First Light in Morning Star

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First Light in Morning Star

December 29, 2020

The Maedels of Morning Star, Book 2

Founded by five enterprising Amish maidels, the new Morningstar Marketplace is a joyous success. What’s even more remarkable is the gift the business bestows upon each of these unmarried women—the unexpected blessing of love . . .

Leaving Flaud’s Furniture to teach at the community’s new school is a joy for Lydianne Christner. Old Order Amish, but new to Morning Star, she’s grateful that the congregation trusts her with the position—but she panics when handsome Bishop Jeremiah Shetler asks about the life she left behind. If anyone discovers the secret she’s hiding, she would, quite rightly, be shunned.

A widower, Bishop Jeremiah admires young Lydianne’s youthful energy and skill with the children. He’s also curious about her past, and the burden he senses on her heart. When his request to court her is refused, he’s stung, and lonelier than ever. It isn’t until a crisis prompts a tearful Lydianne to confess to him that Jeremiah is faced with a choice that requires all of his faith—and teaches them both that love and forgiveness go hand in hand.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Hope fluttered like a butterfly in Lydianne Christner’s heart as she parked her rig in the pole barn just north of the new white schoolhouse. It was barely dawn and she was more than an hour early for her interview with the members of Morning Star’s school board, but she needed time to collect her thoughts and plan her answers to the questions she anticipated from the five men who would decide her future. It had been a spur-of-the-moment decision when she’d blurted out her wish to apply for the teaching position at the members’ meeting after church a week ago—but in the days since, Lydianne’s soul had reconfirmed her impulsive outburst.

She really wanted this position. The trick would be replying to the school board’s questions without hinting at the very personal reason she wished to become Teacher Lydianne.

Did she stand a chance?

Lydianne had no idea if anyone else had applied for the position in the past several days. Morning Star’s previous teacher, Elam Stoltzfus, had already left town to assist his family in the wake of his father’s debilitating stroke, so there was no chance he would return. She didn’t know of any other married Amish men who’d likely fill the position—nor did she believe any of Morning Star’s other single Amish women aspired to teaching.

Her close friend, Regina Miller, had just become engaged to Gabe Flaud, so she’d be ineligible to teach. Jo Fussner sold the baked goods, canned vegetables, and jellies she and her mamm made—and she’d taken on the challenge of managing The Marketplace, the renovated stable where local crafters sold their goods. The Helfing twins, Molly and Marietta, ran the noodle factory their mother had begun as well as renting out their dawdi hauses to tourists—and they kept a shop at The Marketplace—so neither of them seemed a likely candidate for the teaching position, either.

Lydianne grimaced when she thought about either of the middle-aged Slabaugh sisters managing a classroom. Esther and Naomi lived on a farm just outside of town, and their main occupation seemed to be sharpening their maidel tongues on tidbits of other people’s business.

Pity the poor children who had either of them for a teacher! Lydianne thought as she gazed across the large grassy lot between the new white schoolhouse and the red stable that housed The Marketplace shops.

She warned herself not to pridefully assume the school board would hire her, however. After all, she had no teaching experience. She’d taken a job as bookkeeper and stainer at the Flaud Furniture Factory when she’d first come to Morning Star, and she was also the financial manager for The Marketplace, so maybe the men on the board would believe she should remain in her current positions. Martin Flaud, who owned the furniture factory, was the school board president. He hadn’t directly challenged her about leaving her job with him to teach school, but his speculative gazes during the past week had given Lydianne plenty to think about while she’d been staining furniture and tallying orders.

But with God’s help, you can do this! Your heart’s in the right place! Lydianne reminded herself fervently. Just look at what you and your friends accomplished over the summer. The stable across the way was falling in on itself, and now it’s full of successful shops that attract hundreds of shoppers to Morning Star every Saturday—and its commissions have funded the new schoolhouse.

Lydianne and her maidel friends felt extremely pleased about the businesses that now thrived because they had believed in the power of their positive intentions—and because the church had bought the property as a place to hold its auctions and build the new schoolhouse on higher ground. In the first light of this August morning, the white geraniums, purple petunias, bright green sweet potato vines, and yellow marigolds filling The Marketplace’s window boxes glowed in the rays of the rising sun. The stable’s deep red walls shone with the care she and her friends had lavished upon the building.

Inspired by the sight, Lydianne firmly believed that her ability to manage money, solve problems, and deal effectively with people would be her finest assets as she took on the challenges of teaching Morning Star’s Amish scholars. It was her deepest desire to share her love of learning—to share the best of herself—with the children who’d be charged to her care . . . even if one child in particular was the reason she craved the position.

Sighing nervously, Lydianne stepped onto the front stoop of the schoolhouse and opened the front door. Pete Shetler, Bishop Jeremiah’s nephew, had constructed the building on a hillside, which meant that the front entrance to the classroom was on flat ground, and the lower level was also accessible without any outside stairs. The pungent aromas of fresh varnish and paint, along with the tang of sawed lumber, made Lydianne throw open the windows to let in the fresh morning air. She indulged herself in a moment of standing behind the teacher’s desk, centered in the front of the large, airy room.

Her heart fluttered at the sight of fresh white walls, low-maintenance tan flooring, and rows of new metal desks and chairs—the front row filled with shorter desks for the youngest scholars. The white board that covered most of the wall behind her awaited whatever instructions she would write with a variety of colored markers, and the built-in bookcases at the back of the classroom would soon hold a small library as well as a collection of textbooks. Sturdy tables along the side walls would provide space for class projects. A stairway led to the lower level, where the scholars would hang their coats and store their lunch buckeets when they came in each morning.

The prospect of beginning a new job—a new life—in this fresh setting filled Lydianne with an even greater excitement than she recalled from when she was a scholar, buying paper and supplies as she anticipated each new school year. Even at twenty-three, she loved learning new things and she eagerly looked forward to passing on her enthusiasm for reading, writing, and arithmetic to—

“Ah—gut morning, Lydianne,” a familiar male voice pulled her from her musings. “Somehow I’m not surprised that you arrived early.”

Lydianne pivoted, hoping Bishop Jeremiah Shetler hadn’t caught her with a sappy, day-dreamy expression on her face. “And gut morning to you, Bishop,” she replied in the firmest voice she could muster. “I couldn’t resist the chance to look at all the new desks and equipment before the interview began. Pete did a fabulous job of building our new schoolhouse, ain’t so?”

The bishop nodded, stepping into the large classroom to admire it. “My nephew has a few questionable habits, but I when I see his carpentry skills and the work he can do in short order—when he puts his mind to it—I believe there’s hope for him yet,” he said with a fond laugh. He winked teasingly at Lydianne. “And maybe if he found a nice young woman who’d marry him—”

“Ah, but if I married Pete I couldn’t be the new teacher, could I?” she shot back.

Bishop Jeremiah’s laughter echoed in the large room. “True enough. And maybe he has a few more things to work out of his system before he’s ready to be domesticated,” he admitted. “But it’s a positive sign, that Pete’s quit his job at the pet food factory in favor of taking on more building projects for the church district. And the Helfing twins haven’t kicked him out of their dawdi haus, so maybe he’ll find his way into the church someday soon.”

Lydianne smiled as the bishop pulled six chairs from the desks in the back row and arranged them in an elongated circle near the open windows. Pete Shetler and his yellow Labrador retriever, Riley, were the source of several exasperated stories Molly and Marietta had shared with Lydianne and the other maidels—but Jeremiah was right. His nephew had taken on the task of building the schoolhouse after he’d led the work crew that had refurbished the stable in record time before The Marketplace shops had opened in June. Didn’t everyone deserve the benefit of a few doubts and second chances, after all?

Even you, her soul whispered. So pay attention and give it your best effort this morning.

As the hands of the wall clock above the door approached eight o’clock, the other members of the school board arrived. Preacher Clarence Miller greeted Lydianne, as did the younger board members, Glenn Detweiler and Tim Nissley. As they took a few moments to look at the new classroom and its contents, Lydianne fortified herself with a deep breath. She prayed silently for the right answers to whatever questions they might ask her, because—except for Bishop Jeremiah—they all had children in school.

And each man had the power to express doubts about her lack of experience, or whatever other flaws he might perceive that would keep her from being a fitting replacement for Elam Stoltzfus.

Martin Flaud paused in the doorway, surveying the classroom. The morning sun glimmered on his silver-shot brown hair and beard as he removed his straw hat and gazed at Lydianne. “Shall we get on with our interview?” he asked in a businesslike tone. “I for one am eager to hear what Miss Christner has to say about teaching our children.”

Swallowing hard, Lydianne sat down in the chair Martin indicated as her place. She smoothed the skirt of her lilac cape dress and straightened her apron, hoping she appeared fresh and competent. As the men took seats in the circle, she saw that none of them had brought any notes—and she wondered if she should’ve scribbled a few reminders on a tablet before she’d come, if only to refer to it in case her mind went blank during the interview.

But now, God, it’s in Your hands, she reminded herself. She put on her best smile as she waited for Martin or one of the other men to speak first. Had they agreed beforehand how the interview was to proceed, and who would ask certain questions?

Bishop Jeremiah cleared his throat. “Why do want to be Morning Star’s new teacher, Lydianne?” he asked with an encouraging smile.

An answer—the image of a bright young face—immediately came to mind, but Lydianne reminded herself that even though it was the district’s bishop asking her this question, she couldn’t tell the whole truth. “I’ve always loved children, and I feel confident that—”

“I’m surprised you’re not married with a family of your own,” Preacher Clarence interjected. “At your age, surely you’ve had a serious beau or two—”

“All the years you’ve worked for me at the factory, I’ve wondered about that, as well,” Martin chimed in earnestly. “Yet when I see you at church or around town, you’re with your maidel friends rather than a young man.”

Lydianne blinked. She hadn’t expected questions of such a personal nature—at least not so early in the interview. She sensed she needed to answer the preacher and her employer without backing down, however, even if—again—she couldn’t possibly reveal the whole story of her past. “I—I was engaged before I came to Morning Star, jah,” she replied softly. “But my fiancé drowned at a family reunion. On the day before we were to be married.”

The male faces around the circle sobered. A few moments of uncomfortable silence filled the schoolroom before any of them spoke. Lydianne struggled to keep the tears from her eyes, trying to remain professional despite the emotional timbre of her voice.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Lydianne,” Tim Nissley said. His little daughter would be a first-time scholar this fall, so he’d recently agreed to join the school board. “But you’ve probably cared for younger brothers and sisters, jah?”

Lydianne smiled carefully. “No, I was the last child of fifteen—so much younger than my siblings that Mamm always called me her little miracle,” she added with a chuckle.

She sat up taller, reminding herself that because she was a maidel with no family in Morning Star, folks around town were naturally curious about her past. So far, her experience with children wasn’t stacking up very well, so she hoped to convince these men she was a qualified candidate for their teaching position anyway.

“I was only seventeen when Mamm passed, and Dat had been gone awhile by then,” she explained. “My sisters and brothers were all married with homes in various places, so I—I came to Morning Star six years ago for a fresh start. I’m grateful to God—and to you, Martin—for the job at the furniture factory, and that I’ll soon be able to buy the little house I’ve been renting for my own.”

“I’m also sorry for your losses, Lydianne—and we’re pleased to have you here amongst us, and pleased you’re interested in teaching our scholars,” Bishop Jeremiah put in gently. As though to steer the interview back toward its original direction, he focused purposefully on the other board members. “What do you gentlemen want to know about Miss Christner’s goals in the classroom, or how she intends to handle discipline problems, for example?”
Lydianne glanced gratefully at the bishop, sensing his support. She hoped he and the other men present wouldn’t realize there were some large gaps in her story.

“What with my two girls and Clarence’s daughters being the oldest scholars, and most of the other children just starting school this year, I doubt our new teacher will have a lot of discipline problems to contend with,” Martin remarked as the other men nodded in agreement. He smiled at Lydianne, his stern features softening. “I’m surprised—and sorry, too—that you’d be leaving the furniture factory, but my Kate and Lorena are delighted that you want to be their new teacher.”

Jah, my girls are, too,” Preacher Clarence put in with a nod. “I think, after having Teacher Elam all their lives, they’re looking forward to a change. If you take up teaching, however, I’m wondering if you’ll need to quit managing the finances at The Marketplace. What are your thoughts on that?”

Lydianne had anticipated this question, because the Amish shops she and her maidel friends had organized last May had become hugely successful and business showed no sign of slowing down as summer came to an end. “I don’t run a shop, and The Marketplace is only open on Saturdays,” she reminded him. “My accounting duties are very flexible, schedule-wise, so I don’t expect them to interfere with my teaching. If they do, however, I’ll hand the finances over to one of the other managers.

“My scholars will always come first,” she added emphatically. “I realize that because this is my first year of teaching, I’ll need time to prepare lessons and maintain the classroom. I have no qualms at all about giving up my responsibilities at the new shops, if I need to.”

As the men nodded, Glen Detweiler, who ran a woodworking shop at The Marketplace—and who’d lost his young wife over the summer—came out of the silent sense of isolation that had plagued him of late. “We have no other applicants, so I think we should offer Lydianne the position,” he stated with a hitch in his voice. “Gutness knows my Billy Jay needs a caring, compassionate woman in his life. He’s been lost without his mamm.”
Lydianne was startled by Glenn’s wistful remark—and so were the men seated around her. Martin’s flummoxed expression suggested that Glenn had eclipsed the school board’s pre-arranged plan for the interview by saying outright that they should offer her the job. He glanced around the circle of men and then gazed at Lydianne.

“If you’ll step outside for a moment, Lydianne, we’ll discuss Glenn’s suggestion,” he said diplomatically. “But if there are any other questions—or if you have questions for us—we’ll address those first, of course.”

Lydianne rose immediately, not wanting to distract the board with questions just for the sake of asking something. Except for differences in their personalities, Amish teachers had been conducting classes the same way for decades—and even the textbooks hadn’t changed from one generation to the next. The men watched her go, as though they had no further need to hear her philosophies on education or her plans for handling situations in the classroom.

As she stepped outside and off the front stoop, she welcomed the breeze and the chance to collect her thoughts again. Had anyone else interpreted Glenn’s remark as a bid for Lydianne’s personal attention . . . a hint that he might consider her as a candidate for Billy Jay’s new mamm as much as for his son’s teacher?

She wasn’t sure how to handle that possibility. Glenn Detweiler was a nice fellow—and with his full head of black hair and the matching beard that framed his face, Lydianne considered him attractive, too. No one questioned his devotion to seven-year-old Billy Jay or his infant son, Levi, either, but the idea of stepping in to replace Dorcas as the mother of his two sons intimidated Lydianne far more than taking on the challenges of becoming the district’s new schoolteacher.

The school board surely won’t encourage such a relationship, either, Lydianne reasoned as she strolled toward the pole barn to check on her horse. They’ll want their new teacher to commit to the classroom at least for an entire school year.

“Hey there, Polly,” she murmured, reaching into her apron pocket for a sugar cube. “How do you like this pole barn? You’ll be spending more time here—and out in that nice pasture—if I get this job. You might like that better than hanging around home all by yourself, ain’t so? I’m thinking several of the older kids will drive to school each day.”

As the mare nuzzled the cube from her hand, Lydianne turned at the sound of footsteps. Bishop Jeremiah was walking toward her, his wide smile suggesting positive news.

“We’ve reached our decision,” he announced. “Not that you had any competition.”

Lydianne chuckled, controlling the rush of joy that made her want to whoop out loud. “I suspect Glenn’s remark caught a few of you board members off-guard.”

The bishop nodded. “He’s not been himself lately, and understandably so,” he remarked as she moved into step beside him. “It’ll do Billy Jay a world of gut to engross himself in school now rather than spending his days with his grandparents while Glenn’s working in his woodshop, now that summer’s nearly over. I suspect his mammi Elva clucks over him like a hen when she’s not taking care of the baby.”

Jah, being with other kids will surely brighten Billy Jay’s days,” Lydianne remarked. “He’ll have your nephew Stevie, who’s also starting school—”

“And I’m glad he’ll have you, Lydianne,” the bishop said softly as they reached the schoolhouse door. “Glenn had that part right. Your sunshiny personality and sense of purpose will do his boy a world of gut at this tough time in his young life.”

As Bishop Jeremiah opened the door, she didn’t allow his compliment to go to her head—certainly not with Glenn and three other men watching as the two of them entered the classroom. Martin rose from his chair, as did the others.

“Miss Christner, we’re pleased to offer you this teaching position,” he said as he grasped her hand, “and if you need time to consider your answer—”

“Oh, no, I’ll be happy to accept!” Lydianne interrupted gleefully. “Denki so much for considering my application. What I lack in experience, I’ll make up for with careful preparation and my love of learning. I won’t let you down.”

“That thought never entered our heads,” the bishop put in. “And with Lorena Flaud and Clarence’s Lucy being in their final year of school—and with their sisters right behind them—you’ll have plenty of eager assistance as you teach the youngest ones the basics of reading and arithmetic. I anticipate a productive—and fun—year for our scholars.”

“I fully agree,” Martin said. “We can figure out when your last day at the furniture factory will be—”

Jah, I’ll report for work as soon as I get home and change my clothes,” Lydianne assured him.

“And sometime soon, you can visit the bookstore on Bates Street to purchase the educational posters and supplies you’ll need,” said Bishop Jeremiah. “We’ve already ordered new textbooks and other teaching basics, because the ones in the old schoolhouse have served us for a number of years. It seems only fitting to start in our new building with fresh books and wall hangings.”

“This is so exciting!” Lydianne said as she shook each man’s hand in turn. “Maybe this sounds silly, but I still love the smell of fresh packages of notebook paper and new bottles of glue, and the joy of opening a fresh box of crayons—thinking of all the drawings and reports and projects that lie ahead of us.”

As she left the schoolhouse and drove down the road, Lydianne floated on a cloud of euphoria. After she turned off the main county highway to head for home, she paused at the sight of a little blond girl chasing a butterfly on the front lawn of Tim and Julia Nissley’s place. With the sunshine shimmering on her golden hair and upturned face, six-year-old Ella Nissley looked for all the world like a little angel. Her laughter rang out as she ran and reached eagerly for the butterfly, followed closely by a little brown puppy that yipped and yapped.

Lydianne’s heart overflowed with a wave of emotions. Her dream had come true: she would now be Ella’s teacher. But she would have to be very, very careful. Ella was the apple of her adoptive parents’ eyes, and Lydianne had no intentions of interfering with their happy family.

No one else, including Tim and Julia, knew that Ella was the newborn baby Lydianne had given up when she’d been an unwed mother.

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