Charming was here on my white wicker loveseat this weekend. On Saturday night, he would ask me to describe my perfect day. “Today,” I would say, after taking a hay ride and picking pumpkins at a farm, walking hand in hand on Fort Monroe beach, carving pumpkins together here on my writing perch, and experiencing an evening of thrills at Busch Garden’s Howl-o Scream.
As I write, I have the memory of Charming beside me, his arm around me, sharing everything from favorite colors to greatest fears. Behind him, for the first time, no evening glories bloomed. And they haven’t bloomed since. It could be explained simply in terms of nature: the soil temperature is decreasing. But the writer in me questions simplicity, opting instead for the expected symbolism as only a writer does.
A writer does. Writers do. Simple subject-verb agreement. The evolution of the English language, however, results in a set of rules governing advanced cases of agreement. We look for red flag words like “and” joining singular subjects to make them plural, or “not only… but also” dismissing all nouns except the one closest to the verb, or “everyone”, billions of people, serving as a singular indefinite pronoun.
My students and I are undergoing an intense workshop on agreement. We started small, simply identifying subjects and predicates, then worked our way towards understanding the rules, then practiced applying the rules together, then independently, reviewing them together, and again practicing independently. It may seem like overkill, but when it comes to grammatical correctness, the age old adage applies. Practice makes perfect.
Repetition plays a critical role in our mastery of content. When implemented effectively, the mental process called upon becomes automatic. At first, we look for red flag words and remind ourselves of the rule. Eventually, we identify those red flags subconsciously and simply apply the related rule. We think less about a choice when we know the rules inside and out.
Gardening has its own set of rules set forth by nature. For months, my evening glories climbed before yielding their first blossom. For the months since then, my evening glories have kept me company on writing night. Yet, I glance up at them now like so many Tuesdays before this, and there isn’t a single white flower. During the summer months I had only to be concerned with the amount of sun and water, but fall temperatures volunteer another concern, one beyond my control.
I know the rules. I don’t have to think about it in order to decide that my evening glories are going to die. When they needed water, I could provide it. I cannot warm the soil during chilly nights. I’ve had practice applying the rules of gardening correctness for seven months… of grammatical correctness for decades. Which one have I mastered?
Just as it was time to say goodbye to summer, it’s time to say goodbye to the evening glories. This first season of gardening was filled with lessons in flora and life. It themed hope and faith. The garden beds were sown in a Nicholas Sparks summer, and I’ve bypassed him. With its first blossom, I claimed that if nothing else in my garden ever grew, I would be content with a single white evening glory.
Now there are none, and I’m still content. I can’t deny that the memory of Charming beside me overshadows the absence of the flowers. Deeply wounded in the past, he is rightly guarded and cautious. I’ve invested as much time into relational correctness as I have in grammatical pursuits… by my previous logic, I should be a pro.
In reality, I’m far from it. I know the basic rules, though. When a person is hurt, he puts up protective walls. When a person loves, she lets down those walls. You know what that feels like, when you give another person a window to who you are and leave yourself completely exposed, vulnerable, and open. It’s risky and exciting and scary simultaneously. Charming has been reading my blog, so he must know what I want: always and forever and the front porch swing and the little league games and the school plays.
Charming doesn’t know what he wants. What rule applies here? For subject-verb agreement, there are six basic rules. For relationships, the rules are infinite. We don’t have a guide that neatly sums up exceptions and instructions. We learn new rules with every relationship… family, friendships, and romance. No matter how much we practice, the choices don’t become automatic.
I’ll admit I overanalyze my world. It’s why my evening glories won’t bloom because I don’t need them anymore not because of cold temperature. I’m good at applying rules once I’ve practiced them, and I have a storehouse of relational experience to inform those lessons learned. I assess, evaluate, and draw conclusions from varied encounters for the simple fact that the resulting rules help build that guide for relational correctness.
Yet somehow, I have no rules for Charming. Assess, evaluate, draw conclusions. What do I do with his walls? Nothing. He can’t go around the wall. It has to come down, and if it happens brick by brick, it’s going to take time, patience, and intentionality on his part. If that’s the rule, then my application is that I control my part.
My part is to be me. Be genuine. Authentic. Real. Unedited. And thereby exposed, vulnerable, and open. I know what I want. Just before my date with Charming, my friend Chuck texted me, “May God give you the desires of your heart.” I want always and forever, yes. But I want something else. Maybe more.
In the years since my divorce, I haven’t felt God’s presence. Absent His sovereignty, awareness of the meaninglessness and purposelessness of a Godess existence remained just under my skin. I didn’t want to choose faith because of a rule. I haven’t made expectations of God or his interactions in my life. I’ve recognized that the absence of feeling God does not negate his Lordship. I’ve been back at church as long as I’ve been gardening. It was a season of life, not flora. Of hope, not faith.
Until Sunday, after my perfect day with Charming, letting my own walls down and leaving myself vulnerable. At church, during worship, God took advantage of my emotional exposure. During the song “Our God.” As I sang, “Into the darkness You shine. Out of the ashes we rise. There’s no one like You,” my arms went up and the tears came down and I felt something.
It’s too simplistic to apply a rule stating that God would only give me His presence when I had given up the need to feel it. God is God, and I am not, and all the undertakings in grammar, gardening, and relationships cannot fill a page in His guide book. He knows all the rules, and they don’t apply to Him.
I don’t have any rules for God. I’m grateful or the flora and the faith in this season. Like with the first bloom of my evening glories, if all Charming is in my life is one perfect day, I’ll be content. He coaxed my walls down, and I felt God’s presence. It was just as Chuck had prayed on my behalf.
I may never have always and forever and a front porch swing and little league games and school plays. I don’t know if I’ll ever be content with that, but I have something else. Purpose. Meaning. And a Teacher who knows all the rules.