Wednesday, April 27, 2005

blogging women and R.C. Jr.

I have resisted the temptation, really I have, to even suggest that someone ought to check out R.C. Sproul Jr.'s blog. I do not like celebrity a matter of fact they were my pet peeve of 2004. Alas, this week I found myself not only reading his blog but sending others there, too.

Weary of him being referenced so often I asked myself one day how many Presbyterians it must take to change a light bulb and the only real answer I came up with is one, but he has to check out R.C's blog first to see how it is done!

Then last weekend someone, not a woman preacher, not even a feminist by any stretch of the imagination, directed me and several friends to his latest comments on women and blogging, nearly rolling her eyes as she suggested I read it. So I did and found myself rolling my own eyes and wondering just how much smaller R.C.'s slice of evangelicalism will get, how much more narrow you must become in order to fit into his personal basket of orthodoxy. Especially if you are a woman.

I have no masters degree, no Phd, though if I were to be awarded an honorary doctorate for life experience, it certainly would be for Laundry Control. "Dr. Karen Campbell, T.I.D.E., received her award following her dissertation entitled "OxyClean and the Great Grass Stain Controversy." I am a fairly simple person, though not necessarily simple-minded.

However, I can open my own Bible and along side it use a Strong's concordance and numerous other study aids in our nifty Bible reference software package. I could make a Biblical argument for any number of convictions I hold. Some of my children went to AWANA, for crying out loud. But somehow, because I am a woman, I and the rest of my fair sex ought not to be allowed to express our thoughts, share our insights, or publically write about anything the Lord has shown to us because we are women, unless it is, of course, a good crock-pot recipe or an essay about submission for the womenfolk. This is teaching and women teaching outside of the Titus 2 parameters, as we all know, is forbidden.

Sorry, but I think Dr. Jr. has painted with a brush the size of the side of a barn.

Let's look at those parameters for a moment and let's begin with women teaching men. How am I to handle the homeschool teaching of my own teenage sons, since I firmly believe that all subjects ought to be taught with a bibical worldview presented. Is this forbidden?

What about teaching my grown sons, sons who are now heads of their own households? They often call and talk to me, wanting to know what I think, what I have been learning, what my perspective is on some current event. Must I respond, "Well, fiddle-dee,dee, boys, I reckon you'll have to talk to your pa about that?"

What about sharing something I learned from Scripture with men across the table from me at a fellowship dinner? What if that man is an elder in my church and I tell him something I learned from a Bible commentary? Is it appropriate for me to comment or interject my thoughts in a discussion that includes my husband and other men? (I'll pass on the cigars thank you.)

What if I am teaching a woman and she goes home and teaches her husband what I taught her?

Can I teach my own husband about anything more than when to use the oxyclean?

Can I write an article or a book or even a letter to the editor if there is a chance that a man might read it?

What about the women in the homeschooling co-op who teach sons other than their own? What about my sons reading books written by Jane Austen, Nancy Wilson, Mary Pride, or even Dorothy Sayers? Do I have to tear out articles by Andre Seu in World Magazine just in case my husband or my son might be tempted to read them?

What about men attending a homeschooling convention and sitting in a workshop taught by a woman?

What if I read something on R. C's blog and share what I read in a group that includes men and women? Am I sinning by "teaching" a man? As has been stated, "conversation is education" so it must be sin.

I found myself wondering all of these things while washing my hair because that is when I have all my really great ideas (unlike Grant Wood who got all his really great ideas while milking a cow). I was in the middle of preparing a speech I am giving at a Mother-Daughter banquet this weekend. (I am assuming Dr. Sproul would not approve.) The topic I was given was angels and I was left scratching my clean-haired head until I started looking at what the Bible actually said about angels.

As I read various accounts of angels and their interaction with men, I also read about Mary Magdalene and Mary at Jesus's empty tomb in Matthew 28. And do you know what literally jumped off the page at me? God chose the two Marys to be the ones to tell the Good News of the resurrected Christ to the apostles! They were told to run and share the information, to be the first to teach the doctrine of Jesus risen from the grave. Imagine, the most powerful, life-giving doctrine in the Bible taught to the leaders of the church by two women!

But then I paused...was I reading too much into this passage?

So I turned to a sermon that was preached by C.H. Spurgeon on that very passage. This is what he said, "They were the first to see their risen Lord, and we will try to learn something from them tonight. It should be an encouragement to those members of the church of Christ who are neither pastors nor teachers that, if they live very near to God, they may yet teach pastors and teachers. Get clear views of our Lord, as did these holy women, who had no office in the church and yet taught the officers, for they were sent to bear to the apostles the tidings that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. Not first to them who were the heads of the church, as it were, but first of all to lowly women did the Lord appear, and the apostles themselves had to go to school, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to learn that great truth, "The Lord is risen indeed."

Said quite well I would say.

The other point that R. C. makes is this....women are to teach the Titus 2 curriculum to younger women, which is pretty straight forward and would get no arguments from me....being sober, to love their husbands and children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that God's word would not be blasphemed. However, he is assuming that considering doctrine, church history and polity, government policy etc. is NOT teaching women to do those things.

Again I disagree with Dr. Sproul. There are many men, strong Christian leaders in their homes, churches, and communities, who not only want their wives to think and express themselves, but they actually encourage it! These are the same men who have rejected the hyper-patriarchial views that are imposing lifestyles and views of a bygone era on to women who have been placed by God to serve and glorify Him in the 21st century. These men realize that to be salt and light in a culture that is increasingly influencing the church and especially the young people, women must also be prepared to articulate the "hope that is within us." Biblical womanhood and modeled femininity go beyond ruffled dresses and stock pots.

Some of my favorite places to read on-line are the blogs written by women. There is a gentleness, a sensitivity to others, especially their children, and the attitude of a servant's heart that is missing in so many of the blogs I have read by men. Lord-willing and the laundry pile don't rise, I will include links to those blogs very soon!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

o lover to the uttermost

May I read the meltings of thy heart to me
in the manger of thy birth
in the garden of thy agony,
in the cross of thy suffering,
in the tomb of they resurrection,
in the heaven of thy intercession.

Bold in this thought I defy my adversary,
tread down his temptations,
resist his schemings,
renounce the world,
am valiant for truth.

Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationshp to thee,
as spiritual bridegroom,
as jehovah's fellow,
as sinners' friend.

I think of thy glory and my vileness,
thy majesty and my meanness,
thy beauty and my deformity,
thy purity and my filth,
thy righteousness and my iniquity.

Thou has loved me everlastingly, unchangeably,
may I love thee as I am loved.

Thou hast given thyself for me,
may I give myself to thee;

Thou has died for me,
may I live to thee,
in every moment of my time
in every movement of my mind,
in every pulse of my heart.

May I never dally with the world and its allurements,
but walk by thy side,
listen to thy voice,
be clothed with thy graces.
and adorned with thy righteousness.

Christ Is All from The Valley of Vision
from The Banner of Truth Trust


I have been reading Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson and have been so blessed by the gentle spirit expressed in this book. What a delight to discover a homeschooling dad who has shared from his heart the truly biblical approach to building lasting relationships with children, including his own journey away from punitive discipline and destructive attitudes that undermine a child's trust. This morning he quoted this passage of Scripture and I have meditated on it all day.

"And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but he laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest."

Lord, give me this same vision, one of tenderness and compassion, one of mercy and grace. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear those who are faint and scattered. Use me to bring them to the Good Shepherd.

on baking bread

I first ventured into the world of cooking when I was a little girl and my mom said that I could experiment in her kitchen. We decided that I would bake biscuits and they would be hot when my dad walked through the door at suppertime. My mom was brave. She turned me loose and, alone with Betty Crocker, I whipped up the most beautiful, golden brown, fluffy biscuits one could hope for. Imagine my dad’s delight when he sat down and, mouth watering, took that first bite. Then picture his expression as he discovered that I had used baking soda rather than baking powder without souring the milk! Somehow he downed that whole biscuit and took another before my mom and I ate ours and realized what had happened. I felt both humiliation at my mistake and wonder at a terrific father who was more interested in encouraging me as a homemaker than in his own culinary experience! Within a week I had baked a scrumptious loaf of pumpkin bread and my reputation in the kitchen was restored!

I had determined early on in our marriage to learn how to bake bread. Clay had told me that his Grandma Campbell always baked bread and she had done it so often through the years that she didn’t even need to use yeast anymore because so much of it was floating around in her kitchen! Naïve and inexperienced in baking as I was, I believed him! But I also knew that Clay’s dad, Clayton Jr., made sure to drop by his mom’s house just when the bread was coming out of the oven. I knew, instinctively, that a mom held terrific sway over even a grown son by her culinary prowess! It was a bit of magic I intended to wield!

I have since learned much more about bread and the importance of good yeast. Here is my favorite bread recipe of all time:

Pilgrim Bread

The blended flavors of four grains are even better when toasted! It is extra good if you are able to grind the wheat and rye berries right before making this recipe.

¾ cup yellow corn meal
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ TBS salt
3 cups boiling water
1/3 cup oil
3 packages active dry yeast
¼ tsp ginger
1 tsp sugar
¾ cup warm water
1 ½ cup whole wheat flour (1 cup wheat berries)
¾ cup rye flour (1/2 cup rye berries)
6 cups sifted white flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 egg, well-beaten

Thoroughly stir corn meal, brown sugar, oil, and boiling water. Let cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes. Soften yeast, sugar, and ginger in ¾ cup of warm water. Stir into the cooled corn meal mixture. Add the whole wheat and rye flours. Mix well. Stir in enough white flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Turn out on a floured board, knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour. Punch down, turn out on a floured board and divide into thirds. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Shape into 3 loaves, place in greased loaf pans or shape into round loaves and place on greased cookie sheets. Brush tops with egg mixture and sprinkle rolled oats on top. Let rise again until almost doubled, about 35 minutes. Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Check after first 20 minutes if it is getting too brown and loosely cap with foil. Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.

my grandmas and their kitchens

The pictures in my mind of my grandmothers and their kitchens resemble Grant Wood paintings. My Grandma Allen had come from Missouri to Illinois as a house girl when she was a teen. She learned to bake, cook and sew for a family that included hired hands. Rising before sunrise every morning, she began her day baking pies for the men who came to work on the farm.

Years later when she was raising three boys through the 1920’s and 30’s, she canned and dried all the food they would need during the months when the garden sat dormant. My dad often told me that they really didn’t know that there was a depression because their larder was so full of tasty, wonderful foods. Combined with fresh meat and baked goodies, they lived like kings.

Staying with my Grandma Allen for weeks at a time during summer vacation, I remember fabulous bread and butter pickles, vegetable relish, mince meat pies, and, of course, fried chicken. At least once while I was there, Grandma would start the day by asking if I would like to have fried chicken for supper. When I replied with a resounding “yes”, she sharpened her butcher knife and headed out the back door to the barn yard.

I watched from the window as she chased down the fattest hen and, in one swift swing, had it bobbing headless along the sidewalk. She then scooped it up and marched to the shed where she plucked and cleaned it in short order. I was always somewhat horrified and a little sad but those thoughts disappeared as soon as the aroma of that chicken frying in pure lard rose from her old cook stove. Mashed potatoes piled high, butter drizzling down the miniature white mountain and topped with milky chicken gravy were the centerpiece of dinner. Pickled beets, garden grown tomato slices, and baking soda biscuits completed the meal. And we washed it all down with iced tea in state fair glasses. Long into the night I could smell that savory fried chicken and wondered how she did it. I was certain the secret was all in the faded bib apron that was the necessary part of her daily uniform!

My mom’s mom, Grandma Hewitt, was my “city grandma.” Living in a pre-Civil War era home in Farmington, she boasted 9 children and 36 grandchildren. Her house was across the street from the old Chapman School so on most days I would take my after school snack in front of the fireplace in her dining room. The tea kettle was already singing when I walked in the door and hung my coat and book bag on the hooks in what she called her “vestibule.” She brought out the works….tea, cream, sugar, cookies, muffins, and whatever else she had been baking that morning.

My fondest memories of those afternoons with her are of listening as she read Scripture to me, sharing what she had learned in the hours she had spent reading that day. Her old King James was underlined and key passages were noted. The pages were wrinkled and worn; in a way they were like she was. Those times were precious and as I look back on them I am struck by how grown-up I felt as we took tea and talked about Jesus and my school day. She did not treat me like a child she had to endure. She was always glad to see me; she had prepared for my coming. My life mattered to her. What more could a child want?

Grandma Hewitt’s high point of cooking came at Christmastime. She began baking and freezing cookies right after Thanksgiving. Around December 15th or so, she brought out all sorts of boxes she had been saving throughout the year and covered them with wrapping paper. Then she lined them with tissue paper and piled a menagerie of cookie cutter snowmen and Santas, Mexican wedding balls, oatmeal raisin crispers, chocolate chippers, jam print cookies, and, of course, fudge, neatly and carefully into each package. The 10 foot long oval dining table that had once seated 9 bouncing children was soon covered in brightly colored boxes with ribbons and bows for those 36 grandchildren and eventually their children!

It seems like far too many years ago since I enjoyed those times with my grandmas. Now I am "grandmama" and it is my turn to build kitchen memories for my precious little ones. God has been so gracious, to give me the treasure of grandchildren nearby, little ones who know where I keep chocolate in the kitchen, tiny fingers to hold my cookies and say "Thank you, grandmama. I love you grandmama." What tremendous blessings, these are, the blessing of children's children, the blessing of grandmas.


I think perhaps I have dreamed up the nearly perfect salsa recipe.
It goes something like this:

In a food processor, whiz the following:

3 pounds tomatoes from a can, can have spices added
(fresh would be better but it is still April!)
1 large or 2 medium onions, cut into quarters
6 jalapeno pepper slices with 1 TBS juice from jar
1 bunch cilantro
1 TBS minced garlic
2 tsp. salt

Chill for 2 hours and serve with favorite chips.
Makes 6 cups.

We had company for dinner this evening. Actually, we shared a meal and good fellowship with a dear friend, someone who has been a dear friend for years now. It reminded me of something I wrote in the introduction to the Campbell Women Cookbook that I published this past Christmas:

Each family has its own culture. We become a family by commonly sharing the ordinary in life. We celebrate together marriage and childbirth. We weep together at illness and death. We worship our Lord Jesus together around the Word and spur one another on to love and good works. We challenge each other, sometimes intensely, as we discuss politics and theology and usually the blending of both of them as we work out our faith and practice in everyday life. We enjoy the fruits of our labors and relax together. We learn about each other and with each other every single day. And in the midst of all of life, we enjoy the breaking of bread. I contend that around the dinner table is where we forge our own family history, where our family culture is birthed and honed.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

mother's day tribute

The Mother's Day cards have hit the racks at Wal-Mart. Here is my own card, one I wrote several years ago as I contemplated another mother from another time.

October 1953

Every year my mother tells me that the sky was the most beautiful azure blue that October of any fall she can remember.

She said they had forgotten to bring along a bottle and I screamed bloody-murder all the way from the courthouse to our home in Farmington.

When I was about four and first asked where I came from, my dad told me that I had been hatched on a stump. The wide eyed expression on my face made my dad laugh and laugh! Then the crinkles on his cheeks disappeared as he became quite serious. God had given me to them, he said.

I loved this story and listened each time he told it as if it had never been told before. As he spoke, I always pictured this young couple bouncing along a county road in the old Willes Coupe. Suddenly the blue sky turned golden and opened up, and as angels sang, a soft, round bundle was gently handed down into their arms. It is a wonderful memory. I was a planned and wanted child.

I was born October 9, 1953 at Crittenden Home in Peoria, Illinois to a young woman who possibly came from the Champaign or Mattoon area. In those days, pregnancy for a teen meant a hasty wedding, an adoption, or a secret abortion, often self-induced. My very brave birth mother chose to make an adoption plan for me.

I know little about the woman who made this choice, not even a name. She was a young teen who had been in trouble and had become a ward of the court. She lived in a single-parent home with only her father so she was placed in a group home for unwed mothers.

Since most of their lives were spent in seclusion, church ladies from the community would often bring gifts to these girls on holidays. Because their identities could never be known, the packages were left in the yard under the trees and when the visitors left, the girls could go outside and pick them up.

Not a birthday or Mother's Day passes that I don't think of this frightened young girl, for that is the only way I remember her. She asked to see me on the day of my adoption so I was dressed in pink and a nurse took me in to her. She held me for a long time and said my name should be Karen. And she cried.

I must have seen her then, the memory of her face somehow recorded in my memory but never to be retrieved. I often wonder if she ever married or became a mother again, if she was able to go on with her life in some normal fashion.

I have a small porcelain music box, now a little charred from a house fire a few years back. It plays "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and was given to me one Mother's Day by my oldest son when he was just a small preschooler. How excited he was as his chubby little-boy fingers presented it to me!

My children are the sunshine in my life. I know the pain and joy of being a mother, of the sense of immortality that comes with being a part of the future through the lives of your children. I know the blessing of grandchildren. In their faces are the unfamiliar marks of a past generation. The round "kitty noses", the green eyes, the maverick blonde hair, these are not of their father. These are secret gifts, left under our family tree by strangers we will never know.

But beyond that, I have tasted life and all the fullness it brings because of one woman's great choice to give me that life. I may be the only child she ever had and she may not even celebrate Mother's Day. But each year on this day, I thank God for her and for her part in His sovereign plan for my life.

She held me close to her heart for 9 months. She didn't scream that it was her body and somehow I was an intruder. She didn't become a victim, though she may have been a victim of rape or even incest. Instead, she lovingly endured the shame of a teen pregnancy and the pain of childbirth so that I could have life.

In this day when a women's rights are the ultimate goal of some, I want to thank this young woman who set her personal rights aside for me. The spirit of our age is not one of nobility or sacrifice. My children's generation knows little of doing the courageous or the inconvenient.

But there are heroes today. The young woman who finds herself in an unplanned pregnancy and chooses to give her child life, she is my hero. The teenager who tenderly places her child into the arms of a mother who cannot bear her own, she is my hero. And wherever she is this Mother's Day, my birth mother is also my hero. May she be blessed today and always.

(If you are a woman in an unplanned pregnancy pleaes consider making an adoption plan for your baby. Your gift to a couple who cannot have their own children may be the greatest gift you will ever give and through doing so you may be a part of God's grand sovereign plan for that precious new life! And, you will be added to my own personal list of Hall of Fame Moms! If you want to talk, please contact me at )

the goodness of God

We have been enjoying such beautiful spring weather this week. The tree outside my kitchen window is home to bright red cardinals who come in conclave to the branches, singing sweet songs to me as I do my dishes. How lovely to have them there, my paycheck for all those months of feeding them sunflower seeds when the snow covered the ground.

I have been contemplating God's goodness to me, to my family, to the human family. This morning as I made my bed, I began to think of His goodness in the small things of life....

a there anything more delightful than climbing into bed at night after a long, stressful day and sinking into a featherbed? God gave us sleep. God gave us the geese who provide fluffy white and gray feathers to place into featherbeds! It brings comfort to weary bones, luxury at $49.95.

a glass of iced could anything taste any better, leisurely sipped while on the front porch? Surely God gave us tea to bring peace and calm to the storms of life. Some say that when life hands us lemons, we should make lemonade. I say, make iced tea and toss in a lemon slice!

pink and yellow tulips....God could have created only red ones, but God loves variety....look at His creation, look at the people He has made! My neighbors planted hundreds of tulip bulbs in the 30 or more years they lived in their home and now, three families later, I can look out of my upstairs hallway window and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Pink and yellow Martha would say, its a good thing.

a baby eating a popsicle....instead of creating all of mankind the way He made Adam, God chose to give us babies. And a baby eating a popsicle is the best kind of baby....sticky, sweet, pink from head to toe, red dye not withstanding.

good books, good thoughts....isn't it great that God did not create us in the same way a new computer arrives at your house....all uploaded and ready to go? What a wonderful gift from God to be able to learn something new every day, to have an idea you have never had before, to read a poem or an essay and share the emotions and thoughts of the writer, often someone who lived in another time and in another place. What a great gift to us, this gift of the human mind.

Jesus is our high priest....this is no small thing...all this talk in the past few weeks of the new pope....of what hope is there in this? My Catholic friend sent me a picture of the old pope, two pictures actually, and a novena, prayers written for me to say to a saint to whom I do not pray. How sad to be bound up in a system where you do not enjoy the freedom of knowing who we are as believers, of resting in His perfect peace. We have but one advocate with the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ. No earthly man can take us to the throne of Grace; no man can keep us from going there either! How good is this!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

drawing a circle

I have been contemplating many things of late. Everyone seems to have his or her list of what is required to measure up to this or that standard. I find myself weary...weary of the lists, weary of wondering if I have performed to someone else's satisfaction, weary of pondering whether or not someone else has measured up to my standards.

I thought of this poem...I think recalling my grandma and her gracious spirit prompted the memory.

They drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win -
We drew a circle that took them in.

Edwin Markham

Oh Lord, it is so very hard sometimes. Help me not to take offense when I am shut out. More importantly, help me draw my circle bigger.

where have all the prairie muffins gone?

So, I came back from a homeschooling convention this weekend and have one burning question......

where have all the prairie muffins gone?

I can ask this question because I will confess to you that I once was a prairie muffin, or a wannabee muffin at the very least. I subscribed to Gentle Spirit Magazine and religiously practiced the "what do I have in my hand" approach to life. I baked 3 loaves of bread every day and sewed jumpers with matching hair bows. I wore my homeschooling mom's uniform when I went to conferences and I bought self-published curriculum and guidebooks for how to make your own candles, baby food, deodorant and feminine hygiene products. I grew herbs, wished for chickens and goats, and seriously contemplated betrothal for my children.

And then one day, it occured to me that, in all my instructions to my children about not being peer dependent, low and behold, I had become peer dependent! I wore what my friends wore, I cooked whatever whole grain casserole my friends cooked, I posted on the same internet groups where my internet friends posted, and I attempted to submit to my husband in ways that he didn't want me to submit! My life's goal was to become something I really didn't want to be nor had been called to be, but thought was necessary so that I could be Christ-like. I placed weights on my own back that God never intended for me to carry. I had met the enemy and it was me...I was my own Pharisee.

Twenty years and 240 issues of The Prairie Muffin Times later, I think I can tell you what has happened to many of those other prairie muffins out there.....they, too, have become liberated from the stereotype and went out and shopped for something that was not denim, unless it was jeans. They stopped feeling guilty if they baked Pillsbury frozen cookies for the church fellowship dinner and they refused to buy another copy of the book How I Homeschooled 15 Children While Living in a Trailer That Had No Running Water or Electricity While My Husband Quit His Job and Started His Own Leather Craft Business. They realized that while they love sewing and quilting and gardening that they also loved reading the Great Books of the Western World and some even sent their daughters They learned that there was not anything especially righteous about only watching movies based on Jane Austin novels. They have expanded their horizons and have learned that God speaks to each generation and, in turn, calls us to speak about Him to and in our generation.

Oh, there is nothing wrong with being a prairie muffin...some of my favorite moms in the world are prairie muffins. But I am glad to see that there are more moms today who are being themselves, which is a good thing, prairie muffin or not.

on being gracious

When I was a little girl, I usually sat by my grandma in church. She kept wintergreen mints in her purse and offered them to me when I began to wiggle. Sometimes she would fold a kleenex, back and forth, as though you were making a fan, would pull a bobby pin from her bun and slide it in the middle of the kleenex, and gently shred the edges of it to make a flower that I could pin in my hair. My grandma was pew thigh-pinching, no threats that God would punish me if I didn't sit still, no glaring at me over her glasses, no applying the law, but rather grace. My grandma wanted me to love God because she loved Him so much herself.

In front of us sat Mrs. Krey, an older woman who was showing signs of dementia. She frequently sang loudly and out of key and always repeated the responsive reading a sentence behind the rest of the congregation. I can remember, even as a small child, that I felt embarrassed by her and for her.

One day, as we stood singing the last hymn, I noticed that Mrs. Krey was wearing a new dress and right there, under one arm, the price tags were still hanging. Size 24W, $39.95. You know how your mind works, how thoughts race through it faster than you can repeat? My first thought was to laugh, then to cry, and finally to blush. I really wanted to nudge my grandma and point but somehow I knew she really wouldn't think it was funny at all.

Then I saw something I will never forget. As the benediction was pronounced, my grandma reached up and patted Mrs. Krey on the back. She told her how lovely her new dress was and how nice it looked on her. And as she engaged Mrs. Krey in this conversation, she carefully unpinned the price tag and slid it down into her purse, right there next to the wintergreen mints. She told Mrs. Krey to have a nice week and we left to go home.

I thought long and hard about my grandma that day. What she did couldn't be defined in a 5 year old vocabulary. But now that I am a grown-up, a grandma myself, I know that there is a word for what she is gracious.

The Bible tells us in Luke 4:22 "And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, is not this Joseph’s son?" The word for gracious literally means a power from the divine realm that infuses god-like men, moving them to perform miraculous deeds. It means action that bestows delight on others.

How often have I looked at something I said or did and felt my face flush was embarrassement because I was NOT gracious? Lord, grant me the grace to love those who are not lovely, to stop and encourage someone, even if he or she is difficult, to bear another's burdens as you bear mine!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

flying keys

Mollie, Jude, and I were driving back from Wal-Mart this afternoon when we spied a cute little boy at his lemonade stand. He was about five or six and looked pleased, though it was a certain sign that this is a new generation of lemonade entrepreneurs, as he was talking on a cell phone! We bought two cups and drove away, smiling. Not only was it good lemonade, but Mollie decided that we ought to never drive pass a lemonade stand.

When I came home I remembered the story of the flying keys.

When I was about 10, my father bought a hardware store. When I was 25, he closed it out and moved what was left of the inventory home to his basement. Some children liked to explore in the woods or the park...mine loved my dad's basement, with its dusty oil filters, automotive belts, pseudo-tupperware, and bits of this and that, all mingled together with the smell of wet dog!

One day, Clayton and Sam found what they thought was buried treasure, a box of old keys that had been cut but would not fit the doors they had been intended to lock. Why they had never been thrown away, only my dad could have told, but they asked him if they could have the keys and of course he said yes.

They brought them home and pondered what they could do with this menagerie of keys. One of them had the idea of taking rubber bands from their newspaper route bag and knotting a band through each hole of each key. With the right amount of stretch-snap, they had invented the flying key.

Of course, after about an hour of shooting them through the air in the back yard, one of them had the great idea of selling them, door to door. So, off they went, down Elm Street, looking for customers who were waiting on baited breath for a flying key saleman to knock.

We were all amazed when, at the end of the afternoon, they had sold three keys to some guy in the next block. Several other doors later, the boys realized they hadn't really discovered the world's next frisbee!

farming in a lilac shirt

The farmers are all in their fields, pale-faced for now, jacketed, but smiling as they turn circles, dirt blowing, gulls swooping down low upon them. It is officially spring on the prairie.

When we first moved back to Illinois after living in Germany for 4 years, I thought I might miss the Alps, the rocky Braunic that engulfed most of the picture window in our living room. But I did not. We came back in June, to fields fresh with tiny sprouts of corn and soybeans, the smell of earth and summer stillness, the tiny flickers of fireflys dotting the night sky. We awoke to the singing of birds and it was good to be home.

One day I was driving into town and Mollie, about four then, was sitting in the passenger side of the front seat, eye level with the bottom of the car window. "Look Mommy," she exclaimed, "Look at the giant spider with his hairy green arms." She was looking at the rows of corn, each stock about seven inches tall, and it did look like a large mutant spider. Spring in doesn't get any better than this!

Farming in a Lilac Shirt
by Leo Dangel in Home from the Field

I opened the Sears catalog.
It was hard to decide--dress shirts
were all white the last time
I bought one for Emma's funeral.
I picked out a color called plum
but when the shirt arrived,
it seemed more the color of lilacs.
Still, it was beautiful.
No one I knew had a shirt like this.

After chores on Sunday, I dressed
for church. Suddenly the shirt
seemed to be a sissy color
and I held it up near the window.
In the sun the lilac looked more lilac,
more lovely, but could a man
wear a shirt that color? Someone
might say, "That's quite the shirt."
I wore the old shirt to church.

And every Saturday night I thought,
Tomorrow I'll wear the shirt.
Such a sad terrible waste--to spend
good money on a shirt, a shirt
I even liked, and then not wear it.
I wore the shirt once, on a cold day,
and kept my coat buttoned.

In spring I began wearing the shirt
for everyday, when I was sure
no one would stop by. I wore the shirt
when I milked the cows and in the field
when I planted oats--it fit perfectly.
As I steered the John Deer,
I looked over my shoulder and saw
lilac against a blue sky
filled with white seagulls
following the tractor, and not once
did I wipe my nose on my sleeve.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

silly goose

Actually, it was a wild turkey that flew into the tree outside my large kitchen window. Ben and I stood in wonder that such a bird could fly so high and so fast at the same time! Quicker than I could say "stove top stuffing", she had managed to ascend, limb by limb, to the tip top of the cherry tree behind the swing.

We kept checking back, all afternoon, wondering if she could get down by herself, imagining the Canton Fire and Rescue responding to my 911 call..."hello, hello, there is a wild turkey in my tree. HELP!" Of course, this is Canton and they would come. And I would know the firemen by name.

We missed her departure, that turkey from no where. But while she was in the tree we researched and learned three things:

Turkeys are the largest game birds in Illinois

The turkey is not domestic to the United States but was imported by Columbus on his second voyage to America

The turkey was almost voted the national bird but lost by one vote to the bald eagle.

Everything is a lesson plan to a homeschool mom! If only I had had the presence of mind to capture and dress it, we could have mummified her for our study on ancient Egypt!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

convertible weather

So, we are cruising down West Elm in the mini van, the large, space-shuttle doors mini van. The windows are down, the Eagles are screaming from the surround sound, the van sways with the movement of a car full of happy, singing boys and their mom.

One day I parked the car at Hy-Vee and glanced next to me, only to see a leggy blonde getting out of an incredibly cool T-Bird convertible, black, shiny in the sunshine, absolutely no finger smudges from a fudge bar could be seen anywhere, none on the car, none on her either, I am sure. She emerged from the car as a swan from a perfect, clear pool. Swept back, her hair was one of those styles, you know, the do that we aspired to as teenagers when we slept with our hair rolled around orange juice cans, the silky locks of a Breck girl.

"Hey," I heard myself saying,"When I am driving in my dreams, I am driving YOUR car." She laughs and tosses her sleek head. I get out of my van, a graham cracker smushed on the back of my skirt, a Hannam's Dairy Dream napkin stuck to my heal, firmly attached with turtle sundae adhesive.

I do not drive a hair would never survive the wind and I know I would get hit in the face with a rock that flew off of a passing black top truck. I do not drive a place for the grandbabies, their car seats, diaper bag, stroller, or emergency graham crackers.

But sometimes, I imagine myself to be all alone. I crank up Aretha Franklin, grab the hairbrush from my purse and pretend it is a microphone. And I drive through the JC Penney parking lot, singing along to R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The boys hide on the floor of the car but I don't care.

american girl doll

There it was, bigger than life but almost hidden behind the antique water tower building, nestled next to the conveniently-located computer store! I was now face to face with The American Girl Doll Store in all its glory!

I have gotten their catalogs for years and enjoy looking at all the varieties of dolls. Each little girl depicted is from a certain time in history and her clothes, accessories, and furniture are well researched and accurately portrayed. The dolls come with a set of books that are written to give the new doll's owner a better understanding of the times in which her doll lived.

My friend Kyle had introduced me to American Girl Dolls when I first got to know her daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth owned Samantha AND every single item that Samantha needed to really be Elizabeth's best friend...authentic Victorian outfits, a poster bed and wardrobe, even an elegant tea service, neatly spread across a demure linen and lace tablecloth, miniature of course.

I remember looking at the whole set-up in awe. I also remember that I had my 3 youngest boys with me when we saw Elizabeth's dolls and I looked at their puzzled faces, wondering what they were thinking. Mollie was long past dolls when the boys were born and you could tell that they knew they could not touch anything, though I am sure they were wondering why Samantha didn't have any clothes that came in camoflage!

So now, here I was, actually walking inside the American Girl Store, up close and personal, actually seeing all there was to be purchased, a dream come true for a grandmother who FINALLY has a little girl, one perfect little girl, to spoil with American Girl Dolls!

I looked around and could hardly believe what I was seeing...dolls, furniture, a beauty shop where little girls could have their hair styled to look like their dolls and even a clothing store where outfits that match those of the dolls could be purchased. And it was at that point that I knew one day I would bring Penelope into the world of American Girl Dolls.

Penelope IS my American Girl Doll. We always said that we knew Clayton would be the first to have a girl, a girl who was really girly, a girl who would wear pink and have enough hair for ribbons and bows, a girl who most likely would not want to experience the mandatory red welts that come with paint ball.

And then, nearly a year ago, she joined our family. Lovely Penelope, perfect Penelope, the little girl of our dreams. She is demure, she is vaguely amused by the antics of the boy cousins, she is subtle and totally femine. Like her mom.

So why would anyone spend this outrageous money on a doll? The American Girl Doll phenomena is truly amazing and even though it has an incredible marketing strategy, I have found myself drawn into it, applauding this company from the sidelines. They have managed to sustain littlegirlhood for tens of thousands of young girls who otherwise might be flung headfirst into Barbie Dreamland. I think this is a good thing.

I was six when the first Barbie doll was born. In a few years all of my girlfriends, Diana, Crystal, Janet, the Perelli twins, all of them, came to slumber parties swinging their pink Barbie totes, complete with black and white swimsuit-clad Barbies, their long blonde acrylic ponytails neatly meshed to their perfect Barbie bodies. How I longed for a Barbie, how I wished to look like Barbie, perfect body, perfect clothes, perfect life in a perfect Midge-for-a-best-friend life.

Christmas came and my mother knew how desperately I longed for a Barbie. There, under the tree, was a box that was just the right size and beside it were several smaller square packages, just the right size for Barbie outfits. Alas, I opened the box only to find a Carol Brent doll,the Montgomery Ward Barbie spin-off, dressed in a blue suit and with fashion accessories! However, the Carol Brent doll was a mammoth of a fashion doll, a size 16 font, to Barbie's petite size 9, complete with her plus-size clothing line and body-enhancing accessories. I was devastated but my mother convinced me that any girl would be proud to own the entire Carol Brent set so I dutifully drug Carol along to the next slumer party. "Here comes Karen Allen," the twins said, "with her Amazon Barbie!"

It was at that point in life that I decided that being a fashion icon was something I should not aspire to become. I decided that being funny trumped being beautiful. And, though my friends didn't know, I went back to my Tiny Tears doll.

Years later when my first baby was born and I held her, oh so tiny and pink in my arms, I experienced that familar rush of motherhood that I had experienced long ago with my baby dolls, a feeling I never had when I dressed Carol Brent, or even when my friends let me dress their Barbies.

I am glad that the American Girl Doll Store is here, sending out catalogs and inspiring little girls to BE little girls, encouraging them to read history.

And one of these days I will buy two train for Penelope and one for me. We will ride to Chicago and take a taxi to the American Girl Doll Store where I will purchase the "best friend" of Penelope's choosing and maybe I will get one for me as well. (I especially like Kit, mostly because I want to have Kit's hair and I love sweater sets!)

Then Penelope and I will have tea and carry our full shopping bags home again where we will have even more tea. I will read history to her and we will play with our dolls. And I will encourage her to enjoy her time being a little girl and I will tell her how wonderful it is to be a wife and mommy and a grandmama. I will inspire her to write her own history on the pages of her life, history that is so much bigger than Barbie accessories, one that will bring joy and meaning to those around her, one that will glorify the living God who created Her in His image. Oh, and I will convince her that being funny is best!