Saturday, October 17, 2020

How to Visit the Sick

Caring for Paul since his fall has been an intense education, and in a short time I've become an expert at subjects I barely knew existed before.

Of course I knew about visiting the sick, but in three months I've gone from a 10th grade level to a Ph.D.

Some of us know we should visit the unfortunate, but we're never quite sure how to go about it.  So I'm going to share a few how-to's. Let's remember, though, that it's like making a pan of brownies. The important thing is to do it. Just show up. Even if you mess up an ingredient or two, it will still taste really good.

1. Remember that you are dealing with fragile people. Tread a bit softly, go gently, speak carefully. The sick person is hurting, the caregivers are stretched to their limits, and the family members are dealing with lives turned upside down and loved ones not being quite who they used to be.

2. Phone ahead. Caregiving takes a lot of time. Hospitals have specific expectations. Call first. No one wants a visitor in the middle of transferring to the restroom with their hospital gown flapping in the breeze.

3. Ask about restrictions. Should you wear a mask? Is it ok to hug? What are the best times to visit? How many visitors can come at one time?

4. Keep it brief. Showing up is what matters, not the length of the visit.

5. Having said that, read the cues and listen well. Patients sometimes love to recount every detail of the injury or sickness. Listening to all the gory details is a great way to serve and love, even if it takes an hour. Some of you heard more details of Paul's accident than you ever asked for. It was healing for him to talk about it. Bless you for listening.

6. Make it about them. Ask questions, listen, nod. This isn't the time to spout about the election or how the car repair guy tried to talk you into a new alternator. People who are barely surviving a crisis have forgotten that elections even exist, and they couldn't care less about alternators. Remember, they are emotionally fragile and physically exhausted. You are the strong person in this story. Handle them with care. They don't have the strength to take care of you, or to dredge up sympathy about car repairs.

7. Don't delay a visit just because you don't have food or flowers to bring. Your presence is enough. Food and flowers are awfully nice, though, if you want to bring them, even if it's a bag of oranges you pick up at the grocery store on your way over, or handpicked wildflowers in a coffee mug. In fact, anything you give will be deep with meaning. CD's to listen to. A card from a child. Books. A snuggly blanket. Anything. Most of all, though, your presence, showing up. The caregiver will cry. It will mean that much.

8. Mentioning your own medical experience is a bit of a gamble. Sometimes it's encouraging, such as when my friend Hope told us how she survived a broken neck and, for the first time, we compared stories with someone who truly understood. However, if you're talking with someone who just broke 15 bones and is trussed up in casts and braces from head to hips, you might not want to elaborate on the time you hit your head on the swing and needed five stitches. Just saying.

9. Leave your answers at home. You might "know" all about what God is trying to teach them or how he's going to redeem this situation. You have a deep sense that this is God's discipline to keep them from a bad decision. You had a prophetic sense that this would happen. Keep this information to yourself for now. The Holy Spirit is good at doling out information in the right doses at the right time.  The sick person needs you to show up, listen, nod, and read the 23rd Psalm.

What if you have the answers on which supplements the patient should be taking? Whether it's Vitamin D, oregano oil, or Plexus, you're convinced it would help them heal. The best option is to give them your specific potion as a gift. A patient or caregiver in crisis mode can't make good decisions about purchasing supplements and is probably worried about finances. Suggesting they buy your product at this time is in poor taste. If you really believe it would help, give them a bottle and instructions, and let them decide if they want to take it or not. If it works wonders, they'll be back for more, and they'll be willing to pay.

10. Believe that your presence matters. You might think you're not a relative or pastor but only a mom stopping by for a minute while the kids wait in the car, or a farmer parking a seed truck beside the road and coming in for a visit. Those brief visits mean more than you'll ever know. What you have to offer is valuable and meaningful. Just show up.

Don't ever let the fear of doing it wrong keep you from visiting the sick. These are only suggestions to make a good experience even better. I'm sure that Paul's many visitors will never know how much their presence meant to all of us, and especially to him.

Matthew 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Quote of the Day:

"We pray for the aged, the sick and the afflicted, all those who need thy prayers."

--Alvin H., a minister in my childhood. We got annoyed at the lack of logic in "those who need thy prayers," but we did learn to think of the aged, sick, and afflicted.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Cousin Escapades--The Most Amazing Evening--Chapter 2

 Ellie’s 17-year-old brother Sam, crisp and handsome in his black slacks and white button-down shirt, appeared in the kitchen at 4:30. Ellie followed. Despite the garish white roses, she felt slim and elegant in the new dress, the fitted white sweater, and the messy bun, low on the back of her head, with two wisps of hair deliberately dangling around her face. She had decided not to wear a scarf—it might be too much for her minimalist look.

“You both look so nice!” Mom looked them up and down. “Ellie, that dress fits you perfectly. But are you sure your covering is going to be ok? It looks like it’s hanging on for dear life. I don’t know, with you walking around serving tonight. Can’t you put your bun up a little higher? Or add a pin on top?”

“I don’t have time. It’ll be fine, Mom. I’ve played volleyball like this.”

“Well, ok then. Here, don’t forget the pies.” Mom placed an apple pie in Sam’s hands and a berry pie in Ellie’s, their flavors designated by delicate fruit shapes cut out and artfully re-arranged on the perfectly browned top crusts. “Oh, wait!” She grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled her name on the bottoms of the pie tins as Sam and Ellie held them high in the air.

“Ok, have fun! See you tonight!”

Half an hour later, Sam pulled into the vast parking lot at Mayfield Mennonite. He got out, slammed his door, walked around the car, and opened the door behind Ellie while she patted her hair and repinned her covering. Sam picked up the berry pie out of the back seat. “See ya,” he said, and headed for the gym. Ellie hooked her purse over her shoulder, checked her teeth in the mirror on the visor, then eased out of the car. She reached into the back door that Sam had left open, picked up the apple pie, shut the door with her foot, and followed Sam, careful not to scuff her pumps on the gravel.

She didn’t see Bryant, but other young people were walking toward the doors. The laughing girls with flowing dresses and coverings tied under their chins—those had to be German Baptists. Imagine not only having strings but tying them tight! Ellie shuddered. The girls with tiny lace doilies for coverings who wore black skirts that barely reached their knees—they had to be Mayfield girls. One, Ellie recalled from attending previous Gospel Tidings banquets with her parents, was Sierra, daughter of Nancy who was always in charge of the kitchen. 

Sierra held the door open for her friends, then waited for Ellie as well. “Hi! You must be serving too! Oh what a cute pie!” She grinned, displaying a beautiful smile and dimpled cheeks.

“Yes. Apple. Thanks! Hi!” Ellie managed breathlessly. Oh what a stupid thing to say. “I mean, Hi. Yes I’m serving. And the pie is. . .” But Sierra was already running past her to catch up with her friends, the flounce on her knit skirt fluttering.

Holding the pie with two hands, Ellie walked along the wide hallway until she reached the huge gymnasium. Under a large banner that welcomed everyone to the annual Gospel Tidings Prison Ministry banquet, two women in crisp sage-green dresses set up a registration table. They smiled at Ellie as she walked by.  She smiled back. Are they Beachy Amish? Oh, maybe from the new church in Roseburg that Dad was talking about. So plain and proper. Aproned moms carrying boxes of greenery glided among the round tables that filled the room, the music team tuned guitars on the stage, and oniony smells drifted from the kitchen on the north end of the gym.

Where was Sam, where was Janet, and what was to be done with this pie? Ellie sidled to the kitchen door and was nearly knocked over by a large woman carrying a coffee percolator. “Sorry!” they both said, and the woman rushed on. 

Should she enter the kitchen? She peeked inside. It looked like every counter was covered with large bowls of salad and enamel roasters. She didn’t belong there.

“Um. Ellie?” She turned. The young man was tall and gangly, all elbows and acne, with spiky black hair and dark eyes. One of the Weiler boys, Ellie decided, who lived south of Halsey and always drove around in old Ford pickup trucks with dirt bikes or goats in the back. 

“Hi?” she managed.

The young man extended a large hand with grime in all the creases. “I’m Josiah Weiler. I was at Bible Memory Camp with you a couple times.” He grinned. “Remember?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Ellie maneuvered the pie to her left hand and cautiously shook his hand, recalling at least three Weiler boys at camp who all looked the same and thought it was funny to slap roasted marshmallows in each other’s hair. They had attended Mayfield Mennonite back then, but didn’t they start their own house church later? Something like that. She couldn’t recall.

Josiah cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I was wondering if you’d like to serve with me tonight. I don’t know too many of the girls and I thought it might be, you know, fun.”

Was he out of his mind? 

Ellie stared at the silver snap at her eye level on his white Western shirt and mumbled, “Actually, that’s not going to work. I have. . . I mean. . . yeah, thanks, but no.” She forced herself to look at him and smile.

“All right.” Josiah looked surprisingly cheerful as he walked away.

Wait till she told Janet about this. Eww! Creepy! The nerve of him!

“Hey! What’s up?”

Ellie nearly dropped the pie. Bryant! Handsome as a movie star in his white shirt and black jeans, hair a bit longer and curlier than last May at Conrad and Rhonda’s wedding, eyes as blue as ever.

Of all the moments for her to be standing there holding a pie like a complete idiot. Would he save the day and ask her to serve with him? Please please please?

“May I? I think the desserts go in the cooler.” Bryant whisked the pie out of her hands and strode into that noisy, steaming kitchen like he belonged there. Ellie followed. He walked up behind a woman chopping a head of lettuce with a huge knife and nudged her in the back with his elbow. “Mom? Pies go in the refrigerator, right?” 

The woman turned and smiled. “Yes. Right hand door of the first cooler, wherever you can find room.” She gestured with the knife and Bryant took a step back. 

“Watch it, Mom!”

They both laughed.

Ellie thought, Oh my word. Oh my worrrrrd. He is amazing. He has such a nice mom. Too too cool. I can’t stand it.

“Are you a Troyer?” Bryant’s mom asked.

Ellie nodded.

“You look so much like your mom. Will she be here tonight?”

“Yeah, she and Dad are coming.”

“Well, tell her I said to stop in the kitchen and say hi.” She turned back to chopping lettuce. “I love your dress, by the way. Such a pretty floral.”

Bryant’s mom liked her dress! Maybe everything was going to be ok.

Bryant rejoined her and led the way toward a group of about thirty young people, all dressed in black and white, clustered near the stage. Ellie desperately wanted to say something impressive, charming, and sweet. In the whirl of Josiah’s unwelcome invitation and Bryant showing up beside her, in the flesh, not a word came to mind.

Ellie caught a glimpse of Sam over by the wall and Janet in a group of girls, laughing. The Pine Grove and Mayfield girls all wore black skirts and white blouses, of course. Thank goodness there were also a few Beachy Amish in cape dresses. In fact, they had the look Ellie had hoped for—solid black dresses and white sweaters. Instead, here she was in this old-ladyish flower print. At least Bryant’s mom had liked it, plus she didn’t have to have strings on her covering. Ellie straightened her back, took a deep breath, and followed Bryant around the tables and across the gym to join the others.

Janet gave her a quick hug and whispered, “Ellie! What is going on?” She flicked her eyes toward Bryant and raised her eyebrows.

“I’ll tell you later,” Ellie whispered back. “And oh my word, did you see what Josiah Weiler did?”

“No. What happened?”

Ellie glanced around and saw a woman with her hair in a puffy gray bun on top of her head march out of the kitchen with a notebook in one hand. “I’ll tell you later.”

The woman stood beside Sam and Bryant and yanked a pencil out from under the black lace doily that covered her bun. “Hello everyone. I’m Nancy. How many of you have served here before?”

Three quarters of the group raised their hands.

“All right. I’ll explain for you first-timers. We team you up in twos, a guy and girl on each team. Each table has a number. I’ll tell you which tables are yours, and you’ll go around pouring ice water first while people are getting seated. Guys carry trays and girls pour. Then all the guests leave their tables and go through the food line, and after everyone gets their food, you’ll go around with refills of water.”

Ellie nodded. 

“When that’s all done, the first people will need dessert. You fill trays with pieces of pie from that table over there, where Anita is setting up”—she gestured her pencil toward the northwest—"and offer it to everyone. Once again, guys carry trays and girls talk to people and set the plates of pie on the table.”

So much to remember! Ellie glanced at Bryant to see if he was listening. He was, unlike Josiah who was elbowing his brother Haggai and laughing. What a jerk.

The singing group onstage burst out in the first verse of I’ll Fly Away. Nancy raised her voice. “After that, you go around with coffee. You fill the carafes at the table over there.” She gestured to a table with two huge black percolators against the west wall. “Guys carry; girls serve. You ask if they want regular or decaf and make sure there’s cream and sugar on the table. Got it?”

That didn’t sound so hard. She and Bryant would make an amazing team, smooth and efficient. People would murmur to each other how nice they looked together. It was going to be the most amazing evening of her life.

The noise in the gym had increased as Anabaptists from all over the Willamette Valley and beyond drifted in and found their seats. It was getting hard to hear what Nancy was saying.

Nancy raised the pencil high and pointed toward the stage. “This is how we pair up. Guys line up here; girls line up over here. Then the first guy is with the first girl, and so on down the line.”

The group shuffled and rearranged themselves like sheep, rounded up and about to be loaded on a truck, then formed two uncertain lines. Ellie shot a knowing look at Janet, who lifted her hand like she was saying hi and wiggled her fingers. Five. Ellie counted quickly and stepped between Sierra and Kaylene Mullet.

She was fifth in line! Her heart pounded as she sneaked a peek at the guys’ row. Was God smiling on her for real? Oh my goodness. Bryant was fifth as well.

She exhaled. Yessss! Janet winked at her from down the row of girls.

Nancy stood between the two rows, inserted the pencil back into her bun, and snapped her fingers. “I forgot! Before we pair off, I need to know: Did any of you arrange ahead of time to serve together?”

Tim and Robin, who were dating and practically engaged, raised their hands. So did Randy and Shelley, slowly, and everyone snickered. So the rumors were true.

Josiah Weiler raised his hand.

Nancy’s eyebrows went up.

Ellie thought, My goodness. Who did he pick on after he talked to me?

“Josiah! You have a partner already?” Nancy looked around. “Is she here?”

Josiah grinned. “It’s Ellie.” He pointed a bony finger right at her, and twenty-nine servers turned and stared in astonishment.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Obligations, Conversation Openers, and Children's Purity

 

Aunt Dorcas borrowed her son's medical scissors to take 31 stitches
out of her husband's head.
Today she snips your questions apart.

We have three questions today. The first one came as a comment on a recent blog post:

 Dear Aunt Dorcas,

 I have a hard time discerning which obligation I take on for my sake and which are obligatory. I have a bad habit of viewing everything as necessary, and it's hard to break. Any tips for gaining clarity?

 --Lucinda

 Dear Lucinda,

I don't have a lot of advice, because, as I stated in my post, it took a bad accident to really clarify what I wanted to do and what I didn’t. However, before that I had started seeing that I took on duties because people had placed them on me without ever asking my permission. There were things I did because others thought that my role as pastor’s wife, mom, writer, family member, or whatever, required it. Once I saw the unfairness of that, it was easier to start saying No.

A good place to begin is to monitor your reaction. If you do it but feel resentful, trace that back as far as you can. Resentment means you're saying Yes because you don't feel that No is an option. Why do you feel you can’t say No? The best Yes is one that’s freely given.

 I'm still learning.

--Aunt Dorcas

***

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

I'm not good at small talk when meeting new people. What conversation starters do you suggest other than weather and other cliche topics?

--Mrs. Pepper

Dear Mrs. Pepper,

I shared this question with my daughters. Jenny passionately advocated that the weather is a perfectly fine topic of conversation. It’s a connection and a shared experience! It’s something you have in common with everyone around you! Don’t denigrate the weather!

All right then.

I told them about the time I was in Minnesota in January of 2013. My brother and I went out for breakfast at a local truck stop to talk about Mom and Dad. It was about 20 below zero outside, and snowy. As we ate, these big hairy Minnesota guys in Sorel boots and parkas would come in the front door of the cafĂ©, puffing clouds of mist with every breath, and stomp the snow off their boots with a relish and delight that’s unique to Minnesota people in severe cold. Then they’d walk past our booth with their parka and insulated gloves making swishing sounds, and they’d nod at us and murmur, “Cold out dere.”

Weather is definitely connection, especially if you live in Minnesota.

But let’s say you live in milder climes and there’s not much to say.

Everyone has a story to tell. I find that if you look like you want to hear it, people will probably tell it to you, in great detail and at times for far longer than you might wish. All you have to do is keep nodding and saying “Uh-huh.”

Except you can get in trouble doing this, because every so often I’m nodding and repeating Uh-huh, meaning “I hear you. Yes, I hear that too. I am tracking your narrative,” and suddenly they’re saying, “And I learned through my chakra from Swami Nanda that we are all One with the earth’s energy and we become Light and Being with the unique vibration of our celestial identity.”

I don’t always put the brakes on my nod in time. Or I nod, meaning, Ok, I am listening to you, and my daughters say I come across like I actually agree. 

I think Jesus understands.

Amy said, “Sometimes you already know something about the person you're talking to. You should ask about that. Maybe something you saw on social media. It means a lot when people remember specifics, like maybe your car broke down or you took a trip to Idaho.”

“Some people say, ‘How is your dad doing?’ and I don’t know how to answer, because I don’t know what they already know. But others will say, ‘Is your dad still in a neck brace?’ or ‘Has he tried driving again?’ and that’s easier to answer.”

When I’m sitting beside someone on a plane, I like to say, “Are you heading home?” I understand TCK’s don’t like this question, but most other people do. Either they’re happy to say, yes, they’re going home, or they’ll tell you that no, they’re going to visit the grandkids or attend a conference. Then you have lots of opportunity for further conversation about grandkids and work, assuming that you are reading the vibes correctly that they actually feel like talking.

People like to talk about their injuries, hobbies, children, grandchildren, gardens, dogs, memories, bargains, and travels.

Several years ago, Jenny had some of her physics-class friends here to study, and one of them, a young man I had pre-judged because he had a topknot, asked me what I’ve been reading lately. He immediately became my friend for life. What a wonderful question to ask someone, especially your friend’s old-fashioned mom. He can topknot all he wants.

My sister Margaret Koehn is the world’s leading expert at conversation starters, so I asked her how she’d answer Mrs. Pepper's question.

She says:
It is my firm belief that we can do so much better than we do when it comes to small talk. It all comes down to how unselfish do I want to be? How much do I even want to enter into the other person's life and go deeper and truly feel for them and look them in the eyes and CARE? It’s easy to do the fast, easy version...Hey, how yew doin, hows yo mama 'n em? (Thats the southern version.) Inside you are saying either let me get out of here, let me go on to a cooler group, or a more fun person. But if God is asking you to take time for someone, enter into their life and listen well.

Hey, Rachel. I loved what you said in Sunday school.

How is Shanna coping with a new teacher?

How is your neck since last week when I worked on it? Did you get it checked out?

I need new ideas. What have you been making for supper?

Or the visitors at church:

Hi, welcome here! 

So good to have you. Where do you live?

DO NOT ASK WHO THEIR PARENTS ARE UNLESS YOU KNOW THEY ARE FELLOW MENNONITES. Many ppl have sweetly asked and basicly shut off comments when I explained who I am and they soon realized that I had no pedigree. Always left me feeling funny.

But people are doing much better! I have often heard questions like “What is your story?" or younger people will ask,"What is your passion?" What a wonderful springboard to more questions!

“So, do you think you will ever buy a pottery wheel? I will pray for you that it will work out for you! And the classes sound so fascinating!"

Then there are the mothers. How do we ask them good questions? I loved it so much when an older mom was interested. "Oh honey, I felt for you tonight listening to Emma. Hang in there! You are a good mama!" What is your baby doing that's new? Sometimes just a quiet, caring "How's it going, really?" In the back of the nursery was enough to bring tears down my face.

We have one youth girl, Ashlyn, who is so good at great conversation and doesn't chafe and itch WISHING she was talking to somebody younger and cooler. I love to visit with her...Hey Ash,what kind of project are you doing lately? A few weeks ago it was mixing stuff in an old blender and making paper. Which led to Thai women walking behind the elephants, picking up dung, washing it in the river and making these cool paper book markers. And her delight over this. Engaged, delighted, interested.

I like to ask older women questions like, so what changes to you see in your children because of tech? What would you like to do /accomplish in the next 10 years? What is your project this winter?

Little kids? Oh my!

Who is your best friend?

Where did you travel to last?

Oh why do you have a bandaid? What happened?

Tell me about your scars.

Tell me about your pet.

Tell me about your baby.

I think you are really smart.( nobody tells this to kids,and it shows).

 These are a few of my thoughts. I am passionate about good dialogue and that we need to cultivate it. 

--Aunt Dorcas and Aunt Margaret

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

Is it possible to put too high of a premium on our children’s purity?

If you have been abused, I am sorry that this probably sounds naive and terribly irresponsible. But I feel like I have to ask someone because I feel clueless about training my children about molestation or Too Friendly of Family Members.

My parents and particularly my mom were excessive in protecting their children, especially their daughters, and yet my mom struggled terribly to communicate about sex. And no, there was no sexual abuse in my mom’s home either, just thick Victorian curtains and cobwebs. I grew up thinking of sex as nasty and embarrassing and sexual abuse just waiting to pounce on me from any passing male. My mom relaxed visibly with every daughter that married.

How can I train my children to be aware and yet confident that they will be protected by their parents and not wallowing under clouds of confusion and fear of What Could Happen Even Though I Am Bumfuzzled As To What IT Is?

--Confused Catherine

Dear Catherine,

Bumfuzzled is a wonderful word.

I’m not going to address your original question right away because I think maybe that’s not actually your question.

Yes, sexual abuse is horrible, and you don’t want it to happen. But let’s talk about giving children dire warnings about vague threats.

Some of us have ancestors who were impressively skilled at talking to each other in undertones, maybe about that young couple that had to get married, mmm mmm MMMM! or that young man that went wild, and then giving you that certain look and saying, “Now you be careful, ok? Behave yourself!”

If you asked for specifics, they’d shake their heads just a bit, then glance at each other. You learned not to ask, but you sure wondered.

This approach leaves a child with these messages:

  • 1.      There’s a terrible threat out there, waiting to pounce on me.
  • 2.      I have no idea what it is, exactly.
  • 3.      I am not allowed to ask for specifics. It must not be spoken of.
  • 4.      It is up to me to protect myself, even though I don’t know how.
  • 5.      If the threat gets me, it will be my fault.
  • 6.      If it gets me, I will be shamed and ruined for life, spoken of in undertones by other people’s aunts. Again, it will be my fault and my burden.

Vague warnings instill fear but give a child nothing concrete to work with.

Let’s talk about Bad Things that happen to children.

If you are a normal person living on this planet, bad things will probably happen to you. Disease, car crashes, terrible storms. Bullying, verbal abuse, injustice. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, exposure to evil. Loss of loved ones. Hunger, neglect, abandonment. Misunderstanding, false accusation, undeserved punishment. Not all these things, God forbid, but a few, or many.

Parents and other adults are supposed to protect children as much as possible, but things still happen. Sometimes children heal from their wounds, move on, overcome, develop courage, and grow strong. Other times, they don’t. They go through life wounded, shamed, fearful, frightened, triggered, resentful, beaten down, and defeated.

While parents need to protect their children, they also need to let them learn and explore. Hovering endlessly might do as much damage as neglect. How can they possibly find a good balance?

This is where parents need to be honest about danger. Not vague, hushed words full of insinuation, but plain speech. Having armed their kids with information, they need to let them take appropriate risks. Yes, you can walk to Keith's house. Don't get in cars with strangers. 

Even the best parents can’t foresee and prevent every possible awful thing. So parents need to ask not only, “How can I protect my children?” but also, “How do I teach my child to handle danger?” and “How do I teach my child to heal and move forward if something bad happens?”

Trauma responses are subjective and unpredictable. Two children can have the same experience and have vastly different reactions. A child getting separated from you at the store or getting bit by a dog might have panic attacks for life, or they might not. You can’t assume either.

If the following statements are true for a child, it will make a huge difference in if/how they recover from pain and trauma.

[I am not a professional, and this isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s gathered from my own experiences.]

1.      I am loved and cared for.

2.      I am listened to and heard. I have a voice. I am safe and free to Tell.

3.      I am allowed to feel what I feel.

4.      My pain is acknowledged with compassion.

5.      What happened was not my fault. I am not the bad person.

6.      Adults will take steps so this doesn’t happen again.

7.      Adults will speak truth to me.

8.      Adults will bring justice on my behalf.

9.      Adults will tell me about danger that I have the power to avoid.

10.  I am able to sense danger if I have the right information.

11.  I can trust myself to make good choices.

12.  I can say No. Not every adult must be obeyed.

13.  If hard things happen, I will recover and learn from them.

14.  Even if bad things happen, good things will also happen to me, eventually.

The event is significant, but the context in which it happens is even more so. Does the child feel loved and heard? Is he or she free to ask questions or discuss concerns? Do they know they can “tell” without being shamed or silenced?

Ironically, a child who knows they will be supported and believed if something happens is actually at lower risk of sexual abuse. Perpetrators look for victims who are emotionally lost and abandoned.

I noticed you used the words “our children’s purity.” Part of this whole equation is that when a culture places a higher value on a girl’s purity than it was ever meant to carry, an awful lot of things go awry. Also, my daughter Emily points out, things get weird when we think of purity as a valuable commodity that can be snatched from us in a moment, over which we have no volition. 

In conservative Muslim cultures, the honor of the family rests on the purity of the females. As a result, girls face huge restrictions in dress, associations, and opportunities. Blame for sexual indiscretions is minimal for men and maximal for women. Often, neither are taught what healthy sexual boundaries look like or how to draw them.

Of course we condemn that. But there’s a streak of the same spirit in the conservative Christian world, where aunts talk in hushed tones over the applesauce strainer about the girl that was out of her place, the way she pranced around in front of her married employer, and well, we know what happened to her. She won’t ever get a good man.

Talk to both boys and girls in basic but sufficiently specific terms about what’s healthy and what’s not with bodies, touching, and private parts. Emphasize dignity and respect. Discuss what’s ok and what isn’t at slumber parties. Tell them to trust their instincts about everyone, even fun Uncle Alvin. If they tell you something that happened to them, try to keep your voice calm and your eyebrows level. (Afterwards, you can go in the bedroom and fall apart.)

That’s what I think, having raised children who survived bad experiences.

Aunt Dorcas


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Cousin Escapades--The Most Amazing Evening--Chapter 1

 This is the first chapter of a continued story about two cousins, Janet and Ellie, who live in Oregon. The Most Amazing Evening is one of a series of stories called Cousin Escapades.

I'll be posting new installments every Tuesday. There will be four chapters in all.

This is a story, a work of fiction and imagination. If any of it ever happened in real life, that is not for you to know or figure out.

---

The Most Amazing Evening--Chapter 1 

The night before the Gospel Tidings fundraiser banquet, 14-year-old Ellie lay stretched out in bed, the patchwork comforter pulled up to her chest. In the dark bedroom, the screen on her flip-phone cast a vague blue light.

She texted her cousin Janet. “What are you wearing tomorrow?”

“Black n white.”

“No seriously.”

“Ok, remember that black velvet dress I wore for Christmas last year? And my white leather belt. I’m dressin’ UP. You?”

Ellie tapped: “Mom is making me a black dress and I’ll wear my white Old Navy sweater with it. Wish I could wear a skirt and top but Dad would have a F.I.T.  I TOLD him that’s what Nancy said to wear but he was like you wanna serve or not?”

“You’ll look great.”

Ellie grinned. “Do you know what Beth and Bev are wearing?”

“Bethany said the dresses they wore to serve at Alice’s wedding. Remember?”

Ellie remembered—long black dresses with tiny pleats all over that made the skirts sweep and glide in a most fascinating way. She countered the stab of jealousy with a quick reminder that the twins were a bit plump, which Ellie was not, and they always wanted to lose weight. Plus they were awfully nice. They deserved to have the prettiest dresses at the prison-ministry banquet.

Ellie raised her head, then scooped up her long red hair and let it drape off the side of the bed. Should she ask the most important question? Yes. “Hey is your cousin Bryant gonna be there?”

“Who wants to know?”

“Guess.” Ellie giggled.

“LOL actually yeah.”

“Serving?”

“Yep.”

YESSSSSSS! Ellie pumped the phone up and down twice before it beeped softly.

“I’ll do what I can!” Janet wrote. “I said I have a friend that it’s her first time so she wants to serve with somebody nice and he said ok maybe but it doesn’t MEAN anything, ok?”

Ellie had about twenty-five more questions, but the phone beeped again. “Hey I’m falling asleep.”

She’d have to wait. “Ok good night.” She laid the phone on the nightstand and thought about Bryant. He was Janet’s cousin on her dad’s side and so, conveniently, was no relation to Ellie whose mom was a sister to Janet’s mom. Bryant went to Pine Grove Mennonite, so Ellie saw him only now and then at family events, such as when Janet’s oldest brother got married. Bryant had curly dark-blonde hair and deep blue eyes. How convenient that he was related to Janet but not to her.

Across the wall, she heard the intermittent humming of the sewing machine and the hiss of the iron. She had made it clear to Mom exactly what she wanted, hadn’t she? The black Liverpool with tone-on-tone embossed roses she had seen on the end of the rack at Martin’s Variety last week when she stopped in with Janet and Aunt Leah. She pictured the dress: ankle length, fitted bodice with a cape that lay smooth and flat at the edges, flared A-line skirt, like all her dresses of the past year or two.

 Mom had said she’d pick up the fabric in the afternoon and sew it in the evening if Ellie set the table, made the salad, and cleaned the kitchen after dinner. “Deal,” Ellie had said. It wasn’t that hard, and Dad and Sam had helped clean up. She had seen a glimpse of the black fabric in the white shopping bag beside Mom’s purse on the counter before Mom whisked it away to the sewing room. “I’ll make it exactly like last time,” she’d said, “so you don’t even need to do a fitting.” The sewing room door had shut with a thud that always conveyed the same message to her family: “Don’t bother me unless there’s smoke or blood.”

Ok. Black dress. What else? White cardigan, buttoned all the way, so it would look like the black skirt and white blouse Nancy had asked them to wear. Scarf? Ellie couldn’t decide. Maybe the green and gold one, since it was fall. She’d have to wash her hair in the afternoon and set it with a bit of gel and bobby pins to make it wavy. Then she’d do a low “messy bun” if she could sneak it past Dad. But it had to be high enough to fit her covering over it. So complicated.

Shoes. Some of the girls were wearing Keds with dresses these days and Ellie loved the look, but would that be dressy enough? Her black boots? No--they would click like crazy on the gym floor, and the heels were too high to risk. What if she twisted her ankle and dumped coffee on someone’s lap? In front of Bryant? Horrors. She’d have to go with her black pumps.

Ellie fell asleep before she decided whether to wear the watch with the black leather strap or the one with a stretchy band. In her dreams, Bryant was at the banquet, but he was serving with Kaylene Mullet. They were laughing and talking. Ellie trailed behind them, calling Bryant’s name. All the guests stared at her, but Bryant never noticed.

She woke the next morning to a soft knock and the door slowly opening. “Ellie? I got your dress done for the banquet.” Her mother entered, hung the dress in the closet, and slipped back out.

Ellie sat up and brushed the tangled hair out of her face. Oh, thank God. It was only a dream. The banquet hadn’t happened yet. Bryant wasn’t serving with Kaylene, at least not yet. And she had a new dress for her first time serving. She approached the closet, pulled aside a mustard-yellow dress to the left and a brown sweatshirt to the right to reveal the new dress.

Ellie gasped.

This had to be a terrible mistake. How could Mom have misunderstood so badly? True, the dress was a Liverpool knit, long, and without any gathers at the waist, just as Ellie had specified. And it was black. But it had puffy inch-long white roses printed all over it.

Ellie sat on the edge of the bed, grabbed her phone off the night stand, and texted Janet. “Can you talk?”

Thirty seconds later, the phone buzzed in her hand.

“Ellie! What’s up? Are you ok?”

“No. I’m not ok. Janet, you won’t believe what my mom did. She made me a dress for tonight and totally blew it. I’m going to have to borrow an outfit from you or something.” Ellie wiped a tear as she stated the terrible truth.

“What happened?”

“You know I wanted to look like I was wearing a skirt and top because that’s what we were told to wear? Well, and also so I wouldn’t look so conservative? Well, Mom was supposed to sew me a black dress and I was going to wear a white sweater with it but it’s not!”

“What isn’t what?”

“The dress isn’t really black!”

“Really? What color is it?”

Ellie sniffed. “It’s not the color. I mean, it’s black, but it has white flowers on it! Roses! All over! It looks like something Frieda Yoder would wear to communion. I told Mom which fabric to get, but she must have totally not understood me. If you don’t have a dress I can borrow, I’ll have to stay home.”

“Oh Ellie! Are you sure it’s that bad?”

“Janet. You can see those flowers from a mile away.”

“Did you tell your mom?”

“No. She’s going to feel so bad if I do. I think she just got mixed up. I mean, I told her we’re supposed to wear black and white, and I told her to get the black Liverpool with the embossed roses on the end of the rack of knits at Martin’s Variety, meaning black on black of course.” Ellie scratched at a white rose as though it might peel off and save the day. “But they must have got this new fabric in and put it at the end. I don’t remember ever seeing this before. They haven’t gotten new fabric in forever and then they get this.”

“Can you send me a picture? Honestly, I’ll bet it’ll be ok. Nancy won’t mind, I’m positive. And I spent twenty minutes yesterday talking Bryant into serving instead of going to a basketball game.”

Ellie sat up straight on the bed. “Ok. I’ll send you a picture. See what you think.”

She spread the dress on the unmade bed, shot two pictures with her flip phone, and texted them to Janet, a tiny bit of hope entering her soul.

Janet called back. “I think it’ll be ok. I don’t have any black dresses you can borrow, and I really want you there.” She giggled. “I was texting Bryant this morning.”

With one hand, Ellie hung the dress back in the closet.  “Did you tell Bryant you’re trying to get him to serve with me? If you did, I’m going to just die.”

“No, don’t worry!” Janet laughed. “But I told him to make sure he’s fifth in line. Fifth. Got it?”

“Got it!”

Ellie tossed the phone onto the bed and did a happy little dance around her room. She whirled to the closet and pulled out the dress. It draped smoothly from the hanger, and the puffy white roses caught the light. “Maybe it’s not that terrible, really. I mean, with my white sweater and everything.”

In the bathroom, she washed her face and pulled her hair into a ponytail. Then she headed to the kitchen and put two slices of bread in the toaster as Mom came in the back door. “Thanks for sewing my new dress, Mom.” Just saying the words helped to settle her turbulent insides. “I hope you didn’t have to stay up too late.”

“You’re welcome, Ellie. I’m glad you like the dress. And I was in bed by 11:30.” Mom pulled five fresh eggs out of her coat pockets, put them in the refrigerator, and turned to Ellie. “Are you feeling ok? You look a bit flushed.” She laid her hand on Ellie’s forehead.

“Mom, I’m fine.” Ellie backed away and opened the silverware drawer.

“Hmmm. Well, let me know if you feel feverish. You shouldn’t serve food tonight if you have a virus.”

Ellie laughed. “You just want to play nurse.” She’d been told that Mom had taken a four-week nurse’s aide course way back before she was married.  It had left such an impression that, Dad often said, she was hunting for people to diagnose, bandage, or cure ever since.

Mom laughed too. “You’re probably right.” She unzipped her coat, hung it on a peg by the back door, and returned to the kitchen. “Back to that dress--I wasn’t quite sure what you meant by embossed flowers—it must be a new thing—but then the fabric was right there where you said, and it had those raised roses, so it all worked out.” She poured coffee in a mug while Ellie slowly chewed her toast. “We need to talk about who’s going when tonight. I think the servers need to be there by 5:15, so Sam’s taking you. Then Dad and I are coming later. The dinner starts at 6:00. I’d like to send my pies with you two, so please don’t forget them. There’s a little bit of coffee left in the pot if you want it.”

“All right. Thanks.”

“I’m going to clean up the sewing room. Now remember, let me know if you don’t feel well.”

Was Mom ever going to leave? To Ellie’s relief, Mom walked out of the kitchen and down the hall, carrying her coffee mug. The sewing room door shut with a gentle click.

Ellie sipped her own mug of coffee and reviewed the mental list of everything she needed to do before 4:30. This was going to be the most amazing evening of her life. Oh my word, was it ever, even with those white roses on her dress. Surely no other outcome was even possible.

Ellie shivered with expectation, rinsed her coffee cup, and marched to her bedroom.


Saturday, October 03, 2020

Rebooting Our Lives

In this new normal, we take walks to the cemetery.

When Paul fell off a platform three months ago, we all fell with him. From the high meadow of normal, busy, everyday life, we fell off a cliff and into a turbulent river. Since then, we’ve all been swimming out of the river and clawing our way up the cliff on the other side, to what looks from here like another meadow of normal life, but a different landscape than before.

In those first days and weeks after a shocking event, you don’t process much, mentally or emotionally. The predominant emotion is grief, when someone you love has died, or gratitude, when they somehow survived.

Later, you feel a wider variety of emotions and think about what happened and how it affects you. My uncle was killed in a logging accident when I was twelve. His widow told me, years later, how she was in shock, at first, and it was a mercy from God. As time went on, it was like a window opening, little by little. She realized more, felt more, understood more. Feeling and knowing it all at once would have been more than anyone could handle, she said.

Paul requires very little help at this point. I am gradually getting back the brain that disappeared when he fell, and I haven’t lost my drivers license or anything of equal importance for at least a week. He works on warehouse paperwork at home. I’m back to deadheading flowers and writing.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve returned to how things were. Instead, we’re still climbing that cliff to the meadow of a new normal life, but it’s still too far off to get a clear look at it.

Other things, however, are clearer than ever.

Life’s big, terrible events seem utterly without redemption in the moment, but I’ve found that they are not without blessings. One of them is clarity.

When you’re powering along every day and making most of it work, a fog can rise around you, imperceptibly. You ignore the parts that aren’t working, the mistakes you keep repeating, and the weird ways you try to appease the difficult people.

Tragedy blows away the fog and makes things clear.

It reminds me of the control-alt-delete feature on a computer that, according to WhatIs.com “reboot[s] the operating system (ha[s] it shut down and restart itself).”

When we hit a moose and our van burned up in 1994, I was insanely grateful that we all survived. Later, I realized how much that shaped my appreciation of an ordinary day and my belief that people are infinitely more important than things. It provided an ongoing guide in making decisions.

My nephew’s death by suicide in 2006 convinced me that we all need to talk about mental health and family history. I probably have a reputation by now as the meddling woman who asks young men straight up if they’re doing ok and expects an honest answer. My reputation in this regard is of no concern to me. That grief made me see clearly that no young person should suffer alone like Leonard did, and no family should experience such a loss.

My parents’ passings in 2013 and 2019 were gentler and more expected, of course, but not without deep grief. They also brought a new clarity about how I had perceived my place in the family. It was time to put aside the “facts” I had absorbed as a seven-year-old and not questioned enough since. My older siblings didn’t get to dictate the ultimate truths of the universe, and they had actually been children themselves, trying to make sense of the world, when these truths were declared. Not everything was my fault. I had actually been a normal child. Mistakes were not sins, nor sins mistakes.

For years, I’ve been busy with activities and duties I chose and others I didn’t--hobbies, projects, people, obligations, and responsibilities. When Paul was in the hospital and then later at home, needing fulltime care, I dropped all of my former commitments without hesitation or apology. As I adjusted his pillows and doled out medicine, my own wishes and needs began to sprout like radish seedlings in a bare, tilled garden. I realized I wanted to do certain things. I definitely didn’t want to take on others. As Paul recovers, I can say yes or no, decisively.

You make the choice to hit control-alt-delete when your computer is sluggish or stalled. You don’t get a choice when tragedy shows up. However, as you process the losses and changes, you get the choice to accept the little gifts that disaster brings, and then those hard, hard times are not useless, wasted, or without redemption.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Back in the Saddle Again

 I've missed blogging. If you are here, it means you stuck around during this long absence, and I appreciate it.

Updating everyone on Paul's progress over on the Caring Bridge site was an appropriate substitute while we all tried to survive the demands of his recovery. THANK YOU to everyone who followed our story there. I'll keep the site open for occasional updates. His head wound and broken bones have healed remarkably fast and well. Now we face the long, slow haul of regaining use of the left arm, paralyzed by a spinal cord injury and "waking up," as they say, in tiny increments, and also regaining overall strength.

I have experienced my own healing during this time and am better able to function and focus than I was during the unbelievable shock and stress of those initial weeks.

One of the many ways Paul's fall upended our lives is that he is suddenly retired from his jobs of teaching, preaching, and running a business. We don't know if or when he'll return to these duties, or in what form or to what extent.

But these life-altering events are not without little hidden blessings, and here is one of them: Paul wants to be useful, so he offered to take on a few responsibilities such as emptying the dishwasher and feeding the chickens so I can have a regular time every morning to go to the Sparrow Nest and write.

We will try that exchange for a few weeks and see how it works. I've never been good at keeping schedules but it helps to commit to a specific length of time and then evaluate how it's going.

With that in mind, I created a schedule for blogging in October. On Saturdays, I'd like to alternate between a regular essay-type blog post or update and an Ask Aunt Dorcas post. I have a stash of questions in hand that I hope to have "Aunt Dorcas" address, but you can send me more, if you wish, at dorcassmucker@gmail.com. If you have other ideas for posts, send them along as well.

Then, on Tuesdays, I want to post a bit of fiction. They called them serials back in Charles Dickens's day, I believe, when the newspapers printed A Christmas Carol chapter by chapter. I grew up on the "continued" stories in the Pathway magazines and recall the disappointment of reaching the words "to be continued" and the anticipation of reading the new installment when it came. I'm not sure I admitted back then that I enjoyed "Bevely" in Young Companion, but I did.

I have three or four stories I wrote for my fiction group, just for practice. They're not long enough for a book, but I have a few ideas of other ways to use them, and decided in this year of Covid and crisis, it would be fun to share one as a serial.

It's a story about two teenage girls, written at middle grade level. Don't read it looking for a lesson or anything deep. I only wanted to tell a semi-realistic story based on my own and others' experiences.

Thank you to all of you who reached out to us during this difficult summer. It's good to be looking ahead and moving beyond simply surviving.

See you on Saturday.


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Paul's Fall

Last Tuesday, Paul had a bad fall at the warehouse. We don't know if he was on a ladder or up on a platform of pallets on the forklift, fixing an auger about 15 feet up on the wall, but we know he fell hard.

He is still in the hospital. Injuries included a severe gash on his head, a fractured skull, two neck bones broken, a spinal cord contusion, three bones broken in his back, and both wrists shattered.

He is alive, and not paralyzed. He has serious weakness in his left arm due to the spinal cord injury.

You can read more at our CaringBridge site.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Oh Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear



When I was about 19 and teaching in Oregon, my friend Katherine and I used to go visit at the state prisons in Salem. In the Bible studies and chapel services, we got to know a number of prisoners by name.

Sometimes we’d speculate about their previous lives. We imagined their stories, even if we had no plausible information to go on.

One day we got to talking about a young man we had met at OSCI, the medium-security prison. He was tall, blond, quiet, and intriguing. I’ll call him David.

For some reason I thought Katherine and I were both in a speculative mood, and I began yarning a long story about where David was from, how he fell into a crime that put him at OSCI, when he came to faith, and how he had one sister, a bit younger, who was really nice and who faithfully came to visit him.

I made it all up, and I thought Katherine knew that. I was just having fun.

Later we attended a gathering at a friend's house of probably fifty people to hear a speaker from the prison. As we ate afterwards, I noticed Katherine in deep conversation with one of the men. She came over to me. “Hey, I was telling Harold what you told me about David. Can you remind me, did you say it was his sister that comes to visit him? Do you know if he has other family support?”

I was so horrified I could hardly speak. “Katherine! Didn’t you know? I made it all up!”

No. She hadn’t known.

"But! I thought we were both just imagining! For fun!"

Let’s just say that some awkward conversations followed.

Here is something you should know: it is easy to make stuff up.

We who read and watch and listen tend to be a believing bunch. I’d hate to call us gullible, heaven forbid, but we tend to take in articles or videos or books and assume the author or speaker is credible.

Malcolm Gladwell addresses this in his book Talking With Strangers. 

Essentially, we default to truth, he says. We assume people are telling the truth until we find out otherwise.

The alternative, he goes on, is to go through life with deep suspicion of everyone and their words and motives. That’s an exhausting way to live, sustainable only if you isolate yourself and remove most of the joy from your life. 

The internet trolls who always comment on anecdotes and interesting stories and photos with “fake!” and “obviously photoshopped!” don’t add anything of value to the world.

However. A little bit of suspicion, or at least critical thinking, is good.

I am not only a taker in of words, but a producer of them. While I am more cautious than I was at 19, I’ve been shocked at how easy it is to make stuff up and have people take me seriously.

For example, years ago I wrote about evaluating literature and was trying to sound as pretentious as literary critics do. So I wrote an airy paragraph about finding the “thematic juxtapositions” in a piece of writing.

It was so overdone that I was sure it was obviously concocted out of thin air. But no less a personage than a well-known Anabaptist internet personality took me seriously and wanted to know more.

Granted, that was a long time ago, and he wasn’t very old. But other and older people also took me seriously.

Then, more recently, in a blog post about the mommy wars, I wanted to make up an example of an earnest theory that moms might encounter. What should it be? I needed something so “out there” that everyone would know it was made up, yet with parallels to real examples, with “facts” and “expert” and “research.”

The next day that same mom posts a long thoughtful post on Instagram featuring her baby all cuddly in a thick cream-colored knitted blanket, with only his round little face showing. She writes in the caption about how important it is to surround our children with warmth, that this teaches them bonding and comfort, starting in the womb, when they are safe and loved at your core body temperature that God made at the optimal degree where a child’s brain absorbs the greatest sense of security. Half a degree down and they show signs of distress and you know, she just wants to kindly speak out about moms who gauge a baby’s comfort by their own and don’t consider that babies have a much smaller body mass, so they get cold faster, and they don’t have the words to communicate this discomfort. The damage can show up years later in children who always need a security blanket and adults who are nervous and anxious and always pulling sweaters on and off, like women during menopause, or men who pull all the blankets to their side of the bed, trying to recreate the security of the womb. She’s done her research. There’s a connection. She knows about this.

Some people believed this was actually a thing until they reached a footnote that said I made it all up. If you were one of them, don’t feel bad. One of my own brilliant daughters thought it sounded plausible.

If we encounter someone who sounds like they know what they’re talking about, but it’s all new to us, we often fear looking stupid if we question them or don’t quite believe them. What if they look at us like, you didn’t know this?? What if all the heads in the room swivel our way in shock and amusement? What rock has she been living under?

You don’t have to be a scowling, suspicious hermit or an internet troll who takes all the fun out of unusual stories, but it’s ok to push back just a little bit, to ask questions, and to verify from other sources.

Gary Chapman’s theories on the five love languages have permeated every course on family life and relationships in the Christian world in the last 30 years. You can recite them all, right? Quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, and so on.

His basic premise resonates with most of us, I think: of course we all perceive and communicate love differently.

How many of us have stopped to ask: Why only five love languages? Why those five in particular? Who gave Mr. Chapman the authority to decide how things are?

My sister’s primary love language is empathy. If you feel with her and tell her so, she is your friend for life. For me, it’s attention. If you make eye contact and affirm my existence and value, or if you notice that I need something and try to help me, I feel more loved than if you gave me a hug and a hundred dollars.

Some of you, at this moment, are taking my sister’s and my love languages and trying to shove them into one of Chapman's five categories, like a kindergartener trying to fold up a dollar bill and shove it down the slot in the globe bank in Sunday school, while the class sings two full rounds of Dropping dropping hear the pennies fall.

“Empathy would come under words of affirmation," you say. "It’s all about affirming who people are and what they’re feeling.”

Or maybe not.

Gary Chapman gets the credit for putting the love languages theory into words and coming up with five categories. But let’s remember that he probably had six or eight or ten, to begin with, but then his wife and his editor said, “People are going to get bogged down. You’ve got to condense these to no more than five.” So he did, and we’ve taken those five as seriously as the Seven Ordinances ever since.

It’s ok if you have your own love language. You get to differ from the Original Five, if you like. Gary Chapman doesn't get to decide about you.

Then, around the same time that the love languages came along, someone else came up with the brilliant strategy of improving communication in relationships by using "emotional word pictures."

If I recall correctly, I heard both Bill Gothard and Gary Smalley speak on this, in person. As they elaborated on this brilliant technique, something bubbled in the back of my brain. “Wait. ‘Emotional word pictures?’ Isn’t that like. . . stories?”

Yes, my friends. As nearly as I can tell, emotional word pictures are just stories. Maybe tailored and crafted to fit the moment, but still stories.

See, authors and speakers get to say whatever they want. They can give new words to old concepts, shape ideas to fit their agenda, or totally make stuff up out of thin air.

Why would they do this? Well, someone who comes up with a great new idea and explains it well will sell lots of books and get lots of clicks on YouTube. So will someone who puts a new, intriguing twist on old ideas, or who convinces people that they are in danger and he/she has the insights to rescue them. Or that they are lacking in some significant way and the YouTube expert can fully supply.

If selling lots of books is a bad thing, then I have the wrong aspirations. I'm just saying that it’s always a good idea for readers and watchers to think about what people are saying and what they might be getting out of it.

You don’t have to go around scoffing in scornful superior derision at everything you hear and read and see. But don’t take authors, YouTube personalities, self-proclaimed experts, or people on TV too seriously either.

Some of us have great imaginations. We are good at making things up.

It's good to question what we say.