Monday, December 19, 2016

Ice. And Men Who Aren't Nice.

This past week we got cold weather and freezing rain, which coated the whole world in ice.  Then we got cold temperatures with clear skies and sunshine, which pretty much never happens here, so the ice didn't melt and the world felt like a glassy fairyland.  Then it got cloudy and foggy and frosty, and still the ice clung to every blade of grass and fence wire and lilac twig.

The Minnesota girl in me--that young lady who loves walks in bracing frosty air and thinks it just isn't Christmas or winter unless the world is white--she was ecstatic.

I feel a bit inconsistent because back in our northern Ontario days I liked winter and ice and stuff but I used to get so sick and tired of it by February that I thought it was just beyond bearing and that surely God never meant for people to live this far north.

This is what I really like: four distinct seasons, with a good dose of each, and then moving on to the next one when it's time.

Ontario didn't do this.  Neither does Oregon.

But this week it was cold and frosty and icy and beautiful, and it made me very happy.

I took pictures and pictures and more pictures.

Recently I wrote about a few things that are a bit dangerous to discuss, things that make certain decent-appearing folks turn into online rats, sneaking along with shifty eyes and gnawing at chair legs, and also hens, pecking unctuously at stray seeds, and also dogs, howling at moons and other imaginary threats and also biting you in the haunches when you turn your back.

But then life went on and all the animals slipped back into their lairs and changed back into decent-seeming people that say hello to you at the post office, so I realized one can survive these storms and spats, and the wounds heal if you wash them with peroxide and bandage them up good.

Also I'm getting older, which makes me less afraid.

So I will share something else I've been thinking about.

Jenny endured a bit of harassment the other day.  She was with a few other girls and a man made some creepy comments and also floated a lewd suggestion of something they could do.

She was at a place where we frequently go, so it wasn't like she was out of her normal setting.  It was the man who was out of place.

Also, there were enough people around that she was not in physical danger.

Thankfully, she didn't feel all violated or fearful.  But she had two matter-of-fact observations:
1. It was the first time something like that has happened.
2. She didn't look Mennonite.

It was a cold day.  She was wearing a long coat and a hat and scarf, so it wasn't obvious that she wore a skirt and prayer veil.

We found this very interesting.

And I've been thinking too much about it and wondering what conclusions one can draw.

I know that harassment, catcalls, propositions, and other forms of disrespect happen to women.  From some discussions online, I get the idea that they happen to most women and they just conclude that Men Are Like That and you just learn to live with it.

I've had just a few unsavory encounters over the years.

But for the most part, these things don't happen to me or my daughters, at least not when we look obviously Mennonite.  It shouldn't happen to any woman, ever, no matter what she looks like. So why have we been spared to such an unusual degree?

I asked the family about this.

"Well," said Emily, "there's what ought to be, and then there's what IS."

Steven said, "People treat you different depending what you wear.  If you walk down the street in a buttondown shirt, people treat you more respectfully."

I said, "But YOU would never treat a woman disrespectfully, no matter what she wore.  Why is that? I don't remember ever teaching you that."

Paul said, "You set the bar so high with how you treat people that that kind of behavior didn't really come up."

Ben said, "Well, there WERE a few 'don't you ever's."

"Is there still enough residual respect for religion that people are more careful around a woman who looks religious?" I asked. "Like how people are still sort of reverent around nuns?"

Ben said yes.  He thinks guys are more careful around this Muslim woman he knows.

All the guys in the family agreed that men take cues from women as to what kind of behavior they're willing to put up with, and act accordingly.  So, said Steven, some sleazy guy sees a Mennonite woman  and he thinks, Nuh-uh.

That statement puts a lot of responsibility on women, which is disturbing.  And yet, what is it exactly that makes him step back, if he does indeed decide to step back?  Surely there are a variety of other factors that influence his choice.  He's not going to holler something inappropriate with a policeman nearby.  What power and influence, if any, does a woman have in this situation?

Looking Mennonite isn't a magic wand against assault--let's be clear about that. And our culture can breed the secretive sins of sexual abuse and such, which is a whole other subject.

But this is about harassment from strangers, and about most-of-the-time, rather than always.

I have never dressed conservatively or taught my daughters to do so for the reason that Christians often give--to keep the brethren from sinning.

I've learned that the brethren whose hearts are bent on sin will find ways to sin no matter how women dress.

What I teach my girls is that they belong to God, their lives ought to reflect Jesus, and their bodies have the sacred role of being temples of the Holy Spirit.  So their clothes should communicate dignity, royalty, value, beauty, femininity, and respect.

Somehow, that has also worked to protect them.

Maybe it's not so much the clothes as the confidence they project. Or perhaps the aura of being protected and cared for.  I don't know.

My daughters and I have all attended public colleges and worked and traveled and stuff, so it's not that we've never left the farm.

I'm curious how our experience compares with that of Christian women in general.  Or city vs. rural women, or Midwest vs. West Coast.

This is a touchy topic primarily because if you tell women how to act and behave to lessen the chances of getting raped or harassed, it's called victim-blaming because it's so easy to make it a "you should have just" conversation rather than holding the man fully responsible for his crime or behavior.  It's hard to talk about minimizing risk without also assigning blame.

So I am not telling women how to act and behave and dress.  But I'm wondering if maybe women have more power than they realize to raise the general cultural standard of morality, because someone needs to correct this situation, and, as my sons say, a rapist isn't going to stop for anyone, but most guys will take their cues from women about what they can get by with.

I don't think women should think of themselves as passive and powerless.

At the very least, we have the power to teach our sons right from wrong.

I wish all men would treat women the way my husband and sons treat women. Every woman in every circumstance is safe around them.

I also wish every woman could experience the sense of safety that I've always known.

What's the best way to make that happen?

Feel free to comment thoughtfully but don't be a rat, chicken, or dog.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

LFH--On Advent and Waiting

Letter from Harrisburg
A little faith eases weight of waiting
By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
DEC 11, 2016

We are all waiting for something,” my friend Trish said in the women’s class at church last Sunday.
As Mennonites, we celebrate Christmas with lots of food, music and Scripture, but we don’t observe the Advent calendar as a church tradition.
Trish became intrigued with the custom and decided to teach about it in Sunday school.
Week 1 is about faith and waiting, she told us. Faith keeps you believing with an expectant hope, even through years of silence.
Week 2 is about preparation. We should be actively getting ready for whatever it is we hope for, even if there’s no sign of it yet.
The next weeks focus on joy, love and finally Christ, the promised child arriving after hundreds of years of waiting.
I looked around the circle of women. Trish was right. We were all waiting for something — a diagnosis, word from a loved one, adult children to find their way, a husband to return, babies to sleep through the night, healing in body and soul, financial strains to ease, private hopes to finally be fulfilled and silent suffering to end.
With most of our heartaches, no ending date is given. I’m never sure if not knowing the duration is the worst, or if it’s harder to know you have four more months of vomiting with this pregnancy, three more years of constant slogging until graduation, 10 more years of working with impossible people until retirement.
Eventually, when we think this situation is never going to end, the page finally turns, the light comes on, the dark splinter is pulled and the festering wound can heal at last.
Like most of us, I spent the past year waiting for a list of deep and unspoken matters to resolve, and for smaller and more public things as well — such as a building permit.
It should not have been this complicated. For years, I’ve wanted a cozy and private place to write. Then, suddenly, the components were all there: my husband wasn’t quite as busy; we own a bit of property across the road, along the creek; we had a 70-year-old shed torn down; and its lovely weathered boards were perfect for building a little cabin.
I explained what I wanted and Paul drew up a design. I was thrilled — a vague dream coming to life.
We hadn’t counted on the county’s objections. A request for a simple permit turned into a long and seemingly endless series of requirements, requests, regulations and restrictions.
Paul insisted they were only doing what county land-use offices do, but I was convinced some vindictive person had made it his mission to deny me my dream.
The waiting went on and on. We submitted forms and contacted engineers and paid fees. On walks down Powerline Road, I would stop and look at the building site among the trees and hawthorn bushes, wondering how long I had to wait and whether this was a dream that would slowly die.
If I had my cabin, I would do this there,” I thought every time I tried to find a secluded place to write or planned to meet someone for a quiet conversation.
But, like the Advent tradition teaches, I kept making preparations in spite of the unclear timeline, the lack of any evidence that the hoped-for would come to pass. I gathered a small antique table from a benefit auction, a file of ideas, vintage-looking fabric to cover an office chair, and the little display shelf my grandpa made for me, some 50 years ago.
Enduring with grace was the only part of the process within my control.
Then, one day in late fall, Paul came home with a bright yellow paper giving us permission to continue, and that time of waiting was over.
The process was made easier, I realize, by a faith made stronger by tough things in the past.
Nine years ago, our teenage daughter was sick with a vague, debilitating and chronic illness. Every day we hoped for improvement, prayed for it, longed for it. Every day she would come downstairs, curl her thin body into a chair next to me, and beg me to assure her that she was going to get better.
I don’t remember what I told her, but I recall the huge and frightening unknown before me like an opaque fog that we were forced to walk into, morning after morning, a place where we were forgotten and time stretched endlessly. 
At the same time, we had friends and family who stayed with us, assuring us of God’s presence by their own, so we knew we had not been abandoned.
The daughter got better. It was a long and bizarre journey, but today she is a senior at Oregon State University, paying for it herself, and doing well.
I’m still amazed that the waiting actually ended. Our gratitude was and is enormous. I see glimpses of purpose and redemption now in her determination and her compassionate heart. She became someone who finds a way through and who will never say the wrong words to a sick person.
When the time is right, a door opens and light comes in.
My niece Annette knows all about waiting. She and Jay married in 2005 and then, instead of easily growing a few babies like all of their friends, they faced infertility, disappointment and failed adoptions for years.
I recall the sense of desolation, the grief, the anger that women who didn’t want babies were having them, and this stable couple who would make wonderful parents couldn’t conceive.
Then, without prelude, the endless fog lifted, a child was available for adoption, and they had a son, their long grief and emptiness flipped over to an enormous completeness and joy.
Less than two years later, in the most astonishing of blessings, Annette was pregnant with a daughter they named Liberty.
And incomprehensibly, another pregnancy followed, soon after, just when they were going through an especially stressful time. Annette says, “God gave me a word one day for her. ‘She is a symbol of light in a dark time of your life’ followed by Isaiah 60:1—‘Arise, shine, for your light has come.’ The stress didn’t go away but we felt peace. ‘Ayla’ means shining light. Her middle name is Hope, and she is our little shining light of hope.”
We saw them all in Minnesota recently, having gathered to celebrate my dad’s 100th birthday. Justice ran around pretending to be a fire-breathing dragon. Liberty played in a dress I had made for her, and little Ayla sat on her grandma’s lap and giggled.
Children are always precious, but I think we see the value of these three more fully for having waited for them so long.
This, then, is my Advent resolve — to embrace the waiting, to keep faith in the silence, to be kind to those suspended by circumstances and to prepare with expectant hope for the gifts that are certain to come.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

5-Grain Scratch

Tonight I'm a hen, scratching and pecking for random bugs and seeds.

1. I just can't be a minimalist.  I'm sorry.

I am known among sisters and daughters for packing a lot.  I look at them in awe as they come marching off the concourse with one compact little tote or backpack.  "Oh no, we don't need to go to baggage claim," they say.  "I have it all in here."

I don't know how they do it.

Emily pares her life down to such bare essentials that it pains me.  And she travels with that one denim backpack she's had since I think seventh grade.

How is this even done?

When you go visit minimalists and you always have to go to baggage claim and haul two large suitcases off the carousel, in a addition to the rolling carry-on and tote bag you had on the plane, you start to feel like the eccentric aunt who is chuckled about behind her back.

But how do you carry bags of walnuts and boxes of books in a little bag that fits in the overhead bin, that's what I wonder.

I credit some of my maximalism to having traveled in Northern Ontario with small children.  We used to drive some 400 miles north from Dryden for staff fellowship meetings.  Once we arrived, often in the deeps of winter, we would stay for a few days at least and the nearest town was 125 miles away.  It behooved me to think of every contingency and to pack cough syrup, a thermometer, extra diapers and outfits, and  plenty of pens.

After 22 years here in civilization I am learning that most of the time I will be within easy driving distance of Pepto-Bismol, should I need it, and maybe I don't need to pack it.

But I will say that when the minimalists need a Band-Aid or Benedryl, they know who to turn to.

Last weekend I finally decided the time has come to pack like a minimalist.

We were going to Minnesota for Dad's 100th birthday party.  I still needed checked bags, what with Dad's books to sell, Christmas gifts, and of course walnuts to give away. Thank you, Southwest, for that free-checked-bags policy.

But my wardrobe for the weekend--I was going to pare that down like my daughters and the cool people on Pinterest with their "capsule" wardrobes.

So.  A denim skirt for travel and a wool purple and black plaid skirt for the party Saturday and church Sunday.  Dressy white t-shirts.  A purple jacket and a black sweater that would both go with the plaid skirt.

Simple, compact, elegant.

And awful.

The plaid skirt was too tight since I've gained weight in the tummy regions without realizing it.  Have you ever been stuck in a too-tight wool skirt for two days?  Don't try it.

Then the purple jacket proved too dressy to wear with denim, so I wore and WORE the black sweater, which, since I am a messy person, soon had a smear on the lapel and, the next morning, a crusty circle of dried frosting on the sleeve.

So I was in the bathroom dabbing at that overworked sweater with a wet washcloth and thinking WHY did I think this was such a good idea??

Emily said, "I guess it's all in what you consider a bother.  I would consider hauling more luggage way more bother than washing a few spots off a sweater."

I said, "Oh my, I would WAY rather haul a bit more luggage."

So that was the end of my stint as a minimalist.

2. Our Thanksgiving guests consisted of two young men who sing with the Gospel Echoes Northwest prison ministry and five young people that Ben and Emily got to know at the grad student fellowship at Oregon State.

The conversations led to this thought that I posted on Facebook:

I find it fascinating how we all speak English and yet we have such different vocabularies. We had a few grad students here for Thanksgiving. We could talk about where they're from and what they do, and 5 minutes later they would look at each other and switch to a whole different vocabulary of which I knew almost nothing. Paul talks about moisture testers and 5-grain scratch and Marshall. Steven drops medical initials like DOA and DNR and lots of others I've never heard of. Quilters talk about batting and Kaffe Fassett. You might be confused by queries and Oxford commas and AP Manual of Style and uploading to Kindle, which my writer friends and I discuss with enthusiasm. And then Jenny and I went to Dutch Bros. and she confidently said, "Small blended pomegranate infused Rebel." I looked at her in disbelief and said, "Where did you learn those words?!"

3. Dad seemed to really enjoy his party and powered through the whole afternoon plus all the family activities the next day with only one nap.

He is amazing.
Dad and Uncle Johnny.
Some party people.
Emily served punch.
Her cousin Leah tasted it.
Matt and Justice, who acts a lot like Matt did at his age.

4. Speaking of vocabularies, I have been thinking about turning my last two books into audiobooks.  Hence, this:

I had a scheduled phone call with a young man from an audiobook producer.
Him: Sorry I'm late. I was trying to connect with you on Google Hangouts.
Me: Oh. Well. Sorry. I don't know anything about that so I was waiting on a phone call.
Him: That's fine! I don't mind talkin' on the phone. This is classic. Yeah, this works!
Me: ........[thinks]......can i actually work with someone who says talking on the phone is classic...........???
Later in conversation:
Him: Yeah, one of us looked up your books online and yeah, your name--Dorcas--Hmmm, that's a pretty classic name.
Me: .........???..........

If there's anyone reading this who is experienced with producing audiobooks and who speaks the language of my people and generation, please contact me.

5. You might recall a blog post not long ago about racial issues.  I hesitate to bring this up, as I didn't enjoy the searing flames that erupted from my screen for the next two days.


Two things.

A. I mentioned a project of letting racial-minority people express themselves on my blog.  This is still in the works but is happening more slowly than I intended.

B. I may have changed my mind about the responsibility of people today for injustice in the past.

I get annoyed at the implication that every white American today should be hauling around this backpack full of guilt for oppression in the past.

As I said:

Don’t try quite so hard to make every white person feel personally guilty for what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore, any more than you’d blame me, just because I’m Mennonite, for how the deacon in Holmes County treated you back in 1968 when you wanted to hang out with his daughter.

But I'm rethinking that just a bit.

If you know your history, you'll recall how the Anabaptists, the precursors of Amish and Mennonites, were persecuted horribly in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s.  Imprisoned, tortured, driven from their homes, burned at the stake, and more.  The suffering was terrible, it affected a lot of our ancestors, and it went on for a long time.

That history is very real to us, and every Mennonite and Amish child knows the story of Dirk Willems who ran across the frozen river to escape the thief-catcher but turned back to help when the thief-catcher fell through the ice.  And then Dirk was burned at the stake anyhow.

We always have a mindset that religious freedom is temporary and persecution could arrive again at any time.

This sense of immediacy is increased by things like Paul's great-grandpa almost getting tarred and feathered for not buying war bonds in WWI, by the Harrisburg Mennonite Church getting burned down because its members wouldn't go to war, and by the bullet hole somewhere in our house from a drive-by shot during this same era.


A few days ago Emily went to hear a Catholic speaker at some kind of forum at OSU.

She felt distrubed when he said, jokingly, that he has a barbecue apron at home that says, "I'd rather be roasting heretics."

Even the Protestants in the audience laughed.  Emily thought, "Um, that's my ancestors."

I felt a lurch in the gut when she told me about it. It seemed that the speaker and the rest of the audience both felt far enough removed from history that they could find it funny.

Not us.  It's still too fresh in our past.

True, it might not have been his ancestors piling the wood around ours, but we still felt he should treat the subject with care and respect.

Maybe that's how First Nations and African-Americans feel about white people.  I plan to ask them.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: The thing about coffee shops is --you need the right atmosphere!
Ben: You definitely want to limit your carbon monoxide and make sure you've got at least 21 1/2 % oxygen...

Friday, November 18, 2016

How to Buy My Books

If you want to buy my books for Christmas gifts, here's how:

1. Choose.
2. Mail me your order and a check: Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446  I can take PayPal too.
3. Contact me at the above email if you have questions.
4. To order from out of the country, Amazon might be a better option, although I'm happy to work with you if you want to pay the crazy postage.

Postage is $2 per book in the U.S.
Feel free to contact me to negotiate book and postage prices if you're a bookstore or making a large order.

"A Chirp from the Grass Roots" is my dad's life story.  It's $8.

The other five are collections of my Letter from Harrisburg newspaper column.

Ordinary Days--$10
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting--$10
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting--$10
Tea and Trouble Brewing--$12
Footprints on the Ceiling--$12

1 set of all 6 titles (mine and Dad's) AND postage in the U.S. for $60.
Outside the U.S.--1 set of 6 for $55 NOT including postage.

I'm not planning to do the book giveaway this year, although if you email me a heartbreaking story of a friend going through hard times, I doubt that I'll be able to say no.

Letter from Harrisburg: Steven's First Mom


Mom’s spirit lives on in adopted son

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
November 13, 2016

We have these things in common: We both liked to sew, and we are both Steven’s mom.

I don’t think of her that often, but when I do, she appears suddenly in my imagination, young and tall, calm and strong, a Luo woman from western Kenya. “Whatever happened, I’m so sorry,” I want to tell her. “But thank you for loving Steven like you did.”

No one knows her name.

My five biological children’s early lives were recorded in a thousand jotted notes, in stories endlessly recounted, in monthly letters to family, and in boxes full of photos, because I have a compulsion to document memories and details through telling, writing, pictures and objects. This little person, as he or she is now, must not be forgotten or obliterated.

Steven came to Into Africa’s home for street boys in Kisumu, Kenya, at maybe 5 years old. His story comes into focus then, with photos, reports, stories and documents. I long to reconstruct his life before that, but it is like reaching into a deep foggy emptiness for clues and clarity, for something to grasp and feel and see, and finding only an occasional cobweb.

A missionary told me that all the village women in that part of Kenya bathe their babies in plastic tubs, outside, and then they set the babies in the sun to dry and rub them all over with Vaseline until they simply shine. So I assume it was like this for Steven as well, bathed and oiled and then tied tightly onto his mother’s back with a piece of cloth called a leso.

He recalls a mom and a dad, vaguely. Playing with friends, fetching water — a job he didn’t like. The plastic jugs were heavy.

What happened next is unknown, but Steven remembers living on the streets, like so many other street children in Kisumu, eating leftovers at open-air restaurants and watching the rivalry and violence among the older boys.

Someone took him to Into Africa. Our family arrived a few years later for three months of volunteer work.

We loved all 25 boys, but Steven especially charmed us. All the other boys had at least one relative, the social worker told us, maybe an uncle or grandmother out in a village, but they couldn’t locate any family, anywhere, for Steven.

So we adopted him into ours.

Once in a while, unexpectedly, something triggered a memory from Steven’s mysterious past. One day he noted the woven-poly bags at our seed warehouse and said, “We used to sleep on bags like that when I lived on the street.”

I wrote it all down, documenting the precious details.

My favorite piece of information emerged when he was in my sewing room one evening, idly examining the dials on the sewing machine. The mists parted and he said, with dawning memory, “My mother had one like this.”

My eyes popped open. Your MOTHER did?

Yes. He paused, locating the elusive memory. “She went like this,” and he rocked his foot up and down.

So she had had a treadle machine. I had seen my mom make the same motion many times, sewing for her Amish family.

So his first mother also knew the feel of cotton cloth, the rhythm of the needle moving up and down, the accomplishment of a finished shirt or tablecloth.

I knew I would like her, and we would have something in common, if we ever met.

We have something much bigger in common, of course, and that is our love for our son. This bond with her grows only stronger as Steven moves into his adult life.

Whatever hardships his mother must have faced, I am certain that she loved him, that she birthed and nursed and held him with a fierce and genuine attachment, because at the center of his being is a capacity to love back and a solid trust that the world is safe and if he falls, someone will always be there to catch him.

So many things must have gone wrong — disruption and despair, illness and fear, everything out of control — and yet something at the core of his heart went right.

International adoption is not only the suspicious and dangerous process that the U.N. cautions against in all but the gravest circumstances, and it is more than the happy portraits of smiling multiethnic American families posing in a green backyard.

Adoption always has a story of loss behind it, of deep grief and of precious things taken away from an innocent and helpless child.

But, done well, adoption is also a story of redemption, of hope after hopelessness, of healing and of rebuilding a new and different and beautiful life. It’s a story of a lost child becoming part of a family and coming home.

People praised us for adopting Steven. “What a gift you are giving him,” they said. “How lucky he is.”

Maybe, but we know the greater gift is ours.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Steven’s 22nd birthday with our normal Sunday dinner of chicken and rice and corn, and with Steven’s choice of dessert — pumpkin pie. I gave him a book by his favorite author, Ted Dekker.

I also nagged him about keeping his hair oiled. His first mom, of the thoroughly applied Vaseline, would agree with me, I’m sure. He laughed, with a noncommittal “Hmmm. Yeah, I know.” And then he brought us up to date on more important things — his paramedic studies at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and his work as a firefighter and EMT in Aurora.

The rescued has become the rescuer, says Audrey McAninch, co-founder of Into Africa.

In giving, our family received, and in blessing, we were blessed. In Luke 6:38, the Bible says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Last week, Steven sent me a text at 1:25 a.m. “Love you, Mom.”

“Love you too!” I texted back, happy to be awakened for such a message.

“Thank you!” I added, silently, to him, to God, and to the beautiful woman who first mothered this son of mine.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mrs. Smucker Evaluates, Regroups, Comes Back to Reality, and Has a Great Idea

I got sucked into the vortex this week. 

Not only did I post about race (what was I thinking?!) (right here) and have it go a bit crazy, but there was also a little event whose name I dare not say out loud, but it rhymes with "direction."

So I found myself pulled into at least reading, if not commenting on, lots of online conversations, about my post and about much bigger and broader things. Why is it so easy for the accumulating comments and shares and likes to seem REAL, and the real things of falling leaves and granola and the beautiful colors of crayons to seem far away and imaginary?

Also, it's funny how similar the responses were, those few days, on all subjects, in that we all seem to have a little plastic circle in our backs, and when you pull on it, out comes a foot-long string, and when you let go, we repeat what we seem pre-programmed to say as the string feeds back in, between our shoulder blades.  The nice logical people say nice logical things and the angry students spout full pages about harassment and misogyny, and the fierce Republicans sound exasperated, and the academics instruct about privilege and a system built on oppression, and the elitists just did not realize there were people like us in this world.

You can't stay in the cyber world too long or you'll go crazy.

I was glad for the people who just "got" what I was saying in the post, and if they didn't, were willing to have a conversation.

At least five people thought that I was unwilling to answer polite questions at Costco, which is so funny, because my children will testify that no one gets more questions at Costco than me, and no one answers as patiently and listens to their life story besides.

It's not the questions that annoy me, just to be clear, but the lectures. Right or wrong, that's how I feel. Which brings me to another discovery: Readers are not comfortable with a Mennonite woman being annoyed.  As I finally told one person: "Mennonites are allowed to feel strongly and to speak forcefully and even to be a bit cynical."

One of my favorite comments was from a woman I met on a Facebook group for women named Dorcas--yes there is such a thing.  Dorcas VanGilst told about how people would assume how it was for her, being part of a huge and well-known family.  She said: "Anytime we begin to assume we know what it's like from the inside while forever standing on the outside we need to just stop. As a psychotherapist I was taught over and over, "You are NOT an expert on your client!! They are an expert on themselves and you are there to learn!""

Then there was a young friend of a friend on a page I stumbled across who, talking about me and not to me, said, "No, just no. . . This article is everything that is wrong about religion and white privilege today [and] beyond egotistical and revolting.  I find it extremely disrespectful and uncaring toward those actually living as a minority in a racist world."

Well then.  I don't think I've ever sparked such emotion since Amy's diary entries at 12 years old when she was upset at me.

Later in this conversation--and believe me it is enlightening to read a Facebook conversation about you and something you wrote--another person said:

She believes she is choosing her religious beliefs because to do otherwise would lead to hell or at least - less of Gods favor. She believes all people should make her choice. 

That made me snicker, and then the prizewinning comment for the day that made me laugh and laugh:

I wonder if the author secretly or not so secretly yearns to discover her true self and her own voice and personhood. 

Well, Sweetheart, the author is learning to show it in print if she's irritated.  It's a new experience.

At that point I was starting to lie awake at night, logically explaining things to ignorant people, and I knew I had to deliberately step out of the barnyard, so I did, with the muck making sucking sounds as I lifted my rubber boots SCHLOOOK. SCHLOOOK. SCHLOOOK. over to the fence and through the gate.

However.  I had an idea.

So I had said that I don't like to discuss race with white people, and that I like to hear firsthand from the people actually affected by it.

Why not practice what I preach, and use my blog as a platform for a few ethnic-minority guests to answer some questions and say what they don't usually have a chance to say?

I'd name the series something like You Talk, I Listen.

I thought I'd start with Steven.

Me: [texting] Would you like to use my blog as a platform to tell your story and talk about racial issues and stuff?
Steven: Lol no.

Well. Ok then.  I poked around and found a few other fascinating people and contacted them.  They were interested.  So stay tuned the next few weeks. I am very excited about this.

In other news, over in the real world, away from the bizarre whirlpool of online spouting and discussing, I made a dress and sent it to my adorable little great-niece, and it fits.

The chickens are happy.  They are always happy to see me and follow me across the yard with their plump hindquarters rocking back and forth, and they make no effort to be proper and ladylike, and this always makes me so happy.  [I use the word happy a lot with chickens.  They do not get into online discussions.  There is a connection here.]

It's like they've found their true self and personhood.

There are ferns growing out of a tree by the bridge.  Surely this is possible only in Oregon.

I taught a young lady how to sew zippers.  She made a zippered pocket for a bag and peeked through it. I am glad to know that because of me, she will be able to make things with zippers from now on.

I have not lived in vain, and so on.

 And best of all, we got the final final permit to build my Sparrow Nest!!

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: Today I went to the Students For Life Club meeting.
Me: Did they appoint you president?
Jenny: Mom, not everyone thinks I'm as amazing as you think I am.

[Honest, I'm not a self-esteem special-snowflake trophy-for-everyone mom.  I just have amazing kids.]

Monday, November 07, 2016

On Steven's Birthday

To His Mom

I think of you today
Although we’ve never met
And no one knows 
Your name
Or where you are
Or if you’re still alive.
And yet
Your eyes are here
I’m sure
Your love, your smile
Your work
Your labor and giving birth
Your milk that fed him
And dribbled down his cheek
When, satisfied, he slept.
He’s 22 today,
This son of yours and mine.
Strong and full of faith
Honor, humor, trust.
You would be proud.
He is so fully loved
So much a part of us.
It was your tragedy,
Your gift.
We take what you began
And carry on
The son, the love,
The prayers.
Please know
That I will not forget
And though we’ve never met
I think of you.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Dangers of Doing

I have a few daughters who aren’t married, which licenses everyone who knows them to play matchmaker and make suggestions. The suggestions aren't helpful because the girls are never going to take the initiative in a relationship with a guy, being traditional like that despite going to college and stuff like modern women.

I find it so interesting that the girls' #1 reason for swiping left, in dating-app terms, is not because the suggested guy is too old, not old enough, too smart, not smart enough, not spiritual enough, not rich enough, not handsome enough, or anything like that. 

It’s an emphatic, “He doesn’t DO anything!”

If you ask them to elaborate: He stays in his home community, he’s not involved in anything unselfish, he spends his money on things like pickup trucks and golf, and, again, “He’s just not DOING anything!”

I sometimes say, “But he’s NICE.  Nice ought to count for something!” because I am all about guys who will stick with you and change diapers and dump barf buckets and tell you your post-baby shape is beautiful.

I don’t change their minds.

All right, so DOING is important.

But I would like to say that there is another side to DOING, a side that I see from my end of the universe, where I’d say Paul and I do plenty of doing.

Doing is dangerous.

Not the fun sort of doing or dangerous like hanging your toes over the edge of a cliff in the Andes while the mists gather in the valley far below and then posting a great shot of this on Instagram.

I know young women who are all enraptured with this sort of dangerous doing, like this has to be a REAL MAN, out there hiking the Andes and taking the rickety puffing train through the peasant villages to Antofagasta and taking more Instagram shots, of the burro with the little girl in the long skirt on its back.

I’m talking the sort of danger where you make a decision and do something that seems best at the moment, because that is your calling as a mom or teacher or nurse or mayor, and it needs to be done, and the crowd turns to you to make it happen.  And then afterwards everyone else looking on gets to analyze and criticize and discuss.

It would be so much safer to not do anything. You would fly below the radar.  They would all be out there, not noticing you, and talking about someone else.

I write, now and then.  I hear in roundabout ways that certain people just don’t GET why someone would do such a thing.

Well, sometimes I don't know either.  Certainly not for the money, I hope they know that.

If they asked me, I’d say that if you feel that thumb in your back, gently or sharply nudging, you eventually write.  If you try to be silent and the words start to  ricochet around your skull like a gallon of unshelled walnuts in the dryer, then you start writing again. That’s just how it works, and those who don’t Get It most likely never will.

But it’s so dreadfully dangerous.  I mean, putting the printed word out there for the world to see and freely criticize if they choose.  Insane.

Most of the time I don't hear from readers, but if I do it’s nice words like, "Enjoyed your column."

Except when it's not.

Recently I got a letter from someone in what must be a very conservative Mennonite church.  They had found my book in the church library, and had some concerns, including the fact that I no longer dress as Plain as I once did, and also I said on the cover that I’m a minister’s wife, but there was nothing in the book about my husband’s ministry.

Worst, the book had caused such Concern that someone had gone through it and crossed out all the offensive passages before they put it in the church library.

[Deep breath, Mrs. Smucker.  Let it go.]

I wrote back and said I don’t want to cause any offense or lead your children astray so please Please PLEASE take the book out of your church library and I will buy it back!

[How to tell if a Mennonite is serious about making amends: they are willing to lose money.]

Emily said I should tell this person that maybe the librarian had Sharpied out the passages about Paul’s ministry and that’s why they couldn’t find them.

I had some words with myself and with the Lord, then, about this calling of writing and publishing, which I seem to have been led to, by natural bents and circumstances, but which is just the most exposed, public, ridiculous, and perilous calling, far worse than Andean cliff-climbing.

It doesn’t seem fair [whined Mrs. Smucker] that the ones who aren’t taking any risks get to do all the criticizing and judging and grading and analyzing.

I had been thinking a lot about this and then Asher Witmer posted about it on his blog, specifically about leadership and its call to do what you feel called to do. You can go read it here.

His words resonated with me, because if I face the dangers of Doing as a writer, Paul faces astronomically more as a principal, employer, and pastor.

It would be a whole lot easier for both of us to withdraw, retreat, and be silent.  To stay home and make quilts and watch Beaver games and take up woodworking and have quiet discussions about whether or not to remodel the bathroom next year.

It sounds tempting.  We wouldn’t get concerned letters or phone calls, our decisions wouldn't affect others, and our mistakes would all be private and contained.

Sometimes Doing just doesn’t seem to be worth the risks.

Unless you’re a young man trying to pursue our daughters.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sunday's Column--How Illness Illuminates In Strange Ways

A sudden illness shows the fragility of a most stable life

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
OCT. 9, 2016

My husband promises San Francisco will wait for us. I’m making a list of places to see, mentally adding a cautious, “God willing.”

Healthy, it’s easy to delude ourselves into a sense of control. Daily schedules, routines, lists and plans. Do this, delegate that, make a decision and make things happen.

Sickness strips away control and capability. It teaches us about ourselves in disquieting lessons we’d rather not know but are better for finding out.

The first attack was on a Sunday morning as I rushed around putting pens in my purse and lunch in the oven. A sharp and furious pain caught me under the ribs, and instead of going to church I spent much of the day in bed with heated rice bags on my abdomen.

Indigestion, I concluded with a bit of research, caused by the nutritional yeast that had fallen on my eggs that morning in a large blob instead of a sprinkle. Some people react with bloating and cramps.

I threw the rest of the yeast in the trash and life went on.

Paul suggested we go to San Francisco for our anniversary.

Of course I said “Yes!”

I researched historical sites to see in San Francisco and also drew up a chart for the kids with all the living things at home that would suffer or die if untended for four days, and who was in charge of what.

We decided to drive, taking off after lunch on Sunday.

That morning I put soup in the Instant Pot, prepped the buns, shepherded Dad out the door and went to church.

Once again a sharp knife was digging under my ribs as I ate lunch. I tried to ignore it as we tossed our bags in the car and drove away.

An hour later I was in serious pain. I threw up into a plastic container, over and over.

“We can’t go on,” we said, so we stopped and got a motel. I curled up in bed, lost in frightening pain, for hours.

One of us mentioned going to the emergency room in Roseburg, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being poked and asked and moved, or of making big decisions.

The next morning Paul called our doctor and made an appointment. We canceled the anniversary trip and began a journey of a different kind into the obscurities of the medical world and the deeper mysteries of who we are when faced with illness.

Unlike friends who know all about scans, insurance, ICUs, and IVs, I knew only about visits to a family doctor for bronchitis and kids’ broken arms — and having babies, which is a world of its own.

I learned that small things make a big difference when you’re in the system, you become emotionally fragile, and most of all you want someone else to be there, with you and for you.

Whenever a gash or upset stomach affected our children, I pulled pills, bandages and oils from the drawer with a happy determination to make it all better.

But I discovered that when I’m the one who’s sick or hurt, some haunting voice — most likely from my Amish past — insists that I have no option but to tough it out, because I will not be believed that it hurts, and it’s not OK to ask for help.

Thankfully, our doctor took me seriously. “How did this compare to giving birth?’ he asked.

I said, “Two of them were easier than this, and I didn’t have easy births.”

He believed me.

Then he sent us off into the System: first, an ultrasound, in an unfamiliar area of Salem. I expected discomfort and an icy squirt of gel on my stomach.

Instead I got a casually friendly technician who had warmed the gel — a small thing, but so kind.

We met with the surgeon and the word “serious” came up and bobbed around like a helium balloon.

Gallstones, he said. And a hint of pancreatitis, which can be very serious, and an inflamed gallbladder. Again, “serious.”

How could my well-behaved body turn against me like this?

The surgeon said, “You can’t have laparascopic surgery with an inflamed gallbladder. You’ll need to wait six weeks and eat a very low-fat diet.”

Six weeks of butterless toast and plain potatoes, with the threat of another sudden attack always in front of me. I wanted to burst into tears.

Support and humor got me through. One day, mourning my beloved peanut butters and alfredo sauces, I said, darkly cynical, “Hey, I should call this a fast so I can at least get some spiritual credit for it!”

Our son Ben replied, “Mom, I can’t believe you’d have the gall to say that.”

Suddenly, nothing was certain. I canceled three speaking engagements. How presumptuous it seemed of me to have said, weeks before, “Sure! I’ll show up, speak to your group, even fly to your state.”

The fear was worst — of another attack, of my body doing things out of my control, of my first surgery ever.

As a pastor’s wife, I have prayed for others many times. This time, I asked it for myself. Friends gathered around, put their hands on my shoulders and asked God to take care of me.

And then the tight and gasping fear was gone.

Paul and the children were there for me as well. Jenny made a paper chain to count off the days until surgery. Emily served me beautiful low-fat salads.

Paul also affirmed my misgivings about my surgeon. I had found him hard to communicate with, but beyond that I felt a vague caution about him that was far more intuitive than logical.

Paul said, “You’re the consumer. You’re paying. You get to decide.”

To make a fuss and not humbly accept what I was given — that went against my Amish past as well.

So we canceled my appointment and instead found Dr. Stites in Eugene who communicated clearly, took me seriously and seemed capable yet humble . My intuition said he was right for the task. Paul agreed.

How crucial it is, I decided, that we don’t let anyone walk this path alone.

At the surgery center, I sat in a recliner and the nurse attached a hose to a plastic ring on the side of my gown. She flipped a switch and warm air blew in. I wondered if I could buy such a heavenly machine on eBay to use on cold winter evenings.

I slept right through surgery despite the horrifying stories on the internet about people who wake up halfway through. Then, long before I was ready to wake up, it was time to go home.

Paul and our daughter Emily brought me tea and woke me up every hour to cough. Two weeks later, Paul said, “You have more energy than you’ve had in three months.”

I also have more gratitude — for medical care, for healing, and for the people who surround and support me.

I know it’s OK to ask for help, and that a fragile person lurks just under my busy and capable exterior. I hope that insight will make me quicker with prayer and compassion, slower with advice.

Yesterday I ate a little bit of peanut butter again. It was delicious. Paul says to keep working on my file of sights to see in San Francisco, because one of these times we’ll go celebrate our anniversary. God willing, of course.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

An Update: My Writing Cabin, the Interfering Verses, and Not Giving Up

Today Paul came home with a long, narrow plastic bag.

It's been a year and a half since we started making plans for a writing cabin, a little over a year since the pillars were poured, and about a year since it had a name--the Sparrow Nest.

Paul had obtained a variance from the county planning division.  Relatively easily, in fact.  It was to be 200 square feet and off-grid and not for a dwelling.  Ta-da.

I was very excited.

Then Sanballat and Tobiah came along in the guise of a man from the county road department who came storming to the house and fetched me and took me out to the road and gestured and exclaimed and fussed and claimed county sovereignty over every rock and tree and fence and inch of land all the way to the creek.

No, no and NO.

So he went back to the county and caused them to retract their approval.  Now we had to apply for permits, submit blueprints, get permissions, and much more that I don't understand.

It was a very long, complicated, and expensive process.

And it was all because of that road guy.  In fact, I referred to him as That-Road-Guy-May-A-Hundred-Chickens-Peck-His-Ankles, which was a very satisfying thing to call him, especially when Ben nearly spit out his popcorn, laughing.

But then a little flame of conscience reminded me of that little offhand thing Jesus might have mentioned once or twice about loving and blessing your enemies.

Honestly, sometimes hating is more fun than the alternative.

But didn't King David pray for all kinds of nasty things to happen to his enemies?  I looked it up.  Imprecatory prayers are certainly part of the Old Testament.  In the New, however, the closest you get is the widow coming to the judge and saying, "Avenge me of mine adversary," and Romans 12--"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," and also Paul writing in II Timothy--"Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:"

So.  It's not that justice won't ever be done to the road guy, but if a hundred chickens are ever to peck his ankles, it will have to be the Lord's doing, and not mine.

I am over here working on "bless, and curse not."

Moving on.

I knew going into it that the cabin would be built in whatever spare minutes Paul could find in between pastoring, teaching, seed cleaning, and everything else he does.

You would not believe how many extra things came up this past year--crises, projects, distractions and derailments of carefully laid plans.

And we needed a new storage building at the warehouse, having makeshifted things ever since Steve's fire.

Note the person at the upper left, just for perspective.

This storage building was huge, and it had to be finished by harvest, and of course it took on a life of its own, as these things do.  I walked over one day and there was my little Sparrow Nest, bare and unfinished, and there was that big building, all big and bullying and self-important.

Do you see that little cabin-frame sitting in the shed on the right? 107 times smaller and less significant than the building beyond.
I went home and drew sketches and asked Paul for numbers, and I figured out that the storage building had 107 times the cubic volume of my cabin.


But of course there was a Scripture for this as well, since I am never allowed to have my natural selfish thought processes go unchallenged. Proverbs 24:27--"Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house."

I'm pretty sure that applied here.

Harvest ended, school began, I had surgery and recovered, and Paul went back to negotiating with the county.  He spent hours at the kitchen table with graph paper scattered about, carefully drawing blueprints and outlines of the cabin.

That is a dedicated and determined man, right there.
They said it looks hopeful to get approval for the building, at last, but with one caveat: they couldn't approve the pillars.  They could approve a normal foundation but didn't have the means to assess the viability of the concrete pillars Paul and his nephew Keith had already poured.

He would have to get the design engineered.

I said, "This is our idea, our property, our insignificant little cabin!  If it washes away down the creek with me in it, it is our problem!"

Well.  This is Oregon.

So it had to be engineered.  Paul was ok with doing what he needed to do, which I appreciated, but I told him not to tell me how much it cost, because it was a lot.

Paul contacted the engineering firm in Arkansas that had worked on his storage building, and they tapped their calculators and said tsk tsk, you put only four rebars in each pillar, and they should have six apiece.

I kid you not.

However!!  If he would put in crossbars here and guy wires there, they would be strong enough.

They emailed the details.  Paul went to Staples and printed it all off and took it to the county office.

They said this looks hopeful as well, and Paul brought a copy home for me in a long plastic bag.

The official document, with eggs for size comparison.

I like those words on this paper.

Final final FINAL approval has yet to be given, but we are cautiously hopeful.  And I am thinking that God has some really really big plans for that Sparrow Nest.