Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cats and Lilacs and Stuff I Cannot Say

Recently a young online friend named Bethany Eicher blogged about the difficulties of writing during those seasons when almost nothing in your life is ok for public consumption.

"You have to write something," I told myself. "It's been over a week since you wrote and your last posts were pathetic!"
"I can't help it," I argued. "I just can't write right now!"
"Write about the picnic you and Chris went on," I told myself. "You could make a good story out of that!"
"No." I argued. "It's too complicated. I don't feel like going to all the work."
"Write about all the beauty of Spring! All the green and the forsythia and the redbuds and the dogwoods...how it makes you think of home..."
"Naaah. Same old surface-y stuff. It'll be obvious I'm empty of words and just making stuff up!"
"Well then, write about the abscence of words and how when dark things are hiding in the back of your mind it's impossible to write..."
"Good grief. No. What is this, a broken record?"
"Ok. Fine. Do what your friend suggested and write about some tips for making your marriage better!"
"Oh please. I hate preachy blog posts. Besides, I tried twice and it just sounds lame. What do I have to say about tips for marriage anyway? Look at the big go around we had this week! And I'm not going into that; no."

I left a sympathetic comment about those times when you're left with posting pictures of lilacs and the cat because 98% of your life can't be shared.

So the next day Bethany did a "guest post" from me--with a picture of a cat and another of lilacs.

I laughed.

Well, I am down to cats and lilacs myself, so to speak. I have miracles on the brain, and disappointments, and healings, and words I finally said, and wounded places that still need oil and wine, and astonishment at God's presence over here, and wondering if he is ever going to show up over there, and that sad story "Crystal" told me, and the young man I stalked on Facebook who would be a nice match for That Lovely Daughter but no one shares my enthusiasm, especially the daughter.

However, I feel guilty even mentioning these things without explaining further, lest I be like Those People on Facebook who post mysterious updates seemingly designed to make you both sympathetic and intensely curious:

"A sad day when "Christian" people say they'll be your friend but then they let you down!!"

"Really really scared right now.  Who can I trust??"

"Ok, here goes.  Somebody come feed my cat if this doesn't turn out well."

"AAAAAAHHHHHH so excited!!!!  Got a phone call that will CHANGE MY LIFE!!"

What I am trying to say is, we who write find ourselves feeling obligated to keep up the momentum.  Also, we give you the impression, usually unintentionally, that you know all about our lives and relationships and past and cobwebby corners.

Sorry.  It's an illusion.  We don't tell that much, and you don't know that much.

But isn't this true for everyone, writers or not?

Twice recently I had friends who seem strong and capable suddenly dissolve in tears, overcome with the raw truths of their lives.

I thought, "Where did THAT come from?"

It came from the well inside each of us, that place where things bubble and swish and fill us with great emotions that consume our thoughts in the night watches, but cannot be spoken publicly.

I am all for being Real, don't get me wrong.  But I simply cannot go announcing to the world that that young-adult son made a stupid decision, and that situation from three years ago still pains me beyond bearing, and I am doubting God's goodness with how things transpired over there, and I feel unappreciated and invisible--and far too whiny and complainy--in that one role I have, and also that I am finding so many times when I felt hurt and disrespected it was ultimately my problem--for not respecting myself--and not theirs, and I am still getting my head around that.

Obviously not everyone has this much percolating at any given time, such as that nice guy named Paul Smucker who took me to church last week, and when we were driving along and I was thinking of the deacon ordination coming up and time passing and the complications of ministry and how I'd have done ordinations differently in the past if I were God, and I asked what he was thinking about, he said with some embarrassment, "Well, actually, right then I was thinking about how to get rid of mice at the warehouse."

But truly we do not know what is going on with others, and if we did, we would be a lot more kind.

The Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians talks a lot about love (of course) and then it suddenly has that verse about knowing.

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

To me it says: I am now fully known and fully loved by God.

I think it also says: someday, if we love God, we will see Him face to face.  And we will also fully know and fully love one another.  For now, we do the best we can, all of us catching only glimpses of each other.

And now, here are a few things besides cats and lilacs that I will mention, since you have been gracious enough to read this far.

Steven had a weekend firefighter shift and he was supposed to provide Sunday dinner for the whole crew of nine.  He said they all eat as much as he does.  So at 6:00 on Mother's Day morning he gave me a potted plant with unusual orange flowers, and then he dashed out the door with a big roaster of chicken leg quarters, a jar of homemade teriyaki sauce, the means for making lots of rice, a big salad--the kind his aunts make, with twisty Fritos--and a jar of applesauce and my shaker of cinnamon.  He forgot the homemade cookies.  He picked up ice cream somewhere.

Later he texted me:
"It was super, they loved it.  It all went well."

Moms have a checklist on Mother's Day.  As each kid checks in, whether via card, plant or Facebook message, we smile with relief and tick the name off the list.

Or, I do that.  Maybe you don't.

And when the list is done, we curl up on the couch and read a James Herriot book with a happy, satisfied heart.

Emily's friend Esther wrote a somewhat satirical blog post about single people in a Mennonite setting, and how marrieds are sometimes oblivious or rude.

I and a number of others linked it on Facebook.

A hailstorm of comments ensued.

Something strange happens these days when a person tries to speak for a group.  It seems people can't accept that this person is speaking for him/herself and this group, this time.  Suddenly, everyone's hand is waving in the air and they're hollering, "But what about ME?? And MY experience??"

It's kind of like when you're teaching third graders in Sunday school and you come up with a great illustration of how feeding their cat every day is great preparation for someday going to work every day, or taking care of children, or other adult responsibilities, because he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.

So you share this illustration, feeling proud of yourself.

Immediately the air is full of hands, if they even bother to raise their hands before speaking.

"But!! I'm allergic to cats!!"

"We don't have a cat!  We have two dogs!!"

"It's my brother's job to feed the cat! Not mine!"

"I hate cats!"

So then poor Susie and Wendell sit there feeling like maybe there is something vaguely wrong with them because they fit the norm of having a cat and feeding it every morning, just like the teacher said.

And  you, feeling deflated, say to the others, "Today it's Susie and Wendell's turn to fit the example.  Another day it will be your turn."

Similarly, someone like Esther posts about the challenges of being single, and immediately the cry is raised.

"But what about us married people? We have a hard life too!!"

"Hey, I'm old and widowed!  You have no clue, you eligible cute little young thing."

"I'm single and tied down with elderly parents!  At least you aren't burdened like this!"

"At least you're a girl!  Single guys aren't allowed to admit to being lonely!"

And I want to say, "Calm down, class.  Today it is Esther's turn to speak for single Mennonite women who have a job and do not live in their parents' community.  She actually speaks for many. Let's hear what she has to say."

And: Tomorrow it may be your turn to talk.  Then we will listen to you.

This happens on Mother's Day.  There are so many exceptions to the mother-and-child "norm," and so many protests to the "Happy Mother's Day" greeting,  that you start to feel guilty if you have children and like to celebrate Mother's Day.

And then you think: seriously, there are an awful lot of moms.  Who love their families.  Why shouldn't we just celebrate them?

Tomorrow you can tell your story too.


  1. I think maybe you should be my personal advice columnist. The reason you'd be so good at it is because I know you're thinking you'd be terrible.

  2. Perfectly stated.
    Your wisdom is appreciated, and needs to be heard.

  3. Apart from *blush* wondering if this makes me famous?? :) My fave lines - "We who write feel obligated to keep up the momentum. Also, we give you the impression, usually unitentionally, that you know all about our lives.... Sorry. It's an illusion." Yes! Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself? And when people gush over the "gift of writing I've been given", I want to say, "Really? Sometimes it doesn't feel like a gift!"

    Looking forward to the day when we will fully know and fully love one another. "For now, we do the best we can, all of us catching only glimpses of each other." Amen.

  4. You have perfectly explained what I have been trying to wrap my brain around for years. Why does celebration of a specific group/ideal/person/etc. always seem to alienate people who are not included and make those who do feel somewhat ashamed?

    I struggle with this each Mother's Day. Just a few short years ago, I was huddled in my bed, crying over the idea that I might never have a child of my own, and now I am so privileged to have a precious snuggly little boy to give me hugs and wet kisses on Mother's Day. I didn't want to appropriate the day from moms with posts about infertility back then, but now that I am a mom, I don't want to rub salt in the wounds of those who feel/felt exactly like me.

    It is enough now to say, this represents me today, and tomorrow something different may happen that highlights your story.

  5. Your thoughts on verse 12 in the Love Chapter were a fresh take on that, for me. And such an interesting and beautiful one. Thank you for sharing them!

    Also, I cannot agree more with your comments on the blog post about single women. I read the comments and wanted to say, "No, wait! Just because she is highlighting single problems does not mean she is saying marrieds have no problems!"

    And finally, it just occurred to me to wonder if you know that Bethany Eicher and I are sisters in law. :) (I know it's been a long time since I met you, so to refresh your memory... I'm the Treva who is TJ's sister, and married David Eicher.)

  6. I love the cat analogy. Perfect.

  7. I sat here nodding my head through this whole post. Yes, yes, yes. So you drink your tea and I'll drink mine, and we'll both keep praying...

  8. Thanks for stopping by, all ye readers and commenters. crystal, what do I say to that--I can't say I'd be a terrible advice-giver because it would prove your point!
    Bethany, you made me laugh (again).
    Treva, I don't think I knew that--and I think that is very cool indeed.

  9. In my years of living overseas as a missionary, there were times that were just like this. My update went out to 100+ people which is far beyond the limits of "personal". Weeks that really consisted of dear friends walking away from the Lord, interpersonal missionary tensions, or disagreement between board and staff on an issue appeared to be ultra-normal weeks full of grocery shopping and cute second graders. It was difficult in those to know how to write meaningful updates without exposing others' personal details.

  10. Thank you, Dorcas, for yet another wonderful post. I'm glad I found your Blog and have enjoyed reading it -- I check almost every day -- No pressure! Just wanted to let you know that people are listening when you feel like talking. Even if it's cats and lilacs. (Who doesn't like cats and lilacs?) And every post is encouraging in one way or another. I liked reading the posts you and your daughters put out during MOP, and now I check on their blogs, too. I could probably set something up to let me know when you all post so I wouldn't have to go to several different websites "wondering" each day.... Thank you for the link to Esther's blog, too. I'm one of the Sunday School kids who fit her story, so I'm glad she told it.

  11. The problem is when someone waits for twenty years for their "turn" to be heard and their turn never comes. What then? Maybe time to find a different community, not sure.

  12. Maybe you (and Bethany) should give yourselves permission to write only when you feel like writing. And the rest of us should not make you feel obligated to write. After all, it's not part of your job descriptions.

    LR Miller

  13. To stranger in a strange land: yes. different settings, same story.
    Lea--I use a blog feed called bloglovin. Maybe that would work for you.
    Anonymous--Not sure what to say except if you can post a comment you can probably post on a blog of your own, and that might work to finally tell your story.

  14. I'm not sure how you can put so much stuff in one post that I completely understand and agree with! My blogging has been very sporadic for the last year for the reasons you mentioned. All the things that are heavy on my heart are just not something I want to share. And Mother's Day was awful this year! Why? Because all these people were posting on FB how they are so sad cause their mom died recently. I understand it's rough, but it made me not even want to acknowledge the gift that mothers are to us.

  15. Dorcas, may I please ask you a question? How do you know how "Real" you should be with people? I think you do a great job here on your blog, though of course it's not like you can really know a person personally through this medium. But sometimes I think I've been so "Real" that it's too much for other people to handle... I've told them too much. So then I think, "They don't really want/need to know so much about me and it's probably self-centered to think they want to know what I'm thinking about this situation or that, so I'll try to keep things more to myself." And then it feels like my relationships get shallow and less meaningful and I feel like anything I say is empty or unhelpful or unimportant. That's where I find myself now. How do we share ourselves with others without turning them away? This is rather vague, I know, but do you have any personal guidelines that you use to determine how "Real" you let your friends see you? There must be a good "middle of the road."

  16. Lea--that's a great question, because if you're not going to be "real" in your writing, then you should write something that you don't insert yourself into at all, such as user manuals for refrigerators. It's almost impossible to connect with someone, in real life or on paper/online if they don't show you something of themselves that connects emotionally with something in your life. But how much is too much? I would invite most people inside even if my living room is messy, but very few people would ever see me in the bathroom throwing up. So I guess my policy is to let my messy living room show up online, but I only throw up with a few choice people. A lot of it is trial and error. Also, it's really dangerous to write much, especially negatively, about other people in your life.

  17. Thanks for the extra thoughts on this -- and the analogy is helpful. Who wants to see a perfectly clean living room every time? (Intimidating.) But also, most people don't want to see/hear us "throwing up." I fear that I try to keep a perfectly "clean living room" in relationships for the most part and then end up "throwing up" all of the sudden and shocking people. Perhaps the slightly messy living room would be a better option... Something to think about.

  18. I like this. I am new here, and am in the midst of reading "Footprints on the Ceiling" thanks to Qmom. Am enjoying your thoughts on life a lot!

  19. Dorcas, I loved this sentence that you wrote in one of your comments: "It's almost impossible to connect with someone, in real life or on paper/online if they don't show you something of themselves that connects emotionally with something in your life." You are so right! And you do such a good job of that! I'd wager that most of your readers find themselves nodding in agreement and understanding as we read through your blogs. "Connecting at the emotional level" cannot be overstated.

  20. I had a terrible relationship with my mother and felt anger and frustration when Mother's Day came around. Consequently I told
    my girls to just ignore it, as it was a made up holiday anyway. If they do I am happy, if they don't, I'm surprised. We have a good relationship and I don't need to be congratulated for something I did with love.

  21. I read all the comments and what I wanted to say still holds and maybe even more.

    You do a better job of encouraging coexistence that the bumper stickers that I see all over.
    We will all get our turn. Your comment to Anonymous about blogging to have your turn if you feel like you haven't had a turn yet is an example of how your encourage coexistence.
    ps I know this is a long time after the blog, but I'm catching up from my life. I could not write a blog, because I'm an open book and accidentally (OFTEN) share other persons private moments even when I try not to!