Jun 17, 2020

Anniversaries of the Heart

On June 17, my husband and I will have been married for 48 years.

Larry and I were married at the "Shrine of St. Therese".  Located on a tiny forested little island, in Auke Bay, Alaska. It is 25 miles north of Juneau, and was originally build by several visiting Jesuit priests who came to the Diocese of Juneau to serve in territorial Alaska.

They found such beauty and so much need for their services in the area surrounding Juneau, that several stayed.  And with the help of volunteers from the primary church and diocese in Juneau, they all completely built the tiny shrine of local stones on a tiny bit of an island.

This once unknown and rarely visited tiny spot in the ocean is now known and loved as Shrine Island, and can now be accessed by an improved highway, exit, and the little "pedestrians only" causeway.

When the tide is in, the entire island is surrounded by beautiful blue water.

On the Island, the beautiful Shrine of Saint Therese, named after the Roman Catholic Saint  Therese known and loved as "the little flower".

Inside and all around the Shrine both natural and man made beauty of all kinds creates a feeling of not just beauty but mystical wonder that such a place was built by hand in the 1930s by 2 visiting priests and a handful of volunteers.

Anything man made was created in Europe and shipped to America such as the statue of Ste.Therese, the Stations of the Cross or the stained glass windows.

Today, the Shrine and its beautiful location continues to be a scenic and spiritual setting for wedding masses.

My own memories of this sacred setting are filled by the blend of the natural world and the creations of the hard work of men and women working side by side with Alaskans of the pioneer communities of Auke Bay, Juneau and Douglas Island communities of the early Juneau Catholic Diocese love of both the land and their faith.

As we we walked out from our own wedding ceremony in June of 1972, we were blessed with the sight and sounds  of eagles soaring above, whales spouting, and sea lions barking their congratulations. It was and still is, incredibly beautiful.

Now, there is this labyrinth walk etched in the sand where we once walked to the log cabin rectory on the mainland to sign our marriage certificate. And yes, we've been back and it's still lovely and weddings are still held there. 

The spiral is an ancient and sacred symbol, and as we trace its path with our senses it connects us with all there is, has been, and ever will be in a repeated patterning. This is why we are subconsciously drawn to many culture's ancient and enduring signs and symbols.

The labyrinth is walked by thousands of people a year who come out to view the beauty and feel the incredible energies of spirit that fill land, sea, and sky as animals gather without fail as blessings for all. Walking a labyrinth has been a deeply meaningful, often very spiritual experience..

During our own symbolic and magical wedding ceremony,  "The Wedding Song" by Peter, Paul, and Mary was sung and played on a folk guitar by a high school friend, (with The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet for the Processional) .

During our reception 25 miles back to my town of Douglas on Douglas Island, a lot of Simon and Garfield and similar songs were performed for our guests  from that era. Somehow those beautiful songs filled hearts and souls as they were after all, new to most back then!  

And yes, I made my own wedding dress! And each of my bridesmaids made theirs from fabric I bought and sent each of them in three different states as I gathered best friends from High School and College and included my youngest cousin who was so happy to be a bridesmaid! 

Our dresses were all in different colors and were beautiful laces over satin, I even made my veil, covered my Bible with the same fabrics and carried a hand carved rose wood rosary. Handmade wedding in so many ways! 

Ah, the memories of a time, a place, the sounds, and the people. So many have passed on now, most of our guests, many of my own family even several who are younger than I am now. 

You never know what paths and cause ways you may walk in your life time. Who you will love and who you will remember. 

I have since lost both of my parents, a sister in law who was there, and uncle (who died by drowning on a moose hunting trip with my dad) a few months after he attended our wedding  (his young 11 year old daughter was my Junior Bridesmaid). Love and pride filled his face and his heart that day. His one and only chance to see her all grown up in a long bridesmaid dress. Now, that once 11 year old girl is in her 50s and not only lived and taught school in Kenya and Madagascar for many years but traveled back again in 2019 and hiked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

Oh, the changes and memories of all of our lifetimes.

I rejoice in the wonderful memories of so many from that day, just as I grieve the loss of those who passed on.

For sadly, my best friend and her 12 year old daughter, our dearest and best friends in the world passed away , on this day....25 years later in 1997. Friends since 1969 that we met in college and sharing land and family neighbors for 20 here in Salem before their terrible car accident and the then surviving husband's incredible loss of his own life in a hiking  accident in 2014. Losses upon losses but also joys upon joys of gratitude for so many wonderful times that came before.

While it changed the memories of June 17th forever from our 25th anniversary on, it didn't change the love we felt for all who have been parts of our lives for whatever time we had with them.

The sunshine and the shadows of our lives. The loss of many we have so deeply grieved and will forever grieve the loss of from our lives.

But in the end, the lovely and positive sounds, sights, and memories remain above all else.

The beauty and the joys of love, hope, promise that the sun rises on each new day just as it transitions each day back into night.

 I am filled with deepest gratitude for the beauty and my heart's treasuring of all of the beauty, joy, and laughter filled days and the lessons and treasures from even the sadder ones.

My heart and my spirit connect to the labyrinth of my life's journey. For just as I have traveled to my heart's forever home in Alaska, so to it travels back again to my life in my also very beautiful state of Oregon.

Here, we built our home together. We raised our three beautiful children. Here, too they found their own life partners. We attended their weddings, watched them and their families have children or beloved fur-kids, find and buy houses, face lifes challenges and experience fun and joy as well!


They blessed us with four grandchildren and furry grand dogs and cats to add to our own lives to love, as well.

Time brings changes to all of our lives and day by day we deal with them the best we can.  We love, we care, we help and we share each day, and each new experience that comes.

Our family has
shared many, many wonderful times and beautiful days and faced many often seeminly unbearable  challenges.  

We've had great adventures, visited lovely areas, camped, hiked, and canoed and kayaked our own Oregon, as well as  my Alaskan wonderlands.

The circles and the cycles and the spirals widen and deepen; but the greatest of all things remain.  

For always and always, among the good times and great fun, and deepestest and most meaningful experiences, there is love.. 

Listen to our song from 1972 in our tiny island wedding:

Peter, Paul and Mary - Wedding Song "There is Love" 

Please continue to pray and send healing energies for our oldest daughter who continue to battle and advanced and extraordinary form of cancer for the past year. 54 weeks of chemo, surgery, 6 weeks of daily radiation. And now more chemo..all without stop for more than a year. 

We love her with all our hearts and pray and visualize a miracle of miracles.

Thank you and many many blessings in return.

Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands as she shares her imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting... from my heart and with my hands.