Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Yellow Touch of Grace

My aunt Vina gave me a yellow teapot at my bridal shower.

I am embarrassed to say that back then I was so ignorant of the ways of tea and teapots that I didn’t fully appreciate this.  In fact, I sputtered something silly like, “Oh, a watering pot!”

And Vina said, kindly, “No, Dorcas.  A teapot.”

Oh!  Yes.

This is all in the first chapter of Tea and Trouble Brewing, so if it’s repetition for you, forgive me, and thank you for reading the book.

In the flippant stupidity of youth I sold the teapot at our garage sale before we moved to Canada two years after we got married.  I still remember it sitting there on the table at Joe and Nancy Mast’s garage on Brandywine Court, and I was all worried that I was charging too much for it.


Now, granted, it behooved us to downsize, since we were moving out of the country and way up North in a little pickup truck, and we had a baby, and all our leftovers would be stored at Paul’s parents’ house.

But still.  I could have gotten rid of a few of the wedding decorations and kept the teapot.

As I explained in Tea & Trouble, as the years passed I came to love tea and to learn its mysterious ways.  I began to collect tea things—china teacups, tea tins, varieties of tea, little spoons, and lovely quirky teapots.

Then I painted my kitchen yellow.

And I cannot tell you how much I would have liked to go back into the past and keep that yellow teapot.

But the past is what it is, and our regrets are what they are, and life is still good.

Of course I always knew that in the grand scheme of things, regrets about a teapot ranked a long way behind regrets about words I should have said and friends I neglected and fears I listened to.  But sometimes, you know, a little, tangible thing becomes symbolic for bigger things of the spirit.

Last week I helped at school one morning and then I drove over to the Country Bakery on Peoria Road, where Loretta Birky sells her no-adjective-is-adequate baked goods.  She also sells books and crafts, and she needed a supply of my books.

So I stopped by to replenish her stash.  We arranged the books on the little shelf and then she said, “Oh, there’s a box here for you.  A lady stopped by and wondered if I ever see you.  She’d rather not mail it because it’s glass.”

She handed me the box.  I thought, “Glass?” and of course I was curious but not enough to open it then and there.

I took it home and cut it open.

Oh, Readers.

You know how sometimes something happens that is just a complete bolt-from-heaven surprise, and just pure 100% joy and delight?

Well, this is what I pulled from that box:
Yes, a lovely yellow teapot.  Not identical to the one I sold, but definitely the same sort, the same size, the same flavor, the same vintage, just a slightly deeper shade of yellow, trimmed in the same gold.

It felt like redemption.  It felt like grace.  It felt like losses restored and like magically going back in time and having a chance to undo the choices we regret.

It made me very happy.

Also in the box, since I evidently wasn’t quite blessed enough, was a box of Kenyan tea.

And a letter.

Among other things, it said, “. . . you wrote an essay about tea and a yellow tea pot you had received. . . You said it was unusual but you had given it away years ago? Now wishing you had kept it. 

The next day or so after reading your story I went to an estate sale.  There was a sweet, very old lady there sitting and watching her belongings go away.  I felt sad looking at her.  As I picked up the yellow tea pot with a $2.00  price tag she said, ‘Oh, won’t you buy that?  I’ve had it a very long time and it needs a good home.’  Then I thought of you and said to her, ‘I’ll find a very special place for this!’”


Sometimes I smile at my cheerful new teapot and think that this is what Heaven will be like—full of surprises and happy endings for all our stories.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Dad in World

When I visited my parents I was struck by how thoroughly Dad read his copy of World, a Christian news magazine.  I was also impressed with his morning prayers and how they covered people and events around the world.

I knew there was a connection between the two, that the magazine informed and focused his prayers.

I thought the good folks who put World magazine together would enjoy hearing about this.

So I sent them an email.

And heard back.  The publisher wanted to mention Dad in his column.  Would that be ok?

I called the folks and tried to explain this.  "What?  World Magazine?  Yes, yes I read it.  You did what??"

Finally I talked to Mom and she sort of understood, and interpreted for Dad, and I think he gave a vaguely-informed consent.

But he enjoys attention, so I knew he wouldn't mind, informed or not.

The article will be in the upcoming magazine, but you can read it online here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Talking To People/Being Like Dad

Back in the day, my dad had no qualms at all about embarrassing his wife and children beyond all human endurance: he was forevermore TALKING TO PEOPLE.

So we go to the lake for a picnic back in maybe August of 1979 , and we're all around a picnic table, by all appearances a nice Beachy-Amish family, and then after we eat the bologna sandwiches and we're visiting over the Kool-Aid, pretty soon, there goes Dad, wandering off like he wants a better view of the lake, but we know what he's up to.  Yes, there he goes, sidling over to that other table which is full of large, noisy people plus a few beer cans and cuss words, and pretty soon he is TALKING TO THEM.

"You folks live around here?"



People at the feed store, people who came to buy Mom's butchered chickens, people with hay for sale, Dad talked with all of them.  Where were they from?  Were they Swedes or Norwegians?  Did they farm?


He still does this.  Last year when Mom was in the nursing home in Paynesville for rehab I took him to visit her and then we stopped at A&W.  While I waited on our order, sure enough, there was Dad, sidling up to a big burly bearded guy at a table.  "Are you a farmer?"

The guy chomped on his PapaBurger and nodded, obviously amused.

"Dairy?  Hogs?" said Dad.

He swallowed.  "Hogs."


Here is the horrible truth: I am becoming just like Dad.

I just have this intense curiosity about people.  I mean sometimes it is so burning that I just HAVE to talk to them.  Where are they from?  What brought them here?  What do they do for a living?  What is UP with them?

So I ask.

The last time I was in Minnesota, my brother Marcus and SIL Anna took me to the Holiday Inn in St. Cloud where I was to catch the shuttle to the airport.  The shuttle was late, so I waited a while in the lobby.  While I was there, a woman and three teenagers also came into the lobby.  The woman was about my age and had obviously been crying.  A lot.

She hugged her two boys and cried and told them to be good and to do well in school.  She talked briefly with all the kids, and I heard the word "divorce."  Then they all sat there and looked miserable.

Oh dear.

I had to talk to her.  I just had to.  Not just out of burning curiosity, which was definitely present, but mostly because my heart went out to her and I wanted her to know someone in the universe cared about her.

My former self and my current husband were in the back of my mind saying, "THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS."

Too bad.

I sidled over to the garbage can, Dad-style, and dropped in my coffee cup.  Then I turned to the woman.  "Excuse me," I said, "Are you going through a hard time?"

She sniffed.  Yes, she was.  Her husband was getting a divorce and the family was breaking up, with the daughter staying with her and the two boys going to Phoenix with Dad.


"May I pray for you?" I said.  She nodded.

I put my arm across her shoulders and prayed for comfort and healing, for a clear path to follow, for mercy and restoration.

She cried, which I used to think meant I was saying the wrong things, but from personal experience I now know it meant I was saying the right things.

Then we got on the shuttle, her two boys and I, and she and the daughter left in their car.

The older son was the one I quoted in my last column who told me the Cold War was fought in Minnesota.

At the airport, everyone seemed to think I was a Catholic nun.  The shuttle driver addressed me as "Sister," a woman in a wheelchair waved me over and talked a while, then said goodbye with a happy, "God bless you," and everyone treated me with great deference.

Later I realized that maybe Mrs. Weeping At Holiday Inn was so receptive to my praying for her because she too thought I was a nun.

Unfortunately, not every place is as Catholic as Minnesota, which means I can't get by with as much if people think I'm just a nosy, intrusive Mennonite lady.

I am sure I'll only get worse as the years go on with the dangerous combination of more curiosity and less fear, so  I'll probably embarrass my family out of their minds.

And then one happy day in the not so distant future my children will catch themselves burning with curiosity, sidling up to someone, and saying, "You live around here?"

Somehow that thought makes me smile.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Radio Program and Giveaway

Yesterday I recorded an hour-long radio program for Amish Wisdom with Suzanne Woods Fisher.  She had a guest host, Rhonda Schrock, and we had a great time chatting.

It airs tomorrow, Thursday the 14th, at 2 pm Pacific Time or 5 pm Eastern.

You can go here for more info.

And if you comment on the Amish Wisdom page, you're eligible to be a winner of the giveway--a set of 4 of my books.


Sunday, February 10, 2013


Today's Letter from Harrisburg is about being from Minnesota.


Friday, February 08, 2013

Funeral Ponderings and Proverbs 31

Today I went to Dorothy's funeral.

Dorothy and her husband, Paul, always sat on the left aisle of the sanctuary, 2/3 of the way toward the front.  Dorothy had the enviable quality of staying petite and cute and dark-haired well into her older years.  I mean, I guess it's possible that she discreetly colored her hair, but I don't think so.

We note that "Paul and Dorothy Stutzman" can easily be confused with "Paul and Dorcas Smucker" which has caused some interesting misunderstandings over the years, like the time someone heard that I was in the hospital with a broken hip.

There are two types of farm wives in this area: the kind who work in the fields, and the kind who don't.  And women tend to be kind of all-or-nothing about this, for reasons we've never figured out.

Dorothy helped in the fields.  In fact, she told me once, she used to drive the seed truck all day, and somehow she'd fix meals in between loads, and then she'd come home and can peaches until 2 in the morning.

Today the tributes to her focused on how she served others through hard work, cooking, baking, flowers from her garden, and having guests over.  Proverbs 31 was quoted.

If you are all modern, you might sniff and say that is pretty shallow stuff to be remembered for.

If you were on the receiving end of her meals or flowers, you would not say that.

When I was pregnant with Jenny, Dorothy would come and get my dirty laundry and wash it.  That is no small service.

After the funeral I was feeling kind of sad about the fact that when I die, the pastor will most likely steer away from Proverbs 31 and any mention of cooking and hospitality.

I told Paul this.  (Paul Smucker, not Paul Stutzman).

He laughed and hugged me and said I will be remembered for a lot of other things besides cooking that have significance and value.

That is what husbands are supposed to say at such a time.

But wow, wouldn't it be nice to be good at everything?  And have the time and energy to do it all?

They'd never get done talking at our funeral.

But here we are, limited by all manner of...limitations.  Stuff we simply can't do, or do badly if we try, or have no natural ability for.

So, how would it be if I just do what I can, rather than what I wish I could?  How about I do well what I enjoy and do well, and don't try to do badly what others do well?  How about we all try that?

Obviously, even I have to cook, and I have learned to do it reasonably well.  But I'm talking about the stuff we actually make decisions about, to do this vs. that.

How about we do what we can?

Like the lady in Mark 14:8-- "She hath done what she could..." which was dumping a precious perfume--"spikenard"-- on Jesus's head.

You get the feeling this lady wasn't winning any prizes at the fair for her apple pies or organizing fundraisers for cancer patients or getting promoted at H&RBlock.  People looking on implied that she was a few peach halves short of a full quart.

But Jesus rose up in her defense and not only told the criticizers to be quiet and leave her alone, but  "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."

Which is pretty astonishing if you think about it--seriously? for pouring perfume on his head?  And hearing that would be even better than knowing ahead of time that they'll say at your funeral that you always had homemade cookies waiting.

There's a little of that spikenard lady in all of us, and I picture us, feeling watched and disapproved of and kind of dumb, and just doing the one thing we can do--baking the cookies or teaching the math or painting the wall or even writing the post, because we love Jesus and this is one thing we can actually do.

And then Jesus looks around at the disapprovers and says, Leave her alone.  She has done what she could.  "And then he looks at us and says, with love and approval, "This what you did will be spoken of for a memorial of you."

I hope the tribute at all of our funerals is not that we tried to cook like Dorothy or decorate like Sharon or teach like Trish, but that we did what WE could, and we did it well, and it mattered.


Here's my Facebook album of trip and wedding photos.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

More Wedding Pictures. And Ben

The "guest book"-- stones with names.

This was an unusual young couple: they wrote each other over 200 pen-and-ink letters.
Many of us knew them as the "Schnupp Girls." From left, Judy, Mary, Carolyn [Esta's mom], Sharon, Kathy
Here Brendon and Ruby showed Justin that romance can continue even if you've been married a long time and have two children.

Ben works at an intriguing little restaurant called Tea And Bannock that serves Native American food.  This is from the kitchen looking out, with Ben checking to see why Paul and I could walk right in when it was supposed to be locked.  Ben and two friends live in the apartment upstairs.

Ben loves a good bargain and was happy to find a little Chinese store with cheap clothes, so he bought that shirt for $6.  He also bought a belt, which turned out not to have any holes in it.  So he proceeded to pound holes in it with a nail and a mallet, which didn't have the hardware for pulling the nail back out.  Here's he's posing for my sake, which is why his left hand isn't on the belt.