Thursday, July 2, 2015

In appreciation

Marriage is like two lines that rarely run parallel but squiggle this way and that, occasionally intersecting or running close together. Those times remind us of why we chose each other. People grow at different rates and in directions and if a marriage is to survive one learns to accept the serendipitous bursts of compatibility as sufficient reason to keep one going.

Most days I assume that things will go well. That the bills will be paid. That there's money in the bank. That the kids are making a go of their lives. That my basic needs will be met. And that happens. Too often I take my husband and our relationship for granted which is tragic as I have been much blessed. Gratitude is everything, especially in the face of life's challenges. Gratitude provides the hope, faith, and love needed to keep going.

In spite of illness, addictions, death, and other bumps in the road I wouldn't trade the life we've shared for that proverbial happily ever after. Each of us in our family has been enriched by the difficulties we've faced together, the hurdles we've cleared, and the very real decision we made over and over to stay together in spite of conflict, disappointment, illness, and pain. Not that it's been easy. It hasn't. But we are all so much better for the mountains we've climbed and the rivers we've forded.

My going to seminary and pastoring a church was a big adjustment for a man who grew up believing that women should stay quietly in the background. But in spite of his reservations, he was my protector and defender when attacked by church leaders who saw women as inferior beings. More than once his sense of humor saved the day as when he'd introduce himself as “the pastors wife.” He frequently stepped back so I could do my thing, In so doing he modeled for our kids that strength is not about being in charge but in providing the framework in which others might grow and thrive.

Ours is a culture where we are taught we need to be the biggest and the best, but when we become obsessed with self importance instead of greatness we leave behind ugly scars and deep wounds. Someone once said that we are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants, trying to mark everything as “mine.” My spouse is a truly great man. He walks lightly, demonstrating through his actions that since we inevitably hurt the ones we love and the universe we live in, the most important goal we can have is “to do no harm.”

The real heroes are not the rich and famous but those who notice and affirm others, who pay attention even at a cost to themselves. Relationships, especially the marriage relationship, teaches us that we don't get to choose if we get hurt in this world, but we can sometimes choose who hurts and heals us. We've had some really bad times over the years, but by and large I like the choice I made, and given he's stayed with me for 56 years, I trust he does too.

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

A dream for our youth and nation

Earl and I both grew up in relatively liberal Mennonite homes. He came from an Amish Mennonite (Sugarcreek) Ohio community;  I from Adams County. We both graduated from Bluffton College, a small Mennonite liberal arts college in northwestern Ohio that emphasized service as the defining characteristic of an educated person. When he was drafted as a conscientious objector to war he chose to spend his two years in alternative service in post war Europe working with refugees. As a new bride I tagged along.

There was still a lot devastation from the war in 1959. Blocks of bombed out buildings stood next to restored and rebuilt areas and refugee camps had an almost permanent feel. As long as I could remember, family and church Christmas preparations included packing Christmas bundles for refugees, so it was wonderful to actually help distribute them as part of our job. We even got to give out several that had been packed in our home churches. 

We lived in Vienna for 9 months where we met music students, diplomats, military and international personnel. There Earl's job involved 'packing food and clothing parcels which went to families trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Weekends we joined a larger unit of young men who were rebuilding the historic Karlschule in Vienna. Several times we went to Salzburg to help “Lee and Joe” convert an old barn into a dormitory for the 25 handicapped biracial children they'd adopted. When we lived in Enkenbach, Germany, Earl helped build houses for Polish refugees and I, at the ripe old age of 23, served as house mother for up to 25 men. My biggest challenge was creating tasty meals from canned and dried foods and post war rations. We ended our term in Guibweiler, France where we helped in a children's home.

Fortunately, our work required a lot of travel. We made trips to the Yugoslavian and Czechoslovakian borders, to Salzburg, Linz, Heidleberg, Bern, Holland in tulip time, England, and the Holy Lands. Each trip introduced us to new people, exposed us to new ways of thinking, being, and doing. It also exposed us to the “Ugly American” syndrome. Americans abroad can be so rude, arrogant, and disrespectful of local accomodations, customs, and practices. Most Sundays we worshipped in little German Mennonite congregations, but we also attended non-demominational American Churches when possible.

Those two years changed our lives. We went full of ourselves. We came home hunbled. We went to help. We came home having been helped. We went thinking we knew a lot. We came home with more questions than answers. We went expecting to change the world. We returned, the world having changed us.

I wish our nation required every young person, male, female, rich, poor, educated or uneducated to do some form of national service that took them out of their comfort zone. We have become so polarized and fearful of others. Working to help others could transform our nation. Living in a different country certainly made us better, more open minded, and more tolerant individuals!

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.