Of Masks and Mankind

I spent my evening sewing a mask. Six months ago, this is not how I planned to be spending my time. By now I should just be finishing school cleanup and making sure everything is ready for next year. Right now I should be experiencing the euphoria of the end of school freedom.

Instead I’m feeling sad. Also a bit cheated out of those last days of school. It’s worse because I’m not teaching next year. I miss the kids already.

Instead of taking my kids on a springtime hike, roasting marshmallows with them over a fire, and doing science outside surrounded by spring I’ve spent the last 2 months checking homework, working at my brother’s madhouse of a bulk food store and sorting pallets of canned goods at our family cannery.

While thousands of Americans are out of a job, I have three.

I’m thankful for my jobs. Although my summer isn’t turning out remotely how I’d planned, I have nothing to complain about.

Ok, I might complain about the mask. How do I wear a mask and glasses at the same time? It doesn’t work! My glasses fog up with every breath and so I end up alternating between not wearing glasses, which makes me feel weird and half dressed, and wearing my mask under my nose which completely misses the point of wearing a mask in the first place.

I don’t know how to do it.

But that’s really not anything to complain about. We’re having church again. Sitting 6 feet apart and not having Sunday school. It feels oddly normal. Like somehow this is how it should be and I am amazed at how quickly humans adapt to new behaviors and how quickly something can be normalized. Already it feels like it would be strange to go back to before. Strange to interact with another person without any restrictions.

It’s a strange world we live in.

And of all the things that are wrong, here I am, complaining about that mask.

Oh The Words I Would Write

Most of the time I write exactly what I feel like writing but every now and then I come across a topic that I badly want to write about but for some reason or other I don’t. We all tend to have opinions about things that we don’t have experience with and I try to not write about those things because I know that reading and knowing is not the same as doing however here are 10 of the topics that clog my brain and why I haven’t written about them.

1. Vaccines: Spoiler alert. I haven’t been vaccinated against anything ever. Two of my 8 siblings got their baby shots and reacted badly to them. They have struggled all their lives with allergies and asthma. None of the rest of us has ever had a single health problem or been admitted to a hospital. I am not necessarily anti-vaccine but I am anti the current vaccine schedule and I feel like science and quite a few doctors are on my side. However this is such a hugely controversial subject and I’m just not sure I want to fight about it.

2. Salaried Pastors: I feel like this is such an obvious thing that mennonites like to ignore. I don’t think Pastors should have a salary neccesarily but I do think that if you use a but of common sense it would be obvious that if you think your pastor should be doing more than he is, the obvious solution would be to help him out financially so that he doesn’t have to worry about that and can spend more time and use more headspace concentrating on the church. I haven’t written about it because I’m a preacher’s kid and it just seems like it would be wiser to let someone else discuss this.

3. Things teachers would like to tell parents. I am sometimes amazed by how parents blatantly disregard things that seem to me to be obvious. Do you want your child to do well in school? Teach them to be respectful to other adults. Send them to bed on time. Minimize screen time and maximize creative play. Read to your child and read to your child and read to them some more. These are things every teacher will tell you and honestly are all things that are fairly easy to do and yet many parents ignore them. There’s more but I don’t want to be the teacher who complains about the parents because honestly I have some awesome, supportive parents to work with. And I’m not a parent. I don’t have any business telling parents how to raise their kids.

4. Things I would like to say to moms who have small babies. Again, I haven’t written about this because I’ve never been a mom and I don’t like when people who have never been teachers tell me how to be a teacher or people who aren’t preacher’s kids tell me what it’s like to be a preacher’s kid so I will refrain from telling moms how to be a mom. There are moms out there who are doing it right. Please find a mom who raised happy well-adjusted kids and learn from them.

5. Meditation. I simply haven’t researched this enough and I’m not sure how I feel about the spiritual aspect of it. I read The Untethered Soul and was absolutely fascinated by the idea of shutting off the voice in your head but I haven’t achieved that and until I do, I’ll wait ti write about it.

6. Dating. I’ve never dated so I am completely inexperienced. I do think, however, that there has got to be a better way than the current trend of 8 months of infatuation followed by a stressful wedding.

7. Money. I have rather strong ideas about money and how it should be used. I realize that everyone wastes money in some way or another and we all have our justifications of why we do. I’m still rather young to be to opinionated on this and I’d rather not put my foot in my mouth.

8. Things I think are stupid. It’s pretty obvious why I don’t write about this. I love people who do the stupid things and I want to stay their friends.

9. Homeschooling. I am not anti-homeschooling but I’m also not pro homeschooling. I would like to write about why but it’s a very delicate subject and I don’t know if I could do a good job of it. I will say, if your options are homeschooling or public school, please choose homeschooling.

10. The place of creative people in the Kingdom of God. I feel like the church often wastes its valuable resources when it comes to using people effectively. Especially people who are intelligent and creative because they tend to do things that are controversial and try things just for the sake of trying them without much thought about the consequences. I also think that intellectual mennonites tend to not educate themselves to the level of their intelligence (Jordan Peterson Alert) and thus end up as bitter people. This is a huge subject. One that would take a book to explore properly and I am a blogger not an author.

Just curious, which of these are things you have strong opinions about as well? Which ones have you never thought about? Please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Christmas Child

For my sisters, Sharon and Meg, whose children spend today and many days to come with their other mother. You are brave.

You have the heart of God.

Who sent his child

-A child of innocence-

Into a world, uncaring.

You watch him go

With eyes and heart abrim.

He will be hurt, scarred,

And you will watch

But from Afar.

You have the heart of Mary.

Favored. Blessed.

A sword will pierce your soul

And you will ponder deeply

In your heart.

And weep for him

Who is no longer yours.

You trust an unknown plan

To Him who plans it all.

A Christmas day with empty arms

Is fitting.

Another holds your child.

Now hers.

Joy to one means sorrow for another.

Your privilege feels like pain.

And yet…

You know what few can know:

The heart of God.

This Girl

We drove through the darkness with the snow blowing against the windshield.

“I just need to think,” she said.

The darkness weighed down on me. I always grope for the right words while knowing that really no words are the right ones and at the same time any words that are full of love are the right ones.

She’s seventeen and pregnant. She doesn’t need a lot of words. She needs someone to care.

“You have my number,” I say. “Let me know if you need anything”

She says thank you. We chat about her boyfriend and her mom and the GED she is studying for.

“We just don’t know if we can keep the baby or not” she explains.

I am surprised by how much I love this girl. By how hard it is for me to drop her off in front of the dark house.

What does her future look like, -this girl with thoughtful eyes?

What does the future hold for the baby that she loves?

There are tears in my eyes and prayers in my heart.

Creator God

Creator of little things

Of buds, and bugs and birds that sing.

To thee be praise.

Creator of hidden things

Of atoms, molecules, and tings.

I bring thee praise.

Creator of unseen things

Of spirit, soul, and angel wings

I stand in awe.

Creator of awesome things

Of mountain, lightening, fairy ring.

I love thee more.

Creator of everything,

Of all I have, to thee I bring.

Creator of me.

Waves of Grace

I spent a day by the seashore.

Is it cliché to say I spent the day thinking about the grace of God?

I sat on the shore and watched as waves rolled in.

Another.

And Another.

And Another.

And they never ever stopped.I looker out, as far as I could see an there was more water than I could imagine. Everywhere I looked there was more water.And I watched the people. Some went in timidly, others raced into the water as though they could hardly wait. Some stayed on the edge only getting their feet wet. Others dived completely underwater.

There was no shortage of water. It was each person’s choice how far they wished to go in.

So much like grace.

I went in. Loving the feeling of the ocean waves pounding against my body. Big waves and small ones. Some were painful, others gentle and soothing.

I watched the sand on the edge as it washed away revealing beautiful seashells underneath. They would be exposed for a second and then, unless you hurried to pick it up, it was gone. Hidden once more beneath crashing water.

The tide came in. Farther and farther. It snuck up on some people. Some let it come, others fled from it’s advances.

So much like grace.

The bites on my legs stung a bit from the saltwater. Cleansing and healing. Painful a bit, but good

.The sand swirled around me on the edges. But when I walked in deeper, it was calmer, less muddled. More pure.

So much like grace.

I wonder at the lessons the sea has to teach us.

So much like grace, so much like God.

Beautiful.

Awesome.

Eternal.

Never-ending.

So much like my God.

Of Travel and Opportunities

I’m headed for Guatemala, folks. I’m sort of surprised that I’m actually going but here I am, in the airport, waiting for the next 2 hours because of a flight change. And I’m going to learn Spanish. At least as much Spanish as a person with average intelligence and self-discipline can learn in four weeks.It just sort of happened, in one of those cool – this is what life has for me – sort of ways and I am thankful. It will be good for me to be a student again and to simply step outside of my normal life for awhile.I’ve been learning something lately, and I think it might be a big something.All of the really good and adventurous things in my life have happened because there was an opportunity and instead of being afraid I said yes.Take the opportunity in front of you. No you don’t know what will happen but you don’t know what will happen if you don’t take it either.Experiences are worth much more than their immediate cost. They change you and shape you and slowly, before you know how it happened, you are a different person.But maybe you’re happy about the person you are. Maybe your life is the best it can be.But for me, it is worth it. I like the person I’m becoming more than I liked the person I left behind.So I’m going to Guatemala. I’m taking this opportunity and we’ll see what happens.I think when God gives us an opportunity, He’s disappointed when we ignore it and keep going down the same old path. God is a God of adventure.I’m along for the ride.

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.