At Yellowstone, there are signs that ask people to not throw coins (or anything else) into the whimsically named colorful springs and pools. Since ancient time, waters have been seen as places of healing and life, where little water spirits might dwell and grant a wish whispered with a coin thrown. The sacrament of baptism draws on water as sacred as well. In baptism, the water is a sign of God coming to dwell in the hearts of the people. Parents and godparents name the child and pronounce the blessing over the little one. As I refrained from throwing a coin into the steaming multicolored pools at Yellowstone, I thought about names and wishes.
When I was little I used to wonder a lot about my future husband. One particular romantic notion I had as an eight year old was imagining the possibility that any time I went on a trip I might be in the same place as said future husband. I wished I could know his name and where he was. Was he also at Disney World? Was he visiting the Statue of Liberty? Was he in this National Forest too?
Were I now to chat with myself as a little girl staring out of the window of that 1993 red wagon Ford Taurus, I could tell her that that magical moment probably came in second grade when she went to visit her godparents in Alexandria, Virginia. She was only 55 miles south of Evan in Mrs. Conners’ third grade class. Now I wish I could also tell her that she should stop wearing those Aladdin maroon leggings.
Ten years later, at age 16, I was still vacationing with my family, day dreaming about where my husband was. That summer my family took a road trip from Wisconsin to Oregon for a family reunion. We stopped in Yellowstone. Last week, I returned to that very spot I had been to when I was 16.
I have only one clear memory of that teenage trip to Yellowstone. I was on those same boardwalks looking at the colorful pools and a little geyser. Without looking, I reached out to loop my arm through my dad’s. But I found instead a strange man about the height and build of my dad who said with a laugh, “Shall we dance?” I remember after yanking my hand back I stammered something about thinking that he was my dad. I also remember thinking to myself that it was actually not all that romantic to grab some strange man’s hand unexpectedly.
Now, twelve years after that as I walked around the ever crackling and splattering springs and geysers, I experienced the reverse of my childhood wish. I was on vacation with my husband.
As I tried with my camera to capture the hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles, I checked carefully before slipping my hand into my dad’s as we walked along the boardwalk. We lagged behind the group. Cameras slung around our necks, we stopped to capture the sapphire and copper colored pools. My dad said, “oh those photographers, always slowing the group down.” I smiled at him, calling me a “photographer.” It is an unexpected name this year has brought.
I wondered what my 16-year-old self would have thought about this trip and my new names. I wonder what she would want to ask me now. Probably she would want to know when she would be called a girlfriend by someone, and where she would go to college, and if would she make it to be a history professor.
Now, I could tell her that in five short years she’d be almost engaged after going to Wheaton and, no, it doesn’t look like she’ll be called a professor. But knowing that the 16-year-old version of myself would have started a count down (1461 days to go!) to meeting Evan, and applied to no other colleges, and been deeply crushed by a harsh “no” to her dreams of academia, I would probably give her a vague answer. I would say something like, “you wouldn’t get into some programs, but that where you ended up is good even if it isn’t always easy. Soon enough you’ll have a new part of your last name, but you have a lot of living and learning to do before you take those vows.” And I hope that I would add, “But trust that God doesn’t give us big dreams just to withhold them from us. He gives us the desires of our hearts in the right way at the right time.” I might have added that she should stop wearing high-waisted, tapered-leg jeans.
Sometimes we get new names and new wishes when we least expect them. My family started our week long vacation eating bun-less bison burgers at Ted’s Montana Grill. My mom gesturing to the beautiful mountains and the western charm said, “Amy! You have to blogger about this!” To which my brother patiently said, “Mom, the phrase is ‘blog about it.’ Amy should blog about this. Amy is a blogger.” Amy is a blogger. That was the first time I heard myself given that name. Blogger. Photographer. Writer. Artist. New names. New wishes.
At the end of the week, as we again walked along the boardwalks near the sulfur-fumed pools that Yellowstone’s ancient active caldera provided, I heard a tired toddler crying to be carried by her mother. I wondered what the next trip to Yellowstone would bring. Would the names that I long to have—mom and author—be mine then? What unexpected names would I also gain in a decade or two? If I could ask future Amy something, I would probably want to ask her about books and babies. But I think that she would likely just tell me, “Soon enough, soon enough, but you have a lot of living and learning to do before that big day.” And she would perhaps also remind me, “God doesn’t give us big dreams just to withhold them.” And in the mean time, I might stop wearing those black yoga pants.
How have the names and wishes you longed for changed over the years?
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