Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A List of Rainy Thoughts

1. The rains have begun in Oregon, which sounds like a deep-voiced narration on a National Geographic film. We hope the adult female of the species manages to avoid SAD this season.

2. I love being home alone. Summer is nice, in its way, with people in and out, eating and sleeping and working at odd hours. But this time of year, now that school and community college have started, and I have predictable times alone at home, this is blissful.

2a. To my children: I love you a lot, especially when you're gone all day and I have time to recharge my batteries, and then you come home all beautiful and hungry and talkative.

2b. I'm told there's someone in this community, an adult female mom, who hates being home alone. Really. She has a big family so it doesn't happen often, but when it does, I was told, she calls up a friend to come hang out with her so she doesn't have to be alone.

3. We "did corn" last week. 450 ears in two afternoons and it was amazingly efficient, with everyone helping, and Bonnie the SIL came by and saw us and helped with the cutting for a while.

4. I have been thinking and praying a lot about writing. As in, do I quit or take it seriously? Is it a calling or not? So far I've always been all slap-dash, hurry-up, impulsive, fly by the seat of my skirt, do the least possible work, screech in right under the deadline. And I've never felt like either God or I ought to take this too seriously. I mean, why bother God about a post describing orange pop sprayed on the ceiling? But I feel like I need to either quit writing entirely or take it seriously, as in, plan ahead, write every day, send more stuff out, edit it better, do more marketing. Or in other words quit nibbling on the dinner rolls and either leave the table or dig in and eat the steak and potatoes and spinach.

4a. But how do you take writing seriously without becoming one of those pitiful dreadful earnest desperate writers who think they are sending out almost The Very Words of God and can't understand why they have so much trouble getting published?

4b. I was praying about this the other day and then opened my One Year Bible to the proper page and immediately read this in Isaiah:

2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; . . .
4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
. . .
14 In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.
15 If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you. . . .
17 no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.

Well! That seemed pretty direct, if slightly out of context, and I really liked that part about whoever attacks you will surrender to you, thinking of that horrible phone caller recently. However, I was like Gideon and asked for an additional sign.

5. Someone I know thinks we all have hard lives, some of us just have more obviously hard lives than others. I disagree. I think some people have much easier lives than others.

6. Sometimes life brings its own plateful of suffering that is very personal and private, and it goes on and on, and you can't talk about it, and you think you are stuck in this forever because God has forgotten and no one else knows. And then suddenly the wind shifts and it turns out God knew all along, and others suspected, and you weren't as alone as you thought.

7. I used to not like Agatha Christie books, with that pompous Hercule Poirot and his moustache and his arrogant way of announcing that he knows exactly what happened and if you weren't so slow and unobservant you'd have caught on too.

7b. But then I picked up The Spies Among Us, a collection of three stories, and loved it, but it's a dangerous book to read on the way to John Day in the wilds of eastern Oregon to visit a young friend in jail, because when you stop for gas at Plum Fierce in Redmond, you look at the heavyset gas station attendant and wonder if he's actually spying for an international outfit hiding in the mountains that's about to overthrow civilization as we know it, and you're very careful about using the restroom for fear someone is hiding there, and they're going to whack you over the head with a rolling pin and switch your clothes with someone who looks just like you, and put that person in the car and Paul won't know the difference, and that person will deliver a secret message to another camp out by the John Day Fossil Beds.

9. I am trying not to compare myself with others or do things out of guilt, but these habits are deeply entrenched.

10. It's become a family joke how easily intimidated I am by people. I always thought my children were all like their dad, utterly oblivious and fearless, but then the other day Jenny said, "I don't want to [do certain activity] because [certain person] intimidates me too much." Yikes. No Fun, to have my words echo back like that.

11. When your children grow up, you cannot make their decisions for them. This is terrifying and sometimes it makes you wish you could go back to the days of dictating who sits where in the van and when they go to bed. But those were also the days of one screaming to another, "Mad-maker!!!" and the mad-maker screaming back, "Jealous-maker!!!" and then for good measure they would shriek, "You...you...VERB!!!" and "You ragged wolf!!!"
So, yes, I don't always like their decisions, but they are friends with each other on Facebook, and they like and link each other's statuses, and when Amy posts gorgeous shots of Jamaica sunsets, Matt and Emily never write "JEALOUS-MAKER!!!" in the comments.

12. Quote of the Day:
"In the Sewing Room on a Piece of Pink Fabric the Cat is Giving Birth."
--Jenny's title for my next book

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bible Memory Camp 2011

Last week we took 11 youngsters to the coast for Bible Memory Camp. Here in the Valley the temps were in the 90's [we finally got July in September--loved it!] but at the beach it was breezy and in the 60s.

This year we decided to rough it a bit more, staying in tents at a campground instead of in a house, and cooking over a fire.

The biggest advantage to this arrangement was that there was plenty of room for everyone and all the stuff. Also, cleanup was very easy and we didn't have to obsess about keeping sand off the floors.

There weren't a lot of disadvantages, but we should have brought lanterns so we could play games after dark.

You can see pictures of the weekend here. Jenny shot most of them.

Quote of the Day:
"Cuz you're his cheeseburg-ER. . ."
--an inspiring song sung around the campfire

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mrs. Smucker Obsesses About Writing

I have several times given a speech in which I rhapsodize on The Wonder of Words. Think of it: with funny black lines on a page or sounds coming out of my mouth I can take thoughts and impressions in my head and communicate them into yours.

For example, I can use words to say that I'm cold and you understand that and loan me a sweater. I can be worried about a family member and you understand my burden and offer to pray for me or them. I can tell a story and we laugh together.


And God chose words to communicate to us. In fact he valued words so much that Jesus was called the Living Word.

Well that is all very nice.

Until you find out that we live in a broken world and sometimes words are pretty makeshift ways of communicating.

I write, you all know that. Sometimes people ask me why, exactly, and the answer is always a bit uncertain. Well, I like working with words. And I feel like I"m supposed to do this because there's a constant nudging like a fatherly thumb in my backbone pushing me in this direction.

Mostly, I don't like to think or overthink about why I write. That way, I've found, is fraught with peril and paralysis. Better to do and not think.

Usually, writing is a rewarding enterprise. When I get an email and I can tell that someone precisely "got" exactly what I was trying to say in my last column, that is just utterly satisfying.

But, as I said, sometimes the words don't work so well, and instead of words communicating precise ideas, it's more like I'm cobbling together little forms with play-doh, and someone is trying to figure out what on earth I'm trying to say.

I am going to be very vague here even though I much prefer specifics, but several times recently I chose words that I honestly thought communicated THIS and a few people read them and really honestly thought I meant to communicate THAT.

By the time the words filter down through all my thoughts and perceptions and intents and then get printed and then get filtered through all THEIR thoughts and perceptions and intents, things can go very very wrong.

Which, to put it gently, is what happened. It was horrible. One phone call in particular, from a powerful and intimidating person, will go down in history as Pretty Much The Worst Feedback Ever. To make it worse, I really had made some serious errors in my choice of words, so I can't write it off as just a cranky reader rattling his cage.

And at those times I think, this is crazy. I don't even know why I'm writing, and here I am, putting my soul out there, as vulnerable as a kitten in front of a bunch of target-practicing rednecks, and really there are not enough good reasons in the universe to keep doing this.

And yet.

Would you believe the same day as the phone call I got an email with a very opposite response?

She said:

Biblical inspiration, of course, refers to the power of the scriptures, but all writers have a form of the power to raise readers above themselves. By living your life in the way you do, and chronicling the details in a way that is not judgmental, just honest and true, you have provided a compass to the souls lost in the mall, trapped in the world of Netflix and the Nail Niche, living lives without purpose, what Ecclesiastes describes as "striving after the wind." The power of picking green beans, making homemade jam, camping, sewing beautiful dresses, and being a helpmate to a kind, devout and hard-working man is a tonic and an inspiration to those who right now can only wish for something better. They read about your life and long, sometimes vow, to do better.

I have a childcare in downtown "Whoville." In the eleven years of its operation, more than a hundred parents have been clients. Most have been single mothers. . . most have been clerks and waitresses, and there have been two strippers. At least half of my children have had to deal with at least one parent spending time in jail. . .

More than 90% of the parents have discussed the sexual abuse they suffered as children. They continue to create chaos for their lives because they cannot move beyond the mentality of "victims." Their children suffer enormously because their parent has no peace. I spend a lot more effort helping the adults toward self-sufficiency than the children, but many of the parents have been successful at learning to cook, do laundry, clean house, get their kids to school on time, obtain better housing, get into vocational training, get better jobs, or abandon substance abuse. Some have even begun to study the Bible. I read your essays to them because you can make them feel that the "old" way of living is desirable. They want a family dinner, even though it is more work than McDonald's. Some have had to obtain a dining table to make that happen. They know camping is better, but more work, than video games. You inspire them to be better parents because of your commitment. Your words are confirmation that they do not have to live such stressful, empty lives if they are willing to make the effort.

Sometimes we even discuss "What would the lady in Harrisburg do?" if she had to make their decisions.

Well, I have to say that response left me just as speechless as the negative responses. I suppose I ought to be delighted. In both cases, the words went floating out into the universe and had interpretations and results that I never intended.

And that is terrifying.

And I don't know what to do about it.

How do you do it, those of you who preach and teach and write and sing and otherwise fling your words into the ears of the fickle public? How do you survive?

Friday, September 09, 2011

My story on RFE

My first editor at the Guard now works for Radio Free Europe in Prague. His wife compiled a podcast* about 9/11 and how it affected lives around the world. My story is included, at milepost 22:16.

Here it is.

*I had to ask what that was. It's a recording you can access online rather than a live radio broadcast. Something like that.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

With a name like. . .

I found this on Wikipedia today--a list of past and present Smucker's catchphrases.

  • "With a name like Smucker's, it has to be good!"
  • "Smucker will make you pucker!"
  • "If you find a better jelly, you buy it!"
  • "Smucker Company, the brand you can trust"
  • "There ain't no place like Smucker's!"
  • "The only brand of jams that can make a piece of bread lively!"
  • "If you're hungry, Smucker's is the way to go!"
  • "Smucker's may be yummy, your tummy may be too, but your grocer's freezer, is not far from you!"
  • "Bread, jam and jelly, in your belly, lick your spoon and cut your bread, then you will be Smucker's well fed"
The second one reminds me of the time our friend Dave H. was introducing Paul at a meeting of some sort and with a straight face called him Small Pucker.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

September Column

About a week ago Paul got a gash in his head at work and as it healed up it grew into a column about making choices with your life.