The phone rings. I recognize the name. Earlier this year I met several Old Order women in the States. This particular woman is one I would wish to know better; she is so likable, fun and a dynamic communicator. Her lilting voice, her expressive eyes, and easy laugh all work to deeply engage her audience.
I answer the phone. She is depressed, she tells me, and losing hope. She wonders if I have time to talk. We chat for about 10 minutes. She talks, I listen, and I ask the occasional question.
Nothing bad is happening, really, she says. There are just things she longs for, that don’t exist in her world. She reaches for affirmation, and longs to be loved and encouraged. Basic human needs. She has a good husband, a handsome son, and several beautiful daughters. They love her, she knows that. But, beyond that little world at home, she struggles.
She thinks ‘outside the box’ of her culture, not quite able to confine herself to the expected temperament of a ‘meek’ woman. She borders on being flamboyant, in spite of her cultural attire. Something that I find quite refreshing to watch, as ‘who she is’ collides with what one anticipates, based on that attire.
It is much as if a priest would come skipping and jumping down the church aisle, waving the cross freely from side to side, and whistling a happy little tune, prior to mass or some ceremony, not out of irreverence, but pure joy in his heart.
That ‘spirit is just who this woman is, by God’s design, and His joy bubbles out of her, and, in the eyes of her people, it spells ‘in a messy heap on the floor’ of her culture. They simply don’t know what to do with it, with her.
But she loves her culture, embracing the simple lifestyle with deep appreciation and pleasure. Only a few things, she says, she would change. Maybe one or two fast car rides every year just to get it out of her system. (“But I would need to be the driver,” she says.) And maybe some of the restrictions on women, like staying home so much. She would rather go out walking or jogging with a friend, now and then, even though it’s an unwritten rule that middle-aged women not do such a thing. But the clothes, the horse and buggy and those cultural things, she wouldn’t give up. Those she loves! She would add Bible studies and fellowship, because of her deep spiritual awakening, but never leave her culture.
I listen to her and smile. It is so refreshing to hear her express her love of her culture. Her voice ‘sparkles’, even when she’s feeling down. She tells me of the criticism she faces for not being like the other women in church. She follows the rules, but her personality just doesn’t fit.
“Nothing bad is happening right now. Nothing is really wrong. But there are things I long for…” her voice fades. “Maybe I’m just being selfish.”
At length she continues, “Can’t they just love me for who I am?” She speaks with sad desperation, then pauses once more. When she speaks again, her voice is filled with passion and intensity, the sparkle back in her voice. “I may not be a good ‘Old Order’, but maybe I’m still a good Lavina!”
I burst into giggles, as tears fill my eyes. She giggles too.
“I love that!” I tell her, “And, yes, you are so right! You are a good Lavina!”
She laughs. “Really?”
“Yes! Really!” I tell her that she isn’t selfish at all and that we all long for affirmation, in one form or another, and she is simply human.
“I am? You mean I’m not the only one?” she says, surprised.
“No, Lavina, you are not alone! You and every one of my clients here in Ontario, whom I’ve spoken with this week, shared that same longing for acceptance and affirmation. We all struggle when it isn’t there.”
She sounds relieved. The phone call, though brief, has lifted her spirits. There is nothing wrong with her after all. Her desires and longings are legitimate human needs. No doubt many others in her culture, like her, struggle with it too. Every other culture does. We are all human, after all.
We are created for relationship. We long to be in up-building, affirming relationships, and struggle when those are lacking, or when toxic relationships undermine us. While I believe that Jesus is enough, in every situation, I will add, quickly, that He often reveals Himself through humans.
A moment of listening, and offering compassionate encouragement rather than judgement, may be all the person needs in order to find courage for that next step. Some small affirmation may be the very thing that reminds them God has not forgotten.
I learned this lesson in 2010, when an unbelieving friend and I had a conversation at a church event. With no agenda, and in all sincerity, I applauded him as a father. He’s an amazing dad. And has been as long as I’ve known him. Long before he was a believer.
I watched, in shock and delight, as that moment opened the door for him to hear from his Heavenly Father. Within moments my friend accepted Jesus as his Saviour and embraced a journey of faith. And he started the conversation, all because I affirmed him as a father.
Like my friend, there are people all around you, all around me, looking for someone to accept them ‘just as they are’, without judgement or strings attached. Every person you meet is an opportunity to let the love and grace of Jesus flow through you, and leave each person better for having known you.
What truth do you offer the people in your life? How do you bring hope, courage and more meaning to those whose lives you impact? Do you love the ‘Lavina’s’ in your world simply for who they are? Or do you demand that the people around you fit in a mold of your choosing before you accept them?
© Trudy Metzger
Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”
Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series
Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series
Return to the First Post in ‘Abigail’s Story’ Series