Grace Leads Me Home by Marlene Miller
Marlene C. Miller grew up Marlene Bailey in a little town on the edge of the Holmes County, Ohio Amish settlement. One day while ice-skating, Marlene meets Johnny Miller, an Amish boy five years her senior. She would later marry Johnny, join the Amish church at age 23, and have ten children. She remains Amish to this day.
Grace Leads Me Home is Marlene’s account of becoming Amish and living an Amish life going on a half-century. I finished Grace Leads Me Home yesterday. Here are some thoughts:
- Overall impression: I liked the book. We’ve seen a few accounts of individuals leaving the Amish lately (see Ira Wagler or Saloma Miller Furlong). An account of joining the Amish by a person still in the faith is rarer. I asked an Amish convert once for an interview for this site, and was politely refused, a decision I could understand. At the same time Amish literary expression has flourished with more and more publications by Amish. Marlene is not afraid to share her warts in this book. If you enjoy raw first-person life stories you’ll like this one.
- God and Faith: Marlene is guided by her faith. She and her husband Johnny face their fair share of struggles. Their dream of Johnny farming full-time is cut short when he has to return to a lunchpail job to make ends meet. One of their children is killed in a tragic accident. A later business venture fails. Not to mention the dysfunctional home life Marlene emerges from. Marlene closes out Grace Leads Me Home with Psalm 150, and also a devotional account of the apostle Paul, a figure she finds particularly inspiring. She peppers her account with praise, thanks, and expressions of submission to God and His will.
- Pregnancy: You get the impression that out-of-wedlock pregnancies (or “being in a family way” as it’s referred to) are not as uncommon as we might think among Amish. Marlene’s family experiences them over three generations. In some cases the story ends with both sides Amish, others take a different outcome. So we remember Amish are human too.
- Health: Amish have a different attitude toward medical care. There are more than a few incidents in the book in which Johnny and Marlene’s children experience accidents and illness. These are cases in which the typical American would be flying in the car to the doctor’s or the ER within seconds. Amish are more inclined to take a wait-and-see approach, or to use traditional remedies, buttressed by heavy doses of prayer. The Millers are this way, though you understand that if Marlene had her way, there are times she’d have the kid in that car burning rubber to the hospital. Today Marlene promote nutritional products and writes about the experience with authentic zeal in one of the concluding chapters.
- “Feeling” Amish: Does Marlene really feel Amish? Living the majority of her adult life in the Amish community, she must to some degree. Yet she freely admits there are aspects of Amish life she’s never mastered. Like communication. She speaks English to the Amish in her community, who reply in English or Pennsylvania Dutch, which she can understand but has trouble speaking. She’s not too comfortable operating a buggy, and she feels awkward at times fulfilling the public duties of an Amish housewife. She sometimes betrays an outsider’s voice–sounding a little bit English as she occasionally drifts into praise of her community. At the same time her love of family, God, and farming seem authentically Amish. Maybe the obvious point is that you can never really “feel” Amish without being born into the culture.
Grace Leads Me Home is full of moving moments–humorous, gut-wrenching, and inspiring. Marlene’s is a rare account of someone who joined the Amish and survived to write about it. She has her fair share of nicks and scratches, but a lot of contentment. Even though she goes through existential crises, heartbreak and pain at numerous points in her journey, you leave the book with a sense that she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Getting Grace Leads Me Home: It looks like there are only a couple of reasonably-priced used paperback versions on Amazon, though there is an Amazon Kindle version, which is what I got.
According to their site, it can be also purchased in-store at the Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio, and this Canadian bookstore which ships to the US also seems to be carrying it.
Update: In February 2015, Herald Press released Marlene’s story in revised form under the title Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order.