Category Archives: Thoughts About Life

Endings and Beginnings

Well, there you have it. My year-long adventure is over, and I am back in Oregon.

I anticipated having a few weeks to relax, get some writing done, and enjoy the Oregon summer before harvest starts. But life just bellows full steam ahead, doesn’t it? So many friends to catch up with. So many events to attend.

Amy graduated from Linn Benton Community College on Thursday. Exactly six years, to the day, after I graduated from LBCC.

received_433467924157698

“It’s a funny thing, having my big sister follow in my footsteps,” I joked.

Jenny is also finished at Linn Benton, but chose not to walk. Both of them are going on to Oregon State University. Amy will have her Bachelor’s in another year, and Jenny will have her Bachelor’s in two years. With Ben finishing up his PHD around the same time, and Steven completing his second Associate’s degree this fall, hopefully my geeky family will be finished with schooling and ready to settle down and start families already, heehee.

Well, not Jenny, I guess. She’s planning to get her Mastor’s yet. But she has plenty of time.

Anyway, I don’t know where Ben was, but the rest of us went to Amy’s graduation. Of course it was rather long and boring, as graduations are in general. Someone’s name would be announced, and a small group of their friends and family would cheer from one corner of the room, and then another name would be announced, and another cheer would erupt from another corner of the room.

I cheered for Amy, and also our friend Rachel Nissen. But Steven cheered for some random person I didn’t know.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“No, but nobody else was cheering for her,” said Steven.

I thought that was the sweetest thing.

As the line got shorter and shorter, Steven started cheering for more and more people. I wasn’t listening too closely most of the time, but my ears perked up when I heard the announcer lady say “Waldo French.” I’d seen Waldo’s name in the program, and it had stood out to me as being very odd. People, I was sure, must constantly make jokes about it.

So, “Waldo French!” said the announcer.

Steven, only half-listening at this point, cheered. “Woo hoo! Yeah Rhonda.”

“It’s Waldo,” I corrected him.

“Heh heh. Oops.”

“Where’s Waldo?” Dad asked, looking around.

Steven and I lost it. I mean, such a Dad joke, but funny.

I’m sure Waldo wouldn’t find it funny, though. I’m sure he hears this joke approximately twice a day, 730 times a year.

We all went to Dairy Queen for ice cream afterwords.

received_394214178104721

This has been a weird week for me, as I’m sure it’s been a weird week for every Mennonite everywhere. I’d sit down to write and get so distracted reading every new article about Jeriah Mast’s sexual abuse of Hatian boys and the CAM cover-up. And then reading all the comments. And then getting angry. I mean, this shouldn’t be news to you…I’m sure that’s how at least 80% of my readers spent this week.

I finally got to the place where I didn’t let myself read any updates, comments, anything for 24 hours. I was just so worked up and not in a good head space.

I did write a draft of a blog post for my Patreon blog, all about how to grapple with your Mennonite identity when you come face-to-face with evil in your culture. But I didn’t post it because I was so worked up and needed to get some distance from the topic for a bit.

I do plan to return and finish it, though. Hopefully this week. At least by the end of the month.

Also, I will add that the first Patreon post I wrote Is actually rather applicable to the Jeriah Mast case. In it I explored the term “toxic masculinity,” a term that is thrown around in greater American culture today. I argued that Mennonites are actually a feminine culture, more likely to suffer from what could be called “toxic femininity.” Which people tend to be skeptical of, because we’re also a patriarchal culture. But I think people see it a little clearer now. People from greater American culture would want to punch the living daylights out of a pedophile. People from Mennonite culture want forgiveness, compassion, remember-that-we’re-all-sinners. It’s a feminine cultural trait that seems so good at first, but was absolutely toxic in the case of Jeriah Mast.

So yes, that’s where my brain was at this week, as I caught up with friends, and tried to get some writing done, and unpacked my belongings.

Of course, now you’re probably wondering what my life plan is now. Have I moved moved back to Oregon? Wasn’t the whole point of this year of travel to try to find a place where I could move permanently?

Well, that was one of my points, though not the whole point necessarily.

The biggest roadblocks I ran into this year were health issues and financial issues. With my health, I’ve decided that moving around every month is not something I should really ever do again, as fun as it was. Moving anywhere seems beyond me at this point. So I’m planning to stay in Oregon now at least through the summer and most likely through the fall as well.

I had fun in every place I went this whole year. Besides Oregon, Lancaster was the best place as far as people go, since I was near my cousin Annette and some of my close friends, including Esta and Janessa.

I really really loved Philadelphia. I was only there for a week in March and another week in May, but I would love to move there if something opened up. It would also have the advantage of being close to Lancaster, and also close to DC, where Matt lives.

I might have recency bias with Kansas, but I could also seem myself moving there. It has the advantage of cheap rent, and I love the way the community is involved in outreach right there in the town of Hutchinson. It’s also somewhat close to my Uncle Fred, and it’s the only place on the whole trip where I felt healthy the entire time I was there.

As far as money goes, I find myself in an odd financial situation. This year I lived off of freelance writing and editing jobs and some of my own savings. But I found that, while freelance writing and editing pays the bills, my heart is in writing books and plays. It’s also financially smarter, especially for someone with dubious health, to write things I can continue selling. That way if I’m, say, too sick for a month to do any freelance jobs, I can still earn money by selling books and plays that I’ve already finished.

Still, it’s tough to make that transition. Freelance writing pays right away, whereas these longer projects require a lot of work with no immediate payout. But since I am trying to slowly make that transition, it means that I have a hard time predicting what my monthly income will be six months or a year from now. Which makes it hard to plan a move.

Right now I’m planning to stay in Oregon until I get my book about this year finished and self-published, hopefully this fall.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. I do dearly love Oregon. Maybe I’ll live here part of the year, and jaunt over to other places for random three-month trips now and then? Just to keep life interesting? I don’t know. I honestly don’t feel very settled anywhere. Someday I really do want to buy a house and settle down. But I’m not financially there yet.

So for now, I guess I’ll live like I’m 19 instead of almost 29, just bipping hither and yon like I’m young and carefree. And then I’ll sleep on a hard mattress somewhere and get back pain and remember my age again, LOL.

Anyway, whatever the future holds for me, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated here on the blog.

 

Notes on Kansas

lightning during nighttime

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

It was 1:30 am, and I was eating donuts and pretending I was still a teenager. It was a funny little donut shop. With its outdated wallpaper, random mugs hanging on the wall, and old paneling, it reminded me of somebody’s basement, mostly finished back in the ’70s, and then forgotten.

Apparently the place doesn’t even open until 11 pm.

I was hanging out with my roommate Kim’s youth group, and when they suggested a donut run, I couldn’t resist the enchanting allure of midnight donuts. But then, after those midnight donuts were ingested, there were storm warnings and we all got worried and scuttled off towards home.

Thankfully I wasn’t driving, because there were warnings of hail and severe winds and all sorts of frightening things. We drove straight into the storm, and I sat in the back seat, mesmerized by the purple. It was everywhere, in bursts of lighting that lit the entire sky.

I’m remembering, now. If you want to be awed by mountains or oceans you go to Oregon, but if you want to be awed by the weather, you to to the Midwest.

One Oregon night a few years ago there was intense, sky-splitting lightening, and no one in my family could sleep. We all ended up on the front porch in the middle of the night, watching it together. And yet that lightning was perhaps only half as intense as this stuff.

For some reason I ended up in either the East or the South this entire year, so I’m glad I decided to get a small taste of the Midwest before heading home.

Wait…what all states are considered to be “Midwest?” I just googled. Ohio is part of the Midwest? How?

In my brain, the Midwest ends with Illinois. In my brain, the Midwest is where land is flat and roads are straight and everyone waves at everyone and you say “hi” to every Mennonite you see and folks are chill and the weather in the spring is absolutely crazy. Where Mennonite communities are not so isolated as they are in the West, but they’re not piled up on top of each other either.

If you are from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, etc, do you think of Ohio as part of your Midwestern culture? I’m just an ignorant Oregonian who knows nothing about this.

I’ve been here for two weeks, and it’s been absolutely magical. Not because of the weather or the people or the midnight donuts, but because I’ve felt so healthy. 

Health is such a funny thing. All of the things I dislike about life–all my feelings of incompetence, or loneliness, or the burden of having a to-do list that I can never possibly finish–seem to quietly become not-big-deals if I’m feeling healthy.

Maybe Kansas has a magical climate that is perfectly suited to my health.

Although, after experimenting with so many climates and houses this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my health woes are probably not related to climates and mold and things external to me.

I think–sad as this sounds–I think that my body is just not suited to the nomadic life I crave.

Stress makes me sick. It has, ever since my West Nile days.

My last week in Lancaster I got horribly sick–the worst of this whole trip–but I felt a strong conviction that after I recovered I was going to have a time of wellness.

That’s what I’ve had, so far, in Kansas. The sort of wellness that allows me to eat donuts with teenagers at 1:30 am.

Learning to Not Be the Star of the Show

This is a picture of me twelve years ago, standing in front of Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

IMG_1776a

This is a picture of me last night, trying to re-create the first picture. I once again visited Sight and Sound, for free this time, thanks to a miracle in a theater two weeks ago.

4763

In the first picture, I was barely seventeen years old. I didn’t know that my life would, within a month or so, crash down around my ears as I battled West Nile virus. I was just about to start my senior year of high school, and was already dreaming of the great things I would do with my life.

Back then, I adored acting. I kept roping my friends into doing silly skits with me. But I almost never got the chance to see a “real” theater production, and knew very little about the acting world in general. I didn’t know if acting was an attainable dream.

Yet here I was, experiencing the most breathtaking play imaginable. The story of Creation and the Fall, brought to life in brilliant detail. And it was a Christian production. I knew that acting in a play like this would not go against my values.

I imagined myself as the star of the show.

Twelve years later, as I watched the story of Jesus unfold on stage, I again felt my imagination take flight. But this time, there was a subtle difference.

I didn’t imagine myself as the star of the show. I imagined myself writing and producing plays that could bless people, the way I was blessed that night.

I found this shift in my thinking interesting, because it reflects an enormous shift in the way I’ve learned to view myself in those twelve years between those two pictures.

I’ve always loved being the center of attention and the star of the show. You may notice this even if you read my old blog posts that sometimes get recommended at the bottom of my current posts, or if you read the book I wrote ten years ago. I was forever more trying to sound as interesting and unique as possible.

One of the hardest but most necessary life lessons I’ve had to learn since then is, you’re not actually that special. You’re not actually that unique. 

Coming to terms with not being special is life-changing.

When I didn’t have to be special, I didn’t have to tell my unique and interesting stories, which meant I had time to hear other people’s interesting and unique stories. I got to watch them be special for a change.

Learning to step aside and let other people be special eventually bled into my acting work as well.

Besides a little bit of “real theater” in college, most of my experience with acting comes from someone–a school teacher, a VBS superintendent, a Kid’s Bible Club coordinator–wanting some sort of drama produced and happily handing the reigns of the project over to me if I wanted to take them.

I love every step of the process, from writing plays to crafting costumes and sets out of cast-off items to, of course, acting. I’ve been doing this kind of thing ever since I was about fifteen, and of course, in the beginning I often played a starring role. Usually the bad guy, actually. I was Goliath, with throw pillows from the nursery padding my shoulders under my Biblical robes. I was the wicked stepmother when my friends and I did Cinderella for Sharon Coblentz’s birthday party.

Now, though, I’m rarely even in the plays. I’ll step in if we need another actor, but I’ll play a minor character.

Because I discovered that shining a spotlight on myself feels great in the moment, but it’s nothing compared to the quiet satisfaction of creating a spotlight for someone else. Someone who wouldn’t normally see themselves as a star of a show, but who shines in the role.

Given the chance, the father of 6 from your church might pull out a winning performance as Nebuchadnezzar that leaves the audience in stitches.

The energetic troublemaker kid, when suckered into playing Jesus, might make you re-think your entire conception of who Jesus was. Maybe Jesus was funny and energetic with a wide grin on his face. Why do we always imagine Jesus so stoic?

Right now, just like twelve years ago, the world seems full of exciting possibilities. I dearly hope I’ll figure out how to incorporate writing, producing, and/or directing plays into my future.

But one big thing has changed: I no longer dream of being the star of the show.

P.S. I’ll have an announcement on Tuesday about some changes coming to my blog. Stay tuned!

Snow

20190220_124159

There were flurries of snow in Ohio in November.

“This isn’t real snow,” said my roommate, Carita.

There was no snow in Delaware in December. There was no snow during the week-and-a-half I spent in Washington DC, or the week I spent with my aunt in southern PA, or my week in Oregon, or my weekend in South Carolina.

And there was absolutely no snow during my three weeks in Florida.

So when I came to Myerstown Pennsylvania this February, and it snowed, I was enchanted.

Enchanted, but terrified to drive in it. So I walked. I walked to McDonald’s and bought some terrible tea. I walked to the library, but it was closed.

I took pictures of cute houses.

I soon learned that my entire winter wardrobe was actually a fall/spring wardrobe in Pennsylvania. A light sweater isn’t enough. Bare legs are never, ever warm enough, even if you have above-the-knee leggings on under your skirt. So I went shopping, for boots and fleece-lined leggings and warm sweaters and skirts that aren’t too bulky over leggings.

I still pretty much wear the same giant wool sweater every day, though.

Yes, I was enchanted when the snows first came. When the fear of driving in it kept me home, and the sky stayed a stubborn gray, I grew a bit melancholy, in an unpleasant way.

It snowed the morning of Ian’s funeral, and Ian’s cousin Daniel called it “frozen tears.” Fitting. And since that day, one week ago, the snow has stayed. The world is covered in a blanket of white.

In Oregon, my family and friends experienced a giant snowstorm. My Facebook and Instagram feeds were full of relatives, church friends, and college friends, endlessly sharing pictures. What beauty! They made snowmen and snow forts. The kids, but the adults too. School was canceled for days.

Pennsylvanians don’t seem to do this.

By March, Pennsylvanians seem about as excited by snow as Oregonians are by rain.

When I was a child, I didn’t understand why adults talked so much about the weather. Who cares?

But when I became an adult, I noticed the way the weather affected me. How the endless rain of March made me ache for spring, and for everything to change. How a cool breeze on a hot day made me feel like extraordinary things were possible.

And when snow fell all night, and the cold sun glistened upon it all day, I felt like there was a blanket of grace over this ugly, muddy, dead brown world.

February/March Life Update

One of my writing goals for March is to focus more on my blog. The intensity of February stripped me of my desire to share my life online. But it’s March now, and the most horrible month of the year is behind me, and it’s time to jump back into it.

I left Florida on February 5 and spent the night in North Carolina with a blogger friend, Striped Pineapple, whom I’d never me IRL. She showed me all the small town sights…the secret garden, the secret Christmas tree disposal area, the lonely architect who was secretly in love with her roommate…there were lots of secrets, actually.

(Okay, the architect bit is a joke. No one sue me for defamation, please.)

The next day, Wednesday February 6, I drove up to Myerstown PA. My friend Rachelle and her roommate were waiting for me, a bed set up in their spare room/library. Yes, I get to sleep every night in a room full of books. Glorious. Although the books themselves are a bit depressing for my taste, haha.

My new roommates have both spent considerable time on the mission field and are up to date on current events and world news, so they’re fascinating to converse with.

Despite these perks, my time in Pennsylvania so far has not been particularly great. There’s nothing wrong with the state itself, as far as I know. But since I’ve arrived, it seems like so many awful tragic things have happened to people I love. Accidents, breakups, brain surgeries, etc.

The worst thing of all happened one week ago, when Ian Gingerich was killed suddenly in a car crash.

I didn’t really know Ian. I knew who he was because I was close to many of his extended family members, and upon moving to PA, he was #1 on my “people I want to get to know” list. Two weeks ago, a week before Ian’s death, I sat by him in church and was very excited at this chance to converse with him.

We had a good conversation, but I do recall thinking that it would take a bit of time to actually get to know Ian, as he was quite introverted.

Maybe this is irrelevant. While people are alive, we don’t fixate so much on how well we know people, because it feels fluid. We can always get to know them better, or drift apart, as we wish. But when they’re gone, it’s fixed in stone. Not only did I not know Ian, but I will never know Ian this side of Heaven.

The real awfulness of this week was watching the grief and pain of Ian’s immediate and extended family, who were all very close to each other. If you’ve read my blog for a while you’ve heard me frequently mention Esta, and Janessa. I’ve also talked some about my friend Kayla Kuepfer, both when we were friends at SMBI back in the day, and when she came to Oregon for a year. Esta, Janessa, and Kayla are all cousins or cousins-in-law to Ian, and it was hard to watch their intense pain.

I don’t even know how to talk about this week. It was just so awful. But then, strangely, I feel like I know what love looks like…what connection looks like…what closeness looks like…in a way I never quite did before. Ian loved his family, and his family loved him, in a way that was truly breathtaking.

I still have a few more weeks left in Pennsylvania. I don’t know how I’ll be filling those days.

But for today, I’ll watch the snow, and rest.

Giveaway Winner/Life Update

And the winner of my extra copy of I Capture the Castle is…Rachelle Zook.

Congrats, Rachelle! I sent you a Facebook message with the details.

As far as a life update, I have less than a week left in Ohio. I’m planning to drive over to Lancaster PA on Monday, where I’ll spend Thanksgiving week before heading on to Delaware.

I just hope the roads will be safe when I need to drive them. Yesterday we had a bit of an ice storm that left a glassy coating on the trees. Carita got the day off, and we carefully drove to a local coffee shop where we shared a pot of tea and watched giant chunks of snow fall. I worked on a writing project. She graded papers.

“This is perfect,” I said wistfully. “I’ll get a good month of winter and snow, and then just when I’m getting tired of it I’ll go to Florida and experience sunshine.”

“We don’t usually get snow until January though,” said Carita.

“Um, it’s snowing right now. And we already had snow, last week,” I said.

“That’s not real snow,” said Carita.

I could see her point. Outside, the flakes melted when they hit the ground. And last week it had just been the smallest dusting on the concrete, with both road and grass looking untouched.

But then last night, we got a REAL real snow. Everything is coated, though the grass still pokes through like it needs a good shave. But mostly it looks like a magical wonderland, and at 2 pm, it still hasn’t melted away.

As long as the roads are clear by Monday, I’m loving it.

The Real Holmes County

It rained so much it almost felt like Oregon, only with prettier trees. I took to driving the wending, back roads, because they told me that’s where the “real Holmes County” was. Sometimes I was lost on purpose, and sometimes on accident.

After my long road trip east, after Texas and Tennessee, it seemed to me that Oregon has slower-than-usual speed limits. But they’re even slower in Ohio. I wonder if it’s because of the curves, or because of the buggies and bikes, or because of the potholes. And I wonder why there are so many potholes. Even on the Interstate. I always tense up when one looms unexpectedly, imagining my tire popping like a balloon.

And I’m never prepared for the school zones. In the wandering nowhere, suddenly a wee little schoolhouse appears and I’m supposed to go 25 mph. But only “during restricted hours.” What are restricted hours? Regular school hours? I slam on my brakes, but I’m already 2/3ds of the way through the zone before I hit 25 mph.

I suppose they’re Amish schools.

On these roads, it feels like no one exists except Amish. I’m passing a version of the same house, over and over. It’s huge, and white, and squarish, with a simple gabled roof. And the first story sticks out farther than the second story. Or maybe it’s just a lean-to.

I wondered, then, if I’d gotten things mixed up in my head. If Holmes County was actually the Amish capital of the world, not Lancaster County PA, as I’d always thought.

Wikipedia told me that while Lancaster County has a bigger Amish population than Holmes county, Amish make up 41.7% of Holmes County’s population, vs. only 7% of Lancaster County’s population. Although the 41.7% number is from 2010, so it must be closer to 50% now. Wikipedia projects that it will become the first majority Amish county by 2025.

I imagine Amish taking over Holmes County, then Wayne County, then Ohio, then America. I imagine Apple creating an Amish friendly phone that can’t connect to the internet. I imagine more train companies forming, offering competitive rates, and courting Amish clientele that won’t fly. I imagine Forever 21 offering ready-made Amish dresses, stitched by exploited communities overseas.

When my grandpa was four years old, only 5,000 Amish existed. Now, at latest count, there are 330,465.

I found a tiny Amish town, and pulled up to the general store to check my directions. Then, a sign outside caught my attention. “Fabric Store, Lower Level.”

I wanted some yellow knit for a sewing project, so I peeked around the corner of the general store, but found no handy entrance to the lower level. Perhaps I had to go through the general store?

The general store was empty except for a couple Amish employees. I made my way to the back. There was a small wooden door that looked like the entrance to a closet. But it was open, and there was a staircase behind it.

It reminded me of an entrance to a speakeasy.

Like a speakeasy, there was much more activity below than upstairs. As I passed the long row of suspenders on the stair wall and entered the hidden fabric store, I saw people everywhere. All Amish. All chattering happily in Pennsylvania Dutch. I wished Mom was there to translate. I wished she’d taught me.

It was more than a fabric store. It looked to me like an anything-an-Amish-person-might-want store. Sweaters and jackets in black, gray, and navy blue. Long dark socks. And earmuffs! I’ve had a hankering for earmuffs lately, so I nabbed a pair.

I was about to ask the Amish cashier to cut a half yard of yellow knit for me, when I looked at the long bookshelf behind her. “Oh! You have my mom’s books here!” I said.

“Which ones? Who is your mom?”

“Those ones. Fragrant Whiffs of Joy and Sunlight through Dusty Windows. My mom is Dorcas Smucker.”

She gave an excited exclamation. “I love your mom’s books! She always makes me laugh!”

In this way, I suddenly had an Amish friend. Susan. We talked about all sorts of things, and then her husband jumped into the conversation, wanting to know what crops we grew in Oregon.

I told them about getting off the 39, away from Berlin, and seeing the real Holmes County instead of the tourist version. They told me that tourists never come into their store. “We get Amish from other areas sometimes,” said Susan’s husband. “Like, Pennsylvania Amish. But see, we don’t advertise anywhere that non-Amish might see it.”

I got a delicious feeling then, like I’d discovered a magnificent secret.

It was a tiny town, hardly significant. But Carita told me it was one of the most Amish towns in existence. And my mom told me, later, that my ancestors came from there. Including my great-great grandpa, who fathered three sons and then took his own life. My family still battles the mental illness that he passed on.

The fanciful side of me likes to say that perhaps I wasn’t lost. Perhaps I was drawn to this little town where some of my family’s most painful roots are buried.