Prairie View

Monday, December 31, 2018

Ailments, Failures, and Foibles

First, I'd like to ask you the favor of praying for my brother Myron, who is struggling with serious health issues, for perhaps the first time in his life.  After feeling abdominal discomfort for some time, he was diagnosed with an aneurysm in the artery that supplies blood to the left side of the body below the waist.  In a surgical procedure, a stent was placed about 1 1/2 weeks ago, which took the pressure off the ballooned area of the main artery.  Unfortunately, the blood supply being cut off to the left leg during the surgery necessitated a slower-than-ideal recovery because the blood pathways needed to be re-established.  Full recovery is anticipated, but it will take some time for the blood supply to muscles to become optimal again.  In the meantime, the left leg tires very quickly, and mobility is compromised.

This morning a new problem became serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room--according to the surgeon's instructions--and subsequent admittance to the hospital.  This time the right leg had gone numb and the muscles didn't seem to work.  Another surgery is apparently needed to remove a blood clot that has developed in a different "branch" of the major artery.  With both legs barely functioning due to inadequate blood supply, he can hardly walk.  For now, medication  is being given in an attempt to dissolve the blood clot, and waiting out the holiday is the next order of business.

Added later:  Several of the above details seem less clear to me than earlier--about exactly how the stent surgery affected blood flow initially, and where the most recent effects occurred, so some of the above information may need amending.  I know now that the clot has formed inside the stent, so that is new information to me

It's a blessing that Bryant is home from college and Andrew is on vacation from high school.  Otherwise someone outside the family would need to see to the cattle.  Having downsized the herd at auction on Thanksgiving weekend seems now like a good move at the right time.  Also, although there might never be a good time for Myron to be away from his travel office, this tends to be a slower time than most, so the timing for work isn't too bad either.


Walter and Frieda's wedding has brought my cousin and his wife here from Ohio, and we've been enjoying our time with them.  M and A were with Frieda in BD, while she cared for our oldest granddaughter there.

Last night though, when all my local siblings and M and A were invited to Linda's house for supper, we talked a lot more about life with my aunt FJ, M's mother, than M and A's time with our son's family.  (Please excuse my obfuscation by the use of initials.  I'm not sure that it's strictly necessary, but there is some logic to this decision--though I won't spell it out here.)

I had a rather startling revelation--that I share many more of Aunt FJ's characteristics than I realized.  I won't detail all of them here, more for the sake of her privacy than my own.  You see, I've always thought of her as the "wild card" in her parental family, a characterization that no one in the family would likely dispute, her offspring included.  At the age of 95, she's the nursing home resident whom the other residents speak of when they say that "We don't need a TV here; we've got FJ." 

I actually doubt that people think of me in the same dramatic terms as Aunt FJ (I don't.), but I learned last night that she loved the outdoors and that she was far more passionate about gardening than housekeeping.   She always had strong opinions and, even now, she does not hesitate to speak out on whatever is on her mind, especially when she has a captive audience like at a family reunion.  Mostly her mind is still clear, but her ability to accurately read and seamlessly fit in with social expectations has probably not improved in her old age.  The results can be quite entertaining.  For example, she has been known to appropriate for her own use in her assisted living apartment bits and pieces of the decor that she finds in the common areas of the facility--Christmas decorations, floor mats, etc.  I think M and A do a stellar job of running interference between FJ and those who run the facility.

FJ's sense of propriety is strong.  No one tries to make Sunday a laundry day if she finds out, as one poor soul discovered when he or she showed up to pick up her laundry basket. The employee abandoned the laundry basket and came back on Monday--a more proper day for doing laundry, as everyone should know.  She does her own bathing--quite capably, it seems--because modesty is important to her--but not in a shower, because she got burned one time when she tried to use a shower while she was in the hospital to give birth, and not in a tub, because she doesn't have a tub in her living quarters and she wouldn't be allowed to use it by herself if she went to the tub-bathroom part of the facility.  Sponge baths it is. 

Aunt FJ had five brothers before she had any sisters, and then she gave birth to four sons before she had her only daughter.  It's easy to see why she needed a fairly strong constitution to hold her own in the family, and why refinement and finesse weren't easy to develop.  M says that FJ speaks of my  mother as having been "weaker," so she usually worked indoors and got better at such things than FJ and Aunt Esther did.  I didn't know that.

I know that my mother was a "blue baby" (she waited alarmingly long to start breathing after birth), and that she likely suffered from a mild case of polio as an adolescent.  Nevertheless,  my mother birthed ten children and raised twelve of them--something neither of her "strong" sisters did.  (With M and A, we laughed about when Mom was in her final illness in the hospital and a nurse asked her how many children she had, and she answered "twelve."  The nurse was fishing for evidence of cognitive impairment and was sure that Mom's answer was the evidence she was seeking.)

FJ often accompanied her father on trips, since her mother (my grandmother) was far less interested in traveling than her husband and daughter were.

My brother Ronald's family recently visited Aunt FJ when they traveled through Ohio.  At our Christmas gathering, Ronald regaled the rest of us with a story she told then about a shoe mixup at the last communion service she attended--during the feetwashing part of the observance.  He told the story, complete with deep-voice sound effects and the deliberate pace of FJ's speech.  FJ went home with two shoes, but they didn't match, and she doesn't know if she'll ever again see that one shoe of hers.  How can such a doleful story provoke such hilarity?  That's FJ's modus operandi.

One more story:  On the day of my mom's funeral, her brother Jesse told a small family group that  the older brothers in the family used to speak of their three sisters as Mary (my mom) being the match, Esther, the fuse, and FJ, the dynamite.


Oh, one more gem from the Sunday night conversation:  When another doctor earlier had asked my mother to list words that start with "F," (cognitive test again) she said "Fannie."

When the doctor looked startled, my sister quickly explained, "She has a sister by that name."

"Oh," he said.  "So we're not talking about a body part."


While I was helping members of my Anabaptist History class do some genealogical research, I came across the fact that the German name Veronica was often abbreviated to V[F]eroney and then Froenie and then Fannie.  So the common name Fannie among Amish people actually started out being a fairly sophisticated-sounding German name:  Veronica.  Imagine that.  No doctor would ever be startled by a demure Amish Mennonite lady uttering "Veronica."


I marvel at how having common ancestors can produce a bond with people that we actually don't spend much time with.  One of the ways this surfaced again the other evening was when M described what kind of food they ate for supper.  It was always soup or brie.  Cold "broeckle"* soup in the summer time and hot milk soup of some kind in the winter--either rivvel** soup or tomato soup.  I confess that most of these soups are not high on  my "favorites" list, but I certainly learned to eat them without complaint, since I didn't really have a choice.

I had almost forgotten about brie, but my mom used to serve it as well. Few Kansas people knew about or ate brie.  It was made by combining sugar and cornstarch or flour with cold milk, and mixing the paste into a kettle of hot milk.  It would be stirred over heat till it had thickened and come to a boil.  At the table, a bit of brown sugar was added and stirred in.  Yummmm. The family bond with M felt strong while we talked about brie.


In Arthur's wedding sermon, he spoke of the pleasure of a marriage in which both are fully known and genuinely loved.  I think being with relatives is much the same.  Failures and foibles can be freely discussed without fear that bringing them into the light of day will jeopardize relationships or diminish love between relatives.  This is a gift and I am grateful when I experience it --like I did last night with M and A.


*I have no idea how to spell this, but broeckle soup is made by tearing bread into "cubes" and then adding sugar, cold milk, and fruit.  That was our standard summer supper as well.  Several of my siblings (Myron and Linda) still love this soup.

**Rivvel soup is made by making a paste of beaten egg and flour and then dropping this paste into hot milk, creating tiny, irregular dumplings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

God's Good Provision

For some reason, my thoughts the past few days have been full of alternative building materials and methods.  Much of this information was acquired over several decades of time, most of it before the advent of the internet.  I read magazine articles from the mailbox and books from the public library.  We went on a tour of local energy-efficient homes organized by the local extension service and dreamed of living in an earth-sheltered home.  In tornado alley that had some obvious appeal, but not many places in the terrain offered a walk-out option for the south wall of such a house (for solar heat gain), and making a dirt pile over a house on flat terrain seemed awkward and strange.

Eventually, however, long before we had money for an earth-sheltered house, for $16,500 we bought a small, old single-story house without a basement on three acres of land.  We did about $10,000 worth of home improvement work ourselves and moved in before it was finished--about five months after the purchase.  We had one child, who was about 18 months old when we moved on November 4, 1984.  We have always been very grateful for how the Lord provided this place for us, although it took us a number of years to pay off our loan.

Today we live in that same house but for about 15 years we lived in a bigger house on the farm where my parents raised 12 children.  Each of our children had their own room there, and we had a guest room besides.  Tenants and then a newly married son lived here in the interim.  Again, before we moved in the second time, some improvements were made, but the house still occupies exactly the same footprint, and there is still no basement and no upstairs.

For us, being able to own our home was possible because we found a low-priced one.  We added a lot of insulation to make it more energy efficient, and we installed some new windows, but this house is definitely not a model of anything very innovative.  It's plain and small and actually not that well-built--of "sticks" and boards.  The extension service will never ask us to be part of a home tour event. We like it though, and, while we're bursting at the seams, we think we probably should get rid of things rather than build more storage space for our things.

We never did build an earth-sheltered home, or a rammed-earth one, or a straw-bale one, or an adobe brick one, or a cob-built one, or a house with walls made of 2 x 4 scraps (laid flat, end to end like bricks, each course nailed to the one below)--although we pored over many well-developed plans for such houses--whole books devoted to a single method in some cases.  All of them could have utilized local resources and family or community labor.  I believe they would have been more energy efficient than what we have.  I'm not sure that they could have been built for less money than what we spent for this house, but certainly for less money than people invest these days in new homes--or any homes.  I don't understand why people don't consider exploring such alternatives.

When we pray for God's provision, we'd best be prepared to follow where He leads,even if that means putting aside our cut and dried ideas about what is good.  Some have repurposed grain bins and silos for living quarters.  At the edge of Partridge stands an old feed mill converted into living quarters.  Dismantling existing structures and using the materials for new buildings might be possible in some cases.  Moving a house is often a good option here.

Sod houses were common here when the land was first settled by pioneers.  Wheat straw is plentiful.  With stucco applied to the outside (over wire mesh) and plaster on the inside, houses built of these materials need not look weird, or shed dirt.  Window and door frames are set in place as the walls rise, and windows and doors can be as modern as anyone desires.

I have a feeling that resistance to using the most earthy materials for building comes partly from our typical German (or European, at least) sense that permanence is virtuous, so building must always be undertaken with durability in mind.  I see some wisdom in that, but downsides are present also.  Ironically, stick-built homes (using 2 x 4's for framing) are actually less durable--and thus less permanent--than many of the older, more traditional methods, eg. timber-framing, post and beam, etc..  Their main advantage is convenience for materials transport and quick construction,.  This seems lost on many staunchly traditional builders and homeowners.

The downsides are perhaps most easily seen by contrasting the idea of permanence with something the Japanese do very well:  providing "just enough, just in time" in size and complexity, to meet the existing needs.  Certainly, this is not a completely short-sighted view, since thought is given to possible later expansion or alteration.  Avoiding overbuilding has many benefits.  Less up-front financial investment, more flexibility (changes are easier to justify and execute), lower property taxes,  and less waste are all advantages to the Japanese "just-enough, just-in-time" approach.

So far I haven't mentioned how well the Japanese sensibilities fit with traditional Amish values of modesty, simplicity, thrift, and restraint.  Many of us no longer bat an eye at what would not-so-long-ago have seemed ostentatious and extravagant in the extreme.  I'm all for being artistic and creative, with these characteristics expressed in a framework of excellence--but not at the expense of ignoring the constraints of personal discipline and humility.

So far I haven't figured out how to pull it off, but I'm trying to think how I could parlay that retirement gift money into an on-site classroom here.  It certainly can't be done by the most common means (like a portable "storage barn" classroom) because there isn't enough money for that.  I would especially like if something in what happens here could be replicated in many other locations as "neighborhood classrooms."  The goal would be to make learning truly a decentralized, age-integrated, small-group (and inexpensive, overall) community/neighborhood activity, with anyone who has a need for classroom space being able to create that space. Anyone who has a skill to share could do so as a mentor by inviting others to their own "classroom" --where the tools and other resources are likely already present, and they need not be dragged out of storage, transported, used, and then transported and stored again.  If a variety of building materials and methods could be incorporated and practiced in creating my space, maybe the building process itself could be a "class" of sorts. I presume a classroom building would have four walls.  Maybe each wall could feature different materials and methods.  (Are you snorting yet?)

What if I could build it myself, with materials close at hand and help from my students and the men in my family?  More likely, what if I made some preliminary explorations and preparations, and Hiromi saw that I wouldn't be able to manage it myself, so he would rescue the project with his far superior skills and organizing ability?  Actually, what if I just told the Lord that I'd really like an on-site classroom and would He kindly provide it by whatever means He chooses?  That seems like the best idea yet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Tidbits on Christmas Day 2018

This is a perfect blogging opportunity, and I'm not sure what to blog about.  The problem is not a scarcity of material, but rather a surfeit.  Having spent lots of time with my extended family tends to have that effect.

Last Saturday after Smitty's funeral, while we were at Dominoes in Sterling for pizza, I executed one of the more dramatic moves of my life when I crashed on the concrete sidewalk in front of the building.  Clare was with me, so she saw it all go down, and apparently two people from inside the building saw it too.  They came rushing out to see if I was alright.  I thought I was, so I went on to the restroom where I had been headed.  I did feel incredibly lucky that my three-point landing didn't result in more damage.  Slight road rash on my hands, and a very tender area on my left knee was really all I noted.  Not until Thursday did I figure out that I should probably see my chiropractor, and it was a good thing I got an appointment before noon on Friday because he closed then till Wednesday of the following week.  My taciturn chiropractor observed that my alignment was "off by a mile."  Small wonder. 

I now have an opinion about sidewalk and entrance design that I never had before.  At this place, the outside door landing was cut out of the sidewalk on both sides of the doorway.  The door opened against a step up onto the sidewalks that accessed the restroom entrances.  When I exited from the inside, after the door closed and got out of my way,  I didn't see that step, and tripped over it.  While falling forward, I had the sense that there was a tremendous amount of preventive action going on that probably would end disastrously anyway.  It did, but not before I took several very fast steps forward in a mostly horizontal position.  I think Clare must have helped me up since I'm not much good at getting up unassisted.  She was kind enough not to mention what a spectacle I must have presented.

"Did you blog about it?" Brenda asked me yesterday after I told the above story.


"You should."  So I did.


Yesterday's paper reported on a lawsuit filed against a local personal injury lawyer--by his mother, through a Wichita attorney.  She had fallen while visiting her son, and had broken bones in at least three places.   She asked for $75,000.  I suppose some of us who heard the story were tempted with  schadenfreude, but I think we're probably too ignorant to know how little pain actually will result from this--except for the mother who no doubt suffered from the injuries. 

Our family and others in our church have been on the receiving end of legal action taken by this attorney, for what has often seemed like dubious reasons and frivolous claims.


My nephew, Bryant, is home from Sattler College in Boston.  It's the first year of operation for the school, and, to lure people in, tuition was free this year.  Bryant loves being there, for the good learning opportunities it provides.  Since Harvard is close by, some subjects will be covered by either hiring teachers from there to teach classes at Sattler, or providing the means for Sattler students to attend classes at Harvard.  This school is unabashedly Anabaptist. and is perhaps distinctive among such schools for its emphasis on seeking to effect change in society outside of political involvement.

Bryant's mother had told us about his "darling little goatee" several weeks ago, so we weren't shocked by his appearance although it's as fiery red as his hair.

I'm not sure whether Bryant has declared a major, but he has a lot of interest in math.  I think this is ironic, since he has also distinguished himself in both athletics and piano performance--as a homeschooled high school student.  That combination of interests and abilities might not be as rare as it seems, but I think it's remarkable.


My brother Myron had a stent placed last Thursday in the main artery that goes to the left lower extremities.  It was needed because of an aneurysm that was discovered recently.  The procedure was done without a major abdominal incision, so he was sufficiently recovered to join our family Christmas gathering yesterday. 

Myron explained that the stent looks like a tube, and functions like a culvert, with the ends of it extending past the balloon in the artery wall.  The culvert hooks into the artery wall and creates a way for blood flow to take place without stressing the weakened artery wall.  A break (rupture of the artery) usually results swiftly in death because of the great volume of "pressurized" flow in that area.

Myron would not appear to have any of the risk factors for circulatory system problems.  He has always been physically active, and is not overweight. 

My father had a similar diagnosis in his later years, but his aneurysm disappeared without surgery--after he had asked for and received anointing.  Nevertheless, I believe that it had recurred and actually ruptured right before he had a car accident which he did not survive.  I'm basing that conclusion on what the first responders observed about his upper body skin color (purple--not white or pink), minimal bleeding from injuries, and the experience of a nurse who lost a patient to that condition.  The autopsy was inconclusive.

I'm really happy that Myron's problem could be corrected, especially with a minimally invasive method.


On January 10 I plan to begin a series of classes that will last until May, with one all-day class every week or two till then.  The kickoff event is an overnight retreat.  It will be a very different kind of activity than simply returning to teaching the second semester of the school term as I have done for many years.  This class requires an approved application and a hefty admission fee.  I understand that the class is mostly "lab work."  That is, most of the time will be spent in group problem solving.  I'm particularly keen on learning more about operating effectively in the absence of positional authority--a term I've learned from Shane.

Shane has taken the class and told me I should do so too.  I was not interested initially, but after scolding myself a bit for momentarily veering aside from my lifelong modus operandi (seizing learning opportunities even if I'm not sure exactly how they might be useful), I reconsidered, and gave Shane permission to set things in motion where it required initiative on his part as a class graduate. 

I had prayed about this, of course, and still felt quite unsure about the wisdom of undertaking something so very far beyond my safe and happy routines.  Hiromi thought it would be fine for me to to do so, but he stopped short of telling me what I should do.  I finally settled the matter in my mind by acknowledging the Lord's ability to direct through circumstances, and so every step in the application process became a fleece.  Since I'm retired, I wasn't sure that I was a good candidate for the class.  Also, I needed scholarship funds to pay the tuition, and I had no reason to expect that I would be awarded a scholarship.  I stated up front (in answer to a question) that I would not be able to take the class without a scholarship.

Long story short, my application was approved and I got a full scholarship.  So now you know how I became part of the Leadership Reno County Class of 2019. If you think about it, I'd love to have you pray about this venture. 


Grant and Clare and their family have gone to Washington state where they will stay for the next number of weeks--probably till early February.  Grant will work for his father-in-law for a while.  We're taking care of their dog and Clare's sister is taking care of their house.  They drove--something I'm sure involved some challenges with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.  The trip probably took about 30 hours. 


Walter and Frieda's wedding is planned for this Saturday.  I will help with food preparation.  With an interesting menu and good people to work with, this should be fun. 

Cousin Marland and his wife, who lived near our oldest son overseas, plan to come for the wedding.  They will overlap only briefly with Joel and Hilda, who will soon leave here for FB in PA for winter term.  After that they plan to return to Kansas for several more weeks before returning to their home in Asia.


We had some rain and snow on Saturday night.  More rain is predicted from tonight through Thursday.  It's not quite cold enough for snow.


In our family group, some of the topics we discussed yesterday have continued to churn inside my head since then, but I don't yet have anything coherent to say as a result.  I do consider it a privilege though to have such wise and experienced family members to learn from and laugh with. 

We're still working at figuring out congregational identity and structure, mission board policy, best practices in gardening and farming, cautions about Christian leaders whose lives we can't observe personally, educational systems for Christian families, affordable and resource-wise building methods, how to reach out to strangers who need friends and other support, how to relieve foot and back pain, etc.  A surfeit, as I said earlier.


On Jan. 3, the Coffee Corner will open at the 5th and Adams intersection on the NE corner.  Plans are to be open from 7:00 to 10:00 M-F, at least through the coldest months of 2019.  The goal is to provide a pleasant atmosphere and a cup of coffee to any who need a place to be at that time of the morning or who simply wish to interact with others who are there. 

Noel Lodge is only a few blocks away, and some who stay there may especially be happy for what is offered at the Coffee Corner.  It will be staffed by volunteers. 

Marvin and Lois and Arthur and Lillian have taken a lot of initiative in making this happen.


Tristan inadvertently and instantly got a body piercing recently while trying to tighten a tension-loaded ping pong table net.  The opposite end came unmoored and a sharp little wire part pierced his "schniffly"  (what's the right English word?).  Upper lip isn't quite right, but almost.  There was a laceration on his gums on the inside of the little puncture visible on his skin.  His parents agonized for a bit about whether he needed medical care, and then Shane remembered that some people pay to have such things done for ornamentation purposes, and he thought it would likely heal just fine without emergency room treatment and expense.  Eating comfortably was a bit of a challenge at first, but it didn't seem to hurt him much otherwise. 


We gave Tristan an egg basket kit for Christmas, along with my promise to help him craft the basket.  Years ago, several of my boys learned how make egg baskets as part of a 4H project activity taught by Melanie Graber.  I learned alongside them, and know now how perfect the design is for gathering eggs and carrying them without having the eggs roll around and bump into each other, risking cracking them. 


On the day of the winter solstice, we had the last nature walk of 2018.  Our activities involved things like marking the location of the outer margin of the shadow cast on the north side of the house, and the length of our own shadows.  We hope to note how this changes as the seasons change.


Tonya is home from Ghana for about six months.  Her parental family plans to gather at Cottonwood for several days next week.


Nelson and Hannah recently made an unwelcome discovery.  It turns out that their moisture-wicking mattress was indeed doing its job, but not having the mattress and its foundation on a slatted bed frame resulted in that moisture collecting on the floor underneath.  When they discovered it, the mattress got a trip outside for airing out and drying out, while the floor underneath hopefully did the same.


My Aunt Ruth (Mrs. Jesse Beachy) from Virginia is fading fast from cancer.  She is probably in her upper eighties.

On Sunday was the funeral of my cousin Mary Sue's husband.  They lived near Kalona, IA.  Their four sons (ages 15-21) still lived at home.  He died suddenly in an accident while he was cutting firewood. 


At Christmas, our family is certainly not alone in especially missing family members who are no longer present with us.  Our comfort and joy is mixed with lament for other reasons also.

One of the new insights for me this year was thinking about others for whom the same thing was true at Jesus' first advent.  Think about the injustice the Jews suffered under Roman oppression.  About the ruthless murder of babies undertaken by Herod, who felt threatened by a baby born to be a king.  About Joseph and Mary having to travel at the most inconvenient time possible--and then having to flee for refuge in Egypt--until Herod's rampage was over.  Lament was certainly reasonable. 

If Hope and Light and Salvation had not come in the form of Jesus, lament is still the only thing that would be reasonable.  As it is, the comfort and joy are present in us, even while we acknowledge the reality of pain and loss. 

Emmanuel (God with us)!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Standing At Attention

Unknown to me, something very strange was happening during and after Smitty's funeral last Saturday.  My sister Linda initially told me about the event.  She had gone to the funeral with my brother Lowell, his wife, Judy, and two of my brothers, Marcus and Anthony.  They all sat in the same row on the non-family side, filling up the bench completely.  Linda walked in first, followed by Judy.  All the Iwashiges sat across the aisle, on the family side.

When my siblings exited, they exchanged a few words with Chee and others in the family who were lined up outside the chapel,  From there they exited the building to go home.  That's when things began to get surprising.

"Ma'am, Ma'am!" someone called.  Judy and Linda stopped to look back where a short, dark-haired woman was hurrying out of the building toward them.  She wore big black glasses.  The others walking to the vehicle to go home heard parts of what was being said.

"Do you sing?" she asked.

Judy, who seemed to be the one the question was most specifically directed toward, answered a bit uncertainly, "Yes, I sing. . . we sing."

"Well, I just wanted you to know that when you sing, the angels stand at attention," the woman went on.

" Who does this?" Judy asked, still trying to make sense of what was happening.

"Angels.  Heavenly beings.  I sat right behind you during the service.  When you walked in, an angel followed you.  He stood near you during the service.  I just wanted you to know." 

Mind you, the only person who had sung (live) at any time during the service was Shane, who had sung "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" as a solo.  So why was Judy asked about her singing?  Was the lady lumping Judy in with everyone there who seemed to belong to the same group as Shane?


What does one do with stories like this--besides blogging it?

We've made small attempts to identify the stranger who spoke to Judy, believing that we might gain insight into the context within which she spoke--to no avail.  Bev could not think of anyone with that description who was at the funeral.

Shane says "Color me skeptical."  As was true of others as well, he wondered if the lady had been indulging in mind-altering substances.  He thought it improbable that one would sit calmly through an entire service with such a dramatic phenomenon before one's eyes.  For the record, Judy and Linda both said that nothing about the lady's manner or appearance suggested impairment or unnatural euphoria.

I'd be happy to hear from anyone who would like to offer their perspective on this story.  What it all means is still a mystery to me, but I do find some comfort in thinking of an angel having "stood at attention" during the service.  Whether or not anyone sees such things, I believe that wherever God's people go, their angels attend them.  Angels are also messengers from God.  If there's a message from God in this, I don't want to miss it.

Perhaps the best response is to "stand at attention" before God, to see what He might want to reveal. This season is full of stories of angel appearances to ordinary people who did just that: Zechariah, Mary.  Joseph.  Shepherds.  Every one of them got a front-row seat as the kingdom of God came to earth.  Perhaps it's still that way.  Ordinary people who stand at attention before God are in the right place to witness the kingdom of God as it unfolds before their eyes.

Your thoughts?


This story may undergo some editing after Judy and Linda read it.  I've repeated it from memory and will defer to their memory wherever it differs from this.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Smitty's Death

Please bear with me if you're reading this post.  It contains a record of events surrounding the death this week of my brother-in-law.  It's my way of processing things, but it won't all be pleasant reading, and you need not apologize for skipping this.

On Monday night, as Wyatt and I were getting ready to head home after a stargazing party with my little nature walk group, Shane heard via phone that Smitty had been badly burned and was taken to a Wichita hospital.  A member of the Sterling police department is a friend of Grant's, and after he responded to the 911 call, he notified Grant, apparently with the family's knowledge and approval.

Hiromi's older sister Chee (full name, Chizuko) married Smitty 65 years ago in Japan.  He was stationed there during the Korean War.  Chee was 19 and Smitty was several years older.  Smitty's full name was Vernon L. Smith, and he grew up in Raymond, KS in Rice County.  On Dec. 21 he would have been 88.

On Tuesday, Hiromi, Joel, and I traveled to Wichita where Smitty had been admitted to Via Christi (St. Francis) Hospital.  When we arrived at the burn unit waiting room, we found many family members there.  They had spent most of the night there and then left around 4:30 AM to make the one-hour trip home.  At 7:30, they got a phone call from the hospital saying that Smitty was failing, so they hurried back.  We got there early in the afternoon.

The doctor in charge of his care had already told the family that there was zero chance that Smitty would recover from having third-degree burns over 25% of his body--mostly because of his age and his heart condition.  He was under heavy sedation with a ventilator doing his breathing for him.  Medications (which over time would begin to damage his organs) were artificially elevating his heart rate and his blood pressure.

We spent a precious afternoon with four generations of the extended Smith family.  Chee was not quite ready to agree to the removal of life support, and everyone was willing to give her the time she needed to reach that place.  The family went home again for the night.

The next morning, after another long conversation between the doctor and the family, an agreement was reached.  We were not present, and for obvious reasons will not pry into the details of how things transpired after that.  Chee called us around noon with a simple message:  Smitty is gone.

Cremation is planned and a funeral service is scheduled for 2:00 Saturday, Dec. 15. 

Smitty and Chee lived for years in the same house one block west of the lake in Sterling.  Those who have attended the July 4 celebrations in Sterling passed by very close to their place when they turned east at the Dairy Queen (or whatever that ice cream place is called now).

I'm thinking some regretful thoughts right now in relation to Smitty.  I'm sorry that he and Chee could not be present when we had our early Japanese food New Year's celebration on Dec. 1 so that Joel's family could be present.  We invited them and they said they would come, but there were some misunderstandings, and they ended up not coming because they didn't want to get the flu.  I regret also that Smitty was apprehensive about the prospect of death--as he expressed to Chee.  I regret that his memory had become impaired to the point that processing new information was very difficult, so some of the conversations we had about matters of faith in recent months were hard for him to process, and it was often hard for us to know where to start.

I feel reassured on other counts.  Smitty and Chee had frequently stopped in to see us in the past few months, and we had some pleasant interactions.  The family asked us to pray in the hospital room, and all three of the Iwashiges did so, out loud, at two different times, each time at the request of Chee or one of her daughters.  Although Smitty was unconscious, we prayed as though he could hear us, and we gave thanks for his life and for the presence of the spirit of God with us in the room.  We prayed for him to sense God's love and mercy and to feel peace in his spirit.

Hiromi did exactly the right thing by speaking directly to Smitty and very kindly urging him to "tell God you're sorry if there's anything that bothers you, and then when God calls you, don't hesitate to answer.  Go to Him right away when he calls you."  He had slipped in alone to tell Smitty that earlier, and then repeated it when much of the family was in the room.

Thinking about the fact that the spirit never dies was a comfort to me in reference to some of the other harsh realities of being in the presence of a loved one with such a damaged body and tamped-down senses.  Smitty was never beyond the reach of the spirit of God--the same Spirit Who was accessible to us also.  That's how speaking the words we spoke made sense--because of the great power of God to bridge the gap between our helplessness (and our faith!) and Smitty's need.


Smitty was a responsible man, a hard worker, and had good management instincts and many handyman skills.  He had worked as a manager at the Sterling Coop for a number of years, and at various times he was employed elsewhere:  working for the Sterling Police Department, serving as an EMT and volunteer fireman, driving school buses and chartered tour buses, working on farms, working at the West 4th Coop in Hutchinson, and driving a delivery truck.  He often worked a full time job and one or more part time jobs.

Smitty was a solicitous host and was unfailingly kind toward our family.  He even told me recently how much he liked my dad.

During the time in the hospital waiting room Chee told us things that we never observed--that he always came to help her fold laundry, unasked, and that he often told her he loved her.  The burns he suffered occurred while he was dong a nightly ritual for Chee--lighting the gas heater in the "little house" where the only shower was located--because she preferred a shower to a tub, and the room needed warming before she took her shower.  The little house was at one time a very tiny stand-alone dwelling next to a larger house.  Over time, Smitty and Chee had added onto the bigger house and then connected the two houses by what I'll call a covered breezeway, for want of a better term.  The breezeway was attached to the kitchen of the bigger house.

No one knows exactly what went wrong, but Chee was sitting in the living room--far away from the little house--when she heard Smitty calling for help.  Before she could get to him, he came into view, having walked all the way through the breezeway and the big kitchen.  I can't imagine Chee's horror at seeing his clothing and hair in flames.  She doused him with water from the bathtub faucet and then called 911, but had a terrible time making herself understood by the dispatcher (that Japanese-accented language problem!).  Smitty was still conscious and talking when he left in the ambulance.  Chee also called her daughter Bev in Hutchinson, who came right away and then drove Chee to Wichita immediately.

Smitty and Chee's only son died from leukemia more than a decade ago--in his late forties.  Debbie is Bev's only sister.  She lives in Arkansas City.

Here is the obituary.