Title: An Amish Miracle
Authors: Mary Ellis, Ruth Reid, Beth Wiseman
Published by: Thomas Nelson, 2013
An Amish Miracle contains three Amish novellas in one book: "Always in my Heart;" by Mary Ellis; "Always His Provision," by Ruth Reid; and "Always Beautiful," by Beth Wiseman.
"Heart" revolves around Hope Bowman, who is in labor with her fourth child as the story opens. She and her husband Steve have three daughters, and Hope is praying for a son. The Bowmans have practical reasons for this wish, as Steve sometimes has to hire young men to help him and has no son who can grow up to take over for him, one day.
Hope has another reason for wanting a son, that she has not shared with Steve: Rape at 16 left her pregnant. Her father forced her to move, temporarily, out of the area, until the child was born and placed in an adoptive family. That child was a son. She believes God is punishing her by giving her and Steve only girls--whom she loves very much, but she wants another son. She continues to pray for the son she gave up and that she might see him, some day, to know that he is all right. James is that son, and when he shows up without warning, one night, he is openly hostile to Hope.
God's provision is the key theme in Reid's tale. Hope's good friend Ruth Hostetler has been widowed two years, left with unpaid taxes that she knew nothing about, until after her husband died in a fire. Now her property is in foreclosure, and auction looms. Problem: Ruth has told no one about her financial difficulties. She doesn't want anyone in the community to know her husband left her in such straits; she doesn't want to be a "charity case" by taking money from the widows' fund, even though she, herself has contributed to it often enough in the past.
Living on one side of Ruth is Adam Bontrager, who rents barn space from her for his horses, which he trains and sells. On the other side lives a new neighbor, a man with dogs that have been killing her best laying hens. That means she has fewer eggs to sell to Byler Bakery and other customers, which cuts deeply into the income she counts on.
Adam has always loved Ruth. But the history between Adam and Ruth is, well, complicated, so she resists his efforts to help her. Adam tries and fails to enlist the dog owner's cooperation with his dogs. Even when Ruth begins to accept Adam's increasing involvement in her life, they are unable to generate enough income to forestall the auctioning of her home and property. Worse, the buyer is the dogs' owner.
In "Always Beautiful," Wiseman focuses on Becky Byler's weight and her self-image. Becky, 18, works in her parents' bakery. The easy access to their cinnamon rolls has contributed to her weight problem. Becky never really fit in with her peer group, all because of her size: She has never been slender, as is more typical of the girls in the community, has often suffered from the unkind jokes directed at her. She has one close friend, Elam, another "outcast," despite his good looks, because his eyes don't move together. Elam loves Becky, but he knows she sees them as only "best friends."
As the book opens, Becky is contemplating suicide by drowning herself in the swollen creek. She considers jumping in, but hesitates for fear that her effort would fail, leading to further humiliation. After praying for God's help with her weight and finding a moment of peace, she loses her balance and nearly falls in. Believing God heard her prayer, she begins denying herself the cinnamon rolls and barely eating regular meals; of course, her weight begins to drop off, until both her mother and Elam express great concern.
When Matt, the handsome and popular young man of Becky's dreams, asks her out, she first thinks she is being set up. But she finally accepts; then, as their relationship progress, Becky begins to change. Matt finally asks to court her, but by then, Becky longs for her old friendship with Elam--and for him. While I understand and feel some empathy for her problem with weight, she seemed increasingly shallow, right to the last word.
I concluded long ago that character- and story line-development suffer, in short stories, which is not my favorite genre. Novellas, while better developed than short stories, also suffer. Still, I have enjoyed other novellas more than An Amish Miracle. Perhaps, in an effort to reduce their word count, the authors chopped off their tales, covering the "sore" with a band aid. I have liked, even loved, so many other of Wiseman's stories--even a couple of novellas, but I'm giving Miracle three stars.