Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Amish and the value placed on a stay-at-home father

Think of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons TV shows where both fathers stayed at home or near home, always accessible to his family.  This is the Amish view of fatherhood. Men stay home and work like Pre-Industrial Revolution times. Farming meets this need, but so do many other small family businesses.

Fathers having to leave the home to work for the English is  one of their biggest challenges to date. I know an Amish family of nine children ranging in age from a wee baby to teenagers. They did everything they could to keep dad at home. He walks down the road to work at a sawmill part-time, they have two large greenhouses, and the oldest daughter is a schoolteacher, adding her pay to the family money pot. But they aren't making it and Abe got a 9-5 job away from home. They are visibly grieved by this.

Amish fathers typically take care of the animals and farm chores. They plow and plant their fields, even if it’s only a few acres. They eke out a living by many means, by selling sweet corn, vegetables from their garden. Basically, they do everything they can do keep dad at home. But why?

Well, they take very seriously scripture in Deuteronomy:

 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

The book of Deuteronomy not only houses the Ten Commandments, but many other rules for Goldy living to have a blessed life. These little nuggets of wisdom are to be passed down from generation to generation in their everyday tasks. You don’t sit down little Johnny and give him a list of rules to memorize. Most things are caught, not taught. So, a father living out the Christian life in front of his children is a constant object lesson.

Also, there are conversations that just pop up. Maybe a father and his daughter are out in the barn and she has something on her mind: a problem. The father senses this and asks her what’s wrong and she spills the beans. These are called the “teachable moments” that aren’t planned or scheduled. A father will miss them if he’s off to work. You can’t sit a child down at the end of the day and on command, ask his kids to pour out their heart. It flows out naturally and Amish families want to be the ones who instill Godly living in their children. They don’t even want the Bible taught in their one-room schoolhouses. No, this is the responsibility of the parents, especially the fathers.

Many Amish families live the extras of life to keep dad at home. He’s their valued teacher and helper in life, not just a hard worker who provides a paycheck. He’s Pa Ingalls wiping Laura’s tears because Almanzo isn’t paying attention to her. He’s Mr. Walton who works by his sons giving advice when asked. He’s home and home is where the heart is.  


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Amish living true to themselves, being happy in their old age

A new study came out that reveals the top 5 regrets of elderly people. Number one was:

“I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
I have yet to meet an elderly Amish person with a life full of regrets. They were free to leave the community when young, contrary to popular belief. An elderly woman, nearly 90 years old, told me with tears in her eyes, that when she looks back over her life, she's ever so happy she remained Amish.

The pull towards the Amish is a phenomenon, and I wonder if it's because they can put the "pause" on life and think about what kind of life they want to live. Their occupations are more varied than you might think. Our friend, Noah, moved his young family to New York to be a farmer. He simply said, "Well, I've always wanted to be a farmer." Plain and simple, just like that, he moved away with the blessing of the community, because they said, "Yep, Noah's wanted to be a famer since a wee one. 

Noah is not just drifting through life, but has courage to live intentionally. He has the courage to live a life true to himself.
Now, my confession. I was a career driven woman. Having my elementary education and psychology degree, I felt like a fish out of water in the 1980’s being a stay at home mom. I loved my kids but the “mass mind” of society said I was ruining my life by not working. Mentally I was caving in, but my heart was in my home. I loved being a mom of four preschoolers in a decade that said I was irresponsible for having so many children. Didn’t I know the average amount of kids in the USA was only two? Don't I know what a daycare center is?

Here’s what happened. I looked the “mass mind”, a psyche term that just means "what everybody else is doing", and thought about how I wanted to look back over my life. Live in in reverse. Then I prayed and asked the Lord to give me strength to live it out. We ended up homeschooling for twenty years. (I am not saying putting your kids in school is wrong, but for us, homeschooling worked) Now in my EARLY 50's,  I look back and shudder to think what my life would have been if I hadn’t put on the breaks and gained the courage to live the life true to myself.  

The Amish in New York helped me tremendously to feel “normal” as a stay at home mom. And on one income, my hubby and I began homesteading, “puttin’ up” food to last us through the winter. We were tight, very tight, but we learned many lessons from our Amish friends on frugality, and found it so much fun to find a deal (and extra money in the bank), we were then led to get involved with giving to a charity in Haiti. Living among the Amish also led me into a great knowledge of the Amish culture, and who would have known how popular they would be today and anyone who want to read about them in my books? The Lord knew, and I love that!

I don’t use this blog to promote my books much, but my novel, Knit Together, may help you if you’re lacking courage to live a life true to yourself. I have to admit, I am Ginny, the main character, who is struggling with choices. She sees how her Amish friends live and she’s always challenged to think intentionally (and I still am...) Many of the Amish sayings and their advice I took are in it, but one that I continue to go back to is:

“If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself."


Blessings to you!
My friend, Lydia, is Katie Byler in the book. Here's a picture of the inside of her house.
Again, I'm challenged by the Amish and need to de-clutter my house ;)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Do the Amish talk about death and the afterlife?

Last week I introduced proverbs the Amish use, Rules of a Godly Life.  They're so contrary to contemporary culture today, because they make you stare into eternity and face some facts. Death is a reality, one over the ages has been erased from the American psyche.
Here's another rule and tell me when was the last time you read something so blunt

And when you go to bed at night, pause a moment to realize that it is unknown to you whether you will awake again on this earth

What  nice way to tuck in Susie and Johnny?
This is a sobering thought and something you most likely wouldn’t want to think of before you go to bed.  But in the 18th century it was a common thought.  In the New England Primer, a text used by most schools in Colonial America into the late 19th century, this prayer was printed:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I shall die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.


But a newer version came out, one that would erase any fear or thought of death:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord, my soul to keep;

Angels watch me through the night

and keep me in their blessed sight.


It’s a cute poem, but not a powerful prayer.
The Amish recount death daily in their culture by reading The Martyr's Mirror, a huge collection of stories of their forefathers and the persecution they endured. The story of Dirk Willems is known by most Amish, and is an example of suffering. Below is a video with original pictures from Martyr's Mirror and then the story of Dirk Willems. As you can see, the Amish don't erase death out of their vocabulary.
When I visit Amish friends, death is often talked about. I don't know if it's because I'm a trusted English friend and they feel free to open up. Many folks say the Amish don't talk about death and people that have passed on. This is a mystery to me since they reflect on it more often than anyone in our American culture. Another mystery: they're considered some of the happiest people on the planet by many polls. So, is there a correlation?


Video with original picture from Martyr's Mirror and the story of Dirk Willem

Friday, June 14, 2013

Quakers, an inspirational pious group similar to the Amish

I wrote an historical fiction book about Quaker abolitionists set in 1850. I tried to find out how the Amish helped runaway slaves in Pennsylvania, but found very little information. But what I found out about Quakers, a very similar group, really is astonishing.

In Christmas Union: Quaker Abolitionists of Chester County, PA , I got true stories from William Still’s book, The Underground Railroad, and my favorite stories all took place in Chester County, PA. I created Rebecca Mendenhall to “take my readers” on a visit to three safe houses on the path leading north on the Underground Railroad.

The first stop is at Oakdale, a house still standing in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall built it in 1840 to include a hiding place for runaway slaves. This room was behind a fake fireplace and never discovered. They were the first stop on the Underground Railroad as runaways crossed the Delaware River. 

The next safe house, eighteen miles north, is John Vickers pottery shop in Lionville. He hid fugitive slaves in his kiln and under pottery when bounty hunters searched his place. Many times he hid slaves in a wagon covered with pottery on their way to the next stop, to Kimberton where the Lewis sisters lived.

Grace Anna Lewis and her two sisters hid slaves long-term in Kimberton. Many where hurt, like the true story of Johnson, a runaway slave who saw his former master on a train and jumped off, favoring death than being caught and taken back into slavery. He was nursed for four months by the Lewis sisters, and then Quaker Friends raised money for his passage to Haiti.

Also in the story are two ex-slaves and active in Chester County abolitionism, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Sojourner wrote her autobiography in 1850, the year the Fugitive Slave Law was enacted. This law made it illegal to hide or even give a meal to a runaway north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Quaker abolitionists were considered criminals by law, with the fine of 6 months in prison and a 28,000 dollar fine in today’s dollars. Harriet and Sojourner’s life stories inspired Chester County abolitionists to keep up their good work.

Every era has their poets, too, and John Greenleaf Whittier wrote endlessly not only poetry but for abolitionist newspapers. His life story is intertwined into the plot and an anti-slavery poem, The Evil Days, helps his cousin decide which side he was on: pro-slavery or the abolitionist.

Christmas Union seemed to write itself, based on a chain of real life facts, and  I hope to write more about Quakers in the future since their heroism and call to social justice is very admirable. They spur me on to write according to my life verse: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8) I hear from women about multiple needs who are being set free from guilt, loneliness, depression, etc. and those chains are just as real as the ones slaves wore during the 1850’s.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rules of a Godly Life~Amish/Mennonite proverbs that guide in their Christian walk

The Amish treasure rules, but not the kind you may think. All the "thou shalt not" rules are not so typical of their culture as you may think. Yes, there are many things not to do, but many things to do that will enable you to live a victorious Christian life.

A little book,  Rules of a Godly Life,  is found in most Amish and Mennonite homes. It has three basic sections. Rules on thoughts, words and works. They are proverbs of sorts, which help steer a Christian in the right direction, similar to the book of Proverbs in the Bible, though they are not weighed as heavy as the latter.

I started to read Rules for a Godly Life and was so drawn in that I include many of the proverbs in my books, and I hear from readers on how much they've gotten out of the profound little truths.

I break them down into bite size pieces and then meditate on it. Here's the first part of Rule I and what I got from it.
Awake in the morning with your thoughts turned to God…

How can I awake with my thoughts turned to God if I’ve just been chased in my dreams all night by giant spiders? Or haunted by painful memories? 

In Psalm 5, we see King David’s call for help and I take comfort that he struggled in the morning, too. In verse one he asks God to give ear to him. In modern language, he’s asking God to listen to him. In the next verse he asks God to “Hearken unto the voice of my cry”.  He then goes on to say that he will pray in the morning…

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Psalm 5:4 translated from the Hebrew is:

O LORD, in the morning shalt Thou hear my voice; in the morning will I order my prayer unto Thee, and will look forward.

The original Hebrew really strikes me. It’s saying that David talked to God in the morning, and then looked forward, as opposed to looking backwards.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul states…. forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before

Paul, a persecutor of Christians could have looked back with regrets. But he looked forward.

If you’ve erred, friend, ask God for forgiveness. He loves you with an everlasting love. And then, move forward.

A wonderful resource is A Devoted Christian Prayer Book published by Pathway Publishers, an Amish publishing house. An English company fulfills their online orders (No eBooks available yet) Order from Scroll Publishers at





Monday, June 10, 2013

The Amish on their front porches, and my little experiment.

When you drive through most Amish settlements, you’ll see massive front porches with benches and benches. If you ride around after dinner, you’ll see Amish folk seated there and no one is working. No one staring into a bowl of peas that need shelling. Men aren’t out there with their tools trying to fix something. No, they are looking at each other, communicating. In a day of text messages begging for our every beck and call, it’s sad that this is a nostalgic thing: people sitting on their front porches, sipping lemonade and talking. Face to face.

On one of my many trips to Smicksburg, I went past Lydia’s, (Katie Byler in  my book, Knit Together) and saw her little family on the front porch making ice cream. I didn’t want to intrude, but they earnestly waved for me to come join them. So I did and I’ll never forget it. Lydia’s husband, John, and her step-daughter, Ida, were yapping up a storm, and I joined in. They commented on birds seen at their hummingbird feeder that hung nearby, the peeper frogs that sang a deafening song in their nearby pond…just small talk. John asked me if I knew of a place to buy cheese in bulk for their store, but quickly caught himself as it was after business hours. It was ice cream and family time.

When I got home, I did a little experiment. What if I sat on my front porch and just relaxed? It could be a refuge from daily concerns, a little haven. So after dinner, Tim and I sat on our little portico for a little while, and notice things we hadn’t before. The red-tailed hawk that lives in the meadow across the street was being chased by crows. Hummingbirds sucking nectar from our rhododendron bush in blossom. Then we saw something that slowly appeared after the drizzle subsided. A rainbow. We would have missed it if we had been looking down at laptops and cell phones.

Once again, the Amish make me reevaluate my life, and Tim and I now use our front porch often.

Lydia's front porch. Notice the benches on the right stacked on top of each other for additional seating.
The rainbow I might have missed....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Amish and the value they place on motherhood

I have a few young mothers of preschoolers on my mind today. Sometimes they act like they have to apologize for staying home and not being out in the “work force”.  Some are aspiring authors, who ask me how I find time to write. When I tell them I homeschooled my four kids for over 20 years and it was the most important and fulfilling job I ever had, they don’t believe me. So, knowing these women are Amish enthusiastic, I want to tell share this story.

When I was up in Smicksburg a few weeks ago, one of the restaurants asked if I knew of a good cook, since they need summer help. I thought immediately of Amish women, especially some that are trying to make ends meet.  I went to one family and asked if their teenage daughter would be interested, and they said no. They said maybe some “liberal” Amish would let their daughters be exposed to the “world” but not them.

So I stood there, mouth gaping. The world? Being one to say what’s on my mind, sometimes to a disadvantage, I asked, “The world? What do you mean?”

Well, the father said the ungodly influence and the tourist who take pictures of their faces.  I then asked if he knew of any married Amish women who needed a job, and he grabbed the fence post for strength. (I think I shocked him) “Married women?” Shaking his head, he told me they were needed at home.

Sometimes the Amish can rub me the wrong way. They say things, giving no explanation, and I have to probe deeper to unearth what they’re trying to say. So I asked if they were too busy raising children and having some sort of home business. Bingo, I was right. They believe in Proverbs 31 very strongly.

Here’s a section of Proverbs 31 from The Message Bible:

She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,

    and enjoys knitting and sewing.

She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places

    and brings back exotic surprises.

She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast

    for her family and organizing her day.

She looks over a field and buys it,

    then, with money she’s put aside, plants a garden.

First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,

    rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.

She senses the worth of her work,

    is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.

She’s skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,

    diligent in homemaking.

 This was written before the Industrial Revolution, when women had to make their own material and sew their own clothes. That’s where the knitting and sewing part comes in, but the rest is very relevant for our times.  I see that Amish women have a healthy sense of their worth as homemakers, and their husbands and children have a respect for motherhood I don’t see too often in the “English” world. (This also carries on to grandmothers, who are involved with raising the “grandkinner”.

Now, Amish women are not chained to their homes, cooking and cleaning all day. They come in contact with non-Amish, since they take their quilts and other crafts to local stores. When I sit on SuzyB Knits front porch for a knitting lesson, I see Amish women going in and out of the stores along the road to deliver goods, and they stay and chat.  I did a blog on Amish women entrepreneurs. Click here to read:  http://karenannavogel.blogspot.com/2012/01/amish-women-entrepreneurs-inside.html

Back to the mothers of preschoolers on my mind; you are not moms who sit in front of TV’s all day and watch soaps. You’re actively involved in your children’s lives That’s what a real stay at home mother is. You believe everything else is secondary to your kids and their needs. You can be a writer, but your kids should come first.
But, I felt I couldn't divide my time between writing and my children, having four kids close in age, so I put my writing on the shelf until they were grown. To be honest, my kids come first and they’re married. When people ask me what it’s like to be a writer, I tell them it’s my passion, but being a mom is so much more important. The joy of raising my kids far supersedes seeing a book in print. I really believe that being a mother is the most important job on the planet because everyone needs to feel there's someone who is there for them. Loneliness and isolation in America is epidemic. If you’re a working mom, needing to make a living, if your kids know they come before any board meeting or deadline, I think you’re a “stay at home mom” at heart. My mom had to work, but I always knew her heart was in her home. <3

Mother teaching her child to knit