Great Aunt Edna Revisited

It’s that time of year, you know. For traveling. Visiting relatives. Spending your whole Christmas vacation with family and friends. Whether you’ll celebrate close to home, or travel far away, you’ll stay at Great Aunt Edna’s. You know you will.

Let’s start in your sleeping quarters.

The first indication that you are at Great Aunt Edna’s is the inappropriately fuzzy cat on your bed.

Or the feline icon staring down at you while you sleep.

Perhaps your favorite piece of art, bringing you many hours of personal happiness, is the glittery, golden, sequined cat tapestry.

Great Aunt Edna has an affinity for cats, you see.

And monkeys?

Surprisingly, Great Aunt Edna affords several unique (random) holiday touches.

There’s also a china doll on your bed. One that you can’t wait to sell on ebay.

Anyone, though, can appreciate her anti-Barbie, genetically-appropriate body sizing.

Check out those gams.

The bedroom gallery includes a street chalk drawing of a vague ancestor.

There remains, though, several artifacts worth rummaging for…

Big Ben, West Clox. This clock is older than me. No batteries, no electricity, you wind it. Why don’t they make stuff like this today?

Found these in their original packaging in the closet. I probably wouldn’t pair them with a housecoat (as originally intentioned), but I LOVE THEM! (I am honest, though. I did not sneak them out of the house.)

Other random items include… decorated hangers…

“Hey, Edna, want to hang out this Friday night?”

“No, I’m decorating my closet hangers, and I just haven’t quite finished them all yet. Maybe another time?”


Merry Christmas to you and yours.

A Victorian Christmas

It’s time for “A Victorian Christmas!” My sisters and I have been practicing for several weeks now. We ride in the minivan to Jenny’s house in London where we rehearse our lines. Jenny teaches us how to say our lines with what Mom calls, “expression.” I like Jenny’s house. I think her house is Victorian. In the parlor there are big rose-colored drapes made out of silky wood-grain fabric that youth group girls use for bridesmaid dresses. The ceiling are extra-tall, and the wallpaper has little flowers on it. We sit on a white rug in the parlor. The white rug is how big it is on the loft on the stage. We practice staying on the rug. And we sing in the music room. Jenny plays the piano, and we practiced staying “in tune.” Sometimes we are out of tune. We try to sing better. It’s kind of hard because the boys sing different parts. Sometimes, on Saturdays, we go with Mom to practice with the choir. We get to play with the other kids. There are babies, but they are never fun, and they always cry. We have to be quiet when they adults are singing. The Saturdays are really very merry.

Abigail is hoity-toity, and she sits and listens to the adults practice.

“I love ‘And the Glory of the Lord,’” Abigail says, “It’s from the Messiah.”
“What is the Messiah?” I ask.

“It’s Handel’s Messiah,” Abigail explains.

“Well, I like when they sing ‘Jingle Bells!’” I announce. It’s really fast. And it’s pretty, too, because the men sing low, and the women sing high. In one part, the men sing a line… “Now the ground is white, Go it while you’re young, Take the girls tonight, and sing this sleighing song; Just get a bobtailed bay, Two forty as his speed, Hitch him to an open sleigh, and crack! You’ll take the lead!” I think it is about a guy who likes a girl, because the men sing it, and they say “take the girls tonight.”

The best part about the “A Victorian Christmas” is that we get to wear make-up. And not just lipstick! We put on, “the works.” The ladies have to put on our make-up for us. (Mom doesn’t know how to put it on.) First they put on foundation. It smells funny. Like sweet medicine. Then they do the blush. They use pink because we are little children. We have to close our eyes. And then they use those “brushy-thingies” on our eyelashes. Sometimes I get tears. They also put red dots near our eyes. It makes our eyes look brighter on stage under the lights.

“You have beautiful skin!” they say, as they slowly apply the eyeliner.

“Don’t ruin it,” they warn.

I wonder how I could ruin my skin.

“What do you mean?” I ask. The two ladies look at each other and smile knowingly.

“Just don’t mess it up.”

I was seven. I didn’t know about pimple scars and the drying effects of cheap make-up.

“The Victorian Christmas” is a musical dinner theatre performed at a local restaurant every two years. Emily’s mom and sister got to be in it last time. This year Emily gets to be in it! She gets to wear make-up, and curlers in her hair, a big white night-gown, and a night-cap. The play is set in the 1800s, and it’s about the Madison Choral Singers, Hiram P. Wilkins, his children: a brother, Emily’s sisters, Emily, and Mrs. Bristol, who’s loud and obnoxious, and an old lady who dances to “Fa La La La La,” (except that she’s not old, they just use make-up to make her look that way), and Mr. Miller, an Amish neighbor, and his grandson Tommy. And a sheep. A real live sheep. And there is beautiful singing. Emily wrote down what each of the songs sound like:

“Jingle Bells” arr. David Willcocks: “This is my favorite. It’s very fun!”

“Jesu, Word of God Incarnate” W. A. Mozart: “This song is kind of sleepy, like a cello.”

“As Lately We Watched” Arr. Charles Black: “This is fast, like wind-shield wipers. And my mommy has a solo!”

“Sons Day Carol” Arr. James McKelvy: “Why can’t they stop saying ‘Holly’?”

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter” Gustav Holst: “An old man has a boring solo.”

“He is Born” Arr. David Willcocks: “This is a surprise!”

“Angels We Have Heard on High” Arr. Roger Wagner: “The ladies can sing really high.”

“And the Glory of the Lord” G. F. Handel: “I learned what alto is.”

“Still, Still, Still,” Arr. Norman Luboff: “This is the prettiest, sleepiest, baby Jesus song.”

“The Shepherd’s Carol” William Billings: “We giggle methinks!”

“Deck the Halls” Arr. David Willcocks: “Merry Christmas!”

“Sir Christemas” William Mathias: “It sounds like they drop an organ.”

Emily was ready for dress rehearsal. She had practiced her lines, taken out her curlers, and applied her make-up. Now she was ready to climb the small ladder to the stage loft.

“Okay, children!” Jenny said, “You can go up now.” Emily climbed up with her sisters to the loft.

Since it was just rehearsal, the stage lights were up, and Emily could see out into the audience. Except for a couple of seats, the chairs in the audience were empty. Emily saw one of her friends sitting there with her parents. Emily smiled and waved. Emily’s friend looked surprised, but waved back. Then Emily lowered her hand as she noticed Jenny watching her from stage left.

Dumb! Dumb, Emily!

Emily usually prided herself in following all of the rules. And the first stage rule that everyone learns (in kindergarten, even) is NEVER wave to anyone in the audience! Emily knew it was only rehearsal, and it might not matter, but still. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten the rule.

“Where did you get that?!” Emily lunged at her sister Rachel. Rachel was holding a piece of white bread. She pulled her hand out of Emily’s reach.

“A waitress gave it to me!” Rachel announced, “If you go in the kitchen, you can get some! There’s a lot of it. It’s in a drawer where they keep all the bread. They were giving it to us.”

“I want some!” Emily said.

“Go get some!”

“Will you come with me?” Emily asked shyly.

“No. Get it yourself.”

“But Rachel! I don’t know where anything is! Please come with me.”

“Uhh! No, Emily! I’m not going with you.”

Emily humphed off.

“Hey, Emily,” Rachel said.

Emily turned around.

“When you bite the bread, you can see your lipstick on it. It comes off onto the bread.”

They both laughed.

“Please come with me?” Emily begged again.

“Nope,” Rachel said, as she smiled righteously and walked away.

Emily sighed. She turned around and walked toward the doorway into the special banquet kitchen. She peeked around the corner, but didn’t see anyone. Emily wasn’t sure if she was allowed to be in there or not. No one was in the kitchen. No one was behind her in the backstage area either. The cast was probably practicing in a back room. Should she go in and get the bread?


Emily jumped when she heard a voice behind her. She turned around. It was Rachel.

“Aren’t you going to get any?”

“Just wait, Rachel!” Emily snapped. She turned her nose in the air and walked straight into the kitchen. Now. Where was the bread?

“It’s over there,” Rachel pointed to a large silver-metal cabinet. Emily really wished Rachel would go away.

“Are we allowed to just help ourselves?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know,” Rachel said as she bit into her own piece again.

Emily glared at her.

Suddenly the waitresses came pouring back into the kitchen.

“Do you want something?” asked a hurried waitress.

Emily started to feel silly. Rachel had made it sound like they were all nice… giving bread to little girls in dress-up costumes.

“Um,” Emily stammered, “My sister got some bread… And I didn’t know…”

“It’s in here,” she said as she opened the drawer of the big metal cabinet. The smell of freshly-made warm bread wafted into Emily’s nose.

“Do you want wheat or white?” the waitress asked mechanically.

“WHITE!” Emily said a little too abruptly. Emily took a piece of white bread and ran out of the kitchen.

She found her sisters and the other two boys backstage. They all had pieces of bread. Emily bit into her piece. She stared at the pink half-circle that her lipstick made on the white bread.

“Look at my lipstick!” Emily announced. Her sisters examined her bread, and they all laughed.

The blue lights came up. Before, Emily and the children were quietly playing in their loft “bed.” Now they leaned over the loft railing,their adorable curls falling in their faces, and sleepily, dreamily, watched the singers prepare for “Still, Still, Still.” The piano began playing softly. The children, as instructed, began to yawn as the lullaby melody was sung. Emily loved this part. She stared out into the blue stage lights and exaggerated several yawns. Soon, she and her sisters and the two boys were laying down on their pillows, their white night-caps visible through the rose-colored railing. The children “slept” as the flurry of stage activity continued.

“What time is it?” Emily anxiously asked her sister Abigail who was lying beside her. Abigail stealthily retrieved the small clip-on watch the girls had previously hidden under the covers.

“It’s almost seven,” Abigail said gravely.

“No!” Emily thought. “I’m going to be to be late!” she whimpered to her bigger sister. Emily had to be rushed off to her elementary school after the performance to make it in time for her school Christmas program. She and two other girls had a special part: a trio, and they were to wear special choir girl outfits. The program began at 7:30, and Emily’s performance was near the beginning. She would never make it on time.

“I’m going to be laaaaate,” Emily began to sob uncontrollably. Her sobs were silent, but she began hiccupping.

“Emily, it will be okay. You’ll make it,” Abigail whispered.

“Nnnnoooo, I wwon’t,” Emily sobbed. She was grateful, though, to her older sister. Abigail had consented to be “the middle man” in the loft, the girl to lay beside the boy who was not their brother. To Emily, that would have been the awfullest of fates.

“Emily, stop crying!” Abigial reasoned, “You have to! Your make-up is starting to run.”

“It is?!” Emily wailed. She began crying even harder.

“Shhh, Emily!”

Emily wiped her eyes on the gray blanket and stared at the flesh-colored residue. She tried to stop crying but couldn’t. This was the worst thing that could happen, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Emily stared at her plate. There was one cherry tomato on the side of her starter salad.

“Do you like cherry tomatoes?” Emily looked up at the actor, Brenda, who took her place beside Emily at the after-banquet.

“Why, yes, I do,” said Brenda.


“Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was hoping you didn’t,” Emily said, “Because if you didn’t like cherry tomatoes, I was going to eat yours for you.”

Brenda, the actor, laughed.

Emily was excited. She was going to Jenny’s house for “A Victorian Christmas” party! Emily’s family stepped into the warm house that was full of food, festivities, and laughter. Emily’s sister joined the other children, but Emily found herself standing by the big Christmas tree in the front-room. The Christmas lights reflected in the dark windows and on the glossy wood floor. Emily wanted to touch the shiny ornaments, but didn’t.

Some of the actors helped Emily and her sisters get some snacks. They soon settled in with the other children who were watching an animated Disney movie called “Beauty and the Beast.” Tommy and his friend Austin started howling because the Beast took his shirt off. Emily disapproved.

Things That Cost Forty Dollars

An Innocent List of Things to Buy that Cost $40:

1. Fergalicious “Blossom” Pumps

(…not that I’m really good at walking in high heels.)

2. Burberry Sport 1 oz.

(Who can resist the blend of mandarin, sea salt, magnolia, honeysuckle, petit grain, solar notes, musk, and cedar?)

3.Herringbone fabric gloves with leather palms

(Rather cheeky.)

4. one King’s Singers ticket, Southern Theatre

(of course, it might snow.)

5. Coach Op Art sateen skinny mini

(He’s so small. For cards and coins.)

6. J. Crew patent leather belt

(but then I’d have to get a sweater to go with it.)

7. Mossimo cowl neck sweater dress

(It’s rather green, eh?)

8. Two Lips Nile rain boots

(These are serious, now.)

9. Skullcandy Agent Throwback headphones

(If that’s just not vintage enough for you…)

10. Jansjo floor/reading lamp, black (IKEA)

(Sleek, yes…)

11.HOL side table, acacia (IKEA)

(Squared away!)

12. Green Pumpkin, blown glass

(For my little table, you understand.)

13. a 7 in. Cheesecake Factory Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake

(I’d rather have the 10 inch.)

14. ten Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes





things that cost $40 winter clothing packet for Gospel for Asia missionaries


“I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:27 (NIV)

“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I Timothy 6:8

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6: 28-33

“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

If you’re interested in Gospel for Asia, here’s a link:

A Strange Connection to the Light

Does God exist?

Is faith logical?

If Christianity is true, then why do so many people stink at living it out?

Is my relationship to God only a figment of my emotions?

Do I just want Christianity to be true?

Why can’t I feel God?

What’s the big deal with evolution?

Is creation true?

Why do creationists teach an uninformed perspective of evolution?

What about the authority of Scripture? Did the Hebrews write the Torah simply because other civilizations around them at the time were forming their own histories and they wanted to be just like them?

How do we know that the Bible is true?

Why do I have so many doubts?


These are only a few of the serious questions that fly through a college student’s mind in a day. Typically, they don’t have time to research answers, because, well… there are papers to write, appointments to attend, work to do, groceries to buy, sleep to catch up on, and a hundred thousand other things to start.

But these really important questions! You might say.

Yes, they are.

Unfortunately, sometimes the college life is all about survival. Actual physical survival. Surviving the next couple of hours. Staying awake until class is over. Making it until the next deadline is over. And then crashing. During that crash period, it takes a strong person to wake up, put life on pause, and deal with the intense intellectual turmoil of the past few days.

That is why the college years are so serious. The intellectual struggle, I have found, is intense. Textbooks are especially dangerous because they are a constant, subtle whisper of blasphemy in the believer’s mind.

Add to that our (post)-postmodern cynicism. And there you have it. A nice recipe for intellectual suicide.

I was out late the other night. I was driving home. It was dark. The moon was high over a somber field. Gray-white clouds, long and thin, floated past so that the moonlight dimmed and faded. Hmmm, I mused. How perfectly appropriate. These melancholy shadows… a picture of our questionings and doubt.

Immediately a song came to mind. It’s a hymn that I don’t even particularly like (if you can imagine).(The harmony is rather drony). But this song came to me. That evening I had been discussing a lot of these questions. We had been talking about origins of the earth, the holy “society” of the Trinity, and who God is to us personally, doubts that we face, and ways that God has physically provided for us. And then, this song came to me as I drove home at night.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God…   …my Father. There IS no SHADOW of turning with THEE. THOU changest not. Thy compassions, they fail not. As Thou HAST BEEN, Thou FOREVER wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest… Sun, moon, and stars, in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness to THY great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth… Thine own dear presence to cheer, and to guide… Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow… [These] blessings [are] all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

There IS NO SHADOW of turning.

I was tempted to compare life to the melancholy, to the shadowy clouds and the moon. But unlike the dark night, which is so utterly depressing, full of wandering and confusion… God brings us light in the morning. He IS the light. He refers to Himself as “the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).

“Morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed, THY hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness… Lord… unto… ME.”

In thinking about God’s provision for us as the spiritual “Light,” I am reminded of the encounter of the two men with Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. This occurrence illustrates how Jesus becomes our Light… our Morning Star.

The two men were completely aware of the good things Jesus had done. They had heard about his miracles and his powerful teaching. They were convinced that He was the one who would redeem Israel. And yet, there they were, walking along, not three days after his crucifixion.

So what were they supposed to do then? Where was their hope then? It says that their faces were downcast. And they were additionally trying to figure out the most recent news: that some women were out claiming that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb and that Jesus was alive.

So Jesus approached these men (they were kept from recognizing him) and asked what they were discussing. After they explained, Jesus said, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (25). And it says that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (27). When Jesus was about to leave them, (and they still did not recognize him), it says that the travelers “urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’” (28). And so Jesus stayed with them.

This is a most beautiful picture of what God does to us. In our questioning, in our doubts, in our confusion of the night, Jesus comes and “stays with us.” He explains to us who He is.

He meets with us. He, the holy God, communes with us.  The Scripture says that that evening, “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (30-32).

Isn’t this the work of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t this how Jesus is? He meets us where we are. He shows us who He is. He communes with us.

I find it interesting that Jesus stayed with these men at evening. And in the midst of their “intellectual” night, he revealed to them who He is.


“O sacrum convivium!

in quo Christus sumitur:

recolitur memoria passionis eius:

mens impletur gratia:

et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.


O sacred banquet!

in which Christ is received,

the memory of his Passion is renewed,

the mind is filled with grace,

and a pledge of future glory to us is given.


Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden, und der Tag hat sich geneiget.

Bide with us, for evening shadows darken, and the day will soon be over.

Conversation in Frustration: Poem by Confusi(on)

Just go ahead

Float in your acid cynicism

That cool silvery blue

That curls up your crossed arms

Your raised eyebrow


But I believe in fairy tales,

I believe in true love that lasts forever.

I believe one man and one woman

Can always love, always love


Fairy tales happen every day.

Do you need a shoulder to cry on?

Here I am.

Do you need help with your labors?

Here I am.

How about giants and dragons?

They’re everywhere, but you call them different names, I think.

(And at some point, divinity will wipe them out.)


And what about true love, you ask?

My parents have been together 25 years.

That’s something.


That an old man and old woman holding hands at the park

Later go home to their respective spouses

Is a sick “maybe.”


You can’t base your life on that.

Or point to your family and say,

“Oh, sumo-sized issues, God does not exist.”

Does experience control your beliefs?

Is truth only experience?

It’s not. Truth is not only that.


Perhaps we’re confusing Truth with reality.

Perhaps our experiences aren’t True, but rather real.


Is what is real then True?

I do not think so.


It would seem that what is True is real,

But what is real is not necessarily true.

Maybe Truth just exists. Truth is not what happens, but it just is.

It exists.

“I AM that I AM.” Exodus 3:14


Truth IS.

And Truth defines reality.

Conversely, you can’t let reality define your Truth.

(Not “reality,” per se, but experience, or what happens).


Cynic, you stand for nothing.

(And PETA doesn’t count. I mean things you really stand for.

When your mother dies, you don’t consult PETA.)

Cynic, you base your beliefs on experience.

(I admit my naïve dogmatism is partly experiential as well.)

(Which is scary, because I argue a lot for my rich experience)


But you cannot base your beliefs solely on experience.

We must first find Truth to define our reality.

We must find Truth to determine our beliefs.


It would follow, then, that it is TRUTH, BELIEFS, then REALITY.

A lot of people go at it the other way, maybe?



Then Faith,

Then Belief,

And then we survey our surroundings… and define that reality.


“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

A Working Trust

Two years ago I uprooted my clinging hands from central Ohio soil, packed my bags, loaded my car, hugged my family goodbye, and drove off down the road to a new life in Kansas.

Spreading my wings sounded like a good idea at the time. I became less certain as the mile markers flew past and as my tears dribbled down onto the steering wheel.

“Wait, so why are you going all the way to Kansas to go to a community college?” people would ask with a frown.

“Well,” I offered, “there are some really great people there. Great professors. Some of them are dedicated Christians even though the college is a secular. Also, I might even be able to work at the college in the English department for the professors.”

“What a great opportunity!” their faces would light up, “Go for it!” they would reply, as if it wasn’t even a question for me to do otherwise. “You’re young and single. You should do it.”

Their next question would inevitably be, “So do you have a lot of friends out there?”

“Well, actually…” I would explain, “I don’t know a soul.”

“You mean you don’t know anyone at all?” they would ask me incredulously.

“No, not really, except some family friends of ours who I will be living with,” I replied.

They would stare at me.

“You are a lot braver than me.”

I would smile bravely (and proudly). (Proud that I had convinced yet another person that I wasn’t in fact  shaking (in my boots) like a helpless rodent in a determined canine’s mouth. )

For the most part, I wasn’t worried. While I had initial concerns about college course work, in the back of my mind, I knew the academics would probably come as easily as it had in high school. Academics would be a success: just a lot of hard work. Friends? I figured it would work out. There were several churches in the area and youth groups that I could participate in.

Money was another story. After high school, I worked full time for two years. I saved my money, sure, but I traveled as well, and somewhere in there I went to a Bible Institute. So when I finally decided that I wanted to go to college, I was at a loss for how to pay for it. In fact, my financial situation almost kept me from going to school. Since college debt was at the fore front of my mind, I chose to begin at an affordable community college. Admittedly, out-of-state tuition in Kansas cost a little more than in-state tuition in Ohio, but there were several opportunities at the community college in Kansas that I couldn’t pass up, including getting personal advice from some alumni friends, being able to participate in choir, and procuring the English Department job. While this seemed like a good choice financially, along with the out-of-state tuition, I would also need to pay for room and board. And buy my own groceries. All of these responsibilities seemed a little daunting. I worried. A lot.

“What if my car breaks down? Where will I get it fixed? Where will I buy groceries? How will I organize my time so I have time for buying groceries? Will I eat healthy food on my own? What kind of people are in Kansas? Will I make any great friends? Ew, what if there are boys? What about my family? Will I get homesick? What about school? What if I fail? What will it be like at school socially? I’ve gone to a Christian school my whole life. How will I survive out in ‘the real world’? Will I make any friends at college? How will I pay for everything? I’ve heard college textbooks are extremely expensive. How will it all come out in the wash? I have to buy a laptop, too, before I go. Where am I going to get all this money? What happens when it snows and my car goes in the ditch? WHO WILL PULL IT OUT?!”

My friend Camille, always the voice of reason, looked at me and frowned.

“UHH, Esther!! People don’t decide not to go to college because they don’t know anyone who will pull their car out of the ditch. You just don’t make decisions that way. But in answer to your question: a kind little Mennonite man.”

Nevertheless, I did decide. I did go to college. And I lived on my own. (Kind of.) And actually, grocery shopping became one of my favorite bi-weekly activities.

I moved to school a week before classes began. I had many things on my to-do list. 1. Move in. 2. Stop crying. 3. Write mom a letter telling her I got here okay. 4. Look brave. 5. Buy an iron. 6. Get a library card. 7. GO GROCERY SHOPPING. 8. Go job hunting. 9. Climb Mount Everest.

My sister had driven out to Kansas with me. I don’t know how I would have otherwise made that fourteen hour road trip. Rachel was to fly out the next day, however, so I drove her to the airport the next morning. At the airport, we hugged goodbye, and I tried to make it very light and cheery, and we acted like it wasn’t a big deal at all.

Before I left the airport (to drive back to the great unknown), I committed the first of a kind of action that is well-known to independent travelers. These actions are derived from a sort of survivor impulsiveness. It is an action that is driven by curiosity, but once it is committed, it seems almost premeditated in its brilliance. It is definitely an “Oh yeah, I meant to do that” moment.  What I did was, as I was leaving the airport, I wandered past an information booth, stopped, backed up, and proceeded to grab a stack of all kinds of free Kansas maps. I returned to my car and calmly unfolded the first one to try and figure out how to get back to Hutchinson. Once I had figured out my route, I did the second unpremeditated act: I deviated from my route (while on the freeway) and recalculated from what I remembered of the map and changed my route to include… Walmart. Yes. Survivor indeed. (Actually, I just needed to buy an iron.)

Next on the agenda was to find a job. While I had told many people that I would be working as the English Department Scholar, that opportunity would not actually begin until the second semester of my first year. So at the outset, I needed some other sort of job to pay the bills. My friend Maria recommended that I become a waitress; there were several family-friendly restaurants in the area that would be looking for good, honest help. She also recommended a babysitting job. There were also a couple of gift shops in the nearby thriving metropolis of Yoder (population 200) that might be options. For me, the idea of becoming a server seemed appealing. I knew I could make a lot of money that way. But I knew it would be stressful because I would have to learn a complete new set of skills.

You see, I had worked at a gift shop in Ohio before coming to Kansas. Now I know gift shops have a certain stigma attached to them, but my gift shop was a little more than calendars and lace. It was not Cracker Barrel. In actuality, we were an 8000 square foot retail store. We sold Vera Bradley handbags and Donna Sharp. We had Heritage Lace and Thomas Kinkade. We had furniture and (one) Amish-made quilt. We had cards and gifts and textiles and toys and music and florals and candles and a boutique section and solar-powered light-up key chains. We also had a designer who presented us like the design-conscious home interiors store that we were. It was… a gift shop of gift shops. It was a “gift shop” because of its location within a restaurant complex, but it was actually a retail store. So then, retail was my background.

Anyway, I recognized that serving might be a better option financially even though it would just one more “new” thing for me to conquer. I figured a new college, a new church, new friends, and a new town would be enough. But I left it up to God. I figured He would show me what job I was supposed to get.

I was cruising down the highway at 75 miles an hour. The blazing Kansas sun beat down from a big blue sky. It was a hot 100 degrees. I cranked up the tunes and pushed down on the accelerator. I was perfectly happy driving an hour home, content to survey the wide open fields. Well. It wasn’t home yet. But it would become that (though I couldn’t have known it at the time).

As I drove along, I saw a sign for Yoder. I knew that was where one of the restaurants was, and it was also the location of another store that my friend had worked at while she was going to college. I committed my third act of curious impulsiveness for the day: I stopped in Yoder to pick up a job application. Mind you, I had just been planning to take my sister to the airport. My first day in Kansas, and I’m coming home with free Kansas maps, an iron and ironing board in my trunk, and job opportunities. And it was barely 10:00. I got off the exit and drove to the restaurant.

I entered the “Amishy” restaurant, reminiscent of the one back home. I wandered into the gift shop. I smirked. It didn’t hold a candle to OUR gift shop. It was tiny. They had T-shirts with birdhouses on them, some quilts, and a few calendars. Presentation was poor, and the lighting was dim. To put it simply, there was nothing hip at all. No chandeliers that looked like the ones at Restoration Hardware. No boutique section with leather handbags and pricey jackets. It just didn’t compare.

I walked back to the restaurant and talked with the people at the front desk and received an application. I would be back in a few days to drop it off (and possibly get an interview).

I left the restaurant, still excited that I had found it myself. And now that my job hunting work was begun, I would begin exploring.

This is a view of Yoder in 1915. The view hasn’t changed much since then. Main Street, is paved, now, but dust blows down it the likes that you ain’t never seen, so much that you might think you done walked onto the set of an Old West movie, yes sirree! Complete with board walks!

I stopped in Kansas Station (a bulk foods store) and another little grocery store on Main. I walked across the street to cute little store called the Mercantile Shoppe. I smiled at the name. I stepped inside (out of the heat) to a familiar gift shop ambience that made me feel at home. It was small, yes. But right inside the door they had Miche handbags! Those were just coming out with those when I left Ohio, and to see them in this little gift shop in this tiny West town surprised me. A young woman cheerfully greeted me at the door. I browsed the tiny gift shop, marveling at the amount of product that I recognized. There were Woodwick candles, Park designs, Donna Sharp handbags, and Carson plates. It was nicely arranged, too. A little cramped, but someone knew what they were doing with the presentation.  A middle-aged lady came around the corner.

“Hello! Are you finding everything okay?”

“Oh, I’m just looking around today,” I smiled.

I hesitated.

Should I talk to her?

It would be my first Kansas interaction.

“Actually, you have a really great shop,” I commented.

“Well, thank you!” the woman said, looking genuinely pleased.

“It actually reminds me quite a bit of the shop I used to work at back home. I just moved here from Ohio.”

“You did? Wow!” She exclaimed. “So, when did you get in?”

“Well… just yesterday,” I offered, “So I’m out today just sort of looking around… exploring.”

She looked at me and cocked her head.

“Are you looking for a job?”

I jolted.

“Yes?” I said sheepishly. “Why? Are you hiring?” I was incredulous.

“Well,” she started, “I am looking for some more help…”

I was floored. There I was. Not even in the state 24 hours and someone was offering me a job. Nevermind an economic downturn. Nevermind that I had been planning on having to learn an entirely new job. Nevermind that I was expecting to look for a job for several weeks.

She walked toward the register to get me an application.

“So what kind of hours are you looking for?” she asked.

“Well, you should know that I’m in college. I’m going to HCC. That’s why I moved.”

She stopped short.

“But I can work on Saturdays and holidays,” I offered.

“Well, I do need help on Saturdays. And maybe you could work in the afternoons if you ever get out of school early or something. Take the application. We’ll have an interview on Thursday, then?”

I was ecstatic. I nearly danced out of the store. Who needs waitress tips? I wanted the gift shop job. (Thank you, God, for my new job!) I still had the interview, of course. And I continued to pursue and interview at the restaurant. But the way that the gift shop opportunity was presented to me made it seem like the best choice, and I took it.

My gift shop interview went well. She hired me on the spot. We talked retail and design. It was a lot of fun. I talked about my Ohio store, and she was all excited. She thought that I would be able to introduce her to new products. She also asked if I ever do displays. While I had done a little bit of setting back home, I downplayed my skills to her because I didn’t have much experience and I didn’t want to disappoint her. That lasted until one Saturday when I got bored and started re-setting a hutch. She walked around the corner and stopped short.

“I’ll go get you more coffee,” she said, leaving me to my work.

And so began my lazy Saturday job in Yoder, Kansas.

This story represents God’s provision for me in one small way during my two years in Kansas. Finding a job that I liked was a major answer to prayer. It was so nice to continue doing the work that I used to do in Ohio. But the thing is, that job found me. That first day in Kansas, in that gift shop, meeting that woman, was what I think is referred to as, “a God moment.”

There was a second such moment during my first week in Kansas. It is a moment that I think I will always remember.

I drove to campus with a perky little to-do list. I had to buy my textbooks, get my student ID, and get my parking pass. I entered the Student Union and followed the signs to get my student ID. Heeding the advice of seasoned peers, I had dressed up so that my student ID picture wouldn’t look like death. The picture turned out well. And the photographer liked my outfit.

“I like your outfit,” the photographer said.

The couple behind me in line, looking on, commented,

“Nice teeth.”

I suddenly felt like an exhibit at a horse show.

Next I bought textbooks which was a long process involving long lines, impatient students, confusion, stressed out cashiers, and me, who finally got ticked off because I stood in line for an hour, and when it was finally my turn to check out, they wouldn’t let me use my financial aid to pay for my books. In the end, I went to the financial aid office, and a very nice lady immediately made my problem her problem, and she made some phone calls and had me sign some documents before sending me back to the bookstore to the front of the line to finish paying for my books. Ahhh victory.

Next I went to the Information desk to get my parking pass. After obtaining one, I pulled out my little green notebook with hummingbirds on it and crossed yet another thing off my to-do-list.  The receptionist noticed my little green notebook with hummingbird on it and tried not to smile. I suddenly became very self-conscious of my little green notebook with hummingbirds on it. Stupid to-do-list.

Before I left campus, I had another brilliant thought that became one of those impulsive unpremeditated actions. I decided that I should walk around campus to get my bearings and find all of my classrooms so I wouldn’t be lost on my first day of school.

After scouring Lockman Hall, I headed over to the Fine Arts building where I would be taking speech and also singing in choir. (Or course I was a puddle by the time I had walked all the way there. It was so hot that day.) I walked in the west entrance. I remembered that the music director’s office was right inside the door. I glanced toward the open door and noticed him sitting at his desk. I walked past, but I remembered my friends had recommended that I talk to him as soon as possible about getting a book scholarship. My friends (the ones I was living with) had sung under this illusive director before and knew that it was possible to get a $100 book scholarship for singing in choir. This scholarship would be added to whatever financial aid I had and would pay for my books; I, in turn, would return the books to the college as “used” at the end of the semester. Every little bit helps (in regards to money), so in that split-second after walking in the door, I turned around and knocked on the side of the door.

“Come in!” he called.

“Hello!” I said, “My name is Esther, and I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I visited last spring… I just moved here from—”

“Oh yes! Iowa? Indiana? Yes!” he exclaimed softly.

“Uh, Ohio,” I corrected.

“Yes, and your last name?” he prompted, as he picked up a clipboard with a list of names on it and began scanning it.

“Swartzentruber,” I replied.

“And what can I do for you today, Miss Swartzentruber?” he asked quickly, looking up from the clipboard.

“Well, I was wondering about a book scholarship? I heard you can get one for singing in choir.”

He began shuffling papers.

“Yes… yes… you can. You’re probably a little worried about money, aren’t you? Moving all the way from home. Now, are you living in the dorms or off campus?” he asked.

“I’m living off campus.”

He picked up a sheet of paper.

“Yes, Esther, we can get you fixed up right away. I’m just going to make a phone call, if you can give me one second.” He proceeded to call the endowment office. The lady at the other end wanted to make sure I had filled out a scholarship application. I was sure I had, but she checked my grades anyway. Once I was cleared, he named my amount to the lady.

“Yes, I have a student here, Esther Swartzentruber, and we’re looking at some financial aid today. Yes, go ahead and put her down for one thousand dollars,” he said with a hint of a smile.

I blinked. Had I heard him right? One thousand dollars?

For me?

Now, understandably, that amount may seem small to anyone going to a private school. But for me, that was about a third of my tuition. Paid. Like that. With a phone call. I wasn’t really understanding what was going on. I don’t think I really believed it until I reviewed my financial aid later in my online account. The music director had, in fact, handed me a $1000 scholarship on top of handing me a book scholarship to pay for all my books for the coming year. I was weak.

He finished up on the phone, and while he did so, I picked up a copy of music from stacks he had sitting on his desk. Trying to look important, I browsed the song. It was a setting of “Ubi Caritas.” Now, I don’t sight-read music really well, but I could tell it wasn’t the version I was familiar with.

He hung up the phone.

“Well, I think you’re all set then!” he announced. I awkwardly thanked him and set the piece of music back on his desk.

“That’s a beautiful piece,” I said, “But it seems to be a different version than the one I’m familiar with.”

“Ah, yes,” he said as he began to dump like a master, “There are over 700 different musical settings to the text ‘Ubi Caritas.’”

I stood amazed at his knowledge.

“Well, we’ll see you Monday,” he dismissed, “Unless we’re all baked like sausages on the sidewalk til then.” His sarcasm was becoming apparent.

I left his office… richer. $1000 richer. I didn’t even notice the melting process that occurred on the long walk back to my car. I was so excited. Another exciting provision. From God. I felt… secure. It felt… so miraculous. It felt like a little nudge from God. It was like a little bump from the nest: “Go on out there! Go. I’m here. I’m sending you out. This is where I want you. I love you, and you are mine.” I immediately called my mom to share with her the good news.

This was the second “God moment” from my first week in Kansas. Both of those incidences served as great confidence boosters. They seemed like confirmation that Kansas was where God wanted me to be. I feel like I hung on to these experiences as living proof that I was supposed to be there. And I would need that confirmation because the hard times surely came.

My time in Kansas came and went. I wasn’t sure by the end if I actually was supposed to be there. It was hard. It was gruesome. But it was doable. And I made it. We made it. God and I made it together.

But now that I’m looking to start a new school, it seems as if I am dealing with the same things all over again.

“This campus is so huge! How will I ever find my way around? I went to small schools all my life! What will it be like at one of the biggest universities in the U.S.? Will I make any friends? Will I have nice Christian friends? How will I pay for school? I always had a book scholarship before! I’ve heard college textbooks are extremely expensive. I also have to pay for gas. Where will I get this money? How will I even cover tuition? How do federal loans work? What kind of non-federal loans are available? How will I be able to wing this financially? Do I even have any business being in school right now? What about commuting to the downtown area? What happens in the winter when it snows and my car gets stuck in the ditch? WHO WILL PULL IT OUT?!”

Oh yeah, that’s right. A kind little Mennonite man.

As I continue on toward Ohio State, I’m praying that God would supply my needs. My needs, not necessarily my wants. So I’m trusting in Him.

The previous stories were from two years ago, right when I began a particularly new chapter in life. I find myself in that place once again, returning home, but coming back to a community different than when I left it, and going to a new school all over again.

Is it any surprise that God had another “moment” waiting for me? I have been putting off Ohio State to-do list for some time now. I need to buy a parking permit. I need to figure out my financial aid. I need to go to a bank and take out a loan. I need to buy my books. I need to have some kind of special counseling for my federal loan.

This all seems a bit daunting, especially after an especially taxing “orientation day” this summer when I went down to campus, got lost and depressed and ended up not even going to my last appointment because I had had too much city, too much heat, and too much information for one day.

Fast forward to me randomly checking my OSU account late at night last week to look at my financial aid information. It was then that I found… the Lampton scholarship. Completely unannounced. No email notification. Completely hidden. Until I clicked on my financial award package, and there it was. Along with some other numbers that were much higher than previously reported.

It was a complete answer to prayer. It was God being faithful. Once again, he bothered to come alongside me and say, “Go. Go on out there! I’m sending you. I love you, and you are mine.”

(Of course, it’s not as if I have a full-ride scholarship. It’s not even a prestigious academic scholarship. It’s need-based. And I still have to work. And I still have to work hard in school. I will still have debt when I graduate.) But God has put money right here and right now for me. And I’m awestruck. I’m flabbergasted. I’m surprised. I’m happy. I’m thankful. I’m overwhelmed. I’m… awed.

This is a little reminder, then, of some of the physical things God has done for me.

But be reminded of the things God has done for you. We must never forget. We must never forget what God has done for us. What God has given us.

Jehovah Jireh, My Provider… His GRACE is sufficient for me.

He also owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

Great Aunt Edna

I’m sure most of you have heard of her: Great Aunt Edna. She’s very famous. A lot of you probably have your own Great Aunt Edna. If not, then you’ve surely visited someone else’s Great Aunt Edna and have therefore been inside her home. There are several things about Great Aunt Edna’s home that make her so memorable (and endearing?). While I would never want to pick on Great Aunt Edna (because she surely has more wisdom than I can imagine) (or personally hope for), there is something interesting about the “Great Aunt Edna’s” residences world-wide: they’re predictable. From the house cats to the rusty tub to dusty houseplants in yarn ceiling hangers, it’s been done before. In the kitchen, copper cookware is artfully arranged on the wall. There’s a plastic table-cloth in the dining room. Too-small calendars (flipped to the right month, of course) hang in prominent locations. The bedrooms have metal bed frames and crocheted bed covers and touch lamps that were hip in the 90s. And there’s a funny smell that only young children have enough courage to mention. On the windowsill is a collection of green bottles; two of them are in the shape of maple leaves, one smaller than the other. Probably from a bus tour to the New England states in 1983.

Here’s a little photo diary depicting “Great Aunt Edna”:

1. The Kitchen. Notice the mini-grill holding the ketchup and mustard. Kitsch.

2. “Great Aunt Edna” homes regularly have tacky conversation pieces. This particular little gem has hidden magnets in the spinner and the back of the plaque so that the spinner (normally) only stops on “Go Hunting.” Hilarious, right?

3. Right next to that tub is this bathroom joke book “for people on the go”… (?)

4. One of the best things about Great Aunt Edna’s is some of the amazing furniture pieces that seem to materialize straight out of the 50s. This particular chair I’ve entitled “the Man Chair.” By opening the seat, one discovers a place to store one’s shoes. A shirt and pair of pants can neatly be stored on the back, and the top is reserved for spare change and a billfold. Clearly this chair does not disappoint. (Unless you’re a girl.) Go to your local Sear’s store to make your special Father’s Day purchase today.

5. Were we talking about plant hangers?

6. Great Aunt Edna might even serve you some soup… curiously yellow soup. (Hotel Alpina, Murren, Switzerland)

7. Deceased vermin in Great Aunt Edna’s basement window wells.

8. Great Aunt Edna herself! (Woman, Luxembourg)

9. Or is this Great Aunt Edna?

10. The hallway. (forgivable, because it’s 400 years old, and in France)

11. My sister, Abigail, wondering how she got conned into staying at Great Aunt Edna’s house on yet another choir tour. Here the pictures are hung too high. And there are funny window clings. And a stuf-fed animal.

12. The most recent addition to the photo diary: legit antique earbuds (circa 1970s) found in an old drawer. We’re assuming that’s Uncle Humphrey’s ear wax.

So there you have Great Aunt Edna. She’s so predictable. Now that we’ve explored and labeled her domain, we must ask the question: is she inspiring today’s designers? Take a look and see!

13. The “Great Aunt Edna” inspired sitting room.

14. Would she have worn these shoes? Cuz I totally just bought them.

15. Notecards, [Series No. 4]. Evoke a mid-century minimalism, complemented by vintage envelopes reminiscent of Great Aunt Edna’s sheets. Ironically, the black-and-white Florida memory cards depict various locations in Sarasota.

Now you tell me: what is YOUR favorite Great Aunt Edna memory?

A Linen Belt

Once during a choir tour, on a bus, while traveling through the rolling Ozarks, a wise man posed this simple question: “What has Jesus meant to you since 7:00 this morning?” It’s sad to admit, but I had to answer… “Nothing.” I honestly hadn’t even thought about him at all. The busyness of tour, interactions with friends, and my own selfish ambitions had kept me preoccupied. I cringed at that thought.

For many of us, the answer to that question is too often, “Nothing.” So my question is: what causes us to be so self-focused? What causes us to be so preoccupied… that is, “pre-occupied,” or occupied “before”… occupied first by human cares… before Jesus has a chance to fill our minds? How can we so quickly forget our Savoir and our God?

One of my favorite metaphors is found in Jeremiah 13. (Nerdy English majors can have favorite metaphors.) (And it’s actually fascinating how God uses metaphor and symbolism throughout the whole Old Testament. Jesus also used literary devices when he spoke in parables. Another literary device on which I would like to expound is “sarcasm” in the Bible, but I haven’t found many examples besides Sarah’s laugh [which was a portrayal of her lack of faith, so that’s not very attractive, huh?] and Jesus’ response to Nicodemus when he said, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do not understand these things?” We’re at a loss, then, with sarcasm. Just how holy is it?) Digression ends here.

In Jeremiah 13, God compares the nation of Israel to a linen belt that becomes damaged, or destroyed. The Lord has Jeremiah buy a linen belt, wear it, hide it in the rocks, and recover it, only to find it ruined. Then Jeremiah prophesies, and he brings God’s words to the people:

9 “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless! 11 For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’ (NIV)

When Jeremiah dug up the belt, he found it to be completely useless. The Lord said that the nation was profitable for nothing, like that belt! God explained how, in his mercy, He had bound the nation of Israel to Him like a belt and that they were to be for his praise. But their disobedience had reduced His glory.

We can look deeper into the analogy to find additional meaning. Perath, where Jeremiah hid the linen belt, represents Babylonian power. (So in essence, Babylonian captivity would be their ruin.) One source reminds us that linen was specifically for priestly apparel (and also worn by rich nobility), so a prophet showing up in a priestly garment would have created quite a stir. This makes the linen belt seem even more glorious, and God is expressing his deep love for Israel by comparing them to such an excellent garment. Another aspect for consideration is the make-up of the garment: the linen belt might be a girdle, or a kilt, or as one irreverent commentator put it: priestly underpants.

Despite the additional contextual information, the message is quite clear: ignoring God’s commands makes us completely useless. When we regularly do not do what God asks us to do, we reduce Christ. Christ is our glory, and as we are supposed to reflect Him, we then become God’s glory. We will praise God because of the glory of Christ in us. Our purpose for living is to bring praise to God. Our existence should bring praise to God and should make His name known.

But for many of us, obedience is just too simple. We must “figure out God’s will” for our lives, when in fact, He has already revealed it to us: to be obedient. A dynamic young doctor (a professional by anyone’s standards) reminded us of this last Sunday, when she humbly aligned herself with her fellow church members by making this statement, “God’s definition of success is obedience.”

As we recognize the importance of obedience, we still downplay the effects of ignoring God’s commands…

In verse seventeen, the Lord speaks again:

17 If you do not listen,
I will weep in secret
because of your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly,
overflowing with tears,
because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.” (NIV)

God knows what the effects of disobedience are, and He weeps because of it.

How many times do I forget my glory?

When do I disregard God’s commands?

The Bible says to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).

Perhaps, I think, there are mornings when I forget to get dressed.

Kansas Corn Fields


*Includes Eight General Impressions in One Tell-All Feature that’s Long enough to be Rude


…which apparently, there are none. This was my one of many faux pas. I, not being a native to Kansas, addressed the student giving me a campus tour:

“So, yeah, there are just a lot of corn fields around here, I guess?”

“Wheat. We grow wheat here.”

I mentally kicked myself. Seriously, Esther, how could you mix up the two? Ohio grows corn. Not Kansas. Kansas grows wheat. The bread-basket and all that.

I should have remembered.

Not that I’m a farmer or anything. (Though everyone at my college assumed I was. In all my biology classes, the instructors would ask,

“Now, who’s involved in agriculture?” and then they would have everyone raise their hands in order to ask them questions about how much cattle a certain amount of land would support. I think my instructors kind of expected me to raise my hand and talk about living on a farm. But I didn’t and I don’t. My dad isn’t a farmer. He builds caskets. Sorry.)

There were, though, several “agricultural” experiences that I happened upon in Kansas.

The first “farm-y” thing I noticed was this odd crop I would see in the fields. It was yellow, orange, and red, and it was a little taller than beans. It had a funny cone shape, and I had never seen anything like it before in my life. I found out that it was “milo,” and they feed it to animals.

Another field phenomenon was sunflowers. I always knew that Kansas was famous for them. I never knew why. Apparently, they grow them. At least, I passed a field of them on my way to school every day in the fall. They weren’t yellow, (rather, brown and withered) but I imagined that they could be yellow, and it would be very beautiful.

Another farm experience was one of my first encounters with my (lovely, faithful) youth group. One Sunday evening we went to someone’s house for games. It was my first Kansas social encounter. It was a carry-in. Nobody told me. There was so much food. And I had already eaten supper. I had no idea there would be food. And we, like, sat down at a table. For a full meal. Burgers. And sandwiches. And potato salad. And green salads. And desserts. The table was fully-laden with several different kinds of the same dish! It was incredible. I was a bit astonished. I was not expecting all this food just for a game night. But it was great! Sunday nights would become my favorite night of the week. Day, actually.

That night after playing games, we took a walk on the dirt road. (Dirt roads. Another aspect of Kansas. I guess Ohio has them, too. Just not near where I live. Perhaps we’re a bit too metro-country, ha ha.) The whole group. Walking. Well, it wasn’t exactly the whole youth group. Most of them were in Mexico for a mission trip. The “leftovers,” however, were walking under a starry, breezy Kansas sky. We walked down to the neighbors and weighed ourselves (the group) on the giant farm scales. I smiled smugly to myself. Oh, so this is what they do for fun, I thought. At that time, I certainly still clung to my “country” stereotypes. J I did not know that I would come to love my Kansans!

In thinking about stereotypes, I certainly had some about Kansas. I remember one of my first descriptions of Kansans to my friends upon returning home to Ohio: “Everyone there listens to country music, lives on a farm, and drives a big truck, and basically, they’re all Republican rednecks.”

Kansans will forgive me, because, obviously, a stereotype is just that. A mask, which we must remove. We must see the individual. (At least, that’s what I learned by reading The Invisible Man and a hundred other whiny academic narratives.)

Rednecks? What was I supposed to think when, on the first day of second year, three cowBOYS showed up at school wearing daisy dukes. I think, that, they didn’t think that one through. I’m sure that it was funny very late at night when one of them thought, “Hey! We should totally wear teeny-tiny daisy duke shorts to the first day of classes! Ha ha! Wouldn’t that be SO funny! Ha Ha!” But, I’m pretty sure that, even they lost a little of the humor as the day wore on. And most assuredly, ALL of the spectators certainly did.

This little post is supposed to be about impressions of Kansas, not necessarily stereotypes, so I will continue with… impressions.


Everyone has houseplants. A lot of them. Is it because of the lack of trees (outside)? It seemed like every home I visited had an indoor tree or houseplants… like aloes and cacti… or even flowers (like impatiens)… My hostess even was trying to grow tomatoes in her living room. (Now, Maria does try some extravagant things. And, the tomatoes never quite worked.) But nearly everyone had an abundance of houseplants. Even my professor did in his office at school. He grew aloes by the dozen. He even gave me a little potted one to take home. (Which, by the way, I named “Ellen.”)


Another peculiarity is that in nearly every home I visited, I was served pickles. I’m not sure why I noticed this. Or why it even happened. Maybe it’s just an easy food to serve along with youth group-y type fair (like chips and dip, for example). Maybe it’s because it’s a food common in the Anabaptist heritage. You know, “Amish heritage” and all that. In any case, I ate a LOT of pickles! It was fine. I like the occasional pickle. There were just so many of them!


I have been WAITING to write this chapter! One of the delights of Kansas was its food.

I’ve never necessarily been such a foodie. Perhaps it is that I’ve never noticed food as much because my mother has always cooked. She has always prepared food. Right next to her is my sister who bakes. I, apparently, have been too busy working (away from home) or messing around or reading or something to help in the kitchen much. That is NOT to say that I don’t know how to clean it up. I have spent MANY hours in the kitchen cleaning up their dishes. But as to actually working with food, well… let’s see. We have an espresso maker, and I’m the only one who knows how to use it. I make scrambled eggs, but they still don’t taste like my moms. I have tried a recipe from my Spanish class at school. And I make herbed artichoke cheese tortellini. That’s it. So when I moved away from home, I began to notice food more. It was not my mother’s cooking. Repeat, not my mother’s cooking. I pretty much ate granola and bagels for breakfast. With nutella. Lots of nutella. And I packed cheap rabbit food lunches. (This was the plan. I wanted calories and fiber on the go. I did not want to take a lunch box to school, because seriously, have you seen how big my backpack already is? And I was really trying to budget my spending since I was doing the whole college thing. So I packed yogurt. But how to keep it cold? I froze it the night before. I would keep the frozen yogurt in a little compartment in my backpack and pack string cheese right beside it. Then I had some sort of fiber bar, and either nuts or a banana. All very portable. And fiber-y. But I really began to miss sandwiches from high school days.) For dinner, I was privileged to eat dinner with my “houseparents.” Since I was not the one cooking I rarely complained, and I ate very well and was very blessed to be cooked for nearly every evening. (Try not to hate me.)

But really, one can only eat string cheese before too long, and the cravings come. For chicken. For chicken and rice. And lunchmeat. And cheese. And tossed salad. And tomatoes!

So I started to notice “real” food. And I ate it with passion. It became my passion.

“Real” food also quickly became associated with my Sunday evening youth group meets. Food and fellowship go together, and always have, where the church is concerned. But, as I was not prepared for the food at the first game night, I was not prepared for the food at Sunday night singings.

At home, we have youth group Bible studies in homes, too, with a snack. But there are only so many “snack” variations. Usually there is a dip and a “to-be-dipped.” Chips and salsa. Veggies and dip. And something like cookies and ice cream.

Kansas was a different story.

Let me first describe to you my weekly youth group experience. Every Sunday night, they would have a “singing.” Not like “Amish,” or anything, but it could certainly be a left-over from that, as fifty years ago, their church would have been Amish. But the youth continue to get together on Sunday evenings and sing. Sing! Forty-plus kids. Piled into farmhouses, singing hymns. I loved it. I love singing, and I love hymns, and I love choral music. And they sang GOOD hymns! Not the old 1920’s repetitive camp meeting ones, but the real hymns, the “new song” hymns, the meaningful hymns that unite music and message in a beautiful way. They continually chose the better hymns and sang them over and over. (And they sing well, I might add… meaning they were musically inclined.) Between songs, kids shared. They commented on the morning sermon. They would share a verse or some insight from the Bible that tied in with the song they chose. We would pick out our favorite hymns. Some of us picked out only ONE hymn, and it was sung at nearly EVERY singing (lol Darryl). We sang spirituals. We sang kids songs. Once we got out choral music and sight-read. Sometimes we sang for old people at the nursing home. Other times we gathered around the campfire. Each evening was ended in prayer. We had prayer requests and special prayer groups. Such sweet fellowship with some of the most sincere young people I have ever met. I absolutely loved Sunday night singings.

And there was food.

Outstanding food! Amazing food! A lot of food. “Food” is such a humble word. It was supper. It was dinner. It was a fellowship meal.

We got everything. There was always lots.

And it was “soooo gooooood.”

I continue to be amazed at the feasts that families from church would prepare for the youth in their homes. For one thing, it was an actual dinner. No “dips” here. We had meals. Mexican meals. Grilled meat. Breakfast foods. Pizza, soups, sandwiches, salads, taco salad, haystacks… lasagna and breadsticks… the occasional carry-in (with every home-made snack food under the sun.) I was a little starry-eyed at all this cookery. I just couldn’t get over how there was a full meal every week! These people (in the evenings) were preparing full Sunday dinners for forty kids! Everything was always home-made. Never taken for granted, and certainly always appreciated. Which I think drove some of them to go even farther. My one friend one night made cream puffs. Do you know how many cream puffs she made? Enough so that we wouldn’t run out. Can you imagine how many cream puffs it would take to feed over forty people who were meandering in and out of the kitchen? It was incredible.

I guess these meals written down don’t necessarily seem that special, but they were to me.

And these were just the main dishes. There was always a vegetable, starch, and bread (and probably pickles). Dessert was normally served later (completely delicious), with coffee and hot tea. As you can tell, I certainly admired every effort.

I was also very intimidated. I remember one of my first impressions of some of my Kansas friends. One girl’s mother had a birthday, and she and one of her friends organized a birthday party for her and invited not a few women, and they cooked them a whole meal, and there was chicken, and everything, and I mean, maybe even courses and things, and I was so surprised and aghast and impressed that I kept my little scrambled eggs secret to myself. I was terrified that at some point I would find myself in some Kansas kitchen and someone might ask me to actually, you know, “help.” So I clearly stayed away. Sipping coffee and thanking the host seemed the appropriate thing to do. (I mean, I’m the girl, who at sixteen years old, was babysitting and called home to ask my mother how to make macaroni and cheese. Mom said, “Well, can’t you read the box?” And I said, “Well yes, Mom, but… boil… water…. ?” That same day I managed to put a metal kettle in the microwave. One of the young girls pointed at the flames, “That’s a big fire!” … Sigh.)

My little group of Kansas friends are very industrious. And accomplished. I don’t know. Maybe everyone cooks like that. Maybe I’m the only one who can’t.

As time went on, though, my little secret came out. And some dear friends gave me some nice culinary-inspired grad gifts. One of my friends (she’s sixteen) designed herself and sewed me my very own apron. (Ugh. And that’s another thing. Sewing. Don’t even get me started.) It was beautiful. And she’s made other amazing things, too. Like a velvet elvish cape. And a cream tunic. It’s fantastic. Anyway, she and her sister also gave me recipe cards. Another dear friend gave me fun drink recipes and some syrups to try. (Yes, they all are so very helpful and encouraging.)

Oh. One of my *favorite food memories was one evening this spring when I was feeling particularly sad and vulnerable. I was babysitting, and my friend asked if she could stop by. She said she had made some soup and would bring me some dinner. “Aw, how nice!” I thought. I should have known. Again, I was not prepared. She came in with an entire tray… outfitted with a cloth napkin… There was meat… turkey, and soup, and a delicious salad, and a cinnamon roll. All freshly prepared. I was so touched. “Oh, the turkey?” she said, “Yeah, my brother shot that this morning. We put it up today, and I made the soup.”

You all now see now how fresh I mean. I couldn’t stop smiling. And she brought this for me! It was delicious. It was a labor of love.

There are other various food excursions that I remember with fondness, including certain Sunday afternoon dinners with some of the most exquisite home-cooking I have ever tasted (next to my Mom’s) and other things like verenika and cheese curds and ice cream at the Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutch.


Not to mention, everyone was really smart. And educated. And pretty happy about it. I mean, okay, at home when I tell people from my church that I’m an English major, they correct their grammar in front of me, or they’re like, “Wait, so do you, like, diagram sentences all day or what?” (Yeah… yeah… that’s exactly what I do in college.) No, but, like, in Kansas, I remember arguing with a youth group guy about the proper usage of adverbs.

Kansans are very well-read. They are stinking smart. As a whole. (Not wanting to be making stereotypes again.) They are very informational people and enjoy sharing their wealth of information with others (i.e. they love audiences). A lot of my friends’ parents have college degrees. I guess at home in my community in Ohio, it is not as much that way.

Basically, Kansans are educated and proud of it. I have found that they are “word” people and have a certain toleration for literature… and learning in general.

6. JEWEL: because Jewel wanted her very own chapter and because I told her she would probably get one.


I guess most of this has already seemed like a youth group chapter, but I have a few more comments about the Center Youth Group. Perhaps this post is more like a comparison of home communities than anything else. (Ha ha, by the way, does anyone notice how self-aware this post is? The post knows that it is a post! If I was sitting in a college literature class, I would get bonus points right now for noticing that. See, THAT is what I do all day in college.)

I would like to say that I was so impressed by the testimony of the youth group that I hung out with. Where I grew up, our youth group was for hanging out and having fun. Sadly, we rarely went deeper spiritually. And if anyone said anything about wanting to go a little bit deeper, boys with farmer tans would stare accusingly at you as if you were asking them to wear a tux to do chores or to become some sort of meditating monk. (No, you ninnies, but is it really necessary for 16-20 year olds to be playing Bible baseball? Get real!) There was a little bit of resentment about anything that did not resemble cowboy boots and green tractors, and oh please, never mention liking cities or the fact that you’ve traveled to Europe, Esther.

7b. [“Dumping Digression”]

Since I’ve hinted at a little cultural narrative, I’ll vaguely mention another. I have always said that Kansas guys dump on girls. (Yeah, okay, when I said this, all the guys started laughing because I guess “dump” means something else, but your western euphemisms can go back where they came from.) What I meant was, the guys from Kansas enjoy talking about things and explaining them in great detail and they love audiences, and (while their explanations can sometimes be extremely thoughtful, other times) they can be so needless that it is completely ridiculous. Really. We all knew that old trivia fact, and we *don’t care. Who needs a seven-minute explanation about the history of mail-order brides. We *don’t care. Certain guys would explain things in great detail as if we had never heard about them before, and I’m like, “What do you think I am, stupid?” But mostly everyone would sit patiently through their little narratives and make polite comments about the subject at hand. “Dumping” then refers to guys monopolizing group conversations with boring educational narratives. These narratives seemed to assume that their opinions or stories were very important (maybe even more so than a girl’s). Also, sometimes these guys were just downright feisty in proving their points in other conversations and arguments. This is also called “dumping.”

Now that I’ve always said this about Kansas guys, I would make a digression because the guys from my youth group were extremely chivalric, and I can think in one instance that it was especially the case: court-time at the youth retreat. Okay, I love basketball. As a young girl, I played with the boys at school. From fifth grade til eighth grade I played basketball nearly every recess. At summer camps I was the awkward child with the pony-tail who played basketball. In high school, we played it in girls P.E. Our school never had a girls’ team, though. It wasn’t until two years after I graduated that our school got a girls team. (No, I’m not bitter at all.) But I love basketball. And basically, no one else at home does. Some of my friends don’t play sports, and others of them don’t play basketball. I was always begging other girls to play basketball. But forGET trying to get any girls from our youth group to play. There was one time that I got a little game together at a church picnic one year and a pregnant mother from church played basketball with me.

Because I could rarely get a big group of girls to play, basketball normally became a guys’ game (as I got older)… which I resented (you can only imagine). So at youth functions, when basketball came up, it was usually a full-court guys’ game, and girls could watch (or knit). Maybe it was because there just weren’t enough girls who wanted to play. Maybe the small group of girls who DID want to play wasn’t numerous enough to justify splitting up that nice big court. In any case, I sat by, watching (steaming). Because, of course, “sensitive little me” always assumed that it was a gender battle of some kind. Once in high school, I particularly remember guys throwing basketballs at us girls to make us scared and run off the court so that they could have the court (instead of nicely asking us to move). I struggled greatly with that, as you can only imagine. (In other words, I did not remain silent but delivered a rather animated oratory of female martyrdom).

Imagine my surprise when I moved to Kansas, and I found an entire state that has never even heard of the sport of “football,” and girls play sports, and girls play basketball! Not only that, there are guys who let them play basketball! There are actually set times at youth functions where girls get half the court! And guys get half the court! And everything is equal! Suffrage for all! Hee hee hee! It made me soooo happy! The fall youth retreat was great for many reasons, but one of them especially were the HOURS spent in the gym playing volleyball, and the subsequent hours of basketball: girls basketball. It made me very happy. We stayed up playing basketball til 2:00 in the morning.

And I guess the point is that I can’t quite get over the fact that the guys let the girls play basketball because where I come from, that would never happen. So, even though they DO tend to dump on girls….

Beyond all of that, (because these are mostly surface impressions), I was shocked by the spirit of service and ministry with the youth at Center Church. Compared to other groups I know (especially my own) this youth group was superior. Sure we had fun. Sure we played basketball. Sure we were crazy. But the next afternoon at youth retreat, we went out witnessing. We talked to people on the street. We prayed for them. We told them about Christ. How REAL is that? (Some of the difference, I believe, was due to some incredible leadership and being peer-led.) I would like to to give praise to God for the work that is going on in that youth group as a whole. Those people were sincere, pure of heart, helpful, welcoming, and SO MUCH FUN. I love the body of Christ! As I was amazed by their cooking abilities, their abilities to wax long and lengthy, and their chivalry in court (wow, what an amazing pun!), I was amazed as my friends modeled Christ by discipling new Christians and each other, praying with each other and for others, and maintaining a Christian testimony. It put my own life to shame (so I felt at times).

I guess I met all kinds of people in Kansas, but the ones from my youth group probably had the biggest impression on me. (I mean, I certainly hung out with friends and acquaintances from college as well.)


Another impression (not necessarily from my youth group but more from my experience of meeting people in college) is how land-locked Kansas is. I seriously met some people who had never been OUT OF THE STATE OF KANSAS. In their entire lives. Now I know that I have been privileged to do quite a bit of traveling (even abroad), and I know that not everyone goes out of the country, but seriously…. never been out of Kansas? Where have you been are your life?!!! Okay, I guess the first reason one would go out of state would be to visit family. Apparently there are people whose entire families live in Kansas. My family, on the other hand, is all around the countryside and I have a ton of cousins everywhere, and basically, I grew up taking yearly trips south (to Virginia) or north (to Michigan). The second reason to travel out of state would be school trips. I mean, even in junior high, our tiny little Christian school took a week trip to an outdoor nature school in Pennsylvania. Extra-curricular can take you, too… with sports or music events. We traveled to A.C.E. Regional and International Conventions. I mean, our family has even done an “Out West” trip to the California coast and back. We’ve been in a bunch of states. And, then there’s weddings and funerals… And apart from family, school, and vacation… there’s just other countries! I mean, our little school took a Spanish trip to Costa Rica. My youth group went to Mexico. I went to, like, seven European countries on an amazing choir tour/adventure. I went to Canada to visit my friend and attend her wedding. There are simply other countries! And I met people who told me, “Yeah, I’ve never been out of Kansas before.” I honestly stared at them like they had a third nostril. Wow.

Midwesterner eats donuts, travels by bus to NEW YORK CITY

Monday, August 2, 4:30 a.m: My sister Rachel and I drove to church. We dropped off our luggage to be packed into a bus and then drove to a local family restaurant and bakery to pick up the pre-ordered donuts to feed forty mildly grouchy “Work Week” participants.

“Rachel?” I had said a week earlier, “Rachel, I really like caramel long johns. Make sure you get enough of those. People always take the caramel long johns. There are never enough, and one always runs out. Please get enough for me. Order extra.”

“Oh, Esther, I’m sure there will be enough. We’re getting a lot of donuts. I mean, the youth leaders told me what to get. They said to make sure I get some glazed, too,” Rachel replied.

“Why would you need any glazed?” I reasoned, “No one is going to eat a glazed donut! Not when there are caramel long johns.”

Rachel, Lori, and I picked up the donuts and drove back to church. A lot of youth were on the bus already. Rachel had warned me that there was going to be coffee prepared inside the church before we left so I should make sure and get some. I ran in to use the restroom and to pour myself a cup of coffee (there were disposable cups and lids). I ran outside, and to my amazement, the bus door had closed, and the bus driver had shifted into gear. One of the dads waved and yelled at the driver. The door opened.

“Oh, please, may I go too?” I said sarcastically.

I struggled down the aisle searching for a place to sit. Not to fear. My good friend Clara was saving me a seat. She held my coffee while I situated my bags and blankets in the dark. (What are good friends for?)

After being on the road for about 20 minutes, the people at the front of the bus whipped out the donuts. One box went to the front of the bus. Another box went to the back of the bus. I was sitting in the middle. As the boxes made their way toward me, I noticed the large number of guys eating caramel long johns and smiling contentedly. One box went past me. It was full of chocolate long johns. I do not like chocolate long johns. I was waiting for CARAMEL long johns. Another box passed. It was full of apple fritters. Finally, in my frustration, I yelled out, “Well, are there any caramel long johns left?”

A sturdy “No” was the response.

I sat there in bitter disbelief. I mean, it wasn’t like I hadn’t foreseen this issue and attempted to correct it beforehand. It’s not as if I wasn’t one of the ones who had driven to go GET the donuts in the first place. It’s not as if this whole BUS full of forty 16 year olds had almost LEFT me in the church parking lot. So, no, I just sat there as twenty guys downed their caramel long johns. Guys who probably didn’t give a RIP if they were eating caramel or chocolate. Guys who probably took the first donut out of the box that passed them. Why, oh WHY did that box have to be full of caramel long johns?

Humph. The youth group president brought over a box of donuts. It was apple fritters. That was okay. Apple fritters are always the second choice. The outer edge is always nice and crispy.

In all of the donut boxes, half of the donuts had been cut into halves. This was meant for girls. Girls are supposed to eat halves. Girls aren’t supposed to enjoy whole donuts. (Especially not whole caramel long johns, as we’ve apparently learned!) I absolutely reject this, because I work hard too, and I eat! So with all the feminism in my heart, I grabbed the biggest apple fritter I could get my two hands on. A whole donut. A whole one! Eat that, you caramel-snatching, never-a-half-eating, expecting-me-to-eat-halves NINCOMPOOPS!

So I took that donut and ate it ruefully. And much to Clara’s dismay, I ate all around the outside (the nice crispy parts) and threw the rest away!

I was very bitter and quite enjoying myself.

Donuts and coffee are a very nice thing.