No Ship Has Sailed

Blue sky littered with puffs of cloud, sun breaking through above, lifeboats to my right, sea all around, and I can only sense the rise and fall of the ship through the slight change in the horizon ahead as the bow lifts and settles in rhythm with the sea.  Florida is west though not visible, the Bahamas south and not visible… yet.

There is nothing traditional about my writing this week.  It is, after all, day and not night, no pre-writing mix CD, no drive home, no house at all, and no loveseat.  Charming is at my left in a lounge chair reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, marking in the margins with his blue Carnival cruise pen.  I cannot read his scribbles, nor am I trying.  I am simply aware of him beside me and happy to be aware.

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Completely absent routines, I did not plan to write tonight.  We’re on a five day cruise — on vacation — and during such a holiday it would seem unnatural to spend two hours holed up with my laptop somewhere in the stateroom cabin when there are evening comedy routines and karaoke sets to make laughter bubble up from my diaphragm, the hearty kind especially when Charming’s arm is about my waist.

Today, we are at sea, and the noonday sun marries with the 40 mph winds to provide the perfect beach day… sans sand of course, with the pool a deck below and the ocean dancing with the ship some thirty feet down.  While the sun warms, the winds cool, and as I stretched out on my stomach an hour ago, eyes closed to the surreal beauty of this December excursion, I was inspired beyond reason.

I wanted to write, had to write, could see or feel nothing but that urge to capture this moment in words, overcome by the realization it would be a shame to waste this sort of inspiration.   It seized me, I obeyed, and Charming obliged my indulgence.

I covet neither my white wicker loveseat nor the solitude of my front porch, forgiving even the cruise director for his announcement this moment reminding us of the Very Hairy Chest competition followed immediately by Vanilla Ice Ice Baby over the loudspeaker to accompany the ever-present conversations of people of all ages and shapes and sizes convening around me, a rather unusual soundtrack for my mind’s wanderings today.

I am here, in this moment, and would not wish for anything usual or ordinary to substitute.

The sky disappears into the horizon, and it’s difficult to determine where the ocean ends and the sky begins save for a thin line circling endless miles around the ship.  Two days ago, this cruise seemed to be a missed opportunity, having booked up completely before we’d made our reservations.  I’d resolved to be content with that, assured that our waitlist status had not changed, when a Google search resulted in a curious reservation prospect.

On a whim, I entered in our stateroom preferences and payment information, clicked “Submit,” and was unhappily greeted by a landing page stating, “Could not complete reservation.  Please try again.”  I did.  Again and again and again, all with the same outcome.  We’d missed the boat, it seemed.  Charming had been approved for leave this week, and my students are surely thinking about anything but persuasive essays during holiday break, and rightly so.  We were hoping for an adventure.

As we began to search for other last minute travel deals, Charming received an email confirming our reservation for a five night Bahaman cruise!  Could it be real?  He called the cruise line.  It was real.  We left Hampton, Virginia in the early morning hours yesterday, giving ourselves two extra hours for any potential driving mishaps to make it to the Charleston port for a 4pm departure.

Traffic did not cooperate, and it seemed even those extra hours were not a sufficient buffer.  Stuck behind an accident, GPS alerting us that we remained an hour away for nearly an hour in itself, anxiety began to stir in my stomach.  Charming reminded me that he was good in a crisis, and he was committed to see us on this ship, joking with a smile that the saying, “That ship has sailed,” was a real threat indeed, but reassuring me we would not meet that end.

At 3:20pm, we arrived at an obstacle course of orange cones and a half a dozen check points to navigate before finally parking and checking in for the cruise.  We boarded the ship at 3:58 pm, breathed a well-earned sigh of relief in unison, and snapped a selfie to commemorate the antithesis of anxiety before finding our way to our stateroom, pleasantly surprised to have landed a room with a window overlooking the Atlantic.

The immensity of the ocean surrounds and inspires.  Late last night, it began to rain, and I vacated the hot tub on deck to stand at the back of the ship, unable to see anything in the heavy darkness but the sea below.  The wind and rain were cold, but I didn’t mind.  There was a rare moment of silence in which I felt somehow a part of the world, subject to its elements, and remembered only then that God deserved my gratitude for bringing us here, despite the obstacles.  And thank Him I did.

The quiet of that moment seems now a distant memory, as I am surrounded as much by activity and movement and joyful noise as I am by the vast ocean.  Yet my mind continues to return to Sunday’s sermon at a church I visited with Charming before the miracle reservations were secured, when I discovered the prophet Isaiah and I have something in common: garden analogies.  He writes in chapter 61 verse 11, “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”

The preceding verse comparing the anticipation of a bridegroom and bride may have better captured my attention in previous years, evidencing the evolution of my own life.  My experiences as an amateur gardener this summer invited a more certain accord with the following metaphor as I recalled the weeks after planting where I waited in delighted anticipation for the certain blooms that would come in my garden beds.

And now, as I write, with Sir Mixalot’s Baby Got Back unsuccessfully tempting me away from my train of thought, my mind cannot forget the comfort of the following verses in Sunday’s message.  Isaiah continues in 62:3, “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”  That verse was inscribed in a wooden frame that graced my walls growing up: my name verse.  Laura means “Crown of Beauty”.  My mother would say that I was a joyful crown of beauty.

And verse 4, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight is in Her.”  I was moved to tears in that church pew on Sunday, and again here on the deck of this ship, I am overcome with tears of joy.

This is what my God has done in my life.  He is due all gratitude for reclaiming me.  In the wake of my divorce, I was forsaken.  I was desolate.  I was beyond comfort, lost in the dark night of my soul, doubting even God’s presence.  Here, on the open sea, God’s greatness abounds in the ocean and endless sky.  He is in the sun and the wind.  He warms and He cools.

A year ago, I could not have anticipated I would be on this cruise ship with Charming bringing in the New Year in the Bahamas, writing yet another chapter in our Hallmark story.  But I should have known, as Isaiah did, that God would cause righteousness and praise to sprout up from that which God has sown.  That He would, as He promised, redeem me, and make me His delight.

A crown of beauty, sitting upon a shelf, is a pretty thing.  Tangible and concrete.  But its fulfillment of purpose is not found on the shelf.  Isaiah writes of this crown, the meaning of my name, in another verse.  “He holds it aloft in His hands for all to see, a splendid crown for the King of Kings.”  The beauty of my life finds its purpose only in the hands of the God of all, the sea and land.

How grateful I am that with God, no ship has sailed and one has never missed the boat.  He portions off His grace to those such as me, who may have lost sight of purpose for a season, but who, in the dead of winter, are blessed to feel the full warmth of His love and favor.

Welcoming the Unexpected

Tonight, I’m not a teacher typing her way to clarity, but rather a daughter on the patio of her childhood home, ever aware of her parents just beyond the sun porch door watching the Syracuse game on TV.  I don’t have to see inside to know my father is relaxing on the couch with a remote in one hand, and my mother is on the love seat falling asleep.  The picture remains unchanged after decades living away from home.

A wrought iron bench substitutes for my white wicker perch, reflective of the subtle differences in family décor choices.  Understanding the quirky habits of my weekly writing nights, my mother supplied a glass of wine and a blanket before leaving me to the task at hand.  Each week, I listen to the same mix CD as I drive home from Tuesday nights with my older brother’s family.  I attempted to reproduce this routine on the tail end of my day’s drive from Tuesday morning with my younger brother’s family in Pittsburgh.

My computer is at the service center, but I was sure to transfer my “I Used to Be” Word document with the previous forty-one blog entries onto my temporary laptop for this moment.  Cuddled up in Charming’s hoodie, I imagine I look the same as last week, but despite every effort to replicate writing night while “home” for Christmas, what is different and unfamiliar dominates my view, literally and figuratively.

As I exited 690 East onto Teall Avenue two hours ago, I ignored Google maps.  I know these back roads better than it does and can still navigate the streets of Syracuse practically on auto-pilot. There was no snow to endanger my driving travels today, with a sixty degree day serving as a staunch contrast to the limited visibility of drives back over the past decade.  Had I turned left off of the exit ramp, I’d quickly find myself in front of the house in Eastwood that I called home for a brief year of my adult life, a place that turned out to be simply a pit stop between Nashville, TN and Hampton, VA.

But I turned right, only moments away from the home of my first eighteen years of life.  I’ve always felt Christmas was most real, most authentic, in this white house with black shutters.  My parents and the house are the same.  It’s me that’s changed.  It’s me that’s unfamiliar, perched on this wrought iron bench.  My mother and father belong on the loveseat and couch, respectively.  I am, as I have been doing for the last fourteen years, just passing through.

When my brothers and I were little, our holidays were mirror images of one another.  Christmas Eve service, pajamas under the tree from Santa to open afterward, stockings in the morning with Aunt Esther, and then the real festivities began when Grammy arrived.  We’d sing Christmas hymns and one of my brothers would bring a sermonette before singing Happy Birthday to Jesus.  My little brother and I would distribute the presents, and we’d take turns opening them in order of age until our piles of gifts had transformed into surprises and delights.

Though we’ve attempted to preserve the traditions, life happened.  Marital unions and the pitter patter of little feet happened.  Old age happened.  Couples alternating Christmases between in-laws resulted in absent seats in the living room.  Eventually, Grams’ body was too fragile to leave the nursing home.  Some years, it was too challenging for my brothers’ families to travel with infants or binding work schedules.  This year, as it turns out, I’m the only one of four children returning home.  And as I am the only one childless, after thirty-seven years of children and grandchildren, it will be a grown-up Christmas for my parents.

Routines please me.  My brain is comforted by predictability and sameness, so much so that my mother warns me if she’s ripped out rugs or changed the furniture before I venture home so at least I’ll know what to expect.  What I couldn’t have anticipated this year, though, would be the change in me.

Even just a year ago, failure to resurrect traditions disappointed me.  In response to my writing last week, Charming posed a question that I mulled over during my long drive north.  Can traditions sometimes become ruts?  When I reflect on the past month of the holiday season, the moments that make me smile were first time experiences.  In essence, those traditions on which I was willing to compromise introduced excitement and joy I would not have expected or anticipated.

My writing nights, like the holidays, are similarly cloaked in tradition.  In much the same way that an athlete might wear the same underwear every game night, I believe that the consistencies in my writing environment foster the potential for the best outcome.  Yet, across a handful of state lines, the words still form themselves into reflective meanderings likewise unexpected or anticipated.  Were I in Hampton on my own front porch, I wouldn’t be picturing my brothers and I sledding down the hill in the backyard where I now sit, decades later.

I have no control over the unseasonably warm temperatures this December.  I recall many years driving North, hands white from gripping the steering wheel, heart rate elevated in fear that my front wheel drive car would not land safely in my parents’ driveway.  The change this year was refreshing, relaxing even, as my audio book traveling companion and I made our way up the thruway.  What constitutes tradition?  Were it simply that an experience is repeated, navigating through snow and sleet would become a part of my Christmas narrative.

Change is inevitable.  It still saddens me that my brothers and their families won’t be sharing Christmas day with me this year, but I’m delighted by the absence of snow!  And were it not for its undeniable presence in past years, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate its absence.  Traditions tend to give us something to look forward to, but this holiday season is teaching me to welcome the unexpected.

Divorce completely eradicated a decade of traditions for me.  We hold on to traditions to seek fulfillment of the joys of the past.  What happens when marriage, births, old age, divorce, and death threaten that? The natural derivative of life change is a deviation from tradition that forces us to award value to the present.

When I held my four-month old nephew for the first time yesterday, it did not occur to me to grieve his father’s impending absence on Christmas day.  Staring into his blue eyes, I was transported to age five when I held his father in my arms in just the same way.  Watching him on a blanket swatting happily at the ornaments on the lowest branches of their Christmas tree, I knew that the addition of the youngest Palma will forever change Christmases to come.  Tradition was irrelevant.   There is hope in this change.

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And this past weekend, Charming and I celebrated our first Christmas together.  By the light of the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate won in a White Elephant gift exchange that day, we exchanged gifts and gratitude.  There was no tradition, no desire to fulfill joys of the past, but rather to reclaim ourselves in the very nature of firsts and onlys in life after change.

Changes that, by eliminating traditions, made room for unexpected, unanticipated moments of delight in a season where we are reminded of the only constant worthy of celebrating year after year, regardless of change.   Mom is assuredly asleep on the loveseat by now.  Dad is still flipping through the channels.  Life happens, and this scene may change in years to come, but God’s unmatched love and mercy in providing His son as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world, the reason for this season, will remain unchanged.

Any holiday tradition, new or old, is hinged upon the ultimate Christmas gift.  God’s grace extends through marriages, births, old age, divorce, and death, such that hope glistens in the twinkling lights, with a greater power than change could ever threaten to dim.

A Winter Rose

On his debonair arm at a gala this past weekend, Charming and I posed before our third Christmas tree this season. The unusually warm December air did not impair the holiday mood. In a bold red dress selected to match his attire, adorned with rubies and gold, hair upswept in curls, I hoped to be his princess that night. And after a little YouTube assistance where I learned to tie a bow tie, I drank in a long look at my escort. Charming was dashing.

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Lest I gain opposition to the sugary-sweet fairy tale I just introduced, I must offer that I also had the stomach flu and spent much of the night before on the bathroom floor where it was cold and close to the only throne I needed. The day of the gala that I’d been anticipating for a month and a half, the event that would cross another item off my bucket list, I wasn’t sure if I’d get to put on the dress.

So I was grateful that a drugstore concoction managed to mask the symptoms just long enough for the ball. I was sick for days before. I was sick for days after. But that night, I was Charming’s. That night, courting courtesies set the stage for a romantic encounter. Amidst six hundred guests, we ate, drank, laughed, chatted, listened, socialized, and danced the night away. Indulge me. I’ve never had my own fairy tale before, and I should get to tell it as one.

There were moments at the gala where I lost myself looking at him as he engaged in conversation with other attendees. He is so perceptive that it almost casts a spell. In brief dialogues punctuated by bouts of music and ceremony, Charming managed to affirm nearly every person he spoke with that night. If I’d known how attractive I would find that quality to be, it would have been on my list of uncompromisible qualities in a future husband.

Driving back home after our weekend together, coaxing my stomach to rest for a three hour stretch, I considered that list, penned in a lined journal. My dating experiences now span three decades. Had I made this summer’s list years ago, not a single contender for my hand would have met the criteria. However, the list is ultimately a product of learning from past relationships. One could argue that it would not exist were it not for the lessons that came from Mr. Wrongs littered throughout time.

This list is similar in length to my Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties one, but its tone is far more serious. It’s final. It eliminates unworthy suitors. And though I am not a student of probability, I would posit that the more items there are on this list, the worse my chances of ever stumbling upon a man who is worthy of a chance at forever and always and a front porch swing.

Is it any wonder that I watched him that night in respect and awe? I’m not compromising on a single item on that list with him. He inspires me to add new qualities to it. He inspired me to make my Thirty list. He inspires me to be more, to be better. He inspires me to hope to expect more, to expect better. Whether this budding romance finds its resting place in Hallmark movies or confined to the pages of my writing, Charming will have made me more, made me better.

By the time I pulled up to my little rented house, thoughts of Charming had turned to unpacking efforts and a mental to do list. What greeted me at home stopped me in my tracks balancing suitcases, bags, and dress. My knock-out roses were in full bloom! In December! They had fared all summer and fall with only the occasional blossom.

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When I planted the bush, I feared the location wasn’t right, that it didn’t get enough sunlight through the shade of my Magnolia trees at varied parts of the day. Now, the barren winter frames offer full light, and the unseasonal weather has enticed the roses to vibrancy. The clusters of pink petals in a backdrop of Christmas lights delighted me.

I didn’t abandon my gardening analogies intentionally. The changes in the garden simply ended. Then this dormant creature chides me to remember there’s growth even in the winter season. I didn’t expect it, yet knowledge of the laws of nature might have hinted toward the likelihood of the possibility. Somehow, I felt that I was adding the rose bush into my Christmas narrative. That the contrast of the buds to the candy cane lights was too stunning to ignore.

This is the first Christmas where I’m contributing my own narrative. As God writes my story, I’m recording it. It’s honest and near-sighted and momentary as I reflect on my current purview. It’s human revelation, not divine inspiration. I have no structured bell curve for plot development, just the current moment in the current scene. I can write this story because I trust that the Author will provide the best material, beyond what I could have dreamed up.

I can add to my lists. I can do more than thirty things in the next seven years. I can require more uncompromisible qualities of my future husband. Experience and self-reflection combine to foster forward growth. I wouldn’t have known to dream of roses in December. Now I do. They’re a part of this year’s Christmas story, a reminder that even in the winter, life can blossom, as displayed amid twinkling lights.

I also wouldn’t have known that I would want a husband who uplifts other in simple conversation. Now I do. And while Charming meets the ever growing criteria on my list, I can’t help but wonder if he has his own. And though I am not a student of probability, I would posit that the more items there are on his list, the worse my chances are of being one worthy of a chance at forever and always and a front porch swing.

For that matter, what are the chances that any two self-reflective, seasoned daters, will both meet the exponential criteria on each other’s lists? It would have to be a match made in heaven.

Sounds like a fairy tale, well the makings of one anyway. I can’t peek at the last page of the story to find out if I’m on Charming’s arm, another man’s, or no one’s. God wrote the content of that page, and if I trust Him with the desires of my heart, that page may hold a union free from compromise of either party. Or maybe I’ll be alone. I don’t have control over the story, just the keys.

There are roses in my Christmas lights, growth in the winter season. Just as I added the roses to my Christmas narrative, I added Charming. I loved this scene. And whether this budding romance finds its resting place in Hallmark movies or confined to these pages, Charming will have made me more, made me better. Maybe I could inspire him to add to his lists, and hopefully, I will have made him better, too.

Hope in Traditions

Tonight, I’m writing from my typical perch, but within a winter wonderland. On Saturday, Charming drove a quarter of the day to spend half the day tangled up in Christmas decorations with me. Accompanied by my iTunes Christmas playlist recently modified to include some of his favorites, Charming balanced on a ladder to hang icicles from the roof and put the star on top of the tree; I’ve always thought those traditions were best suited for a man.

IMG_6567Pursuant to my vision for preservation of ten years of tradition, we headed to Home Depot upon his arrival to secure a fat Frasier Fur. Having always picked out my tree the day after Thanksgiving, I hadn’t anticipated how slim the pickings would be a week later. I had a good excuse. In any case, I had helped Charming do the same instead, and he was now returning the favor. It was worth abandoning tradition.

The friendly young man who patiently assisted us during our perusals of the trees explained that there weren’t any fuller trees left and suggested we would fare better at a nearby church. Ever a creature of habit, I stuck to my guns, so eventually Charming helped coach me toward a choice on the lot.

The day could add a few scenes to the Hallmark Christmas movie script we might as well as have been writing the weekend before. I was excited to reclaim memories and intentionally live new ones. More specifically, I was excited to share this day-venture with Charming. Packaged into a brief window amidst the unmistakably less anticipated wealth of days apart, we transformed my porch into the North Pole, resurrected a slender tree into a brilliant masterpiece, enjoyed a romantic dinner out, and cuddled up with Netflix to recover before his drive home.

As the streamed episode came to a close, I was a little teary-eyed, which surprised me. After all, I’m visiting Charming this weekend, where he’ll take me to a black tie gala to help me cross number 25 off my list of Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties. It’s like a fairy tale, right? Evening gowns and bow ties and glittering jewelry and dancing with a prince. Almost too good to be true.

And that’s why I was misty-eyed. This is good. So good. My tenth graders have been studying dramatic comedies, analyzing the typical plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl, usually ending with a wedding. We just finished reading a one-act play where the main characters overcome an intense conflict and fall in love by curtain close. I think Charming and I would make for a good romantic comedy, but the real-life version will likely require a lot more acts and scenes before we either reach the dénouement or discover it’s not a movie worth making.

Dramatic plot structure differs from the traditional bell curve, devoting the majority of the plot to developing conflict and building complications, peaking only briefly into a climax and equally brief resolution. Within the complications is where I reside, fear and hope battling one another for supremacy. I’m trying to write another song, but what if the ability won’t bypass a half dozen years neglected? I want to buy a home, but what if I can never save enough to afford a down payment? I dream of having a family of my own, but what if that’s not in God’s plan?

While chatting with a colleague today, I learned that the Christmas tree selection at the aforementioned church was excellent. There were hundreds of fat Frazier Furs.   I had a choice on Saturday to stick with tradition or try something new, and I opted for the familiar. I couldn’t have known for certain that venturing up the road would yield any better results, and it was safer to operate within established tradition.

But that’s the thing about traditions. You don’t ever know when you’re establishing them, not the first time around. It’s only in the years to come, as rituals are repeated, that you recognize them as anticipated staples in your holiday season. Once cemented, these once simple actions take on symbolic significance as you recreate the joy shared in the original moment.

I am loyal to a fault. Michelle has cut my hair since I was four years old, while living in four different states. We’ve traded hundreds of deep conversation over a pair of salon sheers. I know her. I trust her. Home Depot has provided my Christmas tree for ten years, while living in three different states. They’ve always ensured my tree made it home on top of my car. I know them. I trust them.

Hope battles fear most passionately when trust and familiarity are absent. I’m in unchartered territory with Charming. My track record taunts me. Another man drove hours to spend a day with me, but other truths shattered the trust in good intentions affixed to the gesture. For as long as I can remember, I’ve held to the adage, “Hope for the best; expect the worst.” At what point did I subconsciously replace “expect” with “fear”?

I’ve concluded before that hope is fear’s adversary. There’s hope in Christmas traditions. When I chose to delay my normal decorating routine to spend the weekend with Charming, I wasn’t necessarily abandoning tradition. I was altering it to make room to establish new traditions. It’s the joy of the moment that makes it worth repeating. And standing in the street together after night fell, taking in the beauty of my winter wonderland bungalow, you could have convinced me that would be one of them.

Sitting here amidst the twinkling lights, fingers nearly numb from the cold air, wisps of hair sneaking out from Charming’s hoodie, I can picture him on the ladder Saturday, doing manual labor because he knew it would make me happy. If the central conflict in this romantic comedy is between fear and hope, that picture begs me to put on rose colored glasses and ride out the building complications for at least another act.

The further we progress through life, the more baggage we accumulate. They weigh on us, play on our sentiments, toy with our memories, influence our choices out of fear that we’ll unexpectedly add another suitcase.

But the further we progress through life, the more traditions we also establish. They surprise us, sneak into our purview, delight us with unexpected, cherished additions to a holiday season. Snuggling up with Charming by the light of the Christmas tree, no other memories or traditions competed for my attention. I felt hope. And it scared me.

It doesn’t matter that the tree isn’t fat – it’s the most beautiful tree I’ve ever had. This is good. And it’s true right now. I wouldn’t dream of fast-forwarding through our story to discover if it’s a comedy or a tragedy. The brief climax and resolution of the dramatic plot structure are only meaningful because of the time spent building up to them.

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Smiling in Anticipation

I drove up to spend Thanksgiving weekend with Charming. Despite the standstills of holiday traffic, I was beaming as I snapped a selfie to let him know I was on my way. The genuine smile anticipated the romantic walks hand in hand around his quaint old town, meals served with scintillating conversation, the honor of meeting the family of a man I’d come to admire, and all the tiny moments of words and looks exchanged that would, undoubtedly, hijack any prospect for logical reasoning in his presence.

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That smile graced dozens of little dates strung together over five days. There was a perfect balance of reclaiming memories and making new ones. Thanksgiving has a place at the table of our lives. We all have our own traditions. I remember a Thanksgiving with my ex-husband’s family that found me crying outside on the driveway, back to his sister’s garage. They had argued with me that education was not important. I took it personally. Education was, after all, my passion.

It’s ironic then, that I stopped reading theology books and picked up binge-watching TV series. In the time that I used to write music and poetry, I did jigsaw puzzles and played solitaire. I was fully immersed in Hispanic culture, and always a strong actress, I learned to play the role of a Latina wife. Our friends would call me the “casi-Latina” – almost Latin girl. There are two problems with that: my life is not a play and I’m Italian. I became what I thought was needed to please my husband and his family.

My mother has admitted that for several years, she believed she had lost me to another world. We didn’t talk much, and I only visited from Nashville once a year. Though it pains me to admit it, retrospect focuses in on the out of sight, out of mind cliché. My decision to go to grad school was in part an attempt to recover some of what I was deep down: an academic, a deep thinker, an over-analyzer, a Type A perfectionist… a doer.

I’d rather engage in literary banter than watch a family movie. I’d rather be in the kitchen prepping and cleaning than taking that post-Thanksgiving meal nap. I had the opportunity for both preferences at Charming’s parents. His grandmother intrigued me most. She’s a feisty woman in her nineties with a legacy of varied experiences, extensive travel, and proof of intentional living. I could have listened to her stories all day. She caught my eye when I was cleaning up and said, “It’s nice to have a doer.”

It’s nice to be one again. My mom and I talked for nearly three hours as I drove back to Hampton after my long weekend away. Topics varied from spiritual to conceptual to personal. I barely noticed the drag of the 0-20 mph that commanded the bulk of the trip. I told her about the sermon at the church we had visited that morning from her favorite passage, Colossians 1.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The message was that God will remake us to what we always should have been. When I consider the journey of holidays, the shifts in what I have been grateful for, the accumulation of traditions, the additions and deletions to those present at the table, I’m struck by the transient nature of my last decade of existence. These came before I married, after I married, after I divorced, after I moved here. I made memories that were either later tarnished or sorrowful in the moment.

My writing doesn’t pivot on the premise that there’s life after divorce, yet the redemptive thread woven through a weekly tapestry of my growth is unmistakable. I see God’s hand in what I considered to be a new beginning. He rescued me from darkness. That’s unmistakable. Might it be there’s a deeper story being written? That in this chance at new life, God is remaking me into what I always should have been?

Charming is playing a role in this story, though I’d like to believe he’s not just acting. The practice of reclaiming memories for ourselves is reflective of a desire to be remade. A shot reel of our weekend together would easily provide the storyboard for a Hallmark movie. For me, reclaiming a memory means replacing a tarnished or broken one with something positive.

We’ve been using a series of thirty-some published questions to engage in exploratory dialogue designed to convene within ninety minutes. We average about three questions in that time. I appreciate that we’ve emphasized honest disclosure because I’ve been able to process past experiences in an alternative platform. Writing about it to a computer screen is less intimidating and less intimate than looking into the eyes of someone you hope will still like you after you finish talking, and you file away the memory explored with a slightly improved disposition.

God uses my students in this story, too. With each sweet sticky note from a handful of my sophomore girls added to a growing collection around my desk, I’m reassured that I was born to teach, that my presence in my classroom is a fulfillment of my purpose, that for me to have ever willingly walked away from my profession simply evidences a temporary identity crisis. Like Charming, they influence my perception of the world and expand my worldview. I love lesson planning. It’s like that drive up to see Charming. It’s filled with the anticipation for the discussions the lesson will facilitate and the rare gems of insights my students will mine. I still miss my old school in Nashville, but that’s no longer accompanied by feelings of regret.

When I walked Charming’s grandmother out to the car after the festivities were over, she told me firmly, “You should stick around,” followed soon after by, “You fit right in here.” I’d like to stick around. The running catalogue of holidays past could use more like this one. I felt like I fit in, and that was an exciting realization. Because I was myself. I wasn’t acting out a role. I was doing and being me. And it was such a relief. I could relax making crescent rolls and flipping through his childhood photo albums and listening to his father speak passionately about his work and washing and drying the dishes together.

Charming’s role might just be a supporting character, the kind that’s used to build up the transformation of the protagonist. In that case, it’s possible the memories we’re reclaiming together will have to be reclaimed again someday. Still, our Hallmark weekend was filled with tiny moments of words and looks exchanged that undoubtedly hijacked any prospect for logical reasoning in his presence.

We’re not just making memories. We’re living. Intentionally. A bucket list is about experiences, not checkmarks. I smile in anticipation of the story God is writing to remake me into what I was always supposed to be, weaving a redemptive thread through the tapestry, extending forgiveness for the past and hope for the story yet to be told.