I’m delighted to announce that Herb of Grace, book one in the Healing Grace trilogy, will be released from FaithWords in August 2014. Here is my author’s note and the first chapter to give you a taste!
Medicinal herbs have been part of the human experience for thousands of years, as evidenced by the multitude of “folk names” some of them have collected. When I was researching the Healing Grace novels, I realized that people often summed up some spiritual property in certain herbs through the names they gave them, and the idea for this series was born. In each novel, the folk name reflects a healing property in the herb itself. But going a little further, God can effect a similar healing process in the spirit if we only allow Him the time and room to do it.
So, in book one, “herb of grace” is the folk name for rue, a bitter and astringent herb used in small quantities for ailments of the digestive system. And as we know, rue is also a verb meaning to be sorry for something one has done in the past . . . but there is a world of difference between ruing one’s mistake and coming to that place of repentance where God’s grace can begin its healing work . . .
Herb of Grace
by Adina Senft
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit …
—I Cor. 12:7–9, KJV
When Sarah Yoder ran the quilting needle into her finger—again—the women of her family who were gathered for sisters’ day exchanged glances of sympathy, and her sister-in-law Amanda got up to fetch a Band-Aid and some cold water. Everyone in her own family and that of her in-laws knew that God had not given her a gift with needle and thread. But Sarah knew they’d never say a critical word—except for Ruth Lehman, who had come down from Whinburg on this windy March day to visit. Ruth was blessed with the happy conviction that when God put a thought into her mind, it was His will that she pass it along.
“Sarah, you were gripping that needle like you’re going to stab someone besides yourself with it. Stop fighting the thimble and it will go easier. You don’t need ten stitches to the inch. Seven or eight will be just fine.”
Sarah took the cloth from Amanda and dabbed carefully at the droplets of blood that she’d got on the blue border of the quilt. “I don’t know why you include me your quilting frolics. I’m a terrible quilter—whether the tourists at the quilt shop know it or not.”
“You’re a good piecer, though.” Corinne’s voice was gentle where Ruth’s had been gruff. “Look at these pinwheels you made for the border, all color coordinated and so pretty. My section looks as though it came straight out of the ragbag.”
Corinne clearly had an obedient, color-coordinated ragbag, because Sarah couldn’t see any difference. But she appreciated the encouragement from her mother-in-law, all the same. Amanda wrapped her finger as tenderly as if she were three years old, and took the cloth back to the sink.
“I like piecing,” Sarah admitted, picking up the needle and wondering if she ought to put Band-Aid strips on all her fingers, just in case. “I like putting colors together and making designs. But colors and designs don’t keep the boys warm at night—or Englisch tourists, either.”
“Do they put them on their beds?” Amanda wondered aloud as she took her place and picked up her own needle. “Or do they hang them on their walls instead of using them?”
“As long as their money is good, it doesn’t matter to me,” said Barbara Byler, who was Corinne’s oldest daughter and married to one of the three Byler boys, triplets who were now in their forties but who were still referred to as boys. “It’s nearly time to plant the peas, and I don’t know about you, but the seed catalogues eat more of my money at this time of year than I do the vegetables at harvest time. I need the money the quilts bring in.”
Now here was a topic where, unlike quilting, Sarah felt right at home. But even the idea of her garden was edged with anxiety about money, because while the garden was a big one even by Amish standards, it still wasn’t enough to support her and the boys. Somehow she had to come up with a plan to keep body and soul together before her house payments to her in-laws got any further in arrears.
Involuntarily, her hands tightened on the needle, she rammed it against her thimble, and it slipped down and into her knuckle.
Tears welled in her eyes. She could not bear another word of “encouragement” from Ruth Lehman—or the uncertainty of her finances—or simply being a widow with two teenage boys. Despite the fact that they both worked hard and Simon gave her nearly all his wages, they still could not completely make ends meet. With a mumble of apology, she left the needle stuck halfway through top, batting, and backing, and fled Corinne’s big front room.
On the back porch, the wind was every bit as cross and confused as she felt. It tugged the strings of her white, heart-shaped Kapp off her shoulders and tossed them around her face. Sarah corralled them and tied them together on her chest, the way they should have been in the first place, to signify her submission to God. Then she hugged her black, hand-knitted sweater around herself and breathed deeply of the familiar scents of an Amish farm—dairy cows; dark, fertile soil; and some indefinable sweetness—she looked down, and sure enough, in the sheltered nook by the stairs, crocuses had pushed up. Corinne’s Red Star hens pecked contentedly in the cleared ground under their raised movable coop, heedless of the fact that the wind blew their feathers up the wrong way, like a woman’s skirts turning inside out. And overhead, clouds scudded across the hard sky ahead of the wind, Sarah’s skin prickling with the chill as they passed in front of the early afternoon sun.
When the kitchen door opened, she had almost regained her self-control, soothed by the living, growing things that reminded her of God’s promise of life after a long winter. Just as the sun would not fail the plants and creatures that depended on the lengthening days for growth and harvest, He would not fail His own. She turned with a smile, expecting Corinne, and felt a spark of shock at the unwelcome sight of Ruth Lehman folding her arms and leaning on the wide porch rail.
“I hope I didn’t offend you,” Ruth said.
To say ja would be proud; to say neh would not quite be the truth. So Sarah merely gave her a smile as unsteady as the weather.
“How long has it been since your Mann died?”
That was not the trouble—or at least, not all of it. But Sarah had never confided in Ruth, though they were related by marriage and she saw the other woman fairly often. Ruth Lehman was a Dokterfraa—an herbal healer whose informal practice encompassed three districts, as near as Sarah could figure out. Whenever she passed through Willow Creek to deliver cures or treat someone who could not come to her, Ruth stopped to visit her brother Jacob Yoder and his wife Corinne.
During the summer and autumn, Ruth often came to the market up at the intersection of the county highway and Willow Creek Road to buy bunches of the herbs Sarah grew in her garden. Sarah tied up cooking herbs and the scented ones with raffia in pretty arrangements for the Englisch tourists, with recipe labels so they would know how to use them. The tourists liked her lavender, comfrey, thyme, and rosemary because they traveled well.
Ruth bought other things from her—coneflower, rue, mint, and lemon balm—because her own garden couldn’t keep up with the demand. Different things than you usually found in an Amish garden, that Sarah grew because her mother had. The smell of them was all she had of her now.
“Michael passed away five years ago,” she said, coming back to herself as Ruth moved impatiently. “When Caleb was nine, Simon twelve.”
“Simon is a man grown now. I hope he’s not one of those who use Rumspringe as an excuse to go wild?”
Ruth made it sound as if everyone over the age of sixteen was jumping into Englisch clothes and Englisch cars and moving to the city in droves. But not her Simon.
“We might not have as strict a bishop as you folk do up in Whinburg, but our young folks don’t all go wild,” she said, smiling. “Simon is a steady boy. He hasn’t had the chance to run around much—I couldn’t afford to give him his own buggy, but last fall some of the men put their heads together and gave him one. We got a nice horse for him at the auction this spring.” Or rather, Jacob had.
Ruth nodded. “And the younger boy? Your own son?”
Sarah bit back a swift correction. Ruth was older, and enjoyed a position of respect in several communities—both very good reasons for Sarah to school her tongue to a soft answer. Simon may have been born to another woman, but when she had fallen in love with his widowed father, she had loved the little boy with every cell of her being and been the very best mother she had known how to be, mistakes and all.
“Caleb would do everything Simon does if I let him. But he still has to finish up his year of vocational school. Simon’s apprenticing with Oran Yost at the buggy shop.” She turned toward the door. “It’s chilly, Ruth. They’ll be missing us inside.”
Ruth put out a hand to stop her. “Just a minute. I wanted to ask you something.”
There was only one subject Sarah could imagine Ruth wanting to talk with her about. “Are you getting low on dried herbs? I am, too. This time of year holds so much hope, doesn’t it—but it’s also when I start running out of everything we put by last year.”
“Corinne has told me a little about your financial situation.”
Sarah felt her jaw sag a little in shock that Corinne, whom she trusted, would have spoken about her private affairs to anyone. “It was not her place to do that,” she finally managed.
And it wasn’t. But then, everyone knew everything in a district as small and tightly knit as Willow Creek. Sometimes—when she was the subject of talk—Sarah despaired of her fellow man. But other times, she was far more interested than she should be in what people said about one another. Folks did some strange things for reasons that weren’t so strange at all. Love. Disappointment. Rebellion. She was guilty of letting all those things affect her actions, too, so she was certainly in no position to judge.
“I’ve offended you again,” Ruth said. “I am sorry. But it only confirmed in my mind something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Sarah, have you ever thought about doing more with the things you grow than simply selling them at the market?”
Sarah stared at her, lost. “What do you mean?”
Ruth settled her comfortable figure on the railing, and Sarah began to wish she’d taken the time to grab a jacket or a shawl on her way out the door. The wind was blowing over the rolling hills and right through her sweater.
“I mean you could make some of the things that I do out of them, and charge more. I think you have a talent from God—you’re just keeping it wrapped in a napkin, and not using it yet.”
Sarah stared at Ruth. “Are you saying . . . make cures out of them? Tinctures and teas and such? As you do?”
The older woman nodded. “It’s getting more and more difficult to find a healer in the districts around here, with the young folks going off to work in the towns and factories instead of finding a trade they can do around home.” Ruth gazed over at Corinne’s herbaceous border, where daffodils had already begun to poke through. “People are going in and out of our place day and night, and I’m in my buggy seeing to other folks instead of my own responsibilities at home. And now with my son and his family moving from Smicksburg to the farm this month to take over, Isaac and I will be moving into the Daadi Haus, and then I’m going to be helping them settle in and looking after the Bobblin. Things are going to change, as they tend to do.”
“And you think I should . . . what, exactly?”
“I’d like you to consider apprenticing with me. Well, not in the sense that Simon does with Oran Yost, but . . . well, I need to pass on what I know. My daughter Amelia is busy with her home and now the new baby, and doesn’t have the knack. I think you do. Why else grow herbs and flowers that most people don’t have in their practical vegetable gardens? Who else has coneflower and lemon balm tucked beside her porch when she can’t pickle or can either one?”
Because they bring Mamm back to me. “Because I have a customer named Ruth who buys them?”
“I think there’s more to it than that. I think God has been leading you in this direction. To this calling. Because it is a calling, Sarah.”
She, Sarah Yoder, who couldn’t quilt to save her life—and who was such a poor provider that her payments to her in-laws were nearly six months in arrears—called to be a healer? To be responsible for the sick? She, in a position where people would trust her with their bodies when, no matter what she did, she had not even been able to make Mamm or Michael one bit more comfortable in their last days? Ach, neh.
“Ruth, I couldn’t.” She was freezing now. She would say her say as quickly as she could and get inside the house to warm up. “I’d be more likely to put people in the county hospital than keep them out of it. It’s not my place.”
Ruth gave her a long look. “You might pray about it. I have.”
She might. Or she might take the denial of her entire body as a pretty good authority, as she backed toward the kitchen door and laid her hand on the knob.
“Ja. Sure, I’ll pray about it.” Anything to bring this conversation to an end. “Kumme mit, we don’t want someone else to do our work for us.”
That granite-gray gaze didn’t move from hers. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”