Monday, September 30, 2013

Talents, Gifts, and Such

Assigned topics are always good for me because they make me dig for new material.

Yesterday I spoke at the Harrisburg Christian Church's fall gathering.  The assigned topic was "Harvesting Your Blessings," about using your gifts to bless others.

But before I spoke I got to just absorb the lovely "county fair" theme, with jars of canned goods and quilts--some a hundred years old--and mums and other pretty stuff.  And it was just a fun group of warm, welcoming women.

In the last year I've probably read a hundred mommy-blogger posts about how we should stop comparing ourselves to others and God made us just how we are for a reason and perfection is overrated and we each have our gifts and just CELEBRATE WHO YOU ARE.

No, probably two hundred.

Well.  Guess what.  I find something in every single one of those blogs to at best admire with a touch of awe and envy, and at worst to read with so much consuming jealousy that I "X" out of them in disgust.

[Yes, you, Ann Voskamp.]

The decorations.  The houses.  The photography: astonishing light, lovely children, composition and creativity to die for.

And words.  Oh my word, the WORDS.  The descriptions that just nail it, the quirky turns of phrase, the humor, the insights, the DEPTH.

Like this gem from Shari Zook: "I think the perfect match is a myth, a hybrid legend born out of Disney and a poor understanding of predestination."

I don't know why that makes me laugh so hard.

Here are my options:
1. Stop reading because I sometimes get envious.
2. Keep reading but go deeply soul-searching about the roots of my jealousy.
3. Enjoy the posts and pictures and laugh at my dumb little follies and stop taking myself so seriously.

Each of those women has something to say and I am glad they're saying it.

Oh wait, I just realized that I veered off-topic here, from our giftings to jealousy of bloggers.  Ya, vell.

It's funny, this thing of what we are given and what we give out to others.  It would seem like a straight line from A to B.  If God has blessed you with THIS gift, then you can glorify God and bless others by going out and using that gift in this specific, intentional way.


As I told the HCC ladies, if you grew up hearing the Parable of the Talents, you probably got the idea that God had given you specific things you were good at and you'd better be out there using them because if you didn't you were burying them and then you were really going to be in trouble.

As a young person, I thought of myself as definitely a one-talent woman.  All I had was that I did well in school and learned easily, and I "blessed" others by shooting up my hand in class and answering all the questions.

Lots of eye-rolling went on behind me, I'm guessing.

Now, I think those "talents" that the master handed out were packages containing all the blessings of life.  Parents, a home, skills, health, opportunities, friends, support.

All of them become something that you have to offer.  And God expects you to offer it to those around you, not so much as a career or specific life-work, but just meeting the needs that show up in front of you.

Organizing the fundraiser, making the meal, giving the money, hugging the child, whatever.

And writing the words and posting the pictures.

I think we need to be intentional.  But we also need to just flow with the Holy Spirit, because I am convinced that most of the good that we do is unintentional and invisible.

Years ago when we were on the mission field I got pregnant which meant that I was really sick.  A bunch of ladies took turns bringing meals in for a few weeks.

One woman, whom I will call Karen, was the kind we all admired.  You'd use words like "dynamic" and "amazing" for her.  She was an organizer, a counselor, a leader.  Disciplined and smart.  She had a great sense of humor.  She got a lot done for the Kingdom.

Another woman I'll call Lena.  Lena was more slow and plodding.  Her work was cooking and cleaning.  She had a very German accent and people sometimes made fun of her behind her back.  We would have said that yeah, Lena was faithful, but she wasn't really shaking things up for the Kingdom.

Karen the dynamic successful woman brought supper in.  Lasagna.  And, I think garlic bread.  The lasagna would have been good under normal circumstances but it was very spicy and I couldn't eat it.  It was so disappointing.  I was so hungry and sick and discouraged, and there was hot food, but no way could I keep it down.  The same with the garlic bread.  At least Paul had something to eat.

A few days later Lena brought supper.  Mashed potatoes, meatloaf, corn.  I can see her now, laying it all on the counter.  "I made it really bland," she said.  "I didn't add any spices, not even pepper.  And I didn't put any onions in the meatloaf."

25 years later I still remember my gratitude at that meal and her thoughtfulness.  I could actually eat it.  I didn't throw it up.  And I wonder: how did she know?  She was single and had never been pregnant.  But she met my desperate physical and emotional needs precisely.

Talk about turning my perceptions upside down.

Here are my conclusions:
1. We all need to give, offer, share out of our blessings and talents but also out of our losses and lacks, because even they can be doors and windows for God's grace.
2. God does the final calculating on his divine spreadsheet, and the value he assigns our investments will be very different from ours, I'm sure of it.
3.  I still don't "get" that story about the talents, and how the one with five gained five more, and what it meant to bury it.

But that's ok.

If I write the letter, paint the trim, pack the lunch, make the call, advise the teenager, and yes, write the blog post, God will sort it all out by his own mysterious calculations.

Quote of the Day:
After  the girls and I had a Pride and Prejudice party--
Jenny: Ooooh, I jus
t want a Mr. Darcy.
Me: You do realize this is fiction.

Jenny: Yeah but I wish it was real life.
Emily: Well if it was real life you wouldn't get him because Elizabeth would.
Emily: And remember, if it was real life and you did marry him, you'd marry someone named Fitzwilliam.
Jenny: [shudder]
Emily and me: [satisfied smiles]
Jenny: [goes off and cleans her fishbowl]

We might take a side trip into fantasy now and then, but in this house you'll get yanked back to reality pretty fast.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Sad but [Mostly] True Poem

My husband the preacher so solemn and tall
Wears his suit every Sunday to preach from the Word
He’s had it for years and it’s gray, made of wool
Conservative, durable, far from absurd.

But despite all his caution the pants became worn
And finally developed a hole in the seat.
Like a good Christian wife I attempted to mend
But there was no way I could make it look neat.

Since the jacket was also too worn to keep wearing,
“We need to go shopping,” we said to each other,
“But how can our Mennonite conscience allow
Us to go to the trouble of buying another?”

For all of our children are still very single
And there is no wedding for which to prepare!
How else can we justify such an investment?
Yet neither to preach without suit would he dare.

So we headed to town and went hunting at Sears
Where only two offerings hung on the rack.
“The tan’s too flamboyant for Mennonite tastes,
And all of my dandruff will show on the black.”

We drove to Mr. Formal where the ties were all pink
And all the lapels were shiny with satin.
“Don’t think so,” we said, united in purpose,
 And drove to the mall while romantically chattin.’

At last what a treasure of suits was before us.
Surely the right one was here for the finding.
But this one was corduroy and that one too short,
And that one too Baptist. Too gangster.  Too binding.

This looks used-car-salesman and that one's too skinny
For middle-aged middles that tend to expand.
This one is nice but it’s oh so expensive
And that one’s lapels have that odd extra band.

A jacket was perfect in texture and shade
But "Sorry, this line was changed for the season
I’ll check on my iPhone if your size is in back.
Nope, not a one, can’t tell you the reason."

Two proper jackets we finally found.
To find matching pants we set off on a quest.
Do they think every man in this town is a dwarf,
As all of the inseams are 30 or less.

With sinking of heart, Paul tried on what we had
And nothing was suitable; all our work bore no fruit.
So we hung up the garments and faced our defeat,
And the Mennonite minister still has no suit.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dieting, Sarah, Fall, and Growing Grass

To S and E
and even to FP
or not to S, E, and FP
that is the question.

If you are a female mom who watches her weight you have heard your peers talking about Trim Healthy Mama, a 600-page book about a new and healthy way of eating.

I am cautious of diets and suspicious of any regimen with its own jargon [S??  FP???] and wary of any new idea that costs money.

But I am also gaining over a pound a year and I often feel sluggish and draggy and bloated and tired.  So I was intrigued by what I was reading on Facebook about THM.  Weight loss, more energy, balanced hormones of all kinds.

Jenny informed me that her Aunt Laura had been tossing around some of these strange terms, so I called her and she gave me a quick tutorial.  You don't eat fats and carbs at the same meal, she said.  You don't eat sugar.  You wait two or three hours between eating.  There was more, but that was what I remembered.

Well, I could try that.  I've said for a long time that I won't lose weight unless I can learn to think about what I eat.  So this seemed like a good way to start--eating every 3 hours and not snacking in between.  I should have thought of that myself a long time ago but I am a mindless nibbler.

Then I also found it fairly easy to have bacon and eggs without toast for breakfast.  Not sure if that's THM approved but it sure was fat and protein without carbs.

A student's mom from our school sent her THM book home for me to test-drive for a few days which has helped me figure out if I want a copy of my own.  (I do.)

I also spent a day with a stomach flu which involved throwing up, and the next day I didn't have any appetite.  Seriously, every weight-loss regimen should start off with a stomach virus because I lost 4 pounds in the first two weeks.

We will see how things continue.  Babysteps, people.  I don't have what it takes to switch my eating habits in a day.  And I am stubborn about buying bizarre ingredients like glucomannen and whey powder.  But I am willing to make small incremental changes.

*   *   *

We have been studying the women of the Bible in Sunday school and now we're on Sarah, back when she was still Sarai, and Hagar.

It's nice that the New Testament tells us that Sarah was a woman of faith because oh my does she bungle things up back in Genesis.

Abram gets the promise of descendants, land, and blessings.  And Sarai is his only wife.  So I imagine she and everyone else were thinking "come on come on something's gotta happen here" and they waited and WAITED for YEARS.

And so Sarai says, well, the Lord didn't come through, so it's up to me and I have this great idea.  She tells Abram to marry Hagar the slave girl and try to have a child.

Well, things go south pretty fast from there.
Hagar gets pregnant and suddenly the power balance shifts so she gets to be all na-na-na-boo-boo at Sarai.
Sarai tells Abram it's his fault.  What??!!
He doesn't know what to do and tells her to do what she wants.
She mistreats Hagar so badly she runs away.
God meets Hagar in a way that he never has yet met Sarai, and Hagar goes back to Sarai and tries to make it work.

Well, I see myself in Sarai.  I think situations are mine to fix, but they're actually not.  And if I could just WAIT they would work out just fine. 

I'll mention here that I have five adult children and some days it about kills me to wait on God to fix their situations and not leap in with all my little fancy ideas of how we can work it all out.

I really believe adult children need to be adults and we parents need to trust them to make their own decisions because then the consequences are theirs as well.

Of course if they ask me, I fall all over myself giving advice and counsel.  But I can't make decisions for them.

It is hard to watch them figure it out and it is hard to trust God to guide them without my little fingers in there, pointing, pushing, prodding, poking.

I have to remember: THIS IS NOT MINE TO FIX.

*   *   *
Fall is here.  I have to face the truth.  When I walked into my SIL Anna's house in Minnesota the other week it was all decorated in baskets and leaves and flowers in fallish orange and burgundy and yellow.

I said, "What??  Not yet, please!"

She said, "I like to get out the fall things after the first of September."  Well, it WAS pretty, but I wasn't ready to let summer go.

Now it's raining and raining.  And the calendar is past September 21.

I am not ready for this.

And I can't fix this situation, either.

*   *   *
As I may have mentioned, I was gone for ten days, to two church-related camps and a week in Minnesota.

The following week was very unproductive, but I have learned that this is just how things are when I've been around people a lot, traveling, and just giving out instead of taking in.

Emily came up with an analogy I really like.  She noticed that even though it looks like the grass fields around here are a solid green, if you look closely you see that the grass is planted in rows, with a gap of bare dirt in between.

Paul told her that the farmers have figured out the optimal concentration of seed.  The soil can support only so much grass to maximum production because there's only so much nutrition in the soil.  So if you leave some gaps where you don't try to grow seed, you actually get a better yield in the end than if you try to plant every bit of available soil full of seed.

Some of us have limited resources of energy and time, and we will have a better yield if we leave some gaps for rest.


Quote of the Day:
"I was SO tired I could hardly keep my eyes open during prayer."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Navy Yard Shooting & Matt

As you probably know, there was a horrific shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. today where our son works.  While my heart goes out to the families affected, I am relieved to tell you that MATT IS FINE.

The shooting happened in a different building from where Matt works, and he was away for the day taking some training.

Feeling so very very thankful.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mom Again

Thankfully my mom has run out of hips to break.  Now that they're both bolted in place and reinforced with rebar and concrete, I don't think there's much chance one will snap again.

I forget which day she fell, going on toward a month ago.  It was painful, but not like the ghastly pain of her broken hip a year and a half ago.  The x-rays said nothing was broken, but they put her in a nursing home for therapy.

The therapy actually made things worse, as it turned out, and the pain was getting worse and worse.

They re-xrayed, and this time the broken-hip-after-all showed up.  They did surgery and gave her a hip replacement and then she went back to the nursing home for more rehab.

So I left partway through Bible Memory Camp and flew back to Minnesota to help out for the whole week.

And yesterday I flew back and went straight to church camp, arriving partway through, which is all kind of a disorienting way to do life.

There's no easy way to lose your mom, that's what I've decided.  Yes, she's still with us, and physically her recovery is going astonishingly well for a 93-year-old.   But her mind.  Last January she could still read her Bible, cook a simple meal, do laundry.

By May she could no longer read her Bible, and she'd pick up a plastic dish and set it on the stove burner.  That was when we got Paul's niece to come and live with them.

This time, she could hardly put a sentence together.  To my vast relief, she recognized me and said my name right away.  But most of what she knows and most words are disappearing into the fog.

I thought of my friends who lost their moms early in life.  A terrible loss, affecting all the years after.  But I think losing your mom, suddenly or inch by inch, old or young, is just by definition a gut-twisting, painful experience.

I spent a lot of time with her, just sitting.  I knitted a scarf and she tried to talk now and then, but mostly we just enjoyed each other's company.

I loved seeing glimpses of the former Mom.  She always loved to watch people and would make these pithy observations about them.  One evening we were in the main lounge where a peppy little activities director was trying to get a Bingo game going.

Mom watched her and then poked me and gestured to the woman. "Dee glay gonss.  See's so schmaet."  "That little goose.  She's so smart."

I loved it.  She really was like a smart little goose.

Another resident was always smiling which I think was from paralysis rather than happiness, but at least she looked happy.  Mom gestured at her and confided to me, getting the sentence out with great effort, "That lady there that smiles all the time.  She is someone who would help you if you needed help." 

As always, the nursing home was a cultural experience.  It's in a small town in a farming area that was settled by German and Scandinavian immigrants.

A lot of these were Catholics, so even though this is a county institution, they have Catholic imagery around and a lot of the residents seem deeply religious.

Except for the cussing lady.  She looks like any proper elderly Minnesota lady, with glasses and a white perm, but she cuts loose like a sailor.  "Where do you want to sit?" says the aide.  "I don't give a &#$&" she says, without sounding especially annoyed.  "Here, let me adjust your seat cushion," says the patient aide.  "Yeah, it hurts my %$@"


I enjoyed listening to the Catholic service in a side room and the soothing repetitions of "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen."

I thought, so I don't pray to Mary, but I need soothing memorized prayers for those times when I'm too exhausted in mind and body to formulate words of my own.

Maybe we Anabaptists lost something by ditching all the memorized, unison prayers and chants.

My brother Fred told me, "Be careful what you say to Mom in Dutch.  People there can understand."  He had had conversations with some old farmers there and made the astonishing discovery that their branch of German and ours had, despite very different pathways, morphed to something similar by this point in our history.

All Pa. Dutch speakers know how we take English words and dutchify them.  But who would have thought that old German Minnesota farmers, from a different area of Germany and much fresher off the boat, would do the same?  "Mir wada am corn picka," Fred quoted him.  Seriously, corn picka.   Or, "Mir sin foddich silage choppa."  Yes. Silage choppa.

Just like some Beachy Amish farmer.

And oh how I enjoyed that Minnesota accent again.  One day the weather was cold and the next it was hot, and I heard an aide say to a resident,

Quote of the Day:
"Oh, we just got this yo-yo goin' on!"

So many Minnesota O's in one sentence.  It was wonderful.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Mrs. Smucker Survives Another Year of Camp

Is there a law that there must be one snake per Bible Memory Camp?

Last year it was Bryant holding it proudly aloft.

This year it was a girl, Ashton, who hoisted it up in all its bending glory and started coming my way.  Despite having just hiked for two and a half hours and feeling like my legs were going to pop off at the hip joints like Barbie's, I turned and fled like Usain Bolt.

Every year, I think: We are getting too old to take a van full of kids to three days of camp.

Every year, I do it anyway.

14 kids memorized the required 50 verses this year.  Our young friends Justin and Esta came along to help out, and also Emily.  We had the van and trailer full and groaning, plus two other vehicles.

Thankfully Esta grew up in Canada with lots of camping in the wild.  We went to a campground at Clear Lake, up in the mountains.  It was the most primitive camping we've done in years, with an outhouse and water pump a good ways down the mountain, and no electricity.

Last night one child suddenly started barfing as we sat around the campfire.  Today a girl got swiped in the eye with a pine branch.  And a boy got a yellow jacket sting.  One kid wanted to go home.  But everyone was alive and accounted for which is a lot to be thankful for.

Today we rowed on the lake and fished for an hour and a half.  I was in a rowboat with three boys who are avid fishermen and thank goodness the view was beautiful because it was one of the most b.o.r.i.n.g. hours of my life.  Fishermen like to sit in one spot on the lake.  And they don't like to talk.

Far away across the glassy water I could hear the happy chatter in Emily and Esta's canoes full of girls.  I listened enviously and then I decided to be like Jesus and take a nap in the boat, and then it was time to go, so I rowed back, just to prove I could, and we went back to the campsite for lunch.

After lunch we set off for a hike around the lake.  By then it was hot outside, especially in the raw sun as we crossed the scratchy lava fields, and I thought we would never get around to the lodge where the van waited.  It took two and a half hours, including a few breaks.  And there as I walked back from the restrooms on my aching legs I saw the children waiting and resting, and then Ashton, with a happy cry of discovery, picked up a garter snake.

Thankfully she had the sense not to chase me and I made my escape.

Paul drove a few of us back to camp while the others completed the hike back to where we began.

Then I left because tomorrow morning I need to leave early to fly to Minnesota to be with my parents because Mom broke her other hip and is recovering from surgery.

The other campers come home tomorrow.

I was sorry to miss the last day because even when camp is utterly completely exhausting, it's still wonderful.

Quote of the Day:
Around the campfire:
Kid 1 roasts the fish head on a stick.
Kid 2: Ewwwww are you going to eat that?
Kid 1: Yeah.  It's just like fish meat.
Kid 3: Even the brains??
Ashton: I don't wanna eat the brains!  You can taste what the fish has been thinking!

Cameron: I was rolling around in my sleeping bag all night.
Kid 1: Whadja do that for?
Cameron: DUDE!  I was on a HILL.

Kid 1: The guys are cookin' breakfast??
Kid 2: What's wrong with that?  Some of the best chefs in the world are guys.
Abby: Well duh.  They're CHEFS.
Kid 2: Ladies can be chefs too.
Abby: Nuh-uh.  A lady is called a COOK.

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Minister's Wife Speaks on a Controversial Subject

First, I should clarify that this minister's wife does not advocate smoking pot.

Last night we had the church youth group here, and as we sat around eating and talking, someone asked me what I thought of medical marijuana.

I did not condemn it, which caused a certain son, some distance down the porch, to perk up his ears and grin like I had just given him full unhindered license to go buy a joint and puff away.



But here's where I'm coming from.

There's no such thing as a perfectly safe drug.  Or so says Paul's sister, Barb, who is a doctor.  She says you always have to weigh the possible benefits with the possible side effects, and then make your decision.

Also, you have to carefully regulate amounts and monitor the patient.

So we have codeine and morphine that are lifesavers in that they dull pain, but they can make you vary from loopy to completely unconscious.

When Paul's mom was in the hospital with pneumonia, they were constantly monitoring her medication.  I don't remember the names of everything, but they'd give her one chemical until it started affecting her heart, then they'd cut back on that and give another until her kidneys were in danger, then they'd cut back on that and hope her lungs would still be ok.

It was all about benefits and needs vs. the effects of too much medicine.

We move on to reminiscing about pregnancy.  I suppose I had hyperemesis gravidum like Kate Middleton, but I didn't know the name for it.  All I know is that I was either barfing all the time or lying in bed, monstrously nauseated and desperately trying not to throw up, for weeks and months on end.

"Misery" is a very mild word for this experience.

Doctors are cautious at the best of times and hyper-cautious with pregnant women, so there was nothing my doctors could offer me.  I remember dissolving in tears when Dr. MacDonald told me this, with a slight shrug, because I was under the delusion that he could and would give me something magic to make it better.

For all five pregnancies, a slight shrug was the best any of my doctors could do.

Some time after my last baby, I read somewhere that a puff or two of marijuana can calm down the nausea of pregnancy.

I thought, I would do it myself, seriously I would.

Now before you storm across the yard with pitchforks, answer this: did you take Tylenol with Codeine when you had your wisdom teeth out?  I'll bet you did.  And you had some side effects too, and no one would have let you drive because you were so loopy.

But you justified that "high" because the alternative was intense pain.

Marijuana has a bad reputation as a recreational drug and a politically charged subject, but really it's one of a thousand plants that can be used wisely or misused.

I think if it weren't such a volatile subject, the pharmaceutical industry would quietly turn it into forms that could be taken by means other than smoking, such as tea or capsules.  The dosage could be monitored and pregnant ladies could sip just enough tea to quell the terrible heaves and have some blessed relief without getting high or hurting the baby.

And it could be taken by cancer patients and people with other chronic conditions whose quality of life could improve with fewer side effects than the drugs they are now allowed and encouraged to take.

That's what I think, based on what I know.

But again, I am not allowing my teenagers to smoke pot any more than I'd allow them to puff on my asthma inhalers just for a lark.

I just read an article reporting that a researcher in Israel developed a hybrid cannabis high in "good" chemicals and low in "bad."  Sounds like a great solution all around.

 Professor Mechoulam has been working to grow cannabis that contains high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, something that has been intentionally bred out of the plant by non-medical marijuana growers looking for a stronger high (or higher level of THC). THC is the most well known cannabinoid, less so for its medicinal benefits, and more for the high that it produces when cannabis is dried, and smoked. Cannabidiol on the other hand is a substance that researchers believe can be used for treating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, liver inflammation,multiple schlerosis, heart disease and diabetes without getting the patients ‘high’. Avidekel is a brand new strain being grown by Tikkun Olam that contains a record setting 15.8% CBD and only minute traces of THC below 1%.  Mechoulam believes that CBD-rich strains such as Avidekel, show promise as potent anti-inflammatory drugs.