Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Miracle on the Mountain"

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. It wasn't such a big one; not like the fire that fell on Elijah's altar.Not exactly like when Mt. Sinai trembled and smoked.

But it was a little one; something out of the ordinary. And when you're like me, not really sure if you've ever seen a miracle, even the smallest one seems exceptionally special.

It happened like this.

 Several weeks ago, my two young "mountain men" apprentices (who for our purposes here we'll call Copernious and Austonio) and I headed out one Sat. morning for the Peaks of Otter. I mean how could you consider yourselves mountain men if every now and again you wouldn't actually climb one, right?
Move over Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; you've got some up and coming competition!

We had done our preparations well. At least the most important ones. Like filling our packs with plenty of beef sticks, jerky, chips, cookies, a soda apiece and subs from Rosie's Cozy Kitchen. You know, the bare essentials from all the main food groups.

Now there are many terrible things that could happen to you on a dangerous mountain climb, things like falling off a cliff, getting lost, or getting et up by a bear. But dying of starvation would have to be the absolute  worst thing of all.

We looked at the map before we left. I told them that I sometimes like to find a "road less traveled" (who would have guessed it) to get where I'm going rather than always taking the big well traveled  all-so-boring highways.  

So instead of taking Rt.43 at Bedford and heading for the Peaks, we went on past a ways and turned off on a small country road and headed north. I had never been this way myself. It lead us thru some beautiful countryside and kept getting narrower and less populated until it finally turned to gravel.                 ( Mary always says that this is when I begin to get happy)

 Sitting right along side the road opposite  one of the last houses, was a very old truck, older than any I recognized. Maybe something out of the forties? It looked like it had just gotten parked there one day and there it still was. Gave you the feeling that time had maybe stood still up in this hollow.

After passing the last houses the road started heading up the mountain. And head up the mountain it did. There were a few places you could look down and see two or three curves below us where we had switchbacked our way thru just before. Copernious said he was getting some scared feelings about this route.

We did make it (which you've probably concluded by now) and actually came out right beside the Sharp Top parking lot without  ever getting on the Parkway or Rt. 43 either one. And that's not even the miracle yet.

Next was trying to decide how many clothes to leave on for the climb. It was cold at the bottom of the mountain so, as I figured, we left on one too many jackets and soon got too warm. We stopped by a rock in the middle of the trail (one we thought we'd recognize on the way down) and hid our coats up the bank a ways and covered them with leaves.

I know, you're trying to be patient about the miracle. That's just it; miracles don't happen very often to the impatient, so just try to stay calm.

We had climbed at least three fourths of the way up when we encountered a group of people stopped along the trail. Some on one side and some on the other. We started to make our way thru the group and were just about past the last few when one guy said to me, "Would you care to join us for a time of prayer?"

 I said sure, so we stopped on the uphill side of the group. And those in the group started praying, randomly one after the other.

Now these prayers weren't exactly like mine. These people went on thanking God for the lovely day, for His beautiful creation and the privilege we all have to be part of it. Just pure worship, plain and simple.

Now I believe all that same stuff too, but when I pray I get right down to business. "Lord, we've got a need here. We need strength to go on. Someone is in an extremely trying situation, Lord. Unless You put forth Your Hand to help us, we won't make it, Lord!"

So I was listening, drinking in the beauty in these prayers. I had a hard time not crying; it felt like God was meeting me on this mountain.

About this time, Copernious launched in praying. And lo and behold when he was done Austonio started in. You talk about something that made this old mountain man's heart about to pop!

I did gain my composure enough before the prayer meeting was done to pray myself  without blubbering. I prayed that just as we were on this climb today that we would take up the challenge of the "climb of life". And that we would encourage each other on the way. And that He would guide our steps so we do not stumble.

Finally the guy who was to close did so, and we were done. I thanked them and told them that I've spent some time in discouragement lately and this was a real encouragement to me.

I wondered too where they were from. I was thinking the whole time that this was one group, together. As they began to say where they were from, I realized that they weren't all one group. No, they said, some of us just met right here on the trail. One group heard someone in the other group say that this would be a good place to stop and have prayer. And the second group came along and asked if they could join them. And then we came along before they got started.

So we were at least three groups of strangers gathered on one mountain in the same prayer meeting. How many times has this happened to you? A small miracle, wouldn't you say?

Another thing really blessed me as we were chatting afterwards. One of the ladies (who we had passed a while before on the trail) said that when we passed by,both boys looked her full in the face and said a friendly hello. She said very few youngsters look at you with full, open faces these days.
She said that she thought to herself at the time, "These guys are believers!"

I told the boys on the way home how proud I was of them praying. Copernious said he figured that if these people are Christians and he's a Christian, he might as well. Austonio said that when Copernious prayed it gave him the courage to do the same.  I commended them on the friendly, open face thing as well.

It would have been a lovely day without the miracle. With it, the day was outstanding.

And from now on when I round that last turn before coming into Gladys, (where on clear days you can see the Peaks of Otter  looming up 50 or 60 miles away) I will always remember the "miracle on the mountain."

The children of Israel set up twelve stones for a monument; I'm gonna claim old Sharp Top for one of mine.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"December 11, 1976"

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Well, that may be stretching it. Let me start over. I remember it like it was day before yesterday. What I'm trying to say is that this date in ancient history is forever and indelibly impressed on my mind.

Because Mary and I got married on that day. And our marriage started out with a big bang, literally.

We had met in a nursing home, which I know seems odd and somewhat less than romantic. It happened like this.......... my friend Randy was working at Clyde Bender's nursing home in Stuarts Draft and he wanted to go to Bible School for three weeks. I to this day don't know what made me say it, but I told him I'd come up and take his place for those three weeks. I was shyer than a bashful church mouse so this was quite out of character for me.

Sure enough, Randy took me up on my offer.

Now Mary was from Harrisonburg and had recently moved to Draft to be the head cook at the home. I had met her only once before when a few of my friends and I had stopped in to visit Randy.

I had always thought I wouldn't be able to stand working in a nursing home. All the strange moaning and groaning from the residents who weren't in their right minds. And the smell.....

But I can honestly say I learned to love it. There were enough residents in their right minds to interact with and you learned to love the others as well.

There were some sad ones, too. Like Elsie Dunn. She would walk up and down the halls saying to anyone who would listen about how she was from Sowth Hill, Vahginnya. And she's got a dayeed husband. And her people don't love her and just put her ovah heah. And she shore would like to have an oatmeal suppah.

There was a very cultured blind lady there, Mrs. Hartley. She would follow me to the table at meal time by placing her hand on my shoulder. Almost always she would exclaim, "Heavens! I've never felt a shoulder so bony!" (I probably weighed about 140 back then) And when Frank Zuantner, (who ate his food without chewing) would begin to choke and make all sorts of terrible sounds, she would exclaim, "Heavens! What kind of a place am I in!??"

 I realize that this is more information than you need to know, but I do know for sure that Frank COULD actually eat  lima beans without chewing them, as I saw some once that had made the full digestive circuit and still looked none the worse for the wear. (Did I mention that nursing home work wasn't for the faint hearted?)

I could tell you about Mrs. Cunningham, and Mr. Rohrer. And Mr. Strickland who was a professor at the University of Richmond. He had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was at the home  for rehabilitation. He later went back to his job at the college.

But I  really need to get on with my story. I learned to know Mary there as well.  She was, well, not like any other girl I knew. Of course I didn't know many girls (I was petrified of them) and the ones I did know had church mouse personalities sort of like mine.

She was outgoing without being bold. She was feisty and  could hold her own in most any argument. She was a dedicated and hard worker and a mighty good cook. I enjoyed being around her.

One mealtime at the home we were serving the residents and Mary was telling Sharon about the taffy pull they were having at her youth group at Harrisonburg.  And since it was leap year the girls had to ask a boy to pull taffy with her. No way was she going to do that, she said. Sharon pipes up, "I bet Merle would go with you, now wouldn't you Merle?"

What could I say? So I said sure, I'd go along.

Sharon and Irvan went along too that night. We pulled taffy and all Mary's friends pulled her aside when they had the chance and asked her if there was something to this. She assured them it was just a convenience arrangement so she wouldn't have to ask a guy.

On the way back home we had to pick up Mary's car which had been in Harrisonburg for repairs. We knew Sharon and Irvan would like to be by themselves so Mary and I rode home in her car. By now she was beginning to wonder if there was something to this after all. But of course I'm slow and haven't got there yet.

But sometime during the night it dawns on me that, you know, I really like this girl. So the next day I ask her if she wants to go to Gladys with me on Sunday. She accepts (and all her friends think she lied to them the night before) and the rest, as they say, is history.

That was a long, round about way of getting to Dec. 11, 1976.  (I have a weakness for rabbit trails, I know)

Anyway, we got married at the Bank Church on that date. My dad preached something about Isaac finding a wife. Lloyd Horst pronounced us man and wife. And we headed to Turner Ashby High School  for the reception.

About 3:00 or so we left and headed across the mountain towards West Va. where we had a cabin rented. A mile or two before Franklin, West Va. it was almost dark and was just beginning to rain when two deer popped out of  nowhere right in front of the car. I'm sure everyone who hears this story wonders if for sure I had my eyes on the road and paying full attention to my driving. And since I don't believe in swearing, I will absolutely affirm that I can answer to the positive on both accounts.

They first deer made it across. The second wasn't so lucky. Neither were we.

Out of instinct I hit the brakes. Hit them too hard for the wet road. (this was before the days of anti-lock brakes) The second deer hit on the front drivers corner of the car and with the brakes locked it spun us around half a turn and we rammed the bank on the opposite side of the road going backwards. A man outside his house on the hill above the road saw it happen and said when we hit the bank the front end of the car came up so high he thought we were going over on the roof yet to boot.

We were shook up but unhurt. The car  was totaled. The man and his wife invited us in and were very kind. The man happened to own a garage in Franklin, so he towed the car in while we waited for Mary's dad to come back across the mountain to pick us up. How humiliating.

As I said, we started married life with a bang. I should have realized then that it was a harbinger of things to come.

So what did we do this Dec. 11?  

You probably won't believe it. After dark we drove up to my cousin Dwayne's field called the "High Meadow" and looked for deer. We saw four but they took off for the woods before I could run into one for  old times sake.

And did I have my full attention on my driving on this night?  Well now, that would be for me to know and for you to never find out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"The Worship of Lament"

I had a epiphany moment a month or so ago. In other words," an experience of sudden and striking realization."

Now in my long and mediocre career epiphany moments have been few and far between. Maybe a few when I was growing up but certainly none lately. When you get my age you don't really expect new revelations; some nuanced understandings on things perhaps, but nothing really new.

Anyway, it happened on a quiet day at our own house. Mary handed me some writing done by Val Yoder and his late wife Krystal. One page was entitled "The Worship of Praise" and the other "The Worship of Lament".

It got my attention right away. I had always thought there was only one kind of worship, the praise kind. I knew that I wasn't in that frame of mind all that much, but I just figured it was just the mark of the poor Christian that I am.

Val and Krystal were saying that "lament" can be worship every bit as much as  the worship of praise. They said (and I've read it several other places since) that one third of the Psalms are psalms of lament. How could I have lived this long and missed this? I do remember reading thru the Psalms in the last year and feeling a deep connection to the ones (that I now realize) are Psalms of lament.

Now, even when I was young I loved writings such as Ecclesiastes. "All is vanity and vexation of spirit and a chasing after the wind". And I wasn't even a pessimist yet. I loved the quote attributed to Satchel Paige, the famous black baseball pitcher, who said, "Never look back, something might be gaining on you!" The songs that are most dear to my heart are songs that would fit into the "lament" category. Like "Pass me not, oh gentle Saviour, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by!" Like "We are pilgrims, on a journey, through the darkness of the night".

Let me ask you a question; if you had to say, would you feel there is more sum total joy in the world or more sum total sorrow? I'd say sorrow and sadness win hands down. This old world is just oozing with sorrow.

Now maybe you're saying that I haven't gotten a grasp on the fullness of joy that awaits. You'd be right. I haven't. Because I'm talking about this old world that we're in now.

But back to the epiphany. I've been spending a lot of time in lament lately and have been feeling discouraged about it. I had the idea that lament is maybe part of the "grief process" or something; a stage you go through until you come to that place of overwhelming joy and praise that all "real" Christians experience.  Well, it weren't happening for me.

It was so freeing for me to find out that LAMENT IS WORSHIP ALSO! Pouring out your heart full of sorrow and pain. And finally putting it all "on the altar" since there is really nothing else you can do unless you want to keep carrying it all by yourself.

We're not talking here about ranting and raving at God for what we perceive to be injustices allowed by Him. Although, some of David's psalms sound like they come pretty close. And some of Job's statements.

Now I've never ranted and raved at God. Once, for several seconds, I came close.

The last ten years maybe, I don't sleep as well at night. I used to lay there frustrated, knowing that if I couldn't get back to sleep I would feel so bushed in the morning. I finally started just getting up and using that nice quiet time in the middle of the night to pray. Back when Myron was still and home and granddaughter Alexis still lived with us, I would sometimes go outside and walk around the house. (yes, this was the middle of the night; I haven't done it for a good while now; I think about those four bears cousin Donnie saw a half mile from our house) I would march around the house seven times. I figured if seven times around Jericho could knock those walls flat, maybe seven positive times around our house would build it up. I would stop beside each bedroom wall and pray mightily for the one asleep inside.  I would pray that the powers of darkness would be held back from crossing my "line in the sand".

Sometime later Mary and Alexis gave me a small bronze looking figurine of a man kneeling in prayer that they found at the Christian Bookstore. They had it engraved with the words "Thank you, Pa-Pa". It has set on our dresser for years now.

Anyway, here some months back I went into the bedroom to get something and happened to notice the figurine. For several seconds the overwhelming urge came over me to take it outside and smash it into a thousand pieces with a sledge hammer. "A lot of good all that praying did!" was what was going thru my mind.

Like I said, it lasted several seconds and then I felt pretty much "back on the altar" again.

Can good come out of a time of lament? Most definitely. I would never have chosen some of the things that have caused my laments, but I have to admit there is some good that comes along with it. I'm more tender now. I'm a little more apt to think of what might be causing someone else pain. I'm not quite so scared to reach out in some way to them. Pain is a great leveler.

I've never had a hint of any song writing potential, but several songs have come to me during this season of lament. I had the chorus of one of them in the last post; here's the whole thing.

                                                       Thou He Slay Me
                               There was a good and upright man
                                the most respected in the land
                                 he had no clue to what the future held in store
                                 it happened all in one short day
                                 his wealth, his children passed away
                                 now will he choose to trust, or curse his God and die

                                Job said I'll trust Him, though He slay me
                                how could I ever curse Him, then and die
                                Lord if I turn away from You, who else could I turn to
                                hold me in the hollow of Your hand

                                I once was young and so carefree
                                I had no worries, no not me
                                I had no time for those who fretted, needlessly
                                but then great heartache came my way
                                 I hardly had the breath to pray
                                 I lay face down, amongst the ashes of my dreams

                                 I cried oh Lord, how could this be
                                  your master plan I fail to see
                                 I asked for bread, but this feels like a stone
                                 I wonder why this dreadful test
                                 when I thought I'd done my best
                                  now will I choose to trust Him, even so

                                I choose to trust Him, though He slay me
                                how could I ever curse Him, then and die
                                   Lord if I turn away from You, who else could I turn to
                                   hold me in the hollow of Your hand

And another came soon after that.........

                                   The Hand That Paints the Sky

                                Have you ever watched the sunset
                                as it spreads it's crimson shade
                                  and been afraid to look away lest
                                    the whole scene should quickly fade
                                   as you sit in reverent silence
                                   contemplating life's unknowns
                                   does the hand that paints the sky
                                    see my struggle far below

                                 Does the Hand that paints the sky
                                 care for this small lump of clay
                                 can He feel that  my heart's breaking
                                with the cares that came my way
                                will He hear me when I call out
                                 will He answer by and by
                                   will He make sense of my canvas
                                   This Hand that paints the sky

                                  I know He has the power
                                   the universe waits His command
                                   and when He paints the sky at evening
                                    I see the touch of Sovereign hands
                                    the mixture of the colors
                                    the scale and the expanse
                                      points to a heavenly artist
                                    this Hand that paints the sky

                                   But does the Hand that paints the sky
                                     care for this small lump of clay
                                        can He feel that my heart's breaking
                                           with the cares that came my way
                                          will He hear me when I call out
                                             will He answer by and by
                                           will He make sense of my canvas
                                          this Hand that paints the sky

                                     Oh yes, the Hand that paints the sky
                                     has ears that  hear you when you call
                                       He counts your every tear,
                                      just as He sees the sparrow fall
                                       Give to Him your heavy burden
                                         cast on Him your every care
                                         He's the master canvas painter
                                            this Hand that paints the sky

And another soon after........ just a phrase from it; "since I was born a poor, lost starving man, if I'm gonna make it thru this barren land, I've got to have grace (full abounding overflowing) so rich and free".

My favorite song of lament right now is one by the Wiley College Accapella Choir entitled "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray". Some of those old Negro Spirituals have more lament packed in a few lines than most white people get in a whole cd. Listen to it here.

The guy that sings it uses such a old plantation accent that it's hard to catch the words. The song is lamenting about when Jesus was in such agony in the garden and nobody would watch with Him in prayer. "Dark was the night and cold the ground, on which my Lord was laid, great drops of blood like sweat rolled down, in agony He prayed. Oh Lord, I couldn't hear nobody pray, I couldn't hear nobody pray. I was way down yonder by myself, and I couldn't hear nobody pray." I still don't have all the second verse figured out. Something about "bitter herb, if such Thy sacred will, but if not __ ____ I'll drink it up, Thy plan I must fulfill." If you can listen (and watch the guy singing) without feeling moved, I question whether you have a soul at all.

Whew. This has gotten way too long. One more question. Am I worried that I'll not be able to switch gears from lament to praise when the time comes? At the risk of sounding like I'm swearing, heavens no!!

If I am privileged  by God's grace to be ushered into the presence of Jesus one day, when my days of lament are will be quite a scene, for sure. I'll scream, I'll wail for joy; I'll cry a river. If you value your peace and quiet, you might want to be sure you're on the other side of the City.

This old Southern Gospel song expresses it better than I could myself, so I'll close with it.

                                  I'm gonna let the glory roll when the roll is called in glory
                                  I'm gonna get beside a myself when I get beside a the King, that day
                                  I'm gonna have the time of my life when the time of my life is over
                                  I'm gonna get carried away when I get carried away!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Build an Altar!"

I've decided there are several things in life that I must do to keep my sanity. Writing is one of them. Singing is another. And most important of all, I must build an altar every so often.

Build an altar, you say? I mean, this ain't the Old Testament exactly.

Well, if I recall the New Testament mentions something about being a "living sacrifice", in which case the sacrifice would be ourselves. And the best way to visualize that is by placing that sacrifice on an altar. An altar speaks of laying something down, of yielding, of death, if you please.

And what do you do with things that are outside of your control? Fret and fume and worry and despair? Yeah, me too. But when I get good and tired of that, I go build an altar.

I've had some practice at it. There have been a lot of things in my life I couldn't control. You would think it should get easier the more times you have to do it. Maybe it does, a little, but it still seems dreadfully hard each time.

By my way of thinking, if I was almighty, (don't mean to be sacrilegious here) I would kind of leave a person alone after he had built several. But my way of thinking doesn't always seem to work out in real life.

Because just recently we built another altar.  At least this time we built it before we knew for sure that one was needed.

Of course, that sounds silly. We actually needed one all along; it's just that we usually wait until something feels out of our control before we see the need.

Those of you who know us know our son Myron, who is very nearly blind. He has kept a good attitude about his blindness, put it on the "altar," you might say, and been very blessed by God. As in a livelihood, a wife, a son two years ago, and then another son six months ago.

When Caleb was born we watched him closely. How happy we were when it became obvious he could see. Then six months ago Clifton was born. You may have read some about it in the "New Life" post back in the spring.

We watched him, too. The longer it went we began to wonder if there was a problem. The family doctor said he was fine but we weren't sure we agreed with him. To make a long story short, just last week the eye doctor specialist confirmed our fears. She feels pretty certain that Clifton has the same eye condition as Myron. 

As you might imagine, we feel a little numb. We had pleaded with God to allow him to see. And we as parents remember the long road of wondering and struggle until we began to see some of the good that God had in store in Myron's case.

And while I'm thinking of it, let me mention something here. It's a warning. Never, I say NEVER, say something in my hearing about that maybe Myron and Heidi shouldn't have had children. If I were to hear you say that  it would take every ounce of my non-resistance to keep me from getting you by the throat and choking you to within an inch of your life. (sounds a little passionate for a Yoder, I know)

But back to the altar. We had built one a few months before.

Mary and I had gone on a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's something we love to do. It seems to wash some of the stress of life away to get up above the crud and grime of "civilization" and breathe deeply of God's mountain air.

That day we were burdened for Clifton. And for Myron and Heidi. Somewhere around milepost 25 we stopped, went up a short trail to a spot called "Indian Rocks", I think it was, and gathered stones and built a small altar. It was Cliftons altar.

We prayed. We told the Lord that we knew we couldn't control this one. That we were releasing Cliff to His Almighty care; to do with him as He sees fit for His glory.

I think it helped us get thru the days of wondering and then facing the news of last week.

You know, when we face trouble or a great disappointment, we have the same two choices that Job had to choose between. The first one was what his lousy wife suggested; to curse God and die. The second, which Job chose to do, was to"trust Him though He slay me".

                                 "I choose to trust Him, though He slay me,
                                    How could I ever curse Him, then and die,
                                    Lord, if I turn away from You, who else could I turn to,
                                     Hold me, in the hollow, of Your hand."

And in the meantime, before we can make any sense out of the loose and confusing strands of what will become God's tapestry for Cliftons life, we will love the living daylights out of that little boy. Well, he's not so little. In the high nineties on the percentiles for height and weight. Built like a linebacker. And you should see him jump in the spring loaded jumping thing that hooks over the doorway. He jumps till he's almost gasping for breath.

We will teach him everything we can about life around him. We will have picnics and swim in the creek. Read him books that will take him on great adventures to far off places. Spend many hours riding with Pa-Pa in the loader and knuckleboom moving logs.

And most of all, help plant that seed of childlike faith, till he gets old enough to build an altar of his own. 

                                "Sure, it takes a lot of courage
                                  to put things in God's hands,
                                  to give ourselves completely
                                  our lives, our hopes, our plans,
                                   to follow where He leads us,
                                    and make His will our own.
                                    But all it takes is foolishness
                                    to go the way alone."

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Redneck or No?"

I got an email from a younger friend some time after the "Redneck" post. He was trying to figure out if he qualified to join the ranks or not. I will not divulge his name here to respect his privacy and seeing as his in-laws live north of the Mason Dixon, we wouldn't want them to think any less of him now would we?

He started off telling me that he was proud of his Southern heritage, (well, as proud as a conservative Mennonite Christian can be, he said)

 He said he felt he should get some points for the car he drove when he was courting his wife. It had an off-color left front fender and he had to drive it all around Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pennsylvania and had to park alongside all the classy and expensive cars that  are common there.  (yeah, let's give him a few points for that)

Next he mentioned that he works in tennis shoes a lot. And he makes sure he gets his money's worth out of them, too. He glues them and duct tapes them to get a few extra days out of them. And he has been known to get them back out of the trash after his wife had thrown them away. (I'd give him a good handful of points here)

He also said that he figures the shoes are a good marketing ploy; maybe people will feel sorry for him and buy more strawberries. (hey, give him ten points here; good old redneck ingenuity!)

He did say he just bought himself a new pair of Wolverine work boots and how much more confident and manly he feels in them. Now plenty of rednecks wear Wolverines so we won't hold that against him. He will just have to decide between the confident manliness or the marketing strategy.

He did mention a few negatives. He doesn't have a car up on blocks in his front yard. (I didn't ask him about the back yard or out by the shop) He doesn't own any hounds; the one and only dog he had ran away. And he doesn't own a pair of bib overalls although he says he has wanted some for years.( I'd say let's call this one a wash; his desire for the overalls should balance out the other two negatives)

But the one last thing that really put him over the top in my book was the fact that his lawn mower doesn't have a hood. It wouldn't have been something that I would have thought of right off, but man, that is classic redneck! (give him 20 points for this one)

I consulted with Jeremy and we both thought we should let him in. I emailed him back that we may even have a leadership position open. That possibly he could head up a Northern Division of the Southern Campbell County Christian Redneck Association.

Ain't brotherhood a wonderful thing?!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"In Defense of the Common Redneck"

Whew! I can't tell you what a relief it is to get back to a subject I really know something about. I was in kind of deep water on my last post so now I feel a little like Brer Rabbit after he had got hissef throwd back into the brier patch. Man, it feels mighty good to be home!

Now maybe you didn't realize it, but there are actually some Christian rednecks around. In fact there are a few (me and Jeremy anyway) Mennonite Christian rednecks in southern Campbell County. If you go north towards Charlottesville and east towards Richmond or Va. Beach people get more high-falutin and citified. If you to west towards Floyd County (I've got relatives there) you run into just plain old hillbillys. There's some similarities but they ain't necesarily the same.
 My good friend Jeremy (sorry Jordan, couldn't get you out of the way) and his favorite t-shirt. At least I guess it is because he wore it in the picture that his family sent out at Christmas time. How to hunt like a redneck. Shine, shoot, and run!

How can you tell if you're in redneck country? Let me  give you a few clues. One surefire way to know you're passing thru redneck country is if all the road signs are shot full of holes. I've never really figured this one out, but rednecks do have a strong hankering for shooting things and maybe when hunting season isn't in they just have to cut loose at something.

Another obvious clue is how much curl is on the bill of a guy's baseball style cap. The more curl, the more redneck. I personally wear mine at about half-curl which would be sort of moderately redneckish.

At the peak of my career. Myron and I were singing "Now the way to cook a possum is to bake him nice and sweet, put him in a fryin' pan with taters roun' his feet"
And the bib overalls. Tuck Poindexter was one of my favorite locals. Tuck was a big man with a big voice. I'm not sure I ever saw him in anything else except bib overalls. He kept his head shaved like a pealed onion, had a walrus mustache, had one arm missing; sometimes he wore his hook and sometimes he didn't. In the summer his favorite wardrobe was the bib overalls all by themselves with no shirt.  He had a cattle truck and did our cattle hauling for many years. Tuck had a closer sense of "space" between people than most.When having a conversation you would feel a little too close so you would back up a step every so often. Then of course he would take a step forward. If you were in a 20 minute conversation you might be 10 or 15 feet back from where you started from at the beginning.

And listen to the jokes. In Lancaster or Goshen they have Amish jokes. Around here it's the redneck ones. Like "you know you're a redneck if your front porch falls off and more than five hounds get killed". One of my favorites actually mentions the Amish as well. How to tell if your Amish neighbor is a redneck?? If he has his horse up on blocks.

There really is something about the relationship between a redneck and his hounds. Years ago  Whitehall Plantation  was bought by Mr. James Britt from Suffolk, VA. Now they hunted deer with hounds back in Suffolk as well, but they would surround a tract of land and use the hounds more like drivers.

Here the redneck hunt clubs (even though I claim to be a redneck, I don't like this style of hunting) run big Walker hounds and turn their dogs loose on one road and run the deer hoping they will cross another road somewhere. And sometimes they run the deer for miles. And while the dogs are trailing the deer, the "hunters" are roaring up and down the roads in their 4wheel drive pickups keeping each other informed on the particulars of the chase by cb radio. Billy Joe Poindexter told me once how some of the guys in the hunt club determined if they had a good hunting day. If you burned a tank of gas and shot up a box of shells, that was a good day. It didn't really have that much to do with killing a deer, he said.

What really irked Mr. Britt was that they hunted his land without his permission. The dogs ran thru his property and they would just pick the deer off when they crossed the road; they didn't even need to get on his land themselves. So he started shooting a hound every now and then when he thought he could get away with it.

Somehow this was found out and he was hauled into court. He told me afterwards that he found out one thing, if you want to do something to these guys, shoot their wife maybe but definitely don't shoot their hounds.

You know you're in redneck country if Mud Bogging is one of the main sports. Never heard of it?  There is a big trench dug out and filled with dirt and water to make mud. Then you try to get thru it with your pickup." I've never actually been to one and probably better not start. When I was young and was off-roading and came to a mud hole, I would feel this irresistable  urge to see if I could make it thru to the other side. And I didn't have a 4wheel drive truck either, so the technique was to back up and get the most speed possible so the speed would carry you at least part way thru on pure inertia. If you did get bogged down you had to use the old rock it back and forth trick. You weren't truly stuck as long as you were still gaining a couple of inches on each forward run.

Mike Cox is a friend of my cousin Donnie and was also the sheriff of neighboring Amherst County some years back. He told me how it was when he got elected. He was running against an incumbent  sheriff who didn't take his challenge all that seriously. The incumbent made the statement, "Oh, the only ones who will vote for Mike will be the redneck loggers." Well, said Mike, what the old boy didn't realize was that most of Amherst County people were redneck loggers!

Now rednecks aren't always model citizens. Reminds me of the words of an old country song I remember from years ago. It goes, "Makin' their way, the only way they know how;  that's just a little bit more than the law will allow." They might be a good neighbor on one hand and make a little moonshine on the other.

But there are some things about them you've just got to admire.(here are a few nuggets I got from a redneck website) They have no respect for man made timelines. They live one day at a time. A true redneck may put his car up on blocks for a decade before restoration begins. True-blue rednecks feel really sorry for the poor people who work themselves to the bone for 8 years in college only to become corporate slaves.

Where did the term "redneck" come from anyway? In the 1640's there were Presbyterians in (I think) Scotland (or was it Ireland) who refused to accept the Church of England as their official state church. They signed a covenant opposing it, some of them signing with their own blood. This lead to them being called "Covenanters". They also would wear red cloths around their necks to publicly identify themselves with the movement. This gave them the nickname "rednecks", which followed them to the New World.

Rednecks. You gotta love 'em in spite of themselves.

 And I think when I go to work tomorrow morning and before I put on my faithful Hackett's Chain Saw Sales camouflage cap I'll give that bill just a little bit more curl for good measure.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Food For Thought"

Here is a very thought-provoking blog post written by my uncle Harvey Yoder. Well worth reading......

Harvspot: Knit Together by Differences

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Non-Traditionally Conservative"

From the very first time I used the words "non-traditionally conservative" in the profile section, I knew I would have to write about it sometime. Well, it's starting to stick in my gut so I might as well get it out of my system.

Now one thing the older generation never told me is that sometimes the older you get the LESS sure you get about things. I always looked at the older ones and thought how nice it would be to have everything figured out  and your convictions all set like concrete. Of course, maybe I'm the first one to which this phenomenon is happening. I've been suspicious for awhile now that I'm abnormal.

On one hand, I'm definitely a conservative. Almost a "rank" conservative in some ways. Like in vehicles. Suppose I could take a poll about vehicles that would include all our conservative Mennonite churches. What percentage, do you think, would be driving a primary vehicle that has almost 250,000 miles on it??  I'd be willing to bet (if I was a betting man) that the percentage would be very, very low. Conservative Mennonites may be big believers in simplicity and non-conformity but it doesn't show up too much in their cars.

Even my dear son Myron pokes some fun at our van that has 248,000 miles, but I'm determined to make it run till 300,000. It still goes between 5,000 mile oil changes without needing any added oil and has the original engine and transmission. I like a vehicle to run well, look decent,etc. but I've just never felt the need to prop up my image with a status symbol.

And clothes? I think I could go a year or two and not feel the need to buy a thing along those lines. (Well, let me qualify that. I do need a buckskin shirt and pants, but other than that I'm entirely good)

So in areas like this I'm quite conservative. But in some others, not so much. Like in areas concerning church systems of uniformity. One time years ago, William McGrath was having meetings at the South Boston church. We got there late and got seated all the way up front. He asked the question, "How many of you believe that  for a church to have unity you must have uniformity?" Hands were raised all over, but I couldn't conscientiously  raise mine.

We go almost every year to the "Physically Challenged" seminar at Penn Valley Retreat Center in PA. It's a real mixture of people; Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Horning, Eastern, Beachy, Pilgrim Fellowship,  and a few stray, suspicious "Independent" Mennonites like ourselves. We have the most wonderful fellowship as any I've ever experienced. And we should.

But I wonder what would happen if we would decide that since our fellowship is so great, we'll just camp out there for a year or two and have church. Do you think it would work?  I'd be very afraid that our desire for "uniformity" would destroy the fellowship we so enjoyed. But couldn't it work if we kept our eyes on what gave us grounds for fellowship in the first place? 

I really don't know how this happened that I turned out this way. I mean, I come from pretty stable Mennonite stock on both sides of my family. And the last thing I want to be is a pain to my brothers and sisters in the faith.

I really do consider myself a blue-blood Anabaptist. (if there happen to be any of you out there reading this that aren't familiar with the term "Anabaptist"; it doesn't mean "anti-baptist" but rather "re-baptizers". The Anabaptists had their start  in the early 1500's when they, among other things, rejected infant baptism) When I think and read about the sufferings these spiritual forefathers of mine went thru, my heart is deeply stirred.

And let me say this also; this blog is ABSOLUTELY  NOT going to turn into a place to rant about all things Mennonite. There are far smarter people out there better at that than I am. To be honest with you, when I read or hear people putting down the Mennonites in a derogatory way, it makes me a little upset. I know we've got some problems, but these are "my people" you're talking about!

But I'll have to admit, I've got a few questions and a few problems with us myself. I'm one that's big on things "making sense". And of course sometimes things seem to "make sense" within our subculture but not so much to the ones looking on. Now the "way of the cross" will never make sense to most of the non-believers looking on. That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about things like this: in some groups the requirement may be (for "simplicity" and "non-conformity") to have black cars. but if you would go to their services probably 90% of the men would have on white shirts. How is this figured out? How can we be sure we shouldn't be wearing black shirts and driving white cars? Personally, I wear black shirts a lot; it's my small effort in trying to bring a little balance to the situation.

Harrisonburg, VA. Does this "make sense" to you?

Another thing that bothers me is I'm afraid sometimes we have a superior attitude. I've heard preachers talking about the poor conditions in the Christian churches of today and say something like, "and even in our Mennonite churches" this and so. To me it sounds like we consider ourselves at the top of the list. Wouldn't it be better to say, "Our churches aren't innocent in this (whatever we're talking about) either".

I was listening to a sermon in a visiting Mennonite church recently. And a good sermon it was.Well, it was.............. until the minister was talking about how even with all the terrible conditions in the world today, God is still building His church. He was telling about some non-Mennonite couple they had learned to know who had moved to another state and were starting a fellowship that was really hungering and thirsting after God. The minister and his wife were on a trip and stopped in to see this couple. He said what a blessing it was to him to see how "God was building His church". Now of course, he said, we wouldn't commune with them.

What? Did I hear right? This is "God's church" and we're supposed to be part of God's church also? It left me feeling a little confused. It's more than a little scary to me if we were sure by all evidences that someone was part of God's church but we couldn't commune with them. It would give me the panicky feeling of "what if I'm in the wrong church?"

And then I worry, too, about the verses talking about"teaching for doctrines the commandments of men". How I hope we're not doing that. I do think that a group of believers has the latitude to make some "brotherhood decisions" about applications of scripture. And I think if you voluntarily joined this brotherhood, you shouldn't  just ignore these decisions. But I still worry, is it possible, even in brotherhood agreements, to come up with some that are  "commandments of men"?

I worry that we spend too much of our energy building and maintaining our "guardrails",trying to protect ourselves from the evils without, leaving little time to focus on what is supposedly the church's main mission. I worry that sometimes we rely on the "rules" to keep us and our people in line, when if we had a heart that was burning with a desire to follow Jesus, maybe the "rule" wouldn't even be necessary.

There is an amazing amount of activity that has to happen to keep the church "machinery" going. Sunday school teaching, Sunday evening services, Wed. night groups, accountability groups, youth group, home groups, etc. etc. Now, I know we need to teach our children and encourage ourselves around the Word.

But I can't help but wonder. Let's say we had half of the services we now have. And let's say we'd spend the other half in learning to know and interacting with our neighbors.

This is how it feels to me personally. It feels a little like a football team that gets together often for that all important "huddle". And gets pretty enthused at times in that huddle, and enjoys greatly the fellowship there. But never really gets out there and plays the game. That's how I feel about myself; I've been sort of faithful in supporting the "huddle", but I feel like I've done SO,SOOO little in playing the game. At times I feel almost discouraged enough to give up because of this.

What can you say to help me?? "You think too much". Probably. "YOU NEED A BRAIN TRANSPLANT!" Probably that too.

The simplest thing to do would be to reduce your conviction list to one. Just do whatever your church tells you. Without meaning a bit of disrespect to churches and leaders of them, I think God wants more out of us than that. Doesn't the Bible encourage us to "Search the scriptures to see if these things are so?"

I sincerely hope I don't offend anyone with this ramble. You notice that I made very few proclamations. I asked a lot of questions and was honest about some of the things that worry me.

How I long to be "found faithful". It's the longing that pulls at my heart and makes all other desires look completely insignificant. 

Oh, God, help me to sense your call and direction. Help me to see my sometimes impulsive ways. And help me for sure to know the difference.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"A Few More Thoughts on the Same Subject"

If some of my "old South" friends were to have read my last post I would suppose they might call me a "blacks lover". Only they may have used the "n" word instead. It's still used a fair amount in all white company at least in this part of the South.

Am I?? You bet, I'm guilty as charged. I'm a lover of the red and yellow man as well.  And the brown. I am fascinated by the amazing ethnic variety that populates this globe.

Several weeks ago we were at the Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster, PA to take in the "Jonah" presentation. Such a mix of people from all parts of the world! We talked with a quiet, reserved exceptionally beautiful young mother of Indian (India Indian) descent as she took care of her young child while the rest of her family was taking in the presentation before ours. The man who sat in the seat beside me was from the Dominican Republic. When I asked him his nationality he said first of all he was a citizen of heaven.  We had a lively conversation with some Coptic Christian young ladies with Egyptian roots who sat behind us. I kept thinking of the verse,"Out of every kindred, tongue and nation".

When "white" people think of themselves as superior, they are missing out on so much of what other people and cultures have to offer them. Frankly, sometimes I think "white" is just pretty downright boring!

Last post I was deploring the wrongs committed by the white race. So does the black community have any problems? You better believe they do, I just happen to think you should talk about your own problems first.

The black community has especially big time problems in the area of family life. I don't remember the figure, but well over half of black births are to unmarried moms. There seems to be a thing of almost bragging rights with some black men over how many children they have by however many different women. Hmmm. Sounds awful similar to some of those old plantation owners, doesn't it?

The bottom line is that the human race,( all branches) has big time problems. Martin Luther King's efforts eventually changed the laws but didn't really change the hearts of men. I'm glad the slavery of the old South is gone; but there are many forms of slavery today that aren't as obvious. The slavery of materialism.The slavery of addictions. The slavery of lust. All very devastating but not cured by any law you might pass.

There is only one Deliverer I know of who can make a real difference and break down the barriers between people groups. And that would be Jesus Christ and His gospel.

You do see the barriers breaking down more and more  the last number of years. But sad to say, it seems mostly to be happening among the low morality crowd. I wish the church could have been on the leading edge instead.

I am sort of proud of our church in this regard. We had an interracial marriage in our church over 30 years ago already. We have quite a variety of skin tones among us on any given Sunday. A little dash of Haitian, Guatemalan, Belizian, Cuban, and American black-Native American genetics help add some spice to the mix. Give us several more generations and we may blend up to a delightful shade of brown.

I have this vision of the church, while respecting and celebrating each culture represented therein; having a "kingdom culture" that supercedes them all. Binding us all together into one family.

After all, that's what heaven will be like. We better be getting used to it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Our Christian Nation?"

Now don't get me wrong. I love my country and I'm not sure where else I'd rather live. But you have to admit, we've had a few problems along the way.

And even though I was born (no fault of my own) in Pennsylvania, (my folks were up there while my dad was doing his two years of alternate service) I consider myself a Southerner since my folks brought me along back down to Campbell Co. Virginia when I was just a little bitty baby.

I've been known to join in  conversations when the discussion turns to how someone is a "Yankee", and you know how Yankees are. They aren't very friendly and they're uptight about getting their agenda pushed through and they're suspicious and untrusting, etc. etc. I mean they just don't understand Southern hospitality at all.Which of course isn't nearly always true, but true just enough to keep the stereotype alive.

But there are some things about the south that I am so not proud of. Slavery for instance. Oh, I've heard all the old Southern arguments that try to make it look ok and benign. Like the one that goes, "Well, in Africa the Africans themselves made slaves out of their enemy tribes". My answer is that two wrongs don't come nowheres close to making a right. Or, "The plantations were peaceful, loving places where the slaves were well taken care of". I'm sure that was true in some cases, but probably for every plantation run that way there was one that was run by the rule of the whip and the threat of the dogs coming after you if you ran away.

Now I wasn't raised in a prejudiced family. My folks taught us to respect everyone no matter of their ethnicity or color of skin. But I think all of us living at that time had sort of bought into the "separate but equal" idea more than we should have. It's amazing what you just don't think about when you grow up used to things being "as they are" and not really questioning much of anything.

Of course, living out in the country I wasn't aware of all the "Jim Crow" laws that were more obvious in the cities. And I'm pretty sure that at the time I had the feeling that Martin Luther King was a rabble rouser and a troublemaker who was just getting people worked up needlessly.

I went to segregated public school for the first seven years. The "white bus" went over the area picking up the white students while the "black bus" went all over the same roads picking up the black students. We went past the "black" school on the way to ours. I never thought much about it at the time but it seems crazy now.

I had never really had any close contacts with blacks until a new family moved into the old school house turned residence across from Perrows Chapel. We began learning to know the children in the family who were all near our age. We spent many hours riding bike and playing ball with Raz, Ruby, Randy and Kenny.  And even at that fairly young age I began to question the old Southern attitudes about the relationship between the races.

I distinctly remember being in the Gladys Elementary sixth grade in Mrs. Ida Mae Arthur's class. Now with all due respect to a teacher's position, Mrs. Arthur wasn't my favorite. She was very old (at least it seemed like it to me at the time) and had snow white hair and red lipstick.

One day she began to explain to us about race relations. (Now you must remember, this would have been about 1967-68 or thereabouts, and the civil rights movement was in full swing) She told us that she had a black lady that worked for her as a maid. (I think she called the blacks "nigras") She said that her and Martha get along just fine. She said," Martha knows her place and I know mine". She said  be courteous and respectful but to always hold yourself a little bit above them.

Something boiled up inside me that day.  I was about as mad as a shy, backward little Mennonite boy could get. I didn't say anything, of course, but I firmly decided that this was terrible advice and I absolutely would not follow it. To this day I look back and see that decision as setting the course for the way I've lived my life all these years since.

The public schools in Campbell County desegregated the year I went to the eighth grade. My seventh grade class of the year before (about thirty students) were split up into almost exactly thirds. One third went to William Campbell in Naruna. One third to Altavista, and the other third to Rustburg.This shows you how much extra busing was being done to get all the students to their "proper" schools.

 I well remember the day in the seventh grade when we rode the bus down to William Campbell High School for "eighth grade day". This was something that was done every year to introduce incoming eighth graders to what high school would be like. The bus pulled in to Gladys Elementary with the seventh graders from the black grade school already on the bus. All on the back of the bus, that is, leaving the front seats for us. (Sounds  awful much like Jim Crow doesn't it) The only black student I recognized was my friend Randy. And I remember thinking, too, that all the black students looked exactly alike; you couldn't tell one from the other.  A few years later I thought back on how crazy that was also!

So I'm going to be a friend to all, right? Not always as easy as it sounds. When I went to eighth grade I really had no friends in my grade other than my friend Randy. And I don't think we had hardly any classes together; not even lunch. So I would sit in the lunch room with some of Randy's friends that I was learning to know. Robert (Bob) Hubbard was the friendliest. So here I am, the only white guy sitting at the table with a bunch of black guys. Some of the other black students would come by and ignore me but would say to the other guys, "Aw, yall 'tommin'" Or call them an "Uncle Tom". If you don't know what that means, it comes from Uncle Tom in the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It's a saying meaning a black person that is trying to cozy up to a white person to maybe gain favors or something. And in the process would be sort of a traitor to their own race. Also, of course, it shows that they thought Uncle Tom was too docile and didn't stand up for himself like he should have. Bob never seemed to let it bother him and always was friendly to me.

So you can see that this subject is one that I've always done a lot of thinking about. And recently I've sort of re-explored it again.

It started with going to the musical "Big River", which is Roger Miller's creation based on Mark Twain's story about Huck Finn and runaway slave Jim going down the Mississippi. "You see the same sky through brown eyes that I see through blue, but we're worlds apart, worlds apart." The drama and the singing make you feel the story in a much deeper way as opposed to just reading in the book.

Now I can't put my blessing on the whole musical. The "Royal Nonsuch" should definately be left out and you can also feel Mark Twain poking fun at religion. But the truth is that the Christian religion of that day deserved to have some fun poked at it. So pious and religious on one hand, but so inhumane and uncaring at the same time. At one point in the musical Huck is mightily convicted about how he isn't doing his "Christian" duty by helping Jim run away. Finally in a fit of passion he says he'll just have to go to the "bad place" then because he just can't bear to turn his back on his friend Jim.

And then awhile back I watched some of the episodes of "Roots" on Youtube.

And even if Alex Haley made it all up as far as it being his actual family line, all the things that happened in the story happened in real life I'm sure. The absolutely horrible conditions on the slave ships. The unimaginable degradation  of being auctioned of like so much cattle. The indescribable agony of families being torn apart when one member was sold away. The rank hypocrisy of how many owners held themselves up as being such fine "Christians" but thought nothing of using their favorite female slaves as concubines. (Did you ever stop to think how most American blacks look very different from native Africans?)

And even after the Civil War the injustice continued. The "night riders" and the Klu Klux Klan. The whole sharecropping system. For a good picture of life during that time read the book "Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred Taylor. Read " The Emancipation of Robert Sadler". Robert's dad sold him to a plantation owner and he grew up like a slave forty some years AFTER the Civil War ended. True story.

One evening several weeks ago I watched several of those "Roots" episodes back to back. When I got done with one (each one was about an hour and a half long) I knew I should head for bed, but I said I'd just start a little bit of the next one. Mary was in Harrisonburg helping out at her dad's so I had no one to tell me to quit.

Finally at about 2:30 in the morning, deeply moved about all the sadness and injustices in the world, I made my way upstairs. I got my favorite praying blanket and knelt in my praying spot by the couch in the living room. I cried for all the sad things in the world. I cried before God for my sins and the sins of our nation.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Bible School is Over and We All Went Home"

So, where have I been; hibernating? A novel idea, even if I thought of it myself. Being  the strong non-conformist that I am and seeing as how the groundhogs hibernate in the winter, it would stand to reason that I would do it in the summer.

I haven't been, but it wouldn't be the world's worst idea. July was a brutal month with the temperature day after day between 95 and 100 with a couple days over 100.

In short, I was tired; I was busy; and I was uninspired. I decided that writing here was never going to be "work" and that being the case it was just going to have to wait.

But that isn't to say that the last month has been uneventful. Far from it.

We had Bible School the last two weeks in June. A very peaceful and enjoyable time for the most part. Some years in the past haven't been anything of the sort. One year we had a returned from Romania missionary teaching a large older class of mostly community young people. He came to me afterwards looking like he was slightly in shock. "I've never seen anything like this!", he said. I'll take the peaceful Bible School any day.

Now, that's not to say that the children didn't get into it. They sang with gusto and listened well to the stories. We had a outstanding bunch of teachers. And we had a record offering; right at  $900.00.

Along about early Thursday morning of the first week, our phone rang at 12:30 A.M. We didn't get it picked up in time the first go-round but it started right in ringing again. It was Myron on the line. He said to come quick because Clifton wasn't breathing.

We threw some clothes on and raced over. But the whole time thinking, if he's not breathing.......... We didn't know what we would find when we got there. By that time they had pounded him on the back several times, cleared the congestion somewhat, and he was breathing better.

The doctor recommended taking him in to the ER, so I headed in with Myron and Heidi while Mary stayed at their place with Caleb. They took him back fairly quickly but we did a whole lot of waiting after that. The diagnosis was RSV, which causes thick congestion that young babies have a hard time dealing with, so they wanted to admit him.

Finally by about 6:30 or so, we moved him up to his hospital room. Heidi was going to stay in with Clifton and Myron and I headed for home and work. Got home about 7:30, got a bite to eat and headed over to work. Then Bible School again in the evening.

Clifton ended up staying in the hospital right at a week. Mary and Heidi's mom Anne took turns staying in some so Heidi could have some time at home. Myron stayed in by himself one night. We were all wore out till "Teke"got home again.  (And for a good while afterwards)

Where does the "Teke" come from? Well, Myron says they already have one "tyke" in the house (Caleb), and Clifton is too little to be a tyke, so he's a "Teke". It will be interesting to see if he's still "Teke" when he gets grown!

And there was another thing that kind of sent me reeling. We had a young lady stay with us for the two weeks of Bible School as she was teaching one of the classes. Now Charlotte is a delightful young lady that reminds you quite a lot of Anne of Green Gables, right down to the red hair.

She is also a photographer and Mary has wished for a good while now for a good photo of ourselves to put on a tapestry that Myron's had given to us. (You send this company a photo and they somehow print it on a tapestry that you can hang somewhere if you have the nerve.)

 Now I've always despised getting my picture taken. The one taking the pictures always wants you to give a big smile and I can't. If I smile with my mouth at all open, I very much resemble a prehistoric possum.

Anyway, she took some pictures over in the beautiful woods across the road. (At least that part was nice) Then she took the one we picked out home and photo-shopped it a little. I think there was a stray male nose hair or two that she needed to delete. (Isn't it maddening when you get older that hair grows extra well in all the wrong places and not so good on the top of your head where you need it the most?)

So then she sent the photo back to us by e-mail and said, here's the photo; is there anything we want changed?

I e-mailed her back. I want it changed, I said. Who is that old man in the picture?, I asked. Are you sure you didn't run into Rip Van Winkle back in those woods somewhere??

So that was a big reality check.  I'm still recovering from the shock. I mean, I used to worry about dying young. I guess that's one worry off the list.

There was one positive thing about the picture. About myself, I mean.( Mary, of course, looked nice on the picture)  I noticed that at least I had laugh lines around my eyes. That meant a lot to me. Life has thrown us a few curves now and then and it did me a lot of good to see that while I might be bordering on being an old man, at least I'm not a bitter old man.

Now if we can just decide which closet we want to hang that tapestry in..................................

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"For the Love of the Game"

We played softball last Friday evening. "We", meaning the youngsters and I. (along with two of the dads)

The "youngsters" are the girls and boys ages 9 thru 14 from our church. Willis Byler had started these games for the boys maybe 5 years ago and had gotten me to help. Then when Willis moved away I kept it going for the boys and then a couple years ago decided to try adding the girls in also. At the end of the year I told them that  I had wondered how it would go over with the boys to have the girls help play. You know at this age boys are a little concerned about associating too closely with girls in fear of catching some of those dreaded "cooties" that girls supposedly  have sometimes.

I told the boys I was proud of them for not acting like it was any big deal, and I told the girls I was really proud of them, because they played along with the boys even while knowing for a fact that the boys definitely had the cooties.

We bend the rules a little to help out the first year players. First timers get unlimited strikes and also I as pitcher can't field the ball when they do hit it. It gives them a much better chance of getting on base. 

Anyway, the game last Friday was a good one. Usually these games have scores like 25 to 14 or something similar. This one stayed close, 4 to 2, then 7 to 5, etc. At the end of 9 innings the score was tied, so into extra innings we go. Ten innings, still tied. Eleven innings, no change. Finally it was the bottom of the twelfth with two outs, the bases loaded, and Clayton up to bat. The suspense is almost too much to bear.

Now Clayton is a very promising young man, good sized for his age, and can swing a bat like he means serious business. But every once in awhile he'll take a tremendous swing that you are sure is going to result in the ball being hit clean into the graveyard in deep center field, but somehow he strikes out instead. Reminds me of the Mudville Nine and "Casey at the Bat".

Now let me tell you up front that I'm really not a sports nut. Right now I can't even remember who won the last World Series. I think professional sports are overrated and way too many of the players are spoiled brats. But now a good old fashioned country softball game on a fine summer evening, that's somethin' else awhile.

And softball (or baseball as well) is such a dignified sport. As opposed to football where brute force is so important. Or basketball, where the players run back and forth like idiots the whole game, trying to decide on which end of the court they want to be playing.

My love for softball goes back a long ways. I learned the fundamentals in my Uncle Robert's front yard  watching him and his five boys play. Home plate was just in front of one flower bed, first base right by the front porch step, second in front of the other flower bed and third base by a big oak tree. Aunt Esther must have had a lot of patience as those flower beds had to have gotten a rough life. I can't remember if I was old enough to help play at the time but I do remember lots of games later on with Sonny, Missy, and "Nookie". I can still hear Sonny saying that here comes Missy to bat with her "washerwoman chop".

Actually Sonny and I had many baseball games just the two of us. (Hey, we had imagination when we were growing up) We would take turns catching and pitching and if I remember right the catcher would call the balls and strikes and say when there was a "long fly ball hit to deep center field, it's going, going, gone!" and how many runs had scored, etc. etc.

At the peak of my make-believe baseball career.

One thing that influenced me greatly in my developing love for softball during my "growing up years" was that I was doing very little of the growing up part. I was too scrawny to be any good at football. And I wasn't a real fast runner either.  And I was too short to make a good basketball player. And my lungs were (still are) too small for long distance running; I would always come in towards the end of the pack along with the fat boys on the 600 yard run we had to do in school.

But I can remember the good feeling in grade school when the "big boys" William Bell and Gary Hall were picking up teams and I got picked  fairly early on. "He can catch", one of them said. (Now not catch as in being the catcher, but as in fielding the ball)

 At the time I loved to play left field. You got a lot of hits with the majority of players being right handed. I can still feel the rush that came with the crack of the bat and racing to try to make the catch.

I never got to be a power hitter. One field we played on at Gladys Elementary  was fairly narrow with a bank going down just past third base. If  I hit it just over the third baseman's head hard down the line it would go over the bank and I could get on base.

During the teenage years our weekly softball game was as much a part of the fabric of summer as were eating and breathing. We had a ball field in the middle of a cowpasture  down on the Seneca Creek just upstream from the swimming hole. We built our own home run fence out of slabs and old boards we got from Dan Zehr's sawmill.

We would take a pickup truck up to Halley Dillard's store and pick up a whole pickup load of neighborhood boys and haul them down to the creek where we would trek across the narrow trail over to the swimming hole and up to the ball field. Most of the guys we picked up played in some sort of "bush league" and were pretty good. We prided ourselves in being the underdogs but still won some games now and then.

One year we even kept batting averages, rbi's, and all those good statistics. Hey, we were pretty good, too, with batting averages around 600 or so. Not too many of those in the major leagues these days.

But back to our game last Friday evening; I guess I've kept you in suspense long enough. As I said,  two outs in the bottom of the twelfth, bases loaded, and Clayton up to bat. I was thinking about "Casey at the Bat". And actually also wondering if there would be enough daylight left to play thirteen innings if necessary.

Here's the pitch. (I pitch for and sort of coach both teams at these games) As I said, here's the pitch. Clayton swings mightily. He connects! It's a solid base hit to I don't remember where. The leading runner crosses home plate. The game is over.

It was a summer evening at it's finest.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"The Power of a Positive Word"

I haven't written in awhile. Have I run out of ideas? Absolutely not. That's part of the problem; I've got so many running thru my head I have a hard time settling out on one.

But my biggest problem is that I've been going to bed too early lately. I haven't been staying up long enough to get  into the right frame of mind to write anything.  For me, I have to kind of get in a certain zone that doesn't usually happen in the daylight.

So today I worked in the forenoon, rushed home just in time to get ready for an appointment in Lynchburg at  2:00, headed on to Harrisonburg for Mary's niece Connie's high school graduation and then back home. So now it's 11:16 Friday evening, it's a long time 'till morning, and I feel the writing mood sneaking up on me.

I've been thinking about the power of positive words. Most of us can probably think back  and point to some positive people who said some positive things and made a difference in our lives.

I remember my dad telling me about Sam Yoder from Stuarts Draft. (Sam would be a grandfather to Eric Hershberger who is marrying Joanne Yoder here real soon)  He was the youth boys Sunday School teacher in the Amish church in Draft when my dad was growing up. Papa was very short for his age and wondered for years if he would ever grow up at all. I don't know if Sam ever had any extended talks with him, but what Papa used to tell me about was how Sam would always shake the young guys hands after church and give them a kind word. "Eli, how are you," he would say, and you could tell he really meant it. And it made you want to grow up to amount to something because you knew somebody believed in you.

I told you before how when Mary started school she cried every morning 'till Christmas. Part of that was due to the fact that her first grade teacher was mean and uncaring. When she got to the second grade she had a wonderful teacher and Mary came out of her shell, blossomed, and was voted class president before the year was over!

Are all kind words kind? What about the "kind" words of a flatterer? I'll just be honest; I don't care for flatterers. Most of the time they are just trying to butter you up to get something out of you for their benefit. When I'm listening to a flatterer I feel like saying, "Hurry up and get done with your baloney and tell me what you want!"

But honest kind words; a heart-felt compliment here and there give a person the gump to go on living.

When I was a teenager (or maybe before) I developed a love for singing. And I wanted so badly to become a song leader. I went to Bible school for six weeks and one of the classes I took was "Song Leading And Ushering". I knew full well that you would have to get up front at Bible school and use your new found skill, and shy as I was, even that didn't deter me.

And I can't impress on you enough how shy I really was. Several years ago at Penn Valley we met up with a lady who had been a student at Calvary the same time I was there. She couldn't believe I was the same person that she remembered from those days long ago. She said, "Well, if you even just looked at Merle sideways he would fall through the floor!"

So I'm saying it took a lot of guts to sign up for this class. Anyway, the class went well and I survived and came home just itching to lead some singing.

My chance finally came and I don't remember if it was a song service or if I just had to lead several songs in the regular service. Afterwards Caleb Glick came up to me and said if he shut his eyes he was back in the little country church along the creek (was it Shady Grove or something?) near Faith Mission Home with my uncle Sanford leading the singing.

Now I always thought Uncle Sanford bellered a little bit when he led singing but I took it as a high compliment and one that warmed my heart and one I have never forgotten.

Another one was maybe ten years ago when I was still logging. A dad and his young son were looking out the window one Sunday morning and a log truck went by. The son said, "I don't guess that's Merle". The dad says, well, not unless he's going to Bethel for an object lesson. And the son again,"Well, I wouldn't put it past him!"  That one warmed my heart for a long time.

Just a month or so ago, son Myron and wife Heidi were visiting in the home of a minister in another church setting. They do things somewhat untraditionally there and he was telling Myron they get called "redneck Mennonites". Myron told me he spoke up and said, "Well, where we're from, my dad and I are probably about the most "redneck" of anybody there". Now that's a compliment that I will hold dear to my heart 'till the day I die.

Several weeks ago I got an email from a lady saying she liked my writing style. (well, she actually said "loved", but be that as it may)  Now this lady seems to be pretty smart and knowledgeable and keeps herself that way by eating healthy foods and taking Juice Plus. But to top it all off, she works at CLP. I mean she should know something about writing, right? Of course, come to think of it, I'm not sure what she does there; maybe she mows the grass or something.

I emailed her back and thanked her for the compliment and said I would use her endorsement on the front cover of whenever my new book comes out. (my tongue is really in cheek here) I said it would read something like, " famous CLP guru endorses previously unknown redneck writer". I told her I hope it won't cause her to lose her job.

So let's look around us. Have you been blessed (as I have) by the kind words of others? Now it's your (and my) turn to pass them on. There are young ones coming on that are struggling to grow up. There are plenty of  "grown-ups" that are struggling to "stay up".

You may never know what a well timed compliment or a kind word will do.