Monday, April 30, 2012

Thanks, Good Readers

I didn't know what to expect when I posted my first blog entry on November 25, 2010, but I've greatly appreciated the support I've gotten from good folks like you.

So it's way past time to thank all of you busy people who occasionally take time to follow Harvspot. In case you've wondered, some posts are adapted from my radio spots on WEMC, WBTX or WNLR, or other writing for Valley Living magazine (or from an occasional piece for the Shaping Families radio program) so I'm not spending as much time at this as you might expect.

Anyway, special thanks for your written and other comments, critical or otherwise. I always welcome your prayers and feedback.

Here's a link to access some of the 180 previous posts.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Perpetual Motion

Among the good memories I’ll carry with me from our recent week with the three Rochester grandchildren is hearing our seven-year-old grandson practice S. Suzuki’s “Perpetual Motion in D Major” on his cello. In all Mennonite modesty, we think he plays pretty well for only being in his second year of Suzuki lessons, but then grandparents are easily impressed.

The other major example of “perpetual motion” (in D, as in “delightful descendants”) were the nearly 11-month-old twins, Maria and David. I am amazed at how incredibly active children of that age can be. Every waking moment has them crawling, climbing, chewing and otherwise exploring everything they can get their hands on.

I used to think of all that activity as just a form of child’s play, something to keep them occupied (and their grandparents and other admirers amused) until they are able to do more productive, grown up things having to do with work or school. But now I see all of this representing the hours and years of practice they need in order to become fully functioning adults. Every day they are exercising their muscles, learning necessary coordination skills, and gaining the kind of strength and endurance they need for the adult challenges that lie ahead.

The verbal sounds they make are practice for the more refined and complex ability to master an entire language, which they will largely accomplish before they even enroll in their first year of kindergarten. And every smile, every touch, every interaction with trusted loved ones is a part of learning how to experience good relationships in the world they will inhabit the rest of their lives.

In other words, they are enrolled in a form of intensive schooling from birth, a time of rigorous training and learning for life. Fortunately, for the most part, they are having fun as they go through their routine drills every day.

As an example, little Maria repeatedly attempted to climb up a small tunnel slide at a park her family went to recently. She could only get so far before sliding back down again. But she loved it, and repeatedly tried for a total of 31 times (mother counted!) before giving up, exhausted.

The instructions for all of these perpetual motions appear to be hard wired into their brains by their Creator. We just get to encourage, watch, instruct and give direction the best we can.

What fun!

Friday, April 27, 2012


Our seven year old grandson, who certainly doesn’t lack opportunities for good fun, came home from his next door neighbors recently very excited about a new game he and his friends had come up with, “roofball.” One player throws a tennis ball on to the roof of their garage while the next one catches it as it comes down, then throws it on the roof again for the next one to catch, and so on.

Every game has to have rules, of course, and this one is no exception. Fail to get the ball on to the roof, or unintentionally throw it over the roof to the other side, or fail to catch the ball after the first bounce, and you lose a turn. I asked him how you win in this game, and he responded with, “It doesn’t really matter who wins, its just fun to play,” as he proceeded to show me how it's done on his own garage roof (with a larger ball, since his tennis ball got caught in the rain gutter on his first try).

I can’t help but see multiple advantages to roofball over some of the more organized sports he also takes part in, as in his local soccer league, where some adult coach tells the team exactly how the game is to be played, drills each one in becoming the most able player possible, sees to it that someone keeps score, and where winning can become as important as the enjoyment and good exercise of the game itself.

So let me raise three cheers for “roofball,” a game where everyone wins, you learn to take turns and play by the rules, and where every player has lots of fun.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fears and Phobias

Without some good, sensible fears, we would live very short and perilous lives. Healthy fears keep us from engaging in dangerous and foolish behaviors that could cause tons of grief.

That’s why we wash our hands after using the bath room, stop and look both ways before crossing a busy street, and make sure the ladder is secure before using it to clean out the gutters on the house.

But phobias, irrational fears that get in the way of normal activities most people do as a matter of course, are anything but helpful.

For example, if we panic at the thought of being in large crowds, break into a sweat traveling over high bridges, or have an anxiety attack thinking about using an elevator, we’re experiencing distress for no good reason. And since our impulse is to always avoid whatever causes us emotional discomfort, we may use a lot of time and energy trying to accommodate our phobias.

The good news is that these unwelcome and non-useful fears can be overcome. And the process is really very simple, though simple and easy are not the same thing.

I sometimes ask my anxious clients to imagine needing to overcome a fear of non-poisonous snakes. What if the only job they could get would be at a pet shop where they would be expected to take care of snakes and to show customers how to handle and take care of them?

We usually agree that a step by step approach might actually work. One might first stand close to a caged snake and observe it carefully and at length, then engage in some mental rehearsal, imagining touching it while repeatedly reassuring ourselves this is absolutely safe. Another step might be to have someone else hold a snake in our presence, then begin to hold the tail end of the reptile while a coworker holds the other end. Later we could reverse that, until we could hold one on our own with someone else present. Finally, we would practice doing it alone, repeatedly, until we would no longer have the slightest qualms about handling a snake.

These are simple steps that are guaranteed to work. In fact, all of us have overcome phobia after phobia in just that way, one baby step at time. Some examples might include an irrational fear of being alone in the dark, of giving an oral report in a class, of driving a car on a busy highway, or of taking on some new assignment at work.

The reason we are successful in accomplishing these is because we practice doing the opposite of what our instincts tell us to do. In other words, we move toward the object of our fears, in incremental steps, rather than away from them in order to avoid them. Every time we move just beyond our normal comfort zone, we expand it, and thus become able to do more of the things that other good, mature adults do all the time.

In other words, we begin to live by our faith instead of our irrational fears.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Vera's Journey

One of my nieces, Judy Yoder, who lives in Floyd County, Virginia, recently researched and authored a 700 page volume, “Vera’s Journey,” the life story of Vera Early Heatwole, a woman who lived most of her 102 years in southwestern Rockingham County.

The book, which details the life of a remarkable local woman who raised 11 children and overcame the trauma of becoming totally deaf in her late thirties, has sold some 7000 copies to date. Part of what makes it fascinating is the way it chronicles the profound changes ordinary rural Mennonites and Brethren in western Rockingham County had to adapt to during Vera's century of life, from 1906 to 2008.

Reading it brought back some of my memories of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, which our children loved having us read to them at bedtime, stories that took us back to simpler times and often to times of great hardship, when families had to live and work together for their survival through good times and bad.

Most of us have been spared many of the stresses that were commonplace even a couple of generations ago. Which leads me to wonder whether our being so sheltered has made us soft and less resilient, less able to cope with hard experiences our children and grandchildren may yet have to face in the years to come.

None of us necessarily wants to go back to life as it was then, but a strong case can be made for spending a lot more time with our children reading the stories of good people from the past they can learn valuable lessons from--and a lot less time with mindless screen-based entertainment.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Easter Sunset Service

I had never heard of an Easter Sunset Service, but our Family of Hope House Church just created and observed one, on the evening of the Orthodox Easter.

After a 5 pm indoor picnic at EMU's Discipleship Center on the hill above the campus, we used the following litany of scripture and music (singing from the Hymnal, a Worship Book) and had an anointing service for Rachel Stoltzfus, the beloved senior member of our congregation.

I wish I had brought a camera to catch the wonderful sunset we witnessed as we closed the service at 8, not unlike the one shown above that is on my realtor friend Kai Degner's website, taken by a friend of his.

Family of Hope House Church

Praise God and celebrate great light!

Genesis 1:1-5

# 652 The day you gave us, Lord, is ended
# 654 Sun of my soul

Responsive reading
The day has passed, and I give You thanks, Lord;

make the evening and the night free of sin,
I ask You, Savior, and save me.

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit;
The day has ended, and I give You glory, Master,

make the evening and the night free of offense,
I ask You, Savior, and save me.

Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

The day is over, and I give You praise, Holy One;

make the evening and the night free of evil designs,
I ask You, Savior, and save me.
Lord, have mercy...

Let my prayer come before You as incense,

the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice;
Lord hear me.

Orthodox Book of Prayers

Confess to God and experience full forgiveness! 

Gen. 3:8-9
# 658 All praise to thee, my God, this night

Prayer of Confession

If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive!

If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,

Lest I myself shall suffer through the strain,
Dear Lord, forgive!

If I have been perverse or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold,

When Thou hast given me some fort to hold,
Dear Lord, forgive!

Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee;
Forgive the secret sins I do not see;

O guide me, love me and my keeper be,
Dear Lord, Amen.                

C. Maud Battersby

Reflect on God and gain new wisdom!

# 819 Psalm 90        # 653 Abide with me

May God support us all the day long,

till the shadows lengthen
and the evening comes
and the busy world is hushed

and the fever of life is over

and our work is done—
then in his mercy—

may he give us a safe lodging

and a holy rest and peace at the last.  Amen.

Attributed to Cardinal John Henry Newman, Prayer in All Things

Fellowship with God and find renewed faith!

John 20:19-31
# 570 We walk by faith

Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching,

every day and night,
every day and night.                  

Celtic prayer from Carmina Gadelica

Trust in God and experience deep healing! 

Luke 4:40, James 5:13-16 

At even, ere the sun was set,
The sick,
O Lord, around Thee lay;

O, with how many pains they met!

O, with what joy they went away!

Once more ’tis eventide, and we,

Oppressed with various ills, draw near;

What if Thyself we cannot see?

We know that Thou art ever near.

O Savior Christ, our woes dispel;

For some are sick, and some are sad;

And some have never loved Thee well,

And some have lost the love they had.

And some are pressed with worldly care

And some are tried with sinful doubt;

And some such grievous passions tear,

That only Thou canst cast them out.

And some have found the world is vain,

Yet from the world they break not free;

And some have friends who give them pain,

Yet have not sought a friend in Thee.

And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,

For none are wholly free from sin;

And they who fain would serve Thee best

Are conscious most of wrong within.

O Savior Christ, Thou too art man;

Thou has been troubled, tempted, tried;
Thy kind but searching glance can scan

The very wounds that shame would hide.

Thy touch has still its ancient power.

No word from Thee can fruitless fall;

Hear, in this solemn evening hour,

And in Thy mercy heal us all.                                     

Henry Twells, 1868

Go with God and be a great blessing!  

#655 Now on land and sea descending

Friday, April 13, 2012

Praying for Sanford

We feel blessed by reports of my brother Sanford's improved health since his heart attack.

Here his beloved Martha is praying with him in his room at Hospital Mexico in San Jose, where he has been moved for possible bypass surgery. This is one of the best government hospitals in Costa Rica, an above average Central American country which has invested its resources in education and health care instead of in military might (Costa Rica has only the equivalent of a National Guard).

My brother and his family joined other several other Beachy Amish families in moving to Costa Rica in 1968, where they have established numerous churches and now have a publishing enterprise that produces La Antorcha de la Verdad, which now has the largest circulation of any Mennonite publication in the world, according to a piece by John Roth in the April 2, 2012, Mennonite World Review.

We invite your continued prayers for Sanford and his family and for the churches they have helped establish in Central America. Three of his sons are pastors, editors and writers who are active in providing leadership in the work, along with numerous indigenous pastors and leaders.

A remarkable story.

P. S. My nephew Pablo Yoder has written numerous books, including a beautifully illustrated nature book, "The Work of Thy Fingers" and one for younger readers, "My Father's World."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Prayer For Peace

Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizationsincluding Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.

The following prayer by the Rev. Doris E. Warrell is for a meeting today of representatives of the European Union, The United Nations, Russia and the United States that is to focus on Middle East peace negotiations.

A Prayer for Peace on the Occasion of the April 11, 2012 Quartet Meeting

When your people quarrel and cannot find a way, you become the way.
     God, have mercy on us, your quarrelsome people.
When we fear that all we can do can never be enough, you become enough for us.
     Jesus, give your hope to us, your struggling people.
When we don’t do all that we could do, you call us to move forward.
     God, have mercy on us, your timid people.
When we dare to try once again to be the peacemakers you call us to be, you move among us.
     Jesus, give your strength to us, your tenacious people.

For people in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank who suffer the shock of past violence and fear future violence,
     Give safety and comfort to your hurting people.
For people who work for peace yet see the increase of sorrow and despair,
     Sustain their perseverance and vision.
For people who generate violence and injury,
     Show them the better way of Your justice, mercy and faithfulness.
For people who sit at tables and talk of things with which others must live,
     Fill their hearts with love of neighbor and compassion for strangers.

We pray for national and international leaders meeting this day in Washington, D.C.:
     Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,
     Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State,
     General Ban Ki-moon, General-Secretary of the United Nations, and
     Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia.
We pray also for the Israeli and Palestinian national leaders:
     Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, and
     Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.
Generous God, give them persistence, wisdom and vision.
Give them love and compassion for all God's children.
You, O God, change hearts of stone into flesh,
     beat weapons into plows,
     give hope in the midst of despair.
May the fulfillment of your justice, mercy and faithfulness come.
May your call for peace be ever apparent in our words and actions.
You, O God, who create Easter people,
Hear our prayers.

CMEP logo

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Lord, What a Morning

On this Easter Sunday morning, those of us who attended our annual house church's sunrise service met as usual at the entrance of what was once known as Massanutten Caverns, right next to the home of one of our members. We gathered around the locked steel door of the cave at our usual 8 am time, and since this is under the west side of Massanutten Peak, the sun actually comes up over the ridge at about that time.

Indeed, this morning the sun made its appearance almost exactly as our speaker Elly Nelson spoke the words “He is risen!” as a part of her Easter homily, one in which she inspired us to reflect on what the resurrection story should mean to all of us--that light is replacing darkness, life is overcoming death. That’s what the story celebrates.

It seemed fitting that we had a woman bear this witness this morning, since it was Mary, the mother of Jesus, and other women, not our Lord’s male followers, who first arrived on the scene, according to the gospel texts. It was only the women who exercised their courage to bring spices to apply to the body of their recently buried loved one.

No one knows how they expected to enter a guarded cave with a large stone rolled in front of it, not unlike the barred steel door of our cave, marked with the words, “This Cave is Protected by Virginia Law.” Perhaps they simply trusted God to take care of that detail.

I join them on this day in affirmation of the kind of the faith expressed by the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert:

  RISE heart ;  thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
                                        Without delayes,
    Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                                        With him mayst rise :
    That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
    His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

    Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
                                        With all thy art.
    The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
                                        Who bore the same.
    His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
    Is best to celebrate this most high day.

    Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
                                        Pleasant and long :
    Or since all music is but three parts vied,
                                        And multiplied ;
    O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
    And make up our defects with his sweet art.

            I got me flowers to straw thy way ;
            I got me boughs off many a tree :
            But thou wast up by break of day,
            And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

            The Sunne arising in the East,
            Though he give light, and th’ East perfume ;
            If they should offer to contest
            With thy arising, they presume.

            Can there be any day but this,
            Though many sunnes to shine endeavour ?
            We count three hundred, but we misse :
            There is but one, and that one ever.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Gemeinschaft" Means Community For Ex-Offenders

As a long time Gemeinschaft Home supporter and a board member, I’m urging each of you to attend the special fundraiser dinner for this re-entry and recovery program, as follows:

You are cordially invited to attend 

Gemeinschaft Home’s Annual Appreciation Dinner 

Saturday, April 21, 2012 Eastern Mennonite High School 

Doors open at 5:15 p.m. for hors d’Ĺ“uvre Meal begins at 6 p.m. 

Speaker: John Butler, Harrisonburg, Gemeinschaft graduate

RSVP by Monday, April 17, 2012 Megan at 434-1690 or e-mail at 

I am unable to attend, however, I affirm the mission and work of Gemeinschaft Home. Please accept my/our gift of: 

❑$25 ❑$50 ❑$100 ❑$500 ❑$1,000 ❑ $_____ 

Here are some of the reasons you should attend!

John Butler, a fellow board member and a graduate of Gemeinschaft, will share his own inspirational story of how, after four previous tries at achieving sobriety, he finally got his life together with help from this program.

• A member of the board will thank loyal local supporters for their generous gifts and interest free loans which made possible the recent installation of a new furnace and water heating system which will save the Home thousands in utility costs.

• You will see a power point presentation that shows how resident evaluations of the program have improved dramatically over the past year, thanks to a new and dedicated program staff led by Kirk Saunders.

• Kirk, also a graduate of Gemeinschaft (and of JMU’s Masters in Counseling program) will highlight how group and individual sessions at the Home are helping residents achieve sobriety and become more responsible citizens, and why he has turned down attractive job offers at state institutions because of his dedication to our program.

• Last but not least, there is the great food (!), prepared by another Gemeinschaft graduate and our current chef, Keith Ridley.

Thanks for registering ASAP, and please invite your friends to do so! And check out our Facebook page at

Monday, April 2, 2012

Beloved Brother

My oldest brother Sanford has lived in Costa Rica as a self supporting missionary and pastor since 1968. Last week he suffered a serious heart attack and remains in critical care at the San Carlos Social Security Government Hospital. At 81, this came as a shock to all of us, since he had never been diagnosed with heart problems and was in reasonably good health for his age.

There were nine of us children in our family, and I am the next to the youngest. Sanford has always been a special brother, a powerfully positive influence in my life. As a teen he went through a time of anger and rebellion in which he gave my parents no end of grief, then turned his life completely around and became a consistently Christian model and mentor who’s been a great blessing to me, as have my other eight siblings.

It’s hard to think of him in this condition and not be able to be there to personally tell him I love him.  I so wish I could hold his hand, pray for him, and to offer my support to his amazing Martha, by his side through nearly sixty years. I’m glad all of their ten loving children have been with him this week, some who flew there from the states to be with their dad.

I’m told that when I was a toddler I called my brother “Gah-Tah” for some strange unknown reason. My older siblings repeatedly tried to correct me, would patiently tell me, “Now say, ‘SAN-FORD,’” carefully emphasizing each syllable. I would soberly repeat, to everyone’s amusement, “GAH-TAH,” with equal emphasis, thinking I was saying the name correctly.

Right now I would love to be the child again, and say from my heart, “Gah-Tah, I love you!” to my big brother. He would understand. He would cry and give me the big bear hug I’m needing right now.