A Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness

Mennonite DaughterAs we enter this Holy Week before Easter, it’s been four weeks since our congregation has been able to meet in person for worship, and there’s no telling how long this coronavirus pandemic will last, or how many more weeks we may need to worship apart at home.

While we wait, I’m grateful that here in British Columbia, the COVID-19 updates indicate that physical distancing and other measures have slowed the rate of spread of new cases by as much as half. As Canadians continue to return home from other parts of the world, they will need to be isolated for 14 days, while the rest of us continue to persevere in our efforts to stay home and stay safe, for own well-being and in the best interest of everyone in our community.

Yet even as we maintain our physical distance, it’s possible to remain socially engaged with one another—through phone calls, texts, emails, social media, video-conferencing, waving through the window, making music together from one balcony to another, cheering in appreciation for health workers, and other ways.

In the interest of furthering connections, allow me to introduce you to Marian Longenecker Beaman, who is a former professor at Florida State College in Jacksonville, Florida, and the author of Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl (September 2019). Marian and I first got acquainted online where she blogs at Plain and Fancy, she wrote a generous review of Four Gifts when my book was published two years ago, and I was delighted when she invited me to read her debut memoir.

I was immediately drawn into Marian’s story by the prologue that tells how she as a young school teacher was called before the bishops, and of course I just had to skip forward to read the rest of that story near the end of the book. Only then was I ready to go back and start at the beginning.

For those of us plain or fancy, Mennonite or not, there’s lots to love in Marian’s story of faith, family, and forgiveness. I have great respect for the way she looks back on her life with compassion and forgiveness for those who have wronged her, how she grows to accept her past, and move into a new future. Her book also includes original drawings by her husband, family photos, a glossary of her parents’ made-up sayings (like “hickamoriah”–isn’t that a great word for whatever you don’t have a name for?), a few recipes, and questions for discussion.

Marian Longenecker Beaman
Marian Longenecker Beaman

Marian, what prompted you to write your memoir?

After a fulfilling career teaching college English, I longed for the connections with colleagues and students in my composition and literature classes. Seeking something meaningful in my Third Act, I took a course titled “What the heck is a blog?” offered in a lifelong learning class at the University of North Florida. Providentially, the presenter showed the example of a successful blog featuring Mennonite author Shirley Hershey Showalter. Though I didn’t know Shirley at the time, I intuited from the name she had Mennonite background.

Thus I began blogging seven years ago and found connections to other author/memoirists who encouraged me to write my own memoir.

Your book is subtitled “The Story of a Plain Girl,” and your blog is “Plain and Fancy.” What do you mean by “plain” and “fancy.”

In the 1950s, I wore the prescribed white, mesh prayer covering and a caped dress, identifying me as a Mennonite of the Lancaster (PA) Mennonite Conference. “Fancy” meant being free to wear jewelry, wear my hair in a fashionable style, and use makeup. Over the years, I have learned that being plain for me doesn’t equate to spiritual depth although dressing this way is a preference for some. I discovered it’s okay to reveal my authentic self, externally, one that matches my idea of looking pretty.

 

Illustration from Mennonite Daughter
Drawing by Cliff Beaman from Mennonite Daughter, page 1

In what ways do you still think of yourself as Mennonite, and in what ways(s) does being Mennonite simply part of your past?

This excerpt from the epilogue of Mennonite Daughter expresses my convictions today:

Even after the strict dress code fell away, the strong pillars of faith and family have defined my core values. I still believe that God is the creator of the universe and the sustainer of life. I also have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior from sin and the Holy Bible as my guide through life. I can trace these beliefs from teachings in early childhood. But I still espouse them as an adult because I have observed God’s faithfulness in my life, his mercy when I fail, his strength in my weakness, and his provision of life eternal. But now I live a full life without the need to fidget and chafe under the yoke of restrictions that bound me in my youth.

Thus, the Mennonite culture has left an indelible imprint upon my life. In my heart, I will always be a Mennonite.

In the exchanges we’ve had about your book, you commented, “My hope is that readers will feel my victory over abuse in my life and perhaps experience in their own.” What abuse did you experience, and what does your victory look like today?

My father physically abused me, going overboard with punishment and being heavy-handed with discipline, which my memoir details. Over the years, and especially writing memoir, I have gained victory over bitterness by concentrating on his gifts to me: intellectual curiosity, love of music, and appreciation for nature.

At least two of my reviewers have told me they have experienced healing through reading my story. Both of them were men, one a Mennonite. Here are excerpts:

I read this book with much interest in a couple of days. It’s a page-turner. Growing up, myself, in a plain Mennonite farm family, as a young boy I experienced many of the same emotions of wanting to find expression of beauty in the world around me. . . . It was a healing experience to read this book and has opened some new doors in my heart and mind in self-understanding. (Bob)

Like the author, I also suffered abuse at the hands of my father. Her stories triggered the emotions of my own experiences. As I have gotten older and wiser, I have come to understand and forgive my father also. I realize how hard it must have been for my Depression-era father to make a living and raise children. (Larry)

What part did/does forgiveness play in healing the wounds you’ve experienced in your relationship with your family and with the church? Is it possible to “forgive and forget,” or does forgiveness mean something else?

My heavenly Father has freely forgiven me, so I find it easier to forgive others for offenses, sometimes slight. As I’ve grown older too, I see events that happened over fifty years ago in a less judgmental way. Through the telescope of time, my feelings have mellowed, a good thing. I don’t necessarily “forget” my hard experiences, but they have become a part of my history, woven into my spiritual pilgrimage as a Christian.

What part does your faith play in the way you understand and practice forgiveness?

I truly believe the Bible as my standard and guide through life. These verses in particular sum up this belief:

As far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103:12

in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. . . .  – Colossians 1:14

but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:15

In what ways has writing this book been therapeutic for you? Do you have another memoir in the works on the “fancy” part of your life?

Writing memoir is a process, one that for me was like doing therapy on myself. Sometimes my husband would come in the door and find me sobbing at my computer keyboard. Why? I was experiencing the past, its setting and the emotions that have accompanied it. Author Mary Karr has declared that one must zip oneself into the skin of his/her former self to write memoir. I tried to do that in a sensory way.

About your second question: I’m busy promoting this book, but my artist husband Cliff and I have considered writing a children’s story book, perhaps titled Kids and Oaks, about Grandma Longenecker’s great grandchildren planting an oak tree in her honor. Of course, my husband would illustrate it.

For whom did you write your memoir?

Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl is dedicated to our children, Crista and Joel, and to the generations that follow.

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children . – Deuteronomy 4:9

A framed motto sitting close to my desk has inspired me to persevere through the toil of excavating memories and polishing my manuscript: “Soli Deo Gloria!” Glory to God Alone!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl by Marian Longenecker Beaman (September 2019), and thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. As always, the choice to feature a book and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: Have you ever considered writing your memoir? Why or why not?

_____________________

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58 thoughts on “A Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness

  1. Such a pleasure to read this interview and to imagine the two of you in conversation with each other. Thanks, April, for inviting Marian, and Marian for sharing these behind-the-scenes insights from the experience of writing and forgiving. Blessings as you continue to “physical distance” while socially and spiritually connecting!

    1. Shirley, I have long admired how you create and practice community in real life and online. It’s a pleasure connecting with you and Marian, for though separated by geography there is so much we share. Blessings also to you during this challenging time.

  2. April, I have followed Marian Beaman’s blog from the beginning, because I began writing a blog at about the same time, encouraged to do so by author, friend and fellow blogger, Dora Dueck. I was introduced to Shirley Showalter’s blog through Dora’s blog and to Marian’s blog through Shirley’s Showalter’s ! I believe this whole chain of events did not happen by accident. These bloggers have been such an encouragement to me, and that includes you, April! Thank you for this blog post. And thank you, Marian, for being willing to write about your pain. I admire your courage to share it with others and to move on in love and forgiveness!

    1. More connections, Elfrieda – I love that! There really is a social network online that expands our connections and can be an avenue of encouragement. Of course we need to discern online activity with care, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet you and many others online, and that we can encourage and bless one another.

    2. Elfrieda, I SO enjoyed your post this week. The thoughts and images linger on. You and I are both in the business of carrying our faith and family love into the next generation. Thank you! 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing the interview with Marian. We have something in common, for I too, grew up in such an environment. I too, wrote my memoirs and was surprised when readers identified with me–some who grew up in entirely different settings. I will be looking to buy one of Marian’s books.

    1. You’re so welcome – I’m honoured to share this interview with Marian, and hope you will enjoy her book as much as I did! As for your own story, I’m sorry for the hard times you’ve gone through and grateful that you found the courage to write. The response of your readers is further confirmation that there is power in sharing our stories! Thank you.

  4. April, thank you for highlighting Marian Beaman and her recently published memoir in your interview. I feel honored to be working on my own memoir but as a Methodist turned Presbyterian, nothing near the Mennonite friends I’ve come to know and love. I refer here to Marian and Shirley Showalter. Both are dear to me and I strongly believe that lies in our shared faith. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Marian face-to-face, but did meet Shirley during a trip she and her husband made through Portland, OR a few summers ago. At Shirley’s invitation, we visited the Mennonite church where she was speaking. I don’t believe we have ever been so warmly welcomed. Again, thank you for sharing the news of Marian’s memoir here and for sharing an interview with Marian.

    1. How wonderful to see you here, Sherrey, and to know that we have such dear people in common! It’s good to know that you are continuing to work on your memoir–as you reflect and write, may you go ever deeper, and may the work of memoir do a good work in you and bear much good fruit.

    2. Hi, Sherrey! It’s lovely to meet you here – and there. The much maligned internet has proven to be such a great connector during these trying times. 😀

  5. How wonderful to see my friend Marian featured here, April, and to see many familiar names here in the comments. I was honoured to have the opportunity to read Marian’s manuscript prior to publication. It always delights me to see the threads of connection wind among us.

    1. I’m delighted to know you were an early reader for Marian’s book, Linda! A community of support is vital to every book that makes its way into the world, and I’m glad we can continue to cheer Marian on.

  6. A wonderful interview with Marian. I too loved her book and was impressed with her ability to forgive and maintain her faith. Well done.

    1. That spirit of forgiveness stood out to me too, Darlene. Marian’s story is a beautiful example of faith in action, and I’m so glad she’s sharing it.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful interview, April. I met our friend Marian a few years ago through Word Press. I fell in love with her blog, and I followed her journey to publication. I enjoyed learning more about one of my favorite writer friends.

  8. I’m pleased to see my friend Marian’s interview here. This is a lovely, thoughtful interview–well done to both of you. I also read Marian’s book while it was a work-in-progress, but I’ve ordered a copy to see the finished product with illustrations. 😀

    1. Thank you, Merril, for appearing here – and for your ordering a finished copy. I believe my book went through several fine tunings since you read the manuscript; I know I benefited from your suggestions.

      You’ll enjoy Cliff’s artwork and photo restoration. There’s also a glossary, recipes, and list of references now. 🙂

      1. Thank you for your comment, Merril. You will love the finished book with all of the extras that Marian mentions. I’m glad I could share at least one of Cliff’s drawings from the book to go along with her interview.

  9. What a great interview! I’m glad to meet you, April, through Marian. So glad you featured her and her book. Loved this interview! Also glad to learn of your faith. My church has been livestreaming also.

  10. I enjoyed the questions and your thoughtful answers, Marian. I agree whole heartedly about Matthew 6:15. It’s a great way to frame your thoughts about how to write your memoir. As always your process inspires me to keep writing and learning. Thank you, April, for this insightful interview.

    1. “As iron sharpens iron,” so the inspiration works both ways. We “sharpen” each other, I believe, as Proverbs 27:17 suggests. Good to see you here, Ally! 😀

  11. I was invited over from Marian’s blog, which was waiting for me this morning in my in-box. It was a delightful interview. Thank you both for sharing your words of inspiration and encouragement with us during these days which are not the easiest. Not the worst, but not the easiest either. Fair to middlin’ as my grandmother might have said.
    This was a great way to start off my morning at my desk. Thank you both!

    1. Trisha Faye, how wonderful to see you here! I’m glad to know that we have Marian’s blog in common too 😀 Her story of family, faith, and forgiveness speaks hope in these days as we look forward to celebrating Easter.

  12. I love your book, Marian, and feel it was written not only for your grandchildren. It was also written for me. I’ve enjoyed your blog almost from the beginning and feel a friendship and connection of the heart. Thank you, Marian, and thank you, April.

    1. You’re welcome, Elaine. You have been a constant friend for years. I imagine you now frolicking with your dog, puppy dog, and the emerging spring in the Ithaca area.

    2. Very true, Elaine. Marian’s story opens up to a much wider audience. I can tell from the comments here that many of us resonate with her book as if it were written for us!

  13. It was wonderful to read your interview with Marian April thank you for it. I found Marian’s responses very affirming, her authenticity shines through. I always feel in some way a deepening when I read her blogs.

    Thank you also for your offer of a free copy of how to pray in difficult times. I look forward to receiving it.

    If you celebrate Easter, then all best wishes for a meaningful one.

    1. I trust you’ve received my ebook by now, Susan, and hope it will be an encouragement to you. This Easter Sunday, I’m preaching for my church–a new experience since it will be at a distance, but still we’ll celebrate Christ is risen – he is risen indeed! A blessed Easter to you as well.

  14. April walks with God, as her books and articles prove. She helps others do the same, and I’m so glad you are taking advantage of her timely book “How to Pray in Difficult Times.” Thank you, Susan!

  15. Hi April!

    I had to smile during an aha-moment when I saw your banner photo. It looks like the church in Sedona, Arizona. Such a special building and location.

    Thank you for featuring Marian this month. She deserves it! Great questions and answers. I’m so glad she and I were able to meet in person at her home in Florida this past winter. She is as smart, generous, and friendly as she appears. 🙂

    I, too, enjoyed reading her book – before the publication – and look forward to immersing myself again, in the final version with extras. .

    To answer your question: yes, I just wrote my own memoir and am now “waiting” for a publisher or will go the self-publishing route, this summer. It’s about a decade in my nomadic life and the ups and downs of a 24/7 romantic partnership in small spaces.

    1. Yes, Liesbet, it’s the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona that my husband and I visited a number of years ago. He took this picture, and I just love it! I couldn’t resist checking out your blog for your trip there – we went in February when it wasn’t overly crowded at the chapel, plus we enjoyed the film festival in Sedona that was on at the time. Your blog about life on the road is fascinating, and I’m sure your memoir will be too! I’ll be watching for it. I’m glad you were able to meet Marian in person on your travels. She is a special person and writer, and I’m glad to connect with you through her.

      1. Hi April!

        That’s a spectacular photo your husband took! I remember looking through the big glass windows at the beautiful surroundings, but never managed a glimpse back up at the church… After you mentioned my blog, I looked back at my post about Sedona and realized that was exactly one year ago. 🙂 Not sure whether you eventually found it: https://www.roamingabout.com/sedona-surprises/#more-10424

        Thanks for the visit and subscribing to Roaming About. We love our life and freedom, but it can be incredibly challenging. Especially in the current times. Have a wonderful rest of the week!

  16. Oh, Liesbet. I’m glad your tribute to me is not an obituary. :-0

    I appreciate you, too, and your squinty-eyed editing of my manuscript, saving me from some embarrassing literary faux pas, for sure. Your own manuscript will come”alive” too one day. You are talented and tenacious, so I’m positive this prediction will come true. Enjoy the weekend with Mark and Maya!

  17. Such a true and lovely interview April . I am reading Marian’s book right now , it’s astonishing and stops me in my tracks . I read her blog for many years and we have become friends . I can not believe this lovely lady that I feel I’ve come to know has been through so much and literally come through the other side .
    Cherryx

    1. Thanks for your comment, Cherry. Marian’s book is such a moving testimony to the power of story and the power of forgiveness. And I appreciate her generosity in giving us a behind-the-scenes look with this interview!

  18. Thanks, Cherry, for replying on April’s blog and also on mine. Who know we had fathers and sisters with the very same name. Happy Easter, Cherry& family!

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