Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Best and Worst of Times

By the Agape restaurant, you can get pellets from dispensers and feed the friendly goats.
I don't see that combination happening in Oregon, but the East is a different animal than the West.
Liberty learned that if you put the pellets anywhere but the palm of your hand, the goats might bite your fingers.

Like so many misadventures, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Emily had floated the idea of her and I doing a small book tour in the East this fall. When she received an invitation from a library in New York to come do a reading and signing, it felt Meant To Be.

When you self-publish, you arrange your own book signings, which means trying to figure out the demographics and details at places you’ve never been, plus finalizing all the specifics and doing all the publicity.

When you go Back East from the West Coast, you (or at least I) try to fit more into your trip than it can comfortably hold, the way you max out your suitcases with about 40 pounds of books and 10 of clothes and shampoo. Why not go early and visit Jenny in Virginia?! And then maybe we can borrow Jenny’s car for all our travels?! And Paul is leaving for Nepal—why not have him fly out with Emily on the companion pass so we can have a little more time together before he leaves?

Thus began the most complicated trip I’ve ever planned. The good thing about this was something I realized when I was talking with my niece and she said, “I wouldn’t have the brain space right now to think through anything like that.” And I realized—My brain is healing! I went through a couple of years when I couldn’t plan an overnight trip to the coast without crying in sheer overwhelmed anxiety. And look at me now. I worked hard for this recovery, but it still snuck up on me, and suddenly I’m scheduling book signings and train trips and visits!

The unfortunate thing about a complicated itinerary is that one thing—just ONE THING—can blow up the whole plan.

It wasn’t the canceled flights that sent it all sideways, although that was bad enough. I had a stopover at Houston Hobby and texted Matt and Phoebe that it made me sad to be only half an hour away from them but I didn’t have time to see them.

Then the flight to Baltimore was delayed for five hours. Well! I texted again, Matt came and picked me up, and Phoebe fed me a fine dinner. What fun!

Matt and me. I am still smiling at this point.

Back at the airport, the flight was delayed further, then cancelled.  I was rebooked for the next day, flying Houston-Dallas-Louisville-Baltimore. 

Matt came and got me. I spent the night at their house.

The next morning, I flew to Dallas and an hour later boarded the plane for Louisville. I was all settled when an announcement came that the next leg, Louisville to Baltimore, was cancelled.

I got off, along with a dozen others who were as upset as I was but used different language to express it. I just repeated, “Oh my stars!” a few times.

“You can’t get to Baltimore today,” said the man at the counter.

“So what am I supposed to do?” I said, channeling the voice Paul uses in such cases that means, “This is your job to sort this out, so do it.” 

The man tapped and frowned. “There are two seats left on the afternoon flight.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll take one.”

While I waited, I used my last good tea bag and tried not to despair. I also thought, with a sense of doom, that I was very tired and spending a lot of time in crowded airports and planes, not a good combination for someone who gets sick easily.

Oh well.

I flew from Dallas to Memphis to Myrtle Beach, seeing places I’d never been before, then to Baltimore, where Jenny’s friend Kathrine and her husband Luke appeared like comforting angels and took me to their cute brick house only ten minutes from the airport. I spent the night in their upstairs, and Kathrine put me on the right train in the morning, headed for Roanoke.

This is another significant conclusion from my travels: people are your most valuable resource when traveling. Having Matt and Phoebe in Houston made all the difference in that debacle, and Kathrine’s generous offer to pick up and house anyone in Jenny’s family who flies into BWI was a lifesaver.

Kathrine's hospitality went above and beyond.

Side note: I am very fond of Kathrine, but that is not because we have similar backgrounds. She was raised in the Philippines, an only child whose nanny fed her like a little bird until she was in the third grade. Luke, however, came from a line of blue collar people in Maryland. His family worked in construction, and his grandpa had a sheet metal business. I understand that sort of history.

That information led to stories about Uncle Jimmy, Luke’s dad’s brother. Uncle Jimmy grew up working in his dad’s sheet metal business and kept on when he was out of school. That was basically all he did. When he was thirty, he rode on an escalator for the first time, and it freaked him out. When he was forty, still plugging away in his dad’s business, a woman who was a bit older than him asked him for his phone number. He didn’t have a cell phone and gave her the business number that reached the old rotary dial phone in the shop. Whatever she did worked, though, and they started dating. One night they had a double date with Luke’s parents. Uncle Jimmy thought he’d treat everyone to a movie and popcorn and stuff. He brought $20 for this splash. We assume he hadn’t been out on the town since about 1985. But despite the phone and the movie debacle, Uncle Jimmy and this woman were married four months later. They have a number of dogs, including one with kidney problems, which the new aunt described in detail to Kathrine the first time they met.

I do love stories about interesting people.

Uncle Jimmy’s marriage caused a rift in the family business, and now he has his own sheet metal business. Luke didn’t say this, but I have a suspicion that Grandpa had conveniently underpaid him all those years and the new wife said You Are Worth More Than This.

Good for her.

I hadn’t been on an Amtrak train in probably 20 years, and the ride to Roanoke got me hooked. Comfortable, quiet, roomy, relaxed. Plug-ins on the wall, hot coffee a few cars down, lovely scenery, room to work or sleep. I am planning future trips.

Then, at last, I was with Jenny! We had lost a day, so we crammed as much into the next few as we could. I met her lovely roommate Rebekah, a girl from Malaysia who somewhat incongruously has become well known as a writer and meme-maker in the Anabaptist world. I saw Jenny’s office, met a bunch of her friends, and had dinner with my nephew Derek and his wife Grace and their baby in the next town over. Jenny and I walked all over the Virginia Tech campus, had lunch at the pescatarian place, and worked on our own projects at a coffee shop.

Jenny in her office.
Jenny got me hooked on Hagoromo chalk a couple of years ago. She said it's the favorite of grad students everywhere. I saw proof of this at Virginia Tech.
I crept down these stairs to do laundry and hoped Jenny was alert and cautious whenever she comes down here to pay her rent or do her wash. Yikes.

Before I came, Jenny had told me she wants me to fix her sewing machine as it had completely stalled. The motor revved but it wouldn’t sew. I was delighted not only to have my daughter trust me with the task but also because I love taking things apart and figuring out what’s wrong.

So Jenny gave me screwdrivers and I started taking her precious machine apart—throat plate, bobbin case, and so on. I removed the slab on the end that covers the light and most of the threading loops and fished out a long, stuck, piece of thread.

It still didn’t work. I fiddled and fussed some more.

Then, suddenly, it worked.

I had flipped the little prong on top. The machine had been in bobbin-winding mode. That was all.

It was tempting to tell Jenny that I had done an amazing, complicated fix, but that wouldn’t help her the next time it happened. So I told her. I think she felt a little silly, but now she knows.

I slept in Jenny’s bed while she was on an air mattress in the living room. Wednesday night I was freezing cold all night. I couldn’t find extra blankets, so I pulled a coat and fuzzy onesie pajama out of Jenny’s closet and piled them on the bed.

The next morning I felt absolutely terrible—congested, fever, cough, throwing up. Jenny insisted I take a Covid test. It was positive.

You don’t think about how many people you’ve seen and how many lives you touch until you test positive for Covid. Jenny and Rebekah, who both teach at VT, have a whole protocol to follow if they’re exposed or get sick, which they both did, but not as severely as me. So did Derek and Grace. My sister and her husband were going to stop in a few days later before a trip overseas, and I thought I could not bear it if Rebecca missed out on seeing her grandbaby because I had infected them all. I don’t think Luke and Kathrine or Matt and Phoebe got sick, but it still pained me that I had unwittingly exposed them all.

Seriously, we all touch more lives than we realize.

You also don't think about how hard it is to rearrange the logistics if you suddenly get really sick, or how hard it is to think when you have a fever, or the logistical nightmare of making arrangements with people who are in the air most of the day. 

I wasn't fit to drive the car from Blacksburg to Baltimore as planned, or to go to New York for those events. We finally figured out how to get to Lancaster, PA, and decided to have Paul and Emily do the events in New York.

Through all this, I was trying to make sense of the fact that the last time I caught Covid, a year ago, I was visiting Amy in Thailand. What in the world is with that? And are my daughters going to develop anxiety every time I come visit them??

Paul and Emily flew in, and Paul came by train to fetch me and Jenny’s car while Emily stayed at Kathrine’s. Since everything had to go sideways, he got on the wrong train in Baltimore, hopping on the MARC, a local commuter train, rather than the Amtrak. By God’s mercy, both trains went to Union Station in Washington, DC, and he switched.

Then we had to figure out how to ride in the car together, with me all feverish and drippy, without Paul and Emily getting infected, especially since Paul was leaving in a few days for a trip to Nepal and India.

It was complicated. We decided to wear N95 masks, which is what medical people do in the presence of infection, and hope for the best.

Once again, Kind People came through. I was able to isolate in a guest apartment belonging to a board member of Open Hands, the ministry Paul works for. Paul and Emily went on to New York to do the book signings without me. The library cancelled their event, which was hugely disappointing, and the second event was not well attended because my judgment of the demographics of the area had been way off.

It was all very disheartening.

I used to look for signs in situations when everything went wrong. Had I not prayed enough about the trip, had I missed obvious cues, was I being punished, was there a major life lesson I needed to learn?

I don’t do that any more. You do the best you can with the information you have. Things happen. You deal with it. You know for next time.

Then, things turned around. I felt better, Paul stayed well and left for Nepal, and Emily and I went to our final three book signings at Main Street Exchange (a modest clothing boutique) and two Good's Stores, each one better attended than the last. We had a wonderful day with my niece Annette, I flew home without the slightest hiccup, Emily went on to a work retreat, and Paul thoroughly enjoyed his trip.

Paul says this little girl was eating fruit of some kind while having a lively conversation with him, despite the fact that neither could understand the other.

At Good's Store in Ephrata, the employees had decorated our table with greenery and this little hen. It spoke of welcome and forethought.
Cora and her daughters drove an hour and a half to see us at Main Street Exchange! Cora and I went to a little Amish school in Ohio when she was in first grade and I was in fourth.

Between customers, Emily browsed the lovely clothes at Main Street Exchange.

Stacey-Jean got a group of ladies together for coffee and encouragement. We're all part of a Facebook group and it was lovely to meet in person.
At Annette's house, Emily helped the girls sew doll clothes.
She is their "Aunt Emily" and is honored to have the title.

Sometimes trips go well, and sometimes they don’t. This one was both the best and worst of times. I haven't extracted any profound meaning from it yet, except that it's lifesaving to have people to call when everything goes wrong. God bless everyone who stepped up in our desperate moments.

I hope I am as willing and available when it’s my opportunity to help when someone else's plans are going completely haywire.

My friend/neighbor/niece Dolly housesat for us and took care of everything including the dahlias, which were still blooming gloriously when I got home.
For the first few years, my dahlias were mostly purples and whites. I'm slowly cultivating more pinks, corals, and yellows, thanks to strategic specifics on my Christmas lists.

I call these dinnerplate dahlias Pink Patricias, because my friend Pat Lee gave me the tubers.

My new book, Coming Home to Roost, is available at

Friday, September 15, 2023

Update to the Book Tour Plans

Unfortunately, while visiting my daughter Jenny, I came down with Covid. This has altered our book tour schedule slightly. 

The event tonight at the Lodi library in NY has been canceled. Emily and Paul will be at the event tomorrow, September 16, at Milly's Pantry in Penn Yan, NY from 10am to 3pm, but I will not be there.

By Monday I should no longer be contagious, so I plan to do the Monday and Wednesday events in PA as scheduled. Here is the information for those events:

If you think about it, please continue to pray for my health!

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Putting Off the Hard Tasks

 Dear Aunt Dorcas,

I’d love to hear your thoughts on avoiding things that feel too hard or overwhelming. For me that tends to be tasks that either have a lot of details to keep track of or things that I know are outside my ability and require heavy dependence on Holy Spirit. It’s not that I avoid them forever, but there tends to be a period of avoidance before surrendering to the inevitable and diving in. Can you identify? What have you learned along the way about dealing with these types of tendencies?


Processing corn feels like a huge, overwhelming task.
But I had lots of help, and that made it much easier.

Dear Naomi,

Just this week, a young woman asked me how I motivate myself to go places. She knows me well enough, especially that introverted part of me, to know that I'm always ecstatic when plans are canceled. I find it really hard to get ready and go out the door, into the car, and off where I need to be.

“It’s not so bad when I’m doing something WITH someone,” she explained. “If I’ve arranged to go to church with someone else, I get ready and go. But if they don’t go, then I end up not going either.”

I thought about this. In the last week, I had gone to the fair and sat there for six hours even though it was a rainy day and very few people were even at the fair, let alone wandering past the authors’ table. I went to the doctor for a physical even though I dreaded it with a heavy knot in my stomach. I went to church twice on Sunday, and on Thursday I went to Emily’s Red Barn Coffee Hour, a weekly event.

In every case, I overcame my inertia because of commitments to someone else. I had told Bill Sullivan I’d be at the fair from 12-6, and I wanted to keep my word. Also, if I didn’t show up, he might not invite me to the Christmas event for authors and artists. I’d have to pay the doctor if I didn’t give him 24 hours’ notice. I was committed to teaching my class on Sunday morning, and on Sunday evening, Paul was going to speak so of course I needed to be there for him. And Emily feels discouraged if no one shows up for her coffee klatsch, so I always go.

We see here what motivates me to do the hard thing of showing up: prior commitments, other people counting on me, financial cost, and the shame of dropping the ball.

There are many many times when I think I really need to go get groceries or pick up some fresh fruit at Detering Orchards or take a box of books to the post office. Grudgingly, I comb my hair and pick out a clean outfit. Then I look at the clock and think, “This really could wait for tomorrow,” or “I think I can cram that box in the mailbox,*” or “I’ll bet Paul would love an excuse to run to Harrisburg.” Then I stay home and feel inordinately happy about it.

*Prepaid labels are a blessing, but I don’t know the post office ladies as well as I used to.

Your situation is different. It seems you avoid specific tasks that seem overwhelming. But I think we connect on the emotions and the dread.

I have a theory that we are all having a rough time of it. Our collective mental health isn’t very good, we all struggle with inertia, and normal tasks seem harder than they ought. I base this on my own experience, conversations with my grownup kids, watching my friends’ struggles, and people online. I feel like something has shifted, and not in a good way.

I have excellent reasons for being fragile and struggling with normal responsibilities, I'd say, because the past three years have brought an insane load of upheaval, change, tragedy, and challenges. I try to give myself grace. If I manage to hang onto my pool noodle until the wave passes, I give myself points for that.

But that doesn’t explain the pervasive cloud over the whole culture. The only upheaval I shared with everyone else was Covid, which was not experienced nearly the same by everyone, so it doesn’t seem like it would make us all equally discouraged.

But here we are, and things are hard.

My sense is that Covid, smartphones, an individualistic culture, the high cost of living, and probably other factors have all chipped away at our connectedness. We show the results in random, unexpected ways—such as struggling to do the tasks we find difficult.

I hope we learn whatever lessons God is trying to teach us and have the wisdom and courage to change.

So here’s my advice to you, both general and specific.

1. You’ve already identified a number of things about the tasks you find difficult. Lots of details, not in your skills or giftings, needing to rely on God. Good for you. Analyze a bit deeper and look for information, letting go of any shame and frustration. Are there outside factors such as fatigue that make it worse? Who is asking/telling you to do these things? What will happen if you don’t do them at all? Are they more difficult than they used to be? Jot down the answers and see if you can find insight or patterns.

2. Look at your life, schedule, and health—mental, physical, and spiritual. If you are constantly overwhelmed with surviving, anything beyond basic, simple work is going to feel like Too Much. If you can ease the stress, do that. If not, give yourself grace. This stage will pass. Also, recognize that factors like depression and ADHD will affect how you approach work. It helps to know what’s typical, and the information can help you find a path around the obstacles.

3. Make sure you actually need to do the things. Is this for sure your job and your assignment? Should it be delegated to someone else? If you feel a deep resentment, it’s often a sign that you are doing it because of pressure from someone else, and you ought to be saying “No” but feel like you just can’t.

4. Get others involved, even though this takes humility and a pushing back against an individualistic mindset. We need other people, connection, accountability, support, and understanding, all things that we are collectively losing in my [admittedly small] world. It takes humility to push back, and to admit, tell, and ask.

As mentioned, it’s the commitment to others that gets me going when I’d rather stay home. A contrived accountability helps me in other challenging areas. Maybe I’ll tell my daughter I can’t get online until I’ve worked an hour on an article, or I’ll post a chart where everyone can see if I’m taking daily walks.

When I’m stressed and/or can’t sleep, my brain finds it restful to scroll through reels, those captivating little movies on Instagram. I can easily lose all track of time. It’s embarrassing. So then I have a choice—keep trying to do better with a combination of shame and great effort, or recognize that I need assistance. I have a “fun money” jar where I save cash toward a girls’ trip, so I’ll text one of the daughters and tell them I have to put a dollar in the jar for every reel I watch that day.

Is it silly? Should a grown woman have the character and wisdom to not get sucked into the Instagram whirlpool? Yes and yes.

Does it work to get my daughter involved, and does it yank me out of that spiral? Also yes and yes.

Tea makes hard tasks easier.

5. Recognize that you are always learning and growing. We are always struggling in our cocoon until we break out into a new stage of growth. Change is really hard, and we don’t change until the misery of changing is less than the misery of staying the same. It will take you a while to learn to do the hard tasks right away, but you’ll get there, and meanwhile there will be failure, frustration, and fatigue.

Embrace the process.

One of the many things I learned through my husband’s catastrophic injuries three years ago is that God made our bones and muscles to need resistance, pushing, pulling, and hard work. That is the way of health, strength, and thriving.

The same seems to be true in emotional and spiritual maturity. Accept it. Something amazing is happening. You are going to get there.

I wish you all the best.

I hope the societal winds shift, the clouds lift, and we become more healthy and connected. I hope we all do our part to make this happen, even if it means telling someone we are having a hard time.

We were not designed to figure it out on our own.

That’s what I think.

Aunt Dorcas

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Book Tour--Upstate New York and Pennsylvania

 My daughter Emily and I will soon be holding some book events "back East" as we say in Oregon. If you live in either of these areas, we'd love to see you.

Here's our schedule:

If you can't download the poster, here's the information:

Friday, September 15, 6:30 pm--We'll read from our books, meet visitors, and have books for sale at the Lodi Whittier Library.

Saturday, September 16--We'll be at Milly's Pantry from 10 am to 3 pm, 19 Main St., Penn Yan, New York.

Monday, September 18, 1:00 to 4:00 pm--find us at Main Street Exchange, 3000 Lincoln Hwy. East, Gordonville, PA.

Wednesday, September 20, we'll be at two Goods Store locations. 
10 am to 12 pm at East Earl
2 pm to 4 pm Ephrata

You can bring books and have us sign them, shop for more, or just come and say Hi.