them to the ceremony.

It is their love, joy and wishes that make a ceremony sacred – for God can only be found in the love and joy of God’s people.

I believe that when a couple sends out wedding invitations, they are really saying to family and friends “come celebrate the great good we have found in each other, and bear witness as we give our word to each other.” 

It really is that simple.  And what could be more sacred?

I believe a couple enters into the mystery of life and love when they give their word, their vow, to each other.

In an age when talk is cheap, what could honor God, who is “The Word,” more than for a person to give his or her word to their beloved with an open heart?

I believe the sacredness of a ceremony also comes from recognizing that family and friends are the “collective memory” of the day.

In years to come, when life gets messy, they are to remind the couple of the love they celebrated and bore witness to. And that is a sacred responsibility.

I believe a wedding ceremony, when done right, renews and refreshes everyone present.

When done right, a wedding ceremony reminds us what life is all about – friends, family, love, loyalty.

What could be more sacred than creating that simple, yet profound reminder?

I am saddened – and at times angered – when a couple tells me their mother and/or father have threatened to boycott the wedding because they’re not getting married in a church.

I don’t understand how a parent could inflict such cruelty upon their child, especially when this daughter or son is marrying a good person – a person of integrity.  I can’t understand the harsh words you inflict upon your child.

How often do we say, “God is love”? 

Can any one of us truly comprehend the magnitude of this belief?  I don’t believe any human can – not even the head of a religion.

Do you not believe that God’s graciousness encompasses more than we can imagine?

Where there is love, there is God. 

Every religion holds some understanding of this tenet.

Is not God in the love your child has for their partner? Is it not possible that God’s love extends far beyond any church service?

To believe in God is to believe in an awe-inducing, life affirming mystery. To believe in God is not to believe in magic.

Do you really believe that in the face of love God could be angry?

Why do you claim your anger is a reflection of God’s anger?

Embrace your child, bless your child in and through your hurt, believing all the while, as did all the holy ones of every religion, that in the end. . .

all will be well. . . 


If you’re a parent who’s upset that your daughter or son is not getting married in a religious setting, and you’ve been laying a “guilt trip” on them (hey, let’s call it for what it is), then here are seven questions I invite you to reflect upon.

Let these questions spur a conversation with your son or daughter and their partner.

Talking is way better than guilt-tripping!

  1. Why is it important to you that your son/daughter get married in a religious setting?
  2. Do you understand that your child no longer attends church?
  3. What do you think will be the consequences if your child does not get married in a church?
  4. What do you think God thinks of all this?
  5. Is your child’s “love” for their partner a gift or a curse?
  6. What is your biggest fear regarding your child not having a religious wedding?
  7. If you are worried “they” will judge you or the couple for not having a religious wedding, why are “they” being invited to the wedding?   COURAGE!

How To Deal With the Unspoken Expectations of Family!

When not officiating weddings, I’m a corporate communications coach and trainer (The Business of Confidence). In addition, I teach business and cross-cultural communication courses at UCLA Extension.

Last week my eleven-week course on business communication wrapped-up. Rose (name changed) wasn’t able to make the last class and here’s an excerpt from the email she sent me. . .

And, YES, all of this does have something to do with wedding planning – trust me – read on!

I’m so sorry that I missed last night’s last class. I was in the car on the way there and ended up having a tough conversation with my parents about wedding planning – the source of many of our family’s conversations these days. We ended up talking on the phone for 2 hours and it was such an important, necessary conversation for us to have that I made the tough call to continue on and miss the class. . .The most important thing I’ve gained from the course is the idea of the “family motto”. This is why I skipped the class last night: My family and my fiance’s family have completely different family mottos and it’s been clouding the way that everyone communicates with each other. My family motto is “wear your heart on your sleeve” and his is “keep your cards close to your chest”. Our parents have been having so many misunderstandings and disagreements lately and it’s all a result of them not understanding where the other ones are coming from. My parents are transparent and want everyone to share their feelings during our meetings and discussions and his parents just don’t operate that way. This has resulted in my fiance and I putting ourselves in the middle, which has turned into a giant game of telephone, which we ended last night. After asking our parents to talk directly to each other, we had conversations with each set of parents and it became clear that our mottos are in conflict. And it was because of what I learned in your class that I feel that I was able to take control of the conversation and get everyone to realize that we’re all operating towards the same goal but we’re getting there different ways. Our best course is to understand that about each other and accept each other for who we are.Thank you for giving me the tools and confidence to do so.

So what is this “family motto” thing that Rose referred to?  Well, let me tell you a. . .

true story

When Paulann and Darius (names changed) hired me they’d not yet chosen a venue. He had a large family and wanted a place where they could invite everyone “plus one.” She had a small immediate and extended family and didn’t care where they got married.

As the weeks passed, they still hadn’t found the right place and were bickering to a degree that surprised each of them. She nixed every venue he liked and he began to wonder if she even wanted to get married.

When we got together it was clear that they were working from different visions of their day, guided by what I call family mottos.

Our family’s beliefs and rituals are like the air we breathe.

Every family lives life guided by a motto, a mantra. Sometimes it is spoken aloud; other times it is implicitly understood. But no matter, this motto guides a family as it navigates through life.

When I was growing up, my family’s motto was – “trust no one”.

My father was a cop. His job demanded that he be leery of all. And as is often the case, his work flowed into his home.

I breathed in that mantra without thought or doubt. Later in life I had to work hard to overcome its limitations and to trust people.

When growing up, Darius’ home was where all the neighborhood kids wanted to hang out. His mother loved to cook. His family made a good fuss over holidays and birthdays. “The more the merrier!” was their motto.

Paulann’s family was close-knit and very private. Few of her friends were ever invited for dinner. Holidays and birthdays were celebrated in a low-key way. By ten o’clock the dishes were done and everyone was heading to bed. “Proper and Private” were the guiding words in her family’s life.

Darius saw their wedding as the celebration of all celebrations. Paulann didn’t want to share her day with so many people.

What to do?


They had to talk openly and trustingly. They had to have some hard conversations, revealing feelings that surprised each of them.

Once they were able to see things from each other’s perspective, they were able to go about making honest decisions that honored them both.

They were able to begin to create a new family motto—one that was their very own.

Sanity Saver Questions:

  • How were you taught to see life? What is your family’s motto regarding life?
  • How was your fiancé taught to see life? What is your fiancé’s family’s motto?
  • How do those assumptions about life influence you in your life together? As you plan your wedding?

Without understanding your family’s and your partner’s family’s assumptions about how life is lived, you will be setting yourself up in subtle ways for the stress of misunderstanding.


The challenge, the responsibility and the excitement of creating a life together involves embracing a new motto of life.

If your family’s motto limits you and your partner, then respectfully work around it or put it to the side.

Choose a new motto – the motto that will guide you and your partner.

Is Your Mom a “Momzilla” ??!

photo: marianne wilson


In this world without pity, when all the answers, they don’t amount to much,

you just want someone to hold onto,

you need a little of the human touch.

Bruce Springsteen



Sandy Malone, a guest blogger on the Huffington Post Wedding Section, wrote about how not to let a “momzilla” ruin your wedding day.


It’s a good posting. However, the comments of some of the brides fascinated me as many suggested you not fight your mom and let her have her way!


Well, although I’m not a bride, that kind of advice makes me feel queasy.


If you let your mother trample on your vision for your wedding will she be satisfied and let you and your husband (wife) live in peace?


I don’t think so.


I think she eventually will go on to tell you how to cook, keep house, and be a wife (or husband). And, then, when you have kids, I have no doubt she’ll weigh in on your parenting techniques.


Here are some questions I think you and your partner need to talk about at the outset of your wedding planning. 


These are issues you need to consciously talk about and not take for granted.


The more clear you are in your answers, the better you’ll be in containing your mother (or father) in their efforts to hijack your day (and your married life):


  1. How do you deal with your parents? Revert to childhood? Become passive-aggressive? Argue heatedly?

  2. How do you express to them what you desire for the wedding?

  3. Are you able to explain why you want what you want?

  4. Is your wedding family-focused or-friend-focused? What are the implications for this?

  5. Have you asked family for specific help in any areas?

  6. What do you think are your parents’ obligations to you regarding the paying and planning of the wedding?

  7. How do you show your family thanks throughout the planning process?

  8. What are you willing/prepared to do if your parents do not go along with your ideas/wishes?


Your wedding celebrates YOUR life together – and sometimes a parent’s love actually can lose sight of that great reality.

You keep each other safe and sane by learning how to establish healthy boundaries!



If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!








Sometimes It All Comes Down to Asparagus!


Make yourself necessary to someone.



After a menu tasting, Donna called me as she was feeling utterly dumbfounded. She needed a reality check.


Donna and her fiancé, Tony, selected asparagus as their main course vegetable. Donna’s mother, who went to the tasting, suddenly snapped, “No one likes asparagus; what are you thinking?” 


Tony pointed out that many people like asparagus. Donna’s mother would not hear of it.


To appease her mother, Donna and Tony decided on eggplant. The mother was happy.




Yes, BUT, sometimes it all comes down to asparagus!


Donna decided to have a heart-to-heart with her mother and soon learned her mother was feeling left out of the planning.


She herself never had a wedding reception. She wasn’t necessarily a “Mom-zilla.” She just wanted to feel needed and her Donna had never asked for her help in any aspect of the planning.


The only way this mother knew how to get attention was to pick a fight over asparagus!


Why hadn’t Donna asked her mother for advice and help?


While she loved her mother she always struggled with her mother’s overly enthusiastic ways that slipped into being overbearing.


She was afraid that if she asked for help, her mother would overwhelm her.


After the asparagus incident Donna made it a point to get her mother’s input on more of the non-essential decisions.


Her mother was happy – and so was Donna.


As this story shows, it’s good and important to keep others’ feelings and wishes in mind.


However, it’s not in your best interest as a couple to be guided by the mantra, we don’t want to hurt anyone. 


Especially in those decisions that are most essential to you!



If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!



Fairy Tales – and Your Vows!

photo: clanegessel.com


The love we were promised in fairy tales was never something for us to find.

It has always been something for us to create.

Tyler Kent White



My brother Peter and his wife, Beth, have been married for twenty-five+ years – and they are twenty-five+ years that they’re grateful for!


Last week I was talking with Peter and out-of-the-blue he remarked, “I can’t believe how many people I know are getting divorced.” Sadly, I was surprised that he’s surprised.


His shock, though got me thinking about weddings (something I do a lot of). Almost every weekend I officiate a wedding and every weekend I encounter people who are dressed to impress and ready to party – selfie-taking people who are palpably excited for “their” couple.


In light of Peter’s comment, I’ve been wondering – what is it that people are celebrating?


Are they celebrating the “forever” or is it the generosity, the courage and the hope of the couple?


Each week I stand before a couple and bear witness to their vows and as they pledge some version of “for better or for worse” I wonder if they understand what they’re actually saying.


I think most couples don’t understand. How could they?


We can only understand the future by living it.

Couples often ask me for advice on how to write their vows.


In order to write your vows, I think you need to reflect on these four questions.


You don’t need to say aloud in your vows the answers to these questions BUT your answers will inform what you write:

  • What would be the hardest thing that would pull the two of you apart?

  • What would be the ultimate joy you could experience as a couple?

  • What is your greatest fear for the two of you?

  • What is your greatest hope for the two of you?


The playwright Thornton Wilder, in his play The Skin Of Our Teeth, has one of the characters make this observation:


I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.


And so I come back to that earlier question – what is it that we’re celebrating at a wedding?


I think it’s that “promise” – the rough and tumble rawness of that promise a couple makes to each other.


But maybe what is just as important is for each person to also take a promise to her or his own self because if you don’t make a promise to yourself, how can you make a promise to another? 


Here’s what I hope you promise your self. . .that you will ~

  • Let no one treat you as ordinary

  • Let your home be the gateway to the world and not a hiding place

  • Feel – and not let your feelings make you a victim

  • Learn to make bold mistakes AND

  • Tame your regrets over those mistakes so that they do not overshadow the gifts of the choices you made


The poet Emily Dickinson maintained,

“That Love is all there is, is all we know of Love.”

Trusting in that truth, may the world be a better place because you loved each other!


Are You Comfortable Receiving LOVE?


I’m constantly copying snippets from newspaper articles, blogs and books that speak to weddings, commitment, marriage and love.

Here’s a snippet from an article by Pulitzer Prize winning Sarah Kaufman ­– the article is about ballet and has really nothing to do with weddings – BUT I love the last sentence and invite you to savor it. . .

One night, former ABT principal Susan Jaffe and her dance partner Jose Manuel Carreno left the theater to find a table in the walkway set with chocolate cake and punch, while a crowd of fans in paper hats sang “Happy Birthday.” (The dancers’ birthdays fall in the same month.) Admirers also have given Jaffe paintings, letters and, once, a mink coat.

The gifts were astonishing, Jaffe said, and simply being greeted with appreciation after performances always moved her. But at the final performance of her 22-year career, she made a concerted effort “to open up to the audience,” and this, she said, is when she arrived at a different understanding of those who sought only to give.

Taking bows that night, being showered with applause (and flowers), “was almost a spiritual moment,” she said. “In my whole career, I was so busy worrying about my balances and my performance that I forgot about receiving. I didn’t spend enough time appreciating being the receiver of love.”


Washington Post

By Sarah L. Kaufman

January 24, 2019

Two questions for YOU as you plan for your wedding ~

  • Do you allow yourself to appreciate being the receiver of your partner’s love?
  • Do you and your partner allow yourselves to be the receivers of the love offered you by family and friends?


If you want tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!






Being Silly – While Being in LOVE!


It is a curious thought,

but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous

that you realize just how much you love them.

 Agatha Christie



A few weeks ago I officiated a wedding at the Terrranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.  It’s an expansive venue about forty minutes from LAX. Since I’d arrived early for the wedding, I found a table on the patio outside the lobby where I could check-up on email and messages.


A few chairs away from me sat a couple (early thirties) playing cards. Coronas were on the table and I spotted wedding rings on each of them. They were laughing and being silly, looking like a couple of kids having fun on a Fall afternoon.


At one point, the guy’s phone rang. He glanced at it but then ignored it, took a swig of beer and went back to the cards. The woman said something, swatted him on the arm and he cracked up.


What most struck me was just how relaxed they looked – how affectionately “at one” they were in their relaxation.


They were lost in their own world and seemed beyond delighted to be there!


Rose Franken, a popular writer from the mid-last century, once observed that,

“Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.” 


What about you and your partner – are you silly with each other?!


Especially now as you plan your wedding?!