Promise to Cherish

A Novel

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About The Book

As World War II draws to a close, nurse Christine falls in love with roguish Amish boy Eli and must choose between a new, uncertain life in the Amish faith or face the judgment of a conservative postwar American society for her past mistakes.

It’s 1945, and Christine Freeman is a nurse at Hudson River State Hospital, where she works alongside members of a Civilian Public Service unit. Eli is one of the conscies—conscientious objectors to the war—and he is doing his best to become a man of character instead of the immature heartbreaker he used to be back home in his Amish community.

Christine and Eli are friendly, but when an old acquaintance, Jack, returns home from the war, Christine’s world is violently turned upside down. Eli, heartbroken to see his friend so hurt, offers her an escape within his Amish community. Despite her misgivings, Christine is fully embraced by Eli’s community. She slowly begins to feel valued and loved as she learns the Amish way of life.

Christine finds herself falling for Eli. But soon, the abusive Jack discovers Christine in her Amish hideaway and starts causing trouble for the quiet community. Christine can’t see herself becoming Amish, and she knows that if Eli leaves the church to be with her, he will be shunned. Will she escape Jack and possibly have to give up the one thing she holds most dear, or will she follow her heart and promise to cherish the Amish man who loves her?

Excerpt

Promise to Cherish

CHAPTER 1

1945

January sunlight spilled onto Christine Freeman’s face and reflected off her glasses. She closed her eyes in the white light and pretended she wasn’t just standing in front of a window in the drab hospital hall. She had always loved mornings. And she would continue to find beauty in her mornings even while she worked at the dreary Hudson River State Hospital as a nurse for the mad. With almost no budget, the hospital was nothing more than a primitive asylum. Had it ever truly been an asylum for its patients? A sanctuary? A protection? A refuge?

She opened her eyes. Across the wintry lawn at the top of the hill stood the gothic Victorian Kirkbride structure. It was the hospital’s main structure and stood like a palace against the washed-out sky. Its green hoods pointed to the heavens. Its wards stretched in opposite directions like wings of an eagle, one for men and one for women. It was also where she lived, in one of the small apartments on the top floor. Though the Kirkbride building was designed to be a comfortable setting for the patients, giving them jobs and a purpose, during these bleak years of war many of those ideals were lost. The palatial building was more prisonlike than ever.

Edgewood, the two-story building Christine worked in, was dwarfish and rough by comparison. Being from nearby Poughkeepsie, she’d often viewed the hospital from the outside. How many times had she and her friends ridden their bikes out to the edge of town where the timeworn Victorian buildings stood, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lunatics. She had never imagined that she would work there someday.

Christine wanted to run down the path and away from this place. But there was no point entertaining such notions. Her family needed her to work. End of discussion. Their very survival depended on it.

A mournful cry from the nearby dorm room infiltrated her thoughts. She released a long exhale, then moved away from the window. She pulled at the tarnished gold chain from under her Peter Pan collar. The small cream-faced watch at the end of the necklace ticked almost soundlessly in her hand. Her twelve-hour day couldn’t wait any longer. After tucking the watch back beneath her pale blue and white uniform, she stepped inside the thirty-bed dorm that then slept over forty-five men. She scanned the room to find the moaning patient. The paint-chipped iron beds were crammed so tightly it was difficult to see. The few who refused to leave their beds or had been sedated during the night shift were the only rounded figures atop the cots.

Christine walked to the second row and went sideways through the narrow aisle to check on the noisy patient. Wally. Electroconvulsive therapy usually caused gastrointestinal and abdominal discomfort, but Wally’s always lasted longer than a typical patient’s. Christine didn’t have any medications with her but knew Dr. Franklin had a standing order of hyoscine to treat Wally’s nausea. Confirming his temperature was normal, she left the room.

She passed several of the rooms with two beds and a few with only one, usually retained for contagious patients. She would have to visit each as soon as she spoke with the night nurse to assess how her shift had gone.

Christine passed another dorm room with nearly fifty beds and let out a sigh, noticing how few of the beds had sheets. Even the mattresses themselves were thin and flimsy, covered in shabby vinyl and incapable of adding any warmth to their inhabitants. Though she’d gone through three years of nursing school at this very hospital, she had a difficult time growing accustomed to how little bedding and clothing the patients received. It was not as tragic in the summer—save for the patients’ modesty—but when the autumn breezes brought in winter storms, a sense of failure came over her.

The Kirkbride patients were supposed to make clothing for everyone, but with dwindling supplies and money everything was at a minimum or a standstill. The state only provided one sheet and one set of clothing per patient. If they were soiled, the patient would have to go without. Her efforts to coordinate a clothing drive had been thwarted. The town wanted little to do with the institution. Outside of some extraordinary donation, the funding they needed would have to come from the state alone.

As she moved on, Christine dreaded the scent of urine that lived in the very concrete blocks of the building’s walls. The smell in the day room heightened. The odor in the hallway was mild by comparison.

“Remember, Christine,” she said quietly to herself as she pulled open the door. “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.”

Rejoice. Be glad. Rejoice. Be glad.

In order to accept the difficulties, she focused on the good she wanted to do for her patients and her family. With her brothers dead and buried half a world away in a war-torn country, her parents needed her income. That thought alone gave her the encouragement she needed to continue.

Christine’s lips stretched into a forced smile, she pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose, and walked into the day room. Every corner of the large, square, gray room was filled. The windows let the light pour in, though darkness would have been preferred. Nearly a hundred men were walking in circles, hugging themselves, leaning their heads against the walls, sitting in the corners, and only a small handful congregated and interacted with one another. There were a few metal chairs, three rickety tables, and one bedbug-infested davenport. The tables usually held a few boxes of mismatched puzzles, several checker boards, tattered newspapers, and outdated magazines.

The night-shift staff gave Christine’s day-shift attendants a rundown of how their night had gone. Todd Adkins, the most experienced attendant, listened carefully to what the other attendants said. A loud crash came from the far right corner of the day room and the attendants jumped into action. Christine couldn’t see what the problem was in the sea of bodies but knew Adkins could handle it.

What would she have done in her first month as an official nurse in Ward 71 if it hadn’t been for Adkins? Of course, Christine wasn’t alone. Nurse Minton was the experienced nurse in her ward. How the two of them managed to keep track of over a hundred men with only two aides, she didn’t know.

Christine said good morning to a few of the nearby patients. None of them even looked in her direction, except for Floyd, the only mentally retarded mongol patient in their ward. He was secretly her favorite patient. It was one thing to study Dr. John Langdon Down’s work, which clinically described the syndrome in the mid-1800s, but to interact and observe Floyd was far better than learning from a textbook. He was sensitive, funny, and by far smarter than anyone gave him credit for. He bore no resemblance to the term mongoloid idiot used to describe his condition.

Floyd’s small, almond-shaped eyes, like slits in his puffy face, sparkled. He smiled at her, with more gums than teeth, and then returned to tapping two old checker pieces together. She patted his head as she passed him. Christine walked over to the office in the corner of the room where she would prepare to hand out the morning round of medications.

“We had to restrain Rodney a few hours after our shift started. He went after Floyd.” Millicent Smythe, one of the ward’s night-shift nurses, was writing in the patient logbook in the office. Her lips were pasty and unpainted, though twelve hours ago they’d been as red as Christine’s. Dark circles framed her brown eyes and her voice carried a hint of exhaustion.

“What? Floyd? He wouldn’t hurt a flea.” Christine said.

“Rodney said that Floyd was cussing at him. Rodney had all of them riled up—acting like the big cheese. It put a wrench in the whole night. Mr. Pricket even had a difficult time with him.”

Mr. Pricket was one of the oldest and most experienced attendants in all of Hudson River. Surely Rodney’s latest outburst would finally get him transferred to Ryan Hall, where the truly violent and disturbed patients were kept.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Millicent looked over at her and raised a dark brown eyebrow. “Ryan Hall.”

“Aren’t you?”

The other nurse shrugged. “They are even more crowded than we are and there are injuries weekly—both the patients and the staff. If anyone needs more help instead of more patients, it’s them.”

Just before Millicent left she called over her shoulder. “Have an attendant check on Wayne and Sonny when you get a minute. Wayne was agitated last night. Oh, and the laundry is behind—again.”

Christine nodded and hustled to get started handing out medications. The patients who were able lined up for their medications, which she handed through the open Dutch door. The attendants helped the less competent patients line up. She took a tray of medications out to the remaining patients who weren’t able to form a line or were bedridden. This took some time, since each had to drink down the medications in front of her so she could check inside their mouths—under their tongues and in the pockets of their cheeks.

When she was nearly half through with administering the medications, the attendants began taking the patients in shifts to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. When a patient in the other hall needed an unscheduled electroconvulsive therapy, often referred to as shock therapy, she was pulled in to assist since Nurse Minton was busy with an ill patient who had pulled his IV from his arm.

When she finally returned to the corner office in the day room her logbook was still open. Quickly Christine documented the lethargy of one patient she’d noticed earlier in the day and the aggressiveness of another. She reviewed the schedule for the rest of the day: more shock therapy, hydrotherapy for calming a few patients, and numerous catheterizations for the patients who refused to use the toilet. How would she keep up with it all?

She didn’t have time to dwell and carefully picked up the tray of medications she needed to finish. Christine was only a step out of the office when Wally approached her.

“Hey, nurse, have a smoke for me? Have a smoke for me?” Though his words were still slurred she was glad he had come out of his stupor from earlier that morning. “Come on, have a smoke for me?”

“Wally, you know I’m not going to give you any cigarettes.” She smiled at him. It was difficult to have a conversation with the men when they stood nude in front of her. She had trained herself to treat them as if they were fully clothed individuals and would look them directly in their eyes.

“Aw, come on, nurse, I know where you keep ’em,” he whispered loudly, stepping closer to her as she closed and locked the Dutch door. “What if I tell ya you’ve got some nice gams? You’re a real Queen ’o Sheba! Prettiest nurse here.”

“I don’t smoke, Wally.” It was only a half lie; she did smoke on occasion, but would never give a cigarette to a patient. “Now go back and play checkers before you get beat.”

“No one ever beats me. You know that. Never.” He repeated never over and over as he walked away.

The door to the day room swung open and hit the wall behind it. Adkins jogged in. His eyes were round and his face was as colorless as his starched attendant’s jacket.

“Nurse Freeman,” he said, breathless and shaky.

“What is it?” She’d never seen Adkins rattled before.

“I went to take some breakfast to Wayne and Sonny.”

“Just now?” She sighed heavily. “Adkins, this isn’t like—”

“While you were in shock therapy I had to pull Rodney into solitary and this is the first chance I’ve—it doesn’t matter now.” Adkins breathed heavy and shook his head. He stopped long enough to look into Christine’s eyes. “Wayne and Sonny are dead.”

“Dead? What do you mean they’re dead? From influenza?” They’d been sequestered to a private room for contagion for the last forty-eight hours.

He shook his head and grabbed her arm, making the small cups of pills on her tray rattle. “Froze to death.”

Numbness fixed her where she stood. Christine wasn’t sure she would be able to move from that spot. Had she heard him properly? It was her fault. She should’ve sent Adkins to check on them as soon as Millicent mentioned it. How long had it been since they’d been checked on? Her heart bemoaned that she had not insisted Adkins or even an attendant from Minton’s hall check on them immediately. She took a deep breath and the stench of guilt filled her lungs.

“Nurse Freeman?” His grip tightened on her arm.

“Yes.” She returned to the corner office behind her and calmly put the tray of meds on the counter. Then, with Adkins on her heels, she jogged to the last room in the hall.

Christine pushed her way through the crowd of patients gawking at the unclothed bodies that lay frozen. She wrapped her arms around herself, partly for warmth and partly for a sense of security. Her breath puffed white as her breathing quickened. Snow piled in small mounds on the floor and the walls were frosted around the two sets of open windows.

“Get everyone out,” she said rigidly to Adkins, who obeyed immediately.

Once the room was empty she had Adkins call for the administrator, Jolene Phancock. Christine also wanted to make sure Minton had heard the news. Once the two veteran staff members arrived they could instruct her on what to do next. Perhaps all that needed to be done was to call the morgue on the grounds to come pick the bodies up. They would hand them over to the state and have them buried in some unmarked plot for no one to grieve over.

“Good morning, Nurse Freeman,” Ms. Phancock said in an even and pleasant voice as she walked in. She was too friendly not to give a proper greeting, but her voice carried the bitterness of the morning’s events.

“Not a very good morning, unfortunately.” Christine tiptoed around the snow to the open windows and closed them. “Wayne is—was—always opening windows. We should’ve found a way to bolt the windows shut in here. I never thought this could happen. I feel responsible.”

Like a hollow cavern, Christine’s voice echoed in her own ears. Reality and dream crossed each other and she wasn’t sure what was true anymore. Wayne’s naked body, in the fetal position, was blue, and his bedsores were flaky. A shudder shook her body. Sonny, also blue, was long and skinny, and his toes were curled. He lay flat otherwise and had not even curled around himself to conserve heat. Guilt filled her empty heart.

She picked up Sonny’s chalk and slate on the floor next to his bed. As a young boy, deaf and dumb, he was sent to the Children’s Ward. There he’d been taught to write a few simple words in order to communicate. She blinked back hot tears when she saw what was scratched onto the slate.

Cold.

“Let me assure you that you are not to blame.” Ms. Phancock released such a heavy sigh Christine could feel the weight of it around her. The administrator made a fist with her hand and pursed her lips.

“Ma’am?” She laid the slate back down on the frozen floor.

“We need more workers.” Ms. Phancock’s fist pulsed up and down with each word. “You and the rest of the staff cannot possibly do more than you already are.”

Christine agreed, of course, as she looked at the tragedy before her.

She found herself sorry that Sonny’s nakedness was so visible, more than Wayne’s. Of course, they often had more naked patients than clothed ones. Keeping patients clothed was difficult if they were incontinent or when they displayed erratic behavior. But this time it seemed worse. He wasn’t just asleep or behaving dangerously. He was a human being who was lying naked in front of everyone coming in or near the room. She untied her apron and draped it over his lower body.

“What are you doing?” Nurse Minton asked as she strode in. Christine looked up at the older nurse. Her hair was already coming out of her severe bun, as if she’d been working all day instead of only a few hours.

“He deserves some dignity.” Christine turned to her superior.

“Thank you, Nurse Freeman,” Ms. Phancock said. “You’re right.”

Nurse Minton remained quiet.

“Can we tell the state what’s happening here? Maybe they will find a way to get us the help we need.”

“That sounds about as likely as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Ms. Phancock sighed as she spoke. She patted Christine on the shoulder and told her that Gibson from the morgue would be there soon, then she left.

The two nurses remained in the room, silently together for several pregnant moments.

“Did you record Rodney’s insulin shock therapy today?” Nurse Minton finally broke the quiet.

“Nurse Minton, we have a real tragedy here, and you want to talk about insulin treatment?”

“We are nurses, Freeman. This is our job.” Her voice came out harshly, and even the old, jaded nurse seemed to realize it and cleared her throat. “I’ve been around long enough to know this is part of the job—though terrible, I understand. I also know that we have to keep the ward running regardless; otherwise another tragedy will be right around the corner.”

Christine nodded. Minton was right. She turned toward the older nurse and stifled a loud sigh. “Yes, Rodney got his insulin treatment.”

“Did his anxiety and aggressiveness subside? I was dealing with the other hall and haven’t checked on him yet.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Subsided was putting it mildly. Rodney had gone into a coma from the massive dose of insulin. He had lost all control several hours earlier when the doctor had come to see him about his outburst the night before. Like a frayed rope under too much strain, he snapped. “Tonic-clonic seizures continued for several minutes post therapy. He’s being observed for any aftershocks now.”

“Fine.” Nurse Minton looked at Christine out of the bottoms of her eyes, with her chin up and nose in the air. The older nurse was no taller than the younger, but looked down at her in any way she could find. Tall women were typically placed on men’s wards with the expectation that they would be able to better handle the larger male patients.

“Dr. Franklin has a standing order of barbital for him. If he wakes up agitated I will administer it. Dr. Franklin said to keep him in the restraints until he returns.” The use of the sleeping drug was a mainstay in the hospital.

“I’ll leave you to deal with Gibson and the morgue; I’ll get back to the patients. We still have a full day.” The older nurse started walking out of the room.

“Nurse Minton, don’t you wish there was more we could do? You’ve been here for years and I’m new, but I already feel so helpless.”

“Adkins said you were idealistic.” The older nurse’s mouth curled into an unfriendly and mocking smile. “Idealism doesn’t work in a place like this. Look around, Freeman. This facility is its own town, with its own community. You know that. Do you think the state is going to listen to you, a woman just barely a nurse? Your very meals depend on the garden the patients maintain and their harvest and canning in the fall. Why do you think it’s like that?” She paused for a minuscule moment, appearing not to want an answer from Christine. “Because no one wants to bother with the patients. No one wants to even believe they exist, including the families that drop them off. They want to go on with their nice simple lives behind their picket fences and pretend this beautiful building isn’t more prison than hospital. Besides, even if we had more clothing for the patients, what we really need are workers. There’s just too many patients and not enough of us.”

They’d been over capacity for a long time without any help in sight. The war had taken so many of their staff away while an excessive number of patients poured in—some of them soldiers returning from the war and unable to cope.

Without another word, Nurse Minton walked away but turned back after several steps.

“Adkins says you sing hymns to your patients.” One of her eyebrows arched and a crooked smirk shifted across her lips.

“I think it helps their nerves,” she said pushing up her glasses though they had not slipped down her nose.

“Sing all you want, as long as you’re getting your work finished.” The nurse turned and walked away.

“S’cuse me, ma’am,” a deep voice said a few moments later.

Christine’s eyes caught Gibson’s. He was holding one end of a canvas stretcher and a younger man held the other. Gibson was a tall, brawny colored man with a voice that was gravelly yet still somehow kind. His cottony hair and eyebrows reminded Christine of summer clouds. His eyes, on the other hand, haunted her.

Gibson’s job was to gather the deceased and take them across the hospital grounds to the morgue. If warranted, a doctor would perform an autopsy before the patient was prepared for burial. In that brief moment she returned to a hot August day when she had observed an autopsy. Half her class fainted. Christine nearly had herself. The odor, sight, and sounds, mixed with the humidity, made her fantasize about running away from the school.

Now, in the frozen days of winter, Christine wanted to pretend she was somewhere else. She shuffled awkwardly back toward the wall near the windows, her knees locked. She could not watch them take the bodies away, not like this. Without a word, she pushed past them and left the room. She ran to the opposite end of the hall and leaned against the stairwell door.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Promise to Cherish includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Elizabeth Byler Younts. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Christine Freeman is a nurse at Hudson River State Hospital in the mid 1940s, during which the effects of World War II rage on. She has lost both of her brothers to the war and works tirelessly, serving patients at the ward. Worlds collide when conscientious objector Eli Brenneman comes to work at the hospital. Despite, and even in the midst of, differences, Christine and Eli begin to develop a friendship.

Christine becomes pregnant when things with her crush, Jack, go too far. Now, as an unwed soon-to-be mother, she must decide what is best for her and the baby she shamefully carries. Uncertain of her future, she joins Eli to find refuge in his Amish community until she can decide what is next. But with the passing of each week and her growing belly, she cannot ignore her growing feelings for Eli.

With the birth of Christine’s baby boy, Eli confesses his love to Christine and begs her to stay. Jack too comes to visit, pleading with Christine to win her back. She must make a choice. Though she loves Eli, how can she remain in a culture and town so different from her own? How can she marry an Amish man and ignore the promise of a future together that Jack has now made to her? In Promise to Cherish, the conflict of World War II brings two people together to wage their own costly battle for love and discovery of self.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Eli views the opportunity to join the Civilian Public Service camp for conscientious objectors as a way out of his hometown. He was not seeking “to make a change” or to “leave the Amish for good, but he did need to get away, even if just for a short spell of time” (p. 2). Can you relate to this desire to escape your present circumstances, but not out of a desire to change? What were your primary reasons for seeking time away? What change(s) did you experience during this time away or break from routine, if any?
 
2. Christine serves her family for years by working at Hudson River State Hospital. She did not want to work there, but “her family needed her to work . . . their very survival depended on it” (p. 8). Knowing that her mother made ends meet once Christine left, do you believe it was right for Christine’s family to depend on her the way that they did? What reasons, emotional or financial, did Margie have for depending on Christine’s income?
 
3. The reader is privy to Eli’s thoughts on his first day at Hudson River State Hospital. “He’d never been a crying man, but there was something so desperately sad about the men in this room” (p. 46). What is revealed about his character here and in the way he interacts with Wally later?
 
4. In chapter 5, Christine and Eli argue over a conscientious objector’s position toward war. Christine argues that wrongs should be righted and freedoms defended. Eli argues that the cost of war is too high, basing his beliefs on Christ’s example to seek peace and love one’s enemies. What do you think? Do you think Eli’s beliefs would have been the same had he experienced the loss of loved ones as a result of war as Christine did? Explain.
 
5. Jack tells Christine, “You wanted this to happen and now you’re just pretending it’s entirely my fault so you don’t have to take any of the blame” (p. 91). Christine believes it: “She’d let his hands roam. . . . The only person she could blame for this awful night was herself” (p. 95). What do you think about the situation? In your opinion, was Christine raped? Who do you hold responsible?
 
6. Eli receives a phone call one day notifying him that his sibling’s house burned down. His younger brother tells him “Everybody sure wants you home . . . because we need you” (p. 103). Based on this statement, were you surprised by the type of welcome and treatment Eli received once he returned home? Apart from Christine’s joining him, what other reasons do you think the family had for treating Eli the way they did? Describe how you would feel if you were one of his family members.
 
7. Margie’s response to her daughter’s pregnancy likely depicts the social norms of America in the mid 1940s. She holds Christine responsible for leading Jack on and provides an immediate solution for the pregnancy: Christine will either have Jack marry her or she will go to an unwed girls’ home. How do present-day norms influence your judgment of Margie, if at all? Do you think Margie’s response toward her unwed, pregnant daughter resonates in today’s society? If so, in what ways?
 
8. Nurse Phancock is the first person to tell Christine her situation with Jack is not her fault. She bases this comment on her understanding of scripture and concludes that “nowhere in the Bible” does it say “that men can’t control themselves. It does say that a man should respect a woman” (p. 148). How does scripture inform your beliefs and decisions? How do you believe Christine’s relationship with God impacted her decisions in the weeks surrounding the situation with Jack?
 
9. The following comments about sin are made by women at church one Sunday: “sins in your youth will punish you later in life” and “every sin has a consequence” (p. 221). Aunt Annie’s response indicates her adamant disagreement when she asks them what her sin was since she lost all three of her babies. How does her background minister to Christine? To what extent do you agree with the comments made by these women? What informs your belief?
 
10. Aunt Annie recounts the ways that Amish people have been judged for their ways. Specifically, she speaks to the way they have separated themselves “from the world because it’s the best way we know to be close to God” (p. 245). Regardless of whether you agree with their conscientious objector position, what benefits can you see in this level of separation? What negative consequences can you see in it?
 
11. Eli informally proposes to Christine once she has her baby, Peter. “I want to be your husband and Peter’s father” (p. 300). She imagines the Amish way and declines his offer with the statement that “this isn’t my real life.” Identify the reasons Christine may have still felt this way, declining the gift of a man she loved in a community that she had come to enjoy.
 
12. When Eli is frustrated for the way the hospital patients and staff view him for being a conscientious objector, his friend DeWayne responds with the following: “If you know who you are, you can’t ever really lose yourself. You might stray a little from time to time, but you don’t lose yourself—unless you just don’t know who you are” (p. 49). How does this statement play itself out in both Eli’s and Christine’s lives throughout the novel? How have you seen the truth of this in your own life?
 
13. How does Matilda symbolize the person Eli was before he left the Amish community?
 
14. Discuss how the brother in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) is similar to Mark.
 
15. Describe how the theme of God’s redemption characterizes Christine’s and Eli’s journeys.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Hudson River State Hospital faced hardship. Workers were few and their supplies and funding were low. Additionally, support was little: families did not visit their patients and the town wanted little to do with the institution. Consider the institutions or nonprofits in your area that receive little support. Decide how your group could meet one of their needs and develop a plan of action to do so.
 
2. Homes for unwed mothers were a national trend from the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1970s, when use began to decline. Research and discuss the historic and present-day types of these institutions. Be sure to elaborate on both their positive and negative influence. For an in-depth account, read The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler.
 
3. As Aunt Annie says, the Amish have chosen to separate themselves “from the world because it’s the best way we know to be close to God” (p. 245). This month choose one way you can separate yourself more from “the world” in order to be closer to God. Share it with the group and ask for accountability.
 
4. Eli prays the following: “Lord, give me the wisdom and patience You promise in James. The faith you show in Hebrews. Show me how to abide like in John fifteen. Help me love like First Corinthians thirteen” (p. 285). Select one of the passages that Eli may have been referring to and read it aloud. Share with the group what those verses mean to you in this season of your life. Commit the scripture verse(s) to memory.

     James 1:5–6 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But     when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

     Hebrews 11:1, 6 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. . . . And without faith it is impossible to please     God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

     John 15:4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

     1 Corinthians 13:4–8 “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not     irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures     all things. Love never ends.”
 
5. Author Elizabeth Byler Younts has also written an Amish memoir titled Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. This is a story of her grandmother Lydia Lee Coblentz, who grew up in an impoverished American family through the Great Depression. Read this memoir and discuss how this book differs from Promise to Cherish.   
 

A Conversation with Elizabeth Byler Younts 

1. Have you always wanted to write?  

I’m told that even as a child as young as three I was writing my stories in small notebooks before bedtime. My mom was not surprised at all when around eleven I started talking about becoming a writer. Praise the Lord she and my dad nurtured my love of writing and books.

2. Describe your favorite writing location or room.  

I just moved from the south to the north and into a new house. I love my house. It’s not perfect—but it has the best sense of home. I usually write either in our homeschool room in the basement near the windows or next to the fireplace that opens up into the great room and kitchen.

3. How do your two young daughters influence your writing? Are there specific lessons in the Amish culture that you hope they learn?  

As I write about the Amish way of life I long for the slower lifestyle. I wrote a blog post about a vintage lifestyle and how captivating it is to think about—though there are realities of vintage living that has its disadvantages, I understand. But I don’t want my children to be addicts to technology and require constant, entertaining stimulation. The best way to do this is through the example of my husband and myself and accessibility. I don’t do this perfectly and pray for better consistency.

My husband and I strive to provide our girls with the best possible childhood that resembles the best part of our own. Quality time is important to us, and we like simple, home-cooked meals, and healthy conversation around the table. We have a lot of time together with homeschooling, and we are planning a garden this year. We believe it’s important to be a part of a community of people whom you can care and pray for and who do the same for you. Our faith is built on the Bible. We teach our children that everyone needs a Savior—no one is perfect. Accepting the gift of Christ’s sacrifice allows the Bible to unfold with the most amazing wisdom. I pray my daughters learn that they have to work hard for what they want and need—real living does not come through being spoon-fed.

4. It seems your own Daudy was an inspiration in writing this book. He was a conscientious objector in World War II and worked at a mental hospital during that time. How were his stories passed down to you? At what stage in your life did his service truly impact you and draw you in with a desire to learn more?  

Yes, my daudy, Freeman Coblentz, has definitely inspired this book. I can’t remember learning his stories; I feel like I’ve always known them. I used to be bothered by the fact that he was never recognized for serving in the way he knew how to serve. Now, with this book I can honor his service in a way that I think would’ve pleased him if he were still alive. I feel like I understand his stance so much better now and believe very strongly that our country is better for having conscientious objectors who, when given the chance, will help the country in a way that does not disrupt their faith. After World War II there was also a movement of pacifists who went overseas to help those who lost so much during the war. Some went right from the CPS to this work. While my daudy did not participate in this, I am so thankful for the pacifist movement that was willing to prove its beliefs through real action.

This story also blossomed through the experience of one of my first cousins. He fell in love with a young woman outside the Amish faith. You’ll be happy to know they married also and have a house full of beautiful children. She embraced her new life because of her love for my cousin.

5. The story of Promise to Cherish is steeped in the history of World War II. What was your research process like? What resources were particularly helpful in studying the culture of unwed mothers and conscientious objectors?  

Researching as many details as possible was very important to me. There wasn’t a specific website I used for unwed mothers but doing research online makes this process accessible. I went to www.civilianpublicservice.org for the CPS and the mental hospitals research. This was where I began the research for this entire series. I also used several books: The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service by Albert N. Keim, Service for Peace by Melvin Gingrich, Acts of Conscience by Steven J. Taylor, and Detour . . . Main Highway: Our CPS Stories by the College of Mennonite Church. These books were incredibly helpful.

Promise to Cherish does not even touch the tip of the iceberg with how life was in the institutions or the CPS wide. It would bring many to tears. The men and women who worked in these institutions during those years when it was especially difficult, and I don’t just mean the CPS workers, deserve medals.

6. In your Letter to the Reader, you note that you are a “proud military wife with an ancestral line of Amish conscientious objectors.” What are a few things you respect about both of these groups of people?  

I’m so proud of our military. I believe a current statistic is that only about 1 percent of Americans will serve in the military in active duty. During World War II the percentage was closer to 9 percent. There are really so few people who fight for the freedoms of the 99 percent. Truly, hats off. The sacrifices that come with that responsibility are many—the greatest being putting your life on the line knowing your family could lose you. My husband is now in the Air National Guard after eleven years in active duty, and I’m as proud of him as I ever was. I stand by the hard work that our military does and their committed and loyal spouses and their “brats” who have to take on every new home, job, and school changes, and make new friends every few years and so much more with courage and grace. This is not an easy way to live, though it can be very rewarding.

As I look back at my ancestry and the lineup of nonresistant men and women, I’m also proud. I respect that they followed through with their beliefs and didn’t just do what was popular or acceptable. In World War II the pacifists were hated and despised yet they stood for their right to be a C.O. Consider how difficult this would’ve been for them. I’m proud of my present and my ancestry because in both I see a resolve to follow one’s conscience, no matter how difficult. Both require a strong-willed spirit and perseverance.

7. The reader follows both Christine and Eli on a spiritual journey. With which character can you relate the most, speaking in terms of your own spiritual journey? Why?  

I think maybe pieces of both. Christine and Eli, in different ways, saw their spiritual value in how people perceived them. This is not where our value lies. No matter how much good people see in you or if you are someone easily judged for wrongs . . . your value comes from God. This is such a hard concept. This affects not just how we view ourselves but how we make friends and our sense of belonging.

I am constantly reminding myself that what truly matters are God’s wondrous thoughts toward me. I fail so often but God reminds me that He knows the number of the hairs on my head, that He knit me in my mother’s womb before the world was set in motion, and that He would’ve sent Jesus to die even if I was the only person who needed a Savior. My life has value to the Lord and He cherishes me. Ultimately, this is what Christine and Eli needed to learn. They are worth loving and cherishing no matter the mistakes they have made or the opinions of others.

8. Who is your least favorite character in Promise to Cherish? Why?  

I really enjoyed these characters. I had several that could make this list but because I see redemption in them, even Jack, I think my least favorite would have to be Nurse Minton. My reason for this is because she let her circumstances make her jaded and harsh. She couldn’t see the humanity that was within the walls of the hospital anymore. The years of hard, thankless work had crushed her spirit. In writing that, however, it makes me sad for her and I wonder what her story was.

I also didn’t like Bucket, a very minor character, at all. I believe the vast majority of our heroic World War II soldiers would’ve disapproved of how he belittled Eli.

9. The reader is challenged to consider how World War II demanded change from the lives of conscientious objectors. Their financial climate was altered. Expectations were redefined. Loved ones spent an indefinite amount of time waiting on their conscientious objectors to return home. And when these individuals did return, they themselves were different. What do you hope the reader gains by considering how conscientious objectors sacrificed for the war as well?  

All I can truly hope for readers to gain is what I’ve gained myself. It’s important to see a new and untold perspective and that everyone has a story to share. I’m learning not to condemn the decision not to fight but to be thankful we are in a country that allows for personal freedoms with regards to faith and conscience. Their sacrifices were different from soldiers—true, but they still sacrificed. Just because it wasn’t dangerous or didn’t cost their lives doesn’t mean it’s a sacrifice that should be forgotten.

10. With Promise to Cherish now complete, what are your plans for future writing?  

I am currently writing the third book in the series. It is tentatively titled Promise to Keep. Esther Detweiler was brought up knowing too much about abandonment and broken promises. Through a fear of rejection and an independent streak she has rejected the concept of love and marriage. When Esther is asked to care for a little motherless English girl while her father, Joe, goes off to the Pacific in World War II, Esther’s life changes. The real complications start, however, when Joe returns from war four years later.

Once this book is finished I hope to write many more stories that challenge our thinking and provide readers with an ear to the past.

About The Author

Photograph © Esther M. Byler

Elizabeth Byler Younts is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. She was Amish as a child and after her parents left the church she still grew up among her Amish family and continues to speak Pennsylvania Dutch. She lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (October 7, 2014)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476735030

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Raves and Reviews

"Younts’s Amish background lends authenticity to the tale, informing the real and relatable characters in this fascinating glimpse into an often elided part of America’s history."

– Publisher's Weekly

"Younts' characters radiate lifelike warmth, and religious faith is woven seamlessly into their honest struggles. This deeply moving read reveals the truth about that era’s state hospitals, treatment of unwed mothers, and prejudice toward Amish conscientious objectors."

– Booklist

“Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts is a gritty,historical novel that stays true to post World War II views, while weaving a beautiful love story between a nurse and an Amish conscientious objector.Elizabeth raises the stakes over and over, creating a suspenseful story that I couldn't put down until I’d read the very last word.”

– Leslie Gould, bestselling author of Becoming Bea

“Elizabeth Byler Younts’ Amish heritage and historical research shine again in this dynamic sophomore novel, Promise to Cherish, which examines the plight of unwed mothers and conscientious objectors in the unstable wake of post-war American society. Readers will be enthralled with the story of Christine and Eli all while asking themselves if they would choose a life of love—even if that meant leaving everything you love behind.”

– Jolina Petersheim, bestselling and award-winning author of The Midwife and The Outcast

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More books from this author: Elizabeth Byler Younts

More books in this series: Promise of Sunrise