The Traveler’s Song

The Lord was willing,
so I set out.
And now I say,
Thank you, Lord--

Thank you, Lord, for green lights,
for the chance to turn a corner on red,
for Google Maps,
and the atlas propped on the steering wheel,
for road signs readable from afar,
for sandwiches that stick together,
for green valleys at midday and cities at night.
Thank you, Lord, for Your protection
when I forget to check my blind spot
or when my sausage on a bun
flips upside down.
Thank you for my out-of-province license plate
that might excuse erratic moves.

I also say,
Please, Lord.

Please, Lord, could the lights be green? I'm late.
Please, help me maneuver out of the way
of this truck that's breathing down my neck.
Keep me alert in this oven of traffic,
watch over my tire,
and keep it, Lord--
at least till I can find a tire shop.
Please forgive me
for upsetting the motorcyclist,
and help him to forgive me.

Thank you, Lord,
for friends who meet me everywhere,
for popcorn and gas stations and the open road.
And please, Lord,
keep my heart and wheels
as still I journey on.

I’ve been in Ontario for three weeks now. It has been good to be back in the land of my birth and reconnect with so many people and places from years gone by. I have spent a lot of time with Tom and Grace Huber, both at their farm and in their Kitchener house. Last week I trotted all over Southern Ontario catching up with friends and family.

This week I’m staying a little closer to home base, since I am helping every evening with the Vacation Bible School. I usually go pick up a few children from elsewhere in the city and bring them to the housing complex where the bus comes to. Then I go along for the bus ride to the Bible School, at Faith Mennonite Church in Wellesley. The trip is enlivened by passing out coloring sheets and talking with children or with my friends who also go along to help supervise.

At the church, we get to join assembly and then relax or help play with the children when they have recess. Then the return trip is similar to the trip out. It can be a royal ruckus, but these children have a way of wrapping themselves around my heart. Someone starts singing The Wheels on the Bus, another child asks for crayons, the bus lurches around a corner, and we are heading home.

Today I went out for breakfast with one of my new friends from here, along with her daughter. I’m making connections and remembering old ones. The city feels like home again–all the old familiar streets I recall from when my family and I lived here in Kitchener years ago.

God has been so present. In His protection when I had tire trouble. In deep conversations with friends. In the opportunities to spend time with children. (Tom and Grace’s children certainly have won a place in my heart!) In His little confirmations that lead me on. I am grateful.

Some of my bus helper friends: Stephanie, Chantelle, Leah, Grace, Anna, and me. Photo credit: Stephanie Horst

A Choir Program and Exciting Developments

This spring, our youth group practiced a group of songs for a program. When the practices began, I was going through a difficult time in my personal life. Pouring myself into the music was one way to heal and declare hope, even when my feelings didn’t match. I especially loved We Come:

Our hearts are empty without You,

Barren and cold, but for the bold

Hope that You Yourself planted within.

Jim Croegaert, We Come

The practice sessions were a precious time of bonding within our youth group. During breaktimes, Orlando–our choir director–divided us into small groups of two or three to go aside for a time of prayer and sharing. We scattered throughout the building or went outside into the golden hour. We were encouraged to prepare not only our voices and music skills for the program, but also our hearts. Besides praying for each other’s personal lives, we also prayed that when the time came to present our songs, the Spirit of God would work through us and the music in the hearts of the hearers.

For the month of May, we had two practices per week. Being together so often drew us all together as one big happy family. There are so many fun memories of that time. Sitting in Orlando’s living room for an informal practice focusing on the boys, one weekend when some of the girls were away. Sharing highlighters and water bottles freely.

One evening the tenors were struggling with the song I Shall Not Be Moved–as one of them said, in “that place where we sing two words for each word the others sing.” Orlando decided to focus on the timing by itself without the correct notes. He led the boys in saying “I shall not be, I shall not be” in a rapid staccato monotone.

“That sounds like rap music,” Corrine said.

We all lost it and shook with laughter. That practice piece did sound like rap. The joke broke the tension of straining for perfection, and for a few minutes our practice melted into a cacophony of attempted singing strangled by laughter.

The last evening of practice was an hour longer than usual. The flies decided to liven things up by buzzing around us. When one landed on the floor, a foot shot out to end its life. A ripple of amusement went around the circle. Then one of the girls found a flyswatter and waged war with the flies that were still winging about. This only added to the giggles. Finally Orlando said he might need to take possession of the flyswatter himself.

The next morning, Judith, Corina, and I headed out to early to Wolfville. It was a beautiful morning, clear shining after rain. We trotted all over the Acadia University grounds to put up posters letting people know we planned to sing at the Clock Park that night. We went downtown and put some up on lampposts and in the park itself. I even got to talk with a lady about the role of women and why we practice the head covering.

Corina, Judith, and I at Acadia University in Wolfville
The poster we were putting up. Credit: Orlando Braun

That evening we sang at the park. Our voices got diffused by the wind, and it was a bit chilly, but there were a few people there. It was worth it.

Thursday we sang at a local fire hall. After singing the first half of the program, we filed back into a room offstage–and as soon as the door closed, there was coughing in almost every corner. Kathleen said later that one of her brothers had called that the sickroom. But the voices held, and we completed the program.

At the local church where we sang the next evening, there was no back room to wait in before the service started. So a lot of the youth ended up on the porch of the building, on either side of the doors, meeting people as they came in. Someone called it the welcoming committee. It was great to connect with other Christians in the area.

On Sunday evening we presented to our own church. Before the program, we youth collected in the back room at church, waiting for the right time to go on stage. We were all excited and some were nervous for this final big presentation of the songs we had worked so hard to perfect. Some of the girls started a massage train, one massaging a friend’s shoulders, another girl working on her, and so on. A few of the boys followed suit. We talked and laughed, enjoying the closeness that the choir had developed.

Then it was time to line up. We walked up the aisles and faced our audience. The building was packed with our church people and other friends and family who had come for the occasion.

Orlando made some opening comments. Then he turned to us, blew the pitch, and raised his arms.

We sang.

We sang with joyful abandon and hearts overflowing–song after song of praise and honor to our Savior who suffered to save the world. We took a break partway through, filing off the stage to the back room to wait and drink water while the congregation sang a few songs.

The first song in the last half of the program was Living Hope. It was our theme song, and everyone’s favorite. I thought the roof might lift off as we sang. Hallelujah!

Then came the rest of the songs, ending with Is He Worthy?

Do you feel the world is broken?

We do.

Do you feel the shadows deepen?

We do.

But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?

We do.

Is He worthy? Is He worthy?

HE IS.

Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive

He is worthy.

Three of the choir members were unable to sing that evening because of colds, but many others were able to despite colds. After the program, there was a snack in the basement for all the youth, a precious time of togetherness before this choir season came to an end. When I left the basement afterward, I fell in step with Amberly. She rejoiced that she had been able to sing, because she hadn’t been sure if her voice would work. “I know people were praying,” she said.

I agreed. The colds had reminded us that anything we did was done in God’s strength, and we had prayed that it could be to God’s honor. I thought of a Bible verse:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

2 Corinthians 4:7

The quality of the livestreamed video didn’t turn out the best–it sounds a little like we were singing underwater. But you can check it out here if you’re interested.

The choir program was four weeks ago, and plenty of things have happened since then. God surprised me with a a wonderful opportunity: I’m leaving for Ontario tomorrow and plan to be gone for the whole month of July.

There are two reasons for going, and I’m blown away at how God has brought the details together so far.

One reason is that my book about my great-grandma, Anywhere Is Home, is at the printer right now and will be coming out soon! I’ve been working on it for about three years now, so that’s exciting. (Watch for a more detailed post about the book in August.) I want to pick up the books from the printer in Ontario and take them to a few stores in the area where my great-grandma lived. Also I plan to attend a large family reunion and display the books there. I am looking forward to connecting in person with more of the relatives that I have heard of–especially while writing the book–but not really gotten to know.

The other reason for going to Ontario is to spend time getting acquainted with a couple named Tom and Grace Huber who does some ministry in the city of Kitchener. A friend of mine got me connected with them, because she knew I was looking for the next thing to pour my life into. Everything seemed to click right away–I was excited about the idea of joining the ministry, they were excited at the prospect of adding to the team, and my parents were supportive. In fact, it was Dad who suggested that I could go for a month this summer and see what it’s like. That was amazing to me because I hadn’t even been sure if I could go to Ontario to distribute my book before fall, but he thought it would work if I went now and came back to help on the farm for August and September.

As Grace put it, “When God works, He works.”

He does. My family lived in Kitchener for a year when I was 11, so it has always held a special place in my heart. But I’m not sure if it ever occurred to me that I might someday come back. God’s ways are incredible. To those of you who prayed for me when I was in the wilderness: thank you. I am sure that your prayers were effectual.

This trip will also include some time to visit family and friends, many of which I haven’t seen for almost three years. That will be special too.

I don’t know what all else God has in store for my life, but I am grateful for His leading so far. I will go forth in His living hope. May my life bring praise to Him, for He is worthy.

You Shall Go Out With Joy

On May 26, the morning of the last day of school, I read Genesis chapter 5. It’s the genealogy from Adam to Noah. What struck me most that morning was the way every person’s slot in the chapter ended with, “and then he died.”

How did death look for those people back at the dawn of time? Did they pass peacefully in their sleep? Did they die in an accident of some sort? Did they die with a smile on their face?

And what went through the minds of their loved ones when life had fled? They were not acquainted with death. Were they more devastated than people are today?

At the breakfast table, Dad mentioned that he had been reading Chance and Change the night before (the book I wrote about here.) “And Amanda died. That’s what I read about last night. It was a shock. I mean, I knew she died, but reading about it was still a shock.”

I related my thoughts about what I had read that morning. We concluded that nothing can ever truly prepare us to come to terms with death, even when we know it’s coming. Death is just not what we were made for.

I took the thoughts with me as I drove to school. Nothing can prepare a person for death, including the death of small things, like the last moments of teaching school.

It’s rather funny, perhaps, that I would consider that a death at all. Teaching was never one of those dreams cherished from childhood onward. I was in my late teens before I ever seriously thought about the idea that I could be a teacher.

God led me down that path, and I found myself putting on the identity of a teacher. Somehow I didn’t feel like it was to be my vocation for the rest of my days, but it was my calling for the moment and I put heart and soul into the work. Teaching gave me a secure place in the community, a place to belong, a labor of love.

Last year when the school board came around to ask if I would teach another term, I was thrilled to say yes. Somehow I just had a deep confidence that God would be with me through another term.

This March was different.

I felt vaguely like I wouldn’t teach another term, but I couldn’t figure out why. Was I just getting lazy and tired of the challenge? If God had something else for me, wouldn’t He first show me that so that I would have a reason to say no to teaching?

By the time The Question came, I had not found answers to all my questions, but I had realized that I could not teach another term without the confidence that God was calling me to it. That deep confidence of God’s will had carried me through the darkest places of this term. If God was calling me out of teaching, He was not obligated to tell me what the next step was. I just needed to make a step of faith, even though it didn’t feel safe or make sense in my mind.

So I said no.

Not long after I gave my answer to the school board, I talked with my friend Kathan at the farmer’s market in Halifax. I told her about my struggle to decide, and my final decision.

“This way you are available for the next thing God has for you,” she said. “There is an opening in your life. You’ve been employed, you’ve been busy teaching, but now you’ll be ready for the next opportunity.”

That was the perspective I needed to hear, and others in my life echoed it.

Celebrating the end of reading class at Dempsey Corner Orchards

The last days of school arrived. My last art class with the middle grade students. My last Sing for Joy music class. The last reading class with CJ and Elam.

Then the last day itself came, and I thought about death. Was I ready to let this go?

We gathered in Mr. Braun’s classroom for devotions one more time–the middle grade class, Mr. Braun, CJ, and I. We sang songs that had been favorites throughout the term–Make Me a Channel of Blessing, This Is My Father’s World, Pass It On, and more. Excitement ran high among the students. Only one more day of school!

But once CJ and I got to our classroom, the enthusiasm quickly disappeared. I wasn’t feeling the best, and CJ wished school were over now. It was just like so many other days when I tried all I could think of to make something work. But this was the last day. We could not end the term like this.

I thought of the song You Shall Go Out With Joy. During the last half of the school term, we often practiced it during our Wednesday afternoon choir sessions led by Mr. Braun. A month or two before this day, when I had been wondering if I could even finish the term, I noticed the song in a new way. The words are taken directly from Isaiah 55. “You shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace…” I claimed it as a personal promise: God was with me; He would sustain me so that I could go out from school with joy and not as one ready to fall flat on her face.

Now on this last morning, I remembered the song again. There must be a way.

Maybe fresh air would help. I took CJ outside for a walk and we sat down under a tree. It was a balmy day. Suddenly I had an idea–why not bring some books outside and work there? It worked. The last Social Studies test became a little more doable, and even math was fun. After a while we went back inside, and CJ helped me take down all the little fish we had posted on the bulletin board every time he completed a workbook throughout the term. By that time, the closing-day excitement had gotten a hold of both of us again.

School dismissed at noon that day. CJ and I sang, “Our year of school is over, and we are going home…” I made sure he had his books and personal belongings in his backpack, and said goodbye with a knot in my throat. One more opportunity to help him down the steps to where his mom’s van was waiting, one more wave of goodbye before turning to go back inside.

It took a long time before all the students were gone. They kept coming back for shoes or papers left behind, or they had to finish some project or ask the teachers questions before leaving. We teachers tried our best to make sure everyone had all their belongings.

But then the last student left, and the chaos was past. The halls were silent. School was over.

Some of us teachers took our lunches to the picnic table behind the school and relaxed over lunch together. At first we talked about random things like what salads we liked. But before long we were deep in discussions about our students, about this school term just past, about plans for next term. And then, because our common work of teaching has brought us together as friends, we also talked about our various cultures and how we interact with each other within them.

The rest of the afternoon and the next few days, we spent a lot of time at school. Cleaning up our classrooms. Organizing papers. Calculating grades. I read over all the end-of-quarter reports I wrote for CJ over the past two terms. I reminisced and said goodbye in so many small places and ways.

We had our school picnic on Sunday afternoon and evening. All the school parents and most of the rest of the church people came for an afternoon of games and fellowship.

After a marble relay race for an icebreaker, everyone’s attention turned to running races. The children had practiced for this, running laps around the school before class. Now was the test of their skill. A crowd of runners and watchers collected in the back corner of the school yard where the races were to begin. I took my camera and shot random photos.

The children were divided into groups according to age and ability. I hardly knew who to cheer for–every single one of them were precious to me.

A friend asked me, “How do you feel about your time at school coming to an end?”

“I’m not thinking about it.” I said. “I’m hiding behind my camera and just enjoying this time.”

The afternoon moved far too quickly. A shoe kick for the ladies, a three-legged race for the men, then long jumps and high jumps. Those not participating sat in the shade to cheer for the jumpers.

There was still a little time before supper for volleyball or soccer. I joined neither game, but instead went inside for for a bucket of water. I was in charge of playing a game called Watercolors with the younger children–an idea I had suggested. Kathleen–known at school as Miss Reimer–helped me explain the game to the children who could hardly understand English.

That game turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of my day. I was thrilled to be surrounded by a crowd of lively children, all of them shouting colors and needing to be told what to do and squealing when the child in the middle of the circle poured water on their bare feet. This was what I loved best about school–the chaos and color and simple delight. I wanted it to last forever.

But all too soon, supper time was announced. As my crowd of children dispersed, I fell in step with Kathleen and a few other friends. I told them how much I had enjoyed it. “It was like my favorite art classes of the term,” I said. “When I was thinking back to what art classes I enjoyed most, it was the ones with a lot of color and noise and everyone just having a great time–the happy messes.”

Kathleen nodded and laughed. “Yes, that’s you.”

I had a moment of nostalgia when the whole crowd gathered in a circle and sang “Be Present At Our Table, Lord” before supper. It was CJ’s favorite mealtime song, and I had sung it with him countless times in our little classroom with the smells of various foods from the hot lunch oven filling the air. God was present through the school term, and God was present there in that moment of gathering and celebration.

A few homeschool families had cooked a wonderful Belizean disco supper for all of us. Big circles of people were scattered across the lawn, everyone enjoying the food and each other.

The school program was to start at seven, so a little before the time, I headed for the building to get ready. Sarah, one of the lower grade students, met me near the door.

“Miss Weber,” she said, “Do you know where my mom is?”

Suddenly I was in no hurry to get anywhere. I was the teacher again, happy for the chance to help her look for her mother.

The program was a precious time. The whole school choir sang a number of songs. Then the various classes presented tidbits from the year.

CJ and I went up front with Mr. Braun’s class, since our classes had done so much together throughout the term. We gathered in a circle on the stage and sang Bind Us Together, Lord, complete with the actions. (That song had been a favorite among the students for our special singing times on Tuesday afternoons.) We smiled, clapped each others’ hands, joined hands to raise heavenward, and sang.

Then Mr. Braun asked his students questions about what they had learned. CJ read the poem Who Has Seen the Wind? My heart was full. My little man has learned to read, and to read well.

After the individual class presentations–including homeschooling families–were over, the school choir sang a few more songs.

You Shall Go Out With Joy came last. We repeated the chorus three times, faster and faster each time, with two claps between each phrase. “And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands, the trees of the field shall clap their hands, the trees of the field shall clap their hands, while you go out with joy.” Then came the coda, “While you go out with joy”–and immediately we all stamped our feet in unison, overflowing with delight.

I helped CJ off the stage and went back to my seat. Suddenly I felt drained. It was over. It was over. How could it be?

When we were dismissed, I went back to my classroom and grabbed a bag of CJ’s papers and things that I had missed sending home on Thursday. I gave it to Cornie, his father. We talked a little while, and Cornie thanked me again for being CJ’s teacher. Then he said, “And whatever you do after this, put your whole heart into it like you did here for the past two years.”

Those words were a benediction–a blessing on the labors of the past and a purpose for the work of the future.

Then I talked with some other people, especially my co teachers. “You’ll come back,” they told me, when I mourned the fact that our after-school chats were over. “You’ll have to visit, and come over after school to talk.” 

“Yes,” I said. But where would I be by then, anyway?

I went outside. Some of the youth and older children were playing volleyball. The heat of the day faded into a cool evening and a rosy sunset. I sat on the grass with a few friends to watch.

Some children played in the sand court and on the lawn around the volleyball nets. One of Mr. Braun’s students ran by on her way to the parking lot and said, “Bye, Miss Weber!” A little while later, another one did the same. It warmed my heart, because these had been my students too–in music, in art, and for the last class time of every day.

Nine-year-old Dawson skipped by, tripping over the rope, asking me to watch him. I watched. He was my first student here, when I substituted for his regular teacher for two weeks, before I had committed to a term. Two weeks–and they grew into two years of teaching someone else, while Dawson was homeschooled.

His mom, Justina, came and sat with us watchers. She looked at me with those kind and seeing eyes and asked, “So how do you feel now that school is over?”

“Too much to explain.” I told her I was watching Dawson, thinking of how he was my first student.
Before long, we were discussing his struggle with math. My teacher brain kicked into gear, and ideas bubbled up. We talked about different math curriculums and what could be done to help him get a better grasp of the foundational facts. We were still at it when one of my siblings came to tell me it was time to leave.

I laughed on my way to the car. The conversation with Justina had proven that the teacher I had worked so hard to become for two years was not dead. I was going out, yes. But it was the right decision for this moment, and there would be more opportunities.

I went out with joy.

I Am From…

Photo credit: Marvin Weber

Ask the yellow butterfly

From whence she came,

And with a flutter of still-drying wings,

She settles down to say:

I am from my kindred,

From Pennsylvania German and big families

From word lovers and sausage makers

From frozen chocolate chip cookies with hot chocolate

From quilts and hobby horses and donuts with maple syrup

From solemn services and simple meetinghouses

From family reunions with bubble-blowing and jello salad and singing.

I am from my kindred.

I am from an egg,

From a farmhouse on the Dobbinton esker

Second child, another girl;

I am from calendulas and cherry tomatoes in my father’s garden

From sourdough bread and the maids I adored

From hidden mischief and hidden guilt

From a move of home

and a shift to a house church

From ear infection and an intense desire to have my own space

From troubled dreams and fear of fire.

I am from an egg.

Photo credit: Marvin Weber (2009)

I am from a caterpillar,

Crawling to the Prowd farm with my family;

I am from my fencerow garden called “Woodland Heart”

From serious talks with friends

From playhouses and horse chestnuts and dandelion fields

From singing at the laundry line the day I made peace with God

From candlelight and hay bales and homeschooling

From a church split and learning Swahili

From multiple homes in the city of Kitchener

From exciting smells and sounds and sights at the Multicultural Festival

From walks to the park and knotting a comforter

on the grass of the vacant lot

From the corner store that sold coconuts

From long drives to a church alive with Jesus

From writing wiggly poetry.

I am from a caterpillar.

Photo credit: Marvin Weber (2011)

I am from a chrysalis,

From years of searching for belonging,

reaching out, then closing up again

From cell group meetings and church potlucks and tent meetings

From a house on the shore of Lake Erie

From picking cucumbers and blueberries

From wind turbines and turbid emotions

From trips to Nova Scotia and dreams of moving

From studies in suturing and venipuncture

From putting down new roots in Nova Scotia and digging into the soil of a family farm

From hopes fulfilled and dreams denied

From close friendship and the agony of decisions

From bike rides and skating on the lake and pairing up as prayer sisters

Photo credit: Selema Weber (2017)

From loss and loneliness and family time

when one family moved to Alberta, one shifted to another church,

and only two young families besides us were left

From the first rejection slip that made me feel like a Real Poet

and launched me on an endless pursuit of literary excellence

From ten-hour days at the little local seniors’ home, loving and learning

From a sprain that changed my life

gained on the rocks of Peggy’s Cove

From new bonds forged slowly at Bethel Mennonite Church

From egg sandwiches and one-and-a-half hour drives on Sunday mornings

From singing and yearning and exploring

From pouring my heart into special ed

From yet another move, into the Annapolis Valley and into the lives of brethren

From choir practice and campfires

and long talks after school with co teachers

From tumult of identity and breaking of soul and the tentative stirrings of hope;

I am from a chrysalis.

Photo credit: Astrid Grigore (2021)

I am a butterfly.

A social butterfly, a fluttery winged creature of hope,

living and writing my stories with color.

And it does not yet appear what I shall be.

Because He First Loved Us

A month or two ago, one our minsters and his wife dropped off a gift at our house: a book for each of the youth in our household. I was touched by the gesture of their interest in our lives.

They gave me John Coblentz’s Journey Into Jesus. I was delighted, because I’ve always been fascinated by the variety of names that Jesus has in the Bible, and this devotional book explores the person of Jesus through thirty-two of His names. I haven’t read it all yet; it’s a book to be savored.

I like how Coblentz doesn’t stop at detailing the Biblical significance of the names: every chapter includes a section that discusses how we can experience Jesus in this way in our own lives, or tells stories about how others have experienced Him. Jesus wants to know us intimately. That’s the heart behind this quote:

P.S. While I’m on the topic of gifts, I have to mention that the roses in this picture were a gift from a friend on a day when I wasn’t feeling well. I am so blessed to be surrounded by caring people!

Color Threads: Brown

This is the beginning of a series (which I plan to scatter among other posts) featuring photos, quotes, and thoughts on specific colors. Lest I quit before I have covered all the colors, I intend to save my favorite color for last.

Some people say brown is ugly. It’s muddy, dirty, drab.


I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.

Winston Spencer Churchill, British statesman and Prime Minister of the UK, 1874-1965

But for some reason brown has long been a comfort color for me. It’s the color of earth and whole-wheat bread. As a child, I always found that the crayon box didn’t have enough brown. It wasn’t one of the bright colors, but it was so essential to the picture. Horses, tree trunks, chairs, and paths—all of them needed brown. Let’s celebrate this foundational color!

Brown is homey, down-to-earth, and comfortable.

Brown is one of the fundamental colors of the natural world…

We could look at brown as plain, drab, or ugly. Or, we can choose to delight in the way it anchors our lives in reality, humility, and growth.

In a world that seems full of brokenness on both the large and small scale, it does me good to remember what remains solid. A few days ago, I planted a small plot of parsley seeds in the greenhouse. For some reason I haven’t always enjoyed planting season very much. But I have gotten lost in the uncertainty and weariness of life too often in the past few months, and somehow it was healing to feel that bare dirt in my hands—to stake hope by surrendering seed to the soil.

Hear my cry, O God;

listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,

I call as my heart grows faint;

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For you have been my refuge,

a strong tower against the foe.

Psalm 61: 1-3

I see brown in this picture, and it gives me a sense of stability. God is surer than the ground beneath our feet. He is here for us.

Transfiguration

Sometimes the glory
increases so slowly,
its revelations so ragged,
so strange to my waking—

that I can’t remember
the promise of glory
can’t remember that
those who trust
in God
will never be condemned.

Emotions ebb near desolation
I sit on the edge of my bed
this mist shrouded morning
trying to gather courage
only for this single day,
blue blanket around my shoulders
blue fog on my brain.

But I sigh, open the brown Bible
The Truth
surer than the floor beneath me:
I am being transformed into
His likeness
with ever-increasing glory.

We have this treasure in earthen vessels.

I had another poem I wanted to share, a poem about spring. But I haven’t had the time or energy to rework it yet. Maybe this one fits better after all for the place I find myself in right now, even though I wrote it last fall. It hasn’t been an easy winter. But spring is on the way.

P.S. The pictures in this post are from the décor of our recent church youth banquet. Here are the people, the wonderful people I am delighted to call my friends.

Photo credit: Amberly Penner (and Lynette Horst, who braved taking charge of the ruckus and jokes required to get us set up)

Ten Favorite Books From 2021

I wish I could tell you about all the books I read (or finished) in 2021. Looking back over the record of them makes me feel so rich, reminds me that even when I think I don’t read enough, I am still getting it in somewhere.

It’s an honor to my favorites that I wasn’t able to get them all into the pictures; I lent them out to friends. Reading books is wonderful. Sharing books is even more wonderful.

Others share with me too: The Way of Abundance was a book Judith got at a thrift store; Dusty Rose was a book about a special education teacher with thyroid cancer that Selema received while she was in Ontario in 2020; many of the books I read come from my families’ wonderfully stocked shelves; The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Anything But Simple were lent to me by two different friends from church.

How does a person choose favorites? I liked this about that book and something else about the other…but here are ten of the best:

The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp

This book met me in my need. I don’t know how many Saturday mornings after the early morning scramble of getting the market crew out the driveway, I sat on the floor in my room and just soaked in this book. It explores the brokenness of our lives in a personal and compassionate way. It points to the Broken Healer to restore our souls and to enable us then to go forth as His hands and feet to a hurting world.

We are always lost until our heart makes its home inside of someone else…The art of living is believing there is enough love in you, that you are loved enough by Him, to be made into love to give.

Ann Voskamp, The Way of Abundance

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

I had heard good words here and there about this book, but somehow I expected it to be a rather stuffy idealized treatise on ideal Victorian womanhood. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is an honest book about a girl growing into womanhood, and despite being written in the 1800’s, it’s still relevant and fresh today. The main character had a personality similar to mine. I was deeply reassured by the stories of God’s grace working in her–just to see that there is hope for a scatterbrained person like me to become disciplined and useful in God’s kingdom, and that there is a place that none other but me could fill. But this book really doesn’t preach much; it shows the way, delightfully, through personal stories set as journal entries. I will need to reread this one someday.

Clutched in the Talons by Darryl Derstine

Before I read this book, didn’t know Anabaptist writers were so capable of saying it like it is. (Though I have discovered it again since, in I Am His Daughter by Emily Steiner, which I suspect will remain one of my most life changing books for 2022. But that’s a whole other story.) Darrel Derstine is a master storyteller. And his stories get right to the soul, cutting through hypocrisy to show the ultimate consequences of the decisions we make. This book has three separate stories in it. I liked the last one best, maybe because it had a girl in it.

She slipped down by her bed and the words came, broken words from a broken soul. It was not good English. It was good submission.

Darrel Derstine, Clutched in the Talons

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

This was another book I read exactly when I needed it. (I am starting to suspect that God will always have a book ready for me when I need it, and the He will make sure I find it. He’s done such an amazing job of this over the years!) I wrote in my book records: “God is here, and God wants to be known, and we will never rest until we know Him–that is the powerful message of this book.” I add now–God will not rest either until we know Him. I think this book is as much about God’s pursuit of us as it is about our pursuit of Him. The two belong together.

It is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thought.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

This is the story of Elisabeth and Jim’s relationship, but it is much more than that. As the subtitle says: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control.

The greater the potential for good, the greater the potential for evil…A good and perfect gift, these natural desires. But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God.

Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity

Purity means freedom from contamination, from anything that would spoil the taste or the pleasure, reduce the power, or in any way adulterate what the thing was meant to be.

Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity

Drifting Home by Pierre Burton

Pierre Burton grew up in Dawson City in the Yukon. This book chronicles the adventures of a trip with his family down the Yukon River by boat back to Dawson City. Along the way I was entertained and delighted by anecdotes from the life of his father who had travelled the same route to take part in the gold rush years before. The way the story threads are woven together and all brought alive is incredible. I laughed at his family’s antics and sorrowed with him at the loss of all the old buildings and relics of the gold rush.

You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen

Communication and conversation have always fascinated me. So have relationships. This book explores those themes with anecdotes and analysis, all tied together in a very readable fashion. I had started this book a long time ago, but finally restarted it last winter and read it through.

Men and women think differently, so it’s no wonder they use different styles of communication. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand each other–obviously God expected us to be able to hear each other’s hearts with the styles we have and complement each other instead of competing. Knowing where someone else is coming from helps to bridge differences. While this book was written from a secular perspective, I found it amazing how often it unwittingly confirmed the Biblical framework of headship order.

Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

This is an allegory. It’s the story of the poor disfigured Much-Afraid’s journey with the Shepherd to the High Places of His love. But it’s more than that–it’s the story of every Christian who chooses to leave behind the familiar places of resentment and fear to walk with Christ through pain into glory. I remember one evening last summer when I sat under the huge maple tree between our house and the road, watching dusk overtake the mountain and crying over this book. The words inside its pages, along with other things going on in my life, helped me experience the love of God in a deeper way than ever before.

Only Love can really understand the music and the beauty and the joy which was planted in the heart of all created things.

Hannah Hurnard, Hinds’ Feet on High Places

All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.

Hannah Hurnard, Hinds’ Feet in High Places

Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite by Lucinda J. Miller Kinsinger

I love well-written memoirs: people who are willing to honestly tell their own stories with vulnerability and skill. This is just such a book. I laughed and cried over it. Through Lucinda’s words, I heard echoes of my own story: the discovery of who I am and how my culture shapes me and who I was meant to be.

I had done brave things before. When you are a very small person, when even mentioning that you need to use the bathroom is an act of courage, you get used to being brave. Pretty soon you can do anything.

Lucinda J. Miller, Anything But Simple

But now, in the ashes of my old, ridiculous dream–that thing which God had given, perhaps, just to show me it didn’t fit–my forever Dream shone bright.

Lucinda J. Miller, Anything But Simple

2021 Leaf Magazine

Okay, maybe this is not technically a book, but it sure looks like one, and it’s worth being treasured and reread like one. It’s the yearly publication of the Curator (which also publishes a weekly poem on their blog.) The poetry inside the pages is original and compelling. So is the art and photography featured along with the words. So is the prose. Well, maybe stunning is a better word for Emily Steiner’s story about an artistic girl who finds out she has two days to live. I highly recommend this publication. (Maybe even more so since I have been asked to help select the poetry for it this year. I count that a privilege.) Check out the Leaf magazines from past years too!

If you have any questions or comments on any of these books, I would love to hear from you in the comments! Or send me an email. I love to discuss books. What have you been reading?

Random Tidbits

Time for a long overdue life update…

Friends

L-R: Judith, Leah Martin, Selema, Anna Martin, Rebecca

The last five days of the year 2021 were packed full of friendship. Anna and Leah Martin–loyal friends of ours since I was about six years old–came to visit. We filled the days with delightful times together. Walks. Exploring various places in our beautiful province. Long deep talks at any hour. Washing dishes. Quoting poetry. Listening to each other’s favorite songs. Laughing. Oh, we laughed. These are the sort of friends who laugh at you simply for being you, who can laugh in the middle of the most serious discussion and it only adds to the depth of the conversation. It was so wholesome.

Photo credit: Judith Weber

An Extra Son In the Family

My special student’s parents went to Manitoba because his grandparents were both very sick in the hospital there (sadly, his grandma passed away on Sunday). So he has been staying at our house for the past two weeks. Daniel and Adoniram have been enjoying spending time with him. The first week, the three of them spent a lot of time building a crane out of blocks and playing with it. My brothers have taken CJ out on a sled to join them in their chores. They play Uno and read stories together.

It’s fun to see my family getting to know CJ better. They’ve done very well to take responsibility for much of his care so that I’m still able to do my job properly when he’s at school. It felt strange at first to have him around at home and know I wasn’t the chief person responsible–almost like I wasn’t doing my part. But it’s been good to connect in more low key ways with him during this time.

Today school was closed because of the weather, so I just taught him at home and made it a fun day to celebrate him completing his Language Arts and Reading grade one level books. Jonathan, Daniel, and Adoniram joined us for a fun art project of painting simple color wheels and turning them into eyes.

School

One day a week or two ago I told a co teacher that it seems the February blues have come early to my classroom. She said, “Well, then maybe they’ll be over sooner!” Maybe. I know CJ has been under stress with his life being upended, so it’s no wonder it take a little more tender loving care to make progress these days.

But there have been many wonderful times. I am confident that this is the place God has for me right now, and sometimes I just love my little peoples so much it seems my heart just has to get bigger and bigger to hold it all. I have really been enjoying the color and variety of this term. Sometimes I think I have the most interesting job in the whole school–I teach special ed, have another student part time, teach Sing for Joy music classes twice a week (and try to study enough that I’m not just a blind leader of the blind!), and take over the middle grade class for the last class time of each day, including art on Fridays. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good.

Two weeks ago, we took the whole school out to the woods for an adventurous game of Capture the Flag.

Last Friday, I baked bread with my class for art. We skipped storytime to mix the dough. Everyone had fun trying out the assortment of aprons. With flour flying and six hands kneading in each bowl, we had a delightful time. Then during the regular art period, we shaped the rolls. While the buns rose and baked, we had time for our story after all. The children’s energy cooled down to make space for listening. I loved sitting on the floor with all those eager faces following every word of the story. And then we all enjoyed fresh buns with honey and butter before closing time.

There are those priceless moments, like when my student comes to me after an offence with a delighted smile and whispers, “I’m sorry. Now we can be friends again.” Or when I compliment another student on his penmanship, and he says, “I knew you liked it, because you put such a big check mark on it!” And then there’s the bustle at the end of the day, trying to make sure everyone has their homework and their socks before they whoosh out the door. They grab their backpacks and go out in groups of twos or threes. Some of them, that is; others are the chronic stragglers, somehow still left tying their shoes and telling stories when most of the rest have already flung goodbyes over their shoulders and gone to play in the snow or catch their rides. They’re such a dear bunch.

Renovation

In January, Dad and my brothers took time to renovate my unfinished attic-style room. They also built shelves to organize the storage area of the room. It made for some upheaval–everything that had been in there got moved out and crowded into the rest of the upstairs. I felt like my brain was all in fragments, buried in boxes and corners and lost books. There was dust everywhere.

It was a great opportunity to camp out in my sisters’ room and have long talks. Still, I was excited when the last coat of paint was dry and I could start moving into my space again. I hardly helped with the project, but at least I put the last layer of paint touch ups on the floor. And now I have a sunny sanctuary of a room. (Confession: there are still some papers I haven’t sorted through and put back in place. When you’re a writer and you want to finish things before putting them away, sorting papers takes such a long time.)

God’s Doings

At the beginning of the year I chose this as my verse of the year.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

John 4:18 NIV

Last year the Lord taught me so much more about both fear and love than I had ever thought existed, and I wanted to keep growing deeper into that knowledge.

God is certainly still working on those themes in my life. The past month (and, indeed, the past year) has held much intense processing in my journal. I’ve read books and talked with friends and and sat with tears in the presence of God. He is healing me in places I hadn’t known were wounded. He is calling me to Himself.

Oh, the hope of living in Christ. His mercy. His grace–“wave upon wave of grace upon grace upon grace.”

I love Him.

Chance and Change: a book you should read

The book I want to share with you today is not one I wrote, but one by Dad’s cousin about their journey of change and grief when their daughter faced a rare heart condition. Their family had visited ours about a month before she died. This is what I wrote some months after Amanda’s death:

I am carrying a basket of clean clothes, nearing the senior residents’ entertainment room, when I hear it. Familiar music prances to my ears. I set down the laundry basket, lean against a nearby door-frame, and listen.

These words by Stuart Hamblen are riding along on the notes:

“….Ain’t got time to fix the floor./ Ain’t got time to oil the hinges, nor to mend the window pane./ Ain’t gonna need this house no longer, I’m getting ready to meet the saints.”

The words lift my emotions onto their musical steeds, and I am borne away. Away—to a warm May evening months ago:

My siblings and I sit on the front porch with a family of Horst second cousins who have spent about eighteen hours on the road to get here. The porch light illuminates the evening darkness. Some of the boys and I perch on the railing, a few people stand, and several sit on chairs. Three girls play guitar; we all cluster around a songbook stand that holds a folder of songs.

We make a joyful noise unto the Lord. The night rings with music. We join voices; we join hearts in songs of prayer and hymns of praise.

Then our dads step out onto the porch, both wearing glasses and short brown beards. The man who is my dad’s cousin says, “Have you sung The Old House yet?”

We have not, but now we flip the pages and sing it spirited, the guitars accompanying. “Ain’t gonna need this house no longer,/ Ain’t gonna need this house no more./ Ain’t got time to fix the shingles/….”

The girl in the middle of the cluster, one of the guitarists, sings with the rest of us. Amanda’s presence is extra precious, for she has been diagnosed with a rare heart condition. Although she is allowed to exercise a little and does not need to stay in the hospital, she needs a heart transplant as soon as possible. There has been a delay in the processing of her application, which is why the family trip that brought them all to this front porch has even been possible.

But our minds are not dwelling on heart transplants now. We are singing about a worn-out dwelling whose inhabitant is preparing to meet the saints. We are rejoicing in the togetherness and the thought of heaven.

The next day, my family and the Horst family go sight-seeing. My sister drives the van that holds us older ones. On the way to see Canada’s most famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, we decide to sing. The guitars have joined us on this outing, reposing in a pile of coats on the back seat, and we bring them forth.

The corners of the van fill up with the music as Amanda and her sister strum the instruments and the rest of us join in the songs. We are driving along the coastline, weaving through fishing villages now, nearing our destination. Again we sing The Old House with vigor: “This old house is getting shaky, this old house is getting old./ This old house lets in the rain and this old house lets in the cold./ On my knees I’m getting chilly, but I feel no fear or pain./ Cause I see an angel peeking through a broken window pane.”

Amanda is in the front passenger’s seat, and twists around to face her sister in the next seat. The speed of the song’s chorus becomes a competition between them. Faster and faster fly their fingers over the strings, and the voices dance along. The climax comes: “….I’m gettin’ ready to meet the saints.”

Amanda’s eyes cup a strange light; they must be seraph’s eyes. Her face is flushed but beaming.

When we get to Peggy’s Cove, Amanda’s brother brings her the scooter she uses for longer walking distances. Too much exercise would overtax her weak heart. On the scooter, she blends into the happy crowd of eager children and watchful adults. She is one of us, young and spirited despite limitations.

A cement and rock walkway leads to the lighthouse. We explore and take pictures.

Left to right: Andrea Horst, Judith Weber, Amanda Horst, Rebecca Weber, Vanessa Horst, Selema Weber, Tabitha Horst. Photo credit: Patricia Horst

Then someone suggests traipsing along the shore, over the enormous rocks, to our favorite place for watching the waves. The main troop takes off, but I go back the pathway with Amanda. I hope to find a trail to the wave-watching place so she can go there too. She admits to being cold. “The medication I take makes me get cold more easily.” It is the closest she gets to complaining in my presence, and it is not very close—just a statement of a fact.

“I’ll find you a scarf in the van,” I say.

Too soon the next day, the Horsts’ time with my family is over. They repack their RV. We exchange goodbye hugs. They linger as long as they can. Then they pile into the vehicle.

Amanda is the last to get into the RV. I have begun to walk slowly away, but look back in time to see her hesitate outside the door. Her sparkling smile embraces me, and her eyes—full again of that heaven-light—lift for a moment with the wave of her slender hand. I wave back. Then she climbs aboard, still smiling.

It is farewell; I feel it deep in my soul.

Less than a month later, the message comes: Amanda will not be needing her worn-out dwelling place anymore. She has a new heart. She is in the presence of the Savior.

She has gone Home and is singing with the saints.

This is why, months later when I hear The Old House, I lean against the door-frame—head bowed, silence in my heart, and tears in my eyes.

Galen has written an amazing book telling their story. I was privileged to read it when it was still in the review stage, and even then before the final polishing, it gripped me. Of course, since I already had ties to the story, that made a difference, but I can tell you this is a well-written book. For more information, go to Galen and Patricia’s blog, Providence Homestead, here. In Ontario, it’s available at Living Waters Christian Book and Toy Store. In Nova Scotia it’s available at Autumn Breeze Christian Bookstore. Or get it on Amazon, here.