Serendipity: Introducing Mary Lou Weaver Houser, Another Lancaster County Mennonite Woman With Her Own Story

100 Day Challenge Winner

At the book signing table: Mary Lou Weaver Houser on the right, September 19, 2013, Publication Day.

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind. I’ve often felt like a bride, or perhaps a wedding planner, but with about a dozen weddings to organize instead of just one! I’ve been to five states and talked to more than 700 people, signing more than 330 books along the way. Thrilling! The best part about being on a book tour is re-connecting with people and places one has loved across a lifetime.

Today’s guest turns out, serendipitously, to be one of those people. And her places mirror many of my own.

The winner of the 100 Day Challenge was Mary Lou Weaver Houser, who submitted the winning entry #413 as selected by my mother using a random number generator online on September 19, Launch Day.

Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World launched at Lititz Mennonite Church. Mary Lou was able to attend. Thus the photo above.

And now, here is Mary Lou, in her own words in answer to some questions.

Q: Describe yourself. In relation to place, stage in life, passions, etc.

One word might describe my past 69 years: hospitality—to this amazing planet, to the stranger, to bio-diversity, and to the creativity of my own inner and outer landscape.

As I meet regularly with spiritual direction clients of various faith traditions, I watch, up-close, the evolving of a new way of being. We are learning an intimate sort of hospitality that helps us to be gracious with ourselves, others, and the world with deepening regard and mutuality.

Since marriage in 1965, it has been the privilege of our family to share intentional living on an ancestral homestead in Lancaster County with more than one hundred others at Herrbrook Farm. For 23 of those years, hundreds of people have retreated to our rustic cottage there . . . opening me to the convivial hospitality described by Daniel Homan: a lively, courageous, and convivial way of living that challenges our compulsion either to turn away or to turn inward and disconnect from others.

Rod and Mary Lou Houser, bound for New England honeymoon, 1965

Drawing of Herrbrook

From the Farm to the City:

After 47 years on the farm, our dream of retiring in Lancaster City near our church where walkability and another form of intentional community are possible is now a reality. With an open door, alley potlucks and porch parties build relationships and provide multiple ways of engaging. And creating a community native-plant garden for urban bio-diversity at the Wolf Museum of Music and Art around the corner from our house is surprising me with another form of hospitality.

Wolf Museum Native Plant Garden

2. What prompted you to enter the 100 Day Challenge?

As one who relishes story and a sense of place, I have been enjoying Shirley’s passionate pursuit of her family’s collective memories. During the recent years, we have compared our personal quests in the memoir-writing process and our intense feeling for historical landscape.

Creating my own “Bone of my Bone” art series , which came eight years after the publication of  my family history, A Weaver’s Source Book, took me to a much deeper place of understanding family and church systems. These bamboo and mixed-media assemblages, as a three-part memoir, integrate my ancestral story with the spirituality of living/dying.

Mary Lou’s art project: Land Ties — Furrows and Fiber

3. What was your New Beginning?

What does one do with all those archival files of invaluable information? The boxes came along with me into the city to await a time when I could thoughtfully determine their destiny. I needed to clear out the past before I could make way for what is to come. The day I had the courage to tackle those felt like a “new beginning.” So I entered Shirley’s 100 Day challenge and charted my New Beginning.


5. Tell us about your own Home Place?

Near Collegeville. Weaver homestead

My art-making story-images rise from Collegeville (PA) hayfields by the Rittenhouse Creek, from hard benches holding squirming children of every hue at First Mennonite Mission in Norristown, from lively classrooms at Christopher Dock High School and Eastern Mennonite University, to the past 48 years spent in the bosom of Lancaster Mennonite settlements where Rod and I have shared sacred ancestral acreage at Herrbrook Farm, a place of hospitality and healing.

This geography truly is my Home Place. When I am connected to the earth-based spirituality of my Anabaptist gardening foremothers, my art-making simply is, as Teilhard de Chardin describes it, the “boiling up of life.”

6. What have you done/do you plan to do with your prizes?

Shirley’s generous gifts will be savored for a long time! Although Rod and I shared the Bird-in-Hand shoofly pie with guests immediately after the Blush launch, the canned goods, Herald Press books, and overnight-stay in the Hershey homestead (now Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast) will provide future delight. Each of these has its own particular association with my childhood.

Thank you, Shirley!

What questions do you have for Mary Lou? What is your Home Place like? It doesn’t have to be a farm. I’d love to hear how you relate to your own memories of home.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on October 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Congratulations, Mary Lou, for two things: winning the 100 Day Challenge and most importantly for the creative way you have re-imagined your unique story through the “Bone of My Bone” art series. My own story is taking the form of text+photos+original art by my husband.

    Like you, I have a Lancaster County, Mennonite heritage. Thanks to Shirley’s blog and subsequent book publication, the coterie of farm girls who create is growing larger and larger! Thanks for the photos, drawings, and lovely sample of your art.

    • Mary Lou Weaver Houser on October 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks to each of you who have been inspired by Shirley’s passion for the creative process.I love how story begets story . .. rich connections!

  2. shirleyhs on October 10, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I think that category “farm girls who create” would be a vast one. Wouldn’t it be fun to do a conference on that subject?

    I spoke to 400 people at Goshen College and asked how many of them grew up on farms (there’s a large contingent of Greencroft Retirement Center folks in those Afternoon Sabbatical audiences). It seemed like 75 percent of the people raised their hands. It was amazing. But after our generation leaves the scene, the percentages will come down fast. Currently, less than two percent of the population lives on a farm.

    Thanks for your comment, Marian. So glad you can see the interesting things Mary Lou is doing. She’s active in the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. I highly recommend membership there. They keep many people who live far away in touch with their roots.

  3. Sherrey Meyer on October 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Congratulations, Mary Lou, on your winning entry! I am not a Mennonite with a Lancaster County heritage. However, a week spent there some years ago captured my heart and I have very fond memories of the people and places, but most of all the landscape and joys of simpler living.

  4. shirleyhs on October 11, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Sherrey, thanks for sharing both congratulations and memory. I’m often amazed by the impact of a single visit on the lives of many. Mary Lou really understands the importance of cultivating the land with love and offering the beauty of memory to others.

  5. melodie davis on October 11, 2013 at 7:54 am

    What a nice follow up for the 100 days challenge. Great story. Interesting that the name drawn found such an interesting artist, and I bet she wasn’t the only one with a great story.

  6. shirleyhs on October 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

    So true, Melodie! Thanks for this observation. You’ve given me an idea. I can offer this space to other New Beginnings entrants in the 100 Day Challenge. Thanks! I’ve wished often that I could have offered many more prizes. The things people did and wrote truly amazed me.

  7. Richard Gilbert on October 14, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    How interesting, and what a worthy winner. Thank you for sharing your wise path, Mary Lou.

    • shirleyhs on October 16, 2013 at 8:50 am

      Richard, thanks for adding your comment. I know that Mary Lou will understand your forthcoming memoir Shepherd at a deep level. I think perhaps they had sheep on the Herrbrook farm???

  8. Mary Lou Weaver Houser on October 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Yes, Rose Breneman brought Siphiwe, a bleating lawn mower, to come live with us. She got tethered here and there as needed, and occasionally broke loose to roam the neighborhood. Let’s say she was one of our more memorable residents at Herrbrook!

    Your memoir title intrigues me, Richard.

    • shirleyhs on October 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      Mary Lou, I can just envision Siphiwe (an Indian name?) as your independently minded sheep.

      And, you will definitely want to read Richard’s book. I know I can’t wait to read it.

  9. Richard Gilbert on October 17, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks, Mary Lou and Shirley, for bringing sheep into this matter! Anyone who can tether a sheep deserves high praise and emulation. A goat, no problem. It’s not that sheep are dumber than goats—I’d never go that far; they are smart enough to be successful sheep!—but are such flocking creatures that individual isolation is an anathema.

  10. […] has many meanings. I asked her to answer some questions about her life, the same questions I asked Mary Lou Weaver Houser, the winner of the random drawing for the 100 Day Challenge […]

  11. Marian Baker on June 19, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Hi. I just got reconnected to Ann Wilcox from Collegeville and she sent me this link. Congrats. It has been a joy to have been able to visit you both at Herrbrook and in
    Lancaster city in recent years.
    Will I see you at Rigmor Rices’s memorial service at
    schuylkill Mtg. in Phoenixville on the 28th of June?

  12. […] year ago, several hundred people had entered the 100 Day Challenge on this website and were helping to prepare the […]

  13. Delmer B. Martin on July 31, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Hello There:
    Greetings from Waterloo County Mennonite Country in Ontario Canada.

    I love Mary Lou’s art project: Land Ties — Furrows and Fiber.I reside on one of the old Martin Homesteads in Canada which was handed down from father to son to me. The David Martin Farm right shown in the center is exactly where my ancestors came from. I have been to the ole Weberthal neighborhood many times in my pilgrimage and it is is home sweet home for me as well! Ironically my brother Murray Martin married a Weber girl from right up here in Elmira where the Martin-Weaver neighborhood repeated itself all over again. My next door neighbors are Horst and Shirk/Sherk and Bauman/Bowman and Gingrich and Weber.Check out my blog as per below for my thoughts on Weaverland…

    Check out Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

    Best Regards;
    Delmer B. Martin
    RR#4 Elmira Ontario CANADA

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