Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Emily's Adventures

My Amish background was good in many ways but as I have mentioned before it left me with a sack of Shame that I carry around with me to this day. So, God with his incomprehensible sense of humor sent me my daughter Emily.

Sunday evening after church we were almost the last ones to leave. I went looking for the children, and out by the road I saw some activity that turned out to be Emily and her friend Stephanie Coblentz perched in their matching skirts (sky blue with monkeys in banana canoes) on top of the church sign, their dangling legs obscuring the message of the week (If you want to make something of your life, give it to God). Both girls were hooting and laughing as I drove up in the car. I thought, Oh no.

They hopped off the sign and came over to the car, "We were sitting up there singing songs and waving at people. A lot of church people went by and they waved and laughed, and Konrad even stopped and asked if he could have a milkshake and fries. And then these people from Brownsville would go by and they’d honk and smile and wave."

I thought, oh Lord have mercy, why is it always the minister’s children making a spectacle of themselves? The girls got in the car, still laughing.

Me: Emily, I have no pride left. None. Do you realize that when I was your age my entire life was framed by these parameters of Don’t show off, Don’t draw attention to yourself, and most of all What Will People Think?? And then God sent me you.
Emily: But Mom, we were up there greeting people, welcoming them to our church!
Me: Oh please.
Emily: Just be glad you have a child that’s broken the bonds of tradition!
Me: Oh please.
Emily: Um, Stephanie…my mom has a blog.
Stephanie: Oh No!
Stephanie: Actually, I like it when people write about me.
Emily: Actually, I do too.
Me: Amy, did you hear what those girls were doing? (Knowing that this calm and reliable child will sympathize with me)
Amy: Emily, if you do it again, tell me ahead of time and I’ll join you.
Me: Oh forevermore. I give up. I just give UP.
The worst thing about this Amish baggage of mine is that it makes it so hard to discern if this kind of behavior is actually wrong or just embarrassing.

Quote of the Day:
"Well, then I guess I get the metatarsals."
--Ben, after Jenny announced that she’s having the heel of the fresh-baked loaf of bread

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Young People's Discussions

I seldom get nostalgic for my lost youth (not for any quantity of cash would I be 15 again) but now and then my teenagers make me reflect a bit on where I was then vs. where I am now.

Right now my children and their friends are "into" church issues. They get very fired up about The Rules With No Scriptural Basis, The Lack of Life and Vitality in our Services, The Shallow Values Among Some People, Why Aren’t We Reaching Out to the World, and so on.

Just like my friends and I used to. Only our parents didn’t know much about our Intense Discussions, because they occurred at Pizza Hut, fifteen or twenty miles from their ears.

I get in on more of my children’s discussions because some of them take place on their blogs. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, lest they quit being as honest, but those blogs are a wonderful window into their thoughts and lives.

So there they are, heatedly batting around the same ideas that we used to discuss. And, no doubt, they have a horror of ever getting as complacent and satisfied as all those 40-somethings in church (like me) who live their pleasant lives and don’t make a fuss about anything and never think or discuss any Deep Thoughts…just like I used to look in disdain at the older people at Believers Fellowship in Minnesota.

So, what happened? Well, a number of things.

1. Life got a bit more intense. It’s hard to get heated up about Complacency in the Church when you’re nearly out of money and your child needs to see a doctor and how are you going to afford it plus groceries besides?

2. The church became something that I desperately needed rather than something I could dangle at the fringes of my life, examining and criticizing at will.

3. I learned that only time and the Holy Spirit can change people and situations. All of my fine, yea, brilliant, logic makes no dent on people’s opinions. Once upon a time there was a Church Rule that I didn’t like. So I presented my case why it ought to change. But no, there was no way. So for six years I kept my mouth shut and prayed. And the rule changed without another word from me. Or, as a friend of mine said cheerfully, "Some of these things won’t change until the old people die off." Matt: "That’s a pretty callous way of looking at it." Friend: "Well, it’s true."

4. God took my focus off the church and how it should change and put the spotlight on me and how I needed to change. Aarrgghh. It was way more fun to criticize the church than myself.

I love the young people at Brownsville and their energy and ideas and fearlessness. When they become old and complacent like me, God will raise up a new generation of teenagers to spark ideas and light fires and inspire Long Deep Discussions.

Quote of the Day:
"Well, the Bible says, ‘No man can serve two masters.’"
--Matt, when the young people were discussing the absurdity of the Christian-Ethics-class hypothetical question of whether or not a guy should court two girls at once

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Paul is now off the missions committee for the first time in about 10 years (papers flutter off the desk as I breathe a sigh of relief) but he felt like he needed to make one more trip to Zacatecas, Mexico, to tie up some loose ends with the church there. So he and Emily (age 14) left last Friday, flying to El Paso, taxiing across the border to Juarez, and taking a bus the 16 hours to Zacatecas.

Phone connections were difficult, as usual, while they were at Sabino and Teresa Dorado’s place. I figured I wouldn’t hear much from them until Wednesday, when they’d be back in El Paso. They planned to knock around El Paso the rest of Wednesday and have some good dad-and-daughter time, spend the night in a motel, and fly home Thursday.

Sure enough, Paul called on Wednesday, around noon. "We’re in a taxi, heading to the airport," he said.
"The airport?" I said, "But you aren’t flying home until tomorrow."
He explained that the airport is where you pick up your rental car.
Ah. Ok.

Also, he said we shouldn’t talk too long because he needed to recharge his cell phone somewhere.

Wednesday night I stayed up late reading. At midnight I closed my weary eyes and soon I heard the back door opening. Huh? Why did Matt go out there to turn off lights when I already did? Or is Amy doing laundry at this late hour??

Then I heard what sounded like a suitcase rolling. And voices. What??

I got up. There in the living room were Paul and Emily, looking utterly pleased with themselves. Pinch me, please, am I dreaming? No, they decided to see if they could catch an earlier flight home and surprise us. And they did.
"But what about saying you’re going to pick up a rental car?"
"Dad didn’t say he’s getting one. He just said the airport is where you get them."

Not only did Paul surprise me in the sense of showing up then, but he surprised me by surprising me. This is not a spontaneous guy—he loves to Plan and Organize. And then he pulls this off. How cool is that after 20 years together? I’d better keep him.

Quote of the Day:
"There's us!!"
--Amy, watching the new Into Africa promotional DVD and seeing part of our family in the back of the truck with the elephants passing by in the picture near the beginning. Find out more at

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

You Never Know

You Never Know, I tell my children, what will result from all these little choices you make every day. Teasing your sister until she screams: it matters. So does writing a letter to Grandma. They listen and pretend to agree, mostly, but I know they think the deed of this moment will be completely forgotten in a month—or a day--and will never matter again. So, an Instructive Example:

The setting: November, Wilton’s burial, Alford Cemetery. It is cold, windy, and rainy, and we are under the canopy trying to keep dry. A row of chairs holds Anne with Jenny on her lap, Aunt Susie, and a few others. Clustered around are Paul, his siblings, their spouses, and their children. All around us are the brave souls—neighbors, church people, old friends—hunched in the rain, who have come to say their last goodbyes.

Beside me is a young lady I’ll call Ashley, one of my daughters' friends. She is no relation to the deceased, but since her grandparents knew Wilton, she and her mom escorted them to the funeral. I saw her standing outside alone and ushered her into the tent to join us.

The service begins. Some of the teenage girls didn’t bring coats, so they shiver in the wind. Suddenly there is a general rustling among the nephews standing to my right. They are shucking off their jackets and handing them out to the young ladies. Ashley, as I recall, ends up with Byran’s; Emily, with Kevin’s.

The singers compete with the gusts of wind, the body is lowered, the service is finished. The coats are returned to the owners and we slowly turn to leave.

End of episode. Or maybe not. Days later, Ashley’s mother tells me that, for her daughter, the most impressive part of the entire day was those young men taking off their coats and giving them to the girls. "I don’t know of any guys in my life, not one, who would do that for me," Ashley said. "You can’t imagine how profound a moment it was for her," her mom says. "Lifechanging, really."

Take heed, children. As I said, You Never Know.

Quote of the Day:
"I think I have eyebrows like a wolf."

Monday, April 18, 2005

My Friend Mary

My friend Mary is such a comfort to me.

At least once a week I make a complete idiot of myself. I have a huge capacity for getting spaced out and flustered. I laugh too much at the wrong times and frequently wedge my foot in my mouth. I have embarrassing narrow escapes when I’m driving and for the next 15 blocks stare straight ahead so the young man in the pickup beside me can’t give me a rude gesture for cutting in front of him.

In a big store, I don’t notice the long line behind the "wait here" sign and step right up to the counter when the clerk says, "Next please" and she sends me back to the end of the line like a naughty 9-year-old and the whole line glares at me as I slink past. In the middle of a communion service, the little boy in front of me digs in his mom’s purse, finds a bottle of perfume, and aims it at his neck. I am all absorbed in the little drama as he puts his finger on the nozzle. The tension mounts--Will he or won’t he? As his mom continues to be oblivious, I break out in silent giggles. And then I look up and return to the reality of the moment, which is the passing of the Bread and the Cup, and the whole congregation but me and the child is holy and hushed and solemn. (He never actually sprays the perfume.)

When this sort of thing happens, there are certain intimidating people in my life that I don’t want around. I want them far away and I don’t want them to ever find out about this episode. I am still Amish enough that Shame is a serious issue with me. I carry around an invisible 20-pound sack of it and the counselor types would have a heyday with my Internal Motives.

And then there’s Mary.

Mary is this wonderful, humble, lovable friend of mine that I have known for years. She is different from most other people in my life in this distinct way: when I do something really stupid, I want her to know. She no longer lives in Oregon, so I can’t get in touch with her as easily as I used to, but I still have this urge to call her up and spill my guts when I’ve really dropped the ball.

Mary, you see, can always top my stories. "That’s nothing," she says, and then she goes on to relate something she did that was twice as embarrassing as what I did. She chuckles contentedly and says, as Pooh did, "I am a bear of very little brain."

Just recently, for example, Mary was in a church business meeting when she looked down and discovered that one of her shoes was suede black and the other was scuffed brown. She writes, "I immediately LOST it and was having an increasingly difficult time controlling my laughter and almost feeling slight panic, afraid it would pop right out loud! I thought the two young guys right behind me probably wonder WHAT is going on with me that I start shaking out of the blue...all by myself...:-( :-)!! So, I wrote them a quick note (mistake #1!!!) and said..."Sorry I'm losing it up here---I just discovered I wore 2 different shoes! :-(" Well "of course"....duh... they LOST it too and then I knew I had to get out of there, and FAST!!"
(The story continued on for some time but you get the idea.)

Mary’s stories assure me that I am not alone, life goes on, and I am still loved. As I said, she is a great comfort to me.

Quote of the Day:
Beth: I think he has ADD.
David: Actually, I think he has ODD.
Me: ODD??
David: He’s just odd.
(Conversation yesterday at my mother-in-law’s)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Good Medicine

My friend Sharon and I both lead stressful lives, and we have this running joke that one of these days we really need to get together and have a nervous breakdown. We’ve both earned one several times over, that’s for sure. But neither of us is quite sure just what’s involved or how to go about it, so if we get together maybe we can figure it out.

Joking aside, the truth is that probably we have both come perilously close to a nervous breakdown without anyone showing us how. Sharon, however, has the good sense to know that even if life is stressful, you still need humor. In fact, the more stress you have, the more humor becomes a necessity rather than a frill.

Last week one day Sharon asked if I’d be interested in joining her and a few other ladies at a Night of Fun and Laughter at Applebees in Eugene.

Would I ever. All day Monday I was fluttery, and as evening approached I was downright giddy. After Sharon picked me up, it turned out I wasn’t the only one. "Today was such a long day," one sister said. "I was so looking forward to this." Another said, "It felt like a first date, trying to decide what to wear and everything."

Of course, our children’s reaction to our anticipation was more along these lines: "The thing is, you guys make such a BIG DEAL out of it. I mean, if it was us, it would be just like, whatever, you’d just call people the day of and say do you want to go out tonight." (Amy)

All told, we seven were moms to 31 souls, and we all know that moms of this quantity don’t just like, whatever, go out tonight.

So we dressed up, gathered at Applebees, talked nonstop, ate, and laughed. In fact, I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. I was sputtering and wiping tears and having a wonderfully therapeutic time and suddenly my glass slipper fell off and I realized it was 10:00! Mercy, how did this happen? We couldn’t possibly have been there for more than an hour.

What could a bunch of proper Mennonite moms talk about all evening that would be so funny? Sorry, (snort, sputter, hahahahahahahahaha) we’re under more secrecy than the Papal Conclaves.

A merry heart does good like a medicine, the Bible says. Thanks, Sharon, that was the best-tasting medicine I’ve ever had.

Quote of the Day:
"There are now 10 million blogs on the Internet, and counting."
--Matt, letting his mom know how much competition she has

Friday, April 15, 2005


Jenny has a little photo album with Laura Carrot and Junior Asparagus on the front cover. It inspired her to write a story on little papers today and insert them in the photo slots:

Ones Loro and Jnr love ech athr. Wen tha got mered tha had bloons. Happy marij one of the pes sed. Good bye sed anothr pe. Tis book was pabish by Jenny Smucker. The end.

Translation: Once Laura and Junior loved each other. When they got married, they had balloons. "Happy marriage," one of the peas said. "Goodbye," said another pea. This book was published by Jenny Smucker. The end.

Quote of the Day:
"All of the Lauras I know are nice. Laura Bush…Laura Schlessinger…Aunt Laura…"
--Emily (I don’t know if she includes Laura Carrot on this list or not)

Thursday, April 14, 2005


I see my friend Tom at Iced Tea Forever ( likes to write poetry; really good poetry, too. He inspired me to share my masterpiece with all of you.

A Mother’s Observation of the Male Gender

Make noise.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, now that I’m almost six, could you please stop calling me Sweetie and call me Jenny instead?"
--Jenny, in an embarrassed whisper while shopping at WinCo

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Steven's Coat

Our newest son, Steven, has now officially proven himself to be a True Smucker Guy: he lost his coat. Last November, preparing for his arrival with love and anticipation, I bought a perfect-for-Oregon semi-waterproof warmly-lined jacket. He first wore it home from the airport when he arrived on Christmas Eve and almost every day since.

Then one chilly evening last week Steven, Ben, and I went on a walk. Halfway to Leroy and Anita's, I noticed Steven didn't have a coat and was bouncing along in a short-sleeved shirt. Odd. So I asked him about it. Um, well, heh heh, he doesn't know where his coat is.

Both Ben and Matt were/are famous for misplacing their coats, especially for wearing a coat to school in the morning and forgetting to bring it home. At one point Matt did this with every coat, jacket, parka, and sweatshirt that he owned until he had nothing left and had to go to school in a dreadful old green furry jacket that had been Aunt Rosie's and that I kept in reserve for really dirty jobs. That day, as I recall, Aunt Barb sent him home from school with all 8 coats that he had accumulated there.

So while I was annoyed with Steven for losing his new coat, it was also nice to know he fits right in with his brothers. And after a few weeks we found his coat in the back seat of the van.

Quote of the Day:
"Shaving your legs is like peeling a carrot."
--anonymous teenager instructing her sister in the feminine arts

Monday, April 11, 2005

Blog Responses

Byran the famous nephew is my mentor with this blog stuff, so I asked him how he keeps motivated when he doesn't get many comments on his blog posts. I told him I don't like the feeling of talking to an empty room. He said he enjoys expressing himself whether or not people comment, and they tend to comment most on controversial things.

Makes sense.

However, it turns out that people do read these posts, take them seriously, and even act on them. Remember when I wrote about shopping and how my cart at WinCo must weigh a hundred pounds by the time its full? Well, my friend Pauline read that and got curious. The next time she went shopping she weighed each bag of groceries as she took it into the house. Her cart had been only half full, and the total weight was 101 pounds. So she thinks my brimming cart must be more like 200 pounds.

That makes sense too.

Quote of the Day:
"Emily, don't you wake up sometimes and look down and see Amy drunk?"
--Jenny, who often crawls into Amy's bed during the night, then Amy gets up early and Emily wakes up and looks down from the top bunk and thinks, (she tells us) "Amy shrunk!"

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Barfing and Stuff

Amy had a terrible stomach bug last week and threw up numerous times. It was awful, she declared.

A few days later she said thoughtfully, "So, Mom, is that what it was like when you were pregnant?"

"Amy," I said, wanting to put it plainly but at risk of sounding overly dramatic, "when I was pregnant, it was like a bad stomach flu and being on the very verge of throwing up, 24 hours a day, every day, for weeks and months on end.

On her face, for the first time, was a dawning of understanding, a heartfelt sympathy for my sufferings. When I was pregnant with Jenny, the older children used to have hilarious contests to see who could sound the most like Mom Throwing Up. So it was a profound and beautiful moment when Amy first comprehended a little bit what it took to birth her and give her life.

Quote of the Day:
"If you get cold everywhere, that’s malaria."
--Steven, expressing concern for my health since I was shivering in our drafty house and he was sure there was something wrong with me

April column

My latest Letter from Harrisburg is in the paper today. You can access it at

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Matt's Experiments

When Matt was about twelve, he placed a jar of raw meat on the windowsill by his bed to see what would happen. Before long, the entire biomass in the jar was changed from meat to maggots, swarming in a vile mass.

When he was thirteen, he took a cupful of gasoline to his room, ignited it, and then poured it out his window onto the roof of the porch, where it burned itself out but did not set the roof on fire.

At about 14, he coiled a long length of wire around a pipe, attached an electrical cord, and then dropped a canning-jar ring over it. The idea was that when he turned on the switch, the jar ring would fly off the pipe and up in the air. Instead, he dimmed all the lights in the house and nearly zapped himself into Heaven.

Would the scientific experiments end when he grew up, I wondered. Evidently not. I came home from Virginia Monday night to find a sign taped on a kitchen cupboard: "Starting Tuesday a.m. do not empty this trash can. I need it for my archeology class."

It turns out that the students will all bring their offerings from home, exchange bags, and then analyze. Everything that would not last for 500 years will be discarded; the rest will be studied for clues to the identity and characteristics of the family involved.

I have put up with Matt’s experiments all these years--at least the ones I knew about at the time--in hopes that they would lead him to someday find a brilliant cure for cervical cancer or Alzheimer’s. If he ends up being an ordinary guy whose only experiments are trying to make a homemade helicopter at age 55, I’ll have some serious regrets to deal with.

Quote of the Day:
"All moms are alike. If their daughter has a problem—a PERSONAL problem—they tell it to all the other moms."
--Bethany Clugston, as told to me by Emily, who heartily agreed

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Now That's a Vacation

My time in Virginia with my sister and her family was lots of fun, but what really made it a vacation was that for six days I didn’t have to make any decisions. ("Long or short sleeves today?" does not count as a decision.)

I can’t explain how wonderful it was to rest my brain. Like a tropical spa with a dozen servants for the body, that’s what it was like for my mind.

When I left the Portland airport on the shuttle bus and then rattled around the big parking lot trying to find my car in the dark, I had a feeling my vacation was over. Driving home confirmed it—I was back in responsible, take-charge mode.

Today, I am back to making decisions:
What’s on hand for breakfast?
Who can I get to pick up more milk?
Yes, Anne, you can get me, oh, let’s see, how about three or four packages of leg quarters.
What’s wrong with Amy?
What shall I make for supper?
What’s priority—food, laundry, cleaning, unpacking, or getting groceries?
Let’s see, why don’t we make it Monday for my doctor appointment and Friday to use the gift certificate to eat on the Willamette Queen.
How do I approach my new publisher with changes I want on the contract?

When a space capsule re-enters the atmosphere, it burns. This morning in the shower, I asked God to please keep me from burning on the inside during re-entry. I figured burning on the outside was inevitable, but I want my heart to stay intact, willing to get back into Mom Mode so I can do what I’m called to do.

Quote of the Day:
"Braveheart incarnate, aren’t you?"
--my nephew, Jason, when I pointed a broom at him as though it was a rifle because I had seen a few too many Confederate/Civil War references around town and he viciously attacked me with a couch cushion like a crazy Yankee and I screeeeeeemed and retreated down Barbo’s Gap (the hallway)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Meeting Verda at Last

Verda Glick is a Beachy Amish missionary in El Salvador. She is also a writer who has organized about 17 writers groups by mail and email. About 10 years ago I joined one of these groups and Verda and I instantly hit it off. We have emailed over the years--she sends me all her updates, I send her mine, even though I quit the writers group about 5 years ago.

I often wished I could meet Verda but it had never worked out. Then last year she and her husband and son took a break from their work in El Salvador and went to work with the Beachy Amish mission in Kenya for three months. This happened to be right over the time Paul went to Kenya to get Steven, and to my great envy, Paul and Steven stayed at Eli and Verda's house. Verda took excellent care of them and sent me glowing stories about Steven.

Well. Time passed and meanwhile my sis Becky and her family had to leave their home in Yemen and come to the US for medical reasons and they decided to go to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they have a supporting church. Harrisonburg also happens to be the home of Christian Light Publications, which happened to be putting on a writers conference on April 1 and 2, and it just happened that Verda was invited to speak. So. I came to Virginia for a double treat, seeing Becky and Co., and taking in the writers conference and finally meeting Verda for the first time. She is a wonderful lady and said, "Oh, I didn't do much," when I thanked her for all she had done for Paul and Steven.

Quote of the Day:
--my nephew Jason's answer to his mom's questions of how was school today, how was the ride on the bus, how was your geometry class, how was P.E., etc.