Reviewed by Carol Kurtz
Grace Is Enough
Willie Aames & Maylo Upton-Aames
with Carolyn Stanford Goss
"We're inspired to believe that even the darkest history, the bleakest future, can be transformed by God into a peaceful and fulfilling life."
If you’re not old enough to remember the tv shows “Eight is Enough” and “Charles in Charge”, you may be young enough to remember Bibleman, the guy in spandex who traveled the country with his childrens’ ministry. Either way, you’ve seen Willie Aames. He and his wife Maylo have an astounding testimony of grace and healing, and they share it here in gory, but not gratuitous, detail.
The dual first person stories parallel each other through the first 3/4 of the book and then come together as the story of a marriage and family striving to serve God amidst financial pressures and the staring eyes of the public. It’s a tell-all, but the purpose isn’t to rat out people, both famous and infamous. It’s to give us a clear picture of who and what helped put these two souls on a path toward Christ. They are honest and intimate as they share with us both the triumphs and the humiliating experiences that helped to shape them as children. “The first time I tried to hang myself, I was three or four years old,” Willie tells us, and we can’t exactly put the book down after that. He gives us lots of boy stories in a much less developed southern California and Mexico during the 60's. He even reveals some bad experiences that until this book, he’s never before shared.
Maylo’s memories of her parents are painful to read, especially those of her mother. There really isn’t much good to say about her, even though Maylo tries. This woman betrayed her little girl in many ways, subjecting her to unthinkable sexual and physical abuse from a stream of boyfriends. It’s hard to imagine any child’s reality this horrifying, as Maylo doesn’t spare some graphic details. Maylo’s view of God was skewed by her mother’s occult involvement and her many “visions”, and she lived in constant fear. Finally running away from home when she was a young teenager, Maylo lived on the streets in Hollywood and becomes addicted to drugs.
Meanwhile, Willie is becoming an actor, and he doesn’t shy away from telling you what he thinks about his previous costars and acquaintances, from Madonna’s snobbery to Tom Hanks’ congeniality. We come close to getting bogged down in name dropping and studio pranks, but it all serves a purpose, contrasting this glamorous life with his fall from stardom later on.
Maylo’s account of her first acting job is fascinating, just like you would imagine it would be. She goes home after interviewing along with fifty other much more beautiful girls, sure she didn’t get the part, only to get the call the next day that she did!
We get to hear both her and Willie’s version of how they met, working on a tv show together. By then Maylo was hardened and cynical with an eating disorder. Willie was determined to be her knight in shining armor, to rescue her from all her pain. Although he tries valiantly to do this, the pain only get worse when she discovers she has cervical cancer from all the sexual abuse of her childhood. It would be a while before they learn that only God can truly heal them of their wounds.
It’s a cautious walk towards salvation for both of them. Maylo remembers “It was great to let go and let some softness come in, but there was the other Maylo, Street Maylo, who was so afraid of losing her coolness if she became a Christian.” Eventually they come to the Lord together, and they are baptized and married on the same special day.
From here they move to Kansas, and Bibleman is born shortly after. Maylo learns to depend on God as she raises their little girl alone as Willie travels to minister to kids. She develops into a grateful and mature woman of God during this time. Willie grows too, and he sees the best and worst of the church through his travels, which he speaks about openly. He finishes ten years as Bibleman with a serious back injury, disillusioned in some ways, but so thankful for the 90,000 kids who gave their lives to Christ through it. After his weight ballooned from the back injury, he is a contestant on Celebrity Fit Club.
The book ends with a fifteen page interview with the couple and their filmographies. This family has lost the fortune that came to them in their early acting careers to law suits and the IRS, but they are rich in a better way. Willie makes documentaries with the Outdoor Channel, but it’s clear they aren’t out of the financial woods. Every day is a chance to trust God for their most basic needs. And we are inspired by the honesty with which they have shared their struggles with us, how they have been broken and healed. We’re inspired to believe that even the darkest history, the bleakest future, can be transformed by God into a peaceful and fulfilling life.
Carol Kurtz Darlington is a certified personal trainer and a certified group fitness instructor who works with people who want to lose weight as well as those who just want to enjoy better health. She enjoys empowering and encouraging others to reach their health and fitness goals, feel better about themselves in the process, and enjoy more energy to stay active in all areas of their lives. She is the founder of Totally Fit With Carol, a Christian weight loss website featuring workout videos, health tips, exercise advice, and more. She loves her morning cappuccino and her beloved grand-dog. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and haunting Starbucks.