Saturday, April 29, 2017

ABC Post 29--Lists

Ten Things Everyone Should Do At Least Once:

1. Hold a kitten.

2. Take a road trip and be in charge of buying gas and checking the oil.

3. Clean up barf.

4. Plant and grow and eat lettuce.

5. Visit an orphanage in a developing country.

6. Make a speech.

7. Sleep outside with a few children.

8. Paddle a canoe.

9. Visit a nursing home.

10. Live through a blizzard.

Ten Things I Worry About:

1. That my kids are manipulating me if I indulge their tastes and preferences.

2. That tea will yellow my teeth.

3. That a fox will kill the chickens.

4. Homeless people on cold nights.

5. That I will never catch up with everything I need to do.

6. That the Cascadia earthquake will hit when I'm waiting at a red light, under the Beltline overpass on River Road. The underside of the overpass is flat. I will be squished.

7. That Paul will accidentally say a bad word from the pulpit when he gets his words mixed up.

8. That the cup I toss in the garbage today will still be sitting in a landfill 500 years from now, as Matt informed me his first year in college. That bothers me, that cup, endlessly buried but not decaying.

9. That I'm missing important clues in someone close to me.

10. Wars, persecution, pestilence, and so on, around the world.

Ten Talents I Have And Hopefully Use Enough To Gain More:

1. Apologizing. [Recently I sent an apology email and the person replied, " write such a perfect apology--such a rare talent--and I am delighted to promptly accept! ]

2. Finding things. [Ben says, "I won't worry about you getting Alzheimer's until I ask where things are and you don't know," since he had just asked about the leftover pork chops and I said, 'In the fridge on the second shelf in the red Tupperware on the left.']

3. Finding good deals, like the chandelier in the bedroom that I got for $5 at a yard sale that is worth much more.

4. Suggestion. Or, as Emily says, "Telling Dad ideas in a way that makes him think they're his ideas."

5. Seeing humor in things that aren't supposed to be funny, like funerals and airport security.

6. Making people cry. Or, as my friend Judy's daughter said, "Really, Mom? Five minutes with Dorcas and already you're crying?"

7. Picking the shortest grocery-store line that ends up taking the longest, with all the forgotten PIN numbers and the groceries not covered by the Oregon Trail card.

8. Matchmaking, in my imagination and prayers at least. Not so much in real life.

9. Fixing everyone else's problems, in my head, and telling them just where they're wrong, with perfect clarity, also in my head.

10. Keeping cloth diapers nice and white. [Haven't used this skill in years, but I still know how.]

Ten Things I'd Like to Write About But Can't

1.  All my children's escapades and quotes and decisions that they won't give me permission to share.

2. Anything that will bring on a flurry of you-should-have-justs and advice, such as cats having kittens.

3. What I really think about politics, guns, spanking, vaccines, and global warming.

4. Why it's hard being a pastor's wife.

5. People who are deceiving you.

6. Body weight and why it's such a volatile topic.

7. The sins of people who look perfect, and the private heroism of people who don't.

8. All the eccentric people and what they say and do.

9. Mission work in closed countries.

10. Solutions to mysteries that I can't divulge because they were told to me in confidence.

[Maybe this is why people write novels.]

Thursday, April 27, 2017

ABC Post 26--Review of The Brick and Mortar Formula

This is the third and last in my series of reviews of books by siblings of friends.

The friend: Esta Miller Doutrich. Her mom and I knew each other, back in Canada, and were pregnant at the same time with Esta and Emily. But then in a happy twist of fate, Esta married Matt's friend Justin, and they live about six miles up the road, and now Esta and I are friends as adults.  Esta is funny, and smart, and wise. She is a nurse and gives me medical advice. And she reads a lot.

She appreciates all things tea.

Here's Emily and Esta, at Justin and Esta's wedding.

But this is actually about her sibling: Jon Miller, a tall bearded lumberjack type who lives in a camper with his sweet writer wife Janessa and travels about the country promoting smokeless fire pits.

[photo stolen from their blog]
The book: The Brick and Mortar Formula

Actually, this is more about people and ideas than a book review. But stay with me.

Before Jon and Janessa were guests in our home a few months ago, I was forewarned that Jon is like an eager puppy, tumbling with ideas. His specialty is marketing, and he has lots of ideas that you've never thought of for selling and promoting your product while saving time.

As we sipped tea after dinner--and while Jon and Janessa asked for more and assured me that if I went into business distributing Kenyan tea, they'd buy it--I asked Jon way too many questions about distributing my writing more efficiently.

I learned a lot.

For instance, did you know that you can go online and hire people to do almost every step of the self-publishing process except the actual writing? [Actually, you could probably hire that out too.] You can have someone design the cover, another to format the manuscript, another to edit. If you get someone in Asia to do this, you save a lot of money.

I told how Emily had painstakingly typed up Dad's handwritten pages for A Chirp From the Grass Roots.  That could have been hired out, Jon said. I would have scanned and emailed the pages; someone from India could have typed them for a small fee.

They recommend UpWork.

Jon also told me it's ok to skim a book and say you've read it. My Amish conscience will never let me do this, but what a thought!.  This brought us to the most profound idea.

It was not so much something I learned as something that finally slipped into place like an awkward Tetris shape.

I've spent years feeling guilty about this, but I find many nonfiction books boring. Especially self-help books. Even ones by famous authors. Especially if it's about the 8th book by this famous author and the publisher has quit editing in favor of pitching it out of the haymow and down to the hungry cows as quickly as possible.

I can't tell you how many times I've started reading the book that everyone else is raving over, and before I can get to the meat of it I have to wade through the introduction, the foreward, the acknowledgements, and the disclaimers.  Then the first chapter wanders through acres of weeds before we finally, maybe, get to what we're talking about, just a little bite of it.

We move on, from weeds to deep waters to tar pits, ever so slowly.

And a few chapters in I slap the book down in frustration and exclaim, "Gaaaahhhh! It's just WORDS WORDS WORDS!"

Jon told me that it isn't just me. "How many books from big publishers have you seen that have only 100 pages?" he said.

I thought about this. "Not very many."

"If a non-fiction book is primarily about one idea, it can almost always be said just as well in a very short, compact book. But publishers insist on a certain number of pages, so the authors pad it with all kinds of verbiage and filler.  Think about how many books out there are all about the same size--say 250 pages. We really need a movement where it's ok to say what you want to say in a short book, and be concise about it.  Publishers seem to think they won't sell, but I'm convinced there's a market for short books."

My heart said Amen to this message.

People. Think about it. What if there were a movement, especially among Christian self-help and inspirational authors and publishers, to present their message in the shortest possible venue that would effectively convey it?

I would read more of them, I'm sure.

A lot of writers who turned viral blog posts into whole books would shrink them back to blog posts, and we would all be relieved.

So, thanks to Jon, I am thinking of all the short happy books I could write. What freedom.

Jon followed his own advice and wrote The Brick and Mortar Formula. It's a marketing guide, and right off he shows you how to figure out if you have a product that would do better online, in large chain stores, or in small independent stores.

And it goes efficiently marching on from there.

So, if you invented a product and don't know how to market it, read Jon's book. He will show you how. Concisely.

Here's their blog, Unbound Nomads.

You can check out the other April Blogging Challenge posts if you like. Emily's are at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots and Jenny's are at Here Shall the Wild-Bird Sing.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

ABC Post 23--Review of The Day After Jimmy Got Saved

This is the second of three reviews of books by siblings of friends.

The friend: Ilva Hertzler, whom I've known almost forever and who has been an invaluable mentor and counselor for me.  If you've heard me tell my writing story at all, you know how Ilva is responsible for my column in the Register-Guard.  Back in 1998, I wrote a piece for the paper's anyone-can-try feature, they printed it, I sent a copy to Ilva, and she wrote them a fan letter suggesting that they ought to print more of this author's work. The features editor thought that was a good idea, and he called me up and pitched the idea of a Letter from Harrisburg. Thanks, Ilva!

The sibling: Ilva's brother, Ken Yoder.

The book: The Day After Jimmy Got Saved: Reflections on Growing Up Mennonite In Knoxville

A long time ago, I thought about writing about growing up in central Minnesota.  Then Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days was published, and I thought, Ok, I don't need to write about it, because someone else has done it for me.

I might not need to write any more about growing up Anabaptist, because Ken Yoder has done this for me as well.

Now, granted, he and his were a lot more Mennonite than we were. And they were of the old Mennonite gentry in Virginia, no less, where I'm told the families and traditions go back forever. But the theological winds that blew through our little Beachy-Amish church in Minnesota also wafted through his little church in Knoxville, where these Virginia transplants attempted to establish a Mennonite church in a deep-South culture, with very mixed results.

"Growing up in the south is interesting enough in its own right," Ken writes in the introduction, "but adding the ethnic, religious and cultural overtones of being raised as a traditional Mennonite created rather special circumstances for my years in Tennessee."

Each chapter of the book looks at a different aspect of growing up Mennonite in Knoxville. Ken writes with equal dexterity of crazy stunts with his friends, eccentric neighbors, family life, and trying to reconcile the prevailing theology with the realities of his life as a young boy.  

Reading the book, I sometimes laughed until I was in tears and other times I sighed because it took me back a little too vividly.  Most of the time, he mixed fun and sadness all together, and also religion and real life, and Christianity and tradition and riding a bike across town--but then, life is like that, not all parceled into neat boxes.

"I don't know why some animals act the way they do," writes Ken. "You might think that cats are peaceful, but that is not entirely correct. Just let a strange cat come around and even a Mennonite cat will act as if it never once got saved."

I mean, who thinks to apply Mennonite Arminianism to cats?

On cooking:
"Once in a while we were invited over to the Stoltzfus' for a meal which was a real experience. My mother was a great cook and her food tasted real good. She didn't pull any surprises on us. ...With Ruby, you could never tell. She . . . tried out new stuff once in a while that left you wondering if this was suitable for people growing up Mennonite in Knoxville. She must have gotten recipes from magazines rather than from the Mennonite Community Cookbook like she should have."

If you grew up Mennonite, that is just funny.

Like Ken, I was a sensitive child with a great imagination, and some of the dire warnings about the end times and judgment and persecution could make me stew in obsessive fear, night after night. Now I think: Seriously, who gets this graphic with small children in the audience?! 

He grew up with lots of dark warnings about judgment and what seems like a very works-based salvation, but he mentions two women who gave him a more loving view of the Gospel. One was his aunt, "Miz Naomi," who as nearly as I can calculate is my friend Sharon's late mother, a wonderful woman who used to come to Oregon every year to visit.

Ken describes Naomi as, "...a real person who knows and loves Jesus, and can't help but pass along goodness to everybody she meets. She won a huge place in my heart during one of our phone calls. 'Well,' she said, 'you are one of mine.'" Ken imagines Jesus saying the same thing to him when he passes on.

The other was Ruth, a kind and comforting woman who held children's meetings in the church basement and had the children sing about being precious jewels in God's crown. He contrasts this with what he learned upstairs in the sanctuary. "Downstairs we experienced being precious jewels; upstairs it sounded like we were not so precious after all. Downstairs we were safe. Upstairs we needed to get saved. That got me all mixed up, and I got suspicious about jewels in general, and worried about being precious in his sight."

His communion experiences had definite parallels to mine:

"Even though I was in the middle of baiting Mr. Potter on a very consistent basis, there were times I wished for better self-control because of the principle of being a witness, and letting my light shine. What an awful situation, because if I didn't behave in a godly fashion, there would be trouble twice a year at Communion time, to say nothing about when the Great Rapture came. I would get left behind, and it would be forever too late... Mennonites don't have eternal security. That is why we needed to behave ourselves."

His writing made me think a lot, as a Mennonite minister's wife, about how we present the Christian life to children, and what is truth worth striving for and applicable to all generations and cultures, and what isn't.  

There is the case, for instance, of Mrs. Petrie's covering. "Now because she got born again in the Mennonite way, she ... needed to wear a prayer veiling...We called it a covering, and that had its own challenges for someone who didn't grow up knowing about these things. Mother knew about coverings and could put hers on just right, and it sat there like it belonged. It didn't work so smoothly for poor Sister Petrie. Her covering would twist from port to starboard, tilt fore and aft in a most unsatisfactory way. And dents, oh my goodness gracious. Her covering was dented and bashed in, sort of like the cars we saw around the place. 'Is it on right?' she would plead as we got ready to take her to church...Mother would fix her up until things looked right. Getting it right took about three generations of sustained teaching. Sister Petrie did not have that advantage."

I think we all had a Mrs. Petrie in our congregation, growing up.

Ken is gracious, but he comes across more cynical and irreverent than I normally do in my writing. This review is not intended to condone his present theology, such as it can be determined, which I didn't try very hard to do, since I was more about just reading it as a good story.

My brother Phil's response to the book included this: "He has an ironic and irreverent approach or, as you put it, an 'edge.' Pretty much a constant thing, all the way through. That irreverence regarding the Mennonite foibles you can obviously relate to. But some of it I'm wondering what you think."

Well, this is what I think. This book is worth a buy and a read if you:
--want to learn some interesting Mennonite history and culture from the 1950s.
--want to read a unique, well-written, honest, and side-splitting growing-up story.
--want to do some serious thinking about how to share the Gospel across cultures
--want to feel understood if you grew up Mennonite, no matter where it was. 

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ABC Post 20--Parenting Teenage Girls

Today was a long day.

I got up at 4 a.m., brewed coffee instead of the usual tea, and went to Junction City and picked up Steven at the fire station where he lives.

By 6:00 we were in Corvallis at a dental-surgery clinic. By 7 we were in the recovery room and he had a white ice wrap around his jaw and was talking to me about mashed potatoes and Nicki Minaj. He also threatened to pull out his IV because he knows what he's doing, he's a professional.

I drove him to our house and tucked him in bed even though he knew he was well enough to go back to the fire station and go on calls.

Then I took a nap and went to Eugene and gave a talk to a women's group, the Fortnightly Club, about Humor in Everyday Life.

Then Paul met me at Gateway Mall and we shopped for a new and larger mattress. And went out to eat, and shopped some more.

We came home.  I was tired.

I went to bed early-ish, sank into the comforting depths, and OH! The CHICKENS! A fox or something has been getting them and I have to shut the little flappy door or I'll be minus one or two in the morning.

So I put on boots and a heavy coat and shut the hens in.  And then I admired the stars for a while, because we don't see stars much all winter.

Back to the comfort of bed and its comforting depths, and suddenly "OH DEAR I NEVER WROTE MY BLOG POST FOR TODAY!!"

So here I am, planning to finish before midnight.  Midnight, it so happens, is when the last of my many children will no longer be a child.  Jenny is turning 18. It just can't be.

I thought I would tell you what I've learned about parenting teenage girls.  Teen girls can be volatile creatures, mercurial, unpredictable, and fragile.  And also lovable and funny and unbelievably beautiful.

Some are easier to raise than others.


1. Listen a lot.

2. Be the nice loving mom but don't let yourself get manipulated.  I don't know how to do this. I just know I should have.

3. If you're going through a rough spot, find one thing you both enjoy doing, and do it together. For Emily and me at one point, that one thing was having tea together.

4. If they get mouthy, send them outside to cool off and calm down.

5. Try to keep them supplied with pretty things that they think are just so vitally important to survival, but also set your limits and make them buy anything over that limit, as long as you can also make sure they have a chance to earn money.

6. Encourage them to say things out loud, name their feelings, and explain what's going on inside--instead of sulking in silence and expecting you to ask what's wrong. .

7. Teach skills of all kinds. Even if their friends don't have to learn to sew and bake and run the lawn mower, and even if your daughters fuss and forget, they will be so tickled with the skills, some day. Make a chart and let them take their day for making meals, cleaning, and so on.

8. I am told one of the things I did right, that none of the young friends could BELIEVE, was that when I had the most detailed Talk, I actually drew little diagrams of fallopian tubes and such. Also I didn't just hand them a book with information in it about Stuff. I actually talked. They have no idea how near this ordeal came to killing me, but they say it made them matter-of-fact about the process. And NONE of their friends' moms drew DIAGRAMS!!

9. I taught traditional women's roles--nurture, support, wearing a head covering--at the same time as I encouraged them to pursue their interests in math and photography and travel and much more. This is possible, you know, and you don't have to get all political in any direction.  I didn't have to teach the girls to speak their minds because they are Smuckers. Smuckers have to be taught that they don't need to holler every single opinion that pops in their heads.

10. Let them have their own tastes in clothes, as long as they look decent and dignified. Go to secondhand stores.

11. Teach respect for their dad.

12. Give their dad nudges about what the girls need from him, since some dads are confused and alarmed by teenage daughters.  He should tell them they're beautiful, insist on respect to their mom, teach them to drive, and talk about boys.

13.  Don't tell them that you're fat or gray or wrinkled, or that they're fat. Talk about being healthy, and eating fruit and protein, and drinking water, and going on walks.

14. Let them know that you will always love them.

15. Let them have time alone, time with their friends, and  time to study.

16. Encourage them to talk to their aunts about things they find hard to discuss with you. It's ok if this makes you cry because you feel left out. But this can get you and especially her through a rough patch. Aunts will keep a confidence, but if it's something you really need to know, they'll tell you.

17. Pray a lot. Remember that if you're in a tough stage, full of conflict and strife and emotion, that this too shall pass. Because it will pass, I promise.

That's all, because I'm falling asleep.  And just so you know, Amy is coming home for six weeks in June and July, and we plan to take a girls' vacation on the Southern Oregon Coast.

And I wonder: how did I, with my bumbling and ignorance and taking everything personally, manage to raise these three fine daughters that I love to spend time with and who make me laugh and laugh??

If I can do it, so can you.

Monday, April 17, 2017

ABC Post 17--April's Column: An Update on Fabric and Other Happy Developments

Story of surplus fabric leads to interesting new connections

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard

APRIL 9, 2017

Four unlikely things converged in my living room a few weeks ago: women who sew, flannel blankets, remarkable stories and collected wisdom.

“Stories happen to those who tell them,” a mentor once told me.

“No matter how much you sew and give away, you always have more fabric,” my mother used to say.

“We walk by faith, not by sight,” the Bible says.

And my own aphorism: “You discover your calling as you see what needs to be done, and do it.”

For me, all this means taking the single lighted step, opening the door, turning the corner — without insisting on a map for the entire journey.

In my newspaper column in January I wrote about my obsession with fabric and my overflowing stash, even though it meant the whole community would know how crazy I was.

Taking that risk introduced me to a new sisterhood — women who write, call or pull me aside at speaking events to confide that they are just like me. We giggle together in full understanding and talk about sewing, cottons, scraps, quilts, and always our shocking stash.

A 77-year-old woman from Cottage Grove named Edith Chastain emailed and said she makes weighted blankets for children with autism, and she would take any fabric pieces over a yard in size that I’d want to donate.

I asked more questions. These blankets are sewn in a grid, and each square contains a measured amount of both fluffy Fiberfill and heavy plastic beads. Something about that combination of warmth and weight helps special-needs children sleep better.

“I would love to donate to your cause,” I told her. From baskets and drawers I gathered two paper sacks of colorful fabrics, all appropriate for children. For such a worthy purpose, it was easy to bid the fabric goodbye.

Edith arranged to pick up the fabric on a Thursday morning. She arrived with a friend named Carrie who helps her sew, and also Carrie’s mother, Donna, from Alaska. The three of them pulled the folded fabric out of the sacks, one by one, with due reverence, admiring each. I told Edith not to feel obligated to take pieces that wouldn’t work for her, but she was thrilled with all of them.

The women showed me how the blankets are made. Two rectangles of fabric the size of a crib quilt are sewn together around the edges and then marked off in 6-inch squares with chalk. Little by little, the squares are stitched on three sides, filled with fiberfill and beads, and sewn securely shut.

Edith draped a finished blanket over me as I sat in a chair. A full 10 pounds, its heaviness wrapped me in a strangely comforting sensation. “I am not a special-needs child,” I told them, “but this could put me right to sleep.”

These women have made more than 100 blankets and distributed them through a Facebook group called Pay it Forward Cottage Grove. Sixty more families are in line waiting for one. If they can, the families pay for the materials, but all the work is volunteered.

“I hear so many testimonials, and that’s what keeps me going,” Edith said. “One mom told me that her 5-year-old slept through the night for the first time ever when he got his blanket.”

She grinned.

“That is exactly the kind of thing my mom would do,” I told Edith. “She was always sewing flannel quilts for babies, and she would just love you and what you’re doing.”

“How did you get involved with this project?” I asked Carrie.

“I saw a post of Edith’s on the Facebook page,” Carrie said, “and I wanted a blanket for my granddaughter. So I contacted Edith and she said, ‘Well, there’s one person ahead of you. You’ll have to wait a few weeks.’ So I decided to go help her, and I’ve been helping her ever since. My friends said, ‘Isn’t it weird, going to this lady’s place when you don’t even know her?’ But it hasn’t been weird for one minute. She’s one of these people that comes into your life and ….” She paused, unable to quite explain the connection.

I knew exactly what she meant. If you have that intimacy of generous hearts, a common passion, and a shared calling to create and give, the rest is insignificant.

“I help Edith probably 25 hours a week now,” Carrie said. “And when we’re done sewing for the day, I take the blankets home and wash and dry them before they go out.”

We discussed blankets and sewing and the joy of giving. I didn’t realize that another story waited just around the corner as I turned to Donna, who had sat quietly smiling through our conversation, and asked where she was from, exactly. I didn’t want her to feel left out, and Alaska makes me curious.

“Wrangell. Have you heard of it? It’s an island on the panhandle,” Donna said. “It’s 26 miles long, with about 12 miles of paved road, and it’s closer to Seattle than Anchorage. We’re part of the world’s second largest rainforest.”

“What took you there?” I asked.

“We grew up there. Our family’s been there forever.”

Then Donna and Carrie, Tlingit mother and daughter, told stories of totems, beadwork, the community longhouse, and growing up on the island, where people worked in either logging or fishing.

Their description of life on that lush, isolated island converged with our original topic of sewing, leading to a story as heartwarming as one of Edith’s weighted blankets.

When Donna was young, a family from Oregon had come to the island to work as commercial fishermen, but they were desperately poor — so poor that the father and two sons had only one pair of shoes among them, and whoever needed them least that day went without, even in the snow and cold. Sometimes the second-grade boy clomped around in these men’s shoes with his little stick legs.

They were also too proud to accept gifts, which was incomprehensible to the people on the island, who took care of each other and had always shared what was needed.

The family had two daughters who were Donna’s friends. Their mom sewed feed-sack dresses for them by hand.

One day Donna knew exactly what she needed to do. She had wandered around the back rooms of the Presbyterian church, and in a closet in an upstairs Sunday school room, Donna had seen a sewing machine.

She told her mom about the sewing machine and asked if she could have it. Her mother sent her to the pastor’s wife. The pastor’s wife had no idea the machine even existed. “I’ll have to ask around,” she said.

“No, I need it now!” Donna insisted.

Finally, seeing Donna’s persistence, the pastor’s wife said yes.

The machine was almost too heavy to carry, but Donna lugged it to her friends’ home on the fishing boat.

The woman accepted the fortuitous offering and developed a little sewing business. People would bring pants and other things to mend, and she also would cut patterns from paper sacks and sew dresses. It gave her a dignified way to help support her family.

At the end of that year, the family went back to Oregon. Donna didn’t know what became of the sewing machine or the friends. Only the story remained.

That is how it works.

Sharing about my silly fabric obsession exposed me to new friends and a worthy recipient­ for my extra material. The fabric I bought at a garage sale in 2005 and never turned into a dress for my daughter will now help an anxious child sleep better at night. A fascinating tale showed up in my living room, many miles away and years later, connected by a thread of sewing, generosity and doing what needs to be done, right now, whether it makes sense or not.

A calling, a story, and strange, miraculous connections are just around a corner that we cannot yet see, waiting for each of us to take a single step forward in faith.

Friday, April 14, 2017

ABC Post 14--You Talk I Listen--Gothard, Privilege, and Shame

I sensed it a lot as a child.

“It” was a dark, slimy something, sensed on a spiritual level but so real it was almost physically felt and seen and smelled, that swirled around me and through me and settled down into the deepest part of who I was.

I felt it when I was seven and saw a crying toddler out by the swings after church, and I had seen his parents go into the classroom off the kitchen, so—happy that I had what it took to help someone—I led him to the classroom, opened the door, and shooed him inside to his parents.  And then I shut the door and turned to see the church ladies in the kitchen all turn to me with angry and annoyed faces.  What was I DOING?? That couple was having a PRIVATE MEETING with the visiting minister!!

I got the message.  I had done something terrible, and I was just so bad.  I went out and sat in the buggy, overwhelmed with my own horribleness over which I had no control and about which I could do nothing.

When my brothers told me I was fat and ugly and a crybaby and full of parasitic worms, I felt the darkness too.  I knew I was disgusting beyond bearing, a burden and embarrassment to my family. That was who I was.  There was nothing I could do but go through life like Cain, head bowed with the heaviness of taking up room on earth that I didn’t deserve.

When I forgot my Bible at church one Sunday and then found it on the entry table at church a few days later, hoping no one had looked through it and seen the notes that Mary and Regina and I had written to each other in church, I was crushed to find among the notes a long anonymous letter castigating me for my wickedness. “…these carnal girlish notes,” it said, among many other things. I knew I was just so very irredeemably bad, and some nameless holy person at church had discovered how bad I was. Now they KNEW.  There was no atoning for this.

The swirling, smelly darkness always had the same messages.  “You are just so bad.” “Unbelievable. “ “What a freak.” “Everything is your fault.” “There is nothing you can do about it.” 

There was never a specific solution, a path forward, a way to forgiveness and redemption.

I got to be really good at sniffing out the presence of this slimy evil.  In the middle of a sermon I would suddenly sense it, reaching out like an octopus from the pulpit.  Maybe in a conversation with a concerned older woman or in a magazine article, there it was, around and within me, exposing my very awfulness. 

Long years later, I learned that the dark presence had a name.  It was Shame.

And I learned that Shame had lied to me all my life.

One day, as an adult and long after I should have known better, I conducted a children’s meeting at church and told them the story of the notes in my Bible and being found out, as a cautionary tale. You should be good in church!

My friend Judy Roth said afterwards, “Dorcas! You were not the bad person! Whoever wrote that anonymous letter to you had no right to snoop in your Bible.  That was wrong of them!”

The universe tilted about ten degrees. It had never crossed my mind that someone besides me could be the bad person, or could have wronged me and it wasn’t my fault.

That is how badly Shame messes with your mind.

Bill Gothard was a well-known teacher in those days who filled whole stadiums with devotees for a week of intense teaching.  If you were anyone in Christian circles, you went to his Basic Youth Seminar. If you were really serious, you went to the Advanced Seminar.

The most conservative Mennonite churches didn’t endorse Bill Gothard.  We of slightly more enlightened Mennonite persuasions looked at them with amusement.  Didn’t they know you could get solid Christian teaching from someone who wasn’t Mennonite?  I had many Mennonite friends who had filled their red books with copious notes and used all the special phrases—character qualities and rhemas and a Godly seed and spending time in the Word.

I went to a Basic Youth seminar for the first time after we were married.  With thousands of other Christians we walked expectantly into Portland’s Rose Garden, found our seats, and listened to hours and hours of earnest lectures delivered with gentle and persuasive words.

As the days progressed I became more and more aware of something “off.” Over and over, Bill would share a Bible verse, or part of one, and then he would quickly go on to the application of this verse, complete with 8 or 10 bullet points about the root cause of anger or the results of listening to certain music, and while everyone around me wrote it all down, I was still stuck on that verse.  How did he make the leap from the verse to the conclusion? It didn’t make sense.

There is no way Bill Gothard would have had the success he had if nothing he said was true. He had plenty to say that people found helpful and that encouraged Christians to take the Bible seriously. But I think it was Thursday or Friday when I recognized it—the same evil-smelling cloud of shame, swirling around, without and within, condemning me down to the core of my soul, sucking me into a spiral of trying to be good and never ever being good enough.

That time, for once, I pushed back.

It is a strange thing to be in a crowd of 10,000 people and feel like you are the only person who sees and feels this huge and obvious dark something all around you.  So I sat there and stubbornly prayed that his sin would be revealed.

I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was there.

30 years later my prayer was answered, at last, and his creepy controlling behavior toward the young women in his employment was finally brought to light.

Along the years, I slowly began to recognize the voice of Grace, which is the opposite of Shame. You could also call it conviction vs. condemnation.  Or the voice of the Holy Spirit vs. Satan’s voice.

We are loved beyond all explanation, the Bible says. If we accept God’s forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then we become a new creation. Our heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh. We are free from condemnation and passed from death to life.

But sometimes it takes a long time to learn the reality of all that, and to recognize and renounce the lies that come at us.

Shame says You are just so bad.
Grace says, You are redeemed and forgiven and loved.

Shame is always vague. Its message is that you are just so bad to the core.
Grace is specific. If you’ve done something wrong, the Holy Spirit zeros in and shows it to you. And you know exactly what you did that you shouldn’t have.

Shame is urgent and frantic.
Grace is gentle and patient.

Shame says there’s no atoning for this, no clear path, only a heavy burden to carry through life, a red A, the mark of Cain as you wander throughout the earth.
Grace gives you a clear path forward, a definite way to make things right, and permission to put it behind you and move on.

If I’m hypersensitive on this subject, it’s because I believed too many lies for too long, and it’s a horrible way to live.  Recently I found a picture of myself as a small child, and I wanted to cry.  I was beautiful and adorable. I had been lied to, and I believed the lie, and acted as though it were true.

So, we come at last to the actual topic of the day.

I’ve always had an interest in racial issues, history, and justice.  I’ve studied history and kept up on the news and read biographies. But I’ve been very far removed from the American Black population. When we adopted a son who was black, I expected the prevailing racial tropes and narratives to fit his life, and they never did.

It made me question anything I’d learned that came from a white interpretation, especially an academic one, and it made me impatient with anything but specific information, preferably from the black community.  I wrote a blog post about some of this.

And, as mentioned a few days ago, I was inundated with articles to read and books to buy and information to process.

Some of it was helpful, full of stories and personal experiences and eye-opening comparisons and specific ways to promote justice and issues that would never have occurred to me.

But a lot of the material was full of earnest educated analysis, blanket statements about whole swaths of people, and words like “privilege,” and the more I read it, the more I sensed that something was "off" and there was a slimy black octopus reaching out from the words, and an evil smell lingering within and without.

They were all about Shame, I realized. It rose in black vapors from the pages.  The articles were full of vague accusations, encompassing all white people not with “these people did this specific bad thing” but “you are just so unbelievably defiled as a whole group.”

There was never a clear path forward to repent, rectify, make atonement, move on, and do better, as individuals or as a group, only a sense that the entire white American race was branded with the mark of Cain, wandering the earth. “Awareness” was the best we could hope for, and maybe “dialogue.”  But there was no way that any individual, even a farm wife in the middle of North Dakota, could ever remove the terrible mantle of privilege.

Just to make sure you understand: Do I believe inequality exists and white people often experience life differently, especially in certain parts of the country? Definitely yes. For instance, I asked my son Matt to verify what I’d heard about how young black men in Washington, DC, get sucked into the prison system.  He said it works like this:
1. You get arrested, wrongfully or not.
2. You get stuck in a private prison, which has every incentive to keep you in place as long as possible (more state money)
3. Being in jail that long, you lose your job
4. You get charged for your room and board in jail, innocent or not
5. Not being able to pay, you lose your driver's license and with it, whatever ability you have to get another job
Downward spiral from there.

I’m sure that happens in many places besides DC, and to low-income people of all races. But I can also see how it disproportionately affects the black population. No matter who it happens to, it's wrong.

My point is, it’s specific information that I can get my teeth into. It's not a vague adjective labeling a whole group.

The worst problem with much of the privilege agenda is that it’s only a short step to narrowing down the shame, from white privilege to white male privilege and even to white male Mennonite privilege. 

Like this article.

It soon gets really weird and creepy.

Here are two recent examples of where the prevailing privilege ideas lead when people take them seriously:
1. The young white male student who told my daughter, in all seriousness, that the world would be a better place if there were only 25% of the men, because men cause all the wars and stuff.
2. The professor at Portland State who told his class, “White males in leadership are the root of all evil.” [A student in the class told his mom who told me.]

That’s Shame talking.  It lies and it condemns.

I am all about all of us, as individuals and communities, loving our neighbors, pursuing justice, humility, listening hard, sacrificing, and speaking up for those who have no voice.  I believe in repenting of our sins and taking responsibility for choices and finding a better way.

But I have no patience with Shame.  It might take thirty years for the truth to be exposed, but when it does, I want to say I saw it for what it was.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

ABC Post 11--Parenting: What I've Learned About Raising Teenaged Boys

This one is by request. A mom wrote to me and said, "Pretty please write about parenting teenage sons." I’m writing it because I want parents of teen boys to feel like they have what it takes.

I can offer empathy and experience for free. I can't offer guarantees and lifetime warranties, though. Boys are not L.L.Bean boots.

Teenage boys are a species unto themselves.  They need lots of food, activity, and adventure, an easygoing mom, and a steady dad. They need a careful and constantly-changing balance of freedom and protection, as all children do, but somehow with boys it’s extra hard to get it right.

My boys were active, wild, and risk-taking. I have no idea how to raise boys who are naturally timid, sensible, or fastidious, so you’ll have to ask someone else about that, like my friend Jane's mom, who had at least six boys, and Jane was the only one of the children who ever broke a bone.

Here’s my advice, having survived the raising of three boys who lived to become adults.  

Note: I think they’re all amazing, but they’re not faultless. You’re allowed to blame the imperfections on our parenting, and as always pour all our advice through the filter of your own good sense and personal realities.

1. Provide lots of food.  Cook real food as much as possible—huge simmering vats of spaghetti and meatballs, vast haunches of beef, buckets of monster cookies, cases of eggs, barrels of milk, endless wheels of pizza.  Providing actual food will offset many of your mistakes and will steer them from living on Mountain Dew and corn dogs and Snickers bars just to quiet the ravenous beast within.

Also, if they’re of reasonable weight, trust their appetites to some degree. When Matt was sacking seed, one time he took the burritos I had designated for the whole family’s lunch and ate them all by himself at his lunch break at the warehouse.  Steven used to cook up five or six eggs for breakfast or a little snack to hold his stomach over until supper. They needed the calories and protein.  I should have quit fussing.

But I cooked from scratch. Points for me.

Grocery shopping looked like this the summers I was feeding three teen-boy seed-sackers.
2. Restrict things like driving privileges when they're newly licensed, Internet use, screen time, video games, and staying out late with friends you can’t trust. Put as few restrictions as possible on things like climbing trees, camping, raising calves, fixing lawn mowers, splitting wood, inventing hovercrafts that mow grass in ditches, going on bike rides, jumping off the porch roof, swimming with cousins, playing softball, and sailing down Muddy Creek on homemade rafts.

3. Give them work to do, both around the house and in actual employment. Or, as I repeated many times, “You live in this house, you eat the food, you need to do some work around here.” Not only will this offset some of your labor and toil as a mom, it will also make them enter the adult world with a wonderful skill set. Their future roommates and wives will be so impressed when they can clean bathrooms, load a dishwasher, do laundry, cook a meal, and mop floors.  Employment, when the time comes, gives them money, dignity, and maturity.  Win win win.

Three boys eating. Ben is on the right with his cousins Keith and Austin.
4. Don’t draw inflexible lines on music, books, movies, and so on.  Let them have tastes that are different from yours. Sit down and read/listen/watch together. Discuss the content.  What are the messages here?  Is this what you want to believe and emulate?  And remember: ultimately, you’re the mom and dad. You get to say, “This is evil. We can’t let you watch that.” But respect their tastes as much as you can, which leads us to:

5. Give them some volition over their own lives.  I think a lot of the frustration with our boys at some stages came from them wanting to be men, and going out and conquering, and figuring out their own lives, and we had the fences too tight.  Matt says he was very frustrated for a couple of summers when he first worked in the warehouse in the afternoons.  I still made him do his share of housework in the mornings, because I needed his help and also [he recalls] because the girls made such a fuss and I listened to them. He ended up having very little down time, a lot of frustration, and no real recourse for changing things.  I regret that.

6. However. They are part of a family, a community, and hopefully a brotherhood. So their choices always have to be made within that context because, un-American as this may be, it’s actually a good thing to sacrifice the wishes of the individual to the wishes of the larger community, now and then—enough to be invested in the group but not trapped and stifled, if that makes sense. Which leads us to:

7. Insist on respect. They should be able to talk to you about anything, but always respectfully. [You need to model respect toward them, first of all.] Also insist on respect toward all authority figures, girls, older people, etc. They can feel as grumpy as they want, but they’d better hold the door for Grandma and thank her for Sunday dinner.

8. Don’t clean their rooms for them. Don’t turn their t-shirts right side out to wash them. If they send their socks into the hamper in tight reeking little wads, they can do their own laundry.

9. Buying Axe body wash will give them incentive to keep clean.

10. Let them experience consequences. Real-life consequences are wonderful things.  Words and warnings may be fluff in the wind, but blue lights flashing in the rear-view mirror are a different matter entirely. 

One evening the boys were supposed to clear the table and do dishes.  Ben stood at the table and threw dishes at Steven, who caught them and put them in the dishwasher.  Then he didn’t catch one, and it hit my fancy Le Creuset skillet, knocked it to the floor, and broke the handle off.  The boys paid for a nice new stainless steel skillet.  This is how it works.

11. Parents need a balance of healthy fear and letting go.  Honestly, this one is tough. Today’s parents often hover and helicopter in ridiculous quantities. But where do you draw the line—that’s the tough part.  If they are going to be world-changing men, you need to let them take risks. But they can also die quite easily, or—worse—kill someone else. Or just really ruin their lives. They shouldn’t handle a gun without safety training, for instance.  When they’re old enough to drive to the mountains and go camping alone, they should at least tell you where they’re going and when they plan to be back, not only for your peace of mind, but because other people have to sacrifice their safety and time to go look for them if they disappear.

Fires in the upstairs bedroom are not worth the risk either.

12. Don’t freak out. Or at least save the freaking out for the really big things.  The more boys you have, the higher the bar will be set for what’s worth freaking out about.  Usually, things will go better if you pretend to be calm. Breathe: In. Out. Don’t scream. 

When stuff spills, don't freak out. Take pictures instead.

13. You’re the mom. You’re allowed to make rules and draw boundaries. No snakes in the house, for instance. I told them if they ever bring a snake in the house I will spank them black and blue. “Even if we’re 35?” “If you’re stupid enough to bring a snake in the house at age 35, you deserve to be spanked black and blue.”

And of course you already know that, unless they bring snakes inside, you never spank teenagers.

14. Pray for your boys—not only for the things you see and know, but for all the things you don’t know and see. Trust that you will find out what you need to know when the time is right. When one son was 16, he drove a few girls to his aunt’s house with his left foot out the car window. Some time later, one girl told her mom who told me. 

Conversations were had, consequences were meted, things were learned.

 Another time we were on a trip and one son lost the SD card for his camera.  We looked everywhere we could think of but didn't find it. Probably nine months later I was unpacking my suitcase after a trip to Minnesota and there in the suitcase, on my socks, lay a camera card. I popped it in the computer and beheld photo evidence of the son doing ridiculous unwise things on the other trip, months before. When I told him that God has ways of letting moms find out stuff when they need to know, he believed me.

15. Talk about stuff. Their relationship with God. How their behavior affects others. The dangers of porn, drugs, addictions. Girls girls girls. Why we do what we do. The future. Sports. Statistics. Career goals. Ryegrass. Politics. Tell them you believe in them and think they’re amazing. If they want to talk, drop everything and listen.

16. Give them responsibility. Let them fail. Talk about it. Give them more responsibility.

17. Remember that there is a bit of teenage guy in every man, and they might like to take a few stupid risks even as adults. I don’t know if this means you failed as a parent or that you were never expected to work miracles, so it’s ok. The best thing to do is warn them, if you must, and then sit back, pray hard, and let the consequences happen. Consequences are good things. Horrible, at times, but ultimately good.
A bunch of teen and younger boys.
I'm sure you can imagine how it sounded and smelled.

18. Give yourself grace. This is a tough assignment and you figure it out as you go. If you make a mistake, admit it, try a different tack, and move on. Grace is good.

19. Keep the relationship. Let go of control.

20. Remember that you’re the mom. The mom gets to talk at the open mic at weddings and to tell the grandchildren stories about their parents. 

I asked my sons for input. Matt said:

Things you did right: 

1. be completely unflappable and stick to your guns (mostly Dad) 
2. cook up huge batches of good, calorie-laden food (mostly you). 
3. control your tempers when we drove you up the wall
4. outwardly, you never seemed to feel a need to be in control
5. apologize when necessary
6. let us explore, climb trees, get chased by the cows, shoot guns, do all the things that would give a helicopter parent an aneurysm
7. I'm sure you worried a ton, but you did an admirable job of concealing it

Saturday, April 08, 2017

ABC Post 8: Book Review--Accidental Addict: A True Story of Pain and Healing

The series: Books by Siblings of Friends.

The friend: Bob Welch, Register-Guard columnist and author of many books including My Oregon, and American Nightingale.

The sibling: Bob’s sister, Linda Crew.

The book: Accidental Addict: A True Story of Pain and Healing…also Marriage, Real Estate, and Cowboy Dancing

As you have also, I’ve heard a lot about the new wave of opioid addiction.  Our pastor friend, Gary Quequish, told us of the devastation it caused among his First Nations people in the northern communities. I’ve read about so many young and middle-aged people in middle America dying, often of a heroin use that followed a painkiller addiction.

Last September, I had gallbladder surgery. Some people are all chatty coming out from anesthesia, I’m told, but I just wanted to sleep and sleep.

I had a prescription for a painkiller, which Paul went and filled for me.  I believe he had to have a written prescription and show his ID.

Having surgery hurts like crazy.  I mean, every move and cough and change of position is awful. So for the first day, I took the Oxycodone as prescribed.  Or rather, I took them whenever Emily handed them to me, and then I fell asleep again.

One day of this constant out-of-reality sleep was enough.  I quit taking the meds and took ibuprofen and Tylenol instead, and it hurt but I survived.

Good for me.

Last Christmas I signed up for the library fundraiser sale. When I hauled my books into the big, busy Atrium at the fairgrounds, Bill Sullivan directed me to a table and said, “Have you met Linda Crew?”

I had met her once before, I think, with a high level of awe, because she is a successful author of children’s books and won the Oregon Book Award for A Heart for Any Fate.

We started talking.  Her latest book, she said, is Accidental Addict: A True Story About Pain and Healing, about her experience of getting addicted to prescription medicine after knee surgery.

I said, flippantly, that I guess I was lucky because I couldn’t stand how the Oxycodone made me sleep, so I quit right away.

Her response was gracious, but after I read her book I realized that the luck was in having a manageable level of pain and no strange interactions with other medicines.

We were both at the book sale for hours, so we had lots of time to talk.  Linda is, out of necessity, unusually self-educated on the subjects of chronic pain, addiction, depression, and trauma. The medical community is quick to prescribe medication for symptoms, she said, but so utterly ignorant about the complicated interplay of pain, mental health, different medicines, recovery, and so on.

She also mentioned that if young people have a traumatic event, they will often follow a pattern of trauma-chronic illness-depression, and it’s terribly hard to recognize and diagnose for what it is.

I had a sudden thought.  Emily’s chronic illness and depression at age 17 were preceded by her cousin’s suicide.  Did Linda think there was a connection?

“Oh of course.”

That possibility had never occurred to any of us.

I went home and read Linda’s book over a number of weeks.  It’s a long story, and it is powerful for many reasons but especially this: she is not the sort of person whom we expect to get addicted. She was a middle-class wife and mom in a college town, a successful author, a hard worker, and, as she says, a rule-follower.

I’ve met my share of authors who try hard to project an artsy-writer aura, but Linda is not one of them, despite her success.  Her writing seems to be one thing among many that she does, such as taking care of her grandson, decorating her house, and whacking back blackberry vines on their property.  But the writing skills show through in this book. Although it’s different in subject and tone from her historical fiction, the sentences are artfully crafted and flow smoothly.

Her story shows that medical conditions and solutions are not in isolated boxes but intertwined with all of life, with husbands and hobbies and the weather and raising families and the rain and friendships and so much more.

Accidental Addict is difficult to summarize in a few paragraphs, but here are some things I learned:

--Addiction can happen to anyone.  None of us is immune to the combination of medical emergencies, severe pain, lack of knowledge, and doctors missing important information.

--Good medicines, prescribed for valid reasons, can interplay in really bizarre ways. Linda had also been on Xanax--I believe for migraines, initially. Now she says, in a recent email, “Ultimately I think those were my bottom line worst problem.  Everybody's got their surgery story like yours, and most people do get off without being hooked. The opioids are getting a lot of media attention. The  problem with benzodiazepines is much more insidious.  A lot of people are taking benzos and not even realizing they might ultimately have a problem.  I've had people say to me, without reading my book, ‘Oh, but see, I just take Xanax for anxiety.’  Or, ‘I just take it to help me sleep.’  They think because this doesn't seem like addict behavior, they don't have to worry.  My hope is that people might quietly see something they recognize in my book and take it to heart.”

--You have to educate yourself.  Medical people often know shockingly little about long-term use of medications, how medicines interact, and what can go wrong when you quit using them.

--Your body makes all kinds of chemicals that regulate your mental and physical health and welfare. If you take the same chemical in a medicine, your body no longer has any incentive to produce it. So when you taper off the medicine, your body might have a hard time getting that kettle of chemicals cooking again.  You can be really miserable in the meanwhile, and that’s when you’ll have serious temptation to pop a pill for a quick fix, just to relieve the misery.

--Recovery is not a matter of slowly tapering off and going back to normal life.  Linda had to deal with the most bizarre and debilitating mental, emotional, and physical effects, and they went on and on and ON.  Over and over, just when she thought she was finally making progress, she would again turn into this desperate, needy, fragile person who was in physical pain and falling apart on the inside and couldn’t find a way to communicate to her loved ones what she really needed from them. So there was this cycle of hurting others, being hurt, distance between people, more hurting, and no one including herself really understanding what was going on.

--Her story has a good ending, I am happy to say, but it came out of a shockingly long, tough, hard journey. It's interesting that she writes stories about the Oregon Trail, because in many ways her journey was equally hazardous and daunting.  But she reached the Willamette Valley, so to speak, and I have great respect for her and anyone else who has fought their way out of addiction.

And—today is her birthday! I didn’t know that when I planned to post this today. Happy birthday, Linda! May your day be full of joy and may you be blessed in advance for the comfort and hope that your story will bring to others.

Here's the book on Amazon.

Here's Linda's website.

And here's her blog.