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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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


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.

 

 

Never Goodbye

The faded red double-decker bus caught my eye as soon as we rounded the corner, its effervescent charm radiating from the top level’s vintage chandeliers I stole glances of while waiting at the adjacent stoplight.

What a nifty little monument to this city’s cultural scene, I thought. In its prime, it could’ve rolled up and down the streets of this town nestled in the foothills of North Carolina, royally awarding its second-level passengers a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Now, in 2016, it sat stationary, guarded by a wrought iron fence. And I suddenly wished to be a part of its past. One of its passengers.

Then the WALK sign flashed and as we drew nearer, I saw the sign.

Coffee & Desserts.

Be still my heart, why, this charming old bus was a coffeeshop!

I looped my hand around Jesse’s arm as we approached, silently trying to send a signal that we must give this brilliant shop owner our money before leaving town. Unsure he noticed, I cinched the deal with a longing, over-the-shoulder stare at the little old bus as we walked past and towards our lunch spot. I was rewarded with a: “Well, we’ll just have to stop there and get some coffee later, won’t we?”

I was already imagining the joy of sitting up at the top, sipping my beverage, taking in the quaint old-school aura and perhaps even delighting in a card game with my signal-reading husband.

After stalling the afternoon away with street tacos and people-watching, I decided it was time to indulge my heart and return to the bus. Shaded by matching, faded red umbrellas, crowds milled about the outside seating area while a short line was beginning to form on the first level. I shot a quick glance up at the top windows, suddenly realizing the crowds could be a result of a seat-less top level.

Met with an obscuring glare, I gave Jesse my order and made for the refinished, metallic steps to the second level, hoping to find empty bench seats.

Alas, there were two empty tables for the taking! That is, two tables that neighbored two other tables occupied by a large group of young adults who all turned to look at this vintage-bus-loving stranger who just climbed the stairs, apparently killing their conversational vibe.

Determined to enjoy my “ride” on the bus, I ducked under the low-hanging chandelier, averted my anxious gaze under the I-can’t-see-them-they-can’t-see-me pretense and sat down, praying for Jesse’s quick ascent up the stairs.

Now allow me to confess: I’m a bit of a curious person. (Some call it nosy… I call it “byproduct of a journalism degree.”) So, with both eyes nonchalantly looking out the window and one ear turned toward the group, I gathered little factoids about this ragtag bunch of young people sitting together drinking coffee on an old double-decker bus. For example, the whole right table was living, or had once lived, in Alaska. Inferred tidbit: the whole left table was jealous.

It had only been a few minutes after I sat down that the group’s conversation lulled. I stole a quick glance over and saw The Alaskas toying with empty to-go cups stuffed with trash, and assumed the scene meant the top cabin of this bus would soon be all mine.

I heard footsteps coming up the stairwell and began to shuffle things around on the table to make room for Jesse and I’s beverages. Instead, a couple emerged, scanning the close quarters with a disappointed look and turning to go back down.

Before the woman descended, a voice shot out from the Alaska table: “Hey I know that face!”

Her cropped dark hair grazed the chandelier as she swung her head back toward the voice. Her bearded companion (perfect for the Alaskan bush, might I add), hovered above the steps, waiting to see if the recognition was mutual and/or legit.

One “Oh my gosh, hiiiii!” and a hug later, the bearded man was retreating from the steps and I was losing hope the top cabin of the bus would soon be all mine.

One hug turned into three and four as the entire group greeted this new couple with surprised glee. Turns out each of the Alaskas and Alaska-Wannabes knew this couple, who obviously had made no plans with the aforementioned to meet here. At the top of a random, old, monster truck version of an everyday coffee cart.

And me, my journalistic self and I had to find out the connection.

Still staring out the window, I tune in and resist the urge to start taking notes on my phone. It’s shockingly apparent that the group has not seen this couple for quite some time, as they all start answering her “So where are you living now?” questions.

Not shockingly, one of the right-tablers introduces his girlfriend and says they’re just visiting from Alaska. Another explains that he’s right here in Asheville. One of the Alaska Wannabes pipes up and explains that he’s a Marine, so he’s living ‘everywhere.’ (I understand, bro. Oorah!)

I’m already fascinated with the journeys of each of these strangers and still curious as to why they’re all in one place at the same time, but my jaw nearly hits the table when I hear the dark-haired girl’s response to her own question. She reveals that they are in town for their last day of a three-year-anniversary celebration before they return back to Amsterdam.

Yes that’s right. Amsterdam.

Cue It’s A Small World After All.

Their chatter continues as Jesse climbs up the stairs and I have to keep myself from shushing him as he sits down. I mean, it’s one thing to have your husband realize you’re eavesdropping on strangers. But it’s a whole different ballgame when your subjects–an arm’s length away–realize you’re eavesdropping.

Suddenly it dawns on my new friends (since I know so much about the group to call them as such) that the dramatics of the spontaneous reunion deserve a photo.

Before letting them draw straws to choose who gets left out of the picture, I catch the Marine’s eye and offer to take the photo.

As I sit back down, I quietly admit to Jesse my one, burning question: How do they ALL know each other?

Using my journalist background against me, he tells me to just ask them. So, I put my fear of being publicly pegged a busybody behind me, stand up to follow Jesse down the stairs and politely address the group: “I’m sorry, but I’ve seen how unplanned all of this was and I just have to ask: How do you all know each other?”

Alaska Living In Asheville replied: “Apple. We all worked at Apple.”

_______

This whole story is to encourage not only myself, but any others of you who are wondering how you’ll be able to leave that home, that church, those friends, your family… for a new place. A new state. Or possibly even a new country.

Whether it’s work, love or just life that takes you from what you know, this story shows that it’s never goodbye when you leave. It’s see ya later…

Perhaps on the top level of an old double-decker bus in Asheville, North Carolina.

doubledecker