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.

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