Broken Boundaries Built on Love
March 7, 2017

A Woman’s Story of Growing Up Amish

“There wasn’t an exact moment, but possibly the day I asked my family, ‘What if being Amish isn’t necessarily the only way?’” – Lorina Mast

It’s a four-letter word tossed around in lyrics, promised in vows and tested in the aftermath of life’s decisions.

Growing up Amish, Lorina Mast learned the true meaning of the word love when she packed her suitcase a decade ago, tip-toed down the stairs and left a life built on boundaries that, perhaps ironically, taught her to love without any.

“There wasn’t an exact moment, but possibly the day I asked my family, ‘What if being Amish isn’t necessarily the only way?’” Mast said. “That may have been the ‘ah ha’ moment. But ever since I can remember, I’ve questioned everything.”

Mast, who grew up in West Farmington, shared her own personal story Feb. 27 during a Geauga County Department on Aging program at the Chagrin Falls Senior Center in Bainbridge Township, where she works as a recreation and education assistant.

“We’re going to do something a little different today,” said Becky O’Reilly, recreation and education coordinator. “I want to know what you want programming wise. You said I’d really like to hear her talk about what she learned growing up Amish.”

Lunchtime program-goers dined on Swedish meatballs and Spaetzle as they sauntered inside the gymnasium with food trays and listened to the popular 27-year-old chair yoga instructor discuss her earlier life.

“My hope is that the attendees left the presentation with a greater understanding of the culture of vital members of our community, Geauga County’s Amish,” said Jessica Boalt, director of the department on aging. “We believe in providing lifelong learning and education at our agency and senior centers. We believe that there is great value in addressing topics where we can provide insight, a greater understanding and potentially break down any existing barriers.”

Mast told audience members everyone has a basic plan of what they want to do in life.

“My story has led me here, where I feel very, very fortunate,” she said, pausing to sip from her water bottle and smiling.

“Your generation led me here, where I feel very, very fortunate,” Mast said. “I love working for this generation. Life to me is the best professor. What better way to learn. People have given back so much to my generation. I just want to give back.”

It was February 2010. His name was Josh. He drove a truck and wasn’t Amish.

“We were young,” Mast said, with hints of her Pennsylvania Dutch accent still evident. “I was 19 and he was 18.”

It was her Rumspringa — a period when some Amish youth experience greater freedoms before they choose whether or not to remain in the Amish community — and she liked to listen to Lady Antebellum’s “I Run to You.”

“Sometimes when I think about it, I don’t necessarily feel guilty, but maybe more sympathetic for my family because of the judgment that may be cast on them because of my decision,” said Mast.

She became one of the small percentages of those who do not return to become baptized and committed members of the Amish society.

She didn’t leave because of her family or the Amish. She left because of her.

Her parents taught her and her two brothers unconditional love.

“My parents would always find time for us,” Mast said. “I’m sure there a lot of people that think their parents are one in a million and to me, yes, absolutely my parents are. They are my heroes. They never made me doubt their love for me. I can’t think of better role models for my son.”

She added, in respect and contentment for the simpler life, “I was never bored.”

As kids, they played marbles and rolled each other around in empty rain barrels.

Mast’s mother, a schoolteacher, would read books to them for hours.

“My parents were not one to express all kinds of love in a verbal form. They showed it. We were a priority,” she said.

“I absolutely 100-percent still have the faith I was taught growing up and, if anything, my experiences have only strengthened it,” Mast said.

She added, “It will always stick out in my mind. I left in the middle of the night so that I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment on my parents’ faces and possibly breakdown and decide not to leave. But I knew I had to. I knew I would never be truly happy living the rest of my life without fulfilling everything that was possible outside the Amish life.”

It was 2 a.m., wearing the dress her mom had sewn, she left with life’s necessities, as she rehearsed in her mind what she would do.

At the time, she was pregnant and age 20. Josh had turned 19.

Her voice paused, momentarily.

“Everything happens for a reason, whether we understand it or not,” Mast said, a faithful believer in fate. “He died in a tragic accident.”

Gabe, now 7, never met his father, but she said he loves to fish, just like his dad.

“He is my reason for being,” Mast said, of her son.

Her relationship with her parents, understandably a bit rocky at first, has grown stronger and Gabe sees his grandparents every day.

Mast said she has no regrets on how she grew up.

“I learned to forgive,” Mast said. “I learned love without boundaries. I learned to understand. I learned to listen with my heart. I learned that I, as an individual, have a voice and an opinion. And I learned to not judge others because they have a voice and an opinion, too.

“Mostly, I learned to appreciate every single day, every hour, every moment, whether good or bad. Because each moment that I am given is another opportunity to achieve and help someone and know that there truly is a reason for everything that happens.”

She added, “I know that I did, in fact, disappoint my parents in every way possible with my decision, but I also know that their love for me never once faltered. Yes, I felt guilty at first. I was taught that this is wrong and that I am killing my family by leaving. But I also knew that I had a voice and the right to choose the life I wanted to make for myself.”