When I was in the sixth grade my family moved near a library, and the summer of my sixth grade year was spent visiting there daily, checking out books, reading two or three before bedtime, and then heading back the next day for more. Out of everything I read, my favorites were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I became Laura as she walked behind the buggy as they headed west with seas of prairie grass waving them on. (And if you’ve read the books, I’m sure you understand!)
Out of all the characters, I loved Pa best. He was a gentle, yet strong. He cut the logs and stacked them to be a cabin, and then that evening he’d cuddle Laura on his knee and called her Half-Pint—the perfect nickname, I told myself. I loved him most because I grew up without knowing my biological father. My stepdad provided for us, but he was distant. I pictured myself pouring maple syrup on the fresh snow to make candy with Pa, just like Laura.
As an adult I forgot about Laura, and Pa, and their simple lifestyle. I got busy with being a wife, mom, and writer. I served in church and led Bible studies. Most of the time my calendar controlled me more than I controlled it.
I took a dip back into prairie days while writing my novel Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana, but my interest really piqued when my daughter made a new friend whose parents had grown up Amish. My husband and I got together with the couple, and they shared about their growing-up years. Their memories and antics as Amish children reminded me of Half-Pint!
As I considered writing an Amish novel another friend offered to take me up to the small Amish community in West Kootenai, Montana. She’d grown up there and was friends with many of the Amish families. I jumped at the chance.
Stepping into the simple Amish houses, seeing quilts on frames, and having my every move watched by clusters of Amish children took me back to everything I loved about the Little House books. My new friends still baked their own bread, grew most of their produce in gardens, and even helped one another with barn raisings (which I’m sure was also in one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books!).
The Amish live in the twenty-first century, yet still value simple living. Family dinners around the table were customary. Mothers taught their young daughters how to cook and clean. Boys trail their dads around the fields and woods.
The more I learned, the more I modeled. I realized life didn’t have to be lived at a Nascar pace. I cut out activities to focus more on my family.
I enjoyed hearing about the traditions of the Amish. I loved making simple, lifestyle changes, but what I fell in love with the most was their sense of community. They knew their neighbors. They attended church in homes. They always showed up at funerals and shared the news about births at surprising speed. The outside world holds little interest compared to the interest of those who live closest. The Amish don’t concern themselves with Facebook friends, but rather flesh-and-blood people whom they could see, chat with, and cry with on a regular basis.
As I’ve made more Amish friends and as I’ve researched their traditions, I understand better how community matters. Their values have also made me take a good look at my own relationships. Do I take time for real, flesh-and-blood people, or am I happy to send a friend a text or tweet and let it go at that?
The Amish have become a model for me on how to live connected with others. No, I’m not going give up my television or smart phone anytime soon, but I have started visiting friends more often, planning activities together, and inviting them into our home.
Tonight, in fact, I’ve invited about twenty people to come over. We’re going to have snacks, share life, and get to know one another. These are people I chat with at church and in my community, but I’m tired of small talk only. To share life with others is one of the most precious gifts you can give. It’s also one of the most precious gifts you can receive. The Amish taught me that . . . and I hope I’ll be passing the lesson on one open door at a time.
I think Laura would be proud.
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Are there areas in your life that need to be de-cluttered to make room for others? What are some practical ways that you can implement into your life to increase the quality and time of building relationships with others? Share your thoughts and comments below!