Around seven miles from where I live, this sign alerting cars to the probability of encountering Amish carriages can be seen on the side of the road. The Amish population around route 47 has risen dramatically over the years, thus turning what was once a “possibility” of seeing those carriages into a definite “probability.” Several years ago, when my now 17 year-old-daughter had entered the world of double digits, reaching the ripe old age of 10, a sassiness began to spew from her lips (a sassiness that, if truth be told, she inherited from me). I used to threaten to send her off to one of those Amish farms, where life seemed so idyllic, the fields picturesque, the adults even-tempered, and (perhaps most importantly) the children docile and mild-mannered.
These threats continued for the better part of six years and both my daughter and my son remained the targets of them. When “Mini-Me” would spout off with smart aleck replies (replies that were so similar to ones I too had uttered to my mother twenty years prior, I simply couldn’t deny calling her my very own “Mini-Me”) or when a then 7 year old Luke would become so stubborn and bull-headed about something, I would pull out my arsenal of Amish threats once again with a “Do you think that sweet little Amish girl talks to her mother that way?” or “Would that little Amish boy disobey his mother and do something that she had told him not to?” or “Maybe I can talk that nice Amish family into keeping you both this summer. Maybe you’d then appreciate some of the things you have!”
Suffice it to say that, for most of my adulthood, I have idealized the Amish way of life. I didn’t care about the lack of electricity, nor the lack of modern communication, nor even about the lack of modern fashions (after all, a woman can hide a lot of cellulite under those dresses!). Having these Amish families so close to us, we have had the opportunities of seeing their superior workmanship, their peacefulness, their pride in their own simplicity.
Last summer, the National Geographic Channel ripped my idealistic mental Amish scrapbook to shreds, all with a show about the Amish rite of passage, Rumspringa. I had always heard that Amish boys were given the opportunity to “sow their wild oats,” before officially joining the Church, but this National Geographic show portrayed it as much more than simple teenage rebellion. To my horror, Amish girls were afforded the same opportunity to party as the boys were given. And party they did! I have never witnessed so many drunken teens experimenting with illegal drugs and having numerous wild sexual experiences. My idea of an Amish utopia had been shattered.
To make matters worse, my children (then 16 and 11) sat wide-eyed, enthralled with every second of this 60-minute program. As each segment of the show revealed more and more unspeakably heinous acts by these Amish teens, my mouth dropped a little farther, all while my daughter’s mouth grew a little wider into a broad smile. At the apex of one party in particular, the footage showed these teen girls (the majority of whom will return and accept their parents’ version of Amish conformity and simplicity) snorting cocaine, shooting up heroine, drinking more alcohol than a 300 lb man, and sharing details about their numerous sexual encounters.
My heart was crushed. I thought the Amish had it all together! I thought they could do such a better job of parenting than I was doing! For years, I had held them in such high esteem when it came to virtue, morals, parenting skills, work ethic, etc. I had seen them around town, especially at auctions. I had seen them utilizing their 19th century tools, working in the fields, etc. I had traveled behind their carriages, observing how their children rode with their feet dangling off the back of the carriage, coming face to face with approaching cars, and I often wondered, “What would it be like to ride in that carriage, with those children? I bet they aren’t arguing over radio stations. I bet that mother doesn’t try to quickly change the station when a perverted song by Lil Wayne comes on. What I wouldn’t give to blink a “Freaky Friday” blink, transplanting my whole family into that carriage.”
As the Nat Geo show concluded and the credits began to roll, my daughter could no longer contain her sheepish grin and sarcastic humor. Casting a devilish grin in my direction, she laughed, “Well now, I guess life with me doesn’t seem so bad, now does it? You still want to send me over there with them? Cause I’ve never even seen a party like that!”
Yes, my idealism was destroyed, but a good lesson came out of it. Those whose lives we think are perfect still face difficulties; no one is immune to problems. It had been foolish of me to put the Amish on a pedestal. After all, how many warnings against foolishness had my favorite Old Testament character King Solomon given us? In my simple foolishness, I had looked to the Amish as a source of wisdom, even though we are told repeatedly that wisdom comes from the Lord, “1My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. 2 Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. 3 Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. 4 Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. 5 Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. 8 He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to Him.” (Proverbs 2: 1-8)
So, I’ve learned my lesson about putting people on pedestals. I do not look at people and think, “He/she has it all together.” I no longer threaten to send my children to those Amish farms (nor to the Muslim compound right down the road from those farms; yes, it is a very diversified road!) Instead of wishing for a “Freaky Friday blink,” I choose to give thanks for the daily issues that arise with teenagers (sassiness, stubbornness, moodiness and all!) that seem so small in comparison to the Amish rite of Rumspringa. Learning to choose my battles and letting my “yes’s” outweigh my “no’s” has served me well this past year, as it’s much easier to say “NO” to the Appomattox version of the Project X party when you’ve said “YES” to things like days at the lake with friends. King Solomon was absolutely right. The Lord really will give us wisdom when we ask for it!
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