The first week of July, Bob and I went to Pittsburgh to help our son-in-law with the five year old twins while their mother was out of town.  On the first day, I borrowed my son-in-law’s car, intending to take our grandchildren to the park. Because the car was in an unfamiliar apartment garage, I got somewhat confused on exiting, backed up to turn around and hit a concrete abutment that completely caved-in the rear passenger door.  And in my shock and grief, all I could hear was two five year olds chanting. “Papa is going to be sooo mad!”

Concrete abutments have appeared, often out of nowhere, my whole life long.

Sometimes it is just a minor knock, and sometimes the injury has been life changing.

I remember an early morning knock on my young adult bedroom window with two of my best friends insisting, “Let us in.” And then the bad news, “Your mother died this morning.”

Or a call from our son-in-law informing us that our daughter was in the ICU at 26 weeks of pregnancy and 8 cm dilated, “The babies are coming!”

And then there are the kind of concrete pillars that emerge when an epidemic suddenly has us isolated from one another, or the capitol building is raided, or we watch the real-life murder of a black man on our screens.

Those concrete pillars stop me in my tracks, and I find myself needing comfort and forgiveness as I berate myself for my short-sightedness, for unkind words I cannot take back, and for the harm that I keep contributing to the world.

And I’m often mad at a God who doesn’t take those concrete abutments out of my path and give us all smoother sailing.

On our last Sunday as interim pastors at FMC at the end of June, someone said to me, “I think at the end it’s really all about grace. Is there anything really more important?”

I have pondered that and know that my own on-going growth and transformation depends on how I give and receive grace… how I offer grace to myself, accept my son-in-law’s loving hugs after I wreck his car, and let the worst of life make me more caring. When I discover in my deepest brokenness a SPIRIT of LOVE who does not let go… then TRANSFORMATION happens by little and by little my whole life long. The challenge is to LET the Spirit breathe peace and LET the grace wash over me… until I become a part of that grace and peace for the larger world.  Is there anything more important?

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Transformation of a Tree Steward

Of course, you would ask, “What is a tree steward?” During the day and on occasional weekends he is a local, long-time pediatrician. In the evenings and on other weekends, he is a mentor, husband, friend, father, Care Team member, bike rider, faithful Habitat for Humanity volunteer and much more! By now, you probably have an idea I’m referring to Randy Stoesz. And, you would be right!

Randy, graciously and humbly, allowed me to converse with him for an hour and a half recently so I could learn from him how and why he became interested in helping FMC take better care of our trees (a.k.a. transform our trees).

Randy has done woodworking projects for many years and, as noted above, has helped on many Habitat builds. Of course, these use wood from trees. But his interest in trees, per se, began when he and his family lived on a property in NW Marion County which had a lot of trees. In a way, this property was similar to FMC’s grounds—some areas were fields with a few trees, some areas had buildings with adjacent trees, and some areas were densely forested. Many of these trees had problems. If the trees were going to do well, their caretaker, or their “steward,” needed to learn more about them.

Thus, Randy took the Indiana Community Tree Steward course offered thru the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. This program emphasizes urban forestry topics, with a subset listed here.

  • Benefits of the Urban Forest
  • Identifying Tree Defects and Risk Awareness
  • Pruning Do’s and Don’ts
  • Diagnosing Tree Problems

After the curriculum is completed, a written exam is taken (and passed) and community volunteer work hours must be completed.

All of this training, mentoring and practice has allowed Randy to gain experiences which, in turn, he has been using to benefit First Mennonite, the FMC neighborhood, his home neighborhood and other areas in town. 

Trees provide a lot of benefits to us and to those around us:

  • provide shade
  • absorb CO2
  • provide shelter for birds and other animals
  • keep temperatures at more modest levels
  • provide superb scenic views
  • lessen costs, time and impact of mowing

Trees also need attention and care, including:

  • which varieties are planted
  • how and where they are planted
  • how much and how often they are watered
  • regular inspections
  • how and when they are pruned and trimmed
  • how they are mulched

There are many practices that harm a tree, including surrounding it with pavers or bricks and the famous “volcano” method of mulching, as you can see from this photo.

For more information, click on this link

After reading this article, perhaps, take a 5 minute stroll around 46th Street and Knollton Road and make some observations. Which trees appear healthy? What species of trees appear healthy? Where are these healthy trees located? Which trees look like they are struggling? Why do they seem to be struggling? Do you see trees which have been pruned or trimmed?

Randy has been invested in lessening the negative impact of humans on this one and only Earth by riding his bike to work often, driving an electric car, and being a part of the recent solar energy project at FMC. Rounding this off by becoming trained as a Tree Steward and putting that training to work seems like a natural fit. We are all the beneficiaries of these efforts. Thank you, Randy, for continuing to be transformed, while also learning how to transform trees!

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Goering Wins Prestigious IU Teaching Award

Our own Beth Goering just won one of IU’s oldest and most prestigious teaching awards. Known as the Herman Fredric Lieber Memorial Award, it was established in 1960 to recognize faculty who are not just excellent teachers, but who also show evidence of having made a profound impact on learning and having had a life-changing influence on students over time.

Beth won the award for on-going engagement in curriculum and course development in Communication Studies, at the departmental, university, and national levels. She was part of a nationally chosen 30-mermber team to define learning outcomes in her discipline. Her abiding interest in sound pedagogy is coupled with her dedication to mentoring undergraduates as well as graduate students. In her long career (32 years at IUPUI!), Beth has also been able take her teaching across town, engaging her students in service-learning work with organizations such as the Peace Learning Center and Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigrant Services, as well as across the ocean, regularly working with students in Germany and Russia.

Beth’s department chair, Kristine Karnick, affirms: “Her successful implementation of policies based on her excellence in teaching extend well beyond her department, to the School of Liberal Arts, the IUPUI campus, as well as nationally and internationally.”

Our best congratulations to you!

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Adventures in E-Learning: A Conversation with the Schmuckers

The Schmucker family has spent the entire past school year experiencing e-learning from home. Caitlin (3rd grade) and Nora (Kindergarten) attend an IPS district school that has swung between virtual and in-person options.The girls will remain virtual for the remainder of the school year. As with so many families, virtual learning has had many ups and downs, but the Schmucker family has also been able to find the silver linings.

Do you like e-learning/learning at home? If so, what do you like about it?

Caitlin I do like learning at home because on my breaks I can do whatever I want. And I like it because we have another good teacher (Mom).
Nora I like it because I can play with my toys on my breaks.
Mel We love being able to go on walks or play outside whenever we have some time between meetings.
Jason I’ve been working from home for a year now and it’s been nice to see Caitlin and Nora more often during the day.

You have been virtual learning for a long time now–has it gotten easier/more comfortable over time?

Caitlin It definitely has gotten easier. I know how to do things better and I know the routine.
Mel In some ways it has definitely gotten better as we’ve adjusted to the routines and expectations. There have also been challenges though when the school switched from virtual only to in-person learning – this has happened twice and each time it takes a couple weeks to adjust to the new schedules and routines (their teachers have to manage both the virtual and in-person students). The majority of the students did go back to in-person learning and it sometimes feels like the virtual learners are overlooked/pushed aside.

What has been hard about learning at home? What do you miss about in-person school?

Caitlin What’s been hard is that I can’t see my classmates in person. I miss my friends.
Mel It’s been hard for Nora (kindergartner) to make friends through the screen. It’s been challenging for me to be a surrogate teacher (teaching is so NOT my thing).

Have there been any funny/notable moments you’ve experienced while e-learning?

Caitlin One of my classmates always has the song Let it Go from Frozen playing in the background whenever we are meeting. It’s so funny!
Mel Nora’s teacher has three dogs and when everyone was virtual and she was teaching from home her dogs were constantly barking in the background.
Performing a lava lamp science experiment with colored water, oil, and antacid tablets.

Any other thoughts or memories you think you will remember from this experience?

Caitlin  I’ve had a lot of cool conversations with my teacher.
Jason I’ve enjoyed getting to observe more of their school days and get a feel for the ways they’re learning, much more than I can when they’re in person. I will always remember how much Mel stepped up to be the at-home teacher – she’s done so much good for our girls.

Previous article | Contents | Next article

FMC 2021 College Graduates

Congratulations to the following FMC young adults who will be graduating from college this spring or summer.

Bethany Habegger will be graduating from IU Bloomington with a B.F.A., Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art.

Jakob Amstutz will be graduating from IU with a degree in Informatics. 

Kyra Krall will be graduating from Goshen College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).  After graduation, she is moving to Pittsburgh and will be working at UPMC Mercy as a nurse in their Trauma and Burn track graduate nurse program. She will be working on 4 separate floors (Emergency Department, Spinal Rehab, Ortho Trauma, and Burn Unit) for 3 months each.

Emily Fontaine is graduating from IUPUI with a BS degree in Tourism, Conventions and Event Management.

Kealy Ester-Bode will be graduating from IUPUI in May with a major in psychology and minors in nutrition and wellness coaching.

Drew Ester-Bode will be completing a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree in August.

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Discovering the More in Less

Four decades ago, Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less Cookbook (1976) and Living More with Less (1980) served as a transformational rallying cry for Mennonites to rethink the way we use the world’s resources by doing more with less.  As we reflected on the theme of transformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, we found ourselves returning to the notions of doing more with less and discovering the more in less.

COVID-19 has, indeed, forced many of us to make do with less – less shopping, less going out to eat, less social interaction, less hanging out with friends, less frequent visits to coffee shops or movie theaters, fewer haircuts!  The list of what has “lessened” goes on and on.  While these restrictions have been felt around the world, for the past 5 months, we have experienced “the less” even more acutely as Germany has used various stages of lockdown as a major weapon in its battle against the pandemic. 

I (Beth) arrived in Germany in early October.  Three weeks into my stay – right after two weeks in quarantine and a one-week mini-vacation at the North Sea – Germany went into “lockdown light.” Stores were closed in the hope that shutting them at that moment would allow them to reopen for Christmas shopping by the end of November.  Social distancing restrictions at restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs were ramped up, and contact information was collected to facilitate contact tracing.  The world of entertainment (sports, movies, theatres, concerts, etc.) went from less to none.  We began to make do with less.  When November didn’t bring a significant drop in new COVID cases, the government decided to move into “hard lockdown,” pushing a giant PAUSE button on almost all public life. No Christmas shopping, movies, concerts, dining out with friends, and no Christmas markets (a hard one for Beth!). Only grocery stores and drug stores stayed open. Schools and daycares were closed, and more people were moved into home offices for their work. Travel was tightly restricted, and social contacts were limited to small gatherings of no more than two households. We had to make do with even less.

As this government-mandated living-with-less reinforced for us Janzen Longacre’s message from over 40 years ago, we also began discovering that the more in less can, indeed, be transformational.  Less traveling actually helped us discover hidden gems in our immediate neighborhood. On our daily walks we “found” three independent bakeries we didn’t know about (with yummy pastries and breads), three churches new to us, a monastery’s secret garden, much interesting lawn “art,” and simply a renewed joy in walking.  Less contact with friends and family in real space and time encouraged us to come up with creative ways to use virtual means to stay connected.  Our Zoom game nights with one group of friends have become a fun and meaningful new staple in our social lives. We also rediscovered analog modes of connection—writing postcards, Christmas cards, and real birthday cards to friends is tactile fun for both sender and receiver. Less shopping and generally acquiring less stuff has been quite freeing—our newly uncluttered closets, cupboards, shelves, and living spaces seem to think so, too.  Less mindless consumerism has also led to less waste and smaller waists. And since eating at home most of all means cooking at home, this brings us full circle back to our battered copy of the More With Less Cookbook, which figuratively and literally has helped us transform the less into more in these strange Corona times.

Previous article | Contents | Next article

My Garden Legacy

I must have been six or seven when I first remember eating fresh peas straight off the vine in my grandmother’s garden.  Wow. I will never forget that pop of sweetness on my tongue! And no carrot ever tasted fresher, or more flavorful than those I pulled straight out of that black Manitoba soil, with no seasoning except a bit of residual dirt. I learned to love garden vegetables early. My grandmother had a huge garden. While I don’t know the actual dimensions, suffice it to say, one could easily get lost in there– or safely sneak fresh goodies without fear of getting caught! I loved that paradise.  It was magical. Grandma grew absolutely everything in that garden. I wish I could talk to her now, and hear what she would have to tell me about it.  When I was growing up in Kansas, my parents usually planted a vegetable garden, and my mom always loved her red geraniums and bright orange begonias just like her mother did. But other things held my attention back then. Now in my adult life, I have always enjoyed a garden. Every year I marvel at the miracle of a seed. The Great Force of life that pushes goodness out of dirt, scraps, waste, and refuse. Such a beautiful metaphor for grace, love and forgiveness, such a perfect symbol for the renewal of spirit and blooming of the soul—true transformation.

I like to think that part of my grandmother lives on in me. My mother and several family members living locally are lucky to have a start from Grandma’s fuchsia peonies that once thrived in my grandmother’s magical garden.  Though I cannot bring plants across the Canada/US Border, I cherish some of those family peonies from my mother’s home in South Bend before they moved. And though my vegetable garden, of course, does not even begin to compare to Grandmother’s, who grew hers to feed her large family of 13 children, I believe my flower garden may not be far off. This season I hope to stretch my flower growing capacity once again as I try my hand at starting seeds indoors.  Many of the seeds are flowers that she grew, like cosmos, zinnias, snapdragons, sweet peas, four-o’clocks, marigolds and petunias.  I am reminded of Grandmother every spring when I get out and start digging in that great, green earth. The days are getting longer now, and I’m starting to feel the gardening bug. It’s time to start getting my peas and carrots and potatoes in the ground. I am ever so grateful to my Grandmothers–both of them. They inspired me to love the earth, to treat it well and realize it will give back three thousand-fold both in beauty and in bounty. I have so much gratitude to them for their amazing, determined efforts to feed their families well–and for that little garden bug planted in my soul.

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Top Ten Transformations of 2020

  1. The most popular sections at the grocery became the spice shelves and baking goods aisle.
  2. Turned out our neighborhood did have a lot of people who lived in it. Who would have known!
  3. More of us understood the differences between “wants” and “needs”.
  4. The reason for common courtesies such as covering your mouth and nose when sneezing became obvious.
  5. “Hobby” became more inclusive, such as reorganizing storage shelves for the third time in four months.
  6. Wearing clothes for longer than a few hours in a day was regarded as a major hassle.
  7. Uneven gray won “Hair Color of the Year” award.
  8. “Family time” had a whole new meaning.
  9. Learning about statistics, graphs, data trends and charts was taken off my list of life goals.
  10. Personal space was renamed to the much more contemporary term, “social distancing”.

Previous article | Contents | Next article