Wanda’s Journal


What would happen if you found out someone has been impersonating you?

In my novel, The Forgiving Jar, which releases next month, Sara Murray had never met her mother’s parents and was surprised to learn after Mama’s death that her grandparents were living in Pennsylvania. When she is finally able to make the trip to meet them, and discovers they are Amish, Sara is shocked to learn someone else has been living with them and pretending to be her. Sara can’t understand how quickly her grandparents are willing to forgive the imposter.

Secrets and deceit seem to follow Sara, and she is so tired of it. Though soon, she meets Brad Fuller who is visiting her grandparents during Christmas. She likes him a lot, but when she is not totally honest with him, he pulls away from her.

Struggling, Sara finds an old canning jar hidden in the basement of her grandparents’ home that is full of encouraging prayers. Can Sara find a way to forgive the past and move on to building new relationships?

Has someone you know refused to forgive you for something you may have said or done to hurt them? Or is there someone who has hurt you in the past that you need to forgive? What better way to begin the New Year than to start it with a forgiving heart?

Christmas Traditions

At Christmastime, there are no decorated trees or blinking lights adorning Amish people’s homes. They do, however, make special cookies and candies as part of the holiday activity. Some Amish will string the Christmas cards they receive around a room in their home, or may set out some candles and greenery. The school children also put on a Christmas program for their friends and family at the schoolhouse, where they share poems, recitations, and songs. The scholars will often exchange gifts with others in their class. On Christmas morning, the Amish gather with their families for devotions, and then the children open their gifts. In the afternoon the Amish get together for a family meal. If Christmas Day falls near the end of the week, some church districts will hold their services on Christmas morning instead of the usual Sunday service.

In our “English” home we also have some special Christmas traditions. On Christmas Eve, after sharing a simple meal with some of our family members, we attend the candlelight service at our church, which includes singing Christmas Carols. When the service is over, we return to our son’s home to open gifts and enjoy some snacks or sweet treats. My husband and I usually host Christmas dinner in our home, and he enjoys cooking a turkey or ham. The decorations, tasty food, and gift-giving is secondary to the true meaning of Christmas, however. Focusing on the knowledge that God sent His only Son to earth as a gift for all who would believe on His name, is the best Christmas tradition of all.

What are some ways you and your family celebrate Christmas? Do you have any special traditions?

Thanksgiving Traditions

Most people have a special Thanksgiving recipe or holiday tradition, including the Amish. One tradition my father passed on to me was how to make a savory dressing to stuff inside the turkey before baking. My mother taught me how to make pumpkin and apple pies, which were also delicious. Today I would like to share one of my Amish friend’s special Thanksgiving recipes with you.

Perfect Pumpkin Pie

1 cup pumpkin or squash, cooked
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons flour
4 eggs yolks
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
2 – 9 inch pie shells, unbaked

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, flour, egg yolks, milk, and vanilla together until well blended. Fold in egg whites that have been stiffly beaten. Pour into the pie shells. Bake for 1 hour or until knife that has been inserted in the pie comes out clean. Yield: 2 pies

What is your favorite Thanksgiving recipe, and do you have any special holiday traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation?

Joyful Hearts

Every time my husband and I have been invited into an Amish home for supper we’ve enjoyed the light banter, joke-telling, and laughter that accompanies the meal. Recently, we visited some Amish friends in Ohio, and the joyful sound of laughter could be heard all evening as we talked, shared a meal, and sang several songs.
Having grown up in a house where laughter was scarce, I find it refreshing to be with people who like to laugh and have a good time. In fact, I often look for things to smile and laugh about, knowing that focusing on the positive is good for me emotionally as well as physically.
There are times when I might not feel joyful, but if I remind myself to look around, there’s always something to smile about—-a frisky animal, like the squirrel or rabbit who often visit our yard, singing birds, flowers in bloom, tress turning color in the fall, and children at play.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 17:22 that a merry heart is good medicine. Just like the birds that sing in my yard, our Amish friends know how to share their joy with others. A joyful heart is pleasing to the Lord, and it’s an added benefit to know that it’s good for you too. What are some things that bring a smile to your face?

Mistaken Identity

In my recent novel, The Hope Jar, Michelle Taylor takes on the identity of Sara Murray, an elderly Amish couple’s granddaughter. Willis and Mary Ruth Lapp have never met Sara before, and since Michelle resembles their daughter, Rhoda, whom they have not seen since she ran away from home many years ago, they believe the imposter is actually their long-lost granddaughter.

Has anyone you know ever hidden a truth from you or said something hurtful–something you never would have expected? If so, how did it make you feel? Were you able to forgive that person?

What does the Bible teach us about forgiveness?

One thing I admire about my Amish friends is their ability to forgive others who have hurt, or even harmed them. This kind of forgiveness does not come easy for anyone, but with God’s help we can find it in our hearts to forgive anyone who has hurt us physically or emotionally.

“Jesus said, ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.'” Matthew 6:14.

Simple Living

While we can’t all leave our modern way of life and join the Amish faith, the Amish way teaches us to slow down and focus on the important things in life.

Here are some simple living suggestions:

1. The Amish do without electricity and modern technology like television. Why not try turning off the TV and sitting quietly? Or you might go outside and enjoy the sounds of nature. What could be more pleasing than listening to the melody of birds singing or hearing the whisper of the wind as it caresses your face?

2. Since the Amish have no electric dryers, they hang their laundry outside to dry. When you have the time and the weather is nice, try hanging your laundry outside to dry. You’ll not only be saving energy, but the fresh, clean smell will relax your senses.

3. The Amish travel mostly by horse and buggy. They also walk many places, and some ride bikes or scooters. Whenever I ride in an Amish buggy I notice so many things around me. Why not take a leisurely walk in the country, or even a stroll around your neighborhood? It’s amazing how many things you’ll see when you walk instead of ride in a car. The fresh air and exercise is good for you, too.

4. One thing I’ve noticed about most of my Amish friends is that they like to read. Many have often said that they enjoy reading because it takes them to places they’ve never been able to visit. Reading is also a good way to relax. So as you read one of my novels, allow yourself to be drawn into the lives of my Amish characters.

5. At every Amish gathering I’ve ever been to, there’s been a lot of visiting going on. For the Amish, simple living involves spending time with their family and friends. Try visiting with a friend or family member, without the distraction of TV or radio in the background. You’ll be surprised at how enjoyable the conversation will be.

6. My husband and I have had the pleasure of eating in many Amish homes, and the home-cooked meals have always been delicious. Eating out less and fixing more home-cooked meals is a great way to simplify your living. You’ll not only be saving money, but there’s satisfaction in eating a delicious meal that’s been made from scratch.

7. While the Amish do buy some gifts that they give to family and friends, many of the gifts they give are homemade. Rather than buying all your birthday and Christmas presents, why not try making some handmade gift items to give friends and family members? There’s something satisfying about making a gift with your hands.

8. I’m always amazed when I see my Amish friend’s vegetable gardens. Besides the abundant crop that will help feed their family, their gardens are virtually weed-free. One way to live more simply is to grow a garden. If you don’t have room in your yard, you can plant vegetables in pots. Nothing tastes as delicious as fresh, homegrown produce.

9. Since the Amish don’t have electricity, they light their homes with propane or kerosene lanterns. Some also use candles for extra light in their rooms. When you want to live life a little more simply, try turning off the lights and eating a meal with only candlelight. Soft candlelight can be soothing and relaxing.

10. The old saying, “Many hands make light work,” is certainly true among the Amish. At work frolics and barn raisings there’s always more than enough help to get the job done. Even for things like preparing meals, cleaning the house, and doing outside chores, everyone chips in. Try getting together with some of your friends or family to do yard or household chores. It will get done much faster, and you’ll enjoy the fellowship that comes with working together.

11. The Amish take part in many volunteer activities. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, many Amish men belong to the volunteer fire department. Many Amish women make quilts and other items to sell at benefit auctions which help people in other parts of the world, like Haiti. After the terrible hurricane that struck Louisiana a few years ago, some of our Amish friends went there to help rebuild. Part of simple living is helping others, so why not devote more time to volunteer activities that involve helping people in need?

12. One of the things that impresses me the most about the Amish is their strong family values. If we want to experience simple living at its best, then we need to reinforce family values and strong family ties. Why not set aside a certain time every week to spend quality time with your family? You might play some games, work on a puzzle, or do whatever you enjoy together.

13. The Amish wear simple, plain clothes, and they wear no jewelry. Many of their clothes are homemade, and they don’t own a pair of shoes to go with every outfit. Buying fewer clothes and unnecessary material things is one way to simplify your living. We can often get by on much less than we think.

14. My Amish friends seem to have a more relaxed attitude than most English people I know. Whenever I’m with them, I feel more relaxed and patient. Try slowing your pace, and don’t be in a hurry to get everything done quickly. You’ll feel calmer and more relaxed.

15. The Amish I know have a time set aside every day for devotions. Even a few minutes in prayer and meditation each day will make you feel closer to God and the world He created.

What are some things you do to simplify your life?

Happy Place

I have many happy places, and one of them is visiting my Amish friends homes. I also enjoy spending time at the beach whenever I can. Another happy place is our backyard, where I can observe the variety of birds and other critters who find their way in. The other day we had a rabbit running around the yard, and of course, there are usually ducks who enjoy swimming in our pond.

The stresses of life can become overwhelming at times, but finding a happy place can help a person feel more relaxed and alleviate the stress. And while enjoying time in my happy place, I am reminded of a verse found in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Do you have a special place you can go that makes you feel happy and calm? How has visiting your happy place helped you deal with the stresses of life? Do you have a favorite verse from the Bible that helps you unwind and relax?

German Pizza

If you’re like me, you enjoy trying new recipes. I especially like fixing something different for supper. Since both my husband and I are eating gluten-free, sometimes it can be a challenge to fix things like pizza. However, in this tasty recipe, found in my Amish Cooking Class Cookbook, we can enjoy eating pizza without using any flour. Here are the directions for making Heidi Troyer’s German Pizza:

1 pound ground beef, browned 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 half medium onion, chopped 6 raw potatoes, shredded
1/2 green pepper, diced 3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided 1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese

In 12-inch skilled, brown beef with onion, green pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Remove beef mixture from skillet; drain skillet and melt butter. Spread potatoes over butter and sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Top with beef mixture. Combine eggs and milk, and pour over all. Cook, covered on medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Top with cheese, cover, and heat until cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Cut into wedges or squares to serve.

Do you have a favorite supper-time recipe to share?

In Secret

Shortly before Christmas last year, my husband and I wanted to do something special to help someone we knew of but didn’t know personally. However, we wanted to do it secretly, without that person knowing who had given them the gift.

Even though we will probably never know their response, or how much they may have appreciated the deed, it blessed us to be able to do something for someone in secret.

In Matthew 6, verse 3 (NIV), it speaks of giving in secret: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”

Have you ever done something to help someone without them knowing it was you? How did it make you feel? Have you ever received help or a gift from someone secretly? How did you respond to it?

Five Points of Amish Parenting

Amish parents feel it’s important to teach their children about God. An Amish child begins attending church with his family from the time he or she is a baby. At home, families have a time of devotions, so the children have plenty of exposure to the Bible and God’s teachings. Prayers are said, and Scripture is read in every Amish schoolhouse. Amish parents feel accountable to the Lord for the spiritual upbringing of their children.

Amish parents have an obligation to teach their children the importance of respecting others. I have visited many Amish homes and Amish schools, and have observed the children, and how they related to both adults and children. An Amish child is taught by his parents, as well as the school teacher, to be polite and have respect. While Amish children are not perfect, and they sometimes have disagreements with their siblings and peers, they are expected to behave in an orderly manner. Amish children are also taught that the Bible says we are to love one another.

Amish parents teach their children responsibility. As soon as an Amish child is old enough to understand and carry out directions, they are given small chores to do. As they grow older, their responsibilities increase, so by the time they graduate from the eighth grade, they are able to learn a trade and get a job. Many non-Amish businesses hire Amish employees because they know the Amish are hard workers, who will be honest and dependable.

Amish parents teach their children obedience. From an early age, Amish children are taught to respect and obey their elders. An Amish child is normally quiet and well-behaved in public. I have witnessed many times, while out shopping or in a restaurant, that Amish children do not run around hollering or hiding from their parents, as I’ve seen some “English” children do when they are not taught obedience.

Amish parents teach their children the importance of their heritage. Amish roots come from the Anabaptist faith, and Amish parents know the importance of teaching their children about the martyrs of old, who kept true to their faith, despite persecution. Reminders of their heritage are preached regularly in Amish church services, which take place bi-weekly in church members’ homes, barns, or some other outbuilding large enough to accommodate a large group. Many of the hymns that are sung during the 3-hour services are reminders of what their Anabaptist ancestors went through in or to preserve their faith.

Is there something special about your heritage that your children or grandchildren are being taught?