Nearer My God to Thee

Above: Elliot, cousin Ezekiel, and Adi feed Grandma Detweiler’s sheep old stale hamburger buns. Except Elliot, he decided to eat his instead.

Death is a funny thing. I don’t mean humorous, of course. I mean that it’s strange and we can’t figure it out. One second a person is here, the next second they’re not. Where did they go? How fast do they get there? Do they get pulled straight to heaven or are they allowed to meander around the Milky Way as they go? Do they look down and see brand new hands and feet or are they just a floating spirit blob? Death is a predictable part of life and yet we never expect it to happen to us. We all think we’ll live forever. Of course we won’t (at least not in this world) and it’s good to stop and let that sink in a little. Funerals are a good time to do that.

Remembering Elmer

Janice’s dad, Elmer, passed away on December 23 after a two month battle with cerebral meningitis. We had arrived in Michigan just in time for Janice to spend several hours with her dad in the hospital. Normally no visitors were allowed at the hospital because of Covid but since it was an end-of-life scenario, two family members at a time were allowed to visit. Janice got to say goodbye, sing, and spend time with her sister Erleen as they sat by her dad’s bed. Elmer passed away an hour after Janice and Erleen left the hospital.

Elmer holds an African Grey parrot named “Zuzu” and drinks loose leaf Yerba Mate tea from a traditional vessel of Paraguay. The metal straw is called a “Bombilla” and has a screen on the end to filter out the tea leaves. Zuzu always liked Elmer more than anyone else in the family.

The viewing was held on December 26. Although Elmer was never a certified veterinarian, he had been employed by a vet when they lived in Paraguay, so he was good at diagnosing an animal’s condition and could perform many basic procedures. He knew Dutch fluently and was cheaper than an actual vet so the local Amish community would frequently call him to come help with their livestock. Since he knew so many in the community, the line for the viewing kept going for over four hours. Because we’re family we stood there and shook hands with almost everyone in line. It was interesting to meet some of Janice’s teachers and friends from her childhood days whom I have never met before. I also heard a lot of stories about my wife who apparently impressed a lot of people by the way she could drive a tractor or fix Haybines. It was a bittersweet time. I’m not usually a germaphobe but after shaking so many hands of varying sizes, textures, and sweatiness, I could only imagine the marauding bacteria armies that were marching around my hand, committing all sorts of war crimes. I used liberal amounts of hand sanitizer.

The funeral was held the next day on Sunday morning. I was honored to be a pall bearer and I tried hard not drop my end of the deal as we carried Elmer to his final resting place. It always seems so disrespectful throwing a shovelful of dirt on top of a casket. The thud of dirt hitting the lid is haunting. But it’s part of life. There’s a beginning and an end. Once we begin, we must end. It’s a good time to take stock of your investment portfolio. Will the returns from your life’s investment begin or end when you die? I strongly dislike funerals (who doesn’t?) but it is fitting that we use death as an opportunity to stop what we’re doing and take time to enjoy what matters most in life: relationships. People are the most important part of our lives, after all. The funeral was hard but the fellowship with all the family and friends from near and wide was sweet.

Kids these days! Here they’re watching trucks or sheep or something on YouTube. This is Janice’s older sister Erleen who flew back from her overseas work to be in Michigan for the funeral.

Christmas Crickets

We wrapped up in Michigan and some time later found ourselves in Pennsylvania where we celebrated a belated Christmas with my side of the family. I was happy because I had finally bought the perfect present for my brother Andrew. I told Janice what it was. “Eww. Gross!” She said. “Why don’t you buy him something that’s not disgusting?”

“You don’t know my brother. I think he’ll like them!”

A couple evenings later we were gathered in my parent’s living room. Andrew ripped open his present and I watched his facial cues to see if I was chose my gifts correctly. “Portobello Mushroom Jerky?” He was mildly interested. Andrew is a vegetarian sympathizer and so I thought vegan jerky he would find interesting. I suspect he just likes the reactions he gets when he pretends to be vegetarian. He rifled further into the Christmas themed wrapping paper and found a round tin. “Tabasco flavored chocolate?” His wrinkled nose indicated that it wasn’t a hit. He found several more boxes and his face lit up. “Crickets! Oh yum!” I had gotten him a sampler pack of baked crickets that included three flavors: Sour Cream and Onion, Bacon and Cheese, and Salt and Vinegar. I was trying to find courage to sample a cricket myself but when I looked up again, Andrew had already eaten all of them! If you’re in the market for trying something new, my brother Andrew gives cricket snacks a hearty recommendation. I’m still a skeptic.

Available on your nearest Amazon website.

Spare Tires and Old Age

We went to my cousin Adam’s house for a New’s Year Eve party. When I say New Year’s party you think of shooting guns in the air, illegal fireworks, noisemakers, food, or maybe raucous games of Scrabble. You know it’s strange – the older I get, the less I care about getting old. I don’t miss who I was as a younger person. I had more freedoms but a far less meaningful life. I’m happy with what older age has brought me and I look forward to what more years on this earth will bring. Anyway, I bring that up because we were planning on leaving the party before the new year actually arrived, and I know that’s what old lame people do. However, we also know that disrupting our children’s sleep schedule is not worth the fleeting excitement of ringing in a New Year. When you’re thirty two and have some kids, let me know how being cool works out for you.

Anyway, we loaded the kids into the van. I laugh at astronauts who make a big deal about boarding a space capsule. Ooo, look at us, we have straps on our seats. They should try loading a minivan with children. I put the van in drive and jammed the throttle down. Vroom! Thump-a-thump-a-thump. My rocket had a really flat tire. No problem! This mechanic can fix anything. Fifteen minutes later the van was still shaking as I was trying unsuccessfully to remove the stubborn spare tire from its perch. Soon three other guys showed up and tried too. Every time a man is unable to do something, it is a chance for another man to show his superior skill. As each contestant fails, the prize grows proportionally. If you can open a pickle jar that four other guys can’t, it’s like killing a dragon with your bare hands. Men thinks these feats impress women, which is all the reason they need to do it. In reality, women just want a guy strong enough to carry a bag of trash outside, at least three times a week. Killing a dragon isn’t that big of a deal unless it’s eating veggies out of the garden. Anyway, this price went unclaimed because after four guys tried removing the spare, we ended up just filling the flat tire up with tire and plugging it while it was on the van. I should really figure that thing out because next time my tire goes flat, I’ll be running for my life from the zombie apocalypse. That’s how those things go.

Adi puts together puzzles with Grandma Snader.

We hung out with several supporters while we were in Pennsylvania. It was really good connecting with them and discussing the possibilities of where we’ll serve next. It’s hard to know. We’ve decided to make tentative plans using our best wisdom but hold them in an open palm, praying that God would take them and bend them to His will. (If you don’t know, here’s more about what we’re doing at MMS Aviation).

Nearer My God to Thee

It was a pretty exhausting Christmas break. So much has happened in the last several weeks that we were more than happy to leave my homeland and drive west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. About halfway home, Janice took over the driving responsibility while I sat in the passenger seat and tried to keep the kids from committing mutiny. A few miles from the travel plaza, we had a tractor-trailer try to merge into the passing lane which is fine except that we were currently occupying it. Janice yelled at him as she maneuvered the van away from the truck and closer to the concrete barrier in the middle, hugging it like a NASCAR race car. She stood on the brakes as I sat in the passenger seat, calmly dug my fingernails into the plastic trim on the dashboard, and hummed Nearer My God to Thee. The trailer zipped past the window as it squeezed us ever tighter, like a lemon about to be pressed into lemonade. I was counting every inch – which is easy to do when your eyes are the size of hubcaps! The trailer must have been four hundred feet long. Finally the trailer tires appeared in my window. They were remarkably big and only inches from my face. Janice was still grimacing and standing on the brakes. It was going to be a squeaker. BANG! The tires shattered the mirror and shaved the bugs off of our front bumper. The tractor-trailer zoomed off into the distance. We were in the clear! We shakily found our way to the shoulder and I hopped out to see the damage. It was only the mirror that was damaged. Whew! I hopped back in the van and within several miles I had already purchased a new one on eBay for $55. Technology has its perks.

It wasn’t until the next day after we got home that Janice noticed a four foot scratch slashed across the passenger and sliding door. I must have been shook up because I never noticed it. Not even while unloading the children after we got home! Thank God it wasn’t worse! That was a close one. A couple more inches and it would’ve done a lot more. I’ll have to design some sort of paint scheme to cover it up. I’m determined to drive this van until we’re ready to move overseas but we’ll see what happens. I do want to give it a good retirement. It’s like part of the family, really. By the time we’re done with it, it won’t be worth more than scrap price. That being so, we might as well send it out in a blaze of glory either by blowing it up or driving it off a cliff (not while we’re in it, of course). We’ll see which when the time comes.

Thanks for following our little family. We enjoy having y’all along on our journey!

With gratitude from a little hamlet in Ohio,

Josh

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One thought on “Nearer My God to Thee

  1. I had seen your Facebook post about the tractor trailer incident on the interstate. This blog give a lot more detail. That was a very close call, indeed. I am sure glad to hear that no one was injured. That tractor trailer driver needs a whop on the noggin, as we would say down south. I am so sorry, too, to hear about your (Janice) Dad, Elmer. It is never easy loosing a loved one, especially a parent. We have experienced that in our family. We will continue to pray for the Lord to provide His strength as you grieve his loss. Thanks for being such a good communicator.

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