Memento Mori

We were in Florida recently for my brother’s wedding, staying at a friend’s house, and I wound up in the emergency room with tremendous chest pain the night before we flew home. It was just inflammation in my lungs from the virus I’d had all week (and, I believe, my failure to rest like I was supposed to), but I thought I was having a heart attack. Since I was fully conscious, triage put me further down the emergency list, and I had plenty of time to lament to poor Ed how much I still wanted to do before leaving this life.

Did I write all the books and stories and essays I wanted to write? Did I love Ed well enough, and spend enough quality time with him? Did I inspire and encourage people enough? Will they remember me as a valuable life? Did I lead anyone to Christ? Did I fulfill God’s purpose for my life? Did I do enough of the good works He set for me to do?

When I stand at the end of all things and the fire of God tests the deeds of my life, I want what I’ve built to endure. Yet when I compare this list of questions, which reveals the goals I have that matter most, to my day-to-day choices, which reveal the steps I’m actually taking, I can see that my current path, with all its distractions and meanderings, isn’t quite leading to the desired destination. If I look at this list regularly, as a reminder, then maybe it will.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” —James 4:13-14 (ESV)

Raven. Image Credit: The Graphics Fairy

Image Credit: The Graphics Fairy

We only have so much control over our days, and sometimes the best use of our time is slowing down and enjoying what we have, not more efficiency. But what we do have control over is the time lost on Pinterest and Facebook and worry and vanity, which is so easy to forget as the days slip away. Though the years pass quickly, every day presents a host of opportunities. I want to remember that, and do whatever I can.

Greece Mission

I’m excited to announce that this April, God willing, Ed and I will be going on a mission trip to Greece! We’re joining a group from the Indiana House of Prayer and Equipping (IHOPE), some of whom we know from church and some of whom we’re getting to know for the first time. This is my first international mission trip, and Ed’s previously been to Tanzania and Russia for mission work.

The current plan is to start in Athens, where we’ll work with the House of Prayer for a couple of days and then with the refugee camp in the city. Then we’ll go to Loutraki, a suburb of Corinth, to train, worship, pray, and encourage at the House of Prayer there.

Greece. Photo Credit: Daniel Jones (www.arielgaze.com)

Photo Credit: Daniel Jones (www.arielgaze.com), from the first Greece trip.

We’ll be working with Paul and Rebecca Stuart, who have followed God’s call to move their family to Greece and who are the most absolutely delightful people. They are working with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) as base directors in Corinth. You can read their blog and see their photos at www.stuartsonamission.com.

If you want to support Ed and me, you can pray for us! I’m sure more specific prayer requests will arise as the trip draws near, but for now, here’s a short list:

  • Pray for each team member’s daily walk with God.
  • Pray for unity in the team that’s going to Greece, and in our families.
  • Pray we will bring God’s hope to those who are hopeless in Athens, Corinth, and Loutraki.
  • Pray for safe and smooth travel there and back, with no logistical or legal snags.
  • Anything else you can think of. 🙂

If you want to support the mission financially, you can send contributions for the general trip or for individuals’ travel funds. Ed and I are already covered financially (praise God!), but if you feel led to help with the trip in general, or other team members’ travel funds, you can send checks (tax-deductible!) to:

IHOPE
P.O. Box 50952
Indianapolis, IN 46256

Don’t put a note on the memo line, but attach a separate note that says “Greece Trip” or similar for funds to be used on the trip. If you know someone else who’s going and you’d like to support that person, include his or her name on the note as well. You can also donate through IHOPE’s website: www.ihopeindy.com/donate-to-ihope.html. Follow the instructions for secure donations, choose “missions trip”, and put “Greece Trip” (with or without a person’s name) in the notes.

Thanks for your prayers and support! If you have any questions, we’ll do our best to answer them or put you in touch with someone who can.

Why I’m Not Playing Pokémon GO

I grew up with Pokémon. As a kid, I woke up early every weekday morning to watch the show before school. I collected the cards, I collected all things Pikachu, and I heartily enjoyed the GameBoy games. I liked to wear my Ash Ketchum hat and pretend I was Ashley Ketchum, Pokémon master extraordinaire. When I first saw mention of Pokémon GO on Facebook, it looked like a childhood dream come true. Yeah, it’s smartphone-level augmented reality, but the imagination fills in the blanks. Hey, it encourages you to explore landmarks, too? We just moved to a new city with lots of cool stuff, so this will be great! Back when I was in college, when I first heard about Foursquare, I joined just because of the now-gone badge-based exploration incentives.

All things considered, I should have been easy pickin’s.

The day Pokémon GO officially debuted in the U.S., I had just finished re-reading the old Sailor Moon manga. It’s not a short series, and I’m not great at time management, so when it was over it was like waking up from a really long dream. But hey, there’s this new sweet game out? Well, I can try it for a little while. Just a little while. Once I’ve had a good taste, I’ll delete it.

And so, the next day, I downloaded the app and tried to sign up for an account. The Pokémon Trainer Club accounts looked like a better bet than just using a Google account, and with no apparent way to link the two, I figured I should do it right the first time.

But I got a 502 error. And a 503 error. And with attempts on my phone and on my desktop, in the app and out of it.

Apparently, the servers were having issues. It was a known issue, and there was nothing to do but wait. In that moment, when I saw I couldn’t just plow forward like I’d wanted to, I felt like a victim of a Dark Kingdom scheme who had just been saved by Sailor Moon. My eyes opened.

“I just spent all that time reading the comic books that inspired a show I liked when I was ten, and I’m about to spend a lot of time chasing cartoon characters from a show I liked when I was ten. What am I doing with my life?”

I’ve been working on my discipline already, lately, but this was an important moment. I deleted the app and decided that no matter how fun it looks, I will not play Pokémon GO. Besides, Ed and I have already been exploring the Indianapolis area—for its own sake. It’s pretty cool.

If that’s not enough, the half of Facebook not discussing the game is posting about the horrific things that have happened in our country recently, and all of this on the heels of Brexit, which, whether a good change or a bad one, is still absolutely chaos-inducing. Escapism often is easiest when it’s most important to stay present, and the world needs intelligent, focused, moral, loving people who are present right now.

Today, while half the world was running all over creation capturing cartoon creatures with cartoon pokéballs, I practiced my watercolor painting and then designed a cover for my soon-to-be-self-published short story. I didn’t wake up early, and I didn’t leave the house, but it’s something. I want to learn new things and create beautiful things and, yes, leave the house and go see the city, the state, the country, the world. And I want to benefit the wider world rather than just having fun for my own sake. I want to live in reality and impact reality. I want to live.

There’s actually a lot going on in the real world, good and bad, and it’s way more exciting than I used to believe.

[EDIT: To be fair, I know there’s value in the potential to make friends with strangers over a mutual love of something frivolous like video games or sports. I just don’t get enough mileage out of that to justify this myself.]

Remember the Hourglass

Just over a month ago, I attended a funeral for a family friend. Ed, Dan, and I were going to be in Florida anyway, for a wedding, and my mom had suggested I visit Leslie in hospice when we visited as it would likely be my last chance. I suppose I refused to accept the reality of her condition, and said something like, “I’ll think about it.”

Leslie passed away a few days before we even left Indiana. Instead of planning for a visit, I wound up packing a pink dress for her funeral. Pink was her favorite color, in a way that most people don’t commit to favorite colors. Hot pink, bright pink, pale pink. So many people wore shades of pink to the service that it looked more like a wedding than a funeral.

As I sat between Ed and my father and stared at her pink-and-gold casket, I kept thinking about how easy it would have been to Skype, FaceTime, or just call her on the phone in case her timeline was shorter than my mom had expected. I’d been deluded. I tend to assume I’m going to have more time, even when it’s unreasonable to think so. My eyes don’t seem to open until the last grains of sand are slipping through my fingers.

pocketwatch and hourglass

I suppose the hourglass for moving out of Florida started when Ed and I got married last March. We’ve both been aiming to leave that place for years, but when we got married and could move together, it became a near certainty.

By summer we were seriously praying about where, when, and whether to move, and we made the decision to join our friends in Indiana. We got boxes and packed superfluous items and got rid of really superfluous items and worked to get the place ready to sell by October. Even though we never actually got the house listed, by the grace of God a friend suddenly expressed interest in buying it himself. In October, we bought a house in Indiana. On November 29, 2015, we left Florida behind.

We do still have friends in Florida. And we liked our church in Florida, and we made friends there in the year and a half we were members. I don’t take those friends for granted. But I’d always assumed we’d have time to get to know more people better. Lifepoint’s the kind of church where people actually want to be friendly and honest and connected, so it should have been easy. But Ed and I are both fairly introverted, and kept going back to the same people we already knew. Even though some people talked to us at church events, until somebody threw down a lunch or dinner or coffee invitation it couldn’t really go very far. For whatever reason, we just didn’t.

I figured that eventually, we would. Eventually, we’ll talk to this guy on the worship team or that woman we know from Bible study. At some future gathering, we’ll start a conversation with that couple who seems friendly. On some future Sunday, we’ll ask if they’re free for lunch. Someday.

And then before I knew it, we were about to leave, and in a weird sort of limbo where we couldn’t commit to much of anything and everyone saw us with one foot out the door.

In our last month, as I watched the grains of sand run out, I stared helplessly around the church at people I had meant to talk to, but didn’t. People I’d talked to a little, but not much. It’s not like I couldn’t see, at the end, where the time had gone. I knew.

Today I’m shy, tomorrow I’ll do better.

Next week I’ll do better.

Next interesting church class I’ll do better.

And then the hourglass was empty.

On Fortunes and Men

In the last twenty-four hours I have spoken with two men whose disparate fortunes have caused me to pause. One is in his mid-sixties, one is in his early fifties, neither follows the Lord, and both are pondering their own mortality.

The first man engaged in a long conversation about myriad topics. Religion featured heavily, but we also spoke of life, work, science, and other things. In the course of conversation he mentioned that his business has recently “gone bad” and that at his age it’s hardly an opportunity to do something new. There’s no obvious path to follow from here. Yet, he noted how it’s easy to take for granted everything that’s good in life and focus only on the bad. He still has his wife, his family, his health, his mental capacity. That which cannot be bought, he has.

The second man provided briefer conversation, but amid his laughter and attempts at upbeat speech, his troubles fell like so much rain. Myriad health problems make it difficult for him to leave the house, and he’s finding that his doctors either can’t or won’t help him. He had a wife whose schizophrenia made their home an unsafe place for the children, and so she was taken away. He had a brother who died, and he has a sister who doesn’t speak with him. It seems he fully expects to die in the next year or two. In the course of his lamentations, he mentioned that he did do well financially through most of his life. Yet, that which he desires, he cannot buy.

Both of them are happy for people and conversation. Both are aware that their lives will, at some point sooner than they might want, end. Both appear to be living without any hope for what lies afterward.

These men and their fortunes seem to have been written into my life as a lesson, but I’m struggling to pin it down. Is it simply to be grateful? That money isn’t the important thing? All is darkness without God? Am I learning to love people where they are? To pray for people? Maybe it’s a lesson on listening to people, on valuing people, on talking to people? I see, but I do not understand. Or, the conclusion of the lesson has not yet been given.

I prefer to give stories that wrap up nicely, but I feel compelled to write this down even as it stands now.

Death Float 2015: The Time We Accidentally Rode a Pool Toy Down Class 3 Rapids

Ed and I recently returned from a lengthy journey during which we traversed many states and visited many people we know. Most of our travels were fairly conventional, which is not always desirable, so after about a week and a half of relative relaxation I started getting a little annoyed that there wasn’t much in the way of adventure on the trip. Then this happened, which (mostly) shut me up about adventure for the next several weeks.

We were taking a cabin weekend with some friends up in the mountains of Pennsylvania, partly with the intention of having a nice, relaxing float trip down Loyalsock Creek. Our friend Dave’s dad had done it, and had said it was easy, so Dave, his wife, a friend we call Bob, my dear husband Ed, and I assumed it would be easy for us as well.

We went equipped with various conveyances suited for our expectations. Dave and Kelli took their canoe, loaded with lunch, sunscreen, Ed’s sneakers, life vests, various keys and wallets in a dry bag, and their two Alsatians (with their doggy life vests). Bob sat in a typical Intex inner tube, to be towed by the canoe.

Ed and I had brought an excellent hybrid of the other two vessels: a brightly colored Intex Explorer 200, which is an inflatable boat that is rated for two people or 210 pounds. Together, Ed and I weigh about 300 pounds, and are forced to assume, based on the numbers, that whoever designed this small but handsome watercraft was expecting two children in a swimming pool instead of two adults in the great outdoors. Sure, it was overloaded and overcrowded, but for a nice, relaxing float down a nice, relaxing stream, we figured it wouldn’t be an issue. We just got married in March, so we’re still newlywed-minded about being cozy together.

Ed and Rae in the Explorer 200

Bob took this shot partway through the excursion using his cell phone, which he wisely kept in the dry bag. Ed is wearing one of Dave’s shoes, as he wears a full size larger than Dave and was only able to squeeze into one of the shoes at this point. Also, I’m still amazed that I didn’t lose my sunglasses. [click for larger]

Now, there’s a map of the local area in the cabin, which Dave used to determine that if we put in at Hillsgrove and got out at Sandy Bottom, it would be maybe two to three miles and we would definitely be finished by the thunderstorms predicted for 2 p.m. as long as we left early enough in the morning. This we did, leaving one car at Sandy Bottom and bringing the other two to our point of departure at Hillsgrove.

After a 20-minute excursion to get sandwich bread and ice (that should have taken five minutes if we’d run to the correct store or 45 minutes if Ed had driven to Forksville at a more advisable speed, which only foreshadowed our collective failure to ask enough questions before acting…but I digress), we got our vessels into the water.

Dave and Kelli had their dogs in the canoe, Bob sat in the inner tube (with a spare one nearby, in case someone needed it), and Ed and I squeezed into the Explorer 200, nested, facing the same direction and trying to make progress with the plastic oars.

Bob had no oars, and thus tied his tube to the end of the canoe’s tow rope. The other tube did end up tied to Bob’s tube, though I can’t remember exactly when; if it wasn’t yet, the tow rope was through the plastic loops on the empty tube and then tied to Bob’s.

The day began with an overcast sky, so Ed and I decided to wait to apply sunscreen as we were quite occupied by trying to propel our watercraft. I assumed we’d figure out how to paddle the thing if we just kept trying, and then we could deal with sun protection later. The water was nice and calm, so worst case, we figured, we’d just paddle incompetently the entire time.

But after traveling a pretty short distance someone announced, “I see some rapids ahead.” It didn’t look bad to me, maybe just like slightly faster water.

Of course, I was completely inexperienced and also wrong.

From where I was sitting, several things occurred in quick succession (probably less than 10 seconds total):

  1. We came up to the rapids.
  2. We started going very quickly, which was kind of fun.
  3. I realized we were heading straight for a tree or leafy branch sticking off the bank.
  4. I used the oar I had to push us away from that.
  5. I realized we were heading for a jumble of sticks or dead branches near the same bank.
  6. I pushed us away from that.
  7. I ducked to slide beneath a log that nearly smacked me in the face.
  8. Then, suddenly, we were stuck in a V-shaped cluster of tree remains in the middle of the rapids.

Meanwhile, Dave and Kelli’s canoe tipped over, and Bob had tried to get out of the tube just a bit too late and so was dragged horribly across the rocks.

Ed and I now realized we had to get out of the Explorer 200. I found myself sitting on the slippery, slimy log that formed one side of our vessel’s trap, working desperately to keep my balance lest I fall, get swept away, and get knocked unconscious on the rocks. My feet were growing numb in the shockingly cold water. I don’t even know how Ed managed to steady himself. His flipflops came off and were lost down the creek. I thought for a moment about removing mine to save them, and in hindsight it might have gone poorly if I’d tried. So I lost mine as well.

While I was struggling on that slippery log, I was fighting to remind myself of the reality of the situation. This was not a Disney ride. The outcome was not certain. Ed or I could fall off that log and be severely injured, or killed. This is not a drill. This is real life. I prayed for help, or safety, or something, I don’t remember what, now.

And I do tend to extrapolate. So in my head, the thought was: “If it’s going this way this early into the trip, at this rate we’re going to get stuck and almost die probably another 15 times at least, and also lose all the stuff we brought.”

Somehow — this part is a blur for both of us — we managed to get back into the Explorer 200 and into the next calm part of the creek, then to the smooth-rock shore, to assess the situation. Ed and I were both shoeless, as the only missing cargo from the tipped canoe was Ed’s pair of sneakers, and the flip-flops were unrecoverable. We were all now very aware of what we would actually be facing on this “lazy float,” yet we had no idea how to adequately face it.

A second set of rapids was visible not too far off. It was determined that Bob could hold the tow rope but should not be tied to it, so he could let go quickly as needed. It was also determined that we should walk around the rapids on the stony shore. I don’t remember now whether Dave or Kelli rode the canoe (with the dogs!) over these rapids, but I don’t know what else they would have done.

Ed and I were too busy making extremely slow progress over the algae-covered rocks on the river bottom, barefoot, leaning on the oars for a little stability, rather than making a futile attempt to steer the boat directly to shore. The going was painful. The water was still horrendously cold and we were constantly slipping, nearly falling over and slamming various parts of our feet into the stones. Every step was murder. With decent shoes, like Bob, we would have been fine. I remember praying that my dear Ed wouldn’t fall.

Finally, Dave came over and escorted first me and then Ed to the dry rocks, which were still painful and difficult for the barefoot but much less slow and slippery.

This rocky shore did not line the entire river, but it appeared when needed — at shallow, rocky rapids, which makes wonderful sense. So, for a while, the plan was this:

  1. Enjoy the calm sections.
  2. When rapids are ahead, get to the stony shore and walk, unless you have a canoe that can handle it.
  3. Get back in the tube or Explorer 200 after the rapids.
  4. Repeat.

Ed and I took to facing each other in our watercraft, since facing the same way didn’t work well at all. And he took both oars.

As the day wore on, adjustments were made:

  • After the initial plan had proven slow, Dave lent Ed his own sneakers as he felt sorry for the loss of Ed’s. Dave wears a full size smaller than Ed, so my dear husband wound up wearing them halfway on when he used them, but it did help some.
  • Later, when most of the rapids seemed pretty calm and maneuverable, Ed slowly and precariously guided the Explorer 200 across the rapids, on foot, as we encountered them, and Kelli guided the canoe across. Dave and I sat in our respective vessels. I think Bob still carried his tube.
  • Later still, Ed returned Dave’s shoes and we switched to Kelli walking Ed across rapids in the canoe and Dave walking me across in the Explorer 200, largely to give Dave’s feet a break. Of course, we still rode through the calm sections with our own spouses. And Bob, ever relentless, unflinching, carrying his own inner tubes on his own two feet like a forgotten hero, was still just fine on his own.

Now, I don’t remember the exact order of the episodes of the day, but these details are important for understanding the entire ordeal:

  • At some point in the middle of the adventure, Kelli and Dave lost one of their paddles, but Kelli eventually spotted it stuck against a rock downstream and so took off across some rapids to retrieve it like a proper mountain woman. I, on the other hand, was almost unable to open the safety seal on the peanut butter jar at lunch.
  • At some other point, while Ed and I were lagging behind, everyone else noticed a kayak stuck against a stump in some horrible configuration, suggesting its rider had either jumped ship, barely squeezed out alive, or died there. The kayak would have been difficult or impossible to free, but Bob got a new paddle out of the situation, and with it some navigational autonomy.
  • The sun eventually came out, probably before Dave got his shoes back, but Dave kept saying things like, “We must be almost there. It can’t be far now. We’re definitely close,” so Ed and I figured we may as well skip the sunscreen altogether. After about an hour of this, we changed our minds, and decided to apply sunscreen to our now-burnt skin. Better late than never.

See, it turned out Dave had misread the map and the “we’re almost there” hour actually occurred in the middle of about a five-mile journey that, in the end, took a few hours more than we’d anticipated. Thank God we brought a lunch. And thank God the thunderstorms were tardy.

Once we were finally, finally back to Sandy Bottom, and one of the cars had been retrieved from Hillsgrove, and the canoe was on the dolly, and we were bringing everything back to the parking lot, the sky finally opened up and we were fairly soaked by the time we got back to the cabin.

And somehow, in my memory, this is all recorded as a fun summer day.

Eventually, Ed looked up the Explorer 200 on YouTube and found that this is actually a vessel of choice for many GoPro-wielding adventure-seekers (see here and here, for example).

We have yet to leave the Amazon review, but I’ll give it five stars for performance, if not for maneuverability.

Ed and Rae in the Explorer 200

At least it was pretty. [click for larger]

This has been a harrowing true story (with too many parentheticals) by Rae Botsford End. For various unrelated thoughts, come find me on Twitter, and for real writer updates, like my Facebook page.

How Ed Proposed

So, I knew Ed was going to propose at some point. We were in the car together one day when my dad called instead of texting in response to Ed’s request for a dinner meeting, so I knew he had asked my parents for their blessing. But weeks had passed since then. Ed had had foot surgery in mid-August, so he’d been rolling around on a knee scooter and then hobbling about in a boot, and he insisted that because of “logistics” he needed his foot to be fully functional for the proposal to work. But he was literally already on one knee all the time anyway because of the scooter — what could he possibly be planning?

Come early October, my previous roommate dropped off some stray mail, one of which was a Brevard Savings Magazine issue that included a coupon for a boating/jetski place. This is important. This is the main thing that kept the proposal even at all surprising. Ed had repeatedly expressed a desire for us to go rent jetskis for more than a year at this point, and though the coupon was only for boating, I thought he might be interested to know about this place and maybe see if their jetski rentals were priced well. So I gave it to him.

A few days later, he asked if I would want to go boating that Saturday instead of jetskiing. I agreed, especially since the weather was beginning to get a little cooler, perhaps too cold for jetskis (I’ve lived in Florida for too long), and since he did have a coupon, after all.

Now wait a minute, I thought. This is the first major thing we’d done together in a while. But I’d only just given him the boating coupon, and he’d been planning something involving complicated “logistics” for ages. No way he’d changed his plans over a $25 coupon. Probably. (As it turned out, he hadn’t. The coupon was a happy accident. But I didn’t know that yet.)

The night before, I actually asked him, “Are you proposing tomorrow?”

His response was, of course, somewhat less than forthcoming. The gist of it was that if he gave me a definite answer now but couldn’t later, then I’d know for sure when he was going to propose. But whatever came out of his mouth was significantly less cohesive than that. This raised my suspicions.

On the other hand, boating coupon. Probably not actually proposing yet. Probably.

So we drove to the boat place (Hayley’s, if you’re curious) on the morning of October 11, 2014, with lunch in a cooler, sunscreen, bug spray, and a printout on how to use a boat safely and legally. When we sat down to discuss our boating options with the Boat Guy (I forget his name), Ed said he did have some previous boating experience. I thought this was odd. (I found out later that the “previous experience” was the day before, but I’m getting to that.)

When we talked to the guy about our plans, there was an overall assumption that we would be heading north on the Banana or Indian River. After discussing our options in that direction, it came up that more little islands were south instead. We knew we wanted to explore at least one island, so why not go south? But Ed insisted on going north. I thought this was odd as well.

Armed with charts and maps and a vague idea of where we were going, we began a slow trek up the Banana River. The Banana is a manatee zone, which means the slowness was not necessarily by choice. Unlike dolphins, manatees apparently don’t know enough to avoid propellers. Thus, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise up the river on a notably beautiful day — with a shockingly loud two-stroke engine that made conversation very difficult.

I asked Ed as we worked our way up why, exactly, he was so insistent on going north. Again, he was somewhat less than forthcoming. When I asked again, he replied:

“The Internet said there are more dolphins north.”

Uh-huh.

So he acted like a man with a mission most of the morning, save for one moment when he kind of relaxed at the wheel and asked me, “So, what do you want to do today?” My suspicions lowered. Maybe this wasn’t the proposal after all. Would he really just let me throw a wrench in everything by insisting we go south or stop at a restaurant or otherwise deviate from his apparent mental itinerary?

We may never know the answer to that question, because my answer was vague and I didn’t want to throw a wrench in a proposal if that really was what he was doing.

But we saw dolphins, the weather was fantastic, and we made it up to the Port Canaveral area where we bypassed one over-popular tiny island and stopped at a somewhat more ignored isle. After lashing the boat to a tree and praying it didn’t leave without us, we applied bug spray (which seemed like excellent forethought on Ed’s part at the time) and ate lunch in the boat. Then it was exploring time.

I’ve always wanted to explore one of these islands, but despite Ed asking “Did you bring a treasure map?”, there appeared to be naught but trees, mosquitoes, and evidence of a few beer-drinking litterbugs. It was a tiny island, too, so it wasn’t long before I declared it fully explored and we started to walk back to the boat. But we were still a way off from the shoreline when Ed stopped and pointed at something on the ground.

“What!? What is this!?” he more announced than asked. He was pointing at an obviously human-formed mount of dirt and leaves and such.

“How did you see that? How did I not see that?” I asked.

Ed started moving some of the dirt off with his foot, revealing the corner of an old-school treasure chest beneath.

“Are you kidding me right now,” I responded. “Are you kidding me right now?”

I pushed more of the dirt off, and then Ed finished unburying it — at which point he picked it up and made a beeline for the boat.

“What if that belongs to someone else?” I protested. “Shouldn’t we open it here, so we can re-bury it if it’s someone else’s stuff?”

“If you really think it should stay here, we can come back,” he said. Apparently, he didn’t want to propose in the middle of all the mosquitoes, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Obviously, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, despite all attempts to keep my hopes from getting too high. He was standing next to the little boat with the treasure chest sitting on the side-rail thing (what do you even call that?), when I asked him if he wanted to do this next to the boat or in the boat. After some awkward dithering, he said, “Here works.”

So I opened the box, fully expecting something in the ring or engagement department at this point. What I actually saw first was a small white towel. Wrapped in the towel were two champagne glasses, and underneath were two glass bottles of Jarritos pineapple soda (which tastes like freedom to me because I associate it with the one time I properly skipped class in high school). There was also a small white cardboard box.

What my brain saw initially was not a ring box and celebratory freedom soda. It registed “Alcohol glasses. Beer bottles. Probably belongs to the people who left the broken bottles on the island. Not proposal. Don’t show disappointment.” And then the actual situation registered correctly.

Ed took the white cardboard box off the red ring box he’d bought for me, less-than-smoothly tossing the cardboard one into the boat. I think at this point I was again repeating something like, “You have to be kidding me. Are you kidding me right now.” He got down on one knee, right in the Banana River, and opened the box to reveal a placeholder ring because he knew I wanted to pick out my own ring and because he’s not crazy enough to leave a real ring buried on a remote island overnight.

At this point, we were both so flustered that neither of our brains recorded most of what we actually said. But I definitely caught the most important part:

“I’d be honored if you’d be my wife.”

And I happily agreed to do so.

So we swam in the river and observed the cruise ships and NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building and a school of some variety of jumping fish, perfectly carefree until we had to speed back down the Indian River (which has no speed limit) so I could make it to church on time to play bass.

How did Ed get the treasure there in the first place? The day before, he had rented the cheapest boat he could find, as he says, and took a backpack with the contents of the box and the box itself (which he’d purchased off eBay) to the little island. He chose the unpopulated isle deliberately, and marked its location on his phone so he’d be able to find it again.

“There’s a hundred things that could have gone wrong,” I told him afterwards. Which is part of what made it so fantastic when everything went right.

island-closeup

island-distance

Unfair joy found in serving God

It happens sometimes – probably, in fact, much more often than not – that the service to which God calls us is as much for us as it is for those we serve. He will often, I believe, put us in places where we will benefit even though we only signed up to benefit others.

Rae playing bass

June 2012, when I had no idea what I was getting into.

I still play bass at my old church, though now just on on Saturday nights, because I originally felt I was called to do so, given talent to do so, and not released from that calling when it became time to move to a new church. Plus, they apparently still need me. I confess that on some weekends, I grumble about my task. It’s my Saturday night. I have things to do. I’m not even at that church anymore. Come onnnn.

Yet I realized that if I’m honest with myself and I get over my grumble habit, playing bass there is actually a lot of fun. Most of the other musicians are “old white guys” with decades of musical experience behind them (compared to my 2 years on bass and some time on the trombone in high school), which lends itself to an easy groove and some fabulously interesting evenings. Some of the worship leaders like to rearrange well-known songs. Sometimes they show me more complex bass lines than my fingers can handle yet. One of them likes to put all the songs in the same key and just flow from one to the next, sometimes switching between two songs, often giving us little heads-up or forgetting where he wanted to go and generally making like we’re a jam band. And the band always sounds good because they have the experience to back this sort of thing up, and they’ve made me a more adaptable bass player as I’ve happily let them drag me along.

More significantly, playing bass on the worship team has made me a better worshiper. It’s too easy for me to go through the motions while I’m in the congregation, and when I first joined the team I wondered if I was good enough at worship to be qualified. But I jumped in, did my best, and learned quickly that yes, I actually can connect with God during corporate worship. It’s not even hard. And when it happens, it’s wonderful. The fullness of what I’ve learned has been nuanced and is difficult to explain in words, but it is very real and very much what I needed. The process started when I was playing on Sunday mornings, but when I was added to Saturday nights, it seemed to flow even better.

On top of that, I’ve been blessed by the recent sermon series on the book of James, which I would have missed if I were only attending my primary church right now. It’s a temporary situation, but it works beautifully. On Sundays, I get to attend the church that I believe God has made my new “church home,” be welcomed by a lot of really nice people, and get an excellent message. On Saturdays, I get to worship God with my bass guitar, be with other believers, and get another dose of the Word of God delivered in a helpful message.

And yet, I originally assumed I was only called to play bass because the church needed a bass player, and maybe I’d get to have a little fun learning bass along the way as a perk.

I think that sometimes, that is what infinite grace combined with infinite power looks like. He loves us and gives to us even when it may seem, at first glance, that He is only using us. There is nothing negative about simply being used by the God of the universe for His own good purposes, which is what makes it so unfair that even our service for others can benefit us. It can bring us joy, it can make us grow, it can edify us, it can free us, it can bring us closer to people, it can bring us closer to God.

Then again, Jesus said explicitly (Luke 6:38), “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Karma? No. Being called to service for a good God is a privilege in itself, I promise. This is extra. This is the particular flavor of seems-too-good-to-be-true that is unique to the continuous grace of God, which is one of the truest things of all.

My First Dungeons & Dragons Side Quest

I just had my first Dungeons & Dragons experience. It was fun, but two of us were new and we spent so much time trying to figure out our character sheets that we all barely got a taste of the DM’s story before the evening needed to end. The DM did bravely attempt to hold one side quest, but I don’t think it went at all as he expected. Let me rephrase: it absolutely did not go as he expected.

Elves in D&D don’t sleep. They enter a trance state for four hours each day, but they definitely don’t go to bed when everyone else does. I’m playing not just an elf, but an elf rogue, which made me the perfect target for our DM’s “will you do a drug run?” side quest.

So, in-story, the three adventurers were hanging out at the inn’s bar right before bedtime. A shady character asked my elf, Artymis, if she would quietly deliver a package to a client in the small town. The package contained some “controlled” item and I (Artymis) was absolutely not allowed to open the parcel. After too much hemming and hawing, I agreed and figured that if it turned out to be something immoral I would just take it straight to Sam the mayor and seek some reward there.

Cora the halfling did not notice me hiding the parcel under my cloak and just went to bed. Cyrus the human did notice, and asked what I was doing. I gave some half-answer, realized he would try to follow me if I went outside into the shadows, and decided the only way to avoid his prying eyes was to examine the parcel alone in the restroom. The shady character had left and Cyrus couldn’t follow me into the one-stall odor-pit, so it made perfect sense.

So picture this: Artymis the 110-year-old elf rogue, a young adult, a sneaky person, and an elegant, pointy-eared immortal, standing in a wooden stall beside a strong-smelling hole in the ground with just a candle for light, fumbling with a parcel to see if it would be immoral to deliver it. I failed all attempts at sleight of hand (terrible dice rolls) and broke the wax seal, revealing that it was some sort of illicit herb. Now it would be obvious I’d looked inside, and I didn’t think delivering the parcel could end well. I nervously tried to fix the wax seal with the candle and failed (more bad dice rolling), burned myself (-1 HP), and charred the paper.

In story, Artymis was quietly having a moral quandary in the latrine.

Out of story and in my head, what happened was this: “Wait, I’m playing as chaotic good. If I take it to the mayor, is that too lawful? If I bring it to the client, is that immoral? There aren’t Christians in this world, so are drugs immoral or just foolish? What are the consequences if I never deliver the package? What if I bring it to the client? The parcel has been obviously opened. Will I get a reputation as an incompetent drug runner? That’s a terrible way to start this game. What if I try to bring it to the mayor? Wait, this means I’m now carrying this thing! What if my companions discover it? I won’t look very good, that’s for sure. And Sam the mayor is giving us our jobs in this town and seems like a nice guy, so drug-running in his town behind his back certainly is immoral. Or is it just pragmatic? Can I play pragmatic? What’s moral and good? What’s sufficiently chaotic? What if it’s truly medicinal? Then am I immoral for turning it in? Can I just undo this whole thing?”

In story, Artymis the elf just panicked, decided the whole thing never happened, and dropped the whole parcel in the latrine.

Out of story, the DM said, “Well, so much for that quest.”

Adjö, Volvo

Well, it finally happened. Ed’s Volvo is no more. At least, it is no longer Ed’s, and will likely be scrapped in the near future.

abandoned Volvo key

Ed and I drove the Volvo up from Florida to Pennsylvania for Christmas. Aside from all the usual problems (aesthetic, mechanical, and otherwise), this was fine. Uneventful. It rode happily enough for the next week in PA, and nothing unusual happened until we went to a LAN party and someone else drove the car to and from breakfast, mocking it the whole time. Maybe he drove it a little harder than Ed normally does. Maybe he insulted it a little too much. Maybe this would have happened anyway. But when we left their house that night, the car sounded…different.

“That’s new,” said Ed.

The sound was a deep and horrible rumble, noticeably louder than the usual noise of the car. As he drove the rumble grew, grew into a monstrous roar that deafened late-night bicyclists and Amish-driven horses alike. It was as funny as it was disconcerting.

I have not been one of the many people telling Ed that he needs a new car. I really haven’t. I admire his resourcefulness and his tenacity, and I love that he kept the Volvo as long as he possibly could. But the idea of riding back to Florida in a cloud of noise was unappealing.

When we got back to his parents’ house, he looked under the car and at least discovered that the exhaust leak was sufficiently far from the engine that it would be obnoxious, but not dangerous. Probably.

The repair quote was far more than the car was worth and Ed knew he wanted a new Mazda, so in the next couple of days he found a dealership in Maryland that was selling one for (relatively) cheap. Over this time the car got even louder, and the humor factor goes away when you’re worried about hearing damage. For the two-hour trip to the dealership we made use of some of the hearing protection Ed had brought with his guns, which made the bellowing more bearable.

The guys at the dealership had a laugh over the condition of the Volvo (without even starting it up — it’s in, um, special shape), and wound up offering $100 for the trade-in as basically a favor. Florida’s a no-inspection state, but it wouldn’t even be worth it for them to fix the Volvo to pass Maryland inspection in order to try and sell the thing.

Ed accepted their offer.

I hope they get something for the scrap.

Ed walks away from his Volvo

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