Anna’s Return

Today was a rainy, drippy, sad day that fit my mood exactly. I am still reeling from this past weekend. I did something that I will probably wonder for the rest of my life whether it was the right thing or not. 

For some time now, Anna has been planning to return to her community. She had in mind to return at the end of January. She could not be talked out of it, though many people tried. She was missing her nieces and nephews very much. She had 38 when she left, and 3 more have been born since she left. She also missed her mother and community life.

Rather than put Anna on a bus, David and I offered to drive her. Even though she had left with nothing but the clothes on her back, she now had accumulated enough material goods to fill our car.

We started out early on Saturday morning and drove to Ogdensburg, within ten miles of Anna’s home, where we stayed at a hotel. We ate dinner there and turned in early for a good night’s rest.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny up near the Canadian border. We had breakfast at the hotel, and then we lingered for a while. Anna got dressed in her Amish garb. It didn’t seem real that we wouldn’t be seeing Anna after she went back. We had someone take photos of us with her. Here is one:

David, Anna, and myself

Anna looks so happy here. I will treasure this photo always, even though I look dorky. It shows Anna’s wonderful smile.

Anna’s plan was to go to her parents’ house and be there when they got home from church. We discovered that church was at her parents’ place, so we had to come up with an alternative plan. We went and had some lunch at the local diner. Anna mentioned during this meal that before leaving her community, she had never eaten at a restaurant before… her community didn’t allow it.

Anna decided she wanted to go to her brother Jonas’s family’s house and wait for them to come home from the church service. We waited there for quite awhile, but Jonas did not come. Instead, a buggy approached us and Anna said it was the deacon of the church and her brother Andrew. David rolled down his window. One of the men said, “Hello, David!” David looked too shocked to answer, though he might have said, “Hello.”

The two men suggested that Anna load her belongings onto the buggy and they would take her home. She mentioned that to me and I said, “No, that is not going to work… there is too much stuff. We are coming, too.” They motioned for us to follow them, and then Anna disappeared onto the buggy. As soon as we got to her home, she was whisked away into the house. David and I were standing there, wondering what to do. Someone came and told us we could move the stuff into the shed. We unloaded the trunk. We both got the feeling that this was now clan property and not Anna property. I muttered under my breath to David, “If they think I’m going to leave without saying good-bye to Anna, they have another guess coming.”

We hesitated when it was time to unload the food that we didn’t want to put into the shed. Her brother Andrew came and helped us move it into a small shop that was heated. I asked him, “Would it be okay for us to meet her parents?”

He said, “I can ask. But you have to understand, she’s been away for a very long time, and the family needs some time alone.”

“Sure, I understand. We don’t mind waiting, but we would like to meet them and say good-bye to Anna.”

Andrew came out a few minutes later and said they would let us know when we could come in, which they did shortly.

When we got into the house, they ushered us into the living room, where we met the family. Anna was sitting on the far side of the room, with a bowl of milk soup on her lap and looking like she’d rather reverse the eating process than eat that soup. What a change in countenance from just a few hours before when the photo was taken at the hotel. She was not looking at us, and we could tell she’d been crying, as had others in her family. I took a seat in between Anna and her mother. We tried to visit, but all the conversations seemed strained. I asked Anna to introduce me to at least eight of her nieces and nephews, which she did. David talked to Anna’s father about his property. Anna’s mother and I exchanged a few pleasantries.

At some point, Andrew said, “So, David, were you surprised when I said your name when we came up to the car?”

“Yes, I was. How did you know my name?”

“When I saw the Massachusetts license plates, I took a chance that it was you.” He gave a self-satisfied and hearty laugh. I’m sure under other circumstances, Andrew would have been fun to talk to. But I think everyone was feeling tense. I realized that we could be making things harder on Anna, so I asked her if she would walk us to the door. She got up, and she pressed her coat into my hands and asked me to take it with her. (This is a pea coat that she’d bought for herself. It was black and as plain as she could have gotten, but it was obviously not an Amish coat.) We walked out to the kitchen. When I turned around to give Anna a hug, she motioned and mouthed, “No hugs!” She shook my hand, and I mouthed, “Are you going to be okay?” She gave a determined nod. Then she shook David’s hand. He told me later that she gave his hand a couple of hard squeezes, like she was saying, “I’m still here.” The last thing I said to Anna was, “Please write.” She did not indicate whether she would or not. I said, “I’ll write you, too.”

With that, we were dismissed. We left with heavy hearts, feeling for all the world like we’d just delivered Anna into the mouth of the dragon.

I have gone through a range of emotions since then. I’ve asked myself whether we did the right thing. Then I remember a conversation with Anna a few days before her return when I asked her if we didn’t take her back, would she still return? She said something about all the stuff she’d accumulated and how she couldn’t take it with her on a bus. Then she said, “Yes, I probably would write my parents to come and get me.” I wondered at the time how she would get her things back if they came and got her… they are not allowed to ride in cars. But I didn’t push it… I had my answer.

I have so many reminders of Anna in my house, even though it feels like she is a world away right now. I have a photo of her right by my computer, the one with her eating popcorn that I included with my last post. She loved cucumbers, red peppers and orange juice. My kitchen is all spic and span, because she made it so before she left. There is a spot on the couch where she would sit at night to do her reading, writing, drawing, or emailing on her iPod. Usually around 9:00 at night, she’ll head up to her room and say, “Good-night.” I miss that. But mostly I miss her sense of humor and her smile. Last week, when it was really cold out and Anna was leaving to go to her tutor, I said as she walked out the door, “Don’t freeze your buns off.”

“Maybe if I do, then I don’t have to take so much back with me and we’ll have more room in the car.”

That made me laugh. That evening, Anna told David about that, and David laughed, of course. Anna added, “Then I came back and I almost froze my head off.”

So, tonight as the rain drums on the roof of our house, my thoughts go to Anna. I hope that her clan isn’t treating her terribly and that she is enjoying her nieces and nephews again. I hope my misgivings about her father are unfounded. Let’s hope there are enough eyes watching that he doesn’t dare dominate her completely. But in hearing Anna’s stories, I cannot say that I trust him.

Oh, the sin of domination! I have asked myself over and over, “Why did she go back?” And then I remember the answer that she herself wrote when asked that question by her tutor. She wrote, “I have to go back and look how it is to be Amish again, before I can make a plain decision in which world I want to be.” She also wrote, “When I go back even if I stay Amish I would be a whole different person.”

I have to remember several things. Anna is a strong woman. If the people in her community are too overbearing, she will leave again. And no matter which world she chooses, she will always have the memories of her experiences in the outside world. No one can erase those.

I have no idea whether my letter will make it into her hands, but there is one going out in the mail tomorrow. I also don’t know yet if I will get letters from her.

One thing I know — if Anna decides to leave again, she will be much more settled in her decision. I know I was when I left the second time. I just hope she doesn’t put up with unhappiness for two years and eight months like I did when I went back and tried to make myself Amish again.

I still have to ask myself, “Did we do the right thing?” Right now it doesn’t feel like we did. But then again, it was Anna’s choice. To take that away from her would be to dominate her. One of her challenges while she was living with us was to have enough self-confidence to make her own choices. Now she’s made one and we need to live with it.

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39 thoughts on “Anna’s Return”

  1. Thank you for sharing. My heart just dropped when I saw the title and felt heavy the whole time I was reading, almost a suffocating feeling. I really feel for you and David for having to go through this anguish, but at the same time, I also understand the reason Anna had to do this. I want to believe that she will be back. Praying for all involved.

    1. Thank you, Lois. When I wrote this (which now seems like so very long ago, even though it was only eight days ago), I had these same feelings.

      Thank you for your positive thoughts and for your prayers.


  2. This comment came to me via email:

    Hi Saloma, For some reason, probably my lack of computer skills, my comments to your blog will not post. I can only imagine the empty feeling that both you and David are feeling and wanted you to know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and sweet Anna. I loved hearing about her and could tell how proud of her you were and still are. I can’t help but feel that she will be back. Your post on her return made me cry, you have such a gift. Vicki

    If anyone else is having trouble commenting, please let me know. I’m hoping this isn’t something wrong with the blog itself.

    My email is salomafurlong[at]

    1. Dear Vicki,

      Thank you for your thoughts, and also for your compliment of my writing/gifts. I have to thank God for this outlet every day. My writing is my outlet, and I am very gratified that you were touched.

      Anna has touched many people, and she will continue to do so, unless her spirit gets crushed. Let’s pray that this won’t happen.


  3. This post made me cry. You and David did the right thing. If she leaves again (or stays) she has to be sure, and she will be. I used to follow a blog written by a Hasidic man. (Jewish, extremely observant, again a self-contained community in many ways though the particulars are very different.) He had been out in the world and came back to his community because of missing family and connection. You could tell that there were many things and freedoms he missed from the outside world, but he had chosen freely to go back and was clearly much more at piece than if he had never left and has always just struggled under the yoke.

    1. Thank you for this story. It helps me to think that maybe Anna will be happier for having had this experience, even if she stays within her community. I also know that this can work against her, as it did against me. There are many petty and envious people living in those humble Amish communities, just as there are everywhere.

      The idea that Anna is choosing to be Amish for the first time in her life is also helpful to me. And if all else fails, she knows she can leave again.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.


  4. Dear Saloma,

    I can only imagine how hard the last couple of days have been for you and David – and for Anna, too. I’m sure you all formed a bond that very few of us could, due to your similar backgrounds and experiences of leaving one culture for another. From what you have written here, Anna is indeed a strong woman and it sounds like returning to her community at this time was just something she felt she had to do. You did the right thing, because your relationship was based on trust, and by taking her back yourselves, you showed that you trust her decision – for now, anyway. Of course you miss her and have misgivings, but remember that all 3 of you are far, far, richer for having known each other. Who knows what will happen next? I find it comforting to know that she has you 2 to return to, if she decides to leave again.

    I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Seuss:
    “Don’t cry because it’s over,
    Smile because it happened.”

    (The “it” being that you all found each other.)

    My thoughts & prayers are with all of you…

    1. Ladybug, you are one dear friend. Thank your for your reassurances, and the reminder about us being richer for having had Anna walk into our lives. The Dr. Seuss quote made me cry last week, and now it makes me smile. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers.


  5. Anna going back may all seem like a huge mistake according to our reasoning but only God knows. Living here in Pinecraft with such a diversity of Amish coming and going all the time, I have gotten to know a lot of people. Many of them are now old. In their youth many left the Amish for good. A few left and went way out like joining the army or becoming a police officer in Chicago. But later chose to return to his Amish roots and is now an old bishop with a heart full of love, compassion and understanding for his people. We simply don’t know… but it hurts. I am sorry for David and Saloma.

    1. Katie, thank you for your thoughts. The thought of Anna possibly making a difference in her community makes me smile. And how wonderful to hear about the bishop with a heart full of love, compassion, and understanding for his people.

      Katie, you are such a treasure. I am so glad you keep visiting my blog. Whenever you leave a comment I feel acknowledged. Thank you for being you!


  6. Well, I’m in tears. Anna will certainly know what she wants in time … I will be praying that the Lord is the one who guides her in her continued journey as an Amish woman. I believe He is the one who guided her here to you and David. He’s not done. She has learned and experienced a lot and was safe and encouraged along the way! This is something her parents/community can not take away from her.

    1. Peggy, thank you for your thoughts. I like the idea that God isn’t done. I feel that, too. There is going to be more to Anna’s story. But what a painful separation!

      You’re right… Anna’s experiences are hers, and no one can take those from her.

      Thanks, Peggy, for your thoughts.


  7. Dear Saloma and David,
    Such a difficult decision all three of you have made. As the other comments say, this was Anna’s decision which you honored. She has your love and kindness in her heart, and that will make all the difference in her current situation. You have her smile and jokes and courage in your hearts — and the prayers of your wider community to help you through. Saloma, have were given the gift of strength and innate wisdom from an early age. You shared that with Anna, and she will be healthier for it, wherever she lives and whatever she faces. But still you need to grieve, and we are here to help you through this. love, Candelin

    1. Candelin, my bosom friend from so long ago – you are so dear! Thank you for your thoughts and kind remarks. You are such an inspiration to me, and I will cherish and love your kinship always! Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and moral support through this.


  8. Thanks Saloma for sharing your time with Anna, and also your feelings in allowing her the independence of choosing to return once again to her family. I’m sure she had many mixed feelings in however she would choose, but I admire you folk for guiding her and having her in your home as a family member. You clearly expressed your feelings in a way we all could feel them too. Thanks for your blog. May the Lord give you a good week and comfort, as this is a real loss for you and David. Blessings, mm

    1. Marilyn, thank you for your support. At times it felt like we were more than allowing Anna her independence… we sometimes felt we were foisting it on her. There were times when she clearly was uncomfortable with it. I sometimes wonder if she went back because then her decisions would be made for her. She often agonized over having to make them herself.

      Thank you for your blessings. Peace to you as well.


  9. Saloma,
    “Anna;s return” caught me off guard! Having three adult children I have been often accused of being dominating and controlling, this I am guilty of. But, I hope it is out of love and wanting the best for my family. Lets pray that the same is true for Anna and her father. Saloma, you and David and Anna are in my prayers.

    1. Tom, thank you for your honesty. I also have two grown sons, and there are times when it’s hard not to step in and “guide” them along their journey. However, once they are adults, I believe it is our duty as parents to step out of the way and allow them to determine their own life paths… even when it is not the path we would have chosen for them. If we were to follow the path that was laid out by our parents, we could see how our life would unfold. I believe it was Joseph Campbell who wrote that if we can see our path laid out before us, step by step, then it is probably not our path.


      Sometimes the best way to hold our grown sons or daughters is to open our arms and let them go.


  10. Dear Saloma,

    I was very sad to hear of Anna leaving your home. I hope that whatever she ultimately decides to stay, she will be happy and surrounded by love. I know that her time with you has helped her and strengthened her in ways that you probably cannot even imagine. If you keep in touch, please let us know how she’s doing.

    Thanks again for all you do in writing for us.

    1. Dear Lyndsae,

      Thank you for your thoughts. I will be ecstatic to get a letter from Anna, but I am getting the feeling that she may not be allowed to write to me. If she is to get back in the church, she has to shun me, for I am a former member of an Amish church.

      I will keep people posted.


  11. Dear Saloma, I do hope this finds you well. I want to assure you that you did the right thing in letting Anna go … despite the heartache you are now encountering. You have a most beautiful motherly heart and Anna was truly blessed to have you and your husband in her life. I often wished I would have known you during my years of leaving the Amish. I would have benefited greatly from your love, care and just your overall knowledge of what it was like to leave the Amish. I never stopped loving my family, nor the people whom were a huge part of my every day life. There were so many aspects of being Amish that I truly wanted to keep in my life, but not having that option, I had to do what was right for me … I walked away. It was the hardest thing I ever did and made all the more harder because I didn’t have the influence of someone such as yourself to help me navigate my way through the pain and heartbreak of leaving, nor of embracing the new life. It is daily that I question whether I did the right thing, but who can know for sure? I personally feel that I have made the right decision for me. Am I happy? Well, I’m working on that. I wonder how one can ever truly be happy when they are separated from those whom they love with all their heart. Anna is going to be okay, Saloma, she knows you love her and if she feels the decision to return was wrong for her, she has the comfort of knowing where she can turn for help. Bless you, Leah

  12. Leah, I am very touched by your comments. I would love to be in touch via email. I am always open to talking with someone who left the Amish. We all need support when we make the gut-wrenching decision to leave the only community we’ve known since we were born. But, slowly we build the support system we need.

    If you and I were in touch, it would not just be a one-way support… I would gain from that as well. I hope you will email me… salomafurlong[at]

    Blessings to you too, Leah.


  13. “Anna got dressed in her Amish garb” …those words told me she hadn’t really “left” in the first place. The spiritual umbilical cord with her parents, family, and the church are still intact.

    Staying with what is familiar and known, or ultimately leaving and creating a life of one’s own, this process of establishing a connection with Spirit directly and not just through someone else or a group, can take a long time. That is one thing I know for sure. Most collectives want perpetual, unquestioning, undying loyalty “until death do us part”.

  14. Sarah, thank you for your perspective. This sounds like the voice of experience.

    Yes, the process of “leaving” takes years… or at least it did for me. It’s hard to say when I felt I had really left. Perhaps we don’t ever leave fully… our past always helps to shape our future.

    Thanks again for your comments.


  15. I’m working my way backwards so I don’t know much about the situation with Anna, but it sure sounds sad. While reading I couldn’t help but think that God has a plan for Anna’s life. And if there’s one thing I know about God it’s that He makes it very difficult for people to NOT follow His plan. He’s persistent in every way. I know this from experience. I’ve made the mistake, many times, in thinking that I hang by a thread attached to God’s finger when indeed He’s holding me in the palm of His hand. Oh, how He loves all people, especially those that are in some way hurting.

  16. One of the stories I love most is of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The younger son made a request that i could never imagine my own dad agreeing to. Dad, give my my share of my inheritance, I want to see the world. My dad would have had a heart attack and should he do such an enabling for his son to leave, the entire community would have shunned him immediately. This father in Luke knew what was right.
    Love is the right thing to do, even if we disagree with Anna’s choice. Yes, Saloma, taking Anna back was what I would have done without question.
    Part of what makes us all uneasy when leaving is the spiritual side of life. Once I had assurance of salvation, the struggle was over, because we learn being Amish is not part of salvation. Yet while Amish the question cannot be settled because needed information is not available. Trying (and crying) time it certainly is, but that’s when we learn the most. Bless you for making the choice you did.

  17. Pingback: About Amish | At the Intersection of Two Cultures

  18. Hi Saloma your story is such an inspiration I truly admire you for your courage of leaving behind everything you ever knew. Have you had any contact with Anna?

  19. I feel sad, and yet I believe that she did the right thing for herself; she has to know down to her toes, if she wants to live in Amish or outside. I trust she will find her way, whatever that is, the same way you found yours, Saloma.

  20. This has touched my heart. Thank you for being such a loving missionary to Anna. Have you heard from her? I pray that all is well for you both.

  21. I just saw the documentary. I wonder if she had been a little better educated if she could have seen herself making it. Has she corresponded with you at all? It’s been some time, is she still with the community?

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