Bridge to Joy

Winter finally came.  Driving north, the temperatures fell and the cold settled in my bones.  I’d been so wrapped up in the excitement of spending Christmas in Syracuse at my parents’ house with Charming that I’d forgotten what it’s like to write outside in single-digit weather, engulfed in a blanket of white.  And while the snow makes all appear clean and bright, it simply covers the lifeless flower beds, an illusion to make the frigid winter winds bearable.

Tonight, I find myself writing in a white Honda Fit instead of a whicker love seat, home and not home concurrently.  Unwilling to compromise on one of the few requirements of my weekly writing therapy, maintaining the integrity of the process was a bit tricky to navigate.  The festivities of Christmas yesterday will resume tomorrow with my brother’s family, and I managed to ignore my laptop’s pleas to honor our date until Timmy parked his new ride and gave me a nephew to squeeze.  He and his wife are likely putting the sweet child to bed as I type, with Charming and my parents waiting to spend the night catching up or playing board games or watching a movie.

Consequently, there’s no forgetting they are inside the house together bonding through some experience that won’t be in my memory bank.   I chose to be outside alone writing my way to clarity, trusting that like the previous one hundred and forty-three Tuesday nights, I’ll find that thing that I didn’t know I was looking for when I first open that familiar word document, now over four hundred pages cataloguing my growth in this writing journey.  Someone recently asked me if I’ll keep blogging after Charming and I are married.  It struck me as an odd – I started writing long before we connected, so I’d never considered this weekly narrative to be a love story that ends with the nuptials.

At some point, though, there will be a competition for a Tuesday night that’s beyond my ability to protect.  Charming respects my cherished writing nights, and I believe he’ll continue to support this outlet as long as it’s beneficial.  In fact, his creative Christmas gift of an electric blanket that plugs into the cigarette lighter of my car inspired an ideal alternative location where I could write in warmth outside with my glass of red wine, looking out over the snow’s serene apparition.  He ensured I could invest in myself on a cruise, a family vacation, a road trip – no doubt he’s already marked off a couple of hours for the Tuesday that lands in our honeymoon.

With the hectic holidays in full force, I crave the stolen moments of silence to look outward and inward simultaneously.   Like freshly fallen snow, Christmas covers all the barren places.   This morning, I was editing pictures from our holiday together, and I see an expression of joy in nearly every photograph.  We’d captured it on film; it had to be real.  It was the smallest gathering we’ve ever had, just the four of us: Charming, me, and my parents.  We’d celebrated early with his family and made the drive up it in time for Christmas Eve service in Syracuse.  We opened the traditional presents Mom marks “Night Before”, slept, and awoke to open stockings, visit Grams at the nursing home, open presents, eat Dad’s famous roast, open more presents, and watch Legend of the Fall.

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Then this morning, Christmas was gone, and like melted snow, it revealed the true dead of winter, and while I understand this is a season in my life, the joy captured in those snapshots yesterday doesn’t transcend individual moments.  Last week, I was seeking joy and found peace.  Now, I feel neither.  The past five months have been a rollercoaster of epic proportions, and I’m reeling in the aftermath.  With the excitement of seeing everyone’s reactions to my long-awaited presents from Italy now in the rear view mirror, I see my childhood home in the same way.

This was my home for over half my life.  Then, my home was at Wheaton where Charming and I didn’t fall in love yet, then in Nashville where I lost a decade to ill-made choices, a pit stop in Syracuse to figure out how to start over again, and my home now in Hampton where my white wicker love seat is vacant.  I don’t know where my home will be come July, just that it will be a better home.  After all, home is where the heart is, and Charming has my heart.  There are dozen great unknowns in our future together, but that’s not what grieves me.  I remember the vibrant girl who grew up in the white house with black shutters and was fearless and brave and ambitious, and I envy her.

In a little over a month, I turn thirty-five.  In plans wrought in the same bedroom I’m sleeping in this week, I should have had my own family by now, making our own new traditions for Christmastime.  My little brother just announced that his second child is on the way, and the news simply served as a reminder that if my ovaries continue functioning long enough, my kids won’t grow up with their cousins.  Next week, my eldest niece will turn ten, and my brain seems to fixate on a singular mantra: always the auntie, never the mother.  I don’t know when I’ll stop blogging.  I don’t know when I’ll have a child of my own, but Charming is my family now.  The merging of our lives is an unknown future that will give meaning to my life and fulfill the greatest longings of my heart.

I look, quite literally, in the rear view mirror, and I see the white house behind me where I was someone else entirely, filled with promise and expectation, and I can’t help but apologize for failing her.  One of the potential writing prompts for my sophomores on their end of course exam regards failure, and ultimately, the kids need to be able to determine what success means to them in order to address the prompt.  Likewise, my parents and Charming can tell me how much I’ve accomplished in life, but the way that I innocently defined success as a child playing house, longing for a family of her own, choosing a career path that aligned with motherhood… I see failure.  Despite the myriad alleged accomplishments that might make a life meaningful, I lack the one thing I wanted most.

Yes, it will likely come, I know, but the knowledge that I will marry Charming and build a home and family with him is just a white blanket of snow covering the last thirty-five years which is punctuated by losses and goodbyes in direct opposition to the hopes I had to grow roots and be a part of something that was bigger than me.  Each new beginning from college to Kecoughtan had an expiration date.  In July, I will start over again, and I dare to believe that this is the last fresh start.  I’m not the vibrant, fearless, brave, ambitious little girl who grew up in this home anymore.  The “joy” in my name eludes me at a time when I should be overjoyed planning my wedding to the man of my dreams.

But what is joy, really?  I defined success as having a family, raising kids with a husband who loved me and whom I respected.  If you’d asked me a few days ago, I would have defined joy as an emotion, a feeling of happiness.  The redefinition began in church Sunday night when the pastor illuminated a biblical perspective on the meaning of joy.  Interest piqued and long past the aide of ADHD meds, my impatient intrigue pulled up etymonline.com, and I journeyed through the history of the word’s origin as I listened for audio insights from the pastor.

In short, the noun “joy” was derived from first person conjugation of the Latin verb gaudere: to rejoice.  What once meant the source of pleasure, that thing in which we rejoice evolved into a feeling of pleasure, something inward.  Satisfied, my curiosity returned my phone to my purse, and alongside Charming and my parents I rejoiced in a candlelit chorus.  The next morning, I’d share the verse from last week’s blog during our little family Christmas service, highlighting this new understanding of joy.  We sang the familiar “Joy to the World”, just the four of us, our voices barely filling the room.

Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  This verse is worth revisiting with a different lens.  If I don’t feel joy, how is the God of hope filling me with it?  I trust Him.  I pray for joy and peace.  I dare to hope because God made His son a vulnerable baby who would grow to be a man and experience trials like we do, but to live perfectly as we do not, and to ultimately sacrifice Himself as was always His fate such that we could have a bridge to joy.

Not a fleeting feeling or smile for the camera while celebrating Christmas, but the source of joy that continually flows because Jesus was born to be crucified, and He was raised from the dead to fulfill Old Testament prophesies and give us access to the only hope matters.  Redefinitions alter perspective.  Maybe this blanket of white isn’t just an illusion of hope to cover dormant garden beds.  This snow will melt (but not before I get to build a snowman with my nephew), but Charming is my forever and always, my gift from God, my prince to cherish and not take for granted.

Definitions and etymology brought me along a path to clarity I couldn’t have anticipated when I greeted my brother and snuck out here to write my way to something I didn’t know I needed to see.  I can say that I will have success when Charming and I officially start over together for the last time because he tells me that ring on my finger is a reminder that I am his princess, and he’ll cherish me until death parts us.  Likewise, I can say that I will have joy in the suffering and in the successes because it’s not a feeling, not a smile in a photograph.  Rather, it’s the source of gladness in Whom I rejoice.

Looking outward and inward at home but not at home, a family in the rear view mirror and a new one just months up the road, I’m warmed and at peace.  I found joy; it was there all along, I was just seeking after the wrong definition.

Seeking Joy

The deceptive warmth of this December evening challenges the holiday theme of my street, the darkness punctuated by houses alight scattered up and down the block.  I find myself still and contented in a near completeness that’s eluded me in recent weeks, comforted by a reprieve from the cold, both in the climate around me and the chill within me.

Despite my predisposition to loathe the winter, Christmas is my favorite holiday.  Mom and I shored up decades of memory making at my childhood home in Syracuse, creating unanticipated expectations for my own adult participation in the month of December.  It wasn’t just about decorating the house or the tree… we built in dozens of little traditions, Mama Joy and me, and we even let my brothers and dad participate in them.  I’m not sure when I started giving her a snowman each year, but seeking out the perfect one to add to her collection has become a favorite mission of mine come wintertime.

Growing up, however, Christmas couldn’t start until we’d braved the creaky attic steps, carefully transporting half a century’s worth of tubs and boxes of decoration from the tiny, boarded, cold space where you couldn’t stand upright down the narrow attic steps and another flight of stairs to the main floor.  We found it safest and most efficient to do it together – the more the better.  When we were all still living at home, I can still envision the assembly line we’d create, with one parent in the attic and one on the ground, the rest of us transporting boxes appropriately sized for our ages to the location indicated by Mom’s scripted handwriting on each.

In more recent years, Mom and Dad mostly had to undertake this massive overhaul on their own.  They aren’t as young as they used to be, they keep telling me, and I know the assembly line isn’t as effective without the pitter patter of little feet to expedite and alleviate the burden of the transformation.  Trust me, if you’ve never witnessed my parents’ house at Christmastime, you’re missing out on a tribute to the wonder and awe of the true spirit of Christmas; there is no corner of our home untouched by Mom’s attention to detail, from cinnamon simmering on the stove to snowmen and lights and garlands and tiny figurines amassed over generations, each with a story… it’s inspiring.

While living in my little rented home with the red door, I’ve opted to keep my Christmas decorations in the shed out back.  My parents replaced their attic ladder some years ago, and even though it’s more stable, neither wants the other going up top without someone at the ground.  Moving in here, one of Mom’s greatest concerns was that the attic didn’t have a pull-down ladder at all, not even a rickety one.  Instead, Dad got me an 8 foot ladder that says not to stand on the top ledge.  I can open the cover while safely on the rungs, but to climb over the ceiling, I have to propel myself up from that prohibited ledge.  I promised her that I would never venture up into the attic without someone else here.

Tonight, I wanted to follow through on a promise to my sister-in-law that I would search for some boxes of hand-me-down clothes for the girls.  It’s been weeks, but Charming was only here one weekend and we ran out of time before he had to be on the road.  It will be weeks before he’s here again, so I thought I’d brave the attic alone just this one time.  After all, I’d made it home from the gym with a little extra time, so it would be great to cross this off my list and get the boxes to Gabrielle at dinner tonight.

Ladder positioned carefully, I made it into the attic without incidence, smiling at my agility and laughing at my clumsy nature’s failure.  It took about ten minutes to successfully locate the desired boxes, and I set about throwing them to the ground below… at which time my clumsiness prevailed, as we knew it eventually would, and I inadvertently knocked the ladder over.  It was leaning against the wall, just out of reach, and I could hear my mother gagging on an “I told you so” within seconds.  I reached into my pocket to call my neighbor, but my phone was still in my purse, down below with the boxes spilling out size four toddler clothing in my hallway.  Given my impending shoulder surgery, I toyed with my limited options before ultimately deciding on the hang-and-drop.  Though I ended up late for dinner and am sure my next physical therapy session will be torture, I survived the attic incident, and it left me oddly inspired, too.

Because I’ve been in the attic for a while now, cold and cramped and creaking.  Up there, any flicker of hope is engulfed by discouragement and darkness.  These past few months have been incredibly challenging, and the joy typical of a newly engaged woman has escaped me.  Holiday traditions are overrun by tasks with a deadline and health issues that require time and attention I’d rather spend on Mom’s next snowman, this time one I’m making myself for a true original.  I made it out of the attic tonight, not because our school holiday parties and induction ceremonies and that first yearbook deadline are in the rear view mirror and not because tomorrow afternoon starts winter break.

It’s the simple lesson that my parents reinforced while we were growing up every year when it was time to create Christmas in the Palma home.  It was the safest and most efficient when we did it together.  Mom had a legitimate fear about me venturing up a ladder into my attic by myself.  While it turned out okay, the reality of the possibilities for what might have occurred should remain sufficient incentive to never risk that climb on my own again.

I’ve been seeking joy and finding it elusive, I’ve been in the attic, and I’ve been there because of my continued, fierce, driving independence that spites me and my pride just enough to bring me to my knees.  Weekends with Charming have been tense because I’ve been surviving the week on too much work and too little sleep and expecting him to be my joy when we’re together.  While I know he enjoys making me happy, Charming cannot be my source of joy.  Seeking in him what I should be seeking in God will leave us all frustrated and unfulfilled.

Last Thursday night, the depression weighting me was finally unveiled.  I could see it as I spent the night wrapping presents, explaining the weakness of character I’d sensed growing inside.   The resiliency my mother admired in me as a child was gone.  In the days prior, everything that could go wrong it seemed had gone wrong, and I couldn’t bounce back.  After a few hours thinking and wrapping, I was able to explain to Charming what I had been experiencing.

The result was an incredible weekend because God gave me Charming as a partner in life.  The Lord is the source of my joy, and the peace and hope in the power of the Spirit manifests itself in the greatest way when Charming and I are together.  Instead of seeking joy, I leaned into him.  We set aside Friday night at dinner in Old Town for me to share all the burdens I haven’t had the will to talk about, and as painful as it was to verbally process all my current stressors and anxieties, I understood what my mom would later tell me had been an answer to her prayers.  Admitting these things to Charming was like alleviating half the burden, and yet though it was just half, it was sufficient to allow me to stand again.

After that hard night, we spent the rest of the weekend choosing to trust in God’s plan for our life and future together, opting to look around us at the incredible people he’s positioned in our present instead of the abstract, conceptual anxieties reminding us the ladder might be kicked out from under us at any time.  I wasn’t feeling joy, exactly, but I was willing to participate in our myriad planned holiday activities.  After a surprisingly fun girls outing to a drybar where a friend had made her Christmas gift a blowout and hair styling to each of the girls in Charming’s small group, we joined the husbands and kids for a Christmas party.  There were a handful of moments I knew genuine joy, like the kind in my mom’s house in December with snowmen peeking up at you from every nook and cranny.

In the morning after church and coffee with a friend from Charming’s early military days, we commenced one of his family’s Christmas traditions, led by the esteemed Grandma Lois: making the secret fruit cake recipe.  It was my third time to participate and my second to get my hands dirty.  In my future Mom’s kitchen, surrounded by Grandma Lois, Charming’s sister and her husband, and his parents, I got a clear image of the world that I will live in permanently in six month’s time, and I realized that, by God’s grace, I am already a part of their family.

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One year, either Mom or I sent a Christmas card out with an atypical verse for the holiday, but I can’t remember and I’m sure she’s fast asleep by now.  It was Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Leaning into Charming is trusting God.  Amidst his family and the knowledge of all the possible outcomes in life, I see that life, like unpacking Christmas from the attic, is safer and more efficient with a greater core of participants.

We have a lot of support at this stage, but my parents are evidence that it really only takes two committed and capable people working in consort.  If one is at the top of the ladder, the other is on the ground, holding it steady and keeping watch.  I was in the attic for the last month or so, figuratively speaking, but when I shared my burden with Charming, I was finally able to make it out of there.  I needed him to hold the ladder steady, to hold me steady, to fulfill the role that God appointed him to be as my helpmate in all things, even the little everyday worries I’ve always handled on my own.

Seeking joy, I found God. Seeking God, I found Charming.  Seeking Charming, I found peace.  And tonight, focusing on the pictures of our weekend together, I find hope.  Charming and I together is enough on its own; nevertheless, I’m inspired by Christmases to come after two become one and our incredible families marry.

I’m excited by all the traditions yet to be made as we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, our bridge to joy, all the while reminding myself of keen lessons learned for when best to abandon independence and lean in to the one who loves me… and trust the One who put us together.

Maybe Merry and Bright

When I most desperately long for all the spheres of my life to align, that’s when everything is almost comically tossed into orbit.  Contrary to the mood set by twinkling lights around me that illuminate the opaque clouds of breath, I’m not calm or enchanted.  Sitting here loathing the biting winter, I inch my patio heater a little closer than the warning on the label.  The spheres, the mood, even me – all crossing lines, creating chaos in consort.

The divide between tragedy and comedy seems solid, but it’s as permeable as the walls of whatever neurotransmitter that fires inappropriately at night, crossing the line of induction to sleep.  My students know comedy; currently, we’re salivating over every exaggerated, farcical detail of Anton Checkov’s one act play, The Brute.  Just like we did with the elements of a short story and argument core vocabulary, we began our brief drama divulgence before winter break by reviewing those most essential terms related to theater.  The kids will be tested on these skills by me and by the district in the month to come, but they don’t realize that as they are cracking up over their classmates’ renditions on stage, bringing the characters to life and completely enchanting me.

We know it’s a comedy because it emphasizes our limitations.  Our leading male in my last block class delighted me today with his passionate soliloquy ultimately giving the back story necessary for the audience to understand why he is such a bear  – he’s been through a lot, and our female protagonist has a mirrored, checkered past.  Because it’s a comedy, we can predict there will be some impractical, magnified conflict that ultimately results in two people falling in love, often ending in a proposal or wedding.

And because it’s a comedy, we respond differently than we would in a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet where we can’t prevent the outcome no matter how many iterations of the play we read or watch or act out ourselves.  If I took The Brute’s most outspoken character’s admissions in the form of monologues, soliloquies, and even simple asides, out of the context of a comedy and transferred them to a stanza in iambic pentameter in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, I’d be grieving for Mr. Smirnov instead of laughing at his overuse of idioms, metaphors, similes, and hyperboles in daily conversation.

If I browsed my students’ list of dramatic conventions, I can explain that my current life’s production has a setting that is dark and foreboding, like one in winter with a patio heater, Charming’s hoodie, and a glass of red wine.  The irony is that while my current life should be a love story that’s clearly a comedy given my recent engagement and upcoming nuptials to the man of my dreams, the relational sphere of my life can’t fight the force of gravity offset by this unnatural misalignment of everything else.  Neither he nor I would be able to pinpoint the cause, but on our weekends together, I’m not merry or bright.

I manage well during the week, attempting to force as many things back in proper order as possible, prioritizing deadlines and continually putting off others that I really need to get to sometime.  Unable to say no to a colleague in need of my expertise, I continue taking on new projects that I didn’t have time for but that, given the person and his or her need, bumped that undertaking to the top of my list.  Despite crossing dozens of items off my to do list, it seems to grow ever longer.

When my brother told me once about assessing your life in seven different areas to ensure rounded growth and personal development, it stuck with me.  Design a playbill or produce a video at work is my opportunity to jump up my game in Intellectual Wellness, so that’s the one area spinning steady now.  Without creative outlets, I think I’d lose my center completely.

Also amongst these Seven Dimensions of Wellness is the Physical.  Daily exercise is typically a sphere that maintains its orbit, and this holiday season has my schedule teetering enough to make sessions with Chuck limited to twice a week, if that.  While I’ve nearly finished the prescribed physical therapy with my shoulder that’s also been crossing the line with gym time, I’ve yet to make it down to the bulleted item that says, “Schedule follow-up with orthopedist”.  Putting off the likely surgery is sufficient incentive to subconsciously keep de-prioritizing a guarantee that physical wellness will require far more time, effort, and sacrifice in months to come.

In contrast, the Occupational dimension is where I prioritize most frequently.  I’m excelling in my position, rising to some challenges, and sensing serious progress in my charges during and after class.  The logical conclusion would be that if I’m busy but happy and thriving that I’d assess the career sphere of my life as one in which I’m making positive investments.   I’ll give you the illogical counter argument instead, the one where I have to update my resume and apply to new districts with schools I’ve never heard of before, hoping Charming’s next job placement and some grammar grandma’s retirement align to position me in an awesome new school.  But I can’t picture any of that yet, and all the question marks of our future after marriage might not cross lines, but it’s all pretty blurry.

Like the situation with my car, sometimes I feel Charming and I make it two intersections ahead and then put ourselves in reverse for a block. I’m not sure which dimension repairing my vehicle falls into, but the series of events is either comedy of errors or tragedy after tragedy… depending on how the producer brings the conflict to resolution.  You be the judge:  My check engine light comes on, I head to an auto parts store, a kind employee runs his magic box identifying four separate errors, and while he’s at it, confirms there’s a short in a wire that’s been causing my problems with a front headlight.

He offered to fix it, but I put it off since I already bought the parts discounted to replace the front bumper assembly and undercarriage splash shield damaged during a flood some time back.  While it’s been at the top of my list, I haven’t been able to cross it off because the mechanic I’d lined up dodged me and I couldn’t get that fixed until this past weekend, because during the week I’d had to have a planned oil change and an unplanned battery replacement.  Two days later, the check engine light’s still on, and I’ve lined up that auto shop wire repair for Thursday.

Is this a comedy or a tragedy?  Is it in how we react that determines the genre?  Ultimately, for Charming and me, I believe we’ll have a happy ending, though I suppose that cannot be guaranteed.  Still, in a comedy, the boy meets the girl, loses the girl, and wins the girl, and it usually ends in a proposal or marriage; we haven’t gotten married yet, so maybe this is all part of that exaggerated storyline where we overreact to silly things.  Without the comic relief, all our serious moments lay heavy in the silences and simple conversations.

Social Wellness and Emotional Wellness are clearly interconnected, and I’m not very resilient these days.  I can be merry and bright.  I can laugh at electrical shorts or kick myself for the inevitable impending bullet list items to come on that to never-ending To Do list.

Charming isn’t a dimension of wellness.  He’s not an item on a checklist.  He is my other half, and for five days a week, I do life almost entirely without him.  Together on weekend, the shift to our uncertain house in an unknown neighborhood with jobs that haven’t been posted yet sets the tone for a serious play despite our desire for a weekend of fun, for a one act comedy just for us.

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We tried this weekend past to enjoy ourselves after a rather intense premarital counseling session, and my favorite part was putting together the Christmas Village.  Besides the tree which I’d put up without him, my Dickens’ village was the other holiday tradition I was unwilling to sacrifice.  Charming put it up last year, so I waited, and he took the role of architect and I of interior designer.  He ran the cords for the lighted porcelain buildings while I fluffed cotton ball snow piles.  We made a good team, and now I get to enjoy the tiny people and props arranged so carefully on the stage, the surface of my piano whenever I’m inside my house, and it feels like home at Christmastime should feel like.

Looking over my kids’ lists of theater terms, there’s no way I could define Charming and my current two-person untitled production of life together as a tragedy. A tragedy has a tragic hero with a tragic flaw that leads to his demise.  I’ve got the flaw, a fiery temper that flares up when I’m relaxing, and unfortunately, that’s usually when I’m with Charming.

I desperately long of the spheres of my life to align, to feel that my overall wellness is cycling in orbit, but there are some lines that can’t be crossed, some priorities that cannot be compromised, and some stories with a foreboding setting ultimately resolve to an enchanted mood where despite sleepless nights, I can laugh when the check engine light comes on or when I miss a turn.   It must be possible.

Charming keeps telling me it’s not about the mistakes I make but how I react to them that matters.  I can teach my kids the difference between a comedy and a tragedy with little effort.  How do I write my next line, the line after the conflict, to ensure the happy ending?

Skating from Grace

fThe first time Charming told me he was taking me to the mall after a tour of The Pentagon, I imagined one with stores in it.  Like The US Capitol Building in the D.C., The Mall in the nation’s capital is singularly significant.  Capitalization and spelling matter more, it seems, when situated amongst matters of Congress and Senate.   I’ve witnessed it now in several seasons, this grassy lawn between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, the Capitol, and the White House, but it didn’t feel like winter, nor does it now, where writing on the porch with twinkling Christmas lights and no blanket or hoodie seems contrary.

It doesn’t feel like December at all.  Realizing I’d be traveling frequently this holiday season, Charming encouraged me when I suggested I forego the typical, tangled mess of questionable icicle lights and all those labeled tubs with hosts of treasures that would normally erupt and cast a Christmas spell stretching halfway down the block.  I’d just get a tree, though waiting until my fiance’s next Hampton visit would limit its time and my choices.  Though it’s difficult to explain why this concession struck me as a personal failure, the blow was significant; perhaps in my own eyes alone, I’d fallen from grace.

I mix these metaphors and clichés indiscriminately, understanding the universal message spares my readers at least two hundred characters per post.  It wasn’t even a week ago when I hung up with Home Depot in the gym parking lot after my workout.  Upon receiving confirmation that a new shipment had just arrived, and I headed my Honda straight toward the parking lot searching for the fattest of the seven foot Frazier furs.  Alliteration unintentionally creates a sound effect mimicking the rustle of the pine branches as I found him, the perfect tree.  I didn’t need a coat.  I didn’t take a picture.  They don’t tie it to your car anymore either, but I’d watched enough times to challenge my rehabbing shoulder to the task.

Snagging the perfect tree, mounting it in the stand, stringing lights, hanging ornaments… it is the perfect tree, perhaps more beautiful than any before, but even with my Pandora Christmas tunes coaxing me along, I never got caught up in the cherished cheer. I’d taken that predictable decorating pleasure for granted, unaware that without Charming in the frame of all those traditions, the memory portraits would be incomplete.

We’re engaged, so we’re not quite one yet; still, we’re committed to that merger, a transformation where grammatical impossibility occurs and two persons come together to result in one life.  The singular significance is stifling, unsettling my spirit despite the soothing breeze tickling my butterfly wind chimes.  Last week, I tried unsuccessfully to conjure the holiday spirit, where discontent with the tree itself tempted me to back that Honda up to my shed, transfer some bins, and compete in hallway decorating contest for Yearbook and the door decorating one for the teachers.

The theme came to me easily, my staffers helped, and we were mostly finished with the hallway by the weekend, saving the theme reveal for today.  My door was quite literally a blank slate, with precision-cut white butcher paper saving the creative place once inspiration struck me when I locked up the room and turned off the twinkling lights for the weekend, smiling at the snow mountain we’d managed to create but somehow still not getting wrapped up in all my bows and snowmen.  I did a lot on my own to usher Christmas in, but I’m not a single woman anymore fighting for her passions.  Absent Charming, everything up until Saturday was just decorating.

With temperatures reaching fifty last Saturday, The Mall was the only place I needed a jacket.  Hand in hand navigating the Ice Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, I could finally believe it was December.  As if to remind me how we’re better together, an unexpected cold replaced the comfortable front porch of an hour ago, and I put on Charming’s hoodie, sniffing it even though I know his scent wore off two years ago at least.

Though it had been too long to remember the last time I’d donned a pair of ice skates, when Charming suggested the afternoon excursion, I was hooked.  We enjoyed food truck lamb and rice while we waited in line for tickets, laced our skates up tightly, and watched the Zamboni smooth the ice in anticipation of our turn.  We took lots of pictures that day because we were making our first holiday memory as an engaged couple.  Christmas came somewhere around a curve with the Capitol’s dome inspiring an unnatural sense of pride and confidence opposing my cautious and clumsy movements as we joined in the counter-clockwise movement of people.

They were every shape, size, and color, and the skill levels varied from falling every two feet to floating backwards effortlessly between awkward pairs, romantic and familial.  We were two, and there were times I tried to skate alone for a second or two, but we were just better together.  Strange muscles ached, and in retrospect I understand that as we skated along together, I was still always bracing for the fall.  The efficiency in the shared and transferred energy, propelling us forward with bonus torque and other concepts I won’t pretend to understand.  We had fun, and we laughed, and I loved being with Charming.

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Nevertheless, I still skated on Saturday in The Mall like how I have lived every day of my life for a very, very long time.  It had also been too long to remember the way my shins and feet ached with rental skates, but that hurt less than the current realization that I skate how I live, independently.  Had I trusted Charming to be there to catch me, I’d have relaxed into those skates and benefited from gravity’s natural laws that make our movements more combined than independently.

That’s my problem, I’m afraid.  I’ve been living on my own so long, piling up my own cherished traditions and having my world the way I want it, my house in order and maintained clutter-free, my preferences for brands of coffee creamer and chip dip, so long that I’ve become truly independent.  Circumstances forced me to handle life’s challenges alone for the vast majority of the last fifteen years.  My problem becomes our problem when our competitive spirits enter any conflict.  I realize that every memory shored up since meeting Charming is richer when he’s in the picture, literally or figuratively.

He keeps reminding me we’re on the same team.  My fierce independence has me skating from grace on thin ice with Charming and in my daily walk in simple ballet flats.  At thirty-four, I can take care of myself; the fancy drill on our Amazon wedding registry is one of my top adds.  Were he present in this blog post as in recent conversations, Charming would take this mention as an opportunity to encourage you to contribute to the charities on our The Knot wedding website: Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Teach Beyond.  I can do it all, but it’s exhausting.  Charming and I are more effective as a team, on or off the ice.

If I gave Charming a voice even though he’s not here on the wicker love seat beside me, does that evidence the ability to think like a team player?  That even if I don’t know how to be on the same team as him right now, that he can counter my icy independence without being in opposition to me?  In view of the Capitol in the capital, Charming and I skated together and Christmas arrived.

The ice wasn’t thin. I’ve just lived a long while bracing for the fall, and the gift of a teammate – a partner, a best friend, a spouse – that’s grace restored, renewed, reclaimed.  I’m aging gracefully, after all, so wrap me up with a final abuse of figurative devices, maybe Charming and I can choose to believe in a quick Google search that it actually is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

Or I can trust in the promise of the union in July where God will join us in a singularly unique way worthy of capitalization.  Our Marriage: the Capitol of our life with the power to tactfully disassemble grammatical syntax.