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Friends. As a mom of eight children, I have had some long years of mothering. However, I am beyond happy because I am now hitting The Reward Stage. My two girls (number 5 & 6) just graduated from high school. They are maturing and becoming. It is glorious to witness.
Two of my sons were married this year. Another is engaged. In my last post, I highlighted a bit about my son Mitchell’s new wife, Lucy. I wanted you to know her and be blessed by her witness. Read that post: Love, Marriage, and a Great Toast to Mothers Everywhere.
I now feel compelled to write about Jessica Doerneman, my son Eric’s wife. I asked for and received her permission to write about their relationship. Why write about them? Hmmmm. What a good question. Afterall, relationships are private. Yes. They are. However, Eric and Jessica have both been changed by the witness of others. They understand how important STORY can be.
And I know, without a doubt, that you will be blessed by their story. However, to do that well, we gotta start at the beginning.
In late April, 2015, my husband Russ and I were on a movie date at the Warren Theater in Wichita, Kansas. After the show, we walked slowly back to our vehicle, sort of lost in the aftereffects of the movie.
As we neared our vehicle, we could see that our oldest son, Eric, was leaning up against our car, waiting for us.
He had a weird look on his face and he asked if he could talk with us. We told him of course and we all got into the car.
Eric was in the back and he leaned forward and put a small felt-covered box on the console. My husband and I looked at it. Comprehension dawned.
It was the ring.
Eric and his fiance had called it all off, two months before the wedding. They both knew that “they” weren’t going to work out. Wow. Russ and I had not seen that coming.
Over the days and weeks ahead, our whole family halted plans. It was odd to let go of the life we had envisioned for our son. Eric knew the relationship was not exactly what he needed and he was grateful that it was derailed YET it was still a difficult time. One of our best friends, Byron Nordhus, had experienced the same thing when he was a young man and he told us that he knew exactly what Eric was going through.
He took Eric out so they could chat. He told Eric all about his own experiences, relating well with my son’s heart. (I tell you this because so many times we, the older generation, sort of let the younger people work things out on their own. This man understood his important role and stepped into it for my son.)
The best part of the conversation was the hope that Eric received, because he KNEW Byron and his incredible family. He knew how awesome his wife was. That helped Eric see in a distinct way that God has a plan for our lives.
Eric would need trust and patience. And he would need to take some time off from the dating scene and work on himself.
I did want to help my kid in whatever way I could. So I asked him to think about what he wanted in a wife. I asked him to be specific.
My son thought about it. Then he listed off the characteristics that he now knew were vital to him and his needs.
I wrote each word down on a piece of paper and I stuck it into the front of my bible, asking God to fulfill the desires of my son’s heart.
Eric then went about his life, working as a stress engineer AND giving presentations with me in our ministry of The Parenting Dare. He also started writing a book.
I know that sounds like a weird combo, most engineers are only math oriented but Eric has this innate (almost freaky) math ability (from his father) AND he likes to write. And give presentations. In front of people.
Fast forward to the summer of 2018; Eric gave a presentation at “Theology on Tap,” a place where young adults could gather, drink beer and learn about their faith.
Now, one of the women in the crowd was Jessica Ragas. She had ended up at Theology on Tap because she had just moved to Wichita (from Louisiana) to be a FOCUS missionary at Wichita State University.
Before I move on, let me take a moment to explain more about FOCUS and why it’s so important to our family. First, FOCUS is a “Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the gospel with college and university students, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same.”
Basically, college graduates volunteer (and must also be selected) to go BACK to college campuses and help college students in the most important, life-changing ways.
First, they befriend college students. They then invite them into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Over time, they teach them to do the same for others.
I love love love FOCUS. It was actually at a FOCUS conference where I felt the call to do more in this ministry. (I was there because we had to pick up Eric. Read about the full story.(The Whole story: Lori’s Side). It’s funny.)
Back to Jessica: she had just spent the summer doing all the things she needed to do to be a missionary with FOCUS. She had just arrived in a totally unfamiliar city, with all of the emotions of starting a new chapter in her life. She was excited, nervous, scared.
Some college students had invited her to go to “Theology on Tap.” Jessica said sure, not knowing what the talk would be about or who would be giving it.
When Jessica got there, all the college girls around her were quietly freaking out about Eric, saying how cute he was and such.
Jessica was like, “Whatever, girls, calm down.” Then she found out that the topic of the talk was pornography, which intrigued her at the heart level because of her own past struggles in that area. She knew not many people spoke openly about the topic.
She was also interested in hearing Eric speak because she had met his sister, Rachel, at FOCUS training. (Read more about Rachel’s Story.) On top of that, as Eric began his story, he mentioned FOCUS conferences and how they changed his life. (Read more about Eric’s Story.)
He also talked a lot about the psychology of addiction; Jessica had majored in psychology in college, so Eric was hitting all of these major aspects of Jessica’s life and she was like, “Whoa.”
So Jessica felt a keen connection with Eric on lots of levels.
After our presentation, Jessica approached Eric because he had acknowledged that porn and masturbation was not just a “guy struggle.” Jessica had never heard a man say that before and she just wanted to thank him for that. (Many girls and women cannot find the support they need in this realm because shame keeps them silent AND because most people view this as a “Guys Only Struggle With This” problem.)
So she went up to Eric afterwards and told him thank you for bringing up all the things...she also let him know she knew Rachel.
Eric asked for her number because he said he would like to get dinner with her FOCUS team sometime.
Several days later, Eric texted Jessica and asked her for coffee and she said yes.
Then the inner dilemma began. Jessica knew that if she met with Eric, they’d just be meeting to talk. However, the more she thought about it and actually prayed about it, she knew that sitting with a man and sharing more about their own personal journeys (on this sensitive topic) could possibly create an emotional attachment, which would not be good for her, just starting a dating fast. (FOCUS has some simple protocols in place to protect missionaries. One of them: Don’t date the first year. )
She felt like the Lord was telling her, “Not now. Just wait.”
So she cancelled the coffee date. (That's what maturity looks like!)
In the next weeks and months that followed, Jessica and Eric would run into each other at Adoration or Mass. They would talk for several minutes and that was it.
What did they do that year?
Hmmm… I would say that Eric was actively letting go of a relationship and if you’ve ever done that, you know it is a process of acknowledging, releasing, sometimes mourning, sometimes rejoicing...all relearning who you are in the core and who you want to be. He was also actively pursuing a deeper relationship with God (that was part of his talk at Theology on Tap).
Meanwhile, God was also active in Jessica’s heart, helping her to find healing in how she looked at herself as a woman and how she should be pursued. Prior to that year, she hadn’t experienced an overabundance of self love and she didn’t really know how to be a woman in our culture. She wasn’t sure what she deserved in a man. She also didn't know how she should be pursued since she had not been pursued well in the past.
During the year, her understanding of how Jesus sees her changed. How? Well, as a missionary, she would read Scripture and lead Bible studies on how Jesus interacted with women. He was gentle. Kind. Merciful. Loving. All while seeing the real woman.
Jesus Christ’s gentle “knowing” and “seeing” the female heart captivated Jessica’s own heart and created a deeper understanding of what she really wanted in a man.
(One of the surprising parts of ministry work: what you receive. I think everyone going into mission-type work expects to give. That's part of it. But God won't be outdone in generosity. He always bestows the best gifts on the giver.)
Jessica finished that year, finding healing and a deeper love for herself. She then spent the next summer divided up between FOCUS training and hanging out with her family and friends in Louisiana.
When she came back to WSU in August 2019, Jessica had a conversation with a good friend. This woman, married with children, asked Jessica if there were any guys she was interested in now that the dating fast was over.
Jessica said there was this one, Eric Doerneman, but she didn’t really see him that often. Her friend said, “You need to get on his radar. Boys are dumb. You must get on his radar.”
FOCUS had a big event, hosted by Byron and Marilee Nordhus, where the general public could meet and greet FOCUS alums and missionaries and such.
Jessica saw Eric there and she made sure they “ran into each other.” Several days later, they went out for drinks. Later that week, Eric asked her on their official First Date.
Thus it began: the ebb and flow of a New Relationship.
After hearing bits and pieces about this new girl, I finally met Jessica. We met at a Mexican restaurant and had a great time. My first impression of Jessica was that she could hold her own with Eric, and not through a balance of wit or sarcasm, but rather, from a place of femininity. She sort of captured my son. In a good way.
I liked her. A lot. And as I always do, started naming their children (in my head). I may be the sort of mother that gets waaaay ahead of herself.
Jessica and Eric dated throughout that next year. Interestingly, and probably appropriately, Eric had to overcome some of his own emotional heart hurdles. He had some reluctance for another deep relationship. So they had to work on those things.
By the way, Eric is always doing crazy things. What I appreciated is how Jessica allowed Eric's personality to "be."
Now, taking that thought a little deeper: if you have adult kids, you want them to find a person where they can BE THEMSELVES WITH, yes, but you want their significant other to be someone where they can BE BROUGHT HIGHER.
That seems like a tall order, doesn’t it? Well, the secret is to have a relationship with GOD. That’s it. He is the One who brings ALL of us “higher” by helping us live a certain way, with more kindness, with more awareness, with more openness and with more humility. Eric and Jessica had both experienced the love of Christ in significant ways and so that is what I saw on the outside, looking in. They were able to be themselves, but they also helped each other grow by listening and learning with hearts that had been taught to love by Love Itself.
After about ten months of dating, we were able to meet Jessica’s parents, Kevin and Celeste Ragas, the next summer in 2020, when they came to Wichita to visit.
Wow. My husband and I fell in love with Kevin and Celeste. They have endearing personalities, full of charm and wit and grace. Our shared Catholic faith also forged us together. Talking with them felt like we were talking to long lost friends. They also brought new things to our table, including their southern accents and southern “ways.”
When they left Wichita, I knew that we would most likely be visiting New Orleans in the next year. And that it would probably include a wedding.
Eric proposed to Jessica Ragas on August 22, 2020. She said yes.
Okay, a bit about their wedding, because there were some amazing aspects to it.
Eric and Jessica planned a Friday night wedding. DURING LENT.
WHAT? How can that work? Well, there are some nice little “reprieves” in Lent. One of them is the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19th.
Our family rented an Airbnb and headed down to Louisiana in March. (For those of you that know the New Orleans area, Jessica grew up in Mandeville, the city on the north side of the lake.) The Ragas family was extremely welcoming and hospitable, inviting our entire family over for dinner at their home. They served red beans and rice.
Now. I’m from Nebraska, the home of the beef.
I had never had red beans and rice before. I am happy to report that I am a huge fan, especially when they directed me to crumble the cornbread on TOP of it all. (There are some amazing GF corn breads out there, people!)
The wedding of Eric Doerneman to Jessica Ragas was gorgeous. Fr. Pat York, a dear friend of ours, had prepared them to be married and he traveled TO Louisiana to be a co-celebrant. Jessica’s parish pastor was also there, plus her chaplain from WSU, plus the priest that had walked with her all through college at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Fr. Bryce Sibley (a Ragin Cajun Catholic).
Jessica was a beautiful bride.
Do you know what I loved the most? The way my son looked at Jessica as she came down the aisle.
Now, that’s awesome. Amazing. But this is what Jessica shared with me and what kind of broke me in all the good ways, “How Eric looks at me is how I know Jesus looks at me and sees me.”
Wow. I mean, just wow.
Another cool aspect of March 19: that was their “consecration day.” Eric and Jessica had done the “Fr. Calloway St. Joseph Consecration” since 2021 is the Year of St. Joseph.
Well, “coincidently” Eric’s dad AND Jessica’s dad had also done the same consecration and their consecration day was also March 19.
After Communion, Eric and Jessica stood before the statue of St. Joseph in her church. They were joined by their fathers and they all prayed their consecration together.
Seeing Russell’s hand on Eric and Kevin’s hand on Jessica and all of them consecrating themselves to St. Joseph’s protection was extremely life-giving for everyone in that church.
What a way to begin married life.
Before the final blessing, Fr. Sibley (who had been Jessica's spiritual father for many years) took a moment to share his heart with us.
He said, “We come to know our identity as beloved sons and daughters through the gaze of our heavenly Father, usually mediated to us through other people on earth. Our parents, friends and family members...as we begin to see ourselves through their eyes, we come to know ourselves as seen by the Father. And so I’ve known Jessica now for about seven years. When she came to UL as a freshman, there had been 18 years of her life where she had come to know her identity gradually by seeing herself through the eyes of her loving parents and the friends she had. And over the time that I was at UL, I saw her grow in that identity and in that confidence gradually...we had some hills, some valleys, but through her friends, many of them whom are here, through me and the other priests at UL….but when I saw Eric look at her, that’s when I knew it changed. She knew who she was. And the fullness of the journey…” this is where he stopped and allowed the emotions to be felt...and then he finished with, “they are going to be awesome together.”
Fr. Sibley ruined all of our carefully applied make up. Wow. To have a priest speak about Jessica in that way, as a woman that KNOWS she is beloved.
By the way, so you know just how cool Jessica is, she had her father write, in his handwriting, who she is...and she had it etched upon her skin:
I love that. So much. And I love the path that brought Eric and Jessica together. It seems like God was truly directing them towards each other.
Now, as I close this post, I did want to take a moment and write a personal note to you, my faithful mommy readers.
As you know, I am a busy mom. I have a lot to attend to on a daily basis and sometimes my brain and mental resources are stretched pretty thin. I don’t pray as well as I probably should.
However, just like you, I do have trust. So when Eric gave me his list of what he desired in a woman, I wrote it all down, put it into the front of my Bible and knew God would take care of it.
Now, maybe I was just being lazy, but in my heart of hearts, I knew that I didn’t need to beg or plead or badger my Jesus. He was given the list, He knew me fully. I trusted Him fully. And that was enough.
When Eric was planning to ask Jessica to be his wife, I wanted to give them a personal gift. I happened to sit down with my Bible. I flipped it open to the front (which I literally never do) and saw the yellow note. I read the words and it became one of those crystal clear Holy Spirit Moments.
The List Had Been Fulfilled. In Jessica Ragas. And I wept. Deeply.
On their engagement day, I called Jessica’s parents, Kevin and Celeste. I told them the story. I shared the attributes that Eric had desired. And we marveled and yes, cried, at how Eric’s prayers were answered by their daughter.
I gave the list to Jessica as part of their engagement gift:
So, what I want to share with you, mother friend, is that your heart is good. It is always in tune with your children. Allow that beautiful heart of yours to go before the Father and ask.for.all.the.good.gifts. Have simple trust. He loves your children more than you do. (And yes, it might take years to get them on the right path. But keep loving and trusting.)
You are a good mama. And it’s not about being perfect. But it is about knowing that YOU are loved. Seen. You are a beloved daughter. Operate from THAT space. And all will be well.
P.S. Several years ago I experienced a deeper conversion to Christ and like Jessica, I came to understand who I am as a BELOVED DAUGHTER. In the weeks that followed, I was shocked to learn just how much that understanding shaped my habits and ways of living, even in the realm of something as simple (and sometimes as difficult) as eating. So if you struggle with understanding who you really are or if you struggle with mindless eating, then I invite you to check out what transformed me from the INSIDE OUT.
I'm Lori Doerneman
Wife. Mom. Catholic.
Idealist with 8 kids,
keeping it real.
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