Category Archives: Explanations

All the why’s and how’s of the move.

The Grid

When I met Orlando, everybody called him “Lanny.”

Maybe some of you still do and if you do that’s not a big deal to him. But somewhere early in our marriage he asked me to call him Orlando. It is, after all, his given name and he would prefer to use it. So I obliged and now “Lanny” is a name I seldom, if ever, use. And the result, after 15 years of doing it, is that a lot of people only know him as Orlando. It’s a name we’ve grown used to. Until recently, I kind of forgot I ever had to work at switching.

But here in Milford it does cause some consternation.

First of all I should tell you that when I meet people in Milford, the first order of business is their plotting me on the grid. The map. The Milford family tree. It’s impossible to know somebody here without knowing “who they’re with” (Godfather reference intended). It’s important to them. It’s not like those of us from the crowded coasts who meet people every single day that come from nowhere or everywhere. Here, people have an origin. A heritage. To know me is to know where I fit.

So when we meet, they consider me with a pleasant expression and say, “Okay, so you’re a Roth. Who is your husband?”

“Orlando,” I reply.

I watch as a strange look comes over their faces. “Orlando?” they puzzle. “Orlando? Who are his parents?”

“Milt and Wilma,” I answer. “You know, the ones who owned the restaurant.”

“Oh right! Wow, do we miss that place! And they have a son named Orlando?” I watch as the person mentally ticks through the family members, one by one, until….

“Oh, you mean Lanny!”

“Right,” I say.

And without a doubt, one of the following statements will emerge:

“I went to high school with Lanny.” “I’ve know Lanny since I was a little kid.” “Lanny and I used to be in the same Sunday School class.” And the ever famous, “Lanny is my second cousin.”

And then the person and I will small talk for a little while.  I try feverishly to remember the name of this person and they succeed in nailing my place in on the grid. The exchange making them comfortable in knowing where I fit, and even helps them infer several key pieces of information about me without even having to dig for it. Knowing Lanny  means they know me.

But does it?

Well, yes, to one extent it does. To know Lanny means to know I must be a committed Christian. He wouldn’t have married anyone else. And it also means that I probably hold to his values: strong family, education, hard work. All true–I value those things. And I admire my husband more than I can say for how he lives out those values in the real world. But is that it? Is that all there is to know about me?

Well of course it isn’t. The rest is a mystery to be unraveled. It would be as much of a mistake for the good people of Milford to assume that Lanny and I are identical as it would be for me to assume that they are all identical. Or defined by their places on the grid. It might send you in the right direction, but in the end we become the people we choose to become.

And I think that’s part of the reason that I am married to Orlando and not Lanny. He’s been away from here a long time. Has changed and grown and been refined by experience and the intervention of a loving God. He’s a teacher, a husband, a father.  And he’s a man, not a boy.

I guess that makes both of us a mystery. Who is this masked man? And who is his wife?

And that’s with or without the grid.

Hitting the Water

Today is July 21, 2011.  It is Nicholas’s seventh birthday. And as much as we are thrilled for our little boy and his seven candles, it was what happened yesterday that has us truly rejoicing.

Orlando was hired to teach in Lincoln. Finally.

Okay, so it took a bit longer than we expected, but he was offered two jobs and took the one at the school that he really, really wanted to be part of this entire time. The school he had worked for previously in Nebraska. A school that had just one job opening this year. A position they were happy to give him and he was honored to accept.  God truly had his hand in this because believe it or not, the timing was just about perfect.  I think our entire family heaved a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news.

Through the whole adventure I’ll admit not allowing myself the luxury of considering a Plan B. I didn’t want to even begin to think of how we would restore the  life in Pennsylvania we so neatly dismantled to come here. But when the word finally came and the reality of our move was finalized, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. Wow, I thought, we’re really not going back. And for just a second I was struck with all those mixed feelings of loss and joy that have so marked the journey here. It felt like we jumped to take the plunge so long ago, but even after the long way down, the shock of hitting the water was still, well, a shock.

So here we are. Residents of Milford, Nebraska. Population 2052. So on our first day of being real residents, the boys and I went to town and did the right thing: we applied for a library card. And tomorrow, the search for an internet connection on the farm begins. Can’t do the blog from the library forever!

And tomorrow we figure out how to get our stuff from there to here in the next week. Orlando begins his new job on August 2!

More later friends. Thanks for your patience with the sporatic blogging. I promise to catch you when I’m connected.

Already Gone

The computer drought has ended at the Roth house. I am writing this post from our new laptop, updated with new antivirus stuff, out of our new computer bag,  Unfortunately, I’m still sitting in my old house. I’m so ready to take the next step.

The biggest question out there, the one we hear from everyone we run into, is “Have you heard anything yet?” And of course the answer is an exasperated “No!” The LPS school district is recovering from the loss of their offices, but just now restored email at the end of this week. They had a Facebook post up asking those who were looking for jobs to give them a bit of time to get it together so we have tried to do that. I think Orlando patience is about over, however, and I suspect he will send them an email before this Sunday evening is out. He just can’t stand the wait. I’ll admit I think it would be nice to hear something from them myself after all this time and I’m not the one waiting to be hired.

In the meantime, our house is slowly being emptied out. We’re stilling living amongst the furniture, but most of the cabinets and chests and drawers are now empty. The “new and improved” plan is that as we box things up, Orlando is moving them to one of our two rented storage units here in town. One is almost totally full.  Within two weeks, we want everything we own stored in those units (well, except the piano and the freezer) and then we’re going to jump on the interstate and head to Nebraska, taking only what our vans can carry and our faith that we are going with God’s wind at our backs.  The house will go up for sale empty. And when Orlando nails down this job and our house is sold, we’ll come back and get the rest of the stuff. It’s not like we’ll need it immediately anyway.

The boys are down to sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor (which they LOVE by the way) and they have their little backpacks all set with only the most indispensable toys and gadgets. I’ve held out just one set of sheets for our bed,  bought a boatload of paper plates and bowls so I can pack away my everyday plates, and next on my program is figuring out what to do with the clothes in the closets. If I were moving across town, I would just throw them all in the backseat with the hangers on, but moving 1200 miles away makes it a bit more complicated. Just how many pairs of shoes, I wonder, will I need between now and September? Will the boys need jeans in the 100 degree Nebraska summer? Will Orlando need more than one shirt and tie to interview in? Such inane, yet fairly critical decisions. I’m sure we’re going to get there and I’m going to be kicking myself for what I do or don’t have on board.

Truthfully, I’m finding all the packing harder than ever. I feel like I simply can’t sort out one more thing. Either it’s trash or I’m moving it. I refuse to take the time to find another home for another stray object. “Don’t know what to do with that dryer we don’t need, honey? Let’s just throw it out.” I think there is only so much the human brain can take before everything starts looking like junk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chided myself recently for buying some silly thing that, at the time, I just “had to have.” Want to cure your materialism? Move across the country! I miss the days where all my clothes could fit in my army duffle bag and all my furniture could fit in my junky, old Renault Alliance.

Forgive my crankiness. I just want to get out of here and the remaining piles in our house are the proverbial ball and chain.

Of course, I see a bright side to all of this. (The optimist always wins.) The time this is taking has me so ready to leave, the thought is no longer torturous. I’ve seen almost everybody. Said thousands of goodbyes. Doffed my hat to all my old haunts. Let go of just about everything I need to let go of. As a matter of fact, I might even feel a little bit like Marley’s ghost. You know what I mean–a disconnected spirit who hasn’t yet “passed over.” All of a sudden people seem surprised to see me, like they thought we’d be on our way by now. And you know what? In my heart, I’m already gone.

Can’t believe it, but it’s true.

Basil Rathbone as Marley's Ghost. basilrathbone.net

Pastor Mommy and the Ticking Clock

Since I began working at Petra, my children have often referred to me as “Pastor Mommy” at church. I think it’s always been their way of staking their claim. Their way of making sure everybody knows that they are important to me and that at the end of the day, I belong with them. I’ve always found it funny, but recently I’ve begun to see their need to clarify. With so many children to serve, they didn’t want to be seen as just another kid, they wanted to identify themselves with me. And not really for status reasons either, instead I think it’s just because they love me and want people to know they’re special to me.

When I began the Big Red Blog a few months back,  I was nine weeks out from ending my job as children’s pastor at Petra. Now I’m down to days. Just three days left and then I’m all done. Completed. Finished. Over. And I’m cool with it. I’m happy to hand it all off to a team of women I’ve come to love as sisters. I’m excited for what is to come next for the ministry and families and the kiddos and I’m pleased with what our team was able to accomplish together. The good news is I get to continue to be part of the church at Petra until we drive away to Nebraska at the end of June, so I don’t really have to say goodbye to everybody yet. But even still, I know moving out of my office means the end of a part of my life that has brought me freedom and healing and purpose, and finally,  understanding of the person that God has fashioned me to be. So as I was looking around my office today and thinking about cleaning it out, I’ve found myself thinking a bit like my kids. Maybe I could engrave my name on the desk somewhere. Paint my name in the corner of the wall. Not for any other reason than I’ve loved this place and somehow I want to remain a part of it.  To identify myself with it.

I know I’m down to the simplest but hardest part: I’m going to miss these people. I’m going to miss the goofy office antics. I’m going to miss all the laughs and encouragement and heart-to-heart talks. I’m going to miss the wisdom and care shown to me and mine. These dear people took me in and befriended me at a time where I thought I might never find true friends, true fellowship again. I was wrong, obviously, but they have taught me that. They took us in and gave us a home. They’ve listened. They’ve counseled. They’ve cared. It’s tough, tough, tough leaving this crowd behind. And not being a part of them leaves me wondering just who I will be. Who will I become?

So this past Sunday, Mother’s Day, the boys were sitting at the kitchen table getting ready to go to church hours before it started just like always. My dear boys, Orlando included, who have spent six or seven hours a Sunday at church with me every week, are my truest champions. So, thinking that they would be excited to know that this was the last week of these marathon church sessions, I shared with the boys that this was “my last Sunday to be children’s pastor.” (I kind of shocked myself saying it. You know how sometimes things just don’t seem real until you say them out loud. And knowing what I am leaving behind becomes very real to me in some moments. ) But dear Anthony, who always hears more than I say, looked up at me with a look of full understanding. Ever perceptive, he could tell that wasn’t such an easy declaration for me to make.

“That’s okay, Mom,” he said, “You’ll always be our pastor.”

And as per usual, the boy hit the nail on the head. I have three more days to be the pastor of these 500 beautiful kids, a few more days to be part of this team,  but a lifetime to be a pastor for four of them. A member of this family. A wife and mom. And as much as it’s hard to leave this broader work behind, it’s this more focused work that my heart longs to continue. It’s the one thing I want to be identified with the most. So the time on the pastor clock has run down, but the time on the mommy clock will never stop ticking until I’m gone. But time being what it is, I want to jump on it while I’ll have the most influence. And that time is now.

So I guess I’ll be keeping my job as Pastor Mommy. Turns out I don’t need to worry about what I’ll become. I just need to be who I already am.

A Little More Faith Than We Thought

Just when we thought things were going nowhere, they went nowhere further.

For those of you who follow along with this blog, you know that Orlando was expecting a phone call from the school system in Nebraska during the month of April. A phone call offering him an interview for the teaching job that he has to land  before we can call our move official. Well, it’s May 2 and still no phone call. So this weekend, Orlando and I started talking. What do we do? Should he send yet another email to the human resources director, a very nice lady he actually knows? Or should he call? Or should we just wait it out and see? And then the dreaded, “Do we have a Plan B?”

Ugh. I hate Plan B’s. They are my personal definition of The Worst.  I’m definitely a Plan A kind of gal.

So he came home from work today, and after a quick chat in the kitchen about the details he should ask about on the phone, he made the call. And miraculously, the woman was actually still in her office at 5pm central time. About 20 minutes later he returns to the kitchen. Quietly. With a strange look on his face. “Well?” I ask.

“Well, there’s good news and bad news. I’m going to tell you the bad news first.”

“Okay.” I brace myself for the absolute worst. Thinking things like: there are no positions available in a district that hired 350 people last year. They’ve decided to not hire teachers with as much experience as Orlando. They’re furloughing teachers left and right like they are here.

“She says it could be June until she can interview anybody.”

“Really.” is all I say. “Why?”

“Something about the union not liking it if she hires new people until the existing teachers have completely shifted around. And since the schools just found out last week how many teachers they can have based on the census, the existing teachers are still shifting.”

“Okay,” I say. “What’s the good news?”

“The good news is that 138 teachers are retiring. They’re still going to hire about 200-250  teachers this year, and that I have a good chance because I worked for them before. And that I have a better chance because my principal there really liked me.” And then the final, “And oh, she said she had been looking at my file five minutes before I called.”

“That is good news.” I say. “You’re on her radar. But wow, June. What about selling our house? What about packing for the move? We can’t wait until June to figure all that stuff out.”

“I know.” Is all he said.

And for a brief moment, I was tempted to enter the land of Limbo. That tragic place where one really doesn’t know what’s going on and you’re simply driven and tossed around by the howling wind. And then I remembered. Hey, God told us to do this. We need to press on. So I turned to Orlando and declared, “It’s just going to take a little more faith than we thought, that’s all.”

Oh how easy it can be to say words like that. The challenge comes in living it. We’ve staked our lives, our kids’ lives on the reality of this move happening. I have quit my beloved job, we’ve withdrawn our boys from school, we’ve packed a hundred boxes, we’re ready to sell our house. All of this hinging on this job and all of it needing to be done sooner rather than later. Oh no! Plan B here we come!

Or maybe not. When it comes right down to it, why can’t we stay right on Plan A?  Every other piece is in place. Why wait to act on what we believe is God’s will for our lives? I still have no doubt Orlando will get his job. Why do we need some person out there to verify what we believe God has already said? Maybe we need that much faith. Maybe that much faith is a requirement.

So I suggest this to Orlando. Let’s just pack up the house. Let’s just move out. We’ll take the stuff off the walls, forget about “staging” our home and what needs to be here to make that happen. We’ll just empty the place of everything except furniture, put it all in our storage unit right here in town. We head out to Nebraska in June, right when we planned, taking the stuff we need for the summer and fall. Then when the hiring comes, and it will come, we put our house on the market. When it sells, we come back to sign the papers, collect our furniture, and empty the storage unit. End of story. The worst that could happen is that we’d have a few boxes to move back in if the whole thing falls through. Which, of course, it won’t.

He warms to the idea. Then he called his parents.  And his conservative, careful mother had this to say:  “Just sell the house.” she says. “The worst that could happen is that you’d have to rent until you find a new one.”

Wow,  trumped in faith by my mother-in-law. Wouldn’t be the first time.

So we’ve got a lot to think about tonight. A lot of decisions to make. But one thing is certain:  we’re  going to keep our eyes on the ball. I have ten days left to serve in a job I’ve laid down on the altar of His will. We have a house to pack and a massive yard sale to organize. We have a new life to plan. We just can’t sit around waiting for all the messy details to come into line to move forward. June will be here before we know it, and the job will come. So until then, we believe what we do not see. We hope in Him to finish what He started. And we seek His will in how to best please Him in the journey. Pray for us as we try to stay strong.

Like I said, it’s just going to take a little more faith than we thought.

The Nebraska Sky

The Goldfish Dilemma

I don’t enjoy animals that can only look at me with one eye at a time. Birds, lizards, fish. Those staring eyes have always kind of creeped me out.

So no one was more surprised than I when we found ourselves with a tank full of fish a few years ago. Someone from school gave Orlando this enormous fish tank, so in trying to be a good sport I played along with the idea of fish pets. I was hoping at least we could fill it with beautiful, tropical looking creatures that would remind me of the beach. Make me think of sunshine and Coppertone. No such luck. Our fish tank is filled with goldfish. Dirty, ever-growing goldfish. Believe me when I tell you this was not by choice.

Several Fall Fests ago each of our boys won a goldfish. (For those of you who don’t know, Fall Fest is a carnival sort of thing our church hosts every year.) We carted them home in Chinese soup containers and set them loose in our new, big watery box. Okay, so no big deal, we have four goldfish in our tank. We can still get prettier ones to add in, right? It didn’t quite turn out that way. The next Sunday morning I arrived at church and began to find Chinese soup containers everywhere. Fish included. In the coatrooms, in the bathrooms, on the counters. I ended up with nine containers of abandoned goldfish. What’s a girl to do? Not having the heart to flush them or let them die a slow, oxygen-less death, we added them to our tank. So much for the tropics. Now we house 13 boring goldfish.

Except one of them isn’t quite so boring.

Among our common-as-cornflakes variety of goldfish, we have one fishie that isn’t really gold at all. She’s white. With a long elegant tail that sweeps in the water as I might imagine an angel’s wings would move. She’s a goldfish, but she’s a mutant of some sort. The only way you could identify her as belonging to the goldfish family is by a small, orange circle on her side. Our boys affectionately named this fish “Dot.” And needless to say she is the favorite in the tank. Maybe because she’s the prettiest, or maybe just because she’s the only one that is distinct from the others.Dot has been our only named family pet for going on three years now.

So what to do with these fish as we consider moving to Nebraska has been a serious point of consternation for us. My vote has been to give them to someone to use in an outdoor pond. Most of them have become quite large to be in a tank. (I often tell Orlando that some of them are big enough to filet. :)) Plus I can’t even begin to conceive of how we would get them there alive. I can just see Dominick sitting in the van with a bucket of fish on his lap, getting sloshed by the water every time the van stops too quickly. Or heaven forbid we find them all floating, bottom up,  in the merciless, 120 degree heat that will overwhelm the inside of our van when we stop for lunch at McDonald’s. Iowa in July could kill anybody, much less a cold-blooded fish. Orlando is, of course, much more gentle about it. “We’ll find a way,” he says. “We don’t want to add trauma to an already hard enough event.”

“Trauma? They’re not real pets. They’re just fish for goodness sakes! One step up from bugs!” (Who, generally speaking, can at least look at me with two eyes at a time!)

“Not to the boys,” he says. “And what about Dot?”

Well, okay, he’s got me there. Maybe we can leave the rest behind and take Dot along. She’s just one fish. We could take her into McDonald’s with us in one of those fashionable, fish-carrier things. It could work. Maybe.

So imagine the scene the other day when Orlando noticed Dot wasn’t moving so well in the water. She was hardly swimming, and when she did, she tilted to one side and sunk back to the bottom. Her spine looked bent almost, as if she were curling up in pain. It didn’t look so good, and for a species that, generally speaking, is dead or alive with no in between, it appeared to us that Dot was on her way out.

Ever the practical member of the clan, I began to think what a blessing this could be. It will be so much easier to leave the fish behind if there is no Dot in the mix. It’s hard to miss a nameless fish. So I was thinking happy thoughts about the demise of Dot. Until Nicholas ruined it for me.

Benjamin and Nicholas have shown the most love toward the fish. Dot was “Benjamin’s” fish, meaning he was the guy who initially won her.  Upon seeing that she was sick, he got up and left the room. I checked on him, but he was fine. I think he just didn’t want to see her die. But not Nicholas. Nicholas came into the room and sat in his dad’s lap and wailed. Watching her pathetic swimming efforts, that little boy would not leave her proverbial side. Big, mournful tears falling down his face. He cares about this little, mutant creature as much as I might love a warm, cuddly puppy. So much for being one step up from a bug. I put him to bed while he prayed earnestly for the health of this fish, so great his love for the little beast.

Ugh. Now what do I do?

Well, my mother’s heart got the best of me and I did what I do best. I got out my computer and googled  “Fish swimming sideways,” and treasure hunted around for information on sick fish. I found out that goldfish can have all sorts of physical ailments that people actually treat them for. Seriously, did you know you can buy antibiotic goldfish food? Who knew? After reading fish blogs and fish medical reports for an hour, I finally came to conclusion that Dot had a common ailment known as “Fish Bladder Disease.”  The cure? Feed her cooked peas without the outer skin.

So Orlando scooped her out of the tank, put her in a bucket, and I shelled peas and dropped them in the water until she actually ate one. And then I fed the rest to the other fish just in case they were thinking of swimming sideways, too.

And today, She looks much better. Still a tad bent, but swimming straighter and definitely not hanging out at the bottom of the tank. The fish doctor info said recovery would take 3-5 days, so it looks like we’re off to a good start. Benjamin and Nicholas were chattering at the tank this afternoon. “Dot, you’re swimming so great! You look so much better! Yay!” they squealed in their little boy voices.

And I must admit I feel a bit relieved. One tragedy averted and one mommy educated. I had no idea that a child could care so much about a fish. I guess a pet doesn’t need to be cute and cuddly to be valued. It doesn’t even need to be something you’ve chosen to have. It just needs to be alive. It just needs to be yours.

So I guess I’ll be holding a sloshing bucket of fish all the way to Nebraska this summer. Oh my, and it’s such a long drive. I wonder if they make “fish Dramamine”?

Our "filet-able" fish, with Dot off to the right

Nicholas with the fish, a few days after we brought them home.

O Piano Man

Orlando plays the piano. Did you know that?

Last week we had a piano tuner here working on restoring the working innards of our upright.  We bought an antique piano from England for each other as a wedding present years ago. It’s a unique piece, the kind of thing that piano tuners just love to poke around in and investigate. So as the piano tuner was poking and the boys were curiously checking out the strange pieces and parts he was lifting onto our rug, Orlando turned and looked at me and said, “I wonder if the boys even know I play the piano?”

Funny, they might not.

The truth is Orlando seldom plays anymore. If you would have told me that could happen when we were dating I would have told you you were totally nuts.  When I met him, Orlando and the piano were practically inseparable in my mind. He played for faculty worship, he played for his students, he played for his family, he played for fun, he played for me. We sat together many an hour going through songbooks and he would play and I would  sing this or that song. Even his hands are meant to play–so big and graceful. I remember during our engagement, waiting and wanting to see our wedding ring on his finger when he played. It seemed like such a part of him. I just wanted to be a part of him, too.

Well, you know how things go. We moved and moved and moved. We worked and worked and worked. And then we had baby and baby and baby and baby. And somehow in all the chaos, the piano was left behind and became nothing more than a big object that needed to be routinely dusted. There was no time to play. There was no time to sing. Even the music seemed to change on us. So we left it behind as something we simply used to do.

Until recently, when the piano tuner came. For our 15th anniversary, minutes after we officially decided to cast doubt to the wind and move to Nebraska, we decided to give each other the gift of a tuned piano. The truth is we never really wanted to stop making music, we just found ourselves in a place where you don’t get to do everything you want. And since we were shaking the dust off our dreams, we decided to shake the dust off the rest of us as well.

So as I finish my very involved church work and he finishes his very hectic school year and emerge from the tunnel that comes with multiple births, multiple babies, and multiple jobs, we are looking at a new season in our lives.  Nebraska is waiting for us, yes, but so is the newly restored piano.

And the older, but still graceful hands that touched it once are eager to begin again.

Could you help me by answering the following question?