Farewell, Emerald City

Spirit Week is over, but my hallway is still dressed up for our Homecoming Theme: The Wizard of Oz.  An idea sprouted during a Friday night chatting in a coworker’s living room just before Charming’s proposal about doing a faculty skit at the pep rally.  In the weeks to come, we weren’t sure if it would take root, much less take on a life of its own that would high jack my To Do List and prioritize itself above all else.

Really, everything. Charming was on a canoe trip with friends.  It wasn’t until our weekend off that I was finally able to log enough hours of work to feel like I could get to enjoy the process of looking for venues.  Until Sunday, I’d been engaged three weeks and hadn’t even Googled wedding dresses.  I know there will be time to be the glowing bride on cloud nine, the Cinderella to her Charming, but last week, a twister dropped me into a completely different storybook with a new character to play.

Sprit Weeks have mostly been stressful times for yearbook staff as the events of the weeks comprise the majority of our Student Life section.  We’re rushing around getting pictures and names and interviews.  It wasn’t until this weekend that I could finally invest the hours into finalizing staff positions, so I decided to focus our efforts into rolling out a yearbook campaign themed around The Emerald City.  Kecoughtan High School’s colors are green and white, and I know some of my senior staffers are going to pitch a color-themed yearbook to the team next block.  Emerald is green.  Green is school spirit.

Green is also new life, renewal, growth, and change.  My sophomores are studying archetypes, delighting themselves with their ability to see that Ray Bradbury used that desert simile to reinforce the hopelessness and despair of a character, and that by starting his short story describing the protagonist coming to a crossroads set us up for a decision.  Carl Jung called it collective unconsciousness.  I don’t know when I learned that purple represented royalty, but we all come to agree at some point with these recurrent images.  There are familiar characters like the Innocent, the Villain, the Mother Figure, and the Faithful Companion, associations like thirteen with unlucky and step-mothers with evil and forest with scary and the sea as unknown.

When we take on the elements of a short story in my room, I emphasize that our growth is not in the stories we choose to read, it’s what we choose to do with them.  I love to see twenty-five heads bent over textbooks, following along with their eyes as we read aloud, one hand with a pen in their reading guide recording key details as we actively analyze and dissect the brilliant manipulations of a writer.

It’s this new batch of green and white students that really inspired me to buy in to Homecoming this year.  When I left the game at the end of the week, I wouldn’t be coming “home” to Kecoughtan again.  When Dorothy concludes that there’s no place like home, it’s only after a long and hard journey to get there.  When I set up my classroom for Back to School night three years ago, I didn’t know what to expect.  I certainly couldn’t have guessed that, a few summers later, I’d end up taking the daughters of some of the parents I’d meet that night on a trip to Italy.

I wasn’t really a fan of our school colors, preferring a soft blue that compliments my skin tone, but the Warrior green grew on me as the community incorporated me.  It fits the archetype, too.  I started over here after my divorce.  It was a new chance for life, and I’ve grown immeasurably.  There’s no rubric to evaluate how I navigated through some tricky relationship and life issues.  I just know that CD23 in the yearbook hallway is a place of peace and hope.

Our school accountant worked with me as yearbook advisor from my first day of pre-service.  Simple exchanges grew to meaningful discussions during planning when I’d realize the things on my To Do list could wait.  She’s full of advice and wise counsel.  Her family is her heart, and as our hospitality coordinator, her willingness to sacrifice to benefit Kecoughtan is never in question.  I love that she reads my blogs so we get to skip small talk and start with reactions and suggestions.  After a visit in her office, it’s as though I’ve been sprinkled with magic fairy dust.

That’s it.  She’s  my friend and our accountant, but she really fits the mother archetype of Fairy Godmother, my students would agree.  She shows up at the right time to say the right thing, and her invitation to hang out on a Friday night laid the foundation for what would become the beginning of my farewell to Kecoughtan.  We had ideas for who would play which characters and how to create costumes.  I agreed to write the script after we had it approved.

My mother gave me her best genes, and they’re not blue.  If we start working on something early, it doesn’t mean we finish early.  It means we end up with something even more incredible than we had planned because we just kept working until every idea was realized. That’s what happened here.  So while my mom was trying not to be excited about wedding plans, I was in a twister that took me someplace unexpected.

I had an idea for the script, but I wanted to get everything in place.  We had just over a week to pull it altogether.  We needed actors, set materials, costumes, artists, construction crew, transportation, microphone, photography and videography coverage.  By the time the weekend staff selection time arrived, I’d had an incredible opportunity to see which of my staffers stepped up to pull it off in time.

After an employee at Home Depot lent me his truck to transport four huge panels of sheet rock, our art teachers Mr. Burns and Ms. Brewer gave me supplies, lent me students to paint sets, and had others make portions of the costumes. Mr. Pohlman’s students mounted the murals and transported them to the gym for the pep rally.  My yearbook kids used supplies I’d purchased to decorate the hall and even run a photo booth on twin day.  Mr. Conty’s band would play twister music at the pep rally.  Mr. Brant’s drama students would serve as stage crew.  Faculty was lined up for various roles.

I’d created visuals, but three days before the pep rally, I hadn’t written the script.  Maybe I had to be thinking about the elements of a story with my new sophomores, my last bunch of bright green minds, to see that I needed to start with a conflict and a plot and a theme just like we looked for together today.  For me, a Wizard of Oz theme emphasized unity – we all came together to pull it off, and my script needed a theme that supported my message to Kecoughtan.

We rehearsed a couple of times, but nine hundred teenagers revved up for a pep rally was a different experience.  I honestly didn’t care if half the room couldn’t hear us.  It was amazing because we had essentially come to illustrate all the same themes of the classic story to make the skit a reality – the real value was in our journey.  Bonds deepened as we all played our parts in putting on a little play that meant something much more to me.

blog133

It was just five minutes.  As a derivative plot, the four main characters from Oz start the pep rally by landing in Menchville, our rival for the game where Dorothy’s house has landed on yet another of the Wicked Witch’s sisters.  The Witch, ironically played by my Fairy Godmother friend, describes the undesirable behaviors we can expect now that we were trapped in Menchville, but we just want to get back to Kecoughtan for the Pep Rally, and we explained why.

The Tin Man had found a heart and a community there; the actor is our new security guard, and stepping into a role like this showed commitment to our Kecoughtan family.  The Lion understood that true courage meant fighting for change for the benefit of others; she’s played by our librarian, another dear friend of mine who’s always been there for me when I needed a favor.  The Scarecrow had a brain, and Kecoughtan taught her how to think critically with it; that’s one of our assistant principals, the woman I see as the heart of the unity initiative at Kecoughtan.

Short story shorter, the witch decides to change and after a series of attempts we all make it back to the pep rally where we conclude, like Dorothy, that there’s no place like home.  For me, Kecoughtan is the real Emerald City.  If you want to write a story with an emerging theme that change and acceptance are possible, start in a school building as your setting.  Write a real story with real kids’ lives.

Yes, I played the innocent Dorothy in the skit.  It fits.  I embody her wild optimism. In my classroom, though, my role is the Mentor – it’s not enough to teach them definitions for setting, plot, conflict, and theme – I need to facilitate manufactured experiences with life and literature where they see the impact and significance of these intentional choices.  We’ll all face the occasional flying monkey, but any creature can change and choose a better life like my Fairy Godmother did both when she agreed to play the Witch and actually put on the costume.

There’s a buzz about unity in the halls at KHS, a fact that awards at least some credit to the Culture and Climate initiative.  The kids are picking up on it, too.   One team of staffers is going to present a unity themed book with a visual and verbal message, “There is no Unity without U.” A girl explained that was why the “I Am” Wall changed to the “We Are” Wall, so now when everyone in school posts a word describing us, we’re talking about the collective us.  It just occurred to me that there’s no community without unity either.

I honored Kecoughtan with a funny show and a positive message in what is the beginning of my farewell to the Emerald City.  It has been home to me with faithful companions and Fairy Godmothers along the way.  I’ll always cherish this community, my time here, and its people.  We’ll keep the Emerald City display up in October as a continued yearbook campaign… and a continued reminder of the potential for growth, change, and renewal.  There is nothing I could accomplish on my own that could possibly compare to the richness of a joint product.

Next summer, I’ll marry Charming, and there will be a new unity. Shifting from one storybook back to the dream one I get to live in with Charming for the rest of my life, I see the value in the journey of The Emerald City script.  The pep rally skit was a joint product of three weeks, but we will live together and operate as a team, the richness of our daily lives in direct measure our ability to work as a united front, to accomplish the big and the small.  Like our upcoming wedding which could fall in either category at this point.

For now, I’m still home at Kecoughtan, where everyday greatness is the expectation, where change is possible, where the growth is mine too.  In June, I’ll say a bittersweet goodbye to my school community and embrace the love of my life lighting unity candles, bringing our two lives together and illuminating the discovering of a new community waiting somewhere over the rainbow.

September Storms

This front porch is peace in the midst of hurricane.  Not for a conflict against Mother Nature like Irma and Maria, but for my universally thematic struggles against environment, nevertheless.  The warm ocean air of a beach proposal rose, replaced by a cold front when school doors opened, then quickly warmed again by all the possibilities within the responsibilities. This current cyclone has me spinning.

This is the first time I’ve sat still since I woke in bed to double-check that the alarm was actually forcing me to face the day.  There is an undercurrent of joy that keeps me on track, moving forward despite opposing winds and competing priorities.  It’s classic man vs. environment conflict, where a person is at odds with forces beyond his or her control.  Like my English 10 students were discussing only hours ago, conflict is essential to a plot, and writers choose themes and conflicts familiar to readers to deepen the entertainment value by peer identification.

Because you’ve had a morning, maybe even recently, where staying in bed was much preferred to braving that particular day’s storm, or potentially intersection of storms. Granted, you still got up, and that’s the hardest part.  I’ve had a lot of these mornings recently, restricted to weekdays where Charming and I aren’t seizing the day together.  I’m marrying the man of my dreams… I should be walking on that warm beach air, high in the clouds above my September hurricane.

Two years ago, Charming and I had our first date during an impending hurricane.  We’ve been driving back and forth ever since.  Heading to DC two weekends in a row at the start of school has taxed my weekdays, but it afforded us enough time to enjoy ourselves amidst making initial wedding plans while balancing ring sizings, family gatherings, and engagement parties.  Over dinner in Old Town Friday night, we picked a date.  On Saturday afternoon, we confirmed that date with our families.  By Saturday night, his Bible Study group’s celebration of our engagement evolved into full fledged dreams for an epic wedding affair.

I’ve read that you sleep better if you surround yourself with imagined worlds – books, movies… anything where you are no longer the protagonist, where your thoughts and feelings are no longer of consequence to the story, where engagement in conflict is restricted to the safe distance of observer, and the resolution (if still awake by that time) results in a cathartic release which could, on a chemical level, alter the production and release of various neurotransmitters that are no longer required.

Writing a good story requires significantly more time and effort than reading the final product.  On weekends with Charming, I’m almost living in that dream world.  At that party, embraced by his lifelong friends, it occurred to me that I’m marrying into a dream life as well.  This rich community, united in faith, bonds spanning three generations in Silver Spring, gave me a princess welcome into their inner circle.  In the hours before with Charming’s family, all boundaries gone, I couldn’t help but sit back as my future Mom and Dad rose to the occasion to help make our non-traditional dream wedding a reality.

blog132

Back in Hampton on weekdays, I’m not glowing because I don’t have the freedom to get to dream about marrying the love of my life.  Homecoming came a month early this year, its Wizard of Oz theme now a cyclone engulfing Kecoughtan with Spirit week activities and Thursday’s Pep Rally and football game.  The excitement is palpable.  If it weren’t battling with so many other winds, pulled in myriad directions, stretched so thin… what other idiom can accurately depict the state I’m in?

Yearbook is a strain.  Losing one class block this year has taken a toll, and Homecoming’s twister of Oz’s unusually early arrival landed it right in the midst of our competition for staff positions.  Usually, the photo editor arranges photographers to take pictures during various blocks and ensure those participating in Spirit Week can be featured in the annual.  We don’t have a photo editor yet, so I’ve been skipping down the halls every chance I remember that all the jobs are mine right now.

All that’s spiraling in my atmosphere in addition to rolling out our yearbook campaign, buying and arranging decorations for the Yearbook hall’s participation in Homecoming, preparing for and delivering a department meeting with my English team, grading and entering assignments, finishing the supplement from last year, incorporating new students, prepping for our building leadership team that’s right before our Yearbook sponsored skit’s final rehearsal for the pep rally… and I’m still not sleeping much.

In spare moments, I’ve been making announcements for yearbooks and opening the application process for the National English Honor Society, handling questions about Senior Pictures that I haven’t made it to the top of a priority list on any given day such that they’re not readily available, in writing, posted on the yearbook board and the website and in fliers I’ll send home.  I have to get it all ready before selling at the Homecoming game, though.  This is my reality for the next nine months. The balancing act is real, and on a day like today, I simply saw that I can be stretched thin, accomplish what needs to be done, and decide that other things can wait.

During the week, the wedding plans are on hold.  I see Kecoughtan differently now.  Today was the last time I’m going to teach this lesson on elements of a short story to a group of Hampton Roads tenth graders.  It was my best yet.  I felt it.  This is my last Homecoming.  I wrote a five-minute faculty play in the midst of everything else that can’t be shifted down on the priority list because I want to leave it all on the field.

Or in this case, the gym floor.  The winds of change are here again, and I think I’ll find myself out of the line of the hurricane if I balance my worlds, compartmentalizing my spheres into teacher by weekday and fiancé by weekend.  The peace I find here on my writing perch is echoed in Charming’s embrace, so when I say goodbye to the sweetness of the white house with its red door, I know he’ll give me a front porch swing for the rest of my Tuesday nights.

Taking pictures at the football game last week had me a bit emotional when my principal understood that the congratulations on my engagement also carried the realization this would be my last year serving with him.   Our seniors were freshman when we came in together, and it seems right that I should graduate with them.  At the pep rally on Thursday, I’m going to give all our students a part of me I’ve been selfish with over the last three years.  I’m going to give them a full production, all the old theater girl rising from the ashes because they want to connect with its conflict, its theme, and its outcome.

This writer’s perch welcomes me, much like Charming’s friends, because after a couple of hours, I can write my way through a hurricane.  My internal setting matches my surroundings.  I’m calm and clear, not even a breeze.  After my divorce, I started over here, and Kecoughtan became my home beyond this front porch. I love my job.  Charming proposed, and soon he will be my home, and I love him.

I’ve got two worlds, and really they are both realities.  During the week in Hampton for the next nine months, I’ll continue to invest in our KHS community, focusing on producing a quality yearbook, increasing writing scores, encouraging teacher retention, teaching character alongside curriculum, and passing on the reigns of my leadership positions for smooth transitions next year.

And on the weekends, I’ll get to invest in the people, choices, and responsibilities who will consume the rest of my years. It’s not a split focus.  It’s a gift.  I’ll have a chance to do what I never got to do when I left Nashville; this time, I’m not running away, and I’m not starting over.  Charming and I will transition to married life together.  Chapters will close, and new chapters will be written.

September storms are seasons.  Without conflict, there would be no plot.  A day like today is a short story with a happy ending like I prefer.  The rain stopped, so the tone shifts.  That undercurrent of joy carries me toward all the unwritten stories… at Kecoughtan and with Charming.

Skipping the Waiting Room

This particular stillness strikes me as unusual.  After a planning block helping other teachers plan, I facilitated three classes back to back, each requiring a different version of me.  I swiftly swapped the school lanyard for the wedding tiara, chatting so long with my parents that Chuck gave me a silent farewell in the parking lot before leaving me to trade in the tiara for tennis shoes and a boring workout.

Today unfolded like many Tuesdays to come.  After sweating it out, I’ll shoot home to prepare for the next day.  Position coffee mug and pills.  Replenish gym bag.  Lay out clothes for next day.  Set morning alarm.  Put away clutter.  Ready laptop for writing night.  Head to my brother’s house for dinner with the family.  Come home and write until I prepare to entice my elusive sleep cycle into permanency.

Yes, I recognize, that was a series of fragment, indefensible unless treated irrationally as commands; the concrete repetition is positioned best syntactically to unveil the shifts in role, function, and responsibility throughout a typical Tuesday.  And though I’ve chatted about our upcoming “royal nuptials” with family, coworkers, and even students, I probably won’t hear Charming’s voice until just before bed.  That’s a weekday challenge when you live apart.

Two years swapping weekends, and I’d rather adjusted to our atypical dating routine.  We worked during the week, tried to avoid scheduling obligations on the weekends, and reserved our face-to-face time for what amounts to a hundred day honeymoon interspersed between five times as many days living, working, and breathing in relatively single existences.

God’s answered my greatest prayer with Charming.  He’s going to marry me.  He’ll be my husband, and I’ll be his wife.  During his proposal, I witnessed an expression of love I’d never expected, creating an authentic fairy tale engagement.  There’s no oxymoron.  He made it possible because every detail was connected to parts of the very real story we’ve been writing for a couple of years now.  He gave me the Prince Charming of my blogging nights and made me his Cinderella for a day.

The rest of my life is with him, this commitment the beginning of our happily ever after… yet alone on my front porch in my favorite place, I miss him.  We’re weighing factors, polling people, balancing preferences, predicting potential issues.  There’s the wedding – when, where, who, and how?  Then there’s leaving Hampton and moving into our own home together, accompanied by a similar set of questions.  Leaving halfway through the school year isn’t ideal; the cost to students, teachers, admin, writing scores, and the yearbook weigh on my professional conscience.

Though I haven’t seen the film in years, a famous When Harry Met Sally line has been highjacking my subconscious lately.  Harry  is confessing his love after many years, and he passionately exclaims to Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start now.”  I can relate to that now.  Charming and I have been living our lives in tandem, and now that we’ve made the decision to unite, the interim becomes an altogether different waiting room than I just left.

Oh, it seems we are always waiting for something.  For the right guy, the right sleep solution, the commitment, the job, the kids, the house, or that unanswered prayer only God truly understands.  I’ll admit I’m not always at the top of my personality game, but the accumulated sum of sleepless nights hasn’t broken me.  Rather, I find myself in daily prayer… mostly nightly, but I’m silently calling out to God in moments at work when I would have tried to brute force my way through before.

When I can’t sleep, I seek out soothing piano hymns or sermons.  If the right monotone preacher can’t facilitate the induction of sleep, then these wakeful hours are pretty bearable.  Driving to and from work, I’ve been opting for a mix of Christian contemporary and worship songs from the nineties.  Where there can be peace, I want peace.  Whenever a major change is to come, it makes sense to hold tight to the peace that will last once everything else is overturned.

I face my waiting rooms with a plan.  If Charming wasn’t ready by the end of this summer, I would begin the new process of finding a suitable partner to protect my dimming prospects of having children.  Agreeing a decision point before the summer allowed me to settle in to him and set aside all those other concerns and worries. Now that we’re engaged, I’m not waiting for the rest of my life to start.  I’m not worried we won’t get the chance to try for babies.  That two year waiting room had an expiration date, too.

Now, we wait for the official beginning.  Charming likes to face his waiting rooms with a plan, too.  After a trip to his jeweler to make some arrangements for my engagement ring, Charming took me down to the Riverfront in Alexandria, like old times, just with a pad of paper instead of a book.  We spent a few hours discussing all our possible options.  We had some initial conversations with parents.  I made some Google Forms that will allow us to input our personal preferences and award us with line graphs and pie charts to serve as a framework for planning the start of the rest of our lives.

We don’t have many answers, to be honest, and yet, the simple act of doing what you know to do and are able to do provides this alternate waiting strategy – add my name to the list, give me an ETA, and text me when my table is ready so that I can spend the next hour doing something worthwhile and skip the waiting room.  I’m not sleeping well, but doing research to help identify and understand the specific brain activities that might be causing the problem gave me a sense of confidence, not in my own control, but because the intricacies in the Central Neural System, the production and movement of neurotransmitters that inhibit or enhance production of other neurotransmitters is just too great a design not to trust the Creator.

Whether I’m resting in Charming’s arms on the weekends, or praying on the front porch Tuesdays at three AM, I know eventually all our nights will be together.  Even this past weekend discussing all the major decisions on our radar, I had the reassuring sense that we were already operating as a team.  I’ve missed playing the role of full-time girlfriend like we had this summer, and this tiny glimpse at fiance has me excited about exactly where we are right now.

Tonight before dinner, I brought out the princess crown and glass slippers Charming gifted me during his proposal.  Katarina and Theresa tried to find matching pairs of their own crowns and shoes.  We played princess, and I played Auntie La La.  In a bittersweet reality, when I assume the role of Charming’s wife and likely move to northern Virginia, dinners with P.J.’s family will become rare.

IMG_20170912_190604935

When my mind reminds me of Harry’s famous speech, I can’t help but find a different response, gleaned from a different perspective, birthed in a fairy tale proposal, following two years of incredible adventures.  The rest of our lives together already started.  That “A Year with Charming” scrapbook I made is just the first installment in a living record of our story.  Maybe the rest of my life started in Smith-Traber dorm when I first laid eyes on him so many years ago.

The point is, it doesn’t matter when we get married, because this season in between is a gift for us, too.  We’re learning how it feels to face decisions as a couple, like picking out Charming’s new TV at Best Buy together and hooking it up.  I’m walking into Kecoughtan every day determined to leave it all on the field, to know when I leave its halls the last time for Charming’s home that I invested all I could.  I’m hugging and kissing those babies, cherishing every new word, storing up the memories I’ve loved making with P.J.’s family in my three years in Hampton.  I get to be Auntie La La a little bit longer.

And in this season, God will prepare us both for that official start of always and forever, the next part of our lives where we’ll assume new roles like husband and wife.  We’ll figure out the 5 W’s of the royal nuptials, and then I’m skipping the waiting room.  Get a date on the calendar, and I will look forward with passionate expectation to the next chapter of our lives.

After two years of prayers that seemed to go unanswered, after two years trapped in a self-imposed waiting room, I found that God not only answered but went beyond the scope to provide and meet my needs, and that as I waited, He was working on me, preparing me for the next stage, and that refining will continue to manifest itself in new ways.  In the meanwhile, I’ll savor every opportunity to live fully in my current life in Hampton as a teacher, Auntie, friend, gym partner, neighbor, and long-distance fiancé all week long.  Come the weekend, Charming and I will be together in alternating houses as always.

And that’s how it will be until two become one, and then Charming will hold me while we sleep in our bed, in our home, in our always and forever until death parts us, and all the stages and roles and adventures in between.

The Beginning of Happily Ever After

I don’t know where to start.  It was the first day of school.  My schedule is discouraging, but my last block honors class has a refreshing spark I’m ready to flame.  I’m still not sleeping.  It’s been over a month, and I’m growing doubtful that I’ll ever wake up wide eyed and ready for sixteen-year olds.  An array of worries tempts me from purpose tonight, and though I don’t know where to start, this will come from the heart.

In the past year, my greatest anxiety has been my fear of not fulfilling my dreams for a family of my own, battling against my hyperactive biological alarm clock, watching my youth fade into wrinkles at the corners of my eyes… unable to affect any change in my circumstances.  Two years ago at this time, I had just given up dating, choosing instead to direct my un-channeled warehouse for love and investment into my students.  As a result, they’ve been the most cherished years of my career.

This morning, I told the new batch of students sitting uncertainly amidst the alternative lights, throw rugs, and pillows that they would get out of this course what they put into it.  It’s the attitude that landed me a 4.0 in grad school (I hadn’t figured that out in my college days, yet).  In my orientation video, I promise that if they show up, do the work, and participate with a positive attitude, then they’ll learn to expand and share their perceptions of the world… and pass that pesky end of course test along the way.

About the same time two years ago, I received a Facebook message from an old college friend, also recently divorced and living in the DC area not too far from me, suggesting we meet halfway to swap stories as he’d connected with some of my blog posts. After our initial meeting, I dubbed him Charming as a pseudonym, and we started dating immediately, but only on the weekends.  His first Saturday in Hampton, we went pumpkin picking, and then I took him to my favorite place, saved in my GPS as, “My Fort Monroe Beach”, with direct coordinates to my parking space to land in a less populated area without stairs which deters some of the families from setting up camp.

It was October, but it was still warm and blue and crisp and beautiful, and showing it to Charming produced one of our first couple-selfies.  It was only our second day of dates, but I think I would have walked off into the sunset with him if he had asked me right then.  If you’ve been following our story, you’re likely laughing, because you know that Charming wasn’t ready for anything serious when we first met.  I took the attitude I try to instill in my students.  You’ll get out of this what you put into it, Laura Joy.

And I gave Charming my all.  I knew I was always a little further along.  Even before the beach, I knew he was scared of getting married again, that he needed to be a thousand percent certain if he did, and that he wasn’t sure he’d ever get there.   My response?  I gave him his own contact ringtone, so that when he reached out, I’d  hear, “When I’ve lost my faith in my darkest days, she makes me want to believe.  They call her love.  She is love, and she is all I need.”  I didn’t have doubts two years ago.  I would love him into love with me.  God would use me to restore his faith and trust in a good future.

A year later, and I grew weary of waiting for a stronger commitment.  In an unplanned relationship defining talk last August after an incredible two week road trip, I decided to end it.  I was growing increasingly embittered toward Charming as I checked the expiration date on my ovaries.  After a divorce, a cheating boyfriend, a dozen impossible online match companions, I knew who and what Charming was after an afternoon story swap in Richmond.  He met every item on my uncompromisible qualities for a future husband.

Except one.  He wasn’t ready for marriage, and I was finally starting to believe he never would be.  I walked out of his house in Old Town Alexandria, threw my bags in the car, and started the AC.  I’d never seen him cry before.  It made me speechless. He hugged me long and hard before releasing me to leave him.  The car radio narrated our goodbye, “Hold onto me, ‘cause I’m a little unsteady.”  But he let go eventually, and I fell apart.

It took me only a week and a half to realize that he was worth the wait.  I once called him a limited edition.  Ultimately, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life missing those blue eyes.  We reunited, but the nagging anxiety about children followed us.  Our weekends traded back and forth in DC and Hampton have produced the kind of memories you want to cherish for a lifetime. We knew we were good together, but if Charming wasn’t ready for happily ever after, he might need to set me free to find another prince before menopause dashes all hopes for mine.  After a summer with Charming stationed in Hampton Roads doing life together, even trying couple’s counseling, surely we would know.

The deadline came and went, and Charming went back to DC promising to return with a decision in two weekends.  That meant Labor Day’s four-day weekend I’d have plenty of time to do schoolwork, and I focused my efforts on that to pass the time, trying not to think about Charming’s plans for the future.  Unfortunately, I was done by Saturday afternoon, so I welcomed a beach day with Angel on Sunday after church.

We met some other friends and set up in a different spot up the beach so they didn’t have to climb over the railing.  After a few hours, I was getting restless of the relaxing and jumped at a text from my sister-in-law that she and PJ had the kids up the beach a ways.  I coaxed Angel into taking a walk with me.  Fort Monroe resets me somehow.  It was a lot further than I’d thought.  We passed the old buildings, and I thought of the blanket Charming bought me when his class visited there this summer.

I’d intended to just say hi, but the twins coerced me into the water.  Angel and I headed back to pick up our things for our dinner together, but her husband had taken her car keys with him on a walk down the shore toward our usual spot.  We set off after him, Angel telling me how her friend was there, and how she’d brought the baby, and I’m seeing this picnic blanket and starting to recognize faces that didn’t belong… like one from DC.  The colorful shape in the distance took form as it walked toward me.

It was Charming in uniform.  Angel and our friends were gathered on the boardwalk above.  He started to speak, and I swear my heart stopped.  It was happening before I knew it was happening, and I wanted to have him stop and go back to the beginning so I could remember every word.  I think I remember what matters.  The song playing in the background, “Hold onto me, ‘cause I’m a little unsteady.  That he didn’t know what love was before me, that I taught him.  That he was a thousand percent sure.  And he dropped to one knee, asked me to be his wife, put a gorgeous ring on my finger, and crowned me his princess.

Of course, I said yes.  I would have two years ago in that very same spot, the first time I took him to my favorite place in Hampton, before I loved him into love with me, before he knew if he could ever marry again.  Charming led me to a picnic, and the crowd disappeared.  It was our moment to embrace the reality that we had just walked off into the sunset together, quite literally.  I could have been contented to stare into my new fiancé’s eyes, but he asked me to take a walk with him.

In the parking lot below was a horse-drawn carriage that must have driven straight off the set of Cinderella and into Fort Monroe’s narrow streets.  Charming expressed that he wanted to make sure the shoe fit, pulled out a pair of glass slippers, and whisked me away for romantic carriage ride.  Everyone we passed waved and congratulated us, and I thought about my brother’s family.  Charming gave me permission, and when we trotted up to their spot on the sand, I asked the kids to join us.  I’m sure passersby thought it was wonderful that this couple with three small children was finally getting marriage, but we dismissed it in favor of an unplanned, incredible moment to share with the little humans that are one of the biggest parts of my life.

prince-posal

By the time we turned around at the gazebo and I saw a crew of my Pokémon Go Raid buddies gathered to watch and take pictures, I realized my Charming had left no stone unturned to prove that he knew me better than anyone has before.  Every detail, right down to the butterflies on my glass slippers, was a confirmation that our journey together over the last two years has produced depth and resilience in a dating relationship that will serve us well in the sunsets that await us in the forever and always after the carriage ride ends.

Sunday night, with Charming here, I slept.  Yesterday, when we parted, it was harder than ever before to let go.  I didn’t sleep last night.  For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t worried about a timeline, though.  It wasn’t first day jitters at school.  I wasn’t asleep, but I was at peace.  At four AM while I felt the world lighten, there was only one thing to do.

Here, in my writer’s perch, I turned to words.  I prayed.  I thanked God for answered prayers and all the unanswered ones along the way that got us here.  I wept.  God didn’t give me a fairy tale romance.  He gave me true love, a love inspired by His unconditional devotion, forgiveness, and grace.  He gave me a man who was broken, like me, and began healing that brokenness as He wove our stories together.  Charming gave me a fairy tale proposal, and being his princess for a day is a memory I’ll cherish.

But the real joy is that I know I am going to be his wife, and we get to see how the real love story God began turns out.  It’s all in the details.  Like Charming’s proposal.  I wrote down every quality I wanted in a man, and now that he’s ready, Charming is everything I dreamed of and, what’s more, everything I didn’t know I needed.  It makes sense that I sleep better with him beside me.

I might not always sleep through the night.  There will be new classes and new schedules, new stressors and anxieties to replace the old.  There will be more heartbreaks and losses.  But soon, I’ll be his wife.  We won’t have to say goodbye every week, I’ll rest in his arms every night, and we’ll bear the burdens of life together.  I’m going to marry the man I’ve been waiting and praying for, he’s my best friend, and our union honors God.

And to me, that sounds like happily ever after.