Reflecting on this past year brings many floods of emotion. There are things I would have liked to change and at the same time, I realize how many things are what they are because of one disappointment or another leading to something better than what I could have planned on my own.
One year ago, we were nestled into an Amish farmhouse. The treadle sewing machine was clacking away as I made denim coats for my boys, and plain dresses for myself and the girls. I would sit there looking out my window at the gentle breeze blowing the snow into furls, dreaming of a life lived out. A life of sleigh rides in the winter, of Amish singings, buggies loaded with lively children, working hard on the farm, the whole cycle of the seasons lived in that small world I called Amishland. Where seasons change but everything remains constant. And there was no one who lived in that community that wanted it more than I.
Slowly, as rejection came as a dew that settles across the land, I had to let go of that dream. It was inevitable. I did not know where to go, or what to do. Nor did I begin to understand the heart of man. The hearts that are ready to stomp out the fresh blades of tender grass that spring forth through that trodden soil. Tender to learn, tender to grow, tender in love as we were. Maybe they were fearful of something new. Maybe they saw change coming, but whatever the case, the Amish had to stand firm as a unified force and build a wall so thick it could bar us out forever. My brother came to visit us that year with his family. They are from Chicago and live the modern, metropolitan lifestyle. As they sat in our Amish abode with their cell phones shining brightly in their eyes, and as their fingers passed a hundred times over it's brilliant screen, I asked them what they thought of our home. My sister in law remarked, which I find fascinating NOW, "Where is the Amish community....I thought they had walls." I laughed in return, "Walls?" And she continued, "You know, a walled in community, I thought the Amish live in walled in communities." It was funny at the time. I realize now that there are WALLS. They are invisible, but they are real. After taking their family on a horse drawn sleigh ride, against their better wishes, they packed into their very "nice" vehicle and drove into the sunset. Never to return to our Amish Homestead.
We were back in time a hundred years it seemed, as a stranger in a foreign land. Striving to be different in modern times is a battle. If you turn this way, you give up one thing, and when you turn that way, you give up another. It is hard to strike a balance in this life. It is even harder with kids. You can pick a lifestyle for them while they are young, but eventually, they will pick for themselves the life they will live out.
In January, there was a court battle. Due to my injury during a surgical procedure that left me with a permanent nerve disorder (RSD), we choose to pursue the law's justice. It was a choice I am not proud of, nor will I ever be, but I did learn a lot through it. I never before talked about this publicly. It was a very horrible experience to our entire family. We knew that we were being watched at all times, everything we said on the web, every doctor visit, every thing was picked through. When I met with my lawyer for a deposition, there sat a stack of every blog post I ever wrote, every comment. And it was all to try to condemn me and make my lifestyle, my will to work even in the presence of pain, against me. Even when I could barely lift my body off the bed, I fought to get on my feet again. If I was the type that would take my pills, stay in bed, and have no will to fight, I would have won the court battle. I had to go through many painful testings to prove things about my injury. Each time I was told I had another test, I would cry thinking I would not be able to handle another one. But I pressed forward because it seemed right to us to make sure this did not happen to others. When I was on the stand, the lawyer spent hours reading me my blog posts, especially the ones about living among the Amish and using a wringer washer. A week into the 2 week trial, on the lunch hour our lawyer had, what we all believed, a heart attack. He ended up surviving but the court was cancelled. It was five months later with a new jury. The opposing lawyers saw everything we had, so the advantage was all theirs for the taking. I knew on the very first day, that we would most definitely lose. Dragging my name, everything I stood for through the mud. It was just something I had to sit through and endure. The last day of the trial, after letting go of being with the Amish people, after not knowing where we would go next or what we will do, and after the Jury was led to believe that I am no more than a joke, I sat there crying. I knew I lost. My husband put his arm around me and said, "Today, Erin, choose Joy! Do not let this little thing ruin you." I sat in silence for a moment and it was like I could hear the tear that fell on my lap as if it were a deafening sound. I looked up and I determined right then and there, that I was going to choose joy! It was a choice.
Joy is a choice. Yeah, I was in the midst of a relapse, pain was shooting through my broken body, I lived in a community where I did not belong, and my very character, the life I lived to glorify God, was being totally blown to pieces in front of people who could never understand. And yet, I chose to be joyful. It was a hard choice but the best choice I have ever made. And it is something that I have to choose each day that I wake. As they read the verdict, after the four years of waiting, being watched, and all the painful testings, I sat there proud. I just smiled. I was strong that day, much stronger than I had ever been. So yes, I am thankful even for the hard times in life because it makes us who we are. I remember saying to the jury one time, "There are two kinds of people...People who let their circumstances rule them. They face hard times and they are depressed, destroyed, and they do nothing. And then there are People who can take the same circumstances and overcome them. They face hard times and it makes them stronger. They get up off the ground and they do something with their lives to make a difference. I choose to be the latter person. I will never give up."
We packed our things and went back to Amishland. Everything just as it was. The treadle sewing machine parked in front of the window of the old front porch. Buggies passing by as they stare into our windows. They wonder if we are still "trying to be Amish". They are proud to be exclusive, to ignore us. I just sat there and forced myself be like moldable puddy, just letting God steer the ship. To go where ever he lead. Knowing I did BELONG. I belong to Mark Harrison, Miles, Molly, Megan, Mikey, and Junior. I BELONG to God's family. My home is where ever my family is.
It is powerful for a person to choose joy. Without joy, we can steer the ship to ruin, to bitter endings. Or we can wake up and choose joy which leads to hope, laughter, acceptance, love, and strength. I was on the brink of the wrong choice and my heart would have been hardened. I would have counted my sorrows and stored them away to pull out every time I was dissatisfied with my husband, or c
hildren, or with my circumstances. It would have been a cherished collection of woes. Trash, really. I would sit there forever disappointed for all the crazy things people do, or say. For all the things I can't understand. I would be bitter because I want people to treat people the way they should and act the way they should. But understanding the beauty of what God created-free will, I can break free from my small perceptions of mind. knowing that every human gets to be exactly who they choose to be is HUGE in overcoming. We all get to choose who we want to be and we only have to answer for what WE do, not for what others do. That is very freeing.
Joy is free for the taking. It is available to all who can freely choose. It starts by being thankful. Looking around at all the things that you do have. And when you start counting blessings, you start to realize how very foolish it was to waste any of your time feeling sorry for yourself. Let me tell you, I spent the first 26 years of my life in a perpetual pity party. It was no fun and I wasted a lot of years that way. I was still a christian, but not an overcoming saint. God sent Jesus to set the captives free. What does that mean? I can tell you what it means to me. It means that I do not have to sit there in my self made prison cell of my mind, feeling bad about how my life is. It is so unproductive and sinful to be that way, no matter how bad it seems at the time. I know what it is like to just feel hopeless, like nothing matters. And that is a conscious choice. Choosing to focus on all the bad things is very much a choice. Sadly many people today, are choosing to life life this way. Choosing to live in sadness instead of gladness. Instead, I am free. I get to enjoy all the gifts in my life, like my husband, my children, my eyesight, my warm bed, the farm life, the sunshine, the fresh homegrown foods. I do not have to be a slave to my own drives and passions. I can think outside of myself. I can minister to others in need whether it be in my own home or elsewhere. God gave us an example in his word to follow~Jesus.
After walking the depths of the valley all the while keeping my head held high, an opportunity fell into my lap. On an impulse, we jumped head first. I saw an open window for some work. No guarantees, no promises made, just what looked like a an opening. To most people it was crazy to move half way across the country to fill a need that may or may not last with a ministry that may or may not stand. A ministry under the gun of persecution. I was offered an opportunity to work on a project with Debi Pearl in TN. It was illustrating her book about Homeschooling. We packed all our things and moved three weeks later. It seemed like a dream to be in a new world where we were accepted and needed. It gave new meaning and purpose to our lives. Strangely enough, it was not perfect and we have had many situations come our way. The newness grows dim and then you settle into life again, everyday life. People are the same where ever you go. Same drama, different climate. And life just whirls past like the dust in the wind. And you still have choices to make. Are you going to allow yourself to get caught up in it again, or will you just be still and know that there is nothing you can do about the heart of man. The temptation to let things bother me crept in. I fought against the things I did not understand. I shut myself in, and the noise of the living out. I poured myself to the project, with all I had. I cleaved to what I did understand, my own family. And I experienced the fullness of joy! Debi's "BIG BOOK OF HOMESCHOOLING" will be available soon. Working with Debi has been a highlight to my year. She and I are giddy to hold that new book in our hands. It is time invested to God's glory. I am so thankful that I was foolish to dive in head first and take the risk for change. I am so blessed to be able to homeschool my children and also encourage others in the same.
And now here I sit, typing out parts of my thoughts, reflecting on the art of joy. How each day is an empty canvas. I get to choose the color and the subject I paint. Each beautiful day where I chose joy is a pretty picture in a gallery I call life.