1. Dat and Ellie decide early in the novel that they should record their family’s history and stories: “family stories—and tall tales—to enjoy and pass down” (21). What are some stories from your own family or families you’re close to that you enjoy listening to and retelling? How might you record or share those stories for future generations?
2. Ellie’s baptism is described as “the most precious and holy vow there is” (124). Her mother reminds her that her baptism is “a result of [her] own heart’s desire to follow the Lord . . . not anyone else’s” (109). Yet Ellie also wants her baptism to “be a witness to [her] brother” (129). In what ways is baptism an individual decision and milestone? In what ways does it affect our church and community? Reflect on your own baptism, if relevant, and the impact that decision has had on your spiritual life.
3. Ellie describes the orchard as “God’s masterful work of fruit trees and sun and sky . . . there was peace right here in the midst of this heavenly sort of place, despite the unpredictable storm churning around her family” (126). What does the orchard represent throughout the book? What symbolism or meaning does it carry for some of the characters? Is there any particular place in your life that serves as your sanctuary or place of peace?
4. Leah leaves home to care for another family’s children and initially struggles with the distance from her family and closest friend. Once she is established, though, she shares with Ellie that the move was ultimately part of God’s plan—in fostering her independence and introducing her to Reuben. Has there been a time in your own life where an initially difficult or painful situation turned out to be one of God’s blessings in your life? How did you trust God in that season?
5. Throughout the book, Ellie is uncertain that she hears the voice of God the same way that other characters like Leah seem to hear God’s clear promptings of direction. What is an example of a time you heard God speak to you or prompt you in a certain direction?
6. Ellie and Evan are twins, yet they are distinctly different people—in their approach to faith, in their approach to the Amish way of life, and in their relationships with family and friends. Were you able to relate more easily to one twin or the other? What did you notice about each twin individually and their relationship together as the story evolved?
7. Lyle describes Rumschpringe as “the running-around years [that] were a coming-of-age tradition for their Amish youth” (25). Some of the Amish individuals in the book disapprove of certain aspects of the practice, calling it “playing with fire” and claiming it encourages youth to linger in a state of recklessness (37). In the book, we see Evan’s Rumschpringe open his eyes to different ways of life outside his Plain community. How can you empathize with Amish parents and families who dislike the tradition? And with the youth who participate? Were there any times in your life when you had similar coming-of-age experiences? How did those experiences affect your faith, your family, and your identity?
8. Ellie often withholds information in Evan’s letters from the rest of her family, per Evan’s own suggestion. Ellie’s father himself notes that “sometimes what a person didn’t know was easier” (136). What effect does this have on the family’s period of uncertainty as they wait for news from Evan? Do you think that was a wise decision on Ellie’s part? Has there been a situation in your own life where you have withheld information to protect someone you care about?
9. Ellie’s friends and family frequently observe that she dislikes change and wishes her life could remain as it is. Between Leah leaving home, Evan going off to war, and courtship pairings continually evolving, her life often feels unsettled and uncertain. Ultimately, she concludes, “Our faithful Savior doesn’t change . . . [we] can depend on Him” (124). Has there been a time in your own life that you’ve felt resistant to change? How were you able to cope with the changes life inevitably brings?
10. After reading this glimpse of the era of the Vietnam War and what life was like for the conscientious objectors among the Amish community, is there anything you want to learn more about? What surprised you or interested you the most about this community at this point in history?
11. Ellie notices as she grows closer with Sol that she and Menno were not as compatible and would not have been as strong of a couple. What attributes of Ellie and Sol contribute to their being a good match? How do we see them develop and grow as a couple over the course of the novel?
12. Ellie contemplates that “it was easy to feel God’s presence during spring’s blossoming and summertime’s harvest. But now? Now, when trees were spindly black sticks against the icy white snow and miserable gray sky, was God still there?” (283). In which seasons or in which areas of life do you find it easiest to feel God’s presence and see Him working? In which seasons or areas is that more difficult for you? Why do you think that is?
13. When Evan returns home, his family is reluctant to press him to discuss his experiences or inquire about his mental health. Do you agree with their decision to let him share on his own timeframe? Why or why not? What are some ways you have supported family and friends when they have experienced loss or trauma?
1. How do you think the title of this book plays into the plot? What are some beginnings included in the novel?
2. In giving Susie counsel about Obie, Mamma says, “A solid friendship is the best foundation for a relationship, ya know, and dating takes things a step further—tells ya if there’s a spark.” Have you seen this to be true?
3. What role does Ella Mae play in her community? In the author’s note, Beverly mentions that she based the character on two wise women from her own childhood. Have you ever known someone like Ella Mae?
4. Britta secretly approves of and encourages Susie’s relationship with Obie from the start. Have you felt an inkling that two people should end up together?
5. Susie and her family make most of their income from selling products to tourists to Lancaster County. What are some reasons you think Englishers are eager to visit Amish country?
6. For a while, Susie and Obie’s only communication is through the occasional letter. In what ways do letters make for better communication? Do they have any limitations?
7. What did you think about the choice to have a Part Two to the novel that takes place a full year after Obie leaves Hickory Hollow? How does it move the story along?
8. At times, Britta feels that she doesn’t truly belong among the People, although her friends and family assure her otherwise. What signs do you see that Britta has been raised among the Amish for a reason?
9. Why do you think it is difficult for Susie to have Mamma stay with her brother and sister-in-law for so long? What are some other challenges she faces as a caregiver?
10. Do you think Mamma makes the right choice in waiting to tell Britta more details about her adoption? How might you approach that situation?
11. As seen in the fictional events of the novel, the Amish are well-known for displaying counter-cultural attitudes of forgiveness, sometimes in national news after tragedies in their communities. What are some examples you know of? Why do you think they are able to respond in that way?
12. Since childhood, Susie has struggled with grief and regret from her brother’s death. How do you think her faith is helpful to her as she works through those feelings?
13. While Susie and Britta’s Mamma is gone, a number of women from the community offer to pitch in and help with anything needed with the shop or home. What do you think about that kind of community? Have you experienced kindness like that from friends or neighbors?
14. The Beginning takes place over two years. What changes do you see in Susie from the start of the story until the end? What about in Britta?
1. In the first line of the book, Anna tells us that Mammi Eliza often says “’Tis a waste of time to look back with regret.” Looking back on the story, talk about how Eliza’s time in Strasburg helped to form that view, and how her advice affected her granddaughter’s life.
2. Anna’s desire to start a new life chapter propels her away from her home in Mifflinburg to see what God might have for her elsewhere. Can you relate to that desire for a fresh start? In what ways is Anna’s new life different? In what ways is it the same?
3. Even though seventy years separate Anna’s and Eliza’s experiences in Strasburg, The Stone Wall allows readers a window in to each of them. Did you enjoy getting a glimpse of Eliza as a young woman? In what ways is she like Anna? In what ways is she unalike?
4. In the course of her time as a tour guide, Anna visits a number of actual places in Lancaster County. What experiences would you be most interested to participate in if you were able to take one of her tours? Why do you think tourists are so interested in the Plain lifestyle?
5. Mammi Eliza and Sadie’s older sister, Eva, struggle with forms of dementia, yet the two elderly women still reside with family. What are some challenges their caregivers face? Some joys? Have you experienced any similar experiences in caring for loved ones?
6. Anna is surprised that she found it so easy to adapt to life without electricity and other conveniences while staying with Sadie. What would be easiest for you to give up if you lived an Old Order Amish lifestyle for a summer? What would be hardest?
7. The idea for Peaceful Meadows came out of Gabe’s daughter’s need for therapy after the death of her mother. Why do you think loss and tragedy might inspire people to try new things? In what ways can loss sometimes lead to growth and wholeness?
8. Discuss Mart and Gabe and the similarities and differences between the two young men. Were you surprised by which one Anna ultimately chose?
9. Anna’s family were concerned about her marrying an Old Order Amishman, primarily because of their different beliefs on God’s grace. Do you think Anna handled their concerns in the right way? What do you think are some important areas for a couple to be in agreement on before marriage?
10. In what ways did you connect with Emmie as a character, even though she never spoke? What do you imagine happening to her after the end of the novel?
11. For you, what was the most emotionally moving moment in the book, and why would you choose that one?
1. The Timepiece opens with a quote from Amos Bronson Alcott, “Time ripens the substance of life as the seasons mellow and perfect its fruits. The best apples fall latest and keep longest.” What do you think the writer meant by this? How do you see that theme play out in the novel?
2. As the Millers explained details of Amish life and customs to Adeline, did you learn anything new about this often-misunderstood people group? Which piece of information was most interesting to you?
3. In inviting Adeline to stay at the very beginning, Rhoda showed great kindness to the daughter no one knew about. What do you think motivated Rhoda? How do you think she has grown since The Tinderbox?
4. The Double Wedding Ring quilt brought back memories for Adeline, just as the pocket watch did for Earnest. Is there a gift you or your family has received that holds special meaning for you?
5. As Sylvia and Adeline compared wedding traditions in their respective cultures, what did you appreciate about each way of celebrating?
6. If you were in Sylvia’s place, do you think you would have shared her hesitation about introducing Adeline to others, especially Titus’s family? Do you think she handled the situation well?
7. Earnest tells Adeline that he doesn’t mind living without all of the comforts of an Englisher because, “When all’s said and done, it’s people, not things, that bring the most joy.” Have you found that to be true in your life?
8. Did you have doubts about whether Sylvia should marry Titus? If so, at what point did you start to wonder?
9. Because of the Millers, Adeline was motivated both to read her mother’s journal and to read the Bible. Why do you think they affected her in that way?
10. Earnest says, “It’s not always a bad thing when one’s foundation is shaken.” Have you seen this to be true in your own life? If so, how?
11. Did you expect the new preacher to allow Sylvia to travel and be in Adeline’s wedding party? What are some good reasons both for preventing it or allowing it?
12. Near the end of the book, Adeline says, “I have no doubt in my mind that God brought me here . . . to you and to your family.” When Adeline first came, did you have any theories about how her visit would affect the Millers? How do you think the Millers helped Adeline? How did she help them?
1. Maggie tells Leona that “Loneliness is a choice.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
2. Leona considers how Forever friends are sometimes closer than kinfolk. What are some essential qualities to have in a friend who sticks closer than a brother? (Proverbs 18:24)
3. It is unusual for an Amish family to relocate cross-country to an established community like those in Lancaster County. What are some challenges the Gingeriches face when they settle in Colerain?
4. Have you ever wished you could be part of a different family? What makes a family appealing?
5. Gloria departs with her family even though it means leaving her serious beau and best friend behind. Why does she do so, and would you agree to do the same thing in her situation? Discuss.
6. Were you surprised by Leona’s willingness to travel such a long distance to see Gloria after more than three years apart? Why or why not? Would you be willing to do the same thing, or might you be more hesitant?
7. Why do you think Tom is reluctant to say too much even to Leona about his father’s past dealings with Arkansas Joe? Do you admire this about him, or do you think he should be more open with her?
8. Gloria is at a crossroads in her life where she needs to decide which beliefs she wants to embrace as her own. Have you found yourself at a similar crossroads? If so, whom did you turn to for help in making your decision?
9. Gloria admits that she feels “partially to blame” for her father’s bad debts. Why do you think this is? Have you ever felt responsible for something one of your family members has done? If yes, what did you do about it?
10. Millie remarks that “Once the fancy grabs ya, it seldom lets go.” True as that may be for many former Amish, what are some clues that Gloria might be ready to give up fancy life? What are some ways in which she struggles?
11. What do you think of the change in the relationship between Gloria and her father, or between Leona and her mother? What do these story threads tell us about child-parent relationships?