20 June 2014

Stories From my Mother

The stories from our past help us to navigate the future. In college, I had the task of asking my mother to tell me some stories and to write them down. What follows is what she told me. If you haven't ever done something like this, do. I will cherish these stories forever. Stories of quiet strength and meek courage. Stories that shape me. Stories I'm proud to count as part of my story.

My Grandfather

My mother's parents were born and raised in the Amish church. They were married in the church and had had two children when my grandfather decided that they needed to leave the Amish church. He says that he “saw the light.” You see, the Amish church believes that if you do good works, then you might go to heaven; but my grandfather believed that it is through faith that one gets to heaven, not works. He could not reconcile his views on salvation with those of the Amish church, so he decided to join a Mennonite church. This was, for those of you who aren't familiar with the Amish, a very big deal. Once a person is baptized into the Amish church, leaving it would mean being shunned - deliberately ignored and distanced - by your entire Amish community, including your family.

My Grandmother

My grandmother followed her husband, as a good Amish wife does, and left the church regardless of the doubts she was having. One day my grandmother's family came over when grandpa wasn't there to convince her to leave him. I was shocked when my mom told me this because I know that divorce is unheard of in the Amish church. She told me that they were most likely not advocating a divorce, but hoped that if my grandmother left him, my grandfather would come to his senses and rejoin the Amish church. However, my grandmother stayed with my grandfather, but she still felt guilty and uncertain about their having left the church. She didn't have a lot of self-esteem, as most Amish women are taught to be modest to the extreme, and that might help to explain why she began to experience such torment. She felt that Satan kept coming to her and telling her that she was not saved. She worried that she wasn't really a Christian and that she wouldn't go to heaven. She became very depressed and grandpa got worried that she might hurt herself. Then one day she came out to the field where grandpa was working and - according to him - she was about beside herself. Grandpa took her into the house and together they prayed. After this, she felt that she was delivered from Satan's torment. Grandpa referred to it as her “victory.”

My Father

Before my father was a pastor, he was a carpenter. He was, however, very involved in the church and in the Ohio Mennonite Conference, as well. He and my mother were youth sponsors and they taught Sunday school frequently. Dad was also the chair of the peace and justice commission for the Ohio conference. He was invited to go to a conference in Kansas in the 1980s as the Ohio conference representative. While he was gone, Mom stayed behind and went to a women's retreat. While there, Grace Brunner, who pastored Beech Mennonite - the church my father would later pastor - with her husband, asked mom if she and my father had ever thought about going into ministry. Mom told her that they hadn't and she suggested that they should. Meanwhile, someone dad met in Kansas asked him the same thing. When dad returned home, he and mom compared stories and were startled to discover that they both had been asked the same thing. This started the process.

My Mother

Dad was excited about this call to ministry and they decided to pursue it. However, mom did not want to leave her family and friends in Ohio for dad to go to Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She had a lot of misgivings about uprooting everything to move halfway across the country. Dad wanted mom to be one hundred percent certain about it, and he said he wouldn't do it without her full support. One day, Grace Brunner invited mom to breakfast and mom divulged to her all of her misgivings. Grace told her, “God would not lead you and leave you.” At this, mom was given the faith she needed to believe that they could do this. When dad came home from work that day, mom told him that she was ready and tears came rolling down his face.

It puzzles me that a woman as forward thinking and strong as my mother could come from an Amish/conservative Mennonite background. I’ve often wondered why my mother chose such a different path from those of her sisters. She followed a liberal husband to seminary, which she also attended, and left her entire family – something few of her siblings had done before or have done since. I wonder if it is because the story of her mother following my grandfather gave her the courage to follow where God leads. It was not easy, but grandma did it because it was right. I know that, in many ways, she was just following my grandfather, but even that took a great deal of courage. Perhaps if she had had a story like the one she gave her daughters, she could have believed in not only what her husband was doing, but also in her place in it. In our culture, we often focus on the great sacrifices of those who lead and we don’t give enough weight to the courage it takes to follow. While my mother and grandmother may not have changed the course of history, they both followed their God (and their husbands) faithfully and courageously. It was not easy for either of them, but they learned to trust and walk in faith.

I have learned so much from my mother. These stories of faith are only a piece of the volume of wisdom she's given me. I'm proud to have been raised by such a strong and Godly woman. I'm proud that she's taught me so much. I'm proud to call her Momma.

Me and Momma on her most recent trip to visit me in Philly.

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