Sunday, January 14, 2018

Letter from Hburg--Raising a Family Between Cultures

33 years on, the family stands tall

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JAN. 14, 2018

 Feeling like ants in a cornfield, we meandered down the wide, needle-carpeted trails between the gigantic­ redwood trees at Jedidiah Smith State Park. Our six children, all adults now, scattered out ahead of us. One stopped to count rings on a log, another climbed up the roots of an enormous redwood to peek in a mysterious hole in the side, another marched far ahead and returned at a brisk pace, trying to tally as many steps as possible for the day.

“Would you ever have imagined this, 33-and-a-half years ago?” my husband, Paul, asked me quietly as we lagged behind. We were taking a family post-Christmas vacation in the same area of the southern Oregon Coast where we had honeymooned, back in 1984, which caused much reminiscing, even for Paul, who looks forward more than back.

“No,” I said, “I didn’t see this coming.” I couldn’t have imagined how challenging it would be to raise a family on that fragile boundary between religious tradition and modern life, how hard it would be to let adult children choose for themselves and what a blessing it would be when those choices were wise and healthy.

Maybe every generation goes through this — barely finding stability in adulthood before becoming overwhelmed at all the ways the world is changing. Just when you feel like life is safe and sane, and can’t we just park here for a while, please? — then there goes your teenage daughter, happily texting and Snapchatting her friends as she heads out the door to her next class.

I often think of my mom, who mostly kept quiet and prayed while her six navigated our generation’s changes.

She must have asked the same questions I do: Is this strange new thing good or bad? Should I freak out? Can I trust them to make good decisions? Should I say something? Can I let go?

I grew up first Old Order Amish and later “Beachy” Amish, a denomination that allowed a few amenities such as cars and zippers and electric lights. Amish young people enter adulthood knowing all about planting a garden, obscure Bible passages, sewing dresses and family history but knowing little of movies, college, popular music, TV shows, politics and most careers.

My sister and I were exposed to more of that world because we went to a public high school, and Rebecca was the first in the family, in multiple generations, to graduate. I followed a year later.

Mom could butcher 50 chickens in a day and piece a quilt, but she couldn’t understand the subjects we studied and was alarmed at the books we had to read. She knew nothing of the expected protocol for a graduation — what the ceremony would be like, what to wear, whether and how to celebrate, or how an open house was hosted.

So Rebecca and I took charge, taking cues from our classmates. We ordered announcements, arranged for portraits and made food for the guests.

Now, I feel for Mom, so heavily invested in our lives and yet so inept and confused when we chose such completely new paths.

After high school, I taught at church schools and then met and married Paul, squeezing in two years of college before we had a family.

We raised our six children in the Mennonite church and traditions. Even though the rules were more relaxed than in my childhood, we still didn’t have a TV, and we monitored the children’s media use, listening or watching together and discussing the themes and lyrics. While they had friends and influences outside the culture, they still grew up immersed in the safe, rural and somewhat isolated traditions of a dozen generations before them.

While we were at the front door keeping TVs shallow entertainment at bay, the Internet came creeping in the back door, potentially exposing the children to far worse. That was when we learned whether we had taught them to choose carefully what they watched and listened to, or if they could only follow specific rules.

Paul and I encouraged the kids to follow their gifts and interests, but we never pushed them to go to college. When most of their friends married and started families in their early 20s, we figured ours would too.

Instead, they are all single and are all in, or just out of, college, gathering one degree after another like my mom picked green beans with capable hands on a summer morning.

Again, I feel strangely between cultures and times. My Mennonite peers are planning their children’s weddings and welcoming grandbabies, while my more secular friends report that their grown children, like ours, are slow to marry and the parents wait, sometimes into old age, for a grandchild or two to appear.

Soon, I will be the least educated member of the family. Long ago, I was the expert at everything, and they came to me wondering what acorns are for and how do I double a recipe and is there a Bible verse that says your sister should stay out of your room?

Today, I put Sunday dinners on the table and listen in wonder and confusion as the conversation jerks from dystopian authors to fuel-to-air ratios to implicit biases to Bitcoin.

However, I also smile quietly, because in a strange turn of events, these unpredictable young people become, in some ways, even more traditional as they pursue a secular education. They ignore most of the social-media hashtag bandwagons and are not political, partly because no one represents their values and partly because they don’t see the political process leading to worthwhile change. They all want a traditional family, eventually, with plenty of children, and they value domesticity and homemaking. They like the personal dignity of dressing conservatively, but they don’t expect the rest of the world to follow their example. And they have a strong faith.

Really, they almost could be Amish.

On Christmas Eve, Ben the combustion-science grad student fed the chickens for me and then slipped and fell as he left the shed, pitching eggs in all directions and gashing his hand. Steven the paramedic student and volunteer EMT capably cleaned and bandaged it.

Amy the elementary-­ed­ major was in charge of Christmas dinner, helped by Emily of the communication degree and Jenny the future math teacher. Matt, the Navy engineer who will soon have a master’s in aerospace engineering, helped clean up.

We all got along remarkably well during the entire four days at the coast. Amy planned all the meals, and Ben planned the hikes and activities. Paul and I were probably too happy to give up these tasks. Yet, we both felt included and needed, pulled into games and conversations, and asked for our opinions and insights.

The redwood trees reminded me that growth cannot be rushed, and you might not see the results of your decisions until 10 or 20 years later. There’s seldom a clear light on that thin path between tradition and change, the safe values of the past and the scary possibilities of the new and different. You can’t control storms and disasters, but if you pray a lot and provide a sheltering canopy above, your kids just might grow into tall and strong young trees, full of new ideas yet blending into an ancient and beautiful forest.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

How to Change the World

When Matt was home for Christmas, we talked about running for President, since a number of people have told him he should.

He has a gift for seeing all sides of an issue and for explaining complicated concepts in understandable terms to normal people.  This is the sort of skill I want in a President, but--says Matt--few Americans have the patience to listen to explanation and nuance and details. They want sound bites and easily-repeatable slogans.

I asked him, skeptically, what he could actually accomplish if he were President. He said that a President's biggest accomplishments happen behind closed doors, and no one ever knows about them. For example, a President and his staff might decide not to invade Iraq after all, but the rest of the country and the world would never know what had been averted.

While he isn't that fond of either party or of politics in general, he likes the idea of changing the course of history in this way.

Meanwhile, I wrote a blog post about the winds of change that have blown through the Mennonite church in my lifetime. My friend David Miller asked, "While I appreciate and enjoy this article, I noticed it is from the perspective of a follower or spectator of new movements. But what if you happen to be an influential person in the new movement? That person cannot wait 20 years to see what will become of it. . . . How can a healthy, positive "wind of change" happen if someone isn't willing to cause a few ripples?"

I said, "Good questions. Short answer: I don't know. Long answer: I've seen a lot of positive change in the church such as better teaching on child training, more honesty about sexual sins, as I mentioned a much more caring atmosphere at my home church in MN, and even switching to veils at Brownsville. All of those happened over a long period of time with a lot of deliberate thought and discussion. I know God also works in sudden ways, with a sweeping wind. In my own life, those changes were marked by repentance and joy."

That conversation reminded me that some of us are called to effect change like the apostles' preaching that roused and rankled whole cities, and some of us are called to work quietly behind the scenes, making tents and quietly explaining the way of God more perfectly, like Aquila and Priscilla.

I prefer the latter, which ought to inform my choices and service but should not make me skeptical of the people called to the former.

However we go about it, it is a happy day when we know that we actually changed something for the better.

So, you may at times have heard me go off about Amish novels written by non-Amish authors. We can add to this Amish TV shows and Amish click-bait articles on BuzzFeed.

Despite all my ranting, it is supremely clear that people like these materials very much, so I have not reduced the flood of such media at all.

But the other day I did my own little part as the Lord gave me opportunity, and it was only a cupful dipped from the swirling frothy sea, but I was proud of that little cup.

A man wrote to me via Facebook message thus: 
Hello, Dorcas. I am working on a blog about Amish rules. Would you be willing to share with me some rules that Amish mothers must follow?

A shiver went down my spine. I replied:
"I need to ask a few questions first--what is your connection to the Amish? Who is your audience? And why would you have a blog about Amish rules? Just curious..

Is it a single post or an entire blog?"

I added the "just curious" so I would sound a little less hostile.

He answered:

An entire blog called 15 messed up rules Amish moms must follow seen by the general public
I am not trying to offend anyone so I am very understanding if you cannot help
I have amish friends in Pa but cannot name people

I began frothing at the mouth and madly typing. Meanwhile he got a bit nervous and wrote:

I probobly shouldn't have asked I apologize I was looking up Amish rules somehow I came across your name and thought I would ask someone who know the truth.
Thank you anyways I will search elsewhere.

By that time I had finished my reply which was:

It's fine that you asked. However, I don't think it works for non-Amish people to try to write about the Amish. Kind of like if I would try to write about life for the elderly in inner-city Chicago or truck drivers in Mexico.
Instead, I think you should write a blog about 15 messed up rules American women must follow.
1. You aren't considered beautiful unless you're skinny.
2. You have to wear makeup.
3. You have to be employed.
4. You're considered irresponsible if you have more than 3 children.
5. You get praised in the workplace for masculine traits like aggression, logic, and leadership instead of feminine traits such as intuition, nurture, sensitivity, and emotion.
...and so on.
Your best writing will come from writing what you know and observe personally.
Good luck!

Well, we all know that a simple No would have sufficed, but I just had to yell at him.

Now, the big question: would he listen to me? Really, what were the chances I got through to a guy surfing the Net trying to cobble a clickbait article together?  Maybe zero.

But lo, this lovely message came back:

Well put, I am going to change my subject thank you.


We are all called to do what we can to effect change, make a difference, and bring God's Kingdom to Earth.

Some of us will do this by rousing a crowd to action, and some of us will work behind the scenes in small ways that slowly accumulate into something significant.

The important thing is to do what you know you should.

Story/Quote of the Day:

About 23 years ago I was a stressed-out young mom with lots of issues and naughty children who wouldn't listen to me. One day I exploded, "Maybe I should just QUIT and let somebody else be your mom!"
They were supposed to say: "Oh, we're sorry, please forgive us, we'll be good."
Instead, there was a long pause and then little Emily said cheerfully, "OK!! I want Aunt Bonnie to be my mom!"
Today Emily was substitute teaching a bunch of third and fourth graders. She told the kids she's subbing today. And little Elijah piped up, "Hey, we should get Bonnie to sub sometime!"
I laughed harder than necessary, I think, but oh the sweet taste of life coming full circle at last.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Spiritual Winds

It seems like everyone is writing about church these days.

Asher Witmer is doing a whole series examining his history and experience with the Mennonite church, and what he is seeking and hoping for, over at 

Harvey Yoder writes, "I'm old enough to remember the walls and ditches and barriers created by people from different church groups among the Amish and Anabaptists. When I was Amish, people who left the plain church were often excommunicated, including myself. Jumping into the Beachy Fellowship circle was liberating, freeing and we talked among ourselves how restricting the old churches are. The Charity movement raised an incredible hullabaloo as people from all the plain churches flocked into this seemingly radical, unnerving and yet strangely attractive cult-like fanaticism about family and church and no standards. . . .Charity groups sprang up like mushrooms after a spring rain all over the United States,. . .Fast forward to today. The hot summer sun of modernism seems to have withered most of the mushroom churches. . . . Many of the adults and most of the children growing up in those circles have left the Charity churches and have disappeared into the general society. All in the matter of roughly 20 years."

It all makes me sit back in my rocking chair by the fire and reminisce about all the winds and trends that have blown through the American Christian church and especially the Mennonite church in the last 50 years.

And how those winds affected me. Or mostly how they didn't.

My most disaffected stage was when I was at our Beachy Amish church in Minnesota as a young adult. Dear me, the Rules, the Legalism, the Traditions. How could the old ladies like Mom and Joe Ketty and Alvin Mary just go on going through the same motions week after week and not want Something More, something Deeper, something with Life? 

How were they ok with just being so Stuck and so Spiritually Dead?

I also had issues with the leadership. I felt then, and still do, that that congregation was almost cult-like in how difficult it was to leave. Surely, if someone wanted to leave, it would be much wiser to simply say, "Ok, you're an adult, and God is working outside of this little church. Go see what He has for you."

[Which is pretty much the approach my pastor-husband has taken, God bless him.]

Instead, I and others endured phone calls and meetings with ministers that were far too much like the woman taken in adultery, accused and condemned before Jesus and the crowd.

But then all my agonizing about leaving or not, and how and when, and trying to explain it to the bishop--none of that was actually necessary in the end because I chose the one single acceptable way to leave our church--I got married!  To a Mennonite man who charmed everyone with his steady confidence and great insights into Scripture and life!

They still ask him to preach when we go back to visit.

After that, I never really went through those agonizing decisions about Leaving The Church. Instead, I am now a lot like Alvin Mary and Joe Ketty and Mom, plump and contented, sharing news and recipes after church.

Interesting how the grandmas, so traditional, so limited in their view of the world, so not on fire for Jesus by our fresh-from-Bible-School definition, quietly went around teaching children, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and healing the sick, actually doing exactly what Jesus said to do.


But I was going to talk about the winds that blew.

Whenever a new breeze whistled through my religious world, the chief proponents were always the ones I saw as Cool Spiritual People.

They always seemed to be on a different plane than me, like they had sniffed the jet stream and knew deep and high things the rest of us couldn't fathom. They used new and different words, and in their little groups, they immediately understood each other. Yes, mmm-hmmm, praise Jesus, my spirit bears witness to that.

I was never cool and spiritual. I was both attracted and repulsed by the changes I saw, wanting to be included, but thinking it was kind of pretentious and weird. But I would never have said that out loud. And I couldn't bring myself to use the vocabulary.

Mostly, I always knew that I was a bumbling sinner with lots of issues. It was important not to pretend to be something I wasn't, so no high and lofty spiritual life for me.

We note with all of the following examples that I had a persistent inferiority that colored my perceptions. Sometimes it made me cynical about trends that were actually timely and healthy, but it also saved me from following others down some bizarre paths.

There's no place like a Mennonite Bible school for dividing the cool and spiritual from the Not So Much. I can still see them--their eloquent prayers, the books they read, the long discussions on Apologetics and Eschatology. They were Deep.

And you-know-who was not-so-much, not a doubt about that.

During my school-teaching years, I attended a conservative Mennonite church that had a vocabulary and values surprisingly different from my Beachy-Amish background. These people were always talking about Convictions. You were supposed to have them, lots of them, the more the better. It didn't really matter what they were about, except they always had to do with church rules and being more conservative. They kept tabs on each other's convictions. Conservative was good and even cool. So if you would say--and show--that you had developed a conviction for a bigger head covering and longer dresses, you got lots of approval.

I was very bad at this, with the resulting disapproval and pull-asides and earnest exhortation.

There was a wind that blew through a neighboring church during my teaching years. It was the chic place to attend, where people murmured "mmmmm, yes, praise God," in normal conversation, and they would all get out of their seats during the service and hold hands and sing "Bind Us Together." They learned to start their prayers with "Father God," which was always one of the first signs of a traditional Mennonite becoming enlightened, and they were into speaking in tongues and exorcising demons.

I wasn't sure what to make of this, and watched in awkward fascination from the sidelines.

I've written before about the Bill Gothard/Basic Youth/ATI movement which came after we were married. It was hard, sometimes, to have so many friends who were part of my life and yet immersed in a system that Paul and I were suspicious of. Some friends were accepting of our choices, others were a bit too forceful in their gushing to us about the joys of homeschooling, of not using contraception, or of following Gothard's monthly schedule for sex, which seemed creepy at the time and now seems absolutely horrifying.

But what is hard to see from this perspective is that the people who were into Gothard seemed like the ones who had it all together, and we were just stubborn and weird, and we didn't love the Word like they did.

When we were working in Canada, it seemed like anyone who was anything in the mission got into counseling, and Touching Lives of Hurting People. Once again, they had a vocabulary all their own, and an aura of deep knowledge and insights. They quoted Dan Allender, went to Winnipeg for training, and talked about Heart Issues.

Paul and I were never encouraged to become counselors. After the trauma of the riot at Stirland Lake, a counselor was brought in to meet with anyone who wanted to discuss their experience. I was in the depths of morning sickness and remember thinking, desperately, "I don't need counseling; I need casseroles!" But I didn't say it out loud, and I didn't meet with the counselor.

Later there were the Charity churches and all their offshoots, which blazed over the landscape like a prairie fire. A Charity-offshoot preacher that we sort of knew was in church one Sunday, a powerful-looking man, sitting there frowning darkly and analyzing it all--the Sunday school lesson, the sermon, everything--was it actually the True Gospel or Traditional Platitudes? Somehow it was his to judge, and I was gratified that he reported to someone after church that Paul's sermon was Solid and True.

Why did I think this random pretentious guy was anyone to take seriously? That is just disturbing.

The shake-up in music in churches, from congregational hymns to "worship music" and choruses led by a band onstage, didn't affect our churches that much. However, it seemed the people who left the Mennonite church always gravitated for churches with the newer music style. More recently, however, Mennonite young people gravitate toward Liturgical churches.

Today, it seems like the cool spiritual young Mennonites are into adventure, photogenic missions, and being as urban and hipster as possible but retaining just enough of the cultural flavor to be unique and to keep the community connections. They also seem to be into drinking alcohol, not in excess but just enough to be sophisticated and to show that they are free in Jesus. The girls often retain some kind of head covering, such as beanies and fedoras and toques, with a low bun and lots of dangling strands of hair around the face.

Once again I am thoroughly uncool and confused.

From my perspective in the rocking chair, I've seen the ending of many of these stories. Mennonites tend to judge your life by how your family turned out, so I will do the same. Honestly, there really is not much rhyme or reason. I can think of Gothard followers whose families are complete disasters and others who are healthy and thriving. Many of the traditional folks who stayed in conservative churches did fine, but the churches with lots of convictions also produced an alarming share of pedophiles and cheating husbands. And of those who left, some did very well and some serve as an example of What Can Happen If You Go.

The only pattern I can find is that the people who were the noisiest about how we all ought to live often fell the farthest and crashed the hardest.

Meanwhile, the changeless, traditional Alvin Mary type of women were always plump and warm and welcoming, and always made me feel loved and special. The church of my childhood is still Beachy-Amish, but is a much more nurturing place than it used to be. Our church, where Paul has pastored for years, has had horrible hard times but is still a spiritual home for our family and a place where people know my shortcomings and love me anyhow.

Some things I've learned:
--We are all a bunch of sinners and Jesus is our only rock, foundation, salvation, and hope.
--Don't let anyone fool you with their awesome spirituality. The most truly Godly people will be the most humble and the most honest about their flaws.
--Both tradition and change can be good or bad, and you often won't know which until 20 years later, so good luck with that.
--A new wind blowing through your life and church might be a weird cult or it might be a fresh working of the Holy Spirit. Listen to Scripture and the Still Small Voice within about whether or not to move with the wind, and don't listen so much to friends or enemies or persuasive leaders or the Amazing Spiritual People or the newest bestselling author.
--If you follow Jesus, He will do all kinds of amazing things in your life, even if you are bumbling and stumbling and a little weird and full of issues.
--All the Glory is His, and you should be suspicious of anyone who wants a piece of it.

Friday, December 15, 2017

December's Column--Fighting the Darkness Without and Within

Stoke the fires within to fight winter gloom

By Dorcas Smucker
Register-Guard columnist
DEC 10, 2017

When I get annoyed at green fields, I know it’s time to fight back against the darkness.

I love Oregon, really. As a long-ago transplant from the Midwest, I am still in awe at the wildness of the Pacific Coast and the impossible magnitude of the Cascades. I like the secure sense of living in a valley framed by mountain ranges, and I love that there are always new waterfalls to discover.

But I have never learned to like Oregon winters — neither the gloomy skies nor the listless rain that hangs around but seldom works up the energy for a good impressive storm nor the damp cold that somehow chills my bones like Minnesota never did. Things that ought not to be wet are constantly soaked and dripping — trees, grass, cars, roofs, even chickens venturing out of the coop. And the way moss and mold creep over anything that stands still for a season — that is almost scary.

Every fall, it seems for a short time that things are progressing properly, as nature intended. Harvested grass fields are bare, acorns fall, temperatures drop, leaves drift downward, and rose hips emerge bright and red from brown wild-rose bushes beside the road.

Then the autumn clouds move in like a gray army, bringing a chilling and smothering of spirits. The days grow shorter, compounded by the end of daylight-saving time that cuts back the evening light by an hour.

Just when I think the bare fields ought to be frozen and covered with snow, they suddenly turn a bright, garish green.

You’d think I would find it refreshing, that splash of color. Instead, I find it annoying, taunting me with the fact that nature is all mixed up here, and this soggy winter will go on and on, verging on the edge of both fall and spring, without ever getting snowy and frozen for more than a few days, if at all.

When I waste emotional energy on green fields, of all things — that’s the sign that the encroaching darkness and mold have reached my soul.

Whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or just an unreasonable grumpiness, I have learned, after 20-odd years, it’s best to resist.

Giving in is easy, sinking into a self-absorbed and pitiful cocoon until spring. Unchecked, it can become clinical depression. Fighting back is tough but ultimately worthwhile.

Simple daily disciplines always come first, such as taking vitamin D, limiting sugar in my diet and going outside during the day.

I also choose gratitude, a simple discipline of the heart. Thanksgiving comes at an opportune time, bringing feasting and deliberate counting of blessings just as the last soggy leaves fall and the days grow constantly shorter. The holiday compels me to see, again, all that I’ve been given. It may be 35 degrees with sleet outside, my least favorite weather of all, but inside I can set the thermostat to 75, if I please, and the furnace does my bidding. We celebrate with a huge turkey from WinCo, an array of side dishes and a dozen friends and family, and I don’t have the time or desire to feel sorry for myself.

My third strategy is planning ahead for easy and fun activities, such as having my neighbor and friend, Anita, over for tea and conversation. Five family members came in the door, rattled around the kitchen, and left again as we talked at the table one afternoon. “I like how you just decide to do this, and then you do it, even if people come and go all the time,” Anita said. “You don’t wait until things are perfect.”

Waiting for perfection, I’ve found, lets the winter gloom spread like moss on an abandoned shed. Scheduling coffee with the sisters-in-law, a Handel’s Messiah concert, or half a day of secondhand shopping is a powerful antidote, even if the timing is inconvenient or the weather turns out to be terrible.

Even something as small as a London Fog from Dutch Bros, sipped in a car with rain streaming over the windows, brings warmth, indulgence, and a gentle boost of hope.

Lastly, the most powerful pushback of all is generosity.

It’s not surprising that the winter solstice coincides with Christmas, when we celebrate the light and hope of Jesus, the gift to a dark world. Giving becomes a personal form of light as well, dispelling the inner shadows. Choosing gifts for friends and family makes me think of others and what they need and enjoy.

Almost every winter, I host a giveaway online. I invite my blog readers to nominate people who have had a difficult year, so I can mail them a free book. The emails land in my inbox and I sit there in tears, reading of cancer, sick babies, car crashes, spouses abandoning their families, and a dozen other incomprehensible tragedies.

A book of mine will never make everything better, but I like to think it will feel like a little shaft of comfort, showing that someone cares. It dispels the selfishness in my spirits as well, proving the truth of Jesus’ paradoxical statement: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over …”

Some years, my husband and I participate in the annual “cookie project” of Gospel Echoes Northwest, a ministry based in Tangent. We go to a state prison and distribute cookies and handmade Christmas cards to inmates. There is nothing else like it for transforming your perspective and making your daily world — in any sort of weather — feel like a paradise of freedom and opportunity.

I may never come to love an Oregon winter. But choosing discipline, gratitude, deliberate fun, and most of all, generosity, will effectively fight off the invading inner gloom.

Around our walnut tree, during the longest nights of the year, quiet but determined daffodils already are pushing up from the cold wet soil. The prophet Isaiah still calls, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” And when the evening sun breaks out from behind the clouds and slants across a flagrantly green ryegrass field, it is truly a beautiful thing to see.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Happy Sad Giveaway Project

This is the season of long nights and short days, and it is also the season of gloom in weather and spirit in Oregon.

...but rainbows help.

I've learned that I need to deliberately choose light, just to survive. Today, when the sun was shining in grand fashion and the sky was blue, I went on a walk and also sat on the porch with the sun full in my face.

I also try to choose light in my spirit. As I wrote in my column for this month, to be published on Sunday:

Giving becomes a personal form of light as well, dispelling the inner 
shadows. ...

Almost every winter, I host a giveaway online. I invite my blog readers 
to nominate people who have had a difficult year, so I can mail them a 
free book. The emails land in my inbox and I sit there in tears, reading 
of cancer, sick babies, terrible car crashes, spouses abandoning their 
families, and a dozen other incomprehensible tragedies.

A book of mine will never make everything better, but I like to think it 
will feel like a little shaft of comfort, showing that someone cares.  

Ok, so I sent that off yesterday, and in a lovely bit of timing and affirmation, I got this note today:

A little more than 4 years ago, we had just buried our 31 year old brother-in-law after he drowned and I was really struggling with knowing how to deal with the grief myself not to mention how to help our eight children. I remember so well the day your book came in the mail. It felt like a light was handed to me in the middle of a very dark tunnel. That certainly wasn't the end of the struggles but several things gave me hope-your delightful writing and the fact that someone cared about me.

I cried, of course. And decided it's for sure time to post this giveaway again.

I've decided to call this almost-annual event the Happy Sad Giveaway Project, because it is always the oddest mix of tragedy and joy.

As mentioned, I sit at the computer and weep as the emails and stories roll in, but it is glorious to know that this is a little tiny actual thing I can do, and the nominating, helpless, concerned friends can feel like they are doing something tangible as well.

It's also a way of showing my gratitude for the fact that people have been buying my new book, totally of their own volition! I always find that amazing.

This is how it works:

You write an email ( or a letter (31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR, 97446) and tell me about someone in your life who has had a rough year and who might be encouraged by a book from me. If you like, you can specify which book to send, or tell me which ones they already have.

You also tell me the person's name and address.

I reserve the right to decline. But if I feel this is a qualifying recipient, I mail them a book.

A few rules: I'll mail them only within the USA. You can nominate someone in another country only if you provide a US mailing address.

Sunlight Through Dusty Windows is not eligible.

You can't nominate yourself!

The deadline is December 20.

Also: don't count on this to arrive in time for Christmas, because I'm busy with other book orders and events, and also I use Media Mail, which is slow and unpredictable at this time of year--but also much less expensive.

A list of titles is right here

One, two, three, GO! And be blessed!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Two Book Sales

Local people:

There are two book sales this week and I'd love to see you there.

The first is at the Register-Guard building on Chad Drive. It's on Thursday, Dec. 7, from 4 to 6 pm.

The second is in the Atrium at the Lane County Fairgrounds. It's on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 10 a.m to 5 pm.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Letter from Harrisburg: Old Friends

Old friendships are life’s priceless gems

By Dorcas Smucker
Register-Guard columnist
NOV. 12, 2017

"I've made new friends, but there’s nothing quite like old friends who know you and your family and your past,” a friend of mine said wistfully on a recent visit to Oregon, at a lunch in her honor.

I agree. Most friendships are only for a season of our lives, it seems, but once in a while we are given a friend who was there early and never really leaves.

My cousin Kay is that sort of lifelong friend. From childhood family reunions to living in the far North as young moms to random events since, our paths keep diverging and then unexpectedly connecting again. Recently, we met once again, at a church women’s retreat in Colorado, where Kay lives with her family and I was invited to speak.

The event organizer, on finding out that we were cousins and longtime friends, asked Kay to talk briefly at the end of the weekend about our shared history. She told of living in Kansas and seeing these Minnesota cousins when we came to visit our grandparents, sharing a duplex and a private code with me years later, late-night ice cream, and much more.

“Who would ever have thought?” we said afterwards. Her sisters and mine have lost touch, for the most part, but she and I keep showing up at the same place and time, as though this gift is meant to continue.

My first memory of Kay is when I was 7 or 8 years old, at a family wedding or funeral in Kansas. She and her sister walked in wearing little pastel-colored plastic barrettes in their hair. Our family was too Amish for anything fancier than bobby pins, and I sat on the backless benches and envied Kay and Cheryl those gorgeous pink and yellow barrettes shaped like bows and flowers.

Kay was my sister Rebecca’s age, Cheryl and I were a year younger, and the four of us had a kinship that went beyond our common Yoder genes. We were all dreadfully poor, for one thing, unlike our comfortable relatives. We all attended public schools, when most of our Amish and Mennonite friends went to church schools, and we shared a sense of humor.

So we wrote each other letters, because all Amish and Mennonite girls had penpals back then, and we had wild slumber parties with cousins in Iowa. Dutiful visits to aged Amish relatives in Kansas were brightened by the prospect of seeing Kay and Cheryl’s family. When the sisters attended a short-term Bible school in Minnesota, Rebecca and I drove four hours through a snowstorm, at night, to spend a weekend with them. I slept in Cheryl’s bunk and whispered with her so much the dorm mom came and shushed me.

Our paths diverged, and I never saw Cheryl after my grandma’s funeral. Oddly, it was Kay, who had always been more my sister’s buddy, who formed a lasting friendship with me.

In her talk at the women’s retreat, Kay recalled the period that bonded us most — the year spent living in a duplex at a remote residential school for Native American students in Canada. Kay and her husband, Gaylord, and son Dallas were on one side of the house, and Paul and I and our son Matthew were on the other, with a shared basement. There were no phones to connect us to the outside world, but each building or apartment had an ancient crank phone and a specific pattern of long and short rings, like our own Morse code. Two longs and a short for the girls’ dorm, for example. Everyone heard every ring, and anyone could listen to the conversations.

Kay and I came up with a ring tone of our own: five short rings meant “Meet in the basement.” The whole campus was mystified about this strange ring tone that wasn’t on the list we all taped beside our phones. Our secret worked until someone caught on. One evening the phone clattered with five short rings, and she and I headed to the basement where we both waited, confused, for the other to say what they wanted.

It was a year not only of chats in the basement but also of tragedy. In January, someone set fire to the generator shed that supplied power to the campus. Not long after, the students erupted in anger one night, breaking windows and assaulting and seriously injuring dorm supervisors and other staff.

We were 125 miles from police, fire and medical services. Kay and I and our babies huddled and prayed, and ever after had that unique friendship that comes from surviving something terrifying together.

Those incidents made us question our roles in the North, the Native culture, and most of all in the school. It led Paul and me to move to a reservation even further north, at the chief’s request, to help them establish a school so the older kids wouldn’t have to move far away to get an education.

Oddly, there in that frozen village, the one food we almost never got was ice cream. So on a visit to the mission headquarters, where Gaylord and Kay now lived, I confided my ice cream cravings and Kay decided I must have some. Late in the evening we drove to town. Dairy Queen was closed and so was McDonalds. Finally we went to Safeway and bought a pint of ice cream, but we forgot completely about spoons. We tore up the lid into makeshift scoops and sat in the car in the snowy parking lot in our winter coats, in the dark, eating out of the same pint of ice cream, laughing and talking.

Eventually we lived on the same side of a lake in Canada, and our growing children played together. Mine got the most vicious case of chicken pox I’ve ever seen. Kay brought her kids over to expose them, then set up an infirmary just like mine in her living room. But instead of our crew’s week of blistered skin and high fevers, her children got about a dozen pox apiece and kept on playing outside.

When we hit a moose one night and our van burned up, Kay gave me support and courage, and Gaylord loaded up the shell of the van and hauled it away.

Then we parted ways again.

Years later, Kay mentored and mothered our daughter Emily when she moved to Colorado’s dry climate to fight depression and a long-term illness.

Last week, I stayed in Colorado an extra day after the retreat to have time to talk with Kay. As always, she was so busy with a stream of people coming to her house that we had to go away in the car to be alone.

We didn’t get ice cream, this time. Instead, we drove around the countryside and she showed me where her married children live and where a mutual friend died in a car accident five years ago.

As always, we talked fast and intensely. We discussed our children’s choices that make us either proud or worried. We talked of husbands and history, grief and growth, memories and milestones. We discussed our creative hobbies and extravagant hopes for the future.

When one of us said, “If I had the chance, I would do things differently,” the other assured her that we all did the best we could with what we knew.

In a world of transience and change, I am thankful for old friends. They understand, without long explanations, who you are and where you came from. They have read the entire story of your life and seen you at your youngest and your worst, but have stayed with you anyhow. They have invested deeply in your children.

Best of all, whenever you meet, they fill you up once again with grace and sympathy and laughter.

Kay and me

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Hosting: A Thanksgiving Poem

I make my sister's dressing every year
"Aunt Becky's Yummy Stuffing" it is called,
So full of melted butter that I think
On any other day I'd be appalled.

I find "Joe-Katherine's" make-ahead potato
Directions in the blue Grove City book.
And for the best pecan pie to be had
In Bonner's Ferry Recipes I look.

Carrie Gingerich gave the recipe
For butterhorns with lots of eggs and yeast.
I mix a double batch of it because
We're feeding many at tomorrow's feast.

I thaw the corn that, as my mother taught me,
I cut from off the cob with sweeping strokes.
And Mrs. Habedank in Home Ec said
The fork goes on the left for proper folks.

Each year I gather family, friends, and strangers
To crowd around our table, long and wide
We laugh and talk and learn to know each other
And eat too much and maybe more beside.

Today I'm thankful for the gifted women
Who taught me all I know of cooking's art.
And special thanks to Mom for showing me
That hospitality comes from the heart.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Final Week of Blog Tour

The home stretch begins! Here are the final blog reviews and giveaways for Fragrant Whiffs of Joy.

Monday--Kendra at The Days of My Life.

Tuesday--Luci at Properties of Light.

Wednesday--Su at Born to Know Him.

Thursday--we put aside blog tours and focus on people and food and blessings

Friday--Shari at Confessions.

A very happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Blog Tour Schedule for the Week

Here's the schedule for all the stops on the Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour.

Everyone is doing a giveaway, and most are open for a few days, so if you missed a post you can go back and enter the giveaway a few days late.

These bloggers are worth reading, giveaway or not!

Monday, November 13: Rosina at Arabah Rejoice.
Christine at Shall Run and Not Be Weary.

Tuesday, Nov. 14: Jolynn at Then We Danced
Gina at Home Joys

Wednesday, Nov. 15: Tina at her author website, Author Tina Fehr.
Aurelia at Gravel Road Musings

Thursday, Nov. 16: Emily at EmilyMiller85
(Just one today!)

Friday, Nov. 17: Lydia Jo at Lydia Jo, the Blog
Bethany at About My Father's Business

Saturday, Nov. 18--Ruthie at The Blonde Bookworm
Dorcas at The Delightful Cottage

That's all for this week, but there are still more coming next week!