Sunday, December 25, 2011

12th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoyed these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you missed a few posts, I hope you'll be able go back through and read them on this blog over the next few days. If you'd like to keep up with Pearl Girls and our new book project, Mother of Pearl, coming this spring, just click this link and sign up for our newsletter (lower left sidebar).

Also, just a reminder that today is the last day for the pearl necklace and earrings giveaway! Enter now by filling out this {form}. The winner will on 1/1 at the Pearl Girls blog.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.
***
Jesus -- The Reason For the Season
By: Rachel Hauck

Through the narrow scope of 2000 years, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears to be one lucky woman. Chosen by God to give birth to His son, the Savior of the world? All right, Mary, way to go.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” Gabriel said.

How many of us would like a declaration like that? Highly favored. The Lord is with you. But Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Mary’s seems confident and resolved when she responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

She’d just been told the Holy Spirit will come upon her, that God’s power will overshadow her, that she’d become with child even though she wasn’t married, and she said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Let your words be true.”

I find this amazing! A young woman. Ancient Bethlehem. Unwed mother. They stoned women for such things in her day. But Mary believed in God. And submitted to His will. He gave her the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit given to us. If He gave her confidence, He will give us confidence. Even though, like Mary, our situation seems impossible.

Listen to Mary’s song later on in the first chapter of Luke.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me Holy is his name…”

Conceiving a child out of wedlock, by Divine intervention. Not a girl’s every day existence. Yet she had a Yes in her heart to God. She rejoiced. She boldly said, “Generations will remember me!”

How we struggle to trust God with our children. Our finances. Our emotional well-being. We worry. We fret. And wonder why we have no peace.

Christmas is the season where words like joy, peace and love are bantered around like Christmas candy. Let’s not take them as just words, but as truth. Let’s be like Mary and embrace God’s favor on our lives. Boldly declare "He’s done great things for me!”

Out of the grit of our own souls, we can reach His heart, and feel Him reaching for ours. No matter the pain of our past, present or future, God is there for us. He is able. Best of all, He is willing. “My soul glorifies the Lord this Christmas!”

***
Rachel Hauck is an award winning, best selling author who believes God has done great things for her. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and ornery pets. Her next release is Love Lifted Me with multi-platinum country artist Sara Evans, January 2012. Then in April, look for The Wedding Dress. www.rachelhauck.com.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

11th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.


***
The Panhandler's Breath
By Robin Dance

He slipped in sideways between the closing elevator doors, as if he were late to a meeting; he pressed the "5" without looking. Instead of suit and tie, though, baggy pants and faded navy hung on his tall, slim frame...and his stealth entry stiffened the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had noticed him a few seconds earlier, just after we had parted a sea of clamorous teens. He was smiling, grandfatherly, standing maybe 30 feet away where the electric shuttle picks up.

I had no idea he had been watching us, studying us, predator patiently awaiting his next prey.

The four of us were sealed in a four- by six-foot metal tomb. Tomb--that thought really scampered across my mind. I wondered if he had a knife in his pocket. I wanted to protect my son. Fight or flight pumped adrenaline but there was no where to run.

Extreme and ridiculous, these thoughts - and more - flashed through my mind. The Stranger began speaking.

"Yessir, I see you're a family man with your wife and your son here..." and he nodded in my and my son’s direction.

"...you see I'm homeless and all I've got..." and on queue, he reached into his left pocket and pulled out two old pennies blackened with age. Two cents to his name?! It was all too contrived, too practiced, and I didn't believe a word he was saying.

It was then I smelled it ~ the small space lent itself to that ~ and I doubted my doubt.

His breath.

It wasn't the scent of alcohol. His eyes weren't red, his voice didn't waver; his wizened face matched his graying hair.

His breath was morning's, zoo breath, the pet name I'd given to the scent inhaled when kissing my children awake when they were little.

He needed to brush his teeth. I wondered how long it had been since he brushed his teeth.

The elevator door opened and I handed him my leftover pizza as my son and I brushed past him. My husband handed him a bill and the Stranger thanked and God blessed him.

The elevator door closed behind us. Conflicted, I was relieved.

We got in the car and blurted first reaction--

"I didn't believe a word he said."

"That made me nervous."

"I wonder if he'll really eat the pizza."

In the quiet, we were left to our own thoughts, contemplating the right thing to do. At the end of the day, this is what I decided: It doesn't matter whether or not his story is true; for an old man to resort to begging, he has to be desperate. The money my husband gave him will never be missed. It was a reminder we've been entrusted with much and given much. Materially, yes, but more so spiritually. Loved, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, graced, lavished--every spiritual blessing. E v e r y.

There's a part of me that wishes I would have been brave enough to ask the man his story, made sure he knew he was loved...and bought him a tooth brush.

Later, it occurred to me he could have been an angel. Doesn’t that mean generosity, kindness and hospitality is always the right response? Then it's not about you or the stranger or the circumstance, it's about a simple, God-glorifying response.

Had we entertained an angel unaware? We'll never know.

But it wouldn't be the first time the Breath of Heaven smelled like a zoo.

***
In a decades-old, scandalous affair with her husband, Robin also confesses mad crushes on her three teens. As Southern as sugar-shocked tea, she’s a recovering people pleaser who advocates talking to strangers. A memoirist, Compassion International Blogger, and Maker-upper of words, Robin writes for her own site, PENSIEVE, and also for (in)courage by DaySpring (a subsidiary of Hallmark) and Simple Mom. She loves to get to know readers through their blog comments and on Twitter and Pinterest. www.pensieve.me

Friday, December 23, 2011

10th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Inside Out Christmas
by Debora M. Coty

My veterinarian friend, Dr. Katie, tells the story about the December when a woman brought a very sick black lab into her clinic. The dog was only ten months old, so she was really just a big puppy, but she’d been vomiting incessantly and her worried owner didn’t know what was wrong.

“Why don’t you go on home?” Dr. Katie told the owner. “I’ll need to run tests for about four hours. We’ll give you a call when we’re finished.”

Dr. Katie’s assistant took x-rays and hung them on the light panel for Dr. Katie to examine. Hmm. Something looked a little peculiar. Dr. Katie called her assistant over.

“Is it just me, or does that look like a … a camel to you?” she asked incredulously.

“Matter of fact, it does,” replied the astute assistant. “And look, there’s an angel here, a shepherd there, and down there in the colon, it’s Baby Jesus!”

At that moment the phone rang. It was the dog’s distraught owner. “I can’t believe this! I just got home and glanced at the coffee table where I put my manger scene yesterday. There’s nothing there but an empty stable!”

As I thought about this quite literal technique for internalizing the true meaning of Christmas, it occurred to me that sometimes I have the opposite problem. With all the bustling busyness, my inner joy in celebration of my savior’s birth never really makes it to the outside.

Oh, I have plenty of glittery, festive evidences of the holiday in decorations, baking galore, and gifts under my tree. But those things are for show. They’re merely the pretty wrappings, not the gift itself.

Can people really see the core-deep joy that radiates within me when I think of the true gift that Papa God sent the world in his son, Jesus? Is my immeasurable gratitude for eternal life evident as I dash through this hectic season?

I’m afraid all too often, the answer is no.

I’m just too preoccupied to allow my outside to reflect my inside so that nonbelievers recognize that I rejoice because of the hope that is within me. My joy is obscured by the mounds of clutter. Gratefulness is sucked out of my soul by the vacuum called urgency.

“But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy” (Psalm 68:3, NLT).

This verse has become my prayer this Christmas season – that I would make the time to give priority to rejoicing, being glad in God’s presence, and letting my inner joy show for those who may be silently desperate to know the giver of true joy.

Yep, there’s a better way to internalize the gift of Christmas than the black lab technique. We can lodge the Little Lord Jesus in our hearts rather than our colons.

***
Debora M. Coty is a humorist, inspirational speaker, and award-winning author of twelve books, including Too Blessed to be Stressed, and coming in March, More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. Debora would love to swap Christmas hugs with you at www.DeboraCoty.com.

Alienation: The C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy Book 2 by Jon S. Lewis

I received this book free from booksneeze.com for my honest review of this book.

Book Description:

The invasion was only the beginning . . .

After his parents were killed in a car accident, Colt McAllister was drawn into a world he thought only existed in comic books—one where mind control, jet packs, and flying motorcycles don't even scratch the surface.

Along with his best friends Oz and Danielle, Colt is now training at the secret Central Headquarters Against the Occult and Supernatural academy. But strange accidents seem to follow him. . . even with the security of the school grounds. What first seems random soon turns deadly. But who is targeting Colt?

As the alien invasions increase in frequency and force, C.H.A.O.S resources are taxed to the limit and they're forced to utilize the new recruits. In the midst of battle, Colt will discover some startling revelations . . . about himself, his friendship with Oz, and why he has been chosen to defeat this alien attack against earth.

My  Thoughts: Alienation is the 2nd book in The C.H.A.O.S. trilogy by Jon S. Lewis. I read his first book in this series and loved it so I couldn't wait for Alienation to come out.  The C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy books are classified as Young Adult fiction but I have personally enjoyed both of the books in this trilogy.  The story picks up with Colt, Danielle, and Oz getting ready to leave for Virginia to start training at the C.H.A.O.S. Academy.   Strange things start happening to Colt and it seems someone is after him.  Also Colt finds out from buried memories that he is believed to be The Betrayer. Someone wants Colt dead, he is a threat to this person.  The story is awesome. Its fast paced and keeps you guessing at what will happen next.  I love the details and descriptions of the aliens, the environment, and the people. I could envision everything as it was happening. Jon S. Lewis is a talented author and I truly have enjoyed his books so far! I highly recommend this book and this series!!



Thursday, December 22, 2011

9th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Simple or Sparkle?
by Tracey Eyster

It’s a simple ornament made of thin cheap metal and it looks quite out of place on our CHRISTmas tree. But each year I lovingly and safely nestle it amongst its expensive and sparkly peers, without a care as to how unglamorous it appears.

Many of our CHRISTmas ornaments have a story and an uncanny way of welling up emotion in me, but this certain one causes an intense stir.

You see the ornament is engraved with the name of my grandmother, Sara, and was given to me by my mother, who ordered it from Hospice, after Grandmama’s death. Yes, the months leading up to her death carry memories of a frail and failing grandmama, but that ornament carries my thoughts to sweet CHRISTmas memories of the past.

CHRISTmas Eve dinners in her home, laughing, singing, gathering and celebrating a year filled with blessings as we remembered the birth of our Savior. CHRISTmas mornings, she was always there participating with glee, in our raucous CHRISTmas happiness. Her gifts were always bank envelopes gently tucked into the pine needles of our CHRISTmas tree, fresh cut from the property she grew up on.

All memories of my Grandmama make my heart swell. You see she was my Jesus with skin on. She lived her life full of joy, serving others and approached life selflessly with an attitude of, “What can I do for you?”

Just months before she left us, even as the Alzheimer’s was robbing her mind she shared her love of Jesus with a sweet little old lady friend, who came to know the Lord – a divine appointment.  The very next day that little old lady silently slipped away to meet in person the One Sara introduced her to just the day before.

At the time I wept, realizing that regardless of our own frailties and failings, God can still use those of us who are willing to do His work and are well practiced at hearing His voice...no matter our lack of sparkle in comparison to others.

A simple life lived for Him, a simple ornament in memory of Sara...a simple truth for you to ponder.

***
Tracey Eyster wife, mom, relationship gatherer and Creator/Editor of FamilyLife’s MomLife Today is a media savvy mom making a difference where moms are, on-line. Through speaking, writing and video interviews Tracey is passionate about encouraging, equipping and advising moms on every facet of momlife. Her first book, Be The Mom will be released August 2012. You can connect with Tracey at www.momlifetoday.com, her personal site www.traceyster.com or www.twitter/momblog.com.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

8th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Enjoy the Ride!
Susan May Warren

We sit poised on the top of a cliff, a near drop off before us, that falls to a rushing river. In the middle, a bridge of snow and ice hints at our destination. My husband guns the snowmobile engine. “Ready?”

Ready? For a face plant into a tree, maybe reconstructive surgery? To feel my stomach ripped from my body as we plummet down the mountain? Let’s do it!

We live on five acres of woods in northern Minnesota that butts up to a national forest. Hence, our backyard is about a hundred thousand acres. Aside from harboring deer, lynx, fox, cougar and bear, it also makes excellent snowmobile terrain. And not long ago, Mrs. Claus gave her Santa a snowmobile for two.

I love snowmobiling. Flying over the snow, catching air over drifts. I love to drive, to be at the helm of the beast as I weave around trees and over hill and dale, my husband sitting behind me. I also love riding behind my husband as he drives, feeling those powerful arms as he’s muscling the snowmobile into the wilds. We follow unknown trails, driven by a Magellan spirit, hoping that we have enough gas to get us back to civilization. I love hanging on, simply trusting him, knowing that wherever he’s taking me, he’s going first.

But there are times, when I see where he’s taking me, and I just have to bury my head in his back. Like straight down a cliff.

However, my heart cheers, despite the terror as we gun it down the hill, over the river, up the opposite side. And, if we hadn’t let ourselves go, we would have never discovered the beauty of a winter river, a hidden jewel buried deep in the forest. Nor the exhilaration of facing the challenge together.

Further on, we find an enchanted forest of towering white pine. Catch a view of Lake Superior, discover an old cabin in the woods.

It occurs to me that snowmobiling is much like my spiritual life. Occasionally, I drive, and it’s me setting our course, weaving through the trees, getting us hopelessly lost. But when God takes the “wheel” and I hang on, trusting Him for the speed and destination, I see the scenery. I trust him to keep me safe. I trust him to bring me home, where there is an eternal supply of hot chocolate.

As Christmas season becomes more hectic, what if I let God drive?  Maybe everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and maybe I don’t have to control every tradition, every holiday nuance. What if I just held on for the ride?

I’ll bet I’ll still get there, and I might even enjoy the scenery along the way.

How have you let go, and “enjoyed” the scenery of this hectic, exhilarating Christmas season?

Merry Christmas!

***
Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of thirty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press.  A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award.  A seasoned women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!.  She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

7th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Family Traditions: A Glimpse into Christmas Future
by Tricia Goyer

Have you ever thought about family traditions? As I helped my 1-year-old place ornaments on the Christmas tree this year I imagined her doing the same thing with her children—and maybe even grandchildren—one day. Traditions are beliefs and customs handed down through generations. By sharing meaningful moments with your kids you're sending yourself into the future. How amazing is that?

Sharing family traditions cause us to slow down from the busy, adult world for a while. We ignore the laundry to set out the nativity set with our kids. We set aside time in our schedules to drive around and look at Christmas lights.

Holiday traditions aren't only fun, they also help strength family bonds. Through traditions kids trust in the security of family unit. They think, “This is our family and this is what I do.” Of course, the most important thing to share isn't just what we do ... but why. Why do we put out a nativity? To remind us the real meaning of the season—Jesus coming to earth. What do the Christmas lights represent displayed on homes and on trees? They represent the Light of the World, Jesus.

Using traditions to bond our families and share our faith isn't new. I love these two Scriptures that talk about that very thing.

Exodus 12:25 says, “When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.”

Psalm 78:4 says, “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.”

What are you're traditions? Here are a few of ours:
Baking a Birthday cake for Jesus
Buying a new ornament every year for each child
Acting out the Christmas story (with props!)
Praying together before opening presents

What are your traditions? Write a list and appreciate them in a new way this year. Then ask, “If I could add one new tradition this holiday season, what would it be?” I'd love to hear what you choose! It also makes me smile to think of your children's grandchildren doing the same.

***
Tricia Goyer is a CBA best-selling author and the winner of two American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Awards (Night Song and Dawn of a Thousand Nights). She co-wrote 3:16 Teen Edition with Max Lucado and contributed to the Women of Faith Study Bible. Also a noted marriage and parenting writer, she lives with her husband and children in Arkansas. www.triciagoyer.com

Monday, December 19, 2011

6th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Let The Baby Grow Up This Christmas
By Shellie Tomlinson

When I was a little girl, Christmas seemed to take forever to make its way back to our little house on the end of a dirt road called Bull Run in northeast Louisiana. We kids started counting down the days before the leaves ever began turning. Sure, the adults said it came once a year but I wasn't so sure. Once Santa Claus left our humble abode it seemed like light years before he found his way back to the Delta.

That was a child's perspective. I imagine it hasn't changed all that much for today's kids. On the other hand, I'm operating under a completely different time frame these days. It seems like it was just yesterday when I pulled the boxes down from the attic and began pulling out the nativity scene, the miniature lights, and the keepsake ornaments. And now, just that fast-- Christmas Day is right around the corner. Soon the tree will be striped naked and the piled up presents will all be distributed. After a few more day it'll be hard to remember who got what from whom, and once again, I'll start packing all the decorations away for another year.

I was thinking about how bare and cold the house always looks after the holidays when I realized that, sadly, this  scene would play itself out in many hearts as well. A lot of people will have had expectations that weren't filled and many of those same souls will be left with hurts that don't seem to heal. Unless this year is remarkably different from past seasons, my bet is, the New Year will bring magazines full of articles on combating depression and the talk shows will have experts on offering ways to fill the long days ahead and cure the winter blues.

I'm no expert, dear readers, but I'd like to offer you a suggestion that will go far beyond the creature comforts of a nice warm bath or a delicious bowl of hot soup. Your heart doesn't have to be bare and naked after the holidays. Do you want to know the real secret? It's simple, really. Don't pack up Christ with Christmas! As beautiful and special as the Christmas story is, it's only a part of heaven's miracle. The Christ child grew into a man and the man became a Savior.

This year, may we be determined to let the babe from Bethlehem live on in our hearts. If we'll allow Him to become the Messiah He was born to be, the joy of Christmas can be ours all year long.

***
Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is an author, speaker, and radio host from Louisiana. Her latest release Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy was endorsed by Jeff Foxworthy as "laugh out loud funny!" You can find Shellie's weekly southern features, podcasts, video chats and more at http://www.allthingssouthern.com/ Make sure to get by the blog  and read about the Super Christmas Giveaway Shellie is hosting for her readers and secure your chance to win a Mort Kunstler print valued between $700 and $1400. www.allthingssouthern.com

Sunday, December 18, 2011

5th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
The Snowflake Party 
By Deborah Raney

The first snow of winter hasn’t fallen yet, but in our kitchen tonight we’re doing a pretty good imitation. The whole family is circled around the huge old oak table. The snip, snip, snip of scissors is background music as tiny scraps of white paper float down, making our floor look like a giant brownie sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Tonight has turned out to be the night for our annual Snowflake Party, a tradition that began when our children were toddlers. There has never been a date blocked out in red on our calendar, but one day we wake up and the brisk autumn air has turned bitter cold. Naked tree branches trace their stark calligraphy on a dull grey sky and we need a taste of the joyful promises of Christmas and snow. It’s the perfect time for a party.

On such a day, one of the kids will fly in the back door, fresh home from school, and declare “Hey, Mom! Tonight would be a good night for the Snowflake Party!” First we round up every pair of scissors in the house. This is one time when sharing is not a virtue. While the kids search for scissors, I cut white paper into squares and fold them caddy-corner multiple times. The resulting triangles are artfully arranged in a basket, awaiting the beginning of the party.

Later, while the supper dishes dry on the counter, I recruit a volunteer to help me stir up a big pot of hot cocoa. For the next hour it will warm on the back burner, tantalizing us with its aroma.

Now the fun begins with careful cutting and snipping, shaping plain white paper into intricate works of art. Each snowflake we create seems as unique and spectacular as the genuine variety created by God himself. As each masterpiece is unfolded, collective oohs and aahs go up.

When the last dregs of our creative juices are drained, Dad oversees the vacuum patrol while I pour cocoa into generous mugs. We spread our handiwork on the floor around us and sit, quietly admiring our work while we dunk marshmallows and sip rich chocolate.

With empty mugs piled up in the sink, it’s time for the judging to begin. There will be awards for ‘prettiest’, ‘most unusual’, and as many other categories as we need for everyone to be a winner. Dad is the judge because he studied art in college. He also usually wins one of the top prizes––because he studied art in college.

Snowflakes deemed runners-up might be pasted in scrapbooks or hung on the refrigerator. A few even “melt” into the trash that very night. But the winners are taped proudly to the picture windows in the living room for passersby to enjoy while they long for the day when genuine snowflakes will color the world clean and white.

Our oldest daughter went away to college last September. She called just after Thanksgiving to tell me that her dorm window was covered with snowflakes. No, not the real thing, but the ones she remembers from her childhood––paper ones that she spent an entire evening cutting and snipping while sipping hot cocoa.

That’s the neat thing about traditions: They go with us no matter how far from home we travel.

***
DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have since won the RITA Award, ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. After All, third in her Hanover Falls Novels series will release next spring from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in Kansas. Their four children are grown now and having snowflake parties with their own children––and they all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the web at www.deborahraney.com.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4th Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.
***

Why I Decorate for Christmas
By Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser

An old cassette tape of Christmas carols—received in a package twenty years ago when we had first arrived in France as missionaries—fills our den with delightful piano music as I place one more ornament on the already over-laden Christmas tree.  This one is a little white wooden rabbit with pink ears that move back and forth.  It actually doesn’t look much like a Christmas ornament, but I bought it for our baby Andrew when my husband Paul was in seminary, and I was working for less than minimum wage in the library.  This ornament was literally all I could afford.

As I hang it on the tree today, I get goose bumps and then a rush of warmth.  And that’s why I decorate for Christmas.  Not to impress but to remember.  I remember those lean, lean years, and God’s faithful provision for us.

There are the cross-stitched ornaments I made our first year in Montpellier—for the boys (for by now we had two sons) and Paul and me.  How I ever had time to do that, I don’t know.  I remember our puny little tree—the kind they sold in France back then—in a pot so that it could be replanted later.  We perched that tiny tree on a small table out of baby Christopher’s reach.  I guess I watered it too much, because about halfway through December, it started smelling and then stinking, and it rotted there on Christmas Day!

I smile with these memories.

I look at the other ornaments on the tree.  Many were purchased—one for each boy—when we attended conferences around Europe, and that makes me smile too.  Getting to travel on a missionary’s budget to exotic places!  There are the waxed red bear and red baby carriage from Wales, the brightly painted clay sun and moon from Portugal, the blue and white porcelain windmill and wooden shoes from Holland, the hand-blown glass Snoopys sitting on gondolas from Venice, and the delicately decorated eggs from Prague.

Other ornaments include the little pinkish shiny ball ornament with Paul’s name written in glitter—I think he made it when he was about six , and the little red velvet bows, bought at Michael’s after Christmas one year for a dollar.  They bring a unifying theme to the tree.  I say this, smiling, because our tree is, and has always been throughout the years, a hodge-podge of our life.  And I like it that way.  I don’t think I could ever have a ‘theme’ tree.  Mine is a ‘memory’ tree.

The music plays softly in the background and I smile through tears, remembering God’s incredible faithfulness to call and keep us here in France for so many years.  Heart-breakingly hard years, overwhelmingly joyful years—the same years, the same amazing God, our keeper.

Before we left for the mission field, I memorized Psalm 121 in English and in French, and over the years I have held on tight to those last beautiful words of the psalm:  The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. (NASB)

Of course He will.  He is God with us.

We decorate to remember Christmases past, our lives, our legacy, and mostly, for those of us who have embraced Christ, we decorate to honor and praise Him for coming to us—Emmanuel!  We make our homes ready to receive the Christ Child, with soft music and candles burning and the sweet flickering of angel wings on an over-laden evergreen.

***
ELIZABETH GOLDSMITH MUSSER, an Atlanta native and the bestselling author of The Swan House, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’  For over twenty years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions work with International Teams.  They presently live near Lyon, France. The Mussers have two sons and a daughter-in-law. The Sweetest Thing (Bethany House, 2011) is Elizabeth’s eighth novel. To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, and to find discussion questions as well as photos of sites mentioned in the stories, please visit www.elizabethmusser.com and her Facebook Fan Pagewww.elizabethmusser.com

Friday, December 16, 2011

3rd Pearl Of Christmas

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Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Babbie Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Where is Comfort and Joy Found?
By Sandy Ralya

The year 2006 ushered unwelcome emotions into my life. My husband was unhappy in his job, two of my grown children were making poor choices, my mother-in-law was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, extended-family issues were surfacing, and I was writing a book. Things only got worse. Much worse.

Early in 2007, I was asked to represent the mentoring ministry for wives I founded, Beautiful Womanhood, and lead a women’s conference in Uganda, Africa. My husband wasn’t sure if traveling to Africa was a good idea, so we committed it to prayer. While we were listening for an answer, I sensed God asking me to fast from spending, except for groceries, for thirty days. Sometimes you know that you’ve heard God’s voice because you’d never have come up with those words on your own. This was one of those times. I’d never heard of a fast from spending. Tom needed no convincing that a fast from spending came directly from the mouth of God. He still gets excited just thinking about it!

During the fast, it became clear I had used spending as a way to gain a comfort fix. When I was spending money, I felt carefree and lighthearted. Instead of dwelling on the unpleasantness in my life, I was thinking of my purchases and how they would bring me pleasure. Not until I stopped spending did I realize how short-lived the fix really was. During the fast, when I felt the urge to spend—to anesthetize my pain—I pictured myself running into the arms of Jesus, the Great Comforter. Oh, what comfort I received!

One night, I told good friends my experience of gaining comfort through the power of the Holy Spirit rather than money. I exclaimed that I had never felt so comforted. One friend then told us about a dream he’d had shortly after hearing about the invitation from Uganda. After the dream, he had awoken and recorded the following thoughts:

“. . . this is for Sandy. Christ’s redemption of women is beautiful. Beautiful Womanhood is a result of redemptive wholeness. The visuals the ministry uses on the books, etc., are like a piece of beautifully veneered furniture. There is something going on with the ministry to the brokenness of abused women. In Uganda, there are hurting, abused women, and something is connecting their need and Beautiful Womanhood. Though there is nothing wrong with veneer, it is only the topping—the covering, and without good structure it is shallow and will not hold up. It is time to add a new depth to the ministry.”

Then these verses came to my friend’s mind:

All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NL

When my friend was finished sharing, everyone in the room broke down in tears, praising God for His work in my life. I’d learned to listen and God had spoken. I’d obeyed, and He’d acted. When He acted, I was changed.

Needless to say, I packed my bags and experienced some of the best days of my life in Uganda—offering God’s comfort to His troubled women.

***
Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980 and live near Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have three adult children and a growing number of grandchildren. When not writing and speaking, Sandy enjoys shopping at yard sales for vintage clothing, cooking, travelling, and drinking really good coffee (black is best) with her husband. For more information, contact Sandy at sandy@beautifulwomanhood.com. Subscribe to Sandy’s blog at www.beautifulwomanhood.com/blog. Find Sandy on Facebook at Beautiful Womanhood. Follow Sandy on Twitter @MentoringWives.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2nd Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

*** 
Advent By Sibella Giorello

Consider the bride's walk down the aisle. We all know where that woman in the white is going but somehow waiting for her to arrive at the altar is an essential part of the ceremony. In fact, the waiting is so essential that even cheapskate Vegas chapels include wedding marches.

Why?

Because the wait adds meaning to the moment.

At Christmas time, we tend to forget this essential truth about anticipation. We're lost to shopping malls and checklists, rushing toward December 25th so quickly that we forget the quiet joy of the month's other 24 days -- and then we wonder why we feel so empty on the 26th, amid ribbons and wrapping paper and our best intentions.

Because the wait adds meaning to the moment.

And that is why Advent is so important to Christmas.

I'm as guilty as the next harried person. This Advent was particularly tricky because just six hours before it started, I was still trying to finish a 110,000-word novel that was written over the course of the year -- written while homeschooling my kids, keeping my hubby happy, and generally making sure the house didn't fall down around us.

It's an understatement to say my free time is limited. But waiting adds meaning, and Advent is crucial to Christmas, so I've devised several Advent traditions that are simple, powerful and easy to keep even amid the seasonal rush.

When my kids outgrew the simple Advent calendars around age 7, I stole an idea from my writer friend Shelly Ngo (as T.S. Eliot said, "Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal." Indulge me.)

Here's how it goes: Find 24 great Christmas books, wrap them individually and place then under the tree. On the first day of Advent, take turns picking which book to open. When we did this, we would cuddle under a blanket and read aloud -- oh, the wonder, the magic! We savored "The Polar Express," howled with "How Murray Saved Christmas," and fell silent at the end of "The Tale of The Three Trees" (note: some of the picture books I chose were not explicitly about Christmas but they always echoed the message that Jesus came to earth to save us from ourselves and to love us beyond our wildest imagination. In that category, Angela Hunt's retelling of The Three Trees definitely hits the Yuletide bull's eye).

This Advent tradition lasted for about five years. It gave us rich daily discussions about the season's real meaning, without being religious or legalistic, and it increased family couch time. But like the lift-the-flap calendars, my kids outgrew the picture books.

Because the wait adds meaning, and Advent is crucial, I prayed for another way to celebrate anticipation of Christmas. By the grace of God, last year I found an enormous Advent calendar on  clearance at Pottery Barn. Made of burlap, it has large pockets big enough to hold some serious bounty.
 
But my husband and I didn't want the kids focusing only on the materialist stuff for Advent -- we already fight that on Christmas day. We decided to fill the daily pockets with simple necessities and small gift cards. We also printed out the nativity story from Luke 2:1-21 in a large-sized font and cut each verse out. From Day 1 to Day 21, there is one verse to read aloud. The kids memorize it, then get to open their present (again, on alternating days for each person). Then we tape the verse to the wall in order. By Day 22, all the verses are on the wall, in order, and the kids now try to recite the entire nativity story from memory. That's not as difficult as it sounds because they've been memorizing one verse each day. Still, the entire recitation -- verbatim -- usually requires Day 23 and Day 24. Whoever does memorize the entire thing -- without mistakes --  earns a bonus gift of $25.

Does that sounds extravagant?

It is.

Because we want our kids to understand that God came down and humbled himself and taught us about love right before He suffered and died on behalf of the undeserving -- which is every one of us.

"That's" extravagant.

And in the waiting, we find even more meaning.

***
Sibella Giorello writes the Raleigh Harmon mystery series which won the Christy Award with its first book "The Stones Cry Out." She lives in Washington state with her husband and children, and often wishes there were 36 hours in a day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

First Pearl of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

A Christmas of Kindness
By Suzanne Woods Fisher

"You can give without loving, but you can¹t love without giving." Amish proverb

I do it every year.

I plan for a simpler, less stressful Christmas season and, every year, by Christmas Eve I'm exhausted! After our delicious and very-time-consuming-to-make traditional Swedish meal to honor my husband¹s relatives (think: Vikings), it's time to head to church. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the last few Christmas Eve's, I have sent my husband and kids head off without me. The pull to spend an hour of quiet in the house feels as strong as a magnet.

It's odd. My children are young adults now. Wouldn't you think that Christmas would be simpler? Instead, it's just the opposite. Jugging schedules to share the grandbaby with the in-laws, trying to include our elderly parents at the best time of day for them, dancing carefully around recently divorced family members whose children are impacted by the shards of broken relationships.

The thing is: you can simplify your to-do list, but you can't really simplify people. We are just a complicated bunch.
Here's where I borrow a lesson about simplicity from the Amish. It's easy to get distracted with the buggies and the bonnets and the beards, but there's so much more to learn from these gentle people if you're willing to look a little deeper.

Yes, they live with less "stuff" and that does make for a simpler, less cluttered life. But it's the reason behind it that is so compelling to me: they seek to create margin in their life. Not just empty spacebut space that is available to nourish family, community, and faith. Their Christmas is far less elaborate than yours or mine, but what they do fill it with is oh so right.

Christmas comes quietly on an Amish farmhouse. There is no outward sign of the holiday as we know it: no bright decorations, no big tree in the living room corner. A few modest gifts are waiting for children at their breakfast place settings, covered by a dishtowel. Waiting first for Dad to read the story of Christ's birth from the book of Luke. Waiting until after a special breakfast has been enjoyed. Waiting until Mom and Dad give the signal that the time has come for gifts.

Later, if Christmas doesn't fall on a Sunday, extended family and friends will gather for another big meal. If time and weather permits, the late afternoon will be filled with ice skating or sledding. And more food! Always, always an abundance of good food. Faith, family, and community. That is the focus of an Amish Christmas.

And it's also how the story begins for A Lancaster County Christmas, as a young family prepares for Christmas. A winter storm blows a non-Amish couple, Jaime and C.J. Fitzpatrick, off-course and into the Riehl farmhouse. An unlikely and tentative friendship develops, until the one thing Mattie and Sol hold most dear disappears and then. Ah, but you¹ll just have to read the story to find out what happens next. Without giving anything away, I will say that I want to create a Mattie-inspired margin this Christmas season. Mattie knew inconveniences and interruptions that come in the form of people (big ones and little ones!) are ordained by God. And blessed by God.

Creating margin probably means that I won't get Christmas cards out until the end of January, and my house won't be uber-decorated. After all, something has to give. But it will mean I make time for a leisurely visit with my dad at his Alzheimer's facility. And time to volunteer in the church nursery for a holiday-crowded event. And time to invite a new neighbor over for coffee. Hopefully, it will mean that my energy won't get diverted by a frantic, self-imposed agenda. Only by God's agendathe essence of true simplicity.

And that includes taking time to worship Christ's coming at the Christmas Eve service. You can hold me accountable! This year, I will be there.

***
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, and The Keeper, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Christy Award nominee and is the host of an internet radio show called Amish Wisdom and her work has appeared in many magazines. She lives in California. www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.

Monday, December 12, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 3rd Annual Pearl Girls™ 12 Pearls of Christmas blogging series!

We've gathered several of today's most beloved authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along beginning tomorrow (Wednesday the 14th) through Christmas day as Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Rachel Hauck, Sandy Ralya, Sibella Giorello, Susan May Warren and more, share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

If you'd like to share the 12 Pearls of Christmas with your blog readers too, just email Christen and she'll send you the series.

AND of course there is a giveaway! Beginning tomorrow you and all your friends can enter to win a PEARL NECKLACE and EARRINGS valued at $450! The winner will be announced on New Year's Day! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

***
Just a quick note before the series begins on the 14th ...

As I write this, I imagine that we are sitting at my kitchen table and chatting over a cup of coffee while familiar Christmas carols celebrate the Season. My twelve year old Chihuahua, Pongo, barks for a pinch of pound cake while my Shih Tzu, Lilly, patiently sits by the chair and waits for a crumb to fall.

My name is not Martha Stewart, and I will never receive a neighborhood beautification award. Just look at my front stoop. Yes, my never-had-time-to-carve-the-pumpkin-that-now-suffers-from-frostbite slouches next to the front door which is decorated with a Christmas wreath. I plan to roll this large orange ornament to the garbage pile tomorrow. For now, however, I will pretend that my front stoop is a contemplative modern art exhibit capturing the essence of contrast.

Actually, I love the concept of juxtaposition – placing things together that don’t seem to belong together, yet somehow ultimately make sense being paired. A personal example for me this season is the phrase: “comfort and joy.” Having just completed my manuscript for New Hope Publishers about the aftermath of grief, I fully understand the contrast of those two words. How can comfort bring joy? How can one find joy in loss?

Perhaps, dear reader, you have experienced loss this year – loss of a loved one, loss of friendship, loss of health,  loss of financial security, loss of trust, loss of love, or loss of direction. Even with the best intent, words of encouragement shared by others can somehow seem insufficient to address an inconsolable loss.  A spoken word cannot fully restore joy to a broken heart; however the Word can. And that’s the bottom line message of Christmas! God gave us the most amazing gift: His Son -  the Word of God, the Holy Comforter.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

You are not alone this Christmas, dear friend. Juxtaposed to the unexpected grit in life is the gift of God’s grace wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This year I purposely placed a pearl in the Nativity scene as a metaphoric reminder. When we place our grit into the hands of the Lord, His grace transforms our pain into a pearl.

 “Joy to the world!”  

Thank you so very much for sharing the JOY of the Season with us this year.

God Bless,
Margaret
@mcsweeny
 ***
Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband, David and two teenage daughters in the Chicago suburbs. She is the founder and director of Pearl Girls. For more information please visit www.pearlgirls.info. Margaret is fast at work on several fiction manuscripts. Her book Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace was written to help fund the Pearl Girl Charities. She is also the host of weekly radio show, Kitchen Chat. Connect with Margaret on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Christmas Singing by Cindy Woodsmall

Check out this book trailer for Cindy Woodsmall's newest book The Christmas Singing available now
Also you can read the complete first chapter by following this link: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/69473983?access_key=key-rgtk38e2713pbbb4tc2

From now until Dec 20th you can purchase The Christmas Singing at www.waterbrookmultnomah.com and receive 30% off with Promo Code Christmas11.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Following!!!

Please become a follower of my blog!! Would love to have you!!

So we moved!!

So after being with Wordpress.com blogs since I started blogging I decided to move to blogger. Wordpress just wasn't offering what I needed for my blog so here we are!! Looking forward to being able to do new things here as I learn more!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Song Among the Trees By Susan Meissner

I received this book from bloggingforbooks.com for free for my honest review of this book.

Book Description:
A house shrouded in time.
A line of women with a heritage of loss.

As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesn’t believe that Susannah’s ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.

When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husband’s home, it isn’t long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.

With Adelaide’s richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak— and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.

My Thoughts:
A Sound Among the Trees is the first book by Susan Meissner I have read. I love stories with historical ties to the Civil War so this one caught my eye right away. The story comes from the history of Holly Oak, the Virginian mansion that survived the destruction of Fredericksburg during the Civil War. Many believe the house is haunted by its previous owner Susannah, who they thought was a traitor to the South because she helped the Union Army. Others believe the mansion is cursed and demands a blood toll from all the women that live there. This story goes through the whole history of this mansion and the women who lived there. It is believed by the neighbors and some of the occupants that it is haunted by Susannah Page. The story is a good one and the historical information is awesome. My absolute favorite part of the book was Part Four of the book where its all letters written by Susannah. Also the "chapters" were not numbered. Susan Meissner writes with A LOT of authority about the South during the Civil War and that time period. It is an interesting story that is a nice read. I look forward to reading more from Susan Meissner. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a good book for you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Amish Wedding By Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, and Kelly Long

I received this book from Booksneeze.com for free for my honest review of this book.

Book Description:
Three Amish women yearn for the perfect wedding.

"A Perfect Plan" by Beth Wiseman

Priscilla King has been planning to marry Chester Lapp since she was sixteen years old, and when Chester proposes on Priscilla’s nineteenth birthday, wedding plans begin immediately. What wasn't planned was all the problems the couple encounters as their big day approaches. A house disaster, a ruined wedding dress, and a sick attendant all make the couple wonder if God's sending them signs to call things off.

"The Perfect Match" by Kathleen Fuller

Naomi Fisher has had great success at matchmaking her family members and friends. Now with her sister’s wedding right around the corner, Naomi wonders why she’s able to find husbands for her friends and family, but not one for herself.

"The Perfect Secret" by Kelly Long

Rose Bender has recently become engaged to handsome but somber Luke Raber. She agrees out of a sense of duty and a willingness to settle for solid friendship as a basis for the engagement. But as she watches her friend's excitement over her soon-to-be wedding, Rose wonders if there shouldn’t be more to her relationship with Luke. She begins to examine Luke and his life more closely and is amazed when she stumbles upon an exciting, secret side of him that engages her mind and heart.

My Thoughts:

I am a huge reader of Amish Fiction. I love Beth Wiseman and Kathleen Fuller. I personally hadn't read anything by Kelly Long until this book. I am not one sho is drawn to Novellas because I am just not usually one to read short stories, I enjoy the investment of one whole story. That being said, because of the authors I decided to give a Novella book a chance and I am glad I did. All three stories are written in the same time period of about four weeks. Each one has intertwined the same group of people leading up to the wedding of Priscilla and Chester. I enjoyed the way this was written because it was the same characters throughout all three stories just different perspectives for each. I have to be honest I had a hard time getting into the first story "The Perfect Secret". But I am glad I kept going because I wasn't disappointed. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Amish Fiction.

I review for BookSneeze®

Love On The Line by Deeanne Gist

I received this book from Bethany House Publishers for free for my honest review of this book.

Book Description:

Rural switchboard operator Georgie Gail is proud of her independence in a man's world ... which makes it twice as vexing when the telephone company sends a man to look over her shoulder.

Dashing Luke Palmer is more than he appears though. He's a Texas Ranger working undercover to infiltrate a notorious gang of train robbers. Repairing telephones and tangling with this tempestuous woman is the last thing he wants to do. But when his stake out puts Georgie in peril, he realizes more than his job is on the line.

My Thoughts:
I am a huge fan of Deanne Gist's books. I have read almost all of them and find myself not able to put them down. Love On The Line didn't seem to hold me the way the others did. The book was well researched as far as the era, telephone history, and even the information about birds and bird watching. I found the history information very interesting. The characters just didn't have the spark that Deanne Gist usually has in her books. I found it very easy to put down and that I was reading it to finish it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Forever Faithful By Karen Kingsbury

I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging For Books program for free for my honest review of this book.

Book Description:
The entire best-selling Forever Faithful trilogy, now available in one volume:

Waiting for Morning
A drunk driver...a deadly accident...a dream destroyed. When Hannah Ryan loses her husband and oldest daughter to a drunk driver, she is consumed with hate and revenge. Ultimately, it is a kind prosecutor, a wise widow, and her husband's dying words that bring her the peace that will set her free and let her live again.

A Moment of Weakness
When childhood friends Jade and Tanner reunite as adults, they share their hearts, souls, and dreams of forever--until a fateful decision tears them apart. Now, nearly a decade later, Jade's unfaithful husband wants to destroy her in a custody battle that is about to send shock waves across the United States. Only one man can help Jade in her darkest hour. And only one old woman knows the truth that can set them all free.

Halfway to Forever
Matt and Hannah...Jade and Tanner--after already surviving much, these couples must now face the greatest struggles of their lives: parental losses and life-threatening illness threaten to derail their faith and sideline their futures. Can Hannah survive the loss of an adopted daughter? Will Tanner come through decades of loneliness only to face losing Jade one final time?


My Thoughts:

WOW!!!!! This collection of stories is very, very powerful. I had not read any books by Karen Kingsbury until this one and all I can say again is WOW. The 3 stories, Waiting for Morning, A Moment of Weakness, and Halfway to Forever, show tragedy and finding love and happiness in the face of tragedy. Each story has its own start and finish but they are very connected. Karen Kingsbury writes such powerful stories of tragedy, loss of faith, love, and finding faith in the middle of all the tragedy. These books are centered on Christian beliefs and scripture but not in a way that is preaching or overbearing. These stories leave a lasting impression on you. The characters of each book are very real people whose lives are NOT perfect but have a strong faith in God. The topics addressed in each book like drunk driving laws, were very well researched. All of the stories really caught me and kept my interest to the end. These stories are beautifully written and honest. I highly recommend this Trilogy to anyone who enjoys Christian Fiction. I will definitely be looking for more books by Karen Kingsbury.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reclaiming Lily By Patti Lacy

I received this book from Bethany House Publishers free for my honest opinion of this book.

Book Description:
When an insidious genetic disease strikes her family, Harvard graduate Dr. Kai Chang must alert Lily, the sister Kai left on orphanage steps years earlier. Standing in her way are the Powells, Lily's adoptive parents. Gloria Powell distrusts Kai and thinks her presence will send their troubled seventeen-year-old over the precipice of teenaged angst. Can Kai and Gloria, separated by culture and faith but devoted to Lily, reconcile their differences and trust their dreams to God?


My Thoughts:

Reclaiming Lily is the second book by Patti Lacy I have had the privilege to read. Reclaiming Lily is a beautiful story of a Chinese family torn apart by revolution, an American Family who adopts one of the Chinese children, and a sister whose life goal is to honor her mother's dying wish of Reclaiming Lily. Dr. Kai Chang figures out that her mother died of a hereditary disease, Polycystic Kidney Disease, and hires a PI to find Lily, her youngest sister who they had to give up to an orphanage during the Chinese Revolution. Kai contacts the Texas family that adopted Lily Chang, who is now Joy Powell. Pastor Andrew and Gloria Powell meet with Kai in Texas and find out about this disease. During this meeting the Powells receive a call, Joy is in the detention center and they need to come. So Kai comes with them. Joy finds out a midst all of her trouble that Kai is her birth sister. While at the detention center a tornado hits their town and by the grace of God the jail is left untouched. The Powells open their arms to Kai and want her part of their lives and Joy's life. Kai would do anything for Joy but when Kai's life starts to unravel she must learn to depend on Joy and the Powells and most of all God.

Reclaiming Lily is a wonderful story. I found myself caught up in the story so much that I couldn't put the book down. Patti Lacy weaves a beautiful story of sisters separated to save their own lives, an adoptive family brought back together by a birth sister, and unlikely people brought together by God. This story shows love, loss, and finding a way back to God; giving their lives back. The characters are very relatable and I felt like I was part of their world. Patti Lacy writes with such knowledge of China, Chinese culture, Polycystic Kidney Disease, and the journey with God. This book really had a huge impact on me and its one that will stay with me for a while. Also Patti Lacy keeps you guessing until the end how the story will end. The end of the book truly surprised me. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian Fiction. I look forward to reading more books by Patti Lacy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Opposite Of Art By Athol Dickson

I received this book from Glass Road Publications for free for my honest opinion of this book.

Book Description
A great artist is cast into the icy Harlem River by a hit-and-run driver. His heart stops, and he sees something that defies description. Presumed dead by all who knew him and obsessed with the desire to paint the inexpressible, he embarks on a pilgrimage to seek help from holy men around the globe. But is it possible to see eternity without becoming lost within it? After a quarter of a century, when the world begins to whisper that he may be alive, two people come looking for the artist: the daughter he never knew existed, and the murderer who hit him on the bridge all those years ago.


My Thoughts:

The Opposite Of Art is the first book by Athol Dickson that I have read and WOW. The Opposite of Art is a story about a half century journey of Sheridan Ridler, an artist who has a near death experience and is trying to recreate through his art The Glory he saw in this experience. Ridler was a selfish, amoral man whose art was fantastic. Someone in his life tries to kill him and in his near death experience sees heaven. As he comes to he is frantic to find anything to draw what he saw before he "lost" it. Unable to recreate "The Glory" and finding out that everyone thinks he is dead, Ridler goes on this journey to find "The Glory". In the process he finds himself re-evaluating his life and choices.

The Opposite of Art is an intense read. Athol Dickson writes like no other. His descriptions and imagery are deep. Dickson "paints" pictures throughout his novel that give you a beautiful picture of what and where. I found myself having to put the book down frequently to reflect and really absorb what Dickson wrote and what the meanings were. I truly enjoyed this book and the writing. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian Fiction and who is looking for an intense read. Athol Dickson is a truly gifted author and I look forward to reading other books by him.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman

I received this E-Book from WaterBrook Press Blogging for Books for free for my honest review of this E-Book.

Book Description:
Treasure is found in the most unlikely places.

The envy of all her friends, wife and mother Saphora Warren is the model of southern gentility and accomplishment. She lives in a beautiful Lake Norman home, and has raised three capable adult children. Her husband is a successful plastic surgeon--and a philanderer. It is for that reason that, after hosting a garden party for Southern Living magazine, Saphora packs her bags to escape the trappings of the picturesque-but-vacant life.

Saphora’s departure is interrupted by her husband Bender’s early arrival home, and his words that change her life forever: I’m dying.

Against her desires, Saphora agrees to take care of Bender as he fights his illness. They relocate, at his insistence, to their coastal home in Oriental—the same house she had chosen for her private getaway. When her idyllic retreat is overrun by her grown children, grandchildren, townspeople, relatives, and a precocious neighbor child, Saphora’s escape to paradise is anything but the life she had imagined. As she gropes for evidence of God's presence amid the turmoil, can she discover that the richest treasures come in surprising packages?


My Thoughts:
The Pirate Queen is the first book by Patricia Hickman I have read and it is awesome. The Pirate Queen takes you on the journey of one woman, Saphora Warren, who was looking to spend the summer at their summer home, in essence leaving her husband, Bender. To her surprise Bender comes home to tell her he has cancer and is dying. This changes everything, Saphora, Bender, and their grandson Eddie head to Oriental to spend the summer at their summer place. While at the beach they meet an intriguing child, Tobias, who becomes a huge part of their lives. This book takes you on a journey of love, betrayal, forgiveness, loss, and finding God. Patricia Hickman writes with such authority on these things and of the parts of the country this story takes place. The story grabs you and brings you into her world. The journey that all of these characters take is just amazing, filled with joy and sorrow. The Pirate Queen is a wonderful story that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys Christian Fiction. The Pirate Queen is one of those stories that will stay with me for quite some time. I am excited to read other books by Patricia Hickman.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

I received this e-book from booksneeze.com for free for my honest review of this e-book.

Book Description:
Colt McAlister is drawn into a war against things he thought only existed in comic books.

After a car wreck takes the lives of his parents, Colt moves to Arizona to stay with his grandfather. There, an informant tells him that his parents were actually murdered because his mom, a journalist, was getting ready to write a story exposing Trident Industries.

Along with Oz and Danielle, his new comrades at Chandler High, Colt vows to uncover the truth. But the more they learn, the more bizarre reality becomes. Mind control, jet packs, and flying motorcycles only scratch the surface of what they discover.

Colt is recruited by a secret organization called the Central Headquarters Against the Occult and Supernatural. But the battle isn't just against an out-of-control giant corporation. A gateway to another world is opening, and the invasion has already begun


My Thoughts:

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis is the first book in his C.H.A.O.S. Series. I had never read any books by Jon S. Lewis prior to Invasion. Invasion is a fantastic book that brings what you read in comic books to life here on earth. I personally don't read comics or any books that are from comic books but I am so glad I decided to read this one. Right from the start Invasion grabbed my attention and kept it through to the end. Jon S. Lewis writes with such detail and such imagination that it was so easy to picture what he is writing about. The characters in this story are normal, everyday people and teenagers who experience things they have read in comic books. The descriptions of the other worlds and the aliens in this book are just awesome and just fascinating to picture in your mind. Jon S. Lewis truly has a gift for writing these types of books. I am HOOKED!!! Reading Invasion was like watching the new super hero movies that have been sweeping the movie theaters. I found myself unable to put this book down, and when it ended it definitely left me wanting MORE! I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy fantasy books, give it a chance. I am so glad I did!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shadows on the Sand by Gayle Roper

I received this book free from Multnomah Books Blogging for Books program for my honest review of this book.

Book Description:
She serves him breakfast at her café every morning … but he never seems to notice her.

Carrie Carter’s small café in Seaside, New Jersey, is populated with a motley crew of locals … although Carrie only has eyes for Greg Barnes. He’s recovering from a vicious crime that three years ago took the lives of his wife and children—and from the year he tried to drink his reality away. While her heart does a happy Snoopy dance at the sight of him, he never seems to notice her, to Carrie’s chagrin.

When Carrie’s dishwasher is killed and her young waitress disappears, Greg finds himself drawn into helping Carrie solve the mysteries … and into her life. But when Carrie’s own painful past becomes all to present, her carefully constructed world begins to sink.

Will the fragile relationship she’s built with Greg implode from the weight of the baggage they both carry?


My Thoughts:
Shadows on the Sand by Gayle Roper is the first book by Gayle Roper I have ever read. I enjoyed the book. It is well written and the characters in this story are great. They are a group of colorful people from all different walks of life that bring something to the table to help one another. This colorful group seems to all meet at Carrie's, a diner on the boardwalk in Seaside. This book has a very strong Christian theme throughout without feeling like its being preached. This story also shows the dangers of fanatical religious groups and what can happen to people who are in them. I enjoyed Gayle Roper's writing style and her well researched descriptions of the different places in this book. If you enjoy mystery/romance then this is the book for you!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women Of Faith Imagine 2011 Milwaukee Wi

I was given the honor of being one of the bloggers selected in my area to receive 2 free tickets to The Women Of Faith Imagine Event held here in Milwaukee Wi. I was so happy and surprised I got selected.

I asked my cousin/friend Vickie to come with me. Neither of us had ever been to this type of event but we were both excited to go and experience it....OMG is all I can say. This event was beyond anything I imagined it would be.

We got to the Bradley Center around 9:30 am and were able to pick where we wanted to sit...so we huffed it around the Bradley Center to find right where we wanted to be. The event started and that was it. The Women of Faith Singers were AMAZING!! I am so addicted to listening to them now! Just fantastic women with such a gift for singing and worshipping. Our EMCEE Anna got up and again was just blown away by her words of encouragement and fun. We then had the privilege to hear from Sheila Walsh first! What a woman. So transparent and so open to talk about her life and her journey to and with God. Then after every talk she gave, she honored us with her phenomenal voice and sang beautiful, touching songs that reflected what she spoke about. AFter Sheila, we heard from Henry Cloud. What an awesome guy who had so much insight and life to share with all of us women!! He and Sheila had such a rapport with each other it was awesome to get to hear them talk together and really know one another! Most of the 10-3:30pm sessions were Sheila and Henry sharing and helping us.

Vickie and I walked around a little bit and decided to go to Water Street Brewery for dinner..that was fantastic. It was great to sit, talk, and just be girls (with no kids LOL)

Our 7pm-10pm sessions were again OMG...we heard from the awesome singers and Anna and then we got to meet the whole Group of Women for the weekend. We got to hear Natalie Grant and Mary Mary. We got to have some funny but honest time with Nicole Johnson about being a wife and mother. Then the highlight for me of the evening was Ken Davis, a Christian Comedian who literally had me laughing until I cried. I don't know the last time I laughed that much at one time. He was so good for my soul. After Ken Davis, Natalie Grant gave an awesome concert and the evening ended. It was such a high to be on.

Saturday I was solo, Vickie couldn't make it but my friend Jolene and her guest were able to connect with me so I wasn't alone! Another awesome day!Got to hear from Sheila Walsh again! YAY We heard from Lisa Harper-WOW!! Loved her. Nicole Johnson-LOVED her!! Then Angie Smith....cannot even describe her talk but to say that the whole Bradley Center was full of women crying by the end. All of these women got up and were so transparent and so willing to share their good and not so good stuff. Mary Mary gave an awesome concert and Luci Swindoll spoke-again WOW.

Such a powerful weekend. It was just what I needed. It was awesome to be able attend and share it with my cousin/friend!! I truly learned so much from each person in this group that came to Milwaukee and I feel so blessed that I was able to be there!! This is a must event!!

I want to thank Thomas Nelson and Women of Faith for 2 free tickets to attend this fantastic event. Thank you for blessing me with them!!!!