When God Only Knows

This unseasonably warm epilogue to November is an unexpected Thanksgiving treasure.  A comfortable breeze soothes my skin into a writer’s reflection despite the music and laughter drifting from my neighbor’s front porch.  Their careless banter about work seems out of place now that I’m lost in thoughts of last Saturday morning when Charming got the text.

Some of his best friends were travelling overseas.  They’d planned to return to the States, but they miscarried while abroad.  The significance of this permeated the holiday mood, and rightly so.  This couple is inspiring.  They have faced and overcome unthinkable, undesirable situations, both as individuals and together.  They are brilliant and funny, and they value family, faith, food, and friendship much as Charming and I do.

The road to this pregnancy was difficult to navigate, details aside.  Just weeks before we had been prying them for baby names at lunch after church watching the Redskins play.  While we were enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, they were spending four days in a foreign hospital.  They didn’t speak the language or have friends or family to hold them up.  So Charming texted encouragement, and then we prayed.

Because all I could think was that where they were, stranded in Portugal, God would have to be the one to hold them up in that moment.  I’ve seen them trust Him before.  I am confident they’ll trust Him again.  Trust.  Google it: “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”

Bad things happen.  Our fallen world is wretched with tragedy.  Scared, unsupported teens are aborting their babies while faithful friends like Charming’s and my friend Mulan struggle to bring one to term.  We see the trust in our marriages tested, sometimes destroyed, by infidelity and deception.  Cancer claimed lives at our Thanksgiving tables indiscriminately.

What, then, can we ultimately trust?  Not the future.  Not each other.  Often, not even our own choices.  A miscarriage overseas doesn’t just change the holiday plans; they’re returning to a different tomorrow entirely.  My heart breaks for them.  There is no logical persuasive argument for why this happened, and it’s futile to linger there.

For a logical argument, we’d need a bigger testing pool.  In my immediate circle, I’d say each of us has at least one demon from the past that likes to rear its ugly head in our present.  But our losses are unique.  We found ourselves broken by varied circumstances; when it was the result of a broken trust in someone or something, we find that it comes reticently afterward.

At some point, I lost the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of my husband.  And then I lost that firm belief in my marriage.  This was my life.  My husband.  My marriage.  It was the only one I had.  It’s the only model on which I can judge a husband and a marriage.  It’s one occurrence where trust in one’s spouse and one’s marriage failed.

And while, to me, the weight of this failure discolors my frame of reference on marriage, it is only one occurrence.  There’s no testing pool.  I can’t make a formula to avoid a second failed marriage based on my first.  There are too many variables in the equation: the men, the timing, even me.  I chose the wrong man, or the right one and let it fall apart.  How can I trust that I’ll make the right choice next time, if there’s a next time?  I can’t, not based on that one experience.

Trust is defined in terms of the object of that trust.  We trust someone or something when the recipient is reliable, true, able, and strong.  If I have only had one marriage, then I, my husband, and my marriage failed 100% of the time.  If I apply those odds to my future, I’m doomed out of the gates.

I don’t trust the past.  I choose not to.  It may be true, but it’s only as reliable as my frame of reference.  The more distance I gain, the further I am from the woman who experienced those demons.  My gym mentor Chuck really struggled after being hit head on while driving at night.  For months afterward, he’d see headlights on the other side of the road and brace for impact.

At some point, perhaps after there was a much larger testing pool, Chuck could drive at night without half-expecting another head-on collision.  He couldn’t trust that driver on that night, but if he treated every car like that driver was behind the wheel, his wife would become a permanent chauffer.  His fear wasn’t logical.

When I look back at the photos from this weekend, my favorite is a selfie on the Waterfront at King’s Street.  We’d shared some of our own fears the night before, the fears that keep us from trusting ourselves and each other.  Charming had asked me how I could be so confident, so sure that he was the one for me.  I had spouted off a different version of the same reassuring speech I gave the last time we had a relationship defining talk.

If I could answer again, I would answer with this picture.  Charming snapped it before I accepted an offer from a Peruvian gentleman for a full-length photo.  In the second, Charming noted that we were blocking the pier.  In his selfie, he’d captured it.  We were smiling at the foreground.  The pier sprawled out behind us, leading to the frigid waters of the Potomac.

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I wouldn’t trust those waters, even in an unseasonably warm epilogue to November.  I can’t trust the past.  I can’t really trust marriage, a man, or myself.  But I am smiling.  We are smiling.  Because we want to trust that the next pier we walk leads into a sunset and a happily ever after, but we’ve no formula or percentage likelihoods or poll data to give us a reliable, true, able, and strong something to believe in.

It’s the position of the camera here that matters, set before us.  It has perspective we are missing when we take a selfie… it sees what lies behind us, but puts us always in the foreground.  When Charming holds the camera up that way, it’s like the God’s eye view.

With so much loss and hardship, unexpected tragedies, and our own brokenness and failures, what then can we trust?  If trust is defined by the object, the recipient, then the reason that I can smile in this picture is that like Chuck, eventually I stopped applying the illogical frame of a single occurrence to the rest of my life.  I saw the vast testing pool that was my life, the collection of moments, my marriage and divorce among them.  Graduations.  Friends.  Births.  Deaths.  People changed.  I changed.  Circumstances changed.

I want to live in the foreground of this photograph, not swim in the cold, murky waters of shattered hopes.  I don’t know when it happened, but to be smiling in the face of fears and loss, it had to have happened.  I trust God.  He sees past, present, and future.  He orchestrates my life.  My plans will change.  Bad things will happen, as I’ve experienced.

But good things will happen, too.  We have a constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness, but happiness is not guaranteed.  Happiness is not reliable.  We cannot trust happiness or expect it in our futures.  I cannot write a formula to avoid another failed marriage. Even the best doctors cannot ensure the outcome of a pregnancy.

Asking why bad things happen is futile, yet often our first response question.  We rarely ask why when we’re blessed, like when a man like Charming finds me and somehow loves me in spite of myself.  When I open the worn pages of my Bible, my fingers glide over verse after verse of promise.   Over and over again, the scriptures remind me, “Trust in the Lord.”  Trust is about the recipient.  He alone is reliable, true, able, and strong.

And ultimately, He’s going to continue to command my future just as He commands me to trust it to Him.  With or without my trust, my future will unfold.  God sees me on the pier.  He sees the river behind me.  And He sees beyond the lens to all the moments we’ll capture in time to come.

It seems illogical, then, not to trust Him.  I trusted Him to hold up our friends across the globe.   He holds me up, too.

Wisdom, Weekdays, and Weekends

They met this weekend, after more than a year: the two men that occupy the majority of my free time.  The elder, my gym mentor, gets the weekdays.  The younger, my boyfriend, gets the weekends.  Hundreds of Hampton afternoons find Chuck on the elliptical to my right, peddling wisdom, perspective, and probing questions.  When Charming began filling my weekends, Chuck managed to be by my side and on Charming’s side simultaneously.

See, I’m a pretty typical Italian woman.  I value family, friends, fellowship, food, and faith.  I speak my mind and wear my heart on my sleeve.  As a teen, I found I could convince my mom easily if I needed permission to attend an event.  My father, on the other hand, remains unmoved by my emotionally charged appeals to this day.  We share the same world, but my dad and I see and experience different planets.  Probably a lot like Charming and I do.

Is it age?  Gender?  Nature?  Nurture?  My father and Charming seem, at times, to be generational mirrors.  If I cried to get my way as a young girl, Dad would say, “Go away and come back when you’re done.”  And though Charming hasn’t said the words, he’s given me the equivalent, loaded look during a heated exchange.  Growing up in my father’s household, I resented him for not understanding me.  In my adult life, I’ve come to find he understands me better than anyone, maybe even my mom.  He just didn’t know how to express that in words.

There is an incredible depth in the comfort of a strong relationship with a good father.  Though he’s a phone call away when I need guidance (and my ringtone on his phone used to be a frantic cry for help), his counsel over three decades has equipped me to tackle most challenges.  I’m resourceful, and though I make a great damsel in distress, those moments should really be added to my acting repertoire.  His wisdom is the product of innate gifts, age, experience, and faith.

These qualities in my father that have most influenced me drew me to Chuck.  What started as cursory conversations between two gym rats sharing the same workout time and equipment became a friendship.  And when I had the greatest need for a face-to-face mentor, he became that, too.  In thousands of minutes sweating our way toward physical fitness, Chuck doubled the value by tending to my mental health.

Where I hit the real jackpot with Chuck is that while he shares all my father’s best attributes, he has a unique one.  My father is the strong, silent type.  When he speaks, it matters, and I listen, but like Charming, Dad doesn’t talk about feelings easily.  Chuck is like the perfect bridge from my men’s world to mine.  He’s connected to emotions.  His wisdom, experience, and faith are tools that he uses to tone my mind like the equipment does my calves.   At times, I even begin to feel like we’re on the same planet.

Chuck doesn’t just empathize with me.  He levels with me.  He asks questions to understand before he shares an anecdote or YouTube video that broadens my perspective on an issue.  On weekdays together, we process my weekends with Charming.  At each varied junction in our developing romance, Chuck was the reason and the logic, and his gift for expressing emotions allowed him to package it in a way that I readily received.

I enjoy our deep, easy dialogue.  Chuck is the perfect mentor for me.  He’s just the right combination of the important core values that I need influencing me in my daily routine.  We’re always on the same page, even if it takes forty-five minutes to wind up there.  It was never that easy with my dad growing up.  It’s not that easy with Charming either.

And I’m not saying that it should be.  In fact, I think my father was teaching me a valuable lesson each time he sent me away to gather my emotions before having an intelligent conversation with him… he just didn’t know how to communicate what he was doing.  It was a lesson I didn’t really learn until well into adulthood, a decade away from that canopy bed I was so often grounded to.  Now, it’s a lesson that I teach my students, and my job as a teacher is to make sure they “get it”.

Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle consists of three appeals.  He believed we convince people that we are right by appealing to emotions, establishing credibility, and reasoning out our argument logically.  From birth, I wielded the emotional appeal with authority.  I still do.  I know how to play with the heart strings.  I picked up the guilt trick from my mom.  And those will work on some people.

But not my dad.  Not Charming.  And according to Aristotle, the strongest arguments will utilize all three appeals, but the foundation will be logical reasoning: facts, examples, statistics.  Looking back at the past year developing relationships with both Chuck and Charming, I see that I’ve rounded out a bit.  I haven’t lost my Italian passion by any means, but in my weekday conversations shared with an inspiring man of integrity and emotions, I’ve come to better understand my father and my boyfriend the rest of the time.

I’ve never resented Charming for not understanding me.  My perspective has changed since adolescence.  Then, I believed the world revolved around me.  Now, I know I’m a tiny speck on the globe.  I didn’t have the capacity to imagine a functional communication two-way street; my dad and I were two highways separated by a median, and I fully expected him to find a way to cross over.

It would have never occurred to me to try and understand where Dad was coming from.  He may not have discussed his feelings, but he’s human.  He has them.  Empathy is my curse and my blessing.  Had I enough wisdom in my youth, I might have taken some right turns toward open dialogues with my father.  In our gym sessions, that’s what Chuck targets.  His stories and advice help me understand my world and the men in it.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact we were both pedaling the same direction.

So this weekend at Dunkin’ Donuts, when Charming and Chuck shook hands, I was glowing. In an hour over a cup of coffee, I mostly listened as two of my favorite men got to add facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language to their growing impressions of my constant chatter about each to the other.  Perhaps the meeting reassured Charming that I’m in good hands when it comes to advice about him.

After coffee, Chuck sent us off for an adventure in Norfolk.  As usual, he made a restaurant and activity suggestion.  All afternoon, during lunch at Freemason Abbey and after as we enjoyed the seventy degree November day walking by a lake, I was grateful for Chuck.  To be honest, I’m not sure if Charming and I would have made it to Norfolk after fourteen months of weekends had Chuck not been at my side helping me understand Charming’s side in the weeks in between.

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This is the season where we voice our gratitude.  In a couple of days, we’ll gather with friends or family or both and give thanks.  We might look around our table and see the changes in the faces.  Some are absent due to death, marriage, divorce, illness, or proximity.  We’re grateful for each, in some way.  Maybe we’ll see the new faces like I did last year, sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Charming’s family, and wonder what gratitude will come with our new beginning.

A year ago this week, Charming’s grandmother told me to stick around.  I’m thankful to God that I get to share another Thanksgiving with her.  I’m thankful to Charming for abiding my aging fears and shifting emotions.  I’m grateful to my dad for teaching me the most important attributes in a man of God, and that understanding is a two-way street.

And I’m thankful to Chuck for mentoring me through the last year of growth that led me to cross a bridge to the other side of the water a few days ago, looking ahead to the coming days with Charming and his family with a genuine hope and expectancy from a posture of gratitude.

Some of us will say a prayer before our meal on Thursday, thanking God for His blessings.  And some of us will notice the missing and new faces and see the blessings in both the pain of the losses and the joy of the additions.  We’ll pause to honor the people and events that brought us to that table, in that room.

Seven Months and Counting

spainYou won’t find Charming in these photographs.  He was six time zones behind me, waking up stateside while I posed on the Puente de San Martin with new friends.  The women are all preparing to lead our first tours; Pat is our EF consultant.  A week ago, he was just a voice on the telephone, but that was before I met Rachel and Regina at the Norfolk airport.

We sat three in a row on the first flight on our way to Spain last Wednesday.  By the time we met up with the EF staff and other teachers and faculty attending the training tour, the clock read 8:15 am in Madrid, but it felt like we were old friends.  We tended to gravitate toward one another all weekend, wandering off to take photos, shop for souvenirs, and find delicious food options together.

The purpose of this tour was to help us learn both what to expect when leading our own tours and the best practices for preparing for and taking a group of students to a foreign country.  In practice exercises, fully immersed as students, we toured the Prado Museum, the Palacio Real, and the Catedrál de Toledo.  In classroom sessions, we explored questions and got answers from experienced tour leaders.  The effective approach sent me back to Virginia armed and ready to start fund raising.

This summer, I’ll take a handful of junior girls to Italy.  It’s been my dream to visit the country where my family has deep roots, and this particular crew excites me.  While on my training tour in Madrid, I could substitute the scenery and just as easily imagine my young blogger Rapunzel at my side looking up at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  We will, in seven months, we’ll see that and so much more.

On my first night in Madrid, after we’d returned to the hotel from a late dinner, I found myself wandering the cobblestone streets around a park.  My time clock was off.  I couldn’t sleep yet.  I was secretly hoping that if I stayed awake long enough, Charming would get off work and call me.  He did.  I continued wandering as we spoke; amidst the Spanish town, he felt further away than ever.  We hung up, and I sat on the steps of the hotel, planning how I’d get ready for bed without waking my roommate.

Chris came and sat beside me.  He’s one of the experienced group leaders.  We talked about the tours he’s led, and discovered a shared passion for the Italian language.  He’ll be in Italy when I take my girls, studying in an immersion program, and we promised to connect.  Like me, Chris doesn’t have any children of his own, and like mine, his students reap the benefit.  Ask him the best, most efficient way of navigating a group of forty through a foreign subway, and he won’t hesitate to explain.

Chris is evidence that experience does, in fact, foster wisdom.  With each tour, different problems presented themselves.  With each tour, Chris would then prepare for those possibilities.  Years in, he’s developed a guide for new group leaders like myself.  In our brief conversation on the stairs of the Leonardo Hotel, we started from a common ground, skipped over pleasantries, and dove into genuine dialogue.  It was refreshing.

Earlier that day, I didn’t know his name yet, but he’d jumped into my selfie in Plaza Mayor.  He’d made me laugh then, too.  I’d honestly felt dejected when I hung up the phone with Charming, lamenting my singleness for the hundred thousandth time.  Then Chris sat down with me overlooking the avenue, and I started to see the community I was being inducted into last weekend.

Chris leads two to three tours a year.  He sees the world, and he takes his responsibility to his students seriously.  By the time we left those stairs, I was planning our next trip to Cuba, Spring Break 2018.  I’ll be ready then to take a larger, co-ed group.  I don’t have kids waiting at home for dinner or a ride to baseball practice, so there’s no sacrifice necessary in leading a tour each year in the meantime.

There’s something about being in a foreign country that naturally predisposes you to looking on the bright side.  For example, I left the USA before the post-election news coverage began.  Also, I knew Mr. G. was going to have a few awesome days with my students back in Hampton.  Better yet, I’d made two local friends, Rachel and Regina.  Rachel teaches social studies in Virginia Beach, and Regina teaches math at our rival high school, Bethel.  We might even do that Cuba trip together.

And when mishaps occurred on our trip?  They were just learning experiences, opportunities for us to know what to do in an undesirable situation.  Like when Rachel and I were taking pictures in Toledo, and the group had disappeared down tiny streets, only we had no clue which one.  A handful of us were separated, but there was a plan in place.  Our tour director had prepared us for this before exiting the bus.  We were supposed to find the Puente de San Martin.  As you can see from the picture, we did.

Of course, in that moment, I remembered getting lost in Portugal with Mulan eleven years ago.  As an hour passed and we hadn’t found our hotel, we were scared.  In our fear, we turned our frustration on each other and quarreled.  The argument made us stop, reorient ourselves in more than one way, and ultimately find our hotel.  There were no smart phones then.  We didn’t speak the language.  Each stressor built until we weren’t enjoying our experience.

On the nine hour return flight from Madrid on Sunday, I journaled for an hour.  The bright side I’d been looking on was clearly behind me, the distance from it deepening as I hurtled westbound.  It had nothing to do with the position of the sun.  On foreign soil, surrounded by new friends like Chris, Rachel, and Regina, I saw the wonder and possibility of the future.

But the plane was bringing me back to my present, and my present is far from an organized EF tour.  It’s reminiscent of the never-ending twists and turns of streets and stores that all look the same in Lisbon.  I’m lost, on the way to somewhere, and I can’t seem to get there.  The further from Spain we flew, the darker my tone.  I can look on the bright side and see the opportunities my freedom from a family affords me in the future, but in the muted silence above the clouds, I saw no bright side.

Could a mood change so drastically simply by geographic location?  It’s the fear when we’re lost that makes us lash out in frustration.  As I wrote on the plane, my tears smudged the sky blue ink.  I want to be a mother.  I also want to be happy while I’m lost in these tiny streets finding my way there, confident that I’ll know what to do in a crisis because wisdom comes with experience.  I wanted to go home…

Home to my students, my children.  From my new community at EF Tours back to my family at Kecoughtan High.  Yesterday, we set in motion our official travel club: Beyond Borders.  Limitless possibilities, exponential potential for the broadening of teenage horizons, and mine  — this is the effect of meeting inspiring people like Pat, Chris, Rachel, and Regina abroad.

I can’t wait to see who inspires my girls in Italy.  I’m counting down the days.

A Vote of Confidence

Today, I voted.  Tomorrow, regardless of the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election, I’m getting out of the country.  While my favorite sub, Mr. G., facilitates my English and yearbook classes, I’ll be on a plane to Europe.  The next day, while my kids take on punctuating appositives, I’ll take on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

Admittedly, it’s hard to focus on the election.  I packed last night according to the travel itinerary from the educational tour company sponsoring my week abroad in hopes of freeing my mind up to write tonight.  Nevertheless, my mind meanders back to Madrid.  I was in my early twenties the last time I experienced the Prado Museum and the Palacio Real, studying Spanish in the heartland while making a lifelong friend in the process.

In fact, it’s impossible for me to separate my memories from Spain from my memories of my friend Mulan.  Yesterday, when I reviewed an invitation to an optional dinner event at a restaurant built on the site of a medieval dungeon, I remembered how she and I laughed with the waiter in that very room after I mistakenly ordered make-up for my bread instead of butter.

One of the highlights of my summer road trip this year was visiting Mulan and meeting her three-year old son for the first time.   As the two of us chatted into the wee hours of the night, we recalled the highlights from our college days abroad.  Our house mother, Berta.  Our teacher, Pilar.  Our diversion to Portugal where we had our first and only fight.  Our trips to the beach with the other students.  And of course, the mistaken make-up order mishap.

In a couple of hours, I’ll check in on the election coverage and find out what America’s future holds; right now, I’m contented to disappear down Memory Lane and see where it takes me.

That night with Mulan, on her back patio, she mentioned two details specifically that I did not recall.  Memory Lane is quite the magician.  I can picture my husband’s cuff-links on our wedding day… I don’t have any recollection of telling Mulan, when he and I were first dating, that I could see myself being happy with him… but that I could probably be just as happy with another man.

There had been more than physical distance between Mulan and me since my divorce.  It wasn’t just that I didn’t have a natural reason to drive through Ohio anymore.   I filed for divorce and she got pregnant.  Mulan was engaged when we were in Spain.  Her fiancé was attentive.  They exchanged letters.  They arranged convenient times to use a calling card.  Things were simpler then and yet so much more complicated.   If only we’d had Google Maps, we might still not have ever had a fight.

My boyfriend and I had many fights while I was in Spain, mostly via email as he was so evasive and absentee.  While Mulan Skyped with her fiancé, I journaled about how disillusioned I was with the man who in a few years would become mine.  She was so comfortable in her skin.  She was confident in her faith, her appearance, her talents, and her relationship.  I’ll always carry a tinge of regret that I spent so much of that study abroad experience in Spain with my mind, emotions, and energy focused on a boy who would never become a man back in the States.

Mulan married her high school sweetheart.  I sang at the wedding.  And like in Madrid, I was jealous.  It wasn’t a spiritual sin, really.  I could be simultaneously delighted for her and still long for what she had: this pure, healthy, balanced, steady love.  When they bought a house near me in Nashville soon after, I again felt jealousy’s tug.

So what is it about a house, a marriage, a solid relationship that taunts me?  They anchor us, whether in the United States or Europe.  If you count dorm rooms and Spain, I’ve lived in eleven “homes” since I left my parents’.  To me, their house in Syracuse is still “home” because that’s where life happened.  We shared meals, conversation, entertainment, and faith as a family.

I see it with my brother’s family, newly settled in a home with plenty of room.  At two, the twins have discovered pronouns:  “My French fry.  My toy.  My La La.”  When I buy a house, it will be the equivalent of saying, “I’m ready for my home.”  That will be the place where my children will make memories like I did, the valuable ones you hold onto for a lifetime.  I’ve more vivid memories of my childhood home than I do of the Plaza Royal in Madrid.

This summer’s road trip had been an opportunity to reconnect with Mulan, though we’d been keeping up with each other’s lives through our blogs.  She asserted that I never spoke about my ex-husband the way that I do about Charming. When I got home from that trip, I poured over old journals.  I found the one from Spain in 2005.  A few hours later, I would conclude that Mulan was right.

I never held him in as high esteem as I do Charming.  My words gave me away.  I don’t think I ever truly respected my husband.  There were holes in his character.  I saw them.  I wrote about them.  Ultimately, I forgot them, and married him anyway.

Most surprisingly, it was that very conversation with Mulan that led me to break up with Charming two days later.  Mulan reminds me of my American dream, a dream we shared together as young woman in a foreign country.  I see how her faithfulness and steadfastness has yielded good fruit in abundance.  Despite difficulty conceiving, Mulan never surrendered her hope or her faith.  And God rewarded her.

What reason had God to reward me?  Charming admitted he still didn’t know if I was the one… and I had confessed to Mulan that I prayed he was.  This summer, when I ended things, I feared Charming was standing between me and that dream.  After nine days, I realized Charming had become a central part of that dream.  It wasn’t foolish to break up.  The space helped me gain perspective.

Mulan felt me pull away after my divorce.  The stark contrast between our lives broke my heart.  It’s been eleven years since we met, and our daily routines are so very different.  It didn’t take but a few moments in her house to feel like no time had passed at all, and she forgave me my absence.  She understood my plight.  I should have known she would never dismiss my desire for a family with the shallow, “Enjoy it!  When you’ve got kids, you’re gonna wish you had all this free time!”

I’ve had enough free time.  I’ve had my selfish years.  I’m going to Madrid again, but I’m not the same.  I don’t envy Mulan.  What she is now is an inspiration: a reminder of what may await me in the future if I do it right this time.  I’m starting a decade later, but I can choose the right man, a good man, the one I see myself buying a home with, raising a family with, making memories to last our kids’ lifetimes.

My mom told me to vote for the platform today, not the person.  Maybe that works for politics, but in relationships, both stand as equal judgment criteria.  When I cast my vote for the next president, I did so with little satisfaction.  I picked the candidate I felt would do the least damage.  When I picked my first husband, I voted for the platform.  He was gifted and from a good family, but my journals are evidence that he lacked integrity despite my active efforts to overlook or dismiss his shortcomings.

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Mulan heard me cast my vote for Charming this summer, and I did so with a hesitant passion, scared to commit to the weight of such a revelation.  This week, I will get the opportunity to reclaim Spain.  With the yearbook camera in hand, I’ll capture all the moments I missed looking stateside on my last visit.  This winter, I’ll take Charming home for Christmas.

To my parents’ home, that is; it’s still home because all my best memories still breathe in its walls.  With Charming, I’m getting another opportunity to live the right life.  In a moment, I’ll see who America’s voting for, but for me, I choose Charming.  He has character and a platform I believe in.  I could build a home with him like my mother and father did.

And I’d be confident that, with Charming, even if the political atmosphere were lacking, we would cultivate integrity in our children the same way our parents instilled those values in us.  In our home, our motto would be, “In God we trust.”

Pictures and Perspective

My hope wavers, I’ll admit.  Most days I’m optimistic, but worry, fear, or regret compete daily to tempt me toward a glass half empty.  Like last night, after returning home from taking my nieces trick or treating for the first time.  Carrying her between houses, I’d whispered in Kat’s ear, “There’s no place I’d rather be.”  Then my sister-in-law posted her Facebook album from the night… and I wasn’t in it.

In the past, I’d earned a mention at least.  I haven’t missed a significant event in the lives of my nieces or nephew since I moved here over two years ago.  Like my auntie Cherry did when she embroidered the ring bearer pillow for my wedding, I prayed over those twins as I crocheted their baby afghans, pink for Kat and purple for Tessa.  Despite my struggle with God at the time, I couldn’t help but pray, eyes open, as I wove my hopes and dreams for their futures in with the yarn.

And that’s what “eyes open” literally means.  We rarely speak literally these days (and even more rarely use that adverb correctly).  When a text from my gym mentor Chuck pops up over my phone GPS on drives between Alexandria and Hampton, there’s always some word and/or emoticon combination reminding me to keep my eyes open.  I can still blink or yawn because it’s a metaphor.  I’m seeing them everywhere these days as I prepare a new English unit.

Eyes open figuratively means that I need to be alert and aware of my surroundings at all times, a reasonable reminder from a retired chief of police.  On the road, I assess the ebb and flow of traffic, the dodging and weaving of cars.  The metaphor untangles naturally on the road, but what does it mean to keep my eyes open when I’m inside?  I’m aware of my current paradigm, and I’m alert to dangers that threaten that optimism I fight so hard to maintain.

So, I recognize that the absence of me in my brother’s family’s Halloween post hurts, despite what I’m certain was an unintended injury no doubt mitigated by a mother’s sheer exhaustion after a long night of excitement.  Eyes open, I see the reality.  In truth, my sister-in-law posted her family: her, my brother, and their kids.  As close as I feel to those three children, and as much as it shocks me how deeply  I can love tiny human beings that aren’t mine biologically, I’m not actually a part of their family.

And I think that’s where I’ve had my eyes closed for quite some time.  I could distract myself from the punctuated longing of having children of my own by holding to this idea that I was co-mothering.  The truth is, you can’t share children.  I awoke this morning, and in the instant I became fully cognizant, I began to cry.  I felt the imagined injury again, and faced the reality that I cannot use my brother’s family as a surrogate for the kids I can’t see yet in my own future.

“Never backward, always forward,” is a motto Pop preaches to Luke Cage in a new Netflix series Charming and I are watching.  It’s another metaphor.  That doesn’t mean Luke can’t double back when he’s chasing the bad guys, but figuratively Pop’s telling him to use his abilities to better his city.  Luke’s cagey past shouldn’t keep him from making a positive impact as a potential hero.

We watched a couple of episodes together at Charming’s place on Saturday.  We’d had an early, eventful day, starting with a pro bono training we attended in DC.  The workshop was on “Sharing and Caring”, and two uniquely gifted speakers engaged us mentally for several hours.  The first, Seth Doherty, told us how he had served time in prison as a teen.  His message was in his story that led him to this moment.   Never backward, always forward.  His past didn’t stop him from finding a way to make a positive impact through his career as a lawyer and his involvement in Kairos Prison Ministry.   What might I accomplish were my sight centered on something other than my empty house?

We spent another hour on The Mall recovering from the heavy content of the morning, playing Pokémon Go and putting a kitty creature into the virtual Washington Monument gym.  As we walked away from the monument, we saw an opportunity for a photo in front it.  We tried a selfie, then a couple offered to snap one for us.  It wasn’t until we returned the favor that I saw it.

The sun had just passed its peak: a striking white, glowing ball against a crisp blue, encompassing sky, pierced by this great stone structure with the sun anointing it like a halo.  Add another metaphor to make it a trio.  My eyes were open, I was moving forward, but now, I was looking up.

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Literally, I was looking up at the Washington Monument, a 555 foot marble tower on the National Mall with a phone in one hand and Charming’s in the other.  If I were to tell someone to look up, I’d be encouraging them that things are going to get better.  It’s an assurance of improvement, a confirmation that the glass is half full.  Literally or figuratively, I wasn’t looking up when I saw my sister-in-law’s Halloween post.

And when I told Chuck about it at the gym today, I knew I was going to have to find an effective way to write about this.  He told me to pray about it, to sit with the Word, and I did; before I wrote a word of my own, I opened my Bible to Psalms 121: “I lift my eyes up to the hills.  From where does my help come?   My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The Washington Monument in all its grandeur, even adorned in a heavenly halo on an October afternoon, is still a creation of man.  How much greater, then, is the One who created man and the marble and the intelligence to think to make anything at all, much less the wealth of inventions we enjoy in the twenty-first century?  Omnipotent.  Omniscient.  Omnipresent.  What better source of help than the original Source?

When Chuck told me to turn to the scripture, he might have well as said, “Look up, Laura Joy.”  This didn’t have the same figuratively meaning as a padded, “It will get better.”  Wading in an abundance of metaphors, I identify the problem is my acute awareness of past, present, and future; I need to look up.  To move forward and have a positive impact on society, I need to get past the nagging worry, fear, or regret that tugs at my inner peace.  The full wonder and awe of the Washington Monument in early afternoon wasn’t appreciated when we were posing in front of it.  Only when we stepped back and looked up did we see the authentic, postcard-worthy beauty of a moment only the maker of heaven and earth could have composed.

When I sat with the scripture tonight, I looked up, and my Help came.  With a renewed mind, I considered the night past and noticed that the difference in the pictures this Halloween is not my absence, but my brother’s presence.  Having transitioned fully to a rewarding professorship where he teaches on campus and at home, he has free time and love to devote to his wife and kids.  This year, he was holding his girls on the hayride at the local church Trunk or Treat instead of me.

And I was snapping the picture: the one that Gabrielle posted on Facebook of her family.  My eyes were open.  I captured their moment, and in that moment, I was moving forward.  I was offering another set of hands and a little extra love to make their world a better place.  It’s not Luke Cage taking out an ambitious mobster, but if I have a way with children, why would I wait to use that until I had ones of my own?

You’ve heard them.  Said them.  Countless metaphors and idioms direct our sight, each with a disparate meaning: look out, look forward, don’t look back, see the bigger picture, eyes open.

Now look up, over all the metaphors and men and marble monuments.

I find my help when I look up and God shares His perspective from Heaven above.  Through His eyes, every photograph and moment captured therein looks different… more glass half full, if you’ll forgive me one more metaphor.