I grew up in life accustomed to pain. The pain of feeling “different”, the pain of never feeling understood, the pain of losing loved ones, and the pain of struggling to be accepted and my “weird” attempts to win acceptance only bringing more rejection, the pain of not even understanding myself, and hating myself. Why was I ever born? There were so many “good” people that could better this world. Why did God bring into this world someone who just didn’t have it in himself to be “good”.
How could others so easily “fit” in and this dunce simply couldn’t make the grade in socializing? To dull the pain, I indulged in self. Nobody really knew who I was nor did I care to really be transparent because no one would like the “me” I felt inside. I became a loner and did life very much free lancing everything. If anything became “dear” to me God seemed to take it away. I had a Dad, who unbeknownst to me struggled with many of the same things. He was one that seemed to care and understand, but like me, he was much in his own little world and did not know how to reach out verbally to his son. He just was a “good” dad the best he could and I adored him, but was never close to him. He never punished me in anger except one incident that I remember.
On the other hand I struggled tremendously with a relationship with my mom. Verbal abuse, guilt trips, and physical punishment were heaped on me from as long as I could remember. I did not know that my mom was suffering from the same in her childhood. It was a vicious cycle that would continue on to my children. She was simply venting her frustration of never feeling good enough herself, same as I did years later. My siblings all felt that criticism and struggle with mom, to an extent, but I attracted more of her frustration because of my rebellion. I was a tough determined little tyke that “worked” his way through anything, or so I thought.
After losing Dad (when I was 14) to a farm accident, a broken hearted Mom, 4 years later, and my closest and dear young brother to a drowning accident, 2 years after mom’s death, I was nearly broken. I lost the will to live. I wallowed in despair and self pity. I rebelled against the pain, and fought against the flow. Relatives and friends alike tried to “help” me by admonishing me. This only created more pain and alienation. I looked for new circles but even my own upbringing kept me in check from going out into the world of drinking, carousing, drugs, smoking, etc. I never smoked a cigarette in my life and I only once drank enough to lose my sobriety.
Yet despite my moral appearance outwardly I had a lot of anger and rebellion, and I indulged in lots of secret fantasies and lusts. I was addicted to masturbation at a very young age. I hated myself for what I was becoming but had no control over myself. I always felt for the underdog and the struggling (to this day) and hated the oppressors and the “religious” and “good” people in life who never failed to antagonize me. I never could figure out why I hated them but I know they made me feel so inadequate (one of my core pains).
Girls would turn me down. I knew I was different and never really had buddies, but couldn’t they give me a try? Just one weekend? Soon after losing my young brother and in the midst of my despair, I met a beautiful young girl that did not know me. I was afraid to ask her but one of the few friends I had who was also less socially popular, was daring enough to ask her without my consent. I was so stunned when she accepted. I received 5 minutes notice before I was to pick her up and take her home which was both good and bad. For once I was so stunned, I couldn’t do or say anything inappropriate. I was just quiet and very very nervous. We feebly tried becoming acquainted with our families. I left without asking her again because I was afraid she would dump me. I later discovered she thought I was a “dud” but through the coaxing of her brother, determined to give me a fair chance. Good thing I didn’t know or I would never have changed. When I gathered the courage to personally ask her again she accepted so readily I nearly flipped. That weekend turned my life around. I thought she really wanted me and saw something in me. I became “different”. A more likable “different”. Love and acceptance changed my life. Our love grew and we were going steady in just weeks. She started to really like and care for the real me and only later informed me how nearly she had dumped me. I thought life was roses. My love for her was strong and my spiritual life revived. I regained courage and confidence, but I did not know I was going on a prop. I had not received healing and shortly into our marriage we were sorely tested. My “weird” ways started causing trouble. She fit in, I didn’t. She still loved me but I noticed she was losing her respect for me. I struggled with this fiercely and this snowballed for me. Finally at the age of 45 I just broke. I could no longer hold on, and went into deep depression, and also spiraled deep into immorality in whatever secret ways I could. I hid completely from my wife who was devastated because she sensed I was no longer myself. She wanted to haul me off to a psychologist and put me on medication. I knew it was more than that. I didn’t want to be zombie and I refused to go. She coaxed me into seeing a counselor and I finally filled out an application but for a year the application set on my desk. I didn’t trust anyone with my life.
One day I heard a sermon on the “life in Jesus”. I sensed this was something I had never really experienced. It was something deeper than the religion I had known. I longed for this deeper meaning, the healing, the cleansing, and the peace. I could not figure out what I was feeling, but I no longer cared what people thought. I wept uncontrollably. I knew this was awkward for many people, but after the services, a neighbor who understood the depths of a heart, reached out to me and gently gained my trust. He walked with me for weeks, not protruding into my life, but just stopping by to chat and show love and compassion, and listen as my heart rambled. I know now there was a lot of pain coming out that probably didn’t make sense to him, but he just listened to my rambling. He became a solid anchor in my turbulent life. He never condemned, judged or shut me off. He was always there no matter what. He invited me to a retreat with other couples who had been through turbulent times and found healing. Although I trusted him I was not sure I was ready to meet others. I nearly backed out of it at the last minute. Little did I realize how my life would change that weekend. That weekend I found the Lord (or He found me). I will not share my testimony here but I will say this much ……… I wept louder and deeper that weekend than at all the deaths in my family. For the first time I actually came to “feel” God’s intense love and acceptance of me, even me, as weird and “evil” as I was and that I didn’t need to become some “good” person, but that I could come as I was. Only those who have gone through deep rejection be it of self rejection or by others, and finally find complete acceptance in the One who matters the most will know the deep heart rending sobs that rose up from my bedroom couch that night. As I knelt there my wife awakened to my cries and sensed what was happening. She came to me cradling my sobbing form in her arms. She didn’t know what to do with it all, but just sobbed with me.
I came away from that couch a new person. When we came home my children didn’t know me. I just wept when I saw them. I now could see the pain I had caused them all these years. I went from being a judgemental, demanding dad, to just crying and apologizing for the pain of rejection I had caused them. Although my children were teenagers, fortunately they were still all at home. I had a good two years to make up for strained relationships before they got married (4 in one year). Yet, it was not without struggles. The damage was deep and one son struggled fiercely with suicidal thoughts and in my urgency to help, I overdid it with truths, instead of caring for his struggles. That is a testimony in itself which I omit here. Yet, it is a testimony I believe all parents with struggling children should hear sometime. We need to unconditionally care about what they are feeling before we can help them see truths.
My wife was intrigued by what she saw me become and she said she wanted what I had. We went back for personal counseling and in that office she experienced that same acceptance I had. Since my wife is a stoic and non-emotional person (or was) I had never really seen her cry as uncontrollably as she did that day. Her dam of emotions broke loose as her heart opened up to all the stuffed and bottled pain that she had so well kept to herself. For once my strong reserved wife was able to let go of all the needs and demands of her family and just be a needy little girl that needed love and acceptance. For weeks she would just cry and cling to me. It was new experience but we became very close in that time. For once I could get to my wife’s real heart. I found such a beautiful little girl inside and I had the time of my life in caring for that little girl. It was ten times better than our honeymoon! 🙂
Together we started reaching out to others who were struggling and as word got around, we got more and more involved to where it strained our own relationship. Also it started straining relationships with our church. They became very uneasy at the amount of people coming to our door or calling us. Our “new life in Christ” made them even more uneasy, because we were now unorthodox. Although I still honored the lifestyle and did not cause any trouble that way, they became uneasy about my attending seminars, revivals, prayer groups, etc. This was not the Amish way. I tried to fit my faith into the religion I was brought up in, because I loved the lifestyle, my life revolved around my people, and I cared deeply about the many people who I saw struggling in the same darkness I had struggled in. Our religion not only causes a lot of hurting people but many leaders do not know how to care for someone at heart level, nor pray with them or lead them to Jesus with these heart problems. They simply are taught how to bring about acceptive behavior by discipline and exhortation. Exhortation comes in many forms, some genuinely caring, but usually not understanding the depth of the heart matter, but sometimes with guilt trips, social threats, and imposed fear. This can and has often brought about acceptive behavior but the real person dies inside. He becomes a person who simply stuffs his emotional pain, and avoids the more catastrophic pain by straightening up his behavior. I see so many Christians living this life because they are afraid of God and afraid of their church. If they would be honest they would have to admit they never really felt unconditional love and acceptance. Some people are never strong enough to “hold on” to that life, then we ship them to the psychologist who prescribes medication. ( I am not entirely against medication where needed). Also many times they search for other places of acceptance and become social outcasts of their own people. I have always been drawn to these people, even before my conversion, because we share a common bond. We are all weird and indecipherable. Yet we carry the same need of acceptance as everyone else. I have found these people have a more open heart to the gospel. Folks who have their life together can not so easily come broken before the Father and recognize their helplessness to change.
The more we reached out or stood in defense of these people the more I was at odds with the church. In the past before my conversion I was more challenging but also succumbed quicker to fear when threatened. Now I stayed quiet just reaching out to others in a quiet way. A close friend who was a bishop got in trouble because of his beliefs (same as mine) and I stood with him publicly. This did not go well. I was too well known as the editor of the community newspaper and my influence spelled trouble for the church. I wrestled terribly with my loyalty to my beliefs, my bishop friend, and my loyalty to the church. How could I turn away from a real friend who was so humble and broken yet steadfast in his belief? How could I turn away from Jesus who I had gotten to know as a friend of the worst sinners and helped me out of my miry pit of addiction and pledge my allegiance to the church anew? All summer I struggled with a need to appeal for my friend but fear kept me back. Also I sensed it was a vain effort. Others older and more respected than I had tried and lost. Things weren’t going anywhere, and although he humbled himself and just sat back, resigning his position, the church could not accept him and finally put him and 6 other families in the ban. (Shunning) I was heartbroken that no amount of humility and pleading won the goodwill of the residing bishops. One day as I was alone in the house this feeling that I should write a letter to the bishops came so strongly on me. I wrestled terribly with that. I argued with the Lord how others had tried and to no avail. Yet the voice persisted. It’s like jumping in the Lion’s Den, I argued. Yet the voice persisted with …. ” I am not asking you to change their mind. I want them to know the truth of who your friend is so that they are not unaccountable.” So I got up and started writing the letter. Immediately the enemy forces turned on me to stop it. Halfway through the letter, a member of our church stopped in and asked to talk with me. He didn’t mince his words or waste time in conversational chat. He tore into me about my beliefs and so dramatized me by his forceful words and raised voice, that after several feeble attempts to explain myself and being shot down, I just laid my head on my desk and wept. After I thought he was done, I quietly asked him if he had peace? This threw him into a fresh tirade worse than before. Silently I prayed for him and audibly told him I hoped he would see it before he met Jesus. He cut my words off with a wave of his hand and said, “I don’t want to hear anything of your thinking.”
I was so shaken I hardly had the gall to continue my letter, but I had promised the Lord I would. I half heartedly finished it and sent it off. Now it was a matter of waiting for the boom. It didn’t take long. Several weeks later I had a visit from our deacon. The whiplash came back through my ministers, which didn’t surprise me. This is usually the approach in our culture, rather than apply Matthew 18 approach as the first brother took. Usually we go through the power and position channels. I pleaded for understanding and acceptance, asking that we accept each other for our beliefs, promising not to make trouble or to speak up. But this letter had “undone” me. The next day at church I was publicly scandalized and dramatically discounted, and verbally attacked in front of the whole church. After a 30 minute tirade from the ministers I lost control of my emotions and burst out sobbing. My wife and I walked out, totally embarrassed and feeling totally forsaken and discounted. We were immediately locked out of the council of church, removed from all positions, and not even allowed to hold church services which had been assigned to our place next. Our sons were severely reprimanded for feebly trying to stand in for me. Others in the church also tried to stand in for us and were immediately thrown out themselves. Out of fear they immediately recanted and reconciled with the church. The cost is extremely high to go against the mainstream thinking and the powers that be, in our culture.
I lost my reputation in weeks and eventually my whole business. Our close knit family came together and it sounded like a funeral with all the sobbing and clinging to each other. I prayed to God that He would preserve our family because I knew the strain that would come. Today we are not past that yet. This storm has nearly accomplished in tearing our family apart. I have 5 young married sons who have partners and in-laws to work with. I admire them for living out what they learned in walking with and loving their partner but it has put a tremendous pressure on our relationship with them. We need prayer like never before that we don’t lose sight of our common faith and start fighting each other. I need prayer that I can get past the pain of losing my 40 year old business (I was editor for 26 years) and all my reputation of being an honorable man in the community to being one of the worst scoundrels in the community. At times I still fight with rebellion over the loss of my business which allowed me a lot of free time with people but also provided for the family very amply. I now am working out long days with a much meager income but still blessed that I have a job and loving family. All our children that are at home attend our new order fellowship. Our married sons attend the Old Order Amish church.
This is the only New Order Amish church that exists in Northern Indiana and is seen much more of a threat to the Old Order than our non Amish neighbors. This has caused us to be much more discounted and scandalized than if we had just left the Amish church altogether.
I joined friends who were in the same trouble and in the process of starting up this New Order Fellowship that allows more freedom of belief, but still endorses our life style of horse and buggy. Our fellowship also focuses more on helping the broken and the outcast and strongly believes in the gospel of grace. We are all undone and none of us have our lives together. We all are broken and messed up, and we are here only to strengthen and encourage each other and lead the broken and the lost to Jesus, the healer of all pain, by prayer and listening.