To My Father-in-Law

Written Spring of 2009

Dad,
You slipped away so suddenly
We didn’t get a chance to say good-bye
We wanted to tell you how much we appreciated you
How much we loved your quiet and reassuring ways,
Your thoughtful analysis of current politics
Your ability to see through the issues of the church
Your anticipation and excitement on the golf course
And your listening ear and humble assurance of wisdom

You often were quiet and distant at our house when you came to visit
We didn’t always do or say things that pleased you, but we know, Dad,
Rest easy, we know—
We know that you loved and appreciated us, and wish you’d said it more.
We know that if it had been up to you, you would not have missed any of your grandchildren’s graduations.
We know that you didn’t want us to worry about money but to enjoy life,
We know that you wouldn’t want us to make a fuss over your death,
We know that you would want us to live a life of faithfulness to God by serving others.
We know that you would want us to remember your smile, your reassurance, your caring comfort, and above all, your undying love
So go and find rest with your heavenly father on the lushest, greenest golf course—you were a good and faithful servant.

Also published at http://www.cascadiapublishinghouse.com/dsm/winter10/millbe.htm

Forever Sins

Written Winter of 2012

Psalm 51: 1-17

This Scripture passage reminds me of a memory long ago when I was in elementary school and had to write 100 word or 300 word essays on why I shouldn’t talk in class.  Or perhaps write a line over and over again on the blackboard: I will not talk in class or I will not pass notes in class or I will not chew gum in class. The actual offense escapes me, but I remember more than once writing mindless sentences to absolve my sins.  They were the “penance” of how to rid you of your wrongdoing, but brought on immeasurable guilt and shame.

One of the memories that I’ve never been able to completely blot out happened a few days before my 8th grade graduation.  The principal at that time was watching our class when I happened to pass a note to a friend of mine.  The principal came back to where the note was being passed and quickly confiscated it.  She asked who had passed that note and I admitted to the offense. But that was not all.  When we walked out of class for lunch, the principal called me aside and said, “I will never be able to look at you the same way.”  That has stayed with me all my life.  I screwed up and someone would think of it every time she saw me … she would never forget it.  It would be a forever sin.

Thank goodness God isn’t like that.  With memories like that who wouldn’t want to soak in God’s presence, the one that is “generous in love—huge in mercy”?  He is a God of great compassion that can “blot out the stain of my sin.”

Matthew West sings “I’m the one with big mistakes, big regrets and bigger breaks than I’d ever care to confess,

But you’re the one who looks at me and sees what I was meant to be, more than just a beautiful mess

You are everything that I live for; everything that I can’t believe is happening, you’re standing right in front of me with arms wide open.”

God loves us even when we mess up, even when we feel it’s pointless to go on because we keep making mistakes. For me, I’d like to never say anything that makes others feel uncomfortable or upset.  But I keep doing it.  And I keep coming back to God for mercy….and forgiveness.

My First Date

Written Summer of 2009

When I was growing up, I really didn’t feel comfortable with any of my brothers and sisters.  I loved being with Mom and Daddy since they were who I knew the best.  I think my brothers and sisters all resented me for one reason or another.  I was often told that I was “spoiled” and “needed attention” or that I  “had to have my own way.”  My next oldest sibling, Steve, a quiet one, may have suffered, too, because of my presence.  We played games together and in the summer he had to watch over me, but we didn’t relate to each other that much.

My sister Linda lived in the same room and I admired her beauty and her sense of style. She went out on dates and seemed so desirable to men. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I sometimes read her journals of her dating exploits for entertainment.  It was interesting reading and better than any romance novel.  But I also read Keep Yourself Pure by B. Charles Hostetler and wanted to remain pure for my husband and the Lord.  So, I had a lot of longings and desires as I sat hovering over my sister’s journals in the closet, yet had barely matured by my first date at 16. I didn’t want to go out with the guys who asked me, but when my brother told me I was “just chicken,” I decided to try dating.

First Date

I went out on a Saturday night with an upperclassman whom I also knew from church.  He wore big cowboy boots and was short, barely my height at 5”5.  He had a big pickup that was shined up real nice, but I wasn’t impressed.  In fact, I was experiencing a strong reaction….but not in his favor.

He picked me up around 7 and we went to a movie, I believe.  Then afterwards we went to the R & S diner.  I wasn’t hungry at all (not being accustomed to eating at night) but got something small. He was a regular at R& S and knew all the games, so we played pacman and other precursor electronic games.  It was hanging out time that went all too slowly for me.  I just wanted it to be over.  Well, when we finally got back home, I tried to do the right thing by asking him in.  He readily came in.  My parents were asleep, so we sat on the couch looking at pictures and talking and I was hoping he would leave soon and very afraid he would try to kiss me.

The one thing I clearly remember is that when he finally left, I went to my bedroom.  My mom got up and came over to my room to ask me how my first date went.  I told her that if that was dating, “I didn’t want any part of it.” It was just an eye-opening experience of how wrong it could feel when you went out with someone you weren’t remotely interested in.  I tried to steer clear of such actions in the future.

A Wayfarer

Written Spring of 2009

Growing up at Souderton Mennonite Church and Penn View Christian School, there was always someone in my class with the same first name as me.  So wherever we went I was Bev B and she was Bev D.  It’s kind of amazing since Beverly is not really that common a name.  It tells the story of a popular name during the early 1960s, I suppose. 

One of the most hurtful memories of mine about my name came from my years as a Wayfarer (similar to a Girl Scout) at church.  It was like a Christian Girl Scouts club.  We had to earn patches to put on our sash or bolero and the more patches we earned by reciting scripture the more diligent a Wayfarer we were.  It seemed like we had to recite a Wayfarer anthem of sorts, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” 

It was on one of these Wednesday night Wayfarer meetings that we as early teenagers were discussing names.  I was not one of the popular ones, so I mostly listened as others were talking.  Patricia and Bev D. were talking with others about the names they liked for girls.  (Aren’t girls always planning the names of their future kids?) Bev D. walked out of the classroom. Patricia mentioned a few names and then she said “Bev.”  I perked up and she looked directly at me and sneered, “I meant Bev D, not Bev B.”  Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it, since they are the same name with only a different consonant on the end, but I never forgot that. I hated the way Bev B sounded, too, and thought that Bev D sounded so much nicer.  She was popular in almost every way.  A real nice person that was very athletic.  She had a multitude of friends; in fact, a whole group of people that wanted to be near her in gym class and when teams were picked.  Why is it that no matter how well you do academically in elementary school, relationships are decided and judged according to the picking of teams at recess?

Earliest Memories

 

Earliest Memories
Written Spring of 2012

I spent a lot of time alone as a child.  I remember playing in the sandbox at Halteman Road alone imagining friends that were with me.  I remember sitting with my mom at the table (on County Lind Rd) after everyone else left for school and it was just mom and me.  She used to take a mid-morning coffee break and I wanted to try coffee as well. She let me try it this time with lots of milk and sugar amidst decrees of how it would stunt my growth, wasn’t good for me, and other warnings.   I thought it tasted good.  I had just come in from playing on the swings in the backyard and it was a lovely day.

I remember the time (at County Line Road) when I went out to the garden to pick something for my mom and it was so windy it almost blew me over.  I stood and held my arms out for the winds to cease as Jesus did on the boat with his disciples.  The winds did calm and I felt my connection to God.

I remember playing with play dough at a really young age in the classroom (across from the women’s bathroom) at Souderton Mennonite Church, learning how to make snakes and cherry pies.

I remember sitting in the center of the downstairs at church singing before SS class began. The floors sloped down but we all sang as the piano played, probably by Nancy Moyer.  We sang out of the red songbook—This is my Father’s World and Now Thank we all our God

I remember when I was very little Steve took me for a bike ride on the back of his bike.  He told me to hold my legs out but I must have tired of this and suddenly my foot was caught in the bicycle chain.  I cried—it hurt!  Daddy came running and took my foot out.  It looked strange.  The skin hung open and you could see blood but it did not rise past the surface of the skin.  There was much crying and mass confusion but Daddy put a used plastic bag around my foot with a rubber band around my ankle.  I can still see it now.  Then my parents took me to Dr Warner in Kulpsville and he clamped my ankle shut, no stitches, but 4- 5 clamps that had to be eventually taken off.  I still carry the scar of this eventful bike ride.

I remember lunches with my mom before I started school.  I ate gravy bread as if it were the best thing there ever was.  I never did like cold sandwiches, but remember fondly my mom’s white bread with last night’s gravy.  

I can remember being with my cousins that played with Steve, like Alan and John Styer and they were fascinated that I had an imaginary friend named Pabey.  So I gave them a piece of my life by telling them, “Quiet! Pabey’s talking.”  Pabey in later years had a wife Seta and child Cocoa.  My siblings remembered the names of this invisible family that seemed very real to me.  I remember we walked among the flower beds together, discussing life’s mysteries.

I have a very young memory of my mom ironing and I was playing on the floor at our County Line Road house.  The house in my memory looks different but it is an early morning and I have the comfort of my mom right there with me.  She is commenting on what I’m doing and shining her love on me.

I also remember (and it may have been about the same time) that I was playing on the steps and Mom was in the kitchen cleaning, listening to the radio when suddenly she screamed, turned toward me as if I’d understand and said, “The President was shot!”  I stopped playing with my dolls on the steps and just stared at her. I didn’t understand…but her fear was palpable.  I was upset and didn’t even know why.  Later, when I got older and people talked about where they were when President Kennedy was shot, I knew where I was….but how could I remember this? I was only 2 years old in 1963.  I can only imagine that her fear was so unusual that I remember it today.

Most Meaningful Time

The Most Meaningful Time of Life
Written Spring of 2010

My father struggled with finding the right job for his skills. In his lifetime he had at least 17 jobs but never seemed to find his professional niche. But there was one time in his life where he shone brightly. This was when he was called to go into Civilian Public Service at age 24.

His life broadened when he left for CPS. The country was at war, and these years seemed to draw in Daddy a newfound strength and courage. He dealt well with the crisis mode of the time, went to his Mennonite bishop, John Lapp, and told him he wanted to be classified as a conscientious objector when he was called by the draft board. So John wrote a letter to the draft board, most likely the Lansdale, Pa., draft board, confirming Daddy’s decision. Soon, Daddy was called to Grottoes, Va., the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp where many in Franconia Conference began their CPS tenure.

I have heard many heartwarming stories of men Daddy met in Grottoes and later Bowie and Clear Spring, Md., but above all, I believe, Daddy experienced a spiritual awakening and a personal epiphany like none he had ever experienced. I believe he was nurtured and entrusted with responsibility and a strong faith in God to overcome some of the ways he was put down as a child. He laughed with the other men, worked hard and experienced life to the fullest. He also witnessed other denominations in the camp and in that way was exposed to people and other faiths outside the small confines of his Mennonite community.

It was a whole new world to have a Peace Committee formed by the Mennonite Church and to present its ideas for an alternative service option to the President of the United States. There was a lot at stake, and the Franconia Conference believed in their young men, supporting them financially, emotionally and spiritually, believing that in this time of great pain around the world, their young men were making a difference. It was a strong statement made by the peace churches: Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, and Friends. They went up against the powers that be that told them they needed to fight against an enemy as in World War I and said we need an alternative for our peace-abiding young men.

This had a profound impact on my dad, who was the sixth boy in the family. He had a determined cry as a newborn, which led him to be slapped across the face for wanting to be nursed so often. He looked bad enough that he could not be taken to church that week. He was named Charles Merrill, after his dad, in hopes that that might bring about a girl in the family. As was typical of the time, Daddy never heard that he was loved by his parents. His mother seemed to prefer his mild-mannered brother, who shared his feelings more readily than Daddy, who was by nature more emotionally distant. His dad taught Daddy to hunt and spent many days with him pursuing grouse, squirrel and pheasant. He taught him to trap muskrats in order to sell their skins, but apparently he rarely laughed or expressed much affirmation. Many in that day believed that to praise your children would create in them a false pride, which could damage their faith.

But during CPS, John Mosemann took a personal interest in Daddy and had him lead worship with chalk talks and found ways to encourage and pull out Daddy’s gifts. Daddy was artistic and saw the beauty in God’s creation. He also had organizational skills and could type, which helped him earn an office job while serving in Clear Spring. The men had nightly Bible studies that challenged them and helped them experience God’s calling in their lives. They were called to serve in this time as a witness of God’s redeeming presence and felt the importance of it.

In a file that my dad kept while in CPS of all the incoming and outgoing CPS “boys,” one campmate wrote: “During my time at camp, I learned to know God better. I know I’ve benefited by it greatly spiritually. I had more time to think on and study His Word than if I had never entered CPS. I also think this life has given me a chance to prove my faith in God to a certain extent, for I think we have gone through some persecution, although not to the fullest measure. Another highlight of my camp experience is meeting and associating with so many fellows I never met before. It is interesting to see how they live and what they think about religious things. I found out that there were a lot more faiths and churches than I ever thought there were. Still another highlight is how much new country I saw. It was interesting to see the Rockies, the big trees of California, the Salt Lake, the prairies and many other beauties created by God. Living close to nature helped me feel the power of God. I am glad for my experience but very anxious for peace and [going] home.”

But things were not easy when these boys came home. For my dad, he had a newborn baby girl and a family to provide for upon his release in 1946. He started working at a broom factory in Telford, Pa., and soon at a shoe factory, then back to the hosiery mill of his father. It was a rude awakening for these young men to come home after being spiritually and emotionally nurtured for four years. Leaders of Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church saw unique abilities in my dad, enough to include him in the spring 1948 ministerial lot.

As my dad used to tell the story, there were four men on that Sunday morning, across from four Bibles, when one of the other men took the Bible in front of my dad. I never heard Daddy say he felt like he should have been the one chosen; he only spoke of the honor of being called to this task, his willingness to serve if the lot had fallen on him and a solemn relief tinged with a tad of wistfulness, wondering what might have been. I’m sure my dad wondered how his life would have been different had he been called to be a minister at Souderton.

As Daddy’s search for a good job continued, his family was growing in size. He remained active in the church and held roles such as Sunday school superintendent while working nights at JW Rex Heat Treating Company. By 1961, he had five children and was still searching for that elusive right job. Mom and he attended the CPS reunions every year, and Daddy enjoyed this time of reminiscing. This was a constant among layoffs and company downsizing.

Life felt like a constant fight to provide for his family, so when a call came in 1956 to serve at Salem Mennonite Church, Daddy felt like he couldn’t do it. Somewhere he had lost his peace and contentment of camp days, and the fight to keep his head above water had won. No wonder he talked so lovingly of people he knew in camp, including the guy who said, “Could you be so kind and condescending, so obliging and back-bending to extinguish your nocturnal illuminator?” And the guy who wanted to be awakened in the middle of the night just to know what it would feel like to be able to go back to sleep. He told these stories with a big smile on his face and an irrepressible zest for life.

Over the years, Mom and Daddy traveled to places around the country, including Oklahoma and Montana, to visit “camp buddies.” He didn’t often write letters but managed to stay in contact with a Martins in Oklahoma and a Hostetler in Montana. When Daddy passed away, there were many camp buddies that needed to be contacted of his death.

There is nothing like feeling God’s calling in your life and feeling like you are fulfilling God’s purposes for you. Perhaps this wasn’t discussed much in my dad’s time, but if I read between the lines, I see that the one time my dad felt called was during his CPS service. A few years before he died, he said he wanted to be remembered as a “faithful member of the church, as someone who faced responsibilities squarely (paid bills on time and saved for a rainy day), tried to encourage other people, especially his children and grand-children, and gave four years of [his] life for a principle—nonresistance.” This he did.

 Also published at http://www.themennonite.org/issues/13-12/articles/The_most_meaningful_time_of_life

Voice of Hope

God’s Voice of Hope
Written Fall of 2004

In this holiday season, we of course have much to be thankful for.  But those persons that we value the most, we often neglect the most.  I have a new appreciation for my husband since he has started his battle with dermatomyositis a few years ago.  His valiant struggle to never complain, but to do all that he can with his limited strength and energy, have become an inspiration to me.  I also am very thankful for our children who bless me with their words of faith and hope.  Recently, our son, Patrick, came to us with a word from the Lord.  He had been praying about his dad’s illness and that “Dad could be healed,” and God told him that he needed to tell his dad “to have faith.” Even though I had no idea what those words would mean to Ken, I found such encouragement in God’s voice of hope, breaking through the bleakness of the week in the voice of our sixteen-year-old son.  May you also find God’s voice of hope and peace during this holiday season.–BBM

Redeeming Love

God’s Redeeming Love
Written Winter of 2005

Easter is just around the corner and the warm breezes of spring are calling us to go outdoors.  We want to again experience the new life, the resurrection power present in spring.  Sometimes the heaviness of winter and its depressing issues force us to plead for the increased light and redemption found in spring.

I felt tremendous sadness recently when I heard about a local coach who lost his job due to a crime he committed 20 years ago.  He had committed the “unpardonable sin” in our society today:  child molestation. He was actually a good coach and had been well-liked till someone found a record on the internet of what he had done many years earlier. While I agree that this is an egregious act, I felt sadness that someone in his shoes can’t redeem himself by good behavior, even after 20 years. So, I was wondering if we make sexual offenders the “lepers” of today, the ones that are too ugly to get close to, afraid that their sexual sickness may pass on to us?  I don’t know what I would do if I ever found myself in this position with no hope of redemption.

One of my favorite literary lines is from Raisin in the Sun when Mama says, “Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most, when they done good and made things easy for everybody?  Well, then you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all.  It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in himself cause the world done whipped him so.”

So, I wish for all of us a cleansing spirit in this Easter season.  Let’s let go of the old prejudices and hatreds that hold us back, and cling to the acceptance and forgiveness we see in the cross: Christ’s redeeming act of love. –BBM