On the surface, it appears that Jaime Fitzpatrick’s life could not be more different from Mattie Riehl’s. Jaime is a twenty-five-year-old aspiring photographer working at a Sears Portrait Studio who dreams of career success and the ability to acquire material comforts including a nice home. Her husband, C.J., is a devoted junior high school teacher and volunteer member of the local Search and Rescue team. Along with their trained dog, Tucker, C.J. has conducted many successful searches, as well as a few that ended tragically. Jaime and C.J. suffered their own tragedy six months ago when Jaime’s mother was instantly killed by a drunk driver while walking to her car following a church service. Since then, Jaime has been unable to sleep, anxious, depressed, and at war with the God in whom C.J. still believes and worships.
Mattie and her husband, Sol, have also known tragedy recently. After being blessed with their son, Danny, a high-spirited and curious six-year-old, they have been unable to have more children. A recent miscarriage has left Mattie despondent and questioning why she has been unable to realize what she always believed to be her life’s purpose: filling their loving Amish home with happy, thriving children. Sol has remained optimistic and consoling, but Mattie feels herself changing in a way that both shocks and frightens her.
When Jaime visits her doctor to obtain a prescription for more sleeping pills, she encounters the Riehl family in the waiting room. She is instantly mesmerized by this family of Plain people. When little Daniel accidentally leaves without his owl whistle, carved specially for him by his father, the doctor prevails upon Jaime to drop it off at the Riehls’ farmhouse. Jaime and C.J. are rushing to leave town and meet her father with whom they are going on a cruise over the Christmas holiday, designed to alleviate some of her sadness about spending her first Christmas without her mother. There is a nasty storm brewing and the forecast calls for another to follow right on its heels.
Suzanne Woods Fisher has received acclaim for her beloved Lancaster County Secrets Series trilogy about the Amish: The Choice, The Waiting, and The Search. She returns to that setting for A Lancaster County Christmas.
Fisher examines the life of Jaime Fitzpatrick, a talented and ambitious photographer who strives to see her mundane job as an opportunity to create art for her customers. She loves her husband, C.J., but is unhappy with the modest lifestyle they can afford. Jaime has been lucky to fill the void inside her for as long as she can remember. It probably originated from growing up without a father, but was exacerbated by her mother’s sudden, seemingly senseless death. She suspects that C.J. is having an affair with a colleague and will leave her, completely unable to accept that he could love her unconditionally just as she is. Her father’s reappearance in her life adds to her distress. He makes a lot of promises, but fails to keep them.
Mattie is a woman of quiet strength whose faith has been tested by her inability to conceive and carry another child to term. She, of course, leads a simpler life than Jaime, but their feelings of unworthiness and anger at God are similar. Mattie recognizes, though, that people are often brought into our lives at particular times so that we can learn from them, and strives to discern how she might grow from her interactions with the two English strangers who have arrived unannounced on her doorstep.
The storyline of A Lancaster County Christmas is predictable, the resolution and message easily foreseeable as soon as the pace begins to quicken. It is, after all, a Christmas story and Fisher delivers on her promised theme: God is always with us and never forsakes us no matter how dismal matters appear to be. That the story’s ending is not a mystery does not detract from its enjoyment, however. Once again, Fisher delivers two empathetic heroines whose challenges make their emotional experiences and faith journeys more alike than diverse. They are surrounded by intriguing supporting players, including, in addition to C.J., Sol, and the precocious Danny, Mattie’s young cousin Zach who is living with them after being kicked out by his Amish father because he is too intrigued and tempted by the ways of the modern world. Like Mattie and Jaime, Zach is struggling in his own right. He must decide whether he will be baptized and fully commit to the Amish way of life or leave his family to make his own way amid the English. A heart-pounding adventure rounds out the story’s appeal.
A Lancaster County Christmas delivers the Christmas message in an entertaining manner, not through overt proselytizing but, rather, through the believable experiences of its characters. It would make a wonderful holiday gift for a relative or friend who needs encouragement or a reminder about the upcoming season’s message, or for someone who simply enjoys reading tender and uplifting stories imbued with holiday spirit.