Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Story About a Boy and a Girl from Oregon

Once upon a time there was a red-haired boy growing up near Harrisburg, Oregon. He liked to research animals, do dangerous things, and take mechanical things apart.

His name was Matt.

His mom, Dorcas, wrote for the newspaper in town, the Register-Guard.

Seven miles away a little dark-haired girl was growing up. Her name was Phoebe. She was creative and liked science.

Phoebe's dad was named Tom. He also worked for the Register-Guard newspaper, as a graphic designer. He would design the page where Matt's mom's articles appeared.

Tom and Dorcas didn't know each other, but in 2012 Dorcas wanted to self-publish a bunch of her articles. She asked her friend Bob, another RG columnist, who he'd recommend to help design the cover and inside pages.

Bob said, "I always ask my friend Tom."

Tom was willing to help. He found an artist who drew pretty teapots, and he set up the cover and inside pages of Tea and Trouble Brewing. He found a special font that could be used for future books as well. "Your signature font," he said.

Meanwhile, Matt finished up his engineering studies at Oregon State University and moved to Washington, DC, to work for the Navy. 

A few years later, Dorcas wanted to publish another book. Again, she called on Tom. He came out to their farmhouse to discuss it. They sat at the kitchen table along with Dorcas's dad, Amos, who frowned at Tom with his bristly eyebrows and demanded, "So, are you British??"

Tom was gracious. Yes, he has some English ancestry, he said.

This book was to be called Footprints on the Ceiling. Dorcas wanted a picture on the cover of old barn boards with a big footprint. Tom said he could do that, and again he did all the layout and design, and served as a liaison with the printer, Friesens, in Manitoba.

When the time came for another book, Tom was doing the work of at least two people at the Register-Guard, since the newspaper was cutting staff in an effort to stay alive, so Dorcas kept the same font and the teapot artist but hired someone else to take care of the design.

Meanwhile, Matt kept working in DC and Phoebe finished college in Oregon. Matt enrolled at the University of Maryland and studied aerospace engineering while working full time.

In June of 2018, Dorcas wrote an article for Fathers Day. She mentioned that when her son Matt comes home from Washington, DC, he and his dad talk about work and politics, while she and he discuss life, feelings, nice girls, church, friends, and such things.

Tom set up the column, as usual. When he read it, he had an idea. His mother always read the column when it came out on Sundays, and she had the same idea. The two of them discussed it. The grandma was sure this idea came from the Holy Spirit.

Tom sent Dorcas an email. Did she realize, he wondered, that his daughter Phoebe was working in DC? Did Dorcas think her son and Tom's daughter would enjoy meeting for coffee?

Now Dorcas had tried her hand at matchmaking and it had been a dismal failure, so she didn't let herself go into that mode in this situation. Besides, she had never met Phoebe and didn't know if she passed her strict standards. But she knew Matt would enjoy seeing someone from back home, since he always enjoyed Oregon connections, including figuring out that there was exactly one other Oregon license plate in the big parking lot at the Navy Yard.

Phone numbers were exchanged all around.

They met for coffee.

Matt texted a short, nonchalant message to his mom.

A week later, word filtered back home that they had met again.

"Oh!" said Dorcas.

Matt said they went to the Air and Space Museum for three hours.

The Smuckers discussed this at length. Matt's brother Ben said, "Any girl that can listen to Matt at the Air and Space Museum for three hours is something special."

Matt and Phoebe continued to meet. Phoebe's friends at the ladies' boarding house where she lived were deeply invested in the story. "But Phoebe, is he a Calvinist? You can't date someone who's not a Calvinist!"

The two families back in Oregon were deeply invested as well.

By August, Matt and Phoebe decided they were officially dating.

Phoebe spent time with his family at Christmas. Matt went to Phoebe's grandpa's birthday party. The families were delighted all around, and it was so convenient to have the families living only a few miles apart.

By the following September, everyone was anxiously waiting for Matt to propose. To help him out, his mom and sister bought a little unicorn ring from a vending machine. He considered using it when he and Phoebe were by a lake in Minnesota one evening after his grandpa's funeral, especially when a lovely shooting star blazed by, but somehow it didn't seem right to propose right after a funeral.

In October, they came to Oregon again because her grandpa was turning 100 years old. Matt took Phoebe out to the coast one day. When they returned, Phoebe had a pretty ring on her finger--a real diamond ring. Dorcas was so happy she burst into tears.

Her daughter Emily wrote about it here.

They discussed dates, and Dorcas and Phoebe looked at wedding dress patterns.

"Wait. Is this real?" thought Dorcas. It was.

She gave thanks.

As for the "Is he a Calvinist?" question, Emily wrote: “But it’s even funnier now,” Matt says, “because our whole relationship seems predestined.”

For one thing, Tom first emailed his idea only two weeks after Matt had finished getting his master's degree in aerospace engineering. He would never have had time for a relationship while he was in grad school, he said.

And in the most goose-bumpy coincidence of all, it turned out that way back when Tom needed a footprint for the cover of Dorcas's book, he asked his daughters for help. Phoebe painted the bottom of her foot and printed it on a piece of paper. "We have a picture of it," she said. "I was in pajamas and laughing hysterically."

So for the last four or five years, while Dorcas was praying for Matt's future wife, that mystical faceless woman, 2000 copies of that same young lady's footprint were right in front of Dorcas as she sent out orders or arranged her books on a table at book events.

That is how God works.

They all plan to live happily ever after. 

And, in case you're wondering, Phoebe says they're Calminian.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Soft-soled Shoes and Clicking Heels

Every week, new controversies flare up in the Christian subculture. Every month or so, one of them generates enough degrees to pop up in flaming Facebook and blog posts. Ann Voskamp weighs in poetically, the Facebook regulars claim to know what's really behind the event, and someone posts a clever meme.

I deliberately try to stay out of those conversations, since I don't do well with debate and seldom feel like I'm given enough information to form a solid opinion.

A recent event was different. It unearthed and replayed old tapes of angry, disgusted voices, and it triggered that familiar sense of instantly curling up tight inside, terrified, frozen solid, tiny and silent.

John MacArthur made some controversial comments about Beth Moore.

If you don't know: both are well-known evangelical American teachers and authors. MacArthur is a preacher. Beth Moore talks and gestures like a preacher but doesn't claim to be one, I don't believe. Here's a summary of what happened, pulled from this source.

Last week during the Truth Matters Conference at Grace Community Church, MacArthur took part in a panel discussion and was asked to give a “pithy” response to a word mentioned by the moderator. The word given was “Beth Moore,” to which MacArthur replied, “Go home.”
He then elaborated and said, “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.”
Later, MacArthur added, “Just because you have the skill to sell jewelry on the TV sales channel doesn't mean you should be preaching.”

I watched the video. The joking, laughter, and applause told me that this was about far more than it pretended to be.

What I heard, to Beth Moore and also to me, was not only "Go home," but: "Will you just shut up?!"

It was the same message the old tapes were playing in my mind.

I talked to Paul and whichever offsprings were in the kitchen, trying to process my reaction. They pointed out that the entire exercise was a bad idea. "Putting these guys on the platform and playing a word association game is like teenagers playing Truth or Dare. There's no way this will end well."

"Even if he thought it he didn't have to say it out loud," I said.

Paul said, "If it were me, I would feel an obligation to actually say whatever popped in my head first. I would feel like I didn't have a choice."

I was surprised by that. He is not a rule-follower.

We agreed that whoever organized the "game" was extremely foolish, and that it was deeply disrespectful to use Beth Moore's name in this context, as a target for derision and laughter.

My family affirmed my gut reaction without fully understanding it. This is a good thing. It means they never heard those angry voices themselves.

I love to stay home, I don't want to preach, and I would rather pick up a live garter snake than be a pastor. I think it's scriptural for men to be leaders, especially in the church and home.

So why did I gasp and flinch at MacArthur's words?

The choice of words, the tone, and the laughter told me this had very little to do with women preaching and much more to do with women having thoughts and words.


I think the closest I came to preaching a sermon in a church was at the NEF [Native Evangelical Fellowship] church in Weagamow Lake, Ontario, maybe 30 years ago, and that wasn't very close.

Church on the reserve was not like church at Brownsville Mennonite. Starting times were more flexible, for one thing. Sometimes the service was all in Oji-Cree. Children freely wandered about. People didn't dress very formally. I usually tried to dress our family up, but I realized what an American Mennonite exercise that was whenever Tommy Kakekayash was late starting the fire in the stove and we wore our parkas and hats all through the service.

Paul wasn't a preacher then, only a principal and teacher at the Christian school, but once in a while they asked him to speak at a Sunday evening service. He didn't think of it as preaching, but I did, at least a little, because I thought he was that good and important.

In winter, he'd get up on the platform wearing his suit and his thick, knee-high Sorel boots with the wild green, blue and white print—not an unusual combination for that setting. He would talk and our friend Gary would translate.

Paul was scheduled to speak one Sunday, but he got really sick the week before, and he doubted he'd recover enough to go to church.

"Maybe I should take your place," I said impulsively. When it's your second year in a mission setting, there's a lot you'd like to tell people about how they ought to live.

"All right," said Paul.



What an opportunity. I debated about this, but in the end didn't have the nerve to actually do it, so Paul got someone else to take his place.

The NEF church would have been ok with it, I'm quite sure, because things weren't very conventional there, as I said, and Rhoda Tait, whose husband had been a well-known preacher in the North, would sometimes go up front and talk for a while.

We also note that Paul was only about ten years removed from his high school and college years among the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodists. They will affirm a woman's call to preach, which surprises people because they are a conservative bunch and the women look like Mennonites who forgot to wear their coverings. So it wasn't such a bizarre idea to Paul to have me speak in his place.

I've spoken to many different groups, but that was the closest I came to even considering anything I might call a sermon, and we see that I was still a long way away. I've never had any desire to be a church leader or pastor, and that has steadily dropped from zero to about minus-515 in the 25 years that Paul has been a pastor.

Yet MacArthur's words seemed directed not only at Beth Moore, who speaks before thousands, but also to women like me.

One time I spoke at a conference and wasn't given much warning what sort of Mennonites would be present. I was told ahead of time that my veil was fine as it was, but I should be sure to wear a dress, rather than a skirt and blouse. Those were easy guidelines to comply with, but I wished later they would have mentioned shoes as well. I completed my outfit with a pair of black pumps with 2-inch heels, because pumps with heels make me feel more competent.

It turned out that most of the audience were much more conservative than me. The women all wore black shoes with soft soles. On the hard tile floors their shoes made, at most, soft whispery sounds, and mine went click click click, up the aisle to the podium, click click click, handing out papers, click click click clickclickclickclick, back down the aisle when I was finished.

Everyone in the audience was kind, engaging, attentive, encouraging. But I got the feeling that because they were so quiet they were essentially good, and because I was so noisy there was something flagrant, conspicuous, and bad about me, as though I should have known the rules but chose to ignore them.

Silence is good, you know.


Sometimes when I speak to women I tell them about Pilate's wife.

We meet her in Matthew 27. She is back in the palace, but she knows her husband is in an awful spot. Jesus is on trial. The crowd is yelling and demanding. Rome is going to be watching how this is handled. And the decision is Pilate's. Her husband's. It all comes down to him, there at the center of this drama.

She falls asleep and has a dream. That man on trial is innocent! He must not be condemned! What is she to do?

She must do something.

I am guessing it was neither common nor remotely ok for her to influence Pilate's official decisions, but she is desperate.  She sends a message. I picture a note, but it may have been a servant's word.

“Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

Then she waits in terrible suspense, and eventually finds out her husband washed his hands in a pathetic attempt to proclaim his own innocence and then handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Think about this.

The decision is Pilate's. The power is his, the weight, the responsibility.

The dream is hers. The knowledge, the awareness, the desperation.

Why was she given the information if she had absolutely no power to decide or judge?

Why didn't Pilate have the dream or the insights?

I don't know the answer, I tell women, but I know from this story that her voice and her insights mattered. Who else spoke up for Jesus that terrible night?  No one.

The Eastern Orthodox Church called her Procula and gave her sainthood. She spoke truth.


"Tell your husbands clearly what you think and feel," I told the women at the retreat in Texas. "No hinting. If he's like a big old hippo, he won't listen to a mosquito buzzing around. You need to talk like a hippo, or maybe an elephant."

"I'm afraid of getting it all wrong," one woman said. "I used to think submission meant silence, and now I don't know how to speak."

That word always pops up in these contexts: submission.

It's in the Bible. My understanding is that it means letting your husband lead, provide, and protect and also supporting and helping him.

I am sure it doesn't mean not saying anything, but we hear the voices from our conflicted pasts. Submission equals silence, the voices say, and silence is good. If we would just shut up, we would finally be good, and everything would be ok. We would know our place. That would be good too.

"Our teaching on submission has made us into good manipulators," says a young friend.

Mennonite women are learning to speak, to chill the sloshing thoughts into solid jello words that can be scooped out and served. "I think this." "I feel this." "Could you please do this?" "I need help." "This happened to me."

Sometimes it comes out all wrong. Miscommunication happens, even arguments. "Maybe silence is better after all," they say.

"No," I tell them. They admit their husbands say the same thing.

"He wants to know what I think about things. He likes when I say it instead of hinting."

The women look surprised as they tell me, and I bless those husbands, finally erasing the voices that shamed and silenced in the past.

"Speaking takes practice," I say. "It's hard to put thoughts and feelings into words. You won't get good at it if you never talk. You're allowed to make mistakes. That's how you learn."

When you were told to shut up, that your only chance at being good was being quiet, it's an unbelievably long and rocky road to opening your mouth and expressing what's going on inside.

Both men and women tried to shush some of us over the years, when we spoke the truth out loud. But there is something uniquely devastating about a man with spiritual authority accusing, condemning, and silencing, especially if you are the only woman in the room.

"You talk too much," they said. "It was actually your fault." "You were out of place." "Stop talking about this." "Do not write about this."

We shriveled and grew smaller before their intimidating gaze. If they were God's anointed, then this had to be the voice of God, confirming all we feared. We must never speak again.

No wonder we reacted to John MacArthur.

Women came to Jesus, weeping, wiping his feet, pouring precious ointment. He found them sinful, sick, bent double for 18 years. He called their names, healed them, and valued them.

"What a waste," said the men with religious authority. "He ought to know she's a sinner." "He violated the Sabbath."

The women didn't have to deal with these men because Jesus did it for them.

"Why do you bother her?" he said.
"Leave her alone."
"Her story will always be told."
"You don't understand love and forgiveness."

To the women he said, "You are set free.” 
"Go and sin no more."
"Go in peace."

The "young man" (we assume an angel) that the women discovered in Jesus's tomb told them not to be alarmed and to go and tell the men what had just happened.

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.

When we meet Jesus, he becomes both voice and message to us, truth and Word, restorer and sender.

The old tapes playing in our heads slowly turn silent in His presence. We learn to ignore the current clamor as well, telling us a thousand conflicting messages of what we ought to be and do and say, and even more what we ought not to be and do and say.

We listen to Him.

"Go and tell," he says.

"Really?" we say.


"All right then. We will."

Sunday, October 20, 2019

When Your Blessings Involve Hard Work and a Bit of Misery

I often have flashbacks, when the current moment triggers a memory of something similar.

My dad got a stroke and died in September, which will be a future blog post after I get the pictures and video organized. Ever since his death, I have been mentally and physically exhausted, operating on maybe a third of my normal energy.

I was scheduled to fly to Texas on October 16 to speak at a ladies' retreat. I was excited about going until Dad's death put me into such a dysfunctional state that I was taking two naps a day and carefully choosing the three or four most important tasks to do every day before my half cup of octane was all used up.

I figured I could handle a Texas trip if I conserved my resources, because it felt irresponsible and inconsiderate to bail a month before their retreat. Thankfully I had a team of people praying, and their prayers lifted my stranded canoe off the rocks and got it floating downriver, so to speak.

On Wednesday morning, I was at the kitchen counter sipping tea and eating a big breakfast. With all my heart and soul I wanted to go back to bed and stay there instead of getting dressed, hauling suitcases to the car, and going to meet the shuttle in Albany to take me to Portland to the airport.

So I felt sorry for myself. Poor little me, wearily schlepping heavy books to the car in the morning chill while other people got to sip a cup of coffee in their jammies.

I had a sudden flashback.

When I was a teenager, I read Ann Kiemel's bubbly inspirational books about her and Jesus changing the world. Ann was so lucky. Not only did Jesus actually answer her prayers and stuff, but her books were bestsellers, and she got to go all over and speak to people.

Well. In one of her books, Ann told how she woke up in a motel room and was lonely. She was in yet another city, and pretty soon she would go before a thousand people and speak to them. But she was realizing it was a hard and lonely life.

At the time I thought, Oh you poor little famous successful pookie-wookie, getting to do what most writers only dream of and hope for, and you have the audacity to fuss that you don't like parts of it.

Yet there I was, on Wednesday morning, myself a poor little pookie-wookie, who got to go fly to exotic places and speak to women who were willing to sit there and listen, and I was all fussy and whiny because it meant actually getting up early and catching a plane. 17-year-old me reached forward through the years and slapped my face. "I didn't have the faith to dream of half the life you have now!" she scolded.

When you finally reach a dream, a goal, a longed-for event, is it ever right to be honest about the hard things it entails?

If babies are a gift and a blessing, and you know that Angela down the street would love to have one but is infertile, is it right to admit that mothering is extremely hard for you? Maybe you know better than to complain to Angela, but is it right to admit it to anyone?

The same with your husband, although our daughter Emily notes that it's not an exact parallel. "All babies are blessings, but not all husbands are," she said.

"Indeed," we said. "Well then."

Either way, you finally get what some people will never have, and you find out that it's a blessing, yes, but it's also like the rest of life: hard work, challenging, and sometimes monotonous, with ample obstacles to test your maturity and selflessness.

Life is challenging for us all, and saying this out loud helps us find perspective and a path forward. Maybe it's all about saying it to the right person to get it out of your system. And then to laugh at your silly self, brush your teeth, and head for Texas full of wonder and gratitude that you actually lead this wildly adventuresome life.

The retreat was at the True Grit Ranch, about an hour from Dallas, a truly Texan place with cowhide rugs on the floors, two big glowering bulls across the fence, and forty fun ladies who listened to all my talks like they mattered. The time there was actually restful, which doesn't usually happen when I'm speaking somewhere.

Coming home involved long flights, sitting outside in the cold so I wouldn't miss the shuttle, and walking in the back door at 1:00 this morning. My friend Jean felt sorry for me when I told her about this at church today. "Go home and sleep for a week," she said. 

Our blessings are part of life, and sometimes life is overwhelming, exhausting and miserable, but that doesn't make the blessings any less blessed. It's always good to get a full night's sleep and remember just how incredibly fortunate I am to have this life, these gifts, and those astonishing opportunities.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Seasons for Speaking and Silence

Some seasons are for speaking; some for silence.

Each way I turn, these days, the tape tightens on my mouth.

The message was clear, this spring, when I went forward at revival meetings--the minister's wife!--that what I thought was my problem wasn't the issue at all. Instead, this word: I was to stop being afraid to speak.

Yet--silence. But not because of fear.

I can't tell all the stories about my adult children because they are not children but adults. Decisions, changes, rearranging. Work, school, and travel. Even romantic drama, some of which keeps me on my knees and some that makes me laugh till I cry. We Skype and scheme and talk at the kitchen counter in the late evening. I write it all down in a notebook with yellow pages.

Other people's secrets ricochet in my head. One of these days, I think, they are going to pop right out of my mouth. Sometimes, their private sins finally become public knowledge. "Terrible," people say. "Shocking." No, I think, blessed relief. I no longer have to carry this secret. Now everyone knows.

The minister's wife "went forward," as I said, which is something we don't usually do, because going forward is for people who are about 12 and "under conviction," or for those unstable people who are always "struggling."

Well, this minister's wife feels like she's about 12, under conviction, unstable, and struggling. Actually, she feels she's about 7, pounding her useless little fists on a laughing big brother's leg as he dangles her doll just out of reach. Feeling powerless and helpless makes her mad, and she gets all feisty and fierce, lashing out at systems, structures, situations, and a silent Deity that are all much taller and bigger than she.

But it isn't time to speak. The tape is tightly wound.

I was made to be a teller of stories, I think. So why this silent season?

So few stories are entirely my own; so many require another's permission. Their "not yet" must be respected.

Other stories can't be told until someone else is dead.

Still others simply need a safe place to rest until the situation is resolved.

Others beg to be told so that justice can be served, but timing is crucial. So I wait.

Ideas are growing; fruit and conclusions are forming, but not yet ready to pick.

Pages turn, and new chapters emerge, but the ending is so far off that none of it makes sense.

Josh Harris talked a lot, for years. People listened to him. Then, when it all went down in flames, he kept talking when he should have been silent for once.

Similar things happen in the Mennonite world. Trusted people turn out to be unreliable, misguided, dark, preying on the vulnerable. Almost without exception, these trusted people were the ones who talked a lot via articles, sermons, and seminars.

Speaking is dangerous. Silence is safe. Right?

If I don't speak, I won't ever deceive and disappoint, manipulate and mislead. Plus, I won't get in trouble--a blessed prospect. Surely that's the wisest course.

But I also remember those women in Pennsylvania who came to my book signing, standing in line with patient determination. They were plain and plump, in dark polyester dresses, with black strings on their white coverings. I felt compelled to extra propriety. They would never need to go forward at revival meetings--I was sure of that.

"Please don't ever stop writing about what it's like being a minister's wife," they said, one by one, all independently of each other. Their hands clutched mine; their eyes told me things the words weren't allowed to convey. I was too stunned to reply with more than a nod, tears, and holding their hands a bit longer.

If someone speaks the things you aren't allowed to say or don't even know how to shape or form, a weight is taken off and you can breathe. To say the words and lift the weight might be a calling of its own, dangerous but desperately needed.

Sometimes not speaking brings a curse, and the truth in darkness grows shaggy and large, with sharp teeth, gnawing in the night at the back of your head. "If you tell, I will destroy you," it whispers. When the gnawing teeth finally cut through the last layer of skull and skin, the morning light shines in. The dark truth shrinks into something of normal size. It can be held and examined and laid to rest. "What was I so afraid of?" you wonder.

Earlier this month I walked into a small room, plopped on a couch, and dramatically poured at least a gallon of my own secrets and stories into the open hands of three other women.

They held my splashing words with care and didn't flinch when they were boiling hot. Then they carefully placed the words in jars and sealed them.

The ricocheting in my head calmed down. The things I knew and felt no longer pushed my skull toward bursting.

I drove away into the wider world, the silence winding once again around my head. But I was going to be all right, and when the time was ripe, the tape would tear and words would fountain everywhere.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Writing Conference

The first-ever Western Anabaptist Writing Conference is over. We call it WAWC, pronounced "Walk."

It was held at the new Pioneer Christian Academy in Brownsville, which used to be the old Brownsville Elementary School. Everything looked a bit mid-renovation because the old carpets were ripped out but the new ones weren't coming until two days after WAWC.

But you know how it is--fifty years from now, the old-timers will tell stories of how makeshift it was the first year, but oh my, what a good time we had.

"First-ever" and "fifty years from now" imply that there will be more conferences. Many attendees thought this event should be repeated next year, but I think we should sleep for a week before we actually make that decision. 

Why was such a conference needed? you ask.

1. Anabaptist* writing and publishing are different from most other publishing, both Christian and secular. More collaborative, less competitive. More about excellence and humility than platform and promotion. And more about steady, long-term material than quick bestsellers.

2. Mennonite writing conferences in the East are a very long way from here, and writers in the West are a long way from each other.

3. Writing is a lonely process at the best of times. Meeting with other writers who "get" you can be a powerful boost and can re-start a neglected calling to write.

*An umbrella term that includes Mennonites, Old Order Amish, Brethren, Holdemans, Hutterites, Western Fellowship, Eastern, Pilgrim, Midwest Fellowship, New Order Amish, Beachy Amish, Conservative Conference Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, German Baptists . . . you get the idea.

I did most of the planning. Paul supported me fully. Lots of people helped out.

Our daughter Amy took care of the book and resource tables. My friend Jane's family decorated with old books. Another friend, Shannon, took care of the registration table with her daughter Annika. Others made food, taught workshops, and cleaned.

Did you ever see such cute decorations?

Chris Miller, the principal of PCA and the husband of Paul's niece Stephie, was our keynote speaker and taught us about what we have to offer and the phrases that silence us.

Chris is an excellent motivator and storyteller.
Some of us were afraid he would either leap off the stage or knock over that arrangement.
He did neither.
Around 30 people attended, including Penny from British Columbia who was in the middle of moving and had lost her passport. "You need to go!" said her husband and son, and her 6-feet-2 son crawled around in a trailer full of boxes and found the passport.

Non-Anabaptists were welcome to attend, and a handful of them did, adding a fun flavor to the conversations.

I heard people say, "I don't know which workshop to take! I'd like to take them all!" Those words were music to my ears. Imagine! Too many good options!

Today, instead of a WAWC I took a WALK. Our son Ben took me to Finley Wildlife Reserve and we walked for 5 1/2 miles. I felt like it burned up all the residual stress from the last crazy weeks.

What would it take for WAWC to become a destination conference, I wonder, and for writers from Idaho, Washington, California, BC, Alberta, and other places to get their friends together and take a trip to Oregon in August, just for this? (With a few stops at Crater Lake and Mt. Hood besides, of course.)

Like the local non-Anabaptists, Mennonites from the East would be welcome to attend. But we would always try to focus on the unique needs of Anabaptist writers in the West.

As you can see, I'm already convincing myself to do another conference. If WAWC continues, many decisions arise about turning it over to a committee, forming an organization, bylaws, constitutions, and other confusing things.

For now, I'm resting, grateful, and ready to write.

Dolly did lots of baking and also cut and arranged fruit.
Hannah helped Dolly.

I taught about how to begin writing when you don't know what you're doing.

Some of Jane's crew. They put hours into making those beautiful folded-book

Penny from BC is in the middle, with Kathleen and Laura from Oregon.

Laura taught how to write another person's story.

Mary taught one class on self-editing and one on children's stories.

Paul shared about how he supports a writer in the family.
It was a small class but they had a fun discussion, he reported.

Quote of the Day:
". . . as I was driving down south on I-5, I probably said, "Wow" about twenty times.  I just so thoroughly enjoyed the seminar, I so thoroughly enjoyed the people I was around, I so thoroughly enjoyed learning in a Christian context where we sang hymns in four part harmony, and I just felt a wonderful humility, as you called it, because how can people be thinking about others and smiling and be happy in their work if they didn't have a sense of purpose that shined through, and that was of course, Christ."
--Bill Northrup

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Blessings and Grace on Tidbits Mountain

On the horizon is Hayworth Saddle, which we can see
from home, from the other side.

"I used to think if we just did everything this certain way, our family would turn out well. But I'm finding that every family has issues! We all have our things!" my friend Shannon exclaimed in the women's Sunday school class this morning.

When I started teaching, I decided to take the class along on my personal study of the book "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I decided if anyone didn't like it, they could teach instead of me.

Today we talked about things that go wrong in families, and trust me there are many, from financially dependent adult kids to not being allowed to say certain truths out loud to doing what we do for our parents out of guilt and resentment rather than love and freedom.

Shannon expressed what we all feel. Every family has their things, no matter how much you try to get it right.

If you can find good path through your quirks and issues, you can get to an imperfect but healthy place as a family.

For my birthday in June, our son Ben, who has done over 70 different hikes in Oregon in the last year, offered to take me on a hike.

Yesterday was the day. Tidbits Mountain, Ben said. It would be four miles, round trip, with a thousand feet of elevation gain. The grade should be gradual enough for me and my difficulty with steep slopes.

I was excited to the point of giddiness as I packed my sunscreen and poles and all the other necessities.

Amy and Emily went along, since their employer, Paul's cousin Darrell, is finished with combining. We drove about an hour and a half--first south, then east into the Cascades, and north on a gravel road, up and up.

See those brave people way up on top?
Zoomed in.
The boards are the remnants of an old fire lookout tower.

We parked at the top of the last steep ascent and started up the trail. The path was shaded, the trees were enormous old-growth firs, and the wild rhododendron bushes crowded the trail.

The grade was easily manageable right up to the last quarter mile.

I didn't see any snakes.

Everyone was patient with me and my slow pace.

The views were beyond beautiful.

Ben, who was born in Canada and spent a year in Toronto as an adult, said, "I should have some Timbits along. Then I could have Timbits on Tidbits."

The screes, where huge bare rocks up above had eroded into a long river of little rocks spread down the mountainside, were the scariest parts, not because of any actual treachery or slippery rocks but because the view was so disorienting. Rocks under your feet, up one side, down down down the other, and pretty soon you feel a bit dizzy and not quite sure where to put your feet.

Ben offered to take my hand and help me across, so I had to tell them all how, back in my teenage years, the revival meeting speakers would always have a talk for the youth and tell them to have a hands-off courtship, but it was ok for a guy to take a girl's hand and help her across the creek if they were on a walk.

Ben thought this would inspire guys who were dating to go on lots of walks and find lots of creeks.

He himself is not dating at this point, and I just had to pose him beside Mt. Bachelor.

The very top of Tidbits Mountain consisted of a huge rocky structure. The kids climbed up without too much trouble. I could have, too, but I was very nervous about coming back down. About ten feet up, my phone came loose and bounced down the rocks and disappeared into a bush, where it looked like it could go falling for a long time.

It seemed like a sign that maybe I should come down lest I fall as well.

I peered into the bushes and was surprised to see something shiny reflecting back. About three feet down, the phone had come to rest on a branch and some old wire left over from a collapsed fire lookout tower. It looked like someone had carefully set it in place like you'd set a photo on a wire stand on your dresser.

The phone was unscratched and uncracked.

Sometimes I feel so fortunate I can't explain it.

We ate lunch in a shaded area and went back down the mountain, then drove away, stopping for iced tea at a little convenience store along Highway 126.

That evening, Amy cooked up some fantastic fajitas for Ben's birthday supper, since his is on Monday, a month after mine. He is 26 now. I gave him a lightweight hammock for camping.

Steven and Ben
I shared photos of the day on social media because it was so fun and beautiful, and I was that pleased. But part of me hesitated.

Not everyone is this fortunate with health, opportunity, and most of all these thoughtful, patient offsprings. I don't want to inflict pain on people in hard situations.

And yet, Tidbits Mountain is a credit to its Creator. So is any grace our family has received.

I told Shannon that yes, absolutely, every family, including ours, has its issues. But if you can love each other and speak the truth out loud, that will open a trail through some pretty rocky terrain.

Perfection is not the goal, and so much is out of our control. People get to choose, and their choices might break our hearts.

But if God in his lavish kindness grants me a son who organizes a hike with a gradual grade, just for me, then I will give Him the credit and will be as grateful as I possibly can to both of them.

Quote of the Day:
Me: I'm nervous about cougars.
Ben: Cougars usually stalk from behind, so if I'm walking behind you, you should be ok.
Emily: If I look up younger men's profiles on Facebook, are they being stalked by a cougar?

Feeling accomplished!

The view from the top.