Smaller and less sneaky

Do we look sleepy? With the food we had just eaten, I’m surprised we were still awake.
Matt, me, Mary, Raynard and Susan, July 2018, at the Shady Maple

“Friends can make you feel that the world is smaller and less sneaky than it really is.”
Lemony Snicket

Sometimes, especially lately, it’s pretty hard to see the world as a friendly place. From the nefarious newsmakers who hack away at others figuratively, digitally and sometimes even literally, to the rude strangers who cut in front of us in traffic or checkout lines, the seeming prevalence of ill will is enough to make the boldest of us want to pull the covers over our heads and stay in bed.

But that’s only part of the story.

Every now and then it takes a slightly zany plan to open our eyes to just how many people out there are friends that we simply haven’t met yet. This weekend was a perfect example. Susan, whom I knew through this blog and the one at Upper Room, and then later through several face-to-face visits, did NOT think I was crazy–no crazier than her, anyway– when I suggested she fly in from Minnesota to ride up to Pennsylvania with Matt and me to celebrate Raynard’s birthday at the Shady Maple. This is a trip I had been threatening planning to make for several years now, and this year seemed like the right time. So I was excited when Susan turned out to be thinking the same thing I was. Soon, she had plane tickets and we both had hotel reservations. Pennsylvania, here we come!

We decided to head to Amish Country on Friday as soon as she got into DCA, hoping to do some exploring when we got there. As it turned out, we arrived to one of those torrential downpours that turns umbrellas inside out and soaks you sideways no matter how close you park or how fast you run. Then at the Green Dragon Farmer’s Market in Ephrata, we ended up stuck in the sort of parking-lot traffic snarl that somehow seemed out of place in a location so obviously removed from New York or L.A.  No worries, though; we had quite a unique evening despite the setbacks, and we knew the real reason for the trip was yet to come.

The next day, we arrived at the Shady Maple where Raynard, Mary, and a large gathering of their friends, family and church family had assembled to share a birthday feast. I didn’t get a head count but my guess is there were at least 30 people of all ages at several long tables full. Though the smorgasbord lived up to its reputation, the food took a backseat to the fellowship as people drifted from table to table chatting and joking and generally having fun. Susan, Matt and I had never seen any of these people before, except for Raynard and Mary. But everyone felt like a friend, and it had the jovial atmosphere of a family reunion.

All smiles: Susan and Mary enjoy the food, fun and fellowship.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, must surely be the most wholesome place on earth, even without factoring in the appealing sights of Amish horse-drawn buggies and women in print frocks with white caps and aprons. The greens of the landscape, decorated with farmhouses and barns and silos, are a soothing balm for agitated nerves. If I was asked to write a long list of adjectives describing that locale, “sneaky” is a word that would never make it even to the bottom of the 376th page of the list. But I digress. (Did you really think I could write about Raynard’s birthday without working that phrase in somewhere?)

If the world feels like a big, scary, rude and ugly place, I highly recommend you plan a trip to Lancaster County. Or maybe just pop on over to Delaware and drop in on Raynard and Mary. Or call up a friend who lives thousands of miles away and propose a last-minute trip to someplace where there are abundant green spaces and smiling faces. The world is a big and sneaky place, but it shrinks and brightens considerably if you choose the right company.


  1. Raynard

    Julia I’m at work now reading this. I’m glad you didn’t mention “Manny and”Peddy”I digress.thank you for the blessings of you Matt and your friendship.that was the most people we ever took up there since 2012. Maybe next time we can do sight and sound. Oh August I might be going on a thirty day weight challenge lolthank Mary for that one. Must of been BBQ we

    • Hey Raynard, what gets talked about at the Shady Maple stays at the Shady Maple. 😀 Let me know how the 30 day weight challenge goes. Mary is one sharp lady so when she speaks I listen! I learned way more from her than how to work my cell phone, hee-hee. Thanks for letting us crash your birthday party! As the Mad Hatter and March Hare sang to Alice (in the Disney version), “A Very Merry Unbirthday to us!”

  2. Judy from Pennsylvania

    I love seeing the photo of all of you enjoying the birthday party at Shady Maple! What a fun idea to just do a last minute sort of trip with Susan so that you two could meet Raynard, his family and friends. I wish I could have met up with you in Ephrata but our schedule here was just too packed with family reunion activities those days. I’m so glad you got to see a little bit of our part of the country. Yes, the rolling green countryside, farms and friendly people here in central Pennsylvania are calming and delightful. Of all the places I’ve lived, I love this area the best.
    Please come back for another visit so that I can meet you in person, my dear inspiring friend with an artful eye for photographs and loving way with words! You are loved.

    • Judy, I will most definitely be back. When I got your message with the gorgeous photos and the info about the art festival and the park, Susan and I had the same thought: WE should have gone there! So that will be on the radar for next year. 🙂 I had intended to get over to Lititz while we were there, but between the rain, the birthday party and the minimal time we had, we just didn’t make it there this time. Jeff and I loved Lititz when we were there in 2015, but I don’t remember the park. I do remember Wilbur Chocolate Factory, though! 😀 I deeply appreciate your kind words about the blog. It always means so much when someone else enjoys what I post here. It’s enormously helpful for me to focus on the blessings when I write a post. If it helps anyone else, that’s icing on the cake. Thanks so much for being here! ❤

  3. Amy

    Sorry about the rain. It sounds like a wonderful trip. I think that just when it seems I have decided that there are nothing but rude, horrible people left in this world things happen to remind me that God still owns the place and HE is in charge. Glad you had so many new friends and were surrounded by loving people and great food. Have a wonderful week. See you soon.

    • Thank you Amy. Yes, the rude and horrible people seem to get all the press, but there are so many kind and loving people still out there in the world, keeping things going. We are really looking forward to Saturday. Thanks so much for being here…and there!

  4. Chris

    Very nice!! 😀🎉

    • Thank you, Chris. Glad you could attend vicariously, if not in person. 😀

  5. Julia, so happy to see the pics of our special friend, Raynard’s birthday! Wow!😍 Glad to see you and Matt enjoying Amish country. Love to you both!💖😘💖

    • Thank you, Cherie. As you know, Raynard is one of a kind and so was his birthday party. Mary is as sweet as you would imagine her to be. If you have never met them in person, I hope you can someday. Who knows, maybe we can eventually have that giant get-together I started talking about over 5 years ago! If you ever head this direction, let me know. I think you and Ron would love Lancaster County. Sending giant happy hugs your way. ❤

  6. MaryEllen Davis

    Hi Julia! Looks like a wonderful party! Lol on “but I digress”! (Happy Birthday Raynard!) I’m still out here appreciating your blog and always looking forward to Raynard’s posts on the Upper Room site whenever I check in to the comments. I first found out about Defeat Despair on the Upper Room, when you began. Needed it then. Need it now. Thanks Julia for your enlightening and encouraging blog! ~ MaryEllen. Orange Beach, AL

    • Thank you, Mary Ellen. I’m so happy to hear from you, and to know you are still with us here, defeating despair. I find it’s a continual challenge, but a labor of love too, so I appreciate all of you who help me keep going. Sending you gratitude and wishes for abundant blessings this week and always!

  7. Steve C Bodiford

    Love the story and the fellowship of spontaneity! I especially love the group shot picture. Reminds me of the album covers from back in the 60 & 70’s 🙂 Good Vibrations are seen in this group shot for sure! Thank you for sharing this Julia.

    • Now that you mention it, the decor does sort of have that retro look, doesn’t it? Thanks for being here, Steve. It’s always a joy to hear from you.

  8. Patricia

    Oh Julia! Thank you so much for this post. I love it that I have a face for Raynard, Mary and Susan. Even though I’ve never had the privilege to meet you or anyone in the UR, I feel we are friends in God’s love. Raynard certainly puts a positive spin on life in spite of the struggles we all face. I’m so pleased that you and Susan were able to share his joy, and that you shared it with us.
    Sending love your way,
    Texas Gulf Coast

    • Thank you, Patricia. Yes, we all are a “blog family” which, as many of us know, can be just as supportive and real as a more local group. Thanks for virtually coming along with us on this journey. Even if we all never meet face to face on this earth, I fondly trust we will meet in the next life. Meanwhile it’s a joy to share the joy! Sending loving cyber-hugs to you! ❤

    • Thanks, Patricia! Maybe we’ll slowly and surely all meet each other! I’m thankful that we’ve met through these forums, anyway! 🙂

  9. MaryAnn Clontz

    WOW! What a boost to see my happy Julia & Matt faces!!! So thrilled for you to pull off this much needed trip! I read lots of books set in Amish country. I always learn more with each book. You paint a picture of wonderment! Much love to “my” Dentons!

    • Mary Ann, if (I’ll say WHEN) you do make a trip out to see us, we will have to allow enough time for a little side trip up to Lancaster County. I can say with certainty that YOU WILL LOVE IT!! Although people often associate it most with the Amish, and that is definitely one of the best reasons to visit there, it’s just overall a very wholesome, restful and reverent place to be. The sort of place we tend to think doesn’t exist anymore (if it ever did), but is still there, green pastures and all. Sending you love and giant hugs! ❤ ❤ ❤

  10. Carolyn

    Hi my friend, your blog was good and friend are very important . I would not made it through the first six months without friends and their prayers. I hope that when Jennifer and family get settled next summer we can meet again. Right now I can’t travel far. I will send you a note soon and let you know how things are going. Love to you and Matt.

    • Thank you, Carolyn. I’m way behind on my correspondence but I’ve been intending to send you a card and our new address. Are Jennifer and family still planning to move to the Quantico area? How are you doing? Matt and I keep you in our prayers. We love you and appreciate your staying in touch with us! You are definitely a forever friend. ❤ ❤ ❤

  11. Julia, Glad you had a great time. Good friends always seem to make a good time a great one. I had been to Lancaster County quite a few year ago, and found it a place so foreign to the very country that it is nestled in. When people of like mind for the simpler way gather as one the fast paced madness that surrounds it is pacified.

    • Alan, exactly so! It does seem to be set apart in some intangible way. Almost as if one is time-traveling in a sense, but without leaving behind so much that we’ve come to rely upon. Perhaps this gathering of the like-minded that you mention will hold the key to a better future. I do see signs that people are yearning to recapture some of what has been lost. I think almost everybody is more than ready to mellow some of the madness!

  12. How wonderful to hop on a plane and connect with friends in celebration. I think we will always have some of that madness and scariness in the world to remind us how much wonderful and kind friends mean to us. Every day that I want to pull the covers over my head I remind myself that it would help them win and get out of bed and keep on trying. You just hop on a plane and party. 😉 They lose. 😉 Hugs. m

    • Marlene, so true! I remember after 9/11, I was more determined than ever to keep traveling, keep living and not let the hate and violence win. It’s easy to forget that madness and scary people have always been in the world. What’s different now is that we have 24/7 news stations that show the same upsetting clips over and over. It’s so important to focus on the real people in front of us (online or in person) and realize that we STILL get to choose so many things, including what we allow to take up space in our brains! Sending huge celebratory hugs!

  13. Good morning, Julia!
    I’m finally catching up – and rushing off to the “next thing!” Thank you for the great photos. I was so cranky when I realized that my camera card was missing, but the fellowship was something that cannot be entirely captured on film, and maybe it was nice to NOT have a lens between myself and the lovely souls in attendence. So blessed to be present!

    • Susan, that’s the attitude I try to take when I get someplace without a camera, or my battery dead, or the card too full of images I can’t erase to get even one more on there. I try to see it as a “make lemonade” moment to be present in a different way (I firmly believe that using a camera correctly can contribute to being present, but I digress…) The only thing I didn’t get to do was take pictures of you taking pictures 😀 but at least I have some of those already!! 😀 😀 😀 I am so glad you were able to fly in and join us. It made the trip time just fly by and while Matt probably got an earful, we will never have to worry about him telling on us, hee-hee. And yes, the pictures can’t completely capture it, but they do bring back lovely memories. ❤

  14. Sheila

    HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY RAYNARD! 🎉🎂🎊 Julia, it may have seemed zany or impossible or far fetched but good friends made it happen and it all came together for such a memorable occasion! It must have been the ultimate get together for Raynard’s birthday and the planning for such leaves me spellbound! I love Lancaster County and I love the Gettysburg area so much! I’m just thrilled that you were able to go there for such a great time with such good people and ENJOY! ♥️ Our August Verandah has so much beauty and detail that I thought it would be fun to challenge each other to point out the beauty that we each saw on that porch! I’ll start with the bread! Sorry that it’s taken me all week to comment here….. waterlogged, to say the least! Love to you and to Matt! 💛 HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO GRADY A WEE BIT LATE 🎉🎂🎊

    • Sheila, oh my, where to begin on the August Verandah? Let’s just move out there for the month!! First of all, the location — the French countryside can’t be beat! 🌳 No wonder that bread looks so good. Then the quote this month so perfectly captures the sort of morning we dream about. ☕️ But I’ll focus on those shutters…judging by the color, I think Boomdee must have hung them for us. Don’t worry about being late to comment…I’m so often late to respond, too! Hope all is beautiful in your world!! ❤ ❤ ❤

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