Thursday, April 19, 2018

ABC Post 19--Eleven Reasons I Envy My Daughters

My three daughters and I are all taking turns blogging for the annual April Blogging Challenge. If you want to read their posts you can find them here:

Monday was my day to post on the ABC, and I was out of ideas. So I asked on social media and got enough suggestions to keep me writing for months. Today's post is a takeoff on Elsie Mae Lapp's suggestion—"7 areas that my daughters do life better than I do." Minutes after she posted, I got texts from two daughters saying I should take her suggestion. All right then.

Jenny, Amy, me, and Emily--in Seattle in January

Here's what I envy about them:

1. They have a confident and quirky fashion sense. Fashion is a great puzzle to me, but they put together pieces that it would never occur to me to wear together, and they go out in public looking like a million bucks. If I would try to put a similar combination together, I would look like I put on the random leftovers from the Habitat for Humanity rummage sale.

They even have an Instagram account.

Also in Seattle. That yellow coat gets compliments

Would you think of wearing those shoes with that dress?
I wouldn't. But the effect was quirky and cute.
2. They have skinny waists. I like 50s shirtwaist dresses, belts, and full skirts. All of the above look amazing on my wasp-waisted daughters.  I, on the other hand, am kind of like Mt. Hood—small at the top and gradually getting wider as we drop in elevation. This shape doesn't look so good in gathered skirts and defined waists.

3. They have immediate clarity and a short, smooth channel from brain to mouth. I on the other hand am painfully slow in figuring out what someone is saying and in formulating a reply—up to three days, sometimes. All my life, people have taken advantage of this in the most frustrating and infuriating and intimidating ways. 

My daughters, on the other hand, can immediately recognize rude or ridiculous or illogical speech from rude or ridiculous or illogical people, and JUST THAT QUICK they can THINK and SAY a reply that will instantly put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, as 1 Peter 2:15 says.

They aren't as convinced as I am that this is something to be envied. In fact, they have to work hard at reining in those runaway words because sometimes they would really be unkind. One of the daughters told me she knows she'd have the power to devastate a husband, and that scares her. Well, good for her, but just ONCE I would like to have the option of instantly putting a rude person in their place, seeing that stunned and confused look in their eyes, and walking away victorious.

Two intimidating women
4. This sort of goes with the last point. My daughters are fearless. They are not intimidated by people. And they are impervious to shame. When I was their age, I let everyone else define my worth and spiritual health, so an unctuous rebuke about dating a guy who wasn't a church member, from an older woman at church, sent me into a tailspin of agony and anxiety for days. In my mind, I would EXPLAIN and JUSTIFY and even tell her it was NONE of her BUSINESS! Never in the moment, though, and never to her face.

My daughters can't even comprehend this. In fact, other people are kind of afraid of THEM! If meddling people ever have the nerve to rebuke my girls for silly things, they either smile and nod politely and then laugh indulgently afterwards, or they whip back a reply that utterly confuses the other person. "Ok, thank you for pointing that out. I'll be sure and look up those Bible verses you mentioned about not wearing a denim skirt to church and sitting in the foyer."
"Wha. . .? But I didn't mention. . ."
That sort of thing.

Once again, they rein in their impulses and say maybe 5% of the snarky replies that immediately come to mind.

Jenny in Jamaica in 2012, grossed out but fearless
with the frog she found in the toilet.
5. They are good at decorating. Once again, they trust their own tastes and don't endlessly second-guess themselves, and the results are beautiful. Amy's room is all whites, creams, natural wood and green plants. Emily's has more of a Victorian flavor, with pale greens and pinks, antiques, and flowers. Jenny painted her room white but chose a very deep dark blue-gray for one wall, which I would never in 50 years have had the courage to do, and then accented with metallics and arrows and black and white. All three rooms are pretty and welcoming.

6. They know their way around electronics and technology and social media. From Instagram stories to downloading podcasts to burning cd's, they just sit down and do it. It is impressive.

7. They are disciplined and efficient. Their mornings are planned and scheduled down to the minute. They get homework done on time and get to bed at the right time so they can get up early to make coffee and exercise and get off to school or work on time. This is also impressive. Maybe they get it from their dad.

8. They can all go merrily marching that long ascending path up to Horse Rock and enjoy it and keep up with their brothers. Jenny is the most athletic, I think, and is an excellent volleyball player and stays in great physical condition. But they are all excellent walkers, as Miss Bingley said of Elizabeth Bennet. I envy them.

9. They can sing.
Amy sang in the Riverside Community Choir
[As Mr. Bingley said, at least in the older P&P series, "But all young ladies are accomplished. They sing, they draw, they dance; speak French and German, cover screens, and I know not what."]

10. They surpass me in certain creative pursuits. One makes lovely watercolor paintings, one writes excellent drama and fiction, and the third makes magical food.

Jenny painted this card

Some of the characters in Emily's Christmas play.
Amy's Easter cake

Amy cutting Thai peppers for this soup that I call blizzard soup,
because if I am ever lost in a blizzard, I want her
to feed me this soup when I'm found.
11. They have a dad who is a great life coach and who loves to discuss their finances, help them get a better phone plan, work on their cars, solve problems, and figure out how they can pay for college. I think it made a big difference in my daughters' readiness for adulthood. My dad could have given great advice on buying a horse or figuring out if we were related to Levi Detweiler's first wife, but he could barely find his own way through the modern world, much less advise his kids on college, cars, courtship, or careers. 

Here's the whole family. Paul is proud of his kids but I don't think he envies them.

 "Envy" implies just a bit of resentment, so maybe "admire" would be a better word. Either way, I am blessed beyond all explaining with three fun and talented and kindhearted daughters.

Monday, April 16, 2018

ABC Post 16-How I Became a Writer

Letters have been a theme of my life.

I give my mom much of the credit for the fact that I'm a writer today. We were Amish when I was little, so we couldn't pick up the phone and call Grandma (Mommi) in Iowa or Kansas. So every few weeks, Mom seated us around the dining room table with pencils and lined paper, and we were supposed to write to one Mommi or the other.

Sigh. All right then. 

One of these specimens was saved and I saw it years later. "Dear Grandma, How are you? I am fine. Are you very busy these days?"

Mom wrote lots of letters, and when she got a letter from her mom or her sister Vina, she read it out loud at the supper table. Except with Vina's letters she would sort of hmmm hmmm hmmm over certain parts that, I later found out, involved pregnancies and scandals and such. Iowa Mommi would draw pictures for us, usually of ducks on a pond. 

So letters were funny and tantalizing things.

I credit Dad with giving me an eye for the proper things: usage, punctuation, grammar.

From age 8 or ten on I collected penpals like I collect fabric today. Cousins I met at family reunions, old school mates, daughters of stern preachers who came for revival meetings, people who passed through on their way to somewhere else, friends of friends who were in the same circle letters.

I wrote and wrote and wrote letters.

I would write letters to my friend Millie at church and even to my sister Rebecca, slipping them into her locker between classes.

I think that's where I learned to milk an awful lot of words out of a simple and boring life.

When I moved to Oregon, I bought a bunch of lined paper and a few ringbinder notebooks. I kind of neglected my parents and the rest of the family and documented my life in letters to Rebecca, who filed them all in the notebook for safe keeping.

They were very angsty and emotiony and full of deep pondering self-absorbed thoughts and also crushes and crises of conscience, so much so that when Paul read them, some 15 years after we were married, he said it was probably a good thing that he hadn't read these before we got married. Bless his heart.

I wrote letters when I sat in the car waiting for tract distribution and I wrote letters in church, and late at night when I had to get something out of my system before I could sleep.

Then I wrote letters to Paul, who lived two hours away.

And he wrote to me.

The first letter from him was waiting for me when I came home from school one day. My landlady, Marilyn, and her daughter Laura—who is now my sister-in-law—had taped it to the kitchen counter along with a freshly-picked flower.

We got married, eventually, and I wrote Rebecca such vivid details of our honeymoon that, when she found the letters 30 years later, she read them aloud at a family gathering and didn't hmmmmm hmmmm like she should have, and we laughed so hard we nearly passed out, but first I turned beet red in utter ghastly horror.

No one should ever document honeymoon details on paper in a letter to your sister. That is something I've learned.

With our new baby, Matthew, we moved to northwestern Ontario and Paul taught at Stirland Lake, a boarding high school for First Nations kids from the northern reserves. 

I soon saw that, much as I loved letter-writing, I would drown in the task if I didn't streamline things. Both of our families, our church in Oregon, supporters, and friends—how could I keep in touch with them all?

I began writing monthly form letters. First, Paul would photocopy them at the office. Eventually we got a primitive computer and printer. Once a month, in our house at the high school or out in a remote northern village or back at the mission headquarters further south, Paul would put the children to bed and I would type out my life into words and sentences and paragraphs.

Sometimes I think that's what kept me sort of sane those years. There was no internet, of course, and often no phone contact with family or friends.

Soon after we first arrived at Stirland Lake, I found out there was a small inter-mission newsletter called the Grapevine. Every month, someone from each mission outpost and division—Beaver Lake Camp, headquarters, the print shop, Thunder Bay, and so on—wrote a little update of their activities and news, and it was distributed to everyone else.

Within a year I had the job of writing the Stirland Lake news. I took the job seriously and wrote newsworthy news.

Summer came. The students all flew home. Many of the staff left on vacation. Only a few of us were still on campus, which is how we got the job of taking care of our friends Dave and Ilva's goats.

Stirland Lake didn't lend itself to agriculture, but Dave and Ilva made a brave attempt. So when they left on vacation, someone had to feed and milk the two goats. One person got the job, then they left on vacation as well, until finally the job was passed to Paul.

Then Paul went fishing with the two other men remaining on campus.

The day wore on, and I knew I would have to milk those goats. One was cooperative and one was not. I recall horns lunging at me, running around and around that little shed as we both leapt over straw bales, and finally bracing my feet and dragging that horrible goat back into the pen, inch by inch, while she made strangled choking noises and I no longer cared.

I decided the stupid thing can just go without milking, but then when I had time to think it over, my conscience got the better of me, and with dread and despair I headed back to try again….and just then a boat came puttering into the dock.

Paul has a knack for saving the day. That is another theme of my life.

So. It was summer. There was not much news. The Grapevine deadline was upon me. So with great detail I wrote the story of trying to milk that goat.

The Grapevine was distributed, and suddenly I was hearing from other people in the mission. "I loved your story!" "I laughed and laughed!" "We read your story in the ladies' dorm and we were howling!"

It was amazing, new, astonishing, exhilarating! I had never experienced anything like it. I had turned an event into a story and sent it out in a newsletter that went to all kinds of people. They read it. They liked it! They laughed! They came back to tell me they enjoyed it!!

I was addicted.

So the Grapevine articles grew more personal as time went on, and the monthly form letters got distributed to more and more friends and family.

We lived in Canada for eight years. 

It was probably the last couple of years in the North when Ilva, yes, the Ilva of the infamous goat, started telling me that I really needed to write for a bigger audience. I had talent, she insisted, and things worth saying.

"Ilva," I would sigh. "I would love to, but I have all these little kids, and I'm overwhelmed, and we live out in the bush, and . . ."

"I know," she would say, "but you need to do this."

In God's Kingdom, everything is upside down and counter-intuitive.

Years later, I would read pretentious articles about how to be a successful writer, and I would go to writers meetings and conferences where everyone was trying SO hard to get it right.

Trust me, not a single instructor ever said, "Go way up in the northern Bush, in the wildest and remotest possible place, and have lots of babies, and survive without running water, and get pneumonia and stuff, and don't have much time to read and study, and live in another culture, and write form letters once a month."

How could anyone have known that those lifesaving monthly letters and Grapevine articles were teaching me to take note of quotes and personalities, to write things down, to explain life in the village to people thousands of miles away, and to take feedback from readers and use it to shape my communication?

And what a gift Ilva was, that quiet and persistent mentoring voice in those overwhelming years.

We moved back to Oregon. We had very little money, so I thought maybe I could earn some money by writing while still staying home with the children.

I tried to break into the Christian magazine market—Virtue, Today's Christian Woman, and so on, with no success.

Then one day a few years later I happened to read an article in the Eugene Register-Guard. They had a weekly feature called Write On, where anyone could send in contributions, and they would pick one essay and print it.

I thought, "I could do that."

So, impulsively, I did.

They printed it.

Again, the wild exhilaration was not to be described. My name! My words!! In the newspaper!!!

I cut out the article, made a copy, and sent it to Ilva. "See? I'm doing what you said."

A few weeks later the phone rang. The caller said he is Grant Podelco, the features editor at the Guard. "You got some fan mail, all the way from Canada!"

And he read me a note from—of course—Ilva. Not only had she praised my article, but she had also told this editor that he should think about having this author write for them on a regular basis.

It just so happened that Mr. Podelco was looking for some fresh new features at this time. "Would you consider writing a monthly column?" he asked "Sort of the same flavor as this piece we just printed?"

"Flabbergasted" is far too mild of a word. Ecstatic, stunned, overwhelmed.

"I thought we'd call it 'Letter from Harrisburg.'"

And so my writing life had come full circle. That editor had no way of knowing that letters had been my identity and my comfort and form of expression all my life.

"It had to be a 'God' thing," I always say here, relating this story, not only for the "letter" connection but because if you wanted a new columnist for a newspaper in Eugene, Oregon, you would not go 20 miles north to Harrisburg and look for a Mennonite minister's wife with lots of children and not much education.

I've written that column once a month for 18 years.  I'm on my fourth editor. I've heard from hundreds of people who connected with my ordinary family stories even though their lives were often totally different from mine.

That is also a God thing.

Every month, true to its name, the deadline just about kills me. I go a bit crazy and threaten to quit. Sometimes my kids do imitations of "Mom facing a deadline." I will just hmmmm hmmmm over the specifics of that because no one ought to see them.

And yet, so far, a subject always appears that I can write about, so I do.

A couple of years after I started writing the column, people were asking for a collection of all my columns. That led to my first book, Ordinary Days. Five more books have followed.

In 2005, not long after we adopted Steven, Paul's nephew Byran mentioned that he thought I should start a blog.


Yes. He had one. It was a place where you could write and post articles, thoughts, whatever you wanted. And people could discuss and comment.

I was going through a tough time with what felt like post-partum depression after Steven's adoption. Maybe this would help. I considered the idea, even though I knew almost nothing about the internet.

Byran persisted.

"How would I do it?" I said.

"Go to and follow the instructions," he said. So I did.

And Life in the Shoe was born, thanks to Byran's quiet persistence.

Again, I experienced that indescribable exhilaration of putting words out there, and perfect strangers read and understood them.

It was addictive.

In the 8 years that Blogger has been keeping track, I've had over 2 million page views. I'm grateful to everyone who took the time to read what I had to say. That is no small gift.

The newspaper column reached a local and mostly secular audience, and the blog was my avenue to the broader Mennonite world. 

Facebook increased my connections even more and became an easy publicity and marketing tool.

I am finally comfortable calling myself a writer, but I am not blasé about any of it. I am still awed when I see my name in print. I still feel that addictive wonder and delight when someone out there in the big wide world reads my words, understands them, and writes back to tell me so. 

I still think it's a God thing, it still seems impossible, and I am always surprised.

And I still think letters are wonderful things.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

ABC Day 11--How to be Happy When You're Actually Jealous

Your sister-in-law "Rachel" just had her fifth baby. When she found out she was pregnant, she cried.  When she got nausea for 3 months, she complained every day. Meanwhile, you are single and childless. Or maybe married and childless, month after month, year after year, quietly, endlessly grieving.

You call the printer to discuss printing costs for your latest book. "You want us to handle the shipping too?" hollers the printer guy. "We can do that, you know. We just had an order this morning for ten cases of Linda Byler's new book! She's doin' real well."
"No. Thank you," you reply, exhaling just a bit of venom into the phone. You've been working at this writing stuff for years, and if someone orders ONE case of books, it's cause for celebration.

At a ladies' weekend, your friend "Karen" asks if anyone has a safety pin.  "This skirt is too big and I'm afraid it's going to slide off my hips. I keep losing weight with my IBS." You, on the other hand, need the safety pin to add another inch to your own waistband. You leave the top half of the zipper unzipped and use the pin to bridge the two sides, and tug your sweater down over it. Karen can find her own pin, thank you very much.

A woman your age that you met at a ladies' retreat just friended you on Facebook. You click on her profile and there is the obligatory header photo of a wedding, with the happy young couple in the middle, mom and dad to the right, siblings and in-laws and grandchildren to the right, to the left, before and behind, out in a sunny field. You think of your crew, all functional adults and all determinedly single. You click "friend" to be nice and "unfollow" because you don't need to see her grandbaby posts.

Your friend Dorcas is once again complaining about how busy her husband is. You can't help it: you turn to her and say, "Be thankful your husband has a ministry and a good job." Because your husband is a farm laborer with no ambition for better things, and your own ministry gifts are buried in the hard work of surviving.

Dorcas also likes to go off about her amazing grown kids and how well they're doing in college and what a great time she and her daughters had on their trip to Seattle. And you think about what might have been if your son or daughter had not moved out and turned to alcohol. Or if they had lived.

You're at a lovely outdoor wedding. Everything is sunny and happy and decorated with beauty and creativity and, it must be admitted, money. The young couple has an air of innocence. You inevitably think of your daughter who is pregnant, unmarried, and living with a man who scares you. A verse comes to mind: ". . .to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away." [Luke 19:26 NIV]
You sigh and are glad this is the summer's last wedding.

All the above are based on actual incidents I experienced or heard about, and more or less modified.

You've been there, I'm sure. The happy announcement, the excited phone call, the whispered news, the good fortune made evident in travel and new purchases, the funny anecdote, the grand celebration. 

Half the time these lucky people have the audacity to complain. The morning sickness, the crazy-busy with the new business, all the decisions with this wedding!

Once again, the good things didn't come to you, and you feel overlooked, left out, passed over, disappointed, unlucky, and less than. Again. And again.

But once in a while it IS you! Overwhelmed with your good fortune, your unexpected blessing, your wonderful news, you turn to friends and family, bubbling over with the joy of it. And you are met with cold faces, a flickered eyebrow, and resentment. "Well. Aren't you lucky. Must be nice."

And much of the bubbling joy goes instantly flat.

Having been on both sides of these stories, here are some things I try to remember:

1. Joy and sorrow are best shared in a caring community. "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep," the Bible says. Good news shrinks to a quarter its size and becomes almost meaningless if you can't share it with someone who will be happy for you. Sorrow unshared swells and becomes overwhelming.

2. You're a grownup. Adults are people who know it's not all about themselves. This is your friend's moment. Let her make the most of it, and don't steal any of it. It's not about you.

3. Entering into the joy of another makes you vulnerable. It can make you feel your losses more sharply and upset your sense of fairness and rattle your fragile identity. But this is the price of community, and friendship, and personal growth, and eventually redemption.

4. It's not a zero-sum game. More weddings in your family don't mean fewer in mine, except for the highly-unlikely case that if your child hadn't got in the way, my child would have married the same person. More book sales for me don't mean fewer for you. The same with babies, and money, and so much more.The pounds she loses do not get glued to your hips. When the time is right, there will be plenty of success and blessings to go around.

5. Rejoicing can be a deliberate act. As already quoted, "Rejoice with those who rejoice;" And from Deuteronomy: "There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you."
I take from this that, instead of being based solely on how you feel, rejoicing is a decision and a deliberate act. Does that mean you have to pretend? Possibly. But if you choose the behavior--squealing and smiling and hugging and hopping up and down--the emotions can't help but follow. This is an investment in your own growth and in the people who love and support you.

6. You want to be This person, the one that people can't wait to tell their news to, because you will exclaim and affirm and make it such fun to tell. And not That person, the one that people avoid telling anything to, because of the inevitable flattening of all their joy, and the sighs and jealousy and snide comments that reach out like a corsage pin and pop your happy balloon.

7. You are not forgotten. You have a Heavenly Father who sees and knows, who weeps with you, who is truly with you in the waiting. He asks you to believe and hope and obey when you can't see a thing. This is like a pregnancy. Something beautiful is growing, all unseen. Every day is crucial to its development.

8.Your turn will come, and when it does, you will want to call up your sisters, post pictures on Facebook, tell all your friends, and put the news in the church bulletin. Your joy will be affirmed and magnified if others rejoice with you, hugging and laughing without resentment or jealousy. So do the same for them now, as an act of faith that when the time is right, the good things will come to you as well.

And even if you never have a happy announcement of any kind, you will find that your deliberate rejoicing paid off in personal growth, healthy friendships, and unexpected redemption.

[This post was inspired by two of our kids leaving early this morning to fly to a wedding in Missouri. I am too happy for everyone involved to be jealous--my friend Darlene the mom, her son Travis the groom, Christina the lovely bride,  and everyone who is there to celebrate with them.
Travis volunteered with a prison ministry in Oregon for a year and a half and did a lot of hiking with Ben and came to our house for Sunday dinners. He and Christina came for Thanksgiving dinner last year. When I set the pies on the counter, Christina quietly told me that there is a hair on the apple pie. She calmly removed it. And then she cut out a slice of that same apple pie and ate it!
People, she is a gem of unusual quality, and I am rejoicing for her fortunate new husband and in-laws.]

Monday, April 09, 2018

ABC Post 9--Traveling, Tea, and Coming Home

My Letter from Harrisburg article will do double duty as April's newspaper column and today's April Blogging Challenge post.

Traveling brings sweet returns

In a few days I’ll be at a church camp in Montana where the paths are muddy and the bathrooms won’t be conveniently located. I’m taking a coat and boots since a “snow event” is predicted and also NyQuil and cough drops, just in case, since I’m giving four speeches. I can’t count on having phone or Internet service there in the mountains.

I can’t wait.

In a week, I’ll be home again, making a pot of perfect black tea in my own kitchen, looking out over the budding lilacs and Powerline Road as I sip from my favorite cup.

I can hardly wait for that either.

I travel more than most Mennonite women, I’m guessing, because I speak at retreats and conferences at least twice a year. Also, we live on the West Coast, which is a long way from everywhere, and most of my family members live more than 1,500 miles away.

The last couple of years have included one women’s retreat in Colorado and one in Indiana, a wedding in Utah, my dad’s 100th birthday party in Minnesota, a Christian school conference in Pennsylvania, a visit to my uncle in Kansas, and two trips to Virginia — one for a writers’ conference and another for a vacation with my two sisters.

I’ve somehow stayed awake for many 3 a.m. drives to Portland, listening to NPR. I’ve dragged huge suitcases full of books onto shuttles and out to rental car parking lots and even into the restrooms at the far end of the baggage claim area on the lower level at the Portland airport, since those are the most convenient facilities before the check-in counters.

I’ve made the same sort of early morning drive from central Minnesota to the Twin Cities, in bitter cold, through one small town after another, where the only radio stations are Catholic Answers and droned reports of hog and cattle prices. There are no coffee stands to be found anywhere, and it is often 50 miles before the next open gas station.

Despite all the inconvenience of travel, all the discomfort of sleeping on airplanes, all the stress of gate changes and late flights and bad weather and pushing on through the night on Interstate 80 through Nebraska, I love to travel. It feeds a deep curiosity and is always full of surprises.

Most places are not like Oregon.

The horizons are level in the Midwest and the houses are older in Virginia. At gas stations in the South, I’ve opened the lids on hot stainless steel kettles and looked at the boiled peanuts floating there, soggy and a bit slimy, but I have never had the courage to eat them.

Women from isolated churches in the West are tougher and less inhibited than women from large and long-established Mennonite communities in the East, I’ve found. The accents are different everywhere, the word choices, the priorities, the food, even the shade of green in the trees.

Road signs in South Carolina say, “Have Pride. Don’t Litter.” In Minnesota, signs at a one-lane bridge read simply, “Take Turns.”

Battlefield memorials and historical plaques show up everywhere on the East Coast. I couldn’t find separate garbage cans for recyclables at the Raleigh-Durham airport. People get upset if you eat in the Metro stations in Washington, D.C., for fear that dropped crumbs will draw rats. They don’t want to be like New York City.

Kansas and Oklahoma have winds like you’ve never experienced before, dry and steady and strong, slamming your car doors shut and whipping your skirts about with shocking impertinence.

I’m told my hellos and goodbyes are too abrupt for parts of the country, with not enough chitchat about the weather or meaningless inquiring after everyone’s health. If you want to fit in, in Minnesota, you act nonchalant about 20 degrees below zero with 30 mph gusts of wind.

Travel is a great teacher, making you sit back and watch and learn. Going to a new place makes you feel different and a bit left out, as we all ought to feel, now and then, in doses just large enough to make us welcoming to strangers who show up in Oregon and don’t know how to order a latte or return a soda can.

In spite of the many benefits of travel, I always try to bring a bit of familiarity with me in the form of hot black tea.

At houses, camps, dormitories, airport terminals, motels and churches, I’ve unpacked my travel-sized electric kettle, a tin of loose black tea, and my slightly dented but non-breakable stainless steel teapot, and I’ve mixed boiling water and a scoop of pungent black tea for a comforting taste of home.

More often than not, it is a disappointing exercise. The water is full of minerals and tastes of sulfur or the cup of tea has a disturbing, barely visible film shimmering on top, or the leaves won’t release their flavor and the tea is weak and tasteless.

So I resort to coffee instead, its robust flavor better able to overpower the oddities of local water variations.

Then I count the days and nights until I can be at home again, in pajamas in the dim morning light, with cats and daughters slowly waking up, brewing tea in my own warm kitchen, with the freshest and best water in the whole world.

“Do you like doing this sort of thing?” my daughter Emily asked me when I was about to leave for a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania in January.

I said, “To be honest, I’m already thinking, ‘Only one more week and I’ll be home again.’ ”

My husband turned to Emily and said, “I think she goes away just for the thrill of looking forward to coming home.”

Invariably, after a few months have passed in which I’ve caught up with laundry, organized my sewing patterns, and cleaned the pantries, a tiny restlessness emerges, a sense of places calling.

When the email or letter or phone call arrives with the invitation to attend or speak or help, I’m ready to say yes.

So the endless push and pull continues. New places call me to discover them, and home calls me back to the loved and familiar. I would never want all one or the other.

A perfect pot of tea is all the more appreciated after a week of coffee, my family is more precious after seeing hundreds of new faces, and after I’ve seen deserts and cornfields and kudzu, the oak trees along Muddy Creek in the summer are always obligingly heavy with the precise green color of home.

Friday, April 06, 2018

ABC Post 5--Off to Montana With Good Women

my cozy view
I was supposed to post yesterday for the April Blogging Challenge but it's a bit hard to do when you're in a very full vehicle for 12 hours with 5 entertaining ladies and then as soon as you arrive, you have to get ready to speak to 100 more.

I speak at out-of-state events, mostly women's retreats, about twice a year. So far, I've always had to fly to get there, since Oregon is far away from everywhere else.

But this time the destination was Big Sky Bible Camp at Kalispell, Montana, so it was within driving distance. ROAD TRIP!! And who should I take along? Well, why not expand our monthly sister-in-law coffee date to a 4-day trip?

Rosie offered her spacious rig. Bonnie couldn't make it. Cousin Trish and Daughter Emily came instead. We left at 3:30 a.m. and then met Laura along Interstate 84.

Rosie the capable driver
Emily was wedged into a tiny spot in the back.
The conversation is the best part of traveling with this bunch.

Then Lois's daughter Lisa flew in and joined us as well. 

So in our group it's me, Lois, Rosie, Laura, Trish, Lisa, Emily, and Corey the baby.  We are all staying in a dorm. One of the organizers is Lois's daughter-in-law Brenda from Montana, so she hangs out with us when she can.

Going to ladies' retreats can be a lonely business for the speaker, but this time "lonely" is not the word for the day at all.

As mentioned, we are at a Bible camp, so there are muddy trails to the chapel and wood-paneled walls and and a rustic feel all around.

The women wear warm coats and practical shoes.

I've been welcomed to all sorts of settings, from churches to homes to Bible Schools to very well-appointed hotels, but there's something about a slightly wild northern setting, with snow on the ground and wood fires radiating warmth that makes me feel like this is where I fit in the best.

Today I have two talks, morning and evening. Tomorrow morning is my last talk, and then we're dismissed at noon. We'll head part way back and get a motel and then head on home on Sunday.

 I'm sure there will again be lots of conversation, but you will never know what was said.

But you are free to gather sisters and friends and relatives and go on a road trip to make memories of your own.

Monday, April 02, 2018

April Blogging Challenge Day 2 & Poverty and Wealth Post 10

The Smucker ladies have taken up the annual April Blogging Challenge.
Amy, Jenny, me, and Emily at a recent Pride and Prejudice performance
and girls' night out.

I will be posting on Mondays and Thursdays.

Emily will post on Wednesdays and Sundays at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots.

Jenny will post at Here Shall the Wild-Bird Sing on Tuesdays and Fridays.

And Amy will dust off her blog and join us on Saturdays, here at Random Thoughts and Dancing Words.

- - - - -

After that series of posts on poverty and wealth, I thought you might like to see a Mennonite fundraiser in action.

Gospel Echoes Northwest is a prison ministry that hosts singing/preaching programs at prisons all over the Northwest. In addition, they organize an annual Christmas cookie project, where volunteers hand-deliver cookies and cards to thousands of inmates, and a Freedom Rally, where volunteers barbecue hamburgers and provide an amazing home-cooked meal to inmates at an outdoor rally. They provide free Bible lessons and I'm sure there's more that I can't think of right now.

One family plus a fluctuating number of singers and sometimes a nanny work with the ministry full-time, and there are many volunteers.

The ministry is funded through the Gospel Echoes Northwest Auction, which is held once a year at Fairview Mennonite's Multipurpose Building. It involves much more than just auctioning off some donated items.

We attended the most recent auction, on March 24.

First of all, tickets for one table, representing ten people, sold for $500, and there were over 40 tables, with some people turned away. Every variety of Anabaptist in Oregon was represented--German Baptist, Independent, Western Fellowship, and sort-of-BMA. Brownsville and Halsey and house churches and Riverside and Fairview and Sheridan and Winston and more. We were all happy to come together for the same cause. We don't always cooperate this well, so the auction reminds us that our similarities are bigger than our differences.

Some of the crowd.

The cooks made a wonderful meal.
A German Baptist volunteer did the decorating and stamped all those individual
letters on 450 clothespins.
 Paul had "bought" one table, which we filled with a few from our family plus friends and Paul's mom and Aunt Susie.

A children's Read-a-thon collected $56,000 in the weeks preceding the auction. The child who raised the most money received a bicycle.

Probably 75 people brought homemade desserts that sold for up to $150 each.

The silent auction featured a certificate for strawberries from Horse Creek Farms, hanging baskets of pansies [which I got, 6 of them], gardening supplies, baby quilts, purses, cleaning supplies, toys, and a lot more.

Servers in black and white.
The meal was truly a feast, and a large team of young people served water and coffee. This is a place to see and be seen, and to meet Mennonite young people you wouldn't otherwise get to know. It's always a very big deal who you get to serve with, and if you're a girl, you act like you want to serve with your brother, but you really hope Rita Baker the organizer pairs you up with that guy from Riverside.

Way back in about 2003, Matt was serving with a girl from Fairview Mennonite, and Kevin Kauffman said he'd pay Matt $100 if he asked her out, and Matt was planning to, but then she left before Matt got up his courage. So we'll never know what Might Have Been.

They also wore black and white, back then. So you see, some things never change.

These two friends were happy to serve together.
Dale Ropp, a guest at our table, bought a coffee-chocolate cake and shared with the rest of us.

I left after the meal but before the auction really got underway. Paul reported that everything sold well. "The economy is good, and people are doing well," was his assessment.

A trip for ten to the Cowboy Dinner Tree (a famous restaurant in the wilds of eastern Oregon), spraying for one field, a hickory rocker, a tea party by the Baker ladies, three quilts, a truckload of gravel--the donated and auctioned items filled two pages.

The evening raised $132,000 in addition to the read-a-thon.

Paul also said, "If I were still poor, I don't think I'd want to attend the auction." I agreed. Even with the means to give, the pressure of the auctioneering makes me nervous, which is why I left early.

It's interesting, though, to talk to the auctioneers in private about how this event differs from other fundraisers. At other events, they say, there is always the rich lady near the front who wants recognition for how much she gave. Mennonites subtly nod or flick the cards with their auction number to confirm a bid, and don't like to be singled out as being big donors.

But we note that they still are bidding at a public auction rather than writing an anonymous check in private.

As with anything else Anabaptist:
1. There are lots of unwritten rules.
2. The food is amazing.
3. A lot gets done without a lot of noise or cost.
4. Pretty much any skills are welcome, and the more hands-on the better.