By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Once upon a time, a bride-to-be confided her hopes and thoughts on her upcoming marriage to only a few — her sister, a best friend, perhaps only to her diary. Today, thanks in part to Pope Benedict’s continuous call for both lay people and the Church to use social media to evangelize and spread the Gospel message, on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web site, www.foryourmarriage.org, a young couple blogs about their courtship, their engagement and their preparation for Catholic marriage.
Sara Carlson, 24, and Justin Kraft, 35, have just started to blog. In fact as of March 7, their second post was up on the site. Their blog is entitled, “Learning to Say I Do.” The couple met three years ago through a Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Young Adult Ministry “City on A Hill” retreat, and plan to marry June 25 at St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Joseph.
Sara grew up in a small town in the Iowa corn belt, and graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville with a double degree in Business Management and Marketing. During a summer internship in public relations at Worlds of Fun, Sara fell in love with “the hustle and bustle” of Kansas City, and moved here after graduation. She had been active in the Newman Center at NW Missouri State, which led her to work for the church, taking the job as communications coordinator for St. Charles Borromeo Parish.
Justin, a native of South Dakota, served as a Fellowship of Catholic University Students, FOCUS, missionary for four years, before obtaining his doctorate from the University of Alabama. He now teaches exercise science at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, and serves as faculty advisor for the university’s Newman Center.
The couple is going through the diocesan marriage preparation, in addition to full-time jobs, wedding planning and phone calls to each other every night at 9 p.m.
“Learning to put together a budget for two,” Justin said, “make decisions that aren’t just good for me but good for us, and deal with issues that are a part of marriage, hey, this is everyday life. I’m trying to start valuing my time with Sara as I will when we’re married. And we learn to make accommodations. But I’m gaining more than I’m giving up.”
Sara nodded. “Engagement is so hard,” she said. “But I know that at the end of the day, we will be married.”
Learning to budget for two led to Sara and Justin becoming bloggers. “I had been following (another) Sarah on the foryourmarriage.org web site,” Sara said, “following her marriage, pregnancy and the birth of her son. I learned she was quitting the blog and we began talking about bringing in some extra income about the same time. I contacted Sarah, and she connected me with the U.S. Bishops and, well, Justin and I are starting our blog.”
Sara pointed out that there is a difference in preparing for marriage and preparing for the wedding. Marriage prep can be difficult, “but I’ve learned a lot,” Justin said. “I’ve discovered new things about Sara, and that keeps it exciting!”
And blogging about the next six months will keep this time evergreen.
The web site is part of the U.S. Bishops’ National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage, a multi-year project aimed at communicating the meaning and value of marriage and married life for the Church and society. Initiated at the end of 2004, the project is now in the final year of its implementation phase. Through printed and online materials, social media, including Facebook and the “Learning to Say I Do” blog, the bishops hope to promote, strengthen, sustain and even restore marriages; to build a culture of marriage. Some of the goals of NPIM include showing a pastoral concern for strengthening marriage in all its stages and circumstances through listening to the experiences of the Christian faithful and stimulating a stronger witness by couples themselves to the value of marriage. Sara and Justin will share their experiences, thoughts and revelations on marriage through the blog.
“What’s really neat is that Justin and I try to live purposeful lives,” Sara said. “We’ve all heard the Gospel message about being light for the rest of the world. It’s humbling when you’re given an opportunity to live that call on a large scale.”
Sara was surprised at how many of her friends and acquaintances had already seen the first post, which was up March 1. “I heard a lot of comments at Reservoir (a City on a Hill monthly prayer service) on March 3. It was astonishing to see the people who have seen it and read it!”
Justin smiled. “Sara uses social media, like the blog, to evangelize,” he said with a chuckle. “She posted it on my Facebook page! And she tells everyone I’m quality control.” Sara added that she continues to reflect on Pope Benedict’s words — “how can I be a sign of Christ’s love both in my face-to-face relationships, and in my online relationships.”
Justin turned serious. “If a young man came to me and asked me how did I feel about giving up my freedom for the commitment of marriage, I would tell him, there is freedom in that commitment. Once I took the step to commit to Sara, I found there is a lot of freedom in not just living for myself.”
Sara agreed. “There is a big freedom in being constant, in joyfully anticipating the commitment of marriage. Facing each day that God has put before you can be freeing in itself.”
Justin and Sara urge friends, family and even strangers to join them as they prepare for marriage. “Read about the advice we’ve received from well meaning people, the Marriage Preparation program, even my horrible wedding dress shopping experience! I hope we touch whoever God wants us to touch in whatever way God allows us to,” Sara said.
Sara and Justin will continue to blog for six months “so we’ll have about a month after the wedding to wrap up our wedding and honeymoon experiences.”
By following the blog, Justin said, “I hope that people will see that preparing for marriage is full of ups and downs and wonderfuls!”