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.
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?