Serena B. Miller is the author of "An Uncommon Grace" and the new follow-up novel "Hidden Mercies." Miller spoke with The Christian Post about parenting and the importance of forgiveness in relationships, especially in the Amish community in which Miller sets her stories.
The Christian Post: The Amish are often seen as being "tough" on their kids. What do you say about the difference between Amish and English (non-Amish) parenting?
Serena B. Miller: I have seen a lot within the Amish family that I've been a part of and spend time observing. I'm very impressed- the children are taught discipline but gently, through observing their parents-they make work look fun. There's enormous respect for one another in the Amish homes. From what I've seen, children seem to see work as almost play. I don't hear a lot of praise, and children are not constantly told how wonderful they are, but their actions are noted. There's not a lot of love language in the Amish family (nicknames, etc.) but the respect and tone of the parents' voice is very impressive. Basically what I see is children that have a lot of control of themselves; they seem to be happier than the English children, even with the lack of TV, video games. They are their own entertainment; I've never seen harshness in the community. Adults seem to enjoy them and the kids seem to enjoy one another.
I was having dinner with three Amish families, 14 children in all … and I didn't hear one bit of tattling, arguing or fighting. A friend of mine who runs a hotel in an Amish community told me that Amish children are the happiest children on earth, but once they become teenagers they have incredibly hard decisions to make, including whether they want to remain Amish. They know what they are giving up by leaving the faith, but the majority still decide to stay with the Amish community; it depends on what sect they are in, but the majority stay. The Amish are obviously doing something right.
The character Amy's poetry was actually written by two Amish sisters, who kept their writings in their notebooks. The husband of a family I know told me that his wife was a writer, and his wife directed me towards her children, who also wrote. That's where I got the idea for Amy to write poetry; this particular real-life family makes beautiful handmade cards in order to support the family.
The Amish do not accept any social services or aid from the government, even though they do have handicapped people or those who could use it. One day I saw a small sign for a quilt sale, and after I made my purchase of a quilt hanging, I saw all these little envelopes. Calendar photos had been turned into envelopes … one of the women's nephews was handicapped but could use his hands, so he made envelopes. The community would bring him the calendar photos; they all contribute.
CP: It's clear that faith plays an extremely large part in the Amish community; do you see it playing such a huge part of English life as well?
Miller: I can only speak to the older Amish families that I know, but faith plays a huge role in their lives. They pray and read their Bible every night. My Christian friends may believe and have strong faith but lack the emphasis on Bible reading and prayer.
Most of the stories in this book are based upon real life stories and people. One young man left his family to become a Marine and was shunned by the community. Henry's story was based on a friend of mine's story who had a problem with gambling on horses.
CP: How important is forgiveness to the Amish and the English?
Miller: It's such a big part … When I first got to know them (the Amish), I know I made mistakes. I always felt forgiven and accepted. When I first began to go there, I wore blue jeans, which they never said anything about, but one woman I got close to had teenage girls, and I'm thinking, "I wonder if she would appreciate me wearing a skirt." She didn't say a word but smiled real big and said, "I really like your outfit," but she never made me feel like I was doing anything wrong.
One of the biggest areas of forgiveness surrounds the road and driving situation. There are so many accidents between buggies and vehicles, and these are people who take the admonition not to sue but to forgive, even if someone has been killed. They forgive and go on.
I had the great honor or speaking to a Mennonite doctor, and he's the one who helped spearhead a very famous birthing center in the middle of the Amish countryside. I got to go there, and it's a wonderful situation for the women. I asked him if he would treat women who were not Amish, and he said no. He could only accept the Amish or Mennonite because they could be trusted not to sue him if something happened. It's a great set-up, though. The women go to the clinic, can afford to pay for the childbirth, and a lot of volunteers work there. There are benefits to being a group of people who are not fixated on litigation.
CP: Are you working on a third book for the series?
Miller: The third book is developing and surrounds Rose and Henry's married daughter, who becomes a young widow and witnesses a very traumatic event. Because she witnessed it, she relates better to animals instead of humans. She's the one people in the community bring their animals to. The person coming into her life is going to be is a New York Times best-selling crime fiction writer.
To learn more about Serena B. Miller, visit www.serenabmiller.com or her Facebook page or Twitter account. She has an article right now, "Amish 101," on the history of Amish fiction writing and all that has come out of the genre.