Four long years ago my husband and I spent our honeymoon in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania (I know, I know, why is everyone honeymooning in Jim Thorpe these days? NOTE: SARCASM. You’ve never heard of this town). Our honeymoon goals were simple: go somewhere chilly, relax in our bathrobes by a crackling fire, and watch Christmas movies. We ultimately selected our destination due to lack of finances, met by very poor advice from a local newspaper article celebrating small towns in America. The article called Jim Thorpe “The Switzerland of America.”

All the mojo of Europe but without the bill? BINGO!

IMG_0541The town, formerly known as Mauch Chunk, was renamed in 1953 for the Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe. His third wife, Patricia, struck a deal with the town’s tourism bureau. I should note that Jim Thorpe was from Oklahoma and, as far as I can tell, never went anywhere near Mauch Chunk in his lifetime. You might wonder, assuming that most people spend their honeymoon in a state of luxurious tropical bliss, how I came to know all of these intimate (some might say insignificant) details about the town. The answer is, and this might surprise you, Jim Thorpe fell a bit short on the luxury and bliss scale.

We arrived on a Sunday and the closing day of the town’s Fall Festival extravaganza, which meant a troubadour and roasted nuts vendor occupied approximately every street corner. It was perfect. We parked the car and immediately headed to the Visitor’s Center, eager to learn about our options for the week. A homely teenager behind the desk informed us that everything in the town (which wasn’t much to begin with) shut down Monday through Friday. Again, it was Sunday at the time. We had a half an hour to cram in what we could.

Half an hour later, after relishing the final moments of Jim Thorpe in all its glory, we checked in at the local Inn where we immediately realized we’d been scammed by a web photographer with a PhD in Photoshop & Bullshit. The place was under construction, smelled of sweat and Cheetos, and the fireplace in our room was out of order. Unacceptable. This was our honeymoon, Jim Thorpe – get with the program!

We looked for residence elsewhere, eventually setting up camp in an apartment above what can best be described as a clothing shop for middle-aged female teachers who consider themselves the creative type. The décor of the apartment followed two central motifs:

  1. Tiny vertiginous pink floral patterns
  2. Kitten figurines

This place did, if you use your imagination, have a fireplace. There was a mantle. There was a hearth. The thing emitted heat and glowed orange. But in the place of actual fire were triangular pieces of yellow and magenta fabric that fluttered when turned on.

Come Monday morning, the kid at the Visitor’s Center was proved right. The town looked like an abandoned movie set. One can only sleep and do “married person things” for so long. So we rode a train up the Lehigh River Gorge and sprung for first class tickets – this bought us a junior bag of potato chips and a seat on a couch that looked to have been extracted from a murder house. We toured some old mansion and went into any open shop we could find.

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There was no five-star spa in Jim Thorpe; there were, however, an abundance of handmade soap merchants. There was no “magic” in Jim Thorpe; although there did seem to be a sizeable Wiccan population. Jim Thorpe was not (as the newspaper suggested) “hauntingly beautiful”; we were, however, offered a private tour of the town’s haunted jail. The “luxury” ended with a Jacuzzi bathtub in our apartment. And we only found “bliss” by way of the world’s most delicious bowl of bacon mac-n-cheese.

When it came to our expectations of a honeymoon, Jim Thorpe did not deliver. We laughed and we fantasized about where we’d go on our first anniversary to make up for this circus of a trip – because we’d obviously be very rich by then.

Culturally, we use the term “honeymoon period” referencing the time in a relationship or job when things are red-hot good before they inevitably get real or real bad.

I had to wonder, if our five eccentric days in Jim Thorpe were the honeymoon period, what the hell would real life together look like? Well, I’ll tell you. Four days after we returned from Pennsylvania, I was fired from my job. And then several weeks after that, I discovered I was accidentally pregnant.

Suggested New Jim Thorpe Slogan: Where Babies Get Made, Monday through Friday.

Our first anniversary was not spent sunbathing in Bali, but rather elbow-deep in newborn poo between two-hour sleep-stents. Go figure.

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CUT TO: Four years after Jim Thorpe, we finally planned the trip we’d been owed after these several years of personal and parental sacrifice…ITALY. My husband called it our “honeymoon mulligan.” We pulled out all the stops we could afford. There would be spas, magic flowing outta your yin-yang, and luxury and bliss donning designer pumps.

It would be perfect. IT HAD TO BE.

In many sweet and wonderful ways, Italy was the trip of a lifetime. But it wasn’t perfect by a long shot [See this Instagram post].

On our way to dinner one night in Positano, we walked amidst a heard of people upon what looked to be someone receiving medical attention. In fact, it was the corpse of a man who had just died on the town’s main pedestrian street. It totally shook me up. As the hubs and I ate pizza by the beach in silence, I couldn’t stop wondering what had happened, or thinking of those who would miss this man. A stinging darkness pricked at my chest. Then, in a matter of minutes, right at the peak of my melancholy, at least seven babies appeared all around us. It probably sounds strange, but it was such a rare moment of joy to be suddenly and totally surrounded by new life, and for a time it overshadowed the blessed life gone heavenward. It was one of the most magical things that happened on this luxurious and blissful vacation.

Many hours later, we walked back up the same pedestrian street (there’s really only one way up and down) and the man’s body was still there, shrouded in a white sheet. We passed his wife as she rounded the corner, carried by loved ones to see her husband one last time. I’ll never forget her expression as it changed from figurative grief to realized grief. I suddenly missed my children, and getting to be their mother, very much.

The event spawned a big realization – one I usually remember every five months or so. Each time, it’s right there, waving its hands at me like a stranded commuter:

Life is hard (in Italy and in Jim Thorpe). And God is good.

Both of these things are true at the same time. We have been promised adversity in this world, but we’ve also been promised a divine love that far transcends our small imaginations, a love immune to our many faults and failures and human expectations.

These certainties in life – hardship and love – are also the ingredients of any great adventure.

Jim Thorpes Body

While neither of our honeymoons played out exactly how I had imagined (think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday), they make two wild and hilarious chapters in my real life adventure. The big picture story has high highs and very low lows and many long hours in between of watching HGTV. On our first honeymoon, God taught us to embrace and find joy in the unexpected. He knew there would be much more to come–and needless to say, we’re still learning.

Going into our second honeymoon, I thought I wanted a break from all the everyday unexpected’s. I wanted to be in control, for everything to go as planned [cue the doves]. Instead, I found myself utterly grateful for my big picture story – for the dirty diapers, the murder couches, for babies and the troubadours. Because, against all odds, laughing in poverty in front of a faux fireplace is better for the skin and the soul than a five-star facial in Bali.