Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Annual VBS Dilemma

Today someone asked me if I would teach the nursery class in vacation Bible school this year.

Bring on the tortured mental cogitations.

When I was 15, good-natured old Alvin Helmuth asked me if I would teach Bible school.  I nearly swooned.  SOMEONE had ASKED me to TEACH.


to TEACH!!

I have a feeling Alvin went home and told Mary, and she said, "Ach, Alvin, didn't you know Dorcas is only 15??  She can't even drive yet.  And she's such a silly little thing.  Ach, I don't know.  Maybe you should talk to Amos about it."

And Alvin said, "Ahhh, Mary, she'll be fine."

Well, I wasn't exactly fine.  I had a class of wild little boys who turned and ran out the back door when I turned my back, and who squeezed the Oreo cookies and hollered that the poop was coming out.  I thought they were a bunch of little heathens and a thoroughly lost cause.

They would not listen to me.

Well, in thinking back, I wouldn't have listened to me either, but instead of recognizing the problem, I poured out my heart to my friend Millie after class, that kids these days just weren't taught to RESPECT AUTHORITY, while Dad sat out in the pickup waiting to take me home, seeing as how I didn't have my license yet.


Then I went on to teach every summer for the next 8 years, and after that first year things went pretty well, seeing as how there was no direction to go but up.

I didn't teach Bible school again until many years later when we had been to Canada and back, and I didn't have a baby any more.

That time I had the nursery class, with 21 students, including a little girl who would jump up and take off running for the parking lot during our outside story time, and I had to leave the ninety and nine to go after the one.

VBS lasted for two weeks back then.

It was during harvest.

I just about went crazy.

I remember one evening I came home worn to a frazzle and found all the supper things still spread out on the island.  The guys were lounging around the living room reading the newspaper.

I unleashed all my frustration into a speech that would have intimidated John Brown.  "Just so you KNOW, when I am off all evening teaching BIBLE SCHOOL, I do not APPRECIATE coming home at 9:30 and finding SUPPER all over the KITCHEN when you are perfectly CAPABLE. . . ." and so on.

I think I've taught a time or two since then.

This is what I've found: we are all much much happier if I stay home and keep things going so my fine flock of talented children can go teach, than if I teach myself.

Some years I've had three teaching.  This year Ben and Emily have signed up.

And they still need teachers.

So Alvin Helmuth 2.0 asked me.

I feel like I ought to.  My youngest child is 13, for goodness' sake. Why could I NOT?

Other moms do it, moms with more and younger children, and more action going on, and just home from trips, and leaving soon, and company coming, and gardens, and canning.

So, seriously, why can't I?

Well.  For one thing, I do not handle stress well.  I teeter constantly on the verge of depression.  When I have too much going on or am away from home every night, with no one picking up the slack in my absence, I feel like my head is going to explode, and all my relationships suffer, and it takes a long time to undo the damage.

Yet the word "ought" blinks above me in neon lights.  And I feel the wordless rebuke of those spiritual moms who just teach because it needs to be done, and smile cheerfully, and stay up til midnight doing green beans, and apparently trust God more than I do.

And yet.  I know my life, my limitations, my history.

Can I say NO knowing that God and my husband know the full story, and just rest in that without trying to vindicate myself to the rest of the world?

P.S. Next morning: I think this is why it's such a dilemma: because VBS is a cause I believe in, and someone needs to do it, and I get very irritated when there's a job to do and people take off with a dismissive, "Nope.  Can't do it," knowing good and well it means more work for everyone else.  Well, duh.  There's plenty I could do to make it more feasible for someone else, like cooking supper for them.  As my Facebook friend Gertrude said, "Sometimes when you can't do a task, you can enable someone else or make their week easier: fix a casserole for another teacher's family to have for supper, send cookies home with all the teachers,snap a bushel of beans, etc. -- or whatever you do well, you can do for others."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Annual Birthday Tea

Here in the Valley we are knee-deep in summer and harvest.  Five children are at home, two of them sacking seed, which involves large amounts of food.  When I bought a pack of monster hot dogs, Ben, packing his lunch for his shift at the warehouse, said, "Thanks for getting those quarter-pound hot dogs, Mom.  That way I only have to take three of them."

And Jenny has found that whenever she has her heart set on that last piece of pizza or anything else, it's already gone.

Ever since we got back from Thailand I have been attacking the outside work--scrubbing the porch, weeding all the edges on the place of which there are many, planting flowers.

But today I took off for a wonderful afternoon of tradition, friendship, femininity, and tea.

We do this every year.  Anita the neighbor lady and Lois the sister-in-law both have birthdays on June 25th.  Mine is June 29th.  So we get together to celebrate.

This year Lois and I turned 50 which is not as unpleasant as it sounds.

We had our party a month late because on the 25th of June I was half dead with jet lag and Anita was about to have another grand-baby.

But today it worked out for all three of us and Lois didn't need to drive the seed truck and no one close to us was having a baby.

 Anita is a woman who has a ministry of beauty and serving and listening.

 Here she is writing some nice words in the book she gave me.

The decorating theme was "berries."  Anita picked all these herself, from behind her own house.



Of course the conversation never lagged.  We covered menopause and grandbabies as you would expect, and also wandered off into books, authors, Kip Kinkel, moms' reactions to their children leaving the Mennonite church, how to get hydrangeas to change color, Jane Kirkpatrick, Beverly Lewis, and much more.

  Me and Lois

Lois is not a cutesy-poo gift-givvy sort of person, so she always brings a stack of secondhand books and lets us each pick one.  This year Anita and I were both secretly hoping she would keep this up.  And she did!  So I got one of my favorites--Daddy Long-Legs.  The devotional book is from Anita.  We all know my too-strong opinions on Beverly Lewis, but Anita told me I really should read this one, that I just might like it.  So I told her I would.

Then for about the last hour it was time to go, but it is very hard to pull away from conversations with those two.  Finally Anita gave us each a piece of cake to take home, and we left.

Then it was back to reality and teenage boys and bread to put in the freezer and dishes to put away.

And I am already looking forward to our tea next year.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Thailand Tales 11

I was sure I'd find myself in an orphanage at some point in Thailand, since I always do, no matter where I go.

The closest I got was the Chiang Dao Compassion Home.

The IGo students have a service at Chiang Dao on a Sunday morning every three months, we were told.  And we're welcome to go along.

Jenny was sick with a stomach ailment, so Paul stayed with her and Steven and I went.  It was up in the mountains about half an hour past the elephant camp we had visited shortly before.  Steven rode in one of the IGo song-tows [pickup truck with seats along the side] but I got to ride in air-conditioned comfort with Lee and Joyce, the IGo pastor and his wife.

I had a hard time piecing together just what this place was.  No, it's not an orphanage.  And it's not a school, either.  It's a hostel.


After pestering too many people with too many questions, this is how I understand it:

Thailand has its modern cities such as Chiang Mai and Bangkok, with well-paved roads that extend out into the countryside.  But it also has very wild and wildernessy mountainous areas with very remote little villages way back on impassable dirt roads.

At some point the government decided that rather than try to reach all these villages with teachers and schools, they would build and staff hostels in more accessible towns.  The children from the hill tribes would come out and live in these hostels and attend the local public schools.

So that's what they've done.  Now imagine your child, say 8 years old, away from home for most of the year, living in a dorm with 50 other kids and not enough supervision.

Yes.  Like that.

So a sister organization to IGo, called GTO, started a hostel called Compassion Home in the town of Chiang Dao to provide a more wholesome atmosphere for some of these kids whose parents were ok with them being in an overtly Christian environment.

A Thai pastor and his wife provide leadership, and various cooks and staff people, including a young man from Delaware, help out.

This is the thing with so many mission/relief/helping situations--things aren't perfect, and you do the best you can with the imperfect situation at hand.

As you can imagine, I could hardly stand the thought of these little kids being away from their parents.  Surely if the government has enough money for nice paved roads an hour up into the mountains, they'd be able to provide little elementary schools up in the villages.

But the Thai government never asked my opinion the whole time I was there!

Also, and this is a whole other subject worthy of much soap-boxing, there is the whole abyss of prostitution for which Thailand is famous.  A whole web of cultural, religious, economic, social and other factors work to funnel girls, especially from the hill tribes, into the cities to work as "bar girls" as they are euphemistically called.

And the one thing that helps most to keep them from such a life is an education.

For which they need to leave home and live at a hostel.

So we spent a Sunday at the Compassion Home at Chiang Dao, and if you had to send your child away in order to save them from a worse fate, it would be good to know they were in a place like this.  It seemed warm and happy and safe and generally making the best of a very unfortunate situation.

It's good manners to leave your shoes at the door and go barefoot.

The church building reminded me of so many simple little country churches I've worshipped in--in Canada, Mexico, and Kenya.  But this one had a PowerPoint.

The guy from Delaware is teaching the kids to sing.

 Asians know how to feed a crowd.  Plain rice, plain cooked chicken, a simple soup with potatoes cooked in the chicken broth with a bit of parsley.  And then the bland rice was jazzed up with a scoop of hot sauce.  Simple, inexpensive, delicious, filling, efficient.

This guy took seconds.

 These student girls were all 13 years old, and they gossiped and giggled like girls all over the world.

 One nice surprise about Thailand: cold filtered water everywhere we went, even in little open-air restaurants and mountain villages.

 Steven found this handsome guy hidden in a bookshelf.

 After lunch, the students played with the students.

And then we left and went back to Chiang Mai, where my daughter was recovering, and her dad who would give his life to protect her was making sure she was taken care of.  Think of it: Jenny has a whole huge enormous network of family, church, society, law, economy and culture to keep her home with her parents until she's an adult, at which time she can figure out what she wants to do with her life and has a thousand good options to choose from.

It's not fair, but I sure am thankful.