Marvin - Knocked Down but Not Out, Part I

You might have seen him on PBS's documentary, The Amish: Shunned.

Soft-spoken, pensive, responsive, adventuresome, grateful, and gentle.

We'd first met Marvin the week he'd left his Old Order Amish settlement in PA. He walked into our home, accompanied by Uriah. The duo had come to our home on a Sunday morning to attend church with us. At 18, Marvin looked young, innocent, unsullied by life's hard knocks.

But life had many hard knocks waiting for this young lad!

Marvin was a joy - a pleasure to be around. That first Sunday, he answered questions, easily laughed, and volunteered information about his life in the Amish. His upbringing. Parents. Why he left.

I found him remarkably open and transparent with me.

He shared how his parents made him to go a "mental hospital" when they discovered he wanted to leave.

"What was that like?" I asked.

"I didn't care," he snickered, "I got to wear English clothes and watch TV . . . in bed. They told the doctors to give me medicine to change my mind."

I shared about Mosie, Levi, our son-in-law Harvey, Josh, and other former Amish in our lives. That's when Marvin said, "You're like a mom to the ex-Amish."

Two weeks later, Marvin returned to our home to watch the debut of PBS TV's first documentary, The Amish. We'd gathered and were excited to watch because Levi was featured in the documentary, and my husband and I were in one scene, too.

I'd popped corn and served beverages (you must have popcorn for the Amish). We'd invited our minister because he wanted to learn more about these young men and the life they'd left.

Watching a program about Amish - with formers - is educational, exciting, and fun. One would pick out minor details to explain. Another would pipe up, "Ya, that's right," or "We didn't do that."

When a flock of geese flew across the sky with Amish singing in the background, Josh quipped, "We never had geese that sang."

One week later, the first of life's hard knocks knocked down Marvin. Riding in the back seat of a car driven by another former Amish, the guys were zipping along a two-lane road on their way to work. The driver lost control, flipped the car, and wrapped it around a tree. The driver was thrown from the car and immediately killed. Marvin, pinned in the trunk, waited in agony while first responders feverishly worked 90 minutes to free him from the ugly carnage.

Marvin suffered a broken neck, crushed pelvis, mangled elbow, broken arm, and multiple sprains, cuts, and contusions. Surgery was imminent. My daughter (who is a RN) and I rushed to the hospital to find Marvin in ICU. Functioning on pain meds, a frightened and traumatized Marvin grabbed my hand telling the nurses, "This is my mom."

Surgeons attempted to explain the imminent surgery to Marvin - who being ex-Amish and bilingual didn't understand. Between the drugs and his limited English, I spoke up and asked the doctors to "explain it in laymen language." Marvin needed a knowledgeable advocate so he could grasp the severity of injuries and what was going to happen to his broken body.

The delicate surgery demanded a Medical Power of Attorney (POA) should Marvin need decisions made in his behalf while unconscious . . . or dying. Marvin, the nursing staff, and surgeons discussed who he felt most confident in as his POA. Marvin chose me. Wow, what a heavy responsibility! 

Quickly, the medical team rushed him into the Operating Room. And we waited . . . during the predicted three-hour surgery.

Meanwhile, word of the accident reached his Amish parents. They hired an English driver to bring them from PA to OH. Marvin later told me that he didn't want his parents to know because they'd say this was his punishment for leaving Amish.

My daughter and I stayed overnight so Marvin would have the comfort of familiar faces. I knew surgery is traumatic for any teenager. My "mom" heart thought of him and his physical and emotional repair. He needed calm and consistency, patience and understanding. I wanted to "be there" for him when he awoke from anesthesia.

Although he believed his family shunned him for leaving, his parents appeared early the next morning. They stay for the day, spoke briefly with him, then me, remained overnight and returned to their farm.

I felt a bit overwhelmed with the responsibility Marvin and the staff placed on my shoulders, and I felt deep concern for the physical and emotional recovery facing this young man. Having served as a hospital chaplain, I knew about patient confusion, roller-coaster emotions, memory functions, feelings of vulnerability, and possible language impairment from head wounds.

Our church congregation prayed diligently for Marvin. People who didn't know him - only hearing his name in prayer requests - sent him cards.

Eventually, he was released from the ICU but, his broken body demanded months of intense rehab and recovery. So he was sent to another hospital's rehab unit.

I took this pic of him in Rehab
When I'd visit at times, Marvin was disoriented. He needed help learning to walk. To feed himself. To dress. He wanted to know what happened since he'd experienced some memory loss.

Surgeons fitted a medical halo on his head to stabilize his broken neck. The halo remained intact throughout the months of rehab. Later, it'd be replaced with a neck brace. Throughout all the pain, dependency on others, lack of privacy and embarrassment, Marvin was consistently kind and thankful for the cards, well-wishes, help, and prayers from others. I was grateful for the many people of our church who visited and prayed for Marvin. All this for just having met this precious young man that one Sunday.

Finally, a patient, cheerful Marvin went to a private home for some assisted living during his home-bound days. Each day he grew stronger and more independent and within weeks, he "graduated" to life on his own.

Marvin resumed his job about an hour away from us. The distance kept us apart but, we stayed in contact. Marvin often said he wanted to see us and would come visit once he was cleared to drive.
His shattered elbow was still stiff and wouldn't extend but, therapists were working with him. And he was making new friends.

Then, I heard he wanted to make a lifestyle change.

Perhaps it was the life-threatening, sobering accident but, Marvin donned his Amish clothes and returned to his childhood home and life as Amish. Perhaps it was a draw to his parents. A need for their understanding and approval.

He remained Amish for two months . . . left again. His vacillating behavior is common - others struggle with the inner conflict of Amish familiarity and family Versus the agony of ostracism and condemnation of being English with choices, freedom, and friends.

Upon returning to Ohio and his former job, Marvin drove to our home and spent another Sunday with us. I remember seeing him stand sturdy - no longer shaky and unstable - and smile at me. I hugged him. And we talked.

"What it good or bad?" I asked about his return to Amish.

"It was OK. If I could've done it over I wouldn't went back," he answered. Again, I thought, a common response to the inner struggle of former Amish.

Our church people were thrilled to see Marvin again. Many looked over his scars and commented on the life God had returned to him. Some introduced themselves with, "I was the one who sent you that card."

Marvin was a walking miracle!

Astonishingly, between full-time work, recovery, follow-up doctor appointments, and dating, Marvin studied and earn his GED. Such a tremendous accomplishment for an ESL student with an 8th grade education - and no parental support.

For the first time in his life, Marvin entertained aspirations and goals. As an outsider - Englisher - he could dream of choices, careers, and adventures. He made plans to join the Ohio National Air Guard.

Suddenly, life again knocked down Marvin!

I'll continue this unbelievable story in next week's post . . .

(C)Copyright, 2014. Brenda Nixon.


  1. Marvin was right, you really are like a mom to the ex-Amish. I think they're lucky to have you.

    1. Thanks Erik!
      Two things: 1) this young man has amazing fortitude and 2) I can do things through Christ who gives me the strength.

  2. Thank you, Marvin and "Mom" Brenda, for sharing your journey with us. Eager to hear the redemption from all the trials. Stay strong, Marvin.

  3. Replies
    1. haha Katie, it's already too long. I had to break up the story into another post next week. You're just not going to believe what happens to this kid.

  4. I am truly in awe of how much this young man has already endured, and can't even begin to imagine what the rest of his story is going to be. By the way, the description of you, Brenda, as mom to the ex-Amish is most appropriate. = )

  5. I'm thankful Marvin has the support of a friend (and mom!) like you. He has surely needed it through these trials!