March 31, 2017

Vagabond Traveler: Ten Years on the Road

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been
pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered,
you have missed the way, but, child, this is the
chronicle of the earth.

—Thomas Wolfe

I wasn’t sure it would come, this week. You never know, until you sit down and actually see if the words come knocking strong enough in your brain to break through and get told. So I wasn’t sure. I guess I’ll see how it goes, here. Because it’s March. And yeah, I know. Tomorrow it won’t be. But today it is. It’s the last day of that vile and evil month. And I gotta say. I’ve felt it stirring inside me for a while, as March came slouching at me like a beast. That memory. That nod, to a big milestone, way back. Almost exactly ten years ago tonight, I posted my first blog.

March 27, 2007. Ten years. Ten years in blogland. That’s an eternity, almost.

Well. It’s not quite an eternity for me, eternity being what it is and all. But it is a long, long time. Ten years ago, right this minute, I was in a dark and heavy place. A place I had never seen before. And I had always known, all my life, up to that time. You are your father’s son. He writes. You got it in you, to speak to your world as he spoke to his. But I just never got started. And it had never happened, not in any serious manner. Ten years ago this month, ten years ago this week, ten years ago almost to the day, it did happen. I posted my first blog.

It felt like an explosion had rocked my world. And I instinctively recoiled in protest. No. This is not what I bargained for. Not this. This is pain, such as I could never have imagined. This is grief, this is loss, this is rage. And I looked to the bitter skies, and cried out in revolt. No. I won’t just stand here and take it. Not this time. This time, I will write it. And for the first time ever, in all the years of my life, I began to speak my voice and throw it out there for all the world to see.

I’ve said it before. It was a brutal, brutal place to find my writing voice. But it just was what it was, I guess. Anyway, tonight the emotions wash over me from so many different places, and from so many different times. Ten years ago, I had almost no clue of what life was all about. I thought I did. But I didn’t. I thought I knew a lot about a lot of things. I knew very little about anything.

And from where I am, here, tonight, I will say this. I look back on it all with a grateful heart, that I am exactly where I am today. The Lord has showed me who He is in ways I never knew and never expected to know. I know a lot more than I did, back ten years ago. And here, tonight, I pause and look back at that journey. Those ten years. Not every detail, of course. But the places that come to mind as I reflect on what I see and what I feel.

I feel like a weary warrior. I have seen so much, I have lost so much. There were so many hard roads, so many long and brutal miles. So many years. I’ve seen battle after battle, coming at me from any direction at any given time. I’ve got more battle scars than I’ll ever admit. My armor is bruised and dented, my shield is chipped and cracked. The helmet has protected my head more times than I care to count. Only the sword gleams like new, the blade honed to a wicked edge. You treasure your sword, you take care of it, because that’s what you use to fight your way out of hard places.

And now, tonight, I take off the battered armor. Lay aside the chipped shield. Lay down my wickedly honed sword. The battlefield rests, quiet, in the long shadows of the moon. Tonight, I look back through the mists of time. Tonight, let the memories flood in unbidden, through all those months and all those miles.

I remember a couple of sentences in one of my early blogs, after our divorce got finalized. Mine and Ellen’s. “The last two years have been a harsh and bitter trail, now littered with the remains of all we were. And all we were not.” I don’t know where writing like that even came from, that early on. I mean, I’d been writing for six months or so. But I probably could not have summed it up more succinctly, what was actually going on in our world.

And ten years out, I look at who we were, Ellen and me. We were flawed and broken people. We were all optimistic at the start. It seemed like a match made in heaven. On paper, it did, and in reason. I came from the Amish world. That’s where her parents came from, too. But Ellen was raised in the hard core Plain Mennonite world. A much harder world than I ever saw. I broke free from my people. She broke free from hers. Totally independently. And when two such people meet, you can’t argue with the magic that’s going on. It’s like, we’re finishing each other’s sentences. How wild is that?

It didn’t help my resistance, of course, that she was stunningly beautiful. And much younger than me. I had never fretted much, about getting married. Yeah, there was a fling or two, and one broken relationship from long ago that I thought would kill me, when it happened. The pain of that loss haunted me for years. And now, maybe I could be healed completely, by loving this beautiful young woman who claimed she loved me intensely. It was kind of a crazy world to be in, looking back.

I was pretty set in my ways, back then. I guess I still am. Anyway, I was in my upper thirties. I had battled along alone for so long, I just got tired of looking for someone who would walk with me. I drank lots of scotch whiskey, to dull the pain of all I had seen in the past. And all I had lost. And I wasn’t really looking for Ellen, when we met. It was over at my brother Steve’s house, on Christmas Day, 1998. We connected, there. Talked. It went really well. And I did something that I had rarely done before. I asked her out, for that New Year’s Eve. She smiled and told me she’d love to go. My head was spinning.

We got married on August 4th, 2000. That’s a pretty simple anchor date, for me to remember as I get older and things that once were important aren’t, anymore. It was an exciting time in both our lives. Neither of us could ever have imagined how short this world would be, that we were in. We were young and free. Ellen beamed, on my arm. I stood proud and tall, beside her. Nothing would ever shake this world from what it was. Except death, of course. After we got old.

There was no doubt in my mind that Ellen and I were going to be together for as long as we both lived. I don’t have any clue how English couples feel when they get married, the ones born English, I mean. Ellen and I both came from worlds where divorce was simply not an option, although it should have been. Well, maybe that’s a little radical. Still. It’s a fallen world, and every system gets abused. Divorce gets abused. So does no option of divorce. In any world where divorce is strictly forbidden, the women usually get suppressed pretty severely. A lot of “Plain” women (and English women in hard religious settings) out there just shut down emotionally. They have to, to survive. Not all of them, by any stretch. Not anywhere close to most of them. But a lot. There is simply no denying that.

We never saw divorce, in the world we grew up in. So we figured we were pretty safe, thinking like we always thought. And you don’t figure to ever change your thinking about all that, when you’re walking along all easy and fat and comfortable and smug. Most people don’t. And then, life just comes along and smacks you right upside the head. Don’t get all high and holy on me, life says. I got a few things to show you. Look at this. I bet you never thought you’d see such a thing as that. Did you?

Nope. I did not. Wow. That’s crazy. And it hurts like crazy. But the funny thing is, when I look back over the seven years of our marriage, I have as many good memories as bad. It took ten years to get me to see that. It’s because when all the crap comes down, that’s all you see, or think of. The pain is real and harsh. The brutal reality of it all. It takes a long time to work through all that. I swore, back then, that I would never heal or walk whole again. That’s what it felt like, what I saw, back in that moment.

I was wrong. There is healing from deep wounds. Even the deep wound of divorce.

I look back at who we were, Ellen and me, and I see so many things that I did wrong. And, nah. I’m not beating myself up, for all that. I am more at peace today with who I am than I have ever been in my life. So I can look back and see. Look back and say. I was wrong, there, as a man. Real wrong. I drank hard. What shelter I offered was cold. I didn’t stand and protect what was mine. It’s no wonder my marriage failed.

Our world blew up, soon enough. And it came, the dust and ashes and fog and noise, such as I had never seen before. I recoiled, then did what I instinctively knew to do. Just kept walking. It was a dark and brutal place. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, before or since. The battles were harsh and real and raw. Every day, a new fresh one rose to greet me, seemed like. I kept right on, walking and fighting, slashing and thrusting. One of these days, the fog of war will lift, I figured. One of these days, it’ll all make sense. The fog lifted eventually, that much is true. Whether or not any of it made any sense, well, I guess maybe one day it will.

Looking back at the world we lived in, Ellen and me, that’s not a world I would willingly walk back to. Not even to get undivorced. There was nothing there to build on. I just wouldn’t return. I mean, I knew so little. And no, I don’t blame Ellen for anything, any more than I blame myself. Not that the marriage failed, I mean. I was so far from the man I should have been that I can’t point any fingers of blame at anyone but myself.

That said, her choices were what they were, of course. And some of those choices were very bad. Like I said, we were both flawed and broken people. Still, there’s no reason to go back and look at what happened in any detail. It does no good, from here. It was a dark and evil place, that time in both our lives. That’s about all that needs to be said.

From such a desolate place, then, my writing voice was born. Ten years ago, almost to the day. And it all seems a little surreal, looking back. It was an explosion of rage and pain and grief, the birth of my voice. And my writing. From the start, I held fast to one hard rule. I will speak it as I see it. I will speak honest. Not hurtful, at least not if I can help it. (Well, after I got past my initial rage at a few people, that is.) But honest. And that right there is the main reason I ever got any readers at all on this blog.

Life as a Christian is not all peaches and cream and roses. It’s harsh and rough and brutal and raw, much of the time. At least that’s how I’ve found it. There is no magic wand, just because you know who Jesus is. And trust and love Him. Life is not all victorious and triumphant. Only fools talk like that. Life is still life, and it will always be. You living with your flaws. Made perfect in Him, despite your flaws, because of love. That right there is the true gospel, that a lot of Christians miss. They think they have to be perfect, on their own. They don’t. No one does.

No human can ever carry the burden of perfection, on his or her own. It’s bondage, to believe you can. I think a lot of people were just so astounded to see a Christian talk and write so raw and honest, that they couldn’t help themselves. They read my stuff. And kept on reading it.

The first year was intense. Well, the first few years. I look back on it all now, and marvel that I got a blog posted every Friday night for two plus years. I guess it was cathartic for me, all that writing. It had been piling up inside me all my life. I never had got any of it told. And now, well, now the floodgates opened. And that was pretty much the focus of my life, outside work. Writing, writing, working on the next blog.

I guess I could post a few links, to a few past blogs. The ones that told of who I was and what I saw, the ones that defined me. I’ll just link my Index of Posts instead. Every blog I ever wrote is on there. Go find the best ones yourselves.

A few hints. Nicholas. Levi and Noah. All three Elmo bogs. Look Homeward, Angel. Angels in the Skies. The Lion in Winter. Death be not Proud. Mom’s final journey. Abby. And everything in between.

This blog has always been my voice. I mean, even while I was “writing my book,” this is where I spoke to the people I was comfortable speaking to. They knew who I was, before any book ever came out. They knew who I was, after my book came out, too.

And, of course, the book came, then. It is flat out amazing, when I look back on all that. I was just writing, right here. From me sitting at my old Army desk in the corner of my living room, that’s how my voice ever got out, to where anyone in the publishing world would be even remotely told. Look. Check out this guy. That’s what happened. And that’s how my agent, Chip MacGregor, got hold of some of my raw stuff, and started shopping it around. He had read it, and loved it. He figured he could get at least one publisher to see the same thing.

Almost, he didn’t. The publishing world is a brutal place. He got all kinds of rejections from just about everybody all around. Except one place. Tyndale House. Carol Traver. She was a premier force in the publishing world at that time, for memoirs. She was intrigued enough by my raw writing to inquire a bit farther. Who is this guy? Could he write a memoir? Let me talk to him.

We talked. I was pretty intimidated. But relaxed. Here’s a bribe, I told her. You let me write a book for you. And I’ll give you a real honest-to-God Amish quilt. (Which I did, after she did.) And Chip got me a contract, soon after that. It was the dream of my lifetime. I got a chance to tell my story to the world. Ever since I had read Thomas Wolfe, way back in the early 1990s, I always knew deep inside this moment would come. It was one of the few things I ever really knew and held on to. And it happened, like I knew it would. It did. I had no idea, of the price. What it would take to make me find my writing voice, and speak it. It didn’t really matter, when the voice came. The price was what it was, and that can never be changed. And now, here I was, all freaked out. I’m supposed to “write a book.”

Well, I wrote it, all right. It was like blood spilling out, all over. I cannot give enough credit to Carol and her team. Especially to my “real” editor, Susan Taylor. It was all one big mess, what I sent them. They fused the book from that vast jumble of words. Susan got my voice from the first second she read it. And she kept it, all the way through the book. She has retired, since then. I don’t care. If my second book ever gets locked in, from any publisher, I figure Susan is gonna have the last word in things. I’ll figure out a way to lure her out of “retirement,” when it comes to editing my stuff.

The book took off, then, and did what it did. In 2011, four short years after I started writing. I remember telling the Lord, back about the second year. Around 2008, or so. I want to be published by the time I’m 50. I had no clue how it would happen. But I knew the writing was good enough, if only someone would see.

Someone did. I turned 50 in August, 2011. Growing Up Amish got released on June 28th of that year. It was close. But the Lord heard the desire of my heart. It wouldn’t have mattered, if He didn’t. I mean, I work for Him. He doesn’t work for me. So whatever happened, it was good. He chose to honor my desire. I am grateful.

And after that, well, life kind of returned to the way it was before. Except the book was there. That’s a huge deal. The book has connected me with so many people. It brought me an honorary Doctorate. Took me to Germany, twice, to speak. They come walking to see me, some of my readers. And some of them write. It’s been an important part of who I am and what I’ve seen, the book has, ever since it got published. It was a big deal, and still is.

After that big success, though, I just went back to writing, right here. Well, I tinkered with a sequel that first winter, because that’s the normal formula in the publishing world. Get that second book cranked out, while the first one’s hot. And that’s the reason that about 90 percent of sequels flop on the market. The writer gets pressured to produce something before it comes on its own. So when it didn’t come, I told Tyndale, and I told Chip. I’m going back to my blog. That’s my home. When I got something worth showing you, I’ll let you know.

And I’ve been plugging along, since. Writing from where I am, telling you what I’m seeing and feeling. I almost died, a year or so back. Walked right up to the gates of death, and looked over to the other side. But I came back to tell even that story. I guess this blog is what the professionals call my “platform.” I never did like that term, but it just is what it is. This is where I live. All of what I say flows from here. Gets started here. This is my home.

I will always speak my voice. And I will always speak my heart. You just walk free, and say it as you see it. And don’t get me wrong. I’ll take every penny I can get, from my writing. And love every penny I can get, and want more. But if it never brings me another penny, I’ll write anyway.

And now, the battlefield beckons in the breaking dawn.



  1. Raw. Unfiltered. Yet kind.

    Comment by Paul — March 31, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

  2. Ira,
    I am inspired by your writings. I stumbled upon your book and subsequently your blog through my research for my Master’s thesis. Thank you.


    Comment by Lesley Sawyer — March 31, 2017 @ 7:45 pm

  3. Total sincerity.Your words rang a song of truth. As I read and considered your perspective, I thought of how easy it would be to take pot-shots at your ex. But you didn’t. Something in me stirred… an old hurt. And I suddenly realized you could just as easily be speaking of me and my past. You wrote so clearly, and when you said you would not go back to that world, even if it was to un-divorce, well, that kind of healed that old wound, because it made me realize just how hard that life back then was for very similar reasons. We can only forgive our ex’s and ourselves. Thank you for the healing words. You probably didn’t set out to do that, but you did just the same. Great Blog. G-R-E-A-T.

    Comment by Kelly Hunt — March 31, 2017 @ 10:26 pm

  4. Once again your blog has hit a tender spot and caused it to heal up and created a place I can go to and relax. For this I thank God. I also thank you Mr Ira and will continue to look forward to your blogs.
    In Christ.

    Comment by Linda Morris — March 31, 2017 @ 10:40 pm

  5. Thank you Ira,for writing this! It’s great! God bless you! You just say it how it is.

    Comment by Joe Mast — April 1, 2017 @ 2:11 am

  6. I am almost speechless but want to say this is great writing, what a gift you have. I look forward to reading the second book and many more blogs. Thanks.

    Comment by Linda Ault — April 1, 2017 @ 10:07 am

  7. Thank you for letting me gaze into the window of your soul these past 10 years. I have been profoundly and deeply touched on many levels by your writing. Thank you for sharing God’s grace to all of us on this pilgrimage.

    Comment by Tom H — April 1, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

  8. Heart wrenching, honest, to the point, full of truth and emotion. You are one of my favorite writers. Keep on going, keep on writing, we need people like you to SHOW not tell what life is all about. God bless. Lea Tartanian

    Comment by Lea Tartanian — April 2, 2017 @ 11:04 am

  9. You’re an amazing writer. The words just roll along, and always in your own voice. I don’t think you could sound a false note if you tried.

    Comment by forsythia — April 2, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

  10. Mmm, I believe I just caught you running against the wind.

    Comment by lisa — April 2, 2017 @ 11:55 pm

  11. This is raw writing and honesty. It’s not gauze wrapped or rose colored and populated with snowflakes. About the Scotch whiskey and life’s bumps. Its a good coupling until one or the other isn’t working. And the Scotch has a way of getting in between whatever we say we care about. In my case it was good Kentucky bourbon. It helped in trying to forget my short stint as an Amish church member. I left confused and disgusted, sure that I was a failure after being told that I had a one way ticket to the hot place. Which wasn’t and isn’t true. All that, in part helped bring about another hot rod, a red 1969 Corvette convertible. It was loud and fast with a built engine that loped pretty good at idle, in front of a 4 speed. One Saturday night, after working on a bottle of Jim Beam all day, with about half of it left , I was on the move to the next town. Top down, summertime, on a two lane highway, smelling the barns spread out on the fields, speedometer hanging around 90 and still pulling on that bottle of Beam. A 45mph curve was coming up. I knew it and didn’t much care. Backing off, just a little, the Vette handled the curve, straddling the center line,on the top side of 80. Thats only one of many reasons why Jim Beam and his associates aren’t any friends of mine..and haven’t been for a lot of years..Just sayin’..Thanks..Peace to all.

    Comment by lenny — April 3, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

  12. Thank you for your writing, for your faith and love of life and words. I don’t have a great writing voice so that’s the best way I know to tell you. Have a blessed day, Mr. Ira.

    Comment by Teri Sechrist — April 3, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

  13. Congratulations on the anniversary, always proud of you.

    Comment by Glo — April 14, 2017 @ 3:46 am

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