Prairie View

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quote for the Day 7/29/2008

Joel: I got two pieces of information about the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam. One, this year, 35 % passed, and, I passed.

Shane: Wow. Way to set the bar high.

Joel: That doesn't mean you passed if you got 35%. It means that only 35 % of the people that took the test passed.

Shane: Do you know what your score was?

Joel: No. All they do is tell you in what category your score was on each section of the test. Either below 50%, from 51-70%, or over 70%.

Shane: So were all yours in the over 70% category?

Joel: Actually, they were.

Shane: See, this is why I wasn't nearly as worried about your passing that test as you were. What does this mean? Can you do taxes now?

Joel: No. It just means I can take Level 2 of the exam next year.

Shane: I just hope you can work that in with planning a wedding and all. I really hope you do take time for the wedding though.

Shane doesn't really know anything you don't know about Joel's wedding plans. He's just got a head full of his own wedding plans. And Joel is obviously more humble about his accomplishments than I am about his accomplishments. Read the Quote for the Day 6/8/2008 for a post about when he took the exam in June.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Quote for the Day 7/28/2008

Shane: (At noon, after having worked in the yard at his house all morning) : Well, I moved that driveway this morning.

Me: How did you know where to put it?

Shane: I just sighted a line straight east of the corner of the house.

Me: I thought you were going to go out about six feet north of the corner of the house, and then put in the drive straight east of there.

Shane: Oh. I forgot about that.

Me: Did the city make you move the culvert?

Shane: No. It's located at the divide, so the water goes both ways from there. I just took out the culvert.

Me: Remember to thank the Lord for that. You were worried about that being complicated.

Shane: How wide is the driveway supposed to be?

Me: I think 10 feet. I saw it on a bunch of city ordinances I found on the internet.

Shane: Well, let's just say I don't think that particular type of ordinance has made it onto the books at the Abbyville city hall.*

Later. . . .

Shane: Well, I guess I'm going to go out there to move the driveway again. . . . It's not funny.

When I got there this evening the driveway was moved to its predetermined location, the parking areas were smartly marked off, and two clumps of spirea had been transplanted, plus one clump of lilacs. The old sidewalk pieces had been dug up, and a large pile of stumps awaited burning or moving. Numerous other stumps remain, and only a limited amount of leveling could be done, with the roots of vegetation bunching up repeatedly in front of the skid steer blade. But it all looks quite a lot more hopeful than it did several weeks ago.

Shane: I should have had coffee this morning. I putzed around all morning and didn't get anything done. Then this afternoon I really tore the place up. (That's not exactly what he said, but I don't talk that way.)

Josh and Misty planned to help tonight with putting on the final coat of paint on the trim inside the house. The kitchen cupboards are being built this week and will soon be installed. That's the final major task on the interior of the house.

On the outside, Shane plans to lay a brick sidewalk to the front porch from the parking area, and edge at least part of the parking area with limestone rocks. Both the limestone rocks and the paver bricks were salvaged from old basements that he helped replace with new concrete construction.

Shane: I skipped lunch for two days in a row, and spent the time picking up those bricks one by one out of the floor of a basement we were tearing up.

Shane: Both the electric cook stove and the dryer plugs are the wrong kinds for the receptacles they wired into the house. I'm going to have to change the receptacles--while trying not to get electrocuted.

*Abbyville population: 128. When Shane called the city office to ask about moving the driveway, the lady who works there told him they don't have any rules about driveways, but suggested he stop by the mayor's house sometime when he's home and talk to him about where the underground lines are buried, just to make sure he doesn't dig into anything he shouldn't. Smalltown, USA for sure.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Arthur's Talk

Arthur was kind enough to share with me his notes for the talk he gave at Fellowship Meetings on Friday evening. Under the general theme of "Running the Race Without Being a Rat," he spoke on "The Starting Line."

Arthur divided the talk into three main sections: 1) Differences Between a Foot Race and the Christian Life 2) Similarities Between a Foot Race and the Christian Life 3) A Prayer of Blessing.

In the first section he talked about the corruptible crown and the incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:25, 1 Cor. 2:9), only one person winning versus all Christians winning (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:6-8), optional versus non-optional participation, and competing against others versus competing only with yourself.

Sprinkled throughout were the following quotes:

"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

"Everyone is in the race by virtue of the fact that they were born. . . .You do get to choose how you will face life and what you will do with it."

"If we aren't afraid to die, threats have little impact on us."

The second section on Similarites dealt with rules that, if broken, disqualify the runner (2 Tim. 2:5), how others can affect the outcome of the race by helping or hindering (Heb. 10:24-25), the fact that winning calls for self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27, Heb. 12:1,2, Heb. 12:15-17, 2 Tim. 2:3-7), a prize for those who finish well (Heb. 11:6, ! Cor. 15:58, along with warnings for those who do not finish well in Jude, 2 Peter 2, and 1 Cor. 9:27), and the start of the race being the culmination of much previous hard work behind the scenes (Luke 16:10, Matt. 25:28, 29).

Quotes from section 2:

"Church is not a spectator sport--not like fans in the grandstands looking on with binoculars and shouting down angry insults about how [others] should have done differently. . . . I plead with you not to be a dead-end critic, but a builder. . . . Make it easier to live the Christian life for those those follow you. . . . I hold up for you Daniel and Ezra"s perspective (Daniel 9 and Ezra 9). They who were godly men, they who had not sinned, included themselves in the problem and asked God to forgive them. Both of these spiritual giants made themselves a part of the solution."

"Life is NOT a frog race where any move in any direction counts and eventually you accidentally get outside the circle which is the winning line. NOT [just] any motion, any activity will do."

"The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash. It is a marathon."

". . .the reward is worth the effort." Now, the reward is a sense of well-being. In the future, as the cumulative result of thousands of right choices, the reward is heaven (paraphrased.)

"Some people look forward to a foot race because they are ready. Others dread the race because it exposes them and the wrong choices that they have made."

"Don't wait to prepare until the opportunity of your lifetime comes! If you do, then it is too late to make the most of the opportunity!"

Section three was a visualization of who we can become by God's grace (2 Peter 1:3,4). In six sections, with multiple prayers in each section, Arthur "prayed" a lengthy prayer of blessing for each person in the audience. Here is the prayer:

"1) A meaningful relationship with God
I bless you with being able to know God.
I bless you with being able to receive strength and vitality in your relationship with God.
I bless you with a deep, inner longing, that spiritual thirst that can only be satisfied in HIM.
I bless you with the ability to look to the Father and receive instructions from Him.
I bless you with knowing and becoming who God envisioned when he made you. (Who you can become is God’s gift to you; who you become is your gift to God.)
I bless you with being able to discover why God placed you here and now……
I bless you with discovering the gifts that God gave you for the assignment that he gave you.
I bless you with the ability, courage, and inner strength to develop the inner resources God has given you… That is who you can become by God’s grace.

2) Wisdom, Clear Focus and Right Values
I bless you with insightfulness and clarity.
I bless you with wisdom that enables you to see past the ‘fluff’ of the empty words of those that would seek to sidetrack you.
I bless you with objectivity that does not give into cynicism and despair because of your current situation.
I bless you with the ability to keep from getting sidetracked.
I bless you with being able to use resources that God has given you for the kingdom, but not being so enamored by things, money or training that you get sidetracked.
I bless you with being able to embrace solid values and principles that will last, and that when you are dying you will feel good about having invested your life this way.
I bless you with finding and relating to caring, compassionate leaders who will walk with you and help you to make wise decisions.
I bless you with healthy relationships with your parents, with your church leaders, and with the church as a whole.
I bless you with the ability to listen carefully and ask good questions in order to learn from others' life experience.
I bless you with being able to stand on our shoulders and grow beyond the older leaders and become better men and women of God than we are. That is who you can become by God’s grace…

4) Being a Faithful and Persistent You
I bless you with strength to not give up.
I bless you with the determination to keep on. I bless you with faithful obedience. I bless you with being able to keep on even when it doesn’t feel like anything is happening and when you feel like God is wasting your time.
I bless you with being able to rise above the bad things that have happened to you and not let them define or limit who you can become.
Instead of becoming bitter, I bless you with being able to see that what the enemy designed for evil, God can turn around and make it something good. Like Joseph of old you will be able to say, “You had bad intentions, but God turned it around and made it into something good – I’m going to be able to help other people now…”
I bless you with knowing that God allowed it because he sees that it can enhance and broaden your ministry. 2 Peter 1:3,4
I bless you with being able to honestly facing issues in your own life that reflect less than God’s best without giving up and saying that is just the way I am. I bless you with being able to change… That is who you can become by God’s grace.

5) Ability to Stand Alone
I bless you with the inner strength and courage to walk alone if necessary.
I bless you with being able to identify negative peer pressure and finding strength to be different than the rest if you need to.
I bless you with not being swayed by the pervasive spirit that stays on the sidelines until it sees that church meets my expectations and is life-giving enough to me so that it merits my attention and participation.
I bless you with the self-discipline that you need to have in order to not focus on what the rest of the group is doing or to compare yourself with those around you.
I bless you with the power and courage to make decisive and right choices now.
I bless you with humility that avoids all appearance of a ‘holier than thou’ attitude.
I bless you with the ability to walk humbly while God does the inner work to prepare you to step into your calling. That is who you can become by God’s grace.

6) Being a Builder in your local church
I bless you with seeing beyond some of the inconsistencies of us older people and striving to be more godly, more balanced, more committed, more pure – more in every way, without becoming proud and arrogant.
If there are things that are not right about your current church setting, I bless you with being able to rise above these circumstances and even modeling for us older people what a godly Christian looks like.
I bless you with joyfully and cheerfully rising to the challenge of being leaders where you are right now and then before long being the leaders of the church and in outreach.
I bless you with having Daniel’s perspective (it is our problem, “God forgive us…” instead of pointing an ‘it’s your fault’ finger from a safe distance)
I bless you with a clear knowing when God opens the door to ministry and to his call for your life. I bless you with being ready when God presents the opportunity. That is who you can become by God’s grace."

Do you wonder that I felt very blessed as the evening ended?

*I have used only Arthur's first name to preserve some measure of online privacy. He expressed a preference for this way of being identified. However, he is not in hiding, and further contact information is available for those who have a need for it.

Quote of the Day 7/27/2008

After the Sunday morning final session of the Fellowship Meetings--

Marvin M. (to Hiromi and me) : What was so funny during church?

Me: Oh. Eunice had a tiny worm on her Bible, so she got Hiromi's attention and pointed to it. I dug a Kleenex out of my Bible and gave it to Hiromi. He used it to pluck the worm off her Bible and headed out to flush it down the toilet.

The improbability of it all was the source of the humor. Where did that thing come from?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The "Pack"

We are in the middle of Youth Fellowship Meetings for the Southwestern District. As of last night, 97 young people had come from other communities for these meetings. It's a far cry from the 800 we used to have sometimes before the Eastern and Western districts were further subdivided into five? smaller districts. But it's also a far cry from the five out-of-staters that apparently attended last year's meetings.

Hiromi and I are among the oldsters who have attended the meetings so far. What a pleasure! The topics by Arthur, Ernest, and Caleb have been superb-- all on the general theme of "Running the Race Without Being a Rat." (Sounds like something a committee of five young males might come up with, right?)

Last night Hiromi and I met Ernest and his wife for the first time. As usual, when dyed-in-the-wool Mennonites meet, all sorts of previously undiscovered connections surfaced. Actually, we had had some recent email correspondence, and I knew that Ernest knew my father and our son, so I hoped we could become acquainted. I also knew where he had grown up--in a community where I had visited several times while I dated a young man from there--when Ernest was two years old, as I learned last night. I had never heard anything about his wife except for her first name.

The most surprising thing I learned was that I used to know Ernest's father from having attended the same school meetings. My sister Linda worked with Cathy at Faith Mission Home, and Cathy had taught my future daughter-in-law when she was in grade school.

I picked them out of the crowd as having the right "look" to match what I knew about them. They picked us out as being Shane's parents. (What can I say? I suppose they just saw a man who looked like he might fit with a name like Iwashige.)

Ernest's topic was on "Running With the Pack." He spent some time exploring what kind of "pack" we are as Anabaptists, historically. He also highlighted some of the features of the mainline Protestant "pack," the Evangelical "pack," the Fundamentalist "pack," and the middle-of-the-road Mennonite "pack." Then he challenged us to be part of the Kingdom Builders "pack." This "pack" has much in common with the best features of each of the other packs, and avoids the pitfalls each of the others falls into.

Ernest showed his best "teacher" side by arranging for a memorable object lesson. As he was speaking, Bryan, who is about 6'3", got out of his seat in the audience and calmly walked to the platform and picked up a whip that awaited, and began to crack it menacingly all around Ernest, while Ernest shrank into a miserable, hunched-over object and recited a long list of things that young people can be driven to do by the cruel taskmasters of peer pressure and wrong desires. The audience laughed appreciatively (and with nervous recognition?) when he made particularly insightful observations about how this works.

If I have one frustration with young people (and I do appreciate much about the ones I know), it is this willing enslavement I see too often. While I sometimes feel fairly philosophical and tolerant, and hope the troublesome things will go away when they grow up, I see a lot that I wish would go away now. Preoccupation with extreme skirt lengths and invisible or nonexistent socks and caboose-type bun shrouds for veilings, and winch-tightened hair, all radiating from one spot or part are absolutely the stuff of future giggling sessions when people look at old pictures. Moderation and common sense are great insurance against future embarrassment, I say--from first-hand experience actually--the moderation and common sense forced upon me sometimes, no doubt, by my parents.

I admire the ability to do as Ernest did--to point out people's foibles and follies in a way that produces instant recognition with a dash of humor to make it palatable. The important thing though is to be able to move beyond this point of recognition to the commitment and surrender that make kingdom building possible. Even dyed-in-the-wool Mennonites, or perhaps especially such people, need to focus on this important task, clearing away encumbrances and loyalties that interfere. No other connections are as important as being connected to the One who unites us in a kingdom building "pack." Thanks to Ernest for reminding us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Quotes for the Day 7/23/2008

Joe Schmucker: I remember 1954. I was four years old then and we lived in Missouri. It was so hot that year. . . We had no air conditioning of course, and we slept outside because it was too hot inside.

Joe was commenting on a recent blog post about record-setting heat statistics from the past, and adding his memories to it.


Shane: I wonder why I'm planning to bale straw for LaVerne. I had told myself that I'm not going to work for anyone else till I have my own work done. And here I go, working for LaVerne.

I suspect it's the overwhelming sense of everything costing a lot of money, and his fear that he doesn't have enough to reach for everything--to get married, to set up housekeeping, and to be off work for the next number of weeks.


After tonight's Kansas Youth Chorus program at church--

Elizabeth H. : You have a wonderful bass singer in your son.

Ervin S. : Of all the people who talked tonight, the only one I could easily understand was the Iwashige boy. I have a hearing problem, but he talked very clearly.

Mr. Schrock (tour bus driver): Shane has a beautiful voice. At Hillcrest, he and John and Heidi and Crystal sang several songs. They were wonderful.

(This quartet calls themselves the Anonymous Somebodies.)

Marvin N. : There's not very much food. We're putting out everything we've got right away.

Marvin saw the huge crowd upstairs and was beginning to worry that the carried-in finger food event afterward would not reach for everyone. I don't know when we've ever had so many people from so many different churches for one service--except for funerals.


Very small child being carried out during church: Bye bye.

Tea Time Missionary Stories

Two of my sisters, Lois and Linda, hosted a tea this morning in honor of some of the ladies in our church who are here after having been elsewhere in missions for some time. The women and girls in our extended family helped provide the dainties and do the serving. Some of the family members of the missionary ladies also were invited. The white linens and china worked just fine on tables in Marvin and Lois' back yard, and we almost got finished before the heat became uncomfortable.

Linda had suggested ahead of time that each of the missionary ladies share something about one or more of the following things: 1) Something I miss while I'm away from my place of service 2) Something I enjoy about being here 3) Something I'd like for you to pray about.

Rachel misses the prayer and praise time in their Romanian worship service. Each Christian in the group prays aloud at some time during the group prayer times. Lillian misses having people stop by throughout the day (although she acknowledges that this is also part of what she was weary of on the mission field). Lois misses the tropical flowers of Paraguay. Edith misses seeing the intense longing after God that she saw in a few people in Belgium where where most of them came from a background of superficial religion. Twila misses the immediacy of seeing needy people constantly, and being able to interact with them redemptively. She has young twins, and hopes that somehow they can grow up with an awareness of a world bigger than the one they see here. F----, who has spent most of the last year in language study, misses the long stretches of quiet time she had been enjoying. She found it easier to spend time with the Lord during this time than she does now. Edith liked the simple foods and cooking practices in Belgium. People cooked and ate only one hot meal each day, so it was easy to have company for one of the other two "meals" when you knew they didn't expect a hot meal. All of the ladies miss the loved ones they left behind when they came here.

Many of the women tremendously enjoy the the "good old Mennonite singing" they participate in when they come home. They like seeing how the home church works together, even when not everyone agrees. They appreciate the interest people take in missions. They feel people's kindness, and treasure what is offered them. They love not having to do any cross-cultural work in this place. Here, they already know how to act so as not to cause unintentional offense. F---- loves home grown things from the garden. She likes Chinese food, but feels no urge to seek it out while she's here. Vegetables, fresh and unadorned, or cooked and unadorned are wonderful. Twila loves having been able to learn to know her husband's family.

When they mentioned prayer needs, these ladies often thought of far-away needy people who are now very precious to them. Marietta talked of a spiritual "son" who is gifted and has preached powerfully in the past, but now struggles with old addictions, and is unable to resist. F---- talked about her roommate whose mother is desperate for her to marry. She is unwilling to marry a non-Christian, but there simply are far fewer single Christian men in China than women. So she stays stuck between a rock and a hard place. Rachel talked about the challenges of her transition to a teaching job in a Romanian university--lesson plans, finances, and the details of living in a different place. Rebekkah requested prayer for her family, who had two married daughters recently move from Belgium to North America. Lillian talked about going back to a troubled church, and desiring godly wisdom for the challenges ahead. Edith requested prayer for her own walk with the Lord, identifying with F---- in finding it a challenge to have time to cultivate it in this busy church community.

We prayed together for the needs that were mentioned.

While no one there came for the purpose of sharing dramatic things (except maybe for my five-year-old niece, Diana, who recently broke the bone in the tip of her finger when she clanked together two dumbells with her finger caught between them), we all had a wonderful glimpse of important things happening in far-flung parts of the kingdom of God. To hear from our homegrown sisters who are part of this kind of kingdom work is a precious privilege.

Thanks to my sisters for planning this worthwhile time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bugs and Barack

Thanks to a particularly vile infestation of tiny leafhoppers inside the house last night, I finished the 442-page autobiography of Barack Obama in record time. I started reading after lunch on Sunday when it occurred to me that I was finished with the books I had been reading and needed something new. Joel to the rescue.

In response to his off-the-top-of-the-head listing of books not buried too deeply in plastic storage totes, I selected three for further investigation. One was The Nurture of Children: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, one on Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes, and the third, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. I chose the autobiography by Obama and read in it till weariness overwhelmed my morning coffee-sipping counter-measures, and I took a nap. Back to the book after that.

Biography and autobiography are some of my favorite genres. Obama's book was a good read. It was written while Obama finished law school at Harvard, and during the time he served as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was offered an advance by a publisher, so he took time off to write his story before plunging into practicing law. Obama had not yet sought or won any political appointments or elections.

The book has three sections with one-word titles: Origins, Chicago, and Kenya. Within these sections are long chapters with numbers serving as titles.

I have several strong impressions after reading the Obama story. One is that he had an extremely nonreligious upbringing. Around him, the most familiar spirits came in a bottle. Smoking and profane speech were commonplace among his family and friends in his growing-up years. Acquiring and abandoning spouses happened with alarming frequency with Barack's birth and step parents. He has many half brothers and sisters, but no full siblings. His father had multiple wives simultaneously, among them two Americans and at least three Kenyans.

His first brush with religion apparently occurred in the days between his graduation from college and his entrance into law school when he worked for several years as a community organizer in Chicago. Even then, he worked with many different churches in social causes before he ever attended the church that later became his own. The pastor there was the now-infamous Jeremiah Wright. On the first Sunday Obama attended, Wright preached on "The Audacity of Hope," also the title of Obama's recently published (and far more politically encumbered) book.
Barack was deeply touched by Wright's sermon and the altar call that followed.

The second strong impression of Barack Obama is that he is truly cosmopolitan, mostly because of circumstances he did not choose. In his story, I find surprising echoes of my own and the stories of people around me. As a child, he lived among Asians in Hawaii and Indonesia. His Luo tribal homeland is in Kisumu, Kenya, where his father's people lived. His mother lived, for a time, in Wichita, Kansas. Both her parents grew up nearby, in Augusta and El Dorado.

Hiromi is the Asian connection in our family. Shane's bride-to-be lived for years with her family in Kisumu, Kenya. We all live now within an hour's drive from Wichita. The ethnic common ground ends there, however, since we have never been immersed in African-American culture as has become Obama's primary public ethnic identity, and he, of course, is almost as far as can be imagined from a Swiss Anabaptist religious heritage.

I find it more than a little disturbing that, while our sons are as surely Japanese as Barack is African (more so perhaps because they grew up with their foreign father), they can far more easily lay aside the mantle of "differentness" than Obama can, although all of these cross-cultural/bi-racial children were raised in American society. It's as if "Blackness" is a much greater social burden than "Asian-ness." Yet African-Americans have greater numbers and have been in America much longer than Asians. I can only conclude that whites have been more suspicious and malicious toward African-Americans historically than they have been toward Asians, inhumane conditions for Chinese railroad builders and internment camps for WWII Japanese Americans notwithstanding. Shame on us.

Some of what Barack says about his efforts to sort out who he was and wanted to be are a little self-conscious and, by his own admission in the preface to the second edition of the book, perhaps slightly over-wrought. He wonders now how accurately he was able to describe, years later, what he was feeling at any given time, especially in recognition of people's tendency to interpret past events according to present understandings. I don't fault him for having found the sorting out process messy and imprecise, and I recognize in my experience and in that of people close to me some of the same ambiguity and struggle. However, I am profoundly grateful for the anchor I and my loved ones have in Christian faith and a stable, supportive family and community--all of which Barack lacked in his childhood.

Barack obviously has some of his father's breathtaking intelligence, charisma, and generosity. Some of his African siblings are also very accomplished individuals. A few of them have lived and studied in the West. From his mother's side of the family, he got a shot at respectable common sense (his grandmother), a strong sense of fairness (mother and grandfather), an adventuresome spirit (mother and grandfather), and a slightly naive willingness to venture beyond respectability on occasion (all of them, but most audaciously, his grandfather). As an aside, I suspect if he does indeed select Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius as his vice-presidential running mate as some speculate might happen, it will be a tribute to the influence of his rock-solid Kansas grandmother.

Last night as I was reading the Obama story, I took my book to bed with me at a decent time, and decided to read there until I got sleepy. While I was doing so, an annoying number of little brown leafhopper-like insects found and bombarded me. I shooed and slapped and swatted them away as best I could. When I got sleepy (I know I've gotten there when I drop the book twice in close succession.) and turned off the light, the real fun began. Those abominable bugs crawled into my ear and my nose, and bombarded every bit of exposed skin and hair, which is why I did a lot of angry thumping on my head, often fishing the remains of squashed bugs out of my hair. All this unwanted activity thoroughly awakened me, and I couldn't go back to sleep, even after I got up and turned on the bathroom light, hoping it would lure the little beasts away from our bedroom. After nearly an hour of unsatisfactory results, I got up and went to the living room to read. They continued to assault me there. It finally dawned on me that I needed to stop worrying about wasted electricity and turn on the overhead light in the dining room so they would congregate there instead of around my reading lamp in the living room. Still later, (the best ideas are hard to come by at unearthly hours) I thought of leaving the light on over the kitchen sink. I was too lazy and sleepy by then to bother with positioning a dishpan of soapy water beneath it, to catch the little buggers. Around 3:00 I returned to bed and slept fine for what was left of the night.

The tiny brown leafhoppers that were my nemesis must hit their peak population at this time of the year. I think they enter our house through the window air conditioner. In an online report of insect numbers counted as part of a data-gathering project in the 1930's, researchers had to abandon the leaf-hopper count on a night around July 20 when they got past 500 and had so many insects get into the eyes and mouths of the counters that they had to flee. I sympathize.

Even if your level of interest in politics is as in-the-cellar as mine is, or as in-the-gutter as some people's is, Obama's very thoughtfully-narrated story is worth reading for what it reveals about life--not his only, but everyone's. Obama shows himself to be a reflective man, and I wish you a bug-free environment in which to read Dreams from My Father and see this for yourself.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Quote for the Day 7/20/2008

One of the things I like about Hiromi is how companionably he talks to animals. This past weekend I've overheard a number of one-sided conversations with our parakeet, Houdini.

Hiromi: Do you have enough food? Let me get you some food and fresh water.

Hiromi: Houdini, do you want to go to your cabin? (He opens the cage door and puts it on the floor.)

Cabin is Hiromi's term for the large silk bamboo plant in the corner of the living room opposite to Houdini's cage. Often when we let Houdini out, he runs and flutters his way to this vacation spot and climbs into it where he is nearly invisible.

Later, in response to loud chirping from Houdini . . .

Hiromi: Houdini, is that your victory chirp? Y-e-a-h . . . You're back home again, and you're making an announcement. See? I'm safe, and I got here all by myself. . . . Is that what you're saying?

Hiromi (to me): Houdini has two cabins. One is on the bottom shelf of the shelf unit beside the couch. He sits right next to the big rooster cookie jar there.

Hiromi (to Houdini, in the second cabin): Houdini, are you pretending that's your mama? That thing's a little too big for you. Your mama was small. But if you feel safe there, that's OK.

Houdini cocks his head and listens and blinks his beady black eyes.

Hiromi (Going to Houdini's cage just before he heads for bed): Houdini, are you still my friend? Are you going to step up on my hand? Sure. It's OK. Good boy. Are you kinda tired? Good night. Oyasumi (Good night in Japanese).

I am completely charmed by this gentle, solicitous side of the man I married. Seeing it is one of the blessings of having been married for these 27 years.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Methodical Visionaries

Recently I got a call from a teacher in another state who wanted to pick my brain for ideas about a class she is to teach. I had never met or heard of this person before, but we had a nice conversation. We have mutual friends who gave her contact information.

Near the end of the conversation I suggested that she might want to consider suggesting a change in the way their school does something. Specifically, I suggested the project they were attempting in 9th grade might be more suited to older students. Her response interested me.

She said, "I'm not a visionary person who tries to change things. I just try to do what I'm told in the best way possible." I respect her for being that kind of person, but I'm afraid I will never fully understand people like her. How can you not want to change something that could be improved?

People like the caller I talked with help make the world go 'round. They are the dependable folks who don't forget appointments, remember what they said to whom and when, discipline consistently, are often on hand to help others, always have a company-ready house, can follow the most meticulous diet and exercise regimen, and, as teachers--grade papers on time, follow up on violations of the finer points of school policy, and have their lesson plans done for the semester before the semester begins. I wish for more of that kind of stability and dependability in my own life. They are, in short, what Flylady calls BO's--Born Organized. I invariably feel inept around them.

I really hate being forgetful, negligent, and tardy--try as I might, not to be that way. I slip up--not habitually, but repeatedly. These slip ups are never proud moments. They require recovery-of-sense-of-self-worth time, and stern self-talk. Especially they require time reflecting on truth instead of the lies Satan is pleased to suggest at such times.

One of the truths I think of sometimes is that "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Often the most methodical are also the least visionary, and vice versa: the most visionary are the least methodical. Perhaps nowhere is it more clear that both kinds of people are essential to significant accomplishment than when the stakes are high, in terms of human well-being, Christian witness, or significant expenditures of time and money.

Furthermore, people at the extremes of the visionary/methodical continuum especially need to work at cultivating the skills that put them closer to the center on the continuum. Even when they are part of a team that includes other individuals that help bring balance to the whole, people are a lot easier to work with if they have already exercised their flexibility muscles enough to be able to consider an approach outside the scope of their natural inclinations.

I hope the school where my caller friend teaches has some visionaries on staff. And I hope she herself considers expanding her repertoire of possible approaches. Students will think it's all a lot more fun, and the orderly procedures already in place will assure that students are well-served in the meantime.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quote for the Day 7/18/2008

Me (to my nieces Hannah and Christie) : Are you all done with the corn?

Hannah (still running water into the laundry tubs used for cooling blanched corn) : All except for the water fight. I'm getting ready to dump this all over Christie. It's a tradition--after the work is done.

I ended up cutting several pints worth of kernels off a few ears found belatedly in a forgotten kettle. Then I helped them pick green beans and tomatoes. My sister-in-law Judy picked cucumbers and summer squash. I noted the clearly labeled rows of vegetables, the first-ever successful attempt at keeping careful track all summer long of the varieties being trialled. The "Tree Tomato" towered over everything except the rampant cherry tomatoes, but there was nary a fruit on the tree. The "Health Kick" on the other hand, was kicking out many very large Roma-shaped fruits.

When we first got to the garden and saw the green shoots coming up through the straw mulch--

Judy: Looks like a good wheat crop, doesn't it?

The amount of unthreshed grain left in the heads that are part of wheat straw is always a revelation. In the moist soil under the mulch this grain sprouts and adds a green carpet overlay to the bright gold of the straw. The combination is actually a perfect mix of nitrogen and carbon that aids prompt decomposition when it's turned under in the fall.


Tomorrow is the wedding of a young man Judy used to babysit when he was a toddler. Judy's family is invited to the wedding. A little over a year ago, the young man's mother told Judy, in whispers, because the young lady being spoken of was close by:

Annette: We really hope he keeps this one. We really like her.

He's keeping her, and he and his wife will follow his parents' teaching tradition by both taking positions for the next school year in a district a few counties west of here. We all wish them well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hot Air Statistics

Statistics was not my favorite college class, but occasionally statistics tell an interesting story. I learned at the National Weather Service website that 2008 is an unusual year in that it is already July 17, and the temperature has never yet reached 100 degrees in Wichita. The average date for this to occur is July 7. In 1967, the earliest 100-degree-day ever recorded occurred on May 10. Last year it happened on August 7. The past two years suggest that, locally, we're in a cooling cycle, with 1967 having been the heat peak.

However, other statistics tell a different story. Since 1934, there have been 10 years with notable heat. Each of these 10 years surpasses all previous-to-1934 years on record with either the total number of days over 100 degrees, or the number of consecutive days over 100 degrees. Two of those years happened close together, in 1934 (Total: 40) and 1936 (Total: 50). They were the first hot-weather couple of years. Two others were spaced at roughly 20 year intervals after that, in 1954 (42) and 1978 (42). 1978 and 1980 were another hot-weather couple of years. 1980 saw 46 days of over 100 degrees. Except for one day when the temperature climbed only to 98 degrees, 27 of those days were consecutive.

I remember those later years, especially 1980. One day after another of brassy blue skies, brilliant sunshine, and dry, hot winds. We had no air conditioning at our house, and nights didn't cool off much.

We got married the following summer, on July 25, and, with the previous summer fresh on our minds, we couldn't bear the thought of planning any part of the festivities in a non-air-conditioned building, so we did not get married in our home church.

Nineteen thirty-four, when my father was seven years old, must have been a doozy. Except for a 10-day break about midway through the period, the temperature was over 100 degrees every day from July 10-August 12. Nineteen thirty-six had 20 consecutive days over 100, and 50 total. No wonder those years are still known as the Dirty Thirties--because of all the real estate that changed hands, courtesy of the wind rearranging and transporting the upper soil layers . Reflecting on this almost makes the planting, in subsequent years, of all those horribly weak-wooded, but fast-growing and drought-tolerant Siberian elms seem forgiveable. Something was desperately needed to slow down the wind and protect the soil and crops.

My mother tells me that the summer I was born, in June, 1952, was the beginning of a drought lasting several years. Apparently 1954 was the peak of that stretch of hot, dry weather.

Back to the record years. . . With a ten-year hiatus following 1980, the other five record-setting years have all taken place since 1990 (one 13 day stretch and one 8 day stretch), and in 1991 (8)--couple number 3; 2000 (16), 2001 (8), and 2003 (9)--a threesome of hot-weather years.

The first two couples occurred 44 years apart. The next occurrence of couple years happened only ten years later. The threesome occurred after another ten years. The intervals have shrunk. This suggests a warming trend.

Back in 1980, we were just hearing the first talk of global warming. As far as I know it was not a political hot-button issue. We didn't know it was something you believed in or scoffed at. The main thing everyone knew for sure was that this was a miserably hot summer, and we didn't want another one like it.

Then again, if politicians were talking about it, we may not have noticed. The whole countryside was already saturated with hot air anyway.

Note: The above statistics were taken from

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cold Sore

For the first time in a very long time, I have a "honking" cold sore. Nothing boosts one's self esteem like a cold sore.

I mentally flipped through the files on cold sores and remembered that these are almost always some kind of herpes infection, but I wondered what caused this one this time. So I went looking for information. Here are some of the things I found.

Cold sores always develop on skin located at a nerve ending. On the upper lip are three nerve endings on each side, fairly evenly spaced. These nerves all are part of a network that spreads over the sides, front, and back of the head.

Cold sores often appear on the same spot repeatedly. Whenever one develops, it means that the herpes virus has been lurking somewhere up the line on that nerve. When some trigger sends the signal, and nothing squelches it, the virus busily travels as far as it can in hiding, and then pops out and does its dirty work in plain sight, on or near the lip.

Rebecca told me on Sunday that she always gets cold sores when she loses too much sleep. Ah. That makes sense. I kept some very odd hours over the time of the Miller reunion, and I first felt the beginnings of this cold sore right after that. Also, ( I can already hear some of my boys snort on this one.) I was more erratic than usual in taking the food supplements I usually take faithfully. My theory is that my body's defenses were compromised because of an insufficiency of certain kinds of nutrients and a lack of rest, and the opportunistic herpes virus saw a window of opportunity, right there at the high point of the left side of my lip.

One of our sons, who is otherwise very bright, loves to deride the "food supplements" practice. It's a racket and a waste of good money and not necessary. That's a toned-down version of what he actually says. He is also sick far more frequently than Hiromi or I, who know what's good for us, and usually take our food supplements faithfully. Since we've done this in the past four or five years, we have missed almost no days of work because of illness. It doesn't take very much lost work time to "cost" as much as our food supplements cost, and the energy and feeling of well-being we enjoy are bonuses.

Someday our sons may learn that being well is more important than being "right" and, when they do, I'll have some suggestions ready. Did I say suggestions? I'll have some pills and powders and suggestions ready.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Quote for the Day 7/14/2008

Grant, on the phone, calling home: Are you up and around?

Me: Yes. (Why did he ask? It was 3:00 p. m. Oh yeah. Sometimes I take a nap.)

Grant: Would you get one of those Pepsi's in the fridge and put it in the freezer?

Me: Whatever for?

Grant: So it's nice and slushy when I get home.

When I visualized what I might do on my Sabbatical, I never thought to put on my list Put Pepsi in freezer so it gets nice and slushy for Grant. I didn't even know we had Pepsi in the fridge. But, since I'm a pushover in some ways, I found it (after first grabbing a Coke by mistake--didn't know that was there either) and put it in the freezer, thereby adding credence to the maxim: Work always expands to fill the available time.

Further evidences:
1. I Frenched the green beans when I cleaned and prepared them for supper. (Usually snapping them is good enough. I also stir-fried them with fresh ginger and soy sauce--wonderful with toasted sesame seeds over it all.)
2. I not only did all Shane's laundry last week, I dried and hung up a big batch of Joel's good clothes today. (They usually do their own laundry.)
3. I dead-headed the Cannas, Moonflowers and Geraniums in front of the house.
4. I took my Felco pruners and snipped off at the base some of the most obnoxious and overgrown weeds lurking among the flowers south of the house. (Usually Grant reaches his weed tolerance limit before I reach mine, and "fells" them.)
5. I mailed a personal letter I had written on Saturday. (Usually emails is as ambitious as I get.)
6. I cleaned out the broom closet on Friday, and Marian helped me clean the pantry and two cupboards.
7. I watered the houseplants. (I'm way more hit or miss here at home with watering plants than I ever let the students be at school when my plants lived there.)
8. Online, I researched Fragile X, a genetic condition I read about for the first time in the July 7 Time magazine.
9. I spent at least 45 minutes on an editing project for Hiromi. I promised him 15 minutes a day several weeks ago, and usually it's a struggle to do even that.
10. I checked out the Miller directory for the recent reunion and learned that in this group of people, there are at least 15 doctors or nurses, 15 current or career teachers or school administrators, 16 homeschool moms, at least 11 pastors, missionaries, church planters, or Bible translators (in addition to at least 5 entire families on the mission field), 5 software or systems developers or administrators, 5 travel agents, 15 in some type of agriculture, several in finance or insurance, several in real estate investment and development, about 14 in construction, 2 counselors, and one of each of the following: nursing home administrator, copy editor, social worker, child therapist, attorney, architect, watch maker, restaurant owner, aquatic biologist, commodities broker, logger, musician, and plumber. There were also many homemakers and students, and I'm sure I missed some others.
I'll blame this last project partly on Aunt Fannie, who said out loud at the reunion that she wonders how many in this group are in the medical field. Among her children, there is a pediatrician, a nurse-midwife, and an RN who performs kidney dialysis and trains people to use home units. She could hardly be blamed if she thought there were probably more in this field than any other. But I thought to myself that there are probably as many in education as in medicine, and now I've proved it as well as is possible with a cursory assessment. Agriculture and construction have similar numbers.
Among my siblings and their spouses, quite a few are or have been teachers, and many are homeschool parents, but only two are or have been nurses. My father was also a certified teacher at one time. But because they are not currently employed as teachers, I did not include most of my family in the teacher count--only Caleb and myself, and I barely count.

So now you know. If you ask me what I'm doing on my Sabbatical, I probably won't know what to say. But time is not hanging heavy on my hands, and sometimes I am even able to use it productively and pleasurably. I'm not sure where banal posts like this one fit in. Not in the productive category, I'm afraid, but probably as productive as putting Pepsi into the freezer for Grant.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Quotes for the Day 7/13/2008

Today, when Grant was set to leave for an outdoor activity, and I saw how he was dressed:

Me: I hope you get lots of mosquito bites on your legs. (Hoping for natural consequences to weigh in on my side.)

Grant: Love you too, Mom.

And then in a disappointing display of one-up-man-ship, he bestowed this parting Middle Eastern "blessing:"

Grant: And may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.


Several weeks ago, when we had company from another state:

Visitors: The trees around here have interesting shapes. Are they pruned in a special way for some reason?

Locals: No. They look that way because of last winter's ice storm. All the medium-sized branches broke off, so what you see now is leaves on new, small branches bunched along the bigger main trunks that didn't break.


Shane: I just had a strange thought. The next time I come home from work, it won't be to this house.

Me: Oh no. I don't like that thought at all.

Later. . .

Me: On the bright side, your mountains of dirty clothes I dealt with today will be in someone else's house too.

Shane and others are gone to the South and East on chorus tour, and when they get back, his crew will be on vacation. Fellowship meeting time will arrive soon, and, shortly after that, Shane and Dorcas's wedding. So we keep hurtling along toward W-Day, trying to savor the time, and realizing there's not much time left to savor.

Of you're reading this, and you see the Kansas Youth Chorus on tour, drop me a line and let me know how Shane and Dorcas and the others are doing.

The Color Orange

I am not easily intimidated. So why do I have such a wary, tentative relationship with the color orange? To be sure, it is among the boldest of colors, advancing to meet onlookers with nary a by-your-leave offered. Something seems faintly rude about this.

I blame my customary aversion to orange partly on the influence of one of my house mates in school teaching days in Ohio. She claimed that the color orange burned her eyes way deep inside her head. Or maybe I should blame it on my mother, who was averse to clothing in any colors resembling red. Or maybe it's a matter of seeing orange flowers stealing the show wherever they appear with flowers of other colors. Beyond that, they make perfectly lovely lavenders and pinks look sick and pale. Rude again.

Of late, orange appears often in clothing and in household decorating, and on motor vehicles. I have not embraced it. I'm holding steadfast to my principles.

However, I have made some cautious concessions outside my home. The black iron kettle we used to heat our wash water in is now a planter, and this year I filled it with orange and yellow Bacopa (one of each), and orange and yellow Lantana (combined in each flower cluster), a Chilly Chili red-yellow-orange ornamental pepper, and a frothy white Euphorbia. On the front porch orange Impatiens fills two pots, a brown one and a blue one.

But in the long perennial bed by the road, I've banished all orange flowers to the North end. They cohabit peacefully there with green and white and yellow and red and blue and gold. The other end is for magenta and purple and pinks and lavenders. White and blue and clean yellows romp freely along the length of the border, mixing happily with anything they encounter. In bouquets, I impose similar restrictions. No orange with pinks and lavenders.

I bite my lip when one of my boys buys an orange T-shirt. I can't imagine buying anything for my home in that color. I will most assuredly not buy orange dress fabric or choose to drive an orange vehicle.

But when God paints with the color orange, I can not protest. I love the bold orange patches in the plumage of the Northern Oriole, the orange velvet on a Monarch butterfly, carrot-colored fall leaves, and orange blushes and brush strokes in a sunset. I happily add carrots and orange peppers to relish plates. Oranges, peaches, and apricots, in season, adorn the baskets or bowls on some of the surfaces in my kitchen, and I pile orange squash and gourds and pumpkins into baskets for fall decorations, threading orange Pyracantha berries and tiny Manhattan Euonymous fruits throughout.

So what's not to love about orange? Too much of it. That's what.

If its brashness can be throttled back, as God Himself seems to do when he uses the color orange, either by dishing it out in small doses (flowers, fruits, and berries), infrequent appearances (rare flamboyant sunsets or leaves in fall) or moving it about against a background of green or blue (birds and butterflies), then bring on the orange. But not on my person or my vehicle, or in my house. Only God has permission to ask that of me, and I'm counting on Him not to require anything so immoderate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Popcorn in London

My cousin Erlis is a social worker in London, where he has lived for many years with his German wife Gesine.

In a conversation at the Miller reunion I learned that he is faithfully maintaining a time-honored Miller tradition: stowing away great quantities of popcorn. It's not a common snack in his social circle, but whenever he makes popcorn for friends, they are surprised at how good it is.

I quizzed him. Special secrets? What oil? What salt? Special popper? No. Regular. Regular. No. Just a plain kettle, regular oil, regular salt, regular popcorn.

I asked him whether he's ever tried the Lady Finger popcorn they sell at Glenn's Bulk Foods. He said no, and added that he'll have to go by and get some while he's in Kansas. "You may have forever ruined my enjoyment of regular popcorn," he added as an afterthought, grinning.

I hope not. I like to picture Erlis, in their little flat in London, serving up great regular Miller-type popcorn to skeptical, then impressed, English friends.

Europeans thought for a long time that corn was good only for livestock feed. This side of the pond saw the first and best use of corn for human nutrition. It would be a shame not to get some mileage out of that.

Native Americans first introduced popcorn to immigrants from Europe. Today they have a counterpart in Erlis, who is still introducing popcorn to Europeans, over there, this time, instead of here. I hope they continue to be suitably impressed.

Just Desserts

I grinned to myself this past weekend when I heard Sterling holding forth about the injustice of terrorist profiling based on ethnicity. His father, my brother Caleb, countered that it made sense, based on past positive correlations between terrorism and certain ethnicities. Back and forth they went, professor father and college-age son duking it out.

Thirty years ago it was college-age Caleb and his preacher father doing exactly the same thing. Tit for tat. Neither one giving up easily. Both making telling points repeatedly, and getting shot down repeatedly.

What goes around comes around, and all that. If my dad had heard it, he might have thought just desserts.

Ananias and Martha's Great-Grandchildren

My sister Carol's family lives in Shawnee, a Kansas City suburb--not a Mennonite mecca by any means. Over the weekend she told us about a really random twist on the familiar Mennonite game in that unlikely place.

Her younger daughter, who just graduated from a Christian high school, last year had several male classmates vying for her attention, and she was trying to maintain an open mind, so she went out with the one whose last name was "Miller." I'll call him Douglas. This name seemed entirely unremarkable till Carol learned that his father grew up in Kalona, Iowa, the same small community where our mother grew up. When she had a chance, she inquired what the prospective boyfriend's grandfather's name was. It was Sylvanus Miller. Carol recalled her grandfather Ananias' sister Martha (Beachy) who was married to Sylvanus Miller. He apparently had a son by the same name--Douglas's grandfather. She found the whole record in the Beachy book.

Douglas and Emily are third cousins. They were horrified at this discovery, and promptly closed the romantic investigation. (Someone should perhaps have told them this doesn't automatically spell disaster.)

About this time the school planned a "hillbilly" event, where people attending were to dress in appropriate costumes. But Douglas's friends assured him he was all set, even without a costume.

You don't have to do anything. You've already been dating your cousin.

Harvest Blessings and Trials

The wheat this year in Lowell's fields produced 60-70 bushels per acre--a tremendous blessing, especially with the market very strong. With some of it sold around $8.00 a bushel, Lowell is checking out a Versatile tractor, looking to replace his 5020 John Deere gone bad. This is about as close as farmers get to euphoria.

Nearby, however, is an unharvested 40-acre wheat field that is dead--not from a ripe crop having been harvested, but from a green field having been accidentally sprayed with Roundup--a herbicide that kills every plant which gets its leaves sprayed--unless it's been genetically modified to resist the effects. The intention was to spray this valuable seed wheat crop with a fungicide, presumably to lighten disease pressure and boost the yield just a bit. This makes good economic sense when the resulting crop can be sold for $15.00 a bushel. But the Co-op guys got it wrong and the once-promising field holds no more promise.

Worse yet, much of the crop already had buyers waiting in the wings, so the seed dealer (our friend) will have to buy high-priced wheat to maintain his integrity with the customers who were depending on this source for their wheat seed for fall planting. Replacement value far exceeds the limits of the Co-op's insurance policy, unless the insurance provider can get a payout from the company that insures them.

The enemy here is not the Co-op employees or the insurance companies, but the same enemy who has always made life difficult for people who seek to follow Christ. Nothing would please this enemy more than to see the ones whose livelihood is adversely affected become angry and bitter at the way they've been victimized. But another way is possible, by God's grace--the way of forgiveness. I will pray for forgiveness to be freely offered. And, because I want to see my friends both free and provided for, I will also pray that they receive just remuneration.

And please, God, help the the guys at the Co-op to get it right from now on.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Quote for the Day 7/9/2008

Yesterday when I went to Dwight and Karen's house to get some sweet corn for fresh eating, their seven-year-old daughter Cindy helped me put it into a bag to take home. While this was happening she made conversation:

Cindy: Today we're having an Adam and Eve day.

Me: Oh. What makes it an Adam and Eve day?

Cindy: We're going to eat just fruits and vegetables.

I like the way this family teaches truth in the course of everyday life.

Think of all that's wrapped up in the term for this practice, probably happening only when the garden is in full production, and produce is abundant. That's a taste of how it was in the perfection of the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world.

Meat eating happened only after the fall. With sin came death, and the slaughter of animals. God did this to provide animal skins for man to use as a covering for the naked bodies that now caused shame. I don't know for sure when eating the flesh of animals began.

On Adam and Eve days, whether overtly or obliquely, Cindy's family remembers the story of God's provision, man's rebellion, and God's extended mercy. God showed Adam and Eve how to live in a fallen world. For them and now for Cindy's family, He gave many good gifts along the way--like sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions, green beans, summer squash, and okra--all ready in the family's garden right now. What better way to remember the Giver and the gift than to have an Adam and Eve day?

I wish I had thought of it myself when my children were small.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Degrees and Dementia

We're still enjoying good family times with my brother Caleb's family having stayed several days after the big Miller reunion ended. Tonight Caleb told us a story about how one person explained to an inquiring farmer what various academic degrees stood for.

"Well, you already know what B.S. stands for. . . M.S. stands for More of the Same. Ph.D stands for Piled Higher and Deeper."

Caleb's wife Kara told us that when Caleb was awarded his Ph.D at Notre Dame, in a ceremony honoring the people who invested in the lives of the degree candidates, she was given a "Ph.T" (put hubbby through).

It's almost as much fun to see people poke fun at their own degrees as it is to observe when someone asks what the degree was for and they can't remember. I've witnessed both.


Two years ago, at the Miller reunion, my aunt Ann told me that her husband, my uncle Dan, had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. They had begun making preparations to move from Ohio to Virginia to a facility where they could transition into higher levels of care as it became necessary. They were here again this year, traveling by car from Virginia, and Dan looks well, but the disease is obviously taking its toll on his memory.

One of the things that surprised me about Dan is how self-aware he is about his condition. When he has difficulty remembering something, he makes perfectly rational explanations about why. "I have Alzheimer's," he might say, "and I can't recall that anymore." Or "I remember that we lived there, but I can't tell you how long. Ann could tell you that." Yet he listened very knowingly to Sunday's sermon, and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

Caleb told us tonight that he's heard that there is an inverse relationship between people with advanced degrees and Alzheimer's. That is, people with advanced degrees often do not get Alzheimer's as quickly as others do. Often, however, if a more highly educated individual does get Alzheimer's, his condition deteriorates very fast. Some people believe that the more highly educated individuals simply have mastered a bigger set of compensation strategies to offset the visible symptoms of an Alzheimer's-affected brain. But eventually the compensations fail to be adequate, and by then the brain abnormalities are fairly advanced and disabling.

My 83-year-old identical twin uncles seem like a case in point. The one with Alzheimer's was a farmer. His school-administrator, M.S.-degreed twin is still very cogent. But of course there were other differences in how they lived their lives. The farmer was exposed to many agricultural chemicals over his lifetime. The school administrator always ate healthfully while his twin had at least one bowl of ice cream almost every day. (He was never the slightest bit overweight, however.) In talking about this tonight, we all realized that it's easy to over-generalize, but interesting nevertheless to note whether or not the people you know fit the patterns other people suggest may be present.

Dan, however, who is in his mid-seventies, also has an M.S. I don't know anything about how he ate, but he certainly was not often exposed to agricultural chemicals. He was a high school teacher and later, counselor. Neither the dairyman brother just older than he, or the retired principal brother just younger than he in the family have Alzheimer's. So the proposed theory about the relationship between advanced degrees and Alzheimer's does not hold up at all in Dan's case.

The moral is that none of us can predict with any certainty what our old age will be like, and we all need to practice now to receive the grace of God for each day. We will certainly need it then, whether or not there's dementia in our future.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Roberto's Message

Have I ever introduced my readers to my only preacher brother-in-law? He is married to my sister Carol, just younger than I in the family. Currently he is director of Hispanic missions in the Nazarene denomination in the USA and Canada, and has oversight of about 400 congregations. Did I mention that he has earned a doctorate?

Roberto (Row BEAR toe) lived for the first 17 years of his life in Nicaragua where he was born to a Hispanic mother and black father. In an astonishing twist on what one would expect, Roberto's father, who lived all his life in Nicaragua, as had his parents before him, spoke only English as he was growing up. He was born in Bluefields, a port city on the east coast of Nicaragua. This region had been inhabited by British people who kept slaves. Descendants of these slaves were English speaking. In Roberto's memory, his English-speaking father always spoke heavily accented Spanish. His children never learned English from him.

Roberto grew up in a non-Christian family, and became involved in many of the vices common to his age mates in a similar setting. But one bright light began to shine on this family when his oldest sister Elsa became converted. By that time the parents were separated, and the husband and father became terminally ill. Elsa and other family members went to care for him in his final illness.

Life in Nicaragua became increasingly dangerous. Elsa emigrated to America eventually, and Roberto and his mother and another sister followed. Roberto found Christ in America.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua came under the Sandinista government, and a determined resistance group, the contras, became active. In the widespread chaos of that time, Roberto's nephew, who was a medical doctor, was taken by force, and compelled to travel with an armed group of contras. Government soldiers ambushed the group and Roberto's nephew was killed. Later on, his father, (Roberto's older brother) who had never had any part in the war, innocently rode his motorcycle into the path of two warring groups and was shot in crossfire. He survived for a number of years as a paraplegic.

In America, leaders in the Nazarene church recognized extraordinary ability in Roberto and began to mentor and groom him for ministry. He had opportunities to further his education, and, by the time my sister learned to know him in his mid-twenties, he was pastoring a church, mentoring a group of younger men who served in small Hispanic congregations, and providing oversight for a group of churches in his region. Carol and Roberto met when Carol was involved in a ministry to Latin American refugees in the Washington, D. C. area, and Roberto contacted the organization for help for some of his desperate parishoners, many of whom had fled the violence in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Carol had gone there to work after having served in Amish Mennonite Aid missions in El Salvador for several years, and then subsequently having earned a degree in international development.

I have often been sorry that I can't hear Roberto preach in his native tongue and understand him. Others in my family who have and can, say he is a dynamic speaker. I only know from personal observation that he has a beautiful, humble spirit, and a great deal of passion and godly insight.

In the church service our family had at this past weekend's reunion, Roberto was asked to preach the morning sermon. He agreed, with some trepidation at the prospect of having to do it in English, and at the prospect of doing it in front of many who he felt were better qualified than he.

He spoke on several verses in Revelation that show a scene in heaven when people from all tongues and tribes and nations come before the throne of God. He focused on three aspects of that great reunion, drawing parallels with the reunion we were experiencing together: invitation, preparation, and finally, celebration. In spite of being limited in some respects in his ability to express all that was in his heart, his keen anticipation of that celebration shone through in his spoken and facial expressions.

In a wry reference to the language frustrations he was dealing with, he noted that no one in heaven will have difficulty with either speaking or understanding. He went on to declare that Spanish is, of course, the language that will be spoken and understood in heaven. "But lately I have heard that some people think it is actually going to be English--because it takes an eternity to learn."

In our family group in that Sunday morning service were people with at least six different mother tongues, Japanese, Spanish, Swiss, and Arabic among them. Among the acquired languages were Turkish, Russian, modern German and French. Others in the family know Amharic and Dizi, both languages spoken in Ethiopia. Biblical languages such as Hebrew, Greek, and Akkadian come to mind easily for a few family members. Bangla and Chinese are on the language radar for others. What a lively mix of people groups these languages represent! And what interesting stories they provide for a family reunion. Yet the distinctives will become immaterial in a flash when Christ returns. Then only one identity will matter: CHILD OF GOD, and even those who know only one language, or those who have no remaining earthly family members, can easily acquire it. The invitation has been extended, the preparations have been made, and the celebration will begin.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

One More Good Thing

I'm feeling whiney tonight . . .

Hiromi found one of our cats dining on a baby barn swallow. That was one of the bad things that happened today.

My back hurts. That's another bad thing.

Hiromi is working on putting up bead board in our hallway. "It's a mess," he reported, after struggling to remedy some Mickey Mouse carpentry from yesteryear. Not good.

Shane's girlfriend, Dorcas, is in bed with a hideously sore throat. I feel sorry for her, and worry that she might have strep throat.

At the sewing today I found out that Aunt Lizzie seems not to have been properly informed about plans for this weekend's Miller reunion. Everyone loves her and no one would intentionally leave her out of anything, but somehow the communication didn't happen as it should have. I don't blame her for feeling that it's unfair that people without email are left out.

I found an invitation for an evening of knitting and crocheting with my Sunday School class at Suzie's house. I was happy about this until I saw that it happened last Tuesday and I had missed it. It was with church mailbox things that I never saw, probably because we had company for dinner and then went to hear Ben talk at church right after that. I don't know where the stack was in the meantime. Honestly, the house was not cluttered. Maybe that was the problem. Someone stashed it away and that's how I missed seeing it.

Joe K. stopped in tonight trying to figure out what he should do about Marvin's mower having self-destructed while he was using it to mow their property. ("There was oil spraying everywhere.") He wanted to make sure about when Marvin's family is planning to return from Europe. (Very late Friday night--in time for Saturday and Sunday of the reunion, if their jet lagged bodies allow them to participate.)

I heard that Rod and Leanna just got back from Hawaii where they went to celebrate their 25th anniversary. We have been married almost 27 years, and did nothing memorable at all on our 25th anniversary.

I'm also feeling good about some things.

Today I got the best look ever at Levi and Angie's baby. (Both of them were students during my teaching days.) The baby is perfectly lovely, and I am happy for them.

At the quilt, I heard a great story from the book The Heavenly Man, and was encouraged by the miracles this Chinese Christian experienced.

I heard recently that Hilda (Joel's girlfriend) will be working in the learning center at the high school next year part time. I'm delighted at the prospect of more help on staff, and glad that such a fine young lady is able to provide it.

My sister's family is arriving today from North Carolina, where they are making their home now, after living in Virginia for several years. I haven't seen her since Christmas 2005, and she has been diagnosed with cancer, undergone treatment, and been declared cancer-free in the interim.

The rest of my parental family (except for Clara--sigh) plan to arrive before the weekend for the afore-mentioned Miller reunion. I haven't seen Clara or Caleb either since Christmas 2005. Clara is coming with her family for Shane's wedding, I hope, and Caleb's family is coming this week, as are Anthony, Carol, and Ronald.

Hiromi fixed the kitchen faucet. It took thousands of gallons of water down the drain, two years and 15 minutes, and a $13.00 repair kit. The drain in the sewing room is repaired too, and the bucket can now be removed from the cabinet under the sink.

Hiromi is home all week. The company he works for routinely shuts down during the July 4 week. I love having him here all the time.

We're enjoying homemade pies made with apricots and cherries from our own trees. I haven't completely forgotten how to bake pies, and I enjoyed it enough to wonder aloud to Hiromi if he and I should make pies to sell during the summer after he retires in three years. I think there's lots more money in pies than in flowers. More calories too, unfortunately, and fewer sanctimoniously "natural" and artsy feelings involved.

Rachel told me today that her niece Jewel helped her set up a blog. I'm looking forward to reading it after she begins posting. She is home before beginning a job teaching in a Christian University in Romania. Counseling is her field.

And now that I've thought of one more good than bad thing, I think I will try for a good night's rest and trust that the whineys will have been forgotten when I wake up.