“You were Mennonite? Really? Why’d you leave?”
From someone else, “I never knew you left, that you would leave even.”
So I’ve made no secret of the fact I used to be much more conservative. In fact, some may say I even err on sounding like I’m mocking it. I’m not. Explaining the rules, the regs, the guilt.. it’s difficult and somewhat awkward. Part of me is still terrified of former ministry, especially when I remember how their opinions of me (or other sinners) were so clearly written on their faces.
So why did I leave? I was asked recently. I shrugged, I never fit. But if I’m honest, there’s a whole story to my leaving. And it starts with a boy .. don’t all the good stories start there?
(P.S. to the “boy” : you might be offended by what you read. I’m actually incredibly grateful. Please know that.)
It was an October day, I was almost 19 and I felt like life was going amazing. I had a dream boyfriend, a job I was in love with.. Didn’t have my dream car, but seeing/hearing wedding bells, I was happy to drive his car. He called, wanting to come see me. I didn’t mind. I was proud to show him off. My house was full of out of state relatives in town for a wedding.
“I don’t love you anymore,” he looked really uncomfortable. His words took the wind right out of my sails. I questioned this statement, we had JUST talked the night before and he had said he loved me then! What happened ?! He shrugged. He didn’t seem to know, just wanted to break up.
Brick by brick, steel bar by steel steel bar, a wall arose. I looked at him. “You’ll be dating within 6 months.” Pieces clicked. The rumors of the [many] girls before me, the glint in his eye when he talked about how town girls flirted. We had just made confession a few weeks before for “an immoral relationship” in church. And I had been putting my foot down lately, not wanting to be the girl who had to get married. Married yes, but not because of a growing baby in my belly. I was angry. I had trusted him, told him my secrets.
He assured me that he indeed would not be dating in such a short time period. I did the math, assured him he’d indeed be dating / in love by at least March or April. As he drove away, I ran inside. Humiliated, broken hearted, angry.
I called my friends. Busy. The big church youth group didn’t seem like an option. So I called the one girl he had forbade me to be friends with. She called another friend. The three of us made plans for the evening.
Now. I’m not completely proud of this next part. But it’s the truth.
We went to see a movie. We stopped somewhere and MJ and I ditched our Mennonite garb and coverings for jeans. After the movie, we decided alcohol was a grand idea. Well technically they did, but hey, I wasn’t in a decision making mood. And let’s just say me + Smirnoff + empty stomach = well, not a fantastic combo. At all. I stayed overnight at MJ’s, unable to even see straight, driving home was not even an option. We went to church the next morning, miserable. Well I was. She thought it was hilarious.
The moment he broke up with me, my friends seemed gone. I attempted to reconnect, but it seemed strange. Some were couples. I just felt very isolated, very alone. I spent weekends working or with the other two. Then a rape happened. And my drinking increased, by alot. Fearful of being pregnant, being rejected by not just the love of my life, but also church, I spiraled downhill at a high rate of speed.
Leaving was a choice, but also it wasn’t. I don’t regret aspects of this part of my life. Because of how everything happened, I just sort of disappeared from the local young people’s radar. I connected with a group of Horning kids (more conservative mennonite, but far less judgemental) I began attending a church in Lancaster County, (a bit more liberal). There was occasional glimpses, chance meetings, but since this was before Facebook, there was really no way for these people to keep track of my life. That’s the part I loved. It actually helped.
It still took me a long time to get over him. Looking back, he really destroyed me in a lot of ways. But if he hadn’t, well, I’d still have a lot to learn. So I am somewhat thankful.
Once I met Lamar, his friends became mine. Even less connections to my life. And I liked it that way. And after we got married, the church we attended split. And we got lost in the shuffle. I was pregnant, newly married, and we felt like we didn’t belong. And we just stopped attending church.
We made a few attempts, but really couldn’t click with anyone.
We moved 3 times in 3 years of marriage. And the last move was that, the last time. And somewhere in the shuffle of a church split and marriage and figuring out me and where I belong, I stopped wearing my covering. I still wear skirts, so I didn’t have a lot to get rid of. (I left all my dresses at home when I got married!)
It was awkward. I’ve been asked many times why I stopped wearing my covering. We’ve had it said that we are going to hell based on the fact that I wear pants. (Lamar too, because he “allows” me to wear them)
Leaving this culture isn’t always this easy. Many times it starts because if you mess up in one way, there’s the mennonite form of shunning. You aren’t actually shunned, just harshly judged. In my case, because a public confession had been made about our immorality, I was damaged goods. I was marked and therefore not an appropriate future wife for anyone.
Not that I minded, after the initial breakup and heartbreak, I never planned to marry.
It’s strange, the permanent mark this culture leaves with you. I still tend to duck my head, avoid admitting my last name, in the presence of any other Mennonites.
This is probably the biggest thing I discovered. Aside from grace. There’s this entire person that I actually am! And fyi: this girl isn’t any kind of subtle. If you haven’t gathered this by my purple hair, my big personality, my desire to serve and love and simply care deeply for the folks in my life, then get on board. It’s the one thing I proudly proclaim: I’m actually an awesome person. I really am. Usually. If I’m doing something, I’m ALL IN. (EXCEPT SOCK FOLDING. I do this only because I must.)
All in. Or I’m not in it at all. Oh. And purple hair. This is me
And this me doesn’t live in fear of her preachers, she is embracing the grace and freedom freely offered and living her life.