Beads and Conversation

For three days with my folks in Syracuse, we spent two on the road, the typical travel delays awkwardly framing the worthy events in between at the one place that’s always been home for me.  Though we arrived after midnight, Mom had a spread waiting in case we wanted to pre-game the next day’s indulgences; technically, it was already Thanksgiving, so its calorie cloak spell had already been cast over the holiday.

We’d visit Grams first, at the nursing home she’s called home for several years now.  I recognized, even as I wrote it, that the prior statement is highly inaccurate.  The compounding deficiencies of immobility, dementia, and post-stroke trauma battle practically effortlessly to destroy what remains of the fiercest, fieriest, feistiest woman I’ll ever know.  The grandkids all call her Nonna, an Italian sentiment.  Their Nonna will never be my Grams, though.  The women coexisted briefly when my eldest niece was small and before the knee replacement sealed Grams’ fate, but my grandmother and their great-grandmother are now two separate entities entirely.

While Dad, Charming, and I chatted with her before lunch, I was grateful for Mom’s warning on Gram’s lack of interaction or engagement during visits.  Remembering how much she loved watching me make jewelry for her four years ago when I was living in town, I’d brought the full kit.  Dad used to take me twice a week, and Grams still knew me then, that year she turned ninety.  It was her last good year.  A twisted gift in my divorce decree was the opportunity to stash up extra memories, to shore them up for, well, times like now.

Charming won’t meet Dr. Bogin or either of my grandfathers or my mother’s mom or brother.  At the nursing home, Charming met Nonna first last Christmas, and now for the second time.  Her aides had dressed her in a royal purple sweater with a rhinestone bow I’d gifted her a few years back. Back then, Grams would tell me which colors she wanted for her bracelet on that day, and we’d talk while I wove the jewels.  Her gaze would shift appropriately between my hands and my eyes, transfixed on the colorful beads but engaged with me in conversation, admittedly less so after summer’s stroke.

Charming watched her today, mostly dozing off, but occasionally with her gaze fixed briefly on the Hallmark Movie or FaceTime on Dad’s iPad with her other son’s family.  I think he noticed a subtle change when I brought out the beads again.  Maybe I just wanted to believe that it was so, but she seemed more alert and aware.  I spoke to her like I did when I was going through my divorce, only my future husband was sitting beside me now.  As I prattled on, making countless efforts to engage Grams, I was encouraged by the glimmer in her eye and clear efforts to smile as I made her another one-of-a-kind bracelet, with colors I’d coaxed her into pointing to on her own.

That afternoon, with just the four of us gathered around my parents’ table, after feasting on turkey and stuffing and every favorite fixing beside, we paused to share three things for which each of us was grateful.  We noted many of the same things like God carrying varied loved ones through physical crises and God bringing Charming and I together to start a life of our own.  It’s easy to be grateful on Thanksgiving Day when you’re surrounded by joy and hope, illustrated in the carefully selected décor that reveal’s my mother’s heart of hospitality in every nook and cranny.  When you’re full and fit, when food and family abound, when the fear of the future is practically eradicated by reflecting on all God has fulfilled.

On the second day, we’d visit Great Aunt Esther in her apartment in a more independent assisted-living facility.  Time has taken its toll on her as well.  She’s not the joyful storyteller I remember, eager to tell a tale supporting some relevant Biblical theme or sing an old hymn without prompting.  Her livelihood was preaching, and she served most of her life as everyone’s Aunt Esther, traveling the East coast spreading the gospel and teaching children about having a relationship with God using flannelgraphs.  The fragile woman Charming delicately embraced was a shell of that great preacher.  He would hear no gratitude in her fully furnished living room.  Aunt Esther complained of her ailments, instead, combating every attempt at positive redirection with another prepared grievance.

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Aunt Esther believed coming over for Thanksgiving dinner would be too difficult, and despite my suggestions she start praying a month early, she doesn’t plan to come out for Christmas either.  My heart breaks for her.  Charming sees her loneliness.  I discern the result of her increasing propensity toward reclusion as she’s aged.  Alone, she doesn’t ever get to feel the fire of the gift God gave her to preach and teach.  There are church services and events in her building that would give her the chance to socialize, but fear of exposure to germs and distance from a restroom keeps her inside with movies and books that can show her the world around without actually experiencing it.

On the third day, my mom hosted a Thanksgiving Open House with Charming and myself as the guests of honor, knowing it might be the best opportunity for hometown friends and family to meet my groom who can’t accommodate a destination wedding this summer.  We were greeted by an endless stream of people, but it wasn’t like salmon in river rapids… this gathering was more like our house became an aquarium featuring all the colorful, unique, diverse people in our life.  As they intersected and Charming jumped into the mix, initial conversations were like reading the inscription for the Sea Star, filling in essential details like former names, essential functions, and previous relations.

It was incredible, intermingling with my parents’ friends who had become mine during my brief stint back up north; girlfriends from church and school, now mothers with kids the ages we were when we first met; vested colleagues of my parents and coworkers of mine; neighbors spanning decades with children I’d babysat now building lives, careers, and families of their own; and family I hadn’t seen in too many years, now.  They were all meeting Charming, all weaving a tapestry of my life for him.

Though it seemed we navigated thousands of conversations ranging from small talk to TMI, one highlight was a brief exchange with a woman who has known me since I was a little girl.  My brother and her son were friends in high school, and our families have remained in contact over the years.  My request for her invite specifically, though, was because she’d made the occasional comment on my blog post, and I sensed she was invested in our story.  Not only did she express that she was a faithful follower (I didn’t realize I had those), but she pointed out some specific reasons she loved my writing.

I write about the things she didn’t know anyone else had felt or experienced.  Not only was I able to translate concepts to words that she could relate to across generational boundaries, but I was willing to write about them openly, publically.  That’s why I created this blog, Writer’s Growth.  It was a response to random people in my life connecting to other people and wanting to share my story.

A graduate of my yearbook program recently emailed me asking me for tips about starting her own blog.  Writing publically about your own life is not for everyone; in blogging club, we used to work through a group process to create each member’s blog.  I’d love to say it was as simple as first identifying that person’s best inspiration, packaging it as a visual and verbal concept, and praying the WordPress domain address we wanted wasn’t already taken.

She asked how she could figure out potential topics and how she could keep herself and her readers interested.  Honestly, I don’t think about any of that.  It was a part of my packaging for my blog – I write on Tuesday nights about whatever is on my mind when I cuddle up with my laptop and wine in my love seat on the front porch.  I’m not worried about what’s popular or trendy or interesting.

My best tip to any blogger who is willing to write about his or her life is to be authentic, even if that means writing under an alias to allow that freedom.  If you write about your passion, writer’s hyper-focus kicks in to supply the details.  I didn’t wake up grateful for my divorce today, but after sifting through my writing therapy’s naturally transitioning fragments, the woman on my mind really only exists in Thanksgivings long past.

Charming would have found himself unwittingly endeared to Grams the way I knew her: self-motivated, driven, and strong all my life until decades after Grandpa passed away.  It wasn’t until my future husband sat with me in the same little room she could never really understand was her “home” that I knew to be grateful for visits twice a week, face to face, for over a year when we collected beads and conversations, while despite the dementia, she still knew me, her granddaughter.

This year, Dad and Charming gently hugged Nonna in her purple sweater with the rhinestones, sat beside her and made one-sided conversation in hopes to elicit a response.  I sat and made another bracelet, and though we were all in the same room, I saw things Charming couldn’t.

I was smiling and holding back tears simultaneously, stringing together silver and black beads for another bracelet, surrounded by the memories of colorful beads and colorful conversations when Grams was still Grams, back when I wasn’t a writer again yet to realize God’s greatest blessing in the midst of my divorce and give Him the glory for it.  When I write, I grow, and tonight, I give thanks.

If Dr. Bogin Met Charming…

While I’m certain I locked the swirling interests in the classroom behind me today, our yearbook theme, the art of rhetorical persuasion, recommendation letters, and student ID card issues recognize no physical boundaries.  Christmas lists are in high demand, and I never seem to make it to the next page of suggested wedding registry items.  It’s officially Thanksgiving break, and I’m grateful to be here on writing night.

This is my indulgent escape, the intersection of my passion and hyper focus, the living log of one writer’s growth, and my most cherished hours of pensive ponderings.  It’s been 987 days since I first sat down on this wicker patio furniture with a laptop and a glass of red wine and unwittingly began a tradition I’d be faithful to protect and preserve despite competing engagements.  Dr. Bogin would be proud.  Of me, certainly, as I followed through on finding a new form of therapy after I moved to Virginia.

Really, though, I think Dr. Bogin would be proud of his work.  Were he still alive, he’d still be checking in for backyard chats when I visit Syracuse.  This weekend, I would be able to introduce him to Charming at the Thanksgiving Open House my mother is throwing for us.  I can picture him peering over the rims of his round-black frames allowing the hint of a smile to escape his neutral expression.   Over the course of 409 days in Upstate New York, from first to last formal office session, Dr. Bogin facilitated the transitional phase following my divorce.

I became his patient and his protégé, so when I was ready to start over in Virginia, Dr. Bogin’s occasional email delighted me.  With a psychologist as masterful as he was, I saw those session bills as at least 40% tuition in how to do therapy effectively.  He was the first person I’d ever encountered, including other therapists I’d tried in years past, who required authenticity and complete exposure and guaranteed the return on my risky investment would be a clever guide to help me navigate, absent judgment or solutions.

Smiles were rare because inscrutable neutrality is a safe sounding board.  I might get a brief, uncontrollable smirk from Dr. Bogin after I’d blurted out something particularly witty or outrageous or arrived at some topic of import.  He’d recover quickly.  Physical contact isn’t common in psychology visits, but he hugged me goodbye at the end of our last session.  He smiled because he was proud of my process in this move to start over in so many ways.  And Dr. Bogin would smile too, I know, if he shook my Charming’s hand, if only to recognize that he’d just met my arrival at the topic of most import.

Shortly after the last time we met to catch up on a visit back home, Dr. Bogin asked to use one of my blog posts with his graduate students because I’d captured the process, what actually happened in the accumulation of those sessions over time, that the perspective of a patient who’d experienced the simultaneous tutelage had progressed as a protégé now practicing the intentional act of weekly reflection involving analysis and emotional regulation to sift through the distracters and find the main thing.

This is my fourth year at Kecoughtan, and our annual yearbook The Tomahawk will be my final contribution.  Every year, we have to start by finding a theme that relates to our school that year in some way.  We start with vague and general discussions, then begin to arrive at communal agreements on varied points.  Once we’ve decided the overall message we want to communicate with our yearbook, we develop all elements of the theme to support that aim – the colors, graphics, fonts, backgrounds, layouts, coverage, and verbal reinforcements are intentionally chosen before production begins.

This final theme of representing our school community with the phrase “Out of Many, One” perhaps subconsciously originated from what I believe is the theme of my time at Kecoughtan High School.  When my seniors graduate in June, I will have called Kecoughtan home for 1,408 days.  That’s more than three times the investment in Dr. Bogin’s office.  As an ENFJ, I have a moderate preference for feeling over thinking, but effective therapy requires both.  The 207 days I have left in CD23 equates to 15% of my total time spent in the district.  Then, I start over again.

But is it really starting over?  Eighteen years in my parents’ home, two years at Wheaton College, a decade in Nashville, a year plus back in Syracuse, four years in Hampton.  I planted lives in each place and time only to rip out the roots when the next unexpected set of circumstances respected no physical boundaries for home.  Nevertheless, that 15% of my remaining time teaching in Hampton can either be seen as serving out the time on a sentence of another start-over attempt that expired or the same statistic can prompt the natural conservationist response.

When we get down to the bottom of the shampoo bottle, we make smaller dollops in our hands, using just what we need, avoiding waste, trying to get the most out of each drop in contrast to the day we opened the bottle and applied twice as much product as needed just to appreciate that favored shower scent.  For me, hitting thirty and leaving my husband drained me completely.  The hundreds of days in Syracuse with Dr. Bogin and the thousands of days in Hampton with my brother’s family and my students filled me up.  Each transition marks key defining seasons of my evolution.

Each time I started over, but not with the traditional clean slate.  Instead, Dr. Bogin would be proud that I finally understood not a day of my life has been a waste of time.  In the 5,932 days since I first met Charming back at Wheaton College, God has continued to carry out the promise of a verse He gave me out in the wilderness on the shores of Lake Superior just before Freshman Orientation more than fifteen years ago.

It was Isaiah 43:19, and I read it then in my grandfather’s hand-me-down NIV Study Bible: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  It fit that juncture.  I was about to start college and meet guys like Charming that could potentially be my husband.  I thought this new thing God was going to do there and then, that Wheaton would be a way and a river.  I felt the same way about Nashville.  By the time I’d returned home with my tail between my legs, I paused living until I could figure out where to settle down permanently.

The reality is that God is always doing a new thing in my life, and I rarely perceive it as a future prospect for streams and abundance.  I’ve experienced deserts and wildernesses, but bitter hindsight can’t discredit the paths and currents forged during each of those seasons.  Charming experienced them too, and we’re not starting over this time.  We spent 5,127 days apart after college.  After reconnecting, he proposed after 708 days.  We can manipulate numbers to serve our purposes, and that means that just 7% of our relationship was the part that mattered, the knowing and building and loving that culminated in the fulfillment of a promise God gave six thousand days ago.

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Sunday afternoon, I started designing our engagement scrapbook while I “watched” the Redskins with Charming.  For now, weekends are still for us, but if we keep breaking down my life in terms of days, then this next transition to a new beginning will merge the themes of our lives.  The days I spent building a life in a place I no longer live were not wasted.  Who am I to question the way God carries out His verbal and visual thematic message for my life when it took me three quarters of a game to finish scrapbooking one page?

Charming and I are getting married, and we want our wedding day to honor the promise God has fulfilled in our lives and all those we love and care about who will celebrate with us.  Trust that I’ll start tackling our wedding theme just like we do with the yearbook, intentionally selecting details to symbolize and communicate the theme in our story.  God reclaims.  God restores.  God redeems.

Dr. Bogin won’t shake Charming’s hand, but Charming will forever benefit from the influence this psychologist and mentor had on my life.  You can’t measure impact or growth or streams or deserts in days; when I had lost my faith and all but given up on life, Dr. Bogin didn’t just guide me through the wilderness.  He gave me a compass, teaching me how to process in self-reflection; this writing therapy compass is far more effective in navigating life now than a calendar recording the last fifteen years.

Chasing Childhood

It’s well past twilight, well past laughter and lawn mowers, well past normal blogging start time and well past the cut-off time for all mentally stimulating tasks established by my doctor to best “facilitate the induction of sleep.”  With Chuck recovering from an emergency root canal today, I missed our typical Tuesday gym mentor elliptical exchange.  I’m thrown off balance, but recent trials are forcing me to accept my need to adjust and be flexible.

I wasn’t ready to write, yet.  Chuck has a gift at navigating me through a free talk at a fast pace, literally and figuratively.  The mind and the body move, and though no visible progress is made, after forty-five minutes, a tiny screen confirms the distance completed and calories burned.  There’s no digital read out for a therapeutic dialogue with a friend, but when I sat down to write tonight, it was as though I’d missed a mental workout with Chuck and any processing gains that would have accompanied it.  In fact, it’s been five days since our schedules lined up.  Unusual, yes, so I adjusted.

Instead of writing, I called my mom from my white wicker love seat to ask her about our weekends in Cape Cod when I was little.   Maybe she was on the love seat beside the couch where my father was manning the remote for their routine evening programming like the last three decades.  It’s easy to picture them because even the couches are the same.  We’re creatures of habit, my mom and I, and we both equally cherish my childhood memories in that house and from all our adventures.

This weekend, I headed down to the Outer Banks to the beach house in Duck where my family will vacation during the week prior to my wedding.  Charming’s Bible Study crew and their kids took advantage of Veteran’s Day weekend to unwind and have fun.  By the time I’d joined them late Friday afternoon, it was clear that Charming was experiencing that which makes him feel honored to be a Veteran – surrounded by family and friends and his future wife in a beach house where he’d vacationed most of his life with time to play complex, strategic board games and watch the sun set over the sound – these are the people he went to war to protect, the simple freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness symbolized in a few days where normalcy was interrupted.

We’ve been to Duck a couple of times now, once with Charming’s parents in the spring, and then again to choose our wedding venues over Columbus Day weekend.  The sea and the sand remind me of our family trips to Cape Cod.  We went for several years, always renting the same beach house for Columbus Day weekend.  Though it was the same time of year, the scent near the shores of the Outer Banks was subtle compared to the fragrance of Cape Cod in October, the cool ocean breeze carrying salty, sandy clouds two blocks inland.

While I was building sand castles, maybe Charming was doing the same nearly seven hundred miles South on the Atlantic Ocean, and some of the parents in the house this weekend were just little girls playing with sea shells alongside him, his sister included.  I enjoyed my chats with her this weekend, and I was encouraged by the authentic friendship we’ll deepen in seasons to come.  I wondered what it was like for Charming to experience the generational shift.  Is this what his childhood vacation memories are made of?

Certainly, our weekend was different.  As grownups, we were all keeping one eye on the needs of the six children circling energetically underfoot.  Charming and I scheduled our first cake testing and were able to attend Sunday morning service at the church where we’ll be married in seven months.  Back at the house, parents balanced responsibilities and personal playtime, seemingly have established a seamless system for alternating coverage in such a way as each appeared to have a fun weekend that was even relaxing at times, especially after the kids were tucked away in the bunk beds downstairs.

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I remember vividly my room with the slanted ceiling in our Cape Cod rental, and looking back, it’s odd considering I was so young and we only visited a handful of times.  Mom and I just naturally knew we had to make our moments count, I think.  I love Cape Cod with all the waves of nostalgia its mention puts into motion; nevertheless, the ebb and flow of the Atlantic was a distant star in relationship to the childhood I loved more than the Cape, in our white house with the black shutters in Upstate New York.

Charming and I have shared many a holiday with his family in the house he grew up in, and on a recent visit I even got a glimpse at a camcorder home video recording of my teenage Charming acting in a skit at a church fundraiser for a mission’s trip.  My instant response was to find a time capsule and rewrite history, defying space and time and logic to have been a part of moments like those in Charming’s life.

That’s a significantly different childhood from the one I experienced, yet given the opportunity to know Charming all the days of my life, the thought occurred to abandon it all; perhaps I can credit it to the free reign of imagination when dreaming about impossibilities.  In sane moments, moments when I’m not realizing I would have fallen in love with this camcorder Charming just as quickly as the thirty-five year old who proposed to me, I cherish my childhood and wouldn’t change a thing.

While that should embolden my parents and serve as a digital read out proving the completed distance and calories burned in raising me produced positive results, there’s a new factor in the equation that affects future outcomes in my life.   Charming comes to our relationship with his own childhood experience.  I don’t factor into his past, and he doesn’t factor into mine, but we factor into the future home that we’re going to build together and the type of childhood we’ll give our kids.

Andy Stanley’s sermon series have become a part of my nighttime routine.  I’ve finished the series, “Scared to Death” working through fear in the past, present, and future, and I’ve moved on to: “What Couples Should Know”.  Last night, I listened to Andy’s second podcast in the series.  He talks about how we all enter into marriage with hopes, dreams, and desires and flushes out the implications of what happens when these things become expectations for your spouse.

I’ve had my future children’s lives planned out since I was a child, modeled after my childhood.  I never considered an alternate suburban Easter picture.  We’re posed in front of the door of our Colonial style home in outfits of coordinating color, my daughter still clutching her Bible after church where she’s made friends with the children of our small group, and the neighbor we cat-sit for occasionally pops outside just in time to take the family photograph.

I don’t know how to make sure that my hopes, dreams, and desires don’t transform Charming into a debtor who has to fulfill my expectations, though I imagine the next podcast contains Andy Stanley’s answer with a preview that concludes, “But what are we suppose dot do about our hopes, dreams, and desires?”

I’m not waiting for Andy’s answer.  I’ve been working through this tonight.  Like writing night, adjusting expectations to current circumstances is the appropriate response.  Mom said that she never envisioned her future family to be like hers was growing up, but rather that she wanted to marry the best things of both their childhoods.  In the end, with the freedom Dad gave her, she felt they were able to do even more.  That’s how I experienced it, in that home, with that family.

I didn’t have any expectations for Charming’s proposal, and it blew me away.  Here and now, I commit to adjust my expectations for the future, and maybe even apply a bit of Mom wisdom, finding the overlap and intersection of the best of our ideas for an ideal family experience.  This house in Hampton is starting to lose the feeling of “home”, because I feel most loved, welcomed, and accepted when I’m with Charming.  It doesn’t matter if we live on the East Coast or a military base on the other side of the country or the world.  It doesn’t matter if we relocate every three years.  It doesn’t matter if I never have a house like my parents’ encasing three decades of memories where the roots run deep.

Charming is home.  We will grow roots.  We take the best of our dreams, hopes, and desires, and we’ll bloom where we’re planted.  If and when we relocate, it’s a transplanting process for a marriage.  Our roots will continue to extend deeper and deeper with each new version of us – each addition to the family or loss therein, a career shift, a job relocation – the names and the faces and the places will color and fill a collective garden around us that is no less inspiring for its transience.

When two officially become one, home is wherever Charming and I are together, and home is where those roots will grow.  Sure, I’m still praying for a front porch swing, but the rest is negotiable.  Like his proposal, I believe that life with Charming is going to blow me away.  That’s the only expectation that matters, a conclusion that serves as my digital confirmation that progress was made on this chilly, November night, writing well past all routines, ready for my new Home to call… after he finishes reading this blog post, faithful and true.

In Everything

The drip-drop bass track of rain on this chilly November night reminds me of the overdubbed voices that comprised the “instruments” for Bobby McFerrin’s catchy eighties hit, Don’t Worry, Be Happy.  My Pandora station chose this positive, mellow, island vibe during our English 10 award ceremony yesterday, its sledgehammer theme landing firmly on its creative target as students used the last half hour of the quarter to write bucket lists.

It was this accidental tradition I began two years ago that landed me on a grand tour of Italy with seven incredible teenage girls who shared my dream.  Being intentional about the future, encouraging students to make plans and achieve goals – these are the honorable aims embedded in much of their core and elective standards.  High schools across the Nation like ours offer courses in government, personal finance, and other college and career readiness courses, designed to prepare students by providing the knowledge and skill sets necessary to face independent living.

It’s not surprising, then, that when I give my sophomores a chance to pause the world’s agenda and look inward, that they are willing participants in the activity.  For a brief time, they get a chance to apply their current knowledge and skills to a critical thinking-based tasks geared at improving the quality of their lives… not as it pertains to the necessary equipment they pick up and organize by the end of high school, but in making the most of their time by committing to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

The massive persuasive undertaking faded to the background as we started class with award presentations and segued via a string of America’s Funniest Home videos to our creative undertaking.  I gave them the background of how seeing my fiancé’s bucket list two years ago inspired me to write my own, and my own prompted me to spontaneously extend the experience to my students that year.  I shared the coolest bucket list blog with them first, then shared my own, finally encouraging them to seek their minds or Google and make their own lists with at least five items.

I played music in the background while I watched them dream.  Typically, I’d be snapping photos, but to be honest, I just wanted to be in the moment with them.  I could hear the familiar tune fill the classroom with a mood ideal for unbridling oneself from the immediacies of the present.  “Don’t worry, be happy.”  The bouncing bass voices and the whistling lift even resistant minds up to the challenge.  What would make you happy?  My students dedicated themselves to visiting specific places, some with reasons clearly having originated somewhere personal.  Bobby’s whistling, and I’m circling the room, mimicking his message.  “Don’t worry about your current limitations.  What have you always wanted to do?”  They respond by jotting new lines on their colored note cards.

I don’t know what these teens will accomplish, but I hope they Facebook Friend request me after they graduate from high school.  This particular department named themselves Digital Thiccness, and I’m not sure I followed their process for selecting it, but the team effort in finding ways for individuals to join teams and share voices until the discussion evolved into their first department decision – well, I think  their identity solidified that day, during that student-led discussion where I sat back and observed, finding that by resisting the urge to control the dialogue, character traits of twenty-some sixteen-year-olds merged to define a class environment representing those who value inclusion, fairness, process, and leadership.

This group of students earned department of the quarter based on their merits, individually and united.  They tolerate my obvious music selection and my conspicuous desire to share my own passion; nevertheless, watching them dream on their colored note-cards, free from the world’s next imposition on their time commitments, there was a lot of laughter and happiness in the undercurrent of on-task chatter as teens connected, related, shared, bonded, and inspired each other.  For a half hour, they weren’t worried about their forthcoming report cards or practice after school.  I didn’t stop to take a picture because I wanted to read each card.  Some kids had more than twenty items.  The sentiment I most took away from this last first quarter award ceremony for me at Kecoughtan was gratitude.

Though I’ll never be able to track the impact of these bucket list activities with a bar graph over time, I see what I’ve accomplished on my own bucket list in just two years and choose to believe that a batch of kids from Kecoughtan High School who indulged Ms. Palma back in tenth grade will somehow accomplish more, intentionally, fulfill more dreams, and subsequently, be more satisfied with their lives amidst all the other obligations that school will evolve into, whether more schooling or careers or family responsibilities.

I’m grateful for this class of young minds that reenergize me for the uncertain journey ahead.  My future with Charming comes with a plethora of question marks, but my list of Thirty Things to Do in my Thirties still has six more years in office.  No matter what city or job or house we call home in a year’s time, the most important item on my list is to marry the man of my dreams without settling for less than that.  In July, crossing that one item out obligates me – no, us – to create another list.  Our list.  I won’t always be Ms. Palma, scanning Kecoughtan student aspirations in CD23.

That was never more apparent than on Saturday when we celebrated Charming’s family Thanksgiving a bit early to accommodate his parents’ upcoming travel overseas.  A familiar family friend was back around the table, and my favorite person of all was seated beside me.  When we walked in before noon with wine and apple pie, I’d no sooner set them down than Grandma Lois was giving me a good squeeze, only this time, she didn’t have to struggle to remember my name.  She just called me Mrs. Charming. (Note: cop-out product of unsuccessful search for the fairy prince’s last name.)

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My teacher nickname really will change from Ms. P. to Mrs. C. This was my third Thanksgiving with Charming’s family, and the sparkling engagement ring doesn’t get the credit for the sense of overwhelming gratitude that made this celebration unique.  We’re not officially family for nine more months, but in deference and love and bond, they feel like family in the ways that matter most.

The rain is slowing, and I actually heard the chirp of a bird.  It wasn’t a whistle or a vocal instrumental like the rain drops on my front porch, but I still thought of the old hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  Suddenly, I’m concerned with the indecipherable relationship between these two ideas, incorrectly joined with a comma that fails to offer the connection.  Yes, punctuation matters.  Is it a cause and effect relationship, as in, “Don’t worry; then, you’ll be happy.”  Is it a dual commission, “Don’t worry, and be happy, too.”  Are worry and happiness juxtaposed, codependent, mutually beneficially, or mutually exclusive?

At night, one of the ways I like to “prepare my mind for induction to sleep” is to recall Bible verses, sifting through the two decades of dust on my old Awana trophies to uncover timeless messages permanently etched in my brain. In a letter to a church in Philippi two thousand years ago, someone suggested a similar yet divergent way to focus on the positive.  Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Perhaps the greatest single outcome of this difficult season for sleep has been in my predisposition to go to God before I go to bed.  It’s easy to say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but when the whistling, catchy tune fades, I’m left begging the question: How?  Bobby nailed part of it; Paul answered the rest.  In everything, that singular indefinite pronoun that implies all the time, everywhere, in each season and circumstance and city and job and house, we pray.  We praise, we give thanks, and we hand the worry over to God who can bear it.

Granted, I might have to hand it over again tomorrow night, but looking at how many things I’ve done that used to be someday-maybes, I believe God cares about my bucket list in the same way I care about my students’.  Goals change.  Lord knows, I need to add mastering Level 40 in Pokémon Go to my current list, and He knows all the accomplishments I’ll make with Charming, together, on a joint bucket list that doesn’t exist yet.

Do I ever worry that our colliding futures will alter my singular goals, dreams, and plans?  I give it up to God daily.  Still, I have to admit, watching my students make crazy, cool, fun, exciting, and even practical commitments for good things in their futures, I saw that in everything, I get to give thanks.  Even for the unknown or uncertain.  The certainty of my most important lifelong dream will be fulfilled next summer, and then two will become one and we’ll find how to accomplish goals together, like Digital Thiccness in obtaining the department of the quarter award.

It starts like in the classroom, operating from an agreed set of expectations; we laid a foundation in the marriage workshop by writing a vision statement for our marriage.   Now, we can apply our knowledge and skills to a creative task…committing to supporting our shared goals and dreams… whatever they may be.  Maybe it’s time we get out a colored note card for Mr. and Mrs. Charming, strip away all the current obligations and question marks and simply commit to shared adventures… crazy, cool, fun, exciting, and of course, practical.

And in everything, I’ll pray and give thanks, entrusting my worries and my dreams to the Author of my past, present, and future.  God gave me Charming.  That simple, subtle reality quiets anxiety.  I trust the soothing rain to ease me to sleep tonight as I draw near to the Source of Peace, perhaps drifting off imagining all the possibilities for what the dinner table might look like next Thanksgiving.