Monthly Archives: December 2014

My Favorite Book

On this December 31st morning, at 10:24,  I finished reading my favorite book one more time.

People have sometimes wondered how many times I’ve read this book in my lifetime.  I honestly don’t know.  I do know that I have tried to read it through once a year for most of the years of my adult life.  But I honestly don’t know how often that has been.

There is something I do know!  And that is this:  No other effort of my life has changed me so intrinsically as This WORD from a Holy, Loving God.  And even though I’ve been warned that there is no force of hidden power or protection or daily assistance in this “habitual reading,”  I beg to differ.

People say that days only seem to go better,  things only seem to work out for good, life only seems to be smoother because I’ve conditioned myself to believe that.

I beg to differ.

Nothing I can say will change the minds of the scoffers, the skeptics, the  dissenters.  I can only speak what I have experienced. And that is an incredible grace, given to an ordinary Delaware Grammy through the discipline of reading HIS WORD.  I don’t do it perfectly.  I sometimes don’t think carefully about what I’m reading.  Sometimes I prop my head up on my hand on my side of our bed and “get through” — so sleepily I’ve almost fallen out a time or two — or three or four.  Sometimes I find myself needing to catch up when the busy days crop up against each other and I find myself behind.

But most of the time, when I sit at the counter in my kitchen and read the timeless words, the age-old principles, the life-giving doctrine, the inspiring poetry, the laments, the praises, the Godly instruction and even the reproof, I find important things that help me through the maze that is my life.  Through the anxiety, through the sorrow, though the demands of those who depend upon me, through the things I do not understand, through the interruptions, and through the good, good times, this Book tells the story of redemption and LIFE through the Son of God.  I’m here to tell you.  JESUS makes all the difference.

John 20:31  But these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

I believe!

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Christmas in my Heart

It has been an eventful week.  The house is quiet today, for the first time in four days.  The four grands are precious, indeed.  They are smart, cute, verbal, affectionate and engaging.  They are not quiet.  I remember how I wanted so badly to play the piano at my Grandma Wert’s house and how My Sweet Mama always (and I do mean always) said “No.  It will get on Grandma’s nerves!”  It made me almost frantic to put my fingers on it and make a glorious noise.  However, I knew better than to disobey.

Here I am, 61 years old, with four grandchildren.  Three of them are in a family that has a very loud daddy as well as a very musical daddy and here is this Delaware Grammy who isn’t at all anxious for them to try their hands at the piano.  Fortunately for me, it is one (of many) things that their wise parents have made off limits for most of the time.  Actually, this weekend, I don’t know of a single time that they were playing on the piano.  That did not stop the noise and the busy-ness.  Most of the time, the noise was glorious, in that it was not fighting or scolding or screaming or sassing.  It was just little boy and little girl play and little boy and little girl talk and little boy and little girl noise.  How I loved it!

(How I am enjoying this quiet after the storm.)

But that makes me a bit pensive when I think about the silent piano this weekend.  Were their parents sneaking around and shushing them with ,”NO, you may not play the piano!  It will get on Grammy’s nerves!”  I hope not, but I cannot say with any confidence that I KNOW they didn’t use that excuse.

It has been a good season for our family.  We have much to be thankful for, and I rejoice in God’s Gift to the world that long ago night.  A Savior.  Christ the LORD.  Above all else, we followers of Jesus have reason to celebrate.  But I would be less than truthful if I were to act like this season was without its share of pain.  Our world has so much pain.

Last night, I gathered the grands around me one by one and we picked out gifts from the Compassion, Int. Christmas catalog.  Charis was first. She is the oldest at 5.  She wanted the children to have some thing to play with. “Some toys for the poor children, Grammy!”  She picked out some “safe playground equipment.”

Simon, although younger than Charis by almost six months, is also 5.  He crowded in beside me and thoughtfully looked at the pictures.  He was extremely saddened by the picture of the little boy, obviously malnourished, eating rice.  It was one of the first pictures in the catalog, and he came back to it, looking with deep concern at the little guy.  It didn’t take him long at all to decide that his part of the gift would be food for hungry little kids.

“Don’t let nobody else get that,” he said.  “Just me.”

“Well, Simon,” I said to him, “Let’s just see what the others want to do.  I have a feeling that all of you will want something different.”  And he was good with that.

Liam (4) was very serious as he looked and looked at the possibilities.  He wrinkled his face and thought long and hard.  He finally chose seeds for growing vegetable gardens.  “I like seeds,” he said happily.  “I help Mommy in the garden and plant seeds.”  Which, I found out later, is one of his favorite summer things to do.

And then Frankie.  He’s three.  A great conversationalist, and always thinking about what he can get into next.  I went through the catalog with him and explained everything.

“I want to buy SCHOOL BUS!!!”  He insisted. I explained patiently that there was no “school bus,” and that these people didn’t even have cars to take them where they needed to go.

“Look, Frankie,” I told him.  “They do have bicycles.”  He looked at the picture that had two people on a bike, with a basket that was full of parcels, while the people also had bags on their backs.

“Dey should put backpack in dere,” said Frankie, pointing at the basket.  “Backpack in dere!”  He studied the picture seriously, considering buying a bicycle over a bus.  Finally, with his Grammy’s encouragement, he was convinced that maybe he would settle for a bicycle, and our choosing/planning session was over. (Whew!  That was a relief.  I was pretty sure that Grammy wasn’t going to be able to afford a school bus!)

And it did this heart good.  The season has carried a great deal of memories for me, of other years and happier times.  On Sunday morning, in our Christmas program, the carols and Christmas hymns swirled around me, making it difficult to sing as the poignant memories flooded my heart.  Probably the setting we were in had something to do with it.  Daddy and Mama started attending at Laws Mennonite Church when I was two years old.  With the exception of the ten years we spent in Ohio, every single Christmas program has been in that church.  And though I know we have much for which to be grateful, and the accommodations are pleasant and adequate, it just isn’t the same.  And I was homesick for the old white church on the corner of Canterbury and Carpenter Bridge roads.

Especially sharp this year was the missing of people who have gone on before.  As we launched into “Silent Night” there was this pause at the end of the first line — at a place where J.R. Campbell always added an extra bass trill.  I waited, half expecting to hear that clear, full voice chime in the extra notes.  But there was nothing.  And no one filled in for him.  It made me think about J.R. and the essence that was so uniquely him and while my thoughts were those of thankfulness to him for his foresight and careful attention to detail that has blessed us so immensely as a church in this fire, I missed him!  The music, the laughter, the philosophizing, the attention to detail, the artist, the dreamer.

And I missed my Daddy.  It was nine years ago that he went home to Heaven on a night that we had a Christmas program.  It was the Sunday night of December 18th, 2005.  I had taken him to the hospital in the morning, and they admitted him.  He thought they would take some fluid off his lungs and he would go home.  When they admitted him, he encouraged Mama and I to go home.  There was the Christmas program, and he didn’t want us to miss it.  Shortly after we were in the service, a phone started ringing somewhere.  I was aggravated that someone wasn’t paying closer attention to their cell phone, but it stopped and we were singing the carols of Christmas when someone came and got me and said that my Daddy wasn’t expected to live through the night.  We got to the hospital in record time and soon after 9 pm, he smiled his last smile, breathed his last breath and went on home.

I always think about it, but it has been harder this year.  Maybe because of losing Frieda so recently.  Maybe because of other losses in my family.  Maybe because My Sweet Mama’s health is so precarious.  For whatever reason, it has been a little tougher this year than sometimes.

But for all that has been difficult, I’ve still have it so good.  I have enough food to fill the tummies.  I can grow a garden from a vast variety of seeds or little plants.  My trusty mini-van isn’t dependent on me pedaling it to get it anywhere, and the children have safe recreational activities available on all sides.

There is hope for the hollow, empty eyes.

I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything but I can do something.  The something I can do, I ought to do. And by God’s grace, I will.

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Merry Christmas, 2014

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Christmas, 2014 *  Shady Acres Farm * 7484 Shawnee Road * Milford * DE * 19963

Merriest Christmas Greetings to YOU and your family,
“For unto you is born this day. . . a SAVIOR, which is CHRIST, the LORD.  Glory to GOD in the highest, and on earth PEACE, GOODWILL to men.”
Isn’t it wonderful how our days are so filled with the things of living in ways that we cannot miss the hand of our incredible God?  What a year it has been for the family at Shady Acres as well as people we love!  The things that have always been important continue to be what matters – faith, family and friends, but in the accessories (to all three) it has been “pedal down, throttle open, bumpy road” all year long.  Some of those bumps have been difficult to maneuver, but some have been gloriously, giddily exciting adventures.
We said good-bye to family members this year.  In April, Ariel Joy, 16-month old daughter of nephew Jeremy and his wife, Cheryl, succumbed to Spinal Muscular Atrophy (a genetic disorder).  Ariel Joy Yoder.  Girlie with the smile that lit up a room and eyes that never stopped communicating.  She has left a space behind that will always be “Ariel-shaped” but her true legacy is that of Grace, bigger than unanswered prayer, bigger than disappointment and loss, bigger than a little grave in a country cemetery here in Delaware.  Our God is GOOD.
Throughout the year, we watched with uneasy concern the ongoing battle that our sister in law, Frieda, was fighting with breast cancer that had metastasized.  Though there were many happy days, and even weeks that it looked like Frieda was going to be well, in the early autumn, things deteriorated rapidly and at the end of October, she went quietly into the presence of the Lord Jesus that she loved so much.  Frieda Ann Yoder.  Beloved wife, dedicated mom and loving Mimi.  The grief is still too fresh for me.  I rejoice in her victory, and I believe in God’s incredible timing, but it feels like she was so valuable to her family and to God’s Kingdom,  that I don’t even pretend to understand.
The latest difficult bump in the road has affected the church family that meets at the white church building known as Laws Mennonite Church.  In the early morning hours of December 2, two young men vandalized and burned three churches in rural Kent County, Delaware.  One of those churches was ours.  The response of the church family was disbelief, shock, and sorrow.  The ensuing days have proven the resiliency, resourcefulness and optimistic mindset of this congregation.  We’ve been blessed with unity, a sense of family and the will to survive as a flock with The Shepherd.  We’ve also been blessed with an outpouring of prayers, love, offers for help, even monetary gifts from the community and the larger church family.  It has certainly been a case where something that was meant for evil has been (and will be) used for our good.  We believe that God wants to work redemption through this hard, sad and malicious event in our lives, and the attitudes of our brothers and sisters have been encouraging.
 *    I said that some of the bumps in the road were exciting adventures.  Yes!!!  There are a few of them, as well.  Perhaps the biggest news of the year in our lives as a family has been the addition of three Yutzy grandsons.  In September, Raph & Regina adopted Simon, (age 4) Liam, (age 3) and Frankie (age 2).  The boys have been a part of our family since February of 2013 and finalizing the legalities was celebration time, indeed.  The boys have all had birthdays since then so they are 5, 4, and 3.  They have certainly changed life for Raph and Gina and for the rest of us, as well.  Raph is working for The Little Cottage Company in sales part time and was also hired by Grace Mennonite Church as Director of High School Ministries (also a part time position).  Gina spends most of her time being a mommy, but works one day a week at 61 Surplus, a non-profit industry that gives all of its proceeds to help orphans. The answers to prayer that are embodied in Raph and Regina’s family are exciting and energizing.  This is a “God Story” that has so many chapters already.  With deep gratitude, we acknowledge that God has been using many, many people to “write” this story, and it is wondrous in our eyes.  It is also far from finished.
*       Adding the three grandsons has given our only granddaughter, Charis, three new cousins.  She has three little boy cousins on the Bontrager side of the family as well.  When asked by someone if she had any siblings, she said with great discouragement, “No . . .” She thought a little bit and then said, “Just a whole bunch of boy cousins.”  Well, yes, I guess that would about size things up.  Boy cousins or not, we would hate to be without the influence of this girlie.  She continues to make our lives so interesting, has an undying loyalty and affection for her Grandpa, is overjoyed with sleepovers at ‘Grammy’s house,” and is growing much too fast.  Christina & Jesse stay busy with their lives.  Jesse celebrated 20 years of employment at Burris Foods (he’s not old enough, is he?) where he serves as a Systems Engineer. Christina is a stay at home mom and babysits two days a week for Kate.  Charis is in Kindergarten this year, so the family schedule has changed somewhat in these last few months.  Christina recently started a coffee bar for our church on Sunday mornings which has been very well received.  She enjoys people so much, and Jesse is supportive of her efforts.
*      Deborah continues to work for Delaware Hospice evenings, nights, and weekends.  She has spent a good part of this year planning for the trip of a lifetime with her Aunt Lena – a cruise to Antarctica!  They set out for this grand adventure in early November and returned almost three weeks later.  She had a wonderful time!  The pictures are phenomenal, the stories mesmerizing, and her memories rich and impressive.  From doing a polar bear plunge into water that was actually below freezing, to sleeping on the ice without a tent, to waddling with penguins, she did everything that she possibly could– partly just to say that she did it!  She came home to reality, went right back to work and in the last few weeks, has been an integral liaison between our congregation and the cleanup crew that is working at the church.  She has kept the church family informed with pictures and reports and encouraged good feelings on the part of the work crew by conversation, encouragement and even buying them lunch on one of the last days they were planning to be there.
*      Lem & Jess are still in Alexandria, VA.  Jessica continues to work in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Washington, D.C., with many opportunities to use her brain and her skills in the challenges of her position.  She was delighted with an opportunity to travel to Italy for a few days with some girlfriends in late October.  It was a great time of exploring, rejuvenation and renewal.  You can imagine that Lem was really glad to have her home again.  Lem transferred from the doctoral program at Bryn Mawr to the one at the The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.  He continues to work as a behavioral therapist at Alvord, Baker and Associates, a counseling firm with offices in Silver Spring and Rockville, MD.  They still live in the apartment they first rented when they moved to the area, and it has been sufficient for them.  They brought some people to Shady Acres for an early Thanksgiving dinner, and we enjoyed learning to know some of their friends.  They are involved in a small church that is just finding its way from a very recent beginning.  It is exciting to see the way things are working out.
*       Rachel graduated from Cedarville University in Ohio with her degree in Social Work in May, and by the end of June, she was in Philadelphia, PA, beginning the same year long Master’s program that Lem graduated from in 2010.  She found housing with one of Lem’s classmates and began an internship at Joseph J. Peters Institute as a clinical therapist with sexually abused and traumatized children.  Her life has had one of the most bumpy rides of any of us emotionally as she has dealt with the injustices that has been dealt to so many of the people of our society that are marginalized – the children and women of poverty that are so often the victims of humanity that has gone so wrong.  She has also dealt with loneliness in the big city with few close friends and grief, being affected by the family deaths, and also illness in the lives of people she loves.  Rachel still is unsure of where this next year will lead her, as she weighs job opportunities over the college debt that she has accumulated.  Those of you who know Rachel will understand that the “not knowing” is very difficult for this girlie who likes to plan and likes to know what is happening next.  Whatever it is that God is doing in her life at this juncture is going to be valuable and will equip her for whatever it is that He is calling her to do.  As her parents, we are confident in God’s timing and Rachel’s ability to discern what is best, and for that – we pray!
*      And Daniel and I are doing much of the same things we’ve always done.  Daniel has stepped down from his role as the head of the leadership team and is taking a six month sabbatical from all church duties except being the Deacon.  He certainly is less stressed in this capacity and it is good.  He has almost 14 years with the state of Delaware, and continues to plan to be there for a few more years.  He raises chickens and keeps this farm in shape.  We both can tell that we aren’t as young as we once were.  Audrey and Linda are still a part of our household, but both of them are showing signs of aging.  My Sweet Mama has had a very turbulent year health wise, and we continue to seek the best way to care for her while giving her the independence she wants.  What a courageous and resourceful woman she is!
So now you know at least some of what is happening at Shady Acres!  We are so blessed!
Blessings to you and yours for the coming New Year.
~ Daniel and Mary Ann Yutzy

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The Stroke

He sits in a wheel chair, a stocking cap on his thin white hair.  His hands, once so busy and given to expansive motion, will not do his bidding.  His eyes are alive and expressive and he tries so hard to communicate.  I am sitting beside him in the hospital room, and trying so hard to understand.

“I think–” he starts to say, then stops, confused.  He tries to form more words.  “I think–”

I wait.  He shakes his head despairingly and then tries again, “I would say — .”  He looks at me helplessly and lapses into silence.  The sequence is repeated over and over.

I smile and tell him stories about Rachel, our youngest daughter, who is my connection to this man. Stories about papers and professors and accolades and anxieties.  He listens eagerly and smiles and tries to talk again.  “I think –” he begins, and then with conviction, “I think that I think!”

That makes me laugh.  “Oh, J–!  I know you think.  That mind of yours never stops.  I know that you think about a LOT of things.”

He smiles again, and I make conversation.  He says an occasional “yes” and “no.”  And then I take his face into my hands and look into his faded eyes and I talk to him about the gifts that have been given him through no effort of his own — his good mind, and how he has used it to help his fellow man.  I tell him that it truly was a gift, entrusted to him by God and that he has helped so many people with his brilliant mind.  I am just warming up to saying some specific God words to this man who has spurned so many of God’s instructions, and hasn’t trusted Jesus for his salvation.  He has sometimes said things that indicate that his hope is that the good he’s done will outweigh the bad.  And he has done so much good.  Our family, especially Rachel, have been blessed abundantly by his kindness. So I wanted to tell him about the best gift that can be his — just for the taking.  I remind him that he is very loved, and that he doesn’t need words to talk to Jesus.  When no one else can understand what he is trying to say, Jesus knows his heart and he can talk to Him.

And then we are interrupted by a  speech therapist.  It is time for him to have his lunch, and time for me to leave.  His eyes look at me pleadingly, and I stoop to kiss his leathery old cheek.  It is wet with tears.  I taste the salt as I turn to go.

The days are long, the future is so uncertain, the conflict around him intense.  I cannot bear to look back as I leave.  So much of his business unfinished.  So much important still undone. Though he is in his eighties, he always thought that he had more time.  How little any of us know what will be tomorrow.  How quickly life can change.

“Oh, Lord Jesus.  May your love invade his conscious thought, his complex heart.  And may the presence of Jesus be so real to him that he cannot escape it.  May his restless heart find peace.  Please, Lord Jesus.  Have mercy on us all.  In a world gone so wrong, how desperately we need the Savior that the angels announced that Holy night.   Peace on earth, goodwill towards men?  Lord Jesus, may it be so.”


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Holding the Hurt Loosely. Thoughts on Church Arson

The call came in at 5:41. Our friend who is a Delaware State Trooper was on the other line.

“Mary Ann, this is Andrea. Has anyone called you about anything going on up at your church?”

It was still dark outside. My head was fuzzy. “Our Church?”

“Yes. I just came by and it appears that your church is on fire. The firemen are on the scene. Initially I thought there was an accident, but I did see smoke.”

“No, no one has called.” I felt like this just wasn’t true. Who would burn our church? We’ve had break-ins over the years, some petty vandalism, graffiti (that didn’t use Sunday school words) spray painted on the outside, but these incidents were few and far between. Who would burn our church? 

“Well, I’m going to turn around and go back,” she said. “I’ll see what’s going on and I will call you back”

I hung up the phone and went to talk to Daniel. His first response was to get ready to go up to the church, calling the integral people on the way. I started my morning routines, getting ladies up and showered and fed. My busy hands were on automatic, but my heart was in turmoil.

“What could have happened? We had carry-in on Sunday. I wonder if something got left on? Oven? Coffee Pot, Candle? Oh, Lord Jesus! Please. May this fire not be the result of any of our member’s negligence. That would be a burden too hard for anyone to bear. Please, Lord Jesus.

Andrea called back to verify that there was, indeed a fire.

“Do they know what started it?” I asked.

“They are waiting on the fire marshal,” she replied reassuringly. “They will investigate and I’m sure you will have an answer.”

It wasn’t long until Daniel called. The fire marshal was there and had a conversation with him. It seems that there were three churches in the immediate area that had fires within about three hours.

“We can’t know for sure,” Daniel told me, “but it would certainly point to the fact that it was arson.”

I was so relieved to know that this fire wasn’t from negligence on anyone’s part. I know that may sound really immaterial, but one of the things that I have found in these days following this cataclysmic event is that our minds cling to small comforts and somehow, in the greater scheme of things, those small things add up to a bigger, better picture of a God that has our good in mind.

As the story unfolded, we have certainly had ample reason to rejoice. Apparently, a passerby noticed the flames through a church window and called 911. The local fire company had just gotten back from one of the other churches, and were still suited up — they were at the church within five minutes. When they got there, the first thing they noticed was that both entry doors were propped open. The firemen found a critical situation in the auditorium of our church. A pile of hymnbooks, bibles and Sunday school papers as well as some blankets, bedding, and costumes were put under a bench that had been torn off the floor and the whole thing had been used to ignite a bonfire. The church had been vandalized, with every single cupboard and drawer gone through and the doors to the classrooms left open. The firemen said that we were only five to seven minutes from what they call the “flash point.” This is where everything is so hot that it bursts into flame. The clock on the wall was melted to nothing. The plastic speakers in the ceiling had dropped to the floor in a blob of melted plastic. The flowers on the Christmas wreaths and the tinsel on the angel wings, all up in the one classroom where we stored the costumes, were melted. If the fireman had been just a little bit later, we would have lost the whole thing. As it is, though there is terrible damage to so much of the inside, the structure is sound.

One of the biggest blessings has been a gift that we were mostly unaware of until this all came down. Some years ago, J.R. Campbell, as a trustee of our church, had gone over our insurance policy with a fine-toothed comb. We couldn’t have had better coverage. When J.R. passed away earlier this year, we had no way of knowing how his foresight and expertise would bless our little church. It has been so comforting to us, knowing that we don’t have to clean up that terrible mess. Knowing that all the contents were covered, all the cleanup, all the repairs. Everything to return it to its pre-fire condition. This blessing has been beyond our expectations, and we are so grateful.

“Ah, J.R.!!! What I wouldn’t give to see you get into this situation with your knowledge and ability to get what is needed, when it is needed. If you are watching somewhere, I hope you know how much of a blessing you’ve been to us . . .”

The ensuing days have been so incredible. It feels like the slashes across my heart have been filled with healing and love on the part of the greater family of God and our local communities. People have literally come out of the woodwork to pray for us, to offer help, to comfort and encourage and even commiserate. I cannot begin to tell you what is in my heart tonight. So, so much good has come out of this tragedy already. I can only imagine what God has for us in the coming weeks and months.

I know this post has been a long time coming. I am still processing so much. I hope that those of you who are reading it will continue to pray for us, to speak encouraging words. We are resourceful and accustomed to working hard. We want to stay together. I won’t pretend that this has been easy, but I hope you understand when I say that it has been GOOD. And it will be GOOD. We have so much to look forward to.

And once again, my heart gives grateful praise.

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