Monthly Archives: August 2016

Monday Morning in the Bean Patch

I went out to my bean patch on Friday afternoon, and looked very sorrowfully at the beans hanging there. It looked like there was a lot there that were ready to be picked, but I knew it was going to have to wait. I was getting ready for church retreat and there was just no way that I would be able to get to my patch yet that afternoon.

“Maybe I can scurry out here in the morning,” I thought hopefully. “We don’t need to be at camp until 11, so maybe I can squeeze that in before we need to leave.”

The thing was, I wanted to make cinnamon rolls for our church family for brunch on Saturday morning.  Friend Torre was spending the night with us, and she would help me put the dough together when we got home, and all I would need to do would be to roll out the dough and put the rolls in the pans in the morning.

Friday night was hotter than all get out at Mardela Springs camp.  Certain Man took a big chicken house fan along to try to move some air, and we milled about, sweaty and sticky in the big room.  It was noisy with the hum of the big fan and the conversations that went on between the adults and the playing of THE LITTLES.  We ate hamburgers and hot dogs and ice cream and lemonade and tea and finally came home around nine.  I had gotten Friend Normie to stay with OGA and BL, because they really do not like going to Church Camp under aesthetic conditions, much less ones that are noisy and hot, and I was so thankful they were already in bed when we got home.  Torre and I got the dough mixed up and into the refrigerator, and I went to bed.

In the early, groggy minutes soon after five the next morning, I was aware that I had a really insistent headache.  This is not my usual malady.  I almost never get headaches, but I did that morning and I tried to go back to sleep, hoping to sleep it off, but then I remembered that I had cinnamon rolls to make, and that I wanted to pick them thar’ beans, and so I decided to get up and get moving and see what I could get done.  I came down to the kitchen, got some medicine and a cup of coffee and sat on my chair for a bit.  I was soon feeling rather muchly better, so I got the cinnamon rolls started and worked at straightening the kitchen, looked for a recipe for sticky buns that didn’t have milk, got BL up and showered, got OGA her breakfast, and kept my eye on the time.  Then I started the icing cooking on the stove and called Friend Normie and told her we weren’t going to be gone before at least nine-thirty.  I fed BL, iced cinnamon rolls, and inverted the sticky buns onto a hard flat surface and called Eldest Daughter to see if she could pick up the cinnamon rolls and sticky buns to take them over to camp.  Whew!  She could!  That was a big load off my mind.

I kept thinking and thinking about the Lima beans hanging on and thought about just giving them away to someone who would pick them.  But it’s been a slow year in my bean patch, and even though we’ve had some good eating, I haven’t frozen a single bag of this year’s crop.  This wears hard on this Delaware Grammy’s heart, but as  the time got shorter and shorter until our intended time of departure, I realized that there was no way that I was ever going to make it out there before we left for Mardela Springs.  I decided to just wait and see.  Maybe we would be home before dark –?

We weren’t.  And it doesn’t work very well to pick Lima Beans by the light of the moon or the beam of a headlight or even the steady beam of a LED light, plastered against a sweaty forehead and held in place by a big piece of elastic.  I gave it up for the night and went to bed.

Sunday morning came, and it was off to camp again.  There was the usual last mad flurry of activity where church members cleaned up and then Daniel and I delivered non-perishables to the church, took some leftovers to a local homeless shelter for veterans and pulled into our driveway at about 3:20.  We unloaded our ladies and emptied our mini-van, then dropped the van off at a repair shop for a Monday morning appointment and came back home to catch some rest.

“Maybe I should go pick those Lima Beans,” I said to my weary spouse as we walked to the house after parking his pickup in the pavilion.  “I know it is Sunday, and all that, but I also think I am going to lose quite a few the way it is.”

“Well, you don’t want to go do it now,” he said.  “It’s too hot!  Besides, you should take a break!”

“You’re right,” I said, “but do you think it would be okay to do it later, after it cools off?”

“I guess you can do what you want,” he said, without enthusiasm.  And headed up the ramp into the air conditioned coolness of the farmhouse at Shady Acres.

I followed him in and did some serious thinking.  I thought about my Daddy.  I thought about hay down in the fields on  a Saturday night, needing to be baled, but his unwavering commitment to NEVER doing unnecessary work on Sunday.  I thought about how he would leave everything sit over the Day of Rest, and then get back to it on Monday.  I thought about how he would leave his farm on busy June evenings to be the superintendent for Summer Bible School at a little country church in the rural Frederica/Felton area and how hard he worked to bring children to Bible School.  I thought about people who had no religious sense of obligation, who planted and cultivated and harvested whenever it seemed like a good time, who thought that Daddy was foolish to sacrifice so much for “so little” in monetary rewards.  I remembered Daddy saying to us children, “Always remember that God doesn’t settle His accounts in September.”

I thought and thought, and knew that I was going to wait to pick beans until this morning.  Daniel wondered about what I was going to do, and I said, “I’m just going to get out there in the morning, first thing, and I’m going to pick those beans, and what I lose, I lose.”

Through the early morning while I changed the washer, made beds, showered BL, fed breakfast, and did meds, I thought about my bean patch.  I had sent some fervent prayers Heavenward, begging for protection and that the patch wouldn’t have too many dried and ruined bean pods.  Maybe God would choose to bless the decision to wait until this morning, and give me an overabundance of beans for my freezer.  The longer I thought, the more excited I got to just see how God was going to make this my best picking ever.  Or at least this year.

I put BL on her bus after telling OGA that I was going straight to the bean patch immediately after she was gone, and headed out for my garden.  I got a five gallon bucket from Certain Man’s stash, and contemplated taking the second one that I had convinced myself I would need, but then decided that I would just come back for it.  I left it down where it was easily accessible, and started down my first row.  The dew was heavy, and the sun was warm.  Even with the cooler temperatures, it was still a hot, wet job.  I picked the first five feet and got about that many beans.  Five.  There were almost no dried, brown ones, but neither were there many that were full and ready to pick.  I searched the plants high and low and wondered if I would even get enough to make this worth my time.  The second five feet yielded another ten or so, but also had wilted, green and yellow pods hanging lifelessly from the stems.  The leaves were mostly full and lush, and there were plenty of blossoms, but there were almost no beans to pick.  I looked at the bottom of my five gallon bucket and it wasn’t even covered.  I wondered about my optimism and hope for a good picking this morning.  I couldn’t say that there were terribly many that went to waste, so far at least, but there just wasn’t the abundance I was looking for.  I thought about how I was planning to give God the glory for a great crop, and about how encouraged I had planned to feel if I hadn’t lost very many and had a better than expected picking.  I wasn’t to the point of feeling resentful, but the temptation was growing in my disappointed heart.

And then in my pocket, my cell phone began to ring.  I checked the screen and saw that it was from my brother, Mark, Jr.  I wiped my fingers off on my t-shirt and swiped the screen.  The voice on the other end was subdued, but warm.

“How are you doing?”  We exchanged pleasantries, talked briefly about my bean patch, his bean patch and how nobody’s bean patch seems to be doing well this year. And then he said, “What I really called to tell you was that I got a phone call this morning that I’ve been sort of expecting for a long time, but I still don’t know how to deal with it.  (—-) took his life last night.”

In that millisecond, time stood still.  Around me, the dew still hung on the bean leaves.  The cicadas made their crazy noise and the crickets chirped.  I felt the sucker punch of denial and sadness and shock and regret settle in my stomach with a sick, sick feeling and I tried so hard to not believe what I had heard. (—-) was a childhood friend, born between Mark, Jr. and me.  He often spent the summer days at our farm, playing with Mark and turning brown in the sun.  He was allowed to go without his shirt and he could make those offensive noises with his armpits and he showed off his skill often to the point of sometimes being obnoxious.  I remember his skinny, sinewy arms and his shock of blond hair.  He loved to tell stories and among our family treasures was this one.

His father had taken to doing a little farming in the fields beside their big white house, and one of the crops that he planted was some corn.  Young (—-) watched the corn with great interest, and lo!  And behold!  There came a day when it sprouted tassels out the top the way corn is supposed to, but this phenomenon had never been observed by him before.  He came striding down to our house with the air of something to tell.

“You’ll never guess what!” He said with great excitement.  “My dad planted all of his corn upside down!  The roots are growing straight up in the air!”  He paused a bit for effect and then said, shaking his head with disbelief, “How dumb can you get?”

Life so often disappointed him.  He never married, and had a succession of failed relationships, failed enterprises, and failed dreams.  He often told my brother, “You’re the only friend I have.”  Mark was always kind to him, lending mowers and other equipment to him, always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, always trying to speak Jesus into his life, but also sought to give him the space he 0ften desperately seemed to fight for. And now he was gone.  The thought hung heavy in the morning air.

“I know he had choices,” Mark was saying now, and I brought myself back to the bean row and his voice.  “But on mornings like this, I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for the home that we had, for the parents and the upbringing we had.  Sometimes it just seems like there are some people that are just so shortchanged on so many counts.”

I looked at my almost empty bucket of beans and thought about how easy it is for me to expect God to do the special things or give special gifts because I am keeping my attitude right or because I am doing the right thing, and I suddenly felt so ashamed of my petty expectations and my selfish heart.  There was more than enough reason to give glory to God and to shout aloud His praise.  He had given me so much in so many ways that counted far more than a bean crop from a Delaware summer.  I finished my call with my brother, and looked at the sum total of beans in my bucket.  It wasn’t even half full.

But my heart!  My heart!  It was brimming over with praise for God’s incredible Mercy towards me in a thousand ways with every single breath.  I felt the sting of sadness for our friend and his family, and I don’t think I will ever make my peace with suicide, but I also can stand in the presence of an almighty God and lay the questions at his feet, and decide to trust Him with the things that I can never personally explain.

God doesn’t settle His accounts in September.  And God’s mercy is not measured by a five gallon bucket that is standing almost empty.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

And so, my heart gives humble, grateful praise!

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Church Retreat, 2016

Another church retreat weekend for Laws Mennonite Church is history.  It feels like I have some perspective on the weekend as I sit in my chair in my air conditioned house after getting some down time.

The weekend felt like it was terribly long — until today when it was suddenly over.  There was the usual scramble to divvy up the leftovers, clean the kitchen, and get the dining room/gathering place back in order, the cement floor swept and even mopped in places..

We heard a lot this weekend about this particular church camp and memories of times there through the years.  (http://www.campmardela.org/index.htm)  We had cooks there from Gateway Fellowship, previously known as Cannon Mennonite Church, where the whole idea of church retreats was first begun in this community back in the late 70’s by John Mishler.  We also had people with histories at Tressler Mennonite Church, who used Camp Mardela for Church retreat at some point in time.  And there were people there who have memories of family reunions that were held there, and even a family who sent a child there in the late 70’s.

Actually, I never really understood that this Brethren Church campground was something that could be utilized for a church camp, but we found out!  For sure!  The facilities are great — (but OH! Was it ever HOT!)  Our church does plan to go back to Mardella next year, only in late September. For years we’ve used Denton Wesleyan Family Camp but they have increased in price so much that it is cost prohibitive for our church, plus they gave our already “scheduled and deposited for” weekend away last year, and seemed to think that it wouldn’t really matter.  Because of how our church members plan their schedules around this event, it really made scheduling extremely difficult for us. In fact, it was enough of a fiasco that we decided to go somewhere else!

Last year we went to Redden Forest State Park, and that was okay on short notice but the facilities were inadequate as far as the lodging space and kitchen provision. So this year, the committee researched our options early on and we were able to get this.  We had originally planned for the last weekend in September, but out of consideration for some of our congregation who were planning for a family wedding that weekend, we asked to change it and this was the weekend that there was an opening.  Camp Mardela is nice as far as activities for recreation, playground equipment for the children, a well equipped kitchen and space for group activities.  It even has some nice lodging accommodations for reasonable prices. The lodging rooms have A/C so that was especially appreciated this weekend. The main gathering hall does not, though, so that was just a little bit hard on us “oldsters.”

We had nice activities planned — the kids decorated t-shirts, played in the sandy dirt, ate snacks, drank copious amounts of liquid, rode on the swings, merry-go-round and played carpet ball, four square and air hockey with the adults.  The camp even has a tractor and wagon for “hayrides” and we had made arrangements for that on Saturday evening.  Ms. Shirley had made the arrangements with the camp caregiver, and she asked Certain Man to drive the little old John Deere tractor.  They went across the lawn to the shed where it was kept and brought it around to the front of Kraybill Hall where we were meeting. (You can check it out here: http://www.campmardela.org/Facility/Facility_Kraybill_Hall.html)   I looked up from a park bench in front of the hall to see Daniel driving the tractor with the wagon on behind and the sole occupant was Ms. Shirley.

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“Well, look at that,” I said to my friend Loretta, who was sitting beside me.  “My husband has taken to hauling around another woman!”  But it wasn’t something to belabor or to be jealous about.  It was just another example of the kind of working together that made the whole weekend a whole lot easier and memorable.  CM brought the tractor to a stop in front of the hall, taking note of where the sand wasn’t as deep, and the people lined up to get on board.  The wagon was just big enough for all who wanted to ride, and ride! they did!

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So, yes, it was HOT, and yes, the yellow jackets did buzz around, and yes, we had some things that made our hearts exceedingly heavy.  But we did have a great time and such a wonderful message from David Yoder (from Dover) this morning to draw our hearts towards things that are Eternal, and principles by which to live.

. . . Church retreat weekend! Ah, me! The memories are wonderful! And the committee this year was stellar. (Shirley Miller, Jesse and Christina Yutzy Bontrager, Tyler and Amy Schrock) Our cooks, Carl and Sue Chupp, did a splendid job, and the food was delicious and adequate, the leftovers were not too abundant, and we were able to bless the Home of the Brave with some supper fixin’s!

There is just so much for which to be thankful!

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Sunday Evening at Shady Acres

Am I the only one who can hardly believe that summer vacation is over and school is starting again?  Wherever has this month/summer/year gone?  People, this is serious!  I’m getting old at an alarming rate.  I’ve been regularly told by my LITTLES that I’m “really, really old!” and I’m starting to believe it.

The other Sunday while we were discussing a younger sibling’s birthday, the discussion turned to how old each of The LITTLES was, and we discovered that we had a two year old, a three year old, a five year old and two seven year olds.  That was good for a couple of minutes of discussion, then Charis looked thoughtful.

“Grammy!” She said, “How old are you?”

“How old do you think I am,” I asked, because I always love to hear their responses and I’m never offended at their answers, only entertained.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “I think you are probably 77!”

Her friend, Amanda, a frequent visitor to the class said disdainfully, “Nah!  I think she’s 58!”

“Well,” I said, “I’m 62!  I’m going to be 63 on my birthday in a few months.”

“Oh,” said Charis, philosophically, “Well, Amanda and I were almost right.  We were each just one off!”

That made me laugh, of course, and I thought about how a child’s mind works, and how totally logical it seemed to them that anything in the 60’s would only be “one off” from something in the 50’s or 70’s.

My LITTLES have given me lots of pause to consider over these last months.  There was an especially impressive time on the Sunday that we discussed Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit.  I struggled with how to make this lesson real to this age spread, and wondered about how we could even begin to catch the importance of the Holy Spirit. One of the suggested activities was to tie red crepe paper streamers to a fan, and to explain how even though we cannot see the wind, it has an effect on the streamers.  It is a force that is very real, even though it is invisible.

I had thought about this lesson a lot over the week before, and had decided that the streamers and the fan were a good idea.  While I was pondering what else I could do to emphasize the lesson for the LITTLES, I saw some of those small windmills on a stick sticking out of an end bin at Walmart, and had a flash of inspiration.  This was something that the children could hold in front of the fan and see how a fast they would go in a strong and forceful wind and they could take them home at the end of the class period and it could be a reminder.  I pounced upon the stash and procured the five I needed and felt like God had provided a small miracle and burst of inspiration especially for me.

Sunday morning.  Certain Man helped me to carry the large fan up to the classroom and I attached the red streamers to it.  When the class started, the kids were so excited to see the fan, and of course wondered what in the world we were going to do.  The windmills were held in reserve until after they had a chance to hear the story and I could turn on the fan to show them how the streamers worked.  They were duly impressed.  They gathered around and tried to catch the dancing and swaying streamers and laughed and talked and jostled for a place in the strong breeze.

Then I brought out the windmills and gave each of them one.  This was high attraction. The fan was very large, and there was plenty of room, but it didn’t take long before there was more than friendly competition for what was perceived as the best place, and whose windmill was spinning the fastest and there was much stomping about trying to have the most air.  I contained the commotion for quite a while, encouraging them to give each other room, to share the space, and to not shove.

When it seemed that they had all had adequate exposure, and enough time to watch their windmill spin merrily around, I said, “Okay, kids.  Let’s take our windmills back to our seats.  You may take them home with you and play with them there.”  And I turned off the fan.

You would have thought that I was depriving them of their personal oxygen supply.  There was great disapproval and grumbling until one enterprising youngster said, “Wait!  Look! You can blow on these windmills and they will still turn!”

Immediately there was great huffing and puffing while the five of them attempted to make their windmills turn under the power of their own breath.  In comparison to the fan, the windmills barely turned but the five of them were so occupied with the fact that they were moving that they barely noticed that they were about to hyperventilate.

And that was when the Spirit of the LORD spoke to my heart.  I stood there, watching my beloved LITTLES, and it was almost funny until I felt like God said to me, “That’s just what you look like to ME!”

“Excuse me?  Is that you LORD?”

“That’s just what you look like to me when you step away from the mighty power of the Holy Spirit and try to produce results in your own power.  It’s every bit as ridiculous, and it’s far more futile.  So often you try to do or say things in your own strength, and it really doesn’t go anywhere because it’s not of me.  Pay attention, Daughter.  This lesson wasn’t as much for your LITTLES as it was for you.”

I really can’t tell you much about the rest of that class period.  I had so much to think about.  There were so many thoughts and pictures running through my mind.  Pictures of times when intentions may have been good, but the power source just wasn’t right.  Pictures of times when the Power was blowing, but my little windmill was off on a shelf or looking for another breeze.  Times when I just didn’t get it at all, and was depleted and tired and almost “hyperventilating” from trying to reproduce in my own strength what I could have gotten from the Power that was far greater and not only promised to me, but readily available.

My LITTLES took their windmills home, and I hope that they remember something about that lesson.  But even if they never do, I will!  It sits in my heart, a cherished lesson for this teacher of LITTLES, who desperately needed it in this time and in this place.

My time with this group of LITTLES is coming to an end.  Today is my last scheduled Sunday for teaching.  Next Sunday is our Church Retreat weekend, and the following Sunday is the beginning of our new quarter.  How very much I shall miss them!  But this is a good move.  A young couple will team teach and they have relationships in place already within the class.  I am content, as well as certain that this what should be.  Certain Man and I want to do a little traveling (yes, ME, TOO!) and I am looking forward to a bit less chaotic Sunday mornings.  We’d like to have more Sunday company, and I also am greatly looking forward to being a part of the Older – (Ahem!) Mature Women’s Sunday school class.

And so, my heart gives grateful praise for the blessings of my life.  I am so blessed.  May each of you see the blessings that are yours as well.

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