Prayers, Mentors, and Advocates

Now that I’m finally still on my front porch and the costumed children are indoors riding sugar highs that battle sleep and parents, I realize that it’s a happy All Hallow’s Eve because a particular seventeen year old comes to mind in the stillness; reflecting on my day, I see how God satisfied several prayers by providing a single saint in the unlikely form of a maturing teenage girl.

Last year in English 10 Honors class, I was so impressed by the integrity and work ethic of this student that I skipped the prerequisite and enrolled her in Yearbook.  As the application process unfolded, I saw that her aims equaled mine for her, that she was shooting for Business Manager – essentially my right hand in all things not yearbook design related.  Within a few weeks, I got to have her every day when she signed up to be my teacher’s assistant during her free block.

As a teen now, she’d fit the archetype of a faithful companion.  The best princess pop culture association for her would be Anna.  She’s young, but that doesn’t stop her from believing that she can change the world one volunteer opportunity at a time.  The fictional Anna is loyal to a fault, endangering herself to help her sister, and I find in my Anna a similar sacrificial heart of service, unmotivated by the guaranteed college recommendation letter next year regardless of my zip code.

My gym mentor Chuck often reminds me of the way Moses, the legendary hero, needed help to hold up his arms while he parted the Red Sea.  Not only does she bear the burden of all tasks related to photo days, ID and picture packet distribution, and communication with teachers regarding yearbook responsibilities as Business Manager, but as my TA, she helps me balance everything else. My greatest battle at present is not ADHD or primary insomnia: it’s the simple math of eliminating the second yearbook class we used to have, requiring me to essentially take responsibility for half of our normal year’s work upon myself.

I’ve prayed continually for God to give me the strength to not simply survive this year, but to fulfill a vision for an intentional season of impact and self-sacrifice… my last chance to invest in the students of Kecoughtan High.  Anna was His answer.  I have other incredible students who have risen to the occasion, and our yearbook staff, as a whole, has adapted to a whole new system that keeps them productive and motivated to the challenge of pulling off all our jobs in half the time.

Anna is unique, though.  She can think like me.  With minimal instructions, she can grade an assignment with or without a key just as I would.  Given ninety minutes, the English teacher master schedule, and an example of last year’s picture days’ schedule, Anna produced a new one for this month that was nearly perfect, evidencing a progression of creative, problem-solving freedom process that works like mine.  Every modification or accommodation, I would have made myself.  Anna’s just as contented to address Save the Date labels or organize writing folders or count up participation points, like this afternoon.

I’ll admit I was in dim spirits tonight when my brother P.J.’s family and I arrived at the Calvary Church Fall Festival, despite the lights on my costume.  We’d had a lot of fun tripping through their neighborhood, going door to door, laughing as the twins always begged for more candy and J.J. restrained himself, somehow aware of the unfairness in his own moral development.  I hadn’t planned to dress up, but I had fifteen minutes to change after the gym and discovered these wings behind the vanity after I’d knocked over my hairspray.  It would be, after all, my last Halloween to get to spend with P.J. and Gabrielle and the kids.  Why not put in a little effort?

We’d driven to the church in separate cars because Tuesday night is writing night, and I was okay with pushing things back to experience these moments with the family, but I didn’t want to skip my writing therapy altogether.  Inside, I knew games, candy, and bouncy houses awaited us.  I could envision them from the last three years and recall every detail of the kids’ costumes. I never actually made it inside.  We waited in line for cotton candy and headed to the fire to make S’mores, and I left.

I’m not going inside for the fall festival anymore.  I’ll live in a different city this time next year, work in a different school, and likely pray for another Anna.  What cheered me up before writing night was running into her at the cotton candy machine, dressed as Waldo.  I was instantly soothed by her presence.  Instead of focusing on the painful reality of leaving the twins and J.J. in Hampton to go live out my Happily Ever After, I was visibly reminded of my present investments with the family and my school.  When I saw Anna, I didn’t lament the separation to come; rather, my mind was excited by all the things we’re going to accomplish before geographical boundaries infringe on our normal routine.

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Charming was here this weekend, as per our trade-off, normal routine, only we were attending a two day marriage counseling workshop instead of streaming Netflix.  Don’t let tonight’s costume fool you: I’m no angel, and I make plenty of mistakes, some big and some small.  If ever after is to be happy, Charming and I felt an experience like this would help build some scaffolding for our future home.  Hours ticked away as we tackled gender differences, prior unresolved conflict, communication strategies, and the implications of our Myers-Briggs personality type for our relationship.

One of my favorite exercises was creating a vision statement and vision board for our marriage.  In education, we deal constantly in desired learning outcomes, strategically planning individually lessons contextualized within units to ensure we accomplish those goals by the established deadline.  We’re held accountable by administration and quarterly testing to serve as benchmarks along the way to mastery of a course’s curriculum.  I’d never considered approaching a marriage with success criteria.

Having guided my juniors through creating vision boards for their futures, I jumped up and grabbed potentially relevant magazines and began clipping.  Charming read the board, and as I flipped and cut, he wrote down four statements.  The combined effect of our individual efforts, with Charming providing a clear-cut four-prong vision statement for our future and me providing a visual collection of symbolic images, the overlap in our shared vision was apparent.

Charming wrote four statements to summarize his vision for our marriage: to know and be known; to help each other become the best versions of ourselves and our relationship; to honor God and serve as a testament to Him; and to raise and care for the next generation.  He’d nailed it.  He knows us.  My images and words fit his vision, and I was encouraged and reenergized by the obvious conclusion that we were not only on the same page with our relationship, but we were a part of the same team in accomplishing a shared vision for impact that can result from our union.  (Anna, if you could explain the punctuation choices in the compound sentence with list, I’ve had too much time to help you think like me.)

Our personalities shape our interactions and our choices.  As an ISTJ, Charming approached the vision board with a set of factual, definable aims that resonated with me at the heart level.  As an ENFJ, selecting phrases and images to symbolize those visions, even before he’d shared the statements with me, reflected the emotional storehouse in Charming’s carefully chosen commitments for our lives together.

If I had to guess, I’d say Anna is an INFJ, which differs from me only in our level of extroversion; she socializes, sure, but I know she recharges in her time alone.  The INFJ is The Advocate; Anna’s purpose is helping others, and I’m not sure she even realizes that can be a sufficient purpose.  She’s a loyal and faithful companion now, as a youth, but as a grown woman, I can’t wait to see how she fulfills her calling.  I know Anna prays about what career she should pursue, and I also know God answers prayers in unexpected ways like He did in my life by giving me her daily support.

Tonight, a lot of us put on costumes because there’s freedom in pretending to be something that we’re not.  Dressing as an easy-to-find Waldo doesn’t mean Anna’s not wandering and feeling lost on her journey of self-discovery, and donning wings and white glitter doesn’t rid me of iniquity and all my past wrongs.  Still, in the stillness, I think of Anna, and she brings me hope, not just for the year, but for the world.  I think about the vision for my husband and my shared future, and I’m excited for it.

Most clearly, though, I’m struck by that fourth prong: to raise and care for the next generation.  I’m not a guardian angel, but I am a mentor, and these days between now and when I move somewhere else, I need to approach this year like I tackle Virginia Standards of Learning.  I have a deadline of when I will no longer be physically impacting the lives of so many kids, at Kecoughtan and in P.J.’s house in a nearby neighborhood.

What’s my vision for this year?  What legacy will I leave?  God gave me Anna as an answer to prayer.  How can He use me in her life this year as mentor and guide?  And all the adolescents who sit beside her… maybe I’m giving myself a homework assignment like we had in counseling, my vision statement and vision board for eight months.

We play a lot of roles in our lives, and those roles change.  Supporting roles change.  In nine months, I’ll be a wife, and I hope to look back at the time in between this blog and that wedding and see that I used the time I had intentionally, that I treated it as precious, all the while thankful for Anna who can do things like I do and give me back some of that precious commodity: time.

What will I do with it?

When Attention Hangs in the Periphery

There’s no quiet, no solitude tonight.  It’s beautiful outside, but my mind could focus only on the bass in my neighbor’s playlist, barely audible.  I turned off my AC in hopes of finding solace in the backyard with the raccoons, finally retreating to my living room after realizing the family across the alley wasn’t bringing their party inside anytime soon.  I shut off the dryer.  There’s no noise, yet it’s definitely not quiet.

The dead screen of my external monitor begs me to bring it to life so I can be uber-productive with two screens.  The bag of Save the Date cards, half addressed, hangs on the dining room chair; somehow, just its presence in my periphery hangs on me, too, and I think about switching on that second monitor for just a minute to see if my better half has his addresses so I can run a final mail merge and have them all ready to go, ironically just waiting for the stamps to come in snail mail first.

The blanket Charming bought me at Fort Monroe this summer adorns the arm chair in front of me, and it pleads with me to pause, just for a moment, to enjoy thinking back on the proposal that soon followed.  The black TV screen yells in silence, opposing its neglect since I’ve too much school work this year to give it any relaxed time and attention.  There’s no noise inside my home; nevertheless, the concrete reminders of competing responsibilities that surround me make the silence deafening.

How do we unplug, escape, disconnect, retreat, when our world is waiting for us to hurry up and finish our current task so we can attend to the next need, prioritized and distributed for maximum efficiency?  Creativity requires us to dig up some original artifact, a unique contribution, and the associated processes involve emotional and intellectual room to breathe.  I can’t design theme elements amidst emails, calls, texts, and messages that continually borrow mental resources, producing a crowded warehouse inside my tiny computer… so I work at home on things like that.

When I blog, however, I go outside.  That’s my best bet at a safe retreat where nothing legitimate competes with my ability to be right here, right now, typing my way to clarity in an attempt to uncover an original thought.  Inside, creative juices are squelched by visual reminders of life and all its responsibilities and obligations, and I’m trying to write through it anyway.

It’s a good exercise, really.  How often can we eliminate all our distractions?  Back in undergrad, we learned strategies for helping kids learn to focus on the task at hand.  I should be able to ignore everything else like I expect them to do, realizing that my students and my colleagues have other obligations and responsibilities, too.  We all find ways to shift our attention to the current task… and some of us are naturally better than others.

Ah, I literally just breathed a sigh of relief. You’ll feel it, I’m sure.  The music ceased, and I’ve settled outside again on my white wicker love seat, where a symphony of insects calms me instantly.  The serenade, a writer’s soundtrack, consumes the space and silences all the other noises and distractions.  I see this screen, and dim street lamps and porch lights would illuminate little besides what I want in my periphery – trees and evening glories and a glass of red wine.

Mastery of intentional compartmentalization must be achieved at varied levels, I’m convinced.  Just like the NoRedInk modules my sophomores are currently combating.  Unlike a traditional worksheet assignment with a simple grading key, when I use this online platform to assign a set of grammatical skills to teens preparing for a writing proficiency test in less than five months, the assessment method is customizable by kid.  Students are forced to interact with sentences, making changes, like choosing whether or not to add an “s” to a verb to make it agree with a singular indefinite pronoun.

The more questions they get right, the faster they finish.  The more they get wrong, the longer the task.  This can be frustrating, but from a teaching standpoint, I’ve taught a concept and we’ve practiced it together and independently in other ways, so I see this as the opportunity for students to prove they “get it”, on their own.   In other words, the kids actually have to understand and consistently apply correct usage to a series of sentences.  When a student struggles, NoRedInk acts as one-on-one tutor, reminding him of the associated rule with an example, then it offers a similar set of questions until mastery is achieved.

Within each skill, however, are four levels of achievement.  As Johnny collects stars, he can’t lose them.  He can’t go backwards, only forwards.  That’s encouraging.  No matter how many wrong answers Johnny gives, the possibility of earning a 100% on this assignment is the same as the girl in the front row who tested out of basic subject-verb agreement the first week of school.  Those little stars also help me identify which students need a mini-conference with me to get “unstuck” and move on.  Making visual progress toward mastery is encouraging.  Knowing that perfection is achievable, even for one who struggles on that journey, makes the pursuit worthwhile.

And I’m not just talking about NoRedInk anymore.  Attention is a sore spot for an adult recently diagnosed with ADHD.  When Charming senses I’m distracted, it bothers him.  If he gently calls me out on it, that bothers me… because my inability to give him my complete attention bears associated guilt, that I’m somehow less of a loving fiancé because I didn’t see any harm in using ten minutes of unlimited lives on Candy Crush on the last leg of our drive to Annapolis on Saturday morning.

Of course, it wasn’t until after all our weekend activities that I found out it bothered him in the first place, so the retroactive guilt may have, in its accumulated volume, transformed into an offensive arsenal.  It’s not his fault that I’m distracted.  It’s not even the ADHD.  I predicted when I saw the first draft of the master schedule for this semester back in June that this school year would require my professional juggling services to work overtime without the financial benefits.

Last year was perfect.  I had English 10 Honors and two classes of Yearbook.  Weekends were for Charming, and creativity had plenty of room to produce quality products in all areas of my life.  I worried about my biological clock and timeline with Charming, but I had time to think about those concerns and process them accordingly.   This year, with a third prep and a halved yearbook program, I’m going to have to find ways to adapt and re-compartmentalize, intentionally, to juggle effectively without losing myself or missing out on my favorite TV shows.

Sometimes, we have to escape normal to feel like we can really enjoy the moment we’re experiencing.  That happens for me, out here on the front porch.  It happened on Saturday, too, though, with Charming, right after I logged out of Candy Crush.  Though I didn’t force it on him, I was beyond excited to attend a Renaissance festival in full costume… a royal gown I hadn’t been able to squeeze into for at least a decade.

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Charming had my full attention while we were immersed in this other world where cell phones were clearly out of period and only acceptable for snapping photographs.  One vendor told us he’d met his wife here decades earlier and they’d married during the festival, and his daughter and her husband and baby were “around here somewhere”.  There were henna tattoo parlors with pillows and blankets, tusks and tiny barrel mugs of beer, jousting and sword fighting and performers at every corner.

We were in another era, one I much preferred, I’ll admit, to the current week I returned to back in Hampton.  I giggled and squealed like a school girl while Charming and I danced around the May Pole (though he had never heard of it before).  We flirted with the idea of riding an overpriced, painted elephant.  We ate curly fries while watching MacBeth performed in less than twenty minutes.

I wasn’t thinking about our yearbook theme or my struggling English students or the unsent Save the Date cards.  There were plenty of other distractions, but I experienced this day with Charming.  There’s nowhere else I would have rather been, and I wouldn’t have traded my prince for a knight at the festival, even one in a costume that would have paired well with mine.  My aim was off in archery, but he was patient with me.  He’s always patient with me.

There are levels of mastery, and it’s encouraging.  Charming was that guy in the front row that tested out of all attention-related skills in the first week of school, and I’m just smiling at the second of four stars, the first being the Renaissance festival and the second bringing this blog to a close.  I know I can and will get there eventually.  The achievement potential is better when I try out new strategies, so I’m applying rules and not just guessing like I urge my students to do.

In any event, focus and attention is another way I can relate to my students.  We can grow together, racking up stars towards mastery in NoRedInk and the real world until that real world shifts and weekends in DC become a new marriage, a new home, and a new job.  I’ll admit, it’s intimidating… but there’s levels of mastery, and we’ll get there, one star at a time.

In a Land Far, Far Away

It’s cold tonight.  It’s fall, and I need a little freedom from the order, the structure – to escape syntax for the sheer desire to shed thoughts.  Absent system, writing doesn’t process.  It flows from brain to fingertip, uninhibited by organization that typically forces words into rhythmic patterns encased in varied sentence structure.  My student, Young Beauty, would tell me it’s time for a freewrite.

That’s what she does in her blog… though she hasn’t posted lately.  As one of my best editors, I’m glad to have her back leading the student life team after a year’s hiatus to complete the pharmacy tech program.  Certification in hand, Young Beauty kept her promise to return for her senior year despite several others who expectantly opted for free blocks instead of Yearbook to offset those AP classes.

We need her carefree spirit and innate ability to lighten the mood.  When we dreamed up her freewrite blog in Blogging Club two years ago, it suited her perfectly.  It’s been so long since I dubbed her Young Beauty it’s ceased to be a pseudonym at all, but rather how I view her.  Other teachers can relate, I’m sure, to that kid who wants you to count on her, believe in her, support her… and in turn, she gives you her respect and opens her mind and her heart to what you might have to offer.

She, in addition to several others like her, is why Charming and I chose to wait for this summer to get married.  In a tribute to Young Beauty, I’m going to give my best attempt at a “free thought” blog, where I follow my brain down a yellow brick road, and it’s up to my mind to arrive at a destination or no destination at all.

My fingers hurt from the October cold.  There’s a football game at Darling.  I hope it’s not my school.   I try to add everything to Google Calendar, but if it doesn’t make it on there, the system fails.  Google Photos reminded me of an event two years ago today, teasing me with photographs of Charming on his first weekend in Hampton, carving pumpkins and visiting Fort Monroe beach for the first time.  He proposed to me there.  We’re getting married.  I could have only dreamed it.

Young Beauty never lost hope, I don’t think, even when I was getting anxious in the waiting.  She believes, like me, that true love must be possible, because to believe the opposite is to choose to never write a love story at all.  A free thought.  Love story.  Charming.  I never thought the name would end up inspiring his proposal at Fort Monroe Beach.  I tried to get him to dress up in uniform for the Halloween party this past weekend here in Hampton, but he reminded me that it’s not a costume.  I convinced him to be the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz since I had the costumes from Homecoming.

Homecoming.  Yearbook rollout.  Unity theme.  Dr. Grove played Scarecrow in our pep rally skit at Kecoughtan last month.  Charming filled out the costume a little differently, adding the Tin Man’s ax and a facial scar offering an explanation for how he’d come to acquire it.  It was fun to dress up with him Saturday night, so much different than the first time selling yearbooks and advertising about senior deadline’s as Dorothy at the Homecoming Game.

Different is different, not better or worse, just two words juxtaposed against each other in a Dorothy costume that’s truly an identity I have to put on.  I’ve never been the Innocent.  I’m the Mentor/Teacher at school, and with Charming, I’m not sure.  I’d have to scroll through my PowerPoint of Archetypes, but I imagine the theatrical heart of me probably shuffles through a few roles each season of us.

Season. Fall.  Winter is coming.  Game of Thrones is not.  Free thoughts will undoubtedly take us to places we weren’t considering moments before.  Suddenly, I’m recalling nights cuddling with Charming in his rental in Norfolk this summer watching the recorded episodes after strolls on the beach at sunset.  The nights weren’t always that perfect, but that’s what the brain does.  We romanticize memories, inserting just the right data point to support our current thematic development, in this case emerging as a commentary on seasons, what we identify with those seasons, and the cyclical nature of time to bring us from carving pumpkins to riding off in the sunset as Dorothy and Scarecrow.

Even in free thought, the synapses are signaling, “Syntax. Structure. Make sense,” and I’m responding in kind, organizing mentioned moments at school and with Charming to support some developing theme about seasons, and yet it started with Young Beauty.  Young Beauty.  She should start blogging again.  My greatest admiration for that young lady is in her resilience.  When she writes, she grows.  I’ve seen it.  When I write, I grow.  She’s seen it, too.

I should show her the pictures from the party.  As a sophomore taking photos at prom, Young Beauty impressed Charming with her maturity such that he thought she was a senior.  The sentiment endeared him to her, and seeing him as Scarecrow with Scar and Ax would make her smile.  I smiled for the pictures Angel took, and we enjoyed an evening with friends celebrating Halloween like we do every year.  Only this is the last year.

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This is the last year, all the time, for so many things, like J.J.’s soccer games.  The kids have become so accustomed to Charming’s presence for family events, I’m not sure they understand he doesn’t live here.  If I let this free thought go where it wants to, it goes to J.J.’s game last week, not on Saturday morning with Charming, but the one in the rain where Katarina just wanted me to hold her under the trees to stay dry.

When I’d first arrived at the game, her twin Tessa had asked where Charming was, and I tried to explain that he lived far, far away, and that he just comes to where we live on the weekends sometimes.  They’d returned to collecting pine needles before I finished the explanation, so I was pretty confident it was too advanced for their toddler brains.  But in this stolen moment under the pine trees, just the two of us, I held Katarina tighter than usual and she seemed to imitate me.

It wasn’t long before I was crying, and she asked me why.  Her parents and I hadn’t yet discussed how to handle helping the kids understand that Auntie La La marrying Uncle Charming doesn’t just mean they get to throw rose petals… but that she won’t live here anymore.  Unfortunately, my emotions decided to make an attempt with Kat, largely inspired by the setting of one of the last soccer games of the season, at dusk, in the rain.  It turns out, she’d been listening earlier after all, so when I said that I would live with Charming after the wedding, her blue eyes welled up with tears, her chin started to quiver, and she looked up at me with an expression of disbelief that made her words break my heart.  “You mean you’re going to live far, far away?”

Dreams and seasons.  When I was Young Beauty, I dreamed of my happily ever after with Prince Charming.  In college, we sat in the same chapel pews, walked the same Quad as mere acquaintances; until we reconnected and decided to get married fifteen years later, we didn’t have the perspective for the journey that had led us to this point.  God had us on a Yellow Brick Road the whole time, through all the seasons, all the cities and the broken vows, all the moves and broken ties.

It’s the beginning of my happily ever after with Charming, only unlike Young Beauty, there are current joys in the life I built for myself before him and beyond him that make the reality of living in a land far, far away bittersweet, especially in stolen moments shielded from the rain, where I concluded that it was best for both of us, for Katarina and for me, that summer is a long, long time away too.

I’ll cherish all these moments, and believe in the Author of the Yellow Brick Road, and that I’ll look back in fifteen years and see the master handiwork of God in orchestrating all the paths, people in my life past, present, and future.  He gave me my dream.  As Dorothy and Scarecrow, we’re living in one story that’s all about the journey.  Set against the backdrop of Cinderella’s castle, we’re realizing that we’ve reached one destination we’ve both longed for… but there will be others.

Timeline: Verbal Irony

Of all the weekday hours, my best time is spent here on my front porch, one-hundred and thirty-five Tuesday nights in a row.  I relish the escape, as though the world disappears and time stands still.  Though even I appreciate the sentiment, the inductive reasoning falls flat.  You can’t literally spend time, and you literally can’t stop it. The thought that seizes me most distinctively tonight is the verbal irony in every tenacious “timeline” of my life when time itself has never been linear.

If I’ve lost you already, chalk it up to our recent adventures into literary devices.  Metaphors for time are so seamlessly interwoven into colloquial exchanges that my sophomores often find themselves unable to explain the metaphors that they could easily identify.  If I gave my students a freewrite topic of “Time”, the readings afterward would naturally include shared, common variants of the following.

Time passes so slowly.  Time stops for no man.  There’s never enough time.  I don’t have time for that.  Time goes on and on.  The past, the present, the future.  It’s time for a change.  The time is 2:39.  Time ticks away with the second hand.

We, in our collective unconsciousness, treat time as an abstract symbol we’re grasping to force into a concrete structure that’s tangible, understandable.  I remember studying note cards back in college on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and through a decade plus of degradation, I can still see scrawled blue ink saying that time and space were four dimensional structures with no theoretical distinction between past, present, future, or even a now.

Yet, I have made time a commodity in which I trade.  I consider decisions, investments, and potential commitments and mentally load the existing spreadsheet reflecting the current primary time allocations.  If there are open cells, copying and pasting a new entry is pretty straight forward.  That’s why I love Excel.

However, if it’s like planning picture days this week and seeing all the cells fill up for first block classes with several teachers not yet scheduled?  We rearrange, accommodate, modify… we play with time like children with playdough, hoping our efforts to affect time will somehow bend it to our will, that in planning and micromanaging moments, time will flow easily, a refreshing river archetype leading us to better days.

Personally, my idea of a linear timeline for my life has permeated into every action and decision while, simultaneously, I was unaware that my acting and deciding would lead to future outcomes which could then explain previous events. From my first modeling gig at age four, I saw the value in time. I didn’t see the paychecks; I saw the excitement and adventure.  I’d made a contract with the norm – that time was precious, and I needed to make the most of my time on earth.

When Charming and I first met, he inspired me to make my list of Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties, essentially a bucket list for an eight year window.  I’m two years in, and I’ve accomplished twelve, the most recent hitting my ideal weight for the first time in over nine years, down forty-five pounds from my worst scale encounter.  Charming was an integral part in checking off half of them.  Next summer, when I marry the man of my dreams(#1), honeymoon on a foreign beach (#3), and maybe even buy a home (#18).

And marrying him opens up the door for so many future opportunities.  I live here, in Hampton, and I teach English.  This is my now.  Perhaps this time, this second that I write the word “time”, is the only time that actually exists as quantifiable.  The span of my life isn’t a timeline at all.  It’s the theoretical intersection of thousands of significant moments that exist only in my memory, juxtaposed against those future, desired moments that don’t exist at all.  They might occur, in time.

There hasn’t been enough time lately.  The spreadsheet’s pre-set table is full and I’m putting in overtime.   More metaphors to suggest I can measure life’s responsibilities.  For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been playing with playdough, rearranging time… accommodating it and modifying it, and ultimately noting that my efforts to affect time offer no consistent, formulaic outcomes.  Sometimes, despite our best attempts to organize moments, an inconspicuous fall breeze shifts them all out of order.  Each timeline I make, like a child’s playdough giraffe, rarely resembles my imagined final product.

For me last week, it was simple things like computer hardware failure, unplanned meetings, health insurance issues, traffic delays, and car problems, all compounded with getting ready to pull off Picture Days this week.  Except for Tuesday, I worked each night an extra five hours, almost believing I’d soon be working ahead instead of playing catch up.

By the time I got to Alexandria for a weekend with Charming, I was pretty miserable to be around, I’ll admit.  This time metaphor ruled my disposition all weekend.  I was behind.  There wasn’t enough time.  How could I enjoy any of the “now time” with Charming if my mental efforts were directed toward an antagonist that I can’t ever beat anyway because it’s a conceptual, four dimensional scientific abstraction?

On Saturday, we devoted our afternoon to making our Save the Date cards and setting up our wedding website.  You’d think we’d be smiling and cuddling as we dreamed together… but I wasn’t really there.  I thought I’d resolved my computer issues earlier in the week, but my laptop gave up the ghost just when we logged into Shutterfly.  Instead of enjoying the afternoon, I was frustrated by the fact we were using Charming’s computer and I didn’t have instant access to everything we needed.   It would take more… time.

Time… time that I haven’t had enough of because of the simple math involved in reducing our yearbook classes from two to one, such that meeting every other day has me serving up the one hundred and thirty-five class hours that I lost at rapid speed.  Charming and I made our website and ordered our cards, but it wasn’t any fun.  And it wasn’t until the next morning when I was screaming at my uncooperative laptop that I figured out what was really eating at me.  I was angry that I didn’t have time to fix it, but I had to fix it nevertheless.  I was angry that I’d been set up for failure.  Every interruption in the past month that has pushed me closer to the edge was strong-armed by one force: anger.

Because for every little issue that arose which normally would have been easy to plug into free cells of an Excel spreadsheet, I was having to compromise the rest of my hours.  Maybe I was even angry at time.  I got it out writing an email that I didn’t send.  Mom prayed with me.  I woke up Monday morning bright and chipper, handled every picture day snafu with grace and a smile.  The anger was gone.

I accepted reality.  Time is not linear.  I cannot stop it or create more of it.  I can just live, and I want to be in the now, every now.  When I’m with Charming planning our lives together, I want to be united in heart and oneness of mind.  Time is precious, I learned as a little girl, and I determined to make the most of my time on earth.  My thirties bucket list embodies what I see as significant goals, and marrying Charming opens the door for future opportunities to access more accomplishments on that list.  Then, we’ll dream of and live in our forties and fifties and sixties.

We didn’t take any pictures this weekend, but we designed our save the date card.  Our wedding website tells us we met that checklist requirement two months early.  I emailed the design to my mother, who replied, “It’s fresh, candid, and representative of the facets and moments of your relationship and pure delight.” It struck me then that I hadn’t noticed that myself.

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In the top-right, I’m kissing Charming at Angel’s wedding one week before he told me he loved me for the first time.  We’re playing Pokémon last fall in the silly picture on the bottom.  Before I went to Italy, we shared a sunset in Norfolk where we’d spend the rest of our summer together.  Of course, there’s Charming’s Prince-posal.  Though that still feels like it’s happening now, a photo from our first engagement party only serves to evidence how quickly the present becomes the past.

We’re sharing our memories that exist only in brain tissue.  We’re sharing what we did with the time we were given together.  We’re saving the date for all the future hopes and dreams.  Beside me, the first evening glory of the year has bloomed, two months later than usual.  I had begun to give up hope that they’d yield blossoms this year.

An evening glory in October reminds me that time is cyclical, not linear, and I cannot measure my life in a failure to achieve on a timeline.  It’s not just better late than never.  It’s simply better when we accept we can’t control time, that our timelines are like playdough giraffes, and that the accumulation of moments of significance itself is precious.  If time is precious, it’s only because it’s the abstract concept through which we realize our dreams.

Going to the Chapel…

On a night like tonight, it doesn’t matter that summer’s over and winter is coming; the stillness of a cool October evening soothes overworked neurotransmitters.  I didn’t fall in love with fall until I fell in love with Charming… about this same time two years ago.  Fall brought Charming, and together they were a calm, cool, refreshing breeze to soothe the burns resulting from my summer of online dating.

It was also about this time that Charming made the drive from DC to Hampton for the first time, a weekend of dates.  Only acquaintances in college, we were really just getting to know one another, and the thirty-something divorced versions of us only moderately resemble the carefree passion of a college kid.  A friend recently shared a picture of a group of us from a Roulette my freshman year at Wheaton.  In a Roulette, your whole floor went on an outing where your roommate picked your date for you.  Kate had naturally chosen my brother’s best friend as a safe, platonic choice, and he was on one side of me.

On the other, however, with just his date standing between us, was Charming, grinning eagerly just like me at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago sixteen years ago.  It was a different life, a different us, in an October long forgotten or dis-remembered by the sheer volume of comedies, romances, and tragedies that would strike and stun and sink and soar until we found ourselves in a Hampton October, together on a date.  I took Charming to Fort Monroe beach that first time because I wasn’t sure the weather would give us another chance or if fate would even give us another date.  I wanted to share with him this place that made me feel surrounded by peace because the vast reach of the ocean and sand makes me feel as small as I really am.

Though not a beach person himself, Charming supports my infatuation with the salty shoreline.  In the summer, he’ll sweat it out for me because he knows me now.  I’m not a girl in a picture with a person between us.  That first day, it was chilly where we needed sweaters to shield us from a chilly ocean breeze, and I’ve come to learn that is how he prefers to experience the grandeur of the sea, especially framed by one of God’s sunset murals over the Chesapeake Bay.  In two years’ time, Charming must have reached the conclusion that the benefit of a beach recharge for me outweighs the heat’s draining effects on him.

My sophomores took their first proficiency test to assess their mastery of the basic elements of a short story like setting and plot as well as archetypes and universal themes.  When I reflect on the past weekend, I’m finding meaning in all the little details that are often overlooked.  I try to impart the importance of practicing our crafts to improve in them, and I model that with my blog each week; still, when I teach a concept again, even if it’s for the eleventh time, the review reinforces prior learning.  I grow right along with my adolescents.

I never wanted to have a wedding at a beach.  I never wanted a destination wedding.  I never imagined that a wedding could end up being an opportunity for Charming and I to be intentional about all the details that would end up giving me a new dream for what I never knew I wanted.  Though I wasn’t aware while making choices together over the past month, the wedding plan that’s materialized is incredibly fitting, as if by God’s design.

We drove down to the Outer Banks on Saturday afternoon after our first pre-marital counseling session.  During the week, my school owns me, but this weekend was entirely Charming’s.  We started with our leading option for the reception.  On the pier overlooking the ocean, it was certainly romantic with a certain character and charm that appealed to me, but we had some doubts to discuss after leaving the office.  Charming led me back up to the pier and asked me to marry him with my real ring, the one he picked with the diamond he chose…

…and I have been distracted writing this whole blog because it glistens on my finger, and my students could tell you what the circle archetype represents.   On my finger, I get to see a constant reminder of the completeness, the wholeness, the unity of my forever and always with Charming.  It’s painful to know that I used to wear another ring on that finger, that I made a promise and a vow that I broke, that after my divorce, the circle of metal failed to fulfill its archetypal expectations.  A broken circle has a different meaning altogether.

At the same time, I know Charming picked out another ring for another woman, and that circle was broken, too.  We’ve both experienced a wedding, a marriage, and a divorce.  Our journey through the last eight seasons of life has taught us so much about ourselves, and for me, it’s ultimately brought me to my knees in prayer.  It was right that Charming proposed on the beach in Fort Monroe and presented me with my perfect ring on the pier in Kitty Hawk.  Fort Monroe was the beginning of our dating life, and the Outer Banks will be the beginning of our married life.

The archetype of the sea associates in two ways: it can be vast and dangerous, chaotic and intimidating, but the waves themselves symbolize eternity or infinity.  Charming likes the beach for me, but we both love the beach for our week-long vacation with family and friends culminating in a church ceremony and a reception on the water.  Maybe not at this pier, but with my engagement ring in its rightful, permanent place, we headed up to Duck Methodist Church to peek in the windows and confirm the venue for our ceremony.  Now, this was just like I pictured when I was a little girl: the white church with the steeple and heavenly light streaming in from the windows flooding the pews.

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The strong breeze from the ocean made it feel colder than it was, but we didn’t miss the opportunity to walk down the boardwalk behind the church, hand in hand.  We watched the sun set over the Sound, and I mentally scanned all archetypes we talked about last week.  The sun can symbolize the Father figure and the passage of life.  Water itself represents new life, like when Charming and I both had our sins washed away in baptism.   The triangle is the symbol for trinity, and that applied, too.  Hand in hand, we formed just the bottom.  That setting Sun over the sound completed the shape.

We checked out a second venue location down in Nag’s Head on a whim, not expecting much.  Yesterday, we mailed in the deposit.  It was farther from the church, but perfect for our wedding vision.  Driving back from the OBX to Hampton in the dark, I was lighter.  In July, we’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married in the eyes of God and all our family and friends.  At four o’clock in the afternoon, a number that symbolizes the life cycle and nature’s seasons, we will exchange vows and rings that promise and represent our forever union.

I have peace in the sunset with Charming because the circle isn’t the only shape determining the outcome of our marriage.  Inside the walls of the white church with a steeple I’d dreamed of since I was a little girl, we’ll know that beyond us the ocean is raging, vast and dangerous, chaotic and intimidating, even as we commit to a union as eternal as the seas.  Then, we’ll head down to Jennette’s Pier on the water to celebrate new life and new beginnings.  The Father controls all of it.  He’s the Creator of archetypes and the Creator of me and my future husband.

The sun will set over the Sound and be a symbol to all gathered of the daily renewal that comes in a relationship between three: hand in hand on land with God holding up our free arms.  We’re aiming for a story with a happy ending this time.  And I’d say our budding plans for our Outer Banks wedding set the stage up with just the right archetypal elements for a “love conquers all” theme to emerge in the resolution.