Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saying Goodbye

It’s been a busy, tough, strange week. But my journey has officially begun. I write this from the road.

I said goodbye to friends, went to Church camp, and vacationed on the breathtaking southern Oregon coast. A dear friend gave birth to a healthy baby boy, while another couple of our dear friends gave birth to a beautiful baby who had already gone to be with Jesus.

Asher Kai, they named him.

I’m not even sure what to say about this, as his parents are private people, and it feels presumptuous to try to tell their story on my blog. At the same time, it feels weird, almost silly to post about anything else…as if anything else matters right now.

Amy and I delayed our trip for a day, and went to Asher Kai’s burial and graveside service on Saturday. He lay in his little casket, that beautiful, perfect little boy, and we saw all the things that could have been but will never be.

As my friend Esta said so eloquently, “There are no earthly words for the inconceivable loss of a tiny, perfect son. Only tears.”

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Sarah Beth’s Wedding/Austin Texas

My dear, dear friend Sarah Beth…who I’ve adventured with at Island Lake, and in Portland, and in Bandon…who almost died three years ago…who converted me into a lover of personality assessments…THAT remarkably magical Sarah Beth Wilcoxson is now Sarah Beth Boyer.

She was married, in Texas, last Friday. August 10.

August 10 also happens to be my parents’ anniversary, so they flew out early and vacationed in Texas for a few days. Amy and I took a red eye from Portland to Austin, arrived early Friday morning, and then got a few hours of extra sleep in our parents’ hotel room before driving north for the wedding.

I was a bridal table server, which is a specific niche in the wedding honor hierarchy that I’ve never occupied before. I got to the church early, arriving in the middle of a typical pre-wedding flurry. Bridesmaids lounged in the nursery, re-curling their hair and drinking Red Bull. Sarah Beth and Andy’s families stood outside in the sweltering Texas heat and attempted to get every child looking pleasant for the photos.

I loved the fairy look of the bridesmaids, with their tulle skirts and lavender crowns.

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Rachel, Rachel Lynn, and Lois Sophia

The ceremony went off nicely, with Sarah Beth looking radiant and beautiful, and Andy looking handsome and proud. They did a unity painting, the way some people do unity sand or a unity candle. I’d never seen that done before.

Then they were married, and he carried her down the aisle, and the rest of us were ushered out. I was on the end of the bridal table server bench, and we got ushered out first (before family even), so I was the first person ushered out of the church after the bridal party. I know I’m focusing on the least important part of the wedding here, but after so many years of waiting and waiting and WAITING to be ushered out of weddings, being the very first one for once felt nice.

To me, the strangest part of the wedding was the way that very few people seemed aware of just how amazing Sarah Beth is. In Oregon, she’s spoken of as almost a legendary figure. But out in Texas people didn’t seem to know her that well.

Although most of Sarah Beth’s roots are in Oregon, her family moved to Oklahoma several years ago. She stayed on in Oregon for a while, then moved to Oklahoma for a bit, before moving down to Texas to live nearer her boyfriend Andy. When she got married she considered coming back to Oregon for the wedding, but eventually decided to just get married in Texas.

At the open mic, her family members and friends from Oregon stood up and spoke of the huge impact she’s made in our lives. Tears were shed. Maybe now these Texas people who don’t know her very well…maybe now they’ll understand the gift they’re getting, I thought.

Sarah Beth and Andy left the venue in a shower of sparklers, tin cans clinking behind their car. I wish them every blessing and happiness.

Part 2: Austin Texas

Mom and Dad were leaving from Austin in the early afternoon, but Amy and I didn’t need to leave until 8 pm. So we got dropped off at the capitol building. We planned to spend our afternoon exploring Austin.

First, we toured the capital. It was extra special because it was India’s Independence day, so there were a lot of Indian Americans at the Capital, doing traditional dances and such.

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The capital dome, as viewed from the underground expansion.

After our tour, we went outside hoping there would be some traditional Indian food set up as part of the Independence day festivities. But we were out of luck. As the oppressive August heat beat down on us, we searched Google for food near us. Please don’t make us walk very far, dear Google. It is very warm today.

It looked like there was some Korean food close by. But as we neared the place, we saw that first of all, it was a food cart instead of a restaurant, and second of all, it appeared to be closed.

“Can you spare a dollar?” there was a woman sitting in front of the food cart. She looked like she was strung out on drugs.

“Is this food cart open?” Amy asked.

“I’m blind,” said the woman.

“But do you know if this food cart is open?” Amy asked.

“Oh. No, it’s closed on the weekends.”

“Thank you,” we said.

“So, are you gonna give me a dollar? Surely you can spare a dollar.”

Well, I don’t like to judge who is worthy of a dollar and who isn’t, but this lady looked like the last thing she needed was a dollar to spend on drugs. So I tried to politely decline, and she started cussing at us, and we moved on.

We ate at Subway. I will never make it as a foodie.

However, as we sat there munching sandwiches and sipping iced tea, Amy got excited. “Those ladies are speaking Thai!” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “What are they saying?”

I was hoping for something juicy. Maybe they’d be gossiping about us, with no idea that my very American-looking sister could understand them the whole time.

“She just asked what time it is,” said Amy.

Blast.

“Well, you should go talk to them,” I said.

So she did, excited for a chance to jabber in Thai again.

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Three excited ladies, and one calm one.

After we finished eating, we had to, again, walk pass the “blind” lady who’d asked us for a dollar. She cussed at us some more, and then yelled, “YOU’RE NOT ACTUALLY AMISH!!!”

And you’re not actually blind. Guess we’re even now.

After that we visited a cool old bakery-turned-museum we’d happened to pass, but eventually we ran into a conundrum: Everything we wanted to do either cost more than we wanted to spend, or else involved being outside in the oppressive Texas heat.

That’s when we decided to go swimming.

Now. My dear, dear sister Amy, knowing that I like to swim, had researched places to swim in Austin. She herself had no intention of swimming, but was happy to sit and read while I played in the water to my heart’s content.

I thought that was really, really sweet of her.

We rode the bus to Barton Springs Pool, and then got off and walked on a path along the river. The closer we got to the pool, the more people we saw in the river, swimming or kayaking or paddleboarding. At the end of the path, a large fence separated the river from the pool. It looked like someone had poured concrete around a section of the river to make it pool-like. However, peeking through the fence, the pool looked just as crowded as the river, so I figured, why pay the extra $3? I’ll just swim in the river.

(I feel like “why pay the extra $3?” is my real life philosophy, and it’s a little embarrassing.)

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The river. On the left, where you can see the concrete wall and fence, is where the pool was. 

 

 

The river was a mixture of frat boys, young families, and hippies. Amy parked herself next to a young blond guy who was sitting on the bank strumming a guitar. She pulled out a book, and began to read.

If you are wondering how I managed to change into swimming clothes, I just wore the t-shirt I’d been wearing all day, and swapped my skirt for a pair of swimming trunks. I could do this perfectly modestly, but it still felt kinda weird to change in front of people, so I went into the woods for a little privacy.

And then, emerging from the woods wearing my t-shirt and trunks, I jumped in.

Splashing around in the water on such a hot day felt amazing. I didn’t even mind all the people there, because it felt like I was getting a taste of the real Austin. The real Austin spends Saturdays in August at the river, playing with their dogs, splashing their brothers, and lounging on watermelon-colored floaties with their buddies.

After my swim, the day no longer felt too hot. It felt perfect. Perfectly perfect.

Amy found some public restrooms on Google, so we walked through the pretty park until we found them. The wind whipped through the trees in beautifully refreshing gusts.

“A storm is coming,” said Amy.

The “restrooms” were actually port-a-pots, but they still provided ample privacy, and I changed into dry clothes. Outside was a dispenser of small plastic bags, designed to carry dog poop. I took a couple, rolled my wet clothes up in them, and stuck them in my backpack.

Just as we stepped onto the bus that would take us back to the airport, a few drops of rain started falling. The drops turned to torrents. Thunder rattled the sky.

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View from the rain-soaked bus.

Looks like we’d picked the perfect time to curtail our adventures and get on the bus.

The TSA guy had to search my backpack because he was suspicious of the dog poop bags full of wet clothes, but other than that our trip home had no real hitches or glitches.

Sarah Beth, thanks for being in our lives. It was an honor to attend your wedding. I wish you God’s richest blessings in your marriage.

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Photo credit: Amy Smucker

The Weirdest Idea I’ve Ever Had?

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I mentioned in my May Life Update that I’d like to move away from Oregon. I’ve just been here a really long time, and I figure if I can make it as a writer, I can write from anywhere.

Right?

Of course, the difficulty is deciding where to move. The way a church or community looks, from the outside, can be so deceiving. There are “liberal” churches where everyone judges each other and no one goes into missions, and there are “conservative” legalistic-looking churches that are totally chill with people just being themselves. I had a terrible experience once with a church that looked much like mine, from the outside, but inside was this whole culture of “ha-ha-no-big-deal” racism. Yes, racism. 

I realized, upon reflection, that I don’t want to just pick a place and move there. I want to try out a bunch of places.

So here’s my weird idea:

What if I spend a year or so living in a different place each month?

Of course, it’s still true that I don’t know where the good communities are. Help a girl out?

I’m open to just about anywhere, although at this point I’m mostly looking at Mennonite communities in the U.S.A. I would maybe consider Canada as well. Right now, while I’m still building my career, sticking with my tribe seems like a good idea. I’ll wait to live in Thailand and England and Venice and Kenya until I’m a bit more established. 😉

So here’s where you come in. If you live in a community that you think is awesome, PLEASE send me an email at Jemilys@gmail.com, with the following information:

1. Where do you live? Tell me a bit about your community.

2. What sort of lodging would be available for a single girl who wants to stay in your community for a month? Does your aunt have a basement apartment? Are there a group of single girls living together in a house down the street from you? How much would a month’s rent be? (I’m chill with approximate guesses, for now.)

That’s it!

Thanks for your help. Maybe I’ll write a memoir about the experience or something. We’ll see 🙂

P.S. I just realized that the title is a bit misleading. I have had much weirder ideas than this. But this may be the weirdest one I’m actually going through with. This is weirder than crashing a party at a college I don’t attend, right?

May Life Update

One of these years I would like to have a calm, relaxing May. It’s probably the prettiest month of the 12, yet I spend most of it in some frantic end-of-the-school-year rush.

Last week my giant task was to get the yearbook printed. I’ll spare you the details of the 297 things that went wrong, but in case you ever have to print something large and complicated like a yearbook, let me tell you the one thing that solved 99% of my problems. CONVERT THE DOCUMENT TO PDF BEFORE PRINTING.

It took me WAY too long to figure that out.

This week I was the substitute teacher for the 8 high school students who didn’t go to the ACE International Student Convention. While I don’t usually enjoy teaching, it was nice to actually get more time to spend with the students. One thing I’ve discovered this year is that as secretary, I often end up with the loneliest jobs.

I’m trying to think if there are any stories from this week that are blog safe. Hmm. Okay, here’s one.

One afternoon, a student said something that reminded me of a story from my college days. Of course, storyteller that I am, I had to tell it. But instead of appreciating the story and moving on, they latched onto the fact that there was a male friend in the story, and proceeded to insist that I probably wished I could date him.

I gave them several logical reasons why I obviously didn’t want to date this guy, but that didn’t convince them whatsoever. So then I admitted that this particular fellow had actually asked me out, and I’d turned him down.

“What?!?” One of the students gasped. “You mean, you’re single because you turn guys down, not because no one’s ever asked you?”

“Um, Yeah, I guess…” I said.

For some reason, he was completely amazed by this. Several minutes later another student entered the classroom, and he yelled across the room at her. “Jessyca! Did you know that Miss Emily is single because she turns guys down, not because no one’s ever asked her?!?”

Oh goodness. And here I thought they saw me as a cool educated career woman/adventurer. I guess they actually see me as a lonely pathetic old maid? LOL

Yesterday was the last hard day of my job. Most of the students are done. Next week a handful of them will come back to finish up their work, and I’ll have to make sure all the paperwork and such is in order for next year, and then I’ll be done for good.

So what are you doing next year, Miss Emily?

Next year I want to try and make it as a freelance writer. So no, I’m not coming back to Brownsville Mennonite School. In fact, I will probably move away from Oregon altogether. I’m getting itchy feet, and I’ve been here way too long already.

I’m not sure where I’ll move to. I can write from anywhere.

But on the note of freelance writing, if you have writing or editing projects you want done, feel free to contact me at Jemilys@gmail.com

The Way We Live Now

Every February the ladies at my church have a ladies retreat, and then a week or two later the youth at my church have a youth retreat, and I have to decide whether to go to one or the other or both.

It’s always at the coast. I don’t know what people do who don’t have a coast to go to. There’s a rented house, sometimes the one you used last year and sometimes a new one. And when it gets too small and loud you can slip away, barefoot in the cold, down the cliff on rickety wooden steps, to where the ocean waits; your friend.

This is the way we live now.

One week it’s all birth stories, and dark tales of the spiritual abuse from their past. Awful stories of evil, power hungry bishops who tried to control their weddings. Their weddings! I was so confused. What business was it of the Bishop’s? It wasn’t his wedding. You don’t understand, they tell me. You didn’t grow up like that.

Then, two weeks later, it’s a buzz of matchless energy and hormones, only I can never keep track of who is flirting with who because I’m over here chatting with the youth sponsors. We were all friends in high school, the youth sponsors and I. We’d go on the youth coast trip together, and back then I know who the flirty ones were. It was them, but only in the most subtle ways. Now they’re married.

I’ve barely arrived before I find myself driving down to Thor’s Well with Justin and Ben, the youth sponsor and my brother, respectively. We stand in the sideways rain and marvel at the natural wonders of the world, and talk about careers. I get soaked to the skin. I only have one set of clothes, because I’m not staying overnight, because I am no longer a teenager, and staying up is no longer a privilege; sleep is a privilege.

Back at the rental house, I borrow a change of clothes from Jenny and browse the bookshelves for a book to read. A thin, yellow paperback catches my eye: Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, an Introduction. The only J.D. Salinger I ever read was Catcher in the Rye, which I deemed OK-ish. But I heard that he wrote stories about a family of geniuses called the Glass family, and I wondered if this was one of those books.

It was.

I was completely enchanted.

But then, I thought, about the time I’d reached page 3, the point of spending time with the youth is to spend time with the youth. Which you are not doing.

I looked at my enchanting book and my cup of tea and the sideways rain outside the window and sighed.

But books like these can be found at thrift stores and read, later, in the comfort of my own home. Time with these people is a precious commodity. And I genuinely like them. All of them. The ones who have found themselves and the ones who haven’t. The ones whose bishops ruined their weddings and the ones who subtly don the baseball cap of the boy they like and it becomes a BIG DEAL.

This is the way we live now; sometimes a naïve woman who has never suffered abuse or birthed a baby, sometimes a world-weary youth who goes to bed too early and talks about careers. But always someone who cares about being part of your world, even if I don’t slot into it quite as neatly as everyone else does.

Island Lake

The Oregon summer is like a magical rope that slowly pulls people west: the harvest workers, my dear cousin Stephy, Janessa-of-tiny-houses-and-life-advice-fame, and most recently, the delightful shining light that is Sarah Beth.

Of course, being the shining light that she is, she has about 75 people that want to hang out with her every time she comes to Oregon. So when I said, “do you want to go camping with me on Tuesday?” and she said “yes,” I was elated.

Then she added, “Ashlie is getting off work and coming up for a few days, can she come too?” Then I was double elated. Ashlie and I went on all sorts of adventures last summer and fall when we were roommates, but now that she lives down south in Roseburg we see each other much less frequently.

The camping trip was inspired by the fact that my family recently bought a minivan.

“Are your parents having more kids?” my cousin Randy joked to me after seeing it in our driveway and wondering what was up.

I laughed. “No, our old full-sized van died, and mom wanted something she could haul furniture to Goodwill in.”

Every cousin in hearing thought this was hilariously funny. “Your mom really needs to haul furniture to Goodwill that often?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t realize how strange it sounded until I repeated it, but I am certain I have heard my mom, on various occasions, say that she wants to keep a van around in case she needs to haul furniture to Goodwill. I have never heard her give any other reason.

On the other hand, I hoped we’d get a minivan so that I could borrow it to road trip or camp, sleeping in the back instead of the much less secure and much less comfortable tent.

And so it was that on Tuesday, Ashlie, Sarah Beth and I took our new red minivan on its first adventurous outing. We drove through the Cascades and down rocky pot-holed roads to Island Lake, a tiny hidden gem I only know about because my friend Esta discovered it last year and a group of us camped there.

Island lake has various charms that make it one of my very favorite places. First, it’s tiny and hidden, and on a weekday it’s almost deserted. Second, it’s situated in a charming and eerie burnt-out forest, and through the tall dead tree remains you can see beautiful views of the mountains. The island is just the right size to swim or boat to, to bask on, perhaps to build a campfire on or sit and read for a while on if you’ve brought a boat to transport things like books and firewood.

But best of all, the water is warm and deep. Yes. A place in Oregon that has warm water for swimming.

And that is the first thing we did when we arrived on Tuesday, though the sun was lowering in the sky.


Then we changed out of our swimwear, ornamenting the little baby Christmas trees around our campsite with our dripping garments.


Camping in a van is so low-key compared to the car-and-tent version. You can toss everything in the back without running out of space, and there is no tent to set up.


We were surprisingly tired after our swim, and went to bed early. This was my view out of the back of the van. I thought it looked a little like the shape of Oregon.

When I woke up in the morning, I saw Ashlie sitting outside on the van seat we’d removed in order to lay our our mattress. I thought it looked quirky and delightful so I took a picture, but I guess it my just-woken-up state I put a few of my fingers over the lens.

It’s hard to give a decent recap of the trip, because we mostly slept and ate and swam and read books.

And made a flower crown or two.


But then, what could be more delightful than swimming and reading books and making flower crowns with two of your very best friends?

The Great Switch

Two things I desire with a ferocity that nearly overwhelms me:

  1. To create
  2. To live an interesting life

I know “interesting” means different things to different people, but to me it means new places, new ideas, new interactions. Traveling, reading, exploring, learning.

College was a constant parade of interesting ideas. There was always a robotics club to join, or a new classmate to tell you all about her childhood in civil-rights-era Mississippi, or a free lecture on underwater archaeology. But I never had time to create anything of significance.

This period of my life is the great switch. When I have to put up with a less interesting life in order to have time (and money) to create.


I had tea with my friend Janessa the other day, desperate to glean some of her wisdom. She manages, somehow, to both create and live an interesting life, traveling the world in her tiny home on wheels. We ended up commiserating on our struggles with self-motivation, and I did a lot of verbally sorting through my feelings, trying to figure out what I really want out of life, which she patiently listened to.

“I’m terrified of living a boring life,” I told her. And she laughed, because it was a little funny.

But also, true. Because to create something, not just to write but to create a finished product, requires a healthy dose of mundanity. It takes boring days of staying at home and working on the thing. It means not just starting the new stories and dropping them when they’re no longer fun, but working on them. Finishing. Editing. Working hard.

I once read a fascinating article about how it doesn’t matter so much what you want in life, it matters what you’re willing to give up to get what you want.

For a long time, I was willing to give up nearly everything in order to get my college degree. One of the things I gave up was writing another book. I just didn’t have the time. I was, in essence, giving up my desire to create in order to further my desire to live an interesting life.

Now, I think I have to be okay with living a life that’s less interesting, in order to have time to buckle down and create things.