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Monday, May 26, 2008

Blast Off

This is it. We're down to the last day of preparing for our trip to Israel. And we have a beautiful Memorial Day weekend to do it. Our clothes are drying on the washline and then I can finish packing. It still seems a bit unreal, but I suppose it will quickly become real when we head for the Newark airport tomorrow morning. I'm looking forward to meeting my brother, Merle and Edith, there and learning to know the rest of the tour group.
We did not have someone step forward to pay half of the trip for us the way Merle did. But yesterday we went for a walk and found $2.76 in coins scattered on the road. Maybe if I had been a career missionary God would have sent someone to pay my way. Since I wasn't, I'm thankful for small blessings. :-)
At any rate, this will probably be my last post for awhile. We blast off into the blue tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ignorance and Apathy

As the story goes, a teacher once asked a student, "What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?" The student answered, "I don't know and I don't care."
Pearl S. Buck was a prolific writer who won both the Pulitizer and Nobel prizes for her books. Yesterday I read this excerpt from her book Fighting Angel, which is the biography of her father, Absalom Sydenstricker.

"I do not know the old and precise history of his [her father's] family, and I have not asked because it does not matter. Some time before the American Revolution they came from somewhere in Germany, for the sake of religious freedom. I do not know just when except that I know it was in time for one of his ancestors to be a courier to George Washington, and for two others to fight loyally under Washington's command. I say it does not matter because it is not as an individual that he is significant. If his life has any meaning for others than himself it is as a manifestation of a certain spirit in his country and his time. For he was a spirit, and a spirit made by that blind certainty, that pure intolerance, that zeal for mission, that contempt of man and earth, that high confidence in heaven, which our forefathers bequeathed to us."---Pearl S. Buck, Fighting Angel, p12-13

Prize-winning author or not, that reeks of ignorance and apathy! The book further reveals her ignorance when she says her paternal grandmother's name was Deborah when, in fact, her name was Frances Coffman. If Pearl Buck did not even know her paternal grandmother's correct name, I'm sure she did not know the Coffmans were Mennonites.
For the record, Frances Coffman was the daughter of John and Catherine Susanna (Good) Coffman. Catherine was born in Lancaster County, PA, but grew up in Rockingham County, VA. She was the youngest child of Jacob Good II, grandson of 1727 immigrant Peter Good.
The history of Pearl Buck's father's family DID matter and made a great difference in who she was. Her life would have been quite different if her Mennonite ancestors had stayed in Germany. Her father's life DID have meaning to others than himself. The choices he made in his lifetime made a signifigant difference in her own life and writing. If he had not been a missionary in China, she would never have written her prize-winning books about China.
Whether we know it or not, we are products of our past. All those who came before us played a part in making us who we are. How can you know who you are if you don't know where you came from? By the same token, the choices we make in our lives play a part in the lives of those who follow us.

We walk the path of the ancient ones,
soon the shadows of our footprints the dream ones will walk.
Will our footprints be deep enough to follow
or will the winds erase them for all time?

Joel 1:3 - Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (NIV)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


One week from today we will be on our way to Israel. Last week I started putting odds and ends in the suitcase, but this week I am doing some serious packing. Of course, I won't be able to finish until after I wash clothes on Monday, but I can pack a good bit now.
Lest I don't have time the last days before we leave, I will post our itinerary now.
May 27--Leave Newark, NJ 2:30pm for a 10-hour flight
May 28--Arrive Tel Aviv, Israel, 8am (1am EST), drive to our hotel at the Dead Sea and go swimming. Early bedtime!
May 29-- Masada, En Gedi, Qumran, Jericho, Jerusalem
May 30--Mt. of Olives, Gethsemane, House of Caiaphas, Bethlehem
May 31-- Old Jerusalem, Wailing Wall, Dome of the Rock, Pool of Bethesda, Judgment Hall, Garden Tomb
June 1--Day of rest in Jerusalem, free time to plan own activity
June 2--Jerusalem, Bethany, Temple Model, Western wall tunnel
June 3--Bedouin camp, Jordan Valley, Sea of Galilee, Tiberias
June 4--Galilee, Golan Heights, Mt. Hermon
June 5--Nazareth, Cana, Haifa, Megiddo, Caesarea, main tour group returns to Newark
June 6--Fourteen of us stay another week to do a work project in Jerusalem. This will be house repairs, painting, etc. for poor and/or elderly people.
June 13--Return to Newark, NJ at 5am
We have been told our phones will not work over there so I am planning on touching home base via e-mail on my brother's laptop computer, but I doubt I will be doing any posting here while we are gone.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ending and Beginning

Tomorrow Gerald takes his last test and finishes his third year of college. So tomorrow is the end and of the school year and the beginning of summer. He will begin his summer employment the same day he takes his last test. His textbooks will move upstairs and I will once again be able to call my desk my own--for awhile. I won't be here to enjoy the space very long.
I started packing to go to Israel this week. We are on the countdown now with eleven more days to go until lift-off. We talked about doing this sometime for nearly 40 years, and the time is almost here. Sometimes it still doesn't seem real. We will return June 13. Gerald will be here to look after the place and take care of himself. By the time we return maybe he will have decided if he wants to be a bachelor permanently.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Stoltzfus House

Nicholas Stoltzfus was born in Germany in 1719. He married an Amish girl in 1744 and came to Pennsylvania on the ship Polly. The ship landed in Philadelphia on October 18, 1766. This is the sea chest in which he brought his belongings across the ocean. (How many of your belongings could you take with you if you could only take what fit in this chest?)
Nicholas and his son Christian bought land in Berks County in 1770 and built a stone house which still stands along the Tulpehocken Creek.

At that time, Berks County was a wild and wooly place to live. Nicholas died in 1774 and by 1801 his son Christian moved to Leacock Township in Lancaster County which was a more safe place to live. The Stoltzfus house passed through a long succession of owners. In 1989 it was inhabited by squatters and then was abandoned. Mother Nature took over and covered the house with a curtain of dense foliage so its shameful state of disrepair could not be seen.

While the house quietly stood its ground against urban sprawl, the construction of a super highway, industries, and the ravages of nature, the Stoltzfus clan who could trace their lineage to this spot blossomed and grew in other places.
In the year 2000, some of the estimated one million descendants of Nicholas Stoltzfus formed a committee to preserve and restore the old house at 1700 Tulpehocken Road, Wyomissing, Pa. Every year, on the second Saturday in May, a benefit auction is held to raise funds for the preservation and restoration of this historic house. This year we were finally able to get there. I had seen the outside of the house before, but had never been inside. I wanted to go to the auction mostly because the house was open for free tours.
This is the kitchen.

This is the front door which opens into the kitchen. A wooden panel at the bottom of the door slides up to cover the nine panes of glass in the top half of the door for safety during Indian attacks. For this reason it is called an "Indian Door."

The barn that once stood on this property collapsed in 1924. Today ground was broken to reconstruct a barn.
The Nicholas Stoltzfus House serves to remind us of the important part the Amish played in the history and development of Berks County. I think he would be pleased to know his descendants are maintaining both his property and his faith.

Christian Stoltzfus' German Bible

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother's Day

My mother died on July 30, 1993. Every year when Mother's Day rolls around I miss her all over again. All the ads focus on what you can do for your mother and there is not one thing I can do for mine. The opportunities to express my love and appreciation for my mother are over. I am always glad when the Mother's Day fuss is over.
There was a time I wished Mom would just let me alone to live my own life. Somewhere between my "terrible teens" and thirtieth birthday I did an about-face. I realized how wise and wonderful my mother was and valued her judgments over my own. I also realized I would probably not always have her with me, for children normally outlive their parents. I panicked whenever I thought about trying to live without Mom. I talked to her nearly every day and could not imagine being unable to call her. Sometime after I moved into the forties the panic diminished but I certainly did not look forward to losing her.
All of Mom's siblings lived well into their 80s and her one sister is now 94. I expected Mom to be with us at least until she was 80. When she was diagnosed with a terminal illness at the age of 66, I was caught unprepared. I had two months to adjust my expectations before she died. I went to see her every single day of those two months and was able to accept her death when it came. She helped me do that by expressing her eagerness to go be with the Lord. I have not LOST her because I know where she is, and someday I'll be there too.
The older I get, the more I hear that I look just like my mom. The mirror tells me that is true, but I don't feel I have ever measured up to her in other ways. She was only 4' 10" (so am I) but she towered over me in wisdom and character.
Today Royer's delivered 18 pink and white roses with my name on them---for Mother's Day. When I measure myself against my mother, I know I don't deserve them. I am humbled but grateful to have children who love me in spite of my flaws. Enjoy the roses with me and thank God for your mother, whoever she is or was.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Memories Last

I had one of those "how can they do this to me?" moments today. I got a letter from the people who own the place where I was born and grew up. The wife invited me to call her to make arrangements to see the place before the house is torn down. They are planning to sell it to a developer who will fill it with apartment houses. The house will have to be torn down to make way for a road. I suppose I should have expected this to happen since the place was already on the outskirts of town when I lived there and the farm across the road was recently turned into a development.
My parents sold the place in 1967. Subsequent owners made changes and the place no longer looks like it did when I lived there. The eleven acres that my father bought in 1947 has been reduced to five acres. The garage, brooder and chicken houses were torn down, a small addition to the house was removed and an attached garage was added. The barn was covered with red tin and the silo removed. The house was remodeled inside and out.
Although much had changed, I could still drive by, point to the house, and tell my children this is where I was born. This is the stream in the meadow where I slopped. This is the barn hill where I sat to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. This is the tree my brother fell out of and broke his arm. This is where our garden was. This is the porch where I sat and shelled peas by the bushel. This is where I walked through the corn field to get to the mulberry trees. This was my bedroom. This is the room where I dated their father.
After the house is gone and the field and meadow are filled with apartment houses, my children and grandchildren will hardly be able to visualize my birthplace no matter how well I describe it to them. But then, I'm not a famous person and money talks. I cannot expect the owners to turn the place into a museum in my honor. No matter what happens, I can still show my children the aerial picture of the place as it looked when I lived there. And no one can bulldoze my memories. They will last as long as I do.