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What can I say about Sandy + AJ?! *puts hands to cheeks and squeals to self with glee*

I couldn’t think of a better couple to feature on this beautiful Valentine’s day! As your read their story in their own words below, you will see they are a REAL-LIFE love story. Heck, if you don’t read their words just look at their freakin’ faces! They are SO in love and you can feel every ounce of it when you are with them.

The more I get to know them, the more humbled and honored I am to have the opportunity to share their story and capture this season of time in their lives.

Whether you already know Sandy and Aj or not, please take the time to read the beautiful answers they have written to my interview questions. They are already an incredible example of a Christ-centered relationship and I think we can all learn a little something from them!

Question #1

When, where and how did you meet?

SANDY – We met in June of 2019; funnily enough, if it weren’t for Covid, none of this would have happened. AJ was supposed to be in California at the time and I had made plans to visit Scotland with my old college roommate. Instead, we were both in Virginia, placed on dating apps by our best friends. He was in Nursing school and I was getting my Masters up in Michigan, so I had no real intention of dating at the time. In all honesty, I was in the midst of closing out my very last conversation before deleting the app entirely when I got AJ’s message. I didn’t expect anything to come from it, but we hit it off really quickly, switching first to Snapchat (so I could delete Hinge as I’d planned), then to Zoom calls, and then finally (and by “finally” I mean literally within 3 days) a proper, in-person date.

We met at Panera, but couldn’t stay because the pandemic had all sit-down services shut down, so we went to Leesylvania State Park to walk, talk, and eat breakfast. I had to pick up a friend at the airport that afternoon, so we were on somewhat limited time. Originally I’d thought it was a great exit-strategy in case the date went poorly, but by the end I was kicking myself for it.

We talked about nothing and everything, and the time simply flew by. We told stories from our childhood, talked about past dating experiences and why they didn’t work out, discussed what we wanted to do with our lives after school, compared our favorite foods and desserts, talked about family…and somehow it was never awkward, just light and lovely. We were goofing off about silly things, at one point we walked past a small, outdoor amphitheater and he just started spouting Shakespeare! He even got me to dance with him briefly while we explored a few lonely trails.

Time betrayed me, passing far too quickly, until we blinked and it was time to go; but we both knew we wanted to see each other again. I was so used to being relieved when a first date was over that I was surprised to find myself, for the first time ever, wishing the date could last just a little longer.

 

AJ – Fate and destiny were how Sandy and I met, which is, of course, the way I like to describe it, but once Sandy gives me a playful(?) nudge, I eventually divulge that we met on the smashingly swinging dating app known as Hinge. I recall that day like it was yesterday…

I had walked into my room for a long study session, the dredge of a fresh ghosting the week prior still lingering on my mind, and I distinctly recall my room being brighter for some odd reason. It was like the sunlight was dialed to 11, and while my roommate joyfully made a mess of my bed with his dog, Abigail, the thought that would change my life occurred to me:

“I should go back on Hinge.”

Like a true Wild Westerner (ch’ya, California proud, brah!), I whipped out my phone with a quick draw that would show Billy the Kid how it’s really done. As the app buffered, I saw the little purple icon above the, “likes” section display a resounding, “1,” and my heart raced with the beat of a Revolutionary War marching drum. I opened the app…and there she was…a picture of her perched prone, proud, and perfect upon a wooden fence was Sandy. Once I had picked my jaw up off the floor, I looked to see what she had liked on my profile. Could it have been a picture of me living it up over a dessert on my birthday? Could she have answered one of the thought-provoking and conversation-evoking questions I had bestowed upon the masses? 

No…she liked the picture…of Abigail…

I was not even mad. 

However, this curious case of competition that had conjured up inside me compelled me to converse with her all the more! I not only had to prove myself worthy of her attention over the awe-inspiring Australian Cattle Dog with a cutesy Kelpie mix, but I had to explore if the beauty she exuded externally had stemmed from the heart that resonated within. 

Thus, on June 8th, 2020, we went on our first date. An early morning breakfast at Panera in this new-to-me city known as Woodbridge with a walk around the nearby state park of Leesylvania. 

With an intrigue this captivating, how could it not go wrong?

 

Question #2

What was the first impression you had and how has that changed over time?

SANDY – Boundless energy with a non-stop mentality. AJ was full of life and laughter and could hardly seem to sit still. He was fun, charming, and refreshingly honest. My primary concern was that I’d find him exhausting and/or he’d find me boring. One of my favorite things to do is curl up with a book, and I simply couldn’t imagine him doing that for more than 5 minutes without dying of boredom when we first met.

But as it turns out, he’s much more well-rounded than I initially gave him credit for, and my fears were groundless. Not everything has to be go go go all the time. We can spend an afternoon out bouldering or hiking, but we can stay at home cozy, comfy, and perfectly happy too. One of my favorite surprises with this was a weekend spent at my parents’ house. A friend had gifted me a couple Agatha Christie novels that I was excited to dive into. It was a cold, low-energy kind of day, but I didn’t want AJ to be bored. When I told him I’d like to read a little bit (butwecouldtotallydosomethingelseandwereallydidn’thavetoifhedidntwantto), he wasn’t antsy at all, he tucked me in on the couch with a fuzzy blanket, handed me my coffee and asked to borrow the other book! We must have looked cozy because my Dad walked by shortly after, saw us, and said, “Ah, Sandy, this is the epitome of marital bliss!” And honestly, I’m so excited to wake up on a snowy, Sunday morning once we’re married, curl up under cozy blankets, and read the day away together over cocoa. 🙂

*On a side note, our relationship did nearly end when we first met and he told me he didn’t like coffee — a capital offense in the Kirby household. Luckily, he ended up being pretty wonderful in every other way, and once he learned how to use my French Press just to make my morning coffee, we decided to let it slide. I suppose time does cure all ills! ?

 

AJ – Upon first glance, the initial impression I had was how enamoring her Caucasian complexion complimented my leather-tanned one. As she approached me from across the parking lot, I immediately noticed how much better dressed she was with her pink plaid shirt and denim shorts, and her smile made the sun break through the morning gloom and glimmer in her golden hair. It was as if the Swoon Platoon had swept me away. It was then that I felt self-consciousness take root as I stood there in my baggy running shorts, oversized running shirt, worn-down shoes (complete with a hole in the side), and a fresh COVID cut (a hair style that we gentleman resorted to with all the barber shops being closed at the time that involved a pair of electric clippers, a steamy bathroom mirror, and a prayer to God that we cut it evenly). Sandy did not seem to mind my appearance, for she seemed taken by our conversation, which are two things that have stayed consistent overtime. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems. I have since gotten a better haircut, one of which Sandy graced me with, and it seems like we have only built upon that first impression. I never knew I could talk about novel things with someone I have known for years now. I never knew that I could still find someone so divinely radiant at the most random times, whether that’s baking in the kitchen, scuttling up to me to embrace me, sleeping on the couch beside me, or giving me the genuine look of belief in me. Now that I know her better, its as if that beauty in her mind, body, and spirit, are more real. I now know that I’ll be a babbling brook when I see her walk down the aisle on that fateful day.  

Question #3

When did you realize you wanted to spend the rest of your life with each other?

SANDY – This is a tough one for me. AJ can tell you (probably much to his chagrin) that I’m a rather slow burn in the feelings department. He is very sure of his feelings very quickly, whereas I tend to be overly cautious. To give you an idea, I didn’t actually say the fateful, “I love you,” until 8 months into our relationship…by which time AJ had already designed, ordered, and received the engagement ring!

At first, I was simply struck by how much I loved spending time with him; as an introvert, I get “peopled out” rather easily, even around people I love, but spending time with AJ felt like coming home to a warm hug after a long day. I could talk to him about anything and everything. Before we were a couple, maybe a week after our second date, I was driving back to Virginia from Indiana. I left at 2am to avoid any traffic. At 5am I received a call — it was AJ. He wanted to keep me company on the trip. We spoke for over 5 hours before finally hanging up, and by then I was practically home!

Once we were officially a couple, I was constantly amazed at his capacity to love so freely and fully. (AJ will love first and ask questions later, whereas my loving process is probably more akin to the Inquisition.) I was/am rather jealous of that talent. True to form, I was suspicious of it at first, but AJ isn’t someone whose sincerity you can doubt for long. Even when I moved back to Michigan to finish grad school and he stayed behind in VA to finish nursing school, he always found new ways to take care of me, whether it was a lovely letter with fun, hand drawn doodles to brighten up my day, making the 10hr drive to visit, or even surprising me with a food order when he knew I was stressed over a massive project.

But I think it was really his patience that fully drew me in. When he told me he loved me and I wasn’t quite ready, he was willing to wait. He never tried to rush me or add any pressure, just kept showing me his love in new ways over and over. If ever there was an embodiment of “Love is patient, love is kind,” it was AJ. And let me tell you, no matter how stubborn you are, you can’t resist something like that for long.

 

AJ – Sandy is absolutely flabbergasted every time I answer this, it’s the cutest freaking thing. When we first met, we agreed that I looked like Aladdin, and therefore, I had three wishes. My first wish I used to ask to take her on our first date, the second wish, which is when I found my answer to this question, was to share our first kiss. That third wish though…I knew exactly when I was going to use that one, which I realized as I was cashing in wish number two. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her with that first kiss, because the surge of elation and butterfly-like tingling sensation that coursed through me could only be described by the cascade of lighting and triumphant roll of thunder that immediately followed that kiss. If that is not a sign from God, I don’t know what is. I just know that I’m getting goosebumps just writing this recollection, woo!   

Question #4

Where is God in your relationship?

SANDY – God is…everywhere. And I know that that sounds supremely cliche, but I’m convinced that if we’d been left to our own devices, AJ and I never would have found each other. I wasn’t even supposed to be in the country when we met, and he was supposed to be on the opposite coast! But somehow God made it work.

On a more day to day basis, we’ve been able to pray a Rosary together almost every day since we met. I started a small Rosary group over Zoom when the pandemic started, and AJ joined in right away, but beyond that, he stepped up and began leading it himself when I was unavailable! It’s become our project; and together we’ve been able to coordinate getting members together in person and form a small community with them where everyone asks for prayers during tough times, whether it’s for a test, an issue at work, a new relationship…it’s been wonderful. We also try to do novenas together when we can. With his haphazard nursing school schedule, it’s not as consistent as the Rosary, but it’s been particularly good at bringing us together with God more privately than group prayer.

We have a patron saint for the year whom we pray to together, and we try to go to Confession together as our schedules allow. Despite the distance still between us, we try to attend Sunday Masses together regularly.

I think marriage prep has also helped us open up our discussions of the role of God within our lives, the true purpose of marriage, and how that affects our approach to our future as well as our priorities. Though I admit, some of those discussions tend to deviate quickly to how cute our children will look in their All Saints Day costumes and how fun we’ll make every feast day so they come to love partying with the saints.?

 

AJ – Our faith seems to be a cornerstone in our relationship that acts as a foundation and inspiration for how we conduct ourselves and continuously cultivate our relationship. If our relationship with God is strong, then our relationship with each other will be that much stronger. We go to church every weekend we get the chance to, since we live an hour and a half away from each other, we pray a rosary together with a group of friends, and we have been to confession and adoration together. The presence of God seems to be more of a guiding light to us because His teachings have helped us through times of strife, and that has given rise to us having faith in not only Him, but in each other. 

Question #5

What is happening between both of you and God when you are standing at the altar on your wedding day? How do you hope to live this out as you move forward in marriage?

SANDY – I feel like this is a doctoral thesis prompt in disguise, but I’ll do my best to distill something coherent on the page. I think everyone knows in general that you’re pledging your entire self to your spouse before God on your wedding day, and while that is entirely true, I think it’s also important to remember that it is fundamentally a recommitment of ourselves to God. If you think about every Sacrament being a renewal of the first, Baptism, Marriage continues that tradition. In Baptism, we reject Satan and accept God into our lives, making it our primary goal to unite ourselves to Him. In Confession, we confess our faults, as for forgiveness, perform penance, and renew our resolve to continue our journey towards Christ. In Communion, we receive Christ on our lips and welcome Him into our hearts asking Him for the graces we need to continue our journey. And in Marriage, we join ourselves to another, yes, in love of them, but with Christ as our final goal. We promise to do our best to get each other to Heaven — despite our personal flaws and material failings that might make it difficult, when they’re at their best and their worst — and we ask God for the graces to see us through together, and to give us the blessing of children whom we can also lead towards Him. It’s like coming to the King and asking for His blessing on the beginnings of our own little domestic army of Faith.

I hope that we can use that as a guiding mechanism for our married life, both looking at the “armies” we come from, spending time learning from our parents how to grow together, as well as forming allies in other young couples who are encountering the same difficulties for the first time alongside us. In that way, I hope we can prepare a loving community for our children to grow into one day, where they have young, Catholic friends of their own whom they can learn from and with whom they can celebrate their faith. I like how Chesterton put it, “Men signed with the Cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.” That’s how I’d like to form my family – taking the joys of faith with them at home, in community, and when we’re on our own — going gaily in the dark, despite all odds, to find the Light that is Christ.

 

AJ – In the literal sense, we are making a vow to each other and to God to be faithful to one another as we are to Him. In the romantic sense, we are honoring God by thanking Him for guiding us along in our separate paths until those paths converged and will continue together. God brought us together for a reason, and answering that, “why” question more definitively with each passing year will be one of the many ways I hope we can live out this continuous appreciation for the blessing God gave us, which is this new life together. With that new life, there comes even newer life in the form of baby Freunds, and raising them to be good-hearted, honest, and better people to make this world a better place will be our small contribution to making God’s teachings a reality. I have hope for a better future when I am with Sandy, and that is something I thank God for every day, and always will.

February 14, 2022

sandy + aj: leesylvania engagement session and interview

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