Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Letter from Harrisburg

Letter from Harrisburg

A well-spun yarn can’t  be cut short

My sister-in-law Barb was over last evening, sitting in a wing chair reading a book while we waited for the rest of the siblings to come for a family meeting.
Suddenly, I remembered something. I had a story to tell my family before everyone arrived. Nothing as profound as a family legend sort of story, nor an embarrassing experience story, but a did-you-hear-what-­happened story that was worth more than just a simple statement of fact.
That is the first step — deciding if it’s worthy. Even I, who can yarn a story out of accidentally sweeping the cat off the porch, admit that a few things merit only a brief sharing of information. But this called for more.
Next, I made sure I had the attention of everyone within earshot. My family laughs at me for this habit, but a story falls flat if you have to go back and repeat the first half because people were rattling dishes or reading the sports page.
“Did you hear about Katie?” I asked, sitting up straight with my eyes open wide, the universal signals for “Hear me, People, I have something to say.” “I heard she was sick,” my daughter Emily said.
That was a great introduction. I wound up for the first pitch, so to speak, but just as I took a deep breath,
“She has a pancreatic cyst!” Barb burst out.
I was horrified.
“You truly are a Smucker!” I said with maybe a little more vehemence and venom than the situation required.
Barb looked bewildered.
“You finish my stories!” I wailed. “With the ending! Before I get there!”
Barb, I am guessing, was thinking, “What? You asked. I answered.”
I have been married for almost 30 years.
My husband comes from a wonderful family of generous and loving people who take care of each other and work hard and say exactly what they think with no malice and no subtle twists and no feelings getting hurt.
I am sure a few of us in-laws have been a mystery to them, with our abundant complicated emotions and tendency toward drama, but they have always acted like this was OK and we weren’t obligated to be just like them.
Like many other things, we were not a big deal. Such acceptance is a blessed relief.
So I have come to accept and even enjoy our differences, except for this one flaw — so shockingly different from how I was raised — of cutting in to finish someone’s story in the most efficient way possible.
I come from Yoder-­Miller-Schlabach stock, where storytelling is high art, perfected around picnic tables at family reunions, by the hitching post after an Amish Sunday service, or in a hot kitchen full of sisters-in-law and steaming applesauce.
First the pause in the conversation, the little smile that portends a wonderful story, the slow introduction, the expressive gesture, the heavy pause, the mimicked conversation, the building tension, the expectant grins or gasps in the audience, the sitting up straighter, another pause, and finally the blessed ending, followed by wild laughter or a few tears of heartfelt empathy.
The audience also knows its role well — the attentive listening, the affirming nods, the well-timed chuckle or shake of the head or murmured German ai-sis-­­unfaschtandich, which means anything from, “Oh my” to “You’ve got to be kidding” to “Shocking. Just unbelievable.”
You don’t interrupt the story. Everyone knows this. If you need the lemonade, you quietly gesture to Levi at the end of the table, and never in a hundred years would you do something so shameful as to speak up and give away the end of the story.
From retelling the incident in line at WinCo to the story of Great-Grandma and Aunt Kettie selling cherries in Portland, this is how it’s done. It’s the Right Way.
I still think that to leap into the story and tell the ending before it’s time is an appalling and unthinkable breach of etiquette.
The Smuckers were not raised like this.
To them, it’s all about getting to the point as quickly as possible. The facts are important, the information and the conclusion. And, most of all, stating it immediately if you know it. They have no tolerance for waiting, for suspense. They have no compunctions about interrupting.
This is why Barb blurted out that Katie had a pancreatic cyst.
Mercifully for my precious little story, it so happened that none of my listeners had understood exactly what Barb said, so this time, for once, the story was saved. I told it from the beginning, how Katie was going along fine and then suddenly and with no warning at all wasn’t feeling well, and her mom found her in her room in terrible pain, and they spent the day at the hospital instead of at Courtney’s graduation, and it turned out to be a cyst THIS BIG, and this week they’ll probably do surgery.
Not the most amazing of tales, I admit, but worthy of a proper telling.
This is what you don’t think about ahead of time, I want to tell the parade of happy young couples in our lives getting married this summer: your spouse’s family, fun and happy bunch that they might be, is in many ways a different culture from your own family.
They are going to do some things completely wrong. Things that your family has always done right. Roles, communication styles, whether you fuss over a sick person or leave them alone, whether you eat everything you put on your plate.
Or that’s how it seems to you. Your spouse will see it from the opposite angle, with the labels reversed.
Part of what makes marriage such an amazing institution is the process of slowly mixing your cultures so you both end up better people than you would have been otherwise.
My subtle-timing, story-telling family also taught me the unfortunate communication style of turning silent and sad when I was upset, and waiting for someone else to notice and ask what’s wrong.
I didn’t realize how far I’ve come until I saw a certain daughter do the same thing the other day, all forlorn on the other side of the dinner table, waiting for us to say something.
“Listen,” I said, blunt and articulate as any born-and-bred Smucker, “No more of this. You either bring it up and talk about it or be happy.”
I’ve switched my labels, I realized.
I still think it’s appalling to interrupt another’s story and insert the ending, but my determined training of my children hasn’t worked very well. The genes prevail. You must Say It or die.
Some time ago my husband said, “Are you looking forward to getting together with my family next week?”
I said, “Yes, except I have to prepare myself that if I do get to tell a story and other people can actually hear me, someone else is bound to — ”
“Finish it?” interrupted a daughter.
I gave up. This was beyond fixing.
We all laughed about it.
This is my message for the newlyweds: Learn from each other, bend your old ideas, flex your limits of acceptance. Some things are wrong, some are right, some are both, just from different perspectives. Love your in-laws anyhow. Let things go. Laugh a lot at the stuff that drives you crazy. It will make a great story someday, and maybe you’ll get to tell it all the way to the end.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On Being Left Out

On Saturday we attended a beautiful outdoor wedding.

Afterwards, the hundreds of guests milled around and caught up with relatives and took pictures.

I was taking lots of pictures for the sake of Amy who is in Thailand and couldn't be there.  On the wide grassy bank leading down to the reception area I suddenly came upon a little drama happening.

Three sweet little girls in matching purple dresses were talking with another little girl in orange and white.  I don't know who they all were, exactly, except relatives of the bride, because I think there were nine little girls in purple dresses in all, and they popped up everywhere you looked.

The other little girl looked very upset.  She turned to me and said, "My mom said I'm supposed to be best friends with all the girls but they say that what they say is only for the Purple Girls to hear!"

I thought, "Oh my." And, "Such pain, so young!"

I looked at the Purple Girls.  "Do you think you could play with her?" I pleaded.

Two of them looked noncommital and also a bit scared of me.

Then the third one grinned and said cruelly but adorably, "Welllllll, what I say I just want the Purple Girls to hear!"

Oh dear.

No doubt they thought me a meddling old biddy, but I poured on a bit of shame and guilt, and soon one of them took the left-out girl's hand and said, "I'll play with her."

I praised her like she had just offered to give up a kidney.

And then I left to take more pictures.

And to think about being Left Out.

We discussed this afterwards in some detail, my family and I.  I think the term The Purple Girls has been forever grafted into the family lexicon.

You've been there, right?

There's The Purple Girls, and they just have It--the fun, the friends, the laughter, the something intangible that makes you want to be one of them, that irresistible and cool Something, the Belonging.

And they leave you out.

The pain can be obscene.

Guys and girls, kids, teenagers, adults.  Actually, I think it's worse when it happens to your children, and it's exponentially worse when you or your family/son/daughter are obviously the only one of the young-marrieds-at-church/cousins/class/youth-group/team who weren't included in the barbecue/slumber party/lunch/camping trip/dinner/shopping trip.

I hope I am quick to figure there must have been a good reason and slow to take a slight, but sometimes it's just right in front of your face.

Recently I read this excerpt from the Ask Amy column:

Dear Amy: Every fall, my sister, cousins and a cousin’s sister-in-law have a weekend shopping excursion in our home city.
We stay in a hotel, treat ourselves, shop for our children and go out for lunches and dinners. It is a great time to reconnect.

I have a sister “Wendy,” who we do not invite. She is offended to the point of tears when she finds we have not invited her. My two sisters and I are very close in age, but Wendy hasn’t been as close to this set of cousins as my sister and I have been through the years.

We are all married stay-at-home moms. Wendy is a divorced, working mom with one young child.

There are several reasons we do not include her. We know she doesn’t have very much money for such an outing. She also does not have many of the same interests as we do. Her life is quite different from ours. We’re not interested in what she has to talk about. She complains too much about her aches and pains, and claims to have some kind of neurological disease that some of us feel is more psychosomatic than real and which she uses to avoid getting up for church on Sundays.

She also complains about her ex-husband who left her for another woman, but everyone knows it takes “two to tango” and she is not without fault.

We’re all very active churchgoers, while she only sporadically attends services. Plain and simple, she does not really fit in with us anymore.

She takes it very personally, and last year even came over to my home unannounced crying about it, which upset my children and caused my husband to threaten to call the police if she did not leave.

Now she barely speaks to me and has told our relatives that I am a horrible person (even though I’ve helped her).

How can we get her to understand that she should perhaps find another set of friends whose lives and interests align more closely with hers? — Sad Sister

Dear Sad: First, let’s establish that I agree with your sister: You are a horrible person.

Obviously, you can do whatever you want and associate with — or exclude — whomever you want, but you don’t get to do this and also blame the person you are excluding for not “fitting in.”

The only way your sister would ever fit in would be for you to make room for her. You are unwilling to do that, and that is your choice. But her being upset is completely justified, and you’ll just have to live with that.

Perhaps this is something you could ponder from your church pew, because despite your regular attendance, you don’t seem to have learned much.

I've had occasion to think about this at times in the past and recently a situation came up again--with my children, but it bothered me worse than them--that made me ask lots of questions.

What is it about exclusion that makes it so painful and so hard to let go?  Or am I just hyper-sensitive?

Where is Jesus in these moments, and what does He say to us?

When do you mention it to someone involved and when do you let it go?

I have developed many stock truths to get me through situations and just settle the boiling pot of jam in my soul and give me rest.  For example:

Nasty emails or blog comments: "They just want to be heard." "Yes, I made a mistake, but I'm allowed to make mistakes and I'll do better next time."

Bad days: "This will make a great story someday."

And so on.

I'm still working on a response to feeling left out, a redemptive and truthful way to face it.  "Suck it up, Buttercup," doesn't seem quite right.

One is so powerless in such a situation.  It is what it is, and there is no good or easy way to make it all better.

Talking to the people involved is usually too awkward and will make them feel obligated to include you or your child next time, not because they like you/them, but because they're afraid of hurting your feelings.

I did think of this: it is a very dumb thing to give someone else power over your own happiness, and to make your joy dependent on what others choose to do or not do.  But I'm not sure it makes it easier.

I asked myself if I had ever knowingly been a Purple Girl.  I could think of a few times, such as when a group of women excluded one woman, who should have been with us for a fun expedition, because of another woman's issues with her.  I went along with this action because--of course--I feared being left out myself.

I plan to apologize.

My mom was absolutely adamant about not only including the unpopular people, but giving them higher priority than the cool ones.  Thanks to her, I don't have a lot of regrets in this area.

I've concluded that most of the time it's thoughtlessness rather than spite that motivates people to leave others out.  Not that it's easy to be overlooked or ignored, but I suppose it's better than being deliberately singled out.

I'd love to hear from you.   Your stories, your solutions, your regrets, your wisdom.

Normally I don't encourage anonymity but if it helps you share your story, go for it.

And a happy ending: I was told that before the weekend was over, Little Miss Orange-and-White was happily playing with the most outspoken Purple Girl.  There were no lingering scars, said Little Miss's  mother, who thought this was far smaller of a deal than I did.

May all our stories end this well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Hug

Nothing makes you connect the dots or sew efficiently like having a daughter overseas.

Amy needed some dresses for the hot weather in Thailand--something light and cool but opaque enough to wear on their own without layering.

So I sewed a dress and sent it to the Yoders in Florida who were going to go see their daughter in Thailand.  But it hasn't gotten to Amy yet, because Mrs. was leaving about two weeks before Mr., and the package got into his suitcase, and then he got gallstones and wasn't sure he'd go at all.

Meanwhile we found out that a couple from Washington State that works with the Macedonian Teaching Ministry in Thailand was going to be giving a talk on Monday evening only an hour north of here.  Amy connected the dots--we were going to go hear them anyway; they could take some mail for her!

At 12:27 pm I heard back from Mrs. Flory--yes!  they'd be happy to deliver a package in addition to a few letters.

All right then.  I planted my feet, rubbed my hands together, set a timer, and started in.

I think it was the quickest I have ever sewn a dress.  Two hours and 34 minutes, start to finish, cutting included.

I hope Amy likes it.
My seamstress friends Lois, Verna, and Edna can do it faster, I'm sure, but I was competing only with myself and the clock.

I even sewed the seams and serged the edges separately so Amy could alter it easily.

I didn't make any mistakes with the zipper.  In fact, I even had the right zipper on hand.

As I raced along, stitching the yards of hem at the bottom of the skirt, I kept glancing to the spool where the navy-blue thread was going and almost gone.  I was sure I'd have to find another spool and take time to match it properly.

But it lasted.  And lasted.  All the way around.

There was a tiny bit left so I stitched down the facing at the shoulders and along the edge of the zipper.  Then I was all done.  And the thread looked like this:


Mrs. Flory was delighted to deliver it, even though they still have a bunch of traveling to do.

Dolly the cousin's daughter was here today.  I told her about this.  She said:

Quote of the Day:
"That was a God hug!  That was DEFINITELY a God hug!"

And when I forgot to put the bag of strawberries back in the freezer after I made a fruit smoothie, she said, "This will melt if you leave it out."
I said, "OH! You're right!"
She said, "That's ok.  I'm used to absentminded mothers."

P.S. Since Christine asked: This is the pattern I used.  I brought the neckline in 1/2 inch at the shoulders.  And I made the sleeves a bit longer.  The skirt is nice and flared but it isn't nearly as gathered as the pattern picture shows.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Fire

Paul's grandpa, Orval, built a grass-seed warehouse in 1959.  His son Wilton owned it for a number of years, then we bought it in 2000.

We bought Wilton and Anne's house that year also, which was a great arrangement, as it's less than half a mile from the warehouse.

A few years before Paul took over the warehouse, his older brother, Steve, built a pellet mill on the same property, just across the driveway to the north.  He would take the "screenings," (chaff, bits of straw, weed seeds, etc.) from our warehouse and many others, and somehow steam them and then put them through a machine that formed them into pellets.

A lot of the pellets went for cattle feed and also feed for other animals.

Here's a shot of the businesses taken a few summers ago.  Not the best shot but who thinks to take a "before" picture.  Generally, the pellet mill is to the left and the warehouse to the right.

Steve's business grew and more equipment and storage buildings were added over the years until he had some 90,000 square feet of buildings.  Steve's sons worked for him and one of them, Randy, branched out into a business of his own called RS Feed.

Paul and Steve's work didn't overlap too much but they both used Steve's truck scales, they shared storage space back and forth as supply and demand waxed and waned, and they bought, sold, and shared equipment and tools back and forth.

One of the dangers that Steve faced that Paul didn't was spontaneous combustion from piles of damp organic material--such as screenings.

He had had a few scares over the years but always managed to divert the danger by moving the hot material and putting out any hot spots.

On Tuesday evening of this week, Paul's nephew and employee, Keith Birky, came running to the front door and asked us to call the fire department.  He didn't have his phone with him, but he had seen smoke at the pellet mill.

So Paul and Keith left while I called 911.  I had always imagined 911 operators as being just as desperate about a situation as I would be, but no, first there was a recording, then some questions, then "Oh wait, you reached Lane County.  I need to transfer you to Linn County," then they weren't sure they could take me seriously because I wasn't at the scene, so I gave them Paul's number and they called him to verify things.

The sheriff came out, and two fire trucks.  Meanwhile, Steve was moving the hot pile of screenings and before long everyone was satisfied that the danger was over and the buildings were safe.  So everyone went home.

I still haven't heard if it was that exact pile that flared up during the night.  Strange, how these things work, and all the if-only's that swirl like lingering smoke.

Because often someone is there working late.  And often Randy is there at 5 a.m. And during the busy season, which is coming up shortly, someone is often there around the clock.

But that night, no one was there.

I got up a little after 6:30 on Wednesday and just a few minutes later there was a knock at the door.  It was Chepe Patzan, who delivers pallets for Smith Seed.  He told me there's a fire at the pellet mill.  I said, "Flames?  Or just smoke?"  He said, "Flames."

Oh dear.  "Should I call it in?" I asked.  He said, "I already did."

Paul was awake by this time, hastily dressing and rushing out the back door.  Paul prides himself on not getting too excited about stuff, and I accuse him of minimizing the truth, so when I called him a few minutes later and asked him how bad it was, and he said in a stricken voice, "It's awful,"  I knew it really was awful.

So I hastily got dressed and headed down as well.  The road wasn't blocked off yet but there were fire trucks everywhere, so I parked at Uncle James and Aunt Orpha's and walked down.  Orpha was outside watching and looking worried.

The firemen were setting things up at the old bridge to pump water out of Muddy Creek.


It was really, really awful.

What is it with fire, at once terrible, fascinating, powerful, consuming?

Steve looked very calm for watching years of work get destroyed.

Eight fire departments were there, from three counties.

By God's mercy, our warehouse was spared.  It was so close by, a big, airy structure, framed inside with lots of wood, 50 years old.  But the breeze, when it blew at all, blew steadily toward the north, all day.  And the firemen kept the side of the warehouse hosed down.

Also by God's mercy, no one was hurt or killed or, as far as I know, ever in any real danger.

Every so often the firemen would switch sides, first at the fire, then dousing the side of the warehouse, which you can see steaming here.
Then I went home to get Jenny off to school, and Paul too,who found it hard to leave the scene but decided to go teach anyhow.  One benefit to not getting too excited about things is that you can set aside the drama of the moment to go do what needs to be done.

The view from Powerline Road looked like this, with the sun shining behind the smoke.

For some reason there's a connection at a time like this that doesn't happen at other times.  Ernest Birky and two other men whom I didn't know were standing by the old barn, watching.  Max Coffey was standing in his driveway, drinking coffee--appropriately.  I stopped to talk with all of them.

Powerline Road; James and Orpha's house
Soon after I got home, Randy's wife Shelley stopped in and wondered if she could leave her two little girls here while she went to see what was going on.

Of course I said yes.  Charlotte cried for ten minutes and then they were both happy to be here.  Jocelyn wanted to take pictures and I couldn't believe how well she handled that camera.
Well, most of the time.

"I wanna take a picture of Gappaw!" she said.  Awww.
I served them oatmeal and tea.

Meanwhile, I was trying to keep an eye on things at the mill/warehouse, and felt a bit like Francis Scott Key, seeing what was gallantly streaming o'er the ramparts by the dawn's early light.  Only for me, it was looking for the cupola of the warehouse sticking out above the trees.  As long as it was there, I knew the warehouse was still standing.

Later, after Uncle Milford and Aunt Susie stopped in, and the girls left, I went back to look at the fire.

The firemen had set up two above-ground pool things to collect water that they pumped from the creek.
A reporter was taking pictures of the setup.  Those poor reporters.  I sympathized with them, wanting information for a meaty story, and with a deadline to meet.  But who wants to talk with them at such a time?

I chatted with the KEZI reporter who was out by the old barn.  He really wanted me, or someone like me, to make a statement on camera saying, "This is a big loss and our hearts go out to them."

Well, it didn't seem appropriate at the moment, so I didn't.  Also, I remembered that I had been in such a dither all morning I had forgotten to brush my teeth, and I wasn't about to go on TV with my teeth unbrushed.

Trying to be helpful, I directed them to a certain business in Harrisburg.  "I think they do a lot of business with Smucker Pelleting," I said helpfully. "You can probably get a statement from them."

Paul informed me later that this company is actually in competition with RS Feed and maybe wasn't the best choice for a sympathetic statement.

I think there was a lot of that sort of informing going on, as KVAL reported that Smucker Pelleting made wood pellets.  To feed animals.  Like rabbits.

The Albany Democrat-Herald had the best article, I thought.

The Register-Guard published this aerial photo.  You can see the line down the middle, with our business to the left/south, and Steve's to the right/north.

The funny patchwork field is a project of (cousin) Darrell Smucker's.

That taller section in the middle that's still standing amid the smoke was made of concrete and steel and housed the pellet-making machinery.  There's hope the equipment can be salvaged.

There's a strange juxtaposition that happens for someone like Steve and Bonnie's family in the middle of an event like this: on the one hand, the utter overwhelming relief that no lives were lost.  On the other, the shock and loss of property and livelihood, the sudden change in everything, the trauma of watching a fire devour your things.

When our van burned up many years ago, people would say, "Oh that is so terrible!" and I'd say, "Yes, but it's nothing to the fact that all of our lives were spared."  But then when people said, "At least you're all ok!"  I wanted to say, "Yes, but please acknowledge that I am traumatized down to my bones."

Hugs and cinnamon rolls say it best, I think.

Steven goes to firefighter classes in Harrisburg every week.  He said that last night, all they did was review this fire--what went right, how they could have gotten water from the creek in less time, what communication glitches came up between the different departments, and how that could be improved next time.  Not that they or we weren't proud of the job they did--but they always try to learn and improve.

We hope there's never a next time.  But we're grateful for capable firefighters, in case there is.

Thanks to everyone who called, messaged, and prayed.  You can keep praying for Steve and his sons who lost their livelihood.  And for Bonnie, who is trying to cope with this and also has two children getting married in the next five weeks.

And we can all give thanks for everyone and everything that could have been lost, and was spared.

Monday, May 05, 2014

May 4th Letter from Harrisburg

Note--the Register-Guard has changed the schedule for my column just a bit.  Instead of once a month, it will be published every three weeks.

Letter from Harrisburg

Navigating the dangerous days of youth

By Dorcas Smucker
I’ve learned to be relieved when the cookies taste awful and the car runs out of gas.
It means my husband and I have managed, for the moment, to set the boundaries where our teenagers are making choices for themselves, but the consequences are still manageable.
Parenting is terrifying mostly because the stakes are so high.
It’s tempting for protective parents to make all the children’s decisions. Or, similarly, to let kids choose but to protect them from any of the results.
At the other extreme, there’s the chilling prospect of young people making increasingly unwise and unsupervised decisions until the doors to healthy future prospects close and lock, one by one.
So we search for a redemptive middle ground.
Jenny, our youngest child, celebrated her 15th birthday by having her cousin Allison over. The two of them decided to make a big batch of monster cookies for Jenny to take to school the next day, a birthday tradition at her private school.
Both girls are capable of baby-sitting, cleaning a bathroom and cooking a meal, so I had no qualms about turning them loose to make cookies after I handed them the right jar of peanut butter.
I hadn’t counted on the special insanity that happens when two teenagers work on a project together.
“Oops! Hahahahaha!!”
“How much flour?”
“This recipe doesn’t take flour!”
Waves of giggles.
The first batch into the oven oozed like a lava flow all over the cookie sheet.
They stirred in a cup of flour, but the next panful wasn’t much better. “I’m sure it’s that weird peanut butter,” Jenny announced, hoping it was all my fault.
The mixing bowl went into the fridge to salvage later. We bought ice cream bars to take to school.
When I made the remaining cookies, the dough was sticky and heavy, like a science experiment demonstrating highly viscous liquid, a lot like ... corn syrup.
That evening I asked Jenny, “How much corn syrup did you and Allison put into the cookie dough?”
She said, “I don’t know. Whatever the recipe said. A cup and a half I think.”
The recipe called for one and a half teaspoons.
“Oops,” Jenny said.
Next time, she’ll get it right.
Meanwhile, our 19-year-old son, Steven, was on a three-week road trip, accompanied by two friends, meandering home from a friend’s wedding on the East Coast by way of two cars and hospitable friends and relatives in Arkansas, Indiana and other places. One of the cars was a 1996 Cadillac “funeral car,” we were told, that an acquaintance had accidentally bought on eBay and asked these guys to transport home from South Carolina.
We pictured a sleek gray hearse with a swooping silver emblem on the side crossing Nebraska with Steven at the wheel, singing.
“No no,” Steven said, “Not a hearse. Like, a limousine to take the family to the cemetery and back. With six doors.” Either way, it was just the sort of quirky arrangement that Steven loves.
I prayed a lot about this trip, as texts from Steven were scarce and scary. “Where are you?” I sent one day, and soon got a reply: “Bottom of a canyon with a broken leg and I can’t move.”
What a guy.
They came home, safe and grinning, on a Thursday evening. “Did anything unusual happen on your trip?” my husband asked Steven, who gives out information like my mom used to dole out spending money: seldom, sparsely and like it caused her great pain to part with it.
“No. Nah. Not really.”
“Oh yeah, we ran out of gas four times,” Steven recollected, two days later. “I think there was something funny about the gas gauge in the limo. So after the first time we got this little gas can and kept some gas on hand.”
Between monster-cookie rescues and prayers for safety, it’s easy to forget that these are remarkably smooth waters. Many young people their ages face monstrous dilemmas where none of the options are pleasant and the consequences are almost unthinkable.
Sometimes it’s through reckless decisions accumulating one by one, sometimes through others preying on their innocence, sometimes through lack of a guide — they all lead to situations no teenager should have to face.
The day Steven returned, my friend Ila and I took our church’s Girls for God club to visit a pregnancy center and deliver the baby blankets and hats we had sewed at our club meeting the month before.
With 15 girls aged 9 to 14, we crowded into the beautiful waiting room. Debbie, our tour guide and director of the clinic, told us about the wide range of services they provide.
“Our youngest client ever was 10 years old,” she said. Seventeen pairs of eyes stared at her, round with disbelief.
“Such innocence,” commented Debbie wistfully, looking over our group.
“A third of our clients are under 19 years old,” she went on. “Almost every girl who walks in here for a pregnancy test has two things in common. She is scared to death, and she has no one to help her. No one. We try, first of all, to let her know that someone will be there for her.”
I tried to picture Jenny and Allison, not giggling in the kitchen, but preyed on, possibly pregnant, alone and terrified, facing adult decisions with the sketchy wisdom of ninth-graders.
No wonder we obsess about protecting them.
Two days after that, I noticed a news article about a young man who had been arrested and accused of recruiting children for explicit videos. His name stirred a memory, and a bit of Facebook sleuthing confirmed it: he had sung in a children’s choir with Steven, long ago when both of them were little and innocent. I used to chat with this boy’s mom while we both waited on our kids to finish choir practice.
He faces at least five years in prison if convicted.
I have been to state prisons to help with cookie projects at Christmastime and a barbecued lunch for the inmates in the fall. Prison is a hard, harsh little universe of its own, sharp with tension, relentless in its daily realities. It always reduces me to tears and makes me come home and extract promises of lifelong law-abiding behavior out of my boys.
What steps would lead from little choirboy to possible inmate, I wondered. Was it one impulsive decision, a series of worsening choices, or a disturbed attempt to salve pain inflicted by others? No matter what or why, his steps had led to darker places and narrowing possibilities until suddenly they stopped in disaster.
As a parent, I want formulas. These rules, these words, these boundaries — and at the end of the fragile teenage years, capable people stepping into adulthood.
The scary truth is, much of it is out of our control. We are dependent on what we know at the moment, the grace of God, unseen compulsions in a child’s soul, and the influence of many others.
So we try to let them experience results in doses they can handle. We let Steven figure out how to keep his car going and we have Jenny make the recipe over again. We love deeply and pray a lot and believe in second chances. We apologize when we get it wrong. We sew burp rags for the pregnancy center and make Christmas cards for prisoners.
And we try to keep our eyes and hearts open for all the lost young people who need someone to say, “I am here for you, I believe in you, you’re going to make it through.”

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Joyful Noise Spring Concert

You're invited
to join us for the
Spring Concert
Joyful Noise Choir
Sunday, May 4, 2014, 6 pm
(prelude at 5:40)
Fairview Mennonite Church
35100 Goltra Road, SE
Albany, Oregon

Ben and Jenny are singing in the choir this term, and I heard them yesterday at the Mennonite Home, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

Well, maybe not QUITE as much as I did, since I always go a little bit crazy about my children singing.

But even the musical people in the audience said they were really good.

While we were waiting for the kids to warm up, I turned around and there was Paul's Great-Aunt Bernice. 

[Me and Bernice--at 5-3 I really am this much taller than her.]

Bernice gave me a hug and I noticed that one of her front teeth was missing.  I said, "Bernice!  What happened??  Did you fall??"

She laid a hand on my arm and grinned a little bit and said softly,

Quote of the Day:
"I ate it."

Then she added, "I was eating, and then I noticed something felt wrong, and I felt with my tongue and half my tooth was missing, so I guess I ate it.  I didn't mean to.  I'm not a cannibal."