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.
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.