August 19, 2008
I joined the Amish church at the age of 18 and lived the lifestyle until I was 49 years old. For many years I wondered what was wrong with me that I dreaded going to church. The preachers always said one only gets out of church what one puts in. I felt guilty most of the time and now I realize that I really wasn't allowed to put anything into the church, for I am a woman, and a woman in the Amish culture is to be silent. There were times I wasn't silent, but I learned that it's not worth the battle -- it accomplished nothing. The Amish culture does not teach their children how to think, but what to think. And because of that much abuse occurs among them.
We are taught that we are not allowed to question authority even when authority asks us to do something which is unfair, unsafe, unloving, unjust, and/or untrue. I was the victim of mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I do want to add that I have no memory of ever being sexually abused by a family member. For that, I am truly grateful.
From age 18 to 30 I was depressed on a daily basis. Many times I contemplated suicide or running away from home. I was physically unable to do a day's work for many years. My life was dictated by fear for many years in almost everything I did. Most of what the Amish do is dictated by fear. However, very few seem to recognize that. For example, I read the Bible because I was afraid not to. I prayed (after a fashion) because I was afraid not to. I strictly adhered to the rules of the church because I wanted people's approval (again it was fear). For many years I thought if I stayed Amish and read no other version of the Bible except the King James Version I'd probably go to heaven. I constantly feared dying with an unconfessed sin and then I was convinced I would be doomed to hell. I lived in constant fear of being deceived by these people who know they are going to heaven.
In the middle 80's my health improved to the extent that I then became a workaholic. I loved running from early to late helping people and accomplishing a lot of work. Finally I was happy, or so I thought. I did not realize that I was using work to deaden the pain of my past plus, I didn't have time to think about all my fears. I wore a mask of "nothing bothers me" and some people truly believed that. It went on for such a long time that I had almost managed to convince myself that I can handle anything. I was the strong person in my family and everybody leaned on me. It was a false security at best. My worth was found in pleasing everyone and feeling needed, but instead I was being used. How utterly empty!
In 1992 I was at the point of a nervous breakdown simply because I could not please everyone. I had no clue who I was or where I was going. In the late 90's our family was having some serious family problems. Through one of my clients I learned about a Christian counselor and was given his phone number in case we would consider contacting him. Six months later he was contacted by one of my family members. Of course, I did not think that I, of all people needed any counseling. If everyone else got "fixed" I could get on with my life. What denial and arrogance!
In the early spring of 1999, however, I decided to also begin counseling. I immediately learned to admire my counselor a great deal, however, trust was a long time in coming, especially when he shared with me that he knows that he's saved and that he's going to heaven. I was scared to no end. However, I searched the scriptures high and low to prove him wrong. He always had a scripture to back up what he believed. He introduced me to an inspirational author, Max Lucado. However, I did not really care for his books; I found them dull and uninteresting. To add to all this I was told this Max believes in "once saved always saved" and I was warned to be careful with his teachings, especially the book "In the Grip of Grace." No problem -- I just wouldn't read it to play it safe. But God has ways of working in people's hearts that are beyond human comprehension at times.
Ever since I've been a small child I've taken interest in reaching out to others and to listen to their tales of woe. I was always interested in trying to figure out how people think. So in the course of events I became like a mentor to an Amish girl from another state. We would talk on a regular basis by phone. On one such occasion I said, "Why don't you plan to spend a couple weeks with me?" That's exactly what happened and while she was staying here she was reading the book "In the Grip of Grace" by Max Lucado. And of all things, as she was ready to leave, she offered to leave the book here so I could read it, too, if I wished. I did not want to hurt her feelings, so I said, "Yes, you can leave it here." But on the inside I was thinking, "Yeah, right. I won't be reading that book." To this day I don't remember how it came about that I picked up that book and began reading it. But after I started reading it I couldn't put it down. In the second to the last chapter it became so clear what grace is all about. It's not about what I do, but about what He has done. I cannot put into words what a heavy burden rolled off my shoulders. The tears began running down my cheeks (and they still do when I think of it), I threw my arms back and said, "I'm free!" I couldn't wait to share my experience with my counselor.
At the time of this experience I had a roommate, and she had been away for the evening. When she came home she walked around the house a little and looked at me and said, "Has something happened?" I was amazed and yet it was just another confirmation of what God had done. Isn't it awesome how He has every minute of our lives planned? Of course I wanted to share my experience with others, but I was quite careful, for I knew that if I shared what I now believed I would be excommunicated. However, God gave me an opportunity to share with one of my dear nieces about my conversion. She asked what happened to me; "I see that you are at peace," she said. (God knows that baby Christians need confirmation.) She said, I want it, too, and I was too new in the faith to really help her, but I directed her to someone who could help, and I am happy to report that she too came to know Jesus as her personal Savior just a few weeks later.
I now would read my Bible because I wanted to out of sheer joy and love. Happiness depends on circumstances, joy depends on Christ, but my journey had just begun. My dream was to be a missionary to the Amish and to me that meant staying within the culture, so that I could reach them. For 4 years I continued to "work" at being Amish, or at least looking like an Amish person on the outside. The door to the prison I had been in was now open, but I kept being afraid to leave the cage. You see I had my own private business for over 10 years and that meant I would lose my business, plus there were other reasons that I just didn't think I could make the move. The cost was just too high, or so I thought. Besides I thought I had to figure out what is around every bend, before I could make the "jump." I learned that we don't need faith if we have all the answers.
One Sunday while sitting in a council meeting for hours and clenching my teeth and fists, propping my elbows on my knees, so I could discreetly plug my ears with my hands, and getting up for bathroom breaks because of the things I was hearing that were not biblical and then ending up saying I agreed with all of it, I recognized that I was lying -- living a lie. It dawned on me that the only place I ever lie was in church. I quickly asked God's forgiveness, but after relating the incident to my counselor he said, "You mean you'd rather lie than stand up for what you believe?" It really made me think, for I considered myself an honest person. Quite a number of Sundays after that I came home from church and was so frustrated once more about the things I had heard in church that were based on appearance, performance, and status -- not grace driven, but fear driven -- I said, "Lord, how long do I have to go to that church?" The answer came very swiftly and clearly -- "as soon as you are tired of it enough." I jumped up and down -- it was the last Sunday I attended the Amish church. Interestingly enough since I've left I've been able to minister to far more Amish people than I ever did while I was still within the culture.
My leaving rocked the Amish world quite a bit, for I am quite widely known because of business contacts and teaching Amish school for 13 years. I've learned that it has made people search, which is a good thing. It's been a very rough journey -- I've lost most of my business and for the first time in my life I'm on a payroll. I was forced to get a job. I've had to depend on other people to provide funds, which has not been easy; I'm such an independent person, (God knew I had to become more dependent on Him) but it has been a good experience and God has blessed me in so many ways. One day when I came home after having been "chewed out" to the hilt I sat down on the couch and bawled, but I reached for my Bible and it fell open to the book of James -- Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2. Here I was crying and the Bible said I'm to be rejoicing. The journey has gotten harder, but better. All the pain, all the suffering -- everything -- I'd do it all again if necessary, to get what I now have.
I have not "arrived" by any means. I still have moments that I struggle, of doubt, of fear, but now I have an awesome Guide, who walks before me, who is at my side, and who walks behind me. When I feel disconnected I know He hasn't really moved. When I struggle I know it's OK, because He knows my heart -- He knows me totally and when people tell me I'm way off target I know He understands. I believe that God has brought difficult people into my life, so that I've been truly able to say, "What people think really doesn't matter."
I have no regrets growing up Amish. I appreciate what my parents taught me, even though the way it was taught was not necessarily very good; nonetheless I was taught good morals and my dad was a stickler for honesty and integrity. I recognize now that they did the best they knew with what they had; no one can do any better than that. My mother has since apologized and asked for my forgiveness, and I could honestly say, "There's nothing to forgive; it's already been done." But only by the grace of God was it possible.
The hurts had been immense. But with the aid of a counselor who passionately portrayed God's unconditional love with his life, who accepted me for who I was as a special and unique creation of God, and taught me to celebrate who I was; that enabled me to start the healing process.
And I'm ever so happy to report that my mother has come to know Jesus as her personal Savior. She is more at peace than I ever thought I'd see her. We have had many in-depth discussions about the scriptures. My father passed away 23 years ago and I feel confident that he was at peace when he died, but since he died very suddenly and unexpectedly we had no opportunity to discuss it. God truly has blessed me in many ways.
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