Category Archives: Stories

Oh, Grandpa!

Mom and I got to Minnesota on Sunday evening. We were picked up by my Uncle Rod and Aunt Rebecca, and taken to my Uncle Marcus and Aunt Anna’s house. Marcus is Mom’s brother, and Grandpa lives in his basement. Rebecca, Mom’s sister who lives in Chicago, is the next-closest, location wise, so she and Rod drove over on Friday as soon as they heard about Grandpa’s stroke.

That first day-and-a-half was extremely meaningful.

Grandpa was sleeping when we arrived, but he woke up, and seemed to recognize us. He could move the right half of his body somewhat, but not the left. Every once in a while he’d manage to say a word, but he couldn’t really talk.

When he saw me, he said “Jenny!” which I thought was kind of funny. “No, I’m Emily! Jenny’s sister!” I yelled into his good ear. But I think he actually knew it was me, just the wrong name had popped out. That happens to a lot of people.

He held my hand very tightly and cried and cried.

Grandpa wasn’t eating, but he could drink water from this nifty little sponge on the end of a stick.

(I’m planning to buy some of these, when I get home, and use them to clean out window tracks.)

I gave Grandpa some water, on Monday, and he said, “Emily!” That was special.

He was still peeing, so his kidneys hadn’t shut down yet, but his pee was a bit more reddish, and Aunt Rebecca thought this meant he was nearing the end.

Fred arrived late Monday afternoon. He’d thought Grandpa was beyond the point of recognizing him, but when he learned that Grandpa could still recognize people, he got in his car and drove north. When he walked in, Grandpa said, “Fred!”

Mom, Aunt Rebecca, and I were taking a walk when Fred came. We could feel that the wind was shifting. A midwest thunderstorm was coming! That evening, I could hear low, soft rumblings of thunder.

I stepped outside and stared at the sky in awe. The whole thing, flickering on and off with such brilliance, like God was a small child playing with a light switch. I ran inside. “Mom! You have to come look at the sky!”

We ran out, together. “Don’t go out in the middle of the lawn!” said Mom. “If you go into an open area, you might get hit!”

“Can’t we go over by the barn and get a better view?”

So we dashed over to the barn, and watched the purple and flickering sky, and then the giant drops of rain started hitting us. I had a blanket over my head, so I didn’t feel the wetness, but they were so large I felt the impact as they hit me.

Giggling, we dashed back inside.

Still breathless and giggly, I walked into Grandpa’s room and saw everyone sitting soberly around his bedside. Aunt Rebecca, close to his ear. “It’s okay to go, Pop.”

Hail rattled against the windows. Grandpa seemed to be seeing something beyond this world. “My parents,” he said in Pennsylvania Dutch. “My sister!”

His breathing had changed. There was an odd sound when he drew in breath, like a distant gunshot. Then his breathing would pause for a bit before he’d breath again. Was it my imagination, or did the pauses get a bit longer each time?

So we sat there, in silence, as he raised his good hand and gestured at the air in front of him, at something we couldn’t see.

And we all thought, this is it. He could go any second now.

The moment was oddly suspenseful, like when you’re watching a movie, and someone is walking down some abandoned corridor, and you’re sure something will jump out at them.

And then, everything went black.

The electricity was out!

Uncle Rod and I went rummaging through the kitchen, looking for candles and matches. Meanwhile, in the darkness of Grandpa’s bedroom, Aunt Rebecca asked Mom to pray. So they bowed their heads, and just as Mom was praying, people’s phones began to blare. “Tornado warning!”

Well, we were already in the basement. What can you do?

Uncle Marcus looked out the window, and saw a funnel cloud come down from the clouds, but it didn’t touch the earth. The danger passed. But in the meantime we’d lit a lot of candles, and I couldn’t help but think, what if the house catches on fire and we have to drag poor dying Grandpa out of here in the middle of the night???

Thankfully that didn’t happen. Instead, we all calmly gathered around Grandpa again, and he continued to gesture at the sky. His breathing continued to pause.

This is it. He could go any second.

But then, it grew later and later, and Grandpa didn’t go. I was so tired. Can I go to bed? What if I missed Grandpa’s death?

This situation, I realized, had grown truly bizarre. Here we were, all sitting around waiting for Grandpa to die.

Earlier I’d felt this deep, transcendent thankfulness that I could be here for Grandpa’s final days. It seemed like the most special thing ever. And now, here I was, wondering when Grandpa would die so I could go to bed.

I mean, it sounds so bizarre to say I wanted Grandpa to just die. But he was bedridden, could barely communicate, and couldn’t move one half of his body. But his mind was still there…I mean…he knew that we were changing his diaper. How embarrassing must that be for him? If only he could just slip off peacefully to heaven, to be with Grandma and Lenny.

But he didn’t.

I finally dragged myself to bed. My alarm woke me at 3:30, and Mom and I got up and changed his diaper. I sat in the chair by his bed for the next two hours, awake enough to hear that he was still breathing.

And he was still breathing. In fact, the next morning the long pauses in his breath were gone. He was breathing normally again.

Wait wait wait. Is Grandpa dying or isn’t he?

And then, there was today. “Are you hungry?” Aunt Rebecca asked Grandpa.

He nodded.

“Do you want some oatmeal?”

He nodded again.

So we fed him oatmeal, and he was able to eat it! The first thing he’s eaten since his stroke on Friday.

Suddenly, we’re all confused. Might he live for a while yet? What do we do?

Part of me feels like I should be thankful to have my grandpa around for longer. But it’s like I said before…he’s lived a good life for 102 years. It seems to be his time. And yet he could be with us for a while yet.

But death, as we know, does not run on anyone’s schedule.

An Unfortunate Incident Involving a Truck

I have a fear of driving. As fears go, I feel like it’s a logical one. Many people die or are seriously injured in car crashes. Nevertheless, though it may be a logical fear, it’s not really a practical one.

This summer I’m driving combine for my dad’s cousin Darrell, on the original family farm that was owned by my great-grandfather. What I like about working for Darrell is that I’ve been able to learn some practical skills beyond driving combine. He’s had me take his pickup various places, and it’s a stick shift, which I’m not used to driving. I’ve also driven the truck in and out of the field at times.

Due to my fear of driving and my love of learning practical skills, I’ve been rather proud of myself for learning these things. I even kind of bragged about it on Instagram. But you know what they say about pride.

The fall, as it were, came the very next day.

We were working on a small field just off of Harris drive. This one required us to use the road for access, instead of just driving through little back lanes on the farm. When we finished, Darrell asked if I’d rather drive the combine back to the shop, or take the truck.

Eager for a chance to test out my truck driving skills on the road, I chose the truck.

The field had yielded more than Darrell had anticipated, and the truck was full to the brim with seed. Darrell had to tarp it, but he couldn’t find a bungee cord to tie it down with, so he used his bandana. It was a bit dubious, and he told me to just drive really slow.

So I got in the truck, and started pulling out onto the road. No one was coming from either direction, so I was good. I took it nice and slow. And then…


Something shifted. Something was wrong. I thought about the dubiously tied tarp, and panicked. I stopped the truck, and it rolled backward a bit, and started tipping to the right.

Darrell came running up. “What did I do?” I asked, confused.

He had a frightened look on his face. “Pull the parking brake and get out!” He said. “You’re about to roll the truck!”

Now I was scared, obviously, and I jumped out. Somehow, the back wheel of the truck bed was in the ditch. I was confused. How had I not seen a ditch there?

Well, it turns out that when you’re driving a long truck, it doesn’t just neatly follow behind you when you turn a corner. Of course this may seem obvious, but it did not occur to me when I was turning onto the road. The back wheel didn’t hit the driveway, but rather cut the corner and went in the ditch. When I stopped because I didn’t know what was wrong, I rolled backwards further into the ditch, and with the bed full of seed and very heavy, I very nearly rolled it.

To make matters infinitely worse, the ENTIRE HOSTETLER HAY CREW was in the field across the road, eating their supper.

Not only that, but apparently the whole Hostetler clan–wives, children, everybody–who all know me because I was their school secretary–had come to eat supper with the crew.

And oh, yeah. My cousin Randy’s wife Shelly just happened to be walking by at that moment as well.

Darrell called Simone to bring the tractor, and then walked over to the Hostetler clan and asked Tina to give him a ride back to the shop.

I hid in the combine, mortified.


My view of my failure as I hid in the combine.

Darrell got some chains at the shop, Simone picked him up in the tractor, and they returned and pulled the truck out of the ditch. All was, apparently, fine.

I didn’t know if I would ever be allowed to drive the truck again, but Darrell pulled it back into the field and gestured for me to come down out of my hiding place in the combine. “You ready to try again?” He asked me.

That made me feel a lot better, actually. Like I hadn’t screwed up beyond repair. It was a learning process. I could try again, swinging wide this time to avoid that ditch, as I now knew was necessary.

And so that’s what I did. I got on the truck, and I pulled out onto the road, and this time, I did not hit the ditch.

Shelly waved at me as I drove past. All the Hostetler wives waved at me. All the Hostetler children waved at Miss Emily, former school secretary and drama director, now apparently truck driver.

(The rest of the Hostetler crew, having enjoyed a show with their dinner, was already gone by this point. They’d squeezed past my truck as it blocked the road, and continued onward to the next job.)

Now I couldn’t understand why I, the person with a fear of driving and a fear of incompetence, had to face both fears in one day, and in front of so many people. But when I got home and told my family they laughed until their sides split. “You HAVE to blog about this!” They commanded.


I suppose the good news is that it does make a good story. And, after all, I probably won’t drive a truck into a ditch again.

Miracle in a Theater


Sometimes I just want a sign that God has not forgotten me. This is the story of how I received one such sign.

In downtown Lancaster there is this beautiful historic theater called the Fulton Opera House. When I realized that they were putting on a production of the musical Once, my heart began to ache. I’d never seen the show, but I have the soundtrack and it is breathtaking.

Let me just insert a couple songs here, for reference.

(Although let me just note, in case you want to go see it yourself now, that there is bad language in it.)

Right. Well. I live off of a very strict budget, because at this point I don’t make a huge amount of money by writing. So there’s not much room for extra things like watching beautiful musicals in historic theaters.

Still, I’d feel the ache every time I walked past the theater, and finally I just prayed about it. I told God that if watching this musical was something that He wanted me to do, that he’d make it work somehow. In retrospect I realize that it was kind-of a weird prayer. Why would watching a musical be something that God “wants me to do”? But nevertheless, that’s how I phrased it.

Today I went to Prince Street Cafe to get some work done, and right across the street was the theater. Looking at the dates I realized that today was the last day I’d have time to see it, before the show ended on Sunday.

It was starting in like, an hour.

So I impulsively went across the street to see if they still had tickets. And they did. They were in the cheap section of the theater where the view wasn’t as nice, but still. I handed them my credit card.

While this transaction was taking place, a girl walked up to the other box office window to pick up her ticket.

“You have two tickets,” they told her.

“Oh, I just need one,” she said. “Give the other one to someone else.” And then she walked off.

I kid you not, that is what happened. So they gave me her other ticket, and I not only got in free, but I got a better seat.

I went in and found my seat. The prelude music started, and it was so beautiful, and I was so moved by what had just happened, that I started crying silently to myself.

Then a girl came in and sat next to me. I recognized her from the box office window. “Are you the girl who had the extra ticket?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said. “Oh, I’m so glad they gave it to someone!”

We got to talking. It turns out that she works as the stage manager at Sight and Sound theater. So I asked her questions about finding a career in the theater world, and we chatted some about our lives.

And then, to top it off, she gave me two free tickets to see the show Jesus at Sight and Sound.

I. Kid. You. Not.

It’s very hard to explain what this meant to me, because it’s hard to explain what theater has always meant to me. I remember the first (and only) time I went to Sight and Sound, and what an impact it made. At that point I’d only ever seen a small handful of “real” plays.

Anyway. I was so excited by this that I had to share the story immediately. I filmed an Instagram live video about it, but the sound was out of sync with the video. So I’m deleting it and making a blog post about it instead.

But just…with some circumstances in my life right now, I really needed to know that God had not forgotten me.

And now I know.

Lancaster Pennsylvania

For the month of April I am in Lancaster Pennsylvania, in a little house behind a hot dog factory. Sometimes I get a good whiff of hot dogs as I walk up the street on a warm day, or when I open the bathroom window to get some air circulation while I shower.

The windows at the front of the house are so close to the street that it feels like if you don’t pull your blinds down, anyone on the street can watch your every move. But the side windows face the brick wall of the house next door, and especially on the second floor, it feels like no one could look into them unless they squeezed between the houses and set up a periscope.

I’ve felt quite busy ever since I arrived here on Monday, with errands and friends and keeping up with writing projects.

When I left Philadelphia on Monday, Rosalyn sent me off with a bag of donuts. I arrived to find that Bettina, my new roommate, had furnished my shelf of the fridge with some yogurt, eggs, and fruit, anticipating that I might need to eat before I had time to grocery shop.

Indeed, I lived off of donuts, eggs, and yogurt for half the week before I finally found time to go grocery shopping yesterday.

I went to Aldi. I had heard that Aldi is a good place to shop, though I’d only visited once, with a friend in Ohio. We don’t have Aldi in Oregon, and lets just say my ignorance showed.

Mostly with the grocery cart setup.

I wasn’t completely ignorant. I knew that you had to have a quarter to get a grocery cart, and that when you returned your cart you’d get your quarter back. Now, I didn’t have a quarter but I didn’t let that stress me out. I only needed a few things. I’d just use a basket.

I couldn’t find a basket. I walked around the store trying to find one, and presently realized that the store was set up to funnel people through in one direction, and I was walking the opposite direction and bumping into people.


I thought about putting everything in my backpack, but didn’t want to look like I was stealing. So I got produce bags and used those to carry my stuff.

It didn’t take long for my hands to get full, and my produce bags to get uncomfortable to hold, and my cell phone (which had my grocery list) to get dropped from my full hands multiple times. Fine. This would be enough. I could buy more groceries another day.

When I went to check out, I realized that there was a very specific system to the checking out process, and it required everyone to have a grocery cart. Here I was, messing up the system and holding up the line while I shoved all my now-purchased groceries into my backpack, since I didn’t have a cart to wheel them to the self-bagging station.

Oh well. You live and learn, I guess. Bettina said that most people who shop at Aldi just keep a quarter in their car.

Today I walked to Central Market to buy some bread and jam. It was very nice. I went to Central Market once, years ago, and I remember it being crowded and overwhelming. But today it wasn’t. Maybe because it was raining? Or maybe because I went in the afternoon? Not sure.

The reason for the bread and jam purchase is that I was invited to “The Cabin” for the weekend, and was asked to bring the bread for one of the meals.

When I was in Philadelphia I overheard Theresa, Rosalyn’s roommate, and Ted, a friend from their church, talking about their love of hoagies. They both agreed that the corner store had the best hoagies, and they’d often buy hoagies for lunch from the corner store.

Well I knew that Theresa had worked at a school, and I knew that Ted worked at a school, so this conversation made me assume that they’d worked at the same school. But when I told Rosalyn this she quickly corrected me. No, they’d worked at different schools.

“But are their schools close to each other?” I asked. “I mean, if they both go to the same corner store for lunch?”

Rosalyn laughed. “They go to different corner stores. It’s just a Pennsylvania thing to refer to all corner stores as ‘the corner store.'”

Then, “It’s the same with ‘the cabin,'” she said. “All these Mennonites in Pennsylvania talk about going to ‘the cabin,’ and for a long time I couldn’t figure out what cabin all these people were going to. I though they were all going to the same cabin. But no, they all have their own cabins, but no one says ‘I’m going to my cabin,’ or ‘my family’s cabin,’ they just say ‘the cabin.'”

I thought this was really funny.

All of Rosalyn’s friends were going to go on a trip to “the cabin,” and I got invited along, which was really cool. That’s where I’m going this weekend, which is why I bought bread.

Like I mentioned earlier, I returned from Philly and moved into my Lancaster City house this last Monday, April 1. On Tuesday I drove back up to Myerstown to return some sheets I’d accidentally stolen, and was able to chat a bit with my Myerstown roommate, Rochelle.

“I needed these sheets back because I’m going to the cabin this weekend,” Rochelle told me.

For a few seconds I forgot Rosalyn’s teachings on PA vernacular, and I thought Rochelle was going to THE SAME cabin that I was. “Me too!” I said.

But of course she was going to an entirely different cabin, with an entirely different set of people.

Since Rochelle, unlike Rosalyn and I, is a PA native, I asked her for more clarification on “the cabin.” She told me that PA people use it the same way you’d say you were going to “the beach,” even though it’s not all the same beach.

In fact, according to Rochelle, lots of Mennonites built cabins in the woodsy/rural parts of PA in order to try to keep their young people from going to the beach for vacations. So now they go to “the cabin” instead, where there’s almost zero chance of seeing a stranger in a bikini.

For some reason I found that really funny. I guess that’s one advantage of Oregon beaches–or “the coast,” as we’re more likely to call it–it’s too cold to show much skin, even in summer.

In closing this blog post, let me make a few remarks about spring:

Is spring in Pennsylvania always like this? Is spring in places that are not Oregon like this? If so, then I have been woefully ignorant my whole life on what spring is actually like.

The first week of March was decidedly still winter. There was snow on the ground and everything.

The last week of March was decidedly spring. With things blooming, and sunshine on over half of the days.

That means there were only two weeks of dubious between-winter-and-spring days.


In Oregon, it feels like there are at least two MONTHS where it feels like spring is just around the corner, but it never quite arrives.

It begins in the middle of February, when the daffodils and camellias bloom. From then on, there’s always something new blooming. Trees blossom and sprinkle the sidewalks with pink petals. Enormous walls of rhododendrons burst into bloom at once.

So you think you’re on the edge of spring. You get one sunny day, and you think, yes! The long winter is over! And then you get two more weeks where the sun doesn’t peep out once.

Ever since that first morning in Philadelphia where the world dripped with sunlight, I’ve been waiting for it to disappear in a week and a half of solid rain. But so far, it hasn’t happened. Rainy days come, but never more than one or two days of solid rain in a row.

Pennsylvania spring feels like suddenly getting a surprise gift, while Oregon spring feels like sitting in a room full of presents but not being allowed to open them yet.

A Moldy House and a Dying Car


I hate being overwhelmed. It’s why I pack like a minimalist, and why I don’t bother with face creams, and why I don’t make to-do lists longer than five items at a time.

Needless to say, the REACH week was full of overwhelming situations, from uncertainty about my living situation, to ill health, to the masses and masses of Mennonites at REACH. But through it all I managed to not panic, by focusing on one thing at a time.

Get my oil changed.

Clear out of the Myerstown house.

Text Bettina about moving into her Lancaster city house after Philly. Answer the phone when she calls back. Work out logistics.

And, not to sound like a special-snowflake-helicopter-parented-millennial, but having my parents around was very comforting. I felt like they’d get me out of any jam I happened to fall into.

But when I left REACH Friday evening and tried to drive my car to our new Airbnb, I was officially completely overwhelmed. Because this car was not acting normal, at all. I mashed on the accelerator as hard as I could, but going up hills I could barely do 35 mph.

“Just make it to the Airbnb,” I told myself. “Just make it there, and then Dad will know what to do.”

And I made it, albeit slowly. I made it to a rutted lane that ran past junky outbuildings until it ended beside dingy trailer house sitting in an unkempt yard.

Um, this is…interesting…I thought as I made my way up the sagging porch steps.

Mom opened the door for me, and I stepped inside. Mismatched, over-crowded furniture. Awkward family photos all over the walls. Dusty knick-knacks everywhere.

“Did you notice the smell?” Dad asked.

“I smelled mold as soon as I walked in,” Mom added. And when I sniffed, yes, there was a definite mold odor in the air.

“Is Phoebe going to be okay?” I asked. Phoebe, my brother Matt’s girlfriend, has sensitivities to some molds and perfumes. She and Matt were planning to come spend the weekend with us.

“I don’t know,” said Mom. “I’m worried about both of you. Maybe we should get a hotel room or something.”

We held off on that decision until Matt and Phoebe arrived, and instead the discussion turned to the matter of my car. I told Dad my acceleration issues, and he looked worried.

“You can’t drive to Philadelphia until you get it looked at,” he said.

Sigh. I had feared that would be the case.

Oh one hand, it was nice to have Dad around to help me solve my car troubles. But on the other hand, it was awfully inconvenient timing. Car troubles two days after I took it to the mechanic? Really? And with that oil change, I’d had to schedule it a week in advance. It was currently Friday evening. How the bunnsylipper was I supposed to get my car fixed by Sunday morning?

If I couldn’t get it in to a mechanic on Saturday, where was I supposed to spend Sunday night? Crash randomly on a friend’s couch, I guess? Would it be okay to drive to a friend’s house?

How much was this thing going to cost me, anyway?

It was just a big mess.

But Matt and Phoebe arrived, and I put it out of my mind for a while. First, because we switched back to the discussion of whether or not the house mold was a deal breaker. Then, after both Phoebe and I insisted that we’d probably be fine, we had to argue a bit about who got the room with the air purifier. “You take it!” “No, you take it!”

Then, finally, we put unpleasant topics behind us and drank tea and ate donuts and had good family time.

And good-naturedly mocked our poor sketchy Airbnb.

Saturday morning, Dad valiantly called around trying to find a place that would look at my car. With very little luck. Mechanics generally aren’t even open Saturdays, it turns out.

Finally, late in the morning, he found a quick oil change place that was willing to look at it. He got in my car and backed it down the lane, headed to the mechanic.

Then, a few minutes later, he called me.

“So Emily, when you were having trouble with your accelerator, did it feel like it was really hard to push in?”

“Yes!” I said. “I didn’t know how to explain it, but now you know what it feels like, since you’ve driven it.”

“And did you feel like it wouldn’t go into second gear when you were going uphill?”

“Um, I’m not sure,” I said. “It would hardly make it up the hills.”

“Well, I think I know what your problem is,” laughed Dad. “Your floor mat is shoved up under the accelerator, so you can’t really push it down.”

Simultaneously, I felt intense relief and also like an idiot.

It turned out that when Ben had borrowed my car Thursday afternoon to drive it back to the Airbnb we had at the time, the non-sketchy one, he decided not to bother putting the seat back. It was just a quick drive. But his long legs shoved the floor mat forward, wedging it so firmly under the accelerator that it was difficult to press. Going uphill, the accelerator wasn’t getting pushed far enough down to kick into a lower gear.

After my car issue was sufficiently resolved, I had a fantastic day. In the morning, with the brilliant sunlight flooding everything, the sketchy Airbnb didn’t look so terrible. I slept in and ate donuts and drank tea. I had good satisfying conversations with my family.

And now, I had plans that were a bit more stable. I would get up early Sunday morning and drive Ben to the Philadelphia airport, and then zip over to Rosalyn’s house. I’d stay in Philadelphia for a week, and then drive back to Lancaster and move in with Bettina.

Actually, interesting note, I was able to meet Bettina at REACH. Briefly. But it was nice, and again made my life feel a bit more stable, being able to chat a bit with my future roommate.

Furthermore, I was able to solidify plans to move to Kansas after Lancaster. Which will probably be the last stop on my year of travel, since I’ve always planned to go back to Oregon for the summer. Oregon has the nicest summers of anywhere I’ve ever been.

After that, everything went according to plan. At this very moment I’m at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, feeling the subway rumble beneath me. I’ve been LOVING the city so far. And goodness, I have so many Philly stories, I can’t possibly end this blog series yet.

So. Stay tuned for a city blog post.

In keeping with tradition, let me see if I can come up with a juicy teaser:

In my Philly post I will tell the story of how someone I was exploring the city with panicked, impulsively did something illegal, and set off an alarm. Shortly afterwards I found myself alone in the city late at night with no money and a dying cell phone.

REACH 2019

Before I talk about my two days at REACH, I should mention that there was even more drama regarding my family’s travel plans. Originally we all had an Airbnb until Friday. Friday evening I’d go to Philadelphia and Ben would go to his friend Daniel’s house, and Mom and Dad would drive to Baltimore for their early flight home.

Then Mom and Dad’s flight was mysteriously canceled, and they were re-booked for a Sunday flight. In some ways this was a good thing. It meant Matt and Phoebe could come spend Saturday with us, and I could delay my Philly trip and take Ben to the Philly airport on Sunday.

But the unfortunate thing was that our cute Airbnb in the old stone house ten minutes from the REACH conference was booked over the weekend, and we had to find someplace else to go.

Actually this information won’t be important until the next blog post. But keep that in your head.

So, REACH. We went over on Thursday morning for the opening session, and I have never seen a larger or more overwhelming group of Mennonites in my life.

Like, over there was a girl I knew in Virginia who ended up marrying my brother’s best friend’s ex-girlfriend’s husband’s brother.

And there’s the guy who, 9.5 years ago at SMBI, told a gross joke about diarrhea.

Oh! It’s the lady we knew in Kenya! I stayed with her parents in Florida! I’d love to talk to her, but she’s going this way and I’m going that way!

People I met last fall, and people I knew years and years ago! People I’ve interviewed over the phone but never met! Second cousins I’m friends with, and second cousins I don’t know if I’ve ever talked to! So many people from so many corners of my life, it’s like a bad dream!

During the opening talk I thumbed through my booklet and tried to decide which breakout sessions looked most interesting.

Some, like “How the Heavenly Father Can Meet Your Deepest Longings,” or “Finding Identity and Security in Christ,” or “Emotional Phases of a Women’s Life,” I had absolutely zero interest in. I’ve been in enough women’s Sunday school classes to know that I won’t relate to most of it, but the assumption will be that everyone must relate to these things, or else they are barely human. And then I’ll feel annoyed and bitter and maybe even a little superior, which is never healthy.

Instead, as I mentioned earlier, my greatest interest lies in cross cultural communication. So after the opening session I went to a breakout session titled “Maintaining the Dignity of the Poor.” And it was so good. The speaker did PR work for CAM, a major Mennonite relief organization.

He talked about the importance of getting to know people before snapping pictures of them, and rigorously fact-checking heartwarming stories before repeating them. About not doing things for people that they could do for themselves. About not assuming that you know what people need…about assuming, rather, that you don’t know, and humbly asking. About avoiding sensationalism when speaking about the poor.

I found it especially interesting that this came from a PR person. I feel like mission PR people have done a poor job, in general, of maintaining the dignity of the poor. If you’re trying to raise money in the US, undignified pictures and sensational stories about poor people are going to earn you more money. So having him humbly talk about his own mistakes and what he’s learned was fascinating.

When the breakout session was over I met up with my parents and we went to lunch. Ben was actually back at our Airbnb. He’d borrowed my car after the opening session because he wanted to get a little work done. Mom, Dad, and I all wanted to go back to the Airbnb for various reasons, and since lunch was cold and served in boxes, we just took them and left in my parent’s rental car.

I was very tired. I crawled into bed. “Can you three just take the rental car back, and leave my car here for me?” I said. “I’m not sure how long I want to stay.”

Then I fell asleep and slept until 4 pm. Should I go back for the final breakout session and the closing session? But all those people. All those masses of Mennonites. And I was still so tired.

I stayed home.

Yes, wasted money and such. But sometimes rest and aloneness is so nice.

Friday, I slipped in just as the opening session was starting and slipped out before it ended, so there were no obligations to stop and politely chat with that guy I hung out with at the Faith Builders College Student Retreat in 2012. From there, I headed to the book signing mom and I were having at a nearby coffee shop.

Mom had strategically planned it so that our signing would draw people who were attending REACH. It was a much less overwhelming environment in which to chat with people. I had a good conversation with Katrina Hoover Lee, who is also a writer.

Slight tangent. Do you have those emails that sit in your inbox, and you’ve marked them as unread because you know you need to reply to them, but you don’t reply to them and then you feel guilty whenever you open your email?

As I was talking to Katrina, I realized with horror that she had written me one of those emails I never replied to. I tried to explain myself. “You asked me how I was making it as a freelancer, but at the time, I had no clue what I was doing,” I said.

She laughed. “It’s fine.”

Now my inbox is a little less guilt-inducing.

The most dramatic moment of the book signing was when a small child puked up a belly full of magenta tapioca, right inside the front door. I alerted the employees, who poked around not doing anything for a good while, while dubious customers entered the shop and gingerly stepped around the mess.

Finally a young employee came along with a substance that looked like brown-ish kitty litter and smelled like juicy fruit gum. He slowly sprinkled it over the pile of puke.

“Take a picture,” whispered Dorcas Stutzman, who was hanging out with us.

So I did.


After the kitty litter stuff had soaked up the puke, the poor chap tried to sweep it up. He held a dustpan with a long handle in one hand, and a broom in the other, and tried to sort-of poke the kitty litter into the dustpan.

It was hard to watch. You just wanted to grasp that broom firmly in two hands and make short work of things. I saw Mom grow more and more agitated until finally she stood up.

“Why don’t you hold the dustpan there, and I’ll sweep it up for you?” she said.

Whisk, whisk! The job was done. Now the young man set to work wiping the floor with Lysol wipes.

I went back to REACH in time to eat lunch and attend another breakout session. This one was a panel discussion called “Anabaptists Respond to the Refugee Crisis.” I walked into the main auditorium and sat near the front and center.

But then, what was happening? No panel was getting on the stage. Instead, a well-known counselor was climbing up the steps. The screen above him showed the title of his talk.

Finding Identity and Security in Christ

Oh great. Really?!? My first instinct was to bolt. But how rude would that be, marching away, in my lightbulb-yellow coat, just as he’d begun to speak?

“Identity in Christ” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, and it’s never made a lick of sense to me. But it’s always said with this assurance that everyone will understand the meaning, and it will resonate with them.

But if you don’t understand the phrase, maybe you can learn something from this session, my practical side reminded me.

Besides, I am planning to at some point (April maybe?) write a blog series on identity. A reader requested this topic maybe six months ago. So maybe this session would be helpful?

And it was helpful, in some ways. I did feel uncomfortable and like my own experiences weren’t valid, because I don’t respond emotionally in the same way that “normal” people apparently do. Which is a feeling that I hope to explore more when I eventually do my identity series.

On the other hand, I think I understand the phrase “identity in Christ” somewhat now. While the phrase doesn’t appear in Scripture, the phrase “in Christ” actually appears many times. We’re made alive in Christ, there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ, etc. From what the speaker said, it seems like many people, if they can believe these statements about who they are in Christ, can then (somehow?) keep from placing their identity in other things, such as their job or their ministry.

When it was over, I went sleuthing to figure out what happened to the refugee panel. Turns out it was in the “chapel,” and I was in the “sanctuary.” Oops. This was a HUGE CHURCH, the likes of which I’ve never seen, okay?

Anyway. The last breakout session I went to was called “Essential Character Qualities for Communicating Cross-Culturally,” which was more up my alley. Although, maybe I didn’t learn as much as I did from the identity in Christ one, if I’m going to be honest.

I skipped the last general session and instead had a good conversation with an old friend from Mission Training Center days.

Overall, despite the overwhelming nature of REACH, and despite the fact that I missed probably half of it, I had a really good time. I miss school, and it’s so great to be able learn again. And it did give me a chance to have a few good, deep conversations with people I wouldn’t normally run into.

And so, feeling full, I got into my car and drove to our new Airbnb.

“Hmm,” I thought as I drove my car. “Something is very wrong here. Hope it lasts all the way to the Airbnb, at least.”

And then, after 45 minutes of driving struggle, I arrived.

“Hmm,” I thought. “This place looks extremely sketchy.”

But am I going to tell that story now? Oh no. This blog post is already way too long. You’ll have to come back for it tomorrow.


Amanda and Bryce’s Wedding

I went to Amanda and Bryce’s wedding last weekend. It was wonderful until it turned terrible. This is my story


Part 1: Alone

I came to the wedding alone. I knew the bride. That was it. Our short list of mutual friends, for several semi-complicated reasons, were not going to make it to the wedding. However, when I had communicated with Amanda about possible rides from the airport and places to stay, she had mentioned several wedding attendees whom I happened to know from my SMBI days nearly nine years ago.

So at least I had that.

Part 2: Traveling

My plan was to take a red eye flight Thursday night, arrive in Indianapolis Friday morning, and then get shuttled to Illinois by a load of wedding attendees driving in from back east. Luckily I got a decent about of sleep on the plane, and as my ride wasn’t scheduled to pick me up for several hours yet, I got another good nap in the Indianapolis airport before freshening up and grabbing some breakfast and tea.

Thus fortified, I stood on the curb in the muggy Indiana heat until a brown minivan pulled up. This was it. I climbed inside.

There were three others in the van, presenting a healthy mix of strangers and semi-strangers. We drove off. Introductions were made all around.

Part 3: New Friends

Rachel was next to me, in one of the middle seats. We tried to remember when we’d seen each other last. Was it nine years ago? Or just five? A long time, in any case. Nice to see you again.

At the wheel of the minivan was Troy, a groomsman. I knew who he was, vaguely, as we’d communicated briefly with texts such as “I’m supposed to pick you up from the airport,” and, “okay, awesome.”

Seth, sitting shotgun, was Bryce’s best friend from High School. He was another groomsman and, like me, was coming pretty much alone, not really knowing anyone besides the groom. He wore a shirt that said “I talk to strangers.” And he’d brought his bike with him, which necessitated the minivan.

“I’m biking to southern Indiana after the wedding,” he said.

It sounded exciting except for the promise of a muggy midwestern heat wave.

The four of us drove through Indiana and into Illinois, discussing random topics such as buried treasure, and whether it’s possible to drive a car through a cornfield. Rachel had to be at the church at 3 pm to practice singing. We made it in the nick of time, only to discover that we’d crossed a time zone line, and it was actually 2 pm.


Oh well. We’re all friends now, I guess. We can hang out.

But eventually I got bored of hanging out. “Did you say there was a lake nearby?” I asked Seth.

“Yeah,” he said. “You wanna go?”


“Let’s see if anyone else wants to come,” he said.

Rachel was practicing her songs at this point, and Troy wasn’t feelin’ it. I saw three girls sitting on one of the back pews. “Do you want to go to the lake?” I asked them.

“Sure!” they said.

“Do you have a car?”


“How many people does it seat?”



I grabbed my backpack, fully intending to slip on my swim trunks and jump in the lake. But on the way there Seth said, “oh, I thought my phone hadn’t adjusted to the time change, but it actually did. So we only have fifteen minutes.”

We stayed a little longer than fifteen minutes, but I didn’t swim. Instead we stuck our feet in the water and chatted.

Part 4: The Great Wedding Calamity

Back at the church for the rehearsal dinner, the person blessing the food made some vague reference to an illness going around. And later, during rehearsal, I noticed that the maid of honor was clutching her head, looking disoriented, while her husband rubbed her back.

I asked Amanda about it, later, when I ran into her in the bathroom.

“Oh, Emily! It’s been awful!” she said. Then she listed the various family and bridal party members who had succumbed to the illness, a miserable affair that involved a great deal of puking.

Poor Amanda. Of all the unexpected wrenches that could be thrown into wedding plans, that has to be about the worst.

Part 5: The Wedding Day

Abby, my SMBI roommate from nine years ago, was staying at the same place I was, along with Rachel and a girl named Jackie that I’d never met. Jackie wasn’t around as much because she had friends in the area, but Rachel, Abby, and I had a fantastic time reconnecting. Friday night and all Saturday morning we just hung out and chatted.

The wedding went off smoothly, despite a few members of the bridal party still looking a little green. The church was decorated with white garden flowers and foraged branches that smelled lovely, and Amanda wore a dress of Dotted Swiss that had been made from a Sears curtain. I didn’t get any photos of the ceremony, but I did snap a few at the reception.




As I pondered what stories to tell at the open mic, I realized something: Amanda is one of the bravest people I know. To look at her, you wouldn’t necessarily guess it. But there it is.

I told about the time we were in New York City, trying to have fun without spending any money, when Amanda showed up with some pizza.

“Where did you get the pizza?” we wanted to know.

“A stranger on the subway gave it to me.”

But it’s not just strange pizza. She’s unafraid to talk to anybody. She can ask them any question. She’s unafraid to get married and move to the house across the street from the drug dealers. She’s unconcerned by the lack of proper toilets in her new home. What does it matter? We’ll figure something out.

There was no official sendoff, and Bryce and Amanda were still milling around chatting with their guests as tables were cleared and most folks had left.

“Let’s talk, Emily!” she said, multiple times. But how much chatty chatty time is there at a wedding? We all wanted a slice of Amanda, that day, but the whole point was that we don’t get her. Bryce does.

Lucky guy.

Part 6: The Fireworks

Arthur IL, Amanda’s little hometown, is famous for its epic fireworks display on the Saturday before Independence Day. Which was also the day of Amanda’s wedding. So that evening, most of the wedding crowd migrated into Arthur to see what all the hype was about.

Amazing stuff. Not just fireworks, but also these massive explosions that sent waves of heat at us. And some sort of burning wire setup that sent down torrents of ethereal fire rain.

And then it was over, and we walked away through the hot, wet evening air, lit up by the occasional lightening bug or rogue firecracker. “Goodbye, goodbye,” I told my new friends. “Come to Oregon someday.”

Part 7: Leaving

Abby, Rachel, Jackie, and I stayed up well past 1 am. “Why is it so much harder for some people to be single than others?” And “how close of friendships should you have with guys you’re not dating?” We discussed so many things. I don’t often hang out with others in the same life stage as me.

I didn’t get much sleep, since I had to be up at 6 am in order to make it to Indianapolis in time for my flight. It was just Troy and Rachel and I this time, driving through cornfield country. Seth was biking to southern Indiana.

Due to my budget airline, I had a 6+ hour layover. Oh well. By the time I arrived in Denver I was hungry, cold, and had a headache, presumably from my lack of sleep, but I made do. Ate a chicken sandwich. Drank some tea. Took a couple ibuprofen tablets.

But as I lay in a sunny patch on the floor, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t feeling better. In fact, I was beginning to feel worse.

Part 8: Everything goes terribly, horribly, absolutely, 100% wrong

If you are triggered by horrifying situations and/or discussions of vomit, the rest of this blog post is not for you. Click the little “x” in the top right-hand corner of this page, make yourself a cup of tea, and spend a few moments contemplating how nice and healthy you are feeling.

For those of you with a morbid curiosity into my pain, keep reading.

Lying on the floor of the Denver airport, I began to feel an overwhelming nausea and disorientation. I needed to throw up.

So, okay. I guess I’ll pack all my stuff back into my backpack and haul myself to a giant crowded restroom where everyone can hear me. This sounds like fun times.

I knelt by the toilet. And then it came. Hello tea. Hello chicken sandwich. Hello hasty breakfast I grabbed as I ran out the door this morning.

Jesus, have mercy.

I have it. I have the bridal party sickness. I have four more hours of layover and two-and-a-half more hours of flying and two hours of driving home and I have the bridal party sickness.

I called my mom. “Sip Sprite,” she said. “You are dehydrated, and a have a low blood sugar. Maybe some of your siblings can come pick you up at the airport.”

I sipped Sprite, and found a more remote bathroom on the upper level. It was coming, again. All the Sprite, all of everything that was inside me, and then the dry heaving that was hard to stop. “Jesus have Mercy,” I moaned, and then started quoting Isaiah 40 to myself. Out loud. My sense of normal and abnormal behavior was all screwed up.

The pattern was thus set: Sip something. Feel absolutely awful, lie on floor, don’t move, even listing to a podcast is too, too much. Then puke. Trying to stop the dry heaving that follows is like trying to stop a runaway car in a dream. But feel better, once I manage it. Momentarily. Sip something again.

No one seemed to notice my illness until once, suddenly, I had to GO. I took off for the nearest bathroom. A janitor passed, wheeling a yellow cart. Should I puke in the cart?

I didn’t. Maybe should have. Instead I puked on the floor. “Good thing there’s a janitor nearby,” I briefly noted before I dissolved into tears of misery and humiliation.

But now, people noticed me and felt sorry for me. They bought me Gatorade and Pepto-Bismol and Rolaids, none of which were particularly helpful, but it did make me feel less alone. Someone nabbed me a garbage bag from the poor janitor, which prevented further floor-vomit humiliations.

After that, things got worse. However, at a certain point I need to pull the curtain of charity over the event, and I think that moment is here. But I will note that my flight got delayed for an hour. And I was freezing cold. I don’t know how high my fever was, but I had all the chills and muscle aches, and the next day, feeling much better, it was 100.3.

The flight attendants were much savvier at picking up on the fact that I was sick than the average flying populace had been. Of course, the fact that I dashed for the bathroom as soon as I set foot on the plane probably gave me away.

“Can we get you anything?” they asked as soon as I emerged.

“Do you have a face mask so I don’t get anyone else sick?” I asked.

They didn’t have that. They did have a better barf bag, which was sturdier and, for the sake of those around me, opaque. They didn’t have blankets, but they turned up the heat for me. They wanted to give me a seat in the very back, near the bathrooms, but as I was only five or so rows up, on an aisle seat, we decided not to bother.

“Are you okay to fly?” they asked.

To be honest, I was a little afraid they wouldn’t let me fly because I was sick. “I just want to go home!” I moaned.

“I know, honey, I know.”

The flight was so, so miserable and awful, but I remember that moment when the flight attendant told me there was just an hour left to go. I made up a song and started singing it. “I can hold on for an hour, I can make it for an hour, I can hold on for an hour, I can make it, for that long.”

I mean, I was already puking girl, might as well be singing girl as well.

And I did. I made it for an hour, because I had no choice. The flight attendants contacted the Portland airport and ordered a wheelchair for me. It was waiting for me when we landed, and the nice wheelchair man took my backpack and wheeled me out to the curb, where Ben and Amy were waiting with the family car. They’d brought a blanket and a memory foam pillow! And a barf bucket!

I gave Ben my keys and my instructions on where to find my car, and he ran off to go drive my car home. I settled into the back of the family car. Pure. Heaven. A real blanket to wrap up in, that keeps me warm all the way. A soft place to lie down.

“Do you mind if I listen to an audio book?” Amy asked.

“Could we…could we listen to classical music?” I asked. I am not usually a classical music person, but for some reason I’d longed for classical music the whole flight.

“Sure,” said Amy. She found a CD of classical music and stuck it in the player.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so loved or content in my life.

That was Sunday, July 1. I heaved my guts out once more on the way home, but that was pretty much the last of the puking portion. However, It’s been a long week. By Wednesday I was eating a few solid foods, like toast.

Thursday evening I was supposed to leave on a road trip to Arizona. My friends Zach and Ally were getting married on Saturday July 7, and a group of my friends were going to drive down together. I was in such a dither all Thursday. I had pretty much kicked the illness, but I was still so weak.

I decided not to go.

So yes. Plans change, but that’s just how the world works when you’re me. I’m feeling fine now, and I had a low-key but nice birthday. But I will say, my trip to Bryce and Amanda’s wedding was one I will never forget.


Travis and Christina’s Wedding

When Travis was in town, things were different.

Before he arrived in Oregon to sing for Gospel Echoes, our local prison ministry group, my brother Ben and I were pretty much the only single people in our 20s at church. But after Travis came, we hung out with him, as well as his roommate Javen who also sang for Gospel Echoes. And since Javen was younger, he sort-of bridged the gap between us and the people in the 17-20 crowd who were out of high school.

Just like that, a bit of an older youth group appeared where there hadn’t been one before. Sometimes Travis’ girlfriend Christina flew out to Oregon and joined us for Thanksgiving Dinner or a good hike up Horse Rock. We had some good times.

Now, both Travis and Javen have returned to their respective homes. But Travis married Christina on Friday, and of course Ben and I wanted to witness this momentous occasion.

As soon as I stepped outside of the St Louis airport, I knew it was going to be a great trip. It was over 70° and sunny. It felt like I’d stepped into a portal that instantly transported me through the worst of sprwinter and straight into summer.

It took us a while to locate Javen, who had flown in to a different terminal. Then there was a long, hot wait at the rental car place. I’d never gotten a rental car before and was a bit nervous. As the only one in the group over 25, I had to drive it. Which was fine–I mean, I know how to drive and have never gotten in a wreck or anything. But I still get driver anxiety. And that car took a bit of getting used to.

Like the way the cruise control always seemed to quit working. It took me a while to figure out that it automatically slowed down while going uphill and sped up while going downhill. And even longer to figure out that if the car in front of me was going slower, my car automatically slowed down too.

Then there was the time I was backing out of a tight parking space, trying to see out of my rear windows, which were up pretty high.

“Um, you might want to stop,” said Javen from the back seat.

So I stopped, maneuvered out of the space, and only then saw that there was a fence behind me that I couldn’t see through my high back windows. Yeeks. Well, I didn’t hit anything, and after that I tried to make use of the backup camera, despite it’s grainy image and weird distortion that confused me.

The three of us went straight to the rehearsal dinner. Ben and I weren’t in the wedding party, but Javen was. Besides that, we were all staying at Travis’ parent’s house, and all of his family was at the rehearsal dinner.

Truth be told, half the fun of the trip was due to the fact that Travis’ parents let us be one of the family for the weekend. Both Travis and Christina had extended family in the area, so any out-of-town relatives had other relatives to stay with. David, an older single guy from our church whom Travis and Javen lived with when they were in Oregon, stayed there too, and together we all had some jolly times.

Mostly due to the fact that the Millers are excellent storytellers and have mountains of stories to tell. I laughed so hard it hurt. Unfortunately I didn’t ask permission to repeat the stories on my blog, so you’ll just have to find a Miller and ask them yourself. (Use the key words “band-aid,” “lightening bolt,” and “dimples” for the best ones.)

Friday morning there was a scurry of activity as the groom and three of his groomsmen woke up, pressed their khakis, and snapped on their suspenders. Then, “whoosh!” they were off to get their pictures taken. A bit of a lull followed, and then the remaining family members were rushing around, primping, and zooming off for their turn in front of the camera.

Ben, David, and I remained. The weather that morning was beautiful, so we just wandered around and relaxed, and then primped and got ready in plenty of time for the wedding at 3pm.

The ceremony went off without a hitch. Now, for some reason I don’t understand, there were giant arrows on the curtain behind the platform. In pictures, it looks like they’ve been photo-shopped in to point out “here’s the groomsman, here’s the bridesmaid, here’s the projector screen.” But no, let me assure you, they were already there.

Photo by Sheryl Graber

By the time the ceremony was over, the sky was beginning to darken and the rain was beginning to fall, but it was still quite warm. Midwest weather is fascinating. The sky grew darker and darker as the evening wore on, but the sun hadn’t set yet. It glowed orange through the clouds. And then the rain fell in torrents, and a fantastic display of purple lightening lit the sky. Beautiful.

At the reception, we found the other Oregon people who had made it to the wedding. Ben and I sat down with Sheryl and Mikala, and we had a jolly time eating, listening to the fantastic music performed by Travis’ brothers and friends, and listening to the funny open mic stories. Like I said, those Millers have stories.

Sheryl, Mikala, Javen, me, and Ben. Photo from Mikala’s phone, taken (I think) by Bethany Clugston.

The next morning, summer and crazy thunderstorms were gone, and the weather was a very Oregon-like 50° and drizzling. We ate a huge breakfast, hauled gifts to Travis and Christina’s new house, wrote a thank-you note to Travis’ family, and just hung out. Then, around noon, Ben and I drove back to the airport. (Javen stayed behind, as he had a different ride home.)

In general, it was a fantastic trip, mostly due to the hospitality of Travis’ family. Especially his mother, Darlene.

Congrats, Travis and Christina. I hope you have a long and happy life together.

Note: I am sorry I am a day late here. I’ve been sick and traveling and working and in general not putting as much time and energy into the April Blogging Challenge as I usually do. In order to catch up on other ABC posts, you can go to Mom’s blog, Amy’s blog, and Jenny’s blog.

The Fantastic Puns of Teenagers

One of the highlights of my job is that, now and then, one of the students will effortlessly spit out a truly fantastic pun.

Here are some of my favorites.

The first occurred some months ago, when Mr B and Ms Shea took all the honor roll students on a delightful honor roll trip, and lucky me had to stay behind with the seven unfortunate souls who didn’t make honor roll.

This had its cons (they couldn’t seem to stay put in their desks) and its pros (there was a live Christmas tree in the classroom, because a student had randomly won it from a radio station on the way to school, but that’s another story for another day). In essence, I survived.

After lunch, the students begged to play “Occupations.” To play this game, each student writes down the name of an occupation, such as “dentist” or “writer,” and gives it to the teacher. The teacher then reads the list of occupations, and each student tries to guess what occupations the other students submitted.

“Aubrey, are you dentist?” Mic might ask.

“No. Logan, are you firefighter?”

After playing this game many times, we’ve begun to have them list other things, such as types of cheese, or cartoon characters, instead of actual occupations. So on this December day, I decided to try my hand at a funny yet festive theme. “Sure, we can play occupations,” I said. “Let’s do, ‘gifts you would give your grandma.'”

They gave me their gift ideas, I read them off, and they began.

At one juncture Cameron turned to Zane. “Are you adult diapers?”

“That depends…” said Zane.

Fantastic pun #2 appeared more recently, when spring began to tease us, and someone brought a fresh bouquet of daffodils into the classroom. Their scent filled the room.

“Wow, those are strong,” Mr B said, coming in after break.

“What are?” Bryant wanted to know.

“The daffodils.”

Bryant scoffed. “I bet I could break them.”

(This was particularly funny to me because it was the first time I had ever, to my memory, heard Bryant tell a joke.)

The final pun happened a week or two ago.

This Monday our students will head to the ACE Regional Student Convention, and I’ve been up to my ears in preparation. Thankfully a former student, Janane, volunteered to do most of the convention prep, but I ended up heavily involved in the one act play.

First I wrote the play. Then one of the male participants dropped out, so I re-wrote a male part into a female part. Then I spent quite a bit of time with paintbrushes and PVC, trying to construct a set. Then the other male student wanted to drop out, and I told him he couldn’t unless he found another male to take his place (ACE has strict rules about people sticking to their gender in plays) so he bribed one of his buddies with two weeks of lunch trades.

(True story)

Janane in front of the backdrop we made.

So anyway. What with one thing and another, the actual act of practicing the play was falling by the wayside. Lines were hastily memorized. I borrowed things from the kitchen to stand in for props we didn’t have yet. And we practiced that play.

Aubrey, as Martha, was stirring a huge stew pot while Mary sat at Jesus feet in front of a fireplace of canvas and tempera paint. Jesus said his line. Mary said her line. Now it was Martha’s turn, but Aubrey wasn’t saying anything.

Aubrey stopped stirring, reached into her stew pot, and pulled out her script. “Sorry,” she said. “I mixed up my lines.”

What a funny bunch.

The Way We Live Now

Every February the ladies at my church have a ladies retreat, and then a week or two later the youth at my church have a youth retreat, and I have to decide whether to go to one or the other or both.

It’s always at the coast. I don’t know what people do who don’t have a coast to go to. There’s a rented house, sometimes the one you used last year and sometimes a new one. And when it gets too small and loud you can slip away, barefoot in the cold, down the cliff on rickety wooden steps, to where the ocean waits; your friend.

This is the way we live now.

One week it’s all birth stories, and dark tales of the spiritual abuse from their past. Awful stories of evil, power hungry bishops who tried to control their weddings. Their weddings! I was so confused. What business was it of the Bishop’s? It wasn’t his wedding. You don’t understand, they tell me. You didn’t grow up like that.

Then, two weeks later, it’s a buzz of matchless energy and hormones, only I can never keep track of who is flirting with who because I’m over here chatting with the youth sponsors. We were all friends in high school, the youth sponsors and I. We’d go on the youth coast trip together, and back then I know who the flirty ones were. It was them, but only in the most subtle ways. Now they’re married.

I’ve barely arrived before I find myself driving down to Thor’s Well with Justin and Ben, the youth sponsor and my brother, respectively. We stand in the sideways rain and marvel at the natural wonders of the world, and talk about careers. I get soaked to the skin. I only have one set of clothes, because I’m not staying overnight, because I am no longer a teenager, and staying up is no longer a privilege; sleep is a privilege.

Back at the rental house, I borrow a change of clothes from Jenny and browse the bookshelves for a book to read. A thin, yellow paperback catches my eye: Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, an Introduction. The only J.D. Salinger I ever read was Catcher in the Rye, which I deemed OK-ish. But I heard that he wrote stories about a family of geniuses called the Glass family, and I wondered if this was one of those books.

It was.

I was completely enchanted.

But then, I thought, about the time I’d reached page 3, the point of spending time with the youth is to spend time with the youth. Which you are not doing.

I looked at my enchanting book and my cup of tea and the sideways rain outside the window and sighed.

But books like these can be found at thrift stores and read, later, in the comfort of my own home. Time with these people is a precious commodity. And I genuinely like them. All of them. The ones who have found themselves and the ones who haven’t. The ones whose bishops ruined their weddings and the ones who subtly don the baseball cap of the boy they like and it becomes a BIG DEAL.

This is the way we live now; sometimes a naïve woman who has never suffered abuse or birthed a baby, sometimes a world-weary youth who goes to bed too early and talks about careers. But always someone who cares about being part of your world, even if I don’t slot into it quite as neatly as everyone else does.