Thursday, December 30, 2010

Travel Plans

A few months ago we decided The Time Has Come to take Steven back to visit his birth country of Kenya, and to take the rest of the family back for a visit.

As you probably know, our family spent 3 1/2 months in Kenya in 2003-04 helping at a home for street kids. Paul helped get the school going, and we all got involved as we were able. Then we all fell in love with the youngest boy, Steven. Well, we fell in love with all of them in their own way, but Steven was special, and when it turned out that he was the only one of the 25 for whom no family could be located, at all, it seemed like a sign.

So we came back to the U.S. and between a social worker and lawyer over there and lots of paperwork here, we did an independent adoption. Paul was ready to go and get him and an hour before he was to leave, his dad died. Two weeks later he left, and jumped through all the hoops in three weeks without bribing anyone, which, we have been told, simply does not happen, [others have spent many months and dollars] and he and Steven came home on Christmas Eve.

Three years ago we were all set to go to Kenya for a visit, our family plus two high school seniors, and an hour before we were to leave, election-related violence broke out in Kisumu and we had to cancel our trip.

So with a track record like that we realize that "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."

But yes, we plan to leave in mid-January--all of us except Matt who is just weeks away from graduating--and spend a week in Kenya and then go to Poland and have a few days with Paul's brother John and his family.

We hope to look up Steven's old friends and teachers, visit the Mennonite missionaries, spend the night in a game reserve with rhinos sniffing around our cabin, and find places from Steven's past, as far back as we can track them.

Your prayers would be appreciated--for safety, and good health, and family unity, and especially for Steven, as he revisits what could be some very painful memories.

I realize it's a bit risky to announce our travel plans to the world, so let me just say that we hope to have someone stay here while we're gone, and if you decide to break in anyway, you won't find much of value, this being a Mennonite house and all, so no jewelry or drugs, maybe a few dimes down the couch cushions, and if you want to steal the computer I should tell you ahead of time that it's old and the sound doesn't work and even with headphones you can't understand anything on YouTube.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coming Home

Amy was at SMBI for twelve weeks, and then she came home, and I feel sorry for her. She hasn't complained a bit, I hasten to say, but I still feel sorry for her.

If you've ever experienced a Mennonite short-term Bible school, you know how it is. Intense, first and foremost, in friendships, classes, crushes, theology, discussions, just the whole spiritual atmosphere. Lots of people around, lots of personal reflection on who you are and who you're going to be, lots of growth.

And there's a consistent routine and cooks who make meals on schedule and deans who keep everything running smoothly and maintenance men who fix things. And people drop everything to pray with you and listen and have intense conversations. And give you backrubs.

And you spend 3/6/12 weeks getting to know a lot of totally new people as well as possible, which always makes you feel like you're on the edge of an amazing discovery. WHAT?? A Lancaster-PA guy who builds gazebos for a living can quote Winnie-the-Pooh as well as I can?? Awesome.

Or that's what it was like when I went to Bible school, and I gather the essentials haven't changed that much.

And then if you're like my gifted daughter, you spend a week on choir tour before you come home, and that ramps up the intensity even more, if that can be imagined.

And then you come home.

Home. Where all the guys are either brothers or dads instead of potential crush material, and they scatter the newspaper all over the living room, and hog the shower, and while your dad might enjoy an intense spiritual discussion if he hadn't been hauling cracked corn all afternoon and didn't have a sermon to study for, your brothers would rather talk about Get Fuzzy comics and the Ducks' spread offense. And your dad still hasn't fixed the porch swing that was broken when you left, and your brothers' bedroom is still just as messy.

Home. Where your mom is all frazzled because she seriously overcommitted herself all through the month of December, and when you get up late the next morning all happy with the rain on the roof and in the mood for a cup of coffee and a long spiritual discussion, your mom has already left for play practice at school and the dishes aren't done, and you know she's hoping you'll do them, and the kitchen is dark and has an odd smell, and you wish you could be in the kitchen at Bible school, where the lights are always on, and the cooks are always cheerful and glad to see you, and the coffee is always hot.

Home. Where sisters are young and annoying, and you have to live with them, like, forever, unlike the (few) people at Bible school who were also annoying. And they talk your ear off in the evenings about things like which insects are harmful and which are not, and about what they dreamed last night, and the night before, and they listen to your Bible school stories to a certain point, but they really don't Get It, because everything you say reminds them of more bugs or dreams or something equally mundane.

And it doesn't occur to anyone to offer you a backrub.

Home. Where both your parents mean well, and it's not that they're not saved or anything like that, but really have they had any spiritual growth in the last year? Have they read anything that stretched their minds? Have they really thought about what they're doing, and why, and about their impact on the world? And you know if you would broach the subject they would sigh and try to come up with answers to humor you, and then in the middle of the conversation your dad's phone would ring again and he would talk in his loud voice about Uncle James's ryegrass purities, and your mom would holler at your brothers to gather the upstairs laundry, and then she would shriek because she forgot to get the chicken out of the freezer for supper, and you would wonder why you even bother.

So that is why I feel sorry for Amy coming home from Bible school. She has been sweetness itself, let me hasten to say, and hasn't complained a bit about the level of chaos and clutter that greeted her, but I listen to her Bible school stories and look at her pictures on Facebook and see her smiling at texts from her friends in the East, and remember what it was like for me many years ago, and so I feel sorry for her and anyone else who has to finish at Bible school and then come home.

Quote of the Day:
"But it's no fun if everybody just agrees!"
--Stephie Smucker, at the Wilton Smucker clan dinner today, when we were talking about how the Smuckers love to argue for the sake of arguing

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Invitation, A Meeting, and A Clever Idea

So I wrote all that stuff about our Christmas play and didn't think to invite you. Yes, you're all welcome to come. Wednesday the 22nd. 7pm. Brownsville Mennonite. Take exit 216 off of I-5 and go east about 3 or 4 miles, and we're on the left right before you get into town.

And you know going into it that this is a kids' production with a frazzled director, so arrive with plenty of grace in your pocket. I should add that Arlen K. is taking care of the singing part for the older kids, and Stephie S. for the younger, and the music will be lovely.

And I should add that yesterday I was home all day except for going to a Christmas pageant in the evening, Fairview Mennonite's famous You Are There, and there is something healing about being home all day and getting the bed made and the laundry caught up and the vacuuming done and then going away with your husband in the evening.

Something cool happened at the pageant. I saw a young man walk in and something about the way he walked looked terribly familiar. He looked just like...yes! Marty from our wild Greyhound trip last summer!

If you've traveled much you know how it is when you're stranded overnight in Minneapolis or Spokane or wherever--you form these instant friendships with fellow travelers and talk for hours on end and feel like you've survived something together. And then you exchange email addresses when you finally go your separate ways, but you never see them or hear from them again.

That's how it was with the infamous "Carol" and a couple of older women we met, and with Marty. He was a clean and Christ-like young man about Matt's age who was a rock of safety and sanity to Jenny and me in some very unnerving circumstances. I hadn't expected to ever see him again, but there he was at the Fairview Christmas pageant, of all places. So that was a very unexpected blessing, and it turns out he knows my young friend Heidi Miller and her family, I'm guessing through cattle-dealing connections.

You'd think the Smuckers are competing to be the most clever, and I'll let you decide who won. I have this bad habit of buying and wrapping Christmas presents early and then forgetting what's inside. So this year I wrapped some and wrote the receiver and the contents on a sticky note in German or Pa. Dutch in the most obscure way possible. For example, something I got for Paul says, "Ebbis fa da Mann sei Schrift" and if you don't know Dutch, sorry, I'm not going to translate because he reads this.

I also have gifts for the youngest three that all say, "Schneider." There's a more common word I could have used but they're too familiar with it.

Well, they got their heads together and came up with what they thought was a very clever idea, and secretly got on Google Translator. But their big plans came to naught because apparently Google Translator doesn't work with Pennsylvania Dutch.

We will all just keep quiet about the fact that "Schneider" is way more High German than Pa. Dutch.

Quote of the Day:

"Amish nonfiction novels."
--a Google search that brought someone to my blog

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Edited Blog Post

A few days ago I sat down and wrote a blog post (finally!) that started like this:

I feel like I should write a nice cheerful blog post but I am not very
cheerful. Sorry. Lots of things are wrong in my life and somehow they
all coalesce in my mind into One Huge Major Thing and that is The
Christmas Play at school. I signed up for this at my husband's request
and he was so smooth and convincing and made it sound so eminently
workable but right afterwards everything else started disintegrating,
like the tree, and the dog, and then Emily who was in Virginia going to
college and struggling with depression had a scary breakdown and limped
through finals and flew home, and some other stuff as well like the ants
being so bad in our kitchen you'd think we lived in Kenya again and they
can survive 45 seconds in the microwave, I am serious, and I assure you
it was an accident but the timer dinged and I opened the door and there
they were, scampering around, and there is something about that that
makes you feel powerless.

So as you can see it started out on a pathetic note and went downhill from there, and Paul thought it was a blatant beg for sympathy, but still it maybe helps to explain why I've been a bit absent lately in all areas of life, and I'm not as averse to begging for sympathy as Paul is. I'll paste in a few more explanatory paragraphs that of course were exaggerated in the heat of the moment:

So I had to do stuff like drive the dying dog to the vet and hold him
while he was put down and an hour later show up at school with a smile
on my face and direct a bunch of boys who were never
intended by God to be in a drama of any sort, ever, world without end,
amen, and I went completely against God's will for their lives and stuck
them in difficult dramatic roles involving walking out of that door and
into this one without talking, stuff like that, and have been paying
dearly for my audacity ever since.

And I had to, a few times, sit in the car talking to Emily in Virginia,
my stomach an icy acidic pit, and try to convince both of us that she
was going to be ok, while calculating in my head how soon and quickly I
could fly to Virginia to be with her, and then collect my wits and go
inside with a smile and direct boys again, and help a bunch of
chattering girls figure out who should wear which shawl and carry which
basket, and act like it all mattered, and this wasn't so easy either.

Then there was the paragraph about trying to make my husband feel guilty for talking me into it, but we'll skip that.

And then the overly dramatic paragraph about the program next year:

But I am thinking desperate things like, If I even mention directing the
play next year, take me out and shoot me, but that is too violent, after
all, so you have my permission to dump ice water over my head instead,
or better yet take me out for coffee and plead earnestly with me while
the white-coated men slip in from behind and take me off to someplace quiet.

And some more depressing details:

The play, by the way, is Why the Chimes Rang, which I used to think was
a charming story but now I think it has too much dialogue
and everyone will wonder what the point is, plus the grandmas won't be
able to hear, and I am going to have to prompt TR the night of, I just
know it, and the choir mikes won't help with the sound, I just know that
too.

And more pathetic stuff about how this affects my life. I was really on a roll:

Meanwhile I have been leaving the bed unmade and the basket of laundry
sitting there for four days because I have been sewing a red cape for
the king and a hat for the baker. And making phone calls to track down
a crown, and hauling furniture to church for props. And working way too
hard to find benches for the church scene and finally settling on, for
one, the old coffee table that was stored in the shed and that dropped a
chicken feather on the new church-platform carpet.

And I will skip the paragraph about parents who had [justifiable] opinions about the play except to say:

I am thinking they should all
sign up to direct the play next year, that is surely God's will for
them, and His will for me is to stay home and wear a big apron and bake
Christmas cookies.

And things concluded on a higher note, including the QOTD:

So that is why I'm not very cheerful but the play is a week from tonight
and after that I will be in a much more cheerful frame of mind, I
promise, because no matter how badly it goes, it will be over.

Quote of the Day:
Me: How shall I celebrate when this (adjective) play is over? Maybe
I'll sit down and watch a movie. The whole way through. I haven't done
that in ages.
Emily: I know a good movie you could watch. It's a Christmas movie.
Me: Not The Christmas Shoes I hope. I don't need to be bawling my eyes
out again.
Emily: [wicked grin] No, it's called Why the Chimes Rang.
Me: AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear me. See what I mean. You don't need to feel obligated to feel sorry for me, really. I signed up for this job, after all, and for this life, but I admit I didn't read the manual too thoroughly beforehand, especially that part about all the unexpected things that would slam me in the face. Ya, vell. Yesterday I called one of the moms involved to clear up a misunderstanding about the play and ended up talking for an hour about other things, such as her life, which is even more complicated than mine at the moment, and I found that extending sympathy did wonders for my own frame of mind. Plus some fine church people gave us some cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, and two jars of granola. That helped a lot too.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Come to the Concerts!

Jenny and Ben are singing with the Joyful Noise choir this fall and will be giving a Christmas concert on Friday, December 10th. If you're in the area, feel free to come. No charge.
Calvin Presbyterian Church
1736 NW Dixon
Corvallis, Oregon
7:30 pm. Prelude music at 7:15.

Directions: Take Hwy 34 over the bridge into Corvallis. Turn right on 9th St. Turn left on Garfield. Turn right on NW Dixon. The church is on the left just past the elementary school.

Then, far far away, Amy will be on a concert tour with the SMBI choir and visiting all kinds of places in the Midwest teeming with my relatives and friends and acquaintances. Here's her schedule:

Riverview Mennonite Church, White Pigeon, Michigan
Friday, Dec. 10, 7:00 pm

Sunnyside Conservative Mennonite Church, Kalona Iowa
Sunday, Dec. 12, 9:30 a.m.

Salem Mennonite Church, Leon, Iowa
Dec. 12, 7:00 pm

Cedar Crest Amish Mennonite Church, Hutchinson, Kansas
Monday, Dec. 13, 7:30 pm

Spring Hill Mennonite Church, Latham, Missouri
Tuesday, Dec. 14, 7:30 pm

Hillside Mennonite Church, Shoals, Indiana
Weds. Dec. 15, 7:00 pm

United Bethel Mennonite Church, Plain City, Ohio
Thursday, Dec. 16, 7:30 pm

Everyone is welcome at any of these. Make sure you introduce yourself to that short alto with freckles and tell her how you're related to me.