Sunday, December 11, 2011

And the Award for Best Husband Goes to...

The then 2nd Lt. Scott and Mrs. Leia Johnson
My husband and I have been married for eight years.  Out of eight years, we have spent two of our anniversaries together.  Such is the life of the military family.  We aren’t big gift givers.  The thing we would always like most would be to go to dinner, maybe catch a local play, and then make a stop by Barnes and Noble for mochas and browsing for books without children.  

This year, he’s gone again, and I figured we’d have a “Happy Anniversary!” phone call as close to the actual day as possible.  He might send flowers, but I certainly wouldn’t expect them.  We would make mention of the day in small ways and continue to count the days until he gets home.  Simple enough.
I have this friend, Sarah, who has been in my life for a little over eight years.  We met on a medical mission trip to Peru, where we lived on a 800 square foot houseboat with 22 people for two weeks.  There were 21 beds.  So, Sarah and I, the smallest members of the team, got to share a two-inch thick, two-foot wide “mattress.”  We took ONE bath during the trip.  In the Amazon River.  At one point, the team lost us in Iquitos, a drug war hotspot, and we sat on the stairs of the Catholic church in the town square, hoping the team would find us before sundown when the rioting would start.  Eight years later, we are both married and have five children between us, and there isn’t a person on this earth I’d rather get lost with in the middle of a South American drug war.
She called me last week and said she needed a night out without kids.  Her youngest is eight months old, so we’d have to work around her nursing schedule, but you can get a lot of girl time in in three hours.  Our plan was to grab a drink at a restaurant by her house, and then move on to Paseo Grill--one of our favorite restaurants and one best attended without greasy-handed, sticky-faced toddlers.

I picked her up, and we headed to our beers at VZD’s, where we made up fake names for the night and started working on our stories.  You know--the fabulous lives of Kate Brady (Tom Brady’s sister-in-law) and Veronica.  I didn’t have a back story yet because we were interrupted by this creepy guy who wanted to tell us everything he had learned about the oil and gas industry during his recent internship at Chesapeake.  Also, he needed answers to his burning questions, most of which revolved around Jesus being a Pisces.  When I told him Jesus wasn’t born in December, it blew his mind.  Anyway, I digress.
I snapped a picture of us to post on Facebook, labeling it, “Look who I momnapped!”  I was so proud to have gotten her out of the house for a night on the town.  We were having a lovely night conversing with the local bar weirdo, and it was time to move on to Paseo Grill.  I could taste the fried green beans and mushroom soup, as we headed down Western.  When we arrived, I told the hostess, we’d be happy to sit at the bar, as there were only two of us, and we didn’t have a reservation.
Luckily, there was an open table, so she led as into the restaurant.  As we passed the bartender (a former student of mine), he smiled and waved, right as the back room of the restaurant erupted with a “SURPRISE!”
In the dim lights, I couldn’t tell at first what was going on.  But as my eyes adjusted, I realized all of the people in the back of the restaurant were my friends.  And my mom.  And Scott’s mom.  And then, I figured it out.  My friends, knowing I would be sad on my anniversary, had secretly gathered to celebrate it with me.  I moved to hug each person, and Sarah leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Scott did all this.  This is all Scott.”

Thank you, Jennifer, for documenting my graceless fall-apart:

We snapped this picture at the end of the night.  I could write a blog post about every single one of these ladies and the impact they've had on my life.  Pages and pages and pages.  I will also never make any of them mad because they know all my secrets.
The most obvious thing I can say is that I was stunned (like couldn’t move or talk and might have been twitching a little bit) at the thoughtfulness this involved.  Any person--and let’s be real, ladies--any MAN who would have the foresight, awareness, and consideration to organize something this massive (I will describe how the night got even better below) can only be described as being the best human being I know (which is exactly how I described him in my Facebook post because I knew that would be the fastest way to let him know his gift had been received).
But here’s the deal.  This wasn’t just any man.  This was a man who is currently deployed.  This is a man who by the end of this deployment will miss Halloween, his birthday, Thanksgiving, his youngest son’s birthday, his eighth wedding anniversary, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  This is a man who is on a horrid sleeping schedule, who has to walk in the cold from his crappy dorm room just to go to the bathroom, who got kicked out of the chow hall for wearing the wrong socks, who has limited/unreliable internet access, who gets cut off during sparse phone calls, who has the weight of the world on his shoulders as he is fighting a war, and who still had the presence of mind to think about someone else.
Most of our communication these days happens on Facebook, and I didn’t think anything of it when I saw that he had become friends with several of my friends in the last couple of weeks.  I figured he just friended them after hearing my stories about going to dinner or drinks or movies or playdates with them for the last six weeks that we’ve been home.  So, it’s no surprise that he used Facebook to contact two of my closest friends, Sarah and Erika, to be his on-the-ground helpers.  Between the three of them, they made reservations, ordered flowers (more on that later), and contacted all the attendees.
A few minutes after I arrived, we were all seated--my mom, Scott’s mom, and seven of my closest friends.  My dad and the boys walked in to tell me “Happy Anniversary!” before skipping out for a boys night at Chick-Fil-A.
About ten minutes later, Jefferson showed up.  Let me tell you a little bit about Jefferson.  A million years ago, fate brought us together as driver’s ed partners.  Little did I know I would eventually marry his life-long best friend.  When I was pregnant with Ben, I waited to find out the gender until I could be at home with my family because Scott was deployed.  We scheduled the appointment with a family friend OB/GYN during a time when Scott could call for the results.  Jefferson was the only man other than my dad whom I asked to attend.  He’s the most gracious, loving stand-in a girl could ask for.
So, it was completely appropriate for him to show up with a bouquet of flowers and a letter from Scott, which he read while I nearly collapsed under the table.  We were a table of ten women, crying together.  At that point, someone had to explain what was going on to the tables around us, as we probably looked like a circus sideshow.
Last but not least, Sarah pulled out her phone for a collective reading of a message from Scott titled, “The Ten Things I Love Most About Leia.”  More crying ensued, and thankfully our appetizers arrived to give us something with which to soak up the tears.  The dinner was delectably perfect.
I said good-bye to Jefferson (whose wife deserves a shout-out for letting us borrow him while she was at home with their two-year-old and newborn!), our moms and the four pregnant/nursing people and enjoyed the rest of the night by crashing a Christmas party.  More fun times with fun people.
Here’s what I’ve decided.  I am willing to forgive Scott and all of my friends for their deception.  There is no way to adequately describe how blessed I am to know such an incredible group of liars.
I have been racking my brain to figure out a way to organize an anniversary party for Scott on the other end, but seeing as how I don’t have a phone number to call to make a reservation in the chow hall, I guess I will just have to keep raising our babies and trying my best to (in his words) be “the most amazing woman, friend, mother, and wife a person could ever hope for.”  I’d say it’s a fair trade.
And now, because I never get tired of looking at these, here are a few of my favorite pictures from our wedding:
No idea what was happening here, but it's typical.
And here is the lovely Jefferson grabbing Scott's crotch.
In the only picture we have of the two of them.  Special.
People risked life and limb to get to our wedding during one of the worst ice storms in OK history.
I should have known then what kind of dedicated people I was dealing with.
We walked out to the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." 
Even mushier.
Laughing about taking mushy pictures.
Happy anniversary, babe!  Ironically, he won't be able to read this post because the firewall blocks my blog where he is, but it's the thought that counts, right?  And happy anniversary to everyone else since we've made it a world-wide effort this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Standing in Line

My dad came home early today, so I could run a few errands without having to drag the boys out in the cold.  Earlier in the day when I’d taken the dog out, I was shocked at how it was quite literally freezing outside.  Thankful for his help and a quiet hour by myself, I set out to grab a couple of things at the store and make a stop by the post office.
It was 3:30 when I walked in to what seemed a prematurely long line.  Five days before Christmas, I would have expected the length, but nineteen days out, I was surprised to see the line snaking back and forth all the way to the front door.  Ordinarily, I would have run through the automated machine or just come back another time, but I’d put off mailing a Christmas package to my husband long enough.  Mail can take anywhere between ten days and a month to make it to him when he is deployed.
Begrudgingly, I asked the lady behind me to save my place while I grabbed a flat rate box to put my stack of “goodies from home” in.  In the few seconds it took me to grab a box and get back in line, the line lengthened by ten people.  I thought to myself how grateful I was to not have the boys with me.  That time of day, late afternoon, is when we typically have much-needed mommy-mandated down time because otherwise, either one of them is capable of self-destructing.  It’s never pretty when it happens in public.
I looked around to the front of the line to see if it was moving and realized there was a woman with a giant rolling bin of boxes at the front.  Three different postal workers were working on getting her checked out.  I mumbled something hateful under my breath and checked my watch.
The woman behind me had three children, a boy bundled from head-to-toe and carrying a plastic hanger from Walmart, a girl bundled into a stroller and snoozing peacefully, and a newborn bundled into a carrier.  The mom was red-faced and frazzled, her hair pulled up in a loose ponytail, her post-pregnancy belly still very prominent.  I found myself wanting to help her--carry the baby, entertain the four-year-old, build her a pile of blankets on the floor to take a nap.  Something.
Behind her was an older woman in a wheelchair.  She smelled of cigarettes and wore clothes too big for her small frame, a man’s stocking cap and puffy, kelly green mittens.  The man who dropped her off stood just outside the door, smoking a cigarette while snow flurried around him.
As I filled out the customs form, I overheard the conversation behind me.
“How old are they?” the old woman asked.
With an indecipherable accent, the woman answered, “He’s four, and she’s eighteen months.”  Lifting the blanket on the carrier to reveal a tiny pink hat, she continued, “This one’s just three weeks.”
The old woman laughed as if to herself, her eyes wide, “You’ve got your hands full.”
About that time, the little boy wandered over to a display of stationary and started tapping the wall quietly with his hanger.  His mom explained to all of us, “He’s a pirate today.  That’s his sword.”
I smiled to let her know I understood completely.  Pirates, superheroes--we’ve all been there.
I’d moved ten feet in as many minutes.  The woman with the giant rolling bin of boxes was still taking up the majority of the manpower behind the counter.  The remaining worker seemed to be in no hurry.  Several people walked in and turned right around to leave.  I contemplated cutting my losses and heading to the store before I had to pick my mom up from work.  But then, I thought about my husband having nothing to open on Christmas.  It’s not like anything in the package was all that special, but this is our fourth deployment.  I’ve come to learn that deployments have a way of making the little things matter so much more.  I would wait.
The line started moving more quickly, as several people rolled their eyes and mumbled things like, “Not worth my time...” and “I’ll come back later...” as they headed out the door.  I listened to the continuing conversation behind me.  The mom was from Sweden.  She had visited Florida as a child and jumped at the chance to move to the U. S. for college, where she met her husband.  His job had moved them to Oklahoma three years ago.  I listened carefully, while trying to not appear to be eavesdropping, as she described the cold as a blessing--how she missed home in Sweden so much when they had lived in Florida, a place without winter.  The older lady in the wheelchair nodded in agreement.  She had lived in Florida for two years but moved back to Oklahoma with her husband twenty years ago.  She threw a thumb toward the door to point out the man outside.  I wondered if he was still on the same cigarette, or if he was chain-smoking.
I reached the front and took my place next to the woman with the rolling bin.  She was smallish with a bobbed haircut and nice clothes, and I noticed her eye make-up was smeared.  For the first time, I was able to glance into the rolling bin at the stacks and stacks of boxes.  Each box was uniform in size--flat rate boxes like mine.  I read the side of one that was marked “4 of 25.”  As the postal worker checked my customs form and stamped it appropriately, I took it upon myself to read the name of the addressee.  All of these boxes, every single one of them, were marked to a “Chad.”  The address was an APO/AE, similar to the address on mine.  My eyes darted from box to box.  Twenty-five boxes to a deployed service member.  Chad.
The woman saw me staring at her mail and then noticed the copy of the completed customs form in my hand.  She smiled, and her eyes filled with tears.  “It’s my son.  He’s in Afghanistan.”
I nodded, “My husband.  He’s gone, too.”
I kept nodding.  I didn’t know what else to do to keep from crying.  She started talking hurriedly, wiping tears from her face, as she pulled out a picture of a child.  I do mean a child.  He was wearing Army fatigues and standing rigidly without a smile, but he was a child.
I kept nodding, and the moment was interrupted when the little girl who had been sleeping woke up and began to cry.  Her brother was not helping things as he started poking her with his hanger.  The older woman patted her lap and said loudly, “Oh, honey, hand me one of those babies.”
I stepped forward and took the carrier, while the mom said to the little boy in a hushed but firm voice, “Do not poke your sister, or I will take your sword away.”
The little girl continued to cry, her wails swelling enough to get the attention of everyone in the room.  Her mother worked to get the seatbelt unfastened, while the woman with all the packages knelt down next to the little boy and asked him his name.  Timidly, he answered her, his hanger sword limp at his side, “John.  I’m a pirate.”
The mom had calmed the little girl down, and the murmur of people talking to one another in line or on their phones resumed.  The moment was just that.  Nothing more.
The mom motioned for me to hand the carrier back to her, and I did and then asked, “Can I do anything to help you?”
“Oh, no.  We’re fine thanks,” she said automatically and then added, “Actually, would you mind grabbing our packages and taking them to the counter?  And maybe scoot the stroller, too?”
I did what she asked, as the woman with all the packages helped the woman in the wheelchair move forward without knocking into anything.  As they moved to the counter, the old woman removed her mittens and grabbed the mom’s jacket.  Quietly, she told her, “I lost my only child thirty-one years ago.  You never get over it.”
And then, we all did the only thing we could have done.  The mom with the three young children, the mom with the grown child a million miles away, the mom in the wheelchair, and me.  We cried.  Right there in the lobby of the post office.  We stared at each other and cried.
I caught as many tears as I could with the edge of my sleeve and started walking toward the exit.  Then, without being able to control it, I turned and said, “You have a Merry Christmas.”
The wind took my breath away as I moved outside, and as I passed the smoking man, he nodded hello.  I returned the nod and rushed to my car, to the warmth and comfort of a quiet place, and finished crying.  I couldn’t get home fast enough.  We had dinner to eat, baths to take, books to read.  And phone calls from Daddy to wait on.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Keep X in Xmas! Wait...That's Not Right...

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer, and get your hands off my Xbox, or I will pepper spray you!”  Seriously, people.
Christmas is 23 days away, and I don’t think I’ve ever had more trouble trying to muster some Christmas spirit.  I want to, but I’ve got a lot of static happening in my head due to the things I’m seeing around me.  Reading stories about pepper-spraying shoppers is, for obvious reasons, disheartening, but there’s something else I want to address--something that bothered me a little bit at first and has now begun to consume my thoughts.
We’ve all seen things like this on shop windows and church signs and in our Facebook feeds in the last couple of weeks:
People have sent me email forwards with awful songs about keeping Christ in Christmas--one of which actually revolves around the idea that if a store doesn’t have “Merry Christmas” on their sign instead of “Happy Holidays,” we shouldn’t shop at that store.
I am a Christian.  I celebrate Christmas.  And I certainly understand the sentiment behind statements like “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  HOWEVER, and that is a big however, I am troubled by the spirit behind some of the keep Christ in Christmas fervor.
First let’s address the whole Xmas issue.  Some scholars point to the use of X in place of Christ as derivative of “chi,” the first letter of Christ in Greek.  There isn’t complete agreement on that, but it’s a nice thought either way.  What we do know for sure is that Xmas was definitely appearing around the time that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Somewhere around the year 1440.  1440.  You got that?  Almost 600 years ago.  Why?  Because it’s easier to place one letter in type than six, and arguably “X” was chosen because it was the first letter of the Greek form of Christ.
So, all of this hubbub (that’s the nicest word I can think to use here) about the “war on Christmas” is hogwash (do I sound grinchy enough?).  Xmas is NOT a new phenomenon, despite what some people want us to think.  It is not a marketing ploy by the PC police to wipe Christianity off the face of the earth or out of America at the very least.  In fact, it doesn’t even do anything to the meaning of Christmas.  Do you still know what someone means when they write/type Merry Xmas?  Then, the meaning isn’t gone.
For God’s sake, the same people who are in a huff over Xmas feel completely fine with updating their FB status to something along the lines of “I hope u all can come by r house l8r tn 4 B’s party!”  Abbreviations, people.
While I understand that some Christians feel as if their civil rights are being affected by our pluralistic society, that is not what is happening with Xmas.
So, let’s address this crazy anger that people seem to have over the substitution of “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas.”  I was going to write a section about this, but then my friend Sarah posted THIS on Facebook.  Please read it.  I couldn’t have said it better.
So, Christmas or Xmas?  Whatever.  Happy holidays or Merry Christmas?  Whatever.
I believe in the redemptive power of God’s love.  In banding together in hard times.  I believe in simplicity.  And new beginnings.  I believe in all of these things that are represented by the Christ child’s entrance into the world.  And you know what else I believe?  I believe what Christ said later in his life.  Christ taught that God’s love is boundless and that his grace is sufficient for all people.  EVERYONE.  
So, when Xians start getting angry about someone stealing their holiday, I want to scream, “IT’S NOT YOUR HOLIDAY!  IT’S FOR EVERYONE!  DIDN’T YOU HEAR WHAT JESUS SAID?”
Minimizing our faith to arguments over semantics serves no one and is, in fact, completely devoid of God’s spirit and love.  No one is going to be drawn to God when his people argue about things that Don’t.  Matter.  At.  All.
So, think on that.  Has someone really stolen your Christmas?  Or are YOU the one letting Christmas become something it wasn’t intended to be?
Merry Xmas and happy holidays to all my friends, Xian and non-Xian alike.
(P. S. Last Christmas, I wrote a couple of posts people seemed to enjoy. You can read them HERE and HERE.)