Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MOP April 22--A Drama About Shopping

  Once upon a time I took a son shopping.  Afterwards, I wrote this.
I think enough years have passed that it's safe to share the story.

  Shopping: A One-Act Play

    Cast of Characters:
    Mom: short, determined Mennonite lady with purse and clipboard
    Son: tall young man with cool green sweatshirt and slow, rangy walk
    Man: 50-ish shopper
    Lady: his wife
    Door: entrance to fitting room
    Alarm: laser-activated device in fitting room

    Setting: Sears store in Gateway Mall.  Canyon River Blues jeans are on sale for $9.99

    Son: How long are we going to be here?
    Mom: As long as it takes. And you are going to have a nice, cheerful, cooperative attitude. And I am going to be sweet and patient. And we are going to find what we need and be nice to each other.

    [Mom and Son dig through piles of jeans looking for the elusive 30/32 Relaxed Fits.  Finally Mom sets a stack of jeans in Son's arms.]
    Son: Do I have to try these on?
    Mom: Yes.  Oh, but first, let's see if there's any t-shirts on the clearance rack.
    Son: [Sigh]
    [Mom marches to clearance rack.  Son follows her, shuffling his feet.]

    [Mom clicks hangers determinedly while Son waits.]

    [Meanwhile, Man leans against next rack looking bored.  Lady determinedly clicks hangers]

    Mom: Ok, hold these.  Now, where's a fitting room?
    [They start to walk away.]
    Man to Son: Get used to it.  It doesn't change any after you're married.
    Mom to Man: Please tell him it won't kill him.
    Man to Son: Actually, yes, it will.

    [Mom and Son find fitting room in back of store next to hundreds of male undergarments on display racks.  Door is open.  No one is around.]

    Mom: Ok, try these on one by one and show them to me.
    Son: Oh great.
    Mom: Go on.
    Alarm: DWEE dee.
    Son: Gaaaaah! What did I do?
    Mom: Don't worry about it.
    Door closes.
    Alarm: DWEE dee.
    Door opens.
    Son: Are you sure this is ok?
    Mom: Yes.
    Door closes.
    Alarm: DWEE dee.
    Door opens.
    Son: Am I gonna get in trouble?
    Mom: No! If anyone comes, I'll explain.
    Door closes.  One minute passes.
    Alarm: DWEE dee.
    Door opens.

    [Son tries on garments, one by one.  Mom waits among the Jockeys.  Alarm continues to sound.  One by one Son and Mom decide on keepers.  Mom calls home and tells husband to make sure Daughter practices piano.]

    [Son finally finishes and comes out.]
    Alarm: DWEE dee.

    [Mom gathers things.  Son looks at display racks.]

    Son: Mike* mumble mumble.
    Mom: Did you say Mike needs underwear?
    Son: MOM!!
    [Son turns 360 degrees to see if anyone was within earshot of such blasphemy.]
    Mom, in hushed tones: Do you need some?
    Son: Yes.
    Mom: $26!!  Mercy me, I'm not getting these.

    [Mom and Son walk to shoe department.  Son holds garments as though they were soiled diapers while Mom tries on shoes.  Finally they buy everything and leave.]

    In car:
    Son: So, are you going to buy me something to eat?
    Mom:  Why?
    Son: Because I had to wait for you for a long time while you tried on shoes, I think I deserve something.
    Mom: Do you realize how much I just spent on clothes for you?!!
    Son mumbles and sighs.

    Son: Can we go to Walmart and get, you know. . .??
    Mom: We don't have time.  That's something I can pick up for you some other time if you tell me what you want.  You like the leggy things, right?
    Son [writhing in embarrassment]: It's hard to explain!
    [Mom has sudden inspiration for how she can be compensated for all the evening's frustrations]
    Mom, thoughtfully: You know, I bet if I tried I could sew some for you.
    Son: [terrible strangled gasp and shriek]
    Mom: hee hee hee

*a pseudonym

Thursday, April 16, 2015

MOP April 16--Fire Starter Tutorial

[Reminder: April is our Month of Posting.  You can read Emily's posts at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots and Jenny's at Dreaming of Dragonflies.]

Years ago, when we lived in the Cold North and relied on a wood stove to keep us alive, little Matthew once asked something profound like, "Why is it that the fire starts for the dad but not for the mom?"

He had good reason for asking.  I had a hard enough time resurrecting a fire that had burned too low, but starting one from scratch required clouds of wadded newspapers, multiple matches, even more prayers, soot on my forehead, and many Lamaze-type puffs on the reluctant flame.

Paul of course had that Man Magic that also made the car start the first time and that drove it right to the top of the icy hill without spinning out.

Yes.  Well.

If only I would have known about Fire Starters back then.  Granted, I couldn't have made them with dryer lint in the years we didn't have a dryer, but I'm guessing shredded paper or cotton rags would have worked as well.

These little lovelies work.  They ignite with one match, even when it's windy.  Then they burn, igniting all the kindling and bark and eventually the big chunks of driftwood that you've piled carefully around them.

This is how you make them.

1. Save your dryer lint for a while.  I had an ice cream bucket pressed down, shaken together, and running over for this batch, and it was way too much.

2. Gather up:
the dryer lint
old newspapers
cardboard egg cartons
disposable rubber gloves
a skewer for stirring
a tin can
a small pan of water
old candles and stubs

A word on the old candles: Last year I found some pretty egg-shaped candles at a garage sale.  I put them in the attic in my box of Easter decorations.

We had a long hot summer.

I got out the Easter decorations right before Easter this year, and behold, the beautiful candles.

3. To melt the wax, put some chunks of wax in the tin can.  Put the tin can in the pan of water.  Heat the water on the stove.

DO NOT EVER heat the can directly on the burner.  At a critical point the wax will erupt in flames.

We pause here for Story Time with Aunt Dorcas:

I once bought a large bag of old candles at a church rummage sale.  An older lady asked me what I plan to do with them.  I said they're for an art project for my husband's students.
She got a look on her face that spoke of terrible memories.  "Please please don't let them heat the container of wax directly on the stove," she said.  "When I was about ten, my mother was making jelly and back them we would put melted paraffin on the jar to seal it.  We had the pan of wax on the wood cookstove and I was supposed to watch it.  Then I needed to get something in the pantry, and we would save our newspapers in a stack in the pantry, and when I walked by, the comics were on top, so I stopped to read them and lost track of time.  Suddenly I remembered the wax.  Just as I came back to the kitchen the wax exploded and the flames shot up to the ceiling.  I was frozen to the spot.  I couldn't move.  Someone grabbed me and pulled me outside, and in minutes the house went up in flames.  My eyebrows were singed but I was alive.  But we lost everything.  So PLEASE be careful."

I promised I would, and now I've warned you too.

4. Stir the wax now and then with the skewer.  I don't know if this hurries it up or not, but some of us like to poke around in soft wax.

5. When the wax is melted, turn the burner off and pull on the rubber gloves.
A picture, in case you don't know how to put on rubber gloves.

6. Take a big handful of lint and put it on the newspaper.

7. Pour on a circle of wax.  Glop it around with your hands.  Repeat until you can pick up a wad of it and it mostly holds together.  It doesn't have to be saturated.

8. Press an egg-size glob into each cup of the egg carton.

 9. Cut or tear the egg carton apart.  Keep the individual fire starters in a Ziploc bag with your camping supplies. Use one little cup to start your fire.

You will love these.

I was going to demonstrate with a lit match, etc. but it's hard to do this safely while taking the picture yourself.

When we go camping now, Paul uses these things all the time.  Which means they're even better than Man Magic.
At Bible Memory Camp last fall.  Paul builds the breakfast fire while Tanner watches.
Just make sure you pack matches too.  We will refrain from telling that story those stories, but when I am an old woman I will also have my share of cautionary tales to tell.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Letter from Harrisburg--On Passing On the Faith

Warm flame of faith starts with the smallest spark

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
APRIL 12, 2015

Let’s pray for my cat,” Sophie said one Sunday in a worried little voice. “She’s going to have kittens soon and I’m afraid she’s going to have them in the woods where I can’t find them and it’ll be raining and stuff.”

I added to my list on the back of the church bulletin — “Sophie-cat-kittens-woods-rain?”

“But you do know,” I said, “that God made cat moms to be smart about finding a warm, dry spot to have their babies, right?”

Yes, she knew that. But she still looked worried. What good was a cat mom’s warm spot if Sophie couldn’t find it? So we prayed about it.

We also prayed that Logan’s cow would soon have her calf and it would all go OK. And for McKenzie’s smashed finger and Weston’s smashed toe, and for Annika’s sick dad, and Abby’s grandma with the bad heart, and also for Annika’s family, needing a house to move into soon.

I agreed to teach this Sunday school class because I love this age, and after a year of teaching adult women, I needed something less intense, requiring less study.

It was a different kind of intensity, I found out. Ten-year-old boys have an astonishing ability to both talk and move, all the time. Every subject requires a clever comment, usually involving hunting. Or hitting.

For some reason, the girls are quieter, except for whispered comments that I’m not supposed to hear.

While I could sometimes fill the time with stories, I found I couldn’t get by with studying less. Ten-year-olds pounce if you don’t know what you’re talking about, like the time I tried to explain the lineage of the Old Testament royalty by assigning identities — lining up Ahab and Jezebel the wicked king and queen, then Ahaziah their son, Athaliah the super-wicked woman who usurped the throne, and Joash the child snatched to safety by his aunt Jehosheba.

Soon I was so confused that the kids had to align the family tree themselves.

We study a series of booklets called quarterlies with lessons designed to take the students through the entire Bible in about five years’ time.

This means I teach not only the happy, easy stories of creation, David and Goliath, Jesus’ birth, and feeding the 5,000, but also stories of obscure kings, bloody battles, and judgment for sin, all in King James version.

I try not to think too much of the heavy responsibility of passing on the faith. It seems an impossible job for a 50-something minister’s wife with a long and sometimes anguished journey imparting the truth, like a sandwich in a paper sack, to squirrely 10-year-olds.

Can I really give them something that will guide them through their future moral dilemmas, inevitable griefs and crises of conscience? That will comfort in sorrow and turn them toward wisdom and away from foolishness? That will make them a benefit and blessing to the world they’ll be part of?

I’d like to teach the Mennonite particulars as well, which are obviously needed, based on the emphasis on solving problems by punching someone.

And all in a half-hour on a Sunday morning.

Of course it’s impossible. But somehow it happened with me growing up; the adults in my life contributing a story here, a prayer, an unexpected kindness, and one day I was grown up with not only a vague faith in God’s existence, but a living flame that filled and illuminated all of life.

“With man this is impossible,” Jesus once said. “But with God all things are possible.”

So I tell stories, move the most talkative kid to the seat beside me, jot down the prayer requests, hope for a miracle, and distill the lesson into one basic thought that applies to them, for real, right now.

“God is with you, all the time.”

“Always tell the truth.”

“Suffering is better than sinning.”

“Do the right thing, even if you’re afraid.”

They lose their place in the Scripture passage, ask for another story from when I was little, dig in purses for Chapstick, and elbow the next kid because they need his pen.

I keep on.

I also laugh a lot, such as the other Sunday, when Tyler was reading from Second Kings about the prophet Elijah.

“He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his lions.”

“Loins,” I corrected.

“Oh,” said Tyler, and added, “I wondered.”

And last year, when one of the boys was reading aloud about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. “Shall a man enter the second time into” — he stopped suddenly. “ ‘his mother’s WOMB? And be BORN?’ Is this rated R?”

I dissolved in laughter and reached for a pen.

The boy’s neighbor nudged him. “She’s writing it down.”

You bet I was.

Logan’s cow had a beautiful all-black Holstein calf. The toe and finger are healing. Annika’s family is still looking for a house to rent. The grandma is going in for tests on her heart. Sophie is still worried about her cat.

How strange is God’s Kingdom, where an old-fashioned mom with bifocals talking about ancient prophets and praying for that young girl’s still-pregnant cat just might be a little part of the miraculous spark that slowly grows into a flame of faith, warm and glowing and alive.

Friday, April 10, 2015

MOP Day 8: 8 Foolproof Steps for Raising Perfect Children

Just kidding about the title.

So Emily and Jenny and I decided to do this Month of Posting experiment to motivate ourselves to post more.

To our surprise, my posts about conscience and respecting beliefs got shared a couple dozen times on Facebook, and then Jenny's hastily-slapped-together post featuring her Mennonite Disney outfits went crazy overnight, hit-wise, and suddenly there was a new scent in the wind, a whiff of competitive fever.

And it was my turn to post today before the day was done.

Knowing how we all click on how-to's, and on parenting articles, and on numbered steps, well, there you are.  A shameless gimmick, sorry. But maybe you might actually find it helpful, who knows?

I have a bunch of amazing children.  If you read my posts and column at all, you know that. Or, at least, you know that that's what I think. In my Amish background we didn't get praised much for fear we'd be proud.  You know how ex-Amish ladies sometimes go a bit crazy with colors and prints and belts and earrings and heels and glammy purses, all in one outfit, because they can, at last, and between you and me it kind of looks like a rummage sale exploded?  Well, I can now brag about my kids without being accused of sinful pride.  If people hear me talk and think about verbal rummage sales exploding--or sinful pride--that is not for me to worry about.

My children are no longer little children, of course.  They're young adults out there learning and making friends and doing wild creative things.  They are clever and responsible and oh so witty.  They pay their bills and cook and brush their teeth every day and do not hit people and I think they apologize without being told to.

It is astonishing.

None of my children are in prison!  I think that is just so wonderful, because back in the day I would lie in bed and cry because I was sure that one in particular, and maybe all of them, would end up there.  And if they weren't in prison they might all be lawyers, the way they could argue, and I wasn't sure which was worse.

I don't have a clue how we did this.  As Paul says, "I'm not sure it was anything we did." Honestly, sometimes I was so sick with the next pregnancy that I couldn't mother to save my life.  Sometimes I was depressed and hormonal and I got angry and I made them cry.  I was stressed a lot. We didn't have much money so they did without a lot. I have so many regrets.

Other parents around us were just so exhaustingly INTENTIONAL.  They read Shepherding a Child's Heart and scheduled the baby's feedings and used the Only Right Way homeschool curriculum and knew why they did what they did.  We kind of groped our way through, befuddled and overwhelmed, and whatever we figured out for one child seldom worked for the next one.

But our kids turned out fine, so far.  Here are my best guesses how this happened, bearing in mind that this is one of the Great Mysteries and I really don't know.

Oh--and if your children are in prison, I don't know why and I'll bet you don't either and you have my sympathy.  It is terrifying how children make decisions for themselves, and young parents want Guarantees and Lifetime Warranties.

Well, sorry, ain't gonna happen.  They are people, not L.L.Bean boots.

But anyway, here we are, and these are a few things we did, and you can take this as 8 simple steps, if you want.

1. I chose a good man to be their dad.  And by good, I mean he was steady and responsible and he was faithful to me and he worked hard.  That is the minimum.  He was a lot more of course, but he was never one to say the deep spiritual feely things or do the fun pranks that the cool Focus on the Family dads did, but believe me when I say that steady and unselfish and responsible WINS THE PRIZE.  My children never questioned his love for me or them.  He was and is a solid rock of security in their lives.

2. We read to the children.  Paul read bedtime stories to them for YEARS.  I read a lot to them otherwise, especially before they could read for themselves.  I admit that sometimes I got so sick and tired of their favorite books that I thought I would rake my fingernails down my forehead and scream.  I recall that Big Bird Follows the Signs got quietly dropped behind the couch when I couldn't take it any more.  But hey, it all worked out, and it was great incentive for me to teach them to read.  At a very young age.

3. We were the mom and dad.  The mom and dad are the ones who are in charge and make decisions and pay the bills. They decide when the kids are old enough for their own decisions.  They expect the children to do the right thing.  They don't endlessly bribe and negotiate about going to bed or jumping or not jumping on Grandma's couch or eating marbles.

4.  We made them work.  They washed dishes, packed their own school lunches, folded towels, mowed the yard, and peeled potatoes.  I sometimes (often) felt guilty about how scattered and inefficient I was, and how much I needed their help, when all the cool efficient moms did everything themselves while their lucky daughters played with American Girl dolls in the bedroom.  Well.  In recent years I've started hearing comments about how my kids, especially the boys, [since people don't expect this from boys] are so capable with housework.  So I saw God's redemptive plan there.  And Matt, who reaps praise for his work ethic in the Navy, credits me with teaching him to come back and say, "What shall I do next?"

5. We let them ask questions.  Oh my word, the discussions they had.  Like I said, I used to think that if they didn't end up in prison, the whole lot of them would be lawyers.  I often let Paul take over the conversation because I found it so intimidating.  And sometimes their friends couldn't BELIEVE we let them openly question church and Biblical and parental doctrine.  But believe me when I say you want to send young people into the world who have thought through what they believe and can defend it.

6. We let them know we loved them.  My family wasn't much for affection [see above about Amish and pride] so I went through my childhood always wondering if I was really loved.  My children never seemed to need as much assurance as I gave them-- "YES, Mom, I KNOW."  But at least I knew they knew and it made me feel good.

Amy always had an unusual way of looking at the world.
7. We let them figure out their own entertainment.  And we found that if you make children work, their minds will be humming the whole time about what they want to do when these chores are done.  And as soon as they're done, WHOOSH, off they go to build a rope swing into the weeping willow or catch tadpoles in the ditch or set up a Little People village.  We didn't have play dates or fun excursions or all these things young moms plan for their kids that I find completely exhausting to even think about.

Here Emily and Ben are being divers.  Yes. Divers. This phase lasted surprisingly long.
8. I stressed out about things like belittling each other and kicking the dog and getting pneumonia and too much anger.  There is a very long list of things we did not stress out about.  It was ok for them to be at home a lot and have a kind of boring life and be a little bit weird and to wear mismatched clothes and to be slow to walk or read or go potty. Does this sound like we didn't stress out much?  I stressed out about dumb random stuff like the phase where Amy compared me to all her friends' moms--as I recall I was supposed to wear corsage pins in my head covering like Aunt Bonnie did and be organized like Rita.  Paul never stressed about anything.

And there you have it.

Actually, I could think of at least that many things you absolutely should not do, ever, and I still wilt with regret at the thought of some of them.  Dear me.  We should have asked for help.  We had a lot of issues.

And yet, there they are, six young adults, loving and clever and successful, all of them, and they talk to me and indulge my foolish whims and we laugh a lot and God's mercy just overwhelms me.

It's going to be ok, you young parents.  Just chill, ok? And love them.  You have what it takes, and so do they.  If you worry about anything, worry about the fact that just as you are becoming shockingly like your mom already and this will reach alarming levels after age 40, your children are most likely going to turn 40 and be JUST LIKE YOU!!

Quote of the Day:
Me: I need ideas for my column.  I want to write about praying for Sophie's cat but I don't know where to go with it.
Emily: Well, "Animals are people too," might go over well.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

P.S. On Conscience and Respect

Just a few more thoughts--

While the "cake for a gay wedding" example is the #1 example that comes up (usually immediately, and with strong feelings), in the conscience/service question, I avoided addressing it specifically because I think this issue is bound to bite all of us in a lot of ways we haven't begun to think of.

I wanted us to think a little more creatively.  None of us want our state or nation to make laws based on a single narrative.

Also, Christian people differ widely in how they'd handle the cake situation, from "don't make a cake" to "make it and bless them" to "make it for free so I'm not profiting financially" to "make two cakes like going the 2nd mile."

But a lot of the frustration that religious people feel is directed at the cake question because it's such a graphic example of what could happen to any of us: a situation where we have two options--go against our principles or lose our business.

And we think surely, surely, we as a society could come up with other solutions.

Also--and somehow religious people of every sort just GET this and so many non-religious people do not--we can't just instantly change what we believe and solve everything that way.  Like this: "Oh DUH, your Facebook comment is so convincing--of COURSE discriminating of any kind is worse than supplying a brewery! How could I be so stupid?"

On the surface, as someone pointed out to me--discrimination is discrimination.  We discriminated against Rogue Ale.  We need to take the consequences if it happens again.

True enough.

So the only thing that will save us from another barley-processing situation is GRACE, the kind of grace that Rogue demonstrated, the grace that comes if the person ordering the barley (or the cake) chooses to be kind and understanding and accommodating instead of insistent and confrontational.

You can't legislate grace.  It has to be given voluntarily.

And as a religious business owner, you can't demand it, either.  You can only appeal and hope.

You can't legislate that attitude, either.

And how do you legislate, "You can turn a customer away for religious reasons but only if it's a true conviction in your heart and you're not just being nasty."?

Because the fear is that anyone can be turned away, for any reason, and we're back to white-only lunch counters.

So while it would be nice to have a legal safeguard for a business like ours, the thing we really need is a social movement where people are willing to understand, give, sacrifice, respect, and cooperate.

And where wishes and impulses and feelings and convenience are mature enough to give grace and respect and honor to deep religious conviction and tradition.

Or, in short, where religious beliefs are allowed to trump hurt feelings, and we can all tell the difference.

Like I said, you can't legislate that.

While a law to protect us would be really nice, what we can do now is begin in our own hearts and in our own churches, to respect those of a different opinion, and to refrain from eating meat if it damages the non-meat-eating brother's conscience.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

MOP Day 4--On Laws, Conscience, and Respect

Normally, I don’t touch politics or controversial subjects.

However, a current debate kind of affects our lives.

So between the Hobby Lobby case in the Supreme Court, Indiana’s Religious Freedom law, and the case of the bakery in Gresham that went out of business after their refusal to make a cake for a lesbian wedding, a few basic questions emerge.  Particularly: can a business have a conscience?  Can the owner’s conscience affect the work the business accepts or refuses, or the things it supports?  What if there's a conflict between one person's wishes and the other's beliefs?

Which brings us to a certain grass-seed warehouse and Rogue Ale.

Paul bought our warehouse from his dad who had taken over from his dad.  Dozens of  sons and nephews have worked there; countless tons of seed have been cleaned, bagged, and shipped.

Yes, it’s a business.  It’s also a big part of the family’s lifestyle and history.

Some time ago Paul started taking on custom projects.  He became certified to work with organic grains and feed.  He has since cleaned oats, cracked corn for chickens, processed rice bran, and much more.

A few months ago, Paul told me he has a moral dilemma.  Someone had called him from a company called “Rogue,” or something like that, wondering if he could process some barley.  He said yes.  The truckload of barley arrived.

Now Paul, not being an imbibing man, for personal and religious reasons, didn’t recognize the Rogue name for what it was, as many Oregonians including his wife would have, even though she doesn’t imbibe either, and he was disturbed to find out that they make beer, and this was the barley’s intended purpose.

What, he asked me, should he do?  He could not in good conscience supply a company that made alcohol, but he had already told them he would do this load of barley.

I felt that the greater evil would be to not keep his word.  He agreed.  So he explained to the Rogue representative that he hadn’t been aware of their company and he was willing to process this load, but he had religious reasons for not wanting to do more after this.

Things could have turned one of several ways just then.

Rogue Ale would have had every legal right, at this point, to insist that we continue to offer them this service.  They needed to have barley processed. We had the time, the machinery, the proximity, the workers, and the storage capacity.  We had a business that served the public.  

Our only reason for saying no was a religious preference.

They could have threatened, harassed, and made a public outcry.  They could have given us a bad name in the grain-and-feed community.  I’m not sure what the laws are in Oregon, but I suppose they could have pressed charges of discrimination and maybe even have sued and put us out of business.

And really, would you have blamed them for being upset and taking legal action?

We would, I hope, have followed the New Testament teaching to suffer loss rather than retaliate or take legal action in return.

They also could have called us plenty of adjectives such as fanatical, behind-the-times, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And again, they would have had good reason to lob a few of those labels at us.

They didn’t do any of that.

Instead, they were unbelievably kind, understanding, and gracious.

They thanked us profusely for helping them out of a pinch with that first truckload, and they assured us that while they would love to continue to work with us, they had no desire to violate our conscience and they would take their barley elsewhere in the future.

They did not try to change our minds.  Or our business, or beliefs, or behavior.      

We deeply appreciated their response, and in return we made no attempt to change their business and its purposes.

I had to wonder if the Rogue folks were raised by the same standards we were, especially that deeply ingrained conviction that you must always go to great lengths to honor people’s religious beliefs, even if it inconveniences you and maybe even costs you time and money, and even if your beliefs differ vastly from theirs.  And even if you think their beliefs are wrong and you’d love to change them.

That’s why I wore a scarf and balto (long black robe) in the Middle East, so I wouldn’t be offensive to Muslims, and why I made sure the Seventh-Day Adventists had meatless options when they came for dinner, and why my Mom wore her Old Order shawl and bonnet to Amish funerals, and why my non-Mennonite sisters-in-law always wore long skirts at Mom and Dad’s house, and why Great-Aunt Ketty used chicken fat and not lard to make pies for the Jewish family in Portland, years ago, and why I’ve refrained from taking what could have been phenomenal pictures of Amish relatives, even though it pained me to let the opportunities pass, and why I am careful to be proper and respectful during Muslim or Catholic prayers and services even though they might make me uncomfortable.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this consideration as well, such as when my employer let me have Sundays off because we believe in keeping it holy, and he also let me wear my head covering even though it didn’t fit very well with the restaurant uniform, and when the P.E. teacher didn’t make me dance with the others. And then there’s the farmer who harvests on Sunday but waits until Monday to bring his seed in, and does not take his seed elsewhere, like he would have every right to.  And the many in the past who were extra careful about movies and TV when our children were over because they didn’t want to be offensive.  And the friends and family who didn’t invite us to their weddings because they knew we don’t believe in remarriage after divorce and thus spared us the awkwardness of not showing up to give our blessing.  We discussed this, actually.  We love and respect each other.  We just don’t agree.  They didn’t have to be as gracious as they were, and I’m grateful.

In all the debates about wedding cakes and insurance coverage and such, I can well understand people’s desire to have their wishes accommodated.  And how it can feel hurtful and discriminatory and annoying if they’re refused.

What I can’t understand is that people would actually put their own wishes ahead of someone else’s practice of a deeply-held religious belief, in something that’s not a life-or-death matter.

But maybe that’s just me being all old-fashioned and Amish.

I also don’t understand the assumption that suing a business and bombarding them with messages that they’re hateful or bigoted or worse will actually make the owners change their minds.  It shows a serious ignorance about what a religious belief is, where it comes from, how it works, and what it takes to change it.

People might cave in out of fear, but that’s not real change.  If they change their minds because of economic loss or public backlash, then it wasn’t an actual religious belief to start with.

If Rogue Ale had really wanted us to change our views on alcohol, they couldn’t have chosen a better method than their kindness and graciousness.

And even if we never change our views, we will always think of them gratefully when we pass their big building on the way to the Marine Science Center in Newport.

They could have made things really hard for us.  They chose not to.

Some people are bound to abuse a religious/conscience law, but in the long term, the potential dangers of denying people and businesses freedom of religion/conscience seem to me much greater and more alarming.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Swishing MOP

The Month of Posting, we decided to call it, after rejecting AWED [April Writing Every Day], BAP [Blog April Posts] and failed attempts at APRON and AWESOME.

Emily, Jenny, and I plan to take turns posting every weekday in April.  Emily will take every other day; Jenny and I will divide the remaining days.

So my first post will be on Monday the 6th.

You can read Jenny's posts at Dreaming of Dragonflies.

And Emily's are at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Thoughts: Clothes, College, Cats, Calling, Church

Once again, some Sunday evening thoughts.

1. I sewed a new dress for the Valentines dinner the church youth group put on.  It was a vintagey cotton print that I bought in Thailand and I thought it looked Valentinesy as well.

After I posted a picture on Facebook, someone asked for particulars on the dress.

So today I posed in it, after Jenny yanked and adjusted.  She also said, "Now pose like a fashion blogger."

"Hmmm.  What would Shelley do?"

So I did this, and you can now set your mind at ease if you feared that I was going into fashion blogging any time soon.

But it was fun.  And the dress was fun to make and wear.

It's a very basic princess-seamed, no-waist dress.  So it looks better with a belt.

Jenny said, "It's cute.  I would actually wear something like that."

I was amazed, as we had a little. . . um. . .fight. . . tempest in a teapot. . . tiff. . . spat?? about that very subject this week.

She is playing volleyball on the school team and is thoroughly dedicated to improving herself, from "running lines" as her coach orders to doing the exercises Steven tells her to do to pinning volleyball pointers on Pinterest.

And she needed new volleyball shoes.  We went through this with Steven too, back in the day, when he "needed" a different pair of athletic shoes for basketball, running, football, practice, the high jump, and a youth group softball game.

But she finally convinced me so, ok, fine, if she'd pay for part of them.  And we found a cute pair on

Not long after, my old garage-sale tennis shoes were not only flopping at the sole but painfully pinching my second toe.

So I also went to PayLess and looked for a pair of shoes that came in 8-wide and weren't zebra striped or hot pink.

I ordered them.

I showed Jenny what I ordered.

They were exactly like hers.

The horror, People.  The travesty.  The violation of all proper boundaries.

And the complete mystification on my part.

I still don't know if it was because they were no longer unique, or because it was her mom who would have a pair like hers.

The next day, we loved each other again and worked out a solution that involved me exchanging the shoes but her doing the work involved.

And then today she says she'd wear a dress like mine.

There is much I don't understand, but I feel flattered.  A bit fragile as well, but still flattered.

2.  Steven was just accepted into the firefighter program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem.  I think it's a two-year course.  Which means that every one of our kids is in some form of school.

Matt is working toward a Master's in aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland (while still working for the Navy.)

Amy is studying Thai.

Emily is at the U of O [regon not hio or klahoma] studying communications.

Ben is at OSU [Oregon again] studying engineering.

Steven will soon be at Chemeketa.

And Jenny is in high school.

Paul is teaching.

Which leaves me, feeling just a bit left out.

3.  A mean cat showed up this evening and attacked Raven, the black kitty that Steven rescued from the warehouse and who still has "nervous abused child" written all over her face despite the love and food it's gotten since, and the snuggling in the sunshine with the other cats.

The three other cats, who have been doted on since babyhood, and who have security, laziness, entitlement, and languid self-confidence written all over their faces--they were left alone.

Which made us wonder.  You know how human predators pick on the abused and insecure, even long after the abuse is past?  It's infuriating.  Do cats--or maybe all mammals--have that same terrible instinct for picking out an easy victim, and making those who have already suffered too much suffer still more?

Emily brought Raven inside, because we all need to protect the ones who aren't strong enough to protect themselves.

4.  This morning at 7:00 I talked to Amy on Skype, that magic program that lets you sit in your office in your jammies and see your daughter in Thailand with your own eyes.  Yes, she looks happy, and not too thin, and her bruises from her bike mishap are healing.

And then your mom-soul feels full and satisfied and you thank God fervently.

I've been listening to John Schmidt and his German songs, including the Auswanderlieder, or immigration songs, that people used to sing to the departing family when they left for America, in my best German transliterating--

Nah Freunde, brillet net so sehr
Mir sehne nanner nieme mehr.

"Now friends, don't cry so much.  We won't see each other again."

Which is kind of contradictory if you ask me.

Terrible words, really.  Imagine how poor and miserable you'd have to be to uproot and take off in a gamble for a better life, knowing you'd never see your friends and family again.

Meanwhile, I really like Skype.

5.  I've never understood people who are horrified and distraught when someone leaves their church and goes to a different one.

I mean, yes, you miss people who leave.  And sometimes their life trajectory makes you nervous.

But. Churches have personalities and just as not everyone would want to be married to a bookish introvert or a back-slapping basketball player, not everyone fits in well at one particular congregation.

The important thing is that they find a solid, Jesus-loving church that works for them, and get involved.

That's what I think.

I have heard all about Leaving For All the Wrong Reasons and Going Down the Liberal Road and My Daughter Who Left Because She Didn't Want Anyone Telling Her What to Do.

Certainly there are times to be upset.

But think about it.

I remember attending a church where it was pretty much a sin to leave.  It was almost like escaping a cult, where if you didn't want to be brought before the elders and reduced to shame and tears, you had to sneak off in the night, just about.

Why would anyone stay there for any reason besides fear, which is a terrible basis for church membership?

I think if people know they are free to leave, they will feel more free to stay.

Quote of the Day on 3/14/15
Emily: So I've just had this conundrum all day.  Is Pi Day really at 9:26, since it's Daylight Savings Time?  I mean, should it be 8:26 or something since we're on fake time?
Ben: It's not a celestial event!  It's entirely man-made!

Sunday, March 08, 2015

March LFH--Texts, Stories, Twists in the Plot


Rest of the story happens to those who turn the page

Three weeks ago I met the maintenance man. He assured me he wasn’t pregnant.
We “Smucker ladies,” a group of five sisters and in-laws, get together for coffee once a month. At our January meeting, my husband’s sister Lois divulged that her daughter Lisa, married last year, hadn’t been to the doctor yet but she thinks she’s pregnant.
Of course we all clucked like happy hens at this news.
A few days later I decided to text Lisa with my good wishes. I flipped open my phone, scrolled down my list of contacts to “Lisa,” and sent this message:
“Is it OK if I know your amazing news?!?! Congratulations!”
My phone automatically signs my name after all messages.
She soon wrote back: “Huh?”
Oh Lisa, stop acting so innocent, I thought, and tapped a reply:
“Huh indeed. Surely you are pregnant and it wasn’t a false alarm.”
A pause followed in which I suddenly recalled that Lisa had moved to Michigan when she got married, and maybe she had — oh dear, please, no — changed her phone number.
I hastily contacted another niece. “Did Lisa change her number?”
Horrified, I texted the unfortunate unknown.
“Oh my word. I think my niece changed her number. Forget everything I said.”
The person wrote back: “No problem.”
I realize now that this moment was where the story tilted, the setting expanded, and the window opened to further possibilities. I could have closed the book then, and it would have remained a slightly embarrassing episode that I related, at most, to my family after school.
Instead, I turned the page and let the story keep happening, sharing the text conversation on my Facebook page where hundreds of people would read it and, I hoped, chuckle quietly and give themselves grace for their own mistakes.
A woman named Elizabeth had contacted me via Facebook regarding an upcoming talk at Garden Way Retirement Community. A few hours after I posted about the texts, another message from Elizabeth popped up. She wondered if I had filled out the W-9 form.
Yes, I had, I told her, and then I went to finish the dishes.
Soon a little squeak from the computer indicated another message from Elizabeth. “Can you call me right now?”
I phoned immediately. What in the world?
Elizabeth said, “I had the weirdest thing happen just now.”
She had just finished her Facebook conversation with me, then decided to read my page and see what was happening in my life. She read the post about the mis-sent message and started laughing.
The activities director across the hall wondered what was so funny.
Elizabeth related, “So I’m laughing hysterically and hollering to the activities director and reading your post out loud. And then the maintenance man walks in and says, ‘Did you say Dorcas? I got the strangest text from a Dorcas yesterday, wondering if I was pregnant.’”
The universe tilted sideways, goose bumps bristled up my arms, and my mouth tried to say something but couldn’t.
It was impossible, that’s all I could comprehend. And yet it had happened.
“Unreal!” we both said. “How in the world?” Then, laughing, I asked what sort of person this maintenance man was.
“Oh, he’s in his 40s,” Elizabeth said. “An active sort of guy.”
She added, “I’ll be sure to introduce you when you come next month.”
She kept her word. Brian the maintenance man was gracious and good-humored. No, he was not pregnant, and yes, he had recently changed his phone number. He wanted to know the niece’s name, in case he gets more messages for her.
We took a photo — me, Elizabeth, Brian and Brenda the young activities director who had wondered what was so funny.
“These things just happen to you,” a friend told me later, implying that I operate on a different plane of possibility than the rest of the world.
“Stories happen to those who tell them,” my mentor, Jessica Maxwell, used to say, as though the crazy collisions of time and events seek out and select only those willing to interpret them afterwards.
“What are the chances?” I asked my engineer son, wondering if one can quantify the impossible.
He calculated the population density of Eugene and assumed that a maximum of 22 feet was required for being “within earshot of another individual.”
After two more paragraphs of calculations, he said, “So there’s a 1-in-40 chance at any given time that there’s a non-family member within earshot, and there’s a 1-in-200,000 chance that it’s one specific non-family-member, which gives us a roughly 1-in-8 million chance of that happening.”
Amazing. But Matt cannot tolerate much of the magical before he lapses back into logic:
Not likely, but considering that there are 7 billion people on this planet, you would expect to see 1,000-ish coincidences such as this every day.”
No engineer can quantify vulnerability, I decided, or the infinite difference between being open to the unexpected vs. being locked in fear of events that you didn’t choose ahead of time.
How many happy endings would never have been written if we all insisted on the explainable and manageable, how much success avoided, how many romances never sprouted?
Such as, for instance, the case of the couple who met at Walmart.
I first heard of them two years ago, at a family dinner, from my husband’s aunts, who introduce stories by yanking one sentence from the end and a few from the middle.
“Yes! They met at Walmart! He prayed before he went. It never occurred to me to pray before I go to Walmart, that I’ll meet someone, but I guess I should!”
Eventually, we pieced the story together, between two emphatic aunts injecting random bits of information.
She turned out to be Sara June, my husband’s Uncle James’ children’s aunt who had been widowed for a number of years. She was going on a normal shopping trip.
He was a good man from proper Mennonite stock, but she had no way of knowing that when she kept running into him at Walmart that day, or that his wife had died a year before, or that before he left the house that day he prayed he’d meet someone.
They kept meeting up in one aisle after another, and finally at about the third meeting she said, “Do I know you?” and they started talking.
Eventually, they were engaged to be married.
I loved this story and wrote about it on my blog.
In another odd twist, I met this same couple at the Kansas City airport just recently. She showed up in front of me at Gate 45 as I waited for my flight to Portland.
“I’m Sara June,” she said. “I think you wrote about us one time.”
She introduced me to her husband, who told me about that meeting at Walmart, how beautiful she looked that day and how God must have meant it to be. He still looked surprised.
You can’t plan serendipity, that mysterious wind that the dictionary defines as good fortune, luck, and an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. But you can choose to leave the safety of carefully chosen circumstances and take the risk, open the windows, turn the page, and step around the corner to that slightly curving universe where the hilarious and impossible are waiting for you to appear.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Sisters and Aunts

I feel sorry for any woman who doesn't have sisters and aunts.

My last post was on February 12, I see.  Usually, there's an inverse relationship between the level of activity in my life and the number of blog posts happening--more of one means less of the other, you know.

A month ago Paul and I went to the BMA Ministers' Weekend in Virginia, conveniently close to my sister Rebecca's, then Rebecca and I drove to Pennsylvania for two days with our younger sister Margaret.

The last two times we were together were Mom's funeral and Dad's sale, both times of unbelievable stress, hard work, and cooking for 20 people.  Of course, we had our moments of collapse-at-the-knees laughter in the middle of all that.  But most of it was the sort of stress that makes you shudder at the memories.

But this time we had two days together, and we could just have fun.  So we did.  We shopped at Amish stores.  We got massages.  We talked deep, we talked shallow, we laughed, we remembered.
Did I mention that we laughed?  Here's me, Margaret in Grandma's old bonnet, and Rebecca showing us what we look like on her camera.
Sisters just GET you.  They understand asthma, husbands, sons with Those Yoder Genes, and obsessions--with fabric, with bargains, with needing to talk about those awful times one more time.  They were there and they know what you went through.  They know how much it hurt to have babies and they never never say horrible things like, "Well, it wasn't PAINFUL for me exactly, more like a lot of pressure," like other women do.  Sisters eat cookie dough straight from the bowl and they like purple and warm sweaters and they don't look at you with a blank look when you pull an obscure quote from The Biggest Bear.

This past weekend I spoke at a ladies' retreat in Illinois, then we [Paul and I] drove to Iowa and spent two days with my aunt Vina, Mom's only sister, who was ten years younger than Mom but probably her closest friend and confidante.

I wanted to know what they were really like as sisters.  Not only as a mom and aunt sharing secrets in low tones as they peeled potatoes together, but sisters, and why Mom told Vina things she never told anyone else in the world, and how they could be so alike and yet so different.

The long talks filled a thirsty part of my soul, it was like a little taste of Mom again, articulate and observant and so very funny, but yet not Mom of course, but an aunt who was just as wise and interested in me and honest as an aunt ought to be.

Aunt Vina and me

Of course most of the stories are not for the world to hear.  I write this on the plane, flying home, and I am itching to pick up the phone and call my sisters and tell them everything, in every detail, giggling like silly town girls* or wiping tears, because that is what you do with sisters.

I am so blessed.

*my dad's worst-ever label for us, a reference that sisters will Just Get