Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Goodie Bag Rant

 Paul taught the 5th graders in Vacation Bible School the other week.  The day before it was over, or maybe the day of, he informed me that he was just informed that he is supposed to give each of his students a treat or gift on the last night of Bible school.  And, of course, he would really like me to gather these gifts for him.


Gift giving is not my gift, or Paul's either.  Well, we both get a big thrill out of filling a specific need, like if we can give a struggling teacher a little grocery money or send chocolate chips to a missionary.  But we are especially bad at the sort of gift giving that involves filling little bags with sugar and plastic in bright colors oriented to the age and gender of students.

But did I REALLY have to?  I asked Jenny: "So I'm supposed to get gifts for your dad's VBS students?"
Jenny said, "Yes.  Everybody does."
Me: Like...candy bars?  Goodie bags??  Picasso paintings???
Jenny: Yeah.  [Me: YEAH??]  Or like, books.  Or Jesus junk.
Jenny: You know.  Those flashlights that talk about letting your light shine that break after two days.

Fellow Christians who work with kids:  May I suggest we have a problem or two?

1. Children expect a bag of goodies for every occasion.  Parties, programs, picnics, and much more.  I think, ok, you were honored with an invitation, the place was decorated pretty, you got to have fun with friends, you stuffed yourself with amazing food, and you got a free ride to and from.  And you need a bag of stuff to take home yet and to fight with your sister over and to drop half-sucked into the crack of the van seat and to mourn with a great lament when the skinny little rubber band breaks the third time you hit the little ball with the paddle?

2. We who say that every knee shall bow and give honor to Jesus as the King of Kings plaster cheesy Christian words and symbols on dreadful little worthless objects such as the abovementioned flashlights.  Or pencils that say "Smile, God loves you" and that, I am told, you can NEVER sharpen right.  The lead ALWAYS breaks.  Or little compasses that say "One way to Heaven" but they don't compass north which is kind of a bad omen.

I will grant that some of this is just me and not everyone is obligated to be like me.  I have friends who love to shop for and assemble yummy and cute little somethings into inviting little bags to give to the little kids in their care.  Everyone is happy.

Well, everyone except me, the teacher two doors down who feels obligated to do the same.  I asked Jenny the expert kid what would happen if I said, "Well, that teacher decided to give gifts but I decided not to."

She said something like, "The kids would all think you were really lame.  Even now, kids compare teachers and who gives the best stuff and they're like, Ha ha, I get to be in 'Linda's' class and she gives really good treats and you're in "Grace's" and she just gives a homemade bookmark."

[You might guess that "Grace" is a euphemism for "Dorcas."]

I have no idea where the balance is, with goodie bags and a lot of other things.

On the one hand, while our kids are in the back seat breaking the cheap kaleidoscope on the way home from Vacation Bible School, little kids in Africa are walking a mile to fetch drinking water from a stagnant pond.  It seems Jesus might be a little concerned about this situation, seeing as how he said,  “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

On the other hand, there was that lady who poured perfume on Jesus' head, and the disciples got all snippy and said, "We could have sold it and given the money to the poor," and Jesus said, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."

I don't know what the answer is, for me or anyone else.  I will continue to stuff goodie bags when the occasion calls for it, I'm sure, to prevent kids from feeling like I don't love them, but from here on I refuse to buy and give Jesus junk.

The end.

Quote of the Day:
On our way to the neighborhood garage sale in Harrisburg:
Jenny: Thank you for not wearing a fanny pack.
Me: You're welcome, but I don't see why it matters so much.
Jenny: It's like Pride and Prejudice.  How you act determines whether or not I'll get married.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My New Video Game

Who knew you could have such fun with mail orders?

First there was the book order that I mailed that morphed midway into prescription medicine.

Then recently I ordered a light bulb for my stove hood off of Amazon.  I got the light bulb.  I also got a separate envelope with a video game dvd called Rise of Nations/Rise of Legends that--need I clarify?--I hadn't ordered.  The invoice said it was for an Evan Johnson from Columbus, Ohio.

I got into Amazon and hunted for the seller and told them what had happened.  I offered to mail it to Mr. Johnson if they wanted me to.

They said they would email me a shipping label.

I waited.

Today I got an email from them.  

Dear Dorcas,
We would like you to use the Rise of Legends DVD ( Free of Cost) as we have shipped one to Evan directly.
We really appreciate your offer of sending the DVD to Evan.
Thanks once again.
I am feeling so rewarded for my efforts and honesty.  A free video game!!  That I have absolutely no use for!!

Except to make me laugh at life.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Did you want this skirt?
Amy: No. It doesn't fit.
Me: So, you must acquit.

She didn't get this. Makes me feel old.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Today's Letter from Harrisburg

It's about why, despite the disasters, it's worth teaching my children how to work around the house.

Click here.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

On Welcoming Babies

My friend Rita just had her seventh child.

And her sixth boy.

At age 43.

I found it inspiring how she and her family welcomed this baby.  True, it took a bit of time to get used to the idea, but they adjusted to the surprise and now they love that baby to pieces.

The church threw a shower for little Adrian, and Rita's mom, Juanita, told us that Rita is following in the family tradition.  Rita, Juanita, and Juanita's mom all had their seventh baby at age 43.

That was the point where Rita turned to her newly-engaged daughter, Kayla, and said, "Watch out!"

We all laughed.

What a legacy.

I was my mom's fifth baby, and sometimes I think of how amazing it is how she always made me feel like I was a welcomed child.

I didn't think about this until I was an adult and did the math.  Mom had married at the age of 34 and then had three boys, one girl (my older sister, Rebecca), and one miscarriage in 7 years.

Mom had lots of reasons to not want more children just then.  She was past 40, they were poor, she was incredibly busy.

But three months after Rebecca was born, she was pregnant with me.

That Christmas, she used to tell me, she and Dad hosted the family Christmas gathering.  After the dishes were done she had a little tea party with her sister Vina, her mom, and the sisters-in-law.  Under every saucer, Mom put a little paper on which she had written:

"Yes, it's true.
Baby Yoder due

Mom always looked happy when she told this story.  Like Rita's little Adrian, I am blessed.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Lady Writers Meet

It was my friend Mary Hake's idea.  Two of her writer friends were in the Valley for harvest, another was coming for a teachers' institute, and some of us already live here.  So let's get together.

Laura, my sister-in-law, author of Strands of Gold and another, almost-published, book, offered to host everyone for a potluck dinner on a Monday evening.

Tuesday was the deadline for my Letter from Harrisburg column, so I decided I'd spend the day writing on Monday--since I always wait until the last minute--and reward myself with an evening with fellow writers.

Monday morning I found out Laura was sick with the unspeakable stomach flu that hit her whole family, one by one.

I knew I should offer to host.  So I did.

Monday morning I started working on the column.

By noon I was feeling like I might be getting Laura's flu, so I went to bed and slept for a couple of hours and got up feeling mercifully better.

Too many fresh blackberries, maybe.

I swept floors and set up tables on the porch and moved sprinklers and cleaned the bathroom.  Amy made chickenetti and a blackberry coffee cake.

I knew that about seven writer ladies had been invited, but I had no idea how many husbands and children would come.

Vacation Bible School started that evening.  Paul, Amy, and Emily, who were all teaching, and Jenny, who was a student, rushed out the door just as the first guests arrived.

Carol (author of Because They Cared) and her husband Amos from Wisconsin arrived, along with a granddaughter.  Sharilyn (The Night the Angel Came; The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) and her husband James and their five children plus a niece.  Yvonne (Budget scribe and Sunday school papers) and Henry from Harrisburg.

They all brought food.

I put Sharilyn's daughters to work setting more plates on the table and putting ice in the glasses.

Jon (Bible study on Joseph) and Jane (children's book and Sunday school papers) and their three children came.  Luci (young adult novel in progress) from Wisconsin.  Ted and Mary (devotionals, Brownsville Times articles, science textbook).  Aunt Orpha (CLE curriculum in Spanish) from down the road.

Some 25 people in all.  We all missed Laura and her family.

Jon brought out lawn chairs and folding chairs and turned off the sprinklers I'd forgotten.  With loaded plates we jostled around each other on the crowded porch.  We displayed our books on a table off to the side.

And we talked.  Authors are intense talkers, I've found.  We talked about publishers and conferences, about high numbers and low numbers, about editors and authors.  About works in progress and self publishing, about Good Books and CLP and Carlisle Press and CAM's publishing arm, whatever it's called.  About e-books and a Baptist printer in Canada who did Jane's wonderful children's book under the single condition that the Bible verses be in KJV.


Luci wondered about submitting her novel to "XYZ."  So of course I had to tell about two authors I know who were reduced to tears by XYZ's editors who completely destroyed their voices.  But have things changed in the last ten years?  Carol and Sharilyn said yes.  Their editors at XYZ were wonderful; their stories retained their own flavor.  I was very happy to hear that.


We bought and signed each other's books, and Mary handed out postcards about the Oregon Christian Writers conference next week.

And we talked about the Writers Workshops by Mail that were started by Verda Glick, and which groups we were in, and who was in them with us.  Verda has been a Beachy-Amish missionary in El Salvador for many years, and nobody has done as much to inspire Amish and conservative Mennonite writers as Verda Glick.  Years ago she started a "workshop-by-mail," a group of half a dozen writers who sent their work in a big envelope from one member to the next, adding their critiques to the others' work and including a new piece of their own with each round.

That group grew too large and another was begun, and another and  another.  I don't know how many groups have been formed or how many people have been part of them, but it's a lot, and Verda added her gentle but insightful voice to each of them.  I was part of two groups about 15 years ago and dropped out, regretfully, when I began writing for the newspaper, because one deadline was all I could handle.

I believe all but one of our group is, or has been, in one of Verda's Writers Workshops.  God bless her.

We took a group picture and kept talking and finally people left before we felt finished.  Let's do this next year.  Yes.  Let's.
Me, Sharilyn Martin, Orpha Smucker, Carol Kauffman, Melodi Martin, Mary Hake, Yvonne Bender, Luci Miller, Jane Kropf

And then I went back to my computer and worked on my column for another hour, pulling word after reluctant word out of my brain, down through my arms, and into the keyboard.  This morning I finished and sent it off, barely making the deadline, like always.