Winner of “Anything But Simple”

This morning I wrote down the names of all of you good people who entered the giveaway for Lucinda Miller’s book, entering those twice who shared the giveaway post on facebook.  I numbered them, 142 in all–with the doubles and those who commented on my facebook page instead of on wordpress.  Then I prayed that the right person would get the book (I always like to talk to God about outcomes of things, small or big.  I also pray and flip coins sometimes when I CANNOT decide something.  But I digress.)

Then I did the random number generator thing online for numbers between 1 and 142.  It riffled quickly through random numbers, stopping at 105, the number I had beside the name of an Anna Mary Heinzel, who had commented:

“I would love to read this book… but I don’t live in the States. I have some very close friends who are Mennonite!! I enjoy visiting them, having fellowship and singing with them!! I’m so thankful for my Mennonite friends!!”

I am sorry that I didn’t announce on Lucinda’s giveaway that it was an international one.  I entered Anna Mary’s name and she is the winner!  So Luci Miller’s book is off to Ireland, which I think is very cool.  And generous of Luci.  Congratulations, Anna Mary!

I enjoyed reading your comments about Mennonites very much.   They reminded me of this post,  The Kindest Mennonite.

Thank you so much for entering this giveaway.

If you wish to purchase Luci’s book, go here and buy it.

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Book Review and Giveaway! Lucinda Miller’s “Anything But Simple”

Seven years ago we were looking for teachers for our vacation Bible school at church one summer and somehow Lucinda Miller’s name came up. I knew vaguely of her family from hearing about them from others, Mennonite-style. Dan grew up not far from her family in Wisconsin. So I sent her a facebook message asking if she’d consider coming to teach VBS at BayTree. She wrote back: “My life has been feeling just a bit purposeless and adventureless. So…my answer is yes, if you need me.” After that, the messages flew back and forth about tickets and timing and Bible school classes and the similarities in the small, out of the way churches we had both grown up in. I felt like I had found a friend with just a few exchanged words. A friend with my name.

Luci (as she is nicknamed) flew north and taught Bible school for a week at BayTree church. She was easy to talk to, fun, and adventuresome. She had an unassuming way that made you feel safe with her. I remember her glowing face and neat, pretty dress on program night at church. The children adored her and my neighbor lady said, “Who is the teacher of the youngest grade? She’s so gorgeous!” Some of our children were in a phase of taking dugout mud and creating clay bowls with it and Luci joined them, spending some of her days after class carefully forming an Alberta clay pot of her own, which she took home in her suitcase at the end of the week. When I drove her to the airport, we talked non-stop about ideas, family, church, and writing.

Since then, I have watched Luci’s vibrant and determined personality emerge in her blog at Properties of Light. So often I come away from reading one of her posts shaking my head at how much she got into it with her words. I also feel a little envious–because even though I like to write and aspire to write more, I can’t seem to find the time, the words, or the determination to write like she does.

Luci’s writing aspirations morphed into the publishing of a book this summer, but not without the shoe-leather hardness of simply writing.

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Today it makes me so happy to host a giveaway of Anything But Simple, Luci’s endearing, authentic memoir. To me it is the story of her parents’ romance, which essentially brought her into being. It is the story of the struggles of the human heart and the desire to be seen, heard, loved, and accepted. It is the story of a peaceful, secure family, not without its gaps, problems, and stories that are hard to tell. It is the story of being Mennonite and flawed, of wanting badly to be seen as human, but wanting just as badly to be the voice and hands of Jesus. It is the story of a culture that many view as lifeless and legalistic and one woman’s search to make it her own, even though she has the freedom to choose otherwise.

Luci’s story and her family are very different from mine and yet very much the same. Her book is fresh and sweet in spots, hard and tearful in others. She is brave, honest, and lyrical. I fell in love with her parents. To be gentle and private people and to let your story be told in detail would take a lot of humility. In a recent interview with blogger Marian Beaman, Luci says, “When I asked my dad for permission to write about some of the things I wrote, he basically told me, ‘Write whatever you want; just get a book published.’ ” I was surprised at how forthright Luci was about the people and circumstances that made up her life. I kept thinking things like: What if ——‘s family reads this and gets offended? What if CLP’s Sunday school paper editors get a hold of this and discover how a lot of us feel about some of their stories? (Read the book to understand what I’m saying.) To put your voice out there is courage. You might wonder at the quirkiness of parts of this book and disagree vehemently with others. But I think you will enjoy the ride.

I felt sad when the book ended. In a way it felt like the loose ends were not tied up as neatly as they should have been. But isn’t that how life is? We are left dangling sometimes, the longings and dreams of our hearts never fully met in this life. I think Luci describes the search and the void well. Her story is also evidence that there is so much laughter and fulfillment along the way.

To enter the draw for this book, comment below with your name and email address and something you respect or disrespect about Mennonites. (I wrote down that idea within seconds of it entering my head and it was probably a cazy thought–but I’m going to do it anyway.) If you can’t come up with something, please at least comment with your name and email address so I can notify you if you are the winner. Luci is generously giving away this book, just as she gave me a copy to review and share with you. I plan to do the draw for Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite a week and a half from today, on Tuesday, October 10th. If you would like your name to be entered twice in the draw, please share this post on your facebook page and let me know in your comment that you have done so. You can also purchase Luci’s book on Amazon.

Edit: BE SURE TO COMMENT WITH YOUR FULL NAME  IF YOU WANT TO BE ENTERED IN THE DRAW!! I had questions about the risk of publicly posting email addresses. If this bothers you, I will still honour your name in the draw. Please check back  on the 10th of October to see if you are the winner because I won’t be able to contact you by email.😊 

nothing sensational

It’s another windy, sunny September day in Alberta. If I used the popular lingo of 2017, I’d say that autumn gives me “all the feels”. School starts and I am the sentimental mom, taking pictures of my babies off to their first day. I (almost) wish I was teaching again and I get super  nostalgic about that chapter of my life. It was one of my happiest. Wheat smell in the air and golden leaves and petunias still blooming leave me weak-kneed with delight and longing.

There are days, busy days, when I think fleetingly that it would be nice to have a reason to lie down. Like maybe a little flu or a sprained ankle. Then I could catch up on the things I want to study and the blogs  I want to read and the books that never get opened. On Sunday I had a weird stomachache that had me prostrate on the couch for most of the day. I realized about two hours into the romantic reality of my dream come true that I’m actually an ambitious person and lying down isn’t much fun. Facebook was dull, I couldn’t get into the book I was reading, and I didn’t feel like writing the email for writing group or the card for a friend.

While a lot of the West burns–and some of Texas and places like the Virgin Islands are in shambles–and hurricanes rage–we are treated to mostly clean air, crazy autumn wind, and oilfield guys tearing up our farmland to bury pipelines. I feel sick when I think of people who’ve been spending their summer in a smoky haze. I would feel so robbed of summer’s beauty. Not to mention losing homes and parkland to fire. And the horror of devastation like a hurricane causes just boggles my little northern mind. I kind of stay away from the news when things get horrific. But I do care and pray and I hope there are ways we can help. Firefighters have my utmost respect and I hope that someday, somehow we can house or feed people reeling from a storm.  Or help with cleanup. I’d be good at that, I think.  I’m good at picking up trash.

SO MUCH happens and life whirls by and I don’t feel like I’m doing well at taking it all in, let alone savouring it. If I post some of my pictures here, I take care of that a little.  To write and to look at old pictures is to savour for me.

They are 10th grade (and doing 100 push-ups a day), 6th grade (and sewing their own first-day dresses), 5th grade (wearing size 9 men’s shoes) and 3rd grade (still likes to be cuddle on our my lap in the mornings). They are bigger and more full of more personality than I ever dreamed they would be. And they were  patiently squinting for me at lunchtime when I took this picture because we were running late before school and didn’t have time for one then. “Do we have to do this every year, Mom?” Well, yes.

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My cell phone pictures, since you always wanted to see an Alberta pipeline before it went underground.

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I have learned to drink my plexus with frozen raspberries and huckleberries. I am giving it a (fairly consistent) whirl for three months. Soon I shall be a Ruby ambassador. NOT.  I am afraid things do not work well for me because I am a skeptic.
My heart kind of sinks when Liesl asks if we can wear our look-alikes. My dress is old, scratchy-feeling, outdated. But she is the 3rd girl in our family to wear this dress and that’s special. And what do I have to lose? Soon it will fit her no longer. Soon she will not want to match with me.
We celebrated 21 years this August.
This is my sister Linda and I with our daughters modeling our old wedding dresses.
We tried on our bride and maid of honour dresses from my wedding.
This little punkin turned 18 and all of these changes turn me inside out.

I had a cup of Red Rose tea and a pumpkin cookie while making photo captions.  It doesn’t look like anything deep will be addressed on my blog today.  It is almost time to go pick up children at school.

Happy autumn. I pray for rain for your smoky skies, wisdom to raise your teens, and someone to bring you a coffee if you are lonely.

Hello there. And how do you like your plexus?

I’ve been in a bit of a funk mentally and spiritually and emotionally and internally lately and when that happens I just quit writing and reading online until I feel stronger and happier again.  But ugh…  I always miss writing and I miss you lovelies who read here and are patient with the long facebook posts that I write. And then I’m out picking raspberries and my mind soars with deep and clever things to write. But they never materialize because there are always more raspberries to pick and the beans will soon be ready and there is food to make for the neighbor and there are children running about who always need to eat.

The funk has to do with all manner of things.  For starters, I’m actually very tired.  When you’re 43 and you’ve lived in BayTree, Alberta all your life and been a preacher’s daughter and then a preacher’s wife and you’ve gone to fall church cleaning on your mom’s hip and you’ve sung Amazing Grace 492 times at the nursing home and been through 18 members’ meetings to decide the superintendent for VBS and 28 yearly reorganization meetings (give or take a few because I taught school in the states for 4 years before Dan and I got married and then we lived in Belize for a couple of years) and you’ve made 3,681 hot dish meals for potluck dinners at church and the floor needs to be repainted again at school and the hostess schedule needs to be updated and you’re on for monthly cleaning again and the church lawn is overgrown with dandelions and it’s your husband’s week to speak, you sometimes just get tired.  And it’s not even that you’re the one who has to mow the lawn or paint the floor or preach the sermon. And you know the joy of the Lord is your strength, but sometimes you just want to stop being an adult and responsible and a good example. And you want to sit in a corner somewhere and eat cheesies  or look out at the sea from Prince Edward Island and forget that you’re on for hosting the youth this month.

Let me tell you, I love this place and I love BayTree church and I really love the people who live here.  Sometimes when I’m vacuuming that humble building that needs new siding and carpet, my heart burns in me for all who’ve come and gone and all who remain and I cry because I love them and I know God is there, even in all the ways we’ve messed up and failed and been inconsistent and lost our way. But I’m still tired.

And I’ve been thinking and studying about Rest for reasons I will tell you more about later, so this tiredness that’s dogging my life seems especially meaningful and perplexing.

But maybe I just need plexus.  So we have some plexus products floating around here for various reason. But I’m just awful for never sticking with taking things consistently.  And even though I don’t have a lot of faith in the hype, I do scan the testimonials sometimes and when I hear about people with allergies feeling completely whole and depressed and tired ladies having a new lease on life, I think I should maybe try it, though I struggle with my conscience every time I consider truly pursuing it because I know there’s an African lady somewhere in terrible pain who needs a tooth pulled and refugees who just need a drink of water and Haitian moms whose babies are crying for milk.  So why should I spend $150 a month to get my gut/brain health in order when really I’m quite healthy and reasonably trim and very well looked after by my husband.  I could just keep cutting out sugar and eat more spinach and almonds.  And I could take up running and then probably I’d feel better mentally and not have weeks out of each month when I feel so sad and down or mad and despairing. And mostly I could just be so surrendered to Jesus that I’d have abundant joy that would bubble over to everyone around me.

Anyway.  I can’t stand that pink drink.  I take it for a day or two and then I chicken out again.  I have to water it down with about a quart of water for one pack because I don’t like drinks to be very sweet.  But then I have a whole quart of the stuff to drink. And I add ice and lemon. But the aftertaste is just awful and it makes my throat feel raw.  (Though maybe that’s from all the lemon I add to make it palatable.) I know there are great new flavors out there.  But isn’t one of them an artificial watermelon flavor? That makes me feel gaggy just thinking about it.  Some of the people in my life who are my dearest and most respected people just love their plexus and sell it and sport it and believe in it. I am happy for them and definitely can’t speak from experience about how it works or doesn’t work.  I have friends close by that I can buy it through if I decide that’s the route for me.  But that’s my plexus story and I can’t seem to get off of square one with the stuff.  I do have a schedule for how to gradually get on the triplex and other important plexus-related matters, so please don’t start messaging me personally about things.  Thanks. I love you too.  And I am sorry to have added to the hype–OR the dissing of the product. Because I know that most of us are prone to do one or the other on the matter.  I just thought you might like to know where I currently stand.

This post seems to be extremely lacking so far in depth and I’m not pleased with how often I have used the word “I”.

So let me tell you of less weighty matters, like Andre asking Siri if Queen Elizabeth has an iphone.  Like “Blessed Assurance” being played splendidly on the piano for a pretend wedding.  I could show you the pictures I find on my camera, most of them taken by Natalia.  The top two here are from an evening that Indian war-something was happening, the nurse on the left binding up wounds. The rest are Natalia’s photography of the weddings and Canadian girl photo shoots and the little bit of camping that happened here.

 

Here are the boys that my sister Linda and I took down to Idaho Wilderness Boys Camp this month.  They are playing Uno with the mini cards I keep in my purse to entertain little guys. This happened while waiting for dinner in Cranbrook.  Now they are off surviving in the mountains and I can’t wait to hear their stories.

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While in Idaho, our sister Twila took us huckleberry picking and we were all in our happy place.  We had time for hashing over life while we picked and then cleaned them.

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Also, I got to see a few Idaho friends who stopped by Twila’s place to say hello, so that made the good day even better. No pictures.  Sorry, they were lovely friends and very picture-worthy.

Natalia was listening to Adventures in Odyssey the other day and just randomly sketched a character she was looking at on the screen, Ava Parker.  She doesn’t draw a lot, so I was super pleased with her skill.

 

We have someone to carve the roast when Dan is away.

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It is ridiculous to be anything but joyful and grateful with such beauty all around me.

 

Talking about the condition of my heart often helps to relieve the ache there, so I guess I’ll go to bed now and leave this crazy post with its click-bait title and say goodnight  to all of you.  Writing about a portion of my small problems makes them seem very small indeed.

I get to teach the juniors for the 211th time tomorrow morning and we are going to sing our memory verse, Philippians 4:8, for the church because it’s the juniors’ turn to say the verse up front.  And Richard the Swiss butcher is coming to do his annual barbecue for our church because that’s just the kind of generous person he is and the farmers who attend at BayTree are his loyal customers.  I made two raspberry cheesecakes and Dan is preaching.  Join us!

 

They did the best they could with what they knew.

When my dad passed away over a year ago, a friend whose dad has done a lot of things that brought hurt to his family said to me, “You are so blessed to have had the relationship you did with your dad.”

I kind of wanted to rush in and say that we didn’t have a very noteworthy relationship.  Really.

Then again, maybe we did.

My siblings and I spoke and wrote a lot about Dad over the time of his death.  A good-hearted soul he was, a lover of simple things, optimistic, intelligent but not proud, liberal in his political views (I know, right?!), conservative about buying butter, not an eloquent preacher, someone who cared about the underdog.

But he wasn’t a dad who told us we were beautiful. Not ever.  He never said he believed in us.  He didn’t hold us close and look into our eyes and smooth our curls and tell us how much he loved us like my husband does to our daughters.  He was raised in a staunch Amish home and started parenting in the 50’s. One didn’t do those things.  Dad read all the time when he wasn’t working.  He didn’t fly kites with us or take us to the beach.  He didn’t ask us how our hearts were or help us decide our dating standards. He didn’t give us away at our weddings.

He did a lot of things for our good and I could write paragraphs about his generosity and humility and good humour and optimism.  Time mellowed and changed him. I think his grandchildren got the benefit of the teachings of the 90’s about family and closeness and saying we love people instead of just assuming they know.  Some of his sons-in-law had a closer relationships with him as the man they met later in his life with Christ than his own sons did as teenagers.

I could write a long and heartfelt tribute to this good man, but it has already been done and that’s not what I came here to say today.

I could probably also  fill up a page if I started enumerating his faults.

There might be needs in my family because Dad was a distant father in lots of ways.  There might be some holes in my heart and insecurities that his telling me he loved me and that I was beautiful could have mended.  Maybe I wouldn’t struggle with feeling like God cares if my daddy had been a more involved father. We all carry some scars from ways that our homes weren’t ideal.

But the longer time goes on, the more grace I give to my parents.

They did the best they could with what they knew.

Just like Dan and I are doing today.

I want to give that kind of grace to other people in my life too.  Most of them are doing the best they can with what they know.  Even when they seem harsh or narrow minded or tedious or distant.

(This is not to minimize hurt caused by church leaders and fathers and mothers and teachers and employers.  There is evil and sadness around us and there are times to stand up when we see others inflicting pain.  There are fathers who have caused scars so deep that healing takes years. There are dads who know better and do awful things anyway.  I am not here to tell you how to handle that kind of sadness.)

And maybe my life has just been easy when it comes to relationships.  But when I look at people through the they-do-the-best-they-can-with-what-they-know lens, I can often say, “Ah. That explains things a lot.”

My dad was loved and appreciated and worthy of the good words we have said about him,  I hold close the memories of his dear face and hearty laugh.

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I am blessed to have a dad who did justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with his God.

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And where he failed, I give him grace.  The same grace I hope my children will give me.

 

 

 

 

calving and other stories

I want to write something beautiful and moving.

Or at least humorous.

Or stimulating.

But lately all good words evade me and the online world seems like a desperate cry of Look at Me, Me, Me.  It feels like pish-posh and I don’t even know why.

I say that without judging all of you who are writing good and beautiful and witty things in the least.  You know as well as I do that I am up there pish-poshing with the best of you when I’m in the mood.

It would appear that this online cynicism happens frequently to some of us and is becoming recurrent in my life.  Because as I was writing about this dilemma, I had serious deja vu.

I do not know the source of it. But I thought that maybe if I break right in with honesty and just write for a bit, I can get over myself.

I will not pretend. It was one of the harder winters and springs of my life. Some of the people that I love the most in all the world were going through terribly hard things and I couldn’t write about them.  I cried more than I laughed, spring was slow and cold and bleak and wet and muddy and snowy and hard.

Spring (if you could call it that) had some wonderful times, too. There was a pastors’ retreat in Montana and a ladies’ retreat down there too.  There was Easter in sunny, green Ontario and new and old friends to make life sweet.

Crazy things happen around here lately.  Like nine-year-olds writing “deodorant” on the grocery list for the first time.  These are my babies and all of a sudden they’re worried about sweating.

Liesl turned 8 in May and she is agonizing over picking out her calf, which is what happens the spring after you turn 8 when you are one of Dan’s offspring.

Here Liesl is at one year old.  I can’t stand how cute she is, then and now.

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She thought she had picked out her calf the other night and she came in and described the little heifer to me, “She’s just so pretty and elegant and delicate and cute all at the same time!” she said breathlessly.  Then she changed her mind because the calf is kind of wild.

Spring has crept in on us and now it’s here with full force, blowing us away with its gorgeousness.  The green washes the windows of my soul and life looks hopeful and good.  I cleaned most of my windows and we had delightful weekend company from Idaho and they probably thought that my windows always look like this.

I get some sun and it hides the dark circles under my eyes.

So what would you like to hear about over here?

On Sunday evening, Dan and I took the three youngest children to the park in town.  It was warm and windy.  We always stand out in our billowy dresses, we Mennonite girls.  The kids took their scooter and roller blades.  Farm kids have a hard time finding smooth concrete for toys like that.  I read Beautiful Boy by David Sheff off and on while the children played.  It’s  the heartbreaking story of a boy addicted to meth, written by his father.  Dan did Sudoku.

For three days in a row,  Dan’s cows produced seven calves each day.  They’re exploding  out there.  There are still a lot to go. It’s good that he takes time to do fun things in all the busyness of cow checking.

On the way home, we drove into the pasture below the house to check on the heifers.  One of them was laboring seriously and Dan asked if we wanted to stay around and watch a calf being born.  Everyone did but Natalia, age 11.

Two little hooves are appearing in the designated spot for calves to make their debut.

The young mom is in obvious discomfort, poor little two-year-old thing that she is.

She writhes a bit, more leg appears.

Things get more serious.  Natalia hides her eyes.

This  is the very reason I want to adopt children,” she says.

“Yeah, that’s one great thing about being a boy,” says Andre (9).

Other curious cows come over to inspect the poor little almost-mother.

Andre: “They’re like, hey, we know just what you’re going through.  We just did it three days ago.”

MOM probably knows what she’s going through, says someone.

Yeah, I kind of do.  I feel it all over again when I watch a cow giving birth.

They ask all kinds of questions.

“Did Mom scream?” they ask Dan.

And other questions, more intrusive things.

The head appears and the heifer spooks, getting up and walking a bit in her pain and awkwardness.  Natalia hides her eyes again.

Before we know it, there’s this healthy girl calf on the ground and the mother is licking it.

“She looks skinnier already!” says Natalia of the new mother.

Lesson over.

My sister and her husband of five months just visited us from Virginia. She was saying how her husband Ben, who is 78, loves lilacs and was enjoying them across the US as they traveled. “He really likes purple,” she said. “He’s kind of colour blind and doesn’t seem to notice the reds and yellows. I’m thinking I need to make myself some purple dresses!”

Ben loves to travel, but likes to do it economically. So they camp when they’re not staying with friends or relatives. He built Carol a plywood platform that they cover with a foam mattress so that she can easily get in and out of bed. This contraption folds up and fits into a minivan!

Their mutual respect and care for each other is wonderful to see.

Our May and June are packed full of guests.  It is busy and fun.  The quackgrass is overtaking the asparagus patch and every corner of the yard and garden needs attention.

It’s been good to talk to you again.  Other stuff is happening in our lives too.  But for now it’s good to write about the surface and the happy.

random awkwardness

I can’t believe that this poor blog hasn’t been touched since Thanksgiving.  I’ve been soothing the writing itch by posting long posts on facebook.   Then it feels redundant to publish them here.

I’m currently working on a post about  comfort zones and sticking with our gifts versus daring greatly, like Brene Brown tells us to. It has a little bit to do with me trying to learn to ski and a lot to do with how much you can learn new things when you’re over 40 and it’s also about growth mindset versus fixed mindset, like I read about on Jenny Smucker’s blog.  But that thing isn’t coming together very fast.

So I just popped in to say hi.

I’ll tell you about last Sunday.  I teach 9 and 10-year-old Mennonite kids and we were reading the verses in Matthew 21 about the man who had told his son to work in his vineyard and the son disrespectfully said he wouldn’t and then later felt terrible and went.  With the second son, the father asked him to work and the son was all agreeable and said he would, but it was all a lie because he never went.

Jesus went on to say that this was a picture of how the publicans and harlots would go into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and Pharisees, the religious leaders who looked so good on the outside.

So I was explaining these verses in my teacher voice and said, “So the publicans were people that no one liked because they collected taxes and sometimes they cheated. And harlots were like….do you guys know what harlots were?”

They didn’t.

I said, “Well….they were ladies who sold their bodies.”

“You mean like, they’d cut off an arm or leg and sell it?” asked one of them in disbelief.

“Well, no,” I said, squirming.

And then I launched into another explanation that hopefully kind of worked and they seemed satisfied.  But I am very glad it was not recorded.

Oh Jesus, your stories and your love for every single person are seldom tidy, church-y,  or easy to explain, are they?

Dan and I have always thought that children should be told the truth in simple language that satisfies them, without giving them more information than they bargained for in the moment.  But then I run into situations where I realize we have gaps. Innocence is good.   But  raising sheltered little people who don’t know about the reality of what so many people face isn’t our goal either.  February 23rd was the 5th annual “shine a light on slavery” day, the End It movement.  Thanks to my friends online who have reminded me that our children need to know and be aware.  And to my little Sunday school class.

Sometimes I feel like a walking paradox.  I ache to take all the hurt and homeless hearts in the world and nurture them.  But then I get grouchy about  nurturing the ones in my own home and church.  And I get So Tired of needs.

Serving in obscurity may be scarier than doing big things for God, as this post says so well.

I’m not sure how I ended up here.  Random awkwardness, I guess.

I must go and fry some burgers for supper.  Nice to chat with you a little.