Prairie View

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pottery Talk

Note: I'm including more details here than many of you will be interested in. I justify it for the sake of people out there who may have responsibility for planning similar events and who might benefit from ideas that others have used. This event was planned by Judith N., Marian Y., Carla M., and Rosene Y.--typical of the four-person committee selected by the previous year's committee of women.

As always, use the buttons in front of you to get past the parts you want to skip.


Last night I attended our church's annual women's prayer partners banquet. More than 100 people attended, including a number of guests.

Something about an event like this is very satisfying. Eating a meal planned and prepared by others, in a beautifully decorated environment, over good conversation among friends, listening to pleasing inspirational singing and writings. . . .It's the stuff of a weary woman's dreams.

This year's theme was "Vessels Unto Honor," a Scripture phrase that uses the imagery of pottery.

A sextet sang three songs: "Channels Only," "I Will Serve Thee," and "We Are an Offering." The whole group sang "Have Thine Own Way" after we heard the story of how Adelaide Pollard wrote the words while dealing with a major disappointment when she came up short on funds for a mission undertaking she was committed to. Readings included one called "The Vessel" by an unknown author, a poem by Roy Lessin, and "The Potter's Hand" by M. F. Clarkson (not my beloved Margaret Clarkson, as I first thought when I saw the initials) . I gave a speech with the same title as the theme.

I entered by the back stairs because I had things to tote downstairs in preparation for my talk. Then I entered again, properly, through the double doors, and followed a path of tea lights shining from inside quart canning jars, the jars threaded along displays of pottery--on tables and other rustic or simple objects, among quilts, paintings, books, and greenery, etc., some pottery filled with flowers (from my frantic pre-freeze harvest). Interspersed on small easel-type stands were also calligraphy-style Bible verses and other quotes related to the theme. At the end of this path was the registration table where those of us who didn't bring dessert paid our $5.00 for the evening. We stuffed our bills into a large blue pot that Joel had made in a pottery class he took several years ago at Sterling.

Downstairs each place at the tables had a small bookmarker-style card with an appropriate picture and writing related to the theme. This was intended as a memento of the evening, but I seem to have failed to pick mine up--hence the fuzzy details. Sigh.

The tables were decorated with red and white. Each table had a centerpiece made from a serving bowl, elevated on something covered by a decorative cloth napkin, filled with water and an outer ring of tea lights surrounding a large white silk mum held in place with crumpled clear plastic wrap. On either side was a red-glazed, flower-shaped candle holder containing tall white candles. Beyond the candle holders, at each end of the table was a tall red mug set inside a matching bowl. The mug contained sand, on which perched a small fat white candle. All the candles provided a nice soft light (and a good deal of heat, as became apparent as the evening progressed). Oh, white tablecloths, red napkins . . . .

One of the delightful surprises downstairs was the "bench wall." We have quite a few Amish-church-style foldable benches which have probably been in use between 50 and 100 years. They are all painted the same glossy gray. At the end of one of the long basement walls are sturdy steel racks for storing these benches. The benches can be stacked on each of three sets of black "forearm" brackets that extend out from the wall at right angles. These benches had been stacked very neatly, and the top bench of each stack sported lovely displays. Those distressed benches have never looked so good--a wonderful example of seeing opportunity in what might to less creative minds have looked like an eyesore.

Most of the girls who served us, family style, were in the junior high age category. The three cooks were ladies from a neighboring church. Joe Y. had cooked the savory chicken breasts, and Mary Ellen B. had made the crescent rolls. The cooks did the tossed salads and mashed potatoes and gravy. Some of the guests brought the desserts.

My notes for the speech were a mess. I actually have three very different outlines saved in WordPerfect documents on my computer. (Have I mentioned my tendency to be indecisive?) The final outline was neatly typed, and messily and copiously amended in hot pink ink after it was too late to re-type it.

I had found some online resources and was given an article from Discipleship Journal ("Lessons From Clay" by Wendy Lawton, Jan/Feb 2000, pp. 62-65). The article was the most helpful. I had also used a topical Bible and Bible dictionary to find the Scriptures related to the Potter/pottery imagery and learn about the making of pottery in Bible times.

My efforts to rehearse ahead of time were disastrous. Too long, too boring, too hesitant, too shallow. I had only 20 minutes to say it all, so every word had to count. A perfect situation for understanding the need for reliance on the Lord to bring it all together and hold it together during the presentation. He did it! The actual event went much better than any of the previous run-throughs. Another time of being amazed at the focusing power unleashed when I'm confronted with a sea of faces, all wearing expectant, affirming expressions. Afterward, I had a chance to pick up again, with input from individuals and in small groups, on threads that I didn't have time to develop fully, and explore aspects I hadn't touched on. That was very enjoyable.

I began by recounting my personal experiences with pottery making. It began with Hiromi and me taking a pottery-making class soon after we were married. It was taught through the Hutchinson Leisure Arts Center by a man (Mr. Z) whose pottery Hiromi had been buying, and who had taught an art education class I took in college. We learned there how to begin with a lump of prepared clay, create a vessel on a wheel, and glaze it in preparation for firing it. We also got to participate in a raku firing process. This method has Japanese origins and was of special interest to Hiromi.

About five years ago Hiromi bought a wheel and a kiln and began experimenting with using Kansas clay. We dug the clay ourselves near Hoisington, on the site of a brick-making factory. Hiromi processed it by first soaking the clay chunks in water till they dissolved and then mixing it all into a slurry that could be poured through a strainer. He poured off the water that accumulated in his mixing buckets after several days, then covered the buckets and put aside the clay for aging. Most of it is still stored in the shed here on the farm.

Hiromi is a closet artist and chemist and experimenter, so he set about trialing various clay samples and combinations, and carefully marking the fired samples with a number matching either a bucket number or a recipe notation in his notebook.

A person who makes vessels from clay handles the clay a lot before it's ready for the wheel. It must first be wedged, a mixing process that continues until the clay has a uniform texture throughout, with no hard lumps and no squishy spots remaining. It also should have no pockets of trapped air. The mixing process is more like kneading bread than stirring mush. Occasional slicing through the lump and reassembling it can be helpful too.

When the clay is thoroughly mixed, it must be centered on the wheel. That happens by placing the lump in the center as nearly as possible by eyeballing it. Then both hands are used to apply pressure to the lump as the wheel turns. Until it's properly centered, it feels as out of control as an off-balance automatic washer in the spin cycle.

After the clay is balanced, the lump is opened up by pressing the thumbs into the center and applying outward pressure as the wheel turns. Soon there's a symmetrical depression in the middle. Then the clay is pulled up to give the vessel height by loosely pinching and lifting both sides as the wheel continues to turn. When the vessel is as tall as desired, usually it's finished by forming a neck through pressure from the hands on the outside of the vessel, and then often a lip is formed by outward pressure from the inside of the vessel.

After the pot is formed it's left to dry. Bisque firing comes next, at about 2000 degrees, heating and cooling it gradually. This makes the vessel much stronger, but it will still be very porous.
Next the glaze is applied, and the vessel is fired again. It emerges from the kiln with a wonderful luster and is now impermeable to water.

I urged my listeners to ponder applications to their own lives as the process of creating a vessel comes to mind in the future--my escape from the tedium of publicly dissecting each step and matching it to a logical application, although I had done so in one of those discarded outlines.

In the second part of the talk I noted a few of the lessons I gleaned from Scripture. First, we reviewed the foundational parallels: God is the Potter, the sovereign one in control. We are the clay, in submission to the Potter. The potter's wheel is the mechanism for change.

Other points included these: Man is frail--made of dust (or earth, as clay is also. The terms have common roots.) but even frail vessels can contain great treasure. God is present and active in the circumstances of our lives, with our cooperation and consent, shaping us through circumstances in which we submit to the pressure we experience, and become better by it. The vessels God designs show a lot of variation. A "vessel unto honor" is a sanctified vessel--resulting in being suitable for the Master's use and being prepared for good works.

Someone who was there asked me for one or more of each of the following snippets of the talk. I'm taking the easy way of giving out that information by posting it here.

Isaiah 64:8
Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:7, Job 10:9
Jeremiah 18:4 (and preceding verses, along with several verses from Jer. 19)
Romans 9:20-23, Isaiah 29:16
2 Timothy 2:20, 21

"Circumstance is the wheel of God to bring us against the pressure of the Potter's hand."
--On vessels unto honor (with the prerequisite of sanctification) : Before a vessel can be sanctified it must be shaped; before it can be shaped, it must be yielded. Yieldedness is submission--the fundamental necessity for becoming more useful and beautiful over time, rather than more brittle and easily shattered.
--On being changed: Nothing good happens without a stance of humility.

Prayer by an Unknown Author

I am willing, Lord,
to receive what Thou givest,
to lack what Thou withholdest,
to relinquish what Thou takest,
to surrender what Thou claimest,
to suffer what Thou ordainest,
to do what Thou commandest,
to wait until Thou sayest, "Go."


Bertha was my prayer partner last year. If she doesn't have the motivational gift of giving, she at least has developed it wonderfully as a learned skill. She knows that I like rooster/chicken decor and has blessed me with many right-on-target, tasteful, and useful gifts, not forgetting other things I like such as baskets and candles and snacks and drinks. I'm very grateful for her prayers on my behalf too and her practical help with providing a meal over the time of Shane's wedding.

I'm not good at" gifting" kinds of things and am awed by those who are. I can't keep track very well of important dates, and I don't plan very far in advance by having a gift in hand. It's a discipline for me to avoid self-flagellation activity when I encounter lavish generosity in others, and to accept it as the expression of love and encouragement that it's meant to be.

"I thank God upon every remembrance of you."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Quotes for the Day 10/26/2008

In the intermediate girls' Sunday School class this morning:

Me: Here are next week's papers, and I'm ready for you to hand in this week's papers. (Only one of the five girls hands hers in.)

Me: I'm going to start writing down the names each week of those who do their papers and hand it in.

Alicia: Not this week yet though, please? I just didn't have time.

Class Member: What happens if we don't do it?

Me: If I tell you that, you'll weigh the consequences and try to figure out if it's worth it or not, and I want you to do it for what you can learn, not because of a punishment or reward.

Class Member: You've been teaching too long. You know all the tricks.

Holli: You're way over-qualified. . . .

Eunice: We talked about it that you'll probably give us a test some time.

Me: The year isn't over yet . . .

It was a busy weekend with most of the class having attended a wedding yesterday and having lots of guests in the community, and I could understand why it was difficult to get everything done.


Last night, on the phone with my brother, after he had reminded me that since Shane had come and picked all the peppers left on their plants, I had missed my chance at getting them.

Me: I guess I'm still in my perennially vascillating mode. . .

Lowell: I hear that. (Don't you hate it when they agree with you like that?)

Me: We didn't get home from cooking and cleaning up at the wedding till around 5:30 and I didn't feel like tackling another project after that. Besides, it looks like someone had better cook lots of food for the carry-in tomorrow with all this company. I thought I'd better get started tonight with that.

Lowell: No kidding. It looks to me like it's going to be like filling silo.

Me: What do you mean?

Lowell: Did you see how many of those guys are over six feet tall?

Me: No, I didn't notice, probably because I was so busy in the kitchen I didn't really look over the crowd very much. And my back was turned to the mike during the open mike time, so I didn't even get a good look at most of the people who talked.

I made it a point to check out the height of our visitors today. Lowell was right. A lot of them were tall, or maybe we're "shrimpier" here than I realized.


Dad: (At the beginning of his sermon today, after an acknowledgment that he probably seemed very old to some of the people in the audience) : I've discovered that being old is one way to get some extra attention. If any of you out there feel a need for extra attention you might consider having lots of birthdays. Several weeks ago, when I was at the camp meetings in Perkins, a man was introducing his 6 or 7 year-old boy to me, and he said to his son 'This man was already an old man when I was your age.'


Hiromi and I talked today over lunch with a visitor from Madison, WI who had come to visit her friends William and Elizabeth who had once been her neighbors. She is about 82 years old.

Madison, WI guest: I loved the sermon today. It was so inclusive, just like my grandmother was.

She went on to tell us that her mother had been raised by her Mennonite grandparents in Lancaster Co. PA after her own mother died when she was very young. Our guest remembered that grandmother (actually her great grandmother if I have it right) as being accepting of everyone, even if they were very different from herself.

Madison Woman again: I used to be a counselor at the university, and whenever I noticed a student that seemed particularly ready to meet the challenges of school life and do well there I would inquire about their background. Almost always they were farm kids. They knew why they were in school. Their goals were very clear and they didn't waste their learning opportunity. Sometimes I would tell them ' You're eligible for money to help pay for your education.' Usually they were surprised and asked questions till they understood what they needed to do to apply for the funds, but they obviously hadn't come expecting someone else to pay their college expenses.

She has similar impressions of most of the homeschooled students she knows, although her years at the university probably did not coincide with homeschooled college students having arrived on the scene.

This lady also told us that when she first heard years ago that LeRoy (whose family she knew) had applied for admission to both the University of Kansas and Yale University, one of her friends said to her "You know he won't get into Yale. No one I know has ever been admitted there."

"I said to her, 'Don't be so sure. They're looking for diversity, and what could be more out of the ordinary than an Amish farm boy, who has a 4.0 junior college record?' "

LeRoy was admitted and graduated two years later.

I was interesed in our new friend's references to her husband's time in the military during World War II--"things we all wanted to forget." He was a captain who participated in the Battle of the Bulge where he lost most of his men early on. The replacements he was sent were very young and very frightened. They scattered easily whenever rumors of the "tiger tanks" circulated (large and powerful German tanks), and he struggled then and many times after that to keep chaos at bay. Her husband had talked about some of the awful things his men did when they occupied a German village after the war--things that were strictly forbidden by the official US policy, and things that they would never have done in any other situation.

"People become inhuman during war," she said, tacitly affirming some of what she heard during the morning's sermon, in reference to nonresistance as the way of Christ.

Our friend has traveled to other states and three or four foreign countries to participate in Elderhostel programs. I had heard about this program but asked her to tell me more. I learned that it developed as a followup to Youth Hostels, utilizing facilities and learning opportunities on many college campuses, especially during the summer months. Usually, the sessions last for one or more weeks on a particular subject, with a great variety of subjects as possibilities.

I'd like to do that some time. The programs are open to anyone over 55. I qualify now.


The temperature tonight is predicted to go down to 28 degrees--the first freeze of the season--about a week and a half after the average date for the first freeze. That's why I took a huge basket outside tonight to harvest great clusters of frost-sensitive flowers, and why I now have six vases of flowers in the living and dining rooms, besides the two that Frieda gave me after the wedding yesterday.

Fall is always bittersweet. I regret seeing healthy-looking vegetation felled by frost, but it's a relief also to put aside the extra chores of maintaining things over the growing season.

Dwight (our market garden neighbor, about the garden) : I'm ready to have some of it freeze.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Pro-Life Position

Several weeks ago in our Sunday School discussion someone made a peripheral reference to the pro-life activities conducted on the fringes of the Democratic convention in Denver as a protest against the pro-choice (a.k.a. pro-abortion) stance of many of the Democratic party members present. Whereupon my father reminded everyone that neither party is as pro-life as Christians ought to be. He finished by saying that being pro-military is not being pro-life either.


My simmering stew of thoughts on this subject just now has come to a full boil since reading an article in Soujourners magazine today (“The Meaning of Life,” by Jim Rice and Jeannie Choi, Nov. 2008) . I’ve felt for a long time that while it’s easy to see the rightness of being pro-life and pro-family, many of the other positions supported by the party most solidly in this camp look very unrighteous when held up to the scrutiny of Scripture. I wondered why people so often miss this obvious circumstance. This isn’t shocking to anyone who expects the political process to operate outside the realm of Christian standards of behavior. This is exactly what a person with a clear two-kingdom concept of spiritual and earthly realities would expect to see. The problem occurs when party loyalty obscures the very real compromises of Scripture that may be present in what a given party stands for. Tragically, being caught up in party loyalties has an opportunity cost when good and right causes can not be enthusiastically supported because they are part of the “wrong” party’s platform.

I was surprised today when I realized how neatly many of the ideals that I hold dear have a pro-life stance at the center. It’s more clear to me than ever that that pro-life stance cannot be safely compromised. What has apparently surprised many Evangelicals recently is that these pro-life ideals can be found all over the political map. According to the Sojourner article, Christian people have come to see that creation care, health care, poverty alleviation, a peace position, and treating all humans with dignity are all pro-life positions. I see freedom in Christ through the new birth as the only pro-eternal-life hope available. People who have come to see these things often no longer see as clearly as before how Christians ought to vote. Sometimes they are even ashamed of their past political persuasions and involvements.

Here is an example of how inter-related some of these things are: Imagine a place where the natural environment has become so exploited and polluted that the water is not safe to drink and the soil is not fertile enough to grow crops. Yet people live in this place. The economic situation deteriorates and people become destitute. Babies born in these places can not be properly nourished or cared for. Their parents can not afford health care. People begin to quarrel over scarce resources, and war further decimates the land and causes suffering. Desperate parents sometimes sell their children into involuntary servitude. Women sell their bodies and often thereby provide a vehicle for the spread of disease. Death stalks life on many levels.

Christians are collectively called to do good to others. Individuals answer this call in a variety of life-affirming ways. You may find some of these people in the company of others with a variety of political persuasions. You will assuredly find many of them so busy with the business of seeking God and affirming life that they have no time for activism in the political process. They may have nothing at all to contribute to political discussions.

When God said in Deuteronomy 30:19 “. . . I have set before you life and death . . . therefore choose life . . . ” he was not issuing a political party invitation. That would have been far inferior to what God was offering instead–an ongoing relationship with Himself and blessing for those who love, obey and cling to Him.

In all its varied expressions, to choose life is the way of Christ, whether or not it is politically expedient.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Banal Post

The data collection program that tracks activity on this blog has now noted hits from 30 different countries since the statistics started accumulating in April 2008.

The most popular posts that are accessed through a Google subject or keyword search are the ones on how to make amazaki and treating a sick gerbil. Fancy that! The internet pickings on these subjects must be slim.

Other statistics: Every month between April and August saw increased traffic on this blog. In August, there were more than 2500 page loads--probably because all Shane and Dorcas' friends checked in for wedding news. September was down to 2200. I don't seek comparisons with other people's statistics. Focusing on that would probably be humiliating--not particularly useful, in any case.

Sometimes I wish I knew who all reads this blog and at other times I'm glad I don't know. I'm braver (and perhaps more foolish) for not knowing. For the most part though, I love to hear from people who comment, either on the blog or directly to me. Incidental anonymity bothers only the curious bones in my body, but I am not comfortable with all kinds of anonymous comments.

I switched some time ago to moderating all the comments. That simply means that no comment gets posted unless I give permission for it to be posted. I started doing this after I encountered some spam comments from people who probably generate these comments by the thousands in order to advertise their own websites. So far I have posted every comment anyone has made, I believe. Sometimes when a person makes a correction, I have wondered if it would be wiser to simply correct the error and omit the comment, but so far I haven't done so. I do appreciate corrections, and usually they've prompted a "Duh. I knew that. What was I thinking?" inner response. Sometimes I post a comment to that effect, but often I let it go. I know I'll never get everything perfect and it's OK if the rest of the world sees my imperfections unaccompanied by a defense from me.

I'm really annoyed by having to read "beating around the bush" kinds of writing, so I have a strong motivation to be as specific and clear in my writing as I can be, complete with names and dates and places. This urge often collides head-on, however, with the need to protect the identity of people who may not wish to have their names flung into cyberspace. I also have a powerful motivation to learn from life and to share what I learn. That sometimes means looking at unsavory aspects of reality, and people can be very touchy about such things. That presents a dilemma.

When I think too long about these conflicts I realize that a very simple solution would be to not write at all. That is the option I chose for many years, not so much then because of all the conflicts, but because of all the hassle with the mechanics of getting words on paper, submitting them to an editor, and waiting for a yea or nay on publication, or perhaps seeing it altered in ways that make me cringe.

Blogging is a godsend for the driven-to-write among us. And I love that my critics are my readers rather than editors who can keep writing from ever reaching any readers. Editors do, of course, have a legitimate function, and I have a new appreciation for them every time I read a self-published book that is too wordy, too repetitious, or too something-else.

I also love that absolutely no one has to read this or any other blog. It's not like a textbook that students have to read to pass a class, or a phone call that an office helper must answer. That knowledge gives me a lot of freedom to write as I wish. Anyone who doesn't like being on this site needs simply to press one button and the offensive material disappears from the screen. They're happy that way, and I'm not offended, even if I suspect when I post banal posts like this one that a lot of people will do just that.

Motor Vehicle Responsibilities

I have some advice for anyone contemplating doing an end run around the legal requirements for owning and driving a motor vehicle. Don't do it. Against a great deal of earnest advice to the contrary, an acquaintance of ours has done so, complete with high-sounding rhetoric about being part of the kingdom of heaven and therefore not subject to any other earthly powers.

This person now faces three charges: No driver's license, No liability insurance, and No vehicle registration. Maximum penalties for a person found guilty of all of these charges add up to 18 months in jail and $4500 in fines. Besides these costs, there is a towing fee to pay, and daily impoundment charges for the vehicle. Meanwhile there is no transportation to work, legal appearances, or anywhere else without relying on the mercy of others. His name appears on the county jail log, but he is listed as having been released. I suspect he posted bond--another cost.

As the case works its way through the courts, there will undoubtedly be court costs, and if the services of an attorney are sought, there will be attorney fees. Taking time off from work to make court appearances will limit working hours and the resulting income. And now, all at once, with the rhetoric found wanting, there's a flurry of expensive activity involved in getting the necessary papers. No proper title for the vehicle was ever secured, and there's question about whether it's possible to do so now. In any case, a title is needed so that sales tax can be paid, so that it can be properly registered so that a tag can be purchased so that it can be released from impoundment. Abandoning the vehicle may be the only feasible option because of all the time involved, combined with the mounting impoundment fees.

The expired driver's license has been renewed, for the usual fee. That, at least, was fairly simple.

What would, of course, have simplified everything a great deal is if the person at the center of this mess had been willing to be accountable to others and follow wise counsel earlier. Granted, this problem is not unique to him. Those of us who look on would do well to ponder what pockets of unwillingness to be accountable and to follow wise counsel may yet reside in us, and what this may eventually cost us. Compared to "cruisin' for a bruisin' "against the brick walls that force the consequences of our choices upon us, listening to and heeding admonition begins to look very attractive.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

When Teachers Fail

Several area public school teachers have been in the local news recently for ignoble reasons. One, who is also a coach, was captured on camera in a tirade against his athletes, in which he used the f-work sixteen times in one minute. The record was posted online. The other is a long-time teacher who was convicted of molesting an exchange student who stayed in his home. Testimony at the trial came from three people who claimed to have also been molested by him 30 years ago.

Both of these men have been vigorously defended by current and former students and their parents who speak of all the good these people have done. They cite instances of caring and going the second mile they observed in these men. One person said of the alleged molester "He is not capable of doing what he's been accused of."

Although I don't know either of these men personally, I find these incidents very unsettling.

On the one hand, the molester's betrayal of trust and the coach's shocking lack of self-control and common decency make me want to nail them both to the wall. How could they do those despicable things--to minors, no less?

On the other hand, I see these flawed individuals as being a lot like the rest of us, able sometimes to be their best selves, and at other times, failing to live above the stresses and temptations that assail them.

I would be happy to hear that there was admission of wrongdoing and an obvious desire to seek forgiveness and restoration. In the absence of such admissions, I'd hope they would not continue in a mentoring role to young people. Being a winning coach or a good speech and debate teacher are not compelling enough reasons to continue as educators in the presence of such significant wrongdoing.

What if they clearly repented? What then? Should they be able to continue in the teaching profession? I don't know. I'd like to say yes. If the "whole world" is watching, it seems to me that it's unlikely that the objectionable behavior would be continued, and the good qualities that some people see could still be a benefit to everyone.

Legally, and in the public eye, the molester is in far more trouble than the potty-mouthed coach. I wonder how God looks at it. Offending a "little one" was condemned by Jesus, and both words and deeds can certainly be offensive, even to high-school-age children.

I feel sorry for the students and the people on staff in the schools where the coach and the speech teacher worked. I'm sure they feel betrayed and sad. Probably some of them are downright angry and would find it hard to forgive even if forgiveness was sought. Others who thought highly of these people keep going over their good qualities and try in vain to reconcile what they saw with what they know now was present, but not on public display (except when the coach slipped up in tense moments during ball games). I can imagine that it's hard to feel confident that their own assessment of people has any validity at all, because they were so far wrong in this case.

Sin always has consequences, and when people indulge in wrongdoing, they have no power to control the results. Sadly, innocent people often suffer as surely as the guilty ones.

I'm glad God unfailingly sorts things out accurately when he deals out final consequences. Until then, guarding my own heart and actions, praying for teachers and others in mentoring roles, seeking discernment from Him for the present, and trusting Him to right all wrongs in the end is the best I know to do.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Health and Wellness Expo

Hiromi and I are exhibiting tomorrow at an expo at the state fair grounds in Hutchinson. Our booth will focus on educating people about glyconutrients and food supplements that contain them. Hiromi, who is much more naturally a show person than I am, has recruited several people from work who are game to participate in a skin care demonstration, using hydrating products. Any walk-ins are also welcome.

Getting ready for an expo is a lot of work, especially if the subject matter is fairly unfamiliar to the audience and the display materials do not come ready made. Aside from this, lugging all the setup equipment around is a chore.

Elsewhere in the area people who choose to do so can be poked and prodded and peered at and analyzed for various health conditions--mostly without charge.

The setup scene today promised an interesting day tomorrow, although I hope I don't have to spend a lot of time looking at the terrible sores I saw on posters next door to our booth. The local hospital is touting one of their cutting edge wound treatment strategies, and showing the gory details from start to finish.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quote for the Day 10/11/2008

Shane (on the phone) : Hi Mom. I'm on the road here and trying to keep my brain exercised, and I need a few more words on this crossword puzzle. Can you tell me a five-letter word that starts with "s" and ends in "le?" It means to move in a lateral direction.

Me: Scale?

Shane: Wouldn't that mean moving in a vertical direction?

Me: Oh yeah. . . . Let's see. . . . Sidle!

Shane: That makes the "d" fit with "og," a word meaning to pursue relentlessly. Dog. Oh sure. Well thanks. That finishes it up.

Me: Where are you?

Shane: Oh, about an hour east of St. Louis.

Me: When is Chad's wedding? (Chad is Shane's friend and second cousin.)

Shane: Tomorrow afternoon.

Me: Where are you staying?

Shane: Josh is hosting us at Matt's house.

The original plan went slightly awry when Shane finally got around to asking his aunt and uncle if he and Dorcas could stay with them in Columbus when they arrive for the wedding, and they regretfully told him they were planning to be gone to Michigan this weekend. Their oldest son Josh, who no longer lives with his parents, came "home" for the weekend to act as host, making it possible for Shane and Dorcas to stay at the house after all.

I sincerely hope Shane was not at the wheel during this conversation. There were at least four in the car, and the car wasn't his, so I there's a good chance either Lavent or Marilyn was driving.

In response to an invitation from Marvin and Lois to cast members from "The Hiding Place," for Sunday dinner--

Cast Member : I know about Mennonite cooking. I'll be there.


Dad: I got hold of K________ M________ and had a nice conversation, but he didn't feel free to give me his brothers' phone numbers. I would have to talk to them to work anything out. I know the city and state where they live. Could you find their phone numbers on the internet?

I couldn't, not even by paying $2.95 on PersonLookUp. Does anyone have any further ideas on how to get the phone number of a person whose name you know, and whose city and state you know, but who apparently has an unlisted phone number? One lives in Kansas and one in Nebraska.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Daniel and the Democrats

Last Sunday evening when the parents were invited to join the young people at the tail end of their weekend retreat, one of the activities was impromptu skits. At school when this happens, everyone is part of a performing group, so even non-actor/actress types like me go along in the knowledge that everyone else is in the same boat. Not so at the retreat. Only three groups were selected and assigned a story to dramatize. Each group included one family, and a few other individuals. The Masts, the Shenks, and the Iwashiges were chosen and given 15 minutes to prepare. We also got a bag of props, that term being very loosely interpreted.

With our props, we (Hiromi, I, Shane and Dorcas, Joel, and Hilda--the girlfriend who is not an Iwashige) were to act out the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den. Our bag contained a silly-looking lion mask, a pack of Dutch Blitz cards, two bleached animal jaw bones with teeth still mostly attached, assorted clothing, a kaleidoscope, a sheaf of blank paper, and a rubber band gun.

Our 15 minutes gave us just enough time to review the story details a bit and decide on the different scenes and characters and what we would do with the props. We started out planning for Hiromi to be the king, and then abruptly changed course when we realized that he was the least familiar with the details of the story and the king speaking uncertainly and in a Japanese accent might derail the story before it got off the ground. So Hiromi took the lion role. Joel was Daniel, Shane was the king (after he got done being one of the evil people plotting against Daniel in an earlier scene.), and all the ladies were evil plotters. When our planning time was up, Hilda spoke for all of us when she said she hopes the ad libbing skills will really kick in, but they usually don't.

While we waited our turn at the back, the children who saw me standing there with the rubber band gun seemed to find it highly amusing. If everyone was this easy to impress, maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. We watched the Masts and friends doing the story of Baalam and the donkey, and I wished we had thought of having a narrator like they did. Too late. I was glad I wasn't the unlucky donkey though, who felt the sting of Baalam's whip repeatedly.

We marched up there as if we knew what we were doing and pulled a small table into the center of the stage, I laid my gun on it, and the four of us gathered around it to pretend at playing cards and plot our mischief while Joel and Hiromi waited in the wings. This entirely unrehearsed dialog took some surprising twists and turns as Shane kept interjecting some decidedly unbiblical terms like "Democrat" in his denunciation of the pious Daniel. The scene changed after we had decided what we were going to ask the king to do.

At the side of the stage, all of us ladies peered at the praying Daniel at the other side of the stage through our telescope (kaleidoscope). People loved it when when Hilda had her turn and exclaimed in a very excited voice "I see something!" With our incriminating testimony ready, we came before the king in the next scene, and he duly pronounced the awful sentence against Daniel.

The next scene was the lion's den. We set the stage by scattering about the clothing and the jawbones as evidence of the fate of previous victims, and then Hiromi came out of the closet at the side of the stage on all fours with the lion head mask projecting from his forehead. (The eye slits must have ended up somewhere above his hair line--obviously not a well-rehearsed placement.) He commenced growling as ferociously as a normally placid individual is capable of. Shane transitioned back into an evil man and we helped each other throw Joel to the lion. Joel sat there while Hiromi circled.

Then Shane (the king again) came and rescued Joel, who reported being fine but not having gotten much sleep. The king and Daniel made a hurried executive decision and then heaved each of us ladies in turn to the lion. We all obligingly "fell" into the den, and the story mercifully ended there.

What a relief to go back to our chairs while the next group circled Jericho until the trumpet blew (loud!--Harry's high school trumpet playing skills apparently stood him in good stead here.) and the walls fell, and the inhabitants were destroyed, except for Rahab and the people with her in the house.

At the sewing on Tuesday Edith told me that her children keep talking about how funny the lion was in our skit. They especially liked how the the "rowwwr" turned into a "wow" when Daniel appeared in front of him.

Hilda and I (probably Dorcas too although she wasn't there when we talked about it) will be happy to leave all the acting in the future to others. I'm sure some people find such impromptu experiences exhilarating, but I find them exhausting. I will say though that if I have to do it, it's probably easier to do it with members of my own family than other people. I'm at least used to hearing and responding to their expressions, and can almost anticipate what they might say--except for "Democrat." I never saw that one coming.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Maranatha Cookbook

Yesterday I got a cookbook in the mail, and today I leafed through all 620 pages of it. Contributors of recipes were people who were associated with Maranatha Christian School near Sugarcreek, OH at some time during the 40 years it has been in operation. I taught there from 1971 to 1977.

I remembered that I had contributed some recipes earlier, and could not recall what they were, so that was one reason for leafing through it--to find my own recipes. But what really made me smile was seeing the recipes from former students of mine, and fellow teachers. I looked at some of the names and wondered if they could be children of "my" children.

I loved the pictures of my students. Although I know they have all changed, and some of them I would hardly recognize if I met, on those pictures they look familiar and precious. My eyes linger on each face, and I recall what I know about how they have lived their adult lives. I'm gratified at the number who are living faithful Christian lives. Among them are people who have served as missionaries, nurses, teachers, and ministers. Others are contractors, craftsmen, farmers, and homemakers. One of them is my brother in law. Some have not made wise choices, and their families grieve. Two of them died as adults in separate traffic accidents.

I have no idea how many different individuals contributed to this recipe collection, but I know that others who were eligible did not do so. Sometimes I can figure out why. They are living overseas, for example.

Some of my students had names I had never heard before--Durlan and Delon were such, and Marion, in my experience, was spelled with an "a" and used for a girl. Bena, Dena, Tena, and Esta were all women or girls' names in the community--new and strange to me. I had heard "Dallas" but didn't know anyone by that name until I met the three boys with that name in the church I attended in Ohio. In school, at a time when my last name was still Miller, I had two students with the same first and last name as mine. It was there that I first heard Clement and Lael and Jeriah, Darius, and Tryphena used in modern times. I never knew a person with the first name Martin before either.

I saw lots of good recipes on my way through the cookbook. Whenever I prepare a dish that one of my students has contributed, I will have another chance to think happily of that long ago time in life when our paths crossed. Blessedly so.

Monday, October 06, 2008


My Liz Taylor-beautiful cousin died on Saturday. She was 62, and died suddenly, although she had been diagnosed several years ago with serious heart problems. Her doctors asked her then if she wanted to be put on a heart transplant list. She declined. Since then she was able to live a fairly normal life, with occasional crises. Her vigilant husband tried to prepare for the worst and hoped for the best.

I had seen her in June when I attended her mother's funeral in Iowa. She had white hair then, instead of the black hair I remembered best, but still those same merry blue eyes, and looked well and told me she feels well. We walked around the yard of her sister's home together and admired the plantings. She was a little worried about the plants she had moved outside just before she left her New York home for the trip to Iowa. There had been a frost in New York after that.

Ella and I shared the honor of having been named for the same grandmother.

One of the few times I saw Ella in recent years, I was struck by how much she seemed like me. She loved the outdoors, and her sister had once told my mother that Ella was ADD-ish--something I can identify with. Her outlook on life and her manner of relating to others seemed very familiar. She even had some of the same health challenges I've had--low thyroid function is the one I remember. She did some writing--not blog posts, but letters to the Budget.

And now she has died, while only six years further along in life than I am.

I am not planning to die six years from now, although this is assuredly not in my power to determine. I for sure don't have a chance of accumulating 27 grandchildren before then as Ella did, but I'd like to accomplish other things.

I'm reflecting on the the fact that doing what I can now to preserve the measure of good health I enjoy, while not always easy, is easier than correcting health that has already failed. Crossing the great divide of death means ultimate and final healing for the child of God, but to hasten that crossover by careless living is to dishonor the Lord now.

As Ella and her husband decided some time ago, the time of our departure is best left in God's hands. That didn't keep them from seeking good health long before they knew about Ella's badly damaged heart, but I believe it helped them act to make the best possible use of the remaining time they had together.

The youngest of Ella's nine children turned 21 earlier this year. While no one would pretend that she was not still desperately needed by her family and others, having passed this milestone in their family's life speaks to me of the mercy of God in orchestrating the events of all of our lives.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Drama on Forgiveness

Tonight I saw "The Hiding Place" presented by the Family Children's Theater in Hutchinson. My nieces Heidi and Kristi and their friend Tryphena had parts. I have seen other plays performed by this arts organization, but never one with such an overt Christian theme. The play was well done and very moving.

Afterward, when we met the cast members, the Ravensbruk guard who received Corrie's forgiveness after the war was over told us the power of God was very real to him during the performance. The ugly parts of his role were so distasteful to him that he thought he could not do them tonight.

Various members of the cast who portrayed some of the less savory parts had a real-life experience of military service. For some of them at least, in bits and pieces, that time came back in an uncomfortable way during the re-enactment of cruelty that had parallels in their own lives. Understanding the possibility of forgiveness through seeing the forgiveness Corrie offered the Ravensbruk guard, by God's grace, accomplished something beyond entertainment, especially for these people.

In college I once took an adversarial stance on drama when a literature teacher who was enamored with it asked us to write a response to an earlier drama seminar she had participated in and I had attended. I still believe that much of what I wrote then is true. I have reservations about how much time it takes to do drama well, and I think it's possible to go too far in assuming bad character roles.

But I think there's a place for drama, just as there is a place for stories. Jesus told stories. Plays are stories intensified by role playing, and when pretend guards, who were once real life soldiers, experience God's forgiveness through drama, the effort is worthwhile.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Quotes for the Day 10/2/2008

Josh (who moderated last night's midweek church service) : Miriam Iwashige's Sunday School class has prepared snacks for everyone after church in the basement.

I was very proud of their initiative, and a little puzzled about how it all came about. I was gone last Sunday and got a substitute to teach my class. I'll have to check with her for motivation tips. I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning and preparation and felt compelled to explain this repeatedly when people thanked me for doing this.

While we sat in circles eating, this conversation began in my circle. It involved a high school student.

Jacob: Miriam, which candidate are you for?

Me: I don't do politics.

That wasn't quite as much a conversation-stopper as it sounds like here. We went on to talk about a few related things and then talked mostly about school.

All in all the snack time was a very nice gesture on the girls' part and a pleasant experience for everyone. Who would have thought that reflecting on "The Church" as we are doing together in class this quarter would so soon produce these tangible efforts to be a blessing to others in the church? God bless 'em and I love 'em.

"Most Wanted" Christian Brother

The Bible tells us that there is great rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. Christians rejoice too when this happens, but I have secretly wondered if other Christians ever tire of subsequently helping untangle the sordid strands that sometimes come to light afterward. Are they tempted to wish even that things had gone on just as they were, with sins staying out of sight, thereby avoiding the upheaval that repentance and restitution entails?

I thought of this yesterday when I heard the story of one man who is a faithful member of a Central American Anabaptist church. After he came to the Lord he began to make right many wrongs he had been involved in as a non-Christian. He has now begun the process of making himself known to American authorities who are seeking him as a murder suspect. He is still listed among the "most wanted" in a large West Coast city. I found his picture on the police department's website. I learned there that he is considered armed and dangerous and no one should attempt to contact him directly, but instead report his whereabouts immediately to authorities.

This picture of the man I'll call Juan is very different from the one I got yesterday from my sister-in-law, who has worshiped in this man's church. For the first time ever, Juan's "lines have fallen in pleasant places." His miserable childhood is behind him. The dangerous and high-flying life of a drug dealer is in the past. The relationship he had with a beautiful woman in America (who aborted two babies against his wishes) ended with him taking her life. Right after he committed this heinous crime, he turned the gun on himself and could not pull the trigger, try as he might. Instead he fled across the border, leaving behind two motherless little girls he loved as his own. He now has a Christian wife and young child in a quiet Central American village and he fellowships and worships with peaceable Christians.

Knowing what justice calls for in this case, what pastor or Christian friend could journey with Juan without grief and dread? Even I, who never knew him, grieve for him and his family and his church people.

I take comfort in hearing that his life is blessed now with inner peace. His fruits of repentance are beautiful. He is a blessing in his brotherhood and community. I understand too that his eternal destiny will be everlasting joy instead of eternal torment.

In my imagination (or is it with my eyes of faith?) I can believe that everyone who hears this story or is involved with the case will glimpse something of the grace of God. The detectives who first viewed the DVD recording of his confession spoke of it as being very moving. This was only the beginning of the story's telling.

Juan first began to actively seek peace with God when his baby was deathly ill in the hospital, and he encountered a group of Christians who came there to sing. The baby recovered and Juan later came to Christ through continued contact with the people whose songs he had heard. I'm confident that not one of these singing people believe it would have been better to leave Juan's sins undiscovered and therefore unforgiven and unremedied. Least of all, Juan himself. Each untangling of his past wrongdoings has no doubt been painful all around, but afterward, the remaining lump is smaller and less burdensome. Someday nothing unconfessed will be left, and all that was there will have been dealt with. Each step brings him closer to that point, and God forbid that any of us would hinder the process, thereby limiting Juan's ultimate freedom.

When one sinner repents, Christians can join the angels in unrestrained rejoicing. The God Who brings a person to repentance will not forsake that person through the process of restitution, and those who come alongside will witness the grace and glory of God as it unfolds. I am confident of all this, but I will be prayerful too. Even a "Most Wanted" brother is entitled to that.