At Long Last!

I’ve been wondering how best to write about our honeymoon. I mean, let’s face it. How do you distill the most intense, emotional, energizing, intimate, and imaginative experience of your life into a few short stories with humor, meaning, and grace? It’s hard, and I’ve been tongue-tied at the thought of even trying it.

But since I want to share some stories and you want to see some pictures, here’s my attempt to do it justice. Note that these entries don’t begin to get inside what I feel when I think of the time Kirk and I shared these moments together. But for now, I guess these descriptions and photographs will just have to do.

King and Queen for a Day . . . or Three

After a whirlwind of travel and our beautiful wedding ceremony, Kirk brought me to Ashford Castle for a few days of rest and rejuvenation. I could hardly believe we were staying in a castle! Take a look at these gorgeous environs:

This formerly private residence has been converted into one of the leading small hotels in the world, where the likes of Ronald Regan, Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Robin Williams, Pearce Brosnan, and Jane Seymour, to name a few, have stayed. And when it was a private residence, it used to house the Guinness family -- you know, the people who make that thick draft beer that tastes like molasses. (Blech.)

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While we were in Ashford, Kirk and I enjoyed some walks along the nature trails on the property, some of which wend their way through forests or encircle the private lake. We also enjoyed a thunderstorm, a few sumptuous meals in their restaurants, and our spacious private chamber that made us feel like a real king and queen! 

"Its Christmas in Killarney . . ."

After staying at Ashford a few days, we headed for Killarney, which is a bit further south on the West Coast of the island. During this segment of our stay, I regularly burst into that old Bing Crosby song – you know, the one that goes, “It’s Christmas in Killarney, with all of the folks at home!” – just to ensure Kirk was well-entertained along the way. He appreciated the effort, I’m sure.

Killarney is a quaint shopping town, but we did little more than purchase a few books in the one bookshop we could find on the main street. We spent the rest of our time on daytrips to the surrounding countryside, including stops at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “more”), the famously craggy Burren, the tiny fishing village of Dingle on the Dingle Peninsula, and the serene Ring of Kerry drive, replete with streams, mountains, waterfalls, forests, and lots of sheep, cows, and churches!

Here’s what you’ll miss if you don’t see the Cliffs of Moher on your next trip to Ireland: one of the most beautiful places in all of God’s green earth! In other words, don’t miss it. We stopped in amazement so many times while walking the long trail to its almost-end. Is it any wonder why?

In Dingle, I took the liberty of photographing my very handsome and studious-looking new husband. Love that lanky form!

There’s so much to see on the long Ring of Kerry drive, but here are a few of the snapshots. It is truly worth the couple of hours you’ll spend winding your way around its curvy peninsula.

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Don't Forget to Have a Little Fun!

Besides regaling Kirk regularly with Bing Crosby tunes, I found plenty of ways to surprise my new husband with some unexpected antics.

For instance, a spontaneous jog up the craggy Burren, my feisty fists curled in determination to conquer it, almost before he realized I had gone but not before he could snag a few pictures:

And, the use of any old mettle I could find to demonstrate my acrobatic prowess:

Don’t forget my competitive spirit! Which, consequently, and, of course, sent Kirk running for cover.

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Expect the Unexpected

The best way to travel is to be open to surprises.

For example, while we expected to love the Rock of Cashel site near Kilkenney, an old landmark that draws tons of tourists to its grounds per day, we actually enjoyed better the old abandoned and rundown monastery sitting on the other side and down the hill from it. Who couldn’t love and discover the holy in a sacred and quiet place like this? (See Rock of Cashel through window of second picture.)

Also, a little church we decided to visit on our return from Rock of Cashel smacked us silent with reverence and awe when we definitely didn’t expect it. After nearly two months away from corporate worship, my spirit craved the refreshment of the profound presence of God’s Spirit that pervades that Holywell Abbey. Even though we were alone in the church’s interior, the quietly piped-in monastic chant and the small candles casting a red glow on the wall made it feel we were surrounded by other believers seeking the holiness of God’s face, too.

And finally, while staying at the Lyreth Estate Hotel in Kilkenny, we spied two hot air balloons taking off from the hotel grounds early one evening, as well as a handful of ponies and a private jet plane that belonged to the hotel owner!

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You just delight in experiences and awaken yourself to much more of life’s gifts when you adopt a habit of wonder, I’ve decided. Don’t you agree? 

Just Duds about Dublin

Even though we met there and were glad to return to it, Dublin didn’t impress us as much this time around. Maybe it had something to do with the rain. Or getting lost while trying to find our hotel. Or travel weariness. Or maybe just that we’d seen most of it before. In any case, all we did for most of our time in Dublin was stay in our bathrobes, order room service, and challenge each other to more and more competitive card games. (I know, we’re kind of nerds.)

Probably the most exciting part about Dublin, like I already mentioned, was the back-and-forthing we did about 4 times right in front of our hotel when trying to find it, taking about an hour of time zipping around and around the same city block square because the hotel was so poorly marked. Even though we’d been there before and the area looked so familiar, we just couldn’t put our finger on where it was. That is, not until we found it by accident while making an illegal U-turn, happening to look up and discover the small square sign next to the terribly common door that read “Merrion Hotel.” Grr!

Besides that harrowing hour of frustration, the only other sighting worthy of remark this time around is what we discovered on the way there: a sheep horse, herding a group of sheep up a hill!

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And Finally, Paris . . .

I hardly know what to say about Paris except that it’s positively magical.

All the places you’ve seen in movies, pictures, and on TV . . . suddenly right before your eyes and within a finger’s reach. All that history. All those landmarks. All those artists, philosophers, poets, and writers making their homes within those city streets. All of it, right there for us to enjoy.

I could hardly believe it.

I’ll let pictures do the talking first, just to give a feel for what we enjoyed on a daily basis. Be sure to walk through these pics with the pace of a leisurely Parisian stroll. That’s what everyone else is doing!

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Arc de Triomphe

Besides taking a short boat tour on the Seine River our first evening in Paris, our first order of business was to walk the length of the tree-lined Champs Elysees to the base of the famous Arc de Triomph – and then climb to the top of it.

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The view at the base and the top was amazing, but the climb to the top and back down is quite another story, as I’ve developed an increasing fear of heights in the past 7 or 8 years. Even though the stairway was enclosed and its sides encased by trusty handrails, my stride strode slower and slower with each mounting and dismounting step, and not a little bit of wobble. It was enough to make me fear the Eiffel Tower climb we’d planned for the next day! 

Eiffel Tower

But speaking of that Eiffel climb, we didn’t have to do it. You can take an elevator all the way to the top! Whew, that bit of news made my day. I was pretty nervous at the thought of climbing at least three times higher than the length of the Arc de Triomph, and without the safety of enclosed walls.

Here are a few things I learned while on top of the Eiffel:

1) Paris is cloaked in white. When you first look down from the top of the tower, all you can help noticing is the radiance of the city. It positively shimmers. (See pictures below for proof.)

2) Almost every place in Paris has historic landmarks, but some sections are more famous than others. The vistas to the west of town, for instance, include the Louvre, the Obelisk (known as the guillotine during the French Revolution), and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The vista to the south holds the Arc de Triomph, while the southwest carries Montmartre. Less popular are the east, with its highrise views of corporate Paris, and the north, which is more serene and pastoral.

3) Parisians value beauty. Though the plethora of museums, bridges, and carefully preserved palaces and cathedrals make this statement obvious, it’s also true in a not-so-obvious way. Like the tree-lined streets suffused throughout the city on major thoroughfares. From the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can see the city is primarily composed of rows upon rows of soft white colored buildings intersected with long green lines of carefully planted earth. Small plantations of grass and flowers crop up out of nowhere within otherwise commercial city blocks, and there are plenty of free parks and gardens to keep you occupied for weeks. (See pictures below for proof of this point, too.)

4) I can experience special places with Kirk, rather than just beside him. What I mean is, I’ve done a lot of traveling, and a lot of traveling with other people, but I’m not used to sharing the sights and sounds so personally with anyone else. Usually I don’t know how. I feel unable to share my impressions in a way another person will understand, especially if the impressions have particularly moved me. But with Kirk, it’s a completely different story. I learned at the top of the Eiffel Tower that I can experience moving – and even just plain silly – moments with him right as they are happening. I don’t know how else to explain this profound moment of realization except to say there’s a big difference between doing something with someone and doing something with someone.

So, here are a few of the sights we enjoyed together at the top of the Eiffel Tower:

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Our Favorite Place in Paris

We learned on our first trip to Europe last summer, when we were visiting Cambridge for the first time, that we enjoy discovering “favorite places” and then frequenting them numerous times during the course of a stay. It’s probably because an environment with just the right atmosphere for a good meal or just the right ambience for a meaningful conversation, or even just the right vibe for reading a good book, is such a rare find these days.

In Cambridge, that special place was Café Rouge. In Oxford it was The Quad. In Brea it’s Market City Café or Diedrich’s Coffeehouse, hands down.

Paris is no exception.

Besides finding our favorite place for lunch (Café Madeleine) and for dinner (L’Ecluse) fairly quickly, we also discovered our favorite place to set down for an afternoon snack, coke, and cider. That place is Café LeNotre, quaintly situated in the park and gardens near the top of the Champs Elysees.

Café LeNotre is the perfect place to spend an artist’s afternoon. In other words, it’s the place to go when you want a few hours of uninterrupted time to read, write, think, talk, or take photographs of the more meaningful and moving things in life.

That’s just the sort of thing Kirk and I love to do, so we spent a few artist afternoons at this very special café – a place we could count on for great ambience and service. One such afternoon yielded the following photographs, the first (more artsy) one by Kirk and the second (more commonplace) one by me.

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What do you think? 

A Place that Inspires Stories

On Friday, one of our last full days in Paris, we headed out of the city on a tour of Mont-Saint-Michel (pronounced “Mont-San-Michelle”), a seventh-century monastery that offers, in Kirk’s words, “a pristine portal back in time, a pinnacle of pilgrimage for weary and thirsty souls.”

We journeyed five hours through the Normandy countryside to reach Mont-Saint-Michel, the second most-visited pilgrimage site in the world. Over centuries, rooms and staircases, twists and turns, and even a few secret passageways have been added so that winding through its interior is virtually like winding through a maze!

Such a place really has inspired stories, as Umberto Eco took it as the setting for his recent novel, Name of a Rose. Kirk and I remained awe-struck by the many remarkable surprises awaiting us around practically every corner.

Personally, I loved the cloister walk best . . .

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Some Final Thoughts

It’s strange to be home after such an experience. Especially now, after settling into somewhat of a routine at home in Florida, we’re struck with amazement at all we were seeing and sharing on the other side of the world just a few short weeks ago.

But threads of that special time will remain with us, I’m sure, for a long time to come. I know that’s true from what’s happened in the aftermath of previous trips we’ve shared already. We’ll encounter a place that has a feel of “one of those places in Paris.” Or we’ll move more smoothly through a difficult situation by remembering what we learned from “that difficult situation with the guy at the gas station in Ireland.” Or, if nothing else, we’ll remember to bring the allergy medication along next time “because of what happened in that field on our first day in Ireland.”

Plus, because we’re in the habit of naming things, we’ve already named the little place we call home. Welcome to Ashford Cottage!

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That Was So Random . . . Or Was It?

So, I already shared about the crazy hills we had to climb -- both literally and metaphorically -- to get to the wedding on the morning of June 9. What I didn't share were all the hills that preceded those ones. Seriously. We seemed to hit random speed bumps everywhere we went, so much so that we started thinking those bumps were way too bizarre to be random.

There are actually quite a lot of these to share, but here's our top three.

Random Event #1: I'm Sitting Where?!

After weeks spent working with a premiere travel agent in Winter Park -- and spending the accompanying moolah such a benefit costs -- Kirk was quite disconcerted to learn we weren't paired together on the flight out of Orlando into Philadelphia. And, it was a flight so full that getting new seats together meant we'd need to take an altogether new flight that was set to leave its gate in just under an hour. You know what that means: Run!

Random Event #2: Oops, That Thing That Just Broke? That Held My Wedding Dress

Of course, I wasn't about to let my wedding dress out of sight. It went with me as a (very heavy) carry-on so it couldn't possibly be routed to Milan when I wanted it to show up in Shannon, Ireland.

This meant, then, lugging it on the hanger everywhere we went. But, wedding dresses being as heavy as they are and airport maneuvering being as harried and hurried as it is, the hanger broke sometime en route from one gate to another in Philly.

You should have seen the crumpled look on my face.

I'd been pretty calm through all the stress of the week until that moment, but suddenly I was sure it was all going to be ruined. Instead of carrying my beautiful wedding dress right-side-up and flat on a perfectly functional hanger like a proper bride should have been able to do, I now had to fold it in half and carry it over my arm like some old sweater or raggedy doll.

In the end, Kirk reminded me that a wrinkled wedding dress could not possibly have the final word on our wedding day. He said I would surely take his breath away no matter what the state of the dress -- wrinkled, rumpled, dirty, or even caked with mud.

Okay, so he didn't say exactly those words, but he said enough to calm my fears, dry my eyes, and getting us moving along again. Such a sweetheart. He can make me feel better about seemingly bad news in a heartbeat, simply because he knows how to put things in perspective.

Random Event #3: Honey, I Can't See You 'Cause My Eyes Are Swollen Shut

Just so you know, ancient abbeys and cathedrals can be found everywhere in Ireland. I say this so you don't make the mistake we did on our very first time on the road from the Shannon Airport to Galway.

We were driving along quite well, actually, even though Kirk was faced with the challenge of not just driving on the opposite side of the road but driving with a steering wheel and stick shift planted on the opposite side of the car.

And we were nearly to Galway, really, maybe just 12 kilometers away, when suddenly we saw it: an old church that looked ancient. Falling-down ancient. Crumbly, made of stone, situated in a beautiful field, and without a proper roof ancient.

You have to know both of us to know how we would respond to this, especially in the first few hours of exploring our way through the Emerald Isle on our wedding and honeymoon trip.

"Honey, look!" Kirk cried.

"Wow -- that's beautiful!"

"I wonder how we get there?"

"Me, too," I said. "So weird that it's right behind all those new track homes. Why'd they build all those homes right there, in front of an ancient church?"

"I don't know," Kirk said. Pause. "Wanna try and get there?"

"Pshaw, yeah, I do!" I said. Well, maybe I didn't actally say "pshaw." Who says that word, anyway?

Off we went, driving in and out of the new track home development until we realized that route had to be a dead end. There wasn't a road through to the church, none that we could find, anyway, and we weren't quite sure what to do next.

"Is it worth it?" Kirk asked.

"Are you really asking me that?" I replied.

"That's what I thought."

I nodded. "So worth it. Maybe we could ask someone who knows."

"Probably a good idea, at this point," Kirk said.

Luckily -- or, depending on how you interpret the end of the story, not quite so luckily -- we found an old guy who looked official and decided to ask him.

"Excuse me, sir. Can you tell us how to get to that church?" I said, pointing to it.

"Oh, the old abbey?" he replied in his thick Irish accent. "Right around the corner from here, there's a group of new homes. You know it?"

"Yep. We know it."

"Drive through to the end of the main road there, park at the end, hike through the field behind the houses, cross the railroad tracks at the other side, and then you'll be to it. Or you could just follow the railroad tracks here, if you like."

"Hmm," I said, squinting my eyes as I peered down the long lane of tracks. "That seems way easier. Do you think a train will come?"

He followed my gaze down the tracks. "Not sure. I don't think one's been for a while, so it might."

Um, thanks, but no thanks. We decided to take the wild field route. We like wild fields, right?

But this was no ordinary field. It was a field of weeds and grasses waist-high. That kept getting higher and higher the further into it we went. At one point I remember thinking, Oh good, I'm glad my allergies aren't flaring up. I used to get major allergies in high school, and with all the seedlings and pollen floating around that Irish field, I was surprised my eyes and nose weren't reacting.

I must have thought that happy thought too soon.

By the time we reached the end of the field -- probably just after Kirk had jumped the creek between the field and railroad tracks, steadying his balance on the other side by grabbing onto a branch that immediately produced several itchy spots on his arm, and I inadvertently rubbed my eyes for just a moment-- the light itching of my eyes had begun. Which soon turned into major itching. And watering. And, well, goopiness.


I knew this feeling well. It was the exact same feeling -- and symptoms -- that happened every spring during secondary school, for which the doctors had a technical term: conjunctivitis. In other words, pink eye.

I didn't really enjoy that abbey visit.

So, What Happened?

Kirk's rash went away after a few minutes, but I spent the rest of the day holding cold compresses on my eyes, every once in a while dropping Visine into them to reduce the redness, or spreading hydrocortizone on them to reduce the swelling. Thankfully, these homemade "prescriptions" had been learned by years of dealing with this exact same problem in high school, and this attentiveness to the problem helped it get mostly better by morning.

Plus, Kirk reminded me (yet again, being the man that he is) that nothing could possibly detract from the specialness of the upcoming day, no matter how hard Satan might try to make it.

And those kinds of conversations in the moments leading up to the wedding are what reminded us of who we are and the importance of what we were about to do. Because we aren't just two human beings who fell in love because they thought the other one was kind of cute and fun to be around. No, we're two fierce warriors in God's kingdom, joined not just by human interest but godly appointment to complete specific work for His glory on earth together. We firmly believe we're much stronger and more effective for God's glory together than we could ever be apart and that God brought us together for a reason.

And all that means we have a destructive Enemy seeking to steal, kill, and destroy whatever he can in our path. He's shown up a number of times already in our short life together over the past year, seeking to pull us off course by small-story stuff or lies about what defines us or even sheer busyness, not to mention actual hardcore spiritual warfare. He's an Enemy, in fact, who will try all he can to keep God's purposes from being accomplished in us. It's like C.S. Lewis wrote: Since he can't have our souls, he puts everything he can into defeating us into ineffective or complacent or "safe" lives with his lies. Lies which we're not the least bit interested in buying.

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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