Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sacred Compass: Getting Lost and Getting Surprised

(I started to title this post "Losses and surprises," then realized that losses can be quite different from getting lost.)

Near the end of Sacred Compass, Brent has two chapters on what we might call the darker side of leadings. In the chapter "The Dark Path," he discusses what happens when we feel lost and alone, with no idea where our spiritual compass wants us to head.

This is not necessarily bad, Brent says, and certainly not unsual. A period of seeming "lostness" can be part of the journey. It can grab our attention and cause us to scrutinize our lives more closely. It also can be the result of living in a fallen world, where many terrible things happen that are outside of our control. A sense of being lost also can lead us back to God and hope in his provision.

We can also be surprised when our leadings take us into unexpected places, as Brent describes the chapter "West of Eden." These surprises, Brent says, can tranform us and help us learn to trust more fully in God. Mary, for example, was surprised when an angel told her she was to bear God's child. That was not her expectation at all. But she trusted and was transformed.

All of this underscores that when we follow leadings, we are ceding control of our lives to God. We are not leading. God is leading. That means we open ourselves to hardships we might have avoided but also to blessings we might not have imagined. I know that in my life, there have been moments when, although I heard an inner voice saying, be patient, wait, hold steady, don't act, I've felt that no, I can't wait, I need help now, I have to take matters into my own hands, now is the moment to panick. That's always been a mistake, and I now more faithfully heed the inner guide.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Night terrors and peace

Reading last week about banks getting government bailout money to lend and choosing not to lend it gave me the terrors.

At first, this little story merely me made me unhappy. If the problem in our economy is frozen credit, I thought, then we have to insist that the banks lend the money out. That money is not for the personal good of a group of bankers, but for the common good.

That night, I jolted awake with a night terror: What if the banks kept hoarding and not lending the money ... and the U.S. government, like Iceland, went broke? And chaos ensued and it was like Germany after World War I and we were wheelbarrowing our almost worthless dollars to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and skinheads took over and everything turned into an apocalypse, with no services, no health care, no food, people racing around the countryside with guns ... I was horrified that life as we know it might end. I had an inkling of what it must have felt like to be an early Quaker, with cataclysmic events such as a civil war and the beheading of a monarch, going on around you, upending the world you had always known. I found myself praying ---praying!!!--for nothing worse than a nice, orderly Great Depression. No, no, I thought, I'm not ready for the apocalypse.

Such are the night terrors. They tend to cast a pall on the day time routine as well. I worried.

But this past Sunday, at Stillwater meeting, I had a very strong sense of the presence of God. There is a humble, grace-filled spirit in that meeting. It felt, on Sunday, as if Christ were among us. And I felt, very deeply, that everything was going to be all right. I felt as if God were telling me, with certainty: Don't worry. Everything is going to be OK.

I don't know what that means, but the deep serenity and peace I experienced stayed with me for days.

But we of little faith. I got shaken yesterday as I read the newest Religion Newswriters Association newsletter. Jobs in newspapers, which were already in horrible shape, are continuing to drop like flies. Religion reporters are taking buyouts without having other positions lined up. People with far more experience than I are unemployed. I felt a sense of terror. The whole newspaper industry as we knew it is more or less finished, I decided.

Then I leaned into my experience of God and put things into perspective. The newspaper industry has been in a long, slow collapse since 9/11 and perhaps the dire economy has accelerated the industry's demise, but there's nothing new in what's happening. I left my daily paper job a year ago because I saw the writing on the wall. This is not the end of the world, and while I will continue to freelance if opportunities arise, I will also turn my attention to other things. Part of the reason I left my newspaper job was a feeling of constraint, a desire to break out into other forms of writing or being. Now I may have no choice.

But I digress. My point is that I have a strong sense right now of living in two realities that are more sharply delineated than ever: the more superficial, false and changeable world of darkness and the deeper and more serene world of light. I wonder if others are having the same experience?

Advice time: health

Last week it was a stomach virus; now it's a sore throat/cold. This can't go on ... actually, my fear, as I listen to the wind howl around the house, is that it could on. And on and on. So please, offer me your best advice for preventing and treating winter illnesses! Is it vitamin C tea, ecichinea (sp?), oil of organo ... all of the above, none of the above or let's try something completely different ? ... and in these hard times, are there economical preventatives (I suppose all preventatives are inherently economical, but you know what I mean ...)

Thanks from someone with a very sore throat!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sacred Compass 4: From Brent Bill

Yesterday, I e-mailed J. Brent Bill about his book, Sacred Compass, because I feared being too critical and wanted to hear his point of view. If he were a superstar author or someone whose work I had profound problems with, I would simply state my issues. However, as Bill is a fellow Quaker, and I am more or less on the same page with him when it comes to leadings, I thought I would hear would he had to stay.

Here's part of what he wrote:

"I worried about that some folks might read it [Sacred Compass] as a "step-by-step" book and that was certainly not my intention. As I say in the beginning, this is no 1-2-3 steps to finding God's will. What I was trying to offer were the various ways we can use to uncover our leadings (journaling, walking, cleaning house, etc) which is why I invited so many friends to participate in sharing their ways of getting close to God and listening to the Spirit. Such as my friend Marcella's dancing. A way that would not have occured to me -- nor probably speak much to me. But it does to this delightful Quaker woman and helps her greatly.

I worried a lot about outlining the steps of sensing, waiting, and acting -- but then tried to stress it was not truly linear. That these are all stages that often intwine and weave into a pattern of discernment -- while we act, we sense and wait. And so on. My intention was to show that there are things we can all do in the various stages/movements of discernment and some will speak to us differently than they would other people. Writing works much better for me than dancing like Marcella would. And I suspect that the reverse is true -- though I know she journals as well."

There is a fundamental rhetorical problem in writing about leadings. They tend to be non-linear, not logical and unpredictable. In fact, they jar us into labeling them leadings BECAUSE of their seeming oddness. If God is telling us to eat breakfast in the morning (which he probably is), we won't see that as a leading, because it's normal, it's what we would do anyway. However, if we had an overwhelming feeling that instead of eating breakfast, we should go stand in the middle of the road and hold up a sign saying "Love God," we would probably identify that as a leading because it is such a bizarre and uncomfortable thought.

Yet books, especially explanatory books, are by their nature linear and logical. Their goal is to impart clarity and order, not confusion and chaos.

So how to capture the essence of a leading? Spiritual biography is one way. You can follow a narrative and watch one person's story unfold, thus seeing how a leading works itself out. The problem with that form is its particularity. You're left to yourself to draw conclusions. One person's experience of a leading may be so particular that you can't draw general principles from it. Or it may miss a piece of the overall leading puzzle.

Another way is for the writer to strain to create a language to convey difficult concepts (for example, when Thomas Kelly refers to Jesus as the "hound from heaven" in Testament of Devotion, he's using unconventional terminology to convey his experience), but that can lose people in the process, especially people at the beginning of a journey.

Of course, the answer is that we need to read in multiple genres to get a full sense of what a leading is. Brent's book, he said, is aimed at non-Quakers, and is a good introduction to a way of understanding God's work in the world that may not be familar to people from other faith traditions.

I want to go a little bit afield and ask what spiritual writings have most moved you or what type of writing works best for you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sacred Compass 3: Testing our leadings

Many years ago I saw a newsmagazine program about a young tent revival preacher. During the interview, he stated that God was telling him to raise donations so he could go the Bahamas in February.

It's hard not to laugh at such a "leading." (A leading is a Quaker term for what we believe God is telling us to do.) "God wanting me to go to the Bahamas in February" sounds just a tad like using God to justify our own self-indulgence.

In chapter 3 of Sacred Compass, J. Brent Bill discusses this all-important question: how do we know if our leadings are the voice of God or own desires masquerading as God's will? How do we tell the difference?

In what he calls "sensing lab experiments," Bill offers a series of questions to test our leadings: is the leading clear (can you put it into words)?, is it compelling (can you not not do it?), does it fit your life, will it change you, and does it come from God's love? As you ask these questions, you sift through your thoughts to try to get rid of what comes from ego or self-will. Part of sifting is waiting.

Interestingly, Bill writes that we can sift with our bodies as well as our minds. If what God leads us to do will be holy, then what does holiness look like, smell like, sound like, taste like? Is our leading congruent with that?

A fundamental problem with Bill's book is that while he's doing the good work of trying to draw a rational box around leadings and lead us through a step-by-step process of discernment, leadings have a wild, unpredictable quality that defies logic. Sometimes leadings don't "fit our lives." Sometimes they will seem, on the surface, to hurt people in our lives. Often I know a leading is a leading simply because it's not comfortable for me, but is a persistent thought that won't go away even though I keep trying to dismiss it because it doesn't "make sense." Thus, I found the best of Bill's queries on leadings to be "does it come from God's love?" Anything that arises from love of God or love of others is probably pretty close to a leading.

Unsaid, but so important in discerning if leadings are from God is the spiritual preparation work --prayer, listening for God in the silence, participating in and building spiritual community--that allows us to "hear" more clearly if a voice in our heads is from God. I have been with people who insist that what is clearly self-will is God's will. (I am sure I have been that person too.) Usually, in my experience, people who insist that self-will is a leading haven't done the spiritual work to discern the difference. This gets us back to waiting ... often what we call waiting is simply building up our spiritual muscles.

Finally, as Bill points out, we test a leading by acting on it. We live in a confused, messed-up world. In the end, we step out on faith.

I have followed leadings in my life, sometimes without knowing I was doing so, and marvelous things have happened that I could never have predicted. My life has been changed and enriched in ways that have left me amazed. In my darkest moments of doubt, I can lean into the real, lived experiences I have had of God's presence in my life (I suppose there is the off chance that is all "coincidence," but it's my rational mind that rejects that) and invariably my faith floods back. Do you have similar experiences of following God's leadings?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

blogging and silence

It's been more than a week since I blogged, and I realize that my stated goal of blogging five days a week isn't always going to happen. I could give a lot of reasons why I haven't blogged lately and they'd all be true -- a stomach virus that knocked me out for two days last week, unexpected trips to Cleveland and Fallingwater, traveling to look at colleges with Sophie, my "depression" over the looming Depression ... oops, I meant "long, deep recession..." but these reasons don't entirely capture why I haven't been blogging. They're simply, as people like to say, diversions.

Really, I haven't blogged in a week because I've needed to be silent. Perhaps it's the Quaker in me. Do others have this experience of needing to be still? Of needing to listen? Of needing to process?

That being said, I do plan to pick up the blogging this week!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sacred Compass 2: let your lives speak

Chapter two of Sacred Compass, Quaker J. Brent Bill's book about spiritual discernment, focuses on the Quaker concept of "letting your life speak." In the wider community, we might use the terms "actions speak louder than words" or "walk the walk, don't talk the talk."

Certainly a central tenet of Quakerism is that salvation is more than reciting a creed. To Quakers, how you behave in the world is of utmost significance. This reflects Jesus' statement that many who call him "Lord, Lord" and yet don't follow his teachings will not find their way to the kingdom of heaven.

Brent outlines some ways we can learn to let our lives speak. Most of them involve plugging into our intuitive, rather than our rational, selves. We let our lives speak by learning to be attentive to the signals we receive from our bodies: what are our bodies drawn towards? What makes us tense up? We also learn how to let our lives speak through our stories, our imaginations, our inclinations, our dreams and our opportunties. Essentially, Bill seems to be saying, don't let your head and intellect rule you, but develop a sensitiity to other cues that may be leading you closer to God.

When we are alert to what we are hearing about how God means us to lead our lives, we start to live more authentically and our lives become more congruent with God's will. We speak to the world more from the heart and more through our everyday activities. We listen to God all the time and adjust our smallest actions to reflect our sensitivity to God's compass. We become more like the great spiritual leaders in history in that we are more patient, we pray more, our spirits become more generous and we come to love the (seemingly) unlovely.

The phrase "letting our lives speak" can become an other-focused activity in which we attempt to arrange ourselves outwardly so that we look good to our peers. This can become dangerous, both in that we can become more focused on pleasing others than on pleasing God and because people who may not have a very deep spiritual center can learn how to arrange themselves to look like "patterns" of goodness. It can be very difficult to discern who is a "pattern," because we don't where people have been or how far they have come in their journey,

So I like Bill's focus on getting "letting our lives speak" through getting our internal houses in order. If we focus on aligning ourselves with God and responding to his promptings, our lives will speak to others without our having to worry about it.

Have people's lives spoken to you? How?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Financial crisis and end times

If we have to have an economic crisis, I'm glad it happened under the most pro-free market administration I can ever remember (more so even than under Reagan, who at least was hands off about Social Security). This is good, because when a Treasury Secretary like Paulson, former chairman or CEO (let's just say bigwig) of Goldman Sachs says we have to nationalize the banks, we can't accuse him of having a secret socialist agenda. He has a huge amount of credibility. Likewise, when free market Bush comes on the air and pleads with us to support the $700 billion government bailout, we know the crisis must be serious. So I'm grateful this happened now, because if this administration is calling for a high level of government and coordinated international intervention, there can be no doubt it's needed.

I have stopped listening to Christian radio, but about a decade ago I listened to it a lot (and I learned a lot) but much of it was also ... let's say, questionable. One repeated theme was about the end times, and one of the signs of the end times was "one world government." Mostly, this warning was aimed at the EC or the UN, each of which was seen as a sign of the beast, etc. etc. Now I will say up front, that I think this line of thinking is, to put it mildly, dubious. I never saw Satan in the EU or the UN. Frankly, they both seem like good ideas to my feeble mind. But the thought has certainly crossed my mind in the past days: what of this coordinated international effort to deal with the financial crisis? Isn't that much more like "one world government" than either the EU or the UN? It's definitely the powers of the "world" coming together: the representatives of what we think of us the world's power --money and military might -- as opposed to the power of the gospel -- love, renunciation, sacrifice, non-violence, gentleness, kindness, patience, faith, etc. Now, I am not one to worry about end times, but I am wondering if anybody has heard a peep about this on Christian radio?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Financial crisis and silence

A few days ago, I was sitting in the doctor's office, waiting for Sophie to come out of an appointment. As usual, I was perusing magazines. I flipped through a Vogue and then through a Martha Stewart Living, and then I had to put them both aside. While I usually channel Jane Austen and derive a great deal of amusement out of the vanities and foibles of the human race, I realized I was too heartsick to enjoy the articles. I was heartsick because of the financial crisis. It's hard to laugh at remodeling your home into a Shaker cottage for a vast amount of money or at panicked urgings to get "preventive" plastic surgery when you're 50 "at the latest," when all the money that supported such folly seems to have suddenly disappeared.

An odd thing about this crisis is that nobody, at least in my world, seems to be talking about it. I keep wondering why. The stock market is plunging, the credit market is frozen, we're meeting lows we haven't since 1931 (not a good year for finance), such as six consecutive days of larger than one percent losses on the stock exchange, and locally, the newspaper reports the layoff of 800 steelworkers near Wheeling, an area that can scarcely afford one layoff ... and everyone is silent. Occasionally, someone will make a passing joke about nobody having any assets anymore, but as far as sustained conversation ... it's as if the crisis didn't exist. It's like being caught in one of those 1930s movies where no hint of catastrophe exists. But this is real life.

Is it, as one columnist put it, that we're at the moment before the tsunami wave hits when everything gets still? Is it that life as usual is going on as usual in most of our worlds? Are we still somehow hoping the crisis will go away? (I know I am but I also know it probably won't.) Or are many of us feeling secure enough in our jobs or situations that it's really not a worry? Or are we too fearful to open our mouths? Or too busy calculating our worst case scenario? Is it something we have to ignore like a terrible faux pas, like someone spitting out a glob of chewed up food at a formal dinner? Or is that we just don't know what to say, because we don't know exactly how the wave isn't going to hit? Ot is it just massive denial or incomprehension that life as we know it really could change?

Maybe, as Sarah Palin would say, it's all of the above. But I find it strange that it seems socially unacceptable to discuss what appears to be a worldwide catastrophe.

I'm wondering what everybody else thinks. Are people talking about the crisis in your world? What are you thinking about it? Are you making any lifestyle changes? But of course, this is inviting a discussion about ... that which won't be named.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Visit to an Amish House, 1

On Friday, I visited an Amish farm. I was quite excited to go.

The farm was a few miles from where I live, off a narrow, gravel road and down a windy, rutty driveway into a hollow.

My first thought was "this isn't the 19th century, it's the 18th century."

Before us was a white frame farmhouse with a cow and dozens of red chickens strutting around in the foresty front yard. It reminded me of the Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, in which pigs and poultry live outside the Bennet's door. I saw a black buggy tucked near the side of an outbuilding.

We met "Sara" and her son. Sara wore a long, light blue workdress, black work boots, and spoke with what sounded like a German accent. She was very kind. She showed us pears she had ripening between two blankets in her living room. One variety will become pear butter; the other will be preserved. The room also held a woodburning stove and a single bed with a quilt.

In her kitchen/dining room she had a long, narrow dining room table covered with a plastic tablecloth. I remember an enamel sink. Under the windows along the wall overlooking the front yard, she had shelves filled with empty glass canning jars. The walls of both rooms were bare, as you would expect, except for hooks for hanging clothes and implements. The walls were painted sky blue and white. Everything was very still and serene.

While there, I was struck by two things. The first that I was talking to a woman who really could have been transported straight from the 18th century. She may never have seen television or driven in a car. The difference between her, and say, a Jane Austen character, however, is that she would be aware of cars and television and other forms of technology.

The second was a flash I had, one of those moments of opening, when you really, truly see how excessively we "English" live. I don't want to idealize the Amish, and as people tell me, and I agree, I wouldn't --or couldn't-- live as they do. I'm a creature of my culture and moving to a technologically primitive farm life would be painful and difficult for me. That's not to say it wouldn't be "better" (how do I know?) but I imagine that, like one of those children raised by wolves or dolphins, I couldn't, at my age, make the transition. That said, I had my flash, standing in that simple, unadorned home, of how we overload our homes with stuff. No wonder there's an epidemic of obesity (aside, of course, from the glut of food). Our homes are filled with plush, upholstered sofas and armchairs, thick carpets, remote controls, every convenience that would encourage us to loll around being inactive. With its pears and canning jars lined up as if she were running an apothecary shop, Sara's home, in contrast, was a workplace. There was nothing upholstered, no entertainment center. It was a place to work, to eat, and to sleep. Quiet though it was, it seemed more a center of a life than perhaps many of our homes do. It seemed idyllic. It seemed like a miracle that such a place and such people still exist.

Anyway, I thought of those high Victorian rooms you see in photos or sometimes reproduced in museums, where every inch of space is covered in patterned wallpaper, tasselled pillows, and dozens of pieces of bric-a-brac crowded onto every conceivable surface. The rooms are so overstuffed and overdone you can want to throw up. And for just a second, I saw that perhaps we live the same way. That we do live the same way.

I had a similar flash about six years ago. (These flashes, which stick with me, seem to be places where the Eternal breaks through to critique the Now.) It was raining and the kids had to go to school. I began a frantic search for the boys' hooded raincoats, recently purchased. I found jackets, coats and sweaters of every conceivable sort hanging on hooks, on hangars, even crumpled into backpacks, but no raincoats. And I had that flash that we are drowning in such excess that it becomes a form of deprivation. You can't find what you need. You replace order with chaos. I say this, too, knowing we were hardly the most high consumption family in the neighborhood. We were trying to live simply.

While I can't realistically conceive of living exactly as the Amish do, I admire them for putting God at the center of their lives. I see them as patterns, not to be slavishly followed, but from whom we can learn. And I feel grateful to William Penn for opening up this country to them.

Visit to an Amish House 2

As I reflect on my visit to the Amish house, I think about how little the Amish -- especially the more conservative Amish, such as those who live here -- are likely to be ruffled by the current financial meltdown. They don't buy health insurance, so they don't have to worry about losing it. Their jobs, mainly in farming, will continue. They don't go into debt. You can't imagine an Amish person having signed a subprime mortgage. They haven't participated in the frenzy of overconsumption that has seized mainstream America, so are not going to be convulsed by having to cut back on designer clothes and expensive meals out. They will go on spending much as they have. They are not likely to contribute to the breakdown of the American economy by suddenly putting the brakes on consumption. I can envision their lives continuing placidly, much as they always have, connected to the Eternal. Those who earn their living through tourism and more interaction with the outer world may face some contraction, but I wonder how severe it will be.

I tried to research the Amish and the Great Depression on the Web to see how they fared during that period, but came away with very little: One site claimed the Amish were unaffected by the economic turmoil of the 1930s, while another site said that some Amish were forced to take jobs outside the confines of their community to survive the Depression, with some even driving trucks. That was what I could discover.

As for now, I am glad they are growing in numbers at much faster pace than the population as a whole. If there was ever a time we needed an example of simple living and community self-help, this is it.

I was a bit stunned to read in the New York Times today the that the $700 billion bailout is a mere "pebble" flung into an ocean of crisis. Wasn't the bailout supposed to be what was needed, immediately, to solve this financial situation? Now, we learn, it will take at least a month to set up the framework for the bailout and that the bailout will not solve the current problem of the seized-up credit markets. So if the frozen credit markets are the current pressing problem, and the bailout is a more long-term solution, what IS the answer to the current crisis? All I have heard is that Fed needs to lower interest rates. I hope the Fed will do that, if it's important, but is that it? Is that the short-term answer? Is the Great Recession (since was are assured it will NOT be the Great Depression) inevitably here in all it's unmitigated force? Was there really nothing to be done? Could all the banks decide to take a big, gulping breath and start lending money to each other again? Isn't commerce supposed to be about risk? (Since I wrote this, I read the Fed is moving to buy up short term loans.)

As I contemplated all this economic turmoil, not without some worry, it struck me that I was putting my faith in money to solve this problem ... and all future problems, such as my retirement and that of my friends and neighbors. And, of course, the real underlying issue is spiritual. We need to get our spiritual house in order. This really is about greed and lack of trust. We could truly transcend the crisis if we could work together out of religious conviction to build a nation for the good of all.

The answer is not 700 billion dollars but 700 billion fervent prayers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Words of George Fox, 2

For Oct.1:

"Keep out of the restless, discontented, disquieted spirit of the world about government: for you know it has always been our way to seek the good of all, and to live peaceably under the government, and to seek their eternal good, peace and happiness in the Lord Jesus Christ."

From "Mind the Heavenly Treasure," compiled by Gary Bowell

The Bible verse that accompanies this in the text: "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men." Galatians, 6:10.

I particularly like "it has always been our way to seek the good of all." I think this is at the heart of Quakerism, not to mention Christianity ("let us do good to all men."). But what of keeping out of the "disquieted spirit of the world about government?" Does that contradict the notion of trying to influence politics ? Or does it simply mean we should try to influence politics out of deeply-centered, quiet and loving spirit?

The Pumpkin festival and more

This past week has been a busy one here in Barnesville. I baked lots of pumpkin bread in the Olney school kitchens for the Olney senior class to sell at the Pumpkin festival. I got to know Quaker Richard Simon better as we worked side-by-side mixing dough and scooping pumpkin bread batter into cake tins. He is an amazing man, who goes from dawn to dusk (literally) baking for the school before and during the festival. Cleda, the alumni liaison, is no slouch herself, working for hours on end to supervise, organize and bake.

The Pumpkin Festival is Barnesville's biggest annual event. People come from all over for the food, including slicse of $2 pumpkin pie, as well as the carnival rides and, of course, the weighing of the pumpkins. This year, King Pumpkin weighed 1,175 pounds. And don't forget the tobacco spitting contest.

I liked the way the festival, rides and all, was woven right into Main Street and the other major streets of the town. I'd never been to a fair of this sort that wasn't exiled to a field on the outskirts (or far outside) of the town holding it. I think it must be great for residents to stroll up the street and be part of the festival. On the other hands, I'm told some people leave town for the duration.

I helped sell pumpkin bread in the Olney booth, helped with the Barnesville historical society's book sale (hardcovers 50¢; paperbacks a quarter), manned the Obama booth, and I marched with the Obama float in the parade, handing out literature, so I felt very involved during the festival. I've never participated in a political campaign before. (How many times have I said, over the phone, 'This is Diane, a volunteer with Barack Obama's campaign for change here in Belmont County?')

So Republican friends, don't hate me! I'm really not a politcal animal. I don't like the way politics divides and alienates people. I know thoughtful, caring and intelligent people belong to both parties and hold the same values of wanting to make the world a safer, more compassionate and more justice-filled place. And idealist friends, I know Obama is not the perfect candidate, but I am in a state where votes count, and I do believe the country needs a change of direction. So there it is, my one and only (I hope) political speech.

Tomorrow I go to an Amish farm to get milk! I can't imagine having the opportunity to do this in Columbia, and I am very much looking forward to it.

I've also picked apples in the school apple orchard last week, and peaches from neighbors Fran Taber's orchard. Have I mentioned I am enjoying the rural life?

Tomorrow, Johanna comes with the boys' friends Elvin and Phlip to visit for the boys' 14th birthday. I'm very happy to be seeing friends from home!

Of course, life is not perfect, but I won't dwell on the various vexations.