Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Tale of 3 Lessons Learned (of Undergarments, Salad Dressing, and Theft)

I was born with a target on my head with fine print next to it that says: "Teach me a lesson. A hard one, please."

God loves teaching me lessons.

Take for example the time that I learned about humility. After finishing a set of laundry back in college, I quickly threw on a pair of freshly washed and dried jeans, and ran out the door to church for confession. Out of the 6 churches having confession that night, I chose the most conservative one, which also looked like a cathedral inside. There was a rather long line of students waiting to receive the sacrament. We were packed together against the cold brick wall like sardines. As I was waiting patiently in my designated spot for over 45 minutes, it was finally time to inch forward. I allowed my neck to rest from its perpetual people-watching and looked downwards during a stretch. Something bright orange caught my eye.

Standing beneath me, about 2 1/2 people-lengths back, were a pair of my neon orange, green-floral printed, straight outta Victoria Secret, undergarments. Standing next to them was a crowd of conservative theology majors and pre-priests from my school. Awesome.

They had obviously fallen out of my pants-leg, since I'd washed them both together. Now to leave them there and pretend they don't belong to me? Or pick them up.

I swallowed my pride and picked them up. Ah, humility.

Then there was that lesson that I learned called balance. With a dose of humility.

While studying in Austria, we had a day to celebrate the feast of St. Therese. The school put together a fancy feast for us in the Mensa (our dining area). It was a 5-course luncheon that was delicious. The staff needed people to help serve. As they went around asking one student from each table, I buried my head in my notebook even further to try and persuade those choosing that I was in fact a studious person.

"Emily, I'd like you to serve the salads."

"But I've never been a waitre--"

"That's fine, it's easy, you can't mess it up." (Thanks for the death wish.)

So I went and found the first salad tray that I was supposed to deliver, complete with 9 plates of already-dressed fresh lettuce. I delivered the first to the safest table: the nerdy studiers. I knew that they would not even look up and acknowledge me so my lack of waiting experience would go unnoticed. *Whew!*

The next table were the "God Bless You Sister-in-Christ"ers. They were busy giving each other back rubs and saying "Bless You Sister" to notice my clumsiness either. 2 tables down.

I decided that the cool people, the "jock" table would just have to come last. I needed to get down as much experience as I could before meandering to that table. By the time that table came though, my left arm was going numb from holding a tray above my head for so long.

"Hey guys, here's the salads! Yeah, can't wait for that philosophy test later on, huh?" I managed to squeak out. Yes! This was working, I was looking cool!

I got about 3/4 of the way passing the salads down the table. I thought it'd be easy to stand at one end and just have people pass them down. As I was standing, stunning the crowd with my one-liners, I kept hearing a "uhh, excuse me" from somewhere, but it was much too faint to make out. Besides, I was in the middle of cracking a good one about our professor.

"Excuse me" I heard it again. I looked over to where the voice was coming from. It was the pre-med, jockiest-jock boy to my right.

"Excuse me, you're dripping, the uhh..." I looked down. Ohmygosh. The Italian dressing from all previously-served salads had dripped onto the tray. And the 45-degree angle that I was now holding the tray at was not keeping that dripped dressing on. There was a giant, big wet Italian-dressing stain in the lap of this boy. On his white khakis.

Balance, with a side of humility, please.

(I avoided that boy for the rest of the semester, until I finally mustered up the courage to beg for forgiveness and the chance to give him money for the pants. He accepted the apology, but not the money.)

It really should have been no surprise for me that a new lesson was about due. I mean, I hadn't had one since I fell out of the reception hall on our wedding day, during the sparklers send-off. Thank God we had a hired photographer. We've got that one to remember forever!

Early this week, I learned a new lesson. Vanity. Rather, not to be vain.

On our way home from paradise, we stopped at a hotel mid-way. It was midnight, my husband and I were both drained from the road, and our puppies needed a break from being squished in the back of a prius. We pulled off a few different exits and checked-out various hotels before settling on the brightest, closest-to-highway one. It looked safe.

We took a few things out of the car, checked in, and fell right asleep on the cardboard beds. We slept for a few hours before the dogs woke us up, ready to go. It was pouring rain, so we thought it'd be best to head out early. Jim ran one dog to the car and said he'd be back to get the other.

He came back after about 10 minutes. White as a ghost.

"Someone broke into our car."

And what did they take? The valuables? The registration?

"Your suitcase. I'm going to go call the police."

We had a shattered window, a car full of glass and water, and I was now clothes-less.

My clothes are gone! That was the suitcase with only my nicest clothes in it! My favorite pajamas that they don't sell anymore! Those tops that I bought for our honeymoon! My shorts, that are impossible to find in that size these days! My hairdryer, straightening iron!!!

They were gone. For good. The cop passively remarked "Sonufagun! Only one break in last night! A new record!"

"Can you dust for fingerprints? I mean, that straightening iron was a Chi..."

"Nah- but whut I can do for ya is write-up a report so ya can have a copy!"

"Thanks. But my JanDor shirts from the 80s--"

"Well, I gotta run, have a good rest of the day, at least!"


So there we were, in nowhere PA, windowless, a clothesless wife, in the pouring rain.

We somehow managed to get home by evening and get the window fixed the next day. But my clothes! Anyone who is built like me knows how hard it is to have to shop in children's sizes, while looking for adult's styles. All I could think about was my clothes. Each piece.

It took a few days, but I finally realized that they were just clothes. I mean, they are replaceable, I guess. Sort of. What really matters is that no one was hurt, right? This means I get to go shopping now.

I just thank God that the neon-orange underwear was tucked safe away at home.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Man you Have Become"

I am going on vacation in 4 days to the most beautiful, peaceful, most heaven-like place on earth.

A place where I grew up, my mother grew up, her mother grew up, her father honeymooned and his father bought a plot of land. A place where families have been friends for over a century. A place where my heart beats wild and my soul thrives.

I wish that I could put into words how magical this place is to me, my friends and my family. For as long as I can remember, winter was the enemy because it meant that this place was so far out of reach. People who vacation at this same spot only agree. We share our countdowns publicly on facebook now, but there was a time when there'd only be letters sent through the mail displaying our excitement of how close this place was to our grasp. We kept the cost of stamps down for this country for years.

As a child, teenager and college student, all I could do was daydream from September until June, (when I'd finally leave for this piece of paradise). I'd write stories, talk off classmates' ears, plan our endeavors with my family. In fact, my nickname in college was: "Hello-my-name-is-Emily-and-I-love-Lake-George". I couldn't contain my excitement. There'd be swimming and bonfires...grandparents and cousins...staying out late and making memories... all to look forward to.

My mind was always on Lake George.

And for some reason, for the first time in 27 years, I can't even bear to think about it.

There is a brick wall that I have subconsciously built around my heart and mind. Don't's not doesn't exist. Yes, I still had to talk to my boss and request a week off. And laundry and packing would probably be a good thing too. But I cannot allow myself to think about it. There is a growing pain inside of me, and its root is guilt.


I received a phone call the other day from my brother. His voice was shaky but strong on the other line. As always, the call started with me saying hello and asking how he was.

"Not good. I have some bad news."

As he began to speak, the blood drained from my limbs and I could feel myself going numb. Never allowing any of my own emotions to get in the way of his, I quickly chugged some water to avoid any potential lumps from forming in my throat.

"I'm going on a dangerous mission. I have 24 hours to pack. I won't be speaking to you anymore, and will only be able to speak to my wife once each month, max."

What do you say in a moment like this? Here I am, trying to decide which bathing suits to bring up to the lake with me, and all I can squeek out is: "I love you; We're praying for you; Stay safe."

The days of sharing a bunk bed with him in cabin number one are gone. His legos don't fall on top of my head in my sleep anymore. He's not the boy wearing the same "I climbed Dr. Jackson's Molar Mountain!" t-shirt day after day. We can't argue about who's night it is to hand-wash those dishes in the ice cold water. There's no hiking to the gazebo, driving up to Jabes, listening to Opa's wisdom, enjoying a day at Great Escape, having an in-depth conversation with Mr. Collins, or tubing behind Dad's Dream for him. He can't even walk into the Leiter's cabin and ask if he can have their bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'm pretty certain that he won't even be yelling at us that he has "gravel up his butt" during a game of Bloody Murder.

Instead, he's sleeping on a cot in a tent, wearing a camouflage shirt day after day. He'll be eating meals called MRE's, with no dishes to wash. He'll be hiking up a desert mountain, driving in a tank, listening to his sergeants' wisdom, enjoying any day he can talk to his wife, having in-depth conversations with her, and asking himself if this was Dad's dream for him. He'll be dreaming of the days when bacon and eggs were an option. And that gravel up his butt- it's sand. And it's no longer a game.

My heart aches during his absence. There isn't a moment at any point of the day when I don't ask myself "what is Robert doing right now...will he be the same when he returns?" I feel so horribly selfish as I ask my husband, "Should we rent a boat this year, or use the money to treat ourselves to a night out?"

Last night, I received a phone call from Robert's wife. These calls are just as anticipated as Robert's calls. Usually, Julia brings me news of her own life in Germany, where she lives with her husband in another country. She generally does not know where he is, what he's doing, what he's thinking. I miss my husband terribly every morning when we both depart for work. What could possibly be going through her mind?

After Julia and I laughed on the phone for a while, it was time to go. I got off the phone, and told my own husband briefly of our conversation over dinner. The following day, Jim wrote an email to Robert. It moved me to tears, as it's written with such raw honesty and truthfulness. It was never intended to be published; it was just an email between two brothers. I asked Jim if I could repost it, as most people don't have the opportunity to read letters like this. Here it is below. If you know Robert or anyone in the military, have tissues nearby:


Its been a while since I have had a chance to write, and I know that you may not be able to check your email often as you prepare for your next order, but I thought I would write this anyways, hoping that you may get a chance before you go.

I was driving to work this morning, with the sun coming up behind the grey clouds, not really shining, but colored a deep orangish red, fog laying over the fields and pastures as I drove down the back country roads. My mind drifted, as it always does on these mornings, to the revolutionary war, and the civil war (history buff here), and what it must have been like to be a soldier back then. Waking before dawn watching the sun rise in all it majesty as a new day begins, but realizing that now that there is light the movement of not only my camp, but the camp across the field. I find myself thanking God for the freedoms I have, and the life I live thanks to those Fathers and sons that came many generations before me. But today, with a conversation Emily and I had at dinner last night about her conversation with Julia, nothing more than two sisters catching up, but the fact that you were at the center of the conversation, if for no other reason than you being the strongest of many bonds that the two of them share...You popped in top my mind.

I looked at those fields of fog differently today, and with the suns rays starting to get though those dark clouds, I realized that, like I have told you before, I am extremely proud of you and what you are doing. But this time that feeling went deeper...

Robert, you took on this calling not for yourself, or really for others, but for Julia. There was a period of a day or two leading up to that final decision that you grew up to be a man. Not just any man, but a man of virtue. You gave your life, those things that you knew, the people closest to you, and you gave them to her. You devoted yourself whole heatedly to Julia that you made a very difficult decision...which has led you to where you are now. And where you are now is putting your self in those fields, feeling the fogs as you sit against a tree, gun in hand ready to do anything for Julia...but in the process, you have unselfishly done the same for Emily, for your family, for her family, for millions of other families, for me.

I am writing this to tell you that I am not just proud of you, but I am humbled and deeply appreciative of the man you have become. You have lined your self with those unknowns who have fought for those they loved the most, but have become the reason we all share the freedoms that we have today.

I cannot give enough meaning to this statement...

I am so proud of you brotha,


We miss you brother. Just as we did the day that you last left.