Monthly Archives: December 2011

CM & CMW and Christmas, 2011

It’s no secret that I love buying Christmas presents for Children.  As our children have gotten older and harder to buy for, we’ve substituted cash for the gifts.  It isn’t as personal, no. but for some reason, when the envelopes are opened, not once have I heard someone threaten to return it!

This year, our lives have been rather involved in the those of the three kids that go to Sunday School with us.  So I began to think about Christmas months ago, and over the last while, I’ve been astounded to find little buys here and there that were “perfect” for them.  I would tuck these little finds into a secret hiding place upstairs in the guest room, thinking that we would fill stockings with the little items.  I had specific plans for the “bigger” gifts.  I wanted a Bible, a special toy, and a warm, colorful throw for each child.  I was so incredibly blessed on every hand.  There were stockings, filled with fruit ropes, candy, chapstick, socks, small toy items like paints, yo-yos, puzzles, as well as incredible buys on the toys, throws and even the Bibles.  It felt like God put things into my way over and over again.

The kids knew that we were going to get them some presents.  They were almost out of control in their excitement.  The three of them have not been in school since before Thanksgiving, and the lack of structure has to be wearing for their poor mother.  Diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, she had surgery the Monday after Thanksgiving, and it just isn’t a good situation.  Even so, I can’t understand how she has money to do her hair and nails, but no money for the things these kids need.

“They can’t go to school,” she said in her lifeless sort of way.  “The school district says they can’t come until they have uniforms.  They have to have Khaki pants and a maroon, white or gold shirt.  I can’t afford any of it.”  She pursed her lips and swallowed like she had a bad taste in her mouth.

“Doesn’t the school have some provision for them?”  I asked.  “Did they tell you where you could get some things for them?  Have you checked at Salvation Army or some of the thrift stores?  I’m almost sure they can have other colored pants, at least, because the neighbor child wears other colors and he goes to Milford.”

“Nah, they have to have Khaki pants.” she said again, “and I just ain’t got the money for that.”  I should have known that she was looking for someone to give her school clothes, but I was too troubled by the fact that these children haven’t been to school.  I shopped unsuccessfully for school clothes for the three of them, and when it came to khaki, especially, there was absolutely nothing.  I finally went on line to check what the restrictions were and found that she had been seriously lying to me.  Not only were the kids allowed to wear other things, (Black, navy, and Khaki pants, and Navy, black, white, gold, maroon shirts) but they were given at least a week after enrolling, to come into compliance with a (very) long suffering dress code.  I knew it was all excuses.

I had promised the children an excursion to Chuck-E-Cheese’s for good behavior and had said that I hoped to take them sometime before Christmas.  With Christmas bearing down on us, and the church going caroling, I thought the last week would be a good week to squeeze some things in.  I tried and tried to call her but her phone was off and the voice mail box “hadn’t been set up yet” (as in NEVER BEEN SET UP in the last couple of months),  It was the Wednesday before Christmas, and it was a blustery, rainy day. I had printed out the guidelines for the dress code and had called and called with no success.  I finally got into my car and drove the eight and a half miles to their place and knocked on the door.  L.J. pulled aside the curtain, and looked out.  Back went the curtain.

“It’s Ms. Mary Ann,” I heard him hiss.  Then complete silence.  I stood on the stoop for a long time, thinking someone would come any minute.  Finally, I knocked again.  He must have been standing right inside the door because he opened it immediately.

“Hey, there, L.J..  Is your Mama here?”

“Um, Yeah.”  He let me in, but went over to the kitchen table where he had some breakfast waffles on a plate, and began working with them.  He ignored me.

“L.J.  I need to talk to your Mama.  Can you get her for me?”

He left the table, and went back into the back of the house.  Standing in the kitchen, it is impossible to see beyond the doorway of the living room and everything is beyond that.  So I stood in the kitchen and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Then he came back and went back to his waffle without saying anything to me.  Muffie appeared on the scene.  So I talked to the two of them about caroling that night and about whether or not they should go.  Muffie said she had been to the doctor and had an ear infection.  Jerry said that he had one to.  I said, “Well, Kids, I really need to talk to your mama, so I can decide what we are doing about caroling tonight and Chuck-E-Cheese’s tomorrow.”

“She’s not feeling good,” said Muffie.

“Well, then, maybe we should just plan that you aren’t going tonight,” I said.  L.J. hopped off his chair and disappeared.  I was feeling more than a little frustrated by this time, and didn’t know if they would go the next day, either. (Especially not if I had any say!)

He came back.  “We ARE going tonight,” he said.

“No, you are NOT going tonight,” I said. 

“Why not?” He asked plaintively.

“Because it is cold and wet and Muffie said that she had an ear infection, and you said you had one, too,  and I am just not taking you out in this weather.”

“What about tomorrow?” 

“I don’t know about that, either.  I NEED to talk to your Mama to make some arrangements, but if she won’t talk to me, how can I know what I’m doing?”

About this time, Muffie had had enough.  She went flying back to the back of the house and came out and said, “Mom said she was going to call you.”

“That may be, Muffie, but I need to know some things NOW.  Wait a minute.  Do you have a pen?  I can write her a note on the back of these guidelines.”

She disappeared again, then came back out.  “Mom said she is going to call you.”

“That’s fine, but do you have a pen?  I am going to write her a note so she knows what I need to talk to her about.”

She went again, and came back with a pen.  I sat down at the kitchen table and began a rather direct note to the mom.  Stating that I felt that she had had enough time to get the kids in school, and that if she didn’t do something about it, I was going to report her.

About the time I got three sentences down, I heard her male friend, tromping through the house.  (He is probably 6’6 and weighs about 300 pounds at least).  “Where is she?” he asked the kids in the living room.

“She’s out there in the kitchen,” I heard someone say.  “She’s writing a note.”

“What’s she think she doin’?” He asked.  “What’s goin’ on.  What she doin’?”

He came around the corner, and maybe I should have been scared, but I was so MAD that I couldn’t see straight.  I had been in the house almost 20 minutes, and I had had just about enough.

“Whas’ goin’ on, Ms. Mary Ann?” he asked, not very friendly-like at all.

“Well, S—- it’s like this.  I went on line to check on the clothing requirements for the kids, and the truth is, the dress code is very lenient.  What you guys are doing here is illegal.  These kids haven’t been in school since before Thanksgiving, and I hate to do this, but unless you do something to get them into school, I am going to report you!”

Wrong thing to say.  (Duh!)  All kinds of exclamations broke forth concerning the fact that she had called, and she had tried, blah, blah, blah!”

I finally interrupted long enough to say, “Listen, S—–, it isn’t good for these children to be out of school.  Muffie already told me that her last report card was bad, and they NEED to be in school.  I would think you would want them to be in school.”

“Wait, wait, wait —-”  He disappeared into the back of the house again, and this time, finally, the mom put in an appearance.  She looked at me through sleepy, thick-lidded eyes, while Big S—– hovered angrily behind her.

“Listen, D—, I am not here to cause trouble, but you guys could be in really big trouble here.  The kids haven’t been in school since before Thanksgiving, and that’s against the law!”

“Well, I called them and they haven’t called me back.”  She was defensive and angry.

“Well, they’ve probably tried.  It’s impossible to get a hold of you.  I can try and try and try, and your phone is turned off.  And you have it set up so that no one can leave a message.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve tried to get up with you and there is no answer.  That is why I am down here now.  I told you about caroling tonight and that I might want to take the kids tomorrow, but I need to discuss things with you, but you never answer your phone.”

“Well, they can go tonight . . .”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea.  Muffie said she has an ear infection, and L.J. said he does, too.”

“Muffie did have one, but it wasn’t bad and she’s been on her medicine, and L.J. doesn’t have an ear infection.”

Big S—– turned his wrath on poor L.J.  “L.J., why you say you got an ear infection?  You ain’t got no ear infection.”

“Yes, I do.  I mean I DID.  I mean–.  No.  I don’t.”

“An’ Muffie, what you runnin’ yo mouf fo?  You say you got a bad report card.  You ain’t got no bad report card.  What you mean by runnin’ yo’ mouf like dat, saying you got a bad report card?” 

Muffie was nonchalantly eating her waffle.  She paused long enough to put both hands up in an expression of uncaring indifference.  “Well,” she said, “I didn’t know what “S” meant.”

He paused in his tirade against the kids and started in on me.  “Ain’t none of dese kids got a bad report card.  Dese kids is all honor roll kids.  Ever’ one of dem.  What you tryin’ to cause trouble for?  She doin’ da bes’ she can.  Da’ school jus’ ain’t callin’ her back!”

D— said to me, “Muffie didn’t get a bad report card.  She got all “S’s.  And the other kids did fine, too.  Milford School District is just slow.  It took three weeks for my kids to get on a bus when we moved from Harrington to Milford.”

I said, “D—, I am not saying that it doesn’t take time, but I just talked to a friend today who told me that she was taking her kid out of one school and putting her into Milford.  She made one call, and within two days it was a done thing.  Finished.  You need to be on this, you need to be pushing to get them enrolled.  It is something YOU need to do, you can’t wait on them.”

“Well, I signed the papers at (the old school) and so it is up to them to transfer the paperwork.  They said I need their shot records and stuff, and a copy of their birth certificates, and the old school just ain’t released them.  Besides, my kids were in school since Thanksgiving.”

“No, D—. they were not.”

“Yes, they was.  They went to school the week of Thanksgiving.”

“Yes, they went to school the week of Thanksgiving, but they had off Thanksgiving day, and then the day after.  Then you moved.  Then you had surgery, and they have not been back since.”

She hung her head and looked at the floor.

“D—, listen to me.  I am not here to cause trouble.  I am here to help.  You could be arrested for keeping your children out of school.  This could really go against you.  It’s illegal to keep your kids out of school, and it will go against you as a parent.  Do you want this on your record as a parent?”

She looked uncomfortable and said in a very small voice, “No.”

I said, “Listen to me, Girlie.  I want to do all I can to help.  I think that you cannot doubt that.  But D—, there needs to be some mutuality in our relationship.  You and I need to be able to talk, to dialog about the kids.  I feel like I’m only good for when you need diapers or gas or food or something for the kids.  I would like some friendship, a sense of respect between us.  If I am going to do anything for your kids of lasting importance, we need to have a relationship.  And putting your kids into school would be good for you.  You are still recovering from surgery.  If the kids were in school you would have some time to rest, some time to yourself. It would be in their best interest and in yours.”

She continued to look at the floor, and I decided to weigh my options.  “I am not going to take the kids caroling tonight.  It is wet and rainy and I think it is in their best interest not to go.  However, would you be able to go in to the school tomorrow and see about getting them enrolled?”

“Well, yes, I could do that.  I guess I will just have to up there to the superintendent’s office in person after two and a half weeks and see if I can sign them up.”  (This is where I had to exercise great resolve to not tear my hair out.  What she was saying again was that the kids hadn’t been out of school nearly as long as they really were.  It was actually FOUR WEEKS that afternoon that they were out of school — and that business of going up to the superintendent’s office in person?  Well, duh!  What did she think she was supposed to do???  But I decided to let it slide.)

“Do you need the kids for that?”

“Um, no.  I have the paperwork.  I can go do it.”

“Okay.  Then I am going to pick up the kids around 9:30 tomorrow morning and we are going to Chuck-E-Cheese’s.  I can’t keep them all day because I have a lot of things going on.  But I will try to get them home around 1:30 or so.  Will that give you enough time?”

“Yeah, that will be enough time.”

“Do you want me to take Little S—— with me, too?  Would that be helpful?”

“No, I can make it okay with him.  Big S—— will be with me, and he will help me.”

“Alright!  Kids — I’ll see you in the morning.”

And so I went down there in the morning, and knocked on the door.  Finally L.J. came out and said that Mya had to do Muffie’s hair.  She’d be out soon.  He came on out and we waited and waited.  Then Muffie came, and eventually Mya.  They were in great spirits, and we had a wonderful day.  I had coupons for Chuck-E-Cheese’s and got a wonderful deal.  They were happy, co-operative and their eyes were shining.  They told me about the presents that they were getting from their parents.  It was a fun, fun, day.  They traipsed along with me to pick up a few things at Sam’s Club and then we stopped at Kohl’s.  I had a 30% off EVERYTHING coupon there, plus there were wonderful sales going on.  We picked up a few things for their parents, and a nice toy for their little brother.  They discussed with me whether they should take the items home to wrap but they were pretty united in the fact that I should take them home and wrap them and bring them on Sunday.  We stopped for ice cream at the Dairy Queen on the way home because I had promised them that they could have ice cream if they were on their best behavior.  And we got home to their house around 2:30. 

I was concerned about things at home.  I had started trying to call D— around 1:30, but there was no answer.  I was relieved as I pulled into the driveway to see that her vehicle was there, so I knew someone was home.  The kids tried and tried and tried to get in, but the door was locked.  I finally said, “They may open up sooner if I’m not here.  I’m going to go on home, and I am sure that they will let you in.  Mr. Daniel and I will be here on Sunday morning a little later than usual because church doesn’t start until 10:30.  I really need to get home, now, though.” They all insisted that they were fine, and that I should go.

So I aimed my trusty mini-van towards home, and prayed for the kids and the whole sordid situation.  I found out later that she didn’t go — but she got a letter that day that gave her a number to call and she DID call it — but it was the last day before Christmas break, so she says they said she has to wait until after Christmas.  We shall see how this turns out!  I am serious about not letting it go anymore.

Middle Daughter wrapped and wrapped and wrapped on Saturday until all the presents were ready.  Certain Man and I discussed and discussed about how we should handle things.  I thought maybe the kids should just come here to open their presents, because I really wanted to watch them open them.  But then I thought that maybe we should just take them down there and leave them, and not even worry about taking the kids along to church.  There was no Sunday School, and I knew they were going to be keyed up.  That didn’t feel right to me, either.  Just before we left for church, I decided that I was going to take the presents along to church, give them each their Bible before Church and then take them home after church and leave the rest of their presents there in the keeping of their mom. I packed their stockings and the smaller items in a big wash basket and began to carry things out to the van.

Certain Man looked at me in surprise.  “What made you decide to take them down there?”

I was ashamed of myself, but I decided to be honest.  “Because I’m a selfish old coot!” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I just don’t feel like having the hubbub, mess and noise at our house this afternoon.  Our kids are going to be home, and I just don’t feel like dealing with it.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said, making relieved tears spring into my eyes.  “I think this is much better.”  He carried the packages out and wondered aloud at the amount of them, but didn’t complain overly much.

We drove down to pick up the children.  Again, they straggled out, tired and groggy, but soon left it all behind in their excitement over their new Bibles.  They were so pleased with their names on the front, and the fact that they were almost alike, yet all different.  They exclaimed and paged and chattered things among themselves that bespoke of such a dearth of knowledge of things Biblical that Certain Man and I were amazed. 

Making conversation on the way to church, I turned around in my seat and said, “Well, how did things go at your house this morning.  Did you open presents?

L.J. looked like someone had hit him.  I couldn’t see Mya, but both Muffie and L.J. turned their heads to look at their oldest sister with stricken looks.

“Um. . .” she fumbled around with her words, then said, “Um, yeah.  We opened our presents this morning.”

I KNEW something was terribly wrong, and I pretended that I hadn’t really heard what she said, and I said, “. . . or are you waiting until you get home from church to open the presents from your mom and dad?”

“Yeah, that’s what we decided to do.” she said, sounding relieved.  “Wait until we get home from church.”

“Yeah,” said the others.  “Wait until we get home from church.”  I had a sudden sick feeling somewhere in the pit of my stomach.  I felt certain that there had been no Christmas at that house that morning.  At all.

The three of them suddenly started looking for stuff in their Bibles.  I suggested that they look up the Christmas story of how Jesus was born.  Mya asked where it was found, and then somehow found Luke 2, and read us the Christmas story on the way to church.  I sat there, listening to the timeless words coming out of the mouth of this child who is so old beyond her years, who has learned to lie and cheat and steal to protect her family’s secrets as well as to save her neck and I could have wept.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The car was quiet after she finished.  Once again, I had to wonder what difference all this would make.  I kept thinking about the Savior, who is Christ the LORD, the Messiah, and prayed again that somehow, some way, some where, some day, the truth of this would soften their hearts and they would BELIEVE.

Just before church started, I took Muffie into a hug.  “There weren’t any presents at your house this morning, were there, sweetie?” I whispered into her ear.

She looked at me, her brown eyes sad and wary.  “No,” she said.  “None.”  I hugged her again, and let her go. Suddenly I was so glad for that big pile of presents behind the back seat of our mini-van. 

We had a wonderful service on Christmas Sunday Morning at Laws Mennonite Church.  Music and Scripture the annual candy bars and oranges for everyone.  Three little kids on our bench wriggled and laughed and caressed their bibles and helped to sing.  It was finally time to go home.  Certain Man and I got everyone loaded and their gifts from their Sunday School Teachers that excited them beyond words, and we were finally on our way.

We pulled into the driveway, and things looked dead as a tomb at their house.  Mya went running in and got the door open.  Someone had made sure she had a key.  The other kids wanted to stay behind and help carry gifts, but we finally convinced them to go on in.  Both of us expected one of the adults to come out and tell us where to put things, or to help carry or something, but we didn’t see hide nor hair of anyone.

“She’s resting,” one of the kids said.  Certain Man and I stood in the kitchen holding the wash basket full of presents, and the stack of things that wouldn’t fit in.

“Can we just bring them on into the living room?” I asked.  “Mr. Daniel and I can set them around the tree, if you want us to.”

Muffie didn’t wait for anyone’s permission.  “YES,” she said her little chin sticking out defiantly.  “You CAN bring them in.”  We didn’t wait for anyone to stop us.  We walked right on it — a first for both of us.  The Christmas tree stood there in nice array — but not one single gift anywhere.  Nothing to be seen.  Certain Man and I separated things out with the help of the children.  There was sweet camaraderie, conversation and companionship with the excitement of little people, almost unable to contain their joy at the sight of the growing pile of things that was each of theirs.

And then, the basket was empty.  The presents all given out and into the piles and Certain Man and I looked at each other and wondered what to do next.  “Well, Kids, I guess we’ll be going,” we finally said.  They only had eyes for their presents as they lovingly arranged and rearranged and adjusted.  They didn’t ask to open anything.  They didn’t shake or rattle a single thing.  They just looked and gently touched and in hushed tones, discussed.

Certain Man picked up the basket and we let ourselves out, leaving them there in the living room, shutting the kitchen door behind us.

“Well,” said Certain Man.  “You would have thought their parents would have at least came out!”

“You would think so, yes,” I said, half to myself.  We got into the Mini van and came on home.  Home to our house that was full of warmth and light and love and the adult children we love so much.  And once again, I had to wonder about how God chose me to go to Mark and Alene Yoder’s house that long ago day when He was making that decision.  I wondered at the Grace that has caused the lines to fall in such pleasant places.  I am so grateful for parents who taught me about this Good News — a Savior, which is Christ the LORD.

And I’m more aware than ever that “from those who have been given much, much will be required.”  I refuse to entertain thoughts of “deserving” because I know that if I got what I deserved, I would NEVER get Heaven.  And so, when it seems like what we do is but a drop in the bucket against the tide of headlong destruction, I want to believe that the end of this story will only be told in Heaven.   In the meantime, I pray for grace to be faithful to the calling.  And, once again, someday when we are THERE, if even one of these kids makes it safely home, it will be MORE than worth it.


Ah, LORD Jesus.  May it be so!



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You might still be getting this . . .

Christmas, 2011

Shady Acres * 7484 Shawnee Road * Milford, DE * 19963


Warmest Wishes to our Loved Ones who are scattered all over this big old world:
     Our family Christmas is over, and the house is sounding rather empty. The washing machine is chugging away, and the house is returning to some resemblance of order, thanks to the welcome and efficient ministrations of Middle and Youngest Daughters. Certain Man has been busily addressing envelopes. I’ve been pondering this letter and the contents thereof —
     It has been an eventful year at Shady Acres. In the terms of “good” and “bad” it would be easy for me to term this year as one of the “bad” ones, to be sure. But something about this season always makes me long to put meaning to the events of the year, and once again, there have been blessings “exceedingly abundant” that have been showered down upon us, and it is a good time to focus on the good things. Thankfully, we feel that one of those good blessings is our family.
     Daniel is still working for the state of Delaware as a plumbing inspector. He has significant pain in his one knee, but continues to resist replacement. He rarely spends an entire night in bed because of the pain, and hopefully, one of these days he will decide that “enough is enough!“ and get on with it. Daniel is a man of so many talents and dreams, and he constantly has something interesting going on. Clocks, woodworking, gardening, landscaping, Christmas Village, etc., make for a busy man. He still serves on the Leadership Team at our church, but eagerly anticipates the time when he can turn those responsibilities over to a younger man. He would enjoy continuing on as Deacon but time will tell what is best. It is safe to say that being Grandpa to a little girlie is his most favorite job of all.
     Christina and Jesse are immensely enjoying parenting that little girlie. What a gift this child has been to all of us, but especially her Daddy and Mommy. Charis will be three in April, and it is difficult to imagine our lives without her. She has quite a vocabulary, and often amuses us with her comments, singing and antics. Christina doesn’t work outside the home, but babysits for Weston and Stephanie Yutzy’s little girl, Kate, two days a week. Jesse still works for Burris Foods as a Unix administrator. He and Christina have been worshipping at Cannon Mennonite Church for the past several months, and though this has been a difficult thing for us, we are committed to blessing our adult children in their spiritual journeys.
     Deborah was offered a full time position with Delaware Hospice in April and decided to leave the Intensive Care Unit at BayHealth. She is a GOOD Hospice nurse, and is well suited for this job. She has traveled again this year; to Thailand to visit Rachel and also took a trip with her Aunt Lena, this time to the Baltic Sea area with a cruise! The two of them had a wonderful time, and Deborah looks forward to traveling some more with her Auntie. When Deborah isn’t working or traveling, she has been renovating the rooms upstairs that she calls her “apartment” with impressive results. The middle room that has always been a bit difficult to know how to manage, has become a homey and attractive library, with a door that goes out to a sweet little balcony that overlooks our driveway and nestles under the shadows of the stately Magnolia tree. Deborah has her Daddy’s eye for design and the two of them amaze me! She is planning to start on what had been the boys’ bedroom (currently HER bedroom) right after Christmas. That will be quite an undertaking, to say the least.

      Raph and Gina are still living in Millersburg, OH. Raph works at Troyer Furniture in Sugar Creek, in both sales and delivery. Gina works for Dutch Quality Stone in Mt. Eaton as a receptionist. They were home to DE for Thanksgiving and again last weekend for Early Yutzy Christmas, so we saw them twice in a little over three weeks, which was nice! Raph, outgoing and friendly as ever, has made Regina’s home community his own, and we are glad. The two of them are involved in their church youth ministry, and Raph serves on the worship team, playing drums for both morning services. Their little apartment has grown increasingly unsatisfactory for them and they are in the market for a house of their own. Raph’s Dad had his name in our family gift exchange and through a series of small miracles, was able to give him one of his most asked for items – a ukulele. He immediately set out to master that little instrument. I’m impressed at how much he’s learned already.

      Lem and Jess are at the King of Prussia, PA, address, where they’ve been for almost three years. Jessica works for the Veterans Administration in Philly, and Lem works as an outpatient therapist as well as a school therapist for a mental Health organization. He is working at building a private practice and hoping to start on his doctorate. Jessica is almost done with her masters, with plans to graduate in May. We get to see them fairly regularly, for which we are grateful. Both of them are involved in their church, and enjoy meaningful relationships with other young couples. In early November, the people who make up their house fellowship came to Shady Acres for lunch and an afternoon of games and country air. In the evening, they roasted hotdogs and drank great quantities of hot beverages and made s’mores and went on a hay ride and nearly froze themselves, but WE had a great time, and they profess to have enjoyed themselves, too. We hope to make it a yearly adventure.

      Rachel. It’s hard to know where to start, and I’m sure I won’t know where to stop. She began the year in Thailand under the REACH program of Rosedale Mennonite Missions. The experiences there were exhilarating and heartbreaking. We watched and prayed and this Mama often shed tears – but Rachel did just fine. The months seemed to drag on and on, but FINALLY! August rolled around, and she and her teamies came home to the U.S.A. Ten days later, after her debriefing. Daniel and I went to Ohio to fetch her home. I just couldn’t get enough of looking at her face! What incredible joy to have her home again. All the kids came home and we spent some sweet time together – but it was again, all too short. Five days later, she headed out for Cedarville University in Ohio to begin her sophomore year of college. She is doing well in their social work program, and is more certain all the time of her calling in life. She is home now for Christmas break, and is following a number of social workers this week at the Delaware’s Department of Disabilities as part of her in-service requirements, and that is as interesting for me as it is for her. It makes my heart swell when she comes home with stories of meeting people that I’ve worked with for the last 25+ years. I look at this Youngest Daughter who has never known our home without the presence of the handicapped and disadvantaged and realize how this has equipped her for what God has called her to do. I am even more humbled by the realization that this enabling is because she has chosen to respond with love to those who are less fortunate.

      Speaking of the Department of Disabilities, we still have two ladies living with us. Cecilia has been here for almost 12 years, and Nettie for about five and a half. Both of them are integral parts of our household, and are a blessing to us as a family. Cecilia is pretty much a permanent fixture to the alcove beside the kitchen where she can hear what is going on in the household. When someone doesn’t stir for a given amount of time, we are likely to hear a loud “Har-rumph!!!” which means that Cecilia just needs to be reassured that someone is around. Nettie has had a less than satisfactory year with her paranoia, and some days it seems as if we are dealing with some dementia along with her mental illness, but God has been good to her and us, and some medication changes as well as just lending a listening ear has seemed to help. She turns 65 this year, and thankfully, that makes her eligible for a few more integral services.

      My Sweet Mama has had a tough, rough year. She has not been well with one thing or another a good bit of the time. We have been careful to stay in touch with her doctors, and have tried numerous remedies and medications, and she has been slowly improving. I look at her familiar face some days and feel a sense of alarm at her color and even the pain that I see written there. She is such a good Mama, and we keep hoping that she will get better and have some good days yet. Arthritis in her ankles and feet make it hard for her get around a great deal of the time, but she’s a trooper, and she keeps plugging along. And she will always miss her soul companion and the love of her life. Six years. It does seem like a long time.

      And that covers pretty much everyone but me, I guess. Honestly, I hardly know what to say about this year. I am so grateful that my “new” knees continue to function even when I subject them to seemingly unreasonable demands. Also, it has been a rewarding year with the Thursday Morning Bible Study Gals. I thoroughly enjoy these young mothers and their children. My hands and heart have often been very occupied with three kids that seemed to just drop into our lives from nowhere. Mya, L.J. and Muffie lived in the house just down the road from us, and started coming to Sunday School early in the year. Though they have moved twice in the last six months, they still often come for supper on Thursday evenings and stay to play. Beautiful, beautiful children that, though I love them intensely and with intent, I often find myself wondering if anything we do will really make a difference for eternity and Jesus’ sake. I don’t intend to quit trying, but I do continue to pray constantly for wisdom – and courage—and PATIENCE (and I need it right now!). Daniel and Deborah are both naturals with children, and I rely heavily on their support and help when the going gets tough with our “three musketeers.”

      In October, it felt like the losses would overwhelm me. We lost a beloved uncle, Vernon Zehr, after a brave and lengthy battle with Hepatitis. The day after his funeral, my Daddy’s twin brother’s oldest son, Merlin Yoder, was involved in a farming accident, and died of his injuries. Merlin’s death shadowed many of my days with questions and sadness that I just couldn’t shake. In the middle of that struggle, a suspicious area showed up on a mammogram, causing me some anxiety. (It needs to be watched but is deemed okay for now). It was in this time when I was trying to make sense of all of these things (and lots more!) that God reminded me that it is important for us to live with faith and purpose especially when things don’t make sense to us. This simple message has given me, not only HOPE, but direction and courage. These honest emotions are not ones to bury and pretend they don’t exist, but we don’t have to deal with our sadness alone, and even when things don’t make sense, we can still TRUST this Heavenly Father who promised to never leave us, never forsake us.

      There are many stories from this past year that have directly affected my life that are not mine to tell. Our family has faced and continues to face challenges that are difficult and carry much potential for both good and ill. I hope that our Christmas letters will never paint a picture of perfection or of easy living. This is life, and if there is a place called “Easy Street” we certainly haven’t found it. That being said, we are children of The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We’ve been given so much and we ought to live in joyful thanksgiving. Any sacrifice we make, any sadness we may endure, any losses we encounter, all pale in comparison to what God did for us through His Son, Jesus.   May you and yours know and love Him, too.

Blessings to your family. May this season be one of Hope!
Daniel, Mary Ann and Family


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The Beautiful Faces of the Families of My Girls —

Dorie appropriates a “stirrer” for a straw


Cousins play with their new cars



Alex wonders where his car went . . .

“Oh, there it is!  I want it back!”
(There was a semi-peaceful resolution)


The kids find the stairway a good place to congregate


Thank God for Helping Hands!


Brothers in law and friends


Bethany and her girlies


Daddies enjoy their kiddoes

Ethan and Queena enjoy Bryan and Shamar
(These two young men were very engaging and polite)

More conversation


Cherise’s Three Sons


Derrick gives motion to a fuzzy bunny



Ah, James-boy!  All Sweetness and a big smile


Delaney finds a cozy place to perch


Don’t even ask.  Because (honestly!) I don’t know.

April with the wonderful oreo cookie torte that she contributed to the dessert table



Dana and her David.  Or is it David and his Dana?



Normie and her sister, Kathleen.
How thankful we are for God’s protection over Kathleen and her unborn baby
when she was involved in a traffic accident just four days earlier.
Mama and baby are both fine.


Forty people.  Nine families.  Eight churches represented.
These gals light up my life in so many ways.
They wrote kind and encouraging things to me for Christmas,
and gave me the gift of time away with the promise to care for my ladies
while Certain Man and I go to California sometime in the next few months.

You girls are the best, and I love you more than I can say.
May none of you ever forget that you are
Hold your heads high,
Your possessions loosely,
Your loved ones tightly,
And keep your hearts soft.
Heaven Knows we need more Godly Women in this world.
It is my prayer that every one of you will be known as such.




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Annual Bible Study Gals’ Christmas Dinner, 2011

We got together in The Gathering Place at Laws Mennonite Church.
What a great time we had!
These gals and their families light up my life!

Queena  Mast, her husband Ethan, with Dorie and James


Normie Stutzman, her husband James and Alex


April Garthwaite, her husband, Kent, with Daniel, Sarah, Hannah and Victoria


Bethany Simpson, her husband, Craig, and Lizzy, Colby, Ryan, Emily and Jeni


Jessica Burkholder with husband, Davey and Katie


Cherise Campbell with Bryan, Shamar and Rodney


Dana Boreli  with husband, Dave, and Danika, Derick and Delaney


Kathleen Maurice with Son, Amani (Husband, Blaize, was working)


Christina Bontrager, with Husband, Jesse, and Charis

Random shots later —


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All these days . . .

My favorite picture from this day — Middle Daughter reads Christmas stories to The Kids

In other news:

The village is up, and Certain Man has the best Christmas Village EVER!:







And the manger scenes are up, too.
This is one that my family has termed the most unusual.
It comes from Central America and is made entirely from seed pods.
I LOVE it!


And this one,  (below) Deborah brought home from Estonia.
It is all fabric and softness and roly poly people.
It made me feel so happy the first time I saw it,
and it continues to cheer my heart every time I look at it.
THANKS, Beebs!

It is largely Deborah’s doings that the decorating got done this year.  I just didn’t have the heart to decorate the way I usually do.  But she plowed ahead with things until I finally got with the program, and I am really pleased with how she arranged things.

Which brings me to another thing — we really are glad when there are friends who stop by to enjoy the village and to visit the manger(s).
You can call ahead, or you can stop by on whim.
There’s hot chocolate and freshly made party mix. 
We’d be so glad to have you!


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In the quiet of this evening
as I look back over the day
I realize that there has been
The Joy
that has been so elusive over these last months
walking this day with me.

My heart rejoices.

It’s been too long.

The sorrow has been so deep.

The Joy so elusive.

But tonight
thanks to the prayers of gals who love me
and the mercy of our Heavenly Father
some extra sleep
some answered prayers
and some accomplished tasks —

I feel the stirrings of joy,

and I give grateful praise.

I know, I know.

The Joy is not dependent on circumstance.
(at least it shouldn’t be)

But sometimes hope comes wrapped in understandable packages

And the hope gives The Joy free reign.


On another note . . .

I do hope my sweet Mama won’t be angry at me for putting this picture on–
but if you could say a prayer for my Sweet Mama, it would be appreciated.
She has caught some sort of bug–flu or upper respiratory infection — and is really miserable.
The doctor doesn’t think it is terribly serious,
But she could still use your prayers.



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