Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Conquering Fears & A New Start

After 8 years and 9 months, it was time.

Regular readers may have noticed that Life in the Shoe has always been pink.  Pink around the edges, pink in the middle, pink header.

I didn't change it, ever, because:
a) I like pink.
b) I don't enjoy fiddling around with wires in the attic of my blog or rusty water pipes down in the basement.
c) I had this terrible fear that if I changed the template of my blog, all my posts would disappear.

My children tried to talk me out of that last fear, which is about as effective as trying to logically talk anyone out of any fear.

"There is no way a garter snake is going to hurt you!!"

"Where did you come up with that particular connection?  I mean, that's like saying everything will disappear when you post another blog post.  It's just a normal thing to do on your blog."

They also tried not to laugh at me, but I did notice a few significant shared glances when the subject came up.

Finally I decided the time had come.  The end of 2013 was approaching.  2014 was going to begin.

I Googled how to back up a blog and sweated through that process.

Then, as you see, I faced my fears, told everyone around me to stop talking so I could concentrate, and changed the template.  It was a lot easier than I had expected.  And, as nearly as I can tell, all my posts are still there, even a few that probably ought to disappear.

My blogging friend Luci says that a post should have a point.  My point is that most of us have fears and most of those fears are not logical at all, but that doesn't lessen their size or import.

But the end of one year and the beginning of another is a good time to take a deep breath, Google the directions, and attack the most humiliating fear on your list.

Purple is quite pretty, don't you think?

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Can I talk now?
Me: No, I'm trying to think of a word.
Emily: What word are you trying to think of?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Projects I've Been Working On

Lately I've had this urge to sew, which was always my mom's way of coping with life's tough transitions.  Sometimes I think she has more influence on our family from that side of the grave than she had from this one, but that is a subject for another day.

I have the sort of conscience--maybe from Mom??-- that sees sewing as play rather than work or medicine, so I feel like I can't sew until the other housework is done.

And is housework ever done??

But in a happy turn of events, I have two adult daughters at home who, when they're not employed otherwise, ask me to make a list of things that need to be done around the house.

I also make a list for the 14-year-old daughter who doesn't ask for it.  Yet.

And then I go sew with a free conscience.

Mom always seemed like she had a magnet inside for scrap fabric, and it would come to her, unbidden, from neighbors and relatives and sewing factories, and even, it seemed, stealing across the frozen cornfields in the dark of night, quietly slipping into her basement stash.

I have the same attraction for castoff fabric, and I get an unreasonable delight from finding ways to use it up.

Like these bags which I made from sack-like fabric pieces with one hemmed edge each.  They combined well, I thought, with the vintage Holly-Hobbie cutouts that showed up.  At least one bag is for the niece who likes all things repurposed, vintage, and quirky.

I'm tucking in a notebook from Thailand, knowing she would appreciate the unusual translated English as much as we did.

We should all remember to do this first.

I'm also on a roll with 50's dresses, with simple fitted bodices and a pleated or circle or gathered skirt.  In another happy turn of events, so are my daughters.

Back in the day, I'd make one of them a new dress, preferably Daisy Kingdom, featuring a full skirt and ruffles and a big white collar with ribbons.

"OOOhhhhhh, Moooommmm!!!"  they would say, and then they would twirl and exclaim, "OHH, it's a CAKE dress, because when I twirl and then go down, it poofs out like a cake!!"

A few years passed and I'd make them something.  "Um, Mom?  I don't know how to say this, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but this is really kind of, I don't know....I think I'd rather you bought me clothes instead of trying to make them."

But now, oh happy day, my girls once again like me to sew for them.

Recently I sewed them each a dress. 

Somehow they all wear a size 8 even though they are three different heights, so it's easy to use one pattern for all three.  Except I never just pick a pattern and follow it.

I used the bodice pattern on the right below for all three dresses, altering the neckline as requested.  For Jenny on the left and Amy on the right (above) I used the pleated skirt on the left below.  Emily's dress has a full circle skirt.


I think this is called "popping your heel."

Am I blessed with lovely daughters or what?? she asked proudly.

Up close.  The polka dots and elephants came from Thailand.


While the girls posed, our friend Anna cleaned up the kitchen with Steven.

Emily's dress fabric was kind of an odd shifty material, and the circle skirt ended up hanging very unevenly.  So I had her stand on a tall stool in the kitchen while I re-measured and pinned the hem.

She felt dizzy, up that high, so Paul offered his services as a post while he read the comics.

It reminded me of that scene in The Yearling where the mom, played by Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan's first wife, wants to pin the hem in her new dress so she has her husband, played by Gregory Peck, wear the dress and stand in the middle of the kitchen while she goes around and around, frowning and pinning, while the son looks on, smirking.  And it is utterly awfully obvious that Jane Wyman had never sewed a stitch in her life.

Somehow that made me feel good about myself.

Twenty years ago we were living in the North and drying all our laundry on indoor lines, so Mom used her salvaged fabric and made me a bunch of hangers with clothespins attached, to dry socks and such.

They were wonderful, and I used them until they fell apart, long after we had a dryer.  Then I made some more.

I got the idea to make some for the Smucker ladies at our Christmas dinner this Saturday, since we like to give each other small gifts.

Here are three.  I'll post a tutorial soon because they are pretty easy to make and surprisingly useful.

Smucker ladies: try to act surprised on Saturday.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Three things always surprise me about death and grief.

1. The humor.  I remember when my nephew Leonard died suddenly the grief and shock were like a suffocating cloud.

I didn't think I would laugh again for a very long time, if ever.  Yet down in Mom and Dad's basement in the days that followed we found the most idiotic things funny and collapsed in laughter.

Later I wondered, were our options down to a)laughing or b)going crazy?

With Mom's death, we experienced an entirely different sort of grief but again had these moments of stifled laughter behind the scenes.

None of us were on the ball like we should have been with getting Dad's suit cleaned before the funeral, which caused some complications, including calling back to the house right before the viewing for the stragglers to bring the right pair of pants, which turned out to have a rip in the seam in the seat.  My sister Rebecca has a purse that can handle any emergency like the time Ben and Zack crashed their bikes at a park in Salem and out came bandages and ointment, which is a whole other story, but in this case she magically produced a sewing kit.

There is nothing quite like huddling with your sister in the bathroom of a rented Evangelical Free church out in the country on a wild winter evening, stitching up your dad's pants so he can be presentable when all the relatives arrive.

Then there was the moment in the receiving line when my sister Margaret looked at the doorway and the first arriving crowds and exclaimed, "Why it's Aunt Ennie."  I turned to her and hissed, "Aunt Ennie is dead!" and suddenly I was laughing so hard I thought I would choke, and my sisters joined me, and we plopped down on the front pew and tried to look like we were crying.

It was actually my cousin Katie, Ennie's daughter who looks like her mom.

In Margaret's defense, it was hard to stay in touch with those aunts and uncles after we were grown and gone, and we all kind of lost track of who was still alive and who was gone.

Then there was another bathroom episode.

We had brought winter gear to wear to the burial and stowed it in the restroom.  I had a suitcase full of coats and gloves and scarves.  Others just had piles.

One of the two toilets was obviously malfunctioning so we didn't use that.  After the burial, when we were back in the bathroom shedding our layers and getting ready for the lunch, my cousin Anna Fern's voice came from the remaining stall.  "Is it safe to flush this?  It doesn't look too good."

I thought it would be ok.

She flushed.

Suddenly she made an alarmed noise as the water rose higher and higher.  We snatched the plunger from the other stall and first she shoved and then I did, but it did no good.

The water began to spread across the floor as we all grabbed armfuls of boots, coats, and trailing scarves off the floor and fled.

Anna Fern had the presence of mind to grab large wads of paper towels out of the garbage and throw them onto the pool to keep it contained.

It was funny in a terrible, what-else-could-go-wrong sort of way.

Later I saw a man walk by with his hands full of cleaning supplies.  I said, "Are you the. . . pastor?"  He said yes.  I said, "Are you heading for that mess in the bathroom??"

He said, "I found when I took this job in September that if you pastor a country church, you do a lot of things that were never on your job description."

Which brings me to surprise 2.  How kind everyone is.

The pastor cleaning up the ladies' restroom.  My friend Anita inviting me over for tea so I could debrief from the emotional highs and lows of the last weeks.

My columnist friend Bob Welch wrote in his column that my mom had died and he encouraged people to email me.  They did, in droves.  Perfect strangers who just wanted to be kind.

People texted, called, offered to help pay for plane tickets, sent flowers, brought food, sent cards, gave me hugs, prayed for us, posted sympathies on Facebook, and gave me lots of grace.

It was astonishing.

3. The uniqueness of grief.

Losing Mom was very different from losing my nephew which was very different from losing Paul's dad or my friend Marilyn.

Much of the grief for Mom was before she passed.  Much of the pain over the years was from that terrible helplessness and inability to make it all better as she lost one ability after another.

One leg of Mom's black nylons somehow came home in our suitcase. It is full of runs and holes.   Mom was always frugal, so when one leg of a pair of pantyhose got a run, she cut off the good leg and saved it.

This worked pretty well when she could see and think ok and throw out the salvaged legs as they also developed holes.

As she got older, it didn't work so well. Dressing up to go somewhere involved a long and frustrating process of digging blindly through tangled black hosiery and trying to find a pair that matched and were still good.

I would have loved to go buy her half a dozen new pairs of black stockings that she could put on with confidence after we threw out all the old ones.

She very emphatically didn't want me involved in this.

Now, I wonder a lot of things, about this issue and many more.  Was preserving her independence really the important thing?  Should I have been more pushy?  Was there a magic way I could have made this stocking issue easier for her without making her feel like I was taking over?  Was it all about me being the rescuer?  Did it matter, really?

Or do I think about stockings because I know I could have rescued her from that inconvenience?  Because I most certainly couldn't rescue her sight, her hearing, her health, or her mind.

And that was truly painful.

 "Everyone grieves in their own way," says Anita.  "It's ok."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Laying to Rest Isn't Easy

"I am happy that Dorcas's mom is in Heaven," said a friend who stopped in the other day, to Paul.  "But I'm sad that there won't be more stories about her."

I wasn't in on this conversation because I was taking a nap.  In my dreams I heard this voice that wasn't any of my girls but I didn't wake up enough to come see what was going on.

It turned out to be my old friend Judy, who was supposed to meet someone at Uncle James's down the road, but they weren't there, so she came here to use the phone and also talked with Paul for a few minutes.  It says something about my completely exhausted state that I didn't recognize Judy's voice and slept through the conversation.

Getting old is complicated, and so is dying.  Losing someone and laying them to rest is never convenient, and it is phenomenally exhausting in body, soul, and spirit.

So I have been staying home and sleeping a lot.

"How was your trip to Minnesota?" people ask.  "And the funeral?"

When you lose someone you love, you wish the world would slow down, hush, turn gentle and nice.  You want the weather to be sunny and the roads clear and the volume turned way down on the airport announcements from the chief of police of the Port of Portland telling you to watch for unattended baggage, and all the chatty folks to, at the very least, not ask you any questions that require thought.

You want the world to come give you a hug and a cup of tea.  That's all.  You want someone else to figure out rides.  You don't want the phone to ring unless it's your friend Jean saying she's bringing supper.

The world does not cooperate, so you go through your days in a fog, tense and weepy, with jarring noises on the ear and grating, glaring, sights and decisions shoved at you.

And when the weather is terrible, it feels like you just do not have what it takes to handle this.  You just don't.  But you have to.

On the flight to Minnesota, with Paul and I and Jenny and Steven, I got on Paul's computer and checked road and weather conditions for the 2-hour drive to Mom and Dad's house.

Ice. Snow.  Cold.  Wind. Storms.  Warning!  Stay home!

Overwhelmed, I posted a prayer request on Facebook.

My friend Esther, who happens to be Jewish, sent me this:
"When encountering water, one should say that the Baal Shem says that it is a sign of blessing." -HaYom Yom Tevet 21"
Of course snow and ice are the least pleasant forms of water and are making getting where you need to be scary and difficult, but I would like to believe that this is G-d's way of showing that He is showering you with grace and blessing in the middle of a Minnesota winter and this time of hard change for your family.

By the time we landed and got the car, it was after midnight and all the fast food places on Highway 55 were closed.  We stopped at a Holiday gas station and found not only nutritious food but a gray-haired and soft-spoken African-American employee who asked if we belonged to a particular religion and then proceeded to ask if Mennonite was similar to Beachy Amish.  I almost fainted.  Nobody has ever heard of the Beachy Amish, much less, as it turned out, attended some of their services in Pennsylvania.  He also knew all about Dorcas in the Bible and connected her story with Psalm 41 ( Blessed is he that considereth the poor: . . . The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive;).

We told him why we were in the area, where we were headed, and my fears.  He reminded us of Psalm 91 and the angel of the Lord encamping around those that fear him.

That felt like a blessing as well.  We set forth and, while the roads weren't nice, they weren't awful either, and the real snow didn't start falling until we were about 5 miles from Dad's at about 2 a.m.

It was good to be with family the next day, although Dad, who shifted into low gear about 20 years ago and steadily plowed forward since then, seemed like he'd suddenly lost all energy, ambition, and gumption.

The weather got worse, the wind kicked the snow into drifts on that bleak back road from Dad's lane out to Highway 4, and the temperature dropped to below zero.

A number of vanloads of relatives from around the Midwest cancelled their plans to come.
Headed to the viewing--Steven, Jenny, Dad

We stood at the viewing and hugged friends and relatives and ducked into the anteroom to take phone calls from family members missing flights and trying to find rides from the airport.

One of the last loads to arrive that night was my brother Phil, his son Zack, and our cousin Merlin.  They got stuck in a snowdrift about half a mile from Dad's and couldn't rouse anyone on the phone until finally Marcus answered and went out in his tractor to rescue them.

The road still hadn't been plowed in the morning.

Meanwhile, whoever does these things behind the scenes had tried to dig the grave, first pushing away the snow and then attempting to cut slabs of frozen dirt with concrete saws.  But the saws didn't reach down deep enough, so they set up some sort of canopy and heated it with a propane heater for four or five hours until it thawed enough to dig.

We set out for the funeral a little before nine on Thursday morning, Paul and me, Dad, Emily, and Jenny in our rental car.  The cold wind was beyond bitter.  Emily said, "I didn't know it COULD get this cold."

Down the road at the crest of a slight rise, the snow was drifted over the road for about 100 feet.  Paul was sure he could make it through if he made a run for it.  Twenty feet in, we realized there was a car stuck on the other end of the drift.  Paul immediately slowed down, and then we were stuck.

So in my black dress and my boots borrowed from my 7-year-old nephew Nolan, I got out into that deep snow and obscene wind and pushed.  So did Emily and Jenny and the people from the other stuck car.  Paul needed to drive because the rental car did weird things, kicking out of gear when the wheels spun.

We got out, not without excruciating misery to pantyhosed legs.

Then we didn't know which roads to take, what was plowed and what wasn't.

We finally made it.

My normal self would have thought, "This will make a great story."  My mourning self thought, "I can't handle this.  I just cannot handle this."

But I did anyhow, because we are not given a choice.

The service was warm and nice, and my nieces gave the most amazing tributes ever to their grandma.  Janet told how Mom would write her letters, even in the last year or two, telling how busy she was, raking leaves and washing windows, and "how badly Grandpa needed a haircut."

We laughed.  So very typical and true.

Did I mention Mom was 93?

Because of the cold, the committal was held at the church and then only a few close family scuttled to the restrooms and donned many layers of clothes and went to the cemetery and efficiently laid Mom to rest.
At the burial
She would have been happy about that.  She would not have been pleased that her passing caused so much bother.

She would also have pushed that car out of the snowdrift with far less fuss than I made.

There were plenty more complications that I did not feel able to handle but did anyhow, because I am my mother's daughter and I learned from her that you do what you have to do.

Looking down Dad's lane. The little rainbow/light is a sundog, caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere.
But now I am home and all I want to do is sleep and sew.  I cook hot dogs for supper which is far below my normal cooking standards, and then I sew a dress and mend a skirt and cut out a bathrobe and finger my pretty cotton fabrics and plan projects.

Mom and I were in some ways very different and it wasn't until recent years that I felt I really received her blessing in certain areas of my life.  But she too turned to sewing to get through the toughest phases of her life.  And maybe that is a strange place to find comfort but it works for me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A New Stage of Life

To say that the last two weeks have been full of change, transition, stress, action, travel, and people is being very understated with the truth.

So, to go way back to November 26, incidentally my dad's 97th birthday, which he spent in the hospital with his third bladder blockage but recovered from ok...that was the day Amanda arrived.

And the next day Nevin arrived.

Yes, after waiting for years while my children's friends and cousins obligingly grew up, dated, married, and had babies, in which I kept busy with praying, making mental lists, hand-wringing, and the occasional nudge or caution, two of my children, Amy and Ben, are dating.

Or maybe courting. We don't try to fit any particular mold or model here, but suffice it to say that Ben is pursuing a young woman in a determined and Christian manner, and Amy is likewise being pursued by a young man, and things had come to the point where it was time for them to come to the Smuckers for a holiday.
Matt flew in from DC for the occasion, but Emily wasn't able to work it out to come home from SMBI, so she was the only one missing, which was very sad.

But, oh, what detailed preparations beforehand, what excitement, what lists, what baking, what scrubbing of bathrooms, what buying of name-brand breakfast cereal, what hauling of embarrassing excess belongings out of the back hallway, what stuffing of them into the unused playhouse outside!

Not wanting awkward early-morning collisions while going to and from our small upstairs bathroom via a narrow hallway, I had my generous friend and next-door neighbor, Anita, over for tea and she agreed to keep all the guys at her house for the duration so the girls could have the upstairs to themselves.

The guests were here for about a week.  Wednesday evening we had our big Thanksgiving dinner, and from Thursday to Saturday we were out at the coast in a cozy rented house a short walk from the beach.  The weather, in answer to Jenny's prayers, was warm and calm, and the days were full of hiking up mountains, walking on the beach, eating, games, and much discussion.

Amanda & Ben in an ice cream shop
I thought this should be Amy & Nevin's official Facebook photo
Well, maybe this would work better.

Which brings me to a very new angle of this very new phase.  My children are used to being written about.  Sometimes they read what I write and often they don't.  They are very blase about it all.  I have a pretty good feel for what's ok to say and what isn't, and if I write something that's not ok, they tell me, and I do a quick edit.  Or I pay a bribe.

I do not have this easy relationship with the significant others, so I find my head full of stories and my writing process going like this:

Oh, it was so interesting how this all came about. . . but I guess that's not for public consumption.

The first day or so. . . oh wait, better not go there.

It was so funny when. . . oops, better not go there either.

I was so impressed by . . . hmmm, probably shouldn't say that.

But then Jenny insisted that. . . oh, never mind.

But when I told Emily about it on the phone, she figured that . . . never mind that either.


I will say this: Amanda and Nevin are both astonishingly nice, Godly, kind, smart, helpful, hardworking, responsible, mature, and a list of other adjectives as well.

And I can't tell you how blessed that makes me feel.

Resting in the shelter after the hike up Cape Perpetua: Jenny, Matt, Nevin, Amy, Amanda, Ben, and Steven

Despite the newness of our interactions, the time was surprisingly fun and relaxed, thanks to the admirable adaptability of the visitors.  Amanda worked with me in the kitchen a lot, especially on Wednesday, making Thanksgiving dinner while Ben still had classes, and she slipped into the role like she had done it for years.

Matt left for the airport early on Saturday morning and we came home from the coast later in the day.  While Jenny and Steven and I put coolers and leftovers away, the two couples went off by themselves for the evening, away--no doubt to their vast relief--from watchful parents and teenage siblings who always seemed to be everywhere at once.

On the beach, Paul demonstrated to the young people that you can still be romantic this far into the story.

Hiking on the slick rocks at Alsea Falls

 We walked over the long bridge at Waldport, and I may or may not have quietly hummed "Go-o-o-in' to the cha-a-a-pel. . ." as I took these shots.  It was that pretty arched opening, that's all.


Paul, Steven, and Matt.  If you want to play Settlers of Catan with Smucker men, you have to place your arms and elbows and hands in a certain position.  It's a requirement.

Nevin, Amy, and Jenny played Take One.

Sunday morning I woke up at 5:30 and decided to get up to prepare my Sunday school lesson and Sunday dinner and all the other things best done alone and quiet.

My sister Rebecca called me.  My mom had just passed away, back in the nursing home in Minnesota, very swiftly and peacefully and quietly.

And just that quickly can life completely change.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Letter from Harrisburg: Happy Endings

This column was published last Sunday, the day of my mother's passing.  You might well wonder how I feel about "happy endings" in light of this.  She lived a long, full life, she was eager to go be with Jesus, and she had a peaceful passing.  I call that a very happy ending.  The sorrow is all ours, and even that is tempered by the joy of knowing she is where she wanted to be.
Thank you for all the prayers over the past week.

Letter from Harrisburg

All stories should end with ‘happily ever after’

I think every story ought to turn out right in the end. The characters suffer, the plot twists, sharp obstacles rise in the path, but a good story works it all out beautifully by the final page. 
Some of us read “Pride and Prejudice” at least once a year, just to make sure Elizabeth still ends up with Mr. Darcy. I re-read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books when I’m sick with the flu, thrilled each time that Valancy really leaves her old life behind and acquires her blue castle for keeps.

I love to hear people’s stories, leading family members to agree that I have a sign on my forehead: “Tell me the most intimate details of your life.” It’s fascinating, the invisible threads running through the life stories of everyday people, the strokes of luck, the miraculous connections, the accumulated wisdom.

I enjoy telling stories as well, especially to children, who for some reason prefer ones they’ve already heard. Trevin the young nephew has asked me dozens of times for the Chiclet story, a cautionary tale from my childhood in which I stole one of the pieces of gum my aunt sent my sister for her birthday. I was found out because Mom saw me surreptitiously chewing, and thus I learned that the eyes of both Mom and the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good, and so I never stole again.

That’s why people like me love the Christmas story. The world is dark and God is silent, and then suddenly there are angels singing of good news and a poor young virgin giving birth and “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Something deep inside connects to a story, to characters and the forces that affect them, to despair turning to impossible hope, to the good guy showing up at last, and to a resolution that makes us close the book and smile and fall asleep.

We look at our own lives, with all our mistakes and frustrations, and we long for resolution for this story as well, for the loose ends to be tied into a neat bow and for meaning and purpose behind the strange turns in the plot.

I always thought everyone loved stories as much as I did, since even the most oblivious people in church perked up when the pastor’s sermon switched from theory and theology to an illustration or story. At family gatherings, relatives of all ages gather around the storytellers, reliving Aunt Allene’s suspense as the old seed truck with its worn-out fan belt growls up Interstate 5 and then — disaster — the belt snaps near Cottage Grove and Allene climbs the fence and despite many perils finally makes it to Harrisburg with the load of seed.

Some time ago, when a generous benefactor offered to pay for me to take an online course in short story writing from Stanford University’s prestigious Continuing Studies department, I found that not everyone in the world likes stories as I had always defined them.

Happy to learn of dialogue, setting and structure, I signed up, bought the textbooks, and dug in. Most of the required reading was “collected short stories” by highly-recommended authors.

I soon found that I had stepped into a sophisticated literary universe where “stories” consisted of vague, dark, hopeless descriptions of people trapped in creepy situations. Nothing ever really happened, nothing changed, and while the words stopped after a while, the stories were never completed.

In the online discussions, the other students, mostly lawyers and scientists and such, discussed the stories’ complexity and depth in ponderous detail, as though they actually qualified as good stories. Even a rural Mennonite mom doesn’t like to appear naïve and unenlightened, so I used my considerable acting skills and contributed an occasional comment.

However, I soon saw the silliness of such pretensions and decided to be what and who I was, a lover of simple stories from the hearts of ordinary people. I learned what I could from the course and then happily left that alien world to itself.

Life had enough vague and dark qualities. A story, I decided, ought to provide an alternative where joy was good and love was real and every event eventually had meaning.

The Bible, while containing poetry and deep theology, is essentially a story, resonating with believers like me because we relate to its all-too-human characters and its assurance that mysterious and meaningful purposes lie behind every event of our lives. Maybe we’re naïve, but in daily challenges and hard times of grief and pain, we reach for a community of faith that assures us of redemption for the past and hope for better things ahead.

“Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you,” writes Paul the apostle in First Corinthians. “From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise.”

So Christmas comes and simple people like me repeat the improbable story of long years of waiting and then a Roman census and a child born and angels announcing peace on Earth. 

Our children act it out in too-large bathrobes under dangling makeshift stars while we weep at its beauty and laugh with its joy. The story rings true in our hearts and so we believe and find, not that seeing is believing but that believing is seeing.

Then we cry harder because our own story includes many wrong turns and dilemmas, but here is forgiveness and peace, and we know we don’t deserve the gift but there it is.  We sing “Joy to the World” because we are full of hope that everything will come out right in the end, just like it ought to.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Conversation

We are safely home after laying my mom to rest, and there's lots I want to write someday about all that.  But instead I'll write about something else: a conversation I had today that I can't get out of my mind.

I was signed up to sell books from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at the Lane Library League fundraiser at the fairgrounds.  I wasn't up to spending the day there, between just being back from the funeral and also the snowy roads.  Paul offered to drive me in if I want to go, and there were specific authors I wanted to see, so off we went and I was there for about an hour.

A slender gray-haired woman came up to me.  Here's the conversation as best as I can reconstruct it:

She said, "Oh, I wanted to talk to you.  There's something I just don't understand.  I so enjoy your articles and what you write about the Mennonites.  I'm Unitarian-slash-Buddhist myself, but I'm interested in other religions, so I went to this lecture at the U of O about Mennonites, and it seems there's quite a variety. . .?"

I said, "Yes.  There's a huge variety of churches, all under the Anabaptist umbrella."

She said"Yes.  Well, there was this incident, and I just don't understand it.  We were down at the 5th St. Market one Saturday, and this group of Mennonites was singing.  It was just beautiful.  We just love music like that, even though we're not Christian.  And there was just this sense of community, with families in the group, and just how they sang.  It was lovely and we stood there listening to it.

And then while we were listening, this Mennonite man came up to my husband and began to talk to him and asked him what he believed and began to talk about their beliefs.  My husband said he's not interested, but the man just kept on talking.  And we wanted to listen to the music, but he just wouldn't stop talking.  I've read your books, and it just doesn't seem like something you would do, to be that aggressive."

She paused.  I sensed that she also wanted to say, "or that disgustingly rude," but as a Buddhist she didn't want to let it upset her.

I'm not sure what I said then.

She said, "I didn't realize you folks did that.  I know the Quakers don't proselytize.  I didn't think you did either.  But this man, he just wouldn't leave my husband alone.  And we just wanted to hear the music.  He just wouldn't stop talking."

I finally said, "We do believe in sharing our faith.  But usually we try to do it through how we live our lives and being open to people who ask questions, and being friends."

I sounded pretty lame, really, like I'd get an F in any Personal Evangelism class.

She said, "But how do you explain. . .?"

I said, "Well, in any religion you will have people who are really passionate and really aggressive about trying to persuade others to change their beliefs."

She said, "Yeah, I guess so.  But it just didn't seem like something a Mennonite would do."

Her husband joined her at my table.  She turned to him, "I was just asking her about. . ."  and he nodded and said, "Oh.  Yeah.  That man. . ."

They thanked me and left, still looking troubled and confused.

I am feeling somewhat troubled and confused myself.  On the one hand, any discussion of Witnessing or Personal Evangelism makes me feel like a failure because I am frankly terrible at approaching strangers and explaining the Gospel to them.

Also, if this man's behavior is so not typical of Mennonites, does it mean we've carried the "Stille in die Land" thing way too far?

However, would Jesus have had a choir sing beautifully to draw people into the marketplace and then talked so aggressively to curious listeners that they couldn't listen to the music and left feeling upset and disappointed and a bit violated?

What do you think?

I think she and I are both trying to make sense of that incident.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Mom's Passing

Yesterday morning my mom went to be with Jesus.  She was 93 years old and passed very peacefully.

We leave tomorrow morning for the funeral which will be on Thursday morning.

Your prayers are appreciated.