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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.

A Haze of Purple Glory

It’s amazing to me how quickly my boys have caught on the local scene. The common thread that unites every Nebraskan from the lights of Omaha to the powder of the sand dunes to the trees at Arbor Lodge. The pastime that defies seasons and almost showed up on the state quarter. Don’t know yet? Let me help you out:

Football.

A couple of weeks ago we took the boys to see the local high school football team–the Milford Eagles–in their first home game. I should tell you that football is not a new thing for us. We have taken the boys to see at least one high school football game every year since they were toddlers–Orlando always felt it was his duty as a teacher to show up to such events, plus the football coach in Lititz was his friend and we enjoyed going out to support him. And we’ve always been Nebraska Huskers fans, so it’s not like the boys have never seen a football game or watched us cheer on our teams. So why now, all of a sudden, have we been struck with football fever?

It all began a few Friday’s ago when the boys got in the van after school. Everyone filing out of the school building was wearing purple and my socially savvy Anthony had taken note. “Mom,” he said,” We should get Milford Eagles shirts. We are Milford Eagles now, you know.”  “I’ll work on it.” was all I said, but it dawned on me that this is their first experience actually going to school in the town they live in and they were wanting to be a part of the community of Milford Eagles fans. I took that as a good sign and logged into my memory the need to find some purple shirts.

Later that evening we were sitting in the stands behind the band. We were all jazzed up by the inflatable Eagle Man and the boom of the snare drums.  Then came the kickoff and the Milford Eagles lined up along the sidelines in front of us. It was Nicholas who noticed it first. “Hey Mom, there’s a guy down there wearing a shirt that says ‘N Roth.’ That’s just like me! I’m ‘N Roth,’ too!”  And before you knew it, we had identified an N Roth, T Roth, B Roth, and Z Roth on the field in front of us.

As the game went on, it became obvious to all of us that Z Roth was quite a football player. It seemed like on every other play “The ball was carried by Z Roth for a total of umpteen yards.” My in-laws and their friends started murmuring, “That Z is some player.” “Is he only a junior? Really?” “Wow, he can kick the ball, too?” His dad must be proud.”

His dad? Finally it dawned on me to ask Orlando about Z Roth and his teammates, and as it turns out, Z’s dad is Orlando’s cousin. Our closest neighbor. His roosters wake us up every morning. And N Roth is his brother, also our neighbor. And T and B Roth are also cousins.

“Z. Roth is our second cousin? And he’s our neighbor?” They boys were shocked, amazed. Could not believe their good fortune at being related to not only one, but a whole line of football players.” Anthony immediately declared the news to the second grader sitting in the stands in front of us. “What?” said the boy. “Didn’t you just move here? That’s so cool!”  And in that moment  Z Roth and his teammates were elevated to rock-star-status. Cooler than cool. Milford Eagles–the thing to be.

And now my boys want to be football players. All of them. Not that they would ever abandon their love of baseball, instead they have added this to the repertoire of things they want to do. “You know, Mom, in Milford third graders can play flag football.” “You know, Mom, we’re allowed to play football on the playground.” “You know, Mom, they make football helmets for kids–maybe I could get one for Christmas?” And of course Anthony, with his theological summary of the situation: “You know, Mom, I’m a big guy. We’re all big guys. Maybe God made us big to play football.”

“Maybe.” I said.

But I can see it. The Milford Eagles lining up on the sidelines with B Roth, A Roth, N Roth, and D Roth standing in a row. A band of brothers all carrying the ball in a haze of purple, football glory. It’s the stuff little boy dreams are made of.

And who knows? It could happen.

Maybe.

Proud fans

 

The Inflatable Eagle

 

Sidelines

 

Stop, Drop, and Pray

Can’t get my mind on moving today. Can’t get my mind on anything for long without the feeling that I need to stop, drop, and pray.

We have two young ones in our church fighting for their lives. One is a teenage girl, lying in a bed at a hospice center, out of energy and weary. The other, a preschool boy, struggling against a weakened immune system in battle with leukemia and RSV. Truthfully, I don’t know how either of them is doing right now, but my thoughts keep returning to them and their families. Stop and pray. Stop and pray. Stop and pray.

Please pray with us for these dear little lambs.

How great is the goodness
you have stored up for those who fear you.
You lavish it on those who come to you for protection,
blessing them before the watching world.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence,
safe from those who conspire against them.
You shelter them in your presence,
far from accusing tongues.Praise the Lord,
for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.
He kept me safe when my city was under attack.
In panic I cried out,
“I am cut off from the Lord!”
But you heard my cry for mercy
and answered my call for help.

Love the Lord, all you godly ones!
For the Lord protects those who are loyal to him,
but he harshly punishes the arrogant.
So be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord!

Psalm 31: 19-24