With the Christmas season in full swing, most folks are planning time with family at some point over the next few weeks. For many, it’s a time of coming home, reconnecting, and sharing memories of holidays past. For others, it’s a time of quiet reflection or a time of forming new traditions with the next generation. Bestselling author Ann Gabhart invites her readers to a Shaker Christmas in Christmas at Harmony Hill (Revell Books, $15.99, www.revellbooks.com), a story set in a community appearing in her previous novels.
The country is in the midst of brother fighting brother as the Civil War rages on. Heather Worth, in a desperate move to not be separated from Gideon, her new Yankee husband, leaves her parents and siblings behind to follow the army as a washerwoman. Even as she witnesses injuries and death, her devotion to her husband and her task does not falter. When she finds she is expecting, Gideon insists she must return home near her Christmas due date to birth their child away from a battlefield.
Things are not as she left them, however, when Heather completes the long journey home. With nowhere to turn, she takes her mother’s advice to seek shelter with the Shakers at Harmony Hill. She knows they will keep her safe and provide for her needs, but how can she feel secure in a community where babies are separated from their mothers, and the family unit does not exist? As she reflects on her situation, scared and feeling alone, she is reminded of how Mary must have felt as she prepared to birth the Christ child. And though the Shaker beliefs will never be her own, she finds new resolve through their faith.
As Gabhart fights a battle of her own, her faith has been bolstered by her readers, perhaps giving her new resolve as well. Gabhart was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, but the outlook is positive, as is her attitude. Statistics report that one of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, a number that Gabhart says still blows her away. She encourages women to stay current with mammograms, which is how her cancer was found.
“Since my diagnosis, I have been humbled by the many people who are praying for me,” she reports on her blog. “What a special gift to give me! Their time, their moments with the Lord. I know you will be praying for me too and I thank you in advance.”