We're Back!

Greetings from Winter Park, Florida, from the newlyweds!

After two and a half weeks in Europe, we are finally settling into our little studio loft on Palmer Avenue. We are certainly glad to be establishing "home" together now, especially after a month of transition and travel. Take a look at the events of our last month:

1) A week on the I-10 road from California to Florida.

2) A frenzied week after that, filled with unpacking the car, buying "house stuff," and preparing for the Big Day and what we've termed our "Overture" in Europe.

3) Once in Europe, another two and a half weeks tooling around blessed Ireland and -- drum roll, please -- PARIS!

4) Not to mention almost 24 hours negotiating the ins and outs of the two most dysfunctional airports in the world -- Charles de Gaal in Paris and slower-than-slow and attitude-ridden Philadelphia.

Wouldn't all this activity make anyone throw themselves down on their blessed bed back home and not get up for days?

Well, I guess it didn't take days for us to get back on our feet. Kirk, after all, had to be at school at 8:30 the next morning.

But we're resting as much as we can and enjoying every second back home. And so, I must say, are the two frisky felines we house. Solomon and Diva have taken to following our every move. This is partly, I think, an attempt to make sure we don't leave the country without them again. It's also, I'm sure, their way of milking us for all the affectionate pats and hugs they can get. They need their little love tanks filled as much as the rest of us do, I guess.

And now for the information we've been dying to share . . .

The Wedding Day

Our wedding day was more poignant and significant than we could ever have planned it to be. Only God could have orchestrated such a perfect day, and we've heartily agreed we wouldn't change a single thing about it -- not even the Irish cows who showed up uninvited! (More on that later.)

Obviously, we traveled a long way to get to that appointed hour. On a literal level, we went halfway around the world. But you could also say the traveling began with Kirk's trip to California in late May to help drive me and my car and our two cats to Florida. And if you want to get really deep about it, you could say it began with that first unsuspecting e-mail I sent him for work purposes back in March 2005, or when we met in Dublin two summers ago, or even as far back as the conception point of our lives, when God infused our DNA with the exact qualities and desires and personhood-ness that make us who we are in the world today and for each other, creating a perfect fit.

In any case, we traveled a long way to get to Ireland earlier this month.

Step One: Get There

But even after traveling that long way to Ireland, we had to travel even farther once we got there! What I mean is, the morning after our first night's stay in Ireland -- in the Great Southern Hotel of Galway, overlooking the grand Eyre Square -- we had to get ourselves to the Aran Islands. This meant first catching a 9:30 a.m. coach that took us to meet a 10:30 ferry. Once on Inis Mor, the largest of the three Aran Islands, we had to hunt around for a tour bus driver who would be kind enough to drop us at Mainistir House before getting his tour underway.

This was no easy task, let me tell you, as those tour bus drivers waiting on the ferry docks work hard to fill their tour buses with paying customers who stay on the bus for the entire 1/2-day tour of the island. Luckily, God led us to a driver who said he would drop us at Mainister House if he didn't get a full bus. But then, as we waited hopefully on the curb next to his bus, he proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes attempting as hard as he could to get more than two paying passengers to step into his 10-seater bus.

When that didn't work, we were finally off -- nervous and a little frustrated at this point, given the unexpected lag in our plans, as it was now well past noon, the wedding was set for 1pm, and we still needed to dress and get to the wedding site. But the driver finally wound his way up the long, steep hill to Mainister House, the nice hostel where a room was being kept for us to change into our wedding clothes.

About 25 minutes later, we were met by an old-fashioned pony-and-trap -- yes, you read that right -- driven by a friendly old Irishman named Patrick and his trusty pony Brownie. They escorted us around the island, my veil flying to and fro like crazy in that uncontrollable island wind, until we finally reached our destination: the ancient ruins of a monastery and its surrounding fields of wildflowers.

But don't believe for a second that the long journey was over yet! As the pony-and-trap couldn't make it up the hill, it was our personal job to climb it. So up we went, hiking that small hill in our wedding garb -- with an unexpected snag of the veil on a quite prickly patch of roses and stems, which Kirk gallantly "unprickled" -- to meet Dara, our minister, and Sean, our photographer, so the ceremony could finally begin. In all, we were just 20 minutes behind schedule. Whew!

Fortunately, we had our spirits about us again and found that pony-and-trap ride and final climb up the hill quite exciting, thrilling, and delicious. What an exciting morning to get us to the moment of ceremony!

Step Two: The Holy Well

The ceremony Dara officiated for us was situated much like a short pilgrimage, with four stops at various locations on the holy site.

The first stop was an ancient holy well, representative of the feminine because it goes down into the earth, receives what the earth has to give it, and then offers what it has back to the world above. In this place, the bride is blessed and receives prayers from the minister while offering her own in silence.

As there hadn't been rain on the island in 10 days, I couldn't reach the water in the well by putting my hands down into it, so Dara scooped some of it into a bowl and invited me to press my hands down into the bowl while he prayed the blessing over me.

Step Three: The Standing Stone

Then we hiked around the side of the hill, up a slope that led to the monastic ruin, and skirted the ruin to reach the second station: an ancient standing stone. Predating Christianity to the time of the Celts, standing stones have traditionally represented the masculine in spirituality, as they emerge from the earth to heaven and offer strength to those who lean upon them. Here, Kirk received a blessing and prayer from Dara much like mine, though his centered on prayers for strength -- that his strength would continue growing evermore into the future plans God has for his individual life and our life together.

Step Four: The Church

Next, it was finally time to enter the monastic ruin to exchange our vows and rings. Dara provided traditional vows for us and completed the vow ceremony with a Celtic handfasting. This involved his lacing our hands with a cord of fabric to symbolize the solidification of our union and the permanence of our vows.

Of the many beautiful truths Dara shared with us that day, one was the truth that God's presence exists everywhere but is especially concentrated in places where people have consecrated His name of glory over and over again. As that particular monastic site was erected in the 12th century, he noted the particular holiness of God's presence surrounding us in that place, as well as the great blessing of love that had been built up by the perhaps thousands of couples who had exchanged vows in that same spot over the past 900 years. It was particularly encouraging for us to realize our own spirits of blessing were rising up to meet them that day, joining holy forces with theirs to continue blessing all who would follow after us in that place.

As you can see below, the wind continued to blow quite insistently. So much so that, eventually, the veil came off and went on the altar as an offering to God -- which was of particular comic note to me, given the many strains I took to secure the veil back in California before we left!

Step Five: The Wishing Stone

Our final stop was the wishing stone, which used to act as a sundial for the monks who lived in the monastery when it properly functioned as one. The sundial has a hole in the middle of it, and as part of an ancient tradition to seal a contract between two people, Dara had us push our two index fingers to meet in the middle of the hole, thus further sealing the promises we had made to each other through the vows in the church.

Besides acting as a sundial and place of contract, the stone also functions as a wishing stone. Another ancient tradition here says that receiving one's wish called for passing a cloth through the hole three times while reciting the particular wish. Kirk's wish? "That God would be in us and through us all of our days." My wish? "That God's best would be accomplished in our lives always."

Step Six: Concluding Moments

As I said, we certainly wouldn't change one thing about our special and sacred day. So many things happened that were felicitous, unexpected, consecrated, and downright hilarious.

For starters, there was the issue with the veil flying hither and yon from moment one -- on the pony-and-trap, on the hike up the hill, at the holy well, inside the ancient church. I'd gone through quite the pains to secure that veil back in California, but instead of being upset it wouldn't stay on my head, it became a prized moment to lay it on the altar just before we exchanged our vows -- and then to take it up again for safekeeping and a special ceremony on our wedding night.

Also, after exchanging the contract and wishes at the wishing stone, Dara was taken aback for a moment and said he couldn't help but want to sing a hymn in that moment. Not only was this something he doesn't normally, it was also amazingly special that he chose to sing nothing other than "St. Patrick's Breastplate." This is a verse that Kirk and I have prayed together numerous times in our courtship, not to mention that our dating anniversary is St. Patrick's Day, and that March 17 is also the day we got engaged earlier this year. We couldn't help but believe Dara was moved by the Holy Spirit to share that song with us.

We were also surprised to learn that June 9 is a very special celebration day for the Irish. It's the Feast of St. Columba, who, next in line behind St. Patrick, is the most revered and favored Irishman of God. We will always be blessed to know our courtship and marriage have been and always will be protected and covered by the two greatest patron saints of Ireland, a land that has always held such a special place in our hearts.

And finally, there's the issue of the cows. Yes, cows. Seeing as how they're everywhere in Ireland -- as numerous as the sheep you'll see grazing in the fields on the side of every road -- we should not have been surprised in the least to find them waiting for us at the ruin. But surprised we were, and there they stood: four great brown nosy creatures, more eager to chew their cud than get out of our way.

We'll never forget the sight of our two hosts -- Dara in his white priest's gown with the multicolored vestment cloth and Sean in his jeans with his two huge cameras bumping against his chest, both of them flapping their arms and shooing the cows further along up the hill and away from the sacred festivities taking place below. Nor the way the cows kept pushing themselves right back down the hill -- they'd found a great grazing spot down near us, gosh darn it! -- every time Dara and Sean turned their backs to come back down to meet us. And the way I had to lift the edges of my heavy dress, Kirk carrying the train behind me, as we carefully picked our way from station to station in order to avoid the cow pies in the mud.

What a hilarious happenstance that was -- and one we wouldn't trade for a minute. It made us laugh. It made us feel part of the land. And it made us sure we'd picked a wedding location far different than any found anywhere else on earth.

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