Monthly Archives: January 2012

. . . And now, the actual post from January 31, 2007

Ah, Ethel, I remember, I remember.  And remembering, I miss you, still . . .

She would have liked it.  The service she so carefully planned.  We all did our best, and I could almost see her peering over the edge of Glory saying, “You’d better get it RIGHT!”  (We tried, Dear Friend, we tried!)

I have been trying to remember how it was that we became friends.  There were so many years of laughter and suppers out and confidences shared and good, good times. 

 I remember one time while Certain Man was still a self employed plumber that we girls, Ethel and I, decided to go out for lunch together.  This was something we never did without our husbands, but we felt like doing something different for a change, so we made our plans and were amused at our husbands’ exaggeratedly aggrieved airs.  They made some mention of having a secret of their own, but these fellows often made such statements that were intended to arouse curiosity.  We settled ourselves comfortably in the restaurant of our choice on this particular day, and had just gotten our salads, when who should come down the aisle but our two men.  We were both surprised, but even more astonished when they continued past our table, on around the restaurant to a table on the other side.  (They had gotten the hostess to take them on this deliberate parade around the restaurant)   There they ate their lunch with the highest, mightiest air imaginable.  We thought maybe they came to be nice to us (NOPE!)  or to pay our lunch for us.  (They didn’t.)  We thought maybe they wanted us to come join them.  (Negatory!)  Something!!! We could hardly believe that they were miffed about us going out without them.  (They were!)  We secretly thought it was pretty funny, but I suppose you could say the guys won that one.  We never did that again.

The road was not all easy.  We didn’t always understand each other, and sometimes, understanding,  chose different ways of responding.  I am so thankful for these last few years when we could reconnect, forgive each other, learn to extend grace to each other, and there, found a friendship that was was rich and full and rewarding.

Ah, my Ethel Friend.  You were a friend that sharpened me as iron sharpens iron.  You made me think, you made me go back again and again to God’s Holy Word to see just what it REALLY said.  You were full of courage, you didn’t ever consider anything more important than TRUTH, and you were never afraid of confrontation.  I can truly say that I do not remember a time when you were cowed by what people thought.

You were strong.  You were consistent.  You were beautiful.  You loved JR and John and Brian and Evanna and Brianna and Briar with a love that sought their good, knew them intrinsically, and in the harsh, heartbreaking knowledge of your soon homegoing,  equipped them for life without you, and made incredible memories.

Today, surrounded by so many people whom you loved and who loved you, I find my heart so numb.  The busy-ness of these last few days was easier for me than the waiting of the last few weeks.  There was finally something to DO besides wait.  But in that busy-ness, I feel a numbness, a sense of the surreal.  Right now, I am so thankful that you are done with this old world and its heartache and pain and suffering and disappointment and grief and loss.  But there will be a time — No, there will be many times when I will look for that smile, when I will listen for that inimitable voice that so often said, “Yes, but, Mary Ann——-!!!!”  and I will miss the friendship of a gal whose very difference from me gave me reason to love her.

I’ll see you in The Morning!


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Just thinking back to five years ago at the end of January. . .

This picture was taken on January 27, 2007.

What a lot has happened in those five years!

Do you have a picture or a story from five years ago?

I don’t have enough time this morning,
but I could (quite literally) write a book!

Thank God for His incredible grace!
His undying love.
And the Hope of Heaven.


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Charis sleeps over . . .

One of the funnest things in the world to do is to sleep over at Grandpa and Grammy’s house.

Grammy lets me wear her nighttime reading glasses and jump on the bed!

And I make up a song and jump and sing and watch myself in her mirror
and it is fun, fun, fun!!!

“I wook jus’ wike Gwammy,
Fah, wah, wah, wah, wah!!!”

(Poor  child . . .)



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Christmas is over, and the decorations are down.  All that’s left is the Christmas Village, and Certain Man hopes to take it down soon.  He had planned to take it down this weekend, but decided to wait another week because of some extra activities this weekend.

When we take down the Christmas decorations, we take down the Thankful wall.  This is how it looked, just before we took it down and stashed it away for future reference:


And I want to post this one entry, made way down in the corner, just before the tape came off:  I think it was one of my favorites, written by our girlie who does the artwork for the Thankful Wall each year.  



“Middle Daughter,” “Deborah,” “Beebs,” “Beeba, “Auntie Beebs,” whatever you might be called at the minute, nothing that you might be called can change the fact that you light up our lives so many days in so many ways, and we are so glad you belong to our family!


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On Gluten Free Unleavened Bread

One of the blessings of being the deacon’s wife at Laws Mennonite Church is that I am responsible for the emblems for communion.  I don’t so much care for getting the linens ironed and ready — except that our tablecloths were provided for our church by the late Anna Stoltzfus.  Anna and her husband, Lewellyn, died in a terrible accident in the autumn of 1988, and I never iron those two identical white, laced edged squares without thinking about her.  She and my Sweet Mama had quite a history together, and there is much to remember.  I like to iron them up all crisp and fresh just before the communion service. 

The bread and the grape juice (we Mennonites don’t do the “wine” thing) are something that I sincerely love to do.  Back when we first started, we used regular homemade bread.  It was at least something I was good at — soft substantial loaves, all properly done.  We tore them apart and shared them with joy.  And I made the grape juice in a big old steamer on my kitchen stove, canning jar after jar for my family and always, always, at the back of my mind was the thought of communion and my church family.  It warmed my heart to be able to use my hands to make the symbols of Our Lord’s Body, broken for us, and His Blood, shed for us.  It has been a sacred trust, and I was humbled yet so, so, glad.

Over the years, we’ve changed how we do things when it comes to the bread.  More and more, it felt right to make the switch to unleavened bread, so I searched and experimented and finally came up with a recipe that was theologically “right” and palatable as well.  I always made extra, so that there was some to share with the children and even adults after the service.  There was never any to take home. I will confess that I have never liked it as much as I do just the regular bread, but it does seem appropriate to use unleavened bread, and the recipe I used had a good flavor, and was easy to chew and swallow.

But now we have some members who are gluten intolerant.  I never thought too much about it until one of them said something about just bringing her own gluten free bread and “trading it out” before actually partaking.  This just felt uncomfortable to me.  What should we, as the body of Christ, the company of believers, do in this situation?  It troubled me greatly. 

So I started to look for gluten free recipes for unleavened bread.  My friend, Emma, told me that I didn’t have to look for special recipes, I should just trade out the flour with gluten free flour and experiment a little, and she thought I could come up with something.  And so I’ve been experimenting.  We’ve had gluten free unleavened bread for two communions now.  And people are kind.  Everyone has been supportive.  And our gluten intolerant friends kindly take the leftovers off my hands at the end of the service.  (I’ve noticed that people don’t clamor for leftovers, though, as they would when the bread was otherwise.)

And I’ve struggled more than a little with this thing.  I really don’t like the flavor of this gluten free unleavened bread.  I have “doctored” the recipe and tried to make it easier to chew and swallow, easier on the taste buds, nicer to look at, less difficult to dispense . . .  (don’t know if there is and “etc.” here or not, that might pretty much cover what I’ve tried to do with it) and I feel like I’ve had minimal success.  It makes me sad, like I was failing somehow in my responsibilities.  After muddling about in this vague sense of “something wrong,” I realized that this thing about the bread had shadowed my enjoyment of our communion service.  That has caused me to look more closely at what it is that I’m trying to do here, and why.  This is always dangerous, because it uncovers motivation and wrong attitudes and even theology that can be a bit askew.

First of all, I needed to deal with why it is so important that I have the perfect emblems for communion.  It is clear in the Scriptures that Jesus’ body wasn’t something of esthetic beauty.  Much as I like (and will continue to enjoy) a simple, yet attractive communion table, (crisp linens, polished serving dishes, purple grape juice, bread that is made just right and arranged attractively) that isn’t really important. 

Secondly, why is it so important that it is palatable?  This business of being a part of the sufferings of our Lord Jesus is real.  We can talk about the “easy yoke and light burden” but there are still a LOT of times when following Jesus calls us to go against what we want to do, what we want to hear, what we want to say.  Sometimes it is just “hard to swallow,” if you know what I mean.  I am reminded of the bitter herbs that were a very real part of the Passover feast in the Jewish tradition, and I wonder again at this gospel that wants everything to be so easy.  And sweet.   And enjoyable to swallow. 

Being a Christian is a celebration of joy.  Serving the Lord is not something laborious.  Of all people we should live lives that speak to the truth of Freedom in Christ, of Grace enough for me, of Forgiveness through Jesus, of Life, and Hope, and Joy, and Peace.  And it should be so attractive that people WANT to be a part of it, that they should be drawn by the love and the sense of family that we have in our Church Family.  And we should share this good news.

But we should also remember that when we come together to share in the LORD’s Supper, we are coming together to commemorate His Suffering.  And if the bread we share isn’t all that palatable, maybe it can be a reminder of the fact that we are a brotherhood.  By choosing to share the bread that all can eat, we are bearing one another’s burdens.  In a very small way, we are sharing in the LORD’s suffering, and we should eat it with joy.  He did so very much MORE.  What a little, little thing for me.


23 “The teaching I gave you is the same teaching I received from the Lord: On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread 24 and gave thanks for it. Then he broke the bread and said, “This is my body; it is[c] for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, after they ate, Jesus took the cup. He said, “This cup is the new agreement that is sealed with the blood of my death. When you drink this, do it to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes.”
I Corinthians 11:23-26 ncv


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What kind of noise are you making?

It was such an exciting, heady time.  I was 17, and by some inexplicable happenstance, had been chosen to be a part of The Rosedale Chorale.  It was the 1970-71 school year at Rosedale Bible Institute, and what a wonderful time we had! 

I say inexplicable because I do not have all that great a voice.  Even our director, John O. Yoder, had admitted one time that I had pretty much gotten into Chorale on the basis of experience, more so than talent, but it didn’t really make a difference.  Once you were in, you were in, and I wasn’t about to leave of my own free will.  So.  I stayed.

We did the usual routine of Chorale Tour and made the customary record.  We gals all had red dresses of the double knit variety—and those things wore like iron.  Night after night, program after program, we persevered, and it was the kind of thing that forever memories are made of.

Then our director got the bright idea that we should come back to the recording studio, Heralds of Hope, and record another session of music that would be useful for his father, J. Otis Yoder’s, weekly radio program.  It suited most of us to do that, and back we went when school was out for the year.

We were good!  (I’m certain of it!)   John was a good director, but there was a lot of talent, clear voices, deep voices, with that tight, glorious harmony and the wonderful, old, timeless hymns of the church sung in classic, pure arrangements that are just so traditional Mennonite.  (It makes my heart ache to remember that sound!)

I said before that I don’t have that great a voice.  It wasn’t all that great back then, and it has deteriorated over the years.  It has gotten “reedy” and mostly lets me down on anything over the “Middle C” mark.  Gone are the days when I could sing for hours, and even longer gone are any illusions of grandeur.  Exposure to truly great voices has played a part in that, as well as something that happened during one of the final days of the recording session.

I was feeling unusually optimistic that particular morning.  I was singing with all my heart and soul and voice, and putting lots of expression into my efforts.  To be honest, I thought I was doing pretty well, sounding good.  But then:

Brother John spent a little time over on our side of the chorale, listening to us wondrous sopranos with interest.  I thought he was paying unusually close attention, and I redoubled my efforts.  Just singin’ my heart out.

Imagine my surprise when he paused beside me between songs and looked kindly at me.  “Be a little careful,” he said softly, “of the noise you are making this morning.”


I toned it down kinda’ gradual like.  I didn’t want to admit that I was making “noise” and I for sure hoped that no one heard what he had said to me.  Oh, yes.  And my feelings were hurt, my confidence shaken.

 But I’ve thought about that incident many, many times in the years since then.  Sometimes when I think I am really doing really good as a Christian, sometimes when it seems to me that what I’m doing is noteworthy or impressive or laudable, that my song is soaring, sweet and notably above the others, I remember those quiet words:  “Be careful of the noise you are making,” and I am set back on my proverbial heels.  What sounds so wonderful to our ears just might be “noise” in the ears of our Heavenly Father, as well as the rest of the world.

What this world needs is a song of hope and comfort and peace and JESUS, not some self-righteous noise coming from a prideful heart.   That kind of noise can ruin the sound of the whole chorus – the music of the mighty chorus of the Church of Jesus Christ.  How often we are just making noise?

I don’t know about you, but I’m resolving once again to be a little more careful of the noise I’m making.


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Another Story

I was inviting kids to Bible School that day in June, 1971, when I stopped at a split level up on Canterbury Road.  The door was opened by a child, who called the mother of the household.  I asked about the children going to Bible School and noticed that she didn’t look at all healthy.  She was uncertain about whether the children would be able to go, then said, “Do you know of anyone whom I could hire to be a mother’s helper?  We have four children, and I am not well.  I’ve been trying to find someone who could come in two or three days a week to help with cleaning and household tasks.”

To say that I was completely delighted would be an understatement.  I had just gotten back from three terms of Bible Institute, and was looking for a part time job doing just such a thing.  I must have sounded foolish as I stammered, “Uh, actually, I am looking for such a job at the current time.  What would be involved?”

We discussed VERY briefly the possibilities and I said that I wanted to talk to my parents, but that I would get back with her.  I took the phone number and left.  I had no idea what a path my feet had just embarked on.

For two years, I cleaned and chauffeured and did laundry and baby sat and even did some cooking.  All the while, Fran took care of her precious children, teaching and training and investing and loving them as only a mom who knows her time is limited can.  Sometime in the spring of 1973, she went to the hospital.  We didn’t know it then, but time was short.  Even in those pain filled days of the final stages of breast cancer, she was an amazing woman.  I would climb the steps to her room in the old Milford Hospital, and she would ask questions about the kids, and wonder about all the things on the outside.  There was a bridal shower that she had wished and wished to go to, but just couldn’t manage.  So I loaded up the gifts and hauled them up to her hospital bed.  Her face was shining as she fingered the beautiful lingerie, inspected the various special gifts and discussed the particulars of the night with me.  She took such interest in the details of our wedding, clucking and worrying.  One day she said to me, “Mary Ann, have you gotten your wedding shoes yet?”

“Yes,” I replied, joyfully.  “I found them at Lou’s Bootery!”

“What do they look like?” She demanded.

I thought she sounded a little pettish, but I tried to describe them to her.  “They are white flats, Hush Puppies, with a strap buckle . . .”

“Could you bring them up here so I could see them?” 

I had already shown her my wedding dress — homemade, of course, but perfectly lovely in gorgeous eyelet and so carefully sewn by my sister in law, Rose.  That had her stamp of approval.  But shoes???  Oh, well.

“Well, sure.  I guess so.”

So the next time I went up to see her, I packed the shoes carefully in their box and toted them along.  I came into the room where she was dozing, but she quickly willed herself awake to see what I had brought.  I opened the box and she carefully examined my pristine shoes.

“Oh, Mary Ann,” She said with obvious relief.  “They are very nice.  I am so relieved!”

I must have looked very puzzled.  What was this about my shoes, for pity sakes?

“Now, Mary Ann,” she said with that amused, patient look on her face.  “You know!  You have such FRUMPY tastes when it comes to shoes!”

Oh dear.  I did???

I loved her too much to have my feelings hurt.  Besides, I remembered the day when they had given me the key to their house while they went on vacation, and I had cleaned the house for them, but inadvertently left my flip flops behind on the steps going to the upstairs bedrooms.  Poor Fran  was certain that they couldn’t have been mine because they looked, well, so manly!  She was confident that there was a man lurking somewhere in the house and had made her husband search the house thoroughly before she could rest.  When I came to work the next time and claimed my flip flops, she was almost miffed that they were mine.  She instructed me often on the finer arts of femininity.

And I honestly could not believe that she was going to die.  But she did.  Just ten days before our wedding, on July 4, 1973, we got the call that she had taken flight.  She was 35.  Her four children ranged in age from seven to twelve.  I had already technically finished my job at their home and had trained in my replacement who would do a fabulous job, but when I got the call, I asked if it would be helpful if I came out to the house.  Fran’s father asked if I please would.  And so, I did.

It was a hot, hot day.  I helped get lunch on for the family, the four kids around the table with their grandpa and their daddy.  The children were quiet, but their mama had been in the hospital so long, it was just one more thing for them to assimilate — except her youngest son.

“There’s something in my throat,” he said to his daddy.  “It just sticks there.  I can’t seem to swallow it down or get it to come up.”

His daddy gathered him into his arms.  “Ah, Jimbob,” he said brokenly, “I can read you like a book.”  And he held him gently.  The phone rang then, and it was a neighbor asking if maybe the children wanted to come over and swim for a diversion.  I remember that their daddy said that their mama would have wanted them to go, that a distraction was a good thing, and so, we traipsed across the yard and the children, for at least a little bit, forgot their sorrow.

In the days that followed, they planned a memorial service, friends and relatives came, and Fran’s sister decided to take the children back to Alaska with her for the rest of the summer.  The oldest daughter stayed behind long enough to serve as the guest receiver in our wedding, attending with her daddy and grandpa, and then she joined them.

Why am I telling this story?

Two weeks ago, the oldest daughter’s death was in the paper.  She died at 51, an untimely and unnecessary death.

She was an incredible girl.  She was the perfect athlete, brilliant enough to be valedictorian of her high school class, a graduate of Duke University, a corporate lawyer, a beloved daughter and sister, a wife, a mom, a friend.  I honestly do not know the particulars of her passing, but it has made me so sad.  I was at her wedding 20 years ago or so, and she was so promising.  I can only imagine the sorrow of her family.

These past two weeks, I’ve been thinking so much of those days with her family, going over and over those happy times, remembering so many pleasant things.  One of the things that Fran often made for her family was beef stew in her dutch oven.  Over and over again, she would instruct me exactly how she wanted it.  And after all the layers were in order, she would say, “Then throw in a couple of bay leaves, Mary Ann.  That will give it just the right flavor.”  Ever since then, beef stew in a crock pot or dutch oven evokes such happy memories for me.  Healthy, shiny-eyed children, around the table, shoveling in their mama’s beef stew, as oblivious to the preciousness of the moment as children can be.  I remember her delightful gaze at them, how she reveled in their accomplishments, encouraged them in their endeavors, and dreamed such dreams for them.  I wonder what they remember.

This week, I hauled out my new crock pot, layered the ingredients in it just the way she taught me.  I threw a few bay leaves in there so it would taste right, and I spent the day smelling that wonderful smell and remembering.

Ah, Jennifer, Jennifer. If I could only turn back the years. I would listen more, I would NOT lose contact, and I would not have been caught so flatfooted by this sad, sad news. It is my prayer that you have come safely home to Heaven, and that your life, so tragically shortened, will yet shine and light the way way for those you left behind. That you will be remembered for what you did that was right and good and exemplary, and that someday, on that peaceful shore, I pray that I shall once again see your lovely face.



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