Prairie View

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Harison's Yellow Rose

I do wish those roses I brought in last night would have lasted longer.  This morning over breakfast I kept hearing soft little plops as singles or multiples of those still-pristine yellow petals showered onto the tabletop.  Before long, the blossom-laden branches of Vanhoutte spirea will be all that's left in the little cobalt blue pitcher. The spirea will likely initiate its own shower activity later, featuring tiny white petals.

Flowers like these are the only roses we had at home during my early childhood.  They grew east of the Arborvitae that's south of the house on the farm.  I never knew the name of these roses until I started paying attention to descriptions of tough old roses that can still be seen around abandoned farmsteads.  From Lauren Springer's writings I learned that the name for the yellow roses I remembered is Harison's Yellow.

I'm a little unsure about where I got my start of Harison's Yellow--maybe from the place where my friend Betty now lives, on the same place where my brother and his wife once lived.  I may have dug up a small sucker then.  Now that sucker has grown into a thicket.

Intermingled with the Harison's Yellow is another suckering old-fashioned rose.  That one came from beside the house where Morris and Gloria used to live--on John Evans' farm.  When it was to be demolished, Gloria had a plant sale, and I asked if I could have some roses.  She said yes.  The roses from Gloria have the same flower color and shape as the ones that used to grow up and over the outhouse at the back of Uncle Edwin's yard, where my dad grew up.  Mine are not climbing roses, however.  The flowers are voluptuous and luscious deep pink.  I don't know the name of the rose from Gloria.

I'm ready to transfer the Hansa (which I got from Ella N., who got the parent plant from her nephew's place in MN) over to the thicket of old-fashioned roses.  It's a deep magenta rose in the rugosa family.  The flowers will look perfect with what's already there, if the bloom period overlaps.

Those easily-shattered rose blossoms on my dining room table lasted just long enough to trigger a flood of good memories involving roses and friends and family.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Observations--Scientific and Otherwise

I've always wondered how I would think or act in the face of a cancer diagnosis.  I'm finding out.  Here's what I've been observing in myself:

1.  Business as usual.  I sleep well and feel well.  I eat as I did before--a little too much probably.  Not many sweets (except for that rhubarb crunch I baked on Saturday).  Freshly juiced vegetables in the morning, along with one slice toasted mostly-whole-grain bread topped with pesto sauce, sliced hard-boiled egg and sprouts--mostly alfalfa.

2.  Exercise as usual--which is, sadly, too little, by far.

3.  Take lots of food supplements and a few prescription meds--part of business as usual.

4.  Tell people who would want or who need to know about medical matters--often in writing.  It's easier that way.

5.  Feel overwhelmed with a feeling of vulnerability in the presence of sympathetic friends, but lean heavily also on these same friends for support.

6.  Follow the doctor's treatment recommendations.

7.  Consider normal school days a gift.  I wasn't sure at first that I would get to finish the school year normally.

8.  Evaluate carefully the stresses in my life.  Note how God is working in areas of stress and how relief is happening.  Try to follow my nurse/sister's advice to engage in self-care, and seek out activities that restore and renew.  Don't take it as license, however, to check out of life as part of a family, church, and community.  

9.  Share good news when there is good news.  For me, this meant telling others about the Grade 1 diagnosis,* in addition to the Stage 1 diagnosis.  Likely no need for treatment beyond surgery.  That's about as good as it gets--unless the cancer miraculously disappears all by itself.

10.  Read Scripture and pray by myself in the morning.  Read Scripture and pray with Hiromi in the evening.

11.  Give thanks for help with paying the bills--through a church aid plan.

12.  Give thanks also for a husband who is responsible about paying the bills not covered by the church plan.

13.  Give thanks that the extra expenses didn't all come deep into the sabbatical, with its corresponding diminished income.  Remind myself that God knows all about timing according to His purposes.

14.  Maintain a normal schedule--aim for a 10:30 bedtime and 5:30 rising time.

15.  Do some reading and research on cancer.  Resolve not to become obsessed with doing this.  

16.  Remember that as long as I know the next step by the time I need to take it, I don't have to see the whole picture now.  I can trust God to reveal the next steps.  

*I've been told that "Grade" when used to refer to cancer is determined by observation of the cancer cell structure.   I've gathered also that in my case the cell structure revealed the cancer to be the least aggressive or slowest-growing kind.  Hence it was labeled "Grade 1."


Surgery is scheduled for May 13--the first Wednesday after school ends.  The doctor tells me that patients often can go home the same day.


I woke up one night during the past month or so, and "heard" the Lord asking me if I was willing to hear a cancer diagnosis without being angry with God or turning away from Him.  I said "Sure, with Your help," and went right back to sleep.  The diagnosis came later.


Very fresh in my mind is the illness and death of my dear friend Marian, who died in 2013 of ovarian cancer.  The recent death of Matthew, my brother-in-law, who also died of cancer, is even fresher in my mind.  I am aware of what cancer can mean.  I hear from many other friends, however, who are cancer survivors.  Some of them had cancer so long ago that I've almost forgotten it, although I'm sure they never will.

Also, locally, we're hearing good news about Willis Nisly, who was thought at one time to be unlikely to survive very long after his wife died after a short illness in March (?).  He has no more pain in his bones, where the cancer had been very active.  Now the pain is gone, and he has no more need for pain medication.  The doctor says this means the cancer is no longer active in his bones.  I don't know many details about how his cancer has been treated, except that I know he's been doing some alternative things.


I'm working with others on the curriculum review committee for the grade school, and the project for this year is to thoroughly review and possibly revise the science curriculum.  We did language arts last year.

In thinking about the foundations of a science study, I've been venturing mentally into the realm of how people determine which solution to apply to a problem.  Specifically, I'm thinking right now about health and wellness and medicine--traditional and alternative.  We search always, of course, for what makes good sense.  If Willis recovers fully, as we pray he will, what will we do with that?  Learn all we can about the methods he tried, and then seek to apply similar methods in other cancer situations?  Chalk it up to a miracle, thank God, and ignore the methods?  Note anything that was done according to traditional protocols and conclude that recovery was due to this?  Disbelieve everything we have not personally verified and which cannot be documented?

Seeing what traditional treatment approaches to cancer cost in dollars and cents is sobering, as is the very real toll that side-effects can initiate.  Seeing how easily people fall into a habit of chasing the newest alternatives, offered largely based on anecdotal evidence, is sobering too.  Preoccupation with the miraculous seems often to not sufficiently honor God for less dramatic evidences of His grace--a living faith that survives even the most painful journey toward the end of life, for example.  The scientific method can be so laborious, when applied to matters of health, wellness, disease, and treatment that generations can live and die while it's being painstakingly followed.  Add formidable influence-peddling and money interest influences to scientific investigation, and good results from scientific inquiry can seem all-too-elusive.

I'm hoping that additional clarity will result from working with others in formulating a philosophy statement for the study of science.  Right now, however, I'm concluding that seeking answers for the mysteries of life must always begin and end by turning to the Lord.   The scientific  method, anecdotal evidence, and miracles may all be part of what God uses to direct us and guide us toward truth.  Which one is to be the operative principle at any given time is part of what is to be discovered in a daily walk with God.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Remembering Matthew

For several weeks now I have been wanting to write more about Matthew, my brother-in-law, who died at the age of 53 near the end of March in Ohio.

At the time of a death, thoughts of the deceased one roil together in a sometimes confusing kettle full of sorrow and gratitude and yearning and gladness.  So which feeling is right?  What is the essence of the right feeling about the life that was lived?  In Matthew's case, he himself, in the months before his death, helped us all make sense of who he was--then and earlier.

I won't pretend to have known Matthew well throughout his entire life.  I did know Matthew very well when he was my student at junior high age.  He was an interesting adolescent.  Full of mischief and in  need of some pretty serious disciplinary measures at times, he apparently didn't hold my teacher-role against me.  His dad told me over the time of the funeral that once when Matthew was in trouble at school, he was trying to deal with Matthew at home on the matter, and Matthew wasn't favorably impressed with his dad's efforts.  Finally he wrapped it up by telling his dad, "Vell, die Miriam heicht mich op, avah du dusht net."  (Well, Miriam listens to me, but you don't.)

I didn't ask a lot of questions about Matthew--ever.  I got my impressions first-hand or not at all.  I realized eventually that a long stretch of years consisted of too much "not at all."  When funeral plans were being made with Matthew's help, Clara asked if I would write something to be read at the funeral.  I agreed to help, but said that I would need a lot of assistance for the huge part of his life when I had limited contact with him.  As I began to jot things down, I realized that it was likely an impossibility for me to write anything complete and/or appropriate.  "I wish Leon would write something," I told my local siblings when we were together around that time.  Leon is my agemate and first cousin, and he and his family lived in Matthew and Clara's home community during the early years of their marriage.  They were close friends.  The very next day Clara emailed and said that Leon would write something, and I was off the hook.  Relief!

In contrast to what I have relied on for information throughout most of Matthew and my acquaintance, what I will write here about Matthew comes mostly from things I heard second-hand since his death.

Matthew's sister told me about a time in recent months when her parents and siblings were together and Matthew spoke to his family about having found peace in placing his faith in God Who was going before him.  I don't know how much of this Matthew articulated then, but his sister told me that Matthew had a habit of waiting to accept something till he understood it, so this choice of acceptance by faith was a huge step in trusting God with his life and future.  The remembrance brochure that was entitled "Gelassenheit" and handed out at the visitation in Columbus contained a record of the conversation between Matthew and the sister who told me of Matthew's insight.  This is what it said:

"Well," Matthew said very slowly, "there is peace, peace in saying 'What is, is good.'  In our culture, we talk of non-resistance.  This is nonresistance . . . People think this transitioning [facing death with faith] is an awesome thing, but if you can say it now--what is, is good--in whatever situation you are, that is just as awesome."

The phrase "In our culture" is more significant than is likely apparent, and leads to another notable snippet of information I heard recently about Matthew.  When our son Shane was asked to help organize and lead the group of several dozen of Matthew and Clara's nieces and nephews in singing at the funeral, he was told that Matthew had requested that some German singing be included "to acknowledge the peace he feels with his background--which was not always the case."  I find a world of comfort in the fact that Matthew made peace with this part of who he was and that he wanted others to know about it.  I think this lack of peace earlier explained a lot of mysteries about Matthew.
Matthew, the son of a Beachy bishop had walked away from any outward identification with his religious and cultural background--eventually finding a church home with others in the Vineyard group.  While I believe he heard much truth in that setting and made a good contribution--and his life reflected some spiritual sensibilities, he also indulged in some excesses that are not considered "best expressions" in any Christian denomination I'm familiar with.  Near the end he apparently laid aside some of this excess baggage.  Those ear studs were very small, but he had to have known that they were big enough to be distracting to a whole host of people in the cultural tradition of his background, and I can't imagine that anyone who noted their absence before Matthew's burial felt that the absence was a distraction.  Removing them was in keeping with his desire to acknowledge the peace he felt with his background.

Friends of Matthew and his immediate family spoke of how well he listened to others and how carefully he tried to affirm them and make them feel comfortable.  This was no pretense, and was truly admirable.  It fits with what I knew of him as an adolescent.  Even then he didn't stoop to ridicule of other students who may have struggled for acceptance.  It also fits with what many experienced when they were guests and Matthew was their host.  To many who interacted with him, Matthew exuded an aura of "class" in every good sense of the word.  He had a wonderful sense of humor and his combination of creativity and intelligence gave him astonishing capabilities.  His perfectionism almost paralyzed him at times, but resulted also in exemplary workmanship in a variety of endeavors--in school--during art class, in architecture projects, and in computer software development.

Things were more complex than "a class act," however.  Not at the beginning, and not near the end, but for a long time in the middle, Matthew rarely brought his family to Kansas.  When he did, he sometimes occupied himself almost entirely with activities that did not include our family.  We puzzled over this.  We liked him, and very few of us had ever had any run-ins with him.  What was wrong?  Why did he avoid us?

In a conversation during his final illness, Matthew addressed his own behavior, and apologized.  He also explained that he felt that we thought he wasn't good enough to marry our beautiful, intelligent, and well-loved youngest sister, and he chose to erect walls to protect himself from disapproval.  When he talked of how he perceived things, my sister (not his wife) assured him that we all thought he and Clara were a good match, and we did not harbor critical feelings toward him.  She spoke well for all of us in this.  What a pity that this was not resolved sooner, and what a mercy that it could be resolved before Matthew's death.

Matthew spent 2? years as a chief at Fair Play Wilderness Camp.  By his own words we know that this time changed his life--in a good way.  When he married soon after that, it looked as though he and Clara were headed for a fairly typical Holmes County Beachy life.  He had a responsible position in the large cabinet shop (factory?) that his grandfather had established and his father and other relatives had expanded.  He became increasingly disillusioned, however, with the "politics" (not American government politics, but power, influence, and relationship matters) present in the work and church scene.  Eventually, he left his job and moved with his young family to Columbus to enroll in an architecture program at Ohio State University.  I knew that profession would be a good fit for his skills, and he persisted until he had earned a master's degree.

Not long after he was hired at his first job as an architect, a slump in the building industry required that the firm downsize, and Matthew lost his job.  He worked at other things for a time--driving a limo among them, but most recently had been creating aps (writing software for computer applications).  I'm guessing that he felt some frustration at not being able to work in the field he was trained and well-suited for, and I feel a lot of sympathy for him in that position.

Our family saw again a very likable Matthew when he and his entire family came for my mother's funeral this past January.  He had lost most of his hair because of chemotherapy, and had shaved off the rest.  His color wasn't good, but hugs we exchanged with him were genuine.  Matthew was full of affirmation for our family, expressing appreciation and admiration for how we planned for the funeral, and clearly standing with us in mourning our mother/grandmother's passing, and joining in celebration of who she was.  He was obviously moved by the singing at the funeral and knew after that that he wanted choral singing at his funeral and that he wanted Shane involved in planning and leading it.  Earlier, even though he couldn't come along (because of chemo), he "sent" Clara and his daughter Victoria to visit Mom the week before she died, and they had some good days together.

I feel exactly as Matthew's sister verbalized--that it would be so nice to have had the "new Matthew" among us for many years to come.  Yet, to have the "new Matthew" so well prepared for heaven is a great joy as well.

Making caskets is one of the things that happens at the Shrock family business, and Matthew and his father had walked among the displays earlier and picked out the one that was to be used when Matthew died.  It was simply designed and made of quarter-sawn oak--the design named, as all of them are, after castles in Europe.

Calling hours took place in Columbus after Matthew's death.  Overnight the scene shifted to Holmes County and Messiah Church, where Matthew used to attend, and where his parents still are.  More calling hours occupied morning hours, and the funeral commenced in the afternoon.  The main message and the graveside committal were delivered by the pastor of the Vineyard church Matthew attended, but everything else was done by family or church people.  Burial high on a hill overlooking Schrock family land, among a cluster of older graves, was not extraordinarily accessible, but a host of people braved the very cold wind and just-thawed mud underfoot to walk a quarter mile or so to witness the procedure.  In digging the grave, so many large rocks had to be removed that there was a scarcity of dirt to fill in after the casket was lowered--something I've never seen in a Kansas burial.

Local people took very good care of all who had come for the funeral, and, in spite of a grueling trip and intense emotions, I came home feeling refreshed.  We'd done all we could for Matthew, and a sense of being finished was a good feeling.

The best part of all, however, was knowing that Matthew had finished his course with joy and had arrived at his heavenly home in peace.  At the funeral, the brochure handed out was entitled "Victorious."  A picture of Matthew raising both arms high, standing at the edge of the ocean appears between the title and this verse:  "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness.  I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness."  Psalm 17:15.

A cancer diagnosis is never welcome, and in Matthew's case it was decidedly unpleasant to see his body ravaged.  Strokes and pain medication slowed his always-deliberate speech even further near the end.  Watching this was painful, even from a distance.  I can't imagine how difficult these changes were for Matthew.  He navigated this time with dignity--at least when he wasn't regaling others with hilarious accounts of the indignities.

While he was plodding toward death, he was also being renewed inwardly.  On his Facebook wall he had posted this:  "When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live."
- Stuart Scott 

Going "home" in a casket doesn't sound much like "beating" anything, but those of us who know the story know that Matthew's "going home" gave witness to cancer having been a very special kind of mercy for Matthew and all who knew and loved him.  Gelassenheit.  Victorious.  Home.  Those are all words that inspire gratitude and gladness and comfort.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Lots of Drama

This is a drama report compiled in list form.  It  covers, in chronological order, the events that have occupied my time for the past ten days or so and kept me from posting.  I may or may not elaborate later on any of these events.

1:00 AM, Friday, March 29–Leave for a straight drive to Columbus, OH, with my sister Linda, and Shane’s family, in Shane’s new mini-van.

5:00 PM, Friday–Arrive in Columbus, OH in time for the evening calling hours for my brother-in-law, Matthew.  After we all eat a supper provided by members of the small group from Matthew and Clara’s church, Shane goes off to Matthew and Clara’s family’s home with assorted nieces and nephews of Clara and Matthew–several dozen of them?–to practice the singing for the funeral.  The rest of us stay at the funeral home.

8:00 PM, Friday–With singing practice over, and with Dad joining us, we leave for Holmes County, and arrive at 10:30.  I go to a friend’s house for the night, and the rest all go to the home of Mose and Erma, who are close neighbors to my host.

?????At an hour more than 24 hours after I left Kansas, I go to bed, after having a soul-restoring conversation with my host, Clara (Ropp) Troyer, my co-teacher and housemate during the first year of teaching in Ohio. (It was the first of several such conversations with her during my stay.)

9:00 AM Saturday–Calling hours for Matthew begin at Messiah Church where Matthew’s family attended during his growing-up years, and where he and Clara attended during the years when the first three of their four children were born.  I go in time for the beginning of this, in hopes of being able to meet former students and other friends who come.  I am not disappointed.  It was wonderful.  Shane practices again with the singing group.

2:00 PM Saturday–Matthew’s funeral begins.  Burial follows in the Schrock family cemetery, which turns out to be on a hill on his grandpa’s farm, a muddy quarter-mile walk from the parking spot.  The day is clear and very cold, with an overnight temperature in the teens, and a chilly wind.

6:30 ? PM Saturday–Leave the funeral-meal gathering to attend calling hours for Mose Troyer, the father-in-law of Esther (King) Troyer, another of my dear co-teacher/housemates from school teaching days in Ohio.  We had made plans to get together while I was still in Kansas, but this death rearranged her schedule so thoroughly that this was the most workable way to see each other.  We stayed around till most people had left, and had a nice, though short, visit with Esther over snacks provided for the family.

9:30 AM Sunday–Service starts at Messiah Amish Mennonite Church.  I decided to go there after hearing that the Shrocks and the Millers were gathering there.  My brother Lowell had the opening meditation and my brother Ronald preached.  At the end of the service the “moderator” called Shane to the front to lead the final song.  It was a surprise, magnified since it was actually a new song for him.  It went OK, in spite of that, but had to be limited to some pretty basic maneuvers rather than varying volume, tempo, and various other kinds of interpretations that are more likely to work with forewarning and a familiar audience.

Sunday evening–Spend a quiet evening at Clara’s house, along with the rest of the group traveling in our load.

5:00 AM–Monday–Leave for Kansas.  En route, we learn of the death of Mandy Nisly, a lady from our church.  Shane gets asked to organize the singing for the funeral.  He inquired of someone in charge to see if the service planned for Good Friday could be canceled, since he had been asked to plan the singing for that service and was feeling the crunch of too much to do.  It was canceled.

10:45 PM Monday–Arrive home.  I had messages from the doctor’s office stacked up on my answering machine.  One of them informed me that I have an appointment for 9:45 the next morning.  I sent my co-teachers a message saying that I would be late arriving at school.

10:15 AM Tuesday–Hear this diagnosis:  Stage 1 Endometrial Carcinoma.

12:15 PM Tuesday–Show up at school in time to teach my first class of the day.  Find a lovely bouquet of flowers on my desk, gathered and assembled by some of the girls, along with two wonderful cookbooks–gifts from my school family, as a token of their caring in the loss of my brother-in-law.  Little did they know how timely that expression of caring was.

Wednesday–Lots of phone calls to set up an appointment with a gynecological oncologist.  April 16 is the initial visit.

Thursday morning: Attend the funeral of Mandy Nisly.  Get to school around noon.

Thursday, late evening–Join the girls for the annual sleepover Norma organizes for the girls.  I left around 11:30, before anyone actually went to bed.

Shortly after 11:30 Thursday Night–Arrive home in the middle of terrific winds, blowing dust, and a little hail.  The electricity was off.

Saturday–mid-day–Go to Shane’s house and do laundry and plug in the computer, and do a bit of catching up.

Saturday evening–Eat pizza made and delivered by Clare.  We had just finished washing up a great pile of dirty dishes after Hiromi hooked up the generator he had bought this afternoon.

7:30 Saturday Night–After 44 hours, the power came back on.  The “powerless” days of this long weekend made it feel very unproductive.  Media reports tell us the storm was very widespread from the Colorado border east, and was called a bow echo storm--a new term for me.  Some straight-line winds reached 100 mph, and some areas had hail up to 2 inches in diameter.  We had very little hail and even less rain.  I think our wind speeds were likely lower than in some places, although one trunk of the redbud tree snapped off.

I think I’ve done a lot of mixing of tenses in this list.  I guess that’s indicative of how some of my thinking has been–a tense confusion.  No really; intense is a better word.  I feel well all around, and am grateful for many good things that have come my way during the past week and a half.