Category Archives: Rest

Give me The Roses While I Live

Soundlessly, the long bearded Amish man, hat in hand, clad in  dark clothes, closed the door behind cousin Joshua  and myself as we stepped into the small room where my deceased grandmother lay. Joshua and I looked at each other and stepped forward toward the freshly stained walnut coffin. Groszmommy, as we knew her, had died. She was gone. Into the shadowy hinterlands forever.

A torrent of feelings ripped through me. Isn’t it crazy how a lifetime can wash over you in one minute? In one second. Her and I had had a tumultuous relationship at best. My mind drifted.

 Suddenly it was 1992 and I was with some other little cousins at Groszmommy’s house. We were playing an innocent game , pretending we were driving trucks as all healthy little boys do. We would set up cardboard boxes in front of little chairs for car hoods, and hold round Tupperware lids while we roared in our little voices. “Brrmmmmm. Brmmmmm.” We were really going places. Or so we thought. Then Groszmommy came around the corner and things really went places. Mostly went south.

 “Boys,” she scolded with a raised voice, “that is wicked! You know you can’t do that. “Es macht der Herr böse!” (It makes God angry.) God does not want us to drive cars and you know that! All four of us dropped our steering wheels, mindless of the impending crashes that would happen. The youngest one began crying.

 I was only 4 years old, but I wasn’t going to let Groszmommy run over us like that. After all, I was practically a man. “Groszmommy, we can do it our home. My mom doesn’t care.”

 Silence fell. You just don’t talk back to Groszmommy. She advanced menacingly.  One step closer. And closer. Really? Four-year old Jason was going to talk back to her? She raised her voice and glared down at me with icy eyes. “Well, I don’t care. Its wrong and you are not doing it here.”

 I took one last stand. “You’re not my boss!” I yelled.

 Her eyes flashed and she made a lunge for me. My courage was exhausted. I turned tail and ran, with Groszmommy in hot pursuit. I needed a truck. A real one. To go faster. She followed only a few feet till timeless wisdom dictated she should take care of the other three rebels instead of chasing me. I ran as fast as my legs could take me to my mother, where I hid in her skirts, sobbing that Groszmommy was going to get me. My dear mother wiped my tears and calmed me down. I admire her so to this day for situations like this. She comforted me and helped me understand that while we were on Groszmommy’s turf we played by her rules. And she ruffled Groszmommy’s feathers without disrespecting her in front of me. That day a  cautious unspoken truce was formed. 

 I did not like Groszmommy. I endured her. I did not trust her. I tried to evade her as much as possible. And I was confident  she didn’t like me. We never engaged in friendly conversation. I didn’t have a single good memory of her or with her. But now Groszmommy had died. This truce was  broken only by her death.  A truce that was in place for 25 years. A quarter of a century. Never again could she hurt meAs I looked at her withered face lying serenely  in the coffin, my heart went out to her. Now this was a woman of faith. A woman who had given all for what she believed. She had been born and raised in a different Amish community and when she switched affiliations, her family shunned her. With her husband she pioneered a new Amish community. Hopes were high. But then Grandpa died young and she was left with about 15 children. She struggled valiantly and she won.

My mind went back through the years. I realized that every single time we went to her house I cringed. I remembered being at the awkward age of 14 when there was a gathering of all 40 of her grandchildren to sing for her one evening. Of the impassioned speech she gave at the end.

“My dear children, you must stay in this Amish church. We are God’s chosen people. You cannot go into the world. It is wrong.  You may be tempted to go to a different church, but remember that is the devil as an angel of light deceiving you. Now I wouldn’t want to judge, but people who are not in our church are wolves in sheep’s clothing. If you want to go to heaven, you must stay here. Don’t leave this community. Or you will burn in hell for all eternity. To forsake the church is condemnation. To even think of leaving this Amish church is sin. Now lets sing the hymn, “Sin Can Never Enter There.” I was torn. This teaching is all I had ever heard. And yet, all I wanted to do was to leave this community and see the world beyond. My desire is sin. I am condemned. There is no hope.

I remembered how the day before I left the Amish community forever, my parents asked me to go visit Groszmommy and tell her about my impending move. Now that was beyond hard. My dear and brave sister Regina went with me. Awkwardly, we entered her small house where she greeted us with warm handshakes and gushed on about how nice and thoughtful it was to come see our aged grandmother. We sat down and began visiting. We talked about the weather. Who got married. Who died. Who had a baby.  I cleared my throat. This was hard.

Groszmommy beat me to the punch, “Well Jason, this is so nice of you to come visit me. I have been wanting to talk to you. You know, it is that time of the year when young people can ask to be baptized into the church. Maybe you would like to? Oh, think of how happy your parents would be!” She said it with such hope. Such shining eyes.

Regina looked at the floor helplessly. I looked at the floor helplessly. Time stood still. I wished a hole would open up and I could drop in. I wished for wings. I for sure wished for a truck. A very fast truck. The old clock on the mantle ticked each second of eternity into the deathly quietness of the room. I wanted to scream. You could hear a pin drop. The sound of three people breathing. “Tick. Tock. Tick Tock.” Every second was like an hour.

Finally I looked up. I looked my grandmother square in the eye. “Groszmommy, I am leaving. Tomorrow I am moving to Pennsylvania. I am sorry for disappointing you.”  The silence became deafening. I felt pressure around my head, around my body as if I were a hundred meters under the sea. The silence was shattered only by Groszmommy’s helpless sobbing as she burst into tears. And did she ever cry. Now I really wanted to leave. Gradually her sobs subsided and she began talking. She reached for her worn German Bible.

“Jason,” said Groszmommy, ” I want to read to you from die Schrift. She opened her Bible to  Ephesians 6:2 and began reading, “Ihr Kinder, seid gehorsam euren Eltern in dem HERRN; denn das ist billig .Ehre Vater und Mutter; das ist das erste Gebot, das Verheißung hat, Auf daß dir’s wohl gehe, und du lange lebest auf Erden.”

Translation:  “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”

She continued, “So as the Bible says you have to obey your parents. To do otherwise is not right. It is sin. Sinners can never enter heaven.” She looked at me triumphantly. She had won.

In a voice thick with emotion, humiliation, sadness, and anger I replied, “Groszmommy, I did not come here to discuss this. I came here only to tell you of my decision. It’s final. And I need to go now.” As she gripped my hand in a goodbye, her gaze alternated between icy anger at a crazy grandson and deep love while salty tears fell onto my hands in an eerie promise of widening the unspoken chasm between us.

I came back to the present. Cousin Joshua and I looked at each other. Large tears stood in his eyes. I felt my heart begin to soften. I knew this dear old lady loved me. But she didn’t know how to show it. How to bridge that gap. Now as she lay in front of me, my heart went out to her. I felt a love for her such as I never felt before. How foolish it was, the quarter century of distrust. And yet how completely unable were we to change anything. Then or now. Unbidden tears slipped out of my eyes. I looked at Joshua and in a tremulous voice I whispered,  ” I want to follow the good in her life and forget the bad.” With full eyes he nodded. And we wept together. We wept for her. For her miserable life. We wept for her hurts. We wept for the hurt we gave her. And we wept for a hope that she might be in a better place. Finally he whispered, “We should probably go out.” With a last look at Groszmommy we left the little room. But I left every piece of bitterness there. Every hurt was washed away. Forgiveness was in my heart. I gave her the roses when she died.

The funeral was large. About 800 people showed up to pay their last respects. A graveside service was held. With the large group of relatives, I  stood next to the open coffin and took a last look at her. Then it was sealed. Sealed forever. As the coffin was lowered into the ground the entire group began singing a German song:

Gute Nacht. Gute Nacht.                (Good night. Good night)

Nochmal sei dir Dank gebracht.   (Again, we bring you thanks.)

Und nun schlaf Ich ohne Sorgen. (And now I will sleep without worries.)

Ohne Furcht bis an den Morgen. (Without fear until the morning.)

Weil mein Vater ob mir wacht.    (While my father watches over me.)

Gute Nacht, Gute Nacht.                (Goodnight. Goodnight.)

I cried all through the song and wished with my whole heart that every word was true for her. It was such a beautiful way of letting go of her.

 

When the singing finished the officiating Amish preacher had a word of encouragement for the family. He told of her faithfulness, her selflessness and mentioned that her greatest sorrow in life was when her children and grandchildren left the faith. That was me. 800 people were present and in that moment I could feel all 1,600 eyes turn in my direction and bore right through me. But I didn’t mind.

As a final act of respect, I along with the other grandsons took my turn shoveling dirt into the grave. And I whispered ‘”Good bye Groszmommy. See you on the other side.”

Her last words to me had been simple. She asked ,”Jason, what are you going to tell God when you stand before him on Judgment Day and he asks you why you dishonored your parents by leaving the Amish?”

I replied, “I am going to tell Him I did the best I knew.”

She replied, “It won’t be enough.”

So today my dear Groszmommy, as you look down from the skies on high, I promise you that I will truly do the best I know, and under the blood of Jesus, that will be enough. I will make every attempt to live my life in such away that when I stand before God, you will poke the grandfather I never knew, the grandfather who died before I was born and whisper to angel Grandpa, “That’s our grandson! Can you believe it?”

And I also promise you that I will give the roses to those who are living. I will not wait till my friends die.

 

Killing Marie’s Dreams

I want to tell you the story of Marie. It’s been burning on my heart for a few weeks now. Sometimes it just makes me so mad. And in other moments just sad. You see, there are some things I hate with a passion. I hate when people are taken advantage of. I hate when innocent young lives have their hopes and dreams stolen for no reason.

I met Marie for the first time when she was 6 years old and I was 13. She had huge, sparkling, brown eyes that twinkled with mirth and abandon from the pure joy of being alive and chasing yellow winged butterflies through pungent green alfalfa fields. From  innocence. From being loved.

Time went on as it usually does. About 15 years later Marie’s eyes are dead, mirthless and chilling. She moves slowly even though she is still young. She is the spitting image of a walking dead person. It just kills me. Let me tell you why. But first I want you to know that this story is 100% true.  I scrambled some details to hide her identity.

It was a hot muggy August day in southern Kentucky. The Amish community was abuzz. A new family was moving in . The Ephraim Yoder family had been part of an Amish community in a northern state, but Ephraim  felt like his family would benefit from a more traditional lifestyle and so they moved to Kentucky. Several moving trucks brought the family and their belongings. Neighbors got together and unloaded the severe looking utensils, furniture and machinery they brought along, while other men unloaded draft horses, cows, and crates of chickens. The did not need to unload the kids though. And the second oldest daughter Marie lost no time in getting acquainted with her new neighbors and farm.

That was it. Ephraim Yoders were officially part of the community. Ephraim was stalwart. He was traditional. He was well liked. He knew dutch better than anyone else. The bishop loved him. He had lots of kids and they fitted in well. Except for Marie. She got into so much trouble. The poor school teacher had his hands too full. Marie did not run with the bad crowd. She was the bad crowd. She was the ringleader of clean mischief and youthful fun. Her somber-faced teacher plucked out most of the wispy golden beard he had managed to accumulate in sheer perplexity.

Then Marie was old enough to go to the singings and start running around. When the other girls her age were baptized into the church at the age of 17 and 18 she couldn’t make herself follow suit. In her heart she harbored a secret dream of leaving this life style and seeing the world. She dreamed of something greater but she guarded this dream carefully.

Year after year her concerned parent begged and wept, pleading with her to join the church. Older, self-righteous cousins and friends scorned her, chided her, and humiliated her in futile attempts to make her join the church. The bishop, the preachers, the deacons and their wives all had to take their turns in an attempt to break this strong-willed young woman. But they couldn’t.

After four years of pressure, four years of brain washing, four years of mental torture, four years of being told she is hell bound, she finally broke down. She agreed to attend the instruction class, after which she would be baptized into the church. Week after week she was forced to sit with other scared young people while the revered bishops repeated meaningless jargon in a language none of them understood. But Marie’s time had not yet come. Her mischievousness had not escaped the bitter memory of church members and as tradition dictates, members are allowed to give a dissenting vote towards receiving any candidates for church membership. In a back-handed manner, a sniveling member gave a dissenting vote. Marie was devastated. She had sacrificed everything she ever dreamed or hoped of to appease the Amish community, which promptly rejected her.

Marie was down for a while. She had a really hard time engaging her neighbors and community members because she felt like they betrayed her. She was quiet. Her eyes had begun to lose some of their light. But a quiet confidence stole back into her heart. God began speaking to her and loving on her. She began to feel like a person again. In her heart she resolved to run from this group of people and start a new life somewhere else. From a friend of a friend she obtained the phone number of a Mennonite lady far away and in the dead of night she stole away to an unoccupied building and made a desperate phone call. Yes, the Mennonite lady said. Just come. We will take care of you, even though we don’t know you.

Contrary to what every one always said, Marie was a respectable girl. Unlike some young people she could not bring herself to disappear unexpectedly. She informed her parents of her plans, and when they saw that they could not change the mind of their strong-willed stubborn daughter they hitched the horse to the carriage and made a flying trip to the bishop’s house. Weeping uncontrollably at the prospect of the eternal demise of his daughter, Ephraim explained the predicament. His 21-year-old daughter has determined to run away, and in a hushed voice racked with sobs he said, ” and we think she will.”

The community rallied in support of faithful Ephraim. Marie was locked in a house and was not left alone for one second. Beginning immediately, older members from the community sat with her from the crack of dawn to past dark, remonstrating, chiding, shouting, scolding, scoffing, belittling, telling her of the awful wrath of God she will incur if she leaves. Telling her she will burn in hell forever. Telling her she is killing her parents. Reminding her that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and therefore she is a witch. A servant of Satan. Marie just laughed. But the tyranny and the dastard verbal abuse continued. The second day, the third day, and by the fourth day she was desperately tired. A thousand demonic voices shrieked in her head and each one said something slightly different.

The fifth day dawned bright and clear. Promptly at the 7:00 AM preacher Moses and his wide Martha showed up and began the day by tearing apart this beautiful girl. After several hours they were relieved when another older couple took over. Towards evening Marie was in agony. Her head was spinning. She had no idea what was true and what was a lie. All the things she had believed seemed so distant. She wasn’t even sure that God existed anymore. All she knew was darkness. Complete, utter, hopeless, bone chilling darkess. After 5 days of being locked in a house and having each thought and feeling shredded, she caved. What ever you want, she finally said.

The community was relieved. Yet another person was saved. They lost no time baptizing her into the church so that the thought of deserting may ever be far from her.

But it’s not good. The light in Marie’s eyes just died. And it’s the saddest thing in the world. There is no life. There is no hope. There are no dreams. I believe that the cruelest thing you can do to a person is to steal their dreams. And this Amish community ,in a systematic approach, dismantled and buried her dreams one agonizing detail at a time while she watched in horror-stricken silence, too dead to even mourn the loss.

I will stop there. There really isn’t more to say. But please, would you whisper a prayer for Marie? A prayer that she may find life? And not just her. For the many Maries that are hopelessly stuck in this culture. If you know a Marie, tell her something nice. Make her feel valued. Let her know there is life, there is hope, there is reason to dream.Thank you.

***I should add, that while this is a true story, there are many Amish communities that will not operate in this manner. And even within this particular community there are many good people.***

When You Just Can’t Go On

We have so much emphasis on being strong. And it’s something I pursue passionately. I intend to pursue it the rest of my life. I have chosen to be intentional with strength to myself and those who God placed in my life in any facet. Sometimes strength is saying “I am weak.”

Recently I came to a place where I had been fighting so many hard battles on different fronts that I was completely exhausted. (I still am, for that matter.) I felt like I had been on the battle field, dealt a mortal wound and was just laying there under the hot sun with shelling still ringing in my ears, waiting to expire. A very kind friend took the time to talk to me, and it changed my life.

He asked whether I had the energy to pursue God, and I said I didn’t. I was so exhausted that I literally didn’t have the energy or even the desire to pursue God. And I feel like that was the first time this has happened to me. Certainly the first time I verbalized it. I didn’t really know what it meant either. How to proceed from this point. Does this mean that I am no longer a follower of God? He advised me to ask God to pursue me. So I did.

And here is what happened. I just told God that I was so tired I didn’t have the strength or energy to pursue him. If this relationship is going to work, He would have to pursue me or give me strength to pursue him. And He did. Almost immediately I noticed a calming of battle forces, a soothing healing to the heart and in the weeks since then just a deep euphoric feeling of  being carried in the arms of God while I heal and prepare to face life and the enemy again-head on.

I am profoundly grateful for a God that cares so deeply. I mean, obviously He does with the story of redemption, but this was an entirely new field of care for me. On the very heels of this experience I have had the privilege of going deep into the remote Arctic circle and camping  under the midnight sun. To see some of the most stunning and imaginative pieces of God’s creation. It has restored the feeling of love and sonship to a new level.

I put this story out there because I want everyone to know that if you ever get to the point of being worn out, don’t despair. Just be honest with God, tell him where you are at. I think we under estimate what honesty with God will do. Let’s be real, He knows it already anyway. He will meet you there and carry you if you allow him to.

DSC03630
“The midnight sun on the Norwegian border.”