I often judge a book by the way I respond to the heroine. If the lead in the story is a vulnerable young girl, I’ll think, “She could be my daughter,” and find myself wanting to protect her. Sometimes the heroine is so sweet and pure and brave that I wish I could be her and live her life. In Myra Johnson’s One Imperfect Christmas, the heroine came alive to me in a special way for several reasons. First, because I moved my 81-year-old mother in with me this past year and could easily imagine being in Natalie’s situation. (See our family Thanksgiving photos here.) But mostly, I saw some of my own weaknesses and faults in Natalie. And even though I didn’t always like what I saw, I’m glad I took this journey with her.
What’s Natalie’s story? Here’s the blurb from the back of the book: Natalie Pearce loves Christmas so much she’d gladly make it a year-round celebration—until her mother suffers a massive stroke while taking down the decorations. Natalie’s guilt over not being there to help her mom soon builds a wall that separates her from the rest of her family, including her husband Daniel and their teenage daughter. As the next December approaches, the last thing Natalie wants to be reminded of is another Christmas season.
Natalie’s emotional pain is so great that she imprisons her heart in a protective shell. She loses touch with her joy and unique purpose. As she goes through the motions of daily life, her despair increases:
Seated on her secondhand apartment sofa, Natalie hugged her knees and watched the late-August sun climb into the morning sky. The effect lost some of its beauty as seen along the corrugated roofline of the sheltered parking area. Though she should have been dressed and on her way out the door by now, she still lingered in her gray sleep shirt, elephant-print bottoms, and bare feet. Despite the sunny morning, a dreary cloud hung over her—a lethargy of body and spirit . . .
A tremor worked its way up her body and culminated in a stifled sob. She felt as if she’d landed on a barren beach at the foot of a rocky cliff, with no way up and no way around. And behind her an angry sea closed in fast. If she didn’t find an escape route soon, she would surely drown. She needed help, and it was high time she admitted it.
Unfortunately, the prison with which Natalie punishes herself also brings pain to all those who once counted on her love and support, especially her feisty daughter Lissa. Will her family’s tenacious love and an unexpected Christmas gift from her mother help Natalie mend the broken pieces of their lives? Read the book and find out!
As I read this story, I couldn’t help but think of the following quote: “It’s amazing that we can know the God of the universe and not know our own hearts.” This book helped me know my heart better and reminded me that “God is greater than [my] heart and knows all things.” (I John 3:20) So why not trust Him to guard it?
Don’t be scared off by the serious tone of this story. Keep in mind the tragic parts of stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Those heart-wrenching scenes make the payoff at the end that much greater. So, yes, before you get to the hope-filled ending, you’ll hurt with Natalie, but you’ll also grow with her. If that keeps you from going to the same lengths before seeking God’s help and forgiveness, it’ll be well worth your time.
One Imperfect Christmas celebrates the central message of Christmas: that God came to a world full of hurting, imperfect folks like Natalie (and me!) to bring us peace and healing and, at long last, joy!
Christmas Gift Guide: Share this book with lover’s of women’s fiction who appreciate a story with substance. A young lady on the verge of adulthood might especially appreciate the lessons to be learned from both Lissa and Natalie. Bonus Idea: Since a star has special meaning in the book, decorate your package with a star ornament. The meaning of Natalie’s name also plays a role as the theme unfolds. So you may want to add a bookmark or ornament bearing the name of your giftee.
And don’t forget to visit Margaret at the Creative Madness Mama blog for other great Christmas-themed Christian book ideas.