ALWAYS IN MY HEART by Mary Ellis
Hope Bowman believes God is punishing her for giving up her firstborn son when she was a teenager. She’s hidden this secret from her husband, who is thankful for their daughters but longs for a son. Hope prays desperately, but the son God sends her isn’t a new baby but the fifteen-year-old boy she gave up years ago.
Good story about facing your past. Hope has spent years wishing that she could have a son for her husband, but so far has had four daughters. She believes she is being punished because she gave up her firstborn for adoption. She had been sixteen when she was assaulted by a drunk Englischer, and her father believed the entire family was shamed by the event. He gave her no choice in the matter, and even forbid her to tell the man she eventually married. She has never gotten over the guilty feelings for not raising him herself.
She finally decides that the only way to make things right is to confess to her husband and then try to find her son. She had no idea how he would react, but hoped for his understanding and forgiveness for keeping such a secret. The reaction was not what she expected at first, but I loved seeing how their love and faith helped get through it quickly. The timing turned out to be very good because it wasn't long after that her son showed up at their house, wanting to find out about his birth mother.
I ached for Hope as she discovered that he wasn't adopted as she had been told, but has spent his entire life in a series of foster homes. This made her feel even more guilty. I also hurt for James, who had felt unwanted, and wanted to know why he had been "given away". It was very sweet to see how the Englischer boy was exposed to the Amish way of life, and the family's attempt to understand someone so very different. I loved the immediate acceptance they showed for him, and James's willingness to live by their rules while he was there.
Of course, he was only able to stay for a visit and had to go back to his foster family. But seeing James only strengthened Hope's desire to keep him in her life. I loved seeing her determination to make it happen and the support she got from her husband. I also liked that it wasn't resolved quickly and neatly, but had realistic obstacles to overcome. Hope also had to deal with her feelings of resentment toward her father and his part in the situation. His attitude was very harsh and I wasn't sure how things would work out with him. I thought that James had a very mature attitude toward him, and handled himself very well.
ALWAYS HIS PROVIDENCE by Ruth Reid
Widow Rosa Hostetler has one month to pay her delinquent taxes before the county auctions her farm. She’s prepared to sell whatever is necessary to pay the lien, but she isn’t willing to request money from the community’s widow fund. She’s embarrassed and refuses to admit she needs help. Rosa depends on income from selling eggs, but when that income is threatened, only a miracle can help Rosa accept the kindness of a neighbor.
Good story about not letting pride keep you from getting the help you need. Rosa's husband died in a fire that destroyed a neighbor's barn. At the time, she didn't know that he hadn't paid the property taxes on their farm. She supports herself by raising chickens and selling eggs, but getting enough to pay the taxes just isn't happening. If she doesn't come up with it soon, the county will take her land and sell it. Her neighbor Adam, who had been her husband's best friend, has been trying to watch out for her, but he doesn't know the trouble she's in.
Adam had also been in love with Rosa for years, but she had fallen for her husband first. Now Adam is also fighting guilty feelings, because his friend had died while saving Adam from the barn fire. Adam would really like to marry her, but is certain that she holds him responsible for her husband''s death. He senses that something has Rosa very worried, but he can't get her to tell him what it is. When a dog starts attacking and killing her chickens, it threatens what little income she has. Suddenly her chances of paying the taxes are severely diminished.
I got very frustrated with Rosa's refusal to let anyone know that she was in trouble. The Amish community is very good at taking care of their own, but her pride wouldn't let her ask for help. She also had to deal with the neighbor on the other side, the Englischer whose dog is responsible for the deaths of her chickens. I understood her frustration at his uncooperative attitude. When she finally confessed her problem to Adam, he was determined to find a way to help her.
I loved seeing how he was able to get her to allow him to help her, by getting her to participate in what he was doing. It also gave him the chance to spend more time with her and start giving her an idea of his feelings. There was a lot of tension as they raced to find the funds to save the farm. The resolution was not what I expected, and assistance came from an unexpected source.
ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL by Beth Wiseman
Becky Byler is eighteen and overweight. She is overwhelmed by the embarrassment she feels when comparing herself to other girls her age. Having lost all hope, she considers taking her own life. As she stands before rushing water, unable to swim, Becky begs God for a miracle. In just several months, Becky sees her prayers answered as food and temptation lose their hold over her. She’s finally pleased with how she looks, but does she like the person she has become? And has the man she has dreamed of been right beside her all along, loving her exactly as she is?
Good story about learning to like yourself. Becky has been a character in the previous stories. She is always spoken of as being sweet and helpful, but also heavy. There were times when she was obviously unhappy. In this story, we see that her weight has affected the way she feels about herself, to the point where she is thinking about ending it all. Fortunately she doesn't take that step, but she finds the motivation to take control of her eating habits and starts losing weight.
She has always felt that her weight kept her from having any boyfriends. The only young man in her life is her friend Elam, with whom she spends quite a bit of time. But she looks at him just as a friend. As she begins to lose the weight, she gains the attention of a handsome young man that she has had a crush on.
Matt has been interested in Becky for awhile, but she never seemed interested in him. He has dated other girls, but nothing really stuck with him. He liked the fact that Becky seemed to be different than the others, not always so concerned with her appearance. As they started going out together and she continued to lose weight, the changes in her attitude began to bother him.
Becky's friend Elam is also interested in her as more than a friend, and is disappointed when she only wants to be friends. He had always liked her just as she was and tried to tell her that often. It hurts him to see her going out with Matt. He spends time with other girls, but really misses being with Becky.
Becky had a lesson to learn. She lost the weight she thought she had to, which gave her the confidence to believe that someone like Matt would want to date her. As she continued to lose weight, and her relationship with Matt went on, she discovered that it didn't make her as happy as she thought it would. It was interesting to see the reactions of the people around her and the effects it had on the way she felt. I liked the way that she began to realize that being happy with herself is what made her most appealing to others. She had quite a wake up call at the end when she realized that her insecurity may have lost her the one she really loved.