Clear Vision: 6 Tips from a Window Washer

Last Week Joe Schrock of TIP TOP Window Cleaning announced his arrival by knocking lightly on my door. I spotted his truck on my driveway.

tiptopwindowcleaning

I had contacted Joe about cleaning the windows at our new house. They were dirty when we moved in and got even worse when wind-whipped rain lashed the panes during October’s hurricane Matthew.

The name Schrock sounded Mennonite to me, or at least Pennsylvania Dutch.

When I inquired, Joe told me,

“Yeah, my Amish ancestors came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the 1730s. Then they moved to Ohio. My dad’s from Sugarcreek, and my mom from Kent. You’ve heard of Kent State, haven’t you?”

Of course I had.

“I guess you know about the Amish newspaper, The Budget.” Oh, my goodness! I had never heard of it. Noticing my startled expression, “Yes,” he said, “it comes out of Sugarcreeck, Ohio.”

“I bet I can find it on the Internet.” I walked over to my laptop resting on the kitchen island.

There it was: Home page of The Budget newspaper with a close-up view of a goat with a big-eared welcome.

The newspaper also had a Facebook page. I quickly found the About page which read: Serving the Sugarcreek area and Amish and Mennonite Communities throughout the Americas since 1890. (The pages reminded me that many plain folks have settled in South America, particularly in Paraguay and Bolivia.)

There was a pause. “Golly, I had no idea the Amish did computer stuff!” he smiled.

Later he told me, “I was born in Miami but have lived in Jacksonville, Florida, for a long time. I started my window washing business in 1982.

* * *

Though two friends had recommended him highly, my first-hand experience as a former Mennonite confirmed some expectations I had of him, some sterling qualities that many plain people possess:

1. Right Equipment He came with all the right tools, chemicals, buckets, and squeegees. I detected a faint whiff of tobacco.

windowcleaningsupplies

2. Fair price His price appeals to the budget conscious. He was at my house for six hours and presented me with a bill that looked like it came from the 1960s. I gave him a nice tip.

3. Cleanliness As soon as he walked into my house, he put on blue booties and never tracked in any dirt.

booties

4. Thoroughness He went far beyond what was expected. I gave him the green light when he suggested that he could scrape off an old security company sticker. “It’ll come off just like that,” he predicted. Of course it did!

scottalarmstickerlabelremoved

5. Pleasant He didn’t whistle while he worked, but I believe he could have.

6. Strong work ethic He kept at it until he was done. He didn’t take any breaks although I would not have minded if he had.

joeschrockcleaning

 

That evening, I remembered a book on my nightstand, Wisdom of the Plain Folk: Songs and Prayers from the Amish and Mennonites, compiled by Donna Leahy, photography by Robert Leahy

Work begun is half done. ~ Amish woman’s proverb (33)

 

I know some sloppy Mennonites; maybe you do too. A few may be lazy, but probably not many. And you certainly don’t have to be Mennonite or Amish to uphold integrity in the workplace. Or appreciate fine workmanship.

sparklywindow

Even so, I’m glad my first-ever encounter with a window washer (Yes, I’m frugal!) gave me clearer vision: clean windows and a re-visitation of the values of my own ancestry.

 


As the new year begins, I need some sparkle in my life. Clean windows did it for me.

How about you? Are you anticipating anything sparkly in your new year?

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Going Male: Amish Romance Novels

AmishBlacksmith

Cool Amish guys have replaced the dreamy looking girl with a huge covering and plain dress popular on the cover of some Amish romance novels. The images have done a flip. Now the young Amish-man with suspenders and broadfall pants and straw hat takes center stage.

Last week I finished reading my second Amish romance novel ever. These novels, usually with a female main character on the cover, are still wildly popular and stock shelves at Barnes & Noble and Amazon warehouses to the hilt.

Cover image via Amazon
Cover image via Amazon

Truthfully, I have resisted reading these novels for two reasons:

  • The plots seem formulaic to me: there’s a lover’s triangle, often with an “Englischer” from the tempting world beyond the farm.
  • Also, I have lived an authentic Mennonite life, and some plot-lines and details about the characters seem barely plausible.

Still, I took the time to read The Amish Blacksmith, starring a handsome dude named Jake on the cover with a plain Amish girl, grooming a horse in the misty background. I was curious about two things: the new trend in Amish romance fiction with a male protagonist plus the high profile of the authors within this sub-genre: Mindy Starns Clark, who has published more than 20 books including the Christy Award-winning The Amish Midwife and co-author Susan Meissner, whose novel The Shape of Mercy was named as one of the 100 best novels of 2008 by Publisher’s Weekly.

With five novels in the Women of Lancaster County Series (Mindy Clark and Leslie Gould). Clark and Meissner have begun the Men of Lancaster County Series: The Amish Groom, The Amish Blacksmith and mostly recently, The Amish Clockmaker.

Here’s a thumb-nail of The Amish Blacksmith from Goodreads:

Apprenticed blacksmith Jake Miller is skeptical of Priscilla Kinsinger’s innate ability to soothe troubled horses, especially when he has own ideas on how to calm them. Six years earlier, Priscilla’s mother died in an awful accident at home, and Priscilla’s grief over losing her mother was so intense that she was sent to live with relatives in Ohio. She has just returned to Lancaster County.

Not that her homecoming matters to Jake, who is interested in courting lighthearted Amanda Shetler. But Jake’s boss is Priscilla’s uncle, and when the man asks Jake to help his niece reconnect with community life, he has no choice but to do just that. Surprisingly, he finds himself slowly drawn to the beautiful but emotionally wounded Priscilla.

Jake then determines to prove to her that it’s not her fault her mother died, but what he discovers will challenge everything they both believe about the depth of love and the breadth of forgiveness.

Though the pace of the book slowed toward the end, I found the book a satisfying read. It is certainly more pleasurable to gain equestrian knowledge via a novel than from an equine textbook. In fact, the authors give credit to the Riehl and Fisher families of Lancaster County for helpful on-the-farm visits and to Elam and Elias Stoltzfus, for sharing their knowledge in their own Amish blacksmith shop. I applaud the authors too for their extensive research on horsemanship, particularly horse-whispering. I felt myself being both educated and entertained as I read.

Interestingly, male readers admit to enjoying Amish romance novels too. Valerie Weaver-Zercher reports in her book Thrill of the Chaste that an elderly farmer, Glenn Swartzendruber read almost ninety Amish-themed novels during the last three years of his life. And “a physician with degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania shared that he enjoyed listening to the audio version of Beverly Lewis’s [Amish} novels.” (249)

Do you enjoy Amish romance novels? Tell us why or why not. Do you know any men who read them?

Coming next – 4 Months, 4 Gifts: A Tribute to My Dad

Moments of Discovery # 5: Mother’s Quilts

 

Page from On Market Street, Anita & Arnold Lobel
illustration from On Market Street by Anita & Arnold Lobel

Bossler Mennonite Church was the hub of the Longenecker family’s spiritual life and the school beside it, Washington School, the place where the Women’s Sewing Circle fabricated comforters, baby clothing, blankets and quilts to help clothe the needy of the world. Some of these gorgeous quilts are displayed on a previous blog post. You can see and read about them here.

quiltSchoolhouse

Quilt exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church
Quilts exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church

Even more than quilting I think Mother loved knotting comforters. For her, it was easier to see progress knotting a comforter. She liked the warm fluffy texture, and she could work on it by herself at home.

1995RuthKnottingComforter_small

Last fall, on one of our trips to the attic cleaning out the house after her sudden death, we opened the yellowish, grain-painted blanket chest with turned feet where we knew we would find some of Mother’s prized quilts.

1999_0900_Mother L_holding up white quilt w circles

 Can you identify the design above? I need help with the name of this pattern please!

Crazy Quilt design, 1999
Crazy Quilt design, 1999.  Each of Mother’s grand-children received a quilt. This one now belongs to our son, Joel Beaman.

 

Joanne Hess Siegrist, one of my former students at Lancaster Mennonite School, has published a story in photographs from 1855-1935 entitled Mennonite Women of Lancaster County. In this pictorial overview of Mennonite life from this era, Joanne, who can trace her family back eleven generations, depicts the many facets of Mennonite women’s lives in chapters like these: The Tone of Their Lives, Motherhood and Children, Farm Life and Work, Faith and Family Outings.

Here is an excerpt from her chapter entitled “Quilting and the Arts”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Mennonite women of Lancaster County spent many hours doing elaborate, colorful needlework. Young women worked especially on their dowries.

 

With a frugality that was part of their spirituality, these women often created handwork out of remnants and half-used materials. They crocheted exquisite lace tablecloths from the cord strings used to tie feed bags. They made hooked rugs using the unworn sections of old winter coats. They designed quilts with fabric from colorful feed bags found in the barn. . . .

 

Mennonite Woman_Quilt_p193

In a photo dated 1948, Joanne showcases Anna Huber Good as she adds tiny stitches to a Grape Vine appliqué quilt. Author Siegrist adds, “Anna quilted all her life; in fact, after rearing eight children, she became even more intent on quilting. Anna got up at 4:00 a.m. and quilted until 6 a.m. Then she made a large breakfast for her husband Daniel and sent him off to his market work. After doing a few cleanup chores, Anna returned to quilting. She quilted all day long until about 9:00 p.m., stopping only for meals.”

Anna’s retirement years were even more productive, making “forty-two quilts for her children.” Amazingly, she charged only 15 cents per yard of quilting thread if she quilted for people outside her family.

Mennonite Women_Quilt_p194_crop_300

Here are four friends quilting in the dining room of Enos and Annie Lefever’s home (1915). Their intent expressions (uh-oh, I see one smiling!) and nimble fingers are caught on camera by Annie’s son Harry, whose photography did not interfere with his membership at Mellinger’s Mennonite Church (Mennonite Women of Lancaster County,194). Just a mere ten years earlier, Mennonite farmer, John Kreider Miller, lost his church membership for running a photography studio (The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, Friday, May 10, 1996). Photographs, apparently, at the turn of the twentieth century, spoke of pride, a cardinal sin in the Mennonite system of values. (Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, Siegrist)


Amish and Mennonite hand-made quilts are now marketed as a luxury item and often used as decorative wall hangings. There are numerous websites advertising such handiwork for thousands of dollars.

Until recently, the Quilt Museum at the People’s Place in Intercourse, PA exhibited cleverly crafted quilts from all over the United States.

The Mennonite Central Committee, providing aid to the world’s forgotten and neglected, often sponsors quilt sales and auctions beyond Lancaster County borders. Here is a link to one in Ohio.

*  *  *

Buy Joanne’s book here!

 

Is there quilting in your family history? Has a quilt been bequeathed to you of quilt-essential quality? Are you a quilter?

 

Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land (guest post)

In the movie based on Beverly Lewis’ best-selling romance novel The Shunning, pretty Katie Lapp senses something is missing in her simple Amish life. Then a fancy woman comes to Lancaster County looking for the baby girl she gave up for adoption nearly 20 years earlier. When Katie makes the connection between this woman and her own existence, she takes a bus to explore life beyond the boundaries of her Amish upbringing.

Cover image via Amazon
Cover image via Amazon

I’m not a character in a best-selling novel, but I did venture beyond the limits of my own Mennonite life to explore a different style of life. Unlike Katie, I wasn’t shunned. But, like her, I did take a bus, a Greyhound bus, to move on.

Today my story is featured on the blog of Mary Gottschalk, who got out of her own comfort zone by sailing the open seas with her husband in a 13,000 mile adventure she recounts in her memoir Sailing down the Moonbeam. Click here to meet this fascinating author and also read my post on stepping into a new world.

Amish Buggies: They Come in Colors

When I bring 5-pound bags of Wenger’s famous ham-loaf frozen from Pennsylvania to Florida, the plastic-coated tubs of meat are wrapped in newspaper and then shrink-wrapped in plastic. The wrapping on one of the packages revealed answers to the intriguing question: Who make Amish buggies?

Amish Buggies1_5x5_300

Writer Jack Brubaker born in Bird-in-Hand, PA keeps Lancaster Countians informed about local culture, history, and humor in his syndicated column The Scribbler. In the Tuesday, October 1, 2013 edition of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Jack noted that a reader from Mount Joy, PA requested more details about Amish buggies. The reader had never seen a used buggy lot and wondered if the Amish recycle buggies. Also, he had been to Indiana recently and saw the Amish using buggies with slanted undercarriages that looked like an armored Humvee. Here are the main points of Jack The Scribbler’s response to his reader:

  • “Jake King, the Amish operator of Weavertown Coach, along the Old Philadelphia Pike between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse, says there are about 17 manufacturers of new Amish buggies in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,” including his company which has its own wheelwright shop.
  • Buggy-making is a cooperative effort:  Five or six shops make buggy bodies, known as “the box.” Other businesses make axles, springs and wheels. Still others assemble fiberglass floors and side panels.
  • King says his various employees become good at one thing: “You have to be a good electrician, painter and upholstery trimmer.”
  • What is the cost of a new buggy? “The average carriage for the ‘young guys’ sells for about $ 8000, with a more elaborate dashboard and better grade of upholstery than the ordinary type of buggy which ranges from $ 6000-6500.
  • Buggy vs. car: Buggy resale is high. Buggies require a horse: $3000 for the animal plus harness and feed. But, King notes, “they also don’t drink $ 4-per-gallon gasoline.”
Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images                                          (Real . . . or a Photoshop job?)

The different colors and design reflect the owner’s community: Gray (PA), Black (Ohio and Indiana), Yellow (Byler Old Order Amish in Big Valley, Mifflin County, PA), White (Ohio), Brown (New Wilmington, PA and New York). Honestly, this surprised me as I think I’ve only ever seen black or dark gray buggies.

Like most Mennonites, Amish are thrifty, so of course they recycle their buggies, either through private sales or at spring “mud sales.”

 

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

 

Are there Amish buggies in your community?

What new fact, opinion, or question can you add to the discussion?

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: Rachel Held Evans’ Secrets Divulged

This evening my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, is hosting author Rachel Held Evans, one of the foremost thinkers and writers in evangelical circles today who has appeared on Oprah and The View and spotlighted by NPR, the BBC and The Washington Post. Her spell-binding book will stir you to see women, biblical and otherwise, in a new light.

If your comfort zone is just too cozy to leave right now, you can read about a gutsy woman who ditched her comfy life-style, visiting “an Amish schoolhouse in Gap, Pennsylvania; a pig farm in Cochabamba, Bolivia; and a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Alabama.” Admitting to being domestically challenged, she took up knitting and baking even working her way through the recipes in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.

Rachel Held Evans characterizes herself as a liberated woman, but for one year she became an Old Testament woman who admits she “spent an afternoon on my rooftop, adopted a computer-baby, camped out in my front yard during my period,” and left eight pounds of dough to rise in my bathroom.”

via Rachel Held Evans' website
via website of Rachel Held Evans

Intrigued by many of her friends who abandoned their careers for traditional gender roles in the home, “Evans decided to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year,” sometimes pushing them to their literal extreme. The result is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” a New York Times best-seller.

Each chapter records a month in which Evans focuses on a biblical virtue: October – gentleness, November – Domesticity, and so on.There is nothing starchy about her subtitles with chapters like February/Beauty “My Breasts are Like Towers” and March/Modesty “Hula-Hooping with the Amish,” who she mentions don’t wear white for their weddings because it’s worldly and don’t marry in June because that’s worldly too! 

The end of each chapter “month” features a character study of women like Eve or Mary Magdalene, but includes more obscure women like Junia, the Apostle or Huldah, the Prophet. That’s where Evans’ astute scholarship is most evident. With two unanswered questions, author Evans plunges into astonishing biblical research as her 8 pages of documentation verify: What does God truly expect of women? Is there a prescription for biblical womanhood? She admits:

I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives—a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, an Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. I scoured the Bible, cover to cover, isolating and examining every verse I could find about mothers, daughters widows, wives, concubines, queens, prophetesses, and prostitutes.

But Rachel had divine help along her pathway: Ahava, an orthodox Jew she met online who advised Rachel on all things Jewish. Guys in the food aisles at a Wal-Mart in East Tennessee who helped her search for Kosher ingredients for her Seder celebration. And her ever-accommodating husband Dan, whom she praises with a home-made sign at the city gates of Dayton, Tennessee, near where they live.

Seder table setting courtesy Wikipedia
Seder table setting courtesy Wikipedia images

Evans’ book is definitely a page-turner. I read her 310-page book in under 3 days. As one reviewer exclaims; “An unexpected, laugh-out-loud then turn the page and tear up, enjoyable and poignant read.” Another agrees that Rachel Evans tackles “the most sacred cows, willing to ask the trickiest questions” and observing fresh perspectives. For example, she reminds readers that it took the defiance of two queens to save the Jews—Esther by appearing before the king, Vashti by refusing to.”

Her website: http://www.rachelheldevans.com

Eschewing the traditional interpretation of Proverbs 31 that yokes most women with unreachable goals, Evans strives instead to be more like the Hebrew Eschet chayil, woman of valor, at its core a blessing to invoke, not a title to be earned.            “plain and fancy” observation

 Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

What do you think of author Evans’ experiment? Its outcomes?

Your thoughts added to mine can launch an animated conversation!

Story of Hope: A Killer’s Wife Speaks

When I bring 5-pound bags of Wenger’s famous ham-loaf frozen from Pennsylvania to Florida, the plastic-coated tubs of meat are wrapped in newspaper and then shrink-wrapped in plastic. The wrapping on one of the packages (we need two to feed the clan now!) revealed the riveting story of Marie Monville, the widow of Amish school house shooter Charlie Roberts.

Shooters%20Wife_100113

What Happened

In a story that brought international attention to Lancaster County, Charles Roberts methodically shot ten Amish girls inside a one-room school-house, killing five, injuring five others, and then turning the gun on himself. Roberts’ wife Marie learned of the impending massacre through a letter Charles left for her directing her to his final phone call, which revealed the unresolved feelings he harbored after the deaths of two of his daughters, one a premature birth and the other an ectopic pregnancy. Though the couple went on to have three healthy children, the loss of Elise and Isabella, he says in the letter, “changed my life forever. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself, hate toward God, and unimaginable emptiness.”

Immediately After

Because he hid his clinical depression so well, Marie had no signs her husband was so deeply disturbed and headed for a psychotic break-down. Even the police queried, “Were there any signs of violence before the shooting?”  She also feared what the public may be thinking: Are you a liar, covering up a failure to act? Are you an idiot, blind to the obvious? But Marie had been blind-sided.

Her own family and her husband’s family were “stalwart,” Marie writes. “A beloved aunt and uncle gave her family a place to hide out from the media in their own home in Lititz, Pennsylvania, comforting and feeding them in their darkest hours.

Forgiveness from the Amish Community

1. Just hours after the horrible shooting, Marie’s father greeted a group of Amish men who knocked on the door. She writes: 

An Amish man with a long gray beard stepped toward my father and opened his arms wide. My father fell into those arms, his shoulders heaving, held and comforted by a friend. Grief met grief.

2. Shielding the family from the media, “the families of the slain girls went to the cemetery for Roberts’ burial. They also went to a meeting at the Bart Fire Hall for families and first responders, sharing their feelings” and saying they were praying for Marie and her children.

Her Book

Marie Roberts Monville intersperses her account of the tragedy with the story of her own life in rural Lancaster County and tells as a teen-ager meeting Charlie Roberts, the grandson of a church friend, at a dinner one day. After marriage, they had three children, aged 7, 5, and 18 months old at the time of the tragedy which occurred over seven years ago at Nickel Mines.

OneLightStillShines

One Light,” written from a Christian perspective, shows how the author’s faith in God has sustained her through unimaginable grief and brought healing. Now re-married, she is a stay-at-home Mom and blogger on whisperandwonder with the subtitle “quiet musings from my heart.” Marie wrote the book to tell her true story of how horror and tragedy met love and forgiveness. She also seeks to connect with readers who are in the midst of suffering by posing the question:

What is your story? Mistreatment, injustice, torment, suffering, grief or even the worst that humanity can do to one another? Receive the gift of love. And when again the lights go out, you too will see that one light still shines.

Though her experience is similar in some ways to that of Marina Oswald, wife of President Kennedy’s assassin, Marie Roberts Monville has refused to become a pariah, but now lives life to the fullest, sharing light and hope.

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

Do you know someone who has survive trauma and grief?

Do you have a story of survival of your own to tell?

Hair: Historical to Hysterical

Baskin-Robbins offers nearly 60 flavors of ice cream at their shoppes. The varieties of dress among Mennonites and Amish, who split from the Mennonites, is nearly as long and equally fascinating. In recent research, I counted dozens of sub-sects.

                                              stackIceCreamCone

By far the most conservative group that maintains plain dress is the Old Order Amish church. The Amish have unfortunately reached pop culture status with hideous reality shows that exploit their way of life including their dress distinctives:

Amish men                AmishGirls

Herr                                                                                    Frau

Beards                                                                          Headcovering with tie strings

Hair cut off straight in back, banged in front                Uncut hair parted in center in bun

Coats, vets fastening with hooks & eyes                       Long dress with cape in solid color

Suspenders and broadfall pants                                  Pleated or gathered skirt

Wide brimmed hats                                                       Black shoes and stockings

As though frozen in time, attire of the Old Order Amish church has not noticeably evolved, reminiscent of their European origins.

Then there is the Brethren Church with its various branches. “The Old Order River Brethren continue to wear traditional garb.” The men look much like Amish but the women “wear opaque white headcoverings, capes, aprons, and a peplum on the dress bodice,” which tapers to a V-shape. An excellent source for detail of other sub-sects: http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D74ME.html

Typically, my visit to PA includes an appointment with a perky River Brethren woman who gives massages. You gasp “Massages!” but it’s true! Esther has my vote for the Most Modest Masseuse on Earth; she gives head-to-toe therapeutic massages in her home for a shockingly modest fee. Were she fancy, and not plain, she would fit perfectly in a chiroparactor’s office. Note peplum, short ruffle attached at waistline in photo below:

massage table                PlainMassageLady_13x18_72_brighten

Finally, there is not simply a Mennonite Church, but a cluster of branches, including a very conservative branch called Black-Bumpers, who drive cars but paint their shiny chrome bumpers black (less flashy)! Once in Lancaster I spotted a sleek Mercedes-Benz sedan with black bumpers and very plain girls spilling out—an image of paradox if there ever was one.

My own brand of Mennonites is the Lancaster Conference Mennonites, who have driven cars rather than horse and buggies but have long adhered to a strict code of dress since their emigration from Europe in the early 1700s. However, plain dress among these Mennonites has been falling by the wayside since the 1960s and 70s when these photos below were snapped.

3twogirlsMeet the Mennonites_Cover_5x7_150                      3MeettheMennonites

Smith, Elmer L. and Melvin Horst. “Meet the Mennonites in Pennsylvania Dutchland,”
Lebanon, PA: Applied Arts Publishers, 1997.

Marian_hair_braids_3x5_96     Marian_middleschool

Braids, also known as pig tails           Braids circling head with hairpins, middle school

Beaman_Longenecker_wedding_announce  Engagement: transition to fancy

 

 

Cliff_Marian_hair teased_Crista_4x3_150

Marge Simpson wannabe

Little known fact: The family of Milton Snavely Hershey, the Chocolate King, were Reformed Mennonites; his mother was a member and his grandfather, Abram Snavely, was a bishop for 37 years. Milton married a non-Mennonite. (“Meet the Mennonites”)

                                         HersheyCocoa2

There is a connection, I think, between chocolate and access to memory both plain or fancy, expressed so distinctly by Barbara Crooker:

CocoaPoemRev.

“. . . for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

I Samuel 16:7