Last Sunday my husband and I were greeters at church. When we finally finished greeting folks and headed into the sanctuary, the usher handing out bulletins handed me a personal note that someone had written covering my bulletin. It had been left with the stack of bulletins by a woman who helps bring a group of volunteers from Pleasant View Inc., a wonderful agency in our community serving adults with special needs. The volunteers come every Friday to our church to fold our bulletins because it is something they enjoy doing and it is a way for them to experience the joy and camaraderie of volunteering.
Here’s the note. (Click or flick to enlarge.)
Of all the ways I have received communication from readers of things I’ve written, this was the most unusual. I walked into church all pumped up. To hear from a reader who had obviously been moved by one of my early books—after almost 30 years! I was blown away and grateful to Marianne for writing the note.
The first book she was referring to is called For the Next Nine Months: Meditations for Expectant Mothers, published by Zondervan in 1982. I wrote the journal type entries and prayers, and found scripture verses to accompany each meditation, while expecting our first child in 1981.
This story gets even more special. I called the number she gave and yesterday we spoke by phone. Not only had she loved the book, she had planned to name her baby after me if it was a girl. Her mother’s last name had been Davis and so she felt that was special too. (My own mother found my own name in a book, too, by an early prolific Mennonite novelist, Christmas Carol Kauffman. That writer had a character with the slightly unusual spelling of Melodie.)
Marianne and her husband ended up having a boy and named him Michael. My oldest daughter, the one about whom the meditations were written while she was gestating, we named Michelle. Pretty close—they come from the same root name of course!
Michael is now married but it his sister, Marianne’s daughter, who just had a baby. Marianne wanted me to know that the baby she prayed over every day as he was growing inside her while reading my book “turned out well”—a good son with a great job. And obviously she feels the same way about her daughter that just had a baby!
Very cool. How amazing to hear the back story. Marianne did not live in our community at the time she read my book, so when she saw my name in the church bulletin: “Stuart and Melodie Davis, greeters” she knew she had to find out if I was the same one who had written the devotional book.
My daughters also enjoyed reading the meditation book while they were expecting in 2013—even though to read it, it feels dated now. So much has changed about how we have babies in North America today, from baby registries (one of the first tasks of many expectant parents) to husband involvement in labor and delivery (now almost always husbands or boyfriends participate in those phases, which was pretty new in 1981), to routine, sophisticated ultrasound pictures. (Our daughters’ labor and delivery experiences here and here.)
But I hope that the emotions and basic experiences of pregnancy are somewhat universal and timeless as we go through the miracle that has happened since the beginning of time.
Did you ever receive a note or letter that blew you away with surprise and wonderful feelings? I’d love to hear your story!
The For the Next Nine Months book is only available from used book sellers online and through Amazon.
In conversation with Marianne, the devotional book for new mothers she was remembering may have not written by me, but my book Why Didn’t I Just Raise Radishes: Finding God in the Everyday comes close to that with stories and prayers from our early days of raising children, also available only as a used book on Amazon etc.
However, the publisher I work for, Herald Press, has just brought back into print three books for expectant or new parents, Meditations for the Expectant Mother and Mediations for the New Mother, by Helen Good Brenneman, (mother of my high school friend Tobi) and also Meditations for New Parents by my college friends, Sara and Gerald Wenger. Check them out and stock up—on sale now until Feb. 2 for just $5.99 each.
Our church goes in for Epiphany in a big way, emphasizing how Christmas only begins on Dec. 25 and runs through January 6. Last weekend we held our “Epiphany Dinners” in homes as a way of having small fellowships with people NOT in our small groups or house churches, and totally mixed up by organizers who pair people who want to host, with people who want to be “guests.” Everyone makes a dish and viola, a lovely dinner in a private home is enjoyed by all who wish to participate!
We hosted this year and I prepared a Wassail to enjoy as folks gathered, which turned out to be perfect on a frigid January evening. Now that I’m finally un-decorating the house, I think I’ll stir up another batch to enjoy.
In a nod to those who don’t want a long story before they get to the recipe (you know who you are), here goes.
Note: I halved this recipe to serve approximately eight.
1 gallon apple cider
1 cup brown sugar
1 – 6 oz can frozen lemonade concentrate (or use lemonade Koolaid, with juice of a whole lemon added)
1 6 oz can frozen orange juice
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
1 Tablespoon whole allspice (can put whole spices in steaming bag or just throw in whole)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Lemon or orange slices
Any Epiphany celebrations to share?
How do you cheer yourself up for the dismal, disheartening, depressing work of un-decorating??
There are certain kinds of books we write for ourselves, our families, our friends, fans and colleagues—especially when they say, you need to write a book about this!
Seeking Saúl is that kind of book (prounounced sa-ouul). It beautifully chronicles a year of exploration by Rebecca Thatcher Murcia and her two sons, Mario and Gabriel, in tribute to their beloved father and husband after he died of a rare bone cancer. Saúl grew up in Colombia so Rebecca and Saúl and family had traveled there numerous times previously and she was fluent in the language. For her year-long sojourn with her two sons, she gratefully relied on Saúl’s family to get acclimated and outfitted for their year.
Even though I did not know Rebecca and Saúl well, I had worked with them both and I was anxious to read Rebecca’s book. Rebecca is an accomplished and published author many times over, focusing on books for youthful readers especially biographies of people like soccer stars David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and other heroes and histories such as of Americo Parades. Her Twitter page bio simply states: “Author of many books and articles. Translator and Interpreter. Soccer Fanatic.” She has worked for several newspapers including the Brownsville (Texas) Herald as a health reporter, and then a federal agencies reporter, once so angering a drug trafficker with her articles that he apparently mailed her an animal’s tongue as a threat. Later she wrote for the Austin American-Statesman from 1993 to 2000.
When I knew her husband, Saúl, he was co-director of Mennonite Voluntary Service as we both worked for (then) Mennonite Board of Missions and had agreed to be on the organization’s anti-racism team. We both attended nine days of “Damascus Road” intensive training (four days in one setting, five days in another) to become anti-racism leaders in our organization. As one of the few persons of color participating, his voice was invaluable as we sorted our way through the history of racism in the U.S, personal backgrounds, experiences in church and school, and life in the late 1990s in a Christian organization committed to being as anti-racist as possible and yet failing so many times. There were long discussions and not a few tears during the draining sessions.
Saúl was, outside of the racism team meetings, a trooper: always an eager participant, smiling, engaging, friendly, fun-filled, and down to earth. So it didn’t surprise me too much in reading this book, which includes numerous excerpts of Saúl’s own writing from sermons and letters home, that although he was a dedicated and devout Mennonite leader, he could swear, drink and even dance a sensual salsa if he “was drunk enough” (his words).
From Saúl’s descriptions of Rebecca’s career as an investigative reporter for the Brownsville and Austin papers and as a fellow journalist, I respected and envied her work. So I had high expectations for this book, even though I did not realize that her bent for investigative writing—which is all facts, no feelings or personal views inserted—she had trouble, she said, in injecting the proper amount of emotion in this memoir. I would also say the book succeeds in telling a memorable adventure but doesn’t go the next step in memoir writing of universalizing the experience. Although how do you universalize her unusual year: widow of a Colombian, wanting her two sons to know their father’s homeland and relatives, and being an accomplished writer and awesome soccer coach and player herself? It is meant to be more of a memorial than a memoir.
After Saúl’s death I worked—from a distance—for three years with Rebecca on a radio program called Shaping Families. She was one of six rotating commentators who prepared recorded responses to the guest of the week. Through that I learned she was willing to try almost anything (including self-recording her segments in a closet to reduce noise) to make things work, and that while accommodating and eager to please, she also had firm opinions and stands around which she would not budge. Which is a good thing. So I know she was a formidable force as she jumped through hoops and dodged curves by paper pushers at consulates and government offices as she pursued their family goal for a year long visa.
In the end, this year in Colombia and this book is a gift she gave her sons so that they will forever appreciate the countries their father had come to love: Colombia and the U.S., with a better grasp of what Saul went through to arrive at the kind of faith convictions and compassion he always demonstrated. Peeking in on that gift, you feel like you too have lived through an amazing experience without exactly filing the paperwork, going without water, trying helplessly to resuscitate your mother-in-law, living with mosquito nets, and worrying through your child’s medical needs. If they could do it, you can probably manage whatever life transforming adventure you feel God calling you to.
Years ago I wrote my first published book about a year of service and adventure in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, On Troublesome Creek. Ten years later I wrote another memoir type book, Departure, about a junior year abroad studying in Barcelona, Spain. After they were published, my boss—an excellent boss and may he live forever—kind of scoffed at the books saying “I don’t know why anyone would want to read a book out of someone else’s journal.” The first book was quite successful, went into a second printing thanks to the United Methodist Women’s reading program, and while Departure did not do so well, I’m happy I was able to preserve and publish those years for me and my family, if no one else. But increasingly in today’s very competitive publishing market—unless you are famous or an extraordinary writer—books like this must be self-published, which is a shame, because they don’t get the attention of those published by a regular publisher. They may also be marred by some small errors because they don’t undergo numerous rounds of proofreading.
If you are toying with writing a memoir—of your life or a particular period of your life, head over to the blog by Shirley Hershey Showalter who did a very thorough and wonderful job of studying 100 memoirs before launching her own book, Blush: Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. I also believe it is easier to pick up on universal themes in a memoir covering one’s childhood, for instance, because we all go through early experiences that shape us, have relatives who don’t get along, struggle with adolescence and faith questions, and so on.
Seeking Saúl is entertaining reading for anyone who enjoys memoir type books, has spent a year or more in another culture or is considering it, who knows Saúl or Rebecca or the family, or anyone who has survived widowhood while parenting young children. It is also a story of adventure that nonfiction fans of Rebecca will enjoy—she does not assume the reader knows or understands Mennonites!
Rebecca Thatcher Murcia at a book reading.
All photos supplied by permission of Rebecca Thatcher Murcia.
Rebecca Thatcher Murcia has her hand firmly in the commercial publishing market with her series of 14 other books for children and young adults, all published by Mitchell Lane, (some with other authors) whose mission is publishing books to help kids who don’t want to read, to get into reading. Check those out! Rebecca’s books can be found on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. You can also check out her Facebook page for the book, Seeking Saúl.
You can read (and listen to) more of Rebecca’s experiences in Colombia and the U.S. on the website for the former Shaping Families radio program. Here’s one.
We were talking at work about how 2015 shows up in the first “Back to the Future” film of 1985. Remember “Doc” traveling, at the end, from 1985 to 2015? Remember how far ahead that seemed, how unimaginable for all but the futurists among us? Well here we are, on the cusp of 2015. I for one could not truly have believed then that I would have participated in my family’s Christmas gathering 600 miles away via video on a smart phone.
In case you are still pondering what to make or take for a 2014 New Year’s Eve party or New Year’s Day gathering or weekend family get together, Party Mix is always nice to have around and adaptable to whatever you have on hand in terms of specific cereals and ingredients. And if you use healthy cereals, can it substitute for a healthy breakfast??
This is a recipe I’ve used over many years and adapted and corrected, see below. This year I had just finished making my batch shortly before Christmas when I was talking to my mother on the phone. She mentioned that a woman from my home congregation, North Goshen, had died unexpectedly, Viola Miller. No relation, but she was a fond church friend, and mother of one of my brother’s best buddies at church. Viola was still a vibrant and active church member, grandmother and all around good woman who will be greatly missed. When I visited my home church earlier this year, Viola was telling me about her numerous grandchildren with eyes sparkling with pride and love. And now I just noticed that another of my favorite recipes came from Viola, Strawberry Pie, posted here.
So I made this batch remembering her and thinking about how our named recipes—those we get from family and friends and cookbooks where we know the authors or cooks—are indeed special, bringing back memories, relationships, mentoring and good feelings along with the good food. That is the best of what this old church cookbook addresses as well: Titled “Fellowship Cooking,” the dedication states that “Fellowship is sharing.”
Speaking of old family recipes, I’m helping to launch a new blog for MennoMedia/Herald Press featuring Mennonite Community Cookbook. We have a new 65th anniversary edition coming out in early 2015, with contests and giveaways of great cookbooks each week. See here for an earlier post about this project. And keep your eyes open for news and posts about all the fun!
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) butter
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons each of garlic salt, celery salt, onion salt (original said 2 Tablespoons each, which I followed one time, but the result was way too salty and too much sodium for us.)
1 lb mixed salted nuts (or just peanuts)
12 oz.* shredded wheat squares (or wheat Chex is what I use)
6 oz. rice Chex
6 oz. corn Chex
7 oz. Cheerios (honey nut flavored or plain, or a mix)
6 oz. thin pretzel sticks
Melt butter in a small sauce pan; add Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salts and warm until all is dissolved. Remove from heat. Combine all dry ingredients in large turkey roaster pan. Pour the butter and seasoning mixture over the dry ingredients. Stir carefully to mix in butter and seasonings. Bake uncovered at low temperature, 225 degrees for two hours, stirring every 15-20 minutes. All amounts of cereals can be more or less to your taste.
*How I guess these ounce amounts is looking at the total ounces on the package, I eyeball how much would be 12 ounces or 6 ounces or whatever.
Adapted from recipe of Viola Miller and Mabel Nisley – Both these mothers had sons named Kenny who were both the age of my brother and therefore all three were great friends!
Recipes for Party Mix abound. What is a favorite for you, or what would you add to the above recipe?
Great gift idea: A woman from our church, Beverly, makes a huge batch of Party Mix, gives a pint away in a glass pint jar to many of her friends, and asks for the jars back to recycle next year! We are always happy to get a pint and to return the jar back to her!
Happy 2015 and thanks for liking, following and commenting on this blog! It has grown a nice step up this year and I appreciate all the blog love, and especially enjoy knowing some new friends.
Be not forgetful … (Hebrews 13:2)
[And yes, this verse is totally, entirely, unapologetically, jerked out of context, which I promise never to do again.]
Forgetful Old St. Nick
The aunt who was playing Santa Claus at the family Christmas dinner was nearing the end of the pile of gifts that had been sitting under the tree.
The little face beside me was growing more sober by the minute. The presents were almost gone and he still didn’t have one. My own mind was in a panic: what if I had not grabbed six-year-old Nick’s (his real name and age at the time) Christmas gift in the flurry of leaving for our family Christmas dinner?
One Christmas I wrote about a prior year’s magical Christmas moment when several of my very young great nieces and nephews blew me away by summarizing the Gospel story of Christmas and Easter in several succinct lines. If that was a high when I was left tingly with joy and happiness, this was the exact opposite: I couldn’t have felt lower. My Christmas was gone. Would Nick cry? Pitch a tantrum? (not out of the question). Would he hate me forever? What could I possibly tell him to help him understand?
To make matters really bad, my presents for all the nephews and nieces and the great nephews and nieces were the ONLY presents they were getting that night. So the pressure was on. Each kid was getting one gift and Nick (the irony is only hitting me now) was being slighted by jolly old St. Nick.
“Nick,” I said with the longest, saddest look on my face, and every muscle of it was true, “I am so sorry but I think I left your gift under my tree at home.” I wanted to cry. I wanted to fall through the floor. I wanted to go back and start this evening all over.
Everyone looked around to see if my gift to Nick had been overlooked. I went out to my car to check, double checked boxes still under the tree. I apologized to his family, to the grandma. I felt they probably all thought I had forgotten little Nick all together and hadn’t gotten him anything. But I knew I had bought him a present. It obviously just didn’t make it to the party.
Nick’s face was as long as mine, his eyes wide and doleful. Earlier he had flashed a small wad of cash and a gift card that he had collected at previous exchanges. He was carefully guarding it in his little wallet. I grabbed for the only idea that came to my tormented brain. Did husband have a $10 on him, roughly comparable to the value of the other gifts I was giving the kids? Husband did. He retrieved it, handed it over with a look passing between us that we both understood completely, a gift of almost long years of marriage: (Him: here I am bailing out my crazy wife again. Me: Yes and thank you so much, you sweet thing. I hope this works.)
I handed Nick the $10 and told him again how very sorry I was and that I would bring him his actual gift later. I knew I had it at home. He smiled every so slightly and I knew there would be no tears this night: not his, not mine, just glory alleluia: small crisis had been averted.
My [then] twenty-three-year old daughter summarized it nicely when she said, “No wonder he was smiling. He got a $10 bill out of you.”
And yes, this forgetful old St. Nick really did find the little boy Nick’s present under my tree at home, beneath a pile of presents destined for another gathering.
Moral: Always make a list, check it twice. And it doesn’t hurt to go through December
with a spare $10 or $20 always in your wallet.
What was your worst and most famous moment of Christmas forgetfulness? How did it work out?
Read this year’s Another Way Christmas column here.
I held a five-month-old Iraqi child in my lap for almost a half hour last night. Any long-distance grandma knows how we ache to hold our own grandchildren, and leap to any opportunity to snuggle another woman’s child or grandchild.
The Clothes Closet our church runs was busier than ever, the last time we’d be open before Christmas. We had over 50, counting infants and children. We’d planned a special evening: candy canes or Peppermint patties for all, our guitarist quietly strumming Christmas carols on his guitar from the back of the room. Hence we were a little short on help—so the on-duty mission leader, Jim, asked if I would take over seeing that the little kids were occupied. The guitarist, John, was the one who usually got out the crayons and old computer paper for the younger kids to scribble on.
I soon noticed that a young Iraqi girl was in charge of her little brother, a five-month-old in a car seat. He wasn’t having any of it, starting to squirm, whimper, looking quite unhappy to be jostled around as she swung the car seat into a somewhat safer position on the floor. It didn’t take me long to ask her if I could hold the baby, he looked fussy. She nodded and I was in heaven. But would he just keep crying, with me, a stranger trying to comfort him?
I centered him on my knee and wiggled it a bit, and he seemed to get happier. Soon he had forgotten his troubles and was watching all the preschoolers getting their paper and crayons. All he seemed to care was that at least he wasn’t in his car seat anymore.
I soon started asking ages and schools of the children; then I got brave enough to ask what county the big sister was from: yes, Iraq. I’d suspected as much. She was nine. Their mother wore a Muslim headdress; our client base is about a third each Middle Eastern, Hispanic, and U.S.
Finally I stood him up so I could look him in the face and he could see me, too, and get used to the idea it was a stranger holding him. He was now smiling. Score! I looked at his straight black hair, his dark eyes, his olive skin, and it didn’t take much to imagine that this would have been much more what the baby Jesus (although technically Jewish) looked like than the “white” babies in all those Christmas pageants in my mostly lily white church experience.
When I looked at his nine-year-old sister, I also thought immediately of baby Moses’s big sister in the Exodus story of the Old Testament. What a great caretaker she was. How smart and quick she was to seize upon the idea of asking Pharaoh’s daughter, who found the baby hiding from Pharaoh’s harsh decree, if she wanted a Hebrew nurse maid for the baby. How brave that big sister was, to offer the scheme, even knowing the house of Pharaoh was of another religion and ethnic group.
This nameless Iraqi child reached across all the political, ethnic and religious barriers of our world to grab my grandmother’s heart, and I wondered if his own grandmother was half a world away, torn too by the huge distance. Where was this child–any child–safe in a world gone mad? This Iraqi baby reached across centuries and millennia to connect me with those Jewish babies of old who both were protected from insecure madmen. Both Moses and Jesus grew up to leaders–saviors for their people.
And here I was in a little Presbyterian church in Virginia in 2014, wondering about it all.
It was a holy night at the Clothes Closet.
What is your “o holy night” experience: already this year, or another? I’d love to hear your stories.
We join millions around the world praying for the grieving parents and families of those children killed recently in Pakistan, two years ago in Connecticut, and in too many small towns and large cities around the world.