Category Archives: Thoughts About Life

Blogmas 2019 Day 12: Final Thoughts

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Today is Christmas Eve. I’m sitting in Max Porter’s coffee shop, with my sister Amy, working on my book. I’m not sure what she’s working on, but our laptops match, only mine is pink and hers is purple.

I ignore the Christmas music in the background, but maybe I shouldn’t. I am, after all, writing about Christmas. Last Christmas, while I was still traveling. But Christmas nonetheless.

Finishing that chapter, I pull my earbuds out of my ears. “What should I blog about, Amy?”

“Maybe you should give the Gospel message,” she says in a dreamy, over-dramatic voice.

“I know what you mean,” I sigh. “It feels like I should end this series with something very Spiritual and Deep. But I don’t know if I have any Spiritual, Deep thoughts about Christmas that haven’t already been said.”

But then I try to think of some anyway.

The song switches. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” begins to play.

As you may have noticed from earlier blog posts, I’m not a big fan of Christmas music. It’s not that I dislike it. I don’t mind it playing in the background for added festivity. But a lot of it is silly and doesn’t make sense.

However, I was struck this year by the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

If I could write the final Blogmas post of my dreams, I would write about the season of Advent. I would write about the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and the longing expressed therein.

I would write about how maybe the reason Christmas feels different when we grow older is that we are so much more aware, as Alison so eloquently put it, of the loss that is in this world. Of family members that have passed on. Or of children we wish we had, but don’t.

When we all gather together on Christmas Day, we’re aware of what our relationships with our family members should be like. And when we don’t have the relationship we want to have, we feel that loss.

This year I was determined that I was going to study Advent, and figure out what it was all about, and celebrate it. Because sometimes it feels like adulthood is about waiting. For a spouse. For children. For your career to take shape. For your relationships to be okay. And isn’t Advent all about learning to wait well? Waiting with hope, faith, and joy, and peace, and preparation?

So I did some Googling, and I learned some information. But honestly I still felt a bit lost. I didn’t start studying it until the first week of Advent, which was also the week of the school Christmas program, so I didn’t have a lot of extra time.

And this lack of study also means that now, when I wish to write on such topics, I don’t know what to say.

If you have books, articles, websites, etc related to Advent that you’d like to recommend, I’d be happy for some tips. Maybe with a year of study, instead of a week in intermittent Googling, I’ll know enough to do an Advent series next year instead of a 12 Days of Blogmas series.

As it stands, I don’t have the words to end this blog series the way I’d like to end it.

So I’ll just say, Merry Christmas everybody.

Emmanuel has come.

 

Sharing a Drink they call “Loneliness”

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Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

A lady from my church was in the grocery store, buying ingredients to make a pecan pie for Thanksgiving dinner. She couldn’t remember if pecan pie was made with light Karo or dark Karo syrup. So she approached another woman in the aisle.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you happen to know if pecan pie is made with light Karo or dark Karo syrup?”

“I don’t know, let me Google it,” said the woman, pulling out her phone.

The lady from my church felt very foolish, realizing she could have just googled it herself. But mom and I both felt so sad over this story. What sort of world do we live in, when choosing to ask a real human instead of Aunt Google makes us feel foolish?

Loneliness.

It’s an epidemic.

I re-read Emily’s Quest, and I realized that that’s why it’s so hard to enjoy the book. Not because she almost marries the wrong guy, or because of the frustrating misunderstandings that separate her from the right guy. But because she spends the majority of the book lonely.

There are many problems that are fun to read about, even if it would be ghastly to experience them ourselves. It’s fun to read about someone being captured by pirates and having to figure out how to escape. It’s fun to read about someone being bullied, because we know the moment of triumph is coming when the little guy wins and the bullies lose. It’s even fun to read about someone almost marrying the wrong person, and then discovering whom it is that they truly love.

But reading about someone struggling with loneliness is difficult and awful. Even if it comes right in the end, it doesn’t seem to fix the awfulness.

I wish we would prioritize anti-loneliness the way we prioritize, say financial security. All the time we spend getting our degree, building our career, budgeting, investing, knowing that financial insecurity means stress and pain and unhappiness.

I wish we’d think about relationships in a similar way. Something to be deliberate about. In the same way we might move for a better job, we should be willing to move to be closer to family or old friends. In the same way we keep showing up at work even when it’s tough, we should keep showing up in relationship even when it’s tough. In the same way we make a deliberate plan to not be poor, we should make a deliberate plan to not be lonely.

And sometimes, we should deliberately ask the stranger next to us for cooking advice, instead of “just googling it.”

The Engagement

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My brother Matt and his girlfriend Phoebe are both originally from Oregon, though they currently both live in Washington DC. But Phoebe’s grandpa was turning 100, and Matt needed a vacation, so they both came to Oregon for a week and a half.

Hmmm.

“Have you bought a ring yet?” I asked Matt.

He winked at me. Then dug in his backpack and pulled out a small wooden box. Inside was a glistening diamond ring, custom made to be tiny enough to fit Phoebe’s finger. “I helped design it,” Matt said.

“You did?” I was impressed. My brother Matt, designing diamond rings!

“Yes. See, normally the diamond is held by these four prongs, but those can loosen over time. So I had the jeweler add these extra…well…I call them ‘support brackets.'”

I laughed and laughed. Of course Matt would make sure Phoebe’s ring had proper support brackets.

Thursday they went to the coast for the day. How suspicious. I was up in my room when they came home, and I heard muffled voices downstairs. No screams, but…I had to make sure. So I went downstairs, and there were Matt and Phoebe, looking as casual as can be. Maybe too casual.

“Hey Emily,” said Phoebe.

I looked at her hand. There it was. The glistening ring.

I’m gonna have another sister! I haven’t been this excited since Mom was pregnant with Jenny. Or maybe when we decided to adopt Steven. But there’s something about a sister.

Matt went upstairs to get Amy and Jenny, and there was laughter and hugs and screams all around. Mom was weeping.

It’s been a long time, folks. I’ve been dreaming about my siblings getting married ever since Matt went to Bible College…what was it…fourteen years ago? And yet here we are, unmarried. All of us.

“Is the curse broken now?” Jenny whispered to me, and we giggled.

Mom said, “did someone sacrifice a goat in the backyard?”

I laughed, but I wasn’t quite sure what the joke was. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“Wasn’t there something with the Red Sox being cursed, and a goat?”

That made me giggle for real. “Well, um, first of all it was the Cubs. And killing the goat would have probably made things worse. But sure.”

As much as it felt like a “curse” that no one in my family had any romantic luck until now, the truth is, Phoebe was well worth the wait.

When Phoebe and Matt first started seeing each other, one of Phoebe’s friends was aghast. “But is he a Calvinist?!?” she wanted to know. We laughed and laughed about that one. “But it’s even funnier now,” Matt says, “because our whole relationship seems predestined.”

The truth is, if Matt had married the girls he crushed on in his early 20s, he…well, perhaps it’s too drastic to say he’d be miserable. I’ve seen people enter unwise relationships before they were ready and, by the grace of God, live to tell the tale and still love each other in the end.

But the way it ended up worked out so perfectly. He’s done with grad school, and well established in a successful career. She is also done with college and financially stable. We all love her to pieces. And her family loves Matt. They both love DC, but go “home” to the Willamette Valley on holidays.

Suddenly the narrative in my head has shifted. From “we’re that loser family that can’t make our relationships work” to “we’re taking our time and doing it right.”

“What if we all just get married when we’re 33 or so?” I asked Mom.

“Then,” said Mom, “I would say that I probably should have adjusted my expectations from the beginning.”

I felt that. Because if we’re gonna be honest, most of my family members would probably be happier marrying at 33 rather than 23. The wait, then, is not hard because we are so miserable, it’s hard because we start to wonder if God has forgotten us.

But perhaps we should have adjusted our expectations from the beginning.

Five Things I’ve been Loving this Fall

1. Hot Grape Juice

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Every fall we snip the grapes from our grapevines and stick them in the steam juicer. Then we watch the juice run out the little rubber hose, filling jar after jar with grape juice concentrate for the winter.

We used to make grape juice every Sunday evening, mixing the concentrate with water and ice and sugar. But I don’t drink much of it anymore, as my taste for sugary drinks has diminished with age.

Instead, I drink hot grape juice.

My brother Steven was the first to discover this delicious drink. One day, instead of filling a jar, he stuck a green plastic tea cup under the steam juicer hose. “Mmmm, hot grape juice,” he said, taking a sip. “This is actually really good.”

I tried it too. And it was good! Extremely delicious, in fact. Very similar to hot apple cider. A perfect cozy drink for fall.

We came home from Minnesota to grapes that were shriveling, splitting, and overrun by bees. Quick! No time to waste! Gather them up, and shove them in the steamer. Fill a mug of hot grape juice from the little rubber hose.

It’s officially fall now.

2. Substitute Teaching

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Chad, the middle school teacher Pioneer Christian Academy (the new school where Dad and Jenny teach), needed to take a week off of school because his grandpa died and his sister was getting married. So I agreed to substitute teach.

In the 7’th and 8’th grade literature class, the kids were supposed to be learning rhyme scheme, so instead of coping the *coughboringcough* poetry onto the whiteboard to use as an example, I just made up a silly poem of my own. I don’t even remember what it was. But…

“Did you just come up with that yourself?” one of the students asked.

“Yes.”

“Are you a writer?”

“Yes actually, I am.”

“Oh yeah, you write a blog about red rubber boots!” said Carter. “Mr Chad said you might put us on  your blog. But you already put me on your blog once.”

“I did?”

“Yeah! Well, you talked about the Hostetler clan.”

“Oh, you mean when I drove my truck into the ditch?”

“Yeah!”

“I also wrote a book once,” I said, wanting to firmly establish my writing credibility even if I’d lost all my truck driving credibility. “And now I’m writing another book. It’s about all the traveling I did last year.”

“What are you going to call it?”

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “What do you think I should call it?”

“Emily on the Run!” was their helpful suggestion.

I laughed, and turned the page in their literature textbook. Now I was supposed to teach them stressed and unstressed syllables. Time to write another poem. “What shall I write this one about?” I asked.

“Chad on the run!” said Carter. (Or maybe it was Curtis.) I pulled the cap off the marker and wrote:

My teacher Chad is on the run,
I hope he’s having lots of fun,
When he comes back we all will cry,
But still we hope he doesn’t die

I forgot to erase it at the end of class, and when the 5’th and 6’th graders came back from grammar class they loved it. So I composed more silly poetry later that week…first about Miss Jenny the science teacher, and later about Mr Chris, the principal.

So it’s been fun. I always enjoy substitute teaching, but by the end I’m always more certain than ever that I’m not supposed to be a teacher.

Like, I’m not good at making them take turns talking. It’s so cute when they give opinions! And then suddenly they’re all talking at once and my throat is sore.

And the “he tripped me!” “she pinched me!” “where did my textbook go?” shenanigans are not my favorite thing to deal with.

And it’s just kinda exhausting overall.

But it’s fun for a week.

3. My Grandpa’s sweater

My Aunt Anna could hardly believe that I wanted to wear Grandpa’s awful old gray sweater. But to me it looked like the sort of oversize cardigan that every writer ought to own. It just needs maybe some leather patches on the elbows.

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Chatting with my cousin Jason while wearing my Grandpa’s sweater. A fan looks on.

The funny thing is that oversized cardigans are actually kind-of in style right now. If you want to have the latest “look,” raid your Grandpa’s closet I guess!

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Grandpa wearing the same sweater

Besides the sweater, I also inherited one of these mugs.

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Perfect for sipping hot grape juice, while wearing a cozy sweater, and reading…

4. Middlemarch

Middlemarch is one of those books that’s been on my bookshelf for probably a decade now, and I’ve never even cracked it open.

Packing for Minnesota, unsure of when I was coming back, I tossed Middlemarch into my suitcase. “That’ll keep me busy for a while,” I thought.

What I found, curled up on the couch in that Minnesota basement, was a wondrous, enchanting world of colorful characters who all had their own storylines that constantly crossed each other’s storylines. There was romance, and people idealized each other, and held grudges, and their past came back to bite them, and all the people of Middlemarch gossiped to each other about all of it.

It’s a longer novel, with a much greater scope, than what I generally pick up. But it’s no Les Misérables. The various storylines keep the pace up (for the most part), and even though miserable things take place, it has a general tone of hope and coziness.

5. Vacations

Fall may be my favorite time of year to travel. Some summer warmth remains, but the hotter parts of the earth are finally cooling off a bit. And the crowds have thinned out, with everyone heading back to school.

This year I took that unexpected trip to Minnesota. I left on a Sunday and returned on a Monday, and ended up missing three Church services. The following Sunday I also missed Church because I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to rest up after my week of teaching. And then last Sunday Mom, Amy, Jenny and I took our annual girl’s trip to the Coast.

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Actually, we mostly just hung out in our Airbnb because we were all tired and sick and just needed some time to rest.

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This weekend Amy and I are flying to Kansas for Heidi Mast’s wedding. Which means that, what with one thing and another, I’ll miss six Sundays in a row at my church. Yikes! Will they even remember me when I get back?

Anyway, those are five things I’ve been loving this fall. What have you been loving this fall?

ETA: ARggh, I keep forgetting to post about my Patreon. Okay. Yesterday I posted a brand new post, titled “Why People REALLY Hate Personality Tests.” Last month I posted “College Football is Kind-of a Scam,” and “Why Are There So Many Single Mennonite Women? Are We Too Picky?”

To read these posts and more like them, you can head over to my Patreon page and subscribe for $1 or more a month.

The End of the Road

There were eight of us: Four siblings, two spouses, and me, the lone granddaughter. All gathered at the bedside of Amos Yoder, a 102-year-old man who was bedridden following a stroke.

We thought he was dying, and then he started to improve. We thought we should put him in a nursing home, and then he seemed to deteriorate again. We prayed that God would take him Sunday night, before we had to make the Nursing Home Decision. But the next morning there he was, chest still rising and falling, pulse still beating steadily.

We decided not to put Grandpa in a nursing home after all.

We decided not to buy a ticket home, yet.

“I live here now,” I thought.

On Wednesday, a week and three days after I’d first arrived in Minnesota, I finally got a chance to borrow a vehicle and go all-by-myself to Caribou Coffee and get some work done. This was magnificent. I settled down in a quiet corner by the fireplace, opened my laptop, and prepared to float away into a new brain space for hours and hours.

But first, I checked my phone. Oh! A missed call from Mom. And a text.

Gpa just passed away

What! Grandpa passed away? It felt unreal in my brain.

Silly. Of course he was going to pass away. He was 102. He’d had a terrible stroke 12 days ago. He was miserable. He hadn’t had any food or water since Monday morning.

And yet…

This had become routine. Getting up at 1 am for my shift. Meeting Mom at the foot of the basement stairs, and knocking on Uncle Fred’s door as we walked past. Peeling the blankets back, and checking Grandpa’s diaper. Carefully rolling him, cleaning him, re-positioning him, apologizing as he winced in pain from his sore arm. Taking the used diaper out to the incinerator.

And the days. Sitting with Grandpa. Asking if he wanted water. Hearing Uncle Fred tell the magnificent stories he collects from people. Eating the massive meals prepared by mysterious fairies and delivered to our doorstep. Reading through Middlemarch. Hitching rides to nearby small towns from whoever happened to be going.

Trying to find places and spaces to get some work done.

Escaping to the canning closet when I needed to be alone.

Or taking long walks down the country roads.

This is my routine now. This is what we do. But I drove back to Marcus and Anna’s house, and as soon as I walked in the door, It was obvious that the routine was no more.

“Did you let so-and-so know?”

“No, I thought so-and-so would.”

Mom, on the phone: “Paul, I don’t know when the funeral will be. We haven’t discussed it yet.”

“Shall I tell the funeral home people to come get him?”

“No, I’m not ready yet. Maybe in a few hours?”

I stood by Grandpa’s bedside, and it was the strangest thing. Almost seeing his chest rise in another breath, like it had so many times before, when he’d stop breathing for 20 seconds or so before starting up again, more laborious than ever.

But laborious breathing was forever in Grandpa’s past, now.

I thought back to Ian’s funeral, last winter. I remembered the way his mother would reach into the casket, smooth his hair, rub his chest. Loving, motherly touches. It had never occurred to me to touch a dead body.
To me, a dead body seemed rather a frightening thing. The gap between the living and the dead seemed vast, and long.

But in this space, having watched Grandpa hover between death and life for so long, the gap didn’t seem so enormous. “Can I touch him?” I asked Aunt Rebecca. “Is that weird? Can I hold his hand?”

“That’s not weird,” she said, pulling back the blanket for me. “Now is a good time, when he’s still warm.”

I grabbed Grandpa’s hand. She was right. It wasn’t weird. And it was warm. Again, the disbelief that this man was actually gone.

“But look,” said Aunt Rebecca. “Look at how his hands are yellowing, already.”

Yes, he was gone. Gone forever from the terrible pain in his arm, the struggle to drink and eat, the annoyance of flies landing on his face, or his pajamas bunching up behind him. I felt a deep relief, but also a melancholy sense of finality.

Now, the family begins to trickle in. Cousin Jason came yesterday. Dad and Amy arrived early this morning, cousin Keith came at noon, and Matt and Phoebe are booking it from the East with cousin Annette and her husband and children. We gather here, here in Minnesota, like we have for so many Christmases and assorted family gatherings.

It’s sad to know that this is The End of the Road. Not only with Grandpa’s life, but also with having a sense of connection to Minnesota as the gathering-place for assorted Yoders. The only relative left here is Uncle Marcus, and his wife Anna. None of my other Aunts and Uncles stayed. None of Marcus’s children stayed.

If my relatives seem to wander the earth, it’s in our blood. Grandpa and Grandma came here from Ohio, and before that, Iowa, even though Grandpa was born in Oklahoma and Grandma in a different part of Ohio.

I don’t have Yoder roots in any particular place, anymore.

But here we are now. In Minnesota together, one last time. Mourning the death of this man who was unlike anyone else we’ve ever met. This man who has shaped our lives in so many ways. This man who wanted to know everything, discover everything, see everything. That’s the legacy he left for all of us.
It must be said that our relationships with him were complicated.
But we loved him.
And we miss him.

There’s No Map for This Journey

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You know that week between Christmas and New Years, when everyone is off work but all the Christmas parties are over, and you just kind-of sit around and feel disoriented and pig out on leftovers and forget what day of the week it is?

That’s what this week in Minnesota has been like.

Well, not exactly. I can’t think of anything that describes what it’s been like exactly. Maybe if New Years were a sad holiday instead of a happy one, and maybe if you didn’t quite know when New Years would come, but no one could go home or go back to work until after New Years had happened.

Yeah, okay, that analogy doesn’t quite hold up.

In any case, it has been a strange week. I came here feeling sad that Grandpa was dying, but I’ve come to regard death as a beautiful, blessed mercy.

If only Grandpa would die, he could go to heaven and hang out with Grandma, and Lenny, and his parents and siblings. He wouldn’t have to endure the terrible pain he feels in his right arm. He wouldn’t have to feel the shame of his children and granddaughter changing his diaper. No longer would he feel the awfulness of having thoughts but being unable to communicate them.

Please, God. Please just take him.

What do we do? What do we do with our lives back home? We can’t just leave Marcus and Anna to care for him alone. Do we put him in a nursing home? Are there even openings in nearby nursing homes? But poor Grandpa, in a nursing home!

“We were not given a map for this journey,” Mom said on Facebook.

So true. So true.

How long will we remain in Minnesota?

Honestly, I have no clue.

But I should say, before I go, that I’ve been incredibly blessed by the amazing comments on my blog, and on Facebook. And by my friends who have reached out, asking how I am, and saying they’ll pray for me. I know I haven’t responded to nearly everyone, and I’m sorry. I keep forgetting that the Internet exists, and that online communication exists, which is weird since it’s not like I’m doing much here in Minnesota.

Dad called the other day and said, “Did hurricane Dorian hit you?”

“No,” I said. I thought that was a weird thing to say. I didn’t realize he was making a joke.

“Next thing you know, Trump will be saying that the hurricane is going to hit Minnesota,” Dad chuckled.

“Huh?” I was quite confused.

“You didn’t hear about Trump saying the hurricane would hit Alabama?” Dad asked.

“No, sorry. I guess I haven’t really kept up with the news and stuff since I’ve been here.”

“You didn’t miss much,” said Dad.

We’ve also been tremendously blessed by the people at Grandpa’s church that keep bringing us food. We’ve started calling them “the magic fairies.”

“Who re-stocked the fridge with eggs? And where did all this banana bread come from?”

“I guess the magic fairies brought them.”

My Aunt Anna is responsible for some of these blessings, but when we thank her, she deflects and says that it’s church people giving us these things. She just places them downstairs for us.

“If there were magic fairies like that at my church, I think I’d leave my car doors unlocked all the time,” Uncle Rod said.

“Well you still have to lock your doors in late summer, or else your car will fill up with zucchini squash,” said Anna.

We all laughed.

It is good to be with family, it really is.

But it’s a hard journey, and we have no map.

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.

Grandpa

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My grandfather had a stroke last Friday. And when a 102-year-old man has a stroke, you start making funeral plans.

When Mom told me the news, it somehow didn’t seem urgent. He may be winding down, I thought. But surely, surely he won’t die for a few more months yet. I always kinda thought he’d live to see 103, the same age his mother was when she died. Or perhaps he’d hold out for 104, just to beat her record.

But Aunt Rebecca said he’s not eating, and can only drink a little water from a sponge. His kidneys will shut down before long.

Mom and I made the decision to go to Minnesota, to see him at least one last time, and to help with comfort care. So that’s where I am, today. Sitting in the Kansas City airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Minnesota.

Aunt Rebecca said that when Grandpa heard we were coming, he said “Ich bin froh us see komma,” which means “I am glad they are coming.” It was his first clear sentence since his stroke.

It’s hard to process my feelings right now. At 102, no one can deny that it’s probably about his time. Still, maybe he’ll hang on, yet? It feels too early to grieve.

This is a strange, fragmented blog post. I’m sorry. But I feel a little strange, and fragmented.

Summer

Maybe we deserve it after seven months of ceaseless rain, but Oregon summers are just about perfect. Long, sunny day after long, sunny day. Rarely getting hotter than 90 degrees, and pretty much no humidity. And we have a few bugs, but not massive amounts. I sleep with my window open and no screen.

The only drawback is that by August things get dry and dusty and, if it’s a bad year for forest fires, rather smokey. But still, all you have to do is water your garden, and you have masses of fresh produce.

But despite everything I love about Oregon in the summer, it’s occurred to me recently that I’ve never experienced a summer in real life like people experience summer in books and movies. You know, where everyone just hangs out and goes swimming and boating and on jaunts to the county fair.

In real life, like, half the people you know are working 12 hour days, 6 days a week, in the harvest. If anyone new and exciting comes they’re either also working in the harvest, or else just visiting for a few days.

In real life, I’ve never heard of anyone going on vacation somewhere for the whole summer. But in books and movies people do it all the time. Is this a real thing? Or just a thing of the past? Or just a thing for rich non-Mennonite people?

In any case, people in real life do go on vacation for the summer, just for much shorter stints of time.

Like last week, when four of the Wilcoxson girls came from Oklahoma and stayed with us for several days. We had heaps of fun.

I know this looks like a picture of me with THREE Wilcoxsons, but if you look closely you can see Faith Victoria’s ponytail over Esther Mae’s shoulder. 

My friend Marion from Tennessee is also in Oregon right now, and coming over to hang out tomorrow. My first friend from my travels to come visit me in Oregon. (As for the rest of you whom I met on this trip, what are you waiting for? I told you we have a guest room, right?)

And then on Wednesday I’m going to Alaska for my friend Elaine’s wedding. Woo hoo! I’ve never been to Alaska in my life.

I’ll try to post lots of blog posts about it.

Last Saturday Ben took Amy, Mom, and I on one of the most lovely hikes I’ve ever been on. Tidbits mountain. I mean, the hike was pretty, but what made it spectacular was the 360 degree view at the end. Mountains and mountains, one after another, in every direction.

One of the great advantages of having Ben for a brother is that he knows all the hikes. And when you get to the top and point, he knows the names of all the peaks.

I took this photo in front of my seed truck, because I’d just driven it out of the field, turned left on Diamond Hill, turned left on Powerline, turned right into the barnyard, and everything was fine and I didn’t hit any ditches and, perhaps most importantly, it didn’t feel scary anymore.

If you’re looking at this photo of raspberries and thinking, “Why did Emily take a picture of some raspberries?” the truth is, I don’t remember. But I decided to post about summer this evening, and so I went through my phone and found all the summer-related photos. There weren’t many because I usually forget to take pictures. But when I do remember to take pictures it’s of random stuff like a bowl of raspberries, apparently.

And then I wrote a haphazard blog post based around the pictures.

I had lots of deeper thoughts and ideas while I was on the combine earlier this summer, and I wrote lots of blog post drafts, but then I was like, “eh, maybe I’ll keep that to myself and just post something lighthearted.”

(Just watch me go and accidentally post them now, haha)

But before I end this, I did want to mention my most recent Patreon posts. Yesterday I posted about Mennonites and Mental Illness, and in June I posted about Grappling with my Mennonite Identity in the Wake of the CAM Haiti Scandal.

In order to access these posts, you can subscribe to my Patreon for $1 or more a month. I post at least one blog post there every month, and aim for two per month.

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.

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“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.

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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.