Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January Q & A: Guest Post

Linda and I go way back to the awkward days of early teens. We giggled together at sleep-overs (never mind shaking the front bench with our silent laughter during church) and confided in each other through the pimples and the growing pains of youth group years. We went to Bible school together and whispered our crushes and our struggles into each other's ears. We came from two very different worlds and sometimes the gap between us loomed too large to span; other times the common ground between us drew us closer than the younger sister I always wanted.

In time, we grew up, married and parted ways. Linda and I haven't seen each other for years but she is still that friend I shoot off a message to when I know no one else will understand or I desperately need someone to shoot straight with me. Without fail, she is never shocked by my messes and always tells me how to "straighten up and fly right" in the wisest way possible.

It is no surprise that I turned to her for help this month with question #10. When she answered my plea for insight with -  "I don't know that anyone did anything to help *blend* cultures. That was one of the very hard things. There was no honor given to the culture I had been raised in; everything "English" was bad, or at least needed to be examined carefully. Everything Mennonite had an air of sanctity and questioning the religion/culture line was rebellious. 
Now having said that, I have seen a *big* shift in those attitudes in our generation. There's a part of me that thinks if those in authority back then would have had this new openness, we might have stuck it out longer." I said, "Aha! Would you consider guest posting for me??"

And bless her, she did.

If you were plucked up out of your comfortable home and community, and plopped down on the other side of the world, what would you expect? Assume the people there are believers, so you're not there as a missionary. You're just there to live. Are you going to try to change the culture to suit yourself? Are you going to try to completely change yourself to adapt to the native culture? Or do you hope to learn as you go, and find joy, acceptance, and peace?

Cultural differences can be a fascinating exploration, but it's a bit of a mine-field, too. It's so easy  to  blunder into hurtful territory, and so hard to repair the damage you might not even know you caused. The Lord has put me in a front-row seat for observing a lot of microcultures within the American macroculture. For example...

I grew up homeschooled (1). My early religious exposures were Baptist (2), then switched to Mennonite (3). Early in my childhood we lived in a mid-sized town (4), then we moved waaayyyy out in the country (5). I married a man who, like me, grew up "worldly", then joined the Mennonite church as an adult; his family has never been religious (6.5). We moved to his home state (7), halfway across the country from mine, and joined a non-denominational church with anabaptist roots (8). We didn't stay long there, and church shopped for an exhausting year before the Lord sent us our home fellowship (9). If I thought we had been cultuarally diverse before, well, our home fellowship makes it look like a walk in the park!! 

But let me back-track a little, to trying to fit in with Mennonites specifically. Please understand, this is from my personal experience. Each person, each situation, each congregation, is unique and will have its own issues, it's own highs and lows. These are things that stand out in my memory as specific issues as a young woman trying to fit in with Beachy Amish Mennonites.

The main issue: The mixture of doctrine and culture is bewildering, and often frustrating, to someone from the outside. 

I understand that the Bible has specific language about modesty, but... cape dresses?? Where is it found that we should wear solid colors? And black pantyhose is completely counter-intuitive to modesty, but whatever, I don't want the old ladies to chew me out, so just scour the shelves for the last pair of Off Black. Nevermind that I can see the Bishop's daughter's underwear right through her "modest" cape dress (don't you know she's the example to be held up to!). 

It would have helped if someone had been willing to acknowledge the difference between Biblical principals (modesty, headcovering) and cultural application (cape dresses, pleated net coverings with strings). It would have helped to feel accepted and valued while I learned the principles, before expecting me to adopt the culture. I am forever grateful to the few who patiently answered questions, pointed me to scripture, and were willing to admit when things didn't make sense-- especially when the majority were hearing the same questions and condemning me as rebellious.

There are doctirines that are applied in unique ways, for example, the holy kiss. A friend took her pre-teen son to visit a Mennonite church for the first time. He rushed up to her after the service, eyes bugging out of his head. "Mom, we have to leave right now!!!"
"What's wrong?"
"The men are KISSING EACH OTHER!!"
--It's a hilarious story, but just imagine that poor kid's panic. It helps to anticipate ways that you are different, and offer gentle explanations. Your minor discomfort may prevent another person's trauma.

There are parts of the culture that I value highly to this day. The emphasis on home and family, the sanctity of marriage, the church as a family, not just where I land on Sunday. We did life together. We sewed and cooked, tended babies and gardens, exchanged patterns, seeds, recipes, hand-me-downs, and lots of laughter and love. My church family was far closer to my heart than my blood relatives. But I still struggled to fit in.

Smaller issue: Everybody is related to somebody... except me.

The conversations with new people go like this:
Hi, my name is Linda Fletcher. (holds breath)
Fletcher?! Where are you from? (looks confused)
Arkansas (sigh)
Who are your Parents?
Carl and Debbie... (wait!)
Now, what was your mother's maiden name? (begins to look determined)
Martin, but-- (oh, boy, here we go!)
Oh, Martin!! Where was she from?
Kansas, but really---
What are your grandparents names? (looks really, really determined)
Ezra and Edna, buttheywerentMennoniteorAmish. YoudontknowmeIpromise. (Ugh!)

^^^^^ please. stop. doing. this.^^^^^
I was already an oddball, borderline pariah. There was no need to rub it in. When you meet someone new, meet the person, not their genealogy. 

Another small (not-so-small) issue: My culture is valuable, too.

It hurts, deeply, to be expected to leave everything behind. There are things that need to be left behind, but not everything, and not all at once. Be gentle. Be willing to let the Lord do the convicting. You don't have to be suspicious of everything in my past just because it's not familiar to you. Yeah, I don't need to teach your kids to sing Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, but I can still sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

One last scandalous act, as we were leaving the Mennonite church after out marriage, was to exchange wedding rings. Why? Because my grandmother believed with all her heart that you weren't really married if you didn't exchange rings. We did it to protect her heart, to refrain from offending someone with a weaker faith. The gossip and backlash from out church families was astounding. A reception at my husband's home church was summarily cancelled. A man my husband looked up to as a father (who wasn't at the wedding, but knew about out rings in less than a week) yelled at him over the phone; he was crushed. That heart connection was completely broken. The rings have stayed.

Since then, we've become part of a fellowship of believers that is unique in it's ability to embrace differences. We come from a lot of different places, both geographically and experientially. There are families who actually practiced idol worship before they came to Christ. There is a sister who was set free from addiction and human trafficking when she met the Lord. There are those who were raised Catholic, or in a cult, or just abandoned by society altogether. 

What unites us? The Life of Jesus in our hearts. 

A few years ago I had a conversation with an older Chinese sister in our church, in which I expressed frustration with a lack of what I thought was "like-mindedness." I had deep concerns about the differences in practice between our family (lots of kids, homeschooling, wearing skirts/dresses) and a lot of the other families around the same age (more typically American). Her words resonated deep with my years of struggling to fit in with Mennonites, and completely changed my outlook for my family today. In a way, it really set me free.

"Every Christian, every true Believer, has the Life of Christ in their heart. We all share this same Life. We also have, individually, the Light that God is giving us for the path He sets us on. You do not have the same Light as I do, because we are not on the same path. The Lord may illumine the same scripture to you in a completely different way than He does to me. The scripture does not change, but our understanding may. If we try to fellowship around the Light that we have, we will quickly become frustrated. We are in totally different places. We don't match at all. How can we then walk together? We walk together in His Life. We rejoice together because He lives in us! We encourage each other to listen to the Lord, to press in and really hear Him, and then walk in that Light. That is how we can be so different, and yet still the same."

What it all boils down to, really, is our hearts. Love God, and love people. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Ask gentle, sincere, and respectful questions. Really listen to each other.

Praise God, He has not made us to be cookie-cutter Christians! The same God who created our varied and fascinating world lives in us!!

Thank you, thank you, Linda. God bless you so much for sharing. You are a gem.

January Q & A: #10 Blending Cultures

Question #10:

"Lately I've been noticing how unique each culture is... I'd love to hear you explore how to blend cultures, how to honor the good in each culture, how to even intentionally change what needs to be changed in our own culture."

My initial response to this question was, "Wow. That is a mighty big question I'm not sure anyone has an answer for; what does this lady think I am??" ☺

It is a good question, though. A question that has the potential to change the world. But is there a world-changing answer? Is blending cultures possible?

Again, because I am a Mennonite and know that the question came from an Anabaptist origin, I am viewing it from that perspective. Anyone who has any experience with Anabaptists of any stripe knows that we are our own distinct culture. What may look initially like some simple differences in beliefs quickly becomes an intricate complexity of cultural differences for anyone choosing to join from 'the outside'.

It is easy for those within a culture to expect those entering to make all the adjustments - "They want to join us, they can adjust accordingly." It is just as easy for those entering to expect those within the culture to extend all the grace and patience - "They wanted to win us, they should be willing to be understanding." It is a process that is complicated, easily hurtful and just plain hard.

My family has had the unique experience of welcoming a step-mother into our family. We love Sara. She is a sweet lady; kind, caring, humorous, understanding. She makes our father very happy which, in turn, makes us happy. But she's not our mom. She doesn't know our inside jokes, our childhood stories, our history, the things that make us tick. We have no history of shared experiences to give us that rich, comfortable relationship you automatically associate with children and parents. We are beginning to build experiences, yes. But it is impossible to manufacture them.

I think it is somewhat the same with blending cultures. Are there things those within the different cultures can do to help with the process? Certainly! Are there things to avoid that are hurtful? Absolutely. Is there a formula to follow to manufacture blending? Not really.

I distinctly remember an experience I had several years after moving to Ohio. At that time there was a couple from the community coming to our church and the lady and I had struck up a bit of a friendship. She struggled very much with the blending of cultures and I struggled very much with wondering how I could be helpful.

One Sunday it was announced that there was a project for the choir to participate in, anyone was welcome to help. I don't remember the specific project the choir was asked to do, I'm thinking record a few songs. Well, I had helped with a Christmas program or two by that time, so I showed up for the scheduled evening of practice. Now, I am a shy, quiet individual. Walking into something like that is extremely hard for me but I took myself in hand and walked in.

Unknown to me this was a meeting of members from back in the glory days of The Antrim Mennonite Choir. I immediately felt as out of place as... I don't know... a Mennonite in a bar room? These people had years of stories and laughter and experiences they shared. They knew each other almost like family members. They had gone places together, learned songs together, traveled together; they practically had their own special language. If there was any way I could have become invisible and quietly disappeared from that meeting, you can bet I would have.

On the way home, as I was vowing that I would never do that again, it suddenly hit me. This is how my friend feels with us Mennonites, only magnified about 99.9%. For me, it was just one little meeting; I could share many other experiences with those same people and not deal with those feelings. How hard would it be to deal with that feeling every time you came to church, every time you visited someone's home, every time you shared a conversation? Wow. Talk about perspective. Just realizing how difficult it is to be so different helps tremendously with being sensitive and welcoming and kind.

On the other hand, I also realized this: What made me feel so out of place at that meeting? Was it the people there? Not really. If I was honest, I had to admit they had been very welcoming; friendly; inclusive. I was certain any one of them would have told me I was more than welcome to be there. If I was even more honest, most of the problem that evening was really me. Had I been ok with acknowledging my different-ness and the fact that no amount of kindness and acceptance and inclusion from the people there could change that in the moment, maybe the evening would have been different.

I guess I am saying all of this to say -- there are many sides to this issue. It is easiest to point out the other side's faults, to know how they should change or why that shouldn't have felt hurtful to them. I think one of the most helpful things we can do for each other is listen well. If they said that felt hurtful, it did. If they said they didn't mean it that way at all, they didn't. If they said that's why they did it, it is. It's called Grace.

I've asked a dear friend of mine who has walked many miles in the shoes of blending cultures if she would share some things from her journey with us here. I will be back with her story tomorrow.

Monday, January 29, 2018

January Q & A: #8-9 Activities for Boys & Staying Warm In A Dress

Question #8:

After my post about activities for children, specifically girls, someone wondered -- what about ideas for boys? Especially in the 4 - 13 year range.

For some reason I drew a blank on ideas for boys. Maybe part of that is because for 11 years I only had one boy, I'm not sure. Anyway, I had asked for input on this question and one mom suggested -- "Teach them to cook. It's wonderful for mom and survival skills for them!" My first thought was that the mom might have to survive the teaching phase first ☺ I agree though, it's a great idea. My husband is a first rate cook and I love it!

And then I got this perfectly lovely email from a mother who clearly knows all about boys and how to speak their language. Here are her ideas:

What do you do to keep boys in the ages of 4-13 busy?

Well, short of buying a farm or investing in a bounce-house, I am not always sure myself...

We live in town, homeschool, and have one girl (age 10) and  three boys (ages 7, 5 and 1) so keeping the children gainfully employed is something I frequently wrack my brain over!!!

With trial and error here are some of my favorites:

1) Legos (and lots of them!) 
They can be pricey, but put it down on every birthday and christmas wish list and you will not regret it! Yes, they get everywhere, and yes, the directions fall to pieces, but put a sheet on the floor to contain the mess and make clean-up a breeze, and let the imagination & play begin!

2) Space to run indoors-
I am beginning to accept the fact that boys have lots of energy (unlike their mama!) and need outlets for it, so if it’s at all possible, have a space where they can throw a rubber ball and get pretty active indoors in the winter. We have an unfinished basement which isn’t all that great to look at, but with the floor cleared of debris, some green masking tape to mark off a “two-square” game board, and a dartboard on the wall, it makes a pretty suitable playground. 

3) Dot- to- dot books- 
My seven year old has spent hours in his dot to dot books! Our favorites are the Extreme Dot-to-Dot series, and they have a variety of themes and skill levels to pick from, so there is something for everyone! Not only is it fun to see what the picture turns out to be, but it also provides some counting/concentration practice!

4) Puzzles- 
This is definitely a winter activity in our family, but I like having a puzzle in the works during the cold months when we spend so much time indoors. I have found that the children sit and fix better and longer if I sit down and fix with them, so it can be a really good family activity. We have done several 1,000 piece puzzles, but I find that if a puzzle takes too long or is too difficult, it just sits there, so it’s best to find one that fits the level of your children, and 500 piece are good for us right now. One of our favorite things to do while fixing is my next activity idea…

5) Listening to audiobooks-
My children love listening to stories on tape/CD, and now we often borrow audiobooks online through our library’s website and play them off the computer or a cellphone. We even bought a nice collection through Audible (online) and find that it has been well worth our investment, although borrowing through the library is obviously still the most economical route! Some of the boy's favorites are: The Henry Huggins collection (by Beverly Cleary), The Boxcar Children, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many others. The Laura Ingalls Wilder series is a timeless classic, too, and the narrator, Cherry Jones, does a wonderful job! Just tonight we were listening to Farmer Boy while we started a new puzzle, and that helped another winter evening pass pleasantly by!

6)Boredom Buster jars-
This idea is not original with me, and it is not one I have used much yet, but I recently made my own with a list of chores- and a few fun things thrown in for good measure- on an afternoon when I was desperate to end my seven-year-olds boredom!!! I told him he had to pull random slips out of the jar until a certain time and it actually worked pretty well! I got some windows washed and the cupboards wiped off, and he learned (for the moment) not to use the “bored” word quite so freely!!! 

7)Tools and old computers-
Maybe not everyone has spare computer parts sitting in their basement, nor do they want their son applying his hammer and screwdriver to the aforementioned spare computer parts, but sometimes this is just the ticket for a good boy’s activity: and they might even learn a thing or two about how something works during the destroying process!!!

8) Let them hone their interests-
My oldest son likes helping in the kitchen about as much- maybe more than- his older sister, so a good way to keep him gainfully employed at times is to have him help with peeling carrots, dicing potatoes, mixing a cake, or putting toppings on the pizza. And while I’ve never tried this, I have friends who allow their sons to do projects on the sewing machine (possibly an old one, so yours isn’t ruined for life?) and I think it’s good to keep in mind that many of the things we think of as girls or women’s work/hobbies are very well suited to boys as well! 

9) Books, books, books! 
I am a bookworm myself and have worked pretty hard to raise children who are, as well, but we love books! We go to the library a minimum of once-a-week, and go through tons of books thanks to this wonderful resource! The children usually pick books they enjoy or are interested in, but I also scour the shelves for books I think they might enjoy. My seven year old enjoys geography, for instance, so it might be books about the U.S. or some other country for him, and once it’s home, he’ll often read it, even if it’s not one he would have found or chosen himself. I also like to bring home a variety of picture books, and they can be anything from humorous, to educational, to autobiographical, and there again, I often find that they enjoy more variety than they would naturally pick themselves, so don’t be afraid to choose for them! I think a love of books is contagious.

10) The Library-
Speaking of books, I thought I should reiterate that while the library is a wonderful place to wile away a few hours on a cold, dreary day, they are also a good resource for other things as well! Our local library offers story time, Lego club (see activity #1), American Girl Club (for which you do not need an American Girl doll in order to attend!) and even a STEAM Saturday, among other classes, and if you’re comfortable with these things, and don’t mind a few evenings- or the occasional Saturday- out, they can be a wonderful opportunity for the children to learn new things and interact with new people. 

Thank you, thank you Joanna Hendricks!! I loved your ideas and the humor with which you shared them.

Something my oldest son enjoys doing is setting up dominoes in fantastic ways. He's had many, many fails but it can occupy a lot of time! Here is a poor quality video of a pretty cool attempt that actually worked. He also loves attempting magic tricks.


Question #9:

"How do you stay warm wearing dresses in the winter? Do you have practical advice for what kind of layering garments, how to not look sloppy, etc?"

Several of you responded to this question. It seems we all agree on this one; the answer to staying warm wearing a dress is -- Leggings. When I was young, the answer was tights. I always hated them. I can handle leggings, although I am picky about how they fit and feel; tights, not so much. Leggings fit nicely under a dress without bunches and bulges. You can get different lengths and with a long skirt or paired with a warm pair of boots, no one even needs to know you're wearing them.

When we lived in our small house, which was very chilly around the edges in the winter time, I lived in a turtleneck and leggings under my dress and socks and slippers on my feet. Some of my daughters like a long sleeved tee-shirt under their dresses; some prefer layers on top -- a sweater/jacket under their coat.

Bonus Question:

Does anyone have creative ideas for storing the Sunday School papers some churches pass out every Sunday (Partners, Story Mates, Companions)? If so, please share in the comments!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

January Q & A: #7 A Question About Singles

Question #7:

"Why does Scripture emphasize that widows and orphans need to find support in the brotherhood, but single women are not mentioned that context? It's true that a widow with young children probably needs help a lot more than a young or middle-agreed single woman. But doesn't a middle-aged/senior never-married woman need just much help as (or more help than) a widow with children who can help her? It seems to me that in many ways widows, especially the older ones, are better provided for than the never-married women.

And a widow is comforted in mourning that which was? Is there any place for a single woman to mourn that which might have been?"

I'll be honest, I was not at all excited about tackling this question. Not that it's a bad question; just a touchy one. I've said a few things about singles in the past that didn't go over too well and I really just wanted no part of a repeat.

Quite possibly I took the easy way out. But I got to thinking that it would surely feel better to hear from someone who has walked a few miles in these moccasins. So, I asked for input for this question from a friend who knows what it's like to be single.

On the subject of why the scriptures do not address the single woman’s needs along with widows and orphans: Probably  a lot of us have wondered. There is that temptation of concluding we are not worthy, like daring to think even God doesn't care?  How many women mentioned in the Scriptures were actually single? We can assume perhaps Dorcas, Lydia, Miriam, Deborah …but who knows? It does say in Acts 21:9 that Stephen had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.  How common was singleness at that time?  I guess we don't really know that answer either. Would singles have been included with the care of widows? I would like to think that. I know the Lord well enough to know that He would not have ignored our needs.

What about mourning that which was, and what might have been? Obviously mourning has legimate value during an adjusting time. But if mourning prevents us from moving on, or seeing God's sovereignty, it can become a crutch leading us into self centeredness. When we can believe God has the right to order our lives we find it much easier to accept where He placed us.  This is seldom a one time commitment.

Singleness and loneliness need not necessarily be synonymous. Singleness may require more of an initiative to take an interest in others. One's spiritual gift can help to direct us there. I especially enjoyed having guests in my home. Or taking gifts of food or flowers from the garden to cheer someone.  If possible it is a big blessing to have other singles to share with but not to the exclusion of enjoying the company of married ladies, couples, or families.

If loneliness loomed large I found it helpful to sing, especially hymns that directed my thoughts to my Heavenly Father. It may have also kept the mice at bay. I was never much of a vocalist. :)

I am sorry if there are singles ladies who do not feel cared for. In my own long term singleness I often felt very cared for. And sometimes I felt forgotten. Perhaps it is an insensitivity of the brotherhood, simply not thinking what others might need or want. We do want to be careful not to portray a spirit of “helplessness” that turns people off.  But it's okay to make known a need. ”"Bear ye one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ.”" Gal.6:2  Neither do we want to give an air of independence where it appears like we don't need anyone. We all need each other.

The Lord really does delight to meet the needs of His own.  Many dedicated singles have and are making a huge impact by serving others. We do well to bless them in return by our caring.


I think that was well said, and I'm not sure I have much to add. Maybe one of you has further thoughts or questions?

Monday, January 22, 2018

January Q & A: #6 Tips For Sickness/Boosting Immunity

Question #6:

"I have come to expect January to contain many illnesses, and partly blame it on Christmas gatherings and such at the end of December. But it still gets old! What are some things you do to promote wellness and boost immunities? Or any tips to help nurse the sick, whether colds or fevers or stomach bugs? What about coping tips for mom?"

This question makes me think of my mom, and a post I once wrote. My Mom was a faithful pill taker and doctor-er. I somehow missed that gene. I know, for example, that taking B-Complex helps my moods and general well-being but do I faithfully take it? Oh, no. I take it for awhile and then, for one reason or another, I forget about it for a long stretch until suddenly I remember, oh yes. B-Complex really does help; I should take it again. Or, for example, I know that taking mega doses of vitamin C at the first sign of a cold has been known to prevent it from proceeding further but do I faithfully run for the vitamin C? Oh, no. Way too much trouble and, after all, 50/50 chance it'll just go away on it's own... Sigh.

I know there are a lot of moms out there who are much more faithful than I. They give their children immune boosting things like elderberry juice and probiotics and echinacea. I should, but I mostly don't.

I got one response to this question --

"We have found for colds—take high doses of Vitamin C and echinacea (like a cpl 3 times a day) at the first sign of a cold has really helped us! I had a whole day of sneezing “401” times and nose running and feeling like I’m going to get a full blown cold, but by the next morning, I was basically fine. So that’s our go to for that"

One year I was sold on hitting the first sign of sickness, especially a cold or sore throat, with high doses of Vit C. We used the packets of Emergen-C and were very impressed with the results. Then the idea kind of wore off.

I have heard many people say that drinking Welch's 100% grape juice at the first sign of stomach flu, or even as preventative when exposed to stomach flu, does wonders. I haven't really tested the theory - I never remember to have it on hand - but it would be worth a try.

Something that I am sold on for sore throats or for lots of sinus drainage is the technique described in this video. We have used this a LOT with amazing results. Even my husband asks me to rub his neck when he has sinus issues. (You would have to know him well to know just how significant this is.)

I haven't gotten into probiotics much but I did discover they help my second daughter's issues with eczema, so she takes one daily. The past several winters I have had the three youngest take a probiotic daily and I do think it has reduced sickness overall (it's almost impossible to prove, ya know). We use this chewable probiotic. My oldest daughter has also been taking them daily. She tends to constantly have sinus issues and taking a probiotic has cleared that up for her. She takes these. I might insert here, the only reason these have been taken faithfully is the fact that my youngest ones like the pills and my oldest seems to have inherited her grandmother's faithful pill taking gene.

That's about all I have to offer on that question.

Except I will add this. At the beginning of this month, when we had someone down with different flu bugs for weeks on end, there was one thing that kept going through my mind: It's just flu bugs; it will run it's course eventually.

I know of several families who have a loved one battling an illness that is not just a flu bug. In the middle of those weeks of seemingly never-ending sickness, I would think of the mamas in those situations. Over and over I would try to imagine how it must feel to wake up morning after morning knowing that this sickness is not going to just disappear with time. My imagination failed me. But it did do wonders for my perspective.


I need some input on several more questions. After my last post on activities for children that were mostly geared toward girls, someone asked for ideas for boys ages 4-13 . I don't have many ideas, so I would love to hear yours!

Also, another question:
"How do you stay warm wearing dresses in the winter? Do you have practical advice for what kind of layering garments, how to not look sloppy, etc?"

If you have any input for these questions please email me at christopherbethany@juno.com, I would love to hear from you!

Friday, January 19, 2018

January Q & A: #5 Activities for Children

Question #5:

"I spend a lot of time here at home alone with the children. Because of the calling in my husband's life as deacon in the church and his gifted ways of helping people he ends up being gone a lot evenings, etc. I would love ideas for activities for my children to do that occupies their time. My 4 daughters are 14, 13, 11, & 9. Son is almost 6.  My daughters are the ones that I struggle the most with in keeping them busy and happy. Would love ideas of craft projects, games, etc for them to do. Love it when they can somewhat do it on their own as least in part."

I had asked for input on this question and was going to wait until the end of the month to post an answer but I haven't gotten any input and I don't have any other questions ready, so I'll go ahead with this one today.

At our house it's the boys who get bored quickly and the girls usually have plenty of projects they want to work on. I don't know what your girls enjoy but I let my mind run and came up with a long list of ideas.

If you haven't taught your girls to use a sewing machine, an easy thing to learn on is sewing nine patch blocks together. My mom let us cut squares from scrap fabric she had (probably 3-4 inch square) She would make a pattern with a square of cardboard and then we would trace blocks and cut them out. Then she showed us how to sew them together. That was the first thing I ever sewed!

If your girls like to draw, you can find lots of 'how to draw' books at the library. Anything from easy to hard. Another thing we enjoyed one winter was a couple of books from the library about Zentangles. All kinds of fun designs that it shows you how to draw, the ideas are endless!

Painting isn't something I've done much of but my oldest daughter loves it. Chris' sister-in-law is an artist and has taught Jasmine so much! She helped me choose paints and brushes for a birthday gift one year and it has been money very well spent. If you have a daughter who is interested in painting, it might be worth checking into getting some simple teaching books and a few supplies.

Maybe you have a daughter that's into lettering. Some simple, felt tip pens or a calligraphy marker are some inexpensive things to buy and I'm sure the library would be a place to find books with lettering ideas or you might want to look into buying a book. It's fun to practice, practice, practice and a great thing to use on homemade cards, etc.

Homemade Cards
Speaking of cards... Making cards seems to be a natural girl thing. ☺ My younger girls love to take seed catalogues and cut stacks of flowers and glue them to cards. They usually end up with many more than they ever get used! We've never gotten into stamps but I know lots of people enjoy making cards with stamps. Something I did as a young girl was make cards using fabric and this iron-on stuff. I'm not sure of the exact name but it was similar, only I think it came in a roll and was from Walmart.

I would take fabric that had flowers or other objects and iron the heat n bond onto the back of it. Next, cut out your objects and then peel the paper off of the back and iron the objects onto your cards.

Doll Houses
Several times we have taken boxes and turned them into doll houses. This was a very simple one we made once upon a time.

Or you can get very elaborate like my nieces did...

Absolutely amazing, right? 
The details are incredible! I love it.

Embroidery, etc
Cross stitch and embroidery are some good old fashioned things that girls enjoy. If you or someone you know can teach your girls skills like knitting or crocheting, go for it! A neighbor lady taught me to knit when I was young. I've never actually done much with it but I spent hours playing around with it as a girl.

Maybe you have girls who enjoy being in the kitchen; let them have at it! ☺ I don't enjoy being in the kitchen and I wish I would. I've discovered that my oldest daughter does better than me with teaching kitchen skills to the younger two, so when she's in the mood, I let her! 

Google and YouTube
If you use the internet, in this day and age there is hardly any chance to run out of ideas for things to do! I'm going to include links to some things my girls have made/done; the ideas are truly endless.

*3D Snowflakes
These are fairly simple and really cool.

*Rubberband Bracelets
This was the THING to do there for a while. My girls made countless bracelets. There are many different styles, this is one of the easiest --
And this one is a bit more complicated --

*Pom Poms with a fork
I don't think we've actually tried this but we looked at it once and it looks fun and fairly simple.

*Pom Poms using your hand

*Paper Tulips
We made these once; a cheery thing come about February or March. There's lots of tutorials for other fun paper flowers, just google "paper flowers".

*Paper Bag Books
The ideas for these are just amazing. You use brown, paper lunch bags or you use white or colored ones. We sewed ours together with the sewing machine or you can punch holes in the sides and thread a ribbon through or staple them together. One year we made one for my mom and dad like a little scrap book, each child did a couple pages.

I got tired of trying to find a tutorial I liked so I'll just very simply describe how to put the book together:

Step 1: Stack paper bags opposite directions

Step 2: Fold bags in half and place inside of each other to form a "book"

Step 3: Sew through your stack of bags right on the middle crease

Step 4: Decorate! The sky is the limit. The open edges of the bag create pockets to put things in; you can create pockets with the flaps on the inside; you can cover each page with decorative paper. People make journals, scrapbooks, photo albums, story books, recipe books, you name it out of these paper bag books! The following pictures are not mine but give you a bit of a visual.

Whew. That was a lot of talking. I hope there is something amongst all of that to give someone ideas for long evenings. Anybody else like to share some ideas?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January Q & A: #4 Weddings

Question #4:

"How are Conservative Mennonite weddings different from mainstream Christian weddings?"

The answer to this question varies widely from church to church and has changed greatly in the past 15-20 years. Again, I will give my own experience by contrasting my own wedding day with the little I know about mainstream Christian weddings; keep in mind that I've only attended a handful of those.

First of all, we were cute; really cute.

I'm not sure that it's really fair to compare my wedding because I am a very basic, plain kind of person and my wedding reflected just that.

*My Wedding
>Mainstream Christian Wedding

*Special (special-ish; mine was really simple), white cape dress; no veil or train
>Elaborate white dress with veil and train

*Large gathering of family and friends (225 or so at ours, which was on the small side)
>Small gathering of family and friends

*Groom and groomsmen did not walk in first and wait for bride; we walked in together
>Groom and groomsmen walk in and wait for the bride

*My father did not give me away
Father gives bride away

*Opening, singing, short devotions and a sermon before the vows
>Not sure on the particulars but definitely something shorter in length before the vows

*Vows, pronouncing of husband and wife, no unity candle, no wedding rings, no "You may kiss the bride"
>Vows, pronouncing of husband and wife, unity candle, wedding rings, "You may kiss the bride"

*No elaborate wedding cake (I actually had no wedding cake)
>Elaborate wedding cake

*Reception with decorated tables and a full course meal (ours was not a large meal) for everyone afterward
>Cake and punch or small snack for everyone afterward

I'm not sure how true a picture this really is. A number of the things we did not do at our wedding are quite commonly done --- groom and groomsmen walking in first, father giving the bride away, unity candle, wedding cake --- but this gives you a bit of a picture.

And then they live happily ever after.....

Monday, January 15, 2018

January Q & A: #3 A Healthy View Of Dating

*ETA - Clarification: As this question was submitted by a Mennonite and I am one as well, this whole post is from a completely Mennonite perspective.

Question #3:

"I am sure you're aware of how dating has changed in our short life span. Any more, it seems like perfection of character is extremely important. To date someone is almost like deciding if you're going to marry them. And while it is indeed an important matter, it seems like it's gone farther than discerning God's will for my life and learning to know someone better. I hope this all makes sense. So my question is, what can I as a parent do to help my children have a proper and healthy view of dating?"


Short answer? You and your husband must have a healthy view of dating. ☺

Long answer? Well..... This is the first "hard" question I've tackled this month (there's more coming!) and it is awfully hard for me to just put my ideas out here and not feel like a big know it all. Then again, maybe someone who voluntarily offers to answer people's questions is automatically a know it all, I don't know? I don't pretend to have all the answers to this question but I will share some of my thoughts with you.

I live with a man who firmly believes that any godly, Christian man and woman could date, marry and live happily together. That's a pretty far cry from the common/popular view of dating. His view might appear to be a little over simplified on the opposite spectrum but I think it is actually true and a much healthier view of dating and marriage.

Does that sound crazy?

I don't believe that there was one 'Mr. Right' out there for me. I think there were other men I could have married and enjoyed a happy marriage with. That's a mouthful, I know. A mouthful that probably needs some clarification.

I'm not talking about promoting carelessness and flippancy in dating and marriage. I'm not saying that I think I could have married any old boy that came along and expected a wonderful marriage. What I am saying is this: I believe there were lots of godly young men with solid, Christian values who I could have dated, married and lived happily with. Each one would have come with a unique set of struggles to work through and issues to deal with -- my marriage and the Bethany that I know would look different than they do today -- but that's what you do in a marriage no matter who your partner is.

Now I'm guessing if I had just completely gone for looks or reputation or - I don't know - wealth, with no regard for same values, the struggles and issues may have been a lot larger and harder. It does matter who you marry; you are entering a life time commitment. But I think there is a lot more room within the perimeters of God's Will for a life partner than most people's view of dating allows.

A little personal story here... I remember in our early years of marriage struggling majorly with the idea that I had married the wrong man. Here I was now, stuck, and nothing could be done about it. Suddenly it was as if the Lord said to me, "No. He is a good man; a godly man. You are married to him. Therefore, he is the right man."

Do you feel like I am straying from answering the question? Here's my point. I think we've turned dating into this huge, paralyzing decision that has to be gotten just right or it's all wrong. I think the 'Mr/Miss Right' idea plays into that heavily.

How do we teach our children?

Well, I think the answer to that has a lot to do with my short answer to this question. It is impossible to teach something if you don't believe in it yourself and a lot of us parents act like we don't believe it.

I understand why, don't get me wrong. I am not there yet, but I can only imagine how hard it will be to meet the person my son or daughter wants to date. I can guess how easy it will be to analyze and critique and question whether they are good enough. While I will always be happy to give my children advice and encouragement about dating, I would hope that I never pressure them to wait for Mr/Miss Perfect.

There is much more that could be said on the subject, I'm sure. I've shared some of my thoughts, what are yours?

Friday, January 12, 2018

January Q & A: Question #2 - How Mennonites Address People

Question #2:

"I have noticed among Mennonites when referring to a family, they refer to them by the husband's first name. Like for example , 'Tims are coming to visit' ....or when referring to Grandpa and Grandma were at church, they would say, 'Grandpas were at church'."

I guess I am a true dyed in the wool Mennonite. I must confess, this question had me scratching my head at first. How else would you say it? Do non Mennonites actually say it a different way? Hmm...

And then, one day I was telling my daughter about this whole Q & A thing and describing some of the questions and, wa-la! Light bulb. I then checked back with the person asking, just to make sure I wasn't way out in left field.

So, here's my guess. Generally people would refer to a family as "The Brown family" or "The Jones family". Among Mennonites, this gets complicated very quickly. In our church, for example, there are eight Miller families and five Weaver families. If I say, "We had the Miller family over last Sunday evening", I'm going to answer a lot of questions before everyone understands that it was actually the Daniel Miller family who was at our place.

Now, I'm not sure why we don't refer to a family by their first and last name. Maybe because we're lazy? But I'm guessing the fact that there are often multiple families with the same last name among Mennonites circles is likely the reason we refer to families by the husband's first name.

I haven't come up with an answer for saying, "Grandpa's were in church today" instead of "My grandparents were in church today", although some of that just depends on the context. I think it is also a Mennonite thing for a husband and wife to address each other as "mom" and "dad".... Maybe I'm wrong; I'm painting broadly here and I'm sure it's not true for everyone.

I do think that Mennonites generally do not place an emphasis on addressing people respectfully. Teaching our children to say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" is not common. As a teen-ager, I babysat for some neighbor children and they were strictly taught to address me and my family as "Miss Bethany", "Miss Lavina", "Mr Elmer"; no Mennonite child that I know ever did that! It's kind of shameful and sad, really. I wonder why that is a part of our culture? Any insight?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January Q & A: #1 Caps and Veils

Question #1:

"Are there any conflicts among Anabaptist groups over cap style head coverings vs. hanging veils?"

I don't like to speak for Anabaptists at large because I have been pretty removed from mainstream Anabaptists most of my life time, so I will just tell you my personal experience and leave it at that.

I grew up in a church that wore the cap style head covering. Back in the era of my childhood, cap style coverings (with strings) immediately identified you as "Beachy Amish Mennonite". Any other type of head covering instantly signaled some other Anabaptist affiliation.

I remember as a youth when this began to change. You could no longer visit Calvary Bible School and point out all the people from Lott, TX because they weren't the only ones wearing veils anymore.

As a young married, the question of allowing veils came up at our church. It was vetoed after careful consideration. There was a pretty strong push for uniformity and not everyone was ok with changing to wearing a veil. It was during this time that I had my first eye opener on the subject. There was a young couple coming to our church at that time and the wife came from a church where the women didn't all wear the same type of head covering.

One day, this lady spent a day sewing at my house and we got on the head covering subject. I, in all my young wisdom, trotted out the popular argument, "Isn't it confusing to the community if everyone wears something different?"

I don't remember exactly how she answered but something of the idea that, no, it wouldn't be confusing because it is the principle of covering that is important, not so much how each person chooses to apply it. Mostly I remember that it was a new idea to me that uniformity isn't necessarily the only way.

Years later our church changed to allowing the cap style covering and the hanging veil.

I would say there has been a huge shift in recent years across Anabaptist churches to embracing different types of head coverings. I'm guessing though, you would still find some conflicts about the issue depending where you would go.

Monday, January 8, 2018

January Q & A

Sometimes I regret the fact that I get creative ideas. Like Winnie The Pooh, my ideas usually seem more "thing-ish" before I put them out there for all the world to see. One solution would be to stop putting them out there; another would be to just plow on and hope for the best. I reckon we're gonna plow on with this one.

Just because I feel like
 using random pictures...

When I had this bright idea to do questions and answers, it was some vague notion of a fun 'get-to-know-each-other" type of deal. When the questions started showing up, I held my head in my hands because it started looking a lot more like an "I-have-all-the-answers" type of a deal than anything else and that is the last way in the world that I would want to come across.

But here we are, and it's January. I said I would answer questions and I will. Not because I think I'm wise and have great answers but because it is interesting to hear from you and I value that interaction enough to give my thoughts on your questions.

I'm hoping to learn things from you, too, and I'm going to give you lots of chances to join in the conversations this month. Your first chance is to give me some input on two questions that were asked:

#1. "I have come to expect January to contain many illnesses, and partly blame it on Christmas gatherings and such at the end of December. But it still gets old! What are some things you do to promote wellness and boost immunities? Or any tips to help nurse the sick, whether colds or fevers or stomach bugs? What about coping tips for mom?" 
(In light of the past three weeks or so, I certainly don't feel qualified to answer this one. We're STILL not all back to 100% around here!)

#2. "I spend a lot of time here at home alone with the children. Because of the calling in my husband's life as deacon in the church and his gifted ways of helping people he ends up being gone a lot evenings, etc. I would love ideas for activities for my children to do that occupies their time. My 4 daughters are 14, 13, 11, & 9. Son is almost 6.  My daughters are the ones that I struggle the most with in keeping them busy and happy. Would love ideas of craft projects, games, etc for them to do. Love it when they can somewhat do it on their own as least in part.
(I have a few ideas for this one but I would love to be able to share a nice long list with some of your ideas too!)

If you have any input or ideas to share on either of these questions, please send me an email at christopherbethany@juno.com Towards the end of the month I will compile any ideas with my own and post those answers. In the mean time, you can expect to see a couple of 'Q & A' posts per week this month.

Thank you for your help and your questions. I do really think this will be fun!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen

It started out bright and serene,
A day that was fit for a queen --
   The smallest of plans,
   No schedule demands;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

But in a fate twist unforseen,
Straight downward the day did careen.
   "I don't feel the best,"
   My pale son confessed;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

He soon turned from pale to light green,
A bucket completed the scene.
   But that was just one,
   We'd only begun;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

As fast as the dominoes lean,
Then topple in piles as you've seen.
   Another turned pale,
   "I'm sick!" Came the wail;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

The night was a sleepless routine,
Of visits made to the latrine.
   Both upstairs and down,
   The flushing did sound;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

The episodes numbered 'umpteen',
And mother became a machine.
   To steady the bowl,
   And comfort the soul;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

The smells and the sounds were                                                           obscene,
The whole business screamed out                                                       "unclean!"
   Would night never end?
   The sun not ascend?
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

The mother, she vowed to houseclean,
Till all would be fresh and pristine.
   At last they all slept,
   As light upward crept;
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen.

The sun rose on folks pale and lean,
With no thought for fancy cuisine.
   And I will not lie,
   We sure did not cry,
   As we said Good-Bye,
First Day Of Two Thousand Eighteen!

Monday, January 1, 2018

To The New Year!

 Happy New Year!

We've spent the last two weeks taking turns being sick. We managed to be healthy enough for the children's school Christmas program and the choir's final program and we limped through the last week of school with a couple of people missing days. Then we drug a couple of recovering people to Arkansas for Christmas with my family and enjoyed a good time there. A couple of us caught the ailments for the return trip and the rest of the week at home was spent catching up on laundry, holding people, and taking it easy.

We still have a few coughs and I'm not holding my breath but I think we are all on the mend again.

Last night seemed like a good time to pull ourselves together and do something fun. We had a special snack/supper and then everyone wrote down a game to play and a story to read

And then we read them...

And played them....


I feel like I should write more but I need to run along and get on with the day. Just a couple things...
I'm still open for questions for the month of January. I've gotten a few, and I'm fine with a few. But if you think of more, you're welcome to ask.

 Also, your emails!

So, my husband had this great idea to make everyone a winner in my birthday giveaway and I was, quite honestly, feeling a bit lazy to go to all the trouble. But then your emails started coming in -- all the surprise and the thank yous and some of you sharing family pictures and telling me about yourselves...

I loved it!!!!
Thank you. Thank you so much!
I can't wait to get your books
 sent your way.

 now I
 must run along. I do not know
 what 2018 will bring but I know
 it in
I am