Monthly Archives: May 2012

Points of Grace

I was traveling the familiar road between Greenwood and Milford today.  It is a road that is as familiar to me as almost any road in the entire world.  I live on this road, for one thing.  For another, it was the road that connected my childhood home with THE CITY as we knew it.  Any real shopping, grocery or otherwise,  was always done in Milford.  My paternal grandparents lived in Milford.  It was a road well traveled.

Close to one end of the ten mile stretch is the Greenwood Mennonite Church.  We called it “The Brick Church” when I was a little girl.  And my Grandpa Yoder referred to that final couple miles as “Molasses Street” because it had so many Mennonites on it.  My family history lies rich in those miles, with great aunts and uncles, and even my Great Grandfather Val Bender’s house, along that stretch.  Uncle Eli and Aunt Amelia Swartzentruber, Uncle Milt and Aunt Savannah Swartzentruber, (living in the old Church/School House that had been converted into a home) Uncle Nevin and Aunt Esther Bender, Uncle Ted and Aunt Pauline Beachy, Uncle Eli and Aunt Lucy Schrock. Their houses lined the road in intervals along the way, and sometimes, my Daddy’s cousins and my second cousins would settle on family lands on either sides.

Along the way, there was a small settlement that we called “Staytonsville.”  It had a little store, and across the field were the rickety shacks of what we knew as a “Migrant Camp.”  My Daddy had a special interest in the camp, and for a while held Sunday School there.  I remember going along with him as a child, and being in awe of the poverty and dirt and the dark skinned faces of the children.  Life there was so transitory, because the migrant workers followed the harvest, wherever it would take them.  It was usually abandoned by autumn, though I do remember smoke coming out of the smokestacks at least one winter.  Sometimes when I go through the intersection that we still know as Staytonsville, I look across those empty fields and remember that camp and wonder where the children are who once were there.   

Somewhere in the middle is a section that we call “Holly Swamp.”  When I was a child, it was a thickly wooded area where the trees on either side spread their branches across the road and made a long green tunnel in the summer time.  It looked mysterious and beautiful and majestic.  It was one of my favorite parts of the road.  The years have changed that segment, and houses have sprung up in the woods, the woodland has been timbered out, and the changes have stolen the charm somewhat.  It still has some beautiful spots, and some of the houses are pretty, but by and large, it doesn’t begin to have the enchantment.

Just before entering the area that we knew as “Holly Swamp” there is a long, sweeping bend in the road.  This is the bend in the road that is a special Point of Grace for this Sussex County Gal.

It was the spring of 1973.  I was nineteen years old, just months from our summer wedding, and working in Milford for Dr. and Mrs. Crabb and their four young children.  Fran was in the final months of her life, holding onto the little things of life with all her might, enjoying and loving her children and her pets with the urgency of the dying, and taking up the sadness for all the injustices of the world. Into this mix came a litter of abandoned kittens, sending Frannie into a cataclysm of worry and sorrow.  She already had two dogs and a passel of cats in the house, most of whom were not really housebroken.  They had a new house, and the animals were seriously leaving their marks in destructive ways.  As much as Dr. Crabb loved her, he refused to allow the kittens to stay.  She had to find a home for them somehow, somewhere, someway.  But not some day.  It had to be pretty much immediately.

She was worried, and sad, and she told me the whole sordid tale when I came to work one morning.  I immediately told her that I thought we could take the kittens.  They would be barn cats, but that wouldn’t matter, they would at least have shelter and food.  Fran eagerly accepted my offer, and when I left that afternoon, we loaded them up into a cardboard box and put it on the floor of my little Volkswagen beetle.  She put a warm shirt in the box to comfort them while they were journeying, and I set out.

Things went pretty well for a few miles.  The kittens cowered on the bottom of the box, adjusting to their strange surroundings, and then one of them decided that he really didn’t like it a bit.  He leaped up onto the seat and clawed his way around.  I was on a fairly straight stretch of road right then (for you locals, the stretch just before Blacksmith Shop Road) so I kinda’ put him back down into the box and threw the shirt over him.  Suddenly, I saw that he had crawled into the sleeve and it was a really tight pinch.  I worried about him, thinking of how I was going to explain to Mrs. Crabb if he smothered on the way home, so I reached down and picked up the shirt and tried to shake him out of the sleeve.  He was not to be dislodged, so I shook the shirt harder.  I thought I was watching the road very closely well, at least somewhat, but suddenly, two things happened that imprinted themselves forever in my memory.

The first thing was that I heard some strange bumps under my car and I looked up just in time to see the front of my Volkswagen plow into the road sign that marked the curve for the opposite side of the road.  Mowed it right down. I had just crossed over the line of oncoming traffic and the shoulder and was sitting in the grass along the left hand side of the road.

The second thing happened at almost exactly the same time.  There was this whooshing sound as a big step van went past just a few feet from where my Volkswagen had stopped.  It had “Elvin Schrock and Sons Plumbing” on the side, and I saw the frightened face of either Merlin or Marlin looking out the window at me like they couldn’t quite believe their eyes.  It was exactly at the place where my car had crossed the line of oncoming traffic and somehow, the angels had seen fit to carry me safely over that busy lane of traffic onto the grass with the only damage being a slight dent in my front bumper from hitting that sign that was on a single stake.

It is said that the young feel invincible.  That may be true, but at that minute I felt anything but invincible.  I thought about all the possibilities — not the least of which was what happens to the passenger in an old style Volkswagen when that empty front end hits a big old step van head on at 55 miles an hour.  I’m pretty sure those kittens wouldn’t have survived. 


Actually, I knew that I would not have.  I don’t know how long I sat there, but I was incredibly shaken.  Eventually, I put my car in reverse, backed off the sign, and waited for a break in the traffic, then got back on my side of the road and headed through Holly Swamp towards home.

I am not exaggerating a single bit when I say that this experience literally changed life perspective for me on many fronts.  I decided that I must have been spared for a reason, that God could have taken me straight home that day if that had been His will.  I definitely felt like there was divine intervention that day, not because I was good, or because I was living right or any of those things.  I felt like God had something for me to do.  Not big and grand and mighty and glorious, but that I was to live purposefully,  with enthusiasm and gratefulness.

I don’t think about it every time I go around that corner, but more times than not, I do.  I try to never miss a chance to thank God for allowing me to live, to have the life I’ve had.  And I try to remember that all of life is a sacred trust.  None of us knows about tomorrow.  And until the LORD comes back to take His Church Home, none of us will get out of here alive.  Our times are truly in HIS Hands, and He does all things well.  Even choosing the length of our days. 

Oh, yeah.  Another thing.  I learned that that there is no substitute for keeping your eyes on the road.  You shouldn’t make your Guardian Angel work too much overtime.



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The voice and the request and variations on the request were all too familiar.

“Do you think you could help me out with my electric bill?  It’s $292.00 and they’re gonna’ turn it off.  I got my check, but I had to pay my car insurance ’cause I cain’t let that go, and I cain’t pay the electric bill and the insurance, both.”

“You don’t have any money for it all?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“No.  None.  But we’ll pay you back.  I promise.  I can pay $24.00 a month until it is all paid off.  You’ll get your money.  We’ll pay you back.”

“But, Dawn, that will take you over a year at $24.00 a month . . .”

“Well, then, we could maybe pay you $30.00.  Or whatever we could afford.  We’ll pay you what we can afford.”

“I can’t tell you what Mr. Daniel will say,” I said to her.  “He is the one who makes these decisions.  I will talk to him and let you know.  I should tell you, though, that I don’t think he is going to be willing to pay all of it.  When is it due?”

“Not until the 23rd.  But I like to get on these things before the last minute.”

“That does give us some time, though, and I appreciate you not waiting until the last minute.  I will talk to Mr. Daniel and see what he has to say.

She was quiet, then, not making promises any more, and the conversation soon ended.

I talked to Daniel.  As deacon at our church, he has been inundated with requests this month for food and diapers and electric bills and almost anything people can think of.  There are just a lot of needy, desperate people right now.

“Can they come up with any of it all?” was his first response when I told him about this request.  It involves “Our Kids” so it sits a whole lot closer to our hearts.  What will happen if they turn off the electric?

“I don’t know,” I said, but hastened to add, “I sometimes think that she asks early so that if she happens to have any extra money, she can go ahead and spend it and doesn’t have to save it for the electric bill.”

He pondered things awhile, then said, “They are going to have to come up with part of it.  They need to at least be responsible for half of it.”

So I told her the next time that I talked to her that we would pay half, and that she needed to be trying to come up with the rest of it.  I could tell she wasn’t happy about it at all, but it is one of the things that has brought so much peace into my life — to remember that God didn’t make me the deacon, and when Daniel feels that something is the way it ought to be, it is just far better to do it his way than any other.  Besides, it gives me someone to blame it on.  (UH-HUH!  I am like that!)

They came last night — all of them piled into the vehicle so that mama could pick up the check.  She came in and watched as I wrote it out for half.  I made it out to the electric company, noted the account name on the memo line, and handed it to her. 

She looked it over, then said,”Do you think the Electric Company will turn it off if this is all I can give them?  It’s a deferred payment and all that I’m behind in.  Do you think they will accept this?”

“I don’t know, Dawn.  I know the City of Milford Electric is sometimes pretty unreasonable, but I don’t really know what your agreement is, so I really can’t say what they will do.  You weren’t able to come up with anything for the rest of the bill?”

“No, nothing.”

I felt terrible, but I also had this strong feeling that we were not to bail her out.  So I hardened my heart and I said, “Well, Dawn.  You are going to have to figure this out.  I guess you will have to take in what you have and see what they have to say.  Mr. Daniel said ‘half’ and I need to do what he says.”

She looked stricken, but headed for the door.

“I want to come out and see the kids.”

She didn’t say anything, so I followed her out.  I was tired last night, and wasn’t feeling the best, but I poked my head up against the four inch window opening and tried to talk to the kids.  But I couldn’t totally miss the exchange going on in the front seat.

“No.”  I heard Dawn say.  “NO, she didn’t.”

Seneca made a protest noise in his throat and Dawn shook her head at him with pursed lips.  He made another comment under his breath and she again shook her head.

“I don’t know.  We’ll talk about it later,” she said grimly.  The kids weren’t paying any attention to me.  The were somber, watching the adults, and almost unable to respond to my questions at all. 

I decided that I felt bad enough and that the discussion wasn’t beneficial to any of us, so I bid everyone goodnight, told the kids that I loved them and went back to the house.

The phone rang this evening and I saw it was from them.  I almost didn’t answer it, but decided that I had better.

“Ms. Mary Ann, I wanted to tell you what happened with the electric bill and everything.”  There was an unfamiliar tenor to this voice.  “Last night, I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed and prayed.  I just took my Bible and went into my room.  I wasn’t being ignorant or anything, I just needed to be alone.  And I prayed and prayed.  I kept telling God that I didn’t know what to do.  And then, this morning, there was a knock at my door.  Two years ago, someone I worked for borrowed a hundred and twenty dollars from me, and they paid it back!  I didn’t think I was ever going to get it, but they came this morning and paid it back.  With what the church gave and what I had, it covered the electric bill!”  She was so excited she could hardly contain herself.

“Dawn,” I said, when I could finally get a word in edgewise, “this is the stuff that you really need to be sharing with your children.  When God answers prayer like this, it is the way that children’s faith grows.  You need to be sure to tell them this story.”

“Oh, I know,” she said.  “I tell them all the time that prayer changes things and that we need to pray about things.”

“Also, Dawn,” I said.  “I want you to think about something else.  If Mr. Daniel had given you the money for the whole electric bill last night, you would have missed this excellent provision of the LORD.  If it had been up to me, I would probably have thought we should give it, but he felt so strongly that we should not, and he was right!  This gave God the opportunity to provide for you and your family in a special way.  This is so wonderful!”

Did she grasp it?  I don’t know.  But I do know this.  I have an even deeper respect for the things that God impresses on my husband’s heart when it comes to things like this.  It has happened often enough that you would think I would have learned by now to just trust him.  Maybe this lesson was as much for me as it was for Dawn and her family. 

Whatever.  I just know that it “sets the joy-bells ringing in my heart!”


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Passing on the Culinary Expertise

Today is a bittersweet day for this mama.  Deborah is making the family’s bread for the first time ever.  I began baking bread for my family when I was pregnant with Deborah, and have been making it ever since (except when I was very pregnant with the ensuing babiesand my husband ordered temporary reprieve).  This morning, I brought up the very last loaf of the batch I made just before surgery so I could pack a lunch.  Daniel said that I could not bake — yet.  Beebs has been saying that she wants to learn, and so, we decided that there was no time like the present.  She has done everything herself (with verbal instructions) and I am so proud of her.  Three little girlies whose daddy is doing some work in our trailer came to watch and “help.”  Here the oldest (who was, by far, the most interested) is being her usual engaging self


Not going to comment on everything —
But for the most part,
this is a sweet day at Shady Acres.

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New Wrenters

A few weeks ago, before surgery, I purchased this hanging fuchsia from my favorite greenhouse:

I have been so happy with it, as it promises to be an attractive and prolifically blooming addition to the front of our garage.
I placed it between the two doors, and have watered it faithfully.

About a week ago, I thought it looked like there was something strange in the top of it, and I put my hand in there and came up with an egg.  I quickly but it back, and came in to try to find out what kind of bird it was.  I thought it might be a Carolina Wren, but I wasn’t certain.  When I called Daniel to tell him that I had picked an egg out of the planter, he was not very happy.  He loves the different nesting birds around Shady Acres and he was quite certain that if I had touched the egg, the mama bird would not come back.  I didn’t want the bird in that particular location because watering the plant was going to be a problem with a nest in the top of it.  I waited a couple of days, and decided to gently take the planter down to look at what was happening.  When I lifted it off the hook, a very startled Mama Wren took off, and inside, I found four eggs.

I cut a slit in the side of the bag so I could water without disturbing her, and it seems to be working out okay.  She stays put through almost anything–
(Except a camera appearing over the edge!)

This makes me so happy!




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Monday Morning Eggs and Pork . . .


Youngest daughter,  Rachel, with the mother of my “Faraway Daughter” Yajaira Ruiz.  Hortencia came this morning with egg and sausage — a Mexican dish that Rachel loves.  She also brought cheese tortillas.  She laughed and hugged Rachel, and wiped tears, and hugged Rachel, chatted brightly with Deborah and Rach, and sometimes turned to wipe those tears, and then went away.  I thought about the fact that it has been over four years since she could hug her Youngest Daughter, and now, I’m crying, too.  I could almost promise you that there are tears falling in that trailer across the lane where a Mama, who loves her girlie as much as I love mine, is once again reminded that immigration (and its complications) is far more than a legal issue.

Ah, my Lupe-girl.  How very much your family has paid for choices made — not only BY them, but FOR them.



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What is left of last night’s super moon.
(I REALLY wish I could have seen it last night.)

But Wow!  It’s the kind of night that looks all sparkly outside!


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Days of recovery . . .

I’m concerned that this business of sleeping in, sitting around and taking it easy could become habit forming.   I have never taken things so easy in my life.  I really, truly do feel like I’m in the recovery time for giving birth, but there is no baby to take care of, no older children to look after.  Nothing that I HAVE to do.  And while it is nice to be able to take things easy, it is also a bit disconcerting.  I think I get this antsy feeling honestly.  My parental families have this thing about “being a burden.”  And even though my family has been so incredibly gracious, I do feel like a burden here.

I have been so blessed!  Tasty, wonderful food, unexpected visitors, people filling in for me.  It seems like every day has brought surprises that delight and encourage.

Before I ever left the hospital, my sisters brought me this basket of Calla Lilies,
Three different colors:

Exquisitely elegant, and one of the things I have never invested in for myself–
(but often wanted!)
I was so tickled, because I can plant them outside and they should come back every year.
My sisters know me better than probably anyone else outside my husband, kids and Mama.
When they visited me on Saturday afternoon, it did more for my recovery than anything else.
Sarah and Alma — You are the best!


On Monday, My cousin, Donna, stopped by with a window box
From the Ladies at our church.

She was worried that I would have maybe wanted cut flowers.
I would a thousand times rather have a window box over cut flowers!
This was so perfect!

I already found a place for them on my deck railing
outside the window that I can see from my chair.
It probably won’t stay there,
since Certain Man pointed out that it blocks the view of the bird feeder–
but it can go one side or the other, and I can still see it.
So incredibly cheery with the white and red and green.
Thank you, so much, dear friends!  And the suppers brought by Ilva and Loretta, and the cookies from Emma —
Plus errands run and encouraging words, — Well, you gals are wonderful friends!

And then today, by UPS, no less, I got a delivery from a California plant company.
There were strict instructions for the box to be upright, and all was carefully packaged–
Again, such a special gift — a new houseplant.
(I do love me some houseplants!)
This one came as a gift from my sisters in law, Lena (from California)
and Rachel (from New York).

I set it there beside the family picture of Certain Man’s family —
Before the youngest sister, Ruth, was born,
Before his mother, Katie’s untimely death–
And then, in 1981, his brother, Joseph, went in a truck accident,
And in 2010, His father, Ralph, also left us for Heaven’s Shores.
The only three in that picture who are living today are
Lena, Rachel, and Daniel.
Today, I look at the beautiful flowers, look at those faces,
And I’m so grateful for all that God has given me in Daniel and his family.

There is one more flower that cheers me in these days of recovery.

Last Fall, I brought home a piece of a plant from my Sweet Mama’s house.
I stuck it into some water, treated the base of the piece with some root toning stuff–
And it took off.
I have never seen such gorgeous leaves, and it blooms almost constantly.

It reminds me of my Mama and her flowers
and how she would grow things on the kitchen windowsill.
I had a terrible time growing anything when I was first married.
Daniel’s grandmother, Florence Yutzy, would sometimes come into my house
And surreptitiously slip her finger into the tops of the containers of African Violets
And usually, she found them dry.
I would always be repentant and try to reassure her that I would try harder.
But she was so gracious to me, and she would say,
“Now, Mary Ann!  Don’t you worry about that.  Someday you will grow flowers.
Right now you are growing children, and that is more important!”

She didn’t live long enough to see that I have, indeed, grown flowers
In these years since my children are grown. 
She would have especially loved this flower, and would have exclaimed over it.
(Probably wanted a “slip” to start one of her own.)

So, Mama, this flower is a reminder to me of you and your love for beauty
and your knack with growing things. 
Houseplants will always be a part of the legacy you’ve left for me.
And Grandma Florence — Thanks for not giving up on a young, inexperienced
mama and for encouraging her to grow children while the time was right —
But also for giving me a hope for the “someday” that has somehow become NOW.

“Lord Jesus, I give grateful praise . . . “



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