When Roads Divirge

My brother and I and a friend took a flying trip this weekend. My friend is getting married. One of my oldest friends from my childhood.

And the trip is dredging up all the thought and rethought thoughts of my childhood and the life I was born into.

I am unapologetically anapabtist. I love my heritage and all it has given me but I stand divided by love of my tradition with the realization that I have been formed and molded by living in a visionary environment that challenged much of the tradition we are known for. Visions that triumphed at times and failed in others.

I was born into a tiny mission church, my father a soon-to-be pastor. We were “Amish”, but we spoke English. We drove horses and buggies, but we made exceptions if neccessary. We lived in a termite infested house on a goat farm. We went to school in a one-room school house.

And oddly enough we were happy.

I cannot imagine a happier childhood.

My father was, in many ways, living his dream. He was building a business, spending time with his children, and the church was a beautiful mixture of people from every background imaginable.

He was young and energetic. He was up for a challenge.

And then it fell apart.

And we left. Following the advice of well-meaning pastors. Leaving behind our beautiful farm, the people we loved, and the community we had built.

We have never been the same. For better or for worse, the dream that was yanceyville died.

I was only a child and I was heartbroken.

I wrestle with the wondering. Who would I be, apart from this back-story? I don’t think I will ever leave yanceyville. It’s grown into me, formed me. Made me who I am.

And I am thankful.

I wouldn’t wish on anyone the journey my parents have made for their family but I am profoundly thankful that my father has always taken “the path less traveled”

It has made all the difference.

Several times recently I met up with other yanceyville people in my travels and each time I have something of an identity crisis. I have for years now been part of the mainstream anabaptist culture and sometimes now I can convince myself that I belong, but when I meet these people, the people who were there. The ones who walked this steep and winding trail.

Then I remember.

These are my people.

You can take the girl out of yanceyville but you’ll never take the yanceyville out of the girl.

Advertisements

Home Again

I’m home again. I have been for a week now and it’s been a full one.

I’m home. Picking blackberries, freezing sweet corn, biking down country roads, picking wildflowers and drinking tall glasses of cold mountain spring water.

I’m back with my family. All 24 of them. You can read the story of how my family grew by three overnight at my sister-in-law’s blog here. It’s exciting and a bit scary that I now unofficially have nine nieces and nephews but I absolutely love every one of them.

I’m back at work, putting lids on hundreds of jars of pickled garlic and labeling case after case of Jam with only an occasional dash out the door to pick a handful of blackberries. Did I mention that blackberries are like my most favorite thing ever? I also pulled an enormous amount of weeds out of the flower beds in front of The Relish Barn. “What makes you think you can do that on company time?” Bert asked, sticking his head out the door.

“No one wants to buy relish from a place that looks like this,” I answered.

“You have a point but the thing is, none of our customers actually come here.”

“You have a point,” I said. But I kept on pulling weeds.

I’m back at my little church, singing hymns and praying with the people who love me as much as I love them. And all the little kids club kids who hug me three times or so and tell me that they missed me. I missed them too.

And this week I’m getting ready for school. I’m excited about being a teacher again and I’m ready to have all my students back again.

But Saturday my friend is getting married.

Next week is teacher’s week at Faith Builders.

And then there’s Literature Camp the next weekend.

But for now, I’m sitting on my rooftop, watching the moon and listening to the crickets.

It’s a beautiful night.

Antigua the Beautiful

It’s my fifth day in Antigua and my head is afloat with words like “olvidar” “comprender” and “partir”. Those are all Spanish verbs and now I know what to tell my students when they ask annoyedly (is that a word?) why they have to know what an infinitive is. It will make it easier to learn Spanish and since their teacher went to spanish school surely they’ll all want to go too, right?

Sonya hasn’t let me complain even once since I’m here but there hasn’t been much to complain about anyhow so that isn’t really a problem. We have a beautiful place to stay with a large roof. That’s where we spend a lot of our time since it’s the perfect place to study. We’ve been turning a shade darker each day so I’m not sure you’ll recognize us when we come back. We have wi-fi, good food, and it’s not hot. Actually I’m cold at night although my teacher says Antigua has a “clima perfecto.” There are about 6 or 7 other people staying here as well and they come from all over. One from France, another from England, and one from Italy. At school we’ve met people from Switzerland and South Korea. I don’t think I’ve ever met people from that many places in a single week, before. It’s quite interesting. I’m especially fond of all the accents. There’s one guy at the school who has to be from Australia, if I know anything about accents but I haven’t had a chance to ask him yet.

Our house mates are mostly gone for the weekend, some to the lake, and others to the top of the enormous volcano. I’m looking forward to hearing about it. We had classes on Saturday since we didn’t start until Wednesday this week.

I can’t believe how blessed I am with the two girls who are with me. We all get along great so far and understand each other’s sense of humor which is a big thing when you’re all living in the same room. I’ve laughed more in the last week than I have in a long time and I also have time to simply sit and meditate or have long discussions deep into the night. I’m loving it so far but I keep thinking it will be over soon. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in that I have another three weeks here.

This morning we go up and drank instant coffee and ate granola bars for breakfast (they don’t cook for us on sundays) and then headed off to church. We had just concluded that we might be a bit lost when we saw a mennonite lady coming towards us. Turns out she was also headed to church and a little bit lost so together we managed to find the church. Afterwards we ate papuses together while she told us a bit about her very interesting life. I’m so amazed by all the interesting people I’m meeting. (I think I already said that). We got pizza for supper and now we’re in bed quite early. I’ve never in my life slept as much as I have since I’m here. I think learning a new language and splitting all those brain cells makes you tired. I’ll blame it on that at least.

This Child

If you came with me to children’s ministry and met Tyrone, you’d probably wonder why we even let him come.

Sometimes we wonder why we let him come.

Sometimes all we see when we look at him is the scowl on his face, the anger in his eyes, the cuss words coming from his mouth. The tobacco in his pocket that he’s chewed since he was 3 years old.

Sometimes we forget that he’s only 12 years old. That he’s still a little boy, really.

Sometimes.

But sometimes we remember.

We remember the child who stood outside the fence because he was too afraid to come in.

We remember the child who bolted out the door because it was simply too much.

We remember the young man who paced up and down the road in an effort to get his anger under control.

And we remember other things. The way his mother curses him when he comes home. The fact that his dad has been in jail “a whole lot of times”. We remember that he’s two years behind in school thanks to his parents irresponsibility.

But the saddest story, to me, is why he doesn’t go to church.

“Do you go to church on Sundays?” Sharon asked.

“You know,” he answered. “I used to but I just don’t anymore. You see, my mom’s boyfriend is so annoying and when I’d come home he’d be like ‘oh so you’re going to be a good boy now, going to church, how nice. Be a good boy’ and he’d just make fun of me and it made me so mad and I’d just cuss him out and you know, I just couldn’t handle that. It just ain’t right, I can’t cuss straight outa church so I just quit going.”

“Why don’t y’all have kids church every night? he asked.

And I remember the sad, afraid little boy beneath the angry young man and I want to cry.

What will happen to Tyrone?

Where will he be in 20 years from now?

I don’t know.

I can only hope and pray that God will reach down and touch his life.

I pray that his anger could be channeled into an anger against sin.

That his energy could be channeled into building the kingdom of God.

That his leadership skills could be channeled into leading the church.

This child is a child of potential

For good. Or for evil.

Pray that he would choose the good.

Pray that God could be the father he so much wants in his life.

The Strong One

He is strong.

I forget that sometimes. I try to be the the strong one. I try to hold everything together. I think somehow I’ll make it through.

I can be strong.

And sometimes we need to be strong. We need to be the warriors. We need to be the one that others can lean on. We need to be brave.

Even when we are afraid.

Especially when we are afraid.

That is when we need to be strong.

Because He is Strong. The Lion of Judah. The defender of the weak.

I am not strong. Sometimes I pretend to be strong. I can be a warrior for awhile, but deep inside, the warrior is a child.

Children need someone to fight for them. Someone to be their defender. Someone to run to.

I am the child.

Often I am afraid.

But He is strong. I can run to Him. I don’t need to be strong for Him. I don’t even need to pretend to be strong.

Because He makes my weakness strong. I don’t know how He does it. I don’t understand.

But He promised.

My strength is made perfect in weakness.

Perfect.

He promised.

And He is the Strong One.

Not Too far from Here

Not too far from here lives a girl with cold eyes and a hardened heart. Her dad is in jail, her mom is somewhere but she doesn’t know where. She lives with her dad’s ex-girlfriend supposedly but most of the time she’s staying with one friend or another. She’s been abandoned. Raped. And in and out of foster care seven times. She cries, but she’s not ready to share her pain, not yet.

Not too far from here is young girl who lives with her aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend’s father. Her cousins use her as a scapegoat. Her “papaw” beats her for for minor infractions until she’s covered with bruises. She’s been taken from her mother thanks to all of her mother’s boyfriends but life hasn’t gotten better. Her face is sadness personified. Even her smiles are edged in sadness.

Not too far from here lives a young man who tells me casually that no one would care anyhow if he died. I can tell by the flatness of his voice that he believes the words. “I’d care” I say.

Uselessly.

He doesn’t believe me either.

Not too far from here is a nine- year old who says she worships the devil. And why not? Her father, the man who should protect her, has raped her more times than she can count. She cuts lines into her arms, the physical pain helping her to forget the emotional pain for at least a little bit. Her only hope is the tiny one that perhaps he’ll be put back in jail eventually.

Not too far from here is a little girl whose grandma is to old to climb the stairs to tuck her into bed. No one comes when she has nightmares. Her daddy and her uncle fight. The police come. She’s afraid and there is no one to hold her close.

The stories pile up, slowly, the ball of pain gets larger with every layer, like snowballs rolling down the snowy hill. And suddenly, without warning, the weight is too much, and the haunting does not leave.

These children.

We love them.

Some nights it’s hard to sleep.

Some days are hard to stay focused.

And you realize that if you had lived that life, you would not be the heroic survivor.

I would be the bitter young girl with hardened eyes.

And suddenly you question your own identity because you are not the person you always imagined yourself to be.

And than there’s guilt.

What can you really do? You always thought you would be the person who would help, who would do something.

And then you come face to face with your own helplessness.

And you realize there is nothing you can do.

You cannot make it better.

You cannot even make it stop.

You are helpless.

I should be positive probably. I should say that God can fix it. Because He can. But that only brings more questions. Why does he allow it to happen in the first place?

Pray for the children tonight.

Pray for those of us who carry the weight of their stories.

So Blessed

I walked through the dreary rain out toward my little red car. My arms full of dirty towels and my coffee cup. I’d just spilled half of the coffee down the front of my dress. I dumped the dirty towels into the back seat of the car and turned to look through the gloom at the tall brick building, It’s dim light barely penetrating.

And I thought “I still can’t believe I’m this blessed”.

It’s crazy. I think sometimes I must be crazy. Why and how can the most chaotic parts of my life make me feel the most blessed?

It wasn’t because I was comparing my life to theirs – these lovely broken children.

It was because I couldn’t believe I was the one privileged to be here.

The one to see the brokenness.

The one to feel the pain.

The one who cries herself to sleep because why is no one caring about the kids?

It’s a privilege.

Most of the time they hide the hurt under toughness and bravado.

I am blessed to see the pain.

I’m blessed too because sometimes, in tiny glimpses, I see God.

And I see that he can.

He can heal the hurt.

He can wipe the tears.

He can bring hope to the hopeless.

It’s in the overheard conversation “I was so scared, but you know what? I prayed…”

“You prayed?!”

“Yeah, I said ‘God please help me'”.

And I know that a year ago this child would never have thought to pray no matter what was happening.

I see it in the angry young man who stalks up and down the road to calm himself and yet when we gather in a circle to sing he sings loudly “We’ve got the power in the name of Jesus”.

And I know, that no matter where he chooses to go from here. No matter where life may lead, those words are now graven deep in his heart. I believe God will let those words follow him, perhaps even haunt him. And I am thankful.

I am so blessed.

What is more blessed than to be the face, the hands, that come to the mind of a child, when they think of Jesus.

“Whooo loves you?”

Those were the words on the owl craft tonight. We pulled the wings apart to see the answer.

Jesus!

I put my arms around the angry child. “Put it in your bedroom,” I whispered. “then you can always look at it and think ‘Jesus loves me!’ because he does”.

She stared straight ahead, not looking at me but I saw her go out the door with the owl in her hand.

Jesus loves her.

And when she finally understands, he can take away her anger and heal her tiny broken heart.

A Right to Pain

Today’s post is a guest post by my beautiful and wise little sister. This is message is important. It is important for me, a hopeless guilt carrier. It is important for you, because you have pain in your life, because someone, somewhere has more pain than you. Sharon and I love to discuss these things but today she brings it to you. It’s a pleasure to welcome her to my blog space.

Tears were running quietly down my cheek, as sat at my desk pointlessly opening and closing windows 9 on my computer. I had no intention of actually doing anything. I bit my lip, inwardly beating myself. Why was I so stupid, so ungrateful, so selfish as to feel my own pain. How could I? Stop. Stop right now I said to myself fiercely. You have no right, you can’t be doing this, you don’t have time for this drama… But I couldn’t stop my tears. I lay my head on my desk and cried even harder, the deep sense of guilt only increasing my pain.

*********************
It was only 3 months since they had moved 24 hours from their home, leaving the life they had lived and loved for 15 years. All that was familiar and secure. My aunt looked tired. She was quiet- a broken aura about her. Tears came to my eyes as I watched her and thought of what a funny, happy aunt she always was. I could see the pain in her eyes and in her words. She was hurting, feeling so much pain from all she’s left and misses every day. I have so much to be grateful for, I thought, I can’t imagine moving 24 hours away from my dear mountains.

*******************
Her hands fidgeted endlessly with the coffee cup, her eyes fastened on it as if her life depended on it. Slowly, Slowly, she was falling apart. Her lips trembled and tears gently made their way down her cheek as she talked. ” I don’t trust myself anymore,” she finished. My heart almost stopped, what she had just told me was serious. I watched her face carefully as I asked her more questions. Questions no 15 year old should even be thinking of. She denied everything with big sorrowful eyes so full of pain that I couldn’t believe she was telling the truth. I sat there with my head bowed. How have things gotten this bad? ‘ I have so much to be thankful for, I thought to myself, I can’t imagine the pain she must be feeling.

****************
He bit his lip hard, too hard, I wondered if he’d get a sore. He started out the window at nothing. It’s so hard to forgive, he whispered, his voice strangled. I watched him swallow, his eyes blink fast, but a lone tear escaped and trailed down his face. His family was torn apart. All lost in their own pain, and hurting each other. The situation looked hopeless. I have so much to be thankful for I thought. I can’t imagine how it would be if my parents would seperate.

*************
“The thing is,” she said looking straight into my eyes, ” is that nobody knows or cares if I read my bible or not” I could see she cared. Deep down she really did want to do what was right. She was only asking for someone to care enough to tell her no. Being left alone hurts. ‘No one cares ‘ it was a lie she had told herself so often, and she had come to believe it. She didn’t cry, she wasnt even close to tears. She was beyond that and that scared me. “I have so much to be grateful for,” I whispered, “to be held accountable is to be secure.” And I whispered a prayer of thankfulness for my dad.
*********
She sat on the seat, her cousins on each side, one consistently hitting her the other one chanting, “Garbage, garbage, shes just garbage”
She sat completely still, crying softly. The lies penetrating and poisoning her little brain. Just before that I held another little girl close. She was so angry she shook all over. She had just finished her destruction in the classroom. She grabbed all the crayons dumped them across the floor knocked the chairs over and grabbed one and hit the wall with all her strength. As I held her quivering body, tears ran down my cheeks and I started praying. She went limp in my arms. An hour before that when picking up yet another little girl, she jumped excitedly in the truck ” I’m excited because Dan is coming tonight!” She exclaimed. “Who is Dan?” I asked smiling, as I helped her in the truck. ” My moms boyfriend,” she answered, “I like him because he kisses me all over!” My smile disappeared. She always had a glazed, sad look in her eyes. Was this why?”I have so much to be thankful for,” I thought. A care free childhood seems an unusual thing today

************
“How big will you make yours?” My grandma asked. “It doesn’t matter,”my mom answered, “just make it how you like it. It should reflect your personality.” My grandma was not happy with this answer. It was hard for her to do things without specific instructions for fear she would do it wrong. I just stood there and stared at her for a bit and wondered how at 72 years old one could still be so insecure. It was sad, so very sad. I thought of how many times her own father had ridiculed her, how many times she believed she had done things wrong just because she had done them the way that was right for herself. How many times she believed people didn’t like her simply because people didn’t understand what she was trying to say. I cried a bit for my grandma that night and I thought to myself “I have so much to be grateful about. How few have the teaching and education that I have?”

***********
My family was hurting too. Change is hard on us all and this whole wedding thing was harder than most of us had realized it could ever be.

Neither were these situations the only ones that were on my mind.

The fact is everyone is hurting in some way- today – however much or little that may be. My tears subsided as I lay there on my desk and I came to a conclusion. It was ok for me to feel my own pain. It’s ok. ( dv told me that only like a million times!) Actually I must. There is nothing to be guilty about. Just because my pain is not as great as someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s not pain -doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel it. God has given each of us a unique story and we have to believe in it. We have to stop and feel our own pain. We won’t get anywhere until we stop and let ourselves feel it, accept ourselves and the pain that we personally have. When we deny that, we deny who God has created us to be. You won’t be able to help others, to be there in someone else’s pain if you don’t work through your own.

Admit it.

Feel it

Accept it.

Embrace it.

Let it make you better.

The Stars Hang Low

I step out of my car and into the night. The stars hang low overhead.

Brilliant

Glittering

Tantalizing

They hang so low that I feel sure that if I would reach out I could touch them.

But I have a carload of four kids.

My hands are full of jar rings, avocados, and a crockpot full of red beets.

My mind is full of the dresses that need to be in the dryer, the end-times, (thanks to a certain book I devoured this afternoon) and the fact that it’s 10:00 and two little boys want to go trapping with their brother/cousin at 7 A.M.

But the stars…

My hands are full. My mind is busy. How could I touch the stars?

The Splendor of Light.

Bright white sunlight glancing off fallen snow.

It’s blinding.

I step back inside away from the light. Everything is dark now. So very dark.

In comparison with light.

Light reveals. It makes known. It brings things out of hiding.

I hadn’t thought of the blinding qualities of light.

Light can also hide. Walking directly into a light means I can no longer see.

Nothing.

Only the glaring power of the light.

The splendor of light.

I love the phrase of the song: Oh help us to see ’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.

He is the light. Standing before him, I am blinded by the splendor. I see nothing. Not even Him. All I see is glaring light.

And I forget, sometimes, that He is light.

Or maybe I begin to think that if He really is light, I should be able to see.

But light conceals as much as it reveals.

If you can see too much, perhaps you should ask if you are standing in His light.

The splendor of light.