Thursday, April 15, 2021

Covid and Grief Among the Amish

 

My daughter-in-law and I decided to stock up at the dry goods store in Smicksburg, PA. Usually Smicksburg is a healing place and we needed it.  She’d been pregnant during Covid and the talk of death made the grief of losing her dad resurface. We were also dealing with the loss of Josh, my son-in-law who died of brain cancer in October, 2020. So, going to Smicksburg seemed perfect.

When we got to the dry goods store, I noticed too many buggies lined up around the owner’s house next door. Some Amish were walking soberly. I gasped. NO! Surely not Clara! But it was Clara. She died of a heart attack. Wow, I will miss her pleasant, quirky humor. Her daughters will continue the store, but it won’t be the same.

“Let’s drive past the Bylers,” I suggested. “Maybe their greenhouses are open.”

Another lump in my throat as we approached. “No!” I near shouted as we saw many buggies, vans, and cars with Ohio license plates. As the rain beat on the window, I let it down and shouted, “Bishop Byler?” The Amish man shook his head. “I’m not Bishop Byler. I’m from Ohio.” I forced a smile. “You have a twin then. Who passed away?”

It was the mother of all Bylers who came to Smicksburg in 1963 from Ohio, the lovely woman who in her late 80s gave me a four-hour interview on their spirituality. How she relied on forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit. She amazed me and since that day I’d drop in and she’d be sewing clothes for her many grandchildren. “I’ll be sewing until I die,” she’d said.

Her husband preceded her in death by three months. I didn’t even ask what the cause of death was. We all knew they were in their 90s and that virus took them.

Somehow Smicksburg wasn’t my slice of heaven that day. The only thing that helped was their view of death and not questioning the timing of God. The sovereignty of God. I had to admit that since Josh passed, I’ve struggled. Why, God? He was only thirty years old. His sons need him. My heart hurts. Where are you in all this?

So, despite the stages of grief, the Amish simple trust in God helps me again. I’m looking for more help, and I’d like to mention that a letter from our Compassion child in Uganda made me see things from a childlike faith.
“I’m not afraid of Covid. God knows my beginning and end,” Owen wrote.

Owen is six. Death is not foreign to him. It is to us living in America. Many don’t know what to say to my widowed daughter.

I’m taking time away from novel writing for a season. It was an easy decision. My book, 31 Days to a Simple Life, talks about simplicity of mind. My family will always come first. My grandsons need Tim and me to take them on a train trip, go to the zoo, have another sleep over and the list goes on.  I don’t want to be too busy to see what’s important. And to accept the things I cannot change, as the Amish put it.


Clara was proud of her loom...in a good way! 

The many spools that feed into the loom is truly an art. Clara was the best.


Life goes on among the Smicksburg Amish, despite the loss. 

Josh until the end, trying to make good memories for his family.





 



 

 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Why many Amish have free healthcare!




“The Amish outnumber us!” my daughter squealed. “This is great!” My youngest daughter LOVES the Amish! 

Our family went to the annual Smicksburg Benefit Auction last weekend. They make enough money to pay into their special hospitalization plans made with local hospitals. This lump sum covers the community for a year. Gasp. Jah, I wish we Englishers could do this somehow. Just imagine if your church made quilts, furniture and whatnot for a year. If they accepted donations such as guns, chainsaws, livestock, etc. And then you ask all your friends to attend and you have enough money to pay in advance on a medical plan for your entire church! This would indeed be free healthcare! 

We can learn a lot from the Amish! 

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, consider this photojournalism. :) 




What struck me funny in the grass parking lot was the number of Amish children surrounding Englishers. They love a good story or "telling". I wonder what yarn this man is spinning. 


One of the first quilts up for auction was this unique Pennsylvania Keystone State quilt. I've never seen a quilt like this. Faces are blotted out to respect their culture. 




My granddaughter gasped when this quilt was lifted up on a long pole. She loves purple. Grandma didn't bid though. This one went for over 7K. 





What I love about the Amish in Smicksburg is how friendly they are to Outsiders. A closer look at this picture would have been nice. You'd see many shooting the breeze, but I must not take pictures showing their faces. I want to remain a Trusted English Friend.




It was 88 Degrees Fahrenheit, so many found refuge under the refreshment tent. Again, Amish chatting with the Yankees (English).


Unlike their church service, there was no need to separate men and women on this day. But how fun it was to see them do it naturally. Friendship among the Amish is a cornerstone of their culture.



On my wish list! Lots of rustic furniture was in the auction barn, along with tree root tables. TREE ROOT TABLES! How creative!


I was shocked at how big this event was. I've been invited for fifteen years but something always comes up the second Saturday in August. Not this year. I engraved it in stone on my calendar.


Too many buggies to count! They were unhitched and horses were tethered to the exterior fence that surrounds this large farm. I have never in my life seen so many Amish in one location.



Different types of buggy styles for different church districts of settlements. I was hoping to see a yellow topped buggy from Volant, PA, but not a one. All black with slight variations.


On the way home, my granddaughter asked how long it took the Amish to get home. I told it that it depends on how far they have to travel. She looked puzzled and asked when are they coming back.  Next year? She didn't know that many lived right there in Smicksburg!  "I want to visit them again and again!" she exclaimed. "I love them!" So, now I have another Amish loving travel companion.

My middle daughter wasn't an Amish enthusiast, but after the auction, she changed her mind! "They have something we all lack in America," she said. "They all pulled together like worker bees. They have real community."

I agree. How can we do this in our churches? Suggestions or information welcome. Leave it in the comment box.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Christmas in July Multi-Author Book Giveaway Plus a $100 Amazon Card

Can you believe there is just 6 months until Christmas? Celebrate Lit Publishing is giving away 20+ Christmas books, including one from yours truly. 
PLUS a $100 Amazon gift!
Click here to enter: https://promosimple.com/…/e5b5/july-christmas-multi-author-…
The event and giveaway is going on now through July 13. 
"I WILL HONOR CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART AND TRY TO KEEP IT ALL YEAR! (Charles Dickens)





Thursday, May 9, 2019

Do the Amish lie? Do they seek attention?


I took my friend Janet to Smicksburg to get plants for my garden…and a shopping list from others…my kids.  “Mom, text me when you get to Lydia’s. See if she has sweet banana peppers or Amish Paste Tomatoes.”  At $1.65 per six-pack, jah, I fill my back deck with orders from family and friends. And then Lydia’s flower arrangements…sigh…what a talent.


It was great as usual. Janet exhaled with utter satisfaction as we wandered around the windy roads. “They have something we don’t have. I feel so peaceful,” she said.

As usual, I agreed. It’s why I’m hooked on the Amish way of life. We visited Barb, an Amish mother of nine who also runs a greenhouse and her daughters and grandkids were all sitting around talking, and a young Amish boy on a pony came up. How much more of Little House on the Prairie could we take?
Little House on the Prairie moment!


We continued to mosey around, trying to find a new quilt shop, but instead saw a sign for cedar lawn furniture. We followed them and to a new shop, and to my surprise, it was the youngest brother (bruder) of a well-loved Amish family I write about. (I must change names to protect their privacy and culture. MOST Amish don’t want attention brought to them.)

As I talked to “Joe” about getting a new picnic table, he said he’d like to start reading my books because SO MANY LIES ABOUT THE AMISH ARE CIRCULATING! (Yes, I know I said that in all caps, which writers shouldn’t do, but I do mean to scream it out.)

You see, the Amish in Western Pennsylvania have been targeted by big name media to tell lies. Paid to be on shows that are utter nonsense. If they were any other people group, they’d sue, but of course they don’t believe in defending themselves. They trust God to do it, but I like to help. 😉

“Joe” told me the Amish in punxsutawney are particularly hurt, since some Ex-Amish who took the bait (money) to tell lies still hold their ground. Some are still making money selling slanderous tales. I don’t know why people are addicted to reality shows that demean people of any culture or race. Why do we need to look down on others?

One theory on why many crave to bash the Amish is very interesting. We want to pop their perfect, little world. It’s like saying, “Aha! I told you they were fakes!” Instead of looking within to change our lives to make them better, it’s easier to look down on others.

And sadly, there are a handful of Amish willing to exaggerate (lie) to get attention to give us that ‘aha moment.’  It’s heartbreaking to listen to people like “Joe” because of the shame placed on his culture. (Some tales are too salacious to write on this blog.)

Although they don’t believe in suing, they do want the record set straight. And that’s my mission as an author about these fine people. Many real Ex-Amish folks can give a truthful, fair account of their lives growing up Amish, but it’s not degrading enough to create a media mania.




Saturday, May 5, 2018

Amish School Picnic!



Tim and I spent the last day of April in Smicksburg. While visiting an Amish family, something extraordinary happened. Let me explain.

Little Andy, age ten, is the chatterbox of the family, and he had ants in his pants, excitement making him jump. “Do you know we had a half-day today because tomorrow is the school picnic? We walked home because we had a half day. It’s only a two-mile hike through the woods. And it’s so nice outside. I can’t wait for the school picnic! We have so much fun. So much to eat. We play games! The parents come to school for the whole day!”

I chuckled and asked what else they did at the picnic. He tilted his head and flung up his arms and repeated what he just said with more gusto. And he added, “There’s no school, and it’s the last day! We’re off for the summer!!!!!”


I understood that part. I lived for the last day of school when I was in elementary school. I chatted with the other kids and they came back to talking about the school picnic. You’d think they won a trip to Disneyland, I thought. And then it hit me. These children enjoyed simple things. A picnic with food and games. Community.  Once again, I felt like I was transported out to the prairie and was talking to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The oldest son, Reuben, was thirteen and graduating. He seemed a little sad but went on to explain that he has an apprenticeship with a wood carver to satisfy the state’s requirements. Pennsylvania makes Amish children do a one-year vocational training after they finish eighth grade. Rueben will put in his one year, but he already had a job with his grandfather making sheds. He’ll be taking over the business someday.  That transported me to Ben Walton who worked with his grandpa on Walton’s Mountain during the Great Depression.

So, what was extraordinary? Children content with simple things. Children not hooked to electronics. Children who had fun the old-fashioned way. Baseball and apple pie. I think I need to hang out with these kids more and learn from them. How easy it is to become discontent in our pleasure saturated culture.

We went back to the camp and reevaluated our lives.




Friday, February 17, 2017

Amish Reconciliation Dinners: Finding Unity over Food

A while back, Tim and I bought fifteen acres from an Amish friend in Smicksburg, PA. But there was a problem; we needed to use a road (a right of way or easement) through another Amish family’s property… and they didn’t like this. So much so, that when we went down the road to get to our land, there were rakes and pitchforks blocking our entry.

Then an Amish man, we’ll call him 'Eli' instead of his real name, came over on a cussing rant. I’ll admit, I can be feisty at times and wagged a finger, telling him, “I’m going to tell your bishop on you!”
So we went down the road to tell Amish friends what happened. “Who is his bishop?” we asked. Gulp. The Amish man who’d just cussed us out was the bishop. Our friends said, “Jah, you have a bad apple in every bushel. Even Amish have problems.”

After we were able to speak due to shock, we learned that no one, even a bishop, is above being corrected. A few Amish families got together and had the bishop over for a reconciliation dinner. We weren’t invited; they wanted to work on this bishop’s inappropriate behavior on their own.

We waited a few weeks to go up to our land and were met by the bishop with a smile and an extended hand. (No pitchfork in it). He humbly apologized and told us all he was going through as we walked our land. He ended up playing the harmonica for us on his front porch. A real Walton’s moment for me.
We asked our Amish friends about this reconciliation dinner. No details were given except that it was worked out. The Amish intrigue us to know end! It's in the past and worked out. They asked us to report any future problems, but "things were worked out". 

We had to ask, “So problems are solved over food?” Well, there was more than one meal, but yes. One thing I’ve noticed having observed many Amish over thirty years is that they work differences out. And they expect to have problems since they’re human. The Amish are a Christian group who know they have a sin nature that needs fixing here and there. Not working out sin can lead to a ban or shunning, but that's another story. 

“Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” Galatians 5: 19-21

Many see the Amish as beings so pious, it does them no justice. They work hard to maintain the peace and harmony we see when visiting Amish tourist places or shops. Millions from around the world visit Lancaster County to soak in their quaint and charming ways, but most don’t realize the hard work it takes to have their level of unity. (Thousands from around the world read this blog with no access to a Bible, so I’m putting the scriptures in from the World English Bible.)

What we usually see in the Amish is the fruit of the Holy Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

We’ve never had a problem again with this Amish bishop. I can’t help but wonder that if our country had reconciliations dinners, we wouldn’t be so divided. We are the United States of America. As usual, the Amish give me much to ponder.

 
I captured this grouping of Amish buggies in Smicksburg.
Most likely not a reconciliation dinner, but folks with cabin fever! Brr. Cold out!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Road trip Across America seeking more Amish & Native American Connections


After thirty years, I’m still gleaning secrets to a simpler life from Amish friends. My husband and I are taking a road trip across America to learn more. Ever so thankful to have a husband who's partners in Amish hunting. ;) We love our Amish friends in Smicksburg, but we get a bit myopic, since they're only half hour away. So we're expanding our horizons.
As the Amish are now in 40-some states, hubby and I are getting ready to leave for three-weeks from Western Pennsylvania. Something deep within makes us seekers and lifelong learners of the Amish and Mennonites. I’ve wondered about their appeal and lately, I think they’re similar to St. Augustine and some of the Desert Fathers & Sisters who left a materialistic world in 300 A.D. to embrace simplicity and be off-the-grid. Today, all the buzz about tiny house living and modern day minimalism, are we at the breaking point? I think so. Tim and I are.
I also want to get back to the old-fashioned way of life. Both of my parents were first generation immigrants. My mom passed on some Italian sayings and my dad his Croatian. When I was a teen I was shocked to find that “cleanliness is next to godliness” and “charity begins at home” were not in the Bible. I checked “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ was in there, and it’s not either.
So, I do understand the Amish with their sayings. They’re taught to their children as little nibbles of wisdom to steer them in life.
Regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow are twin thieves that rob us of the moment.
Live each short hour with God and the long years will take care of themselves.
I’m so blessed to have learned so much from the Amish. I hope to inspire and point not only to God in my writings, now to include non-fiction and a lot more blogging here. I yearn to help readers to walk a path a bit less chaotic. Granny Weaver, an elderly Amish woman character who finds her way in most of my books, knitting needles in tow, is a lover of Robert Frost. (The Amish love poetry.) She reads and ponders The Road Not Taken:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
As we head from Pennsylvania to New Mexico, we know there’s unrest in America. What path should we take? For answers, we hope to connect with and understand Native American culture as well. Having lived near Seneca Nation in Salamanca, New York for ten years, we admired how, despite present day opposition and prejudice, they aren't bitter, but give a warning: "Our country was taken from us. It can happen to the White Man." Somber words, but true. So intrigued by Natives, I hope to meet some that live near Amish so I can continue to combine both cultures like I do in my novels The Amish Doll and Plain Jane.
So, hopefully, you'll be seeing plenty of pictures of Amish across America along with Natives, two cultures dear to my heart.

If you see us, give us a holler!