Category Archives: Stories

The Pain and the Peacefulness

I woke up with the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life. I felt like I was choking on a pine cone. Swallowing sent brutal pain through my throat, and yet I couldn’t seem to make my mouth stop swallowing. I lay in a cold sweat, my muscles aching. Too sick to get up, too sick to fall asleep, and desperately in need of some NyQuil.

There was no NyQuil in my bathroom due to the fact that I “moved out” a couple weeks ago. My friend Ashlie and I are living just up the road from my parents’ place, which is why I put “moved out” in quotation marks, since I still spend quite a bit of time with my family. Like, for instance, when I need NyQuil.

Finally gathering enough energy to get out of bed, I tossed a few things into my backpack and climbed into my car for the 1/2 mile drive to the land of NyQuil and a comforting mother.

I parked in the driveway, opened my car door, and then just sat there.

NPR was announcing the morning news. “We will be updating you regularly on the Egyptian Air flight that disappeared over the Mediterranean this morning.”

It was 5:00 am, and the sky was that eerie darkish blue of not-quite-morning.

Rain fell, suddenly, pattering on the roof of my car, the new-rain smell blowing in through my open door.

And somehow, in the middle of the weird eeriness, the intense pain in my throat, and the sadness of another plane disappearing, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I didn’t feel the crushing stress of the last couple weeks of term. I guess this is what they call a peace that passeth all understanding.

I’m on antibiotics now, and I woke up this morning with my throat barely hurting at all, thank God.

It’s very much coming down to crunch time, school wise, and I stress because I don’t know how to not stress. But for the past few days I’ve been clinging to the memory of that peace because I love to know that it exists.

 

MOP April 21: Little Sister

“Hey Emily, guess what?” My little sister stood in my doorway at 11:02 last night.

“What?”

“This may be the last time you’ll see me as a 16-year-old.”

Maybe not so little, after all.

“Not if we hang out for a while,” I said.

She sat on my bed and we started chatting. I don’t even know what about.

“Let’s take a selfie,” she said.

“But I still have that white stuff in my eye.” I’d been doing an odd experimental eye treatment.

“I’ll cover it up for you.”

We took a selfie.

Jenny is almost nine years younger than me, and when she was born, seventeen years ago today, I didn’t think that we’d end up being best friends. I thought that she would be the little sister, and I would be the big sister, and there would always be a large nine-year gulf between us.

I was wrong.

I never wanted to be the person who was still living at home at age 25. I really value my independence. I was on my own for a couple years, but I was too ill to support myself and my mental health was in shambles and I wanted to go to college so I came back.

As much as I love my family to pieces, I always thought I would move out again if it were at all financially possible. Because independence.

Something interesting happened though, and I truly believe it was God redeeming a situation that I found very difficult. I became best friends with my little sister. The nine year gap became nothing. We learned to work through all our weird sibling issues. We had piles of fun.

So Jenny, on your 17th birthday, here are 17 things I love about you:

  1. I love your love of learning.
  2. I love your artistic side and fantastic sense of style.
  3. I love your wacky sarcastic humor.
  4. I love all our inside jokes.
  5. I love that you are unafraid to bash stereotypes. That you simultaneously embrace being geeky and girly and sporty, reading romance novels and solving math problems and doing cardio in your spare time.
  6. I love that you like to have spontaneous adventures.
  7. And sleepovers.
  8. And that we still play truth or dare.
  9. I love that you give me your honest opinion when I ask you what you think of my outfit.
  10. Or when I ask what you think of anything, really. Even guys. Especially guys.
  11. I love that you like to discuss the interesting oddities of life with me.
  12. I love all the interesting YouTube videos you find and share with me.
  13. I love the way you like what you like, whether or not it’s “cool.”
  14. I love that you’re not afraid to tell me when I’ve hurt your feelings.
  15. And that we can talk about everything.
  16. I love your unique perspective on life.
  17. I love that you are my sister and my friend.

Check out Jenny’s last MOP post here, and Mom’s latest here.

 

MOP April 19: Things in Unexpected Places

Today my friends and I hung out because it was Ashlie’s birthday, and we had a conversation that went something like this:

Ashlie: It’s cold in here. Why is it so cold in here?

Anna: I’ve heard that restaurants keep things cold so that you’ll eat more to burn more calories to keep you warm.

Ashlie: Did you know that fast food places purposefully make the music loud so that customers will leave and they can usher people through faster?

Mandy: If you want to go to a place that’s nice and quiet you should go to Coldstone Creamery.

Me: I want to go to Coldstone sometime. I have lots of gift cards.

And by “lots” I meant two. One that someone gave me , and one that I found long ago while cleaning the school at the end of the year.

Mandy: Why don’t you use them?

Me: I just don’t get to Coldstone since the one in Albany shut down.

Anna: (Wistfully) I had a Coldstone gift card once. It was for, like, $20. But then I lost it.

Me: (Offhandedly) Oh, did you lose it at school?

Anna: Yeah.

Me: Really? I have it right here.

I reached into my wallet and pulled out the gift card.

Anna: What? But I lost it, like, four or five years ago.

Me: Yeah, I think it was about four or five years ago that I found it.

Anna: But you don’t understand. I looked and looked for it. I prayed and prayed about it. Even Chaz knows about it.

Chaz being her husband of less than a year.

Me: Well, here it is.

Anna: No, I can’t take it!

Me: What? Of course you can. It’s yours.

Anna: You have to blog about this.

So I took her advice.

 

MOP April 13: Vindication

I was pretty bad at academic writing when I started college, which was hard on my ego. I mean, I’d published a book and stuff, how dare my teachers make notes in the margins of my papers telling me to take a writing class?

Humph.

Still, being of a practical frame of mind, I signed up for an entry-level writing class the next term.

Our first paper was supposed to be an essay about “the worst job I’ve ever had.” I wrote something clever and funny, and brought the rough draft to class to get critiqued. I think the idea was to get into small groups and critique each others’ papers, but as the teacher wandered from group to group giving helpful hints he decided to grab my paper and read the first paragraph out loud.

Oh no. My paper was not funny and interesting as I had previously thought. It was, instead, vague and confusing. At least, the first paragraph was. That’s all he read before flippantly dismissing it, and I went home with my writer ego a squashed mess.

I ranted to my mom about it over a cup of tea.

“I once had a writing teacher who absolutely tore my work to shreds in front of the whole class,” she said. “Then when I became a successful writer I saw him again, and he praised my work up and down, and I felt vindicated.”

After I got over the sting of criticism, I re-wrote the first paragraph to be less vague and confusing. The next class session, my teacher immediately came up to me. “Emily! I’m so sorry last class ended before I had a chance to critique your paper!”

“Um, yeah, well I guess the beginning was kinda confusing so I changed it,” I said, tentatively handing my paper to him.

He began reading it. “Yeah, this is great. This makes so much more sense.”

My writer ego scabbed over nicely.

Today, five years and several colleges later, I was finished with class and walking back to my car when someone yelled at me from across the street. “Hey, it’s the girl in the red rubber boots!”

I laughed as my former writing teacher crossed the street and came up to me, shaking my hands as if I were the celebrity and he was a fan. “I love your blog!” he said.

Mwa ha ha ha ha, vindication at last.

 

What We Do for Extra Credit

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I gotta say, dressing up and lip-syncing to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done for extra credit.

I posted this picture on Facebook and multiple people asked me for the full story. Goodness. How do I even begin to explain that class?

I guess I should have known what I was getting into. After all, I did go online and register for a class called “Small Group Communication.” But see, by the time I got around to registering, classes had mostly filled up, and I was blindly clicking on anything that fulfilled my graduation requirements.

It didn’t really occur to me until the first day of class that I had just signed up for lots and lots of group work. (Which, if you have ever been to college, you know can be ab-so-lute-lee brutal.)

This class though. About 1/3 of it is lecture, and the other 2/3 is group activity. One day your team is stacking oddly-shaped blocks. One day you’re trying to come up with a solution to the feral cat problem, while trying to ignore the team behind you telling each other wild stories about their aunt’s friend’s cat who mated with a bobcat and had a half-bobcat kitten. One day you’re crawling on the floor trying to get through a desk-and-string maze.

Let’s just say, I’ve gotten to know these classmates better than I usually get to know my classmates.

On Friday, my teacher pulled out the ULTIMATE class activity. Unlike other class activities, this was actually worth something. If your team got 1800 points, you would get 10 points of extra credit.

There were five rounds. Three were played Friday, and the last two were played today.

Now, I should probably add that for nearly all of the games, tests, assignments, etc, our class is divided into three teams. There is my team, “The Emilys,” which consists of me, two other girls named “Emily,” a guy named Marcus (who interestingly enough is married to a girl named Emily), and a girl named Grace. The remaining 7 girls in the class have a team, and the remaining 4 boys in the class have a team.

Round 1, each team randomly drew a card. The cards were worth an arbitrary number of points. My team got negative points. Lucky us. The boys got the most points, so they got to choose a team to humiliate. They choose us. We had to hum “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Rounds 2 and 3 were also mostly based on chance, and involved drawing cards. My team wasn’t particularly lucky. The girls got “humiliated” and had to do the bunny hop. The boys got “humiliated” and had to crow like a rooster for a minute and a half.

Just another day in a small group communication class.

Anyway, just before class was out, my teacher pulled up a song on youtube:

“On Monday,” she said, “your team will lip-sync to this song. Teams that do well in this exercise often bring props and costumes. Goodbye, have a good weekend.”

“How badly do you want to win this thing?” Marcus asked us.

“Really bad! I can make a lion mane! Can I be the lead singer? I have an African shirt!” I said.

I love this kind of thing. Not gonna lie. And furthermore, it seemed like we were finally going to get a chance to gain points based on effort, not luck.

So, I made a lion mane that weekend. I listened to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” over and over until I had all the lyrics memorized. I dug in the attic this morning until I found an African shirt. I tried it on, and it fit, but I couldn’t get it off so I wore it all day.

Unfortunately, the girls all showed up with jungle-animal costumes and choreographed dance moves. They were awarded 750 points, while my team got 500. The boys completely winged it, using the chalkboard eraser as their “microphone” and slapping it periodically to release a dramatic cloud of white fog. They got 25o points.

We went into the last round with the girls sitting pretty, and the boys and us duking it out for the remaining points. This also involved a complicated system of drawing playing cards, in which we were, once again, quite unlucky.

The story ends sadly: Everyone got their 1800 points, with the 10 points of extra credit, except my team.

Yep. That spectacular lion mane was all for nothing.

Now, throughout all of this none of us could figure out what the point was. All our games and activities are supposed to teach valuable truths about small groups, but what do playing cards and lip-syncing have to do with anything we’ve been studying?

“Now,” said my teacher, as my team slumped dejectedly in our chairs at the end of the game, a discarded lion mane on the desk. “That exercise was about power.”

Class was over.

“We’ll talk about it more on Wednesday,” she said.

So. I memorized a song, made a lion mane, and wore an African shirt all day until my Mom helped me wiggle out of it when I got home. And I got no extra credit. However, not to worry! I learned all about power! At least, I will on Wednesday.

ETA: My mom read this and said it comes across like a very juvenile exercise, and will make people question why on EARTH I am paying good money to take classes like this.

Fair enough. It was a juvenile exercise. However, I have to say, as strange as this class is it is oddly effective. I’m guessing, as far as retention goes, I’ll remember what I learned in this class much longer than in my lecture classes, because I’ll have these unique activities to tie the concepts to. (And also, this is by far the silliest thing we’ve done so far. So there’s that.)

Words of an Educated Amishman

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I’ve been spending a LOT of time at school recently, since Ben and I ended up with widely different schedules, yet only bought one parking pass to share between us. Some days it’s dark when I get up and dark when I leave school.

As a way to productively fill some of the extra hours, I’ve been typing up my Grandpa’s handwritten memoirs. My Grandpa, who is almost 99, has the extremely unique distinction of having gotten his bachelor’s and master’s degrees while still old order Amish. Since I am also interested in education, this is an area where I like to pick his brain.

Yesterday I began typing the education section of his memoir, which began like this:

“On the subject of education I hardly know where to begin or where to end. Some of it was gained in a small creek, where there were minnows and tadpoles and crawdads, and some of it in university halls. It began at the cradle and it continues until now.”

What a nice sentiment. I quite like the idea of still continuing my education at the age of 99.

When I reached the section where Grandpa described his motivation for going to college, I was surprised.

Context: Grandpa was in a CPS camp, as a conscientious objector during WWII. As the war was ending, he was trying to figure out what to do next. He wrote this about what led him toward thinking about college:

“I still had the desire to return to farming sometime, but I also saw some needs in our Amish church. I felt that our people were too uneducated. They were too poorly acquainted with our faith and practices. I was backed into a corner time and again trying to explain my faith. Should I try going to college? Could I help the situation if I went to college?”

It fascinated me that college came (at least partially) out of a desire to be able to explain his faith. Now, in conservative Anabaptist circles, the fear is that college will destroy your faith.

For me, though, college has vastly strengthened my faith. If nothing else, I saw just how many people did not actually have peace in their hearts. It astounded me, and I saw that the Holy Spirit had indeed given me peace that passed all understanding. (Philippians 4:7, Galatians 5:22)

Furthermore I’ve noticed, like my Grandpa before me, that many Christians/Mennonites have a hard time adequately explaining their faith to people who don’t speak Christianese.

I haven’t finished transcribing Grandpa’s memoirs, but already I’m completely fascinated by what he has to say. It’s hard to have a conversation with him, as he is nearly deaf, but the stories give me a glimpse of what goes on in his still-sharp mind.

MOP April 30: You, Too, Have the Power to Change Things

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My Russian History class is two hours long.

I used to think it was absolutely cruel that church services lasted an entire hour…I mean, who could sit still for that long? Couldn’t the preacher condense his message to a well-organized fifteen minutes and still get his point across?

Yet here I am, willingly subjecting myself to sitting still for twice that length, without the luxury of padded orange benches straight from the ’70s.

The lectures are densely packed with information, and there’s no option of looking up the power-point slides later online. Our only hope of a good grade comes from taking detailed notes, and you better believe there is smoke coming out of our pencils as we balance our notebooks on the tiny desks and wish there was space to set a calming mug of tea to sip every now and again.

One day my teacher said, “Our topic of the day is Russian movies. We were going to watch The Storming of the Winter Palace, but we can’t after all, because my only copy is on VHS tape and they removed the VHS player from this room.”

The class heaved a collective sigh of disappointment. Wouldn’t it have been nice, we thought, to get a break from this relentless note-taking? To be able to sit back in our uncomfortable tiny desks and relax with a Russian film? But alas, it was not meant to be.

Monday, when I got to class, the teacher had written “319” on the board in large letters. “We’re meeting in room 319 on Wednesday,” he said. He didn’t say why at first, but it eventually came out that we were going to watch a different Russian film, Aelita: Queen of Mars. This movie was apparently also on VHS, and room 319 still had a VHS player.

When I got to room 319 on Wednesday I was amazed. “This is so nice!” I exclaimed. “Look at these giant wooden tables to spread all our stuff out on!”

“I know,” said the girl next to me. “I had to buy these small composition books so that they’d fit on those tiny desks in the other classroom.”

I happily spread my large binder on the table, and wished I’d stopped to get some tea, as there was now ample space for it. “And look at these chairs! They’re so big and soft!” I sank down into one. “This is such a nice classroom.”

The other students murmured their agreement.

There were still a few minutes before class started, so I continued on in the same vein. I felt very strongly about this. “Why can’t we be in this classroom all the time?” I asked. “If we have to sit for two hours, shouldn’t we get soft seats? If we have to take so many notes, shouldn’t we get a desk we can actually fit our notebooks onto?”

“I don’t make that decision,” said the teacher.

“Who does?” I asked, out of curiosity.

He gave me the name of some department. I dropped the issue then, and began…I don’t even remember what. Fiddling with my backpack, or talking to the girl next to me, or something. I didn’t even notice that the teacher had left for a bit until he came back in with a man I’d never seen before.

“These students have something to say to you,” my teacher told the man.

The man looked at us.

“Um,” I said, “are you the person in charge of deciding which classes happen in which rooms?”

“Actually, most of it is done with a computer program,” said the man.

“Is there any chance we could switch to this room?” I asked. “I mean, we have to sit for two hours, and these chairs are WAY more comfortable. And we have to take so many notes, but it’s hard to take notes on those tiny desks.”

“Hmm,” said the man. “That might work.”

“And,” I added, “this classroom is obviously open during this time slot, so…”

“I’m not sure if it’s always open during this time slot,” said the man, “but I’ll check and get back to you.” And he left.

We watched the movie. It was odd, but my hand got a much-needed rest from note-taking, and my hind end was blissfully comfortable in the plush chair. When it was over, and we all began to pack up our backpacks to leave, the instructor stopped us. “Let me quickly run over and see where we’ll be meeting for our next class,” he said.

We waited patiently.

He came back bearing good news. The wonderful classroom with the large desks and comfortable chairs was ours for the rest of the term.

I never dreamed that I had the power to change what classroom we were in.

I just complained about the situation because complaining is what people do when they can CLEARLY see a better alternative to the option offered. It didn’t cross my mind that those complaints would lead to actual change.

I thought I was powerless.

I think there’s a moral of sorts buried somewhere in this story. I don’t think people should start complaining about their classrooms and demanding a change of location. That could be pretty chaotic. I do think, though, that we (at least, I) tend to complain about things instead of actually trying to make change.

This is usually because we (I) feel powerless. But maybe we have more power than we realize.

A few additional unrelated notes:

1. As it is the last day of April, this is the last MOP post. You can catch up on all Mom’s contributions here, and Jenny’s here.

2. If you were closely tracking me you may have noticed that I was supposed to post yesterday, but didn’t. That’s because Jenny accidentally posted on the wrong day, and I thought, “whatever. I started MOP, I might as well end MOP too.” So here I am, on Jenny’s day, ending MOP.

3. Tomorrow and Saturday, May 1 and 2, Mom’s latest book Footprints on the Ceiling will be free on Amazon.

Hooray!

Download it here.

Tell all your friends.

Have fun!

Stay safe!