Seasons, Names, and Faces

There is a time, a season for everything under heaven.  A year ago I was kissing online dating goodbye, focusing my attention on making goody bags for my English teachers, apparently waiting for Prince Charming to discover Facebook Messenger.  As I bought goody bags today, preparing for another first department meeting, I wished summer would halt and give me one more day.

I would go to the beach, like Charming suggested, on my last day of freedom.  Instead, I got lost in Google Slides and calendars, already working that “Back to School” To Do List full time.  I got an oil change, shopped for meeting prizes, wrote lesson plans, watered the plants, hit the gym, brought in the trash cans, and had dinner with my brother’s family.  At the beach, I disappear.  At the computer, I ready myself for the next season.

Amidst my meandering relationship status with Charming these past few weeks, I had plenty of freedom to disappear.  I lost myself in the last four seasons, nearly a calendar year spent with Charming, while creating a digital scrapbook.  I considered how different my life feels now in contrast to the end of my summer of online dating.  Chatting with one of the auto techs at the checkout for my oil change, we exchanged a few ridiculous stories about online dates gone wrong… and I hope beyond reason that I’ll never have to return to that.

It’s hard to let go of the sweet summer season when you’re a teacher.  For a couple of months, your heart is yours to invest where you please.  For me, it was gardening, reading, beach bumming, family, scrapbooking, and adventures with Charming.  In two weeks, 120 young teens will find my room number on their schedules, and my passion will be theirs for the next ten months.  They are my ministry.  I don’t know their names or their faces yet, but soon I won’t be able to forget them.

Even though I recognize the wealth of once-in-a-lifetime discussions that will flow from the intermingling of adolescent minds in the seasons to come, I relish the saltwater breeze kissing my shoulders as I devour a Francine River novel at Fort Monroe Beach.  I hardly went this year.  Last summer, I was there twice a week.  I might start to regret this if I hadn’t made that memory book.

This summer was unbelievable. Senior prom, two weddings, a wine tasting, a paint night, a week at a lake house with my family, the twins’ birthday, and an unrivaled road trip are just highlights.  No wonder I’m having a hard time giving this up to devote my full attention to the needs of students I haven’t even met yet.  I know the faces in my memory book, mine and Charming’s and all of our friends and family.

But summer is just the last season in that memory book.  I fell for Charming in the fall.  The first pages of the digital scrapbook detail every part of our story, from Facebook message to first meeting to first date to a first date at my place and a first date at his place… I fell in love with fall, and the pages of our autumn memories assure me that though our next three seasons will be different, we still have three-quarters of another scrapbook to fill.

Teachers don’t stop living when they go back to school.  They just live differently.  The appearance of Charming on the scene forced me to live intentionally on our weekends together, here or there.  Struggling to understand our impromptu break-up, my mom reminded me that we had done more living in the last ten months than some couples do in a lifetime.

In season transitions, we often find it difficult to let go despite the promise of something equally good in the future.  We love names and faces that we know now.  One of the most painful aspects of my divorce was the severance from my spouse’s family and our church and friends.  It was hard to imagine a future Bible study or family holiday where I felt so comfortable after I’d left Nashville.

I didn’t know the faces of Katarina and Theresa yet.  I couldn’t see how much I would love and cherish every tiny feature and phrase the way I do now, that when they toddle over to me and say my name, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.  I longed for what I knew because I could not see the good things that God had in store for me.  The good people.

In the weeks preceding my decision to divorce, a street preacher in Baton Rouge gave me a word from God.  He didn’t know me or my situation.  He simply declared that God had closed a door, that I was not to go back to where I came from, that God had already forgiven me, and that He would open new doors for me. I left St. Patrick’s Day weekend.  I didn’t want to let go of that season, of those names and faces.  I didn’t know Katarina and Theresa yet.  The thought of a future Charming didn’t register.  I just knew that I had to do this, that it was time for a new season, that there was going to be a spring in my life for the first time in years.

Things didn’t work out with my rebound guy… they rarely do.  We both learned and grew.  Though I hope he’s doing well and sometimes imagine what his daughter might look like now, we drew a strategic line in the sand last Thanksgiving that we’ve both respected.  Sometimes, the seasonal transition has nothing to do with a calendar.  It’s the result of decision points we reach as we go about the daily business of sharing existence.  Like my divorce, it was painful to sever certain ties.

But I couldn’t see the faces and the names that my weekly writing nights would unearth in seasons to come.   Nearly every fairy tale character pseudonym corresponds to an influential person in my life that didn’t exist until I moved to Hampton.  We struggle to transition from summer to fall, to lose the freedom and the serenity; regardless, this season will end and another will begin.  I will go back to school tomorrow.  The beach will have to wait, and no amount of struggling or wishing will change that.

Still, I think that’s for the best.  If summer never ended, I couldn’t fulfill my calling in the classroom.  There are faces and names in the next season, waiting for us to choose to invest in them.  Maybe I hold back in the fall because I know these students will go in and out of my life so quickly.  Next year, there will be 120 more, similar but different, to know and love and invest in for another ten months.

These past ten months, Charming and I have done our share of reclaiming memories.  We’ve visited places and done activities that were previously associated with an earlier chapter of our stories, making new, positive memories by experiencing them together.

For me though, some of the best moments of the past four seasons’ changing are the ones unfamiliar to me a year ago that now seem to blur together over a string of intentionally lived weekends.  Places and activities that have become uniquely ours.  I don’t expect to find this kind of depth and quality on OK Cupid, and I hope I never have to try.  Still, if this season with Charming ends, I’ve got to believe in all the faces and names that I just don’t know by heart yet.

When we reunited last week in Alexandria, we walked to Old Town like we’d done too many times to count.  We had white queso at Don Taco’s again.  We had silly-named drinks and pizza at Bilbo Baggin’s again.  We walked to the riverfront again, this time with Keurig coffees, Bruegger’s bagels, and Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.

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You can’t know their names or their faces now.  But in the next season?  The one you’re not quite ready for?  You’re going to love them.  God’s going to open new doors, and you’re going to walk through them.  And you’ll find your Katarina, your Theresa, even your Prince Charming.  You’re going to believe, with all your heart, that there is nowhere else you’d rather be.

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