Take Me Back…

Bells are sounding in Sorrento as the sun sets over the Bay of Naples, and a cool ocean breeze soothes away the heat of a day in Southern Italy.  In the past week, I’ve seen and smelled and tasted places that existed before only in photographs and history books.  Before me, Mt. Vesuvius reaches up to the heavens, a sweet serenity away from crowded streets and tourists, and I’m afraid if I close my eyes I’ll wake to find this is only a dream.

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Milan, Verona, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Assisi, Rome, and Pompeii filled the last eight days with untold adventures, and tomorrow, on our last day, we’ll take a ferry to Capri, the island of my childhood dreams.  On this trip, my students and I have walked eight miles a day, taking in the sights during a 100 degree heat wave unusual for June.  Our tour director, Stefano, designed the itinerary to make every hour count.  At night, we sneak in six hours of silence, preparing for another day of adventures.

I’ve seen it all, you might say.  The Basilica of St. Francis, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colloseum, St. Mark’s Square, even Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  I’ve snapped hundreds of photos, learning from local guides and strangers I’ve met along the way.  But the person who has most impacted my perspective in these Italian days is Stefano.

Our first day in Florence, my girls wanted a gelato before we met up for dinner, and Stefano convinced me to let them go down the block on their own as I finished my engraved leather purchases.  I instructed them to wait at the store for me, and we would walk on to the meeting point together.  I was nervous, quite unprepared to let these teens out of my sight.  It was safe, he said, and we’d only be apart for a few minutes.

The girls were not in the Gelateria when I arrived, and I became frantic.  Though I knew I had the right shop, I feared the girls had wandered into another… so for the next ten minutes I searched every gelateria in a two block radius, asking shop owners in broken Italian if my studentezi had been there.  Never had I known such fear, but it wasn’t paralyzing; instead I could have ran a marathon despite the suffocating heat and humidity.

The girls, having finished their treats, were happily waiting with the rest of the group at the next meeting point in the Piazza.  Relief and anger waged a war.  I quickly chastised them for deviating from the plan, emphazing the importance of following directions in a foreign country, mentally beating myself up for letting them go in the first place, then letting them know I was glad they were safe… and I walked away to cool off.

There was no cooling off.  I’m not a parent.  I’ve never lost a child.  It was only ten minutes, and the girls were never actually lost, but I couldn’t shake the failure of this responsibility.  An adult traveler in our group came alongside me to speak some reality into the situation: You said the right things.  They won’t disappear again.  They were on their own for a total of five minutes.  Most of them have cell service here.  We would have found them even if they had been lost.

Hours later, back in our hotel far from the city center after dinner, I was still reeling.  Hoping to rebuild a little good will, I offered to take them to the small square a block away for some shopping.  They jumped at the chance.  While they tried on clothes, I stood outside searching for wifi strong enough to send an email to my parents recapping the day.  Stefano and our bus driver, Pasquale, were sitting at the caffè next door and invited me to join them for a drink.

I looked at them, then at the store, and I declined.  Stefano ordered a mojito for me, assuming the sale, and I sat with them while the girls shopped.  He pointed at all the families with little children playing in the square, encouraging me to let the girls reestablish some trust by allowing them to shop by themselves while we sat in the square.  I hesitantly agreed, and my girls found their way down the street to the hotel within an hour, spent and ready for bed.

I stayed with Stefano, who spoke many languages, and Pasquale who did not speak English.  Spanish was a common language for the three of us, and for three hours, I learned more about Italian culture, history, politics, and language than I could have in a three dozen YouTube videos.  Stefano was most intrigued to discover that I was an Italian-American who was not Catholic.  I told him of my ancestor who became a Waldensian.  In Italian, the word is Valdese.  Stefano knew the history of the protestant church in Italy, and I was able to use the websites my father had given me to explain our family’s story.  That was my favorite night in Italy, away from tourists, talking freely and merging Stefano’s accounts with the stories I had heard.

On Sunday, I had a chance to see the Pope bless the people from a window in the balcony of the Vatican with the rest of my group.  Or, I could find a Waledensian church in Rome and attend a worship service.  Stefano gave me the freedom to make that choice and step out on my own for a few hours.  Understanding the difficulty of the decision, my roommate offered to account for my girls.  There were three Valdese churches on Google maps.  The rest of the tour got off the bus Sunday morning, and my adventure began.

Pasquale picked the church that was closest to our potential meeting points, and he tried to help me find a taxi.  After a few minutes, he said in Spanish that he found one, and he proceeded to put the key in the ignition and drive me to the Colloseum from where I would have only a fifteen minute walk.  I found my way to the church early, bought a soda from a shopkeeper named Andrea who was curious about this American girl with Italian blood wanting to go to a Waldensian church.  He bought me a coffee, and we talked and passed the time.  When I finally entered the church five minutes before the service, the confused man at the entrance said, “Tourista?”

On my phone, I had the Favale Connection website open to the entry on my great, great, great grandfather Stefano Cereghino.  The greeter looked like he was in shock, then quickly ushered me to meet a man at the front of the church.  We tried Italian and Spanish, then I realized this gentleman in his sixties was the only man in the church who actually spoke English.  His name was Mario.  “I know this man, Stefano Cerighino.  My great, great grandfather was with him in Florence in the great conference in 1871.”  He hugged me, and I hugged him back, and we cried.  I hadn’t expected anyone to know him, much less greet me with such great joy and welcoming.

The service was incredible.  In the beginning, I could understand much of the pastor’s words.  I recognized the familiar scriptures, and the hymns reminded me of those my own great grandfathers had penned in their Italian hymnals years ago.  When the passion of the sermon hit, the rapid words were lost on me, but I had the feeling I belonged right there, beside Mario, and I was overwhelmed by the history within my reach yet still unknown to me.

After church, Mario, and the pastor who had studied at Calvin Theological Seminary, took me and some other women out for lunch.  There, Mario explained why Stefano Cereghino was so important.  My ancestor was preparing to be a Catholic priest when he had an encounter with a Waldensian missionary in Genova.  The man gave him a Bible, and through reading it and listening to this missionary, Stefano  understood the gospel and salvation.  Before this time in 1832, you were born into the Valdese faith, but Stefano converted.  He even married a Valdese woman.  He and his family suffered great persecution.  Mario said one of Stefano’s brothers died while imprisoned, shackled and chained, but in 1870, the laws in Italy changed, and it was no longer illegal to be a protestant in Italy.

Stefano became a pastor of the Waldensian Church, and the next year, he was the representative sent to the council in Florence.  Mario’s great, great grandfather was the representive from Elba.  Mario is a biblical scholar, and he had compiled a history of those important in the Valdese faith.  It was Mario’s mother who had written my great, great, great grandfather’s story in that book.  He told me if I had attended services at either of the other Valdese churches, they would not have known this history, but this Chiesa di Valdese was the first church in Rome.

I learned so much from him in that restaurant in Rome, having had my eyes open to a legacy I hadn’t realized existed in my family.  Mario confided in me that he didn’t want to go to church on Sunday because it was so hot, but something told him he had to go, and know he knew it was God leading me to him in that front pew on a suffocating Sunday morning in June.  We exchanged emails and hugged goodbye as if we were old friends, kindred spirits woven together in the fabric of an unexpected Italian protestant faith.

Today, I went to the woodworking shop in Sorrento where my grandparents had gone forty-some years ago, where my parents had gone twenty-some years ago, and the owner Pepe said he remembered the dentist and his wife who bought furniture and jewelry boxes.  I wound one up myself and listened to the familiar song, “Torno a Sorrento” – Take me back to Sorrento.  Yesterday, I threw a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain symbolizing that I wanted to come back to Rome.

But it’s not Sorrento or Rome that will bring me back to Italy.  It’s Mario and his promise that if I return someday, he’ll go with me to visit the Waldensian Cemetery in Genova where Stefano Cereghino is buried.  I’m beyond inspired.  I will learn Italian.  Like my brother David, I will earn my dual citizenship in Italy. Then, I will return.  And I will travel not to the great sights of the history books but to the cities of my ancestors.  I will find people who still know the stories.

For so much of the past year, I’ve focused on what I don’t have: a family of my own.  But as I write tonight, Mt. Vesuvius had disappeared into the night sky, and I feel closer to my ancestors than ever before.  I am a part of something God put into motion nearly two hundred years ago when He first placed a calling on the life of Stefano Cereghino. 

My moments in Italy have been carefully woven to tell a much different story than the typical American tourist.  And so it’s no the Vatican or Giotto’s Belltower that I wrote home about.  It was the small congregation of a Waldensian church in Rome where I met Mario and realized God had given me a hope in my family, after all.

Not the ones to come, but the ones who came before.  And He will take me back to what matters most.

Best Laid Plans

As I started writing, the sunset surrounded me, the clouds were beneath me.  In nine hours when this aircraft touched down, it would hopefully still be Tuesday morning in Milan. Our ten day tour of Italy barely started, but we were already running late after a delayed connecting flight.  Seven teenage girls and me, off to Italy, flying Delta, finding ways to pass the time should sleep evade us.

I thought it fitting to start my writing a little early this week while I had time to think and process.  Educational tours are fast paced.  Once we land, I knew we’d hit the ground running to adjust to the new time zone, keeping busy until after dinner.  At the airport in Milan, we would meet our Tour Director, Stefano, and the other groups that will be travelling with us through the country.  But for the moment, despite leaving home ten hours before, we were on a plane waiting.  Still waiting for Italy.

The mix of excitement and nerves is healthy, I think. Somehow, we all managed to fly without checking any bags, decreasing the potential of certain potential anxieties of missing luggage and toting heavy bags around the country.  I’d carefully selected an outfit for each day fitting to the activities and events of that city, hoping to alleviate the worries of not having the right attire for church visits or significant walking.  In truth, I was completely packed four days early; I figured I’d discover anything I’d forgotten by the time I actually departed for the airport.

But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  We were on the runway  for hours in Atlanta waiting to take off, which meant dinner was served late and it would be another hour before the lights were out, setting the mood for a peaceful night writing in anticipation of the grandeur of Italy that awaited us on the other side of a sunrise.  Fortunately, we were able to get seats together.  Unfortunately, my laptop, which I had been careful not to use until it was time to blog, went black after just twenty minutes.  One of my girls suggested I try writing by hand.  I did.  It wasn’t the same.

The delay had been our first adjustment, and we went with the flow.  We’d still arrive in time to meet the rest of our tour participants.  The laptop was my next adjustment.  The blog would have to wait, too.  I glanced around the plane at my girls, some already fast asleep, others watching movies and completing word puzzles.  Essentially, we were enjoying the comforts of home in cramped airplane quarters, filling the empty moments so that we’d somehow get there faster.

Seven girls and me.  There’s Goldilocks, a blonde beauty, the oldest in the group already eighteen who would share a glass of red wine at our first dinner in Verona tonight.  It was her first time on an airplane, and she faced it like a champ.  Like Goldilocks in the fabled tale, this young lady knows who she is and what she wants.  It seems right, then, that one of her best friends is here in Italy to share in the experiences.  We’ll call her Moana, because she is an adventurous teen who lives for the water.  I get the sense that this trip will be better for both of them because they’re together in it.

Rapunzel and Snow White come as a pair, too.  Through blogging club and multiple English and Yearbook classes, I’ve witnessed their friendship change and evolve over the years.  I’ve blogged about both of these girls and their ability to make me reassess life and keep me young at the same time.  Rapunzel spilled coffee on her sundress on our first outing off the bus, but she didn’t let it phase her.  Snow White used her gifts to kept us laughing as we traveled with a new “made you look” game.

Next, meet Smiles.  Her name was dubbed by the art teacher at our school who never knew her real name.  He’d never been her teacher, just saw her coming and going with friends and an ever-present smile that earned her that nickname.  Smiles lives up to the name.  I watched her eyes light up as we saw the arena and Juliet’s balcony in Verona.  I watched her smile dance as she spooned gelato into her mouth.  She must frown on occasion, but I’ve yet to see it.

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Smiles always manages to get a seat next to Tinkerbell.  They’re pals, too. Tinkerbell is a brunette with a passion, someone who always finds the magic in life.  Her laugh is infectious.  These six girls already knew each other well, but not Pocahontas.  She’s a bit of a loner, making her own path, finding her way to Italy without a best friend to anchor her.  Tinkerbell and I have more in common than I realized as I saw with her on the plane, watching her choices in movies and games.

This is the group of girls I chose to take to Italy, and I couldn’t have hand selected a more perfect crew.  They are kind and responsible, mature when it’s required, and they have made our first day in Italy perfect despite its imperfections.  When Pocahontas got overwhelmed with the mass of people and Italian-speaking vendors, Goldilocks ushered her back to the front of the line and they each returned with their own gelatos, crisis averted.  When Pocahontas got locked in the bathroom after checking into our hotel following dinner, the other girls found me, I bounded up a few flights of stairs, and we got her out.

No matter how well we plan, there are always going to be deviations.  I find myself tonight most incredibly grateful for my own little crisis the day before we left the States.  After church, while leaving the overflowing parking lot, someone told me I had a flat tire.  I pulled out of the line of hundreds of cars and parked in the only spot I could reach, the last space before the main road.  Charming tried to calm me down, but it wasn’t working.  I was leaving for Italy the next day.  How in the world did I get a flat tire while we were in Sunday service?

It wasn’t just that the thousands of people leaving church were all passing me in my heels and dress changing a flat on the asphalt.  When I packed up my classroom for the summer, I filled my car trunk with all the things I planned to store in my shed for a few months… it was all there, piled on top of the spare tire.  As I threw everything from the trunk into the back seat (with force, I might add), the world around me darkened.  I couldn’t see Italy, just this obstacle I didn’t plan for, and I was angry.  I hadn’t gone to all the trouble of packing four days early to have this new problem hanging over my head.

Charming took the opportunity to reframe the events of the morning for me using a new lens.  He told me about his time in the military, an organization made up of lots of planners, like me, where there’s a saying that no plan survives first contact.  Charming explained that the military plans strategically, but when you make contact with the enemy, plans change.  That doesn’t mean the military shouldn’t plan their operations carefully – it means that they must be able to adapt… and adapting is easier when there was a plan to begin with.

God knows I think in analogies, and this pep talk from Charming was providential.  My laptop died, and I couldn’t write when I had planned to, but now here I am on the balcony of a third floor hotel room outside Venice, my students sound asleep in their rooms inside.  It worked out anyway, maybe better than I’d planned if not different.  This trip isn’t about me or my blog – it’s about Goldilocks, Moana, Rapunzel, Snow White, Smiles, Tinkerbell, and Pocahontas.  It’s about seeing and savoring all that Italy has to offer in a once in a lifetime experience we are sharing in together.

No plan survives first contact.  There are bound to be more delays, more dead electronic devices, more spilled coffee and overwhelming Italian crowds in the coming ten days as we traverse unfamiliar soil in famous places like Venice tomorrow and Florence on Thursday.  By our last day on this tour, we’ll be touring the island of Capri, a dream I’ve had since before Goldilocks was even born, when my parents returned from their twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Italy with pictures and videos that whet my appetitive.

This is the moment.  Forget struggles or structure, routines or habits.  First contact is all around me.  Italy.  I saw the snowcapped Alps as we prepared to land.  Each moment is a gift.  We got our first taste of architecture and pasta today, and tomorrow will hold more adventures for us, wonders of creation we’ve yet to behold.

I got a text today from my assistant principal wondering where I was for remediation, and it felt so good to simply reply, “I’m in Italy!”  Precious little else matters besides these seven girls, me, and the country we’ve chosen to conquer this summer.

I’m so grateful to Charming for inspiring me to make a bucket list that said I would go to Italy, a list I then had my students make, lists that led to this trip, this moment, on this balcony.

Buonanotte from Verona!

Sunsets, Salutes, and Summer

The symphony of twilight tempts me to isolate the calls of familiar birds rather than isolate a thought.  Beneath the cacophony, I’m missing the Tuesday night therapy of three years ago, long before my hands found a suitable clone for Dr. Bogin in my laptop screen.  It receives information, as he did, and it doesn’t need to speak; my faithful psychologist’s voice still guides me.

It’s not audible, don’t worry, and I’m not in the market for a real life replacement.  None would do.  More than a year of Tuesday nights putting virtual pen to coded paper, and the process is as reassuring in its predictability as the outcome is in its weighty revelations.  Like we did in Dr. Bogin’s office for a year and a half up in New York, I start at the surface of what’s on my mind, enumerate the many dots subsequently triggered by a previous thought or emotion, then trust the single session to connect them and reveal progress.

It’s exhilarating because it’s challenging and taxing to find meaning where there was none two hours before.  Tonight, I started with a memory of Dr. Bogin.  He’s been on my mind more often now that Charming and I are two months into couples counseling.  In fact, the other day I slipped when previewing my weekend with Mom and Dad on the phone, saying we had our appointment with Dr. Bogin on Saturday morning.

I quickly corrected myself.  It’s been just over three months since he passed away, my captain in the sunset I called him when I first got the news.  We’d been studying the poetry in Dead Poets Society, and Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain” really resonated with my students.  At the end of the movie, I always cry as Mr. Keating thanks his former students with tears in his eyes, after they’ve defied authority to stand on their desks and salute him as their great leader, now fallen, like Abraham Lincoln’s death was depicted in Whitman’s poem.

Those boys stood on those desks because Keating had changed the way they thought about and perceived life.  Through poetry, he’d challenged them to think for themselves and be willing to take risks by revealing their perceptions of the world in their own writing.  Such unorthodox methods certainly appeal to the teenage demographic, but for me in my thirties, Dr. Bogin was my clinical Mr. Keating.  Let my stand on a desk in salute come in the form this continuation of our Tuesday nights together, now years ago.

In a way, Dr. Bogin prepared me to be the ideal patient for Dr. Huff in our couples counseling.  On Saturday morning, we could isolate our issues far more easily than I was doing with the birds before the moon coaxed them into silence before the crickets.  Charming’s reluctance toward marriage, my biological clock and temper, and our conflict resolution.  Dr. Huff was impressed that Charming had prompted us to complete the Myers Briggs testing, and in summarizing our results for the doctor, I sensed that my leading man and I are already understanding one another and communicating better.

One thing I discovered through the testing was how well suited I was to be a teacher.  It was encouraging that despite the meager earning potential, I landed right where my psychological DNA predestined in my personality genes.  The empathetic, intuitive mentor finds a way to incorporate the building and sharing of perception into the core curriculum.  Every one of my students passed the Writing SOL this year, but that data can’t compete with the brilliance of self-expression in the poetry my sophomores composed in the months that followed.

In essence, my primary aim as their educator must have a dual purpose: prepare them for the SOL and equip them to build and share their perspectives.  I can’t control my biological clock, but even Myers Briggs agrees that I am fulfilling my calling.  I hope that motherhood will be another one, but after my very last class with my favorite class of all time, I must be satisfied and grateful for the year that God has given me.

Thursday afternoon was the last time I’d see many of these teens that had given me something incredible to look forward to every other day since they first captured my heart back in September.  It happened just before the final bell that would dismiss most to summer vacation, others less fortunate to a week of final exams.  I was sitting at my desk signing a student’s yearbook when a boy called for me to look up.  “O Captain, My Captain.”  The words echoed through my room, words belonging to my kids who were standing on top of their desks, saluting me.

I gave them tears, yes, I did: authentic tears won by twenty-some adolescents who gave me the distinct gift and honor of our countless hours together.  In their young minds, I ranked up there with Mr. Keating and Dr. Bogin.  It was sobering, and it was bittersweet.  Hugs and goodbyes followed.  In his death, I imagined Dr. Bogin walking into a sunset, rest ahead, long journey behind, at peace.  Our last class was a sunset too, as I watched my students file out of the classroom, feeding the growing mass in the hallways, sophomore year in their hindsight.

Honestly, after that emotional last day of class with no exams or students to fill the remaining week of work, I needed Charming’s weekend visit more than I realized.  I don’t have my last block class to look forward to.  In fact, I could retire now and quit while I’m ahead.

But come this weekend, Charming is going to live in Hampton Roads for the summer.   After a year and eight months of mid-distance dating with creatively manufactured weekends to maximize our face time, I honestly don’t know what Charming is like on a Wednesday.  We’ve never experienced the ordinary ins and outs of day-to-day living.  He’ll start classes the day I leave for Italy, but when I get back, we’ll have eight weeks to do life together.

I showed him the garden before he headed back north for his last week in DC until the fall.  I was hoping to coax him into tending it for me, toying with his emotions by pointing out the cucumbers and tomatoes almost ripening.  Charming had little interest in the foliage.  Though he appreciated the fruits of my labors, his mind had other priorities.

Charming asked me where I’d stood in the selfie I took last week in my garden.  I positioned myself there, and he fell into place beside me.  “I want the same picture of you with your garden, but with me in it.”   That’s what I want, too.  This experiment in thirties, post-divorce coupledom is a little scary.  Have I grown too selfish in all these years alone?   Am I willing to sacrifice and compromise and alter my routine?

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Or will we thrive, like my garden, as we sit around the dinner table enjoying fresh vegetables, night after night, establishing our own routine?  I know what my garden looks like with just me, and it’s good.  But with Charming, the potential for growth is exponential, the bounty magnified by the joint contributions we make to each other’s lives, rounding out one another’s personality hinges.

The sun set on my year with the best class a teacher could ever hope for, and now I’m hoping for a summer of sunsets with Charming, here in the place I call home, a summer to live and love and dream.  A summer to wait and see.

Confessions of an ENFJ

It’s nights like these, cozied up on my writing perch, that peace radiates from within.  The twilight dawns, evening rises, and the paved streets are silent.  I stop, and everything else stops.  I can’t see my reflection in the laptop screen, but I’m outlining my frame in words nevertheless.  For an extrovert, it strikes off mark to find my favorite past time is here, alone.

Last weekend, Charming had a work engagement up in DC, so we cancelled our counseling session.  Picking up on the not so subtle hints that I was worried about losing the progress we made, he suggested we go ahead with the Myers Briggs personality test (the MBTI) that Dr. Huff had mentioned a few weeks ago and discuss the results together in lieu of a session.

The offer appeased my immediate anxieties and gave me a new course of action.  My mom and I are so alike in this way.  If we find our hands tied, the best path toward internal ease is to do whatever we can do to find resolution, even in part.  It may seem like a servant heart that motivates me to take up trash duty on Christmas morning, but the accumulation of clutter drives me crazy, and sorting through cast offs for bags and bows to keep and paper to discard brings order to the chaos.

This is a unique thought, I’ll admit, the first confession of an ENFJ.  I didn’t realize I did that until just now.  It’s the results of my MBTI that have me borderline obsessed with overanalyzing myself more than I’m normally prone to, another caveat to the personality type that best characterizes me.  I’d taken the test before last week, but couldn’t remember the classification.  The last time I had answered a series of questions that would claim to tell me all about myself, I was teaching a speech class at a career college back in Nashville.  I remember thinking that the results then weren’t accurate, that the descriptions didn’t fit me, and I dismissed it, moving on with my life.

Perhaps it was the context of this test that was different.  It had a purpose.  Dr. Huff indicated we would undergo Myers Briggs testing as a part of our counseling, and I’ve come to trust him with his meandering plan to help us communicate and resolve conflicts better.  This test was developed during World War II, and Isabel Briggs Myers, co-creator with her mother, believed this test could help people understand each other better and reduce conflict.

Something else was different this time.  As I answered the questions, it occurred to me that I knew myself more accurately, more authentically, that these past two plus years blogging honestly in reflections on my life, framing my current paradigm with words cast onto my laptop screen, have painted a clear image of who I am.  I think the key to getting an accurate characterization is to answer the questions with the best and worst of who you actually are, not as who you would like to be viewed.

Social media creates a similar playground for creating a perception of oneself that may be one dimensional.  Every week that I write, I think about what photo I’ll use to accompany my blog.  Charming and I were so busy with back-to-back events this weekend, we never stopped to snap a picture.  I thought about the fact I’d posted a selfie with last week’s blog, and I didn’t want to seem self-focused by using another tonight.

Really?  That all goes on in my mind about a simple picture, a footnote to underscore the thousand and more words it accompanies?  Welcome to the mind of an ENFJ, an acronym that means I prefer Extroversion over Introversion, Intuition over Sensing, Feeling over Thinking, and Judging over Perceiving.  That means I’m energetic, enthusiastic, and expressive.  I focus on the future and give attention to the imaginative.  My concern for others commands by leading with feelings and emotions.  And I prefer an organized, planned, and controlled environment.

If you’ve read even a handful of my posts, you’re probably thinking you didn’t need a test to tell you that about me.  But there’s something almost surreal that transpires just beneath your skin, a growing excitement as you examine series of bullet points that fit you unbelievably well.  That was magnified when Charming and I sat in his back yard on Sunday afternoon reading our results to each other.  We went slowly, discussing the accuracy of each statement, ultimately concluding with a study of how our unique personality types interact, the potential joys and worries.

Driving the long, familiar route home to Hampton later that evening, I was energized by our discoveries.  The sky was bluer.  The sun was brighter.  The clouds were clearly telling stories by forming shapes on the horizon.  The traffic stops punctuated the drive every half hour or so, but I barely noticed.  I’d had this snapshot, this handful of hours, to examine the good and bad of who I actually am, and she didn’t intimidate me.

Yes, ENFJ’s are leaders.  They make excellent teachers.  They define themselves by their compassion for others and their own authenticities.  They’re hypersensitive to criticism, and they make choices based on feelings.  I’ve always believed that every positive quality has an equally negative flipside of the coin.  For example, my perfectionism makes me attentive to detail, but it could also make me difficult to live with.  My desire to keep the peace often results in quick decisions without considering the consequences.

Isabel Briggs Myers said, “The understanding of type can make your perceptions clearer, your judgments sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire.”  I’m basking in the wake of that tonight.  It’s as though a veil was lifted, my vision is clear, and I see all the parts of me and Charming and I have hope.  When he was reading off my descriptions, I owned every flaw, but I was equally surprised by the abundance of positive attributes that define my personality and how they have the potential to interact fruitfully with Charming.

Since I needed a picture for tonight, I headed to my own backyard and admired my vegetable garden.  Spring storms satisfied the soil, and I’ve already begun enjoying some of the herbs and lettuce varieties.  I’ve got one tiny green tomato, an unlikely survivor of my first planting attempt before the last frosts.  It’s the best symbol I can offer for how I feel about my relationship with Charming right now.

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See, this summer, this garden will thrive while Charming and I experience daily life together here in Hampton Roads.  I’ll find out what he’s like on a Wednesday.  We’ll figure out our own daily routine and do life together.  Of all the places in the world where the military could send him, he’ll be attending classes twelve miles from my writing perch.  It’s an answer to prayer.

I’ll cook him lots of Italian meals with fresh vegetables from the garden.  We’ll do life together, and the summer will end.  Charming will return to DC and the harvest in my back yard will stop.  My mom and I are wired to, when our hands are tied, simply do what we know to do and can do.

The baby worries take a natural back seat as I focus on immediate action.  Take the test, and be honest.  Come face to face with the best and worst of who you are.  I swear I’m falling in love with Charming all over again, only this time, counter to the ENFJ’s predisposition, analyzing his results only reveals more of who he truly is and not the idealistic pedestal I crafted when I penned Charming into existence.

What can I say?  I love a man who was able to completely redirect my obsession with motherhood to a positive new obsession in the practical matter of understanding each other better, and thereby, resolving conflicts… which is probably what Dr. Huff had in mind for the test after all.

I’ve learned about myself.  I’ve learned about Charming.  I hope these confessions of an ENFJ bring us both a little closer to our hearts’ desires, and that after the vegetable harvest ends, we’ll be in full bloom.