Fragrant Whiffs of Joy – A Book Review and Giveaway

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy by Dorcas Smucker.  It’s book giveaway!

I have a friend who purchases brand new books to give as gifts. She reads the books first, being careful to open the pages only slightly so the reader will never know that the brand-new book she is given is not “brand new”.  I suppose I could do that with the book  Fragrant Whiffs of Joy that I received from Dorcas, but I can’t imagine reading an entire book with the spine only half-open. I’d get a kink in my neck for certain. Plus, I’ve decided I’ll keep it myself because I’ll want to be reading it again.

One thing I like about Dorcas Smucker’s writing is that she “shucks it down to the cob”.  She does so gently, but firmly. There’s no question about what she thinks or where she stands. There’s also no question that this Mennonite minister’s wife loves Jesus, her family, and her community.

She finds beauty in the ordinary days. All of us have days that are ordinary and we could find beauty in our ordinary days, if we stopped and paid attention. Too often we don’t take the time to really notice the beauty in ordinary days like Dorcas does.

Another thing that I like about her writing is that, as she deftly tells a tale, she uses intricacies that most folks don’t notice to help us see the kaleidoscope of colors that can be found in our days. By the end of her story, she neatly wraps up the pieces she left floundering out there and puts it all together.

I’ve learned a lot from Dorcas. I’ve learned a lot about relationships and being authentic. In the chapter “The Minister’s Wife,” she relates this conversation.

“Are you looking forward to the conference?” my sister asked.

“I guess so,” I said. “Except that nobody intimidates me like a Mennonite minister’s wife.”

“But,” she sputtered. “You’re a Mennonite Minister’s wife!”

“Not really,” I said, and then whispered. “I’m actually just pretending.”

I’ve learned that it’s okay to “shuck things down to the cob” (actually, I knew that already, but Dorcas helped enforce my belief that it is something we ought to do, Mennonite minister’s wife or not). I have been reminded that family dynamics in relationships don’t go away just because we grow up and live in other communities and it’s still important to claim our heritage and our family.

“You don’t have to live someone else’s life or write another culture’s story. You have a life, a history, a story of your own. It is worthy of telling, and no one else will ever tell it quite like you can. . . “

Dorcas’ book Fragrant Whiffs of Joy is just what the title says it is. Small, simple tantalizing whiffs about life, wherein we find the joy that is ours if we but seize it.

The book has thirty-six chapters, but you don’t have to read it as a book. You can read just one chapter at a time and wait for days until you pick it up again. It’s good coffee table material as well as bathroom enjoyment. If you’re like I was when my kids were small, going to the bathroom was a place to go to get some space – and some good reading. It still is!

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy

Dorcas writes about her family and her church. She writes about marriage and adoption.

“What happened next is unknown, but Steven remembers living on the streets, like so many other street children in Isumu, eating leftovers at open-air restaurants and watching the rivalry and violence among the older boys. Someone took him  Into Africa . . .  they couldn’t find any family, anywhere, for Steven.

So we adopted him  into ours.

Dorcas tells secrets that not many of us would tell. I enjoy her tales of her father and the way he sees life in slow motion. I delight in the prayer requests of her Sunday school class – from the hurt finger to the missing cat and the unborn calf.

Sometimes, when you read this book, you will howl with laughter. Other times, your heart will feel softened. And at times, if you’re a woman, you’ll find a tear in your eye.

If you’d like a chance to get a FREE copy of this book, enter your name in the drawing. If you are the fortunate winner, I’ll mail your copy – and it will arrive before December.

Christmas is coming, so if you’re looking for a gift for a special gal or woman in your life, consider getting one of her books. If you’d like to purchase a copy of this book, the cost is $14.00 ($12.00 plus $2.00 postage).

For copies of some of Dorcas’ other books, contact Dorcas at 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.  Checks or PayPal accepted. (

Oh yes, don’t forget to sign up to be in the drawing!  Sign up in the comments below, private message me, or send me an email at  The drawing will take place on Friday, November 17, 2017.  You have until 11 PM to register to win!


A note from Gert: I am so sorry that my social media buttons are not working. If you want to share this post with a friend, you can tag your friend and click on this link.


Focus: What I Learned About Life From Mopping a Floor


Your Face to the Clean

When our kids were small, they had to learn how to sweep and mop a floor. You begin at one end of the room (the farthest corner away) and then work your way backward. You always face the part that is clean. Then you can see if you missed something. You focus on the clean and work away at the dirty.

Your Back to the Dirty

Then, with your face to what is already clean, keep your back to the dirty.

My slogan was, “Keep your face to the clean and your back to the dirty.”

This works when you’re helping your kids move along in an orderly way so they don’t backtrack over what has already been cleaned. If you always face the clean, you will be efficient. Dirt won’t be swept or mopped over more than once. Nothing frustrates me more during cleaning than when a child leaves a section unmopped and has to walk back over the clean floor to mop the section that was missed. This requires the entire previously clean section to be mopped again.

Your Attitude Focus

That’s how life is. If our focus (and therefore our face) is toward what is clean, we will not be focusing on what is dirty (or not clean). Far too often, we get sidetracked and lose our focus.

We end up facing the dirt instead of turning away from evil.

What we turn our attention to is what becomes our focus.

That’s why we need to keep our face to the clean and our back to the dirty!

Keep your face to the clean and your back to the dirty

When sweeping and mopping floors, it works. If you’re trying to break a habit, this works. Attitude struggles? Try this slogan. Relationship conflicts? Put this to practice. Tempted to gossip? Remember this slogan!

When you don’t know where to start or what to do next, start sweeping away at the dirt. Keep your face to the clean and your back to the dirty. You’ll see.

It will especially help you find – and keep – focus in life.


Time Passes as a Tale That’s Been Told


Just a few miles from our house, there’s an old, dilapidated rake that was left in a grove years ago. I noticed it one summer when we’d gone to pick strawberries at Puryear’s Produce farm in Halifax County.

Seasons and years have passed since that rake was first abandoned. Rebecca Clark Puryear was almost a teenager the day her daddy bought his new rake. She remembers that day nearly eighty-three years ago as though it was yesterday.

“My daddy had bought a new rake that could be pulled by a tractor. This one was pulled by a mule, and he always unhitched the mule from the rake right there next to the stable and corn crib,” she explained.

I suppose that John Clark came in from the field that day, stopped at his usual place near the stable, and unhitched the mule from the rake for the last time. I don’t know if he planned to move the rake at some later time or not.Tree growing through wheel of an old rake

At any rate, life happened . . . A hackberry sprout began to grow in the empty space beside the stable and corn crib, next to the deserted rake.

In time, the sapling pushed through the soil where the abandoned rake sat and waited. Over the years, the hackberry tree grew, and the rake remained just where it had been placed years before. The tree grew in and around the rake. Its trunk encompassed the rake, even while making room for the rake as it spread its branches and reached skyward. Now the two are bound together. To remove either one, both would be affected.

On another day and on a different road, I noticed another pair of trees that have grown together. Somehow, sometime, a crepe myrtle shoot managed to push through the trunk of a red cedar tree; now its branches and blossoms spread around the entire cedar tree. The red cedar stands taller than the crepe myrtle, but when I pulled back the branches and peered underneath, I noticed that the crepe myrtle had pushed through the trunk of the red cedar in several places. Now the bases of their trunks are so interwoven that it is difficult to see where one stops and another one begins.Crepe myrtle growing in a red cedar tree

I have no idea how long it has taken for them to become so intertwined. But I do know that life happened. Anyone wanting to move one of the two would need to destroy the other in order to do so.

I am certain that, in both cases, no one noticed the small shoot that grew stronger as it grew taller and spread its branches. No one would have guessed it would happen like this. And so, unnoticed and unhindered, they grew together. The years came and went, and the trees kept growing.

How like life it is. We spend our years just like that . . . . . as a tale that is told.

Life happens. A newborn baby grows, takes its first steps, says first words, and experiences firsts of everything. Circumstances and experiences help bend and shape, and before we know it, years have passed and we begin experiencing our lasts*, just like the rake claimed by the tree.

Time marches on, we’ve heard it said.  We’ve probably repeated the phrase ourselves. And it’s true. Yet while time is moving, we so often fail to notice the small pressures and influences that shape our lives, or how susceptible we are to the persistence of life’s experiences around us.

We don’t think about the habits we’re forming, the attitudes we are carrying, or the emotions ensnaring us. Until, that is, one day we’re grown and the choices we’ve consciously or subconsciously made have a profile of their own. We’ve continued on, our path unnoticed and unhindered, making our own way, defining our own destiny.

Life happens. Seasons come and go. Trees spring into action after winter, producing pastel shoots that change to deep forest green by summer. Sun, wind, rain and frost produce changes in those same trees come fall, and all the earth is ablaze with splendor. Then another winter comes, and another spring, and another summer. Before we know it, another year of seasons is gone. And all the time, we’ve been growing and spreading our branches, shaping our lives and the lives of others, one small ring at a time.

Life happens. It happens so slowly that we are oblivious to the difference that is taking place. We’ve changed in ways we never would have thought were possible.

I find this truth both sobering and encouraging.

I find it sobering because, years from now, I won’t be able to go back and undo the direction I have taken. That’s because my priorities will be ingrained. Habits and attitudes will be so rooted that it will be difficult to hack away and attempt to undo those changes without great pain. The trunk of my tree will be solid and fixed. It will be too late to change the bent of the tree without removing branches.

I find this truth encouraging because, while at times it seems I’m not making a difference, I know that perseverance will bring results. When I grow weary, I remember that old rake bound to the trunk of the tree. I picture the tall red cedar surrounded by purple crepe myrtle blossoms. I know that one achievement, one success, one sturdy shoot, or one prayer can make a difference.

Oh, I might not notice the results instantly. But years from now, my story will continue even after I am gone. I am spending my years as a tale that will, one day, be told.

Life happens. When life around me seems to be in constant turmoil and change, I remember especially the promise in scripture. While the earth lasts, the seasons will continue as they have every year since creation. It’s a promise. Though all around me, things are changing, God does not change. It’s a promise.

He is faithful.

His mercies are new, every morning.

He is always the same. That is a promise, too – even as life happens.


This article was first published in 2008 in the e-zine Discover Southside.  The rake and the tree still stand, as do the red cedar and crepe myrtle trees.

With thanks to Karen Kingsbury, who introduced the idea in her book Let Me Hold You Longer






Rearranging my Life after Goodbyes


summer swimtime fun!

It’s been quite the summer. We’ve prayed over secrets and said more goodbyes than hellos.

A few weeks ago I told a friend that I’ve sat on so many of my kids’ secrets this summer that I had trouble remembering what information was classified from whom. Sometimes I wasn’t sure which one needed prayers the most.

Recently I told Rebekah that maybe we just have too many kids. (There’s an event at VT that she wants us to attend the same weekend we’ll be visiting Ben in Colorado.)

Dave reading

Storytime with Papa

Then there is this thing of saying goodbye. Goodbyes mean that I have to rearrange my life. Just when I become comfortable with the way things are, along comes another goodbye.

I’m a little like my mama was when we wanted to rearrange furniture. She liked things just the way they were and saw no need for change. If it worked this way, why not leave it? Her philosophy (minus incorrect grammar) was: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

My sisters and I wanted variety. We said she might like it, and You’ll never know until you try! She didn’t appreciate the time it took to rearrange things or the upheaval of trying to find places for the disheveled pieces left when we were done! (Mama does get credit, however, for releasing three of her daughters to men or to ministry in Canada, Nebraska and Virginia as well as cheerfully rearranging her life as each of her girls left home.)

Now that I’m nearing the big 6-0, I’m there, too. I rather like things to stay the same. My kids don’t see it that way; so I’m kept busy praying over their activities and rearranging and finding places for their stuff. In addition, I’ve helped move them home and assisted their packing to get ready for the next leg of their journey. Sometimes I sit down at the end of the day and say, Whew!

"And how was your day?!"

“And how was your day?!”

We knew this would be the summer we said goodbye to a house full of kids.

one can never give too many hugs

one can never give too many hugs

We had one son moving west (one of those secrets while those Phone and Skype and They’re-Gonna-Fly-Me-Out-There interviews were being completed).

I tried to prepare myself to say goodbye to my oldest and my three youngest: two college girls and my high school senior. Plus, soon we’d be bidding farewell to the little nuggets who had wrapped their tentacles around our hearts for over a year.

That goodbye was coming first and would probably be the hardest because of its permanence.

Tim with K in truck

Tim gives one final ride in his truck.

Suffice it to say that the longer we love, the harder it is to say goodbye. The more we invest, the stronger the chords. We invested time and energy, especially in those first weeks when nighttime kept us awake for hours. Each bleary morning as I poured coffee, I wished for just one good night of sleep. I’m just too old for this, I’d say to the morning dew as I sipped my coffee on the deck. I survived. Even though they weren’t ours to keep, we claimed them as ours and they surely claimed us. Now we had to say goodbye.

The evening before, Tim came by to give them each one more ride in his truck. He hung around afterward for a long time.

On goodbye day, we packed their clothes, their toys, and their books. We filled another bag with blankets and homemade pillowcases. A deck party was planned, and we had invited friends for supper.

Mid-afternoon as we surveyed our not-so-clean house and their so-very-many-things-pile we had amassed, Sarah Beth commented, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good an idea to have company for supper.”

“Oh, by tonight you’ll be glad we did,” I replied.

We said tearful goodbyes. We hugged and kissed and waved as they drove away for the last time.

Then we went inside and finished company preparations. Instead of whining about our loss, we reminisced with our friends and shared our pain in saying goodbye. Instead of feeling alone, we leaned directly into our pain and felt supported because we were surrounded by friends who had loved them intensely as well.

Little helpers: peeling apples to make apple dumplings

A few days later, Sarah Beth and I headed “home” to Maryland.  We knew our house would be empty and quiet without little feet pitter-pattering and little hands pestering to help in the kitchen.  Plus, life wasn’t going to get any easier if we sat around feeling sorry for ourselves.

As always, it was cooler in Maryland. I failed to take a jacket, so I went to Mama’s bedroom closet to find a sweater. The gray sweater fits and still smelled like Mama, even though it had that musty odor of unworn clothes hanging in a closet.

Stuffing my hands in the pockets, I found two cough drops, three handkerchiefs, and three toothpicks.

my mama’s sweater

Finding these items in her pockets was no surprise; this was my mama. I can still see her with that toothpick in her mouth after a meal; remember us begging her to use tissues instead of a handkerchief when she had a cold; hear that gravel in her throat when she had a winter cold and cough.

I hugged the sweater to myself and went to visit my friend Pam. After my massage, I decided that before I feel inclined to go for counseling for depression, I’ll opt to get a massage. Pam listens to a lot of secrets as she massages weary muscles and tissues, and secrets are safe with her. We talked about the therapy she gives by listening and by caring. I think having someone to talk to helps alleviate depression. Really, I’d be getting plenty of bang for my bucks!

Pam secret's safe

the note on the wall in Pam’s massage room

[I am not saying counseling is never necessary; at times getting Christian, professional help is the best way to go. I’m saying that if we’d be more willing to share the cries of our heart with others, and if we’d be more open to bearing each other’s burdens and could be counted on for your-secret’s-safe-with-me, we might need fewer counseling sessions down the road].

On the way home, I visited the graveyard. The sun was kinder on this late June day than it had been that cold, blustery day we trudged the shoveled path to bury our mama.

Age: 3 years, 1 day

With summer rays beaming on the graves, I reckoned (again) that I can never understand the pain my half-siblings experienced when they buried a little sister and, exactly one year later, their mother.

I reckoned that I had no concept of the grief and burden my mother bore when she buried our father.

Only five, I didn’t understand the pain of her loss nor the view on her horizon as she faced unknown widowed-years ahead.

Standing there in the graveyard I thanked God for the heritage I possess. It is mine, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of the choices made by others, and because He is God.

Saying goodbye is never easy. In our grief, there are poignant reminders that stir us along the way. We can try to slam the door on our grief and our goodbyes, or we can lean into the pain. I have learned that leaning into the pain instead of avoiding it brings healing, as well as hope.

one of my mama's cape dresses

one of my mama’s cape dresses

VT quilt

the VT quilt in the making

Soon after her death four winters ago, my sisters and I spent an afternoon sorting through Mama’s dresses. We chose some for ourselves and our daughters; then we then donated the rest for missions. The dresses I had chosen were still hanging in her closet and my plan was to finally do something with these dresses.

While I was tearing out seams in Mama’s dresses, Sarah Beth cut patches from her Virginia Tech t-shirts. And my dear sister Katharine, who spends more time helping others than doing her own things, revved up her sewing machine and joined the fray.

my sister Katharine

my sister Katharine

the pile of dresses

the pile of dresses

My sister Barbara wandered into the dining room and helped diminish the pile of dresses that needed to be taken apart. (There was a method to my madness in coming home to Grantsville for this project!) As we ripped seams and sewed seams, I learned things about my father (who said goodbye to us fifty-four years ago) and his preference of colors.

The next morning I picked blueberries next to the playhouse we played in as kids. My children spent hours in that playhouse yard; now great-grandchildren are making memories with the sandbox, the playhouse, and the swing. Every time I walk through that Playhouse yard, I wax nostalgic and wish, for a moment, that I could be a child again when goodbyes are less frequent and poignant. I brought the blueberries and memories back to Virginia with me.

the playhouse, swing, and sandbox – my childhood classroom in creativity

Nostalgia seems to surprise me at unexpected bends. . . .

At first, we thought she was a child’s dolly.

Sarah Beth holds the 6-week old baby

Sarah Beth holds the 6-week old baby

Stopping at a roadside stand to purchase peaches, we were surrounded by barefoot children whose mother allowed us to hold their baby sister (child number ten).

Their innocence was a pure delight and they were fascinated by our purses and cell phones.

You don’t know how blessed you are, I wanted to tell them, thinking of our nuggets who had said goodbye and returned to a seemingly less safe world so unlike this one.

these children and I have the same ancestors

these children and I have the same ancestors


Amish children

“barefoot boys with cheeks of tan”

We brought our sister Katharine back with us so she could fly to Canada for a visit. (It’s a long story: we brought her south to fly north. We took advantage of having her with us, especially since we got up at 3AM to get her to the airport before I had to go to work.)

On our way home from Maryland, we stopped in Harrisonburg and spent part of a day, along with others, helping Dave’s sister Rhoda move. After all the furniture was moved (including The Monstrosity, as Dave referred to the piece that took six people to load), we unpacked the kitchen boxes and decided where we thought Rhoda wanted her kitchen items.

Between our homecoming and Katharine’s flight, my sister Rhoda was admitted to ICU; we wondered if another goodbye was coming our way. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to go south to go north? (She is doing okay now but we’re still waiting on word about the possibility of heart surgery).

moving the monstrosity

moving the monstrosity

When we got home from our Maryland journey it was our turn to finalize plans for the Slabach annual reunion at Camp Tuk-Away near Blacksburg, Virginia. The rainy weekend didn’t deter folks from coming or having fun.

This reunion was especially significant for our family. On the final day of the reunion, we hugged our oldest goodbye. Ben was going back to Richmond and then heading west in forty-eight hours.

That weekend Jason told his siblings that he was working in the Ebola unit at Emory Hospital in Atlanta (another secret Dave and I prayed about but couldn’t share).



From the reunion, Sarah Beth left us to go to Atlanta with Jason and Katie before flying back to Richmond to ride to Colorado with Ben. It was one of those Whew! goodbye days.

Sb and Ben in CO

siblings at the end of their journey

Nine days later we picked Sarah Beth up at the airport, and then she and I picked grapes. Grape juice, pickles, and packing were on the agenda for the day.

Canned pickles, tomato juice, peaches, grape juice, and green beans filled my counter top and stayed there for two weeks until I had time to make room and organize the basement shelves.

goodbye at VT

another goodbye

Two days later we said goodbye to Sarah Beth (heading east to Richmond). The following morning we took Rebekah and Aaron northwest to Virginia Tech. We unloaded furniture and belongings, drove to Jimmy John’s for lunch, and said goodbye.

From there I joined other women heading to a retreat. It was another one of those Whew! days. When I got back Saturday evening, the house was tidy and clean. For the first time in twenty-eight years, it was just the two of us. I have said enough goodbyes for now that mean rearranging my life!

We like the change of pace, the quiet house. Yet it doesn’t mean we’ve done our time or that it’s time to retire.

We will never be done praying for our kids and their future. Plus, there are other children to love and teach, youth to rub shoulders with, young folks to mentor, older folks to visit, and neighbors to feed.

home, sweet childhood home

home, sweet childhood home

Going back to my childhood home and then coming home helps me realize again how much I have been given. Therefore, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

My friend and mentor Rhoda was chided for wearing herself out babysitting other people’s grandchildren. She and her husband babysat entire weekends for couples so they could get away to rejuvenate their marriages.

“This is Kingdom work,” she said. “I’d rather wear out doing Kingdom work than wear out for any other reason.”

For that reason, and for this season, we’re not done. Although the goodbyes have been said and we spend more time praying over our kids than being with them in person, we’re not done.

We’ll never be done being parents (and keeping secrets and saying goodbye).


As long as we’re here on this earth, we’ll never be done with Kingdom work. For this reason and for this season, I will keep rearranging my life.