Waitin’ on the world to change.

“So now, it’s just up to you,” he says, stripping off his elastic gloves and looking between the husband and I. “I’m available that Tuesday through Friday … if you would like me to do it.”

Not ready to choose, there’s a pause as I anxiously emit a soft sigh and stare down at the sterile, linoleum floor, willing my sentimental self to feel something for one of those days.

“I guess we just have to pick one, don’t we?” husband says, casting a shrug over in my direction.

“Yeah… I mean, I don’t have anything specific in mind. I won’t have work that week so really any day is fine…”

My words trail off, following my downward line of sight at the floor again.

Husband takes the lead boldly. “Ok. Wednesday. The 21st. Let’s do then.”

Still holding his gloves, he brightens and slaps them against his white coat in a flourish of finality. “Good deal! I’ll go check the schedule and just get it written up!”

The British accent trails behind the doctor as he leaves the room, and after several moments, I look over at my Marine. “It feels so weird to have just picked our son’s birthday, ya know?”

Before he can answer, the accent seeps through the door.

“Uhm I’m afraid that day is already booked full. I’m going to schedule it on the 22nd, instead. OK?”

“…oh, uhm yeah, OK. …sure!” I reply back. Then turning to husband, “Well then. 2-2-2,” I say with a tentative grin. “That’s easy to remember, right?”


I feel like some of the most momentous events in life happen when you are unable to plan for every detail of it.

Falling in love. That new job opportunity. That loss of a job. Having a baby.

The list could go on. And sure, you can “plan” for each of these things, make checklists and even think you’re ready and prepared for each one when that time comes.

But then you meet that one person you never thought you could get along with, and you’re blindsided.

A friend of a friend just calls you up one day and says they got you an interview, can you come in today?

You get called into your boss’ office and listen as he grimly tells you there just isn’t enough room in the budget anymore.

It’s five days before the due date, and that water breaks.

When are you ever really prepared for your world to change?

Well. I’ve been ready for the exact day–well, maybe the week–since November 21, 2017. The day we discovered our firstborn would be a boy. And the day I was nervously ushered into a meeting room following the routine ultrasound, and told my pregnancy was high risk.

Without going into a long explanation of my sudden need for constant monitoring–mainly because I have yet to master the definition of this rare diagnosis–I will simply point you to this non-graphic explanation of vasa previa. (I screened it, I promise. No scary, high-school-Health-class pictures.)

If you don’t want to read about it, I’ll just give you the bottom line: I absolutely cannot at any point whatsoever go into labor, lest our sweet little man is given a very high chance of being stillborn.

So. Let it first be said that all praises go to Jesus for technology and the wisdom of doctors to interpret the signs of vasa previa at only 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Second, I am delivering our sweet boy by C-section, six weeks early. Aka: 2.22.18. Aka: tomorrow.

Suddenly, at only 20 weeks along and with my belly just starting to feel a few flutters, I was given the opportunity to start planning for our first child, down to the very week of when he would arrive.

I mean, this is the lottery for a Type A mother-to-be! Or perhaps any type of mother who is human. There’s no having to wonder, was that my water breaking? Is he going to be 3 weeks late? Oh no, he’s coming right now and we don’t have everything ready.

And yet I sit here, on the eve of my son’s literal birth-day, and I’m more conflicted than ever throughout this pregnancy. It’s the most momentous event of my 26-year-old life thus far: bringing a new life into this world. And I’m simply just waiting for it. Waiting for our world to change.

I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something more. Preparing for this moment better. Reading a parenting book, practicing how to swaddle him in a blanket or doing relays with the stroller around the neighborhood to check its sturdiness.

But I’m not. Instead, I’m on the couch typing away my anxieties, and watching as my ever-caring husband labors in the kitchen–hehe see what I did there–making my favorite meal for dinner.

So all this to say, I think I’ve officially decided that I’m on board with God’s decision in not giving us His omniscience. Knowing things before they happen doesn’t change what is coming. It just allows you the chance to worry or attempt to plan for all contingencies ahead of schedule. Which in turn, makes you lose sight of the joys of the present-day. It robs you from living in the moment.

And that’s how life is enjoyed best. Like I once read on a witty water bottle: “As in life, chill for best results.”

Life is not to be planned for days, weeks, months or years in advance.

It’s just going to happen. And you just have to wait for it.

 

 

 

 

 

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See You Soon.

Standing behind a row of fold-up tables, a dozen unknown faces return my shy, newcomer smile as I simultaneously try to read the bolded titles of the scattered sign up sheets. Ignoring my knowledge gleaned from guilty years of “just looking” at garage sales, I make eye contact with each hopeful representative on the other side of the table, willing me to pick up their pen.

I give each page a two-second once-over and offer my best, insightful ‘maybe’ nod, trying not to seem too eager as I sidestep from the sheet entitled “Fishing Group” like a spooked horse. Husband lingers. I move on.

I see her curly hair and unabashed smile first.

His Hurley surf shirt second.

Their sheet proclaiming “Young Adults Group” third.

Suppressing my urge to exclaim Sold!, I stretch out my hand to make an introduction, careful not to seem eagerly crazy even though I really just want to grab that sign up pen of theirs instead. I intend to simply match a name to this wide-grinned girl and tall, surfer-clad man beside her.

Focused on making eye contact and a friendly, lasting impression, I forget their names three seconds later.

Thankfully, one second is all it takes to meet best friends.

_________________________

I wrote those words about you in a blog post a mere 14 months ago. Today I allow myself to remember the joy, gratefulness and love that inspired those musings. I remember a sweet and budding friendship that, at the time of writing, I thought I was mourning due to the cross country move of you and V. Little did I know that special circumstances would provide me the opportunity to grow that bond we had so quickly initiated in Florida through daily texts, Dubsmashes and Snapchats for the next eight months straight… culminating with our airport reunion full of hugs and OMG-I’m-finally-here smiles as we joined you guys in our new home of Southern California.

I began this post with that scene of our first meeting as I realize how reminiscent it is of a moment just 14 days ago — only with some very different details.

This time, I was the one standing, trying to win smiles from the strangers walking tentatively up to me. But rather than taking a pen, they reached for a pale pink peonie from the bouquet I held before laying it on your beautiful, wood casket.

You were there, your unabashed smile and vivacious curly hair in each person’s mind as your husband, who substituted his Hurley surf shirt for a sharp, gray button-down (don’t worry, he left the top button open for you), spoke the most honoring of words over and about you. You were there as he knelt in emotion just before the Coast Guard helicopters flew heart-thumpingly low over our small gathering, knowing how much fist pumping you would be doing had you been standing there with us. And you were there as V placed his hand where your shoulder would have been, rubbing his thumb over the smooth wood while speaking to the receiving line of loved ones.

Yet as much as I felt you there at your intimate burial service, I have endured infinitely more moments since your passing that prove you no longer share this earthly home with me.

It’s not bearing to delete any of the once-a-day messages we exchanged from our dauntingly-long text thread, despite my phone’s continual threats of low storage.

It’s knowing I will never be able to read Harry Potter again without being forced to resist the urge to pick up my phone and text you everything that just happened.

It’s never going paddleboarding again without remembering that time you and I set out together to brave the shallow, Pensacola waters in hopes of finding dolphins like our boys always did, but paddling back to shore after five minutes as you sweetly, but anxiously, demanded we go back because “there could be sharks.”

It’s the guilt I feel every time I think of taking pictures with my camera again, knowing I never made good on my promise to take my favorite couple’s fourth anniversary photos.

It’s the burn I feel in my legs every time I ride my bike up these steep, California hills, remembering the time just days after your latest chemo treatment when you followed behind me as we pushed up the dreaded Grandview Avenue, and as I made it to the top huffing and puffing, I looked behind me guiltily realizing I hadn’t checked backwards in awhile, only to find you chugging along right at my heels, seemingly not even winded.

It’s not being able to part with the baby succulent plant I have neglected since you gave it to me for my birthday this past summer.

It’s being angry with Facebook that thinks the latest political feud or kneeling athlete is more important to this world than the story of how one of the most adored and world-changing women–and one of my closest friends–battled gastric cancer with grace and God-given authority.

It’s knowing I will never say our first daughter’s middle name without thinking of the fierce woman who inspired it.

Your absence from this earth has been a tidal wave to my world, and I’m not selfish enough to think that my world was the only one rocked. But I’ve realized that it wasn’t your death that made waves. It was your life.

And so, it’s also about being grateful.

Grateful for the chance to have moved to your home state and do life with you again for the last seven months.

Grateful for your assistance in my discovery of bread pudding.

Grateful for the opportunity to watch each and every Harry Potter movie by your side as you graciously let me deplete your stash of Clif Bars and string cheese.

Grateful for getting to see so much more of your goofy personality, blessed weirdness, Oscar-winning Dubsmash performances, and unrelenting support, encouragement and unfathomable love for everyone–family, friend or stranger–around you.

Grateful for all the giggles that erupted over our kitchen table after you fell to the floor laughing, unable to get through a single round of Balderdash.

Grateful for the memories forever etched in my mind. Like seeing your tearful eyes glisten with excitement over FaceTime when we told you the Marine Corps agreed with our desire to move to San Diego. Or that time we told you both that we made something special that we wanted you to see in our oven–fingering the sonogram picture in my pocket and patiently waiting the full two minutes it took for you to look at us and the hamburger bun and back at us before slamming the oven door, flashing that huge grin and yelping “OH MY GOSH!!”

Grateful for the chance to witness the raw emotion of a surprise vow renewal between a husband and wife as passionate in love as they were in a Temecula vineyard on that perfect day in May four years ago.

It’s being grateful for continuing to do life with that man you shared your whole life with, and hearing his easy, contagious laugh… a constant reminder that it’s okay to be joyful and to cherish this life even though your flesh no longer shares it with us.

Grateful for the testimony of your life, your faith and the ever-enduring legacy you left all of us with, proven by the words I know you heard as you entered those gates: “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant.”

Even still, grateful for being tearfully blindsided at your celebration of life service when you surprised all of us: your shining face appearing on the screen, gracing us one more time with your sweet voice as you urged anyone within earshot to pursue Christ, choose Him and, one day soon, join you in paradise.

So lastly, Nicole, my treasured friend, it’s being forever grateful that I can say,

See you soon.

 

To be continued

The oversized book of fringed paper laid invitingly on the vintage wooden coffeetable with looseleaf, unmatching pieces of stationary threatening to spill out the sides. I snatched it up and cozied myself on the couch as early afternoon light snuck in through the panels of the floor to ceiling windows.

The guestbook could have been mistaken for a traveler’s logbook, comprised of dozens of stories, observations and drawings by various explorers from all over the world. Snapshots of adventures had in the treetop hideaway, on display via each author’s scrawled handwriting. 

As I read, I found patterns of poetic words relaying the serenity this little treehouse getaway provided. I slightly smirked at each one, chalking up their perfect words to be the result of rose-tinted glasses that always come out when the journey is over.

What a fool I am.

I’m no poet so I won’t try describing the perfect calm one feels when she wakes up in a loft bed with a view of the Tennessee foothills through the windows, lightly scraped by branches shifting in a breeze. (Ok so maybe I will try.) Nor can I accurately describe the cackle of a husband’s laughter as he lies in that bed laughing at his wife freaking out every time the treehouse menacingly sways during a passing, late-night thunderstorm. (Although that is pretty dang accurate.)

This place, with all of its rustic charm, was a recharge station. Like it’s stripped, exposed wooden beams, the treehouse had an uncanny ability to strip off your burdens and let you just be.

Be happy. 

Be in the trees.

Be in the moment.

There’s something so fascinatingly freeing to recognize when you are in a moment that will be carved into your memory for years to come. The boy and I’s three-day treetop getaway last month was not only full of those moments, but it helped me discover how to be more often.

No, I didn’t mess up grammatically there. I was reminded of the beauty of just being.

Being in a moment.

Being content where you are.

Being with the people that make your life beautiful.

The lines below are dedicated to a group of these very people. A community that I prayed for, but was wholly unprepared to meet when they welcomed us with such loving, open arms. Arms that I had to pull myself from just 9 short days ago. 

The series of one-sentence stories below reflect my experiences with individuals that became unforgettable in a mere 19 months. As eloquently as I may try, I know that I will never be able to express what my Pensacola people mean to me. Thus, I implore you to read what’s between these typed lines. Even more than read.

I hope you will hear the laughter erupting from a group of new friends crowded around a dining room table playing Telephone Pictionary as they try to make sense of unintelligible drawings.

See the camaraderie that can only arise between a group of youth leaders fighting sleep and losing sanity as they strive to entertain a sanctuary full of energetic teenagers at an all-night lock-in by throwing cheese puffs at each other’s shaving-cream-covered head.

Imagine the tingling heat behind my eyes when one of those teenagers pens an Instagram post dedicated to saying goodbye to her youth leader, featuring only the best heart emojis and a “I will miss you so much.”

Understand the support of a home group who puts aside their Sunday evening schedules so they could all be there for your husband’s surprise birthday party… even after you changed the plans three different times in one day.

Grasp the excitement those home group wives felt when we were surprised with an Easter egg scavenger hunt that took us on a journey throughout the entire city… organized coyly by all of our husbands.

Try to muffle the sound of your giggles while you stand silent, hidden in a row of corn as a group of fellow tourists walk by trying to navigate through the maze… immediately followed by an employee saying with a deadpan voice to your unlucky companion next to you: “Sir. Sir… please get out of the corn.”

Hear the sounds of a ukulele playing alongside a cello each Wednesday night as the instruments help lead a youth group in worship… and simultaneously strengthen a sweet friendship between a youth leader and a high school senior (who we decided, after countless “Me, too!’s” later, might have been the former’s long-lost younger sister). 

Feel the grit of the sand on your palm after exchanging victorious high-fives with your Spikeball teammate after a long rally of gravity-defying dives for that elusive, little yellow ball on Fort Pickens beach. 

Taste the sweetness of the best homemade monster cookies as you shamelessly curl up on your friend’s couch to watch the Bachelor, and make bets on how long it will take before her husband comes creeping around the corner to ask what’s happening.

Notice the subtle, but powerful, shift in atmosphere as a group of military wives realize they all share the same struggles, insecurities and doubts during a Monday night Bible study.

Shake your fists in a roller coaster of emotions along with four friends on a treasure hunt of sorts trying to find 60+ pelican statues scattered throughout the city of Pensacola using an unzoomable, outdated map.

Revel in the Christmas spirit with a gathering of friends as they test their friendship by building gingerbread houses with flimsy graham crackers and debate over … ahem… one person’s hoarding of blue Sour Patch kids. 

Join in the rebellious squeals as your friends suddenly skip over the rope fence at Bellingrath Gardens, skirt across the manicured lawn and gather underneath the cone-shaped, hollow Christmas tree for a commemorative, “we-broke-the-rules” photo.

Hear the sound of dozens of tiny black turf beads falling to the ground after another glorious Tuesday night full of good ol’ pick-up soccer.

See an evening sky speckled with mosquitos as they hover in the lights of the UWF recreation fields while ultimate frisbee players sweat out their body weight chasing after that glorious disc. 

Feel the anxiety of the employees at the Papa Murphy’s located 0.3 miles from our now-vacant apartment–suddenly now without their key source of revenue.

Smell the aroma of a home cooked meal as you are welcomed into the most charming, shiplap-covered home in Pensacola that would make Joanna Gaines jealous, and stuffed with baked goodies by two sweet relatives you didn’t realize lived in your neck of the woods.

And try… try to feel the humbling love from a pastor who admits he didn’t hug you after he led the congregation in prayer over your impending cross-country move because he “would’ve just broken down in front of everyone.”

Each of these fragmented stories represent just a fraction of the experiences with the people I did life with in Pensacola, Florida. My nostalgic mind wants to go back and re-do all those moments. Go back and try to just be in those moments all over again. But honestly… I don’t think I could be in those moments any more than I was.

I know this has been long. But I don’t want to stop writing. I feel as if it’s my last tie to that Emerald Coast city… the final tether that will snap when I tap that last period key of my sentence.

So here’s the deal. This will be the only blog post—or piece of literature, for that matter—I will ever write that ignores the laws of grammar. I, Renee Dolan, am willingly going to refrain from finishing a sentence with punctuation. Because if I don’t finish writing this last sentence, my story in Pensacola will never have ended and it is simply: to be continued


Ripple effect.

There was a man who walked–or more accurately, rode–this earth 45 years ago. A writer’s dream of a man: motorcycles, invention and adventure the spices of his life.

His name was Dale.

He is said to have been a quiet presence who never sought attention, nor did he offer much conversation.

Come to think of it, it was his death that likely brought him the most attention in his entire life.

Had I been born 40 years sooner, I would have worked through journalism school solely for the opportunity to learn how to crack him.

Now as I sit here wishing to tell his story, I realize I am a fool for waiting this long. I lack the two sources who could have provided the most thorough intel, beginning to end. Both of his parents have already left us to be reunited with their son. His father joined him just this past November, so they’re probably still skipping around Heaven arm-in-arm singing songs about watermelons while his mother, a bit more seasoned resident, likely sits at a table made of gold waiting for her son to come back and finish their game of Battleship.

So instead, his story will be told by a collection of sources who had the opportunity to do life with him for the 21 years he was given.

A firecracker of intellect, invention and a serious type of passion, Dale was born March 17, 1951, into the life of a pastor’s kid. The role would take him to an array of places he called home, including Milwaukee, Canada and Houston.

Of course, home is a transitory word when you have a motorcycle and a tingling desire for adventure.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Since he couldn’t jet out on a motorcycle at 8-years-old (though Canadians do have weird rules so who knows), Dale enjoyed a childhood of normal bike-riding. The kind where you dared to rocket down an old bumpy road in Edmonton, Canada, just barely edging out of the turn in an impressive skid cloud of dust.

…And then doubling back to brush off your idolizing kid brother and fix his front wheel when he does not.

The daring, tender-hearted boy was sibling to two sisters as well, but due to an age gap and the nature of his boyish, rough-and-tumble affections… his brother, Doug, was his most sought-out companion. From picking cattails in the swamps of Milwaukee for their Mom, to the elder instructing the younger how to throw a newspaper onto the doorsteps of a Vancouver neighborhood, the two boys were inseparable throughout their childhood.

The swamplands their wild playground, the two brothers wrestled in the mud, chased each other in between the tall grass and raced the sunset playing two-person baseball for hours on end.

Dale led a life of example, which did not go unnoticed by neither his little brother nor the latter’s teachers.

In the midst of dodging flurries of unwanted snowballs, Doug’s teachers very well might’ve coined the now-cliche phrase: “Why can’t you be good like your brother?”

Little did the educators know, their rhapsody of their favorite student did not always make for a two-way street. Especially when it came to their methods of teaching his younger brother.

Grade 3 in Vancouver schools meant learning long division, which to Doug, equaled a multiplication of stress. He fearfully admitted to Dale one night how long division just didn’t make sense to him, and that if he didn’t get it any time soon, he would become one of the victims called up in front of the whole room to display to the class how not to do it.

Protective nostrils flaring, Dale responded: “I hate teachers like that. Go get some paper and a pen.”

The next day, Doug’s previous fears were confirmed as his teacher called him out–her head already cocked and ready to shake in disapproval.

But Doug had a 10-year-old private tutor now. And it showed as he aced each question the surprised woman threw at him, shaking her head with confusion and mumbling as he victoriously walked back to his seat, “I don’t understand it, you did it all wrong yesterday…”

Had Dale been given a longer life, perhaps these early teaching foundations would have propelled him to educate others in his field of civil engineering. But since that’s all conjecture, it’s more fun to look at what his life actually gave us.

While he was a quiet presence, I will dare to say he wore his heart on his sleeve–with one condition. He did so only for those close, and intuitive, enough to see it.

That’s where he left himself vulnerable to others. Dale once chose to unveil his inherent leadership, and inventiveness, by spraying a hose over his snow-packed backyard and shepherding his schoolmates to play on his homemade ice hockey rink. Even more revealing… Doug describes how his father could know whether Dale won or lost solely by the way the seven-year-old trudged through the snow leading back up to the house.

But most telling of Dale’s wordless vulnerability was on a warm, Washington afternoon in 1972. Dale spent his last summer working at a retreat village nestled in the peaks of the Cascade Mountains, and his mother and siblings were able to flee the humidity of Houston for a week to come visit. Because the camp’s daily duties kept Dale away from his family throughout the week, the most significant moment for his oldest sister didn’t come until he dropped them off at the pristine Lake Chelan, the ferry waiting for them. I don’t know any better words to convey the memory than Susan’s own:

Dale was staying, to finish out his service.  We got loaded on the ferry, and Dale was standing on the wooden dock watching as we pulled away.  Then he started to wave, his whole arm waving slowly back and forth.  I waved back, and we just kept waving and waving, and I remember being so touched. Dale was never like this.  I remember thinking, “I’m not stopping until he is out of sight.” And we did. After awhile he was just a speck and then too far to see.

Dale would live another two months surrounded by the beauty of that lake and the majestic peaks before his motorcycle crashed on the cross-country trip back home in August of that same year.

Susan looks back and remembers thinking about the enormity of what he had done there on that dock. Perhaps a seemingly small and obligatory gesture to the untrained eye, but to his loved ones: it was his goodbye.

It still seems so real, like everything we missed about knowing each other on earth, was wrapped up in that wave.

I like to imagine his 21-year-old self down by that lake, bent at the waist, analyzing the myriad of stones at his disposal, finally choosing the best one for the job.

He could have no idea of the metaphor for his life that he held in his hands. As the stone leaves his grasp, it skims across the water producing multiple rings that mark each point of impact the rock touches before finally dipping low beneath the surface to its final resting place at lake’s bottom. He watches for several seconds longer as the ripples continue to dance across the water, long after the stone vanishes from view.

That was his life. He may have bounced from one place to another, letting his adventurous heart lead where it may… but he never left a place without creating rings of impact in his wake. And his ripples keep shimmering to this day.

Now you might’ve remembered that he had three siblings, but only two are represented here through their stories. 

You see, my mother was the third.

She was only 11 when the man she looked up to–her seemingly invincible, motorcycle-riding oldest brother–was stripped from her life. She has the fewest memories.

So this story is for her. It is for our family that continues to endure his loss. And it is for the little ones that come after us, who deserve to know the man who came before us.

On December 28, 2012, my oldest (and only) brother met his firstborn son. As much as an aunt who frequently moves around can see her oldest nephew, I’ve watched him grow up to be this intriguing and charming little boy. He loves fast things, dares to find the highest point on the Chick-fil-A playground, invents new ways to create a Lego tower and kisses his kid brother on the head when he falls down.

My brother never knew the intricacies of our late uncle’s personality, as this is the first time all of the aforementioned stories have been shared with the two of us. But somehow, four years ago, my brother and his wife knew the best name for their intelligent, inventive, seriously passionate oldest son.

His name is Dale.

Live to Give

Traditional Christmas tunes flooded the living room, threatening to interrupt the flow of my pen as I tried to sing along and write at the same time.

I re-adjusted my eyes and stopped my pen just before ending the sentence We just wanted to wish you a Merry–with– did you know?

Finishing the notes, I passed them to my partner in crime/better gift-wrapper as he tucked them inside, taped up the sides on each of the crisp packages and set all but two underneath Luce the Spruce.

Of course, as I set off on errands the next morning, I failed to grab the one allotted for my car… and was painfully reminded of my neglect as I drove by a gentleman sitting on the curb behind Publix, clutching a cardboard sign. As I passed, I breathed a prayer urging him to stay there for the next half hour, simultaneously avoiding eye contact out of guilt over my forgetfulness.

I finished my errand as soon as I could and approached the stoplight before my turn back into the grocery store with pent up eagerness. I peered around the corner anxiously hoping he was still there.

Despite his head hanging low near his knees, I could see his baseball cap peeping over the slight hill, revealing him to not even have moved in the last 45 minutes. I had to pass him once more before I could retrieve the package, but this time, I turned to him and gave a smile, silently urging him once more not to go anywhere… just for the next four minutes.

I booked it up the apartment stairs, grabbed one of the packages, and raced back to the car–never more excited to return to a grocery store.

So accustomed to the dull passing of cars near him, the gentleman didn’t even turn to the sound of my car until I rolled down my window and pulled up six steps from him.

As I explained the red, wrapped package I was waving out the window, I watched his wordless reaction with unexplainable joy, my heart beating faster as I likely began to ramble to this stranger. His graying eyes rippled with a renewed blue as his whole face brightened into a smile. He then blurted out a grateful handful of “thank yous!” as I returned a smile and a “We just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas!”

I made a terribly awkward three-point-turn to go back the way I came, but my self-criticism melted away as I turned back to the man, smile still brightly in tact and waving as I pulled forward. Leaving him to get smaller and smaller in my side mirror, I drove slowly, watching him. Once focused on his prioritized cardboard sign, he now sat down, put it into his backpack and turned to the lumpy package covered in red wrapping paper sitting on his lap.

Heart swollen with joy, I accelerated and left him alone to his gift.

Five days later, I sit here remembering that sweet exchange, trying to artfully put words together that convey the impact of that 60-second interaction.

Time has a way with widening your perspective, opening up your mind like a camera’s shutter as more and more light breaks in. I’ve spent the last five days shifting my focus on how to write this blog entry, and honing in on the real reason I wanted to write it. It took that long because I was afraid to start typing a post that might paint me as a self-righteous and morally superior writer who wanted to broadcast her act of generosity.

But then God just dropped this title in my lap, and now I don’t even care if that’s what readers think. By being so anxious of judgement, I was completely missing what God wanted me to learn from this act of generosity… and what I could share with those of you reading this.

Releasing that present into the man’s dirty, calloused hands was like personifying the cartoon Grinch who stole Christmas. I felt like my lips couldn’t stretch far enough to contain my smile, and my heart was three sizes too big. I wanted to just keep handing him gifts through the window, soaking in the image of his eyes crinkling in surprised delight.

In the timeframe of when I saw him sitting on the curb to when he sat down with his wrapped package–those 45 minutes–my sole drive in life was to give that gift away.

And in the timeframe of 30 years, Jesus lived His entire life so that He could give it away.

During this season, I can’t help but think about the extreme example our Savior provided when He personified the word “give.” In the bustle of going from store to store, searching for that perfect deal, please try to retain the excitement of generosity. Don’t let the stress of buying outweigh the joy of giving during this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Luce the Spruce

 

 

The Other Side

Standing behind a row of fold-up tables, a dozen unknown faces return my shy, newcomer smile as I simultaneously try to read the bolded titles of the scattered sign up sheets. Ignoring my knowledge gleaned from guilty years of “just looking” at garage sales, I make eye contact with each hopeful representative on the other side of the table, willing me to pick up their pen.

I give each page a two-second once-over and offer my best, insightful ‘maybe’ nod, trying not to seem too eager as I sidestep from the sheet entitled “Fishing Group” like a spooked horse. Husband lingers. I move on.

I see her curly hair and unabashed smile first.

His Hurley surf shirt second.

Their sheet proclaiming “Young Adults Group” third.

Suppressing my urge to exclaim Sold!, I stretch out my hand to make an introduction, careful not to seem eagerly crazy even though I really just want to grab that sign up pen of theirs instead. I intend to simply match a name to this wide-grinned girl and tall, surfer-clad man beside her.

Focused on making eye contact and a friendly, lasting impression, I forget their names three seconds later.

Thankfully, one second is all it takes to meet best friends.

_________________________

In the military, no one tells you about the other side.

You prepare for moves. You prepare for going away parties. You prepare for hugs pre-loaded with silent, forget-me-not sentiments. You prepare for goodbye.

But no one tells you how to be the one to say it. How to plan the party. How to deliver the hug.

No one tells you how to be the one who is being left.

Well, always-smiling Nicole and beachwear-loving Vincent (yes, their names did eventually stick) left us this weekend.

And it stings.

They provided us with a small group community. The California natives modeled a Godly marriage and how to go with the flow of life. But best of all, they made me realize deep friendship can be rooted in the middle of constant transition.

Making a home and building relationships in Pensacola, Florida–or anywhere with a nearby military base for that matter–is a risky little thing. Aviation students come, we get attached and then the military sends us away. When we first moved here I once joked with one of our non-military friends, comparing him to a lonely little puppy who always gets left at the shelter. It’s a terribly depressing image, and I think we both nervously laughed so that we didn’t cry.

Well I should be honest. I laughed because I thought we were going to leave first. Whiz through primary training, select jets and off we would go.

Shocker, the Marine Corps had different ideas. (News flash: I’m married to a mighty fine helicopter pilot-in-training.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have to stay in Pensacola for another six, seven months. I get to stay in this beach city. And ironically, God used Nicole and Vincent to provide so many of the reasons why I use that latter verb.

They welcomed us into the small group I thought we could never find since leaving home. Through example, they challenged us to serve our church’s youth, seamlessly sharing leadership when we felt called to step into it.

They offered their best beach wisdom, hosted crazy games of ping pong and provided multiple dolphin sightings through use of their paddleboard.

Put simply, they were a key influence in making Florida become our home. And it stings when someone you care about leaves home.

So while they prepared to load their lives into a Washington-bound truck, we prepared a going away party. Unsure of how to make a hug say “please don’t forget me,” I wrapped my arms around each of them, light-heartedly inviting myself over to the house they haven’t even seen in person yet. I said goodbye.

Fueled by the need to encourage, I have always chased after empathy when relating to people. And while it was an un-invited lesson, I’m grateful to have learned how it feels to be the loved one on the other side of this military lifestyle. To be the ones who are left.

So allow me to share the moral of this story.

Never make friends with a military couple.

…just kidding.

Please love us.

Blissfully blinded.

California Channel Islands

Soaring 30,000 feet above everyday life has a way of making a person feel pensive.

I feel like there’s always a moment on a plane ride when I forget the slight anxiety air travel brings, the cramped elbows-attached-to-sides seating position and flicking the air nozzle back and forth every 10 minutes like a woman going through menopause.

There’s always a moment when I look down from 30,000 feet and see a landscape carved by God.

Every plane ride has adventurously given me a different bird’s eye view portrait, and two weeks ago, I enjoyed a California-bound view. With the whir of the plane’s engine droning in my ears, I looked down at the rivers spread across the brown desert land like veins on a leaf. I studied the darkened, sunbaked definition of mountains and the crude interjection of manmade roads snaking through the earth. Pockets of water sprung up into my vision with pops of blue.

And then everything went white outside my splotchy, plexiglass window.

The cloud enveloped the aircraft, channeling my vision to focus only on the white. Aware of the futility, I squint and peer through the billow, challenging my eyes to find the land I know resides below.

Losing the challenge, I let my thoughts roam as the plane loomed through the endless stretch of white. And roaming thoughts soon gave way to God’s insightful little metaphors He seems to so often charm me with.

I thought of the natural beauty that I’d so pensively gazed upon earlier. How my eyes lusted after the defined mountain ridges, wishing I could climb their peaks. I remembered the meandering rivers, the pops of color against the harsh brown.

I also recounted the ugly: the snaking roads and boxy, cropped fields.

But in a moment, both the pretty and the ugly were swept clean by a flash of white. As if everything I had known was just… erased.

When we are washed clean by God, we’re tempted to squint and peer back at our old life. The old habits we once thought brought us happiness. The bad influences we once thought made life beautiful. Even the things we knew were ugly at the time… we want to remember it.

But the beauty of God’s grace is that He won’t let you slip through His billowing, perfect embrace. When we are enveloped in Him, we are blissfully blinded by His love, mercy and forgiveness.

And 30,000 feet above the Earth or not, that’s something to think about.