Ordinary Art

He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have said this, and I agree with him. I also feel that God intended all people to be artists with different mediums. Some use words or flour and sugar or plants or ideas or house paint. Creating something that hasn’t existed before reflects God’s creative stamp on us and engages and aligns all the layers of a person, which is why I think everyone should regularly create.

I’ve learned that limited mediums help me create more. If the whole world is my oyster, all the choices overwhelm me when I want to make something new. But when I have only a few choices, I know better what to do. Limitations are freeing and clarifying.

When someone at work ordered a big whiteboard, it came in a box taller than me, so I claimed the cardboard before they took it to the recycle pile. Cardboard is the poor artist’s canvas, and I have a different way of recycling it.

I’d pinned this luscious image on my To Paint board on Pinterest. I’d found it on a blog I follow, which is created by a poet, photographer, and writer.

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Here is where most of us artists want to insert disclaimers, before we unveil our work:

What I did is nothing like the picture.

It’s not that great, really.

Someone else could do much better than this.

While all of that is true, I believe there’s something even truer: whenever we create something that didn’t exist before, and if it brings some measure of truth, beauty, or goodness into the world, it’s something to treasure, and not make excuses for. 

There’s always someone better than us, and there’s always something we could’ve done to improve it but there’s so much goodness in the process of creating, in the courage of putting paint on a blank piece of paper or cardboard or wood, that it should keep us from giving much air time to the disclaimers.

Over several month’s time, I worked on this mixed media project. First, I sketched  a rough outline of petals, and swiped the highlights with white acrylic paint to give it a raised texture. When it dried, I propped the cardboard on a chair for my easel and stroked, layered, and blended chalk pastels with fingers and thumbs and palms. Some evenings, I took it outside to work on. I sprayed it with fixative, because chalk brushes off easily, and then saw more colors to add, so I put chalk on top of fixative. I discovered by accident that this really worked well, because the spray gave it a little more tooth, as chalk artists call it, which is roughness of the surface. The cardboard gives it its own texture, which adds to the overall impression.

Some time after it was finished, I came across a line from Robert Capon, and I knew where it belonged, and added it with a gold marker.

Only miracle is plain. It is the ordinary that groans with the weight of glory.

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Another way this evolved is when I cut the upper left corner to follow the contours of the flower. This is the beauty of using cardboard. The downside to it is that the paint made it buckle. I painted the back of it to balance it, which helped, but it’s still curved. The other downside to cardboard is that I don’t respect it as much as a canvas, and poke tacks in it to mount it on the spare room wall, which is probably unwise.

I like all the colors and texture here.

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I keep it because I don’t want to throw it away yet, but also because of the deep joy in smearing, rubbing, and layering all the delicious colors. Creating aligns my head, heart, and hands so that for several glorious hours, all the parts of me aren’t fragmented or confused, and I feel whole and new. I value the process just as much or more than the finished product, and this artwork on my spare room wall reminds me of how fun and exhilarating that process was.

Already But Not Yet

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Quite a long time ago, I saw these paintings on Pinterest. The blue one caught my eye and it looked simple enough for me to do. There were even directions to go with it but I didn’t follow them because I wanted to tweak it.

A year or two later, I came across Conspirare singing Let the River Run, and it moved me deeply. It wasn’t intended to be a religious piece, and “New Jerusalem” wasn’t referring to heaven, but I heard enthusiasm and excitement, a call to dreamers, and bright hope for what will be, which, of course, for Christians includes the new heaven and new earth.

I asked an artistic friend for advice on how to paint a cityscape with a river, and she said to consult Google images and drawings in black and white. That gave me some ideas, so on a hot summer day, I found an empty study room with AC.  I gathered a few paints, a wet rag, several paintbrushes. I found the large 27″x30″ calendar I’d squirreled away for this project, put it face down on a table, and started painting a blush-pink sky: the dawn behind the gold.

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My favorite feature is the pink dawn shining where the gold is thin.

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I added black to a bright blue paint to make a midnight blue city. It didn’t take long, and it was so. much. fun. I loved the simplicity and the flexibility. If a spire didn’t work out right, I could put gold over it. I messed up the writing, but covered it up by changing the shape of the river. If it’s stressful, I don’t do it, and that’s why my artwork is super simple.

Part of me thinks that if I repurpose old calendars, maybe I should respect my art enough to put it in a frame. The more pragmatic part of me says part of the message is the medium, the thin metal strips stabilize it, and it’s ok. For awhile, I used thick tape on the back side to mount it, but that wasn’t nice in several ways, and now I use tacks, though that’s probably not respectful either.

I like having it on my sliding closet door. To me, it shows the already-but-not-yet that I live in. It promises a golden city coming down someday, but for now we can walk beside its river.

 

 

 

Surprised by Paradox: a Review

In Worldviews class, our teacher quoted Robert Capon’s lines: “Man cuts the wine of paradox with the water of consistency,” and deep inside me, the words rang clear and true.  My soul knew that categorical propositions don’t explain all of reality and the human experience, and contrasting wine and water seemed an eloquent metaphor.

I’ve written before about the paradox of being a Third Culture Kid. There are many more paradoxes I live with, such as

  • God’s sovereignty and man’s free will
  • a woman’s veil affirms beauty and highlights humility
  • writing is simultaneously blankety-blank hard and life-giving
  • the human body is both sacred and broken

Enter a beautiful, thoughtful new book: Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel. I love that its title joins the lineup of  the other rich surprised books: Lewis’ Surprised by Joy and Wright’s Surprised by Hope. And I love, love the creativity in its cover design! If you could judge a book by its cover, this book would already be a winner. This is my copy as I read it, with a pen to make notes and a pansy on a stem for a book mark.

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Five years ago, I read Jen’s first book, Teach Us to Want, and found her words and way of thinking so compelling, honest, and practical, that I’ve been following her ever since. When I read that she was looking for volunteers to join the launch team for her Paradox book, I applied, and was delighted to be accepted.

I’ve spent much of my life looking for answers to questions, solutions to problems, explanations to mysteries. In the last few years, I’m finding that more than answers, I need Jesus. More than tidy formulas, I need the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through me. Jen says paradox is the tension between certainty and mystery, and in that space, we meet God.

It’s true.

Since I tend to be all-or-nothing, either-or, the concept of paradox in my relationships, daily life, and my perception of God gives me a third way–an option that fits reality and frees me from needing to scrunch unwieldy, vast ideas into tidy, stackable boxes. And the current Postmodern air we breathe is kind to a book like this, when other eras might have labeled it as heresy. These days, most of us aren’t satisfied with Bible-thumping, simplistic explanations that don’t acknowledge the complexity of the issues, and we’re open to mystery, ambiguity, and paradox.

But claiming paradox isn’t a cop-out. It’s not fixing an easy answer onto complex questions, and it doesn’t mean we can’t be sure of anything. In fact, paradox delights in certainty. Jen wrestles well intellectually and theologically, taking in the wisdom of orthodoxy and her current gritty  experiences, and inviting us to recognize the wonder and humility of holding opposing ideas in tension. Her footnotes reflect wide, respected, delicious resources. Jen’s theology is sound and conservative, not pop evangelical, which makes me feel that I can trust her. I even felt that in the sections about Grace and Kingdom, she sounds very Anabaptist.

 

We are not saved by effort, but neither are we saved from it.

We don’t vote the kingdom into office; we live its compelling hope every day.

A kingdom life is always a nonconforming life, and subversion is a form of witness.

The book covers four themes that reflect Jesus’ life:

  • incarnation: His birth
  • kingdom: His public ministry
  • grace: His crucifixion
  • lament: His resurrection and ascent

The section on lament spoke most deeply to me. It’s rare to hear such profound honesty and powerful invitation to weep over what God weeps.

Lament tells us there are complaints worth raising, and God’s suffering assures that someone hears.

From the epilogue:

Let us have certainty when it’s available; let us have humility when it’s not. Let’s remember that paradox, with its attendant wonder, is its own way into the meekness of wisdom James describes in his letter.

Mystery draws us to wonder, which is also to say the limits of our wits. But rather than our finitude bringing us to despair, paradox can cause us to praise.

In the month coming up to the book release date, Jen shared weekly video chats with the launch team. These were lovely points of connection with her as a person and with the content we were reading. But she really had my attention on launch day with these:

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This screen grab shows a pair-a-ducks a friend gave her, used to help TCK’s debrief their experience. The clean duck illustrates their yay feelings, and the bandaged, dirty duck illustrates the yuck feelings. Since I’m a TCK and a pushover for a good pun, this pair-a-ducks fit me perfectly.

We can hold both the yuck and the yay of our experiences, not discounting or denying one at the cost of the other. Embracing all the aspects of life and all the complicated realities of loving God and our neighbors makes us bigger and better people, with wide hearts that are more prepared to worship–which is the ultimate reason He created us for.

I’m so grateful for Jen’s careful, curious, wise work in Surprised by Paradox. Read the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and order your copy!

 

 

Amazed to Witness Such a Thing

I’d heard friends talk about Gilead for several years. I’d seen it was a best seller, and heard authors quote it. It must be good, so I picked it up. Read through the first page or two. Nothing happened. I put it down. A couple months later, picked it up again. Nothing happened again. Blah.

I resigned myself to missing out on what everyone else was enjoying in the book.

Then one recent Saturday morning, my brother-in-law mentioned it in a family email. He said Gilead resets a person like a good night of sleep, and he wanted to discuss it with someone. I decided valiantly to try the book again, trotted up to the library, brought it home, and was absolutely taken in, like a fuzzy blanket wraps you up and you can’t untangle yourself.

Maybe it was the air, the leisure I was feeling, or the invitation to discuss. Probably it was mostly that I was mellow enough to absorb the words that had no great action, no shimmering plot line to pull me forward. It was the slow, steady beat of an aged man’s heart dribbling out of his pen to write messages to his young son, and he wrote so beautifully and lovingly that I read half the book that first day.

A dying pastor is writing to his young son, not yet seven. Seeing life and people and love through those old, gentle, wizened lenses felt sacred and sweet,  like I couldn’t get enough sweetness. It’s sweet but not cloying. Insightful, but not ponderous or stuffy. Full of love and longing but not sentimental or fluffy.

There is a reality in blessing. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but acknowledges it, and there is power in that. (p. 23)

I’m glad it’s not just pastors who can bless when they pronounce the benediction. All of us can bless each other, and when we say simple words like “Bless you” (not for sneezes, but for big assignments and partings and dilemmas) we acknowledge and affirm the sacredness of that person and that moment, which is an enormous gesture to receive from anyone, a privilege to pronounce on someone, and something to practice generously. What if we sprinkled blessings around like confetti?

The next lines need no commentary, only long pauses to think about the lines for several days. If you read the book, let me know what you think!

Memory can make a thing seem to have been much more than it was. But I know she [the newborn] did look right into my eyes. That is something. And I’m glad I knew it at the time, because now, in my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. (p. 76)

 

There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. (p.238)

 

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (p. 243)

 

Wherever you turn your eyes, the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a willingness to see. (p. 245)

Not long ago, I was driving in a dusk of golds and blues, and remembered these lines. I aspire to living in this wonder:

So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. (p. 246)

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Surrounded by Love

On my desk at work, I have a Willow Tree figurine. She’s holding a spray of red flowers and burying her face in them. The title of the figurine is “Surrounded by Love.”

I keep her there because she reminds me, with her relaxed posture and exuberant enjoyment of the flowers, that I, too, am surrounded by love. It’s in the air I breathe on my walk to work, the flavors I relish at lunch, the laughter I join in.

Now and then, I forget that love surrounds me. I become fretful, touchy, defensive. I think I need to prove myself to my world. I need to control my surroundings to be safe and predictable, because no one else is making that happen.

Those days could be titled “Surrounded by Fear.”

This is not an attractive, restful picture. It’s ugly and obnoxious, and no one would ever cast a figurine of that to keep on a desk.

Here’s a thought experiment:

What would change in us if we lived in the awareness that each of us is truly, deeply, freely loved? That we could never earn or perform well enough to deserve the love that surrounds, covers, carries us?

How would this awareness change how I see my world? How would it affect the way I look at other people, knowing they are loved like I am?

This week, look for the ways you’re surrounded by love. Write them down. Because you see what you look for, chances are good that you’ll come up with an impressive list. If you can’t see anything, ask God to open your eyes to His love. Read I John and Luke to see God’s heart demonstrated in Jesus.

Looking for His love might mean that you see in a shape you did not expect. You might be in for some surprises!

*****This is the first in a series of 4 weekly devotionals that I’ve written for the lovely Daughters of Promise. Sign up here to get all of them in your inbox every Monday!

Translators Needed

You know how sometimes memories emerge that were buried for years, but now and then they pop up on the screen of your mind? This story reemerges now and then, with no particular trigger, but it illustrates what seems to be part of my life work.

I was in my teens, eating Sunday lunch at a church family’s place, and they were also hosting a visiting couple who had never been at a Mennonite church before. So the dinner time was full of discussion and questions. I was listening and observing. The conversation went to how we value community and help each other in difficulties.

“So for example,” our host explained, “When someone’s house needs major repairs like putting on a new roof, we’ll have a frolic.”

Something washed over the guest’s face, and I knew that when he heard “frolic” he did not hear what my host meant.

Two things happened in that moment:

  1. I stayed quiet (another subject for another day)
  2. I knew that someone got a grossly misleading impression, and it never got resolved.

Worse things could happen.

But.

Sometimes what you say is not what I hear, so I don’t know more than I did.

If we don’t care about communication and understanding each other, we may as well all stay home and talk to ourselves and take selfies all day.

But if we were designed to do life beside and among and around people, and if we have something that’s beautiful to say, I care that that message gets transmitted well, and translated when necessary.

When I finished five years in Poland and came to the US, I reveled in talking English to my heart’s content. I mean, I could walk into a store and ask ANYthing! I could even make small talk with other customers. So novel! But every now and then, in those first months, I heard a mumbled announcement or a colorful idiom and I would catch myself whirling around to make sure my neighbor understood it. Translating to my friends in Poland had been such a way of life for me that it took awhile to realize that everyone here knew more idioms and one-liners than I did and I could take off my translator hat now. Other times, everyone around me was laughing at some remark, and I didn’t know what was funny. I think now that it was all part of reverse culture shock or culture fatigue or something else unpleasant like that.

Language and communication and understanding has so many intricacies and nuances and layers that it takes special effort to do well with it. Humor and laughter require another dimension to understanding. When different languages and cultures come together, the dynamics become exponentially complex. Among English speakers like at that Sunday dinner, wires get crossed. Sometimes even people who’ve known each other all their lives still need a translator.

There are many places where we need translators between people and groups. Actually, wherever there are people, we need translators. I think of it especially in some church services. Maybe it’s because it’s generally a formal place, where there is tradition and unspoken expectations, and a new-comer feels especially foreign.

This is not a critique about how to do church. That’s a subject for wiser, stronger people than me. This is a call to think about being translators for visitors, new friends, foreigners new to your culture and your spoken or unspoken languages.

I was glad for a translator when I visited a church where the minister asked for testimonies from the audience, but the lady beside me leaned over to tell me that he is talking to the men, because the women don’t speak.

I wished for a translator when visitors at church weren’t oriented to what was happening now, nor what would be happening next. Especially when the speaker asked us to kneel and everyone swirled around in their benches. Just between you and me and don’t tell anyone, I think kneeling back into the place we were just sitting is very uncivil and undignified and I love the gracefulness of kneeling forward to pray. However, if that’s not your culture’s tradition, you can help the visitor beside you by translating the invitation to kneel.

If I could do that Sunday dinner over now, I wouldn’t hesitate to clarify for our guest what our host was saying. It could be done without making anyone feel foolish. The point is clarity and explanation and education, and at the end, everyone understands each other better. Which would actually help a lot of issues everywhere, come to think of it.

Anyone can be a translator. At least, anyone who values what they have, and wants to share it beyond their borders. And anyone who understands that English doesn’t always sound like English.

My Stone

Nie mój cyrk, nie moja malpa. Not my circus, not my monkey. I’ve heard that this is a Polish maxim, but when I was living in Poland, I never heard it that way. I usually just heard nie moja sprawa.

The monkey line was whimsical and made me chuckle, but I could never remember it at the right time.

A couple weeks ago, I was at a women’s retreat and it was a wonderful time of fellowship and refreshment, everything a retreat should be. As a parallel to the décor of ferns, water fountains, moss, and stones, there was a basket of small stones at the registration table. Every one was supposed to choose a stone and was instructed to carry it with them all the time.

Then someone read the story of the man whom God asked to carry some stones to the top of the hill. On the way, other people asked him to take their stone, and in his good nature, the man accepted. The load got so heavy, he started blaming God for asking so much of him. But God reminded him that He never asked him to take on all the extra stones.

In the retreat, some of us were told to plant stones surreptitiously  in people’s bags and laps, to see what the women would do when they discovered more than their own pebble. Unfortunately, I was socializing too much and didn’t drop any stones anywhere. But one busy bee was planting them everywhere. She was sitting beside me in one workshop and afterwards we had this serious conversation, but when I turned my back, there was a hot pebble under my Bible, and the lady was gone. The pebble was warmed all through, holding its heat from being clenched in her hand, waiting for the right moment. The turkey!

She may or may not have had several handfuls of pebbles mysteriously scattered between her pillow case, sheets, and blanket that night. As always, the laughs are the best part of being together.

A couple days after the retreat, I heard bad news from several places, and it all wanted to paralyze me. Then I thought, No, that’s not my stone to carry.

I care deeply, will listen, pray, stay alert, but put it down. It’s not my stone. There was an extra stone in my bag when I came home, and I pitched it. I took the original one I chose from the basket, wrote my assignment on it with white-out pen, and put it on my desk.

This is my stone, the biggest current assignment that God is ever so gently but persistently asking me to carry. I don’t have room right now to carry any others.

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Live a Good Story

(This blog post is the more polished, non-nervous version of the short speech I gave at the singles’ seminar yesterday at Penn Valley, about my story of living with passion.)

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“Beauty will save the world.” This is what Dostoevsky said, and I think I agree.

But I like to tweak the line to say Stories will change the world. And I’m out to live a good story.

I was born and raised in Virginia, and when I was 21, my whole family moved to Ireland and that’s where they still are. I lived there 14 years, and 5 years in Poland. The shape and the energy of my life have to do with words and people. Which is stories. In Poland, I taught English as a second language, and it was wonderful because words were my currency of exchange and all I had to do was sit in front of someone make them talk. In Ireland, I thought about doing what good missionaries do, which is to write  book about being a missionary in a foreign country. That book didn’t get written because I don’t know how to be a good missionary, but something else happened that I never expected.

When I was 29, I was reading a letter from a friend who  mentioned something she was learning in her walk with Jesus as a single. A voice from the ceiling told me, “You need to write a book for girls like this.” I doubted the voice; I thought it was my colorful imagination, so I told God that if it was Him, could He please confirm it? For the next week, nearly every day, He nudged and reminded and confirmed that it had been Him.

My motivation was to encourage and inspire. It’s not a how-to book, with lists of formulas on how to recognize a good man or how to become perfectly content. I saw women who were looking at being 30 without romance, and they became desperate and bitter, and I knew that God intended more than that for His creation. The book is largely about acknowledging that very few of us are living the life we were planning to live, but finding beauty and richness in it regardless of changed plans.

Maybe it’s a woman thing, or maybe it’s just me, but my deepest fear has been that I am or will be completely and utterly alone. That I have no one to walk with, lean on, depend on. I don’t mind solitude, but the fear of being existentially, profoundly on my own with no other resources has terrified me. I don’t say this cockily, because I still have fleeting moments of that fear but the experience of writing my book has taken most of that fear away. Because it was such an incredibly companionable walk with Jesus, a partnership with Him, where every step was in the dark, and I depended on Him to tell me what to do next and how to do it, and I now I know, as I never did before that I am never, ever alone.

I didn’t know how to write a book. There are things you should do and shouldn’t do, and I didn’t know what they were. But at every step, God put the right people in my path to help or give advice–some people with whom I haven’t had contact since, but they were there when I needed their expertise.

One day at work between customers, I made a list of the words about topics I wanted to cover. That list became my working outline. I’d write a chapter about each topic, and two years later when I got to the end of the list, I stopped, and that was the book. The outline morphed into sections of living with purpose (what is settled in the past, behind us), passion (what we do with today) and promise (what to look forward to.) I’m not much for cutesy alliteration, but that just happened. I should maybe mention that several readers have said my India story makes them wonder if I’m married. I’m not married. The story is completely fiction, even while it is scarily what I could do.

I have a new job now, working on a dynamic team that’s developing a history curriculum for elementary students. I’ve never taught history, and never taught these grades, so my current learning curve is huge. But I feel that everything behind me has prepared me for this moment. Among other good things, it combines words and people (stories) so it’s something I can put my whole heart into.

Stories will change the world. Not everyone needs to write a book, but everyone can live a good story. Donald Miller says a story is when a main character wants something and goes through conflict to find it. You have desires and dreams. Keep them! The minute you cut off your dreams and decide they’re too messy or ridiculous, your story stops. When you have conflict, don’t try to avoid it. Conflict is what makes your story. Think Joseph. Without the conflict with his brothers, he wouldn’t have had a story; he’d have just been Joseph in the field. Living a good story is not about muscling through and making things work, but it’s about keeping in step with Jesus and entering into His life and love.

Because life is such an incredible, beautiful gift and we should make the most of it.

Kunfuzed

Yesterday we were sitting at beautiful wedding reception, eating hors’doeuvres.

My friend asked me a simple question: So do you miss Europe?

My eyes filled suddenly: Yes. Terribly.

“What do you miss about it?”

It’s odd, because I like how relaxed and friendly Americans are and I love how easy it is to talk with them, but I miss the elegance and dignity of Europeans. I miss dropped voices in public. I miss the refined manners and propriety and sense of fashion, all of which used to frustrate me to no end.

And it doesn’t make sense, because what I like is what I don’t like.

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Roots

america-219896_640   I landed in the US with empty hands except for three elephant suitcases. My aunt and her family took me in, giving me room and a job. Another uncle and aunt gave me a car to use for the time being. Another uncle gave me a phone to use especially for when I’m on the road alone.

Ten days later, I found myself in a borrowed car filled with gas, a borrowed GPS, and borrowed CD’s. I headed from southern OH to the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA, a 6+ hour drive. I worshipped when I saw the light emerge in the mountains and the clouds playing below the peaks. The masses of trees and wild flowers were unbelievable.

I’d promised myself a treat at a Starbucks at a travel plaza, and waited in an interminable line. When I finally got to give my order, the man behind me gestured me on and said he’d pay for my mocha frappe. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I still think that all the pleasantries and wishing each other a good day, all these positive vibes wafting around in this country, all the “How are you’s” have to nudge people to pay it forward and think warmer thoughts towards strangers here more than in the post-communist country I’ve lived in the last five years.

I was on my way to the area where I lived 19 years ago. The occasion was the dispersal of my Yoder grandparent’s belongings. It was the last Yoder gathering of its kind, and I was the sole representative of my immediate family, since they weren’t able to leave Ireland and Kansas for this weekend. I don’t know why it was me who was able to be there, being the least sentimental of any of us, and not in a position to accumulate anything sizable for myself. Living from three suitcases rearranges one’s idea of Stuff in a hurry. But I had the fun of bidding on behalf of my parents and siblings, and indeed, they bid now and then via Skype!

The family auction was filled with understated, simple humor as only the Yoders can carry off. We made jokes and resurrected stories about the ancient hard-as-a-board green couch, but no one would be persuaded to bid on it. Food appeared at lunch and supper times as if by magic, the women having planned and scurried around and it looked effortless to me, but I knew better and soaked up the care and love and grace.

Several times I scanned our small army of aunts, uncles, cousins, and baby cousins, and kept thinking that our stories belong in a novel, and here we are living as if everything is normal, and the blazing sunset and blinking fireflies and the bumps and bruises and gifts of our lives are just nodded at for a second and seemingly forgotten.

But I think they should be celebrated and wondered at, and discussed and thanked God for. The stories that include interracial marriages, several foreign languages, multiple heart breaks, redemption, probation rules, health nuts, scandal, simple faith, and cancer–oh yes, and auctions–always auctions.

Sunday morning I went to the church that used to be ours 19 years ago, and saw white hair on my former teachers, and heard the same phrases that I always did in the prayers, and listened while the four-part harmony wrapped itself around me as if with warm skeins of undulating color.

While the message was going in full force, I heard a discreet little voice behind me. The little girl was born in Europe where cultured people drop their voices in public. “Mama, why is he shouting?”

Then her mom’s wise perspective: “It’s ok—it’s just the way he preaches.”

I identified with the girl because I wanted to push away the shouting too. I’m not used to the decibels in people’s normal conversations in this country, let alone a raised voice from behind the pulpit, and it might always make me cringe a little.

But I saw God revealed in people’s love for me, their generosity and looking out for others, my two dinner invitations and connecting with old pals. It was the little things that impacted me:

“Is there anything I can do for you Yoders?”  “Go over to our garage and fill up your tank with gas.”  “Would you like a cup of coffee for the road?”

Some things never change, but nothing is the same.