I was in 10th grade the first time I heard the word Mennonite, and it was far beyond my scope of theological understanding. It’s just not a religion that—presumably—makes itself known to outsiders. And, I was a teenager, meaning I didn’t make it a habit of understanding things that didn’t apply directly to me.
At the time, there was only one reason that word ever crossed the fringe of my mind: my favorite teacher of all time. My memory isn’t clear, but I do recall standing outside of her classroom and overhearing one student tell another that Mrs. G was in fact Mennonite, which is why she always wore long skirts. I thought it was a strange parallel; long skirts aren’t exactly a clear indication of one’s religion. But, once I got up the nerve to finally ask her, she confirmed it.
My favorite teacher…a Mennonite? It sounded like a scary word. I would sit in her class and wonder if she didn’t like me simply because I was a self-perceived bas ass, and I didn’t own not one single long skirt. Not-a-one. In fact, my usual attire consisted of skater jeans, slayer t-shirts, and combat boots. I even had a tattoo. Why would Mrs. G treat me with so much kindness if she were truly Mennonite?
The fact that Mrs. G was Mennonite should have soothed my concerns about the religion overall, because she was very kind to me. I loved her because she was a fantastic teacher. But, I also loved her because she allowed me to be me, whomever that was, and she never treated me like less of a person because of my outright homosexuality, my friends, or the slew of Bio-Hazard, White Zombie, and Hole t-shirts I wore on a semi-regular basis. She laughed at my ridiculous jokes, pulled me aside when I was misbehaving as to not embarrass me in front of the class, and she even danced with me at my senior prom. I took her elective class all three years I attended high school in Harford County—and I didn’t even like Spanish. But, she filled me with hope in so many ways—hope that I was lovable, hope that I was capable, hope that I was a decent human being, and hope that religion itself may not actually be my undoing.
After graduating high school, I reached out to Mrs. G on a few occasions, just to say hi, and also to inquire about the religion I had so often wondered about but could not discuss with her in school. She didn’t tell me much about her religion, even after I had graduated. But, she treated me with the same kindness and compassion she had always shown me throughout my teenage years.
Fast forward to 2015; I’m 34-years-old, living in Lancaster with my wife, and desperately searching for a primary care physician whose answer to all of my problems does not come in the form of a little blue pill. I tried so many doctors, you would have thought I was doctor shopping. And, it wasn’t until I found a family-owned office in Lititz that I also found the doctor for me.
Upon my first visit, I was experiencing the kind of anxiety that leaves me feeling so crippled that I can’t move without chipping a tooth or rubbing my aching jaw from hours of teeth grinding and weeks of insomnia. My mind was something to be feared, always on the verge of turning on me in some worried, hurried, absolutely exhausting, and totally obliterating manner. Needless to say, I was not in my right mind, and that anxiety transferred into a deep, sickening fear of meeting this new doctor.
I brought LB with me that day, which almost never happens. But, she was worried for me, and worried about my driving, which suffers at the hands of panic and social anxiety. When we walked into the facility, I realized right away that is was less of a doctor’s office and more of a carefully assembled buffet of doctors, all working together to ensure my holistic well-being.
This particular doctor’s office came with all the necessities—primary care, ENT, gynecology, nutrition, 24-hour emergency services, and most importantly, a psychiatrist. But, as we sat together in the waiting room, me folding my paperwork over and over in neat little patterns and chipping away at pieces of a dilapidated pencil, and she uploading pictures of our dogs to Facebook, I caught a glimpse of something in my peripheral that instantly grabbed my attention: a 12-foot banner that stretched from one wall to the other and read “Be so lost in God that one has to seek Him to find you”.
From there, I began searching the crowded room for other religious sentiments, proverbs, images of Jesus, whatever I could find that would perhaps give me some indication of what I was getting myself into. I was—after all—a married lesbian with tattoos and combat boots. Although I found dozens of religious images, bible verses, and quotes neatly stitched into their respective canvases, I could find nothing to quell the anxiety that was building up inside of me. Who were these people? And, what in the hell were they going to think of me?
When my name was finally called, the nurse told me that I would be seeing Dr. M, who was not only the head doctor, but also the owner of the entire practice. I tried to stop myself, but the words just came tumbling out as she moved those little dials on the old fashioned scale and jotted down a number I had no interest in knowing. So, this is kind of a weird question, and I’m sorry for even asking, I just like to know these things, it’s like there’s something wrong with me, if I don’t ask I’ll go insane wondering, and then I could faint or throw up or start speaking in tongue, and eventually you will decide that I need more help than you can provide and potentially ship me off to a mental hospital, so is it OK with you if I just ask one strange, albeit very poignant question?
The look on her face indicated that I had completely exhausted her that quickly, so rather than drone on I just came out with it. “Is this a religious establishment, and if so, what religion?” She looked up from her clipboard, eyes squinted, and studied my face for a moment before answering. “We’re Mennonite, actually. Dr. M is a very religious man, and he opened this practice nearly 40 years ago to provide other Mennonites in the area a comfortable place where they can receive ethical medical care by a doctor who really cares. Is there a problem?”
My voice shook, as it often does when I’ve made an idiot of myself, and for once I was at a loss for words. A simple “no” was all I could conjure up, under what felt like fierce scrutiny. As she took my blood pressure and commented on my racing pulse, I apologized for being so forthcoming. She was understanding, but to this day, I still can’t look her in the face when she takes my vitals or hands me my paper work. I had just done the one thing I’d spent my whole life battling: cast judgment on someone, or something, I didn’t understand. I hated myself for it. But, even that was not enough to quell the anxiety that was still building up inside of me as I waited for the head doctor, leader of the medical Mennonite community, and potentially someone who would hate me for simply being me.
After 20 minutes, I finally heard that familiar knock on the door. I invited him into the vital-taking room, and there he stood before me, in all of his Mennonite glory. As is usually the case, my anxiety was completely unfounded, and Dr. M proved to be the most gracious, kind, compassionate, knowledgeable, and thorough physician I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. That day he spent a considerable amount of time explaining his religion, comforting me, asking me questions about my life, and at the end, praying for my well-being.
When he asked if he could pray for me, I didn’t know what to say. He had just spent the past 45 minutes speaking to me as if I were part of his ministry—outsider that I am, and all. The least I could do was accept a simple act of kindness…but I was terrified. I was so afraid he would pray for my soul, or ask God to help me find the “light”, when truly, the unbearable lightness of being is enough to toss me into the throws of complete and utter panic and anxiety. But, when I finally said yes, he sat down beside me, put his hand over mine, and asked God to help me feel loved, to help me learn to accept myself, and to let others love me for the person I am. I completely lost my composure, sobbing uncontrollably, and for the second time in my life, feeling truly loved for who I am by someone who has no obligation to love me at all.
Since then, I’ve vowed to spend the rest of my life as a patient of the great Dr. M, and he hasn’t let me down yet. His visits are thorough and thoughtful. He cares equally about my mental and physical health. He prays for my wife and I to find the strength to help me through my bouts of anxiety, and he reminds me every time I see him that I am loved just the way I am.
In fact, a few months ago I was suffering from serious anxiety and stress over my job, which had become very demanding since I was promoted to a high-ranking position, for which I am the least bit qualified. I spent months plagued with ulcers and lost 25 pounds from not eating. I was starting to break down, physically and emotionally, and Dr. M had taken notice. He asked another physician to take his next patient, and he spent the next hour listening to my anxieties, fears, stressors, and all of their medical ramifications. He was truly concerned, saying that I was working in a toxic environment and that the stress was taking a real toll on my health. He changed the dose of my (non-narcotic) sleeping medication and added an extra anxiety drug (also non-narcotic). Then, he prayed over me, this time asking God to deliver me from my anxieties and to help me find a new job—quickly.
The next morning, I was getting ready for work when I heard my cell phone ping. I checked the notification, surprised to find that it was from a recruiter looking to fill a senior technical writing spot at their Shrewsbury location. I thumbed through the email, fully expecting for it to be a bust. To my disbelief, it was from the one company I have always wanted to work for, doing the very job I love most—and for good measure—offering more money.
I was so excited that I didn’t take the time to assess my good fortune. The weird thing is, I hadn’t applied for that job, or any job, in months. The fact that they called me the very next day was no coincidence in my mind. I picked up the phone and dialed so quickly I wasn’t sure if the numbers were right. But they were, and I was greeted by a wonderful lady who would soon get me an interview, which would soon land me my dream job. It wasn’t the only email from a recruiter that I received that day…but it was the best.
The next day I went for the interview, and by Wednesday they offered me the job. On Thursday I called Dr. M’s office to leave him a message. I told the nurse that he had prayed over me the day before, and that I was sure it was that very prayer that saved me. I asked her to tell him that after he prayed over me, I received an email from a recruiter, interviewed, and had the job within a week. I asked her to tell him thank you. I didn’t expect to hear from Dr. M until my next doctor’s visit. He is a very busy man, running a large practice that covers practically every territory in the field of medicine. But, I suppose I should be used to him shocking me by now, because he called me back fifteen minutes later, and his words will forever be etched in my memory:
It wasn’t my prayer that got you the job; it was hard work and God. But, prayer does help. I was so worried for you that I prayed all night that you would find a new job. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for calling to let me know you are doing well. God is good.
A week later I received this in the mail:
Two truly wonderful people who have touched my life in amazing ways, both Mennonite. At the end of the day, religion doesn’t appeal to me what-so-ever. But, prayers do. And so do the kind of people who take the time to care and love without judgment, who work daily to change people’s lives, and who didn’t see me as just some loud-mouthed lesbian with combat boots and tattoos. Instead, they saw me as a loud-mouthed lesbian with combat boots and tattoos who deserves to be loved just the way she is.