A Full Life, Joyfully Shared

Cookie Wiebe lived simply, but she also lived fully. My thoughts turned to her often on November 1, All Saints Day, a time to remember those who have lived in the ways of God’s reign. Cookie had died of cancer at 57 the day before.

When I joined the Mennonite Weekly Review staff in 2008, editor Paul Schrag introduced me to Cookie and her husband, Dave, as hosts during my trips to Newton, Kansas.

I was impressed by their Christian commitment to whole-life stewardship. It went far beyond simple-living practices I had learned, such as line-drying clothes or washing plastic bags for reuse.

I observed Cookie thoughtfully examining her choices. She liked to shop in thrift stores. Sometimes she would purchase something but then find it didn’t fit quite right. If it was too big, sometimes she’d offer it to me when I visited. One time she had found a pair of comfortable yet dressy shoes in a size 10. She liked them and wanted to make them work, but then encouraged me to try them on, and they fit perfectly. Some time later she found a pair of shoes the same color and brand, but a size smaller.

The next year, she gave up thrift stores during Lent, looking at the seemingly harmless habit of buying used, inexpensive items in light of her relationship with God.

Cookie also showed me that living simply doesn’t mean forgoing all that is not useful. She would create art from what seemed like an ordinary walk after dinner through digital photography.

One doesn’t need a lot of ornate objects when there is so much color and richness in daily life. She has inspired me to take time to revel in wonders such as a stunning pattern inside a purple potato I have started chopping for dinner.

On one of my visits, Cookie was writing an article for timbrel, the magazine of Mennonite Women USA, about her and Dave’s choice to stay in what she called their starter home. (Click here to view or download the article from the July-August 2008 archives.) She wrote about how having “a smaller house with a smaller mortgage” allowed them more resources to give in service to their communities and internationally, including when they lived in Chad and India.

Cookie’s wisdom helps me to see it as a gift when my husband and I reduced our possessions by a third to move into a smaller apartment. It also diminishes anxiety that sometimes arises in me when welcoming people for a meal in our dining room that is also a kitchen, or having them stay the night in a guest bedroom that is also my office. I remember Cookie’s words about hosting in a smaller home: “Hospitality is less about space and conveniences and more about opening our lives to guests.”

Cookie opened her life to me in many ways as a host and as a friend. It feels providential that I met Cookie and Dave at the time when I was joining a Mennonite church for the first time. They have modeled a Christian faith I hope to embody as well.

Cookie lived an examined life with much joy. Even in moments of suffering, she was sustained by God’s love and the love of her family and communities. I give thanks to God for the few years that I knew her, and for her example, which will continue to be a guide in years to come.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a master of divinity student at the University of Chicago.