Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Hope in the Dark

It is no secret that Christmas is a hard time for many people. For those who are lonely or grieving or feeling abandoned - Christmas with it glitter and lights and smiles can feel like a gut punch.

My friend Geneva Eby has struggled with Christmas. It was a reminder of her broken family and a dad who walked away. A few years ago, Geneva began to study the Biblical characters who lived before Christ, before the Light came to the world. That study became Hope in the Dark, a devotional journal that was just released by Daughters of Promise Ministry. 

Hope in the Dark examines the lives of thirteen Bible characters with short devotionals. Then Geneva shares questions to help the reader examine their own life and the hope found in Jesus. The book is laid out into twenty-five days so that it can be used as an advent journal for December 1-25. But nothing about the book's text or design screams Christmas so it can be used any time of the year. 

I was given a review copy of the book so began it in November. I've been wanting to begin journalling more, and I thought this might be the perfect tool. There is plenty of room to write in the book and the pages are uncoated for smear-free writing, but I chose to use a separate lined journal to record my answers. 

Though each of the Bible characters were well-known to me, Geneva's insights into their lives helped me look at them in a new way. The act of writing encouraged me consider my response to the truth of God's Word. 

Hope in the Dark would make the perfect gift to remind someone going through a hard time that God is with us and that even from the beginning, He was preparing a plan of hope for us. The restful photos and full-color design make this a lovely as well as meaningful book.

You can purchase Hope in the Dark from the Daughters of Promise. The first shipment sold out quickly, but they will have more available soon. I was given a free review copy of Hope in the Dark, but was not required to give a positive review. You can read more of Geneva's writing on her blog, One Brave Thing.

Friday, November 24, 2023

A Fragile Heritage

We Mennonites love our heritage. We love family history. I'm pleased that I can trace my ancestors back ten or twelve generations to German or Swiss immigrants on a ship to Philadelphia in the early 1700s. We love that we can get together with about other Mennonite and find common connections. It is a bond, a privilege, a legacy, a heritage. 

But Sheryl Leinbach found that it is a legacy that may carry heartbreak and suffering. A fragile heritage. 

I met Sheryl ten years ago. She told me that she was writing a book about her family's crushing experience with maple syrup urine disease (MSUD). Her daughter was now healthy, but only after excruciating experiences of strict diets, painful procedures, many hospital stays, and, eventually, a liver transplant.

But the real agony was that MSUD was an genetic disease, passed through Lancaster Mennonite families and descendants. Sheryl's daughter had been so very sick because Sheryl had unknowingly married another MSUD carrier.

Over the years I talked to Sheryl numerous times about her book. We discussed writing memior, simplifying confusing genetic information, and Sheryl's desire that fewer children would suffer genetic diseases. 

But I didn't actually know much about Sheryl's story. Last week I picked up a copy of A Fragile Heritage at a bookstore in Lancaster County. I cracked it open one night before bed and didn't lay it down until after midnight. The same thing happened the next night. On the third night, I knew I couldn't miss sleep yet again so I placed A Fragile Heritage in another room less I be tempted to read until the last page. (I'm not sure what this says about my self-discipline.)

I'm not typically drawn toward medical stories, but Sheryl's story sucked me in. It wasn't just a story of amazing doctors who transform medical care (though it includes much about Dr. Morton and the Clinic for Special Children). It isn't just a story of God's grace carrying a family through very hard experiences - though it is certainly that. 

Like me, Sheryl wanted to protect her children from pain. Like me she wanted to be the perfect mom. She read the books, wrote the goals, made the plans. Like me she wanted to control the outcome of her children so they would grow up strong and healthy in body, mind, and spirit. But her best efforts failed. She couldn't be the perfect mom. Her child was very sick despite her best efforts, and no one knew when her child would get even sicker. Her husband cracked from the stress, and as a carrier, all this suffering seemed like their fault. 

And what about the future. Should they have more children? Could they bring more children into the world that could also have MSUD?  How could they prevent this disease from reaching their grandchildren? 

Sheryl's honesty and huge amounts of research show through this book. The only thing I knew about genetics were dim memories of science class and pea plants, but Sheryl's careful explanation made sense. Her vulnerability in showing the challenges of a child with a genetic disease will help me be more sympathetic to other parents with sick children. 

You can purchase A Fragile Heritage from Christian Light or at your local Mennonite bookstore or fabric store. Though I consider Sheryl a friend, I purchased the book at full price, and she doesn't know I'm doing this review.

Saturday, November 11, 2023


I hold his hand tightly, my eyes locked in his.

We speak age-old words

For better or for worse; until death do us part.

How does God make two one?

We’ve planned this day for months

and can’t stop grinning.

A weighty moment

but I don’t grasp,

I can’t comprehend

how much changed in that instant.

I am a wife.

I hold tightly to her slippery body, my lips on her damp head.

She wails her first breath,

Flails tiny hands, missing comforting resistance.

How did part of me and part of him make this perfect human?

We’ve anticipated this day for months;

he’s choked up; I’m smiling.

A weighty moment

but I don’t grasp,

I can’t comprehend

how much changed in that instant.

I am a mom.

I hold him tightly, leaning over the bed, my cheek pressed into his hair.

He gasps his last breath.

I hold him, but I can’t keep him here.

I turn off the oxygen; silence drops into the room.

I’ve grieved the coming of this day for months,

watched the slow dying; now, I have no tears.

A weighty moment

but I don’t grasp,

I can’t comprehend

how much changed in that instant.

I am a widow.


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