Just A Small Town Girl

Rita Richardson

Posted on April 20 2019

I grew up Apostolic Christian.  I describe it to most people as “Mennonite but without the bonnets”.  For the people that still have no clue then I go full-on Amish “but we had cars and electricity”.  That usually gets an “Ahhhhhh” and then a slow nod of the head, followed by “What was that like???”

We lived on a farm in Sibley, Illinois.  We went to church all day on Sundays in Fairbury which was about 20 miles away.  My life was split between these two places:  one foot in “the actual world” and one foot in “the AC world”.    They were separate worlds and I didn’t think it was possible for them to ever intersect.

In the past year I’ve reconnected with a school friend and his wife, Candy, who has opened a DAR-ARRR-LING boutique in my home town called Sweet Daisies Boutique.  Candy is warm and sweet and embodies exactly what you want to believe about the people in small-town America:  they are good people.

Sibley has gone through sort of a transformation in the last few years---it’s been returned to the quaintness of years gone by.  They’ve done a miraculous job restoring it.   Main Street is still paved in red brick, the store fronts are brightly colored with inviting windows and, of course the requisite old-fashioned street lights.  It could easily be a stage set from an episode from The Andy Griffith Show.

Sweet Daisies Boutique was putting on a fashion show and asked if I’d like to participate.  It was going to be a great opportunity to showcase our girls clothing line FashionXFaith and I was over the moon!   The chance to come back home and showcase what we'd created made me as excited as anything I’d ever done professionally. 

As time was getting closer and I had finalized every detail for the show I started thinking about the actual “going back home” part instead of the fashion show and it made me panic a little---then a lot!

I’d been back to Sibley since leaving for college and my work in Chicago to attend July 4th celebrations, but this was different.   I was coming back to showcase our girls clothing line that was dedicated to taking the power of fashion and multiplying that with messages of faith, love and hope.   This felt so personal because this was the place where so much of what I believe took root.  My family and this community gave my faith a place to grow and set examples to follow for the rest of my life.  I felt incredibly vulnerable and I was scared I’d let them down.

When I was a kid, I hated being different because we were AC and no one else in Sibley was and there were obvious differences.   I was always pleading for my mom to be like “other” moms:  wear jewelry and lipstick.  “Does God really care if you wear lipstick??”  She’d smirk and give me a side-ways glance and I knew what that meant.  She was content with her choices.  She was “in the world but not of the world” and that explanation frustrated me beyond belief.

As I got a little older, I started to really question why these differences mattered at all?  Who was deciding that these “do’s and don’ts” that were going to make a difference to someone's salvation?  Up to this point all I’d ever thought was that being a Christian meant going to THIS church, looking THIS way and holding tight to THIS community. That idea was developing cracks.

I was starting to be more aware of the community around me.    How is it that I’m seeing people doing incredible acts of kindness but they don’t have their hair in a bun or they’re wearing a wedding band?     Is it possible that these people know God in a way that doesn’t require separating yourself and restricting your actions to some man-made set of rules for the WAY a Christian must live their life?  This was blowing my mind!!

I have a zillion examples of how this small town with these exceptionally good people exemplified the life I wanted to live as a believer.  The men who rallied together after my father died to harvest our crops.  Harvest time is a tight window and they all had farms and livestock that needed tending but they set that aside to help a friend.  I still get a little choked up thinking about it. 

There was my older brother’s friend, Cheryl Kemmer, who took me under her wing when my mom was still mourning my father.  She was just a teenager, but she’d take me to her house and let me try on all her shoes, she’d fix my hair and let me play with her make-up.  She gave me the attention I needed, and I felt special.  She saved me. 

When I was in high school my mom was out of town and we had a blizzard that blocked us in for days.  My best friend Julie Tompkins’ father brought her to stay with me---5 miles on a snow mobile---so that I wouldn’t be alone.  We had a blast and it’s still one of the best memories of my life.

These experiences and these people made a profound impact on me.  I would never again be able to accept the idea that certain people had the corner on knowing God.  I suppose these are all layers of my life that got me to the place I am today.  I’m sure I’m better for knowing every person who let themselves be used for a greater good. 

I feel sort of melancholy thinking about it now but all I ever really wanted was for my mom to sit in the stands at the basketball games and watch me cheer on our team, but she never did.  It made me sad, but I knew why, and I accepted it.  As I think back and remember staring up at the bleachers from the sideline, I see Mr. and Mrs. Rueck, the Bruckers, and so many other people who swept me up into their world.   I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but they were all in my life for a reason and I thank God for each one of them.

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