Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Daughters of Lancaster County series ~ Wanda E Brunstetter

A while ago I was privileged to have an opportunity to write book reviews for a publisher to promote digital reading. Not only did I come across a view books that I thought sounded rather interesting and wanted to read for myself, but I also became an avid digital reader.

One book in particular caught my attention and it stuck. Now, eighteen months later, I got to satisfy my curiosity. I was not disappointed!

For a moment I had lost sight of the fact that the one book was part of a 3 book series, but I soon realized that the curiosity that had now been stirred up couldn't be satisfied without reading all three. It is a fine skill to keep one turning the pages of one book, but to buy the whole series... that is a true art. I commend you, Wanda :)

The first one in the series is The Storekeeper's Daughter. (Judging from the covers, these daughters are quite pretty, don't you think? For me it is so that a woman with a beautiful character seems even more beautiful on the outside, and these Amish woman of Lancaster County have some beautiful characters.)

Naomi's mom dies in a tragic accident when she was just nineteen. With her dying breath she asks just one promise from her eldest daughter: that she will take care of the children, especially Zach, the baby and youngest of the eight children in the Fisher family. But Naomi is not her mom, and no matter how she tries, her mom's shoes are simply too big to fill, and looking away for a moment, her baby brother disappears. How does she face her father; a man who has had no mercy since the loss of his wife, unable to deal with his own grief? Now he's lost his wife and his son - not even a year old at the time. Unable to deal with her own failure, Naomi decides that it might be better to leave home and make a new home for herself elsewhere. Even though her heart yearns for a love and a family of her own, she cannot imagine why any man would ever trust her enough to take care of her own family.

My heart just broke for Naomi. How does anyone carry a burden that heavy? How do you simply "move on"? From Naomi's story I was reminded how some things that happen to us in life takes time to deal with. Sometimes we have to simply walk the road and progress gradually rather than an immediate resolve, and how, at times, that journey is not exactly strewn with roses. Forgiveness doesn't mean amnesia but if you want to get to the other side you have to go through and face your challenges with courage. 

What I love about the story is the relationship that the Amish have with the Lord. I love the ongoing prayers for help to have the courage to do the right thing, have the right attitude, for courage to face and overcome the challenges. I think that it is how it should be, rather than just at a particular time of the day, in a particular position, or a particular place. I could see how this relationship is what got Naomi through; helped her to live again for what is was worth.

Equally - though not in the same way, exactly - I felt some compassion for Jim. They are unable to conceive a baby of their own and after trying everything for eight years they finally have an opportunity to adopt a baby, albeit a one year old (as supposed to a newborn). When things didn't quite go according to plan, Jim became a desperate man, and in one moment his life too takes off in a direction that would challenge him in many ways for many years to come. It was certainly not the way he had imagined it. The very ones that he had convinced himself he had done a favor, becomes the victims of his "kindness".

For some reason I thought that God would answer prayers and I would find out about little Zach by the end of the book, but little did I know that that thread would be woven through all three books in the series and would keep me hooked to the end! This was not going to be a "one night stand".

Following The Storekeeper's daughter is The Quilter's Daughter. Wanda set the bar quite high in book one, but she did not disappoint in keeping it up in the follow-up. Sometimes our heartache leads us to the next door/opportunity for happiness. We must just be willing to let go of what was and to embrace what is. Abby admires her mother's ability to do this, and to help another do it, but little did she realize that she would need to do it also. When her dreams and her love goes up in smoke she decides to run away from her pain by keeping as busy as she possibly can. Any one person can only keep that up for so long.

Abby's is very much a story of anger, forgiveness, letting go and choosing to embrace life after loss. I loved the dynamic of how God seemed to patiently travel the journey with her, waiting for her to become ready for healing, and then for what else He had in store for her. She encouraged me to have hope, to have courage, and that it is ok to move at your own pace. The whole time you see a story of how God takes even the injustice, pain and tragedy and work it all together for good. I love that about God. It is never over till He says it is. Until then there's hope.

All throughout The Quilter's Daughter Wanda keeps us hooked with how Jim and Zach (now Jimmy) progresses. Oh, how difficult it is when all we want to do is understand and we don't; to accept that even then God is fully in control, and to have a heart that seeks to please Him despite of everything. In Jim I can see how guilt and condemnation eats away at you and how stubbornness doesn't help anyone. At times I felt a bit angry and frustrated about this part of the book, but I also thought it very realistic, because the reality of this world is often not the ideal. One thing about Wanda's books that I thoroughly enjoyed was that it is very realistic/believable. By the end of book two, the characters have become a little like "family". So what is going to happen to Zach (Jimmy)? You've got to keep reading; better buy that third book ha-ha ;)

The Daughters of Lancaster County spans over roughly twenty one years. By the time you get to The Bishop's Daughter all the Fisher little ones are grown, some married and almost all of them with children. Seeing as the Bishop's daughter is a teacher, it helps that Wanda uses their surnames so you don't get confused :)

The Bishop's Daughter touches on the topic of how bad things even happen to servants of God; even the Bishop is not immune to tragedy, nor his family. Leona seems to suffer one loss after another and eventually she decides to just not open her heart to intimacy anymore. Why bother if you're just going to lose it again. How bizarre that we can ask God to help us not to face our challenges? No, God knows one way and that is forward. He is absolutely ready to give us all the grace we need to move forward with Him. 

The last thing Leona needs (or thinks she needs) is that Zach (or Jimmy) starts finding out about his heritage. It sounds like a far-fetched story, but somehow 'Jimmy' starts believing that perhaps there is some truth to it, and so he goes to Lancaster County to search for his real family. He enjoys simple living but there are some modern day conveniences that he is not so sure he'd want to part with. What good - if any - can come from the attraction between an Amish girl and an English boy? Oh, but God is faithful.

Finally, in book three God starts to fulfill some things that many have believed for, and some for twenty years. Just imagine if they did not trust God to move on twenty years ago...

The thing is, we don't know how long God will take to answer the prayers of our heart, but how crucial it is that we live in the moment with Him, trusting Him to give us all we need in the meantime until He knows the time is right to move and make things happen. 

Indeed, God is able to do so much more than we can imagine, using all things for His purposes - good, bad and sad. The way I see it, trusting the One who knows all is really the only way to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed these books. I highly recommend that you get all three. You'll be glad you did.

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