Saturday, February 27, 2021

Ask Aunt Dorcas: What About Counselors?

Aunt Dorcas with her favorite counselor, last May, 
when he could still use his left arm.

Dear Aunt Dorcas—

What is your opinion of counseling? Especially for Christians.

--Confused Connie

Dear Connie--

I know from your email that you’re conservative Mennonite, and the fact that you ask the question tells me that you live among people who are suspicious of counseling and question its legitimacy, value, and justification in Scripture.

This view isn’t distributed equally among all Mennonites, just so you know. I know a number of Mennonite and even Amish counselors. I also know of many Mennonites who are deeply suspicious of the very word, and I know one couple who was in deep trouble with their church because they got marriage counseling.

Counseling and therapy are relatively new fields. Psychiatry was the first related field to appear, in the early 1900s, and it was seen as weird by many both inside and out of the church. And, granted, Freudian psychology was pretty bizarre. With the emphasis on childhood events shaping your adult problems, it was seen as giving you permission to blame all your shortcomings on your parents. If you like old Shirley Temple films, Bright Eyes is a good example of the general view of psychiatry in 1934. Little Joy is an absolute brat, unlike Shirley of course. Joy also goes regularly to be psychoanalyzed by her psychiatrist, who tells her parents not to punish her but only to encourage her.

Today, however, Freudian ideas and methods are seen as outdated, and my sister-in-law, a psychiatrist, spends her time diagnosing disorders and prescribing medication as needed. She doesn’t ask patients to lie on a chaise lounge and talk about their dreams.

The counseling field developed out of the study of mental health and the need for helping troubled people. Requirements and credentials vary by state and by the type of counseling, from licensed marriage and family therapists with master’s degrees to a local pastor who probably has a degree in pastoral ministries or Bible but spends time counseling because the need is so great.

I’ve never understood the deep-seated antipathy to counseling among certain Anabaptists, especially since we go to medical doctors as needed and plenty of other health providers besides, such as dentists, eye doctors, chiropractors, and naturopaths.

Especially chiropractors. We love our chiropractors.

When I was teaching school, I lived with a young lady named Cynthia. She was hearty and strong then, but after our lives diverged she developed a number of health issues. Maybe fifteen years later we were visiting and catching up. She mentioned that she goes to a chiropractor regularly—I’m thinking once a week.

I exclaimed about this and said I had never been to a chiropractor in my life.

Cynthia sputtered, “But! Don’t you ever HURT?”

“Not really,” I said.

Years later, Jenny, our 25-pound toddler, was sleeping in a Pack-n-Play, and I saw she had scootched off the blanket. I bent over, scooped her up, and pivoted at the waist to set her back on the blanket. I felt a tight spring snap loose in my back, which sent me to bed for about two days of what felt like second stage back labor or maybe transition. Then I went to a chiropractor. I hurt that bad. He improved things immediately.

When you hurt enough, you go for help.

Soon after my nephew died of suicide in 2006, we had the misfortune to have one of those overly confident revival meeting speakers that churches further east are so willing to supply to us in the West. One evening he boomed eloquently on the evils of counseling.

I spoke to him afterwards, cautiously. Could he explain?

He did. I don’t recall the words, only his attitude, and how sure he was of his conclusions.

The words slammed painfully into my soul that was still raw with grief and a deep wish that my nephew could have talked to a counselor and maybe gotten help. I didn’t try to argue with the preacher. I only thought, “You haven’t suffered enough. Someday, you’ll have a family member with depression. Or you will go down that dark road yourself.”

I have no idea what he’s experienced or what he thinks about such things today. 

[Side note: I have a slightly wicked theory that if Mennonites saw more counselors, they’d need to see fewer chiropractors. I wonder if I could make a case that seeing a counselor would save money, long term, thus justifying the practice.

This is not to imply anything about Cynthia’s physical pain, only an overall assessment.]

Thankfully, neither my husband nor church has had any issue with me seeing a counselor, and I have done so for a period of time as needed, at several stages of my life. One helped untangle a few unhealthy patterns in our marriage, another was an enormous help in my relationship with an adult child, and recently I started meeting with someone via Zoom to sort through the enormous challenges of the last year and a half, ever since my dad died. (Though she is fully qualified, she prefers the term "coach" since she's officially retired.)

I think it’s unfair to generalize about counselors, because they come in such variety, from dreamy souls who light candles and use words like “unpack” and “heart” far too often, to blunt, practical, matter-of-fact people like my current coach who is a farm girl at heart and likes to raise cattle and hang out with sheep. Her family came from a very strict religious background which was not Anabaptist but has been helpful in understanding the lingering effects of my Amish thinking/family/belief patterns.

As with any profession, some counselors are excellent and some are completely inept. Also, someone who is a good fit for you might not be helpful for your friend or husband.

An argument that often comes up is this: “You have the Bible and the church. That’s all you need.”

To that I say: You, despite having the Bible and the church, travel to South Dakota for chiropractic treatments at Canistota and to Mexico for chelation therapy.

When we hurt, we need help. It’s great that you allow people to get help for physical pain, but cruel that you don’t let them seek relief for emotional pain.

However, I do think if the church actually fulfilled the responsibilities of brotherhood, we wouldn’t need quite as many professional counselors.

In my opinion, the number one way the church fails its people is this: we can’t handle the truth. We are aghast at people’s raw emotions. We don’t like to hear what people do to each other. We are horrified when someone talks about what happened to them.

So we shush, smother, and smooth.

We are suspicious of any real emotion, assuming it means a lack of forgiveness and faith. We crank off that spigot as fast as we can.

Also, we don’t have time. Talking and sorting through grief, losses, and struggles of every kind simply takes big chunks of time. We hate to impose on others and ask them to listen, and we resent it when someone uses up our precious time with endless recitations of their problems.

These are advantages of counselors:

1. The time and expectation boundaries are clear. You will meet for an hour on Tuesday. You can talk about whatever you choose. The counselor will listen but will also direct and provide insights. It will cost X dollars.

There’s a huge relief in having all this spelled out.

2. They accept emotion. If you have a completely unacceptable emotion, like a murderous rage at the man who molested your daughter, a good counselor won’t gasp or raise their eyebrows or quickly direct you into a forced forgiveness. Instead, they nod and keep listening.

3. They’ve seen it all. You might be the fiftieth parent they’ve seen whose child was violated. They’ve seen this rage before and know it’s a typical response. Knowing you’re typical and normal is also a relief and gives far more hope of a path forward than being treated like a freak.

4. They emphasize personal responsibility. Even though they may trace a behavior or emotional pattern back to something that was done to you, they always circle back to you. Most of us with emotional issues are very mixed up about what is our job and what isn’t. We think whenever someone isn’t happy or behaving, it’s our job to fix them. We carry heavy loads of guilt and responsibility for parents, siblings, children, and spouses. Also, we blame our own unhappiness on others. Counselors help you see that each of us is responsible for our own choices and reactions. They also help you examine the lies you picked up and believed, and they assist you in replacing them with the truth.

A lot of Christians are happy to see what you’re doing wrong and tell you to repent, but a good counselor will help you uproot the root that the wrong behavior is sprouting from, so you’re not always lopping off the blackberry vine, only to have it sprout again a foot away.

5. They know more than you do and see things you don’t. For example, I’m learning a lot about how childhood trauma and fear affect the nervous system, creating a lifelong high-alert situation. I have an extreme startle reflex. My kids have learned that if they walk into the laundry room and start talking unexpectedly when I’m bent over a basket, they just about have to scrape me off the ceiling. So, if they know I’m there, they sing loudly or knock before they come in, because they are very kind people, but even then I might shriek and jump. I’ve always thought was only a somewhat embarrassing quirk. Now I’m learning it’s a symptom of PTSD.

Recently I was stressed out over a change in our normal routine, so much so that I could barely focus or think, and way out of proportion to the situation. My coach pointed out that it was most likely a “trauma response” connected to the overactive nervous system. This connection had never occurred to me. She gave me some helpful ideas for calming down and un-freezing my mind. There are specific physical things you can do that help rewire a damaged brain. It’s very cool. Ask your counselor about it.

Friends are sympathetic and kind, but someone with more training is more helpful with some of this deep-rooted damage.

6. They guide you toward solving your own problems. Despite having gone to counselors and taken a few weekend courses, I haven’t learned this magic trick. Most of us tell people what they ought to know and do. A good counselor asks a few casual questions and suddenly you realize where you went wrong. Duh! It’s so obvious! And you figured it out all by yourself, or that’s what it feels like, which is far more powerful than having someone tell you.

7. They keep your conversations confidential.

If you really want to reduce the need for your church people to go to counselors, here are some things you can do:

1. Schedule times of listening. Offer to sit down with someone and listen for an hour or two. It’s hard to explain what a gift this is. My neighbor, Anita, has at various times told me that she wants to be available for me to “debrief” after big events—funerals, our son’s wedding, and so on. After my dad passed away, I took her up on this offer. She let me talk and made sure she understood. May her tribe increase.

2. Be ok with truth. If you listen to people, you will hear alarming things. The truth might be that a church leader violated a child, your favorite aunt was an abusive mother, a young unmarried couple is pregnant, your loving neighbors’ marriage is horrible, your friend is deeply angry, or your son got a DUI. While you need to be discerning and respect confidentiality, these are not good reasons to slam the door on the truth. The truth is your friend. Don’t be afraid of it. You might need to go to bed with the covers over your head until you get used to the revelation, but believe me, if you go on to play whack-a-mole, trying to suppress any indication that this truth is coming out, you will be frantic, exhausted, and ultimately fruitless.

3. Be ok with emotion. Most of us have learned that it isn’t safe to say how we really feel. As I mentioned earlier, we equate genuine emotion with a lack of faith. So we smile at church and go home and cry. We lie when people ask how we’re doing. We hide and pretend and ultimately need doctors and chiropractors for all those vague aches and pains. We have not learned true lament.

How you can help: let people feel what they feel. Seek to understand. Invite the grieving mother over for tea and let her talk about the ravaging pain that won’t go away. Be quiet. Nod. Say, “That sounds horrible. Here’s some more tea.” Let yourself cry with her.

4. Stop the pat answers. Just stop. If you have any Christian decency and common sense, don’t say this stuff:

“Well, it’s all for the good to them that love God.”

“He’s in a better place.”

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”

“You need to forgive.”

“Just think, Mary has it so much worse and she never complains.”

“You’re holding a grudge.”

“I know he abused you, but just look at how much good he did in the church.”

“You need to let it go and quit bringing it up.”

“You’re just bitter.”

“You’re just lazy.”

“I’m sure they meant well.”

“Pray about it.”

“You need to think positive.”

“You need to read your Bible more.”

“Can’t you try harder?”

This is what you should say instead: “That sounds hard. Have some more tea.”

Set a box of tissues at their elbow.

Yes, there’s a place for speaking hard truth to a brother or sister in the church. Exhorting, rebuking, all of that. But you don’t do that when they’ve just lost a loved one or are going through terrible struggle and loss.

If you listen well, you might find and gently expose the root that is producing the sinful blackberry vine. Our pat answers lop off the vine about a foot off the ground, so the problem grows and spreads all over the orchard.

5. Refer people to professionals. If you are listening to someone who is barely functioning, or out of touch with reality, it’s time to refer them to a doctor. If you get involved and listen well, you’ll know when you’re beyond your capacity to help. 

6. Respect confidentiality. If Martha confides in you about her depression, don’t hint at her issues in a prayer request at Bible study. However. If Martha says her husband is molesting the children, tell her that you can’t keep this secret.

In conclusion, I think counseling can be a good thing for Christians or anyone. It ought to be approached with the same care that you’d use looking for a good doctor or mechanic. If we cared better for each other in general, we would deal better with both physical and psychological pain, and we would need fewer professionals to fix us.

That’s what I think. 

--Aunt Dorcas


You can send your Ask Aunt Dorcas questions to

You can find my books at Muddy Creek Press.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Day With Aunt Kitty

"Mam took me to Cleveland to see Aunt Kitty," is how Mom began.

I decided some time ago to impose a deadline on myself of a blog post every Saturday. This week I was too busy working around the upheaval, noise, and carpenters underfoot, and also picking bits of paint off the wood floor with a veil clip to think about blog posts.

But in the insanity of hauling everything out of our crowded office and working around the disorganized piles in the living room for two weeks, I found a pink paper of notes I had jotted down on one of my last visits with my mom when she was still coherent.

It's a story that's always intrigued me, so I'll share it, hoping siblings and cousins have more details.

My grandparents, Adam and Anna Miller, lived in Holmes County, Ohio. They were Amish and had two children at this point--Ervin and Sara, my mom. Mom was born in 1920, so this took place probably in 1922 or '23. My mom always called her mom "Mam," while we knew her as Mommi.

Aunt Kitty, as nearly as I can figure out, was an Englisch woman who had married Mommi's uncle Amos. He apparently left the Amish, because Kitty certainly wasn't Amish.

So Anna, my grandma, took her two little children to Cleveland to visit Kitty. Kitty wanted to take them around town, but she was embarrassed to take these Amish people, so she dressed Anna in a long fancy dress with a big hat, and she dressed Ervin and Sara in overalls. [Yes. Overalls. Or so the story was told to me.]

Also, she took out Sara's braids and had her hair hanging loose.

"Aunt Kitty had a few girls," my mom said. "She took us over the town. She took us to see the ships on the lake. There were boys and girls along in the car. I'm not sure if they were hers, or who."

At some point, they rode on a train and went to the zoo, and someone gave Ervin and Sara "suckers." [Lollipops] The wind whipped Sara's loose hair around the sticky sucker, she recalled. At the zoo, the monkeys stuck out their tongues toward the sucker.

And just that abruptly, my notes are finished.

There are so many things I'd love to know. Mommi was certainly a pragmatic woman, but it still surprises me that she was ok with wearing Kitty's dress around town. Some years later, when they lived in Indiana, my mom put cuffs on the sleeves of her new dress for a trip to Ohio, and Mommi told her the cuffs come off or she doesn't go to Ohio. Was it that Amish perspective of it's not about the deed itself but about who might find out?

I also wonder what it was like for Kitty to marry into a family with so much tragedy. Her husband, Amos's, mother had died when he was young, and his dad remarried. This woman had twin babies, Sarah and Mary, then she died. He married a third time, to a woman who was truly a wicked stepmother and abused Sarah especially horribly. Mary was "farmed out," Mom told me, and died young. The stepmother also died before Sarah was an adult, and her dad married a fourth time.

When Sarah was 15, she had a baby named Harvey but never revealed who the father was. When Harvey was six, Sarah married David Schlabach, who was so harsh with Harvey that Sarah gave him to another family to raise. Then she went on to have 15 more children, all of them tough, resilient people who, according to Mom, stuck together through incredibly hard growing-up years and were known for their humor and storytelling. The third child of the 15 was Anna, my grandma and the one who went to see Aunt Kitty.

After David died, Sarah came to live with my mom's family. They called her "Mommi Schlabach." She seemed to have lost touch with Harvey, or "Harf," as they called him, because at one point he came for a visit to reconnect with his birth mother. He was an old man himself, my mom said, and Mommi Schlabach didn't seem to "bekimmah" herself much with him, which means she didn't seem that concerned/invested.

I can hardly imagine the trauma involved in a motherless 15-year-old getting pregnant and never revealing the father. I'm pretty sure that if the father had been a boyfriend, they would have gotten married and all would have been well. Judging from all the firstborn babies in the family record books born about six months after the wedding, that wasn't all that uncommon.

But she didn't marry the father, and she never told. And as an old woman, she wasn't enthusiastic about her firstborn coming back into her life.

I have a very interesting heritage, a mix of delightful and utterly, unspeakably heartbreaking.

My great-aunt Katie is on the left and her sister Susan in the middle.
My grandma was between them in age.
On the right is "Uncle Dave's wife."

I believe Sadie, Mary, Lizzie, and Lovina were all my great-aunts.
I'd love to know the story behind this photo. Why aren't the girls wearing their "kappa," 
like in the previous picture? And who are those fancy young instrument-playing men?

Here's a story of the time Mommi and her sisters jumped off the train. This was in Oregon, and maybe ten years before the train ride to Cleveland.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ask Aunt Dorcas: The Person Who Liked Everyone But Me


Aunt Dorcas pretends to be interested in her
daughter Jenny's snail.

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

How do you grieve for someone whose relationship brought more pain than anything else?  A close family member recently passed away and the death did bring a certain amount of loss, but mostly relief that the stress of trying to keep working on the hard parts was over.  There were moments of joy in our relationship but mostly pain and hard. I feel sad for other family members who lost the one they loved so much, but little sadness for myself.  

Another dynamic to this relationship struggle is that most other people really enjoyed being with the deceased.  This person was fun to be with, the life of the party.  So I am also grappling with the idea of what is wrong with me?  Why could everyone else get along, but not me?  Was it my fault or the other person's fault? What could I have done differently? I have never felt free to discuss the dynamics of this relationship, nor do I wish to air every piece of dirty laundry.  That brings another question to mind: How do you talk about hard relationships without gossiping or slandering or making others think less of the person?


Struggling in the South

Dear Struggling—

I like to answer questions dealing with issues I’ve already experienced, wrestled with, and found answers for or solutions to. Talkative children, for example. I experienced it, learned a lot, survived, and got the t-shirt.

This is not one of those questions. I chose to examine it because it’s current for me. Maybe not the grief so much, specifically, but the mystery: how was this person this way toward me and that way toward everyone else? What does that say about both them and me? What’s wrong with me if they were awful to me but nice to everyone else? How do you process all that, especially after they pass on?

In a broader sense, the Christian/Mennonite world is regularly slammed with a new revelation of a respected leader who influenced many to follow Jesus but was found to have a slimy, hidden side that caused enormous damage.

We know that we ourselves are complex and multi-dimensional, a mix of good, bad, and in-between, and often we don’t even know what lurks in our own hearts until a chance reaction exposes it.

Also, as you explained so well, we show different faces to different people, so you and I can have entirely different impressions of the same person.

Who of us knew their true self, you wonder, sitting at the funeral listening to the eulogies and tributes. How is it possible that no one else heard and saw what I did, or was burned so deeply by their cruelty? “I don’t want to imply she was perfect,” they say at the funeral, and we think, “No kidding.”

When I was about fourteen, a young man taught my Sunday school class like no one had ever taught me in my life. Instead of predictable, sleepy parsing of chapters and verses, he challenged us to memorize the book of James. Then he had us take turns teaching the class. For the first time, I spent Saturday nights sitting on the bedroom floor, surrounded by commentaries and concordances, diving deep into Scripture.

Years later, I met this man’s teenage daughter. Of course I gushed and exclaimed about her dad’s impact on my life, but she seemed oddly unimpressed. Later, she shared that her dad had struggled with mental illnesses, and his family suffered through years of chaos, fear, and isolation.

My experience happened. So did hers. They were both valid. I don’t know how to square this with the verses from James 3 that I memorized at this man’s urging:

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

What about the influential minister who sexually assaulted a number of young men, including one I knew whose life was utterly ruined by the experience? Much later, at a gathering of young people, the minister’s grandchildren raved about him. Such a Godly man, so loving, so funny, so caring, such a great Bible teacher.


Then there was the woman who crossed my path when I was young, floundering, and incredibly vulnerable. She would regularly upbraid me in the most shameful and spiritual terms, slicing down to the most fragile part of my soul, making me wither in burning self-hatred for days.

Her grandchildren loved her. Such a sweet, caring woman.

Contrary to James, these fountains yielded both salt water and fresh. So which was real and which was fake?

Like you, Struggling in the South, I assumed the problem was mine. I was so bad; she was so spiritual.

I no longer think it was my problem.

Maybe everyone is like this, but I think people who survived childhood abuse have a few specific reactions to this dichotomy in character.

--We have a hard time with nuance and contradiction. We experience someone in a specific way, so we slot them into a category. Nice or nasty. Honest or lying. Safe or unsafe.

--We have a hard time evaluating someone at arm’s length. “Hmmm. They seem to be bitter and angry. Interesting. I wonder why.” Instead, we feel it’s about us. “She is bitter and angry because I provoke her. It is my fault.” Or “Maybe I didn’t cause this, but it really bothers me personally that she is this way. I resent it.”

--Integrity is everything to us. We needed to know if people were safe or unsafe, so we developed a German Shepherd’s nose. One whiff of pretension, hypocrisy, or arrogance, and we promptly slotted them into the file of people we can never relax around. Even as adults and supposedly in charge of our lives, we still do this.

I think that as we grow older and receive healing, we act less out of self-preservation and more out of grace and truth.

First, grace. We recognize the incredible complexity in each of us, and we realize people do what they do because of what’s in their hearts. It’s all about them, and it has nothing to do with us. We have less of a passionate need to sort everyone into safe and unsafe and are able to see shades of gray between black and white. We see patterns—people hurt and humiliate out of the pain that festers inside them. We are able to see more objectively and give more grace. We don’t know the whole story, and we get to choose who we’re going to be no matter how they treated us.

But we also love truth. We realize how often we were bamboozled into believing everything was our fault, and we lose patience with hypocrisy, with foolishness, with cruelty in spiritual disguise. We call it like we see it and no longer worry that it’s just us being weird. This is not ok. You don’t shame and harangue the little schoolteacher even if she’s a bit silly. That’s just mean. Sexual abuse is evil and comes from an evil heart, no matter how kind the grandfather might be or how many were taught by the minister.

Back to your specific situation, Miss Struggling in the South:

I want to validate everything you’ve been through. You really felt and experienced what you felt and experienced. You are not crazy.

When you seem to be the only one who didn’t get along with a person, it makes you feel just as you described: alone, weird, at fault.

It could be that something about you triggered a reaction in this person. That doesn’t mean it was your fault. It means there was something in their heart that was exposed when you arrived. This was their chance to thank God for that revelation and repent and change. Instead, they kept making the relationship miserable for you.

That was their choice.

You have much to grieve here—the relationship that could have been, the isolation, and the burden of silence.

“How do you talk about these things?” you said.

You are wise to be cautious, but please find one person who can hear the truth. Carrying these contradictions inside without voicing them will only add to your grief.

I can’t tell you when and how and what to Tell because I’m constantly grappling with it myself. Secrets untold can grow into cancers that destroy us, but sometimes Telling brings more problems than it solves. I believe the truth will set us free, yet I also believe in discretion, and I would never tell the granddaughter, for example, that her beloved grandma nearly spun me into mental illness.

However, difficult as it was to find out, I am glad for his daughter's sake that I learned how my favorite Sunday school teacher turned out. Her story deserved to be told and heard. I try to see both her experience and mine as valid and true.

I wish we could all become more accepting of the complicated truths about people, far beyond the eulogies and "But they weren't perfect" at funerals. Whenever and whatever you tell, some people will hear and affirm you, and others will shame you for saying anything at all and accuse you of holding grudges. Because we are all complicated and different people.

But I pray that you will eventually be vindicated and validated. Truth, like a little sprout from a seed buried deep in the garden, has a way of coming into the light when the time is right.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Book Reviews--January Brighter Winter Challenge

 Like many others, I found that the Brighter Winter reading challenge from Daughters of Promise gave a welcome framework to my January reading. Again like many others, I’ve suffered from a lack of outside deadlines and schedules during this pandemic. The reading challenge provided structure but not rigidity.

Here are some of the books I read and the categories I checked off.

1. Call the Nurse—True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod

Categories: Read a memoir. Read a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit.

Ok, I haven’t always wanted to visit the Scottish Hebrides Islands, but I do now. Mrs. MacLeod and her family, tired of city life in London, moved to an island off the coast of Scotland in the early 1970s. She worked as a home health nurse.

Some memoirs about a specific place are more like ACE math and some are more like A Beka. ACE focuses on one skill at a time and makes children plow through ten solid pages of two-digit subtraction before moving on to something else. A Beka, on the other hand, has a little buffet every day: a dozen addition and subtractions problems, two story problems, and a fraction or two.

I’ve considered writing a memoir of our years in the North in Canada and wondered which method would be best. My letters are much like A Beka math—a bit of culture, an update on the kids, a few details of daily life, and an interesting anecdote in each "chapter."

Call the Nurse, in contrast, is more like ACE. While they’re all structured around an interesting story, most chapters focus on one aspect of life on the island. Maybe the weather, or holiday customs, or going shopping on the mainland for supplies.

It works, because Mary MacLeod is an excellent writer and wraps everything in well-told stories. However, it sometimes seems a bit choppy.

Medical people get to see below the surface of a community, and this was certainly true of MacLeod. She traveled hither and yon, sometimes by boat, to all kinds of isolated stone cottages full of eccentric people. She shows personal and cultural quirks without mocking or patronizing, which is a rare accomplishment. Also, she works in just enough dialect to give us the flavor without confusing us, which is a delicate thing to balance.

I felt like I could see and feel the wind, the choppy seas, the bare hillsides, and the sturdy cottages. I also learned some of the history of the Hebrides and "saw" how the population dwindled on some of the islands until the last people had to leave, for practical/survival reasons, leaving abandoned villages and many years of history behind.

I recommend the book.

2. One Woman Falling by Melanie Campbell

Categories: Book with a three-word title, book inspired by a true story, book with a blue cover, book published in 2020. [We weren’t supposed to have more than two categories per book, but I didn’t follow all the rules.]

I have a personal investment in this book, because it was written by my friend Melanie from my writing group and I am listed in the acknowledgements.

One Woman Falling is about a young woman in an abusive marriage who escapes with her young daughter and works to create a new life. It’s always been hard for me to understand the dynamics in such a marriage—what motivates a woman to stay, what it takes for her to leave, and why she's so vulnerable in the process. This book was eye-opening in many ways, including the legal and mental challenges of leaving an angry and vengeful man.

It also followed the main character’s journey to faith and trust in God. 

Even though I’d critiqued the individual chapters, I was still gripped by the story and could hardly put it down. Melanie’s own story was the inspiration for One Woman Falling, which made it extra painful to read but also increased my understanding.

Around the same time, I watched the movie Herself, which shared many parallels with One Woman Falling—young woman, daughters, and a raging, manipulative husband. I don’t recommend Herself except to educate yourself, as it’s not a “fun” movie and it has a lot of rough language.

I would like to be a better resource for women in these hard situations, and I am more informed now than I was before.

3. Through a Glass Darkly by Lori Hershberger

Category: Read a poetry book for at least 20 minutes.

I like poetry that contains poetic devices like rhyme, metaphors, and unexpected connections. Poetry ought to convey an emotion, I think.

I am also practical and homespun with poetry preferences, gravitating to poems I can read and understand. I don’t like to frown over obscure combinations of words that must be sorted into little piles with a hairpin and examined under a magnifying glass before any meaning can be extracted.

I picked up a book I had on hand to fulfil this requirement, but my eyes soon glazed over. “Maybe you should read Lori’s book,” said Amy the problem-solving daughter. She went upstairs and fetched Through a Glass Darkly, a book by her friend who is both an Amish girl from Kansas and a missionary in Thailand.

I loved it.

In my favorite piece, Lori writes about airports as though they are romantic partners. Airports are full of promises, they draw you into their embrace, they offer gifts and adventures. But they also break their promises, abandon you, and disappoint you.

She also writes about children, rain, loss, and much more, all in language both mystical and accessible, with twists and connections that are timed perfectly. She shows the same respect for the Thai people as Mary MacLeod did for the Scottish people in Call the Nurse.

You can read her blog at In Search of a Brook.