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.