Caution: Mennonite In Transition

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A couple years ago, upon realizing my life was going nowhere in a hurry and not wanting to settle for mediocrity, I called out for God’s help.  I wanted a truly abundant life, I knew that I was wholly inadequate to bring about the necessary changes to make that reality (God knows I’ve tried) so I begged for the impossible be done.

I have seen many dreams die in my life because of fear of failure, inexplicably poor timing, etc.  I was well-aware of the cliché definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result) but could not seem to break from the patterns of life that limited my potential.  I was what I was and deeply dissatisfied with that.  

There was an undefined something that always seemed to crush my higher ambitions.

I could not beat an enemy that could not be defined.  So I told God in no uncertain terms that I would literally crawl on hands and knees across a wilderness of broken glass to be made right.  Throwing every bit of faith I could muster, like a gambler going all in with a desperate last gasp effort, I prayed “make the impossible possible for me” and then concluded my morning prayer.

It was an hour or two after that when I hopped out of my truck and went down writhing in pain.  My knee buckled under me.  In that moment what had been diagnosed as an MCL sprain became a full ACL tear and I knew that the implications were huge.  I would be unable to perform the duties of my job and with that was facing financial uncertainty.

Still, despite excruciating pain, I was serene and confident.

God had answered.

Or so I hoped.

“It is what it is…”

My faith crumbled against that awful reality.

“You are thirty years old living in Milton.”

It was true and the implications clear enough.

I was a stick in the mud, already past my prime by the standards of some, and certainly not the adventure her heart was set upon.  I simultaneously loved her brutal honesty and hated the harshness of judgment.  My worst fear realized.

I had no defense.

When we finally parted ways I was lost in a haze.  The rug yanked out from under me.  My sputtering attempts to articulate my own heart had no effect on her whatsoever.  Blissful hopes were mercilessly cut down by an otherwise nurturing soul.

My conversation with her end with my mouth involuntarily echoing her “it is what it is” plea and with that accepting the rationality of fatalism that had long dogged me.

A continuing cruel loneliness now seemed inevitable.  I had tried many times before, taken my hits, always got back up again by believing next time would be better—that something greater would come from my suffering rejection.  But this time I could not delude myself with hope.

My faith had lost the day—my hope against hope had failed—and now a terrible fate of a despairingly cold and isolated life was upon me.

My mind, a place normally full of noise and activity, went totally blank as if unable to comprehend any of it.  I was in shock about what had transpired and numb.  

I wandered off aimlessly.  

Into the wilderness of South Dakota.  

Into the dark of night.  

Into oblivion.

The storm brewing in overhead seemed to perfectly mirror the log-jam of conflicted thoughts and swirl of deep emotions.

My delusion of hope that a young ambitious woman might find me desirable enough to consider a romantic relationship was shattered into a million fragments.  My failure to achieve now clung to me like an unforgivable sin.  Very soon I awoke from my stupor into an inescapable nightmare of reality.

The uneasy calm broke when Johnny and Brian somehow found me.  The rain, which had coincidentally held to precisely the moment they carried me to the shelter of an awaiting truck cab, began to pour down in torrents and so did my tears.

Escaping reality was impossible.

Doing battle with the it…

Most people nowadays pursue career first and romance second.  But I had these things in reverse order.  I prioritized relationship and postponed all else.

My reasoning was that it would be better to form life ambitions and goals together as a couple rather than apart.  And I might have pulled it off had I been a bit less socially awkward.  Unfortunately I had this vexing tendency to freeze up as soon as my interest was piqued and thus my early romantic pursuits failed miserably.

Years were frittered away with unfulfilled dreams, chasing one false hope after another and waiting for opportunities that never came.

Not to say that I did nothing of value in that time either.  I gained life experience, slowly built confidence in my abilities, learned to live independently, and gained perspective.

However, it was hard not to feel a failure.

There seemed to be this mysterious “it” that always kept my best efforts from panning out and nobody had the answers for this that I craved.

I’ve heard all the cliché advice I could ever stomach.  One person says try harder and the next will say you’re trying too hard.  One tells you “you’re intimidating” and the next says you lack confidence.  You’re basically wrong no matter what you do.

The same one who says they want someone “mature” rejects your offer and then dates a teenager whom she later marries.  It is incredibly confusing when the same person who says you’ll make a “great husband” refuses to even consider a date.

It is impossible to define exactly what the “it” is.  It was a ball of anxieties, that inexplicably poor timing, a curse of a jealous enemy, the lack of true community and help.

It was many things and yet nothing at all.

It was an invisible monster that chased me throughout my life.  It was the glass wall that seperated me from those who were more able to conquer the obstacles in their way and achieve their goals.  It was my doing too little too late or too much too early.  It was my always being close to the mark and yet never hitting it.

The “it” is not something external to be vanquished.  It is everything from my formative years up until the present moment that I’ve experienced or thought.  It is my home, my genetic and cultural inheritance, the good and bad together intertwined and inseparable as part of my own character.

The “it” is a sum total of what defines me as a person.  

It was inescapable.

It is me.

It is what we make it…

Her certainty about her own direction was why she was so attractive to me.  It was never my plan to grow old in Milton.

However, she seemed to believe that her personal ambitions were something that made us incompatible.  To me our lack of similar résumé was not a disqualification, I saw our differences as an asset, considering her strengths as being complimentary rather than contradictory to mine, but she disagreed.

She was my last remaining escape plan.

I did not eat in the days after because I had no desire to continue as I had and seemingly had no escape.  I wanted to die and would rather starve than keep feeding myself with more false hopes.

I cried, “I have no vision!”

I so desperately wanted free of a mind seemingly incapable of focus.  I had seemed to do fine in a structure.  I was a diligent worker, a loyal friend, responsible and dedicated.  But leave me too free to choose my own path and I would dither indefinitely in indecision.

God provided just enough reason to get me out of bed.  I cleaned up, composed myself a bit, ate the cup of yogurt and glass of water mom provided.  I faced her again, my elusive hope against hope, and then in the weeks following I went under the knife to have the torn ligament replaced with a graft and after that began the months of rehabilitation.  My goal to come back stronger than before and physically I did.

What also happened in my time off of work was a book (written but shelved pending further review) and this blog.  I’ve found some answers in blogging.  Writing my experiences and recording some of my thoughts has seemed to help provide some direction.  The more vulnerable I’ve become the more friends and opportunities to serve I’ve seemed to gain.

Why am I Mennonite?

I have never been the Mennonite golden boy.

I’ve never had the swooning attention of the favorites who better represent the ideals of Mennonite culture.  I’ve always done things a little different.  I was who I was and gave up on being anything besides that.  But still, I longed to gain acceptance in the Mennonite culture.

In Mennonite culture marriage is acceptance and not all are.  Yes, sure, we’ll let most anyone be a member so long as they complete the required steps, but marriage is where the reality of a two tiered system becomes very evident.  There are the kids born in the right homes, the ones able to do all the things that make them popular within their cultural context and marriageable, and then there are those of us who don’t fit the mold.

She represents a direction that I thought my life should go in.  Her Mennonite idealism, her simplicity of role or purpose in life, represented something deep within my own heart and desirable.

However, many who have read my blogs question this and ask… “why are you still Mennonite?”

It is question that I dislike.

I’m Mennonite because I like being Mennonite.

We have such a neat and tidy cloistered existence.  We have beautiful families.  We are the happy Hobbits living in the Shire of Middle-earth.  Everything we do is safe.  Even our missionaries typically go out to all the corners of the world yet never leave the protection of their religious confines.

It has been suggested to me recently that I have “out grown” the tradition.  That is the question that I have wrestled with as of late.  

Can one actually out grow their home?  

I’m running out of arguments why to stay in a denomination that is more about conforming to cultural expectations than transformation of mind and living a life of true faith.

It is hard not to notice that most of the help on my journey came from those leaving the Mennonite tradition or outside of it.  The support I’ve gotten from those within has been grudgingly or something that needed extracted and done as mere religious duty.  I hear brotherly love spoke of by Mennonites, but it seems more relic or ritual than actually reality.  The real brotherhood I’ve experienced, the genuine Christian love, comes from beyond my own Mennonite tradition.

Does a man of faith belong with those who shrug “it is what it is” rather than risk a small step into unfamiliar territory?

Should I have any part with those who eagerly travel over land and sea to win a single convert and yet would never go in a direction they don’t understand?

Still there is a strong urge to remain a part.

I’ve always thought all voices were needed in the conversation and the including mine.  If everyone capable of challenging the cultural status quo leaves it would create even more tunnel vision and further imbalance.  My strengths, rejected or not, would be of benefit to those who think they have all the answers and are confident about the tradition they received.  

Composites make a stronger material than their component parts—shouldn’t the bond of love be able to do the same with two dissimilar people?

Decisions, decisions…

There is a time to wait and there is a time to take decisive action.  I have given up many opportunities for placing my hopes within the context of my Mennonite culture and gone many years without seriously considering the alternatives.

Mennonite is my cultural identity.  Despite my many idiosyncrasies, I’ve always been Mennonite at heart and somewhat proud of my ethnic and religious heritage.  How does one unbind and divorce themselves from their cherished past?

Impossible, right?

It is not like I haven’t ventured out before in search of what I might find only to return again as if drawn by an invisible force that grew stronger the further away I got from whoopie pies and covering strings.  But things do change and there could be a force stronger than that which always pulled me back.

When I asked God to make the impossible possible for me, I had a personal vision that included remaining Mennonite and the young woman that I knew was an impossibility as far as worldly logic is concerned.  But it now seems possible that my vision then was too narrow and that I should look beyond to the other options available.

Being Mennonite is not the be all end all.  God calls us to go beyond the limits we set for ourselves or those set for us by our cultures and that is my intention.  It doesn’t matter what my religious peers or even my blood relatives think—Jesus called us to follow Him and leave our fears, insecurities and inadequacies behind us.

Maybe impossibility made possible for me is something I never anticipated?

That is what have I learned since that day tearing my ACL, in recovery from yet another slap of rejection, and from the battle with the “it” which drove me to extremes in search of answers.  I learned that I do not have all the answers and don’t need all the answers before I am able to step out in faith.

Please pray…

There are many things that will soon come to a head for me and most I am unable to talk openly about at this time.  Many of these things being pivotal life changing decisions that must be made.  What happens in the next couple months will determine many things.

Your prayers to help me through this transitional time are very appreciated.  Pray that the impossible is made possible.

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15 thoughts on “Caution: Mennonite In Transition

  1. I’m praying for you, Joel. Our life is what we allow God to make of it. Press on, keep the faith and never give up. A winner at life is not defined by the times he falls down but by the times he gets back up.

    Peace to you, brother.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nate

    Well, I’ve told you what I think many times. I don’t want to bash the Mennonite background I grew up in. I’ll be the first to admit it has it’s strengths. But, if I could go back and do it all over again, I would do it all over again. (I’d just make fewer mistakes with girls the second time around, and I’d probably bail on the Mennonites earlier.)

    I took the easy way out and bailed on Mennonite tradition. Of course, if they hadn’t excommunicated me, I might still be Mennonite of some sort, but anyway… Excommunication was actually a blessing. It was the easy way out. I was forcibly set free.

    As soon as you leave you do lose your voice, to some degree. You become “one of those…” Yeah, maybe some people may be called to stay and speak into the culture. But unless God specifically tells me to with clear visions like the OT prophets, I’m not going to waste my life proclaiming truth to people who really don’t want to hear it.

    But, man, once you leave, it looks so awfully different from the other side. You realize the walls that the Mennonites enclose themselves in are only a mirage. It’s so freeing to realize they’re not real. The relationship and social cost may be high, but the cost of staying may be even worse, just different.

    Also, dating and relationships are painful and awful sometimes. I understand that well. You can’t logically figure out the reasons girls turn you down. They may give reasons, but that doesn’t mean it’s a logical issue at all. I’ve had some strange conversations… Like how can you say such positive things about me, just before you say you won’t even meet up with me over coffee? I’ve had some interesting conversations about why I’m not qualified to take a girl out to eat or why I’m spiritually not good enough to continue a relationship or whatever. One can learn from it, but don’t take it all straight to the heart, either. They may be trying to justify something that isn’t rational. I don’t really blame those girls that have hurt me or given me clearly false reasons for not dating, even though I think some of them were making some truly unfortunate mistakes 😉 Because I’ve done some bad things as well. My own fear of intimacy kept me single for many years. I’ve disappointed girls, I’ve hurt girls, I’ve lost opportunities with “perfect” girls because I was too scared to act. Those “what if’s” and “if only I hadn’t been so %#$@ing stupid and fearful’s” are my biggest regrets. I don’t create new regrets anymore–I now ask the girl, I take the risk, etc. This means I get burnt much more regularly, but, it’s the cost of playing the numbers game.

    I think one of the neat things about love is the thrill of being chosen. This is directly related to the hurt of being rejected. They are kind of inseparably linked. The girl must be capable of rejecting you for no good reason in order to be capable of chosing you and extending grace in spite of your flaws. I think… I’m no CS Lewis yet…

    Anyway, I hope God really is in control and all things do actually work out for good for both of us.

    PS. If you’re not sure what to do with this big transition, may I recommend Eternity Bible College, because they teach you how to think instead of what to think. Best. school. ever., located in SoCal, aka paradise. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • I appreciate your story. We are different people in different circumstances and yet have experienced some of the same feelings. I doubt I will be joining you out there, right now the pending changes are a bit less dramatic. However, that said, the longer term plan is a warmer climate and slower pace to life. I spoke to someone from my church who was raised in Mexico, spent years in Cambodia and a significant amount of time in the US. I asked where the best place to live was and she said that it definitely wasn’t here. Now I will go or stay as God leads, but her words were confirming of something I’ve suspected. Our pace and consumer culture is a trap.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Intimate knowledge is a peculiar thing. It breeds love and affection as well as deep frustration.

    I have been blessed by my upbringing in many ways. I would not choose to be raised outside of a such a safe, stable, and Christ-believing environment. It has done wonders for me that I will never fully understand in this life.

    I’ve been spared the most dramatic of ugliness to be found in some conservative Anabaptist circles. Neither my parents/family nor those of my peers were abusive or perverse. People want to do what is right and want to care.

    Yet in spite of all of the blessing, I know the weaknesses of my subculture. Coming to grace and changing the priority I place on fundamentalism has been healing and invigorating for me.

    Thinking of you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. James & Cynthia Kilmer

    I bless you on your journey You have discernment beyond your years and I will pray God makes the impossible possible for you.
    Keep asking the hard questions. Follow God no matter the cost!!!
    Understand the heartbeat of this all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jason Croutch

    Joel, I understand your frustration. I was raised in an ultra-conservative Mennonite church. I came so very close to leaving the Mennonites so many times. I’m glad I didn’t – and not simply because I got to marry and fit into the typical “Mennonite mold”.

    We Mennonites have a lot to offer – to the unbelievers and the rest of Christendom. We believe that God expects us to obey the Bible and to take what it says literally (when possible). We believe in marriage and family. We have a strong sense of community. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.)

    I will also freely admit that we have our weaknesses. We do tend to exclude (at least partially) those like you who don’t fit the typical mold. We tend to be somewhat isolationist. We can emphasize conformity to our cultural expectations over obedience to God’s call. (This likewise is not an exhaustive list.)

    I would encourage you to experience more of the Mennonite church. Go into VS somewhere. Go to Bible School. Make yourself part of a Mennonite church somewhere else to give yourself a broader picture of the Mennonite church.

    I’m not trying to say the Mennonite church is the only way. I’m not trying to say that I think that anyone who leaves the Mennonite church is headed down a slippery slope. I’m just begging you not to base your decision on a faulty perspective based on one church (like I nearly did). I’ll be praying for you as you seek God’s will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing is set in stone. I’m still waiting on God’s answer to one question and then I will know what direction I’m supposed to go in. If it is His will that I stay then that is what I’ll do.

      Thanks for your prayers!

      Like

  6. Matt

    “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
    ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭KJV‬‬

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Luke N Zimmerman

    But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. This would be my encouragement for you. Lay down everything for the kingdom of God and the other areas of your life will be fulfilled in ways you can not imagine. As God said in Malachi try me and see. I can personally testify to the truth in that statement.

    Like

  8. Please count on my prayers as well. I have no experience with the Mennonites, but I was in a Catholic religious order for ten years. I was not a nun, but a consecrated lay person (it’s less binding but still a very regimented, disciplined lifestyle) and I remember reaching a similar crossroads where I cried out to God for some kind of an answer, for some guidance. The answer came in the most unexpected way, when my confessor told me that he did not think this was my true vocation because of how the lifestyle was crushing me. I was set free. A year after I left, it turned out that the founder of this movement was basically a fraud, and many other young women came forward and said that they had tried to put on a brave face and smile and radiate Christian hope, but that they had struggled with the same sadness and loneliness that I had experienced. (The attrition rate was about 80%, I’d say.)

    Fast forward about 8 years, and I am happily married with two little girls. The comparison of now versus then is like day versus night — which is completely odd because when I was inside that lifestyle, I thought that there could be nothing for me outside, and that I had to be as close to God as possible in order to be truly happy. But this was a rigid way of thinking that life itself has exploded — like shards of glass, I suppose. There is deep and true happiness in finding the path you were meant to follow, even if it does not match who you thought you were supposed to be, or what you thought God wanted of you at one time in your life.

    No one can tell you what your life is supposed to be. God has a way of revealing it line by line, day by day, until you look back and start to see the story and how it was written. For now, don’t be upset if you can’t find a pattern or a path. Trust in God to show you through events as they unfold, and also trust your heart. Sometimes we are afraid to make a change because we don’t want to sacrifice the mental construct of what we thought God wanted of us, which is often just a projection or an idea of our own. Our hearts know that we are not satisfied, but our heads can get in the way. We are afraid of change and we prefer safety and certainty, the familiar and the known. But there is something waiting for you, something that you can build with him, if you are willing to take difficult steps in trust.

    I wish you all the best and will pray for you.

    Liked by 2 people

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