Well, I'm back. It's been far too long since I wrote, but with the holidays behind us, I should be able to once again put greater focus into this blog.
I'm sure you've all been wondering with bated breath to find out what, exactly, is going to become of our troubled protagonist.
Will she ever find a church where she can be happy?
Will she strike up a relationship special friendship with Paul, the young man with supple hands, lined with kindness?
Most importantly, will this story provide you with immense amounts of entertainment?
I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, so I'll just say that "Yes, you will definitely be entertained. And yes, the other stuff also happens."
So, let's catch up with Rosemary, or rather, Rosemary's mother...
Soft May twilight was settling over the hills and valleys. Kathryn Witmer sat at rest on the porch swing, enjoying the rollicking songs of the whippoorwills and the musical bubbling of the frogs down by the pond.
As you know, no passage is complete in these books without an excruciating description of the scenery, and no one knows why.
Also, I have heard whippoorwills in my day, and I have never heard any of them make a noise that I would describe as "rollicking."
Also, frogs do not bubble. Although, I think that we would all be forced to admit that "The Bubbling Frogs" would make an awesome name for a rock band.
This part of the book kind of drags for a bit(not gonna lie), so I'm just going to tell you what happens.
Rosemary got a letter in the mail. And I bet you can't guess who it was from?
Yes! It was from Paul. He wrote her a letter with his very own supple, yet firm, hands, asking if she thought that maybe it would be God's will to start a special friendship courtship.
Her mother and father discuss it, and Ed decides that he's going to leave it up to her, since she's almost 21.
Because, you know, if she'd only been 19, they would have had to step in, if need be. What does a 19 year old female know?
Paul's letter had come as a surprise, throwing Rosemary in a quandary of indecision. "Should I, or shouldn't I?" she puzzled, struggling inwardly. "Lord, are You giving me this as a trial or a blessing?"
I think this paragraph is spectacular for a number of reasons.
Rosemary lives in a quandary of indecision. That's her state of being. Paul's letter just gave her something new to be indecisive about.
And what's this malarkey about it being a surprise? We all saw how she was checking out those supple hands. But then, maybe she didn't think he felt the same way about her.
More to the point, I thought that the girl being surprised by the boy's interest was the Holy Grail of Menno courtship.
It would have been deeply shameful to Paul of the Supple Hands if Rosemary had cottoned on to his interest before he asked her. It would have marked him as a loose and frivolous youth, unworthy of a careful conscientious maiden such as Rosemary.
And what's the tripe about God sending it as a blessing or a trial? I mean, do you think God's up there thinking,
"Hmmm... I haven't sent Rosemary a trial for a few weeks. Not since the ice cream social, at least. I think I'll have an unsuitable life mate choice with supple hands send her a letter. That ought to be a good trial for a bit. Maybe, just to trial her extra hard, I'll let her parents, and those who give her counsel tell her to go for it. Then when it doesn't work out, it'll really be a trial."
I mean, that's just a warped view of God, and human free will, but there it is.
"Looks like Rosemary is due for another trial, and I know just the supple-handed guy for it."
Three days passed, and Rosemary grew weary with the strain of anxious indecision.
I can't figure out why she is getting so exhausted doing what she has done since the beginning of the book, but the author says that's how it is. So who am I to argue?
So, she prays for a chance to talk to the Keims, and they call and ask her to work. (Well, the book actually says that they called "soliciting Rosemary's help for the day.")
So she goes to the house, and the book takes four paragraphs talking about how the kids children were there, and she was glad to see them, and the children were allowed to go barefoot, which is often a major plot point in stories geared for younger ages, and then she put on an apron to get to work.
But before we can learn what the Keims have to say about the letter, we learn that they are moving to Hope Valley, because "finding a fellowship where everyone is truly repentant and born again is the only answer for some of us." I suppose that this is as good a time as any to tell you that the real-life location of Hope Valley is Crockett, Kentucky, which makes this line one of the funniest in the entire book, given what we know about Crockett.
The disunity at Pinecliff was churning to a climax. Oscar Smith and his followers could not bear Brother Alvin's bold preaching and consistent stand against the carnal conditions in the church.
Foolish activities among the young people... dishonest business practices... disobedience to dress and other standards... no loving discipline for backsliding members.
Brother Alvin, seeing that he could not do any effective church building in such conditions, had accepted the call to mission work among the Indians.
"You had better just go along with them for the sake of peace," the bishop had advised Brother Alvin, when at the bishop's request he had attempted kindly to explain what they had been experiencing in the congregation the past while. "These things take time and patience to work with."
But time and patience do not cure out sin, as Pinecliff was learning to its sorrow.
I find it fascinating that when we are talking about "foolish youth group activities" and "disobedience to dress standards," it is obvious that patience and time will not solve the problem.
But when you are talking about sexual abuse within major Christian organizations, who have covered up said abuse for longer than anyone probably knows, the same people are suddenly talking about giving time and patience, because the problem will totally get fixed, if we will just all kindly be quiet.
But I digress.
Rosemary and Marie Keim discuss the Keim's plans for moving and how Ed is planning to move to Florida where there is no church at all, because it's the safest way to stay Scriptural.
Rosemary says that she wishes that she could move to Hope Valley, but there doesn't seem to be a point. That gets Marie's full attention.
Marie glanced up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Well, Hope Valley will eventually end up like Pine Cliff, I suppose. All churches have trouble sooner or later, don't they?
I'm positive even Hope Valley can't last five years without some serious upset, so I guess it really doesn't make much difference where one goes. It will all fizzle out eventually."
Rosemary had clearly underestimated the incredible power that the system the Nationwide Fellowship was creating would have. They would stand for much more than five years, by wielding their coercive power with a vengeance. Ministers who questioned the status quo would be silenced and shunned. Five years was easy. But after twenty-five, and more, her prophecy would come to fruition.
Marie, of course, is shocked, and needs the fainting couch for a spell. After recovering, the conversation continues.
Don't complain about the short skirt.
That's how Menno skirts were in the 70's.
"Why, Rosemary. You sound discouraged. Do you really believe all that?"
"Why sure. I'm not discouraged, Marie. I'm only facing facts. You don't think Hope Valley is a perfect church, do you?"
Rosemary stopped scrubbing and sat back on her heels, searching Marie's face intently.
Now, I know what you're expecting. This is the part where you expect Marie to say that Hope Valley isn't a perfect church, because if it was a perfect church than she wouldn't be able to go there, because then it wouldn't be perfect anymore.
But she doesn't.
"Yes, I do," Marie replied seriously. "Not perfect in the sense that there are no problems, Rosemary. Of course problems come up at Hope Valley. They do in any church. But we can have confidence in the saints at Hope Valley because they settle their problems in a Scriptural way. The church is perfect as long as each member grows in grace and keeps his life free from sin. Of course, the Lord keeps showing us areas where we are failing and didn't realize it before. But as we move on with Him and live up to all He shows us through His Word, we are perfect-- complete in Him. Then the church is perfect, don't you see, Rosemary?
The fact that Marie is giving this glowing description of Crockett, Kentucky is simultaneously hilarious and infuriating, especially since the book was published by Rod & Staff, which is headquartered in Crockett, and was probably not the most objective judge of the matter.
And also because it turned out that the bishop who ruled Crockett at the time this story took place was so overbearing and difficult to deal with that eventually the rest of the Nationwide Fellowship had to act to move him hours away to restore peace to the church.
Then there's also the rampant physical and sexual child abuse that went on for years and years and was never exposed or dealt with.
But, since everyone dressed according to the regulations, the church was Scriptural and perfect.
"O Rosemary," Marie breathed softly, "I believe you could safely trust the spiritual brethren at Hope Valley."
"Then you think--" Rosemary's heartbeat quickened, and she fumbled for words. "You think I should go with Paul Mast?" There: it was out.
Marie showed no flicker of surprise. "I would encourage you to, if you feel it is the Lord's will," she replied sincerely. "Do you know any reason why it isn't?
So, we finally get to the part we've all been waiting for. And I have to say that Marie gives good advice, which is decidedly rare in this book.
Ask yourself, when in a situation like this, "Do you know any reason why it is not God's will?" If you can't think of one, (including internal reservations, where you just don't feel good about it) go for it.
"No," Rosemary acknowledged slowly. She tilted her head thoughtfully. "Not really. I hardly know him, but I was well impressed with that little I saw."
It was the supple, yet firm, hands! That's what it was, guys.
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One of Rosemary's concerns is that Paul goes to Hope Valley, and she is afraid that Hope Valley's ministers twist the Scriptures.
Marie assures her that Paul is wonderful and that he could help her. Then she informs Rosemary that Paul was talking to Menno about Rosemary when they had visited several Sundays ago.
Which is why she wasn't surprised. Menno had encouraged Paul to go for it, so Paul did.
I am super curious what got Paul's attention, and wonder if there was some interaction before. Otherwise, Paul asked Menno about her the first time he saw her, which is really weird. Marie had never seen him before, that is fairly clear.
They worked in silence for a few more minutes. Then Marie ventured to say quietly, "Well, Rosemary, I'm wondering if it might not take Hope Valley to get you unmixed."
Public Service Announcement: If you are so mixed up that it would take a Nationwide Mennonite Church to unmix you, I highly recommend that you proceed to your nearest Emergency Room for professional treatment. You are not in a safe frame of mind.
Rosemary drove home that evening with a lighter heart. Her misgivings about Hope Valley remained, but she had reached a decision about Paul. She would try it awhile. Maybe Marie was right-- Even about Hope Valley.
Her eyes glowed with quiet peace as she took a sheet of paper from her stationery box, and began to write.
So, she's going for it.
Rosemary and Paul are going to be an item now, and this is going to figure majorly into the rest of the plot. Check in next time, and we'll see what happens when Rosemary's family moves to Florida, and we'll take a peek at church life in Hope Valley.