Reviving Two Mennonite Bestsellers: Meditations for the New Mother and the Expectant Mother

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New 2015 edition

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New 2015 edition

The Backstory: Bestselling Author Helen Good Brenneman

Helen Good Brenneman wrote quite a list of books, two of them bestsellers by anyone’s count. Her first book, Meditations for the New Mother, first published by Herald Press in 1953, has 534,000 copies in print over the last 60 plus years. Meditations for the Expectant Mother, published in 1968 includes 240,000 copies in the last 45 plus years. Together that’s almost three quarters of a million in print. Ask any published author—or publisher—if they’d be happy with those kind of numbers and you’d likely get a whoop and a holler.

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Expectant Mothers was written second, and originally published in a sepia tone.

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New Mothers was written first, and eventually all books in this series were published with color covers.

Notice anything kind of funky about that publication sequence? Helen wrote New Mother first, while she was in the thick of parenting at least two small children (with two more to come). She would have been the original mommy blogger if there had been an Internet back then.

When the publisher saw how well New Mother was doing over the years, they pressed her into service to write another similar title, for expectant mothers. Long after her last pregnancy! But she pulled a second beautiful book together, Meditations for the Expectant Mother.

Helen was a born writer, poet, and fine Christian mother, who also dealt with multiple sclerosis and spent many years in a wheelchair. She and her husband Virgil, a pastor, lived in Goshen, Ind. Since my parents lived near Goshen, growing up I knew of Virgil and Helen, and my mother was a fan of Helen’s books. Mom had heard her speak at women’s meetings, and so in our fairly small world, Helen was a household name.

That was all I knew about Helen until I entered Bethany Christian, a Mennonite high school in Goshen in ninth grade. One of the girls I met early on was Helen’s oldest daughter, Lois Brenneman. I was quite impressed to meet the author’s daughter.

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She did not remain “Lois” or the daughter of a popular bestselling author for long. She announced firmly one day, “I’m just not a Lois. Do I look like a Lois?” For a while she asked us to call her Toby George (as a yearbook autograph reminded me).

P1070156Eventually she married Joe Goldfus and legally changed her name to Tobi Goldfus. She is a clinical social worker and therapist in Germantown, Md., where one of the current issues she deals with is social media/cyberspace and its impact with adolescents/young adults. The parents of one adult son, Tobi presents workshops and seminars on the topic.

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Helen’s oldest daughter, Tobi Goldfus, today.

 

P1070149Tobi was a fun-loving friend who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. We hung out in a group of about eight girls. (That’s me standing behind Tobi in choir. What fun!)

 

P1070146Our gang had slumber parties, congregated at class parties or ballgames, ate lunch together if our class schedules allowed, and when we became old enough to drive, cruised around town to great peals of laughter over in jokes. Then I moved away my senior year of high school, stayed out of college a year, and while I ended up at the same college as Tobi, Eastern Mennonite, we were in different class years with varied circles of friends. Thus our ways pretty much parted.

So when I was assigned to work on bringing back into print a series of meditation books which were long-running bestsellers for Herald Press, including the two by Helen Good Brenneman, I was excited. What an honor. And I was just a little uncertain as to what Tobi and her family would think about having these books—written in the late ’50s and early ’60s—in print again.

While many readers and fans of the devotionals had continued to ask for the Meditation books in bookstores and hospital gift shops (according to our market research), the books, writing, and era were, after all the ’60s. Not 2015. Have you considered how much has changed about having babies and raising children in 50 years—including our language (even our theological language)? Parenting roles, rules about fathers in delivery rooms, equipment, trends about how to care for babies? A sea change!

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My first born grandson, Samuel.

Yet there are things that remain the same. Babies are still mostly born after a long, hard, and painful labor. Loving and doting mothers and fathers still pace through sleepless nights and jiggle incessantly crying babies. No matter how many gadgets and types of baby equipment we have, the love ingredient is the same. (I can only imagine how Helen would have benefited, with her limited mobility because of MS, to have had a video monitor watching over her little ones in the nursery!) Our files contain several cards and letters that indicate how much of a struggle Helen had even compiling the manuscripts because of her vision and other limitations.

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When Tobi heard the news about the books coming back in print, she wrote that it was a “surprise and delight.” She was glad to hear that the language was updated a bit “to better connect with today’s women.” She also said that she and her siblings are extremely appreciative for the way that the royalties from these two books helped to pay for their mother’s nursing care in her later years after their father, Virgil, could no longer physically care for her. Helen died in 1994. Virgil was a pastor or church administrator most of his life and he remained active and involved in church and community life until he passed away in 2006. Their additional children, Don, lives near Vancouver, BC, writes, and has a milder version of MS; Beki Denman is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis; and youngest son John lives in Goshen, retired from the Teamsters, and works for South Bend transit.

Helen was actually born in Harrisonburg where Herald Press is now based, and grew up outside of Washington, D. C.  She began working for the U. S. Department of Agriculture at age 16, and at 18 attended Eastern Mennonite College for one year before returning to work in Washington. Virgil was originally from Iowa; Helen and Virgil married in Amsterdam right after the end of World War II. There they lived at a refugee camp out of which Helen wrote, But Not Forsaken, a novel about the German Mennonite refugees she encountered there.

Helen also wrote:

  • My Comforters, 1967
  • House by the Side of the Road, 1971
  • Ring A Dozen Doorbells: 12 Women Tell It Like It Is, 1973
  • Learning to Cope, 1975
  • Marriage: Agony and Ecstasy: Stepping Stones to a Maturing Relationship, 1975
  • Morning Joy: Meditations for Those Who Have Suffered Loss, 1981

There may have been more—she was a frequent writer in the denominational weekly magazine of the time, Gospel Herald. What a rich and beautiful legacy to leave the larger church and her family. I would be remiss not to point out that Herald Press, as a church publisher which has had its own financial ups and downs through the years, also benefited from her legacy—and indeed a small portion of my own modest salary is paid by these two devotional books written by a friend’s mother so long ago. How cool is that?

So that’s a long back story with a little peek into the family life of this bestselling and well-loved author.

Buy Helen’s meditation books here!

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Meditations for the Expectant Mother                       Meditations for the New Mother

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We’d love to hear your own story related to either of Helen’s Herald Press Meditation books: did you or your mother ever use either Meditations for Expectant Mothers or Meditations for the New Mother? Send us your story or her experience—even just a few words of what the books meant for them, and we’ll place your name in a drawing for free copies of both books! Please share this also with anyone else you know who read and used these books. Thank you!

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In addition to Helen’s books, a third complimentary title geared to both mothers and fathers and written in the 90s by Sara Wenger Shenk and Gerald Shenk, Meditations for New Parents, is also back in print. Also watch for three more books in the Meditation series from Herald Press coming out this August: Meditations for Newlyweds, Meditations for Single Moms, and Meditations for Adoptive Parents.

Melodie Davis, managing editor

AnotherWayWriter

Passing Faith On by Steve Carpenter

My wife Chris and I have entered a new phase of life. We are grandparents.

S&C with Michelle 5 Days oldMore specifically, we are Opa and Oma, terms of endearment from my wife’s German roots. For Christmas, parents Janelle and John gave me a ball cap with “Opa” embroidered on it, and Chris received a key chain which says “My favorite people call me Oma.”

Opa                 Michelle Jan 2015 005
Our bundle of joy arrived early on the morning of December 10th. Six hours later we were at the hospital holding little Michelle, our first grandchild, born to Janelle and John Mack. It’s hard not to be proud grandparents, although I often remind myself not to overdo it, as many are childless and even some with children do not have grandchildren. Yet we find ourselves making plans to travel two and a half hours to Silver Spring, Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. to stop in and see Michelle and her parents. After our last visit Janelle remarked, “I think we’ve seen more of you in the last few months than we have for some time!” Duh! Yes, we are the proverbial doting grandparents.

IMG_0374 (2)Granddaughter Michelle

Parenting and grandparenting bring new responsibilities. Not only must parents provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs, they must also consider the baby’s spiritual well-being. This is often an opportunity for young parents to return to their own spiritual roots as they seek to provide their child with a spiritual and moral foundation. Dorothy Beidler, writing in the January, 2015 edition of Purpose states, “Passing on God’s love may be the unique, solitary task and joy of each generation.”

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We at MennoMedia are well aware of the need to nurture faith, not only in children but in their parents. That is why we have revised and reissued a classic bestselling series of books called Meditations. There are six books in the series. Each offers a month’s worth of devotional reflections including prayers, poems, scripture, and words of inspiration. Each is written for a specific life event: marriage, pregnancy, adoption, and giving birth. The first three books are now available including: Meditations for New Parents, Meditations for the Expectant Mother, and Meditations for the New Mother. (The remaining three in the series will be out in August, 2015.)

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If you too are a grandparent, you may be interested in Elsie Rempel’s Please Pass the Faith: The Art of Spiritual Grandparenting. This is an important book for both biological and honorary grandparents who want to pass their faith on to their offspring. This doesn’t always come easily, nor is it a given in Christian homes.

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I hope we at MennoMedia can strengthen and encourage you in your faith, and also as you work at nurturing faith in children and grandchildren.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve C 2012
Steve Carpenter, Director of Development

How have you passed the love of God on to your children and grandchildren?

Leadership: 5 ways to maintain the inner life in difficult times


Russ Eanes on a century ride with his son, Andre.
Russ Eanes and his son Andre enjoy cycling together.

Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.—Psalm 143:10

Maintaining the soul, spirit and inner life in difficult times is a challenge, though reading the psalms suggest that nothing is new.

What is new is the pace of change and the effect that it has on our inner being. I feel it especially these days in my work, but I am not unique.

In publishing and media, we face the daily challenge of keeping pace with new trends and technological developments.

At a recent meeting of some denominational publishing peers, one colleague put it this way, “You are behind every day that you wake up … everything that I need to know I will learn tomorrow.”

Such words can be discouraging; keeping awake and alert to rapid trends takes lots of time and effort and can easily overwhelm.

Since I am a denominational publisher, I also work alongside Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, where we face the challenge of declining numbers, fiscal challenges and draining conflict over issues of sexuality.

While I am called to my work and enjoy it, tending to the spirit and soul has to be part of my vocation.

While some people talk in terms of achieving a “balance” in life, I prefer to think of “grounding,” since it is so easy and quick to get out of balance.

When asked about what keeps me and/or other leaders grounded and invigorated, I can come up with a long list: prayer, rest, reading, the outdoors, exercise, family, celebration and laughter, journaling and solitude.

Here’s some essentials:

Jesuit guide1. Keep your soul fed. I feed mine especially through reading. My personal tastes include novels, history, social critique and travel. I especially like the “Spiritual Classics,” since they have passed the test of time. As a guide to spiritual formation, I am currently enjoying the very accessible and cleverly written Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ.

 

Take our moments2. Pray. For me this has to be every day, and hopefully more than once per day. A dozen years ago I began studying about and incorporating the use of the “daily office” of prayer into my life, even writing my own small, personal “office.” Office here is understood as a regular form and rhythm of prayer that is mostly corporate, but can be personal, too. I’m fortunate to be in a workplace each day where several of us now pause mid-morning to pray the office together, using our own Anabaptist prayer book, Take our Moments and Days. Prayer is probably the most overlooked and transformative activity we can do. It takes time and discipline. As Eugene Peterson says, the demands of prayer mean, “… entering realms of spirit where wonder and adoration have space to develop, where play and delight have time to flourish.”

3. Enjoy beauty. I’m a news junkie, but honestly, I find much of the news depressing these days. Lay that alongside work and vocational challenges and it’s easy to see too much ugliness. I combat that with a good, daily dose of beauty. I am privileged to live on a hillside that looks out over a valley. Each morning that weather permits, I start my day with a cup of coffee on my front deck and enjoy the light and cloud show that fans out across the mountains west of our home. Music, art, film and reading all contribute to my sense of beauty, but it’s the outdoors that does it best and it’s free.160137894

4. Let your spirit rest. Our inward selves and our minds need days off, just like our bodies. Try to do it in nature. In an article from a few years ago in “Adbusters,” Nicolas Carr (author of The Shallows) wrote: “A series of psychological studies over the past 20 years has revealed that after spending time in a quiet rural setting, close to nature, people exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper … when people aren’t being bombarded by external stimuli, their brains can, in effect, relax… The resulting state of contemplativeness strengthens their ability to control their mind.”

5. Laugh. Some of our family recently went to watch a performance of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Much Ado about Nothing.” Perhaps I was a bit conspicuous, but I laughed hard and loud for two hours and it felt good. Too often there is much in life to make us cry, but laughter can release our emotion in the same way.

We can find and hold onto “still centers” in the midst of storms of change, stress and conflict, but it takes work, effort, intentionality.

It won’t happen on its own.

For the year ahead, I pray for us all to have lives where, “play and delight have time to flourish.”

Russ Eanes of Harrisonburg, Va., is executive director of MennoMedia. This ran as a column in the February issue of The Mennonite.