The Williams Wedding – May 24, 2014

When Johanna asked me to marry her and Michael I immediately said,“Yes!” I didn’t think about the upstate New York location, or the fact that I didn’t know Michael. I felt joy for Johanna and this man she loves. I know Johanna from her time in Fort Collins, Colorado. But five years ago she moved back home to New York. This wedding would be a reunion for us, and I could hardly wait.

The wedding was planned months in advance. They chose Letchworth Park in Genesee Falls, New York for an intimate family ceremony. Johanna found her dress. Bridesmaids were outfitted, party favors purchased. Decisions were made about shoes and hair and music.There were emails, Facebook posts, Pinterest shares and it was all very exciting.


I was happy to officiate for Jenn & Dean in 2012.

I watched the wedding develop and tried to do my part, which is to create vows. Vows are the meat of the wedding. Without them there are no words to listen to while you sit in your dress-up clothes and uncomfortable shoes. Vows set the mood; are they funny or sad or full of bologna? I like what Jenn Jessup said when we prepared for her wedding in 2012, “I do not have an expectation of perfection. I have an expectation of presence.” To me a wedding is about feelings, why we love who we love and why we want to spend as many years as possible with that person. Wedding vows launch the future for a new couple and I can’t imagine doing a wedding with some saccharin prologue full of life pledges and oaths of fidelity. I just can’t.

Am I taking this too seriously? Oh possibly. But let me tell you what happened in New York. My friend Melody and I arrived four days before the wedding, which is plenty of time right? I had four days to get to know Michael and write personal, meaningful, perfect vows. And run errands for the wedding. And play with Johanna’s kids. And travel to Genesee Falls. And eat, drink, celebrate, catch-up, etc. Finally, when I was able to interview Johanna and Michael, something became apparent. What I mean is “a parent”.  Both Michael and Johanna kept talking about their parents. Debbie this, Herbie that. Tom said, Kelly is… so I went with it. I asked Johanna how each of these four “parents” affected her and Michael. The flood gates opened! I did the same with Michael and when I sat down to type everything, I had to laugh. There was no way I could include everything they said about the four parents, it was too much.

Johanna liked the vows I wrote for Alie & JR, back in 2007, so I started there. Because Johanna & Michael have children, I reworked the flow to include creating a family, which came from the vows I did for Caroline and Aaron, also in 2007. Then something strange happened. As I was typing away in a tiny hotel office, the vows became a tribute to love for family, not just what Johanna and Michael share but what they receive; how they were raised. I wrote about gratitude, respect and love for the parents. I used what they said about their parents to voice how Johanna and Michael became the people they are today. I edited down to a paragraph about how each parent influenced Johanna and

If you are reading this, you know what I do and I can openly say that I had help. The words flowed like the vows were already written. I typed away, and then I thought, “Hmm. I wonder what Johanna and Michael will say about this, it’s different.” The next day, I found out. They loved it! Paying homage to their parents made them happy, and for that I was grateful. After several re-writes, input from the couple and Melody and a whole lot of prayer, we had our nuptials.

Later, I was told that there was not a dry eye in the house; which is funny, because we were outside next to a hundred-foot waterfall. One parent said, “As if the day wasn’t emotional enough, then you had to spring that on us!” It was a surprise and I admit, I had to pause several times due to my own emotion. But what a heart opener! I am so grateful to Johanna and Michael and the amazing people that raised them. 

Wedding Ceremony for Johanna Lynn O’Connell & Michael Herbert Williams 

Hello Everyone! My name is Holly Burger and I want to thank you all for coming to the Wedding Celebration of Johanna Lynn O’Connell and Michael Herbert Williams. Today is May 24, 2014 and we are gathered here today to honor their dedication to each other and their choice to join in the Sacred Union of Marriage.

They have chosen this beautiful place to exchange their vows. They have chosen all of you as witnesses to this most sacred of commitments.

Please welcome Jacqui and Ameigh, Michael’s sisters, for a reading and blessing. (Benediction of the Apache)

Thank you; please welcome Kim, Stephanie and Lydia, Johanna’s sisters, for a reading and blessing. (Irish Wedding Blessing)

Thank you.

Today two people will take vows. But let’s talk about who these vows bring together through their promise and unity.

We have the little ones, Cooper Joseph, Marisa Clare and Reese Michael officially (and legally) joining as a family. We have the sisters (all five) Kim, Stephanie, Lydia, Jacqui and Ameigh, which will now be sisters-in-law.

And we have four parents…

Knowing Johanna & Michael as you all do, you have a pretty good idea of the respect and love they have for their parents. There are four people that taught this bride and groom how to be loving adults. Four people who give strong qualities to this relationship.

The bride and groom would like to honor these four people with their gratitude.

I was told “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house” many times after the ceremony. – hb

First we would like to honor Debra Jean O’Connell, Johanna’s mother. Debbie, these are the values and strengths Johanna and Michael feel that you have given to them: You have taught them what it means to love your family through service. You exemplify strength in partnership which they feel determines the strength of the family. This unspoken strength and unity for family creates great respect and contentment. Your pride in home, meals and order bring a sense of value and priorities leading to fulfillment of a loving family. They appreciate your reliability and that you put family first, that you would do anything for your family. Michael is especially appreciative of the strength and resolve he sees in Johanna that is a gift bestowed upon her by you. Debbie, you are the love that holds the family together and they are very grateful. Thank you, Debbie.

Next we would like to offer gratitude to Thomas Joseph O’Connell, Johanna’s father. Tom, your unselfish love and support of your family has deeply affected Johanna and Michael. Johanna is proud to be an example of what you taught her, faith first, family second, and the rest will work itself out. You demonstrate patriarchal stability through hard work and dedication to the family system. Your continued efforts to be present for your children and grandchildren, as well as your growth and affection are great models for this couple. They also appreciate you as an inspiration of spiritual development. And of course we must mention your heart-centered devotion. Thank you, Tom.

Upper Falls, the wedding took place at Middle Falls, Letchworth Park, NY.

Upper Falls, the wedding took place at Middle Falls, Letchworth Park, NY.

Johanna and Michael would like to offer their appreciation to Kelly Marie Williams. Kelly, in this relationship you will see the reflection of yourself in this young couple via strength, humor and commitment. You demonstrate grace and generosity. The loyalty and perseverance that you have shown in your marriage is a gift for all to behold. Johanna and Michael have great admiration for your playfulness, as well as the resolve and dedication that you consistently show to your family. You are tender and caring, a nurturing resource of comfort for Michael, and for your new daughter-in-love. Michael claims that you are his happy place, not only at times of challenge, but all the time. Johanna & Michael thank you for your presence in their lives and how your lighthearted energy spreads joy throughout the family. Thank you, Kelly.

In closing this gratitude circle, we will speak of Herbert Williams. Herby, as he is lovingly called by his family, is like Tom, an example of hard work and patriarchal energy. He has taught by example, consistently providing for his family through his values and priorities. As a father Michael models himself after his best example, his own father. Herby taught Michael resolve by saying, “Life will always find a way to present you with new challenges. It’s not about the issues that arise; it’s about how you choose to face them.” Herby is the foundation of the family, exemplifying strength through sincere care and dedication to his wife and children; he is a grounding force for all of them. Herby is admired for his positive energy and stability. Thank you, Herby.

Life's path is short, let love be your guide.  How appropriate!

Life’s path is short, let love be your guide.
How appropriate!

Johanna and Michael are grateful to their parents and wanted these words, words that they shared with me, to be spoken here today. We are all products of our environment. When we grow up we go out into the world and we learn things, we grow and we change. Johanna and Michael believe in a strong foundation for their family. They believe in trust, dedication to each other and the love of family. This, what you see here, is a manifestation of loving people, raised by loving people.

Some of you may know that Johanna’s parents, and Michael’s parents have each been married for 35 years. Johanna and Michael see their families as their shelter from the storm. Strong arms, soft words, positive thoughts, presence and consciousness are some of the abundant energies created by this growing family.

We will now continue this dedication to marriage through ceremony with hand-fasting. Tom, will you please give out the cords?

Johanna and Michael please join hands and look into your beloved’s eyes.

  1. John, will you please step forward and tie your cord around their wrists? Will you honor and respect each other and seek never to break that honor?
  2. Becka, will you please step forward and tie your cord around their wrists? Will you share in each others challenges and seek to bring peace and comfort?
  3. Cooper, will you please step forward and tie your cord around their wrists? Will you share in growth and consciousness so that your spirits may grow in this union?
  4. Ivy, will you please step forward and tie your cord around their wrists? Will you engage in having a positive manner, looking for the brightness in life and sharing in laughter?

Johanna and Michael, as your hands are bound together, so your lives are joined in a union of love and trust. Above you are the stars, below you is the Earth. Like the stars, your love will be a constant source of Light, and like the Earth a firm foundation from which to grow.

Johanna and Michael have chosen Kahlil Gibran’s words on marriage for you today:     
      You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. 
      You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days. 
      Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. 
      But let there be spaces in your togetherness, 
      And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 
      Love one another but make not a bond of love: 
      Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 
      Fill each others cup but drink not from one cup. 
      Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. 
      Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, 
      Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. 
      Give your hearts, but not into each others keeping. 
      For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. 
      And stand together, yet not too near together: 
      For the pillars of the temple stand apart, 
      And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each others shadow.

Thank you.

Shameless selfie during the wedding dance!

Shameless selfie during the wedding dance!

Michael, we have witnessed your vows of marriage. As we hold your vision of courage and humility in co-creating, we see you and Johanna happily committed to each other and your lawful union of faith and respect. Please place your ring on Johanna’s hand and repeat these words:

“With this ring, I give you my heart, I promise from this day forward, you shall not walk alone, may my heart be your shelter, and my arms be your home.”

Johanna, we have witnessed your vows of marriage. As we hold your vision of courage and humility in co-creating, we see you and Michael happily committed to each other and your lawful union of faith and respect. Please place your ring on Michael’s hand

Please repeat after me: “With this ring, I give you my heart, I promise from this day forward, you shall not walk alone, may my heart be your shelter, and my arms be your home.”

Do you, Johanna Lynn O’Connell, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? (I do)

Do you, Michael Herbert Williams, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? (I do)

Let it be said that all who witness hold intention. Gathered as we are, we form a connection. Today we see Johanna and Michael, before God, commit to family. By the power vested in me, Johanna Lynn O’Connell and Michael Herbert Williams, Cooper, Marisa and Reese, I now pronounce you husband, wife and family.

Mr. Williams, you may kiss your bride.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. & Mrs. Michael Williams!! 








1 comment to The Williams Wedding – May 24, 2014

  • Holly Burger

    From a Facebook post:

    Ameigh O’Connell wrote: Love love love this article! Wish I could have got married after them instead of the year before and stolen you and your ideas what an unforgettable day.

    Holly wrote: Thank you Ameigh! It was lovely meeting you!

    Kelly wrote: I am so happy that you posted this. I must be a glutton for punishment. Once again, your words brought me to tears. Being honored in this way by Michael and Johanna has truly been one of the highlights of my life. What we mean to our children, and the years of example and guidance are exactly the pieces of life that we cherish. I was struck by your words and it made me realize that what we see every day in Michael and Johanna’s relationship is clearly apparent to everyone that surrounds them. Thank you for your beautiful words, insight and the peace that you gave all of us.

    Holly wrote: Thank you, Kelly! It was so great to meet you and an honor to say those words to you and Herby.

    Herbert wrote: Like everyone else I’ve made my share of mistakes but when you have children you tell yourself “This is something I can’t screw up. This is the most important thing we will ever do.” Whatever mistakes we make can be forgiven as long as our children are healthy and happy. We couldn’t feel more blessed and proud following an amazing wedding day. Once in a great while we can pat ourselves on the back and say we did ok. Great job Holly. Thank You

    Marcia wrote: Thank you so much for sharing. Took me awhile to read through these beautiful words,through tears of happiness for all of you.

    Holly wrote: Thanks Herb! It was a wonderful experience. The vows that wrote themselves.

    Holly wrote: Johanna…thanks for sharing, these comments fill my heart!

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