Friday, December 30, 2011

A Memorable Christmas

My family and I had sort of an unusual Christmas.  There were some challenges, but also many blessings.  And there were a lot of worthwhile lessons along the way, which is why I thought I would share our experiences in this forum.  They seem rather apropos in light of the themes running through recent posts to this blog.

Our family drove two long days to get to my in-laws’ home in a small town in Texas.  Two adults, two young children and two energetic dogs in a compact car is no walk in the park!  But it was fun in an odd way to be together with so much beautiful scenery to take in.  With a break from our normally hectic schedules, I got some time to just talk at length with my husband, ponder deep thoughts and even do a few Sudoku puzzles.  I was so proud of my daughters who generally were very good sports and did an admirable job of entertaining themselves with few toys and little room to move.  We all pitched in to accommodate our normally active little doggies who did not have much to do beyond pretend to be lap dogs for a few days.

We had to spend one night on the road in each leg of our trip.  Being in a small motel room with our clan is not easy.  The doggies were out of their element and barked at any noise through the night.  My husband and I got little sleep, but he stoically persevered.  My wonderful guy even did all the driving and all the dog walking on the trip!

On our trip we were all sick at various points.  As we hit the road, my older child was getting over a nasty stomach bug.  And my husband had a cold as we left Arizona.  Somewhere along the way, I got a bad cold and my younger child developed a fever.  Bottom line, we all felt pretty cruddy and wished we could have just stayed at home in our nice comfy beds.

After two long days on the road, we arrived at my in-laws’ home and pretty much collapsed once we got inside.  Kids always seem to recover faster than adults, so our children rallied to be able to help decorate the bare Christmas tree in my in-laws’ living room.  My father-in-law thoughtfully made us homemade beef stew and chicken soup to nurse us back to health.  My mother-in-law is a festive person, and had all kinds of edible and non-edible treats for us.  I sat in a Lazy Boy recliner for long periods snuggling in a blanket, drinking herb tea and consuming a lot of Kleenex.

We only had four days to stay at my in-laws’ home, but on the third day an unexpected and dire plumbing problem developed.  There was no way to wash dishes or bathe.  And worst of all, the ability to flush the potty was curtailed.  Unfortunately, this all became apparent mid-day on Christmas Eve, at which point there were few options since everything was closing for the holiday.  The plumbing problem involved a municipal sewer line, but my in-laws live in a small town and services are limited in even the best of situations.  The bottom line was that no one would come to fix the problem until the 27th at the earliest.  It was a pretty serious situation with seven folks in the house.

The part of Texas where my husband’s family lives has been experiencing a horrific drought and has had little rain all year.  Ironically, on Christmas Eve it rained all day.  It was the answer to many people’s prayers, but the timing was tough on us.  It was cold and overcast.  Getting in and out of buildings and cars was tricky.  This exacerbated the plumbing problem.  We couldn’t just jump in the car to get to a public bathroom whenever we wanted.  My poor father-in-law tried to fix the problem, but the cold rain made that difficult to try for more than a short period of time.

Out of desperation, on Christmas Eve afternoon my husband and I took our kids to the local Wal-Mart, which was one of the few places still open at that hour in my in-laws’ small town.  When you have young kids, you cannot afford to not be near a potty, particularly if you have no way to do laundry!  So our family ended up trying to kill time walking around the Wal-Mart for several hours, which is certainly not something we’d have done otherwise.  Generally, I think poorly of retailers that exploit their workers and promote consumerism.  I’m particularly not a fan of Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons.  But I must admit I ate some humble pie and was quite grateful for Wal-Mart’s open doors that afternoon! 

Walking around the big box store on Christmas Eve, I was touched by what I witnessed.  In rural America, there is often a lot of poverty.  Economic opportunities are generally pretty limited.  Particularly in the aisles of the Wal-Mart toy department, I saw a lot of stressed-out looking adults.  I discerned from various clues that many of them were worried about how to give their kids Christmas presents. 

In the news when describing the economy and holiday retail sales, it is often noted that people wait until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping.  From a middle class perspective, that characterization just sounds like simple procrastination.  But the people in the toy aisles that afternoon did not look affluent or even middle class.  I suspect that many of them had waited because it took that long for them to scrounge the funds to make their purchases.  Some people pick up seasonal employment during the year-end holiday retail frenzy, and for many that is how they afford Christmas presents.  But because of the short-term nature of such seasonable jobs, they may not get paid until close to Christmas.

Hanging out in the Wal-Mart toy aisles that afternoon, I particularly will never forget the bleak look of one young man who was staring sadly at a display of little toy cars that were just a dollar or two each.  I had the impression he was contemplating getting a couple of those relatively inexpensive cars for his child or children, and he was not happy about it.  I don’t know if he was worried that he might not be able to afford them.  Or maybe he was stressed that that was too meager a gift.  He just stood there staring at the little cars for a very, very long time as my own children and I lingered in the aisles trying to kill time because of my relatives’ plumbing woes.

Killing time at the Wal-Mart that afternoon made me both sad and grateful.  I was sad that the birth of my Savior, which should be such a joyful and hopeful occasion, has devolved to a frenzy of consumerism that leaves poor families stressed out.  I was grateful that despite the lack of plumbing, our family had a warm place to sleep that night with plenty of food and a lovely Christmas tree.  And I felt guilty that my kids were likely going to receive many more presents than the kids of the parents around me in the Wal-Mart aisles. 

I am cognizant that some of our brothers and sisters without decent housing sometimes go to retail centers to kill time on a regular basis to take advantage of the heat in the winter or the air conditioning in the summer.  That Christmas Eve, I had a small sense of what that experience must be like.  I felt a sense of vulnerability.  In some respects, we were sort of homeless that afternoon.  My in-laws’ home was not habitable at that point.  Everything in town was closing and I had no shelter for my children.  However, my in-laws’ plumbing problems were temporary, and our family had other options.  I cannot imagine how scary and demoralizing it must be to be a parent and have on-going issues in providing shelter for one’s beloved children.

Because of the severe plumbing problems and the fact that everything was closed on Christmas day, my husband and I ultimately made the tough decision that we were going to have to go home a day early.  We woke up early on Christmas day, shared a great breakfast on paper plates with our relatives, opened presents, finished decorating some gingerbread houses, then hit the road by mid-morning.  It was depressing.  And as we left, my younger child was in tears, which was a tangible expression of how the rest of us were feeling. 

The weather was cold and damp.  There were clouds in the sky.  The mood outside mirrored in some ways the mood inside the car.  As we drove out of town, we passed a dreary, cramped run-down apartment complex, for which I’ve always thought the term “tenement” would be apt.  It was Christmas day and I saw a little boy and a man come out of one of the units to play with a small toy truck.  I imagined their extended family might have gathered at the apartment to celebrate Christmas together.  The units at that complex are so small, however, I couldn’t imagine there was much room for a young child to play under normal circumstances, let alone when there were visitors.  Even though our family was sad and disappointed for the unexpected turn our Christmas had taken, I was reminded that we were very fortunate and should be grateful for our many blessings.

We drove through several small towns before we found one with an open gas station to buy coffee to keep us alert on the long trek.  When we stopped, our doggies got excited and began barking like crazy.  They are pretty small dogs, so it is kind of funny actually.  It is like they are trying to be tough guard dogs when in reality anything over the size of a terrier could probably eat them for lunch—literally!  Anyhow, as I got out of the car to go in to get coffee, one of the clerks was taking a cigarette break outside.  She was a young woman covered in tattoos and looking a little disheveled.  She was petite and very thin.  Despite being outside in the damp cold, she had no coat or jacket.  She looked pretty unhappy, which was probably pretty understandable since she had to work on Christmas day and was probably freezing.  But upon seeing our dogs’ silly reaction to the gas station stop, she seemed to perk up and asked me about them.  I was glad our doggies seemed to brighten her day.  It reminded me of our church’s celebration of the Feast Day of St. Francis, when we thank God for the many blessings of animals in our lives.

As we drove on through the overcast weather, our family tried to make the best of the circumstances and remember the joy of Christmas.  We rallied and actually had fun being together.  We listened to some children’s audio books we’d borrowed from our library.  My husband and I talked.  The kids played in the backseat and took naps.  We petted the dogs.  When we could get signal, we sang along to Christmas music on the radio.  And we were so grateful for functioning plumbing when we made pit stops at rest areas.  Despite the fact that one of our dogs suddenly and inexplicably vomited all over my husband at one point, we had a good day.

Indeed, we were very excited to help brighten someone else’s day at one point.  In the afternoon, in a desolate stretch of highway, we stopped at a rest area for a potty break.  In a dark corner of the ladies’ restroom, I saw what I thought was a case for eyeglasses.  I picked it up, thinking they could be someone’s necessary prescription glasses.  In the light, however, I could see the case actually contained someone’s smart phone.  No one else was in the restroom and few others were at the rest stop.  We waited around and studied the other folks to see if anyone looked like they were searching for a lost phone.  No one did.  Finally, my husband contacted the last person who texted the owner of the phone, and was able to track down the owner herself.  She and her husband were twenty minutes away.  With no landmarks or other rendezvous sites and few highway exits in that desolate stretch, we finally were able to meet up and return the phone.  The couple were senior citizens from Florida traveling to visit relatives in West Texas.  They were so touched and grateful that we had made the effort to find them and get the phone back to them.  Our family was thrilled to get to do a good deed on Christmas.

We spent Christmas night in a midsize town in West Texas, where my husband had booked a room on-line before we left my in-laws’ home.  We had seen plenty of fast food places open in smaller towns, so we had had no concern about finding something for dinner.  We knew there would be no turkey and dressing, but we were looking forward to a decent burger.  Unfortunately, as it turned out, no restaurants or grocery stores were open in the town where we stayed that night.  While my husband and older child walked the dogs at the motel, my younger child and I drove all over town looking for a place to get something—anything--to eat.  We were all really hungry.  To be able to stay a bit later at my in-laws’ home that morning, we had committed to not stopping for lunch and had just nibbled on some holiday candy in the car.  We were all looking forward to something hearty to fill our hungry tummies.  I must admit I began to panic a bit as I drove around and only saw dark, empty restaurants and stores. 

Rather desperately, I stopped at several gas stations looking for some food for our family, but the best we could find was a self-serve corn dog and burrito display.  As I contemplated buying up the contents for our Christmas dinner, I asked my younger child what she thought of that option.  Honest to goodness, her face lit up and she squealed, “yeah!” without any trace of sarcasm.  (We don’t eat a lot of fried foods, so apparently she considered this a great treat.)  I tried to put out of my mind questions I had about the composition and origin of the corn dogs and burritos.  Instead, I tried to share my child’s excitement and gratitude. 

When I got back to the motel, my husband and older daughter were also graciously supportive of our makeshift Christmas feast.  We dug into the bounty, which was wonderfully augmented by some delicious oranges and the decorated gingerbread houses that my mother-in-law has sent with us.  Our tummies were satisfied.  And I was mindful that many that night could not say the same thing.

With happy tummies, we then snuggled into the beds.  (The motel’s heating was not that robust and it was pretty cold that night.)  We turned on the TV and watched the end of Elf, which always cracks us up.  And we saw part of the Grinch.  That latter film seemed quite apt that evening because of its message of Christmas not being about stuff but about non-material things like love and gratitude. 

I was so proud of my kids’ positive attitudes despite the unexpected way we ended up spending Christmas.  They were good sports and we had had an enjoyable day together.  Though things had not gone according to script, we were grateful for our many blessings and had fun.

The next day was pretty grueling, but we made the best of it.  We were treated for a while to see snow on the ground along the highway—a rather rare occurrence in that part of the country.  And the rest stop where we stopped to picnic at lunchtime actually had some snow on the ground.  Being able to touch it was a terrifically exciting treat to my Sunbelt kids.

That evening we finally got home and were grateful to be in our own beds and to have a large yard for our doggies.  It had been an atypical Christmas for us, but my husband and I were sure God wanted us to learn lessons from the experience and everything that happened was part of his plan.  We are grateful to have family who love us and to have plenty of material comforts.  Doing without them briefly certainly reminded us of that. 

During those long hours in a small, cramped car, while reflecting on our many blessings, many things went through my mind.  Particularly in my thoughts were two lovely families we know. 

The mother of one large family lost her battle to cancer this year.  This is the first Christmas they will have celebrated the birth of Jesus without her.  They are a very faithful Christian family, and are consoled that the mother is now with her Savior.  But I can imagine how they must miss her presence particularly at this time of year.  I really mourn for them.

The other family in my thoughts during the long drive is related to my husband.  The wife was diagnosed with ALS this year.  ALS is one of the cruelest diseases around.  Because of her condition, this could be her last Christmas on this Earth.  Her muscles are already beginning to decline.  Even if she is alive next Christmas, she will be in much worse physical condition.  I can imagine how bittersweet this Christmas is for her and her husband.  My heart breaks for them.  But I admire and am proud of them that they gathered their family together for a terrific Christmas celebration to make merry and cherish their time together.

The truth is that none of us is guaranteed another day on this planet.  And no matter how much we spend, material things will never satisfy us or bring us true happiness.  Time with loved ones is the most precious gift any of us can receive.  Indeed, having loved ones is a tremendous gift unto itself.  Many people are alone during the holidays.  Even if our family was not where we thought we’d be or eating the things we imagined on Christmas, I was so grateful to be with the people I was with.  Though unexpected and unorthodox, in many ways this may have been one of our best Christmases yet.  Indeed, we are very blessed.

Psalm 103:13
Like a parent feels compassion for their children— that’s how the LORD feels compassion for those who honor him.
1 Chronicles 29:13
And now, our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Other Resources on Amish Culture

Amish Values for Your Family mentioned a host of resources for learning more about the Amish.  I’d like to share some of them here.  I’ve also done a bit of research to include other relevant websites, which were referenced implicitly though the web address was not always included in the book itself.  Enjoy!

·         Mary Ann Kinsinger’s blog about her childhood in an Old Order Amish community A Joyful Chaos:

·         Non-Amish environmental activist Cheryl Harner’s blog called Weedpicker’s Journal:  (Her time bird watching at an Amish farm is memorialized at:

·         Erik Wesner’s blog AmishAmerica:

·         David and Elsie Kline’s quarterly magazine on farming in harmony with nature Farming:

·         The Budget (a weekly publication of Amish communities):  (A brief history of the newspaper is available at:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reaction to the Front Cover of Amish Values for Your Family

The front cover of Amish Values for Your Family includes a photograph of an Amish family.  When I was reading it, my own kids noticed the book on my nightstand and asked about it.  I explained it was a book about the Amish, who are a group of Christians.  My older daughter knows a bit about the Amish since she is studying American history and has read about the Anabaptists who settled Pennsylvania. 

After my summary explanation in answer to their question, one of my children looked at the cover photo and asked, “Are the Amish poor?”  This question actually sort of devastated me.  My husband and I try hard to emphasize Christian values over materialism.  We talk to our kids all the time about people who do not have the basics.  We often shop at second-hand stores.  We get hand-me-downs from friends, and when we are done with our belongings, we given them to other families or donate them to second-hand stores.  We talk with our kids about saving money and giving it away to help others.  We try to not emphasize presents overly at birthdays and Christmas.  We try to emphasize time together as a family as being superior to material gifts.  But we don’t live in a closed Amish community.  Most of our kids’ friends have iPads, MP3 players, DS games, as well as their own TVs and computers.  (Our kids don’t have any of these things.)  I thought the cover photo of Amish Values for Your Family looked charming.  But my children’s question about the featured family being “poor” saddened me.  I was a bit crushed that would be their first reaction.

The photo shows the family walking down a paved road.  The image of them is taken from the back.  (The Amish, as I understand, typically shun photographs.)  There is a mom and a dad in the photo; each is carrying a small child.  There are four young girls in between them.  They are all wearing traditional Amish clothing.  The adults have shoes on, as does one of the children being carried.  However, the four girls who are walking are all barefoot.  They are on a modern paved road, but they are walking.  One of the girls who is walking is carrying a paper bag—perhaps a picnic.  The road appears to be in a rural setting.  It is a two-lane road without much of a shoulder.  There is grass on both sides and several trees are in the image.

I asked my kids why they thought the Amish family in the photo was poor.  Apparently, the Amish kids’ lack of shoes was the big tip off.  And I suppose that is understandable.  But I tried to explain that the Amish think that being together and spending time together as a family is the most important thing.  It is more important than working all the time to be able to buy a lot of clothes or TVs or other unnecessary stuff.  Maybe the Amish girls in the photo didn’t really need shoes or walking barefoot was just more fun.  My own kids’ reaction was noncommittal to these brainstorms despite the fact that they themselves always like their own shoes to be off—sometimes even when we’re away from home.

To me, in reading Amish Values for Your Family, it seemed that the Amish had a very rich life style.  They worked hard and did not have a lot of cash.  But they had the luxury of spending a lot of time together, which is something that many American families today do not.  Many of us mourn that reality and the absence of much family time.  One of the difficulties of being a non-Amish parent in today’s culture is raising kids to understand the wealth of a simpler lifestyle like the Amish and the empty promises of consumerism.

Proverbs 13:7 (Common English Bible)

Some pretend to be rich but have nothing,
while others pretend to be poor,
but have great riches.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Amish Values (Education and the Role of Reading; Competition v. Kindness)

Another fascinating aspect of Amish culture that is mentioned throughout Amish Values is the love the Amish apparently have for reading.  The Amish are formally schooled only up until eighth grade.  During those years, they attend Amish schools with teachers who are not college graduates.  Interestingly, the teachers rarely make a career of classroom teaching.  Instead, they teach school for a year or two before moving on to something else.  Children are taught in small schools with lots of local control.  In Amish pedagogy, there is plenty of time for active, outdoor activities.  Children are not cooped up all day, chained to a desk.   

Fascinatingly, the Amish also believe that educating the young is a “community responsibility,” which Ms. Fisher notes is quite different from the mainline American belief.  (p. 71)  Most Americans seem to push the responsibility of educating children off on others ( i.e., the state or a private entity we pay) to do it almost unilaterally for us.  Alternately, we “English” (as the Amish refer to non-Amish Americans) assume full responsibility for our children’s education by homeschooling.  Few of us seem to have a sense of communal responsibility for educating the next generation, but education apparently is viewed as a huge responsibility in Amish society.  To understand this perspective, Ms. Fisher observes that children are valued in part because the Amish understand that their community will die if the next generation is not trained correctly.

Despite receiving less formal education than most Americans, the Amish are apparently a people of avid readers.  It is a great joy in their lives.  Ms. Fisher recounts a Trivial Pursuit party hosted by an Amish friend of hers.  As she described the evening, she explained:

I took my seat and hoped all my synapses were firing.  I used to be pretty good at this game, but I knew enough about the Amish to know that this would be a challenge.  These people were readers, and their minds were refreshingly uncluttered from TV and movies. Their memory for detail always astounded me.

Ms. Fisher then noted how different the Trivial Pursuit party was than if it had been hosted by an English family.  The Amish “foster a culture of kindness.” (p. 183)  Competitiveness was not supreme.  There was gentle joking and laughter, but no cutting remarks or sarcasm.  At the end of the evening, families helped the hosts clean up and put things away, then headed home “[h]appy and satisfied after an evening of fun and fellowship, just as it was meant to be.” Ms. Fisher observes:

It’s a shame that kindness is almost rendered meaningless in our culture.  It isn’t modeled much.  Just the opposite.  At times, I think the popularity of reality television has to do with a pleasure we take in meanness, in seeing someone humiliated.  The more sarcastic, the ruder the comments, the more drawn we get.  Would American Idol have soared in popularity without Simon Cowell’s acerbic tongue?  Someone said, it’s like all of America attended Smart-mouth College.

Proverbs 9:9 (Common English Bible)

Teach the wise,
and they will become wiser;
inform the righteous,
and their learning will increase.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Amish Values (Families Spending Time Together)

Because most Amish are farmers or have other home-based businesses, their families are together a great deal of the time.  This is a point that is emphasized a lot throughout the Amish Values book. 
The Amish cherish time together, not accumulation of things.  By contrast, the Amish believe that the “English” (i.e., non-Amish Americans) have “too much money” which makes us unhappy.  From the Amish perspective, the emphasis in our culture is on earning money to have big homes and filling them with stuff.  That is an interesting way of looking at our way of life.  It can be helpful to hear the reaction to our way of life from people who live in a very different culture.
The Amish think it is sad that we (the English) get stressed out with “big debts” and that we sacrifice time with our kids to work to pay such debts.  The Amish believe you can be much happier with less stuff.  What a fascinating perspective.
Also of interest, the Amish believe that the English don’t expect enough of our children.  They believe that we are too busy, so we think it is easier to do things ourselves instead of taking time to teach them to help us. 
The Amish also believe we are overprotective.  As a result, Amish Values states that the adolescence of our (English) children is extended artificially.  Per the Amish, our children may be well-educated and media-savvy, but they do not accept responsibility for themselves.  As Ms. Fisher states: “In today’s world, thirty is the new fifteen!” 
By contrast, the Amish take time to consistently train their children.  That investment of time helps children ease into adulthood and assume great responsibility at an earlier age.  Amish Values talks about children making mischief and making mistakes.  They are given room to mess up.  That is part of learning and growing up.  The adults in their lives use such experiences to continually train them up to be responsible Christian adults.
Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Amish Values (Celebrating Christmas)

A reoccurring theme in Amish Values is the appreciation for and joy in experiences that the rest of American culture would view as fairly trivial.  Camping vacations, caring for animals, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.  As you read in Ms. Fisher’s book, those are the things that make memories in a family, not wasting time on Facebook or spending oodles of money for a fancy hotel on a trip. 

After reading Amish Values, it occurred to me that modern American culture is so focused on the things of man, i.e., celebrating the works of human being.  In contrast, Amish culture is “simpler” because it rejects these things so as to not be distracted from the gifts of God and his splendorous creation.  I really admire that approach.

Fairly early in the book, there are several chapters that seem particularly apropos at this time of year.  They involve Christmas time anecdotes. 

One describes the celebrations of one family who live on a small farm.  On Christmas day, they get up early to care for the animals like any other day throughout the year.  Then they have a special breakfast.  Then they read the Christmas story from the Bible.  Then they open gifts.  But they are mostly homemade gifts—like yummy baked goods or a new piece of clothing.  And perhaps there are a few other gifts with a practical or beneficial use like a pocketknife, stationery or books.  The family then does something together like go ice skating on a pond with second hand ice skates that may not even fit too well.  They end the day with some of the daily chores that cannot be neglected.  At the end of the chapter, Ms. Fisher explained that the family declared it the “best Christmas we ever had” though most modern Americans would turn up their noses at how unglamorous and perhaps even boring it was. 

Another chapter in the book involves a Christmas tradition of bird watching.  Again, how many modern Americans spend their Christmas day outside marveling at God’s creatures?  Most of us are inside watching football, listening to our iPods or playing video games.  Again, even on such a holy day, we focus on the things of man, not the things of God.

Isaiah 37:19

Common English Bible (CEB)

The Assyrians burned the gods of those nations with fire because they aren’t real gods. They are only man-made creations of wood and stone. That’s how the Assyrians could destroy them.

Psalm 104:24

Common English Bible (CEB)

LORD, you have done so many things!
You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Woods Fisher

I want to blog about a book, which is not about Christmas per se, but its message is very apropos at this time of year when we are all tempted to overindulge in material goods and lose sight of the reason Christmas is actually celebrated.

Not long ago, I found a neat little book with an intriguing title on our local library’s new releases shelf: Amish Values for Your Family: What We Can Learn from the Simple Life.  The author, Suzanne Woods Fisher, is not herself Amish.  But her grandfather was a member of an Anabaptist church in Pennsylvania, and Ms. Fisher has been fascinated by Anabaptist cultures for a long time.  She has spent significant amounts of time studying the Amish.  She apparently hosts a radio program called Amish Wisdom, and she has written a number of books on topics involving the Amish.  The back cover of this particular book sums up its focus:

Amish values like community, forgiveness, simple living, obedience, and more can be your family legacy—without selling your car or changing your wardrobe.

In short, the book is written for a Christian, but non-Amish audience.  Ms. Fisher shares via a series of anecdotes with commentary some of the virtues of Amish culture and suggestions on how to live more like the Amish without discarding electricity or withdrawing from the mainstream culture.

The book is composed of a series of short chapters.  I read it over several weeks as a devotional, reading just a chapter or two each day.  It was such a joy.  I absolutely loved this little book and recommended it to several of my Christian mommy friends.  We all have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Amish. 

The friends with whom I shared this book are all well-educated, professional women with young children.  We live in suburban homes with plenty of modern conveniences and material goods.  None of us are rich by American standards.  We probably would not even be considered upper middle class in this country.  But we certainly live a luxurious lifestyle compared to most of our human brothers and sisters in the world.  We are Christian women who want to raise our children to love God and his people, to be grateful for our blessings, and care for the vulnerable among us.  With the ubiquitous influences of a hedonistic, shallow secular culture, this is no easy feat!

My friends and I are not alone.  Many moms (and dads) want to raise their kids in such a fashion.  Ms. Fisher’s book was written with such families in mind.  As a woman who lives in my culture, but knows Amish culture so well, I love how Ms. Fisher focuses on aspects of Amish beliefs and customs that are so different from the mainstream culture.  And she gives practical advice on how to weave the essence of Amish living into our modern American lives.

I admire many aspects of how dedicated the Amish are to living their Christian faith.  It is not a once-a-week-on-Sundays type of faith.  It is an intrinsic part of their everyday life.  Their faith guides and shapes their culture.  Their strong emphasis on community and family are based on Jesus’s teaching to love and care for one another.  The Amish apparently have a saying: “People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.”  (p. 105) As an Amish minister explains the saying, “There’s no point in knowing God’s Word if you don’t walk God’s Word.” 

For example, the Amish value the vulnerable among them in a real and not abstract way.  Children are loved and constantly taught as their parents go about their household work.  The Amish take their responsibility to” train up” their children very seriously.  Children are given age appropriate responsibility from early on.  They don’t spend time in front of a television or computer.  The family works together. 

The elderly are valued as well.  Caring for aging relatives is not seen as an imposition.  They are cared for at home.  They are valued for their wisdom and contributions in helping to raise children.  There is a beautiful chapter about a family singing to an elderly relative who was dying.  She had always enjoyed music, so the singing brought her comfort as her physical body failed her.

Job 12:12 (DARBY)

With the aged is wisdom, and in length of days understanding.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving

At our house we don’t watch much TV.  When we do, it is typically a video.  (We don’t like commercials because they waste time and expose us to content that is often inappropriate for little ones.)  Because we don’t watch much TV, when we do, it is a treat.  As a result, in our celebration of the season of Advent, we’ve watched a few Christmas movies at our house.  One in particular I thought was quite good and wanted to mention it in this blog.

I have written in my predecessor blog about the VeggieTales, which is a Christian video cartoon series where all the characters are vegetables.  (Well, Bob the Tomato and Madame Blueberry are technically fruit, but we’ll let that slide.)  My husband became aware of the VeggieTales franchise years ago before we were even parents, but were volunteering as Sunday school teachers.  The director of the children’s ministry raved about the VeggieTales and we occasionally used them in our lessons.

 As parents, we have developed an even greater appreciation of the VeggieTales.  They are fun and cute.  The music is catchy.  They make us laugh.  And my husband and I often say that we have learned a lot from watching VeggieTales shows.  (We’re only half joking.)

Though we like the VeggieTales a lot, we haven’t seen every episode.  In honor of Advent, I found and screened for our family a Christmas themed episode: Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving.  It was excellent.

In true VeggieTales fashion, it explains to children where we got the myth of Santa Claus.  It tells the story of the life of the real Saint Nicolas—as portrayed by an adorable little chili pepper.  I won’t give away the plot, but it is a wonderful story to help children understand the importance of helping people in need.  It also does a good job of explaining the secular cult of Santa Claus for a Christian audience. 

Because we want our family’s celebration of Christmas to focus on the religious meaning of the holiday and we aspire to not have it sidetracked by all the secular nonsense, we’ve always been honest with our children about the myth of Santa Claus.  But it is hard to be so countercultural when most little kids in our social circle believe in Santa.  So, our family (and our church) tries to get our kids to focus on the man behind the myth: Saint Nicolas of Myra.  In light of that tradition, this particular VeggieTales episode was especially fun for us.

Luke 12:33
Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Service and Giving in Advent

Our pastor’s sermon to kick off Advent encouraged us to do things that really celebrated the life of our Savior.  She suggested a number of ideas, but she of course flagged that service is a great way to celebrate Christ’s birth.  She mentioned several ministries at our own church as practical ways to serve others at this time of year.

I really love service and have done a good deal of volunteer work in my life to-date.  But I was talking with some church friends the other day about certain struggles we have with service at our current phase of life.  In the group, we were all parents to young children.  It is very hard to find age appropriate service opportunities to do with children.  Our own family has lived in several towns and gone to different churches while our kids have been young.  At each church, this is a perennial problem.  As a result, it is hard for parents to do service because then child care is needed.  And in our hectic lives, we all already have so precious little time together as a family. 

A friend of mine in the group was saying how guilty it made her feel, she just cannot do enough.  I told her that I used to feel that way, but had eventually come to a realization and a peace about the situation.  I realized that this is only a season in life.  Our kids will not be little and unable to participate in volunteerism forever. They will get bigger and more opportunities will become available. 

And eventually they will fly the nest.  At that point, my husband and I (God willing!) will have plenty of time to devote to serving others.  But I believe at this present season of our lives, God has other plans.  He has put our family together for a reason.  Our children need our nurture and guidance.  So, I am content to be on the service sidelines a lot these days.  I still do things that work logistically like helping with the children’s ministry or ushering at church.  And there are a few other ministries where I only have to help periodically. One ministry even allows our whole family (including the kids) to participate. But I feel that my main area of service right now is to my family—particularly to my young children.

Nonetheless, many parents would like their children to be more involved and to have a better appreciation of the needs and struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world.  It is important—especially when we live in a country of relative wealth—to understand how fortunate we are.  I would like to share two practical ways that my husband and I have helped others while also helping our children understand how privileged their lives are.

First, for a number of years our family has had a tradition of “shopping” for gifts in the World Vision Gift Catalogue.  World Vision is a well-respected Christian humanitarian organization that does an array of practical and impactful things to meet the needs of vulnerable people around the world.  The Gift Catalogue has a number of options.  You can choose from a host of things to bring health, education, nutrition or even a livelihood to children and families in need. Each year, we give each of our children a budget and study the catalogue with them. It always makes tears come to my eyes when they choose to buy things like ducks, blankets, soccer balls, seeds and mosquito netting for other families. I think they have a better appreciation of how difficult some people’s lives are and how our actions can ease their burden.  You can learn more about the World Vision Gift Catalogue at:

My own theological views on war and the military are complex.  But regardless of that fact, I greatly admire anyone who gives service to others—particularly those who risk their own lives.  As our nation has been involved in two separate wars in the past decade, my heart has broken for the toll that the situation has taken on families.  I mourn for the separation of parents and children especially.  And at this time of year, I can imagine that sacrifice must seem almost unbearable.  I have been a real fan of the site: It provides a list of soldiers who are willing to act as the point person for their unit, and lists things that would be most useful and appropriate to send to that particular unit. Our family on various occasions has sent cards, art work and care packages to soldiers serving overseas.  It is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Matthew 7:9-12

Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread?  Or give them a snake when they ask for fish?  If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.  Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.

John 15:13

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Last weekend our pastor marked the first Sunday in Advent by giving an inspiring sermon about celebrating this special season.

For those who are unfamiliar, Advent is the name of the season just prior to Christmas.  Many, but not all, Christian churches observe the season.  But some Christ followers don’t use that jargon. 

Anyhow, our pastor normally gives pretty good sermons, but this was a particularly good one.  My husband and I get repulsed by the way our society observe the time leading up to Christmas.  It is bad enough that Christ’s name and birth are exploited for commercial profit.  But instead of embracing Christian values, we seem to embrace the most grotesque of secular values.   Instead of focusing on our love for God whom we cannot see with human eyes, we emphasize the accumulation of material goods we can touch.  Instead of expressing love for our human brothers and sisters, we pepper spray or stampede them to get cheap electronics or other merchandise.  Instead of being grateful for and being good stewards of God’s gift to us of his creation, at this time of year we actually consume more of those finite resources and create more trash for the landfills.  It is horrifying, and I admit that my husband and I get discouraged at this time of year as a result.

But our pastor’s sermon last weekend was just what we needed.  She is a widow with a grown son.  Though this could be a time of loneliness for her, she confessed that it is her favorite time of year.  She spoke about two sets of friends of hers.  One was a person who was so cynical and jaded that he couldn’t enjoy the season.  The other was a couple who in two separate tragic events lost both of their children this past year.  Our pastor noted that none of us knows how much time we are on this Earth, each day is a gift.  We can spend it being cynical or embracing the essence of the Advent season, which is hope.  She encouraged us to take the latter approach and celebrate all that is good about the season.

The next day our family was inspired.  We got up and got out our Advent wreath to put it to good use.  We put up our little Christmas tree, which is about the size of a Charlie Brown tree but in better shape.  It is small, but we enjoy decorating it with ornaments our kids have made, ornaments we’ve been given and ornaments the grandparents used to use when my husband and I were kids.  In the afternoon, we made Christmas cookies, then delivered them to friends and neighbors.  It was a fabulous day!

It was not so much the things we did, but the spirit of the day that really made a difference.  The things we did were pretty simple, but we were together and enjoyed the gift of each other’s company.  Life is finite, none of us knows how many Christmases we will get.  It is important to enjoy each one as the gift it is.

Matthew 1:19-21

Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.  As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”