What would I say? The question haunted me as the town lights faded away along with the electrical wires and traffic on a country road near Sugarcreek, Ohio. I was on my way to the home of Eli and Mary, an Old Order Amish couple, but even though I grew up in the hills of Amish country, I’d never actually spent much time with an Amish family and certainly had never spent the night in an Amish home. On this research trip, I wanted to find out what delighted an Amish woman’s heart, but I knew the answer to that question wasn’t in the asking. It was in the discovery. And I wasn’t sure how to discover it.In my ignorance, I’d already made up my mind what Old Order Amish woman would be like on the outside—judgmental, stern, and certainly not accepting of an English woman like me who thrived on cell phone service and WiFi. But after I drove into Eli and Mary’s snowy yard that evening, Mary greeted me with a wide smile before I stepped out of my car. She guided me to my room in their large basement. Instead of making me feel like an outsider, she opened the gas-powered refrigerator and pulled out a bowl filled with apples, grapes, and bananas along with fresh pastries she’d purchased for me to eat. In that moment, I felt like a welcomed guest in her home.

As we poured hot water over bags of chamomile tea, Eli wandered down to the basement, and in the quietness of the evening, the three of us talked about their eight grown children and my two girls and about my upcoming novel set in Amish country and how Mary and Eli visited the beach in North Carolina many years ago with a vanload of Amish friends. Eli told me about the waterline they’d connected to their son’s home next door, and Mary’s eyes lit up as she described the challenging new puzzle she’d been working on before I arrived.

The longer we talked and snacked, the more comfortable we all became. I pulled out my laptop to show them pictures of my girls, and my photos of Hawaii and California and Oregon’s Mt. Hood mesmerized Eli. Mary was fascinated by the workings of the computer.

When the conversation slowed, I took a deep breath and told Mary that I’m terrible at putting together puzzles, but if she wanted the little help I could offer, I’d love to work with her. She sprung up from her chair, questioning to see if I was sincere. When I assured her that I was, she told me we had to finish by nine o’clock so she and Eli could go to bed. Nine was fine with me.

At the kitchen table, Mary and I poured over the thousand tiny pieces that were supposed to form a Thomas Kincaid picture, and on that dark winter evening, I discovered that Mary was clearly passionate about puzzles. With succinct direction, she assigned me portions to put together. The flowers. The chimney. Parts of the border. Even though my fingers were much, much slower than hers, it was an honor to work alongside her as she deliberated and persisted until she found the right matches for every piece.

Eli snored in the chair beside us, and behind us, a clock played classical music every hour. Nine o’clock passed, and Mary ignored the late hour. She was focused on the pieces in front of her, and we quietly cheered each other on. When the clock chimed again, it was ten o’clock.

“We have to finish this window before we go to bed,” Mary said, fire in her words and her eyes.

I nodded. “Let’s finish the window.”

Sifting through the hundreds of pieces yet to find a match, we slowly uncovered the glass panes and window frame.

The evening ended when the window was complete though I believe Mary could have stayed up all night if she didn’t have to leave for service at sunrise. She woke her husband long after ten, and I wandered back down to my quilted bed under the kitchen and sat by the furnace, thinking about how much I’d enjoyed my evening with her.

It didn’t matter that I wore jeans and a sweater and Mary wore a blue dress and white bonnet. It didn’t matter that our backgrounds and our present day worlds were so very different. Even though she’d chosen a plain lifestyle, her talents were anything but plain. God created her with a determination to create order out of chaos. Beauty even, out of ashes. Although I don’t usually enjoy puzzles, I was caught up in her joy and enthusiasm for piecing together a complex picture that evening. It was a delight for me to see beyond my new friend’s plain attire and glimpse just a bit into the passion of her heart.