We said goodbye to Green Lake yesterday. But while we were there the last full day, we visited Amish country. I use the term visited loosely, because most of what we did was drive around and look for places. We had a map, again, map is used loosely because it had no addresses for stores, scale for distance and half the places on it didn’t exist. We’d reach the corner for the shop after miles of corn, barns and grain silos and find…grass.
We found the place that sold jam, a desire of my husband who makes jam. Now, the Amish are notoriously plain. They call themselves Plain People. They don’t draw attention to themselves, and I guess that includes signage as well. We drove past a white house with a sign deep under the trees proclaiming “woodworking” or somesuch. The smarty pants GPS lady said “you’ve arrived”, so we thought we’d better at least try. Otherwise she wouldn’t shut up.
A lady in a long dress ran out to meet my mother-in-law. She assured us we were in the right place. We parked in a spot marked “parking” along a pile of wood. Reading is fundamental. We got out and walked down the gravel drive towards the house, all 11 of us. We passed a greenhouse and a horse, loose on the path.
We met our hostess under a large spreading tree. Several family members gathered and sat at the picnic table to greet us. The hostess placed her glass-enclosed wares on the coffee table. An ancient family dog sporting a white muzzle waddled over to greet us.
“We have raspberry, strawberry, apple butter, rhubarb, peach and jalapeno jam,” she said.
Six pairs of brown eyes looked at us. A teenage boy about Zac’s age stood near. A couple of younger boys sat next to him. Then a little girl, with a quick smile, younger than Ruby.
“What are your names?” my mother-in-law asked.
They told her. The youngest girl’s name was Mary Esther. We didn’t take any pictures, as we know it’s frowned upon. Plus, they seemed as eager to know about us as we did about them: curious. The oldest, who we thought was their mother, was the oldest sister. The next youngest that we saw was 17; she told us so. The boys wore traditional straw hats, blue button-down shirts and suspenders. The girls wore long-sleeved blue-green dresses, aprons and caps. They were barefoot. Six pairs of brown eyes watched us. They spoke in friendly tones and had a kindly, humorous demeanor. I think we could have had a grand time together if we’d found a way to stay.
But, as I looked around, I could see evidence of the uphill struggle this way of living can be. Everything needed a bit of work. The house could use painting. Rusting equipment languished in the side yard. We found out the gal talking up the jams and making change was the oldest sister probably 19 0r 20 years old. We originally thought she might be the kids’ mom.
We purchased one of each of the items displayed. We thanked them and wandered back to our cars. The Amish live among us, but not with us. They drive horse-drawn buggies and use horses to plow their fields. Most don’t have cars or cell phones and eschew electricity. They grow or raise all they eat, and build their own homes and barns. They survive by the work of their hands, making furniture or quilts or foodstuffs. They do it all for the glory of God, and they do well.
Though it happened two days ago, I find myself haunted by this encounter. The Amish industry impressed me, as did the simplicity of their lives. You have so few choices to make with this lifestyle. It can be kind of freeing. No military service. No concern about college or paying for car insurance. Girls don’t have to waste time or money on makeup or the latest fashion – no short shorts, thank you.
But us regular folks who eat microwave popcorn and wear earrings and work at jobs face the same dilemmas. We decide what our lives should look like based on what we know of how life should progress. We make our own invisible parameters and live inside them. And yet…God has so many paths available to us. Will we let Him guide us, or settle down in a box of our own making?