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.

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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.

My Pelican Brief

I wish I could say that the embarrassingly long space of time since my last post is due to the craziness of the holidays, moving to a new state for the second time in one year and just trying to settle in to my new home in beachy and balmy Pensacola.

But I don’t have that excuse.

And actually, I am rather pleased to say why I don’t have that excuse… because I settled in awhile ago. I can’t place why the transition to the land of the pelican seems to be so much easier than my first move to Virginia. I mean, maybe it’s the fact that we don’t have to sit in traffic for an hour anytime we want to go anywhere. Or that our second-story apartment has a giant, screened-in deck that overlooks a forest. Or possibly that Chick-Fil-A is within a five minute walk of our front door.

Well, perhaps there are a few different reasons to place my finger on after all.

But jokes aside, I believe that the sole cause to my contentment in this new season is simply God answering my prayers. He used Virginia to show me what I didn’t know I needed: socialization outside of the four walls I lived in.

Now let me preface this by stating my husband is one of the most talented men I know at taking a normal evening and turning it into a much-needed, laughter-inducing date night right at home. And more often than not, I selfishly just want to spend my my time with him.

However, when I’m alone I spend way too much time in my head, simply because I have no other outlet to occupy my thoughts and time. Before, I allowed myself to sit on the sofa, stare out our small living room window and dwell on the anxieties I may have that day/week, what and who I missed in Texas and the imperfections of my overall lifestyle.

See, I’m a female internal processor. Or maybe I should word that differently: I am a female who is also an internal processor. So, not only do I think A LOT, but I inherently keep all of that to myself. And when I’m not able to be challenged by others to get out of my head, I just find myself in an unhealthy, perpetual thought-cycle. So I prayed for change. And we all know the best catalyst for change is a move, am I right military families?

So fast forward to now, two months since leaving Virginia, and my faithful God has answered my prayer for community. And in the only fashion He knows how, Jesus did so with flying colors.

In between the craze of Thanksgiving and Christmas out-of-town shenanigans, the husband and I have officially found a church home less than ten minutes away, and even signed our names up this very morning to join a young adults life group.

Feeding my soccer frenzy (because let’s be honest, I was chomping at the bit for the entire four months in Virginia), I half-accidentally discovered a soccer league that not only satisfies the fire for my first love, but allows me to socialize and enjoy the company of other players for a couple hours each week under the lights.

The boy and I even sought out a financial advisor and through his connections, I discovered the nerve-channeling thrill of pulling the trigger on a .40 in my grasp. And I do believe in the coming weeks that there will be other tattered targets to join the lone, hole-infested paper currently hanging on our refrigerator.

The opportunities that each of these life-giving (unless you’re the paper target) outlets have already provided are enough to support the joy I’ve had since moving to a new place these last two months. Of course, there are several other little things that have added to that joy, such as finally getting cable to watch grown men fight over a football each week on our TV screen. Or perhaps the knowledge that sandy beaches are just a half hour’s drive away.

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t live every day in Florida with rose-tinted glasses. I dearly miss the hey-let’s-go-get-coffee texts from the best friend. I see a petite girl with short brown hair from the back at church and immediately miss my sister. There is no Chuy’s here. And the humidity is coming, my hair can feel it.

But you know, there will always be pitfalls and shortcomings when learning to adapt to a new lifestyle. It’s a matter of uncovering the hidden opportunities to outweigh those difficult moments threatening to strip your contentment.

 

 

Never On My Own

“If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.”


Sgt. Cromer, 2ndLt Dolan, Capt Lomsdale
Sgt Cromer, 2ndLt Dolan, Capt Lomsdale

The hauntingly reverent final verses of the Marine Corps hymn rang through the otherwise silent Little Hall auditorium last night as 239 Officers became graduates of The Basic School. Six months of dedication, physical exhaustion and mental stamina had tested the men and women who earned that walk across the stage last night. The ones who will lead other great men and women in their respective fields in the years to come.

The pride swelled in my chest as my honors graduate graced the stage, essentially walking his way to the very thing he’s worked years for: flight school.

But the moment also pulled a string in my chest because his graduation represented the completion of our stay in Virginia. Leaving this home that unpredictably weaseled its way into my heart in a few short months with its cool evenings, stunning heights, and laid back traffic. (I mean it. Just lie back in your seat and take a little nap while you’re on 95.)

I came into Quantico with a few preconceived notions: I wouldn’t need to try to make lasting friendships. I wouldn’t need to work at learning the guys’ names in my husband’s platoon. I wouldn’t have to feel like I had to get to know my new city and explore it on my own. I believed I was inherently a homebody-loving loner who can be perfectly content with doing her own thing until her husband comes home each day.

And whadaya know. Two weeks in, and I was ready to start calling my work clients for a made-up reason, just for the sake of interacting with someone.

Ironically, my notions were still spot-on. I didn’t need to try to make lasting friendships; they just came without warning. Wives invited me to dinner, to their baby gender reveal party, to run an 8k, to their dog’s birthday party.

I didn’t need to work at learning the guys’ names in my husband’s platoon; the names simply stuck when the guys first greeted “Mrs. Dolan” with huge smiles and their surprising, but ever-welcome, hugs.

And I certainly didn’t have to explore the city on my own. Maneuvering through DC, working the Metro system and exploring The White House gardens were made possible by new, street-smart girlfriends. And a trip to run four miles in Virginia Beach with my favorite, redhead yoga-pro turned into a day-long adventure of pumpkin patches and burying our feet in the coastline sand.

So with this final blog written during my season at Quantico Marine Base, I want to dedicate this to the people of The Basic School:

To the guards passing me through every time I went through the gate, affirming my honored relationship as a Second Lieutenant’s wife, sometimes even with a salute.

To the guys who killed the E-course on practice runs–with gear–as I ran behind in awe.

To Custis for showing what the stoic heart of a Marine looks like by crawling on a broken fibula in pitch darkness to successfully complete night land nav.

To a young girlfriend named Perry just visiting her Officer for a weekend. A girl who sought advice for her future, innocently saw my rings and took me for a veteran, asking the humbling question: Tell me what it’s like to be a Marine wife?

To the wives of Delta Company who found their way into my life and enriched it deeply, despite my hesitancy to get too close when being here so temporarily. The women who shared my confusion over Marine Corps lingo, buzzwords and silly acronyms. The women who provided much-needed laughs and giggles during the weeks when the guys “were running around the hills of Quantico with a painted face saying ‘pew pew.'” (That one’s for you Brittany Boolootian.)

To Kaylan and Marc for getting my man out of Graves on those hot, AC-less nights and letting him stay in your home. And for trusting me with your laptop to live-record the special moment the blue balloons floated in front of your adoring faces as you both discovered Bite Size Martinez will be a darling little boy.

To Lippert, who didn’t scoff at me when I, a child, finally had the courage to ask what the McPP was (pronounced mck-pee-pee, FYI) during a study session in our living room. And also for educating me on how the word “yuzluk” can be used in a sentence (if only in the world of Balderdash).

To Gil who unintentionally became Jesse and I’s practice run for having a sleeping “teenager” in our backseat as we drove to a soccer game.

To Favero for being my Marine’s clean roommate, tucking him in at night when I couldn’t… and for not writing down my credit card information that one time you were in the background–much within earshot–of Jesse and I’s Skype conversation.

To the various Lieutenants who graced our home and filled it with stories and entertainment that I can only imagine the Vegas mantra applies to: “what happens at TBS, stays at TBS.”

And lastly, to my favorite TBS graduate: Jesse. Thank you for choosing me to stand by you on this adventure.  You often confide in me that you blame yourself for uprooting me from my Texan comfort, pushing me to a place where nothing is normal and I know no one. But the truth is, I chose this life for myself when I stood before you, reading my vows. And I have never looked back. These four months have pushed, challenged and inspired so many aspects of my life. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity, nor the courage, to experience any of it… never on my own. I think, sometimes, people need to be uprooted to discover how to grow. Especially those who don’t even realize they need to. (*slowly raises hand*)

So, to those of you that beautifully colored my season here in Virginia, I say goodbye. But only for now. The Marines are few, remember?

___

Semper Fi

Receiving Joy

leaf dropsLittle drops came together, forming mini pools, too curious and new to spill over the whole way. They just sat there, casually threatening the shallow concern of one’s mascara appearance. But my concern–if you can call it that–was focused on something rather different. Exponentially different.

In the middle of a worship service in my once-church-home of Southlake, TX, where I’d stood and raised my hands countless other times… I was crying. And then giggling because I couldn’t understand it. And then struggling with trying to decide to waste my two hands on dabbing at my eyes or keeping them raised with the rest of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s such a wonderful thing to see how God can transform a self-defined symbol of sadness, confusion and difficult times into an expression of clarity and unabashed joy.

But let’s back up. First things first, let me break any stereotypical, emotional girl stigmas by admitting that tears rarely flow from my eyes. It’s not for lack of trying! When I walked down the aisle to my ever-handsome husband and saw the reflection of two seas blinking back at me, my insides lost it. But physical tears just wouldn’t touch my cheeks.

Instead, the past yields only hardship-instigated tears for me. I would actually watch, with twinges of jealousy, my best friend at youth camp clearly overtaken by the Holy Spirit in the middle of a worship song as she danced, swayed and literally cried with glee in His presence. When you see something beautiful, not only can you not look away, but human nature just desires it. And I wanted “it.” I wanted her tear-soaked joy.

_______________________________

Fast forward to present day… and then rewind two weeks. I had the ever-anticipated pleasure to fly home to Dallas for an entire week to spend time with the people I’d been homesick for. There was no doubt I was excited about it, and I knew the trip would be good for me: to serve as a refresher and well, let’s be honest, a little reward for making it three months while living out of God’s coun–I mean, Texas–for you not-so-lone-starred-state residents.

Despite my excitement, I was already thinking about how I’d have to endure another hard goodbye when the week was done. But then, on the Sunday of my D.C.-bound flight, Global Weekend happened at Gateway Church.

At least 10 different worship leaders from around the world sang out in their own beautifully-different tongues and it just got me. I can’t be eloquent here, because God wasn’t eloquent with me. He didn’t warn, polish or prepare me for the emotions that would sweep over me in a matter of moments. While a Brazilian dialect poured out of the speaker system, my own words morphed into a giggle because I realized my eyes were no longer dry. In an instant, the camp flashback appeared in my mind and I giggled again. He was giving me joy through the very thing that used to embody sadness. And I just couldn’t handle it.

My God knew I needed a Heavenly picker-upper. Not only to get me to leave my comfort zone again after a beautiful week. Not only to somehow pull me from the heart-melting, tiny-hand-gripping hold of my nieces and nephews. But also for gathering the energy and strength to tackle another move across the country in just a month.

It’ll be a full month of bustling activity that will bring decisions, excitement and probably, stressors.

But ultimately, I remember: He always brings joy.

Beginnings:

They carry this nervous energy and pent up excitement. The anxious, twisted fingers underneath the table during a first date; the quickening of a runner’s heartbeat before the starting gun fires; the curious wanderlust of a traveler leaving home as she hands her one-way ticket to the attendant.

Even the multiple perfectionistic edits of a writer before hitting “publish”on her inaugural blog post.

If you couldn’t tell, I currently fall into the latter category. I’ve been telling myself to start one of these ever since finishing college and looking for ways to keep the creative ink of my right side brain from drying up. I have a loose idea of where I want to take this blog, but for tonight, I figured I would just let my thoughts take these keys wherever they wanted to go. And since this is just the beginning… well, I have time to shape this blog into what I want it to be. (Little teaser for next post: I share my reasoning for this blog title.)

Honestly, beginnings are one of my very favorite things. The unknown is exhilarating to me–it’s why I love surprises. Beginnings are the root of daydreams, nostalgia and memories. I never have answers in the beginning, and it’s so relieving to not have that burden. Instead, I simply allow my ever-processing brain to go limp noodle, if you will, and just be in the moment.

Those anxious, twisted fingers? Yeah, that comes from experience. My hands were in knots underneath a McAlister’s table one August night because my brain was much too occupied with the handsome brown-eyed boy laughing at my corny, lame jokes to tell my fingers to chill out. Had I been actually using all of my brain’s potential… I probably would’ve sounded a whole lot more logical in trying to impress this logistics major, thus, my off-the-cuff jokes wouldn’t have ever landed on his ears, and his whole-hearted laugh might never have become the one I hold so dear to my heart now, nearly two years later.

The thing is… the beauty of a beginning cannot be seen until you let your brain stop trying to figure out the ending.

It’s with this mentality that I’m striving towards the newest of my beginnings.

You see, I married that brown-eyed, laughing boy on March 27, 2015.

In the wee hours of April 30, 2015, I would watch red tail lights reflect off our apartment hallway as my Marine drove away from our little Texan home, headed towards Quantico, Virginia, to report for TBS (The Basic School) five months earlier than we were both prepared for.

Due to the sudden announcement, necessary quick turnaround and just starting my new blessing of a job, I hugged and kissed him goodbye that morning knowing that I wouldn’t get to join him in that beautifully green state until the beginning of July.

Two months.

Being a newlywed… well, that might as well be two years. Dramatic as that sounds, I really miss my husband… this is my blog… and I can write whatever I want.

But I digress. Let’s back up… the beginning of July. Catch that key word? Another beginning is on my horizon! I’m going to be honest, the first couple weeks of him being gone were rough and riddled with grumpiness. But with each new morning, I began to embrace that pent up excitement and anticipation for that July day when I would jump out of that U-Haul into my man’s arms, wordlessly defining why Virginia Is For Lovers.

July 2nd is ever creeping closer, and I wait in anticipation to join my husband in this new beginning of our lives–the adventure of learning how to pack efficiently, living in new cities and creating lasting relationships with fellow Marines and their spouses who chose to seek the same adventure.

At 23, I’ve experienced a lot of beginnings. But this next one is about to take me for a ride of surprises.

And you already know by now… I can’t wait.