Growing up Mennonite, we had just enough modern convenience wrapped around our daily lives to create confusion about our lifestyle for me. There were never any in-depth discussions about, quite literally, anything; and knowing my place in the world, or even inside the community, was a decently unreachable goal. The rules and regulations placed upon us seemed so ingrained in our DNA that we followed them blindly, and not because we understood them or even agreed with their value. If I were to think back on my own upbringing, I would even go so far as to say that I wasn’t even aware we were Mennonites to begin with– though the home-schooling from Mennonite textbooks and strict lifestyle choices should have been a dead giveaway. As a child, you have nothing else to compare it to, and so the majority of my youth was spent in confusion and wondering. I was different, there was nothing more clear to me than that.
I always knew the consequence of being shunned if I were to break the rules or decide I wanted a different life, but deep down I didn’t realize the threats of tossing me aside like I was pure garbage were anything more than fear mongering in attempts of making me do what was viewed as right in their eyes. “If you keep making that face, it’ll freeze that way,” being the phrase that comes to mind. Needless to say, being disowned and shunned after my divorce was so shocking that I could barely process what was happening.
Suddenly I found myself without a family–no home to run to, no support to fall back on, not grandparents to piss me off whenever I’d visit; nothing; and turning their backs on me when I needed them most incited far more damage than I could ever express into words. My spirit was demolished; my self-worth devastated. “If my own family can’t love me, how could anyone else?” The endless barrage of negativity seeped into my life like nothing I had experienced before and I became paralyzed in time.
Having to face the world armed with the secret of not having a family any longer has forced me to really confront myself and question what I’m searching for in this world; and while the negativity that surrounds the actual shunning is overabundant, from the fire has emerged a plethora of happiness and beauty I thought I had lost along the way.
I have begun my “life without family” and the burdens of making wrong choices, offending people or causing myself to be shunned over self expression have been lifted from my shoulders– a search for solace and peace within myself that lasted decades is settling itself over me; and there is nothing more welcome and exciting in my eyes.
The freedom of being myself and having my desires without the guilt placed upon me is a feeling like no other– I am now, quite literally, free to do whatever I want.
An ability to explore my talents without the fear of upsetting the community by showing off and acting less that desirable in the eyes of God.
It’s a peace in knowing that I am now making my own choices based on my own set of standards and requirements for the direction of my choosing.
It’s an understanding that family is about who loves you and not who created you. Oh, what a freeing concept for those of us who have been raised to believe there’s nothing more important than following rules and traditions. The blessing of having people surrounding me that care enough for me to allow me to be myself and accept me for who I am is not lost on me. Though I may still find myself in fits of sadness or depression over the loss of my blood family, I am supported by the compassion of my chosen ones.
The compassion of ungodly sinners, wrapped up in their bad habits and devilish behaviors; the compassion of people who have been entered by Satan and have carried evil onto the world– the bisexual, atheist friends who have showered me with more love, support and acceptance than any bible-following member of the Mennonite community ever did.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
— 1 Peter 4:8