Sunday, December 04, 2016

5-Grain Scratch

Tonight I'm a hen, scratching and pecking for random bugs and seeds.

1. I just can't be a minimalist.  I'm sorry.

I am known among sisters and daughters for packing a lot.  I look at them in awe as they come marching off the concourse with one compact little tote or backpack.  "Oh no, we don't need to go to baggage claim," they say.  "I have it all in here."

I don't know how they do it.

Emily pares her life down to such bare essentials that it pains me.  And she travels with that one denim backpack she's had since I think seventh grade.

How is this even done?

When you go visit minimalists and you always have to go to baggage claim and haul two large suitcases off the carousel, in a addition to the rolling carry-on and tote bag you had on the plane, you start to feel like the eccentric aunt who is chuckled about behind her back.

But how do you carry bags of walnuts and boxes of books in a little bag that fits in the overhead bin, that's what I wonder.

I credit some of my maximalism to having traveled in Northern Ontario with small children.  We used to drive some 400 miles north from Dryden for staff fellowship meetings.  Once we arrived, often in the deeps of winter, we would stay for a few days at least and the nearest town was 125 miles away.  It behooved me to think of every contingency and to pack cough syrup, a thermometer, extra diapers and outfits, and  plenty of pens.

After 22 years here in civilization I am learning that most of the time I will be within easy driving distance of Pepto-Bismol, should I need it, and maybe I don't need to pack it.

But I will say that when the minimalists need a Band-Aid or Benedryl, they know who to turn to.

Last weekend I finally decided the time has come to pack like a minimalist.

We were going to Minnesota for Dad's 100th birthday party.  I still needed checked bags, what with Dad's books to sell, Christmas gifts, and of course walnuts to give away. Thank you, Southwest, for that free-checked-bags policy.

But my wardrobe for the weekend--I was going to pare that down like my daughters and the cool people on Pinterest with their "capsule" wardrobes.

So.  A denim skirt for travel and a wool purple and black plaid skirt for the party Saturday and church Sunday.  Dressy white t-shirts.  A purple jacket and a black sweater that would both go with the plaid skirt.

Simple, compact, elegant.

And awful.

The plaid skirt was too tight since I've gained weight in the tummy regions without realizing it.  Have you ever been stuck in a too-tight wool skirt for two days?  Don't try it.

Then the purple jacket proved too dressy to wear with denim, so I wore and WORE the black sweater, which, since I am a messy person, soon had a smear on the lapel and, the next morning, a crusty circle of dried frosting on the sleeve.

So I was in the bathroom dabbing at that overworked sweater with a wet washcloth and thinking WHY did I think this was such a good idea??

Emily said, "I guess it's all in what you consider a bother.  I would consider hauling more luggage way more bother than washing a few spots off a sweater."

I said, "Oh my, I would WAY rather haul a bit more luggage."

So that was the end of my stint as a minimalist.

2. Our Thanksgiving guests consisted of two young men who sing with the Gospel Echoes Northwest prison ministry and five young people that Ben and Emily got to know at the grad student fellowship at Oregon State.

The conversations led to this thought that I posted on Facebook:

I find it fascinating how we all speak English and yet we have such different vocabularies. We had a few grad students here for Thanksgiving. We could talk about where they're from and what they do, and 5 minutes later they would look at each other and switch to a whole different vocabulary of which I knew almost nothing. Paul talks about moisture testers and 5-grain scratch and Marshall. Steven drops medical initials like DOA and DNR and lots of others I've never heard of. Quilters talk about batting and Kaffe Fassett. You might be confused by queries and Oxford commas and AP Manual of Style and uploading to Kindle, which my writer friends and I discuss with enthusiasm. And then Jenny and I went to Dutch Bros. and she confidently said, "Small blended pomegranate infused Rebel." I looked at her in disbelief and said, "Where did you learn those words?!"

3. Dad seemed to really enjoy his party and powered through the whole afternoon plus all the family activities the next day with only one nap.

He is amazing.
Dad and Uncle Johnny.
Some party people.
Emily served punch.
Her cousin Leah tasted it.
Matt and Justice, who acts a lot like Matt did at his age.

4. Speaking of vocabularies, I have been thinking about turning my last two books into audiobooks.  Hence, this:

I had a scheduled phone call with a young man from an audiobook producer.
Him: Sorry I'm late. I was trying to connect with you on Google Hangouts.
Me: Oh. Well. Sorry. I don't know anything about that so I was waiting on a phone call.
Him: That's fine! I don't mind talkin' on the phone. This is classic. Yeah, this works!
Me: ........[thinks]......can i actually work with someone who says talking on the phone is classic...........???
Later in conversation:
Him: Yeah, one of us looked up your books online and yeah, your name--Dorcas--Hmmm, that's a pretty classic name.
Me: .........???..........

If there's anyone reading this who is experienced with producing audiobooks and who speaks the language of my people and generation, please contact me.

5. You might recall a blog post not long ago about racial issues.  I hesitate to bring this up, as I didn't enjoy the searing flames that erupted from my screen for the next two days.


Two things.

A. I mentioned a project of letting racial-minority people express themselves on my blog.  This is still in the works but is happening more slowly than I intended.

B. I may have changed my mind about the responsibility of people today for injustice in the past.

I get annoyed at the implication that every white American today should be hauling around this backpack full of guilt for oppression in the past.

As I said:

Don’t try quite so hard to make every white person feel personally guilty for what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore, any more than you’d blame me, just because I’m Mennonite, for how the deacon in Holmes County treated you back in 1968 when you wanted to hang out with his daughter.

But I'm rethinking that just a bit.

If you know your history, you'll recall how the Anabaptists, the precursors of Amish and Mennonites, were persecuted horribly in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s.  Imprisoned, tortured, driven from their homes, burned at the stake, and more.  The suffering was terrible, it affected a lot of our ancestors, and it went on for a long time.

That history is very real to us, and every Mennonite and Amish child knows the story of Dirk Willems who ran across the frozen river to escape the thief-catcher but turned back to help when the thief-catcher fell through the ice.  And then Dirk was burned at the stake anyhow.

We always have a mindset that religious freedom is temporary and persecution could arrive again at any time.

This sense of immediacy is increased by things like Paul's great-grandpa almost getting tarred and feathered for not buying war bonds in WWI, by the Harrisburg Mennonite Church getting burned down because its members wouldn't go to war, and by the bullet hole somewhere in our house from a drive-by shot during this same era.


A few days ago Emily went to hear a Catholic speaker at some kind of forum at OSU.

She felt almost physically sick when he said, jokingly, that he has a barbecue apron at home that says, "I'd rather be roasting heretics."

Even the Protestants in the audience laughed.  Emily thought, "Um, that's my ancestors."

I felt a lurch in the gut when she told me about it. It seemed that the speaker and the rest of the audience both felt far enough removed from history that they could find it funny.

Not us.  It's still too fresh in our past.

True, it might not have been his ancestors piling the wood around ours, but we still felt he should treat the subject with care and respect.

Maybe that's how First Nations and African-Americans feel about white people.  I plan to ask them.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: The thing about coffee shops is --you need the right atmosphere!
Ben: You definitely want to limit your carbon monoxide and make sure you've got at least 21 1/2 % oxygen...

Friday, November 18, 2016

How to Buy My Books

If you want to buy my books for Christmas gifts, here's how:

1. Choose.
2. Mail me your order and a check: Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446  I can take PayPal too.
3. Contact me at the above email if you have questions.
4. To order from out of the country, Amazon might be a better option, although I'm happy to work with you if you want to pay the crazy postage.

Postage is $2 per book in the U.S.
Feel free to contact me to negotiate book and postage prices if you're a bookstore or making a large order.

"A Chirp from the Grass Roots" is my dad's life story.  It's $8.

The other five are collections of my Letter from Harrisburg newspaper column.

Ordinary Days--$10
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting--$10
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting--$10
Tea and Trouble Brewing--$12
Footprints on the Ceiling--$12

1 set of all 6 titles (mine and Dad's) AND postage in the U.S. for $60.
Outside the U.S.--1 set of 6 for $55 NOT including postage.

I'm not planning to do the book giveaway this year, although if you email me a heartbreaking story of a friend going through hard times, I doubt that I'll be able to say no.

Letter from Harrisburg: Steven's First Mom


Mom’s spirit lives on in adopted son

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
November 13, 2016

We have these things in common: We both liked to sew, and we are both Steven’s mom.

I don’t think of her that often, but when I do, she appears suddenly in my imagination, young and tall, calm and strong, a Luo woman from western Kenya. “Whatever happened, I’m so sorry,” I want to tell her. “But thank you for loving Steven like you did.”

No one knows her name.

My five biological children’s early lives were recorded in a thousand jotted notes, in stories endlessly recounted, in monthly letters to family, and in boxes full of photos, because I have a compulsion to document memories and details through telling, writing, pictures and objects. This little person, as he or she is now, must not be forgotten or obliterated.

Steven came to Into Africa’s home for street boys in Kisumu, Kenya, at maybe 5 years old. His story comes into focus then, with photos, reports, stories and documents. I long to reconstruct his life before that, but it is like reaching into a deep foggy emptiness for clues and clarity, for something to grasp and feel and see, and finding only an occasional cobweb.

A missionary told me that all the village women in that part of Kenya bathe their babies in plastic tubs, outside, and then they set the babies in the sun to dry and rub them all over with Vaseline until they simply shine. So I assume it was like this for Steven as well, bathed and oiled and then tied tightly onto his mother’s back with a piece of cloth called a leso.

He recalls a mom and a dad, vaguely. Playing with friends, fetching water — a job he didn’t like. The plastic jugs were heavy.

What happened next is unknown, but Steven remembers living on the streets, like so many other street children in Kisumu, eating leftovers at open-air restaurants and watching the rivalry and violence among the older boys.

Someone took him to Into Africa. Our family arrived a few years later for three months of volunteer work.

We loved all 25 boys, but Steven especially charmed us. All the other boys had at least one relative, the social worker told us, maybe an uncle or grandmother out in a village, but they couldn’t locate any family, anywhere, for Steven.

So we adopted him into ours.

Once in a while, unexpectedly, something triggered a memory from Steven’s mysterious past. One day he noted the woven-poly bags at our seed warehouse and said, “We used to sleep on bags like that when I lived on the street.”

I wrote it all down, documenting the precious details.

My favorite piece of information emerged when he was in my sewing room one evening, idly examining the dials on the sewing machine. The mists parted and he said, with dawning memory, “My mother had one like this.”

My eyes popped open. Your MOTHER did?

Yes. He paused, locating the elusive memory. “She went like this,” and he rocked his foot up and down.

So she had had a treadle machine. I had seen my mom make the same motion many times, sewing for her Amish family.

So his first mother also knew the feel of cotton cloth, the rhythm of the needle moving up and down, the accomplishment of a finished shirt or tablecloth.

I knew I would like her, and we would have something in common, if we ever met.

We have something much bigger in common, of course, and that is our love for our son. This bond with her grows only stronger as Steven moves into his adult life.

Whatever hardships his mother must have faced, I am certain that she loved him, that she birthed and nursed and held him with a fierce and genuine attachment, because at the center of his being is a capacity to love back and a solid trust that the world is safe and if he falls, someone will always be there to catch him.

So many things must have gone wrong — disruption and despair, illness and fear, everything out of control — and yet something at the core of his heart went right.

International adoption is not only the suspicious and dangerous process that the U.N. cautions against in all but the gravest circumstances, and it is more than the happy portraits of smiling multiethnic American families posing in a green backyard.

Adoption always has a story of loss behind it, of deep grief and of precious things taken away from an innocent and helpless child.

But, done well, adoption is also a story of redemption, of hope after hopelessness, of healing and of rebuilding a new and different and beautiful life. It’s a story of a lost child becoming part of a family and coming home.

People praised us for adopting Steven. “What a gift you are giving him,” they said. “How lucky he is.”

Maybe, but we know the greater gift is ours.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Steven’s 22nd birthday with our normal Sunday dinner of chicken and rice and corn, and with Steven’s choice of dessert — pumpkin pie. I gave him a book by his favorite author, Ted Dekker.

I also nagged him about keeping his hair oiled. His first mom, of the thoroughly applied Vaseline, would agree with me, I’m sure. He laughed, with a noncommittal “Hmmm. Yeah, I know.” And then he brought us up to date on more important things — his paramedic studies at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and his work as a firefighter and EMT in Aurora.

The rescued has become the rescuer, says Audrey McAninch, co-founder of Into Africa.

In giving, our family received, and in blessing, we were blessed. In Luke 6:38, the Bible says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Last week, Steven sent me a text at 1:25 a.m. “Love you, Mom.”

“Love you too!” I texted back, happy to be awakened for such a message.

“Thank you!” I added, silently, to him, to God, and to the beautiful woman who first mothered this son of mine.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mrs. Smucker Evaluates, Regroups, Comes Back to Reality, and Has a Great Idea

I got sucked into the vortex this week. 

Not only did I post about race (what was I thinking?!) (right here) and have it go a bit crazy, but there was also a little event whose name I dare not say out loud, but it rhymes with "direction."

So I found myself pulled into at least reading, if not commenting on, lots of online conversations, about my post and about much bigger and broader things. Why is it so easy for the accumulating comments and shares and likes to seem REAL, and the real things of falling leaves and granola and the beautiful colors of crayons to seem far away and imaginary?

Also, it's funny how similar the responses were, those few days, on all subjects, in that we all seem to have a little plastic circle in our backs, and when you pull on it, out comes a foot-long string, and when you let go, we repeat what we seem pre-programmed to say as the string feeds back in, between our shoulder blades.  The nice logical people say nice logical things and the angry students spout full pages about harassment and misogyny, and the fierce Republicans sound exasperated, and the academics instruct about privilege and a system built on oppression, and the elitists just did not realize there were people like us in this world.

You can't stay in the cyber world too long or you'll go crazy.

I was glad for the people who just "got" what I was saying in the post, and if they didn't, were willing to have a conversation.

At least five people thought that I was unwilling to answer polite questions at Costco, which is so funny, because my children will testify that no one gets more questions at Costco than me, and no one answers as patiently and listens to their life story besides.

It's not the questions that annoy me, just to be clear, but the lectures. Right or wrong, that's how I feel. Which brings me to another discovery: Readers are not comfortable with a Mennonite woman being annoyed.  As I finally told one person: "Mennonites are allowed to feel strongly and to speak forcefully and even to be a bit cynical."

One of my favorite comments was from a woman I met on a Facebook group for women named Dorcas--yes there is such a thing.  Dorcas VanGilst told about how people would assume how it was for her, being part of a huge and well-known family.  She said: "Anytime we begin to assume we know what it's like from the inside while forever standing on the outside we need to just stop. As a psychotherapist I was taught over and over, "You are NOT an expert on your client!! They are an expert on themselves and you are there to learn!""

Then there was a young friend of a friend on a page I stumbled across who, talking about me and not to me, said, "No, just no. . . This article is everything that is wrong about religion and white privilege today [and] beyond egotistical and revolting.  I find it extremely disrespectful and uncaring toward those actually living as a minority in a racist world."

Well then.  I don't think I've ever sparked such emotion since Amy's diary entries at 12 years old when she was upset at me.

Later in this conversation--and believe me it is enlightening to read a Facebook conversation about you and something you wrote--another person said:

She believes she is choosing her religious beliefs because to do otherwise would lead to hell or at least - less of Gods favor. She believes all people should make her choice. 

That made me snicker, and then the prizewinning comment for the day that made me laugh and laugh:

I wonder if the author secretly or not so secretly yearns to discover her true self and her own voice and personhood. 

Well, Sweetheart, the author is learning to show it in print if she's irritated.  It's a new experience.

At that point I was starting to lie awake at night, logically explaining things to ignorant people, and I knew I had to deliberately step out of the barnyard, so I did, with the muck making sucking sounds as I lifted my rubber boots SCHLOOOK. SCHLOOOK. SCHLOOOK. over to the fence and through the gate.

However.  I had an idea.

So I had said that I don't like to discuss race with white people, and that I like to hear firsthand from the people actually affected by it.

Why not practice what I preach, and use my blog as a platform for a few ethnic-minority guests to answer some questions and say what they don't usually have a chance to say?

I'd name the series something like You Talk, I Listen.

I thought I'd start with Steven.

Me: [texting] Would you like to use my blog as a platform to tell your story and talk about racial issues and stuff?
Steven: Lol no.

Well. Ok then.  I poked around and found a few other fascinating people and contacted them.  They were interested.  So stay tuned the next few weeks. I am very excited about this.

In other news, over in the real world, away from the bizarre whirlpool of online spouting and discussing, I made a dress and sent it to my adorable little great-niece, and it fits.

The chickens are happy.  They are always happy to see me and follow me across the yard with their plump hindquarters rocking back and forth, and they make no effort to be proper and ladylike, and this always makes me so happy.  [I use the word happy a lot with chickens.  They do not get into online discussions.  There is a connection here.]

It's like they've found their true self and personhood.

There are ferns growing out of a tree by the bridge.  Surely this is possible only in Oregon.

I taught a young lady how to sew zippers.  She made a zippered pocket for a bag and peeked through it. I am glad to know that because of me, she will be able to make things with zippers from now on.

I have not lived in vain, and so on.

 And best of all, we got the final final permit to build my Sparrow Nest!!

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: Today I went to the Students For Life Club meeting.
Me: Did they appoint you president?
Jenny: Mom, not everyone thinks I'm as amazing as you think I am.

[Honest, I'm not a self-esteem special-snowflake trophy-for-everyone mom.  I just have amazing kids.]

Monday, November 07, 2016

On Steven's Birthday

To His Mom

I think of you today
Although we’ve never met
And no one knows 
Your name
Or where you are
Or if you’re still alive.
And yet
Your eyes are here
I’m sure
Your love, your smile
Your work
Your labor and giving birth
Your milk that fed him
And dribbled down his cheek
When, satisfied, he slept.
He’s 22 today,
This son of yours and mine.
Strong and full of faith
Honor, humor, trust.
You would be proud.
He is so fully loved
So much a part of us.
It was your tragedy,
Your gift.
We take what you began
And carry on
The son, the love,
The prayers.
Please know
That I will not forget
And though we’ve never met
I think of you.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Mennonites, Minorities, and Conversations at Costco

I call it the “You People” conversation.

It happened again just recently at a secondhand store.  An elderly man stopped me and said, “I know why you people wear those things on your head.  But you don’t need to, you know.  The Bible says the long hair is the covering, and you don’t need a piece of cloth.”

He actually wagged a finger at me. “Study it for yourself!”

Before I could say anything, he turned and left with the elderly woman who had just come briskly by with a shopping cart.  Like me, she wore a long skirt and conservative blouse, with her hair in a bun.  She looked like a Mennonite lady who forgot her head covering.

But of course, she knows she doesn’t need to wear one.  Since she’s studied the Bible for herself.

The You People conversation has also happened many times at book sales and events where I’ve spoken.  “Oooh, I know all about you people because I’ve read all of Beverly Lewis’s books, and Wanda Brunsetter’s too!”

I know they are nice people, and they mean well, but you will notice I show my teeth at such times but my eyes are not really smiling.

Worst by far are the garrulous people who light up when they see me, because they have a tiny drop of experience with Mennonites in their past, maybe ten parts per million, like E Coli in a reservoir, just enough to pollute the whole thing, and then they see me and YES! A Mennonite!  They must connect with me!!  And they are sure I will be so happy to talk with them because they know all about us people!!!

Such as the guy who stopped to talk to me and my daughters at Costco last summer.  He knew all about Us People because he had a friend at the church at Estacada, and he used to go up there on his motorcycle, and you know how we people always wear white shirts and black pants to church? Well, he set this little kid on his motorcycle, just for fun, and the kid’s dad in his white shirt was like, Whoa.  And he knows how we ladies have to stay home and dress real plain and stuff but Oh, man, how we can cook! Oh it is unbelievable.  And he also knows how we can’t go to school past high school, even if we want to, because they won’t let us.

[There’s always that mysterious They in these conversations.  Sometimes it’s the Bishops, but usually just They, a vague authority that forces us to put up our hair and have lots of children, and we are oppressed and helpless before them.]

By this time, the girls and I had tried walking slowly down the aisle. He followed us.  We tried saying we have to go.  He didn’t let us finish the sentence.

We were showing teeth but not smiling.

Finally after another volley of information about how we aren’t allowed to get an education, Emily roused her inner Smucker, raised her voice, and interrupted him. “Actually, I’m going to college.  At OSU.”

He was flabbergasted.  “What?  Really?  They let you go to college?!”

The conversation did not improve after this.

Finally we were able to escape.

The You People assumptions are always:
1. You People are all essentially the same. One individual fully represents the whole group.
2. I know a little bit about You People, therefore I know pretty much everything about you.
3. You will welcome me sharing my knowledge.  It will be a happy point of connection between us.
4. You need me to define your culture for you.
5. If you tell me something, you are speaking for your whole culture.

 I am actually going somewhere else with this: This is why I don’t like to engage in conversations with white people about racial issues.

Of course I try to be informed about racial history and current issues.  I assume that both personally and culturally, we always have more to learn, and we need to make the Christlike choices.  I am not minimizing the appalling sins in our nation’s past and present.

What bothers me is that so much of the talking is being done by white people.  Good-hearted white people, I’ll grant, well-meaning and smart and determined to speak up and right wrongs.

Like the Diversity Seminar at OSU a while back that Emily stuck her nose into, just out of curiosity, and yep, every single person there was white.

And then we have this prizewinning situation unfolding practically next door. From the Oregonian: "The law professor who wore blackface at a Halloween party is a distinguished member of the University of Oregon faculty who's taught at the school since 1982 and once served as chair of the law school's diversity committee. . .”

This is why all this bothers me: The talking always sounds like a You People conversation.

Nothing makes the internet whirl like another police shooting of a young black man or a protest on an Indian reservation.

Most of the time, it’s white people defining the problem, doing the explaining, saying what’s been done and what it means and how it feels and how it affects Those People and what we must do now. Talking talking talking.  Earnestly spreading the word, raising awareness, rallying support, fanning guilt, proposing answers.  Talking talking talking while, in my imagination, the black or Native or Hispanic folks are standing by their shopping carts unable to get a word in edgewise and glancing at their watches.

As though Those People need us to speak for them, and they won’t be heard unless we interpret for them.

And I think: Surely the Black experience is as diverse as the Mennonite experience.  An inner-city St. Louis teenager will not have the same view on life and current happenings as the farmer in Georgia or the professor in St. Paul or the housewife in Los Angeles, even if they’re all black.

Would they define the problems the same, or react the same, or propose the same solutions?

Does it annoy the LA housewife to have a white analyst from New York comment earnestly about a shooting in Ferguson?

Are we all assuming that because an incident affects a black person on TV a certain way, it must therefore affect the black lady that works at WinCo in Eugene the same way?

I have my guesses, but I’m not going to say them out loud. Because I DON’T KNOW.

So, you are asking, what should we white people do about the systemic racism, economic disparity, and injustice in our nation?

As I said, I really don't know.  But here are some cautious guesses, based on my religious-minority experiences:
1. Do the right thing as a person. If you have the opportunity to treat people fairly and to right wrongs and to assist and hire, do so.
2. Read minority authors’ work and listen to the non-white people in your life. Do so as though they are individuals, first of all, and not samples or specimens. Be extremely cautious about assuming they represent a whole group.
3. Assume you don’t know much at all about another culture, even if you had an Indian friend in fourth grade.
4. Don’t try quite so hard to make every white person feel personally guilty for what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore, any more than you’d blame me, just because I’m Mennonite, for how the deacon in Holmes County treated you back in 1968 when you wanted to hang out with his daughter.
5. If you want to spread the word and raise awareness, then cultivate opportunities for minorities to tell their own stories and define their own struggles and solutions.
6. Ask good questions and listen listen listen.
7. But maybe somewhere besides Costco.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Dangers of Doing

I have a few daughters who aren’t married, which licenses everyone who knows them to play matchmaker and make suggestions. The suggestions aren't helpful because the girls are never going to take the initiative in a relationship with a guy, being traditional like that despite going to college and stuff like modern women.

I find it so interesting that the girls' #1 reason for swiping left, in dating-app terms, is not because the suggested guy is too old, not old enough, too smart, not smart enough, not spiritual enough, not rich enough, not handsome enough, or anything like that. 

It’s an emphatic, “He doesn’t DO anything!”

If you ask them to elaborate: He stays in his home community, he’s not involved in anything unselfish, he spends his money on things like pickup trucks and golf, and, again, “He’s just not DOING anything!”

I sometimes say, “But he’s NICE.  Nice ought to count for something!” because I am all about guys who will stick with you and change diapers and dump barf buckets and tell you your post-baby shape is beautiful.

I don’t change their minds.

All right, so DOING is important.

But I would like to say that there is another side to DOING, a side that I see from my end of the universe, where I’d say Paul and I do plenty of doing.

Doing is dangerous.

Not the fun sort of doing or dangerous like hanging your toes over the edge of a cliff in the Andes while the mists gather in the valley far below and then posting a great shot of this on Instagram.

I know young women who are all enraptured with this sort of dangerous doing, like this has to be a REAL MAN, out there hiking the Andes and taking the rickety puffing train through the peasant villages to Antofagasta and taking more Instagram shots, of the burro with the little girl in the long skirt on its back.

I’m talking the sort of danger where you make a decision and do something that seems best at the moment, because that is your calling as a mom or teacher or nurse or mayor, and it needs to be done, and the crowd turns to you to make it happen.  And then afterwards everyone else looking on gets to analyze and criticize and discuss.

It would be so much safer to not do anything. You would fly below the radar.  They would all be out there, not noticing you, and talking about someone else.

I write, now and then.  I hear in roundabout ways that certain people just don’t GET why someone would do such a thing.

Well, sometimes I don't know either.  Certainly not for the money, I hope they know that.

If they asked me, I’d say that if you feel that thumb in your back, gently or sharply nudging, you eventually write.  If you try to be silent and the words start to  ricochet around your skull like a gallon of unshelled walnuts in the dryer, then you start writing again. That’s just how it works, and those who don’t Get It most likely never will.

But it’s so dreadfully dangerous.  I mean, putting the printed word out there for the world to see and freely criticize if they choose.  Insane.

Most of the time I don't hear from readers, but if I do it’s nice words like, "Enjoyed your column."

Except when it's not.

Recently I got a letter from someone in what must be a very conservative Mennonite church.  They had found my book in the church library, and had some concerns, including the fact that I no longer dress as Plain as I once did, and also I said on the cover that I’m a minister’s wife, but there was nothing in the book about my husband’s ministry.

Worst, the book had caused such Concern that someone had gone through it and crossed out all the offensive passages before they put it in the church library.

[Deep breath, Mrs. Smucker.  Let it go.]

I wrote back and said I don’t want to cause any offense or lead your children astray so please Please PLEASE take the book out of your church library and I will buy it back!

[How to tell if a Mennonite is serious about making amends: they are willing to lose money.]

Emily said I should tell this person that maybe the librarian had Sharpied out the passages about Paul’s ministry and that’s why they couldn’t find them.

I had some words with myself and with the Lord, then, about this calling of writing and publishing, which I seem to have been led to, by natural bents and circumstances, but which is just the most exposed, public, ridiculous, and perilous calling, far worse than Andean cliff-climbing.

It doesn’t seem fair [whined Mrs. Smucker] that the ones who aren’t taking any risks get to do all the criticizing and judging and grading and analyzing.

I had been thinking a lot about this and then Asher Witmer posted about it on his blog, specifically about leadership and its call to do what you feel called to do. You can go read it here.

His words resonated with me, because if I face the dangers of Doing as a writer, Paul faces astronomically more as a principal, employer, and pastor.

It would be a whole lot easier for both of us to withdraw, retreat, and be silent.  To stay home and make quilts and watch Beaver games and take up woodworking and have quiet discussions about whether or not to remodel the bathroom next year.

It sounds tempting.  We wouldn’t get concerned letters or phone calls, our decisions wouldn't affect others, and our mistakes would all be private and contained.

Sometimes Doing just doesn’t seem to be worth the risks.

Unless you’re a young man trying to pursue our daughters.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sunday's Column--How Illness Illuminates In Strange Ways

A sudden illness shows the fragility of a most stable life

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
OCT. 9, 2016

My husband promises San Francisco will wait for us. I’m making a list of places to see, mentally adding a cautious, “God willing.”

Healthy, it’s easy to delude ourselves into a sense of control. Daily schedules, routines, lists and plans. Do this, delegate that, make a decision and make things happen.

Sickness strips away control and capability. It teaches us about ourselves in disquieting lessons we’d rather not know but are better for finding out.

The first attack was on a Sunday morning as I rushed around putting pens in my purse and lunch in the oven. A sharp and furious pain caught me under the ribs, and instead of going to church I spent much of the day in bed with heated rice bags on my abdomen.

Indigestion, I concluded with a bit of research, caused by the nutritional yeast that had fallen on my eggs that morning in a large blob instead of a sprinkle. Some people react with bloating and cramps.

I threw the rest of the yeast in the trash and life went on.

Paul suggested we go to San Francisco for our anniversary.

Of course I said “Yes!”

I researched historical sites to see in San Francisco and also drew up a chart for the kids with all the living things at home that would suffer or die if untended for four days, and who was in charge of what.

We decided to drive, taking off after lunch on Sunday.

That morning I put soup in the Instant Pot, prepped the buns, shepherded Dad out the door and went to church.

Once again a sharp knife was digging under my ribs as I ate lunch. I tried to ignore it as we tossed our bags in the car and drove away.

An hour later I was in serious pain. I threw up into a plastic container, over and over.

“We can’t go on,” we said, so we stopped and got a motel. I curled up in bed, lost in frightening pain, for hours.

One of us mentioned going to the emergency room in Roseburg, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being poked and asked and moved, or of making big decisions.

The next morning Paul called our doctor and made an appointment. We canceled the anniversary trip and began a journey of a different kind into the obscurities of the medical world and the deeper mysteries of who we are when faced with illness.

Unlike friends who know all about scans, insurance, ICUs, and IVs, I knew only about visits to a family doctor for bronchitis and kids’ broken arms — and having babies, which is a world of its own.

I learned that small things make a big difference when you’re in the system, you become emotionally fragile, and most of all you want someone else to be there, with you and for you.

Whenever a gash or upset stomach affected our children, I pulled pills, bandages and oils from the drawer with a happy determination to make it all better.

But I discovered that when I’m the one who’s sick or hurt, some haunting voice — most likely from my Amish past — insists that I have no option but to tough it out, because I will not be believed that it hurts, and it’s not OK to ask for help.

Thankfully, our doctor took me seriously. “How did this compare to giving birth?’ he asked.

I said, “Two of them were easier than this, and I didn’t have easy births.”

He believed me.

Then he sent us off into the System: first, an ultrasound, in an unfamiliar area of Salem. I expected discomfort and an icy squirt of gel on my stomach.

Instead I got a casually friendly technician who had warmed the gel — a small thing, but so kind.

We met with the surgeon and the word “serious” came up and bobbed around like a helium balloon.

Gallstones, he said. And a hint of pancreatitis, which can be very serious, and an inflamed gallbladder. Again, “serious.”

How could my well-behaved body turn against me like this?

The surgeon said, “You can’t have laparascopic surgery with an inflamed gallbladder. You’ll need to wait six weeks and eat a very low-fat diet.”

Six weeks of butterless toast and plain potatoes, with the threat of another sudden attack always in front of me. I wanted to burst into tears.

Support and humor got me through. One day, mourning my beloved peanut butters and alfredo sauces, I said, darkly cynical, “Hey, I should call this a fast so I can at least get some spiritual credit for it!”

Our son Ben replied, “Mom, I can’t believe you’d have the gall to say that.”

Suddenly, nothing was certain. I canceled three speaking engagements. How presumptuous it seemed of me to have said, weeks before, “Sure! I’ll show up, speak to your group, even fly to your state.”

The fear was worst — of another attack, of my body doing things out of my control, of my first surgery ever.

As a pastor’s wife, I have prayed for others many times. This time, I asked it for myself. Friends gathered around, put their hands on my shoulders and asked God to take care of me.

And then the tight and gasping fear was gone.

Paul and the children were there for me as well. Jenny made a paper chain to count off the days until surgery. Emily served me beautiful low-fat salads.

Paul also affirmed my misgivings about my surgeon. I had found him hard to communicate with, but beyond that I felt a vague caution about him that was far more intuitive than logical.

Paul said, “You’re the consumer. You’re paying. You get to decide.”

To make a fuss and not humbly accept what I was given — that went against my Amish past as well.

So we canceled my appointment and instead found Dr. Stites in Eugene who communicated clearly, took me seriously and seemed capable yet humble . My intuition said he was right for the task. Paul agreed.

How crucial it is, I decided, that we don’t let anyone walk this path alone.

At the surgery center, I sat in a recliner and the nurse attached a hose to a plastic ring on the side of my gown. She flipped a switch and warm air blew in. I wondered if I could buy such a heavenly machine on eBay to use on cold winter evenings.

I slept right through surgery despite the horrifying stories on the internet about people who wake up halfway through. Then, long before I was ready to wake up, it was time to go home.

Paul and our daughter Emily brought me tea and woke me up every hour to cough. Two weeks later, Paul said, “You have more energy than you’ve had in three months.”

I also have more gratitude — for medical care, for healing, and for the people who surround and support me.

I know it’s OK to ask for help, and that a fragile person lurks just under my busy and capable exterior. I hope that insight will make me quicker with prayer and compassion, slower with advice.

Yesterday I ate a little bit of peanut butter again. It was delicious. Paul says to keep working on my file of sights to see in San Francisco, because one of these times we’ll go celebrate our anniversary. God willing, of course.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

An Update: My Writing Cabin, the Interfering Verses, and Not Giving Up

Today Paul came home with a long, narrow plastic bag.

It's been a year and a half since we started making plans for a writing cabin, a little over a year since the pillars were poured, and about a year since it had a name--the Sparrow Nest.

Paul had obtained a variance from the county planning division.  Relatively easily, in fact.  It was to be 200 square feet and off-grid and not for a dwelling.  Ta-da.

I was very excited.

Then Sanballat and Tobiah came along in the guise of a man from the county road department who came storming to the house and fetched me and took me out to the road and gestured and exclaimed and fussed and claimed county sovereignty over every rock and tree and fence and inch of land all the way to the creek.

No, no and NO.

So he went back to the county and caused them to retract their approval.  Now we had to apply for permits, submit blueprints, get permissions, and much more that I don't understand.

It was a very long, complicated, and expensive process.

And it was all because of that road guy.  In fact, I referred to him as That-Road-Guy-May-A-Hundred-Chickens-Peck-His-Ankles, which was a very satisfying thing to call him, especially when Ben nearly spit out his popcorn, laughing.

But then a little flame of conscience reminded me of that little offhand thing Jesus might have mentioned once or twice about loving and blessing your enemies.

Honestly, sometimes hating is more fun than the alternative.

But didn't King David pray for all kinds of nasty things to happen to his enemies?  I looked it up.  Imprecatory prayers are certainly part of the Old Testament.  In the New, however, the closest you get is the widow coming to the judge and saying, "Avenge me of mine adversary," and Romans 12--"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," and also Paul writing in II Timothy--"Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:"

So.  It's not that justice won't ever be done to the road guy, but if a hundred chickens are ever to peck his ankles, it will have to be the Lord's doing, and not mine.

I am over here working on "bless, and curse not."

Moving on.

I knew going into it that the cabin would be built in whatever spare minutes Paul could find in between pastoring, teaching, seed cleaning, and everything else he does.

You would not believe how many extra things came up this past year--crises, projects, distractions and derailments of carefully laid plans.

And we needed a new storage building at the warehouse, having makeshifted things ever since Steve's fire.

Note the person at the upper left, just for perspective.

This storage building was huge, and it had to be finished by harvest, and of course it took on a life of its own, as these things do.  I walked over one day and there was my little Sparrow Nest, bare and unfinished, and there was that big building, all big and bullying and self-important.

Do you see that little cabin-frame sitting in the shed on the right? 107 times smaller and less significant than the building beyond.
I went home and drew sketches and asked Paul for numbers, and I figured out that the storage building had 107 times the cubic volume of my cabin.


But of course there was a Scripture for this as well, since I am never allowed to have my natural selfish thought processes go unchallenged. Proverbs 24:27--"Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house."

I'm pretty sure that applied here.

Harvest ended, school began, I had surgery and recovered, and Paul went back to negotiating with the county.  He spent hours at the kitchen table with graph paper scattered about, carefully drawing blueprints and outlines of the cabin.

That is a dedicated and determined man, right there.
They said it looks hopeful to get approval for the building, at last, but with one caveat: they couldn't approve the pillars.  They could approve a normal foundation but didn't have the means to assess the viability of the concrete pillars Paul and his nephew Keith had already poured.

He would have to get the design engineered.

I said, "This is our idea, our property, our insignificant little cabin!  If it washes away down the creek with me in it, it is our problem!"

Well.  This is Oregon.

So it had to be engineered.  Paul was ok with doing what he needed to do, which I appreciated, but I told him not to tell me how much it cost, because it was a lot.

Paul contacted the engineering firm in Arkansas that had worked on his storage building, and they tapped their calculators and said tsk tsk, you put only four rebars in each pillar, and they should have six apiece.

I kid you not.

However!!  If he would put in crossbars here and guy wires there, they would be strong enough.

They emailed the details.  Paul went to Staples and printed it all off and took it to the county office.

They said this looks hopeful as well, and Paul brought a copy home for me in a long plastic bag.

The official document, with eggs for size comparison.

I like those words on this paper.

Final final FINAL approval has yet to be given, but we are cautiously hopeful.  And I am thinking that God has some really really big plans for that Sparrow Nest.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why I Appreciate My Siblings

If you recall, we have a formerly-stray cat who was named Herbie Ferbie before anyone had a chance to do a personal inspection, and then he had five kittens which cleared that question up real fast.

One of the kittens is white.

I looked outside one day and watched Herbie nursing the white kitty and suddenly a curtain was pulled aside, the mists parted, and I clearly recalled my grandma Miller quoting a poem she'd learned in school, which means that this was coming to me from some 120 years ago, from Mommi's memory and mine.

I could just about hear Mommi saying it, in her cracking voice and German accent:

Kitty my pretty white kitty
Why do you scamper awehh?
I have finished my work and my lessont,
And now I am ready for plehhh!

The memory was followed by an immediate urge to share it with someone, so I found my phone, took a photo of the kitty, and sent the shot and the poem to my two sisters on our WhatsApp group.

Margaret said, "Love love love!!! Hadn't thought of that for years..."

Rebecca said, "Oh my. This is stirring up some dusty attic in my brain. Love it!"

One of the biggest blessings of having siblings is being able to share memories with someone.  To pull something out of the past, share it with them, and have them not only remember it with you but share their own perspective of the event, that is just such a gift.

I've had plenty of conflicts with both siblings and technology, but once we figure out the latter, it's a great way for us 50-somethings to connect with the former, especially if we live far apart.

And there's something about passing 50 that makes you appreciate siblings in a whole new way.

I've always been intrigued with the threads and themes that weave their way through our lives.  Sometimes they're bright and visible; sometimes hidden for long stretches.  What I really like is when you realize that a more-recent thread is actually attached to one from way back then.

I've always liked the verses from Ecclesiastes about casting your bread on the waters.

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

The verses took on a special meaning for us when we read them during our family worship in Kenya and Amy lit up like a Christmas tree and said, "There's our sign!"  So we adopted Steven and from a family of seven became a family of eight.

But it turns out the verse was special to me long before then.

A few weeks ago, we sisters had just had a conversation, precipitated by Dad's thorough gleaning of my grapes, about how it was such a terrible sin to throw away food when we were young.

Margaret wrote:
"Never heard the mush story! Reminds me of having a warm gooey Velveeta sandwich in my lunch for our 2nd grade field trip to Lake Ripley.  There was no way I could choke it down, and I think Mike Peterka was in similar straits so we snuck off and fed some surprised but grateful ducks in a stream.  I felt SO guilty.  And never told anyone.  Imagine my horror, a few months later, when you announced one day that there is a verse, Cast thy bread upon the waters, etc. and I knew I was doomed, and this verse was a sign from God that I would forever be haunted because of my wastefulness."

It was like seeing a thread go back a lot further than I had ever realized.

And of course we had a conversation about how our lives were saturated with guilt over normal kid stuff, and it is so nice to have siblings to validate your feelings.  Husbands are wonderful but can be completely bewildered about weird emotional tangles from your childhood.  Sisters were there. You don't have to explain a thing. 

I laugh harder over messages from my siblings than just about anything else.

If you're on Facebook, you've no doubt seen the videos of this guy named Ted Yoder who plays the hammered dulcimer [don't feel bad; I had never heard of it either].  Recently his videos went viral, as these things do on Facebook, and like every other current or former Yoder in the country I thought, "Yoder?!? From Indiana?!? I'll bet he's freindschaft!!"

My brother Fred sent me a link, so I asked him.  Our text conversation:

Me: I am very intrigued with this character and his music and the Yoder angle.  Is he freindschaft?
Fred: No idea.
[8 hours later]
Fred: Ted Yoder is Abie P Mattie's sister Sadie's granddaughter Lizzie's husband.
Me: Did you make this up?
Fred: If you really think you need to ask that, let's explore our connection with Abie P.
Me: Yes help me out here.  I'm not accessing this file.
Fred: Abie P was the great grandfather of all those Benders that are step related to us through Sim Detweiler's second wife Mandy.
Me: And there are little black dots walking around on the moon.
Fred: Dorcas Dorcas Dorcas...
[A week later]
Fred: I'm sure you could have followed the genealogy thing had I thought to mention Sam and Ella who ran the Das Amishen Essen restaurant or Polly and Esther who had the fabric store.
Me: Oh of course.  And Ketty Chupp with the hot dog stand.
Fred: There you go. There you go.

I like to think that with every passing decade I get a wee bit better at sniffing out Fred's error from his truth, even though it's as cleverly disguised as ever, and he still has that magic way of making me feel foolish and guilty for NOT believing him, even via text.

I am thankful for siblings and smartphones, which isn't something I thought I would ever say about either, back when we were first learning to know each other.

Quote of the Day:
[Sunday evening]
Me: I'd be more inclined to go to singspiration if there weren't so many congregational hymns.
Emily: I'd be more inclined to go to singspiration if there were more congregational hymns between 26 and 29.
[Long confused pause]
Me: OH! Hims!!