Monthly Archives: February 2012

I Was Born Loved

I was born loved.

Dengst du es is un Boo oder un Madel?  Do you think it’ll be a boy or a girl?” my dad had asked my mom when they were expecting their second child.

            “Aw, it’ll probably be another boy,” was my mom’s off-hand remark.

            “But wouldn’t it be nice to have a girl?” came his wistful response.

            And then I was born. At Schrock’s Corner (literally). The only daughter growing up between two brothers. My parents were members of the Old Order Mennonite Church in Rural Goshen, Indiana. We drove a horse and buggy. To church, to town, practically everywhere we went it was to the clip-clop of our horse, Nick’s, hoof beats.

            I was born my Dad’s Baby Girl. Shortly after I was born he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. According to my Aunt Emma’s diaries- when treatments left him too weak to work, he sat in the house and played with me for hours on end: reading, talking, playing peek-a-boo…

            When he was strong enough he worked at developing the business he had started prior to the cancer: Schrock Small Engine, Sales and Service. He sold and repaired lawnmowers, tillers, chainsaws… After the diagnosis my mom worked alongside him and by herself on the days when all he could do was sit in the house and hold me. One day, knowing the extent of the illness, he asked her, “When I’m gone, will you continue the business?”

            “Oh, I couldn’t,” was her quick reply.

            Mom told me that he looked her in the eye and quietly remarked, “You can if you want to.”

            That comment changed the course of history. When my dad passed out of this life and into Heaven, I was four and a half years old. It was 1968 and my mom became a widowed mother of three preschool aged children, the sole owner of a business and a mechanic in her own right.

The shop was located less than six steps outside the side door of our house. Mom sang us awake and fed us breakfast and was out in the shop by eight o’clock every morning five days a week. She locked the doors for an hour at noon while she cooked and we ate dinner. At five the doors closed for the night and we had supper, Mom often returned to the shop in the evening to finish the repairs. (While we were young an Old Order Mennonite girl lived with us and helped take care of us children and do housework.)

This is the atypical Old Order Mennonite world I grew up in. Watching my mom make her way in a man’s business.  A feminine touch in a greasy world.

My four year old mind, unable to comprehend why this Daddy that hugged and played and cuddled and loved me… suddenly disappeared, coped by blocking out all memory of loss and pain. Therefore, I had a marvelous childhood reading books and playing in my neighborhood playground of barns, railroad tracks, swamps, fields, woods, ponds, creeks, brothers, cousin’s and grossdauddy’s… and whenever I needed my mom I knew where to find her in the shop. In between customers she always had time to listen to my joys and sorrows. It was the ideal life. Almost.

For the first twenty-five years of my life, when people asked whether I remembered my dad, I informed them that while I remembered him, I was glad he had died while I was young, too young to experience pain and feelings of loss.

What I did not understand is that the pain I had buried for years was shaping my life. As a child. As a teen-ager. As an adult. For Good… and for not so good.

Yet I believe I have always been blessed. The Word says that the blessings reach down a thousand generations from those that love God and obey his commands. Only ten generations ago my ancestors living in Switzerland and Germany were willing to give their life for the gospel. My ten-greats-grossdauddy was imprisoned in Germany for his faith. He encouraged his adult sons to take their families and their mother and go to America where he had heard they could worship in freedom. Twelve years later he was able to rejoin them in Pennsylvania. That blessing, undeserved as it is on my part, lives with me.

My story is a journey towards finding my Father, in the natural and the Spiritual. A journey of learning to live by faith. A journey of overcoming. Learning to walk from victory to victory. Learning to live in the blessings that became mine two thousand years ago. Not only the natural blessings from Godly ancestors, but also my spiritual heritage through the linage of Abraham.

I was born loved and blessed. This is my story.

Categories: Childhood, Old Order Mennonite | Leave a comment

Hair, Dresses and Sitting in Church (All Linked Together in Growing Up)

The earliest I remember my hair is sitting on a high chair by the large white porcelain wash sink inside the back door. My mom wet the comb periodically as she combed through my straight tresses before braiding two long blondish braids down either side of the back of my head, securing each one with a rubber band and leaving about an inch and a half of straightness hanging out of the bottom. Some mothers braided down even further. Then there was the occasional mother who would leave a larger portion unbraided at the bottom, but that was worldlier. Probably because it was a step closer to having no braids at all, just free swinging ponytails. I was glad my mom didn’t braid all the way down as far as she could. And while I would not have complained had she left several more inches unbraided, in fact I would have most likely swung those braids around rather vainly, I was content with where she stopped at about an inch and a half.

I still remember the slight pang of jealousy I experienced whenever I saw girls whose portions of unbraided hair sported a little curl. It looked so cute having curls on the bottom side of that rubber band. It wasn’t until later that I grew to understand how lucky I was that I did not have those coveted curls. I heard mothers and daughters relate horror stories of hair washings and combings. Mine was always a pleasant experience as the comb slid easily through my ultra straight fine textured hair.

My hair tells of the stages of my life as an Old Order Mennonite girl: my hair, along with my dresses, which we called frocks, in addition to where I sat in church. Every transition was like a rite of passage towards adulthood.

At birth my hair was brushed with a soft brush like any other baby born into love. Most likely with an attempt to show a slight part in the middle, but as soon as it was barely long enough it was combed back into two or four half inch ponytails or if my mother’s finger could grasp the hair firmly enough she would braid it. Two at the top sides and two at the bottom sides. Always with a part in the center. As soon as the two top braids reached the two bottom ones they were connected, sometimes even forced to connect earlier by braiding a string longer than the hair and creating a connection. But once my hair became long enough that it did not need the two top braids to maintain a kempt look, I wore only the two braids as described in the beginning of this story. That was typically at about age five or six.

It occurred at about the same time as I was old enough to sit with my friends on the front bench at church. The bench way in front with all the mothers filling the benches behind us.

Two braids. All my friends wore there’s the same. Almost. Some had them braided towards the back of the head so you could almost not see that there were two from the front. I was always glad my mom didn’t comb mine that way. Two braids literally growing out of the sides of my head would have been cool. Now days I have occasionally seen little Old Order Mennonite girls like that, but back in my day it would have been frowned upon. Rather worldly. Times change. I was always happy with mine. Two braids placed where you could see there were two. Even without the coveted curls, I was happy.

During that time my frocks had changed accordingly. As a baby they were often pleated or gathered at the breast and the skirt came down past the knees full enough that a diaper could easily be changed. But once I was old enough to walk the waist was moved to the belly waist line. Little buttons or snaps went three quarters of the way down the back to create easy access for helping a little girl get dressed. These were referred to as hinnah uch frocks, dresses opening in the back. As my braids changed from four to two, my dress pattern stayed basically the same, with a small, approximately one inch strip sewn into the waistline as a belt being the only change occurring somewhere during that time.

On Sunday mornings my girlfriends and I sat on the front bench in church, in front of all the women so that our mother’s could keep an eye on us. I don’t know whether the mother or daughter withered more with embarrassment when a mother had to come forward and take her daughter back to sit with her because she was whispering and playing entirely too much. Occasionally the same thing occurred to the little boys sitting over in front of their father’s on the men’s side of the church. But that happened benches and benches over and the only part of those incidences visible to us little girls was the father standing up and walking up front and then returning to his seat. I don’t remember what the little boys did during church to keep themselves out of trouble. I have a feeling it was always a little easier for us girls. We had hankies to fold and make twins-in-a-cradle and mice. It was easier to communicate silently when one could make something with a lacey flowered hankie and then hold it up to a friend’s smiling recognition.

The next major change came when I turned eleven. A greatly anticipated change. So anticipated that I found it to be almost unbearable that my two best friends turned eleven three entire months before I did. At the age of eleven a girl puts her hair up in a bun. Or as we called it: a haarballa (pronounced haw-ah-bawl-uh with the first two syllables slid together as one.) Months before that, my friends and I had been practicing at home. We had been braiding our own hair for years and now we were learning how to twist it just right to create a nice round bun. Next we pinned it up with a few hairpins before placing a hairnet over it, twisting the leftover portion of hairnet around and under the bun and then securing it with more hairpins. We learned how to get those hairpins in so that they didn’t poke our scalp, yet managed to keep that bun tight through a game of baseball or freeze tag on a Sunday afternoon.

Some girls chose to wear one braid down the back of their heads instead of the bun. I was one of those as had been my aunts before me, my mom’s youngest sisters. My mom was the oldest of eleven siblings, nine of them girls, the youngest three were only between two and ten years older than myself. But even though I wore one braid down the back during the week, I usually wore a bun to church. I learned how to make it with the rest of them. It was preparation for the ensuing stage of life.

As a little girl I had noticed that other little girls from slightly more worldly churches sometimes had their hair parted on the side. I remember thinking that it would have been nice to have my hair that way, but knew better than to even suggest such a thing to my mom. But it was around the age of eleven that some girls began trying to slip their part just the slightest degree off to the side. I did in experimental play in the bathroom, but never for real. I had better sense than that.

But an acceptable change was to comb our hair over the tips of our ears. My girlfriends and I did that. I would not have been caught letting those tips stick out. Some girls, especially from Pennsylvania, covered their entire ear with hair. That never appealed to me. Hiding the tips was enough. Many of the plainer girls combed their hair straight back without even touching their ears. I often wondered whether it was because they didn’t want to. Did combing those strands of hair over the tips of their ears just not appeal to them in the same way that covering the entire ear with hair was unappealing to me, or was it perhaps because their mothers did not allow them to. I never asked.

At this time my friends and I no also longer pulled our hair back quite as tightly. In Virginia some of the girls actually poofed it a little at the front. We wouldn’t have dared to do that, but somewhere in between the tight back and the poofing we found a loosely pulled back style that suit us. It was at that age that hairspray became a necessity.

Our entire lives every hair on our head would be combed neatly into place. Even the slightest strand pulled out of a braid or bun or from under our covering would cause us to feel schtruvlich, messy. “Ich bin schtruvlich? My hair is messy?” is a common phrase that can be heard as a woman tucks a stray strand back into place. If company dropped in and little girl came in from playing outside the mother might brush her daughters hair back towards the braids with her fingers while apologizing for the schtruvlich hair.

At the age of eleven we also began to wear our frocks, fahnah uch, open in front. It was a major dress pattern change. The three quarter opening in back changed to opening to the waistline in front and at the right hand side a zipper or snaps closed a six to ten inch opening. Instead of buttons or snaps down the back we switched to only snaps down the front. These two openings at the front and side gave us plenty of room to get in and out of our dresses without messing up our hair too much.

In addition a loose one inch belt (one and a half to two inches for those of us who like to push the fences.) was fastened at the side by long pearl headed pins. White was the staple color and black or navy for our dark dresses which we wore to funerals and twice a year at Communion. But it was fun to wear the various colored ones to match the color of our mostly flower-printed knit dresses. Knit was the rage. It didn’t wrinkle. It was wash and wear. No ironing needed. The belts were preparation for the next step that would come at sixteen. Cape dresses. But for now they were just belts that helped make us feel grown up.

But it wasn’t the fahnah uch frocks and belts or the change in hair that made my friends three month’s age advantage unbearable at this time. It was that at the age of eleven a girl was allowed to sit on the back bench behind all the mothers and other women. It was a long ways to be separated from ones best friends for two hours on a Sunday morning. I felt horribly forsaken when my two best friends turned eleven three entire months before I did. All the other birthdays I had not minded them being so much older. At five I had only known sitting with my mom and had not realized that my soon to be best friends were already sitting up front for those three long months. But at ten years and nine months I was very aware of it. Thankfully my mom was a mother of great merciful understanding and within a few weeks I made an early transition to join my friends.

It was around this age that my mom also introduced me to nylons. That first Sunday that I wore them I walked the quarter of a mile to Emma-Grossdaudy’s house to ride to church with them. I felt so grown-up-like walking in my half inch heeled black tie shoes and brand new nylons the quarter of a mile to Emma-Grossdaudy’s. They had observed me out their dining room windows and when I entered the house they bombarded me with an unusual amount of questions. Do you have a new dress? A new sweater? Those aren’t new shoes, are they? “No, no, no.” I answered all their questions. Embarrassed that my feeling of grown-upness had been so obvious, I never revealed the fact of what had made me walk down that road so differently that morning. Nylons being held up by a brand new girdle.

But the coolest thing about turning eleven was never explained in words. It was an unspoken initiation into almost-adulthood. Aunts and other women would notice a girl wearing a fannah uch frock and would comment with a knowing smile. “Oh, you’re wearing your frocks fahnah uch now! And you wear your hair up.” They would glance at it around the back and nod in appreciation at the nice job you had done. I remember standing there slightly embarrassed, yet pleased that they had noticed that my frocks were fahnah uch now.

But if I thought waiting for eleven to join my friends at the back of the church was rough. It was nothing compared to the sheer torture of almost sixteen. At sixteen a prayer covering would cover my bun at church and a cape would be attached to my belt fastened with those pearl headed pins. And our seating in church changed, but not vertically as before. This time it was a horizontal change across the aisle to the center row of benches where all the youngie, the young folks, sat. But as exciting as all of this was, it dimmed in the light that I was now old enough to begin rumschpringa. I would now be allowed to go to the Sunday night singings and all the midweek gatherings rather than just the church yard mowings in summer and sledding and skating parties in winter like we did at age fifteen. Rumschpringa at sixteen- hanging out with my friends several times a week and joking around and flirting with the boys. This was heaven on earth.

The three weeks after my friends turned sixteen that I had to wait before my mom allowed me to start early felt like a living death. I used to love going to Dorothy-Grossdaudy’s every Sunday evening and playing with my aunt, Dorothy, my cousins and the card games with Grossdaudy, but for probably about a half year before I turned sixteen I lost interest in all things not associated with my friends. I went to Grossdaudy’s without much outward complaint but I remember laying around on the couch in total boredom.

I began sewing cape dresses in preparation and then finally that first Sunday came when I could wear my first cape dress and pin that covering over my neatly arranged bun. By now my nylons had changed to pantyhose and one inch heels were the norm. But the sitting across the isle from where I used to, knowing that for that entire day I would hang out with my friends. Priceless.  

People that hadn’t seen me in years would comment on the fact that I was wearing a covering, but that acknowledgement of growing up paled to the fun of finally being able to rumschpringa. It was as if my entire life had been lived for this day. For this time.

I loved rumschpringa and I dreaded growing old. I pictured old as sitting in a rocking chair rocking to nowhere, no-fun, no-life.

A young mother in her twenties had gone ice skating one Sunday afternoon. She hadn’t tried on her skates since before she had gotten married and the large frozen puddle out back in the former wheat field beckoned her. I remember hearing the talk. “What does she think she’s doing. She has young children. Who does she think is going to take care of those children if she were to break a leg?” No one commented that about me. Not even when I was in my twenties. I was single and could skate backwards and twirl in a vicious game of crack the whip and if by chance my leg broke, no one would suffer the consequences but me… and perhaps my younger brother. But once marriage occurred and of course children with it, a person took on a whole new set of responsibilities. The same would have been said about a man. Accidents could happen but why take an unnecessary risk? Growing old seemed dull and scary to me.

Well, no one commented about the health risk unnecessary adventures could create for me, except for once, in my early twenties, when I was talking about wanting to go horseback riding an older person made an insinuating comment that I should have grown out of those types of behaviors by now. I never wanted to grow too old to have fun.

As I would have aged into my thirties, whether married or single, I would have begun to pull my hair back tighter and probably stopped coming them over the tips of my ears. In hindsight I now know that would have most likely occurred as my first strands of hair were beginning  to gray- early like Emma-Grossmommy’s. My covering would have gotten a little bigger, covering more of my ears and the strings, changing from white to black, would be tied a little tighter. Meaning that rather than swinging loosely from below the nape of my neck as it used to, the strings would be shortened to swing right at the nape of my neck and eventually right below the chin. The bonnet that covered it on Sundays had already changed from navy blue to black, but I would have been expected to begin wearing it for more than just Sundays. Like the plainer girls had been doing their entire lives, I would now start wearing it every time I went away. And on Sundays I would begin to wear a schatz, an apron the same color and length as my dress. On cool days my sweater would always be black, not the navy or brown I could now choose, and over it I would wear a light black fringed shawl. In the winter the shawl would be a heavier dark gray woolen one. If necessary I would wear a coat underneath. My dresses would cease to be light colored and the flowers or other designs on the fabric would become smaller.

But it wasn’t the black sweaters, shawls, dresses and hair changes that bothered me. My entire life I had eagerly anticipated each change in hair, dress and seating at church. These continued changes were not the ones I dreaded as I thought of growing old. These outward life transitions were rites of passage that allowed me to know I was becoming a woman.

It was the thought of no more fun that caused me to feel as if my life would be over- no ice skating, no sledding, no fifty mile bicycling adventures, no occasional horseback riding with my friends… only spending every Sunday afternoon sitting around on chairs visiting… I pictured growing old as sitting on a rocking chair, rocking my life away, going nowhere… that thought was as terrifying as rumschpringa was fun.

Categories: Childhood, Old Order Mennonite | Leave a comment

Teacher: Then and Now

One Valentine’s Day during my second year of teaching I felt two arms encircling me from behind. They held me tightly and I had to twist my body around to discover that it was Reniesha.  Reniesha, an angry little second grade girl who sometimes made loud noises to disrupt the class, frequently stuck out her foot to trip other students as they walked by and “accidentally” bumped into children with her elbow. With her, life was a daily challenge in my classroom, and yet, there was something about her that wound its way into my heart. I reached out to her with everything I knew, but life had hardened her heart… had taught her not to trust… had convinced her she was bad.

Reniesha and the public schools were a culture shock for me. In the one-room Old Order Mennonite School where I taught previously, I was concerned about note writing, paper wads, gum chewing and talking. The only one of those I dealt with on a daily basis was talking. While the academic education of these little minds was important to the Old Order Mennonite parents, instilling Godly principals was even more so.

But now, in this inner-city public school some of my students had parents who were just trying to survive, trying to figure out a way to make it through another day. For years I questioned their level of commitment to their children. But over time, as I have gotten to know them, I have come to the realization that their love for their children is every bit as powerful as the Old Order Mennonite mother who daily helps her little daughter climb up on a chair so she can help measure out flour and sugar and wash dishes. As powerful as the Old Order Mennonite father whose greatest desire is to farm or have a business at home where he can daily teach his sons to become studious men. I have come to understand that the families of many of my current students are fighting battles in their lives that I can only begin to imagine… battles that involve drugs, gun shots at night, sexual exploitation, hateful words and holes in their hearts that have left them wounded and without the knowledge of how to keep these same things from happening to their own children.

In contrast my childhood playground was a peaceful safe neighborhood of barns, swamp, railroad tracks, woods, creek, pond and poison ivy beds. I went to sleep each night under grossmommy-made quilts and comforters with warm snuggling memories of bedtime fairytales, nursery rhymes, Bible Stories, Richard Scarry or Dr, Seuss and always the cheerful “Good-Night, Aleta, Schlof Gut. Sleep Well.” and I awoke to the whirring-snap of green pull shades accompanying my mom’s soprano voice:

Let the sun shine in. Face it with a grin.

Smilers never lose and frowners never win.

So let the sun shine in. Face it with a grin.

Open up your heart and let the sun shine in. (Stuart Hamblen) 

I still taste the sugary sweetness of Captain Crunch drowned in fresh milk from my uncle’s dairy followed by a slurping ahhh as I tipped the bowl to my lips and savored the remaining goodness of sweet milk and then the subsequent quiet reminder, “I let you slurp the milk out of your bowl here at home, but remember it is not polite to do it at other people’s houses.”

The satisfying taste of the cookies we were allowed to sneak in between mealtimes reminds me that the worst hunger I experienced as a child was while peddling my bicycle home from the furthest corners of my playground anticipating the aroma of meat and vegetables my mom would dish out onto our dinner or supper plates.

My mom never yelled or referred to us in any unpleasant ways. She never even called us kids. We were children. Kids were baby goats. The Bible refers to goats being on the left and sheep on the right. She believed children deserved more respect than to be referred to as goats.

As a teacher I have attempted to convey this sense of love and security to my students, but Reneisha, like many others, would only respond in part, her guard up, protecting her heart in the only way she knew how. I believed love and praise, along with rewards and consequences were the tools needed to raise a child’s behavior to the next level of greatness. I would watch challenging students like Reneisha in an effort to catch them doing the right thing, even the least little thing such as a Math problem all by themselves, and then I would praise them sincerely. It made some difference which was evidenced by Reneisha’s arms around my waist, but even though I received a few more hugs that year, nothing changed permanently. And finding those moments when she deserved words of praise were often difficult.

What I did not know then, was that when God created me in his image, he had placed his own Creative Force within my tongue. I would not have needed to wait until I caught Reneisha doing the right thing before I spoke words of praise and life into her heart and mind. God speaks those things which are not as though they already were (Rom. 4:17). He has told us to do the same, to speak in faith, believing that we have what we ask him for (Mark 11:23-24).

I had a very angry boy in my classroom this year. At Open House the night before school began he and his siblings ran in and out of my classroom throughout the evening yelling and laughing, “He’s bad! He’s bad! Daren’s bad!”

I hugged him with the smiling comment that I was sure he would be a good student. He was for about a three day honeymoon, then I had a substitute for two days and when I returned he soon began to live up to his siblings’ prophecies. I began with the typical “praise him for every little bit of good he does” and give logical consequences for wrong choices, but he became even more angry and defiant than before. Then one day as I was praying God brought two things to my memory.

The first was a book that I had read about strong-willed children: You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. The author had stated that all the consequences in the world could not convince a strong-willed child to follow the rules. A strong-willed child would rather do the proverbial “cut off the nose to spite the face” rather than allow the adult to win.

So I quit trying to make him follow classroom rules through the reward and punishment method and instead began to do the second thing God had brought to my remembrance. Speak the Word of God into his life. God says that his Word brings us life and health (Prov. 4: 20-22). But this was the public schools. I could not speak as freely as I would have liked, so I asked god to place his health and life into the words I was able to speak.

I began to hug Daren throughout the day and say, “Daren you’re a good boy. I love you. I’m so glad you are in my class.” And he would yell, “I’m bad. I hate this school.” 

I ignored his comments and continued to repeat, “Daren you’re a good boy. I love you. I’m so glad you are in my class. You are a good boy and sometimes it takes time for good boys to learn how to make good choices.” Instead of giving him the negative consequences he deserved, I spoke those same words of life to him when his behavior was atrocious. Soon I would feel his body begin to relax and lean into my hug. I continued to speak the truth of God’s word into his life. You are a good boy. Within days his behavior began to improve. Speaking the goodness and love of God into his life before it was visible has brought that goodness and love into the realm of the visible. He still has challenges, but nothing like what it used to be and he continues to improve every day.

God tells us to be imitators of him (Eph. 5: 1). So I spoke to the mountain and spoke those things that are not as though they already were, knowing that in the Spirit World… they already are. I continue to speak the goodness and love of God into Daren’s life and God performs his Word in ways that I never could. 

My relationship with God works kind of like those charities that have large corporations backing them up, for each dollar raised the corporation promises to donate double or triple the amount. Therefore, if I give $100 to that charity, I’ve in reality helped them raise $200 or $300. Without that corporation’s support my $100 would be just that- $100. Likewise, when I try to do the good and right things in life on my own strength, I am limited by my own ability.

On my own, whatever good I am capable of accomplishing, that’s all that gets done. I have twenty-five first graders with whom I have to remember to each day verbalize hope even when it looks hopeless, to praise when I’d rather complain, to speak kind loving words when I feel exasperated, to speak the goodness of God into their hearts and minds when all I see is misbehaviors, to patiently explain and re-explain in four different ways to six different children how to do a Math problem, to gently but firmly remind them that they need to turn and look at the teacher when she is talking, to quietly tell two children who have misbehaved for the third time that day to go change their behavior cards, to smile and exclaim excitedly to the fourth loose tooth within three minutes time, to know exactly how much sympathy to show to a chronic complainer, to wisely decide when a Band-Aid is necessary to a stop blood flow, when the bandage is necessary to stop the tear-flow and when it is time to say: You WILL be fine. You do NOT need another bandage., to not allow the strong-willed child to demand more of my attention than the ones doing the right thing, to know when to be firm and when to be gentle, to remember to be kind and smiling and loving while I teach Reading and Writing and Spelling and Math and Science, Social Studies and social skills with great enthusiasm from 8 o’clock in the morning until 2:20 in the afternoon…

On the days when I realize how far short I have fallen and begin to feel overwhelmed with the realization that I can never remember to do it all… On those days I realize that I have been trying to do it on my own strength. I have been forgetting to rely on the one who called and equipped me. Then instead of trying to do better, I build my relationship with God: I read his Word, I spend time in worship and rest in his presence. Then as his Spirit within me increases and I decrease, his power within me does what I could not. He backs up my feeble $100 efforts in love with double and triple the amount of results.

Categories: Childhood, Old Order Mennonite, Teacher: OOM, Teacher: Pub.Sch., Words of Faith | Leave a comment

Life As A Book

My aunt, Emma Schrock, began her 1971 diary with this poem by Gertrude Laura Gast:

The New Year like a book lies before me;

On its cover two words, “My Life,” I see.

I open the covers and look between—

Each page is empty, no words can be seen,

For I am a writer, I hold the pen

That’ll fill these pages to be read by men.

Just what kind of book will my book be,

My life written there for others to see,

Each day a page written, one by one—

Will it be worthwhile when finished and done?

Lord, help me keep these pages clean and fair

By living the life I’d have written there.

She understood that our lives are interesting stories for others to read. Therefore, she kept a diary and before her death in 1991, even began to recopy each diary by hand in larger notebooks so that it would be in an easier to read format for her nieces and nephews.

Eleven years later a diary entry about a friend named, Joe, expressed this same concept.

Joe, a man from Chicago became interested in learning more about the Old Order Mennonite Church and every other weekend he drove his car from his home in Chicago to the Old Order Mennonite community. He often stayed at my Grossdaudy Schrock’s house (Whom I referred to as Emma-Grossdaudys.) and since Grossdaudy was in his late eighties and no longer able to drive, Joe drove their horse and buggy to church for them. He would often spend the night at my Grandparents and became good friends with my Aunt Emma who still lived at home. She was fascinated with him and his life. She watched him buy a farm, date an Old Order Mennonite girl from Virginia and prayed for him to join church some day. She made several comments similar to the following August 11, 1982, journal entry:

Joe’s life is like reading an interesting story. One wonders what’s next.

She saw Joe’s life as an interesting book. He was fascinated with the Old Order Mennonite way of life and saw our culture in a similar light, as a fascinating story to live in.

I believe we all have a story. It’s there waiting to be told. We can choose to find it by fully developing, living and loving the life we have or instead live vicariously through the lives of others we deem more exciting.

I discovered this when I was somewhere between the age of nine and eleven. During those years I lived, ate and breathed mystery stories and had just finished reading a great one. I rolled onto my back on a blanket under a Maple tree in our back yard, gazing up into the blue sky, relishing that after-a-good-book feeling resonating through me, wishing my life were as exciting as the books I read: mysteries to solve, foreign lands to travel, exciting people to meet…

Then the realization came. My life is exciting. It is just that when the characters in a book face a dull moment, they turn the page and start a new chapter and in real life I had to live through those boring moments. At that instant, as my body lay on the blanketed grass and my eyes gazed through the leafy maple branches past the fluffy white clouds to the blue sky beyond, I knew that if all the exciting moments in my life, were compacted together, they would create an exciting story. It was all in the point of view. My life was a book.

During the next seven years mystery stories evolved into animal stories and then were eventually replaced by romance novels. During my mid-teen years I lived, ate and breathed romance novels by Grace Livingston Hill containing the theme “poor, hard working girl meets rich, handsome guy and lives happily ever after.” I eventually recognized them for the junk that they were, but I had no idea that in another seven years, as a college student, those novels would come to my rescue.

At the age of twenty-three, when I was in college, I lived in a little apartment by myself. Each week I did not have enough extra money to even buy a piece of chocolate candy. One day after I had paid all the bills and bought the basic groceries I needed for the week, I sat on the floor beside my day-bed looking through tears at my one remaining dime. I felt thankful for having a dime left over while simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that I had four entire college years to live through before I could become a teacher and begin earning a decent income.

Suddenly, in the midst of my tears, the nostalgia of those teenage romance novels swept through me and I saw myself as one of those “poor, hard working girls.” As the sentiments of those novels enveloped me, I realized that, just like the characters in the book, I did not know what exciting, romantic experiences lay just around the corner. At that time I would not have admitted it openly, but those seemingly empty novels had reached through the years to encourage me.

* * * * *

The following year I actually met and fell in love with a “rich, handsome guy.” But when he hinted at the topic of marriage, I panicked, “Not until after I graduate from college.” Shortly after that he asked if he could pay my rent and living expenses so that I would not have to work anymore and thus have time to take more classes and graduate sooner.

A year later he panicked and decided he did not want to get married after all. The night he broke up he gave me a check to cover all my living expenses for my final year of college. His comment was that as a teacher I would make a difference in the lives of children, and he viewed the money he gave me as an investment into those lives.

It took some time for me to realize it, but I had just survived my own personal romance novel and I actually lived happily ever after… Eventually.

Categories: Childhood, College, Emma Schrock, Old Order Mennonite | Leave a comment

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