Sunday, July 28, 2019

Blessings and Grace on Tidbits Mountain

On the horizon is Hayworth Saddle, which we can see
from home, from the other side.

"I used to think if we just did everything this certain way, our family would turn out well. But I'm finding that every family has issues! We all have our things!" my friend Shannon exclaimed in the women's Sunday school class this morning.

When I started teaching, I decided to take the class along on my personal study of the book "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I decided if anyone didn't like it, they could teach instead of me.

Today we talked about things that go wrong in families, and trust me there are many, from financially dependent adult kids to not being allowed to say certain truths out loud to doing what we do for our parents out of guilt and resentment rather than love and freedom.

Shannon expressed what we all feel. Every family has their things, no matter how much you try to get it right.

If you can find good path through your quirks and issues, you can get to an imperfect but healthy place as a family.

For my birthday in June, our son Ben, who has done over 70 different hikes in Oregon in the last year, offered to take me on a hike.

Yesterday was the day. Tidbits Mountain, Ben said. It would be four miles, round trip, with a thousand feet of elevation gain. The grade should be gradual enough for me and my difficulty with steep slopes.

I was excited to the point of giddiness as I packed my sunscreen and poles and all the other necessities.

Amy and Emily went along, since their employer, Paul's cousin Darrell, is finished with combining. We drove about an hour and a half--first south, then east into the Cascades, and north on a gravel road, up and up.

See those brave people way up on top?
Zoomed in.
The boards are the remnants of an old fire lookout tower.

We parked at the top of the last steep ascent and started up the trail. The path was shaded, the trees were enormous old-growth firs, and the wild rhododendron bushes crowded the trail.

The grade was easily manageable right up to the last quarter mile.

I didn't see any snakes.

Everyone was patient with me and my slow pace.

The views were beyond beautiful.

Ben, who was born in Canada and spent a year in Toronto as an adult, said, "I should have some Timbits along. Then I could have Timbits on Tidbits."

The screes, where huge bare rocks up above had eroded into a long river of little rocks spread down the mountainside, were the scariest parts, not because of any actual treachery or slippery rocks but because the view was so disorienting. Rocks under your feet, up one side, down down down the other, and pretty soon you feel a bit dizzy and not quite sure where to put your feet.

Ben offered to take my hand and help me across, so I had to tell them all how, back in my teenage years, the revival meeting speakers would always have a talk for the youth and tell them to have a hands-off courtship, but it was ok for a guy to take a girl's hand and help her across the creek if they were on a walk.

Ben thought this would inspire guys who were dating to go on lots of walks and find lots of creeks.

He himself is not dating at this point, and I just had to pose him beside Mt. Bachelor.

The very top of Tidbits Mountain consisted of a huge rocky structure. The kids climbed up without too much trouble. I could have, too, but I was very nervous about coming back down. About ten feet up, my phone came loose and bounced down the rocks and disappeared into a bush, where it looked like it could go falling for a long time.

It seemed like a sign that maybe I should come down lest I fall as well.

I peered into the bushes and was surprised to see something shiny reflecting back. About three feet down, the phone had come to rest on a branch and some old wire left over from a collapsed fire lookout tower. It looked like someone had carefully set it in place like you'd set a photo on a wire stand on your dresser.

The phone was unscratched and uncracked.

Sometimes I feel so fortunate I can't explain it.

We ate lunch in a shaded area and went back down the mountain, then drove away, stopping for iced tea at a little convenience store along Highway 126.

That evening, Amy cooked up some fantastic fajitas for Ben's birthday supper, since his is on Monday, a month after mine. He is 26 now. I gave him a lightweight hammock for camping.

Steven and Ben
I shared photos of the day on social media because it was so fun and beautiful, and I was that pleased. But part of me hesitated.

Not everyone is this fortunate with health, opportunity, and most of all these thoughtful, patient offsprings. I don't want to inflict pain on people in hard situations.

And yet, Tidbits Mountain is a credit to its Creator. So is any grace our family has received.

I told Shannon that yes, absolutely, every family, including ours, has its issues. But if you can love each other and speak the truth out loud, that will open a trail through some pretty rocky terrain.

Perfection is not the goal, and so much is out of our control. People get to choose, and their choices might break our hearts.

But if God in his lavish kindness grants me a son who organizes a hike with a gradual grade, just for me, then I will give Him the credit and will be as grateful as I possibly can to both of them.

Quote of the Day:
Me: I'm nervous about cougars.
Ben: Cougars usually stalk from behind, so if I'm walking behind you, you should be ok.
Emily: If I look up younger men's profiles on Facebook, are they being stalked by a cougar?

Feeling accomplished!

The view from the top.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

When Parents Change Their Minds

“Maybe I’ll have the last bit of chicken but not the rice,” Ben said today as we finished up our Sunday dinner at the picnic table and I tried to auction off the too-little-to-save, too-much-to-dump leftovers.

He and the girls started reminiscing. “Remember when it was such a big deal that you eat carbs with your meat? Like, you couldn’t just take more chicken, you had to take more rice too?”

“One time Steven wanted to eat a hamburger by itself, without the bun, and Mom and Dad gave him this big lecture that you don’t just eat meat by itself, you have to eat it with a bun. They didn’t say it like he’d done something bad, more like this is an important life concept.”

“And then Mom started Trim Healthy Mama and she was eating meat without any carbs!”

They laughed.

I thought, I can’t wait until you have children.

I also wanted to painstakingly explain that when they were little we were poor, we had a lot of people to feed, and meat was expensive.

Also, the whole meat-and-carbs thing was ingrained into us, as true as gravity.  That was how the world worked. You didn’t reach and grab across the table. You didn’t put your finger in the butter. You passed the food to the left. And you didn’t eat lots of meat by itself.

As Ben said, the THM diet changed my habits and beliefs. That system stresses good proteins, healthy carbs, and separating fats and carbs. A typical meal has meat with lots of vegetables but no bread or noodles or potatoes.

Before THM, Steven helped to shift our thinking as well. He joined our family when he was ten years old, a small but surprisingly strong and very hungry little boy. He ate a lot, and he had an unbelievable craving for proteins. Five eggs for breakfast. Multiple drumsticks for dinner. Thankfully, we had a little more money for groceries by then, and after the hamburger episode we decided that maybe he’s making up for a deficit in his body and we should just let him eat the protein he wants.

Then there’s the matter of nylons. 

You dressed up to go worship in the house of the Lord. That was the way it was. Nylons, or pantyhose, meant that you were dressed up. Little girls wore lacy socks and pretty shoes. Big girls and women wore nylons.

The daughters grew up. Nylons dropped off the face of the earth, like they didn’t even exist. And, frankly, I got hot flashes. Pantyhose were torture.

“Mom sometimes goes to church without nylons!” a daughter said a while back, with a touch of bitterness.

It’s humbling to change your mind and your ways.

Maybe this happened to you, too.  You were so sure of yourself, back then. This was how the world worked. This was the right course for this family, the best way, the wisest stewardship, the most Biblical approach, the soundest doctrine.

The world spun around, life took strange turns, and the solid truths of meat and potatoes grew mushy. Maybe there was room for disagreement on this. Maybe there were other ways of doing things, and good reasons for doing so.

You changed your mind. You do things differently now.

Today, your kids laugh about it at Sunday dinner, if it wasn’t really a big deal. Or maybe the memory is still a popcorn hull in their back tooth, nagging. Or they have pulled away from you, bitterly, because they tried to make you see, back then, but you wouldn’t and couldn’t, and despite the mounting evidence you were pigheaded and determined.

No doubt, you would be the first to tell others that growing and changing is part of life. “The foolish and the dead never change their opinions,” you know. You’re allowed to make mistakes. There’s grace for this.

It’s harder to give grace to yourself, certainly with the big things, but also when the changes you made were small and relatively insignificant.

What I would tell myself, back then, is that it’s comforting to know things for sure and to stand on firm ground. It’s far less fun to parent out of uncertainty, groping and hoping, needing to make a decision right now because the slumber party is tomorrow, but never feeling like there’s enough information or time. You will do less damage, I think, if you make peace with uncertainty and regularly admit, "I could be wrong."

With the basics, we stand as firmly today as we ever did. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Brush your teeth, show up, tell the truth.

It would have been ok to be less rigid with other things. “You know, there’s nothing immoral about eating hamburgers without buns, but we have only a dollar per person per day for food. Maybe in a year or two you can grill hamburgers and eat them however you like.”

It’s also ok to make a rule, as parents, simply because things need to be decided so we can go on with life. Are t-shirts ok for church or not? You’re allowed to decide that no, they’re not, and that is the rule for this stage of life. You’re allowed to change your mind later. There is grace for this.

If you are honest about the relative morality of this decision, then it’s less humiliating if and when you change your mind, down the road.

If you present this rule as the only possible way for things to be done, reinforcing it with Scripture and long-held tradition that must not be messed with, and then you change your mind later, it’s far more embarrassing.

If you punished harshly and followed terrible advice, the regret brings far more than embarrassment. It means dark nights of condemnation and haunting memories.

But there is grace for that as well if you can face it and speak of it honestly.

We will never get it all right, as parents. We often take on the job long before we are fully grown or slightly healed. We do the best we can out of who we are and with what we know at the time. We are influenced by family patterns, the latest fads, and the blowing cultural winds.

It’s a perilous journey.

Years later, you might find yourself sitting at a sunny picnic table with beautiful adult children. They might reminisce and laugh about hamburgers and chicken, about nylons and rules.

You will feel really silly, and you'll taste the biting vinegar of regret. You will wish they'd have children of their own and find out what it’s like. You will be held close by your Father, who never makes a mistake but allows you the freedom to make plenty of your own. And you will be immersed in a deep and sufficient Grace. 

We ate at this picnic table today. Emily arranged the bouquet.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Invitation to a Writing Conference in the West

After attending Mennonite writing conferences in the East and Christian conferences in Oregon, I felt that Mennonite writers in the West needed their own event. For about five years, we hosted a writers’ dinner in conjunction with the annual Western Fellowship Teachers’ Institute. The idea for a one-day conference came out of those evenings together.
I’ve sent information to a number of writers, with instructions to spread the word to their churches.
Now, we’re opening registration to everyone, Anabaptist or not, western or not.
Whether you’re an experienced writer or a beginner, we think you’ll enjoy this.

Saturday, August 10, 2019
Pioneer Christian Academy
331 Blakely Avenue, Brownsville, Oregon
A conference to connect, inform, and encourage past, current, and potential Anabaptist writers.

To pre-register: send $30 to via PayPal and email your name and phone number. Or mail $30 to:
Paul Smucker
31148 Substation Drive
Harrisburg, OR 97446
Registration at the door is $35.
8:30 Registration, coffee, muffins
9:00-10:30 General session 1
Opening and announcements
Chris Miller: Finding a Message
10:45-11:45 Workshop 1
Mary Hake: Get Ready to Write for Children
Dorcas Smucker: How to Begin Writing
Lunch (provided)
12:45-2:00 General session 2—Chris Miller
2:15-3:15  Workshop 2
Mary Hake: Get Ready to Polish Your Piece
Paul Smucker: Supporting a Writer
Dorcas Smucker: Essay Writing
3:15-4:00 Brief general session. Coffee and cookies. Browse the bookstore, sign books, fellowship.

Workshop 1 options:
“Get Ready to Write for Children” by Mary Hake
Do you want to write for children’s Sunday School papers? These weekly take-home papers need both fiction and nonfiction material, plus poetry, puzzles, and more. This workshop will help you explore and learn to develop ideas for Christian periodicals for children, particularly for Christian Light Publications. We will also discuss writing for a theme, tailoring your work to the appropriate age level, and how to submit it.
“How to Begin Writing” by Dorcas Smucker
Maybe you have a persistent idea for a book, or you enjoy journaling and would like to try writing for publication.  Probably, you don’t know if you have what it takes. This workshop is for those who are interested in writing but don’t know how or where to begin. We’ll look at the steps from vague idea to published piece.
Laura Smucker: Capturing and Publishing a Real Person’s Story
Have you ever wished to write a personal story without boring your readers to tears with unnecessary details? Find ways to explore and gather, begin and continue, then sell and publish a real person’s story making it a good read for a broad audience.
Workshop 2 options:
Get Ready to Polish Your Piece by Mary Hake
After you have finished your manuscript and let it sit for a while, it’s time to polish your written work. How should you conduct this self-editing process in order to make your words shine? This workshop will offer steps to follow to check for errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. and tips to revise your creation so it best expresses what you wish to convey. The material covered can be applied to all types of writing.
Supporting a Writer by Paul Smucker
Writers leave jotted notes around the house, shed tears over negative reviews, and agonize over word choices. What types of support do they need from their spouse or family member to best fulfil their calling? Discussion will include privacy, priorities, and practicalities.
Essay Writing by Dorcas Smucker
Essays are short nonfiction pieces that are both story and opinion, personal and universal, wandering and focused. We'll discuss what essays are, what they are not, and how to develop essays from personal experience, moving from initial brainstorming to final paragraphs. We'll also cover the self-discovery in essay writing, asking "So what?" about your experiences, and finding a home for your finished pieces.

CHRIS MILLER is a teacher, motivator, and communicator. He is the principal of Pioneer Christian Academy and is passionate about history, music, and the great outdoors.
MARY HAKE has been writing for more than 40 years and has sold numerous articles, stories, activities, poetry, devotions, and curricula for both children and adults. She has studied children’s literature and enjoys children and their books. Mary has also taught creative writing to children from second grade through high school and has taught Sunday School to children from preschool to adolescents. Mary, a native Oregonian, and her husband, Ted, became Anabaptists as adults, and live in Central Oregon. She is involved with a local writers’ group there as well as Oregon Christian Writers. She is currently working on a historical middle grade novel. In addition to her writing, she does freelance editing work.
LAURA SMUCKER began her writing as a girl keeping a journal as part of a writing class in middle school. Working to find her style, Laura wrote poetry, children’s Sunday School stories, and personal stories. Her love of history and people led her to begin writing about real people. She has three published books—Strands of Gold, A Reason to Hope, and Prejudice and Pardon as well as other stories and short articles. She lives in Madras, Oregon, with her husband and five of her six children.
DORCAS SMUCKER is a pastor’s wife and mother of six. For almost 19 years, she wrote a newspaper column about family life for the Eugene Register-Guard. The columns were collected into seven books, including Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting and Tea and Trouble Brewing. She blogs at Life in the Shoe and is experimenting with other types of writing.
PAUL SMUCKER is a pastor, teacher, and businessman. He has written hundreds of sermons and learned to communicate effectively with students, church members, farmers, and many others. Paul is also the husband and father of writers and believes in finding and encouraging a family member’s talents and callings, even if they’re very different from your own.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dealing with ADD

My sisters used to laugh at my detailed lists. When I wasn’t looking, they would slip over and add, “Breathe” and “Go to the bathroom” to my list of things I needed to get done.

I was just that crazy detailed, they said. Then they would chuckle. 
The cleaning schedule--printable lists in pretty colors win the day.
As an adult, I diagnosed myself with ADD—Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe it’s ADHD, with hyperactivity thrown in. When I first began reading about adult ADD in a library book, I had the sense that someone had crawled in my ear and was describing everything they saw in my head.

This isn’t the exact test I took but it was something like this, and these were definite yeses for me: 
1. I have difficulty getting organized.
2. When given a task, I usually procrastinate rather than doing it right away.
3. I work on a lot of projects, but can’t seem to complete most of them.
4. I tend to make decisions and act on them impulsively
5. I get bored easily.
7. I often get distracted when people are talking; I just tune out or drift off.
8. I get so wrapped up in some things I do that I can hardly stop to take a break or switch to doing something else.
10. I get frustrated easily and I get impatient when things are going too slowly.
15. I often find myself tapping a pencil, swinging my leg, or doing something else to work off nervous energy.

This came from the ADDitude website, a super-helpful resource.

Here are some ways this malady manifests itself:
1. Everything is equally loud. In a crowded room, I hear all the conversations at once and it’s really hard to focus on conversing with YOU. In my kitchen, the cobweb in the corner, the dirty dishes, and the slimy lettuce in the fridge all “yell” at me in equal volume. I might stand there, kind of paralyzed, not knowing what to do. Then I might organize the spices.
2. At the same time, I can ignore clutter and piles, walking right past them for days and weeks without actually seeing them.
3. I have a constant fire hose of creative ideas spraying around in my brain.
4. Daily housework is unbelievably tedious.
5. I over-promise and under-deliver.
6. It is hard work to stay with a task and not get distracted.

While daily functioning is hard, it’s not impossible. I’ve raised a family and finished many projects, after all. Most of my plants are still alive, and you wouldn’t be grossed out by my bathroom. 

The biggest differences between my “normal”* friends and me are:
1. They know what to do next. Somehow, they seem to have a clear blueprint in their heads for what needs to be done that day. They know where to begin, and they move from task to task until it’s done. They don’t have much chaos or crises. Also, they know what to do without writing it all down. It is amazing.
2. They can stick with one task until it’s done. I once worked with some other women to make food for a big event. One woman in particular worked hard and fast at making tortilla roll-ups, without a break, for three hours.
I was helping her, so of course I felt compelled to keep up. I mean, the shame of taking off to run around the building to work off my nervous energy, as I felt sorely tempted to do. After an hour, I felt like bugs were crawling up my arms and legs. Two hours in, the bugs had turned to mice. Three hours, and the circuits in my brain were shorting out, sparking and zapping, heading for a meltdown.
I finally took a break.
3. They can hold still in church. I act like a 4-year-old. I own a fidget spinner and sometimes I use it. I cross my legs and swing my upper foot and pop the heel of my shoe off and back on.
4. They remember commitments, names, and the salad for the potluck.
5. But they also can’t look at little plastic animals and give them all personalities and spin a long story about them, so there’s that.

Recently someone asked me for advice on raising a child with ADHD.  Here are some ways I cope as an adult, but these tips are relevant for children or adults. Most ADD adults are secretly about 7 years old.
1. Remember: making it work is good. Shame is bad. You will be tempted to explode in disbelief—How can any normal person need a list or a timer or a chart for this simple task??? Don’t.
Yes, getting up is an accomplishment.
"Puff" isn't what you might think, since I live in Oregon.
It's actually using my Advair inhaler.
2. Lists and routines are life savers. I have a morning list that includes everything that needs to be done before I do any big projects or leave the house. It doesn’t include breathing and going to the bathroom, but it does include such very basic basics as making the bed, feeding the chickens, and taking my vitamins. Marching down this list is tedium and drudgery, but it also saves me from chaos. And chaos is the unhinging of us ADDs.
Then there are evening routines, Sunday morning routines, getting ready for a trip routines, and on and on. The more I can refer to a list, the more likely it is to all get done.
In addition to lists for routines, I also have lists of people to call, emails to write, and to-do's of every kind.
3. Gimmicks, charts, timers, and rewards are our friends. With my mind spinning ideas for fun and creativity, laundry and weeding and dishes seem like drudgery, and they look overwhelming. Also, if I stick with one thing too long, the bugs start crawling up my arms. 
One of the most effective techniques is to take a piece of graph paper with big squares [try this printable] and make a list down the side of all the tasks that will take a long time. Maybe working outside, writing, cooking, and paperwork. I pick out a few pretty crayons and color in a square each time I work at a task for 15 minutes. Then I can rotate on to the next task, if I’m getting bored, or I can stick with the current one for another round.
That’s where the timer comes in. It helps to keep me focused. Then, coloring in the square is my happy little reward, and looking at the chart keeps me from getting distracted from the day’s big jobs.
This is where normal people, YOU, perhaps, are saying, “Are you kidding me? Just grow up already. Coloring a chart?? At age 57? Too weird.”
That’s why not many people have ever seen my charts.
The other day my fine husband, of the super-organized brain, great efficiency, and 5 balls juggled in the air at all times, came in for lunch when I was coloring a pretty square. Purple! Yay! 
He saw me. 
In some embarrassment, I over-explained what I was doing. 
“Hmm,” he said. “Whatever works for you.” 
There was not one iota of shame. He didn’t think I was silly. He thought I should work with whatever motivated me.
That is how you should be toward the chaotic little ADDs in your life.
This is an actual chart.
"MCP" is Muddy Creek Press, my catchall term for everything writing-related.
"Vesh" is PA Dutch for laundry.

4. Learn one skill at a time. By “skill,” I mean very basic skills that you might think don’t need to be taught. Your ADD child or even teen might need you to walk them through a routine of coming home from school: coat on the hook, homework on the desk, shoes by the door. Change clothes; hang them up.
Using a timer is a skill, and putting it back in the same place every time so you don’t lose it. 
5. Ask normal people how they do what they do. Learn from them. A few months ago, I was talking to my efficient daughters about cleaning the kitchen. “How do I just do the basics and make it look nice but not get distracted with cleaning out the silverware drawer?”
They said, “Pretend it’s someone else’s kitchen! If you were asked to clean Aunt Laura’s kitchen, you would do the dishes and clean the counters, but you wouldn’t do all the detail work.”
Brilliant! It works!
6. Let them tap and fiddle and fidget, even when you’re talking to them. Give them Silly Putty in church if you have wooden pews.
7. Make sure they have time for play, creativity, thinking, running around outside, and putting their finger in the loop on the fly swatter and twirling it around and around for a long time.
8. Let them know that God makes all kinds of people and He made them like this for some amazing and good purpose. 

In addition to ADDitude, I like to follow FlyLady. She tells chaotic people how to make life work.

What works for you or the person with ADD in your life?

*Note: For efficiency’s sake, I use the word “normal” for people without Attention Deficit Disorder, but we know they all have their own quirks, and some of them are even a teensy bit boring and predictable.