Serena B. Miller's Blog
February 13, 2015
Joyanne and her husband had traveled all over the country before settling in Holmes County, Ohio. Soon, they began driving a van for the Amish and became close friends with several Old Order families.
One night as we were discussing our mutual respect for the Plain community, Joyanne said, “I am convinced that Amish children are the happiest children in the world.”
I had to agree. From what I had seen, Amish children were the happiest, most contented, most competent, and the most cheerfully obedient children I’d ever seen and I wanted to know why. Was it merely the lack of television and video games that made them so content, or did the reasons go deeper?
My editor, a young mother raising two daughters in New York City, also wanted to know why. That desire to find out the secret behind the admirable behavior of Amish children led to me to many discussions with the Amish about their methods of parenting, which eventually culminated in a non-fiction Amish parenting book titled More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting.
I discovered many things during these interviews, but the most profound lesson came from a conversation I had with an Amish minister. We had discussed everything from the necessity of having family meals together to the methods with which they teach their children a solid work ethic. I was just about to close my notebook when my husband asked this final question:“What is your dream for your children?”
I silently ran through several possible answers an Amish person might give. I already knew the answer that most non-Amish parents would give—that they just wanted their children to be happy.
What the Amish minister said rocked me.
“My dream for my children,” he said, simply, “is that they become people of value.”
Another Amish man who was in the room nodded his head in agreement. That was his dream for his children, too.
The interview had been unemotional up to that point, but when I heard those words, I had to fight back the tears. I knew I had found my answer. The goal of an Amish parent is not to make their children happy. Their goal is to raise children who are so much more than happy.
Amish parents very deliberately teach their children how to be good workers, how to show compassion and respect for others, how to live lives of integrity, and how to be people of faith. The need for a parent to be a good example was often emphasized.
Many of us non-Amish parents, often without realizing what we’re doing, find ourselves prioritizing our children’s temporary happiness over helping them learn principles of permanent importance. Often we do this because it is just so much easier.
The Amish have learned one of the great secrets to life–persons with true value generally become very happy people.
If you’d like a chance to win a copy of More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, jump on over to AmishWisdom.com and scroll down towards the bottom to sign up!
February 5, 2015
More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting came about because of a conversation I was having with my editor. I had mentioned to her that I thought the Amish children I knew were among the happiest and most contented children I had ever seen.
My editor, a New York City mother who was pregnant with her second daughter, was intrigued. She wanted to know exactly how Amish parents did this. I didn’t have an answer, but I promised to do my best to find out.
A year of research, interviews, pondering, writing, and re-writing went into this book as I tried to discern those things the Amish are getting right. I make no claims that it is a scholarly work because I’m no scholar. I’m just a grandmother who has been in many Amish homes and had a chance to talk with many Amish parents.
I learned an enormous amount of information during this process that I wish I’d known when my children were small. My prayer is that this book will give some useful tools to young parents trying to raise healthy, happy children.
December 10, 2014
I recently stepped outside my historical and Amish genres and did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I wrote a real nail-biter of a romantic suspense. My heroine, Erin Ramsey, is a mild-mannered high school English teacher until her family comes under attack. Then she turns into a mama tiger ferociously trying to save her daughter’s life. There is also Cole, the damaged and very unexpected protector. Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Google Play, etc.
October 1, 2014
Several people have asked about getting a copy of the movie, and I promised to let everyone know as soon as I found out. Fox is releasing the DVD, Love Finds You in Sugarcreek next week! (10/7) but it’s available for pre-order right now via Amazon & Barnes & Noble and available for digital download from Amazon, Nook, iTunes, & VUDU. The DVD will also have some behind-the-scenes interviews with Kelly, Sarah, Tom, the director, and me. To my knowledge, at least four million people have watched the movie so far on the UP network, and many other countries have picked it up to broadcast on their stations. As I work here in my farmhouse, living a normal life of canning tomato juice and babysitting grandkids, I am astonished that a story I struggled so hard to write will soon be viewed in countries as far-flung as the Middle East. I am very, very grateful to the talented actors, producers, and director who brought that story to life.
September 23, 2014
It is my favorite time of year again. September! The Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek, Ohio is happening this weekend (September 26-27) and I intend to be there on Saturday from 6 to 8 pm, signing books at the Gospel Shop at 112 Main Street. At 8 p.m. if the weather holds, there will be a showing of the movie right in the middle of downtown Sugarcreek.
For those who watched Love Finds You In Sugarcreek, Ohio, you’ll recognize the Swiss Festival from the scenes shot in the midst of it last year. For the most part, those were not actors you saw in the background, but real people enjoying themselves at the festival as the crew shot around them.
People frequently ask me to recommend places to go see while in the area. Here’s one place I always stop by. Finders Keepers, 100 E. Main Street which is just a few doors down from the Gospel Shop.
Serena in front of Finders Keepers on Main Street in Sugarcreek, Ohio
Serena and Big Mike inside Finders Keepers
It’s owned by “Big Mike” Schario and his business partner, Mitch Joseph from Canton. If you’ve seen the Love Finds You in Sugarcreek movie, you’ve already met Mike. He’s one of the actors (big guy, red shirt) who threw the stone in the Steintossen “competition” they filmed. What most people don’t know is that Mike lifted all 138 pounds of the real rock (instead of the lighter, pretend one) while nursing several broken ribs he’d sustained just a few days before in a car wreck.
Mike and Mitch run a store that makes me want to just stand and stare. It’s always changing, and it is always filled with things that bring back good memories. Old-fashioned candy I haven’t seen since I was a kid, old board games I played with my cousins on rainy afternoons, bikes I wish I’d had, and some memorabilia they simply won’t part with–like a microphone once used at the Grand Ole Opry.
It’s an old-fashioned business in more ways than just the merchandise they carry. They also use an old non-electric cash register and take cash only. Last I checked, they didn’t bother with Facebook or Twitter. You’ve gotta be careful when you go, though. They’re usually only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The rest of the time they’re scouring the countryside rescuing old items to display in their store.
I love seeing people make a living doing what they love–and if you ever get a chance to meet Mike or Mitch–you’ll meet two guys who are doing exactly that.
September 2, 2014
I grew up up in a four-room house perched on the banks of the Little Scioto River in Southern Ohio. That river provided unending entertainment for us kids. There were crawdads to catch, mussels to track, and ancient grapevines to swing on. We swam, fished, paddled around in an old flat-bottomed boat, took slivers of soap along with us and took a soapy bath when the weather was hot. It even had a nice gentle swimming hole that doubled as a baptistry for our church both summer and winter.
My older sister would sometimes fry up bacon and tomato sandwiches, wrap them in waxed paper, grab her bathing suit and little sister, and we’d go spend the day up the river on a sandbank where she could lie in the sun, and I could play in the water or dig for buried treasure. One memorable day I dug up a snapping turtle.
When the rains came, our mother checked the level of the creek several times a night to make sure it didn’t get into our house. But if it did, we knew we’d be okay because we could climb up the hill to the railroad and walk the tracks to my uncle’s place on higher ground. A mile up the river in the other direction was my Aunt Mary and Uncle Frosty’s home which was filled to bursting with cousins to play with.
One of those cousins recently wrote a song about our river that I thought I’d share.
July 15, 2014
As most of you know, I write novels about the Amish. At the beginning of my career, I visited Abram and Leah’s Old Order Amish home for dinner. Abram is an extraordinarily spiritual man who speaks openly about God and grace. He is also an extremely social person and seemed delighted to have company. The invitation had come through mutual friends and so this was the first time I had ever met Leah. She was quiet and seemed to be deep in thought as she prepared our dinner.
It was early days in my research of the Amish and I thought perhaps this was just the way of Amish women. Quiet. Pensive. Allowing their husbands to carry the conversational ball. Abram was well-read in the Bible and he and my minister husband were having a discussion about Bible translations while Leah silently worked, and I tried, quite awkwardly, to help in her unfamiliar kitchen.
I didn’t know if Leah was resentful of the fact that we were there and was just being an obedient Amish wife, or if the woman was depressed out of her mind. Our conversation was halting and stilted.
After we’d eaten and were sitting around watching their children play. Leah asked if we had any children.
I assumed this was her attempt at polite conversation.
“Yes, I have three grown sons.”
“And your husband is a preacher?”
She gave this some thought. “For how long?”
I counted up. “He’s preached full-time for over thirty years.”
She looked me in the eyes for the first time since we’d arrived and asked, “How have your sons turned out?”
It was a strangely intimate question from a woman who’d barely said two words all evening, but I answered truthfully. “By the grace of God, they have grown into fine men who love the Lord.”
It was at that point that the verbal dam broke and I discovered that Leah was not quiet by nature, or depressed, or simply being an obediently silent wife. The woman was worried sick.
“Our church is going to choose another minister soon,” she said. “And I’m afraid that Abram will be chosen.”
I had read enough about the Amish church to know that the men didn’t become preachers by choice. They were selected from within their church after a lengthy process of elimination. I also knew that this position was considered an honor in their culture so I did not understand why she was so upset. “Why are you so worried?”
“Because,” she answered, sadly. “In the Amish church, sometimes the preacher’s children turn out very badly.”
I was surprised by her statement. “Sometimes preacher’s children in non-Amish churches turn out badly, too,” I told her.
“Do you know what they call preacher’s children in the Amish church?” she asked.
“No.” I wondered what awful name Amish kids might have come up with.
“PK’s,” she answered, obviously offended. “They call them PK’s! That stands for preacher’s kids. People expect them to be perfect.” Then she added mournfully, “They expect the preacher’s wives to be perfect, too.”
Ah. Now I understood. The old stereotype of the perfect preacher’s wife. I had been painfully aware of it for most of my married life, and equally aware that I had never come even close to achieving it. I was surprised to find that it was part of the Amish culture as well.
My heart went out to her. It’s a rare preacher’s wife who doesn’t wrestle with feelings that unachievable expectations are being thrust upon her and try as she might, she can’t measure up. The preacher’s kids have to deal with it, too, which can cause a lot of problems.
“How have you done it?” she asked. “How have you raised sons who love the Lord when your husband is a preacher?”
I was old enough to be Leah’s mother, and had a lifetime of watching many preachers’ families crash and burn while others managed to thrive. I’d learned a few things that I thought might help her. Things like how I’d given up on being the perfect preacher’s wife a long time ago, and had given up on my kids acting like little angels as well. I had learned that it was just best to be who I was and let my kids be regular kids. I told her how the women at the churches we’d served had always seemed a little relieved when they found out I was struggling along in life just like the rest of them.
She explained that the Amish culture was much less flexible in their expectations of preacher’s families than ours. For the next hour we had our own, private conversation about how to survive as a preacher’s family–while our much more spiritual husbands had a rousing discussion about Biblical passages.
Leah and I bonded that evening, and we have been friends ever since. The next time I saw her two months later, she was a different person. She was bubbling and smiling. All signs of depression were gone.
“What happened?” I asked. “Was Abram chosen to be your church’s minister?”
“No!” she exclaimed, obviously giddy with joy. “He wasn’t chosen! We’re safe until someone else dies!”
I’ve learned a great deal about Amish ministers since then and have spoken to several. There are some things about being an Amish minister that would make even my husband cringe. There is no feeling of a “calling” involved. An Amish man does not have the luxury of deciding whether or not he wants to preach. If chosen, it is a position he will hold for life, with much responsibility. Once chosen, most Amish men take on that responsibility with great dread….and yet they do take it on.
The way I understand it, most Amish churches have one bishop, three ministers, and one deacon. The bishop is chosen from the ranks of the three ministers when the old bishop grows too infirm or dies. To become a minister basically involves two steps. First, people privately give the bishop names from within the church of men they think would make a good preacher. Then the bishop decides which of those men mentioned are viable candidates for the office.
If there are, say, five candidates, there will be a service where five hymnals will be laid out, and after much prayer these five men will each come forward and choose a hymnal. The one who chooses the hymnal with a paper inside that says something along the lines of “You have been chosen” will become the new minister.
The paper in the hymnbook is the Amish way of “casting lots,” of allowing God to have the final, ultimate, say.
Being a minister is a responsibility most Amish men do not desire. Neither do their wives. It means that for the rest of his life, he’ll be expected to preach, teach, and watch out for the needs of the church—without pay—while trying to also make a living and care for his own family. The only way he can get out of this responsibility is the same exit path as the bishop. He must become too infirm to function, or die. Either that or leave the church entirely, which a few actually do.
One minister described to me the sick feeling he had in the pit of his stomach when he opened the hymnal and found the “you are chosen” paper inside. He said he had dreaded the possibility so much, and felt so ill when he saw it, that it was all he could do not to throw up.
He did, however, shoulder the responsibility and began to spend much time in prayer, in Bible study, and in learning how to prepare sermons and preach.
Knowing well how hard the responsibilities of the ministry have been for my husband who was a man who actually desired it, trained for it, and got a salary for it–I can only imagine how hard it is for someone like an Amish farmer to step up to the plate and handle all the responsibilities involved.
And on top of that is the fear that, as Leah said, the preachers’ kids will turn out very badly—and it has very little to do with the particular church. A friend of mine who is the wife of a Unitarian Universalist minister confessed to having the exact same worries as she was raising her own children. It is hard to find a church more liberal than hers, and it would be nearly impossible to find a church more conservative than Leah’s, and yet the concern for the children is the same. Will the pressures of living in a preacher’s home destroy them?
Here’s some advice to anyone involved in ministry—from a veteran preacher’s wife—the same things I shared with Leah that night.
Don’t hold your kids to a higher standard than the regular members of the church. One of the biggest mistakes preacher-parents can make is to tell their children that they are forbidden to do something or have to do something just because they are PK’s. The standards should be high because of being a Christian family—not because of the artificially imposed standard of their father’s job.
Make sure that what your kids hear from the pulpit is the same as what they see modeled at home. I can’t think of any surer way to destroy a child’s faith than to have a parent who preaches one thing and does another. Hypocrisy in anyone is toxic, but in a preacher’s family it is deadly.
Loosen up. Don’t make a federal offense out of every little thing. Kids are kids. Even the Amish realize that their teens will have their “running-around” period. Love them no matter what. Don’t kick them when they’re down just because they might have embarrassed you by bad behavior.
It’s extremely wise NOT to enter the ministry at all until you have a secondary skill or degree that can provide an income in case you need to leave. There is nothing sadder than a preacher hanging on after losing heart, just because it’s the only job he knows how to do. Learn to be a “tent-maker” like the Apostle Paul just in case. If nothing else, it keeps the leaders of your church from taking you for granted if they know you have other options for employment.
Never, ever, ever make church a greater priority than your family. Congregations come and go—but your greatest responsibility is the souls of the people who live beneath your roof.
Don’t be afraid to have fun. The healthiest preacher’s family I ever knew, and the one I tried to model my own parenting on, had so much fun together. The father was a Godly man, but one who knew his way around a practical joke and his kids were often the recipients. They all grew into adults with great integrity who adored their parents and also loved the Lord.
If it gets too hard on your family—get out. I always knew that if the kids or I could no longer deal with my husband being in the ministry—he would get out if it became really important to us for him to do so. He did not love us more than God, but we always knew he loved us more than the people who made up his congregation. Just knowing that we were “giving” our church the gift of having him in the pulpit made a great deal of difference in our attitude. It still does.
Sometimes preachers’ children do turn out very badly. Sometimes preachers’ kids turn out very well. Either way, Leah is safe….for now. The last time I talked to her, she said their bishop, ministers, and deacon are all looking wonderfully healthy and she is praying that their good health continues for many, many years to come so that a replacement will not have to be sought until her children are grown.
June 21, 2014
Last Saturday evening, June 14, I watched hundreds of people enjoy an old-fashioned drive-in movie.
The screen is setup, just waiting on it to get dark!
The Village of Sugarcreek hired a company to construct a temporary drive-in theater in the same area where the Swiss Festival is conducted each year. I didn’t even know there were companies that did such a thing, but it turned out to be a brilliant idea. The screen was large and worked perfectly, the sound was wonderful, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. People spread picnics out on blankets, set up lawn chairs, or simply parked their cars and rolled down their windows.
Annie Kitral (who played Aunt Lydia) and Marianna Allachi (who played Aunt Anna) Signing my LFY Sugarcreek books with me :)
For two hours before the movie started, I had the privilege of signing books with two of my favorite actresses in the world. Annie Kitral (who played Aunt Lydia) and Marianna Allachi (who played Aunt Anna) gave readers an extra thrill by sitting beside me and also autographing each book.
I love getting to talk with the readers!
It was SO funny to see people’s faces when they recognized the two women–but it didn’t happen immediately. I’d sign a book, and then pass it down to Annie/Aunt Lydia. I’d ask the customer “Do you know who this is?” And whoever was standing across the table from me would stare at her and say, “Well, she looks familiar.” And then Annie/Aunt Lydia would say, “I LUFF to cook!” in that accent that she used in the movie, and Marianna/Aunt Anna would bat her eyes and say, “We got cookies!” just like she did in the movie. People would gasp, and throw a hand over their mouths, and then stand and talk until they had to move on to give someone else a chance to get their books signed.
Even the kids were getting into it!
So why am I going on and on about this? Because moments of sheer, pure joy are rare. June 14 was one of those times for me and I wanted to share it with you.
June 3, 2014
I just wanted to say THANK YOU! We just got the ratings in for the premiere night of the movie and… we broke UPTV’s highest record for ratings! Check out more info here http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com
Anyways, if you didn’t get a chance to see it, or you wanna know what everyone is talking about, don’t worry! There will be an encore Friday (June 6th) @ 9pm and 11pm est.
I’m so happy everyone enjoyed it! The reviews and comments have been Amazing!
May 30, 2014
This Sunday (June 1st) is the premiere of the movie adaptation of Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio! We’re really excited and just wanted to remind everyone!
UPTV @ 7:00 pm EST and throughout the rest of the week. We’re also having two viewing parties during the premiere. One will be online (sorry we can’t stream the movie) but everyone is welcome to join in on the discussion via Twitter & Facebook using #LFYSugarcreek. The other viewing party will be a screening that will take place at our home church after evening services, June 1st @ 7:45 pm, anyone that is local and wants to stop by is more than welcome!
UPTV Channels: DirectTV 338, Dish 188, Local Cable, and we just found out (if you live in our home town of Minford) that Minford TV now has UPTV on channel 131!
Here are some pictures we never showed from the filming during the baseball scene!
Sarah and Thomas, just hanging out and waiting for the next camera shot.
Tom, showing off baseball skills :)
The hair stylist making sure Sarah is good to go!
Serena and Kris who played the Umpire for the baseball game.