I was born in Pennsylvania in the 1950s to parents who belonged to the conservative Mennonite church. My mother was a nurse, an extremely unusual pursuit for a Mennonite woman in those days, and my father was a wanna-be farmer. I do not remember the house in which I was born as we soon moved to a small farm in York County. There my father began our family’s farming career. We attended a Mennonite church located about 20 miles from the farm.
My earliest memories are of gathering around the supper table in the evening and my father reading a passage of the Bible to us. However, I do not remember discussing it. Sometimes, we passed around a small box with scripture cards and we all chose one to read. Sunday morning was a time of frantic hurrying as we rushed to get to church on time. In spite of that, I remember always being late. I loved Sunday school and there I learned the stories in the Bible and about God’s unconditional love for us. During the summer, there was Vacation Bible School. In the early years, Mama always took us to VBS though not at the church we regularly attended. I am not sure why. Once a year, our church held “revival meetings.” These meetings consisted of nightly services that lasted for a week. Different speakers were brought in and the way of salvation was proclaimed. Even as a young child I was moved by these services and they highly influenced me. Even today, when I hear the song, Just As I Am, that goes like this, “just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidd’st me come to Thee, Oh Lamb of God, I come!” I am deeply moved and the stirrings of those days come back to me.
One day, when I was 9 years old, I came upon by oldest brother and my father kneeling by a hay bale in the manger of the dairy barn. My brother was crying as he said the sinner’s prayer with my father’s help. “I want to do that too,” I said. And so, that day, I officially accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I wish I could say that now that I had made my profession of faith, my life would be simple and carefree.
I continued to grow physically and in my faith. I wanted to follow Jesus and serve Him. I was baptized and joined the Mennonite church at the age of 10 years. My parents, though, in spite of their verbal adherence to the Mennonite faith, in many ways did not subscribe to the faith that we belonged to and I came to realize many years later, placed huge stumbling blocks in the path of our assimilation into Mennonite culture. I think this was the beginning of the sense of shame in who I am that I have carried most of my life. We only went to church on Sunday morning or for special meetings. Dedicated members were expected to attend Wednesday night prayer meetings and Sunday evening services as well. But we were busy farmers and my father did not have time for that. I remember well about this time also being refused my request to attend VBS in the summer. I loved VBS but we were now becoming old enough that we could help around the farm. My father’s priority of work over every other activity was beginning to express itself. I, of course, did not recognize that tendency for as a child, he was my father and I simply repressed those few things that I did not understand. I loved my father and loved being with him and working with him.
We were all eager to follow his lead when he made the decision to remove us from school to work on the farm. My brothers were removed from school at the age of 14 and me at the age of 15. Around this time is when my father started looking at buying land “out west” and moving all of us there to farm together. I had no objections. It sounded like a wonderful adventure to me. Here is where I want to say to parents, your job as a parent is to teach and prepare your child to follow the bent that God has given your child. It is not to determine their course in life that fits with what you want to happen. My father came from what is called a patriarchal family in which the children are simply extensions of the father. This sets the family up for huge tensions and heartache later when the young person wants to follow his or her own path in life.