Four years after being shunned for marrying an "Englisher", Anna Mae McDonough wants to reconcile with her Amish family. And what better time than Christmas? But when her surprise visit doesn't go as planned, she begins to question her place in the family. Is Anna Mae determined enough to follow God's will so the family can heal?
Despite being shunned for leaving her Amish community four years earlier, Anna Mae longs to reconcile with her family. As the birth of her first child approaches, she begins to correspond with her sister-in-law Kathryn, making plans for Anna Mae and her English husband Kellan to visit the Amish community for Christmas. Kellan remembers that way that Anna Mae's father, the bishop, treated her when she announced her decision to marry an outsider, but this doesn't deter her from her plans to return home. Kathryn also experiences similar difficulties with her husband, David, who thinks Anna Mae's visit will bring too much pain to his already hurting parents. But Kathryn feels that God is calling her to bring the family back together in order to celebrate their Saviour's birth. Will Anna Mae and Kathryn's desire for reconciliation bring happiness on this joyous occasion, or will Anna Mae's baby grow up without knowing about its Amish heritage?
I adore Amy Clipston's Kauffman Amish Bakery series, so when I heard that she was releasing a Christmas novella I immediately put it on my wishlist. Although I didn't receive this book until I met up with my grandparents this month to exchange late gifts, it still seemed close enough to Christmas to read it.
While I felt that this novella didn't have as much substance as Amy's full-length novels, it was still a sweet story of forgiveness and reconciliation. A lot of Amish novels give the impression that once someone has left the community, they cannot return unless they plan to rejoin the faith. This is always something I've had a problem with, as it doesn't seem like a particularly Christian way of treating others. So I was pleased to see that Anna Mae was allowed to visit her family, even if certain members were too hurt to talk to her. Kathryn, her daughter Amanda and her mother-in-law Mary Rose were incredibly welcoming and had come to accept the fact that while Anna Mae was no longer Amish, she still shared their Christian faith, was happy with her loving husband and was starting a family of her own. It's a cliche, but a baby always makes everyone happier!
However, I found it difficult to read Kathryn and David's arguments about whether Anna Mae should visit. David refused to let Kathryn put across her opinions and would actually leave the room in the middle of a discussion. Maybe it's just because I've been reading marriage-preparation books recently and discussing these issues with my fiancee, but I don't think it's right for one person to see their views as superior refuse to listen to the other, especially in marriage. While David eventually admitted to Kathryn that he believed that she had had the family's best interests at heart in her plans for Christmas, a lot of hurt and anger could have been avoided if he'd originally listened to his wife's ideas instead of immediately dismissing them. Personally, I believe that marriage is an equal partnership and a husband should not be allowed to make a decision and force his wife into it, especially not if he's not even considered other options. I've witnessed this many times in Amish books and it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.
Of course, everything comes together in the end, but the characters experience a difficult journey of healing before they are fully reconciled. As can be expected, members of Anna Mae's family are still hurting from when she left the community, and her father in particular is adamant that she is no longer welcome at home. There are many sad points in this novella, and some of the characters begin to lose faith in the Beiler family ever all being together again. This is an endearing story of forgiveness, which not only finishes in a happy ending, but also a Christmas miracle!
While I didn't feel that this was up to the standard of Amy Clipston's previous books, this was a refreshing and sweet story. This tale of a family coming back together, healing past hurts and learning to forgive is perfect for the Christmas season. I think my main problems were merely that it is difficult to get any true depth of character development in a novella so I didn't really get to know any of the characters, and I felt a bit uncomfortable with the overbearing husbands in both Kathryn's David and Mary Rose's Henry. Maybe if parts of the story had been written from the points of view of the male characters I would have understood their behaviour better. But I won't let this spoil what is ultimately a pleasant Christmas story, and I hope to read more about the characters introduced in this novella, particularly Kathryn and Amanda. 7/10