The Life I Didn’t Expect

Driving up to DC last Friday, I had resolved to ignore the timeline tensions and enjoy Easter weekend with Charming.  We’d attended the Saturday night vigil and Sunday services at Restoration Anglican last year, and I was really excited to return.  Though I’d miss watching the twins hunt for colored eggs, holidays mean a chance to see Charming’s family, even his grandma Lois.

After fighting nearly four hours in miserable traffic, I was comforted by a warm night perfect for a walk, hand in hand, in Alexandria.  As Charming led the way to our destination, I reminisced on the places we were passing by, like our first brunch spot that closed down.  I think I fell in love with Old Town and Charming, both, over the past year and a half.  We’d made some incredible memories there, roughly every other weekend.

Relationship talks tabled for the time being, we opted instead for a table for two beside a wood-burning pizza oven.  On Saturday morning, all was right with the world.  Mother Nature told me I could finally wear a sundress and flip flops, in which I’d walk with Charming down to Bruegger’s for breakfast sandwiches to eat down at the Waterfront.

There were no obligations until the vigil at 8:30 pm in Arlington.  It felt a bit like summer.  It felt a bit like old times.  I smiled.  A lot.  I admired the children we passed along the way, strolling the river, stopping to watch the planes, and was able to silence the cries of longing.  I reminded myself to be grateful we were walking unhindered by responsibly. My sisters-in-law could envy my lack of attachments as much as I desire offspring to welcomely hinder me.

On the way home, we stopped in for an impromptu tour of the Carlyle House.  Mom had told me about the show Mercy Street, set in the hotel that used to be on the front lawn.  There was so much history.  Major players in the Civil War had slept in those beds.  They’d been men of purpose.

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In the afternoon, we watched Netflix and made a Blue Apron meal.  It was then, when we were sitting still, without a care in the world, that I was most aware of the restlessness in my bones.  What were we doing?  Before the fixation on beating the biological clock , we’d carried out different versions of our own Hallmark movies every weekend in Old Town.  It was good.  And I was happy.  And I smiled a lot.

But unlike the war generals intent on loosening England’s grip on the colonies, history won’t name me.  Apart from typical teenage delusions of grandeur, I didn’t want to be famous.  I felt that my purpose was to be a mother.  I picked a career that would pair well with balancing a family.  Cuddling with Charming after a picture-perfect day in a sundress, I ignored the restlessness.  I chose to be contented despite the nagging lack of purpose.

The service that night did not disappoint.  The candle lit choruses, the liturgical recitations, and the scripture readings soothed the psyche, prompting the synapses to fire as God intended, righting my mind like a ship in a storm, reminding me of my place, of His sovereignty and His power.  I was at peace, and it felt right to be at peace in that pew with Charming’s hand finding mine.

Then the lights came on, and Pastor Hanke introduced a woman named Connally Gilliam who would deliver the homily.    I listened respectfully, admiring her vibrancy and wit.  I suspected she might be a writer at the way she carefully crafted her words, and I’d soon discover she was.  As Connally began to recount a series of tragedies in her adult life, I wished for the candle light again to hide my tears.

She’d experienced a range of losses, unexpected and unthinkable.  With each admission, she furthered her message, but I didn’t hear anything after she spoke of that relationship she had that finally seemed like the right one, at that critical time at the end of her child bearing years… that didn’t work out.  I didn’t want to hold Charming’s hand anymore.  He might just be that man in my story.

The realization was chilling.  The peace I’d experienced moments ago, the peace achieved only by aligning heart and mind on God’s provisions, on His sovereignty and sufficiency, it evaporated, leaving a vulnerable, powerless me exposed.

I wanted to control the narrative with him.  When I reflect on the beautiful story of redemption and second chances, on the thread of hope woven through it, it makes sense to me that we’d have a happy ending.  But in that pew, with Connally’s beauty, charisma, and intelligence leaving all to wonder how she wasn’t snatched up long ago, the backdrop of the empty tomb on the screen solidified a reality that’s a fear and a dangerous hope at the same time.

Connally is living my worst fear, that God’s purpose for my life isn’t going to be motherhood after three decades of intentional training, from dressing dolls to teaching sixteen-year-olds.  I looked her up, of course, only to discover that she’d authored the book, Revelations of a Single Woman: loving the life I didn’t expect.

Okay, so from the title and a few lines in her sermon, I could conclude that, like me, Connally expected to get married and have family someday.  I could conclude that she was still single.  I couldn’t begin to understand how she could possibly love that life; nevertheless, I just ordered a copy, and Amazon Prime should give me answers in two business days.

If only answers from God had tracking information.  I suppose peace of mind comes through other methods.  Like prayer.

The next morning, though the sanctuary felt brighter inside, as if to match the day and its celebration, the words of King Solomon echoed through the same pews: “All is vanity.”  Ecclesiastes 1 seemed an odd pairing for the resurrection of Jesus, but Pastor Hanke interwove the two in a sermon entitled, “Does Life Have a Purpose?”

I could imagine myself living there in Cherrydale, walking my children to church, but that didn’t comfort me.   I read along in my Bible.  “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” That was it!  The restlessness while watching Netflix during a good day in a sundress.  It wasn’t because I’m not fulfilling my assumed future purpose of being a wife and a mother.

It’s the subtle awareness, a distinctively different nagging that exists just below the realm of contentment.  It’s the question Leo Tolstoy posed in A Confession, asking, “Is there any meaning which the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”  That resonated with me in my vulnerable state, trying to ignore the singer on stage subconsciously rubbing her very pregnant belly.

We need purpose, in our lives and in our relationships.  It keeps the ship upright.  Paster Hanke succinctly concluded that our purpose is to know God, use the gifts He’s given, and anticipate the life after this.  There’s a bit of dangerous hope in there, too.

I want God to make meaning of my life.  I don’t want to live as if all is vanity, trapped in the kind of nihilistic bondage that the cross destroyed.  Maybe God will grant me the desires of my heart… or maybe I’ll be writing a sequel to Connally’s book in a decade.  It’s scary to think Charming might be “that” man in my story, and it’s equally comforting to know there’s no power in my pen, that the story has been written, that it is inherently good, and I’ll see that someday.

Do I believe that life has a purpose?  Definitively, yes.  While it’s still a bit hazy what mine is, I think the restlessness I try so hard to silence is simply my soul waiting for a higher calling without any shipping notification options.

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