Today and Backward a Week or So

I told the girls we’ll go to Sally and Wally today after they are done with school. We haven’t done any shopping together for weeks, and they love to check out the deals at thrift stores. As we were pulling into the Salvation Army parking lot, Rita said, “Oh, goody! We can get candy out of the quarter machines.” Before I could protest about how germy those little metal chutes are, where people dig their fingers in to make sure no fruit runts are left behind, she said, “And I brought sanitizing wipes for the machines before we get our candy.” How can a mother object past such preparedness?

I get a lot of private amusement from their purchases. Today one of them bought a 1/4 cup ladle for her playhouse, a crocheted shawl for dress-ups, and a baggie full of mini figures. Another bought a purse, and the last one found a scarf and a tiny notebook/planner with a pen that doesn’t work but looks cute. As for me, I bought two books, some steak knives, and a hoodie for one of my teens.

We kept our Wally stop very short… Just a few health and beauty aids, some chicken breasts, lead for mechanical pencils, and stuff like that. It’s astonishing how quickly Wally can gobble up all the carefully saved money, and Addy walked past at least two displays of Kinderjoy eggs without caving. I was so proud of her.

This morning I looked out the window, and this is how the garden still looks, to my delight and astonishment.

In August I noticed a few volunteer tomato plants that were unaffected by blight. They are now ripening on the vines, still untouched by frost this late in the season. The dahlias are weak-stemmed and bowed down with the weight of the riotous blooms they keep putting out. They have fallen over all the other plantings in the bed, nearly smothering them. I cleared out most of the annuals and vegetables, and I planted my garlic yesterday under the stick trellis. If all goes to plan, the dill will volunteer there next year as well. The pine straw was hauled to our house one little lawn trailer load at a time from the neighbor’s generous pine trees. He has been mowing them into piles, so we picked them up, with promises to rake them up again as they fall. Everybody wins in this deal. Except the weeds. They lose.

I had some enormous Jerusalem artichokes that needed to be relocated, and when I dug them up, there were plenty of bulbs for us to sample them. We washed them well, then tossed them in olive oil and garlic seasoning before roasting them. They were deliciously nutty, yet soft like potatoes inside. I decided that they merited a nice long row along the privacy fence, so that in future we can forage from them again. Also, they grew tall as sunflowers, so they need a bit of a backdrop. Our neighbor on the other side of the fence is a lonely old man who peers through the cracks and visits when I am out in the garden. I tell him to come on over, and sometimes he does, but often he just stands there and talks through the fence while his yippy little dog bounces and barks around him. I made sure there are spots where he can still peek through to see the action once the flowers grow along the fence.

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A row of 8’s makes a fancy sort of divider. This is a day later, and I can’t remember how I was going to conclude that post, but I’ll give it a shot by looking back over pictures from the past week.

Gabriel just passed the ten year mark of working for UPMC. It (he? she?) has been a good employer, and we are grateful. In a gift bag with an assortment of thank-you’s for his service, there was this mug. I pulled it out and got the giggles. I think it’s supposed to be a joke for such a time as this, for a person in healthcare.

Last weekend was the annual training for ski patrollers on our familiar Blue Knob Mountain. We have camped there many times in the past while Gabe trained, but this year we asked some old friends to join us. These are people who were in our youth group, some were co-teachers, and all had babies around the same times as we did. There is a richness to these friendships that never change.

Usually the campground is nearly empty in October because it is always wet and cold on the mountain this time of year. To our surprise, it was teeming with campers. But we had a great time anyway. I thought I knew these trails about as well as I know our backyard, seeing as our family had hiked them many, many times in the past. But when the dog got away during a hike, I told my friend Michelle that I would join her and a passel of little hikers by using a short cut as soon as I had the dog leashed again. I ran back to camp, shut Lady into the vehicle, then ran my shortcut trail, only I had forgotten to tell her to look for a fork and stay right, so the crew ended up hiking a lot further than expected before I rejoined them. They stayed very cheerful, and it was warm, even though it was damp.

Just a few days before this adventure, we had our 20th anniversary, and we dashed off to Niagara Falls for two days and a night. We had a lovely time, just meandered about the countryside, rented scooters to tourist at the falls, hiked 400 steps down into the Devil’s Hole Gorge just as it was getting dark, so that we couldn’t dawdle on the way back out or we wouldn’t have been able to see where we were going. It was off season, lots of places closed, but we found a hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant with wonderful food that exploded ginger and cilantro and lemongrass in our mouths when we ate. We hardly recognize our 20-years-ago selves: that’s how time, circumstances, and the love that accompanies that unique sanctification of dwelling together for two decades changes us. But we like each other and ourselves better now than we did then, so I think we’re growing the right way.

It’s funny. On our honeymoon, we would not have seen our future of browsing antique stores and junk shops as especially riveting. And we visited orchards: both a cider brewery and our fruit tree supplier, Schlabach’s Nurseries, up close to Lake Ontario. The latter was a thrill to visit. It was as if we stepped into a Wendell Berry book, only it was an Amish farm, with kindly proprietors who were generous with their knowledge of backyard orchards. They urged us to walk around and sample any fruit we wanted. We tried dead-ripe persimmons and immediately decided we need to plant some. Then we had a quince, a bit sour for our taste, probably because it wasn’t quite ripe. The Asian pears he brought out of the ice house were amazing. (Yes, a real ice house, with ice harvested off their pond last winter.) Next was a pawpaw, which I had read about, but had no idea what to expect. “It’s an experience in itself,” Emmanuel Schlabach said, and he was right. It was like a melon and a banana got mixed into a mango. His father, David, was busy compiling next years catalog, which we pore over every year. Not surprisingly, they can’t possibly keep up with the demand, and they simply send checks back if they can’t fill their mail orders. There is no website and they don’t like using a phone. We have a deep respect for how these people stick to their principles, all while possessing this vast store of knowledge that makes the world a better place. We couldn’t taste all the apples he wanted us to try without looking like toddlers who take bites out of fruit, so in the end he gave us about a half peck of apples that we brought home to sample. It’s hard to decide which ones we want to order for spring planting, but we do know who we will order from.

That’s about as far back as I can conveniently remember at this time of night. It is a lovely, lovely fall. We have hardly any colorful leaves, but the air has been so balmy, it feels a little like you are swimming in it. Actually, today it rained. And it was kind of cold.

I do want to say one more thing of great import. My kitchen is all done! I have unpacked the boxes in storage and moved into the cabinets and it is a beautiful thing! When I am cooking, there is an aura of gratefulness around me. It feels like I can nourish any and all with ease. Come see me! (I am hoping to do a before and after post soon. Stay tuned. 🙂

Oh, yet one more thing. This is the time to plant your tulips for spring. You don’t have to do a thing except drop them into a hole in the ground. You won’t regret it! 😘

KBOing

That’s “keep buggering on,” for those who may not have run into that particular initialism. Our family thanks Winston Churchill for the code he had with his wife Clemmie when they were tired of a situation that they couldn’t dodge.

“We must just KBO, all of us,” I think. The situation in our hospitals has not gotten better. Intensive care units continue to overflow, and the caregivers continue to give care to the best of their abilities. Gabriel is working a flex position, so he is getting a six week break in the cardiac ICU.

I have gotten a number of notifications of new email followers, probably due to writing about those very controversial subjects last month. You are quite welcome in this space, but I have to tell you, I rarely feel compelled to pick up hot button issues of our day. There is plenty of outrage in the world without me adding to it. Also I am the offspring of a father who hates controversy and a mother who admonished her children repeatedly, “Sweep your own doorstep first.” What you will find here could be pretty solidly described as a mom-blog, with a sprinkle of homeschool, a lot of garden, occasional links to cool stuff, some marriage advice distilled out of 20 years of living with my love, less parenting certainty than I used to have, but a lot more confidence in Jesus.

The world is a beautiful place full of promise, but it is also broken, groaning for redemption. Every day I can live in a way that adds to the glory in the world, or I can live in a way that adds to the heaviness.

Cosmos from the girls’ garden, finally coming into their own after spending the summer getting tall
instead of putting out blooms.

This is my passion: I have been redeemed from destruction, and I am called as a follower of Jesus to model that redemption. If I add to the hurt and destruction, I am not living as a child of light and love. Somehow this makes decisions easier for me to make. Should I do this, or this today? Should I say this, or not? Should I delete that paragraph?

My career at this point is to stay home, take care of my family, love my husband, educate our children, and from that base I reach out to my neighbors, my church, people in the larger community. I enjoy online connections so much and have made some fabulous friends that I haven’t ever met in person, but I am more invested in the people whose faces I can see when we talk, the ones I can hug when we meet, the ones who plant mums across the street and need help to rake leaves.

When I write, I intentionally prod people to connecting offline. I know, there is a funny sort of gap involved in a person posting admonitions to the world wide web to get offline and find a flesh and blood person. Funny, funny me.

I mostly write because it is how I process stuff. I hope that if there is any “tone” to this blog, it is simply that how we live matters. We get to choose if it is bright and hopeful, dark and self-absorbed, or mind-numbingly boring.

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Autumn in northwest Pennsylvania is exquisite! This is only our second season in the area, but I may turn into a fall lover after all. Not necessarily the lover of everything dying while I drink pumpkin spice (I’ll draw the line at pumpkin tortilla chips), but the shining air, the harvest abundance, the last burst of bloom the garden puts out in these shorter days. I bring in loads of flowers because they will soon be gone and I want to look at them as much as possible.

My dahlias lift my spirits every day, and there are plenty of blooms on them to share willy-nilly
with anybody who crosses my path.

I made a cake with apples that you would like too. It definitely adds glory to the world.

You can find the recipe for Sourdough Coffee Cake at Food Network, but let me tell you about some tweaks that will elevate it to the heavenlies.

Mix the recipe just as stated, but then!.. Grate an apple or two, and fold it into the batter (a little over a cup of apple shreds is good). You can decrease the sugar a bit if you like, since the apple adds moisture and sweetness, but do not skimp on the cinnamon!

My second tip is to bake your cake in a cast iron pan. I use a 10 inch skillet, and when this cake comes out of the oven, the people come running. I had it ready for breakfast when Gabriel got home from nightshift last week because if I had to work nights, I would be glum, and I can imagine how cheering it would be to walk into a house scented with apple cinnamon.

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Every day I am given in my hands the raw material for making a beautiful world. The ordinariness of life is easy to overlook as too mundane to mention, yet it nurtures the world. God holds it all together, of course, but He asks me to do some things to help out. The raw materials are simple: cheerful good-mornings, read-aloud chapters before starting math, and learning verses to music. Fresh coffee with breakfast and cups of spearmint tea at bedtime. Sometimes what is in my hands is sourdough starter or green beans and garlic cloves. It may be flowers or paper, pen, and a stamp. Occasionally it is a heaviness I have to carry to Jesus in prayer for days on end, and I don’t even know what He is going to do about it, but I keep praying.

I know the niggardly tendencies of my own heart. When I live out of the kindness of Jesus because He has been so indescribably generous to me- that makes all the difference. He is the one who will heal this weary old world, but He is asking us to pitch in. We don’t get to quit, indulge in a private pity party because everything is just too much for us.

We have to KBO, friends. (Sorry for jerking you from the spiritual to the physical so repeatedly, but I don’t believe in a sacred/secular divide anyway.)

What is in your hands today? Please tell me about the raw materials you have been given.

Just One More Thing

I’m hearing from your messages that there are a lot of bewildered and weary people, just wishing for some clarity, and wanting to be able to make decisions that they can live with when this pandemic is over.

If you’re the kind of person who yells NEVER in very loud capital letters as soon as you hear a V, this is probably not where you want to be.

Some of you wanted to know how I came to decide to get such a controversial vaccine. I am not anti-vax, but I have never gotten a flu shot and we have curated the vaccines that our children get. I feel like I don’t fit into any camp when it comes to vaccines.

We take vitamins, we drink elderberry syrup when we have the flu, and we use garlic for things like earache and plantain for stings. We nearly always try the natural route first, and very rarely have taken antibiotics for anything. But when we need it, we go get what we need from the pharmacy and we are grateful.

I have an eighth grade education, (a good one, but still) and a GED. I am a mom, and life happens. When I am in over my depth, I ask advice from people (doctors) who know a lot more than I do, and I trust their knowledge and skill. I am a wife who believes in God’s headship order, and under my husband’s direction I am free and secure. He knows a lot more than I do about how our bodies work, but I might know more about how our bodies feel. He respects my opinions and I respect his.

When the vaccines became available for frontline workers, my husband got his before Christmas. I was nervous, and said, “What if you have a horrible reaction because nobody really knows if they’re safe?” He wasn’t afraid, and had no side effects except a sore arm after the second shot.

When it became available to the general public this spring, my husband said, “I think you should get the vaccine.” After so much exposure, our family had still not gotten sick, so we had no natural antibodies. “Maybe I should,” I thought, but I didn’t consider myself to be in a risky demographic, being a woman in my 40s with type O blood, (at the time that this was thought to be an advantage) and healthy overall.

I did a half-hearted poke into some research, found myself thoroughly confused, and ignored his suggestion.

When Delta started swirling, he said it again, “I wish you would get vaccinated. I really don’t want to see you in the ICU ever, but for sure not now.”

Well, it looked like it was time to do more research. Do you know what it looks like to research these days? (Unless you’re a virologist or am epidemiologist or some other -ist with a lab.) Oh yes, you’re the ones who are so tired of all the controversy. You know. It didn’t matter what I researched, there were experts equally sure they were right on both sides of the issue. It was extremely frustrating and I could not come to any solid conclusions.

I did look at the statistics though, and found a common thread. A huge percentage of hospitalized covid patients were unvaccinated. Surely there had to be a correlation between that fact and the efficacy of the shot. “Basically,” my husband said, “it’s not fail proof, but it’s the best we have right now to fight this virus.”

What about reactions? “How many people do you know who have had the vaccine? How many of them had reactions? Do any of them say that nobody should get it?” I asked him. When he told me he knows hundreds of people who have gotten the shot and none of them, to his knowledge, have regretted it, I asked myself, “Do I believe that or do I believe the online forums full of people I’ve never heard of talking about reactions and cover-ups? Which makes more sense to me?”

What about how rushed it has been? I did find that the mRNA technology has been in the research phase for a long time before covid, and showed enough promise that the government (Trump, if you wish to know) threw massive amounts of money and resources at it to speed it along.

The argument that it’s not FDA approved holds no water for people who regularly self medicate with herbs and vitamins. I wondered how we would be dealing with this if the shot were illegal in our country, but we could get it in Mexico if we paid enough for it? I’m guessing there would be an outcry of government conspiracy to keep people sick, and lines at the borders for the revolutionary life-saving technology that our stupid healthcare won’t let us get. (Sorry about that snark, but I feel like it’s a clever and true observation. In my spare time, I study human behavior. 🤨)

What about the long-term effects? I don’t know. Does anybody know? Does anybody know about the long-term effects on the body’s systems after having had covid? Does anybody know about tomorrow?

So, there I was, still on the fence. I decided to ask God if He had an opinion. It wouldn’t have hurt to do that first. He reminded me that I should probably make my decisions in faith, not fear. I realized that either way, I need to own my decision, and be at rest.

Because I believe that my husband is given to me by God to help me find my way in this life, I could not feel at peace to ignore his wishes any longer. But it was my decision, informed by his experience. I know that’s not especially helpful if you don’t have a husband, but I’m just saying my bit here about how I got off the fence, made the phone call to Rite Aid, got the shot with a needle so fine that I didn’t even feel it. I felt a little tired the next day. My arm was sore and I was achy for a day after the second dose.

Just for fun we tried the Make a Coin Stick on Your Injection Site trick, but it didn’t work. I guess whatever is injected is supposedly magnetic, only quarters have no magnetic metal in them, so whatever.

I would just like to conclude with this: I hope it works, but if I get sick, nothing will change in terms of who is in control. I have not aligned myself with the devil or accepted the mark of the beast. I love Jesus as much as ever and He is with me now and in the future. I am trusting Him with all of it.

How else can we live?

:::I’m not sure if I want to risk leaving the comments section open. I witnessed some pretty scary dogpiling recently, but for now I’ll trust that you graciously accept my motivations to write this as being without guile.:::

While My Foot Is In It

Thank-you for your kindness in hearing my last post. Let me just say, I am a peace-lover and a peace-maker. I like when people understand each other, or at the least, care enough about each other to be dignified. I never listen to political debates and cannot stand controversial meetings. I would rather put up with all manner of disagreeable feelings than drag them into the air. “Can we just all get along?” would be my slogan if I ever ran for any sort of office. And yet I went and stuck my foot right in it. Maybe I can pour a little oil on troubled waters here in this space?

I know everybody is tired of Covid, and for a few months this summer, we got to go back to normal. It was so wonderful that we swatted away warnings about the Delta variant like pesky flies. And yet, here it is. Over the whole world again. This is how I feel: Shucks. I don’t want Christmas to be over. I hope and pray we don’t have to enter another lockdown and if they mandate masks again, I will feel sorry for my loss. But I will not in all conscience be able to say that “they” are all stupid power-grabbers. “They” might actually be trying to fix things with a rather limited amount of tools that the majority of people are calling stupid. Of course the powers that be use any means they can to climb the power ladder. That includes all the ordinary, hard-working people under them who like and share their agenda. The meanness is not a new thing, but the modern means of pitting brother against brother in a public forum has to be a lot more efficient than the dreadful ads politicians used to put into the newspapers to smear the other side.

But that isn’t the kingdom we are primarily concerned about as children of God. It seems like this is where much of the trouble lies. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting to prevent my arrest…” I mean, this was his life He is talking about! A look at the in-fighting of the past year indicates that this could turn into The Longest War. What if our churches and communities could become enclaves of peace and breathtaking kindness?

I have a few ideas.

Maybe we could listen, very quietly, for the still small voice of God’s Spirit. If we don’t believe He is here with us in this mess, we might as well hang it all up and go home. Just possibly He has something to say to our unrest. Just possibly He wants to change me!

Maybe we could find someone who is in a very different place than ourselves, and we could listen to each other. I hear you, and I am trying to understand your position. They might even become our friend. Maybe we could even care so much about each other that we do inconvenient things to show it.

Maybe we could ask ourselves the hard questions about how we are making our choices these days. And if honesty suggests we need to change some choices, we could be humble enough to do it.

Maybe we could stop mocking people for being stupid. If she wants to wear a mask in the park, is that really hurting anybody? It’s just a question I have.

Here’s a good one! Maybe we could delete social media if it is tripping us up. It’s just a suggestion, and not relevant to everyone, of course. I haven’t missed facebook for a few years now. If I wouldn’t creep onto my husband’s account sometimes, I would be better off in my spirit, but that’s probably just me and whatever silly Enneagram I happen to be.

We could enjoy the beautiful gifts right in front of us: this amazing summer, these flowers blazing glory into the world, this perfect ear of corn on the cob, this person in my household who loves me. Maybe we could recognize effort even when the performance is not as good as we wish it would be. We could look at the cashier’s face and say, “I appreciate your help,” and we could thank the delivery guy sincerely, and live in a wave of gratitude for the miniscule.

Maybe we could get to know people in our neighborhood, do things with each other, notice each other, wave and smile. There might be plenty of things for us to do right here in our local community if we laid down our phones and tried to find some actual people.

Friends, I know many of you, and I know this is how you are already living. These momentary afflictions are… momentary! They will produce glory. Your faithfulness to Jesus in this day matters. What you do with your hands today, and how you speak your words, it all matters.

“Unprecedented times,” they say, but that isn’t quite right. It’s just in our lifetime that we have become so soft to the sort of stamina that is being asked of us.

We are not alone in shouldering this burden. Remember that there is a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before, and they are cheering us on. Go read Hebrews 12 if you need a boost. Read chapter 11 too. Actually, just take a half hour and read the whole book. Better things are coming!

I’ll just be over here, considering the lilies, and pulling my foot back out of it.

Echo Chambers: The Way I See It

:::Edit: my husband says his shoulders were slumped because he was heading in to night shift more than the dread of what would await him. It’s when he comes home that his shoulders slump from what the shift was like. I thought I should clarify that. He isn’t discouraged to the point of quitting. But he is tired. :::

Tonight my husband went to work, a work he loves, but I saw the slump in his shoulders that indicated his dread for what he would find when he gets to the intensive care unit. All this summer we kept hoping that this new variant would pass over us and our area would be spared, but things are as bad as they were in the thick of the pandemic last year.

When he got back after four long shifts last week, I could tell he was wrung out, physically and emotionally. I asked him how it is going. He is the one who thrives on the adrenaline of life-saving medicine, who enjoys the challenges of critically ill patients, and who has trained tirelessly for his work. “It is awful,” he said. “This week has totally whooped my butt. There is no time to eat, and hardly time to run to the bathroom. Today there were twenty-seven people stacked in the ER, waiting for beds. One woman waited for three days in another ER before being transported to the small-town hospital. And the patients in the ICU are younger, and they are falling apart for no obvious reason, with no other health issues at all.”

Gabe doesn’t talk much about his work, and up until recently he has remained charitable about the spreading of fear and misinformation online. For a while it seemed that mainstream media was whipping the subject into a frenzy, trying to get more mileage out of a very tired idea. The disagreements even seemed a little funny. I showed him a meme that said, “This Awful Vaccine is doing more harm than Covid ever did,” and he chuckled wryly at the obvious fact that there are not 630,000 vaccine deaths, nor are there any hospitals filling up with patients who have reactions, although of course, there are reactions. There always are reactions, just not nearly on the same scale as the disease. “It’s just how they see it,” he would say. “People should have a right to choose what they want to put into their bodies. It’s a basic tenet of medicine.”

The charity runs a little thin when the screaming from the sidelines gets louder. A lot of the people who need acute care are the same ones who have been booing the medical system for this entire long year. Right now the system is overwhelmed. There are not enough resources for the needs. Obviously this results in lapses in care, oversights, people falling through the cracks. It isn’t just the Covid patients; it’s the ruptured appendix and the stroke victims and the heart attacks too. Staff at hospitals are running, running, all day long. Normal care in an Intensive Care Unit is only two patients per nurse. When that number goes up to double the normal care load, things start to feel out of control quickly for their caregivers. Very, very few people come back to say thank-you, and unfortunately the ones in Gabe’s unit… they often die.

They die, despite the careful monitoring, the endless duties that are involved with total care, ensuring the patient is sedated enough that they will not pull out their lines, but not so sedated that they can’t wake up, the washing, the care for bedsores, checking kidney function, making sure their eyes don’t dry out, etc. etc. They die on the shifts of those nurses who saw the fear in their eyes because their worn-out lungs couldn’t maintain oxygen levels. And guess who has to remove the tubes and pull the plugs when that decision has been made that they will not be able to recover? Yes. It’s the ones who have been laboring day and night to help this patient pull through, who have been on the phone communicating with distraught family members, hoping against hope that this one makes a turn for the better. There are thousands and thousands of these stories of bereavement and loss falling through the cracks. Not the famous or important people, or the influencers, but the everyday hard-working ones whose families are devastated by their loss.

“After every shift, we think about what we missed, how we could have given better care, what went wrong,” he said quietly. “This is what haunts us. The worst is when someone who has no clue what it is like is sure that they could fix everything with the help of a few internet memes and some youtube research. As if they obviously know better than all the doctors and researchers who have spent their entire lives studying the human body, and they are baffled by this inscrutable virus. That is just enough to make me angry!” Friends, my husband has never been this frustrated with humanity in general. And he is only one of many nurses who are near breaking point from the tensions. “People tell me if I can’t handle the pressure, I should just quit and get another job,” he said, “but how would that help the situation?”

My heart is sore for these healthcare workers, and for the mistrust and confusion everywhere in our world. They aren’t asking to be lauded as heroes, but they would really appreciate being heard and respected for their sincere efforts to alleviate suffering and help people heal. And honestly, they would like if everybody at least considered the vaccine with an open mind, and if they decide to not get it, to at the very least do everything in their power to not spread the virus and it’s accompanying sensations.

Here’s a quote from an article that I feel articulates very kindly about how many doctors are feeling. “Many of the unvaccinated people I’ve talked with are hard-working, loving individuals struggling to catch a break in a life that hasn’t been fair. They’re unmoored and don’t know what to believe when truth itself has supply-chain problems and the health care system has been letting them down for years.”

I get it with the disillusionment that is felt for our healthcare system. I don’t really trust that the system has only my good in mind either. I don’t think science is a god that can save us. I do believe in respecting the gifts that our Creator has given men in developing their knowledge and honing skills to improve the lives of so many. If I end up getting Covid, I would do everything I could to try to heal at home. But if I need care beyond that, I will have to trust that the doctors care about my health and will do their best for me.

I also strongly believe that things like vaccinations should remain open to free choice, but I do not understand why that has to include reposting fear-mongering stories of dubious origin or news articles that are so heavy with agenda you can see the slant a mile off. And that goes for both sides of the debate! Why can we not ask God how to make our private decisions, and go on our way in faith? Why do we have to yell about it?

“We all have our own echo chambers, where what we already believe swirls around and that is what we hear,” my husband said. I had told him of feeling scalded by an online debate so nasty that if the people would have been Vikings, they would have been pulling hair and gouging out eyes.

I want to say, “We are better than this!” But the truth is, we are not. I know that I can come up with sarcastic zingers with the best of them, but I have asked Jesus to slap my hand before I write them in a comment thread. I am not joking one little bit. I like to be affirmed, that I am right, as does everybody else I know. Can we please just listen to each other’s hearts without vitriol? Please? Can we say, “I may be wrong, but this is the way I see it…” If the only debate we listen to is the narrative that echoes what is already swirling in our heads, we become more and more self-assured and more and more abrasive in our own defense.

I think about my friend Jeanie, whose dad passed away last year, and how clearly she saw it at his deathbed, “Love God; love people. That’s all that matters.” Hmm. Didn’t Jesus say something like that?

I cringe at all the suffering. I loathe Covid. I hate the divisions and strife. Maybe that is our real test, not so much the physical sickness. Maybe our real test is what we do despite the stresses in our very ordinary life, with our neighbors and the people in our house, and at the store or the post office or the mechanics shop. Maybe we are still being called to a very simple rule: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

Last week after reading that nasty comment thread I talked about, I felt sick in my soul, and I went out to my garden. I picked a half dozen ears of corn and walked over to my elderly neighbors to chat. I found out he can’t eat corn because he doesn’t have teeth, but he would be very happy for some tomatoes. He said he fell out of a tree this summer when he was trimming a branch, and had to have surgery on his shoulder. I said I would give him our phone numbers so that he can call the next time he needs to have a branch trimmed. Then I gave the corn to the other neighbor whom I hadn’t met yet. She was nice, but shy, and she said she has lived there nine years and still doesn’t know anybody. And then Dianne walked across the road to say hi, and we had introductions all around. It was a healing transaction for me; I no longer felt besmirched by the state of humanity. This. Right here. Actual people and a few ears of corn.

I want that simplicity of loving kindness. Please tell me, how do you keep the hubbub from destroying your peace? How do you keep your equilibrium?

These are the days…

…the August days, where we make salsa in the morning and put the extra cucumbers into the fridge for a friend because there are so many and they will blow up on the vines and end up on the compost pile. Tsk tsk, what a waste!

…the August days when our green bean plants have at last gotten ahead of voracious rabbits, and we get to taste our three-seed-trial. The first pile is Jade beans, the darkest green, and in our opinion, the toughest when cooked. They remind us of the bright beans on a Chinese buffet. The middle pile is Tenderette, but we aren’t sure why only some of the beans in the row are flat and wide and require pulling an actual string off the pod. It is a bit of a pain, but they are tender. The last is our old favorite, Strike. Although they are paler, they grow long and straight and are excellent as whole beans. They don’t seem to need as much cooking. Now we know.

…the August days where we fully intend to get a nice head start on school, only there is a funeral in Wisconsin, a day to do corn with friends, a few days with cousins, and somehow we approach the end of the month and have managed about eight school days. A soft start, but it is a start!

…the August days where we wonder about our decision to not install central air at this time, and it is very warm in the house. I buy a blower in the shop section at Walmart, then I set it on a stool in the doorway of the one bedroom (Greg’s room) that has a window unit. It blows cooler air out toward our living area and it is bearable.

…the August days when both our vehicles have to be inspected and neither one passes because they need some repairs, so Gabriel puts them on the lift, changes brakes, fixes tires, orders parts. Then we just take them back for the sticker and we’re kosher for another twelve-month.

…the August days that are already darkening earlier then we wish, and there are such multitudes of mosquitoes at dusk that we end up retreating to the house. We pick up our read-aloud tradition in the evenings and the girls beg for another chapter until my voice is hoarse.

…the August days when there are so many blooms in the garden that we can bring in fresh bouquets every day if we wish, plus share with friends. There are delicate dahlias, velvety sunflowers, brilliant cosmos, elegant gladiolas, and herbs gone prettily to seed so that they fill in any gaps in the vases. Sometimes the girls make enchanting fairies with the blooms.

I call it my pretty garden and it makes me happy.
That over-achieving Jerusalem artichoke on the left will need to be re-homed before next year.

…the August days of blackberries and elderberries and wild cherries, only we don’t know what to do with those last ones but there are so many on the trees that they bow down with the weight. But we make our berry-well syrup and freeze extras for winter. The blackberries are not as plentiful, more like a bonus for taking a walk.

…the August days where once again my husband’s work takes a stressful turn in the ICU as it fills up with critically ill patients and the nurses look at each other in dismay as they consider how they will make it through another season like we had in 2020. I feel the dismay too, because for a few months it felt like we could breathe freely and just maybe Covid has done its worst. So now we know it’s not over, and we will be required to have more stamina than we like.

…the August days when I look at the research, and the polarizing sides to all the stories, and I see that any decision has to be a decision made in faith because there are no guarantees. I have ignored my husband’s wishes and his firsthand experience long enough. I get the shots, and I am at peace about it. I am pleased to report that I have not turned magnetic or begun to glow in the dark. Yet.

…the August days when the frozen custard stand at the end of our road beckons imperiously, and really it is just about the best we’ve ever had, especially the tangerine sherbet, which isn’t even custard. We stand in line happily, because all too soon their windows will be shuttered for the season.

…the August days when I spend a whole afternoon with a crowd of tween girls at a pond equipped with a diving board and a rope swing. I swim a little, count heads a lot, and visit for hours with a mom-friend from church. It is a lovely way to be lazy.

…the August days when my new kitchen is almost finished. The main parts are installed; I marvel at how easily the drawers slide. There are knobs and handles ready for Gabriel to install as soon as he gets a day off monitoring patients or fixing random car troubles. The island is being built this week by our cabinet-maker, and our last bit of bowling-lane-turned-countertop needs to be sanded. So very close to finished!

…the August days with the insistent drone of late-summer insects announcing that these days are nearly over, but did we ever pack them full of goodness! Besides, there is still a lot of corn and cantelope ripening. It’s not over yet!

Saving Snippets

This morning in church we sang the song “Like a River Glorious” that always makes me grin when we hit the line “not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.” Just a few years ago there was nothing quite like the blast of hurry to get all the children presentable and to church on time and then there we sat and sang so sweetly. It impressed me enough that I copied the line in a notebook so I could remember the irony. I do love the song, especially this verse in its entirety: “Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand, Never foe can follow, never traitor stand; Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care, Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.”

***********

Last week my maternal grandma died at eighty-nine years old, a few weeks after she had a stroke and begged Jesus every day to take her home. There was no sting in her death, but it felt sad because it was the end of an era for me. I have no more living grandparents.

Grandma was not a splashy person with big achievements to catch the world’s attention. I suppose you could say that she led the life of a basic Anabaptist woman: married young, had eight babies, worked hard to feed and clothe her family, lived as a widow for 5 years, and died in her old age, surrounded by family. Grandma suffered the heartbreak of a son born brain-damaged and requiring constant care. She supported her farmer husband when they moved from northern Indiana to western Kentucky and then to central Wisconsin in mid-life, leaving some children settled here and there along the way so that rarely did she see them all under her roof. She shopped for bargains, grew vegetables and canned them whether she needed them or not. She saved everything that seemed at all useful, like used food wrappings and tissues that may still have had a dry square inch.

Grandma remained loving and patient when Grandpa started showing signs of dementia, and when he died she put her hope in the Lord and carried on. When Grandma felt lonely and couldn’t sleep at night, she got a hymnbook and sang songs. She wrote scraps of songs and poems on bits of paper and stuck them in her books and in her drawers, so that she might see them later when she needed them. And she wrote letters, hundreds of letters every year. I got a birthday card in the mail every year, with an inspirational verse or snippet of poetry written inside.

At her graveside I sang alto, which I hardly ever do, but some of her church ladies told me that my voice sounded just like Grandma’s alto when she was younger. Like my grandma, I too write down strings of words that bless me or that make me grin in church. I like to write letters and I keep a diary, such old-fashioned concepts. I also share her tendency to flounder when there is no sunshine for a long time, and to indulge in gusty sighs when I am overwhelmed.

In so many ways my life is very different, though. I have had opportunities to travel, to learn about things I am interested in that have nothing to do with cooking and cleaning, to develop gifts. But the bottom line is this: I want to be faithful. I can think of no higher praise than to have that said at the funeral of a person who has lived eighty-nine years.

This afternoon I was listening to “In Christ Alone” and this line caught my ear, “This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm…” I have it memorized because we sang it in choir a few years ago, but maybe I should write it on a post-it and stick it on my fridge.

This is my most recent picture of Mom and Grandma
taken when I went to Florida last year to surprise Mom for her birthday.

Ten Years and Text Prayers

Ten years ago I prayed very short prayers, mostly in the form of an S.O.S. “Jesus, help me,” or “Your patience, Lord.” There simply wasn’t time for long, theologically impressive prayers.

One day I went to my bedroom, left the door open so nobody would think I was in there, lay behind the bed out of sight, and this is what I prayed: “Please, don’t let me hurt anybody, Jesus.”

I finally set up our desktop computer this week. Yes, a whole year after we packed it for our move. We can access our photo library now, an endless source of amusement.

This was our family on my husband’s thirtieth birthday. He was in nursing school, working part time to support us. Addy was one week old. Alex was eight. Rita was two, going on twelve. It was a sweaty eyeballs time, as Rachel Jankovic would say. It’s a good thing that breathing can be done without conscious effort, else we both would have gently expired for lack of oxygen at some point.

I thought back to this time last week when we went out to eat for Gabe’s fortieth birthday. We used a gift card Alex gave, and everybody had dressed themselves, including footgear. We ate at a steakhouse, and we didn’t have to clean up any spills, or take anybody to the potty, or even cut up their meat.

I thought about it again a few days ago when we ambitiously planned a full day of cooking for the freezer, seeing as the kitchen redo is coming right up and we will be limited in the kitchen for a while. Rita mixed up a triple batch of bread rolls for VBS, her lifelong fascination with patting and shaping yeast doughs having at last come to fruition. Then she mixed up four pounds of meatloaf, again digging in with no qualms because she loves to knead and stir. Addy made monster cookies, also for the upcoming VBS. For some reason those are always huge batches in the Amish cookbooks, but she nailed it perfectly. Olivia assembled beef and bean burritos for an easy future supper, and Gregory peeled 5 pounds of potatoes in less time than it takes to bake a pan full of tater tots. Then he lit the grill and cooked a bunch of pork, both chops and sausage. I floated on the periphery and did quality control. Olivia had been doing laundry all day, and about the time we put away the clean dishes, she was putting away the stacks of folded clothes.

This level of house help wasn’t even imaginable to me ten years ago. I had help: generous, constant help, and I was grateful for it. I just had to be careful not to trip over anybody, and that can be so, so trying. Many of those days felt like it was one step forward, two steps back.

“Don’t let me hurt anybody.” Somewhere in Elizabeth Elliot’s wise writings, I picked up the concept of communicating with short prayers and I continue the practice even now. They are kind of like texting a friend, not nearly as satisfying as a sit-down conversation, but still a way to stay connected.

These days the most frequent snippet is a simple, “Into Your hands.” I don’t even bother to name the concern/fear. I just verbalize the relinquishing and then I (try to) leave it. Sometimes multiple times in a day.

A friend on Instagram (@heartofthebison) has blessed me with her phrase, “I see You, God,” when her eyes light on a beautiful thing in creation. That perfectly tender cucumber I just picked. The folds and folds of a dahlia opening out of a tight bud. The soft edges of the clouds at sunrise. The coincidental arrival of a note in the mail on the very day I need to read it. “I see You, God, and You see me.”

Do you “text” God?

July, what?

I have too many irons in the fire. On the writing front, I scratch out a daily diary entry and hope I don’t forget the big events. On the blogging front, some things are just too nuanced to write for public consumption. I feel that if I put my private life online, I should not be surprised when the general public wants to get a better grasp on the details, help me fix my private life. Of course, God can speak to me through complete strangers, but by far the most effective work in my life has been like bits of yeast in dough, caught locally. It’s quiet, and it affects all the dough eventually.

Sometime I will have courage to talk about how hard it is to relocate when you were firmly rooted and less adventurous than you knew. I might describe the blindsided feeling of watching your child struggle with an epilepsy diagnosis that changes all of his life. I might be able to unpack parenting young adults who have their own choices to make. For now I don’t have words, so we’ll stay carefully on the surface. Just so you know, there is nothing like perplexity to give a backdrop to the new mercies. Every. Single. Morning. I know a safe place. It’s mostly quiet there. Even God is quiet. I listen for the still small voice and some days I don’t hear a thing. But I believe and He helps my unbelief.

Since we’ve finished school, I’ve been spending most of my spare time in my gardens or outside the house somewhere, either sowing grass seeds in places where only weeds were growing, or mulching around baby trees, or making The Stinkiest Fertilizer Ever with comfrey leaves. I’m prioritizing gardening because it feels good. That’s all. I do it for fun, and I haven’t exactly been rewarded with stellar crops so far, but at least the plants are no longer just sitting in my new garden doing nothing. The comfrey tea seems to have helped them shake off their lethargy. I’m also daily angered by the critters that keep destroying large areas, as in entire rows of green beans nibbled off in a night, or all my beautiful stems of allium that were just starting to turn purple, felled by some sharp toothed rabbit that isn’t even supposed to like oniony things. Ever since I planted them in November, I have been looking forward to seeing their graceful orbs floating above the other plants on slender stems, and now they’re in a vase in my house floating above the table.

We’re still working on some house projects. Just before the 4th, we got our upstairs bathroom functional. I really wanted to have it done before Gabriel’s family came to surprise him for his birthday, so I dropped hints and finally just said that somebody is coming and I want the bathroom ready for guests. That worked, but he also figured out who was coming. I learned a few things through that project, like how to grout tile and lay vinyl plank floor, and even how to install wainscoting while my husband is at work. How am I in my 40’s and never knew that I could do this stuff? Probably because my man is the one who does anything DIY in the house. But with YouTube tutorials, and proper tools, there are few projects that a woman can’t tackle. I do know my place; I left the plumbing strictly alone, and I won’t be installing the door or the trim. I’m not detail-oriented enough for work like that.

The toilet was flushing, the sink was working, and we hung a curtain for a door just hours before his family pulled in the lane. Gabriel’s 40th birthday is in a few weeks, but it worked better for his parents and three youngest brothers and one sister and their families to come over the 4th. There were 14 extra people in our house, and in tents and hammocks outside. We had a ball, and Gabriel was quite blessed.

Addy hit a milestone too. She is ten years old! I have a tradition of doing a little overnight jaunt with the girls when they turn ten, which is where I am right now, in Pittsburgh at an Airbnb. We have a few more hours before we have to check out and go home. Of course, this begs the question: how is my baby so grown up already?

Early this spring our children were complaining that we didn’t camp at all last year. We concluded that last year we camped a large part of the year, and primitive conditions outside our house just didn’t seem appealing. But we’ve gone twice this spring, first to a campsite where we had to canoe across the lake to access it, and then to a campsite with a bathroom just up the hill. They were equally fun and relaxing, although it’s not my favorite thing to be in a canoe full of gear, paddling across the wake of the big boats, in the middle of a wide lake. It felt like they didn’t even see us, and might run over us.

Once we got to our site in a small cove, life was peaceful, optimum for fishing, reading in hammocks, and eating everything out of the food bag until there was nothing left but limp cheese sticks and granola bars that nobody liked. It’s funny how much we love camping, yet how much we rhapsodize about having showers and real beds when we get home. For us to see our children recharge by appreciating a sunset over water, or admiring tiny snakes and shiny beetles, or smacking their lips about campfire oatmeal without any milk… Well, it makes slightly deflated air mattresses feel just fine.

In our efforts to raise them differently from the technology-addicted norm, the easiest way to do that is to get them off-grid occasionally and show them some mountains. Of course, the first thing we do when we get back to WiFi is check our messages. 🥴

I just looked back over my photos to see what else has been happening. I reupholstered some chairs, an activity I don’t think I’d recommend. The jury is out until we see if my amateur job holds up. They look better at a little distance, and they do look better than they did, for sure. I’m planning a post all about newbie mistakes and how to cover them up, because I discovered that there’s a lot of bluff in the upholstery world.

We made a quick trip back to Bedford County for homeschool evals in June. There was time to connect with friends and to stop in at our old place, which is being rented to own. They gave us a hefty down payment that we get to keep, should they abscond on the contract (which includes property maintenance). We don’t sign over the deed until the place is paid in full. I’ll just tell you, it looks nice inside the house and horrible outside. Nine months of neglect is all it takes for nature to cover the work of years with weeds. I mourned over it, then I moved on, because what else can you do? Also I rescued my blueberry bushes out of the jungle and replanted them at our new property.

That’s the highlights of our headlong dash through June, which felt like it lasted about four days. I saw back to school shelves in stores yesterday, so I think I’ll log off and live July now.

Blessings all! May your watermelons be luscious!

These are the Days…

… of looking back to a year ago and seeing that progress has indeed been made, although in our ignorance of what the year would hold, the spirit within us might have failed.

May, 2020
May, 2021

… of having fresh flowers for our vases every day if we wish, both wildflowers and last year’s transplants that we hoped would make it through the winter, and lo! they did.

… of closing the school books for the season, everybody passed (only homeschooled kids don’t ever give this a thought, but the teacher does), and whew! how about we slow down for a bit? Every year the deep exhaustion surprises me at the end of the term, and I am grateful for a rest that is a shift to other pursuits and just lots and lots of books to read over the summer.

… of planting the garden full, as full as it can be, with the enthusiasm of spring hitting us and the idea of fresh cucumbers and melons whenever we want them an irresistible siren call.

… of begging old hay off the neighbor to mulch the garden for my no-till experiment, and while he doesn’t care about my gardening ideas and refuses payment, he is happy to clear the rotten hay out of his field, so I barter with loaves of fresh bread and promises of extra produce in the future.

… of maintenance within and without, because rot and weeds come out of nowhere and require attention or they take over, hence new metal on the shop roof, new windows in the kitchen, and fresh mulch in the flower borders.

… of family reunions, admiring the cousins’ children, being a little surprised at all these childhood playmates that look sort of middle-aged, and old stories of hilarity that our children love to hear. “You did that? And your parents didn’t care???” So then we admit that our parents didn’t know.

… of rethinking the stuff that is still in storage, having found no home for it, and wondering how it would feel to donate it to Salvation Army without even looking in the boxes. But then what about those cake decorating supplies when the birthdays roll around? And what about the pretty dishes that will have a home when the new kitchen is done?

… of laughing with a touch of derision while listening to “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” because I will not be thanking my inanimate objects for their service before letting them go, even though I did actually donate some clothes that were much beloved, but sadly too small. Since I am not shrinking and they are not enlarging, I have said goodbye with a cheerful heart.

…of having children who grow out of their clothes and shoes from one weekend to the next, so that on Sunday morning we suddenly discover they have nothing to wear for church. I look at my own wardrobe of sweaters and knits and it is inexplicably 85 degrees when just two weeks ago it was snowing, and I want to howl with them that I have nothing to wear.

… of girls who puddle in the creek with long socks on their feet to deter the leeches, and make huts in the woods, and build fires to cook their own lunch. And the neighbor’s kids come over and are astonished because they are never allowed to build fires and have not ever picked anything in the wild to make tea or soup, but somehow our place has become the favorite hangout as they nibble daintily on violets and drink mint tea with undertones of smokey fire.

… of discovering a trove of Wendell Berry audiobooks free on the local library app, and listening to them all, one after the other, watching the thread of faithfulness weave through each story in that masterful narration by a truly great storyteller.

… of reading the story of Job as a family, then studying it in Sunday school, and then finding an email devotional about feeling disillusioned with God who could spare us all the hard things and doesn’t. When these all come together, I start to grasp a little of what it means to be entrusted with hard things because God says I will not curse him, take that, O Enemy.

… of large mercies in the middle of stormy times, and I can see them when I look for them, but if I focus on the circumstances coming at me, I only feel the bite of the gale force winds.

… of knowing that the laundry we have ever with us and the people are always going to get hungry again, so the washer and the stove become altars where sacrifices can be cheerfully offered out of the abundance that has been given to me, or where I can stand sighing grudgingly. The choice is mine, and I own it. Then I teach my children to own it as well, and am blessed to the marrow when I get up from a nap on Sunday afternoon, expecting to clean up the kitchen from lunch but it is already spotless because they are growing up like that.

… of everyday faithfulness, no grand heroics or large gestures of extravagant love, just simple faithfulness in the here and now. And there you have the hobby horse of my life.

Blessings! and tell me what these days are like for you. I would love to hear!