Tag Archives: marriage

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.

On Love and Eggrolls

One week from finishing my work, the pressure seems to be building. My last week has a to-do list that is about a mile long. So much for easing out. Instead, I will be crossing the finish line at 100 mph. And since I choked up at the thought of crossing that line several times today, I have chosen to avoid the topic all together in this entry and focus on something my heart finds more soothing: good memories.

Today’s good memory was brought about by this week’s trip to a restaurant. Lanviet (formerly “Lanvina”) in Bridgeport is this tiny Vietnamese place that Orlando and I frequented regularly in our dating days. Back then Orlando lived in Strasburg, I lived in Lititz, and we both worked at Living Word Academy in Leola. For those of you who are not familiar with Lancaster County geography, our homes were about 40 minutes apart  and our school was about in the middle. This restaurant was close by the school, so we would go there at least once a week, if not more, eat dinner and then go home in separate directions.

We always sat by the table along the back wall. (We never asked, they just always put us there.) We always ordered the same foods to share. Vegetarian hot and sour soup, eggrolls, spring rolls, ginger chicken with no tomatoes. And we talked and talked and talked. We started by learning more about each other and  the things that defined us as people. Faith,  family, Nebraska, Florida, farms, beaches, music, teaching, church, friends, hobbies, books, movies. Deeper introductions, learning more about who we were and where we were headed.

But then one day we had a conversation of a different variety. Actually Orlando did the talking and I did the listening. He told me this story about riding the school bus in Nebraska. I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog that Orlando has a sister named Dawn. And for those of you who are too young to know, our names put together form the name of  a 70’s singing group. (Tony Orlando and Dawn  brought us classics like “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” and “Knock Three Times”) Apparently there was a kid on the bus in Nebraska who would tease Orlando because there was no “Tony” amongst them. He would ask them everyday “Where’s Tony?” And Orlando said that he would get fed up with the boy and would continually have to declare “There is no Tony!

He never forgot that teasing. And as we sat in Lanvina that day so long ago  he told me that he spent his whole life, including that time on the bus,  knowing that something was lacking. He knew that he was incomplete on his own. He had a piece missing. That crazy boy on the bus had it right. There was no Tony. But now, he continued, there is a Toni and she’s right in front of me. And he turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You see? You are my missing piece.”

And of course I just melted in the chair. I think there are still little drips of me stuck in the carpet at the table by the wall.

It’s an amazing moment, really, when you find yourself looking into the eyes of the love of your life and he’s right in front of you looking into yours.  That moment when you find the hand that fits perfectly into yours, find the spirit that moves to the same music. Since that moment in that little restaurant,  I can honestly tell you I have been forever altered. I have been loved and have been free to love completely and without reserve. I have been a part of someone elses’ heart and he has been part of mine. I have never been alone. I have never been abandoned. I have never been outcast. And when I married Orlando a year or so later, I did so with total assurance that we were “made for each other.” Sound hokey? It is. But it’s also true.

So this week we packed up the boys and took them on a field trip to our little Vietnamese restaurant. We live pretty far from it now and we almost never get out that way. Since our time in this state is limited, we felt like we wanted to make a special trip out for old times’ sake. Our now big family couldn’t fit in our table by the wall, but we sat close and ordered the same foods. I sat with boys on my side and Orlando sat with boys on his side. We didn’t get to sit and stare into each others’ eyes and hold hands across the table like we used to do there. But instead, we enjoyed what our lives together have become. When we sat in that place so long ago, we dreamed of so many things, including the family that surrounds us now.  And even with a pile of loud little boys chattering around us, being there again all together was sweet. And although we didn’t explain it, in some strange, cosmic way, the boys seemed to perceive the reverence in which we hold that place and that time in our lives and they enjoyed it with us.

Even with so much change ahead and so many endings coming, at the end of it all I’ll still be Orlando’s wife.  Far away from these places where we met and fell in love. Miles from this restaurant where we talked commitment, the kitchen where he asked me to marry him, and the church where the marriage began, my job as the missing piece remains in tact. It is, after all, a forever kind of deal.

Even without the eggrolls.

The table by the wall

Reasons in no particular order–the Dreamer

My husband, Orlando, is a man with many descriptors.

To our children, he’s the “best Dad ever!” To his numerous students, old and new, he’s the teacher who taught them to dance their multiplication tables. To our neighbors, he’s the kind guy next door who puts up their Christmas lights and shovels their snow. To his sisters, he’s the brother they can always count on. To our church friends, he’s the person who is always there to help. And it’s all true. But there is one thing most people don’t really know about Orlando– Orlando is a dreamer.

Not a dreamer in the sense that he’s always looking off somewhere else and wishing he were there, but the kind of dreamer that looks right in front of himself and sees what nobody else does. He has the uncanny ability to see what could be. Our garage is full of old trunks and broken tables that I would term “junk,” but Orlando always sees more in it and restores that junk into beautiful furniture and keepsakes. I have shelves he created out of parts of what I think was an old dresser. He made our queen bed from an old, twin rope bed–just turned the thing sideways, added a few pieces and “whack, whack” it was something new. I have a shadow box made from a discarded window frame. But no matter, I love what Orlando creates–not so much the “doing”, but the “seeing it” that comes first.

But Orlando’s “could be dreaming” has always extended to more than furniture. He can see what people “could be,” and he’s always been able to look at our lives in that “could be” mode. When we were newly married, Orlando and I dreamed together about having a family.We wanted children more than I could ever possibly describe to you, and Orlando’s hopes for our children was that their lives “could be” blessed with the same kind of upbringing he himself had been given: parents who were committed to each other, grandparents and cousins and extended family nearby, a godly heritage that was passed to them through the many who loved them, and a life slow enough to savor.  It all sounded fabulous to me, so we used to dream together–envisioning our children running around on his parents farm, zooming their bikes in the barnyard, riding horses in the fields, learning all about hard work and sweat, just as their dad had done. Orlando himself is never happier than when he has his hands in the dirt, and we could see our children out there getting dirty with him. Growing things, fixing things, building things.   We considered building a house nearby his parents. Orlando was always able to tell me exactly where it should be, on that little hill there that would make it possible to have a walk-out basement. He could see the porch swing and the garden. He could see the lane and the trees he would plant. He could see it all, standing there staring at a muddy field. He saw our children running through an orchard that ran between the two places to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Since there was no orchard at the time,  Orlando went ahead and planted one, all in preparation for the coming of our children and the life we wanted for them.

But as many of you know, no babies came our way. Those were very painful years for both of us and I can honestly say that the fact that we survived them with our hearts in tact is nothing less than miraculous. So as time moved along, we began to lose the dreams. No more orchards. No more gardens.  No more horses. Nothing that reminded us of why we dreamed those things in the first place. Eventually, we even let go of the dream of children and gave it back to God. We didn’t move next door to his parents. We moved far away into a townhouse with a tiny grass yard that somebody else cut for us. It seemed to me that even Orlando had become dreamless.  But God wasn’t done yet.

But you know the rest. Seven years later, when we weren’t expecting it, God sent us two baby boys. And then three, And then four. And it felt to me then that the blood began to stir again in our veins, and I saw Orlando settling into his best role yet–fatherhood. For those of you who’ve seen him in action, you know what I mean when I say that he was born to be a  father. But even so, he held back his dreams now. If he had them, he never shared them. Maybe he thought they were just part of a package of painful memories that we both would rather forget. Or maybe he just thought that his dreams put pressure on me and our life together. So he just went off to work every day and came home and loved and took care of us.

But I love Orlando the dreamer, and his “could be’s” were something I sorely missed. And then one day, about a year ago, when he was having a terrible time at school,  I felt compelled by the Lord to talk to him about his dreamless state.  I said just one thing to him that day.  I said, “Orlando, let’s dream again.” As I reminder I bought him a tiny, stuffed horse. “To help you remember,” I said.

It didn’t take long. With his tiny horse and permission from me to let loose with what was inside, he soon turned in a specific direction. His heart turned toward his home, to the farm, and the dream of what “could be.” And it has been pouring out of him ever since.

So for Orlando we asked, “Lord, is that farm in Nebraska Your dream for us?”