Friday, January 27, 2017

Indiana and INSPIRE

 This was the plan.
1. Go to Indiana and speak at INSPIRE2017.
2. Go to Kansas and visit Johnny, my one remaining uncle, to fill up the week before we went to the event Paul really wanted to take in, which was:
3. Go to Delaware for a pastors' weekend.

But then an older fellow from our church passed away, so we canceled out of going to Delaware, but we still did the first two.

First we flew to Chicago and drove to Indiana in a pouring rain.  Paul has started traveling with me to these events, thanks to Southwest’s two-for-one Companion Pass, and especially when we have suitcases heavy with books [thanks to Southwest’s free luggage perk], a car to rent, and a long dark rainy drive to Middlebury, I am very happy to have him along.

I discovered he also makes an excellent book table guy.  During breaks, I find it almost impossible to chat, make change, get coffee, and sign books without getting completely confused.

So Paul very capably manned the book table, and women who were too shy to come talk to me would come over and chat with him.

That made me laugh.

INSPIRE was the brainchild of Judy Beachy and Gladys Yoder. Judy was inspired by the Borderland Ladies' Retreat up in International Falls, Minnesota, which drew women from as far away as Iowa and Manitoba.  Borderland was the result of my friend and cousin Kay Knepp's vision.  And Kay was inspired by the --oh what is that retreat called?-- I'll just call it the Charming Southern Ladies' Sweet Tea and Hospitality Festival At Hartwell, Georgia.

So just think about how many women have been blessed by the ladies who originally did something about their dream of a retreat in Georgia.

I believe this was the fifth year for INSPIRE, and 700 women atttended. Most of them were from the conservative end of the Mennonite continuum, including lots of Amish.

The committee in charge knows the power of preparation, welcome, good food, Spirit, and beauty to minister to women. And they know that the name tags and flowers and salads and scheduling all add up to something spiritually embracing that is more than the sum of its parts.

Iced coffee is important too.  The cooks reported that they went through 90 gallons of milk for this purpose alone.

An aged "Queen Esther" told her story.

GraceFul sang and it was beautiful.

Normally I don't get too terrified of speaking at women's retreats but honestly,  700 people!  And it was in a big church auditorium shaped like a 3/4 circle, with stair-stepped pews at the sides rising to the balcony--the kind of place the Knox Brothers sing at.  But there I was, and there was no Arnold over there at the piano to my left.  Which is actually good, because that would have meant I had to sing.

When you speak at an event, there are always predictable Moments.

The Moment when it’s time to print off that document and catch your plane and go, so whatever editing you’ve already done is all you will do, except for last-minute margin notes in pen and ink.

And a Moment of gasping panic when you’re sure you left your notebook and all the speeches on the plane.

And the Moment of relief when you find it after all, under the coat, on the bed.

The Moment when you walk into the church or hotel and heads turn and recognize you as The Speaker, and you can see their eyes measuring and evaluating, and it would be so nice to have a sister around, or a few friends like my old standbys, Rachel and Sharon, who know me too well to take me seriously, and who love to unnerve me by murmuring my name in undertones, just within earshot.

And who make me laugh.

This display of veils for sale in the bathroom made me laugh too.
But then there’s also the Moment when someone in the crowd says my name and their face looks familiar and gradually the memory focuses—Lois from Cristal Lake in 1989! Kendra the former Gospel Echoes volunteer! Leona of the wonderful backrubs from Plain City! Rachel from Virginia who publishes Daughters of Promise! My friend Ilva!

And three hugs later you don’t feel like such a stranger after all.

And of course there’s the Moment before your first talk when you want to turn and run.

But you don’t.

And by the time the weekend is over there have been many Moments of connecting, laughing, discussing, crying, and mutual understanding.

At the end, when you’re exhausted beyond all bearing and your voice is hoarse and you’re hungry and thirsty because you’ve been too busy to eat and drink, there’s a Moment of feeling Finished.  What is said is said, and what is unsaid is unsaid, world without end, Amen.

Then you go home. 

The INSPIRE committee stayed a lot longer than I did, cleaning and dismantling, and I'm guessing they were a lot more exhausted than I was.

May they be greatly blessed.

 Paul and I stayed at Jim and Linda Bontrager’s guest house, a well-appointed retreat with plenty of snacks and coffee and tea.

You know that lady that set up a room for Elisha to stay whenever he came by, with a table, bed, chair, and lamp? Linda is a modern version of her, with that gift for knowing just what will make a guest feel rested and cared for.

I want to be like Linda when I grow up and also when we renovate Amy’s room into a guest room.

We spent the rest of the weekend in Indiana and saw lots of people in a short time.  My cousin Jerry and some of his family when we attended Fair Haven Church on Sunday, former NYP folks at Lowell and Doris Lee’s for Sunday dinner, Tom the former Oregon guy who founded the Acapella Harmony Quartet and traveled with Paul a few times and who now has a charming wife and 5 fun children, and my writer friend Rhonda who filled me up with breakfast and wisdom.

Linda’s family owns a place in Shipshewana called Davis Mercantile, a three-story timbered astonishment with shops and cafes you could spend all day at and an old-fashioned carousel on the top floor.

The staircase winds up around a massive foundation-to-roof log that was trucked in from British Columbia.  I don’t know what inspired them to make a huge Douglas fir the focal point of an emporium in Indiana, except that Linda’s dad, Alvin, used to have a sawmill and no doubt grew familiar with logs from many places.

Northern Indiana is home to some 20,000 Amish people and also many NRA’s, as Tom calls them—Not Really Amish.  I did lots of gazing out the car window and exclaiming or squealing by turns—the square footage of these HOUSES! They are HUGE. Oh there’s a school!!  Oooooooh look!! A pony cart with a bunch of little girls in it!

I also enjoyed watching the Amish folks shopping at Walmart and, even more, listening as a group of Englisch shoppers chatted in Pennsylvania Dutch.

I’ve noticed that the locals don’t squeal about the Amish.

If I were Amish, I think I’d appreciate people who take me for granted.

But I’ve been gone from the culture so long, I act like a tourist.

From Indiana we went to Kansas, but this is enough of a travelogue for one day.

Quote of the Day:
Over lunch at the Davis Mercantile in a culture with a large pool of people and a small pool of names:
Paul: [tells about the seed bins his grandpa built]
Alvin: I made bins like that for someone sixty years ago. Dave Bontrager.
Linda: Big Dave?
Alvin: No...
Linda: Fair Haven Dave? Dump Truck Dave?
[He was eventually identified. I forget how.]


  1. Ah, you were only an hour and a half from me when you were in Georgia!

  2. The veils photo made me laugh too. My home church had a box of extra veils on our church ladies bathroom counter too.

  3. I think that the picture of the floral arrangements and rich gold touches in front of the white draperies to welcome your ladies to the conference is absolutely stunning. Your accompanying paragraph that began with "The committee in charge knows the power of preparation, welcome, . . . " was an apt summary of just how important such details are in setting the stage for an enjoyable, memorable event. I always enjoy your pictures!

  4. A fun column. A few decades ago I spent several wonderful months in this area at the Mennonite Historical Library.

    Poor Paul coexisting with 700 women! It reminds me of a story when I was a grad student in Manhattan. I drove the church bus for one of the downtown congregations. One weekend they asked me to drive a load of women to a conference in Atlantic City. It was bad enough to be the only man among hundreds or perhaps thousands of women but then I found out that I was registered at the hotel in the same room as my pastor's wife. ... sigh....

  5. The Baritone1/29/2017 7:33 PM

    Grace*ful is definitely worth hearing. I had the privilege last April, at the Acappella Gospel Sing. :-)