Saturday, December 25, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Love

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~

Love
by Lauraine Snelling


When asked to write a Christmas message, one of my first thoughts was Do I climb up on my soapbox regarding changing the words in Christmas songs, using only holiday, etc. I thought about it and decided no. After all, they’re only words and what difference does a word make---really make after all?

Then I kept on thinking. If they’re only words… But we as writers know the power of words, as do readers. When the wrong word is used, it jars, while the right word can be most powerful. Take one highly overused and under practiced word---Love. Four letters is all. We toss it around so glibly, saying love ya and luv and love. But think about the power in I love you. Three of the most precious words in our language when put together. Those of us who write romances or books with romance in them, understand the power when one of our characters tells another, I love you. As humans we can never hear that enough or too much.

Christmas is about love. The greatest love story ever told, that of God for us humans, and it never changes. Customs change, politics change, the years change but God’s love never, ever does. At Christmas we are invited to share that love, to give it away, to pass it around. To find wonder again and joy in simple acts of love. We make contact with people we might never see or talk with through the year. That says I love you. We buy and make gifts to give, we reach out to strangers in need, we try to make sure everyone has a special dinner and every child a present. By giving, we receive.

So, let’s use the power words, but more so, put feet on those words and pass the love around. Let’s look for and find the wonder, the joy and the peace, maybe in small bits and pieces and perhaps in an avalanche of blessings. Make your days brighter with the simple gift of a smile, a kind word, a touch, for every single one that you give away, will come back to you multiplied. As you give, so shall you receive. Merry Christmas my friends. May we all recognize our blessings----and let an attitude of gratitude permeate this holiday and every day. With love and joy on this day, Lauraine!

 ~~~

About Lauraine: Lauraine Snelling is the award-winning author of more than sixty books, with sales of over 2 million copies. She also writes for a wide range of magazines, and helps others reach their writing dreams by teaching at writer’s conferences across the country. Lauraine and her husband, Wayne, have two grown sons, and live in the Tehachapi Mountains with a cockatiel named Bidley, and a watchdog Basset named Chewy.

For more information please visit Lauraine's website: www.laurainesnelling.com.


~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Friday, December 24, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: An Unforgettable Gift


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~

An Unforgettable Gift
by Karen O'Connor


On Christmas morning, 1912, in Paducah, Kentucky, fourteen-year-old Charlie Flowers and his three brothers and two sisters huddled in their beds, fully dressed, trying to keep warm as the wind howled outside their small frame house.
       
It was a desperate time for the family. Earlier that year the children's father had died. And their mother had not found work. The coal had run out and there was little money––none for gifts. Their scrawny tree with decorations made from scraps of colored paper had been given to them the night before by a local merchant.

"Can't sell this one," the man said with a nod of his head before handing it over to the eager children.
   
To pass the time, the siblings joked and shouted stories from their bedrooms across the hallway from one another. Then suddenly a racket from the alley at the rear of the house broke into their games.
       
"Charlie," his mother called, "would you see what's going on out there?"
      
Charlie pulled on his shoes, grabbed a thick overcoat from the hook by the door, and ran out back.

There stood a man in a wagon bent over a load of coal, shoveling it into the shed as fast as he could.
       
"Hey Mister, we didn't order any coal," Charlie shouted. "You're delivering it to the wrong house."
       
"Your name's Flowers, isn't it?" the man asked, still shoveling. 
       
Charlie nodded yes.
      
"Well then, there's no mistake.  I've been asked to deliver this to your family on Christmas morning." He looked the awe-struck boy square in the eye. "And I'm under strict orders not to tell who sent it," he teased.
       
Charlie ran into the house, his coattail flapping in the cold morning wind.  He could hardly wait to tell his mother and brothers and sisters. God had provided––just as he had on that first Christmas morning so long ago when He sent his only son to a needy world.
       
Charlie Flowers died in 1994 at age 96. And right up to the last year of his life, not a Christmas went by that he didn't tell the story of that sub-zero Christmas morning of his boyhood when two men gave his family an unforgettable gift.
       
It wasn't the coal that was remembered or cherished, Charlie often said––welcome as it was––but rather what two men brought to his desperate family. One, for his gift of recognizing their great need and taking the time to do something about it. And the other, for being willing to give up part of his own Christmas morning to deliver it.
       
That gift of so long ago has continued to warm the Flowers family from one generation to another, as Charlie's son––my husband, Charles––calls to mind these two unknown men each Christmas morning and whispers a prayer of thanks.

 ~~~

About Karen: Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author and writing mentor living in Watsonville, California with her husband, Charles Flowers. Karen’s latest book is 365 Reasons Why Gettin’ Old Ain’t So Bad (Harvest House 2010).

For more information, please visit Karen on the web at www.karenoconnor.com.


~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Just give me Christmas this year!

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~

All I Want for Christmas…
Is to be able to have Christmas this Year
by
Melissa Mashburn

This is a simple request, isn’t it? In the previous years, we had great big bountiful Christmases with our family. Gifts, goodies and general Christmas cheer but this year it was different. The year before has been chock full of disappointments, failing businesses and severe cutbacks for our family. 

Sitting with my husband one night we hammered out the bare minimum that we could spend that year for Christmas and even still the total was four hundred dollars. It does not sound like a whole lot compared to what we’ve spent on Christmas before, but this year it could have been four thousand dollars because we just did not have it.

We prayed, I cried, we prayed some more and decided that we would cut back anything else that we could that year so we could have Christmas for our kids. We did not know how we would make this happen, but we knew that we needed to step forward in faith that it would happen.

Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don't these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God. Galatians 3:5 the Message

Not even two days later, we hear a knock on our front door. We open the door to see some friends of ours from church. With tears in their eyes, they handed us an envelope and said that the felt they needed to give us this. We opened the envelope and inside there was four hundred dollars cash.

Shocked, stunned and with tears flowing down our face we just sat there in a state of crying and laughing at what God had done. We never shared with anyone that year what we needed, how bad it was, what was going on or what that number was for us to have Christmas for the kids, but God knew.

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”  2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT

He took a willing servant, led them to our front door and changed Christmas for us that year. After many years of being in full time ministry we knew that God would provide, but when He shows up just at the right moment, you know that it was all a part of His plan to show how much He loves, provides and cares for His people.

Father God, thank you that after all the years of serving and loving you in ministry that you continue to teach, guide, love, shepherd and care for us.  You, Father, are abundantly gracious and kind, thank you for showing up for us at just the right moment every time, forgive us when we forget that.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 ~~~

About Melissa: Melissa is the founder of the blog Mel’s World Ministry, co-founder of the Praise and Coffee Nights Ministry with Sue Cramer, Kids Ministry Director at her church.  Just last year she launched a new weekly series called Godly Gals ~ Real Women, Real Life, Real Faith where we meet new women each week who are “Taking their everyday, ordinary lives and placing it as their offering to God.” Romans 12:1 the Message. You can find her on twitter and at her blog. She loves encouraging women to live with an authentic faith by being transparent, renewed and transformed. ~ Romans 12:2.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: What’s the best thing about Christmas?

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
What’s the best thing about Christmas?
by Maureen Lang


The answer to that question will undoubtedly be different depending on the age and the faith of the person being asked. Most children will say it’s all about the gifts. Adults, even if they secretly still enjoy the gifts, will probably strive to sound more mature and say the holiday is all about friends and family. Still others might say it’s about tradition, or memories or the music or even the special food we connect to this time of year. The scrooges among us might say this season is just another marketing gimmick, or materialism gone awry. The faithful will say it’s all about Jesus, a reminder of why He shed the glory of Heaven to step into human skin and frailty.

I’m not here to defend or attack any answer to this question, but rather to ponder those possible answers.

Gifts: They touch us in personal ways, as tangible evidence of someone else’s thought and affection. Even if we don’t get exactly what we hoped, there’s something to be said about the thought behind a gift being the important part. Why wouldn’t gifts be an important and valid part of this holiday in which we celebrate God’s gift of salvation?

Holiday Gatherings: Parties might be a lot of work, forcing some out of their comfort zone, but at the core they’re all about human connection. Isn’t that what most people want?

Traditions and memories: They remind us of the past, of who we are, with the hope that even as we look forward to an unknown future we still hold some things worthy enough to repeat every year. We might find ourselves letting go of some traditions, or we might want to start some new ones.

The music: This is the only time of the year when even secular radio stations welcome songs about a baby born in Bethlehem. As a nation we may be getting stringent about separation of church as state, but the lines blur just a bit with old favorites that reflect this season.

Scrooges: The holiday season is probably a time to endure rather than enjoy, but even the scroogiest-scrooge might admit the lights of the season are pretty to behold. They’re free to look at, after all.

As for the food, the busyness, the expense and all the other things that make up this season: keep in mind that it’s all temporary. This, too, shall pass. Until next year, of course.

I’ll leave you with this thought: we are all made in God’s image, whether we believe that or not. Part of that image is the ability to give—and to receive. So here’s my thought for the day: stop a moment and dwell on all the gifts of the season. From the little mementos that say we haven’t forgotten someone or been forgotten by others, to the costliest gift of all: what God did for us in the form of Christ. As you enjoy the sounds, the sights, the scents and the tastes of this season, may your only trouble be in choosing just one thing among so many best things about Christmas.

 ~~~

About Maureen: Maureen Lang is the author of ten books, her most recent from Tyndale House is The Great War Series which are full of romance, adventure and spiritual journeys. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, two sons and their lovable Labrador Retriever.

For more information please visit Maureen at her website, www.maureenlang.com.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Good News

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
Good News!
by Deb Kalmbach


The first Christmas card of the season arrived in my mailbox way back in August. How could anyone be that organized? Then I noticed my friend, Nita, had sent me a card I had written to her more than 20 years ago!
  
Memories rushed back as I read the words penned in my familiar handwriting. It was Christmas, 1991, and my world had unraveled. I could almost pretend everything was all right at this most wonderful time of the year—but not that year.
  
My husband Randy’s drinking problem had escalated to the point where his job and career were on the line. He had already been through two alcohol treatment programs and managed to stay sober for short periods of time. Then he slipped back into old, familiar patterns. His ongoing relapses were a crushing disappointment for our family.
  
I had looked forward to Christmas Eve and our family traditions; making homemade lasagna, singing carols around the piano, attending the candlelight service at church, and then coming home to open one token Christmas Eve present.     
  
“Randy, are you ready to crank out the pasta?” I called to him over the Christmas music I was playing to lift my spirits.
  
I peered into the living room to see what was keeping him. My heart froze. Randy sat on the couch, trance-like, watching a basketball game while sipping a drink.
  
No, not on Christmas Eve, I screamed inwardly. I felt like I was suffocating. Usually Randy pulled himself together but it didn’t happen that night. He drank vodka all evening while I finished holiday preparations on autopilot. None of us felt like eating lasagna or celebrating.
  
Only a few days earlier, I had written these words on the Christmas card to my friend, Nita. I don’t know God’s plans, his timing or his ways in accomplishing his purposes, but I am learning to trust him. He is faithful!
  
I suspect Nita kept my card all those years because she saw a small seed of faith and it encouraged her heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be eight more Christmas seasons before Randy experienced the miraculous breakthrough of finding freedom from alcoholism.
  
As I read the card I had written so long ago, I felt awed by God’s faithfulness to us—even when our situation looked completely hopeless.
  
You may be facing great difficulty as the holidays approach. The last thing you feel like is celebrating. And that’s O.K. The Good News of Christmas isn’t about picture perfect holidays where our homes are decorated a la Martha Stewart and tables are laden with holiday delicacies. Your days may not be merry and bright. You may be grieving the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship through divorce or estrangement. Your world has unraveled.

That’s exactly why the message of Christmas is Good News. The Savior is born! The One who came to set you free, to give you peace and hope and help beyond anything you could ever imagine is as near as your next breath. Today you might not be able to see how God’s purposes are unfolding for your future, but you can be assured that He is working all things for good in your life. A twenty year-old Christmas card came on a summer day as an unexpected gift and gentle reminder of God’s presence—especially in the worst of times.


 ~~~

About Deb: Deb Kalmbach is the coauthor of Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in a Not-So- Perfect Marriage and the author of a book for children, Corey’s Dad Drinks Too Much. She has contributed to The New Women’s Devotional Bible, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, and other anthologies. She is a vibrant and engaging speaker who gives hope and practical solutions to those who struggle with difficult relationships. Deb and her husband, Randy, live in a tiny town in Eastern Washington. Visit Deb at: www.debkalmbach.com, or on Facebook and Twitter.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!


12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Gift List

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
Gift List
by Tricia Goyer


I've been thinking lately how hard it must be for Oprah to Christmas shop. I mean if you were on her "gift list" wouldn't you expect something really, really good? The woman gives away cars and trips to Australia on her television show for goodness sake! It seems by the end of Christmas Day her friends and family would look at the pile of presents and think, "Is that it?" I mean if you knew there was billions of dollars she could spend on you, would you ever feel satisfied?

Sometimes I think we approach God the same way. We look around at our home, our family, our job, our free time and we still aren't satisfied. We wish our body looked better, our clothes were more in style, our husband was more considerate and our kids were more ... well, like the perfect little people we picture in our mind. Our careers don't excel as quickly as we think they should and people don't give us the attention we feel we deserve. We're tired and anxious and the to-do list seems to be tacked to our hearts for all the pain it causes.

Often, we look around and don't speak the words out loud, but think them just the same. "Is that it?" I mean, You're the God of the universe and You have all things in Your hands and under Your control. Couldn't you provide a little more money to help those bills disappear or make me a bit more content with the man I've chosen to spend my life with? And I thought Oprah had it tough.

Is there ever a time when God doesn't hear the murmurs? Again, not with our mouths but in our heart.

I've been guilty of this--of not being satisfied with the gifts I've been given. Yes, there will always be more to want, but today--at this moment--I'm satisfied. And I look to Him with a grateful heart and whisper, "Thank you, it is enough. More than enough."


 ~~~

About Tricia: Tricia Goyer is the author of twenty-six books including Songbird Under a German Moon, The Swiss Courier, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like MomSense and Thriving Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas where they are part of the ministry of FamilyLife. For more information, please visit www.triciagoyer.com


~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Hurting Near Christmas? 10 Tips to Hope Again

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
Hurting Near Christmas? 10 Tips to Hope Again
by Stacie Ruth Stoelting


Feel sad this Christmas? Hey, I know the feeling. In fact, many programs have interviewed me to share about it! Last year, I tried particularly hard to share stories and tips on how to cope with grief during the holidays: I wrote a feature for CBN.com, Coping with Grief at Christmas, visited and counseled grieving people, etc.

Then irony hit: Near Christmas, two people I loved died within two days (December 15-16, 2009).

Are you or a loved one hurting during the holidays? I relate. But let me encourage you: Jesus remains faithful! As real as my pain, He met my needs and comforted me with peace unexplainable. I’m serious. He’s real.

Before I continue with tips, let me share this: If you feel suicidal, contact an emergency counseling service like the New Life Call Center at 1-800-NEW-LIFE(639-5433).

10 Tips for Hurting Hearts to Hope and Cope at Christmastime

1.    Realize and internalize it: God still loves you and wants to hear from you. He wants you to know that there is a Way out of your pit of despair. The Way is Jesus.

2.    Sometimes, our suffering causes us to forget His. Understand He understands you. He suffered more than any of us when we bore the weight of every sin and pain on the cross! In fact, Is. 53:3 describes Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Think of it: He took your punishment and pain on the cross. He was your capital punishment Substitute! And your Deliverer -your Rescuer- wants to hear from you. His heart hurts with yours. Will you pour your heart out to Him now? He’ll pour His love in where the fear previously resided. Let Jesus inside. Do you know Jesus on a personal, one-to-One basis?  Visit here to learn why Jesus was born to die and how to be born again. (Hey, Jesus said it: "You must be born again.")

3.    Rather than mere gifts, make a Christmas prayer list of other hurting people. Then pray for them and request prayer for yourself, too. Contact your church. Tap into ministries (including CBN.com) that offer extra prayer support. And feel free to join my prayer e-group at www.PrayingPals.org or on Facebook by clicking here.

4.    End the Christmas comparison game. Don't compare your Christmas to your neighbor's. Don't compare your Christmas to past celebrations.

5.    Center on the Savior! This year, trade a superficial Christmas for a real one. Deepen your appreciation for the true Christmas: the arrival of Jesus Christ to banish the effects of sin and death!

6.    Whatever your loss or pain, open up and let God be your Gain. Maybe your pain comes from another cause: a divorce, a devastating diagnosis, a job loss...the list extends. God offers to be your Counselor, your Father, your Healer, your Provider. Let Him answer your heart’s cry.

7.    Love on people. Even if you don’t “feel” like it, prayerfully do something for someone else who is hurting.

8.    Remember: Feelings change. God doesn't. Loved ones' deaths never kill His love for you. God's immeasurable, unconditional love still flows to you! When you know Jesus, you know eternal love and security. Nothing separates you from His love! “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, ESV).

9.    Realize the reality of the sudden reunion. Holidays exacerbate the feeling of long separation from our loved ones in Heaven. Does it feel like it will take forever for you to see your loved one in Heaven? Be encouraged: Jesus IS coming again and it will be a time you don't expect! So the fact that you feel like it won't happen soon is a good thing!  Once reunited, it will feel like no time transpired. All sadness will be entirely removed!

10.    When Jesus comes back to earth, it will be a celebration greater than any previous Christmas you've ever experienced!

For believers, losses hurt but never win. We will celebrate Jesus together -and it will be glorious "for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4, NIV). In that Day, all believers will be able to jubilantly say, “Merry Christmas to all and to all the true Light!”

Additional Help: Ready for some practical tips for coping with grief at Christmastime? Here’s one: Rearrange furniture to reduce absence reminders. To read this tip and others found in another of my CBN.com’s articles: “Coping with Grief at Christmas", visit www.CBN.com.

Going thru a rough time? Join Stacie Ruth’s prayer group at www.PrayingPals.org.


 ~~~

About Stacie: Stacie Ruth knows pain, but she also knows Jesus! After Stacie Ruth met Jesus, her life blossomed with true joy and purpose. Life’s blows hurt her, but Jesus heals and strengthens her. Now an author, actress, and recording artist, she laughs at the irony and praises God, who uses unlikely people...like herself.  Discover why she's written a book at age 15, sung/spoken for the 43rd President, been pictured in major media (i.e. The New York Times, USA Today), and keynoted conferences since she was a teenager. To watch video clips, worship Jesus with music from her album, or get in touch with her ministry for women, visit www.brightlightministries.com.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Wrapped in His Love

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
Wrapped in His Love
by Rebecca Ondov

The temperature is below zero and dropping quickly—probably to -15 or lower. Old Man Winter gusted in a couple days ago, leaving cold temperatures and a foot of snow behind. Moments ago I bundled up in my long johns and Carhartts to go out and feed. Of course I had a warm horse blanket draped over my arm. When it’s below zero I wrap Czar in two horse blankets.

Czar nickered as soon as he saw me coming. When I buckled up the blankets, it was as if I was wrapping him in my love. He buried his head in my chest. I snuggled him and stroked his long red winter hair. I pulled a couple icicles out of his black mane as my mind drifted through memories.  I’d bought Czar when he was a month old; it was love at first sight.  After he was weaned from his mother, I brought him home.

Czar leaned into me, almost as if he was hugging me. I patted his neck, “That was thirty years ago, Czar. Can you believe it?”  Czar had been my main saddle horse when I worked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. I’d ridden him over 20,000 miles. Together we’d faced grizzly bears, mudslides, forest fires, and even fallen off a cliff. He’d saved my life more than once. With my finger, I traced a couple gray hairs that dotted his forehead. “You’ve earned your blankets, buddy.”

The icy breeze nipped at my cheeks and I thought how much his blankets resemble God’s love for us. God was there when we were born—and He loved us at first sight. He’s faithfully been with us through every step of our lives—through every joy and sorrow. He’s cried with us and laughed with us. He cheered when we’ve overcome. Most of all, when I’ve gone through tough times, it’s been God’s love which wrapped itself around me like a shield and pulled me through.

I glanced around me. The snowflakes glistened in the sun. His love surrounded me: the wind whispering in the pines, the chickadee that serenaded me this morning, the gurgling creek that flowed through the pasture. And His greatest love is manifested in the prize of His creation –you and me, the ones created in His image.

This Christmas season, I’m praying that you feel the God of the universe—the one who hung the stars in place—wrapping His loving arms around you and holding you tight (two horse blankets worth). And I pray that all of us experience the love He’s given us in Jesus.


 ~~~

About Rebecca: Rebecca Ondov is the author of Horse Tales from Heaven: Reflections along the Trail with God and Horse Tales from Heaven: Gift Edition. She was a contributing author in several books including Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace. She lives in Western Montana with her family, horses, mules, barn cat, and golden retriever. By day she works for Fox Lumber, brokering lumber throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. By night she forges ahead with her mission, writing stories which equip Christians to lead extraordinary lives. Join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn by going to her Website: www.RebeccaOndov.com 


~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Friday, December 17, 2010

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: Home

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~

There’s No Place Like….
by Melody Carlson


I grew up spending Christmases at my grandparents’ quaint Victorian home, surrounded by lots of relatives, laughter and love and really good food. For a little girl growing up in a single parent home, harried working mother, no church family, and TV dinners, these extended family holidays spent at my grandparents were like a real gift from God. But as a young adult, my grandfather passed on, the old house was sold, I grew up and eventually had a small family of my own.
   
Still I longed for those familiar kinds of “big” Christmases—I wanted that house full of relatives and fun times to go home to—I think the “child” in me thought I deserved it somehow. But my grandmother had gotten older and lived in a tiny apartment, and my mother and my husband’s parents were not comfortable hosting Christmas in their homes. For a while we went to my cousin’s, but I soon had to come to grips with reality. The days of going to Grandma’s for the perfect Christmas were a thing of the past.

In other words, it was time for me to grow up—time for me to start hosting our own Christmas celebrations. So biting the holiday bullet, I decided to just do it. With two very small children underfoot, I cooked my first turkey, made my first stuffing, invited some family, neighbors, and friends over, and we all crammed ourselves into our little house, balanced our plates on our knees, and had a very good time. Oh, I’m sure the turkey was dry and the gravy lumpy, but what I remember most is that everyone seemed truly happy to be there. And I realized that I wasn’t the only one longing for that sense of warmth and community—that longing to “go home again”—and I finally grasped that I could (with God’s grace) help to provide that for my family and others.
   
So for the next three decades we continued to host Christmas in our home. I got better at decorating, cooking, gifting…the works. Some years the place would be packed and crazy. A few years were thinner and quieter. But family, friends and neighbors could always count on the fact that the Carlson’s would be “doing something for Christmas.” It was a no-brainer.
   
Until this year. This year, for the first time in more than thirty years, my husband and I decided we’re going to take a pass on hosting Christmas—we are going to the beach. At first I felt terribly guilty, and even right now I’m a bit unsure—and wonder if I’ll end up changing my mind at the last minute. And yet, I believe it’s the right thing for us to do—for a lot of reasons. One being that my husband’s birthday is Christmas and he never gets to do what he wants on his birthday—this year will be different. But more than that, I hope that our stepping aside will encourage the younger members of our family to find and embrace some of their own traditions—to grow up and look for opportunities to stretch themselves a bit. Because, similar to how and oyster creates a pearl—or how a young mom learns to be a hostess—with some discomfort and distress a burnt turkeys, the end results are truly valuable.

 ~~~

About Melody: Melody Carlson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and yellow Labrador Retriever. She’s the author of around 200 books including this year’s Christmas novella, Christmas at Harrington’s.Visit her website for more information, www.melodycarlson.com.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Thursday, December 16this Jane Austen’s 235th birthday!

Sourcebooks, the world’s leading publisher of Jane Austen fiction, is offering a unique deal to readers who want to celebrate Jane by reading special editions of all six of Austen’s beloved novels in a 21st century format.

Special e-book editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Mansfield Park will be available for free for one day only. These celebratory editions include the full novels, plus the legendary color illustrations of the Brock brothers, originally created to accompany the books in 1898.

In addition to the Jane Austen classics, readers can also enjoy these bestselling Austen-inspired novels. The following bestselling e-books will be fre eon December 16th in honor of her birthday:

Eliza’s Daughter by Joan Aiken
The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown
The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins
The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan
Lydia Bennet’s Storyby Jane Odiwe
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

Available wherever eBooks are sold.

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title The Joy of Unexpected Circumstances

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
The Joy of Unexpected Circumstances
by Lori Kasbeer


The Christmas season is upon us again. Starbucks is selling their Christmas blend; stores are posting their holiday hours; and moms everywhere are making a list and checking it twice, planning for a special Christmas day. It has been our family’s tradition to spend Christmas with relatives.  Last year money was tight and we were unable to travel, this is not how we had planned to spend Christmas day but circumstances were beyond our control. Realizing my three boys--who are now teenagers--will not be under our roof for much longer, I wanted to have a special Christmas with just the five of us.  

Leading up to Christmas morning we all made mouth-watering, cinnamon cut-out cookies, spent time together sticking tape everywhere while trying to wrap presents, and enjoyed spending time together.  We did not have much money, but were having fun making memories.  When Christmas morning arrived and we sat around to open gifts my eyes welled up with overwhelming joy.  This mother was trying to absorb all the activity that was going on all around her: the smiles from each of my teenage boys, the sounds of laughter, and the smell of cinnamon rolls cooking in the oven.  If I could freeze a moment in time, this would be it.  I don’t know what the future holds for each of my boys, but that Christmas morning I wanted to soak it all in so I could recall this special day for years to come.  Despite struggling financially, unexpected circumstances turned into immense joy and a lifetime of memories.

Mothers treasuring special moments is not something new.  Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was one who tried to soak in everything that first Christmas morning.  Even after Christ’s birth she was still trying to absorb what the angel had said to her when he delivered the news that she was going to be the mother of the coming Savior.  She reflected on the time she had with her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant.  Along with comprehending the unusual way her son came into this world. 

While very pregnant with child, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register Mary for the census.  Never did she image she would deliver her baby in a barn with a manger being the only thing to lay him down in.  These were not the circumstances she had envisioned.  Before she had time to catch her breath, suddenly all around her there was excitement when shepherds showed up reporting what they had seen and heard.  There were angels—a multitude of angels—who were singing and declaring the Savior was born and a bright star led them to her and Joseph.    So much has happened in a short amount of time and Mary did not want to forget any of it.  Instead she stepped back and “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Mary did not exactly know what the plans were for her son, but she knew it was going to change the lives of everyone on earth.  She was preparing her heart to obey God concerning her son Jesus, without the full knowledge of what was going to come while at the same time quietly reflecting and capturing this one special moment in time.

May this Christmas be filled with joy and a lifetime of memories, even if you find yourself in unexpected circumstances.  Merry Christmas!

 ~~~

About Lori: Lori Kasbeer lives with her husband Tadd and three teenage sons in Florida. She's a contributor for Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace and a Christian book reviewer. Please visit Lori’s Book Reviews for more info. You can also find Lori on Facebook and Twitter.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Card: The Lamb's Supper Study Guide

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Lamb’s Supper Study Guide

Image; Stg edition (November 2, 2010)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator
Doubleday Religion / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc., for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


SCOTT HAHN was recently appointed as the inaugural Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at Saint Vincent Seminary (Latrobe, Pennsylvania). He is also professor of theology and Scripture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. An internationally renowned lecturer, Scott is founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and editor of the Center's academic journal, Letter & Spirit. He is the author of a dozen books, including The Lamb's Supper; Hail, Holy Queen; Swear to God; and Understanding the Scriptures. His scholarly articles have appeared in various academic journals, including the Journal of Biblical Literature, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Currents in Biblical Research. He lives with his wife, Kimberly, and their six children in Steubenville, Ohio.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Image; Stg edition (November 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307589056
ISBN-13: 978-0307589057

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


How to Use This Book


You may use the book in any way you wish. For each session I have indicated a chapter of the book for advance reading. I have supplemented this “assignment” with pointers to other supplementary material—from the Bible, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and from other Church documents. I have also chosen, for each session, a hymn whose text is related to the discussion at hand. Singing sometimes loosens up the voices of discussion group members. And these traditional hymns will certainly give you something to talk about.

But my outline here is not intended to be a ritual. You’re free to use the elements that appeal to you and your group, in whatever order you please. You may skip whatever doesn’t work for you.



Session 1


Foreword by Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.


SUMMARY AND KEY POINTS

• This book brings together several powerful spiritual realities.

• Eschatology is the study of “last things.”

• It is important that we conduct our study with a proper sense of the sacraments.


At my invitation, Father Benedict Groeschel wrote a foreword to The Lamb’s Supper. Father Benedict approaches the subject of the book from a very different perspective. He is a priest and I’m a layman. Father Benedict is a “cradle Catholic” and I’m a convert. Yet we converge upon a common faith; and, for very different reasons, we see a clear relationship between three realities that many people see as distinct or even unrelated: the Mass, the end times, and the Book of Revelation.

Father Benedict emphasizes the contrast between his own experience and mine. For me, the book is all about exciting “discoveries” I made in my studies. For him, the book is about an everyday reality he has known since he was an altar boy. These elucidations are not a novelty to him, but rather what he has “thought about the Eucharist for decades.”

Father Benedict also emphasizes certain things that are distinctive about Catholic doctrine and practice. He refuses, for example, to classify the Mass as a religious “service,” preferring terms such as “Divine Liturgy” instead. Similarly, he speaks of his own priesthood as a share in the priesthood of Christ, who is our only true priest.

He is especially concerned with the “sacramental” quality of the Church’s worship. According to tradition, a sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church. Through signs that can be perceived by the senses, the sacraments bestow divine grace.

Father Benedict notes that many people are disturbed by the prospect of the end of time, but he is himself at ease with the possibility of its fulfillment in his lifetime or its indefinite delay.

Along the way, he introduces us to certain key terms, such as eschatology, a theological term that refers to the study of last things. He encourages us to study “carefully” and “learn.”


Scripture

Revelation 4:8–11; 5:9–14; 7:10–12; 19:1–8


Doctrine

Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2642: The Revelation of “what must soon take place,” the Apocalypse, is borne along by the songs of the heavenly liturgy but also by the intercession of the “witnesses” (martyrs). The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of him who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb. In communion with them, the Church on earth also sings these songs with faith in the midst of trial. By means of petition and intercession, faith hopes against all hope and gives thanks to the “Father of lights,” from whom “every perfect gift” comes down. Thus faith is pure praise.


Song


Come, Divine Interpreter

By Charles Wesley

(To the tune of “For the Beauty of the Earth”)

Come, divine Interpreter,

Bring me eyes your book to read,

Ears the mystic words to hear,

Words which did from you proceed,

Words that endless bliss impart,

Kept in an obedient heart.

All who read, or hear, are blessed,

If your plain commands we do;

Of your kingdom here possessed,

You we shall in glory view

When you come on earth to abide,

Reign triumphant at your side.


Questions for Reflection and Discussion


1. Before reading this book, had you ever connected the Mass with the end times and the Book of Revelation? Had anyone ever made the connection for you?

2. How, do you think (or would you guess), are these three things related?

3. Is your own experience of the Mass closer to that of Father Benedict Groeschel or that of the author of this book? Or does your experience share elements of both? Explain your answer.

4. How do you feel about the possibility of the world ending? What hopes or fears does it arouse in you?

5. What, do you think, separates a sacrament from a mere “service” of the sort Father Benedict mentions?

6. What will you look for in your study of “the end times”—your study of eschatology? What are your interests, concerns, expectations, or worries about the climax of history?

7. Have you ever had an experience at Mass that you considered a glimpse or foretaste of heaven? Has anyone you know had such an experience?

The 12 Pearls of Christmas

Title: The First Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Lauraine Snelling, Rachel Hauck, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS! You may enter once a day. The winner will be announced on New Year's Day at the Pearl Girls Blog! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

~~~
The First Christmas
by Pat Ennis


It was October of my eighteenth year of life when my Dad stepped into eternity. As a college freshman I not only had to deal with my own grief, I also was faced with the responsibility of helping my mother adjust to a new lifestyle. You see, when Dad died, she not only lost her husband of thirty years, she also lost her circle of friends. Suddenly the married couples (my Dad was the first of their group to die) didn’t know what to do about Mother—so they did nothing. Her grieving process was actually extended because of the withdrawal of her friends, many with whom she and Dad had enjoyed fellowship for years. 

Our plight was magnified by the reality that we did not have extended family and I was an only child. Quite frankly, the outlook for the holiday season appeared pretty dismal!

As the holidays approached our neighbors, who embraced a different faith than we, graciously invited us to share their Christmas celebration with them. The sincere invitation, their effort to fold us into their family, inclusion in the gift exchange, and intentional conversation that focused on recounting the blessings of the year as well as looking forward to the next turned what could have been a miserable day into one of joy. Of course we missed our husband and Dad but the focus on the Lord’s provision for us through the hospitality of our neighbors (Philippians 4:8-9, 19) soothed our grieving spirits.

I have a happy ending to my Mother’s loss of her circle of friends that I described at the beginning of this story! Ever the gracious southern hostess, she did not cease to extend hospitality because of the change in her marital status—in the five years that she lived beyond Dad’s death, we entertained frequently, and eventually our guest list included widows from the group that had earlier excluded my Mother. Though her arthritic condition precluded her engaging in as much of the food preparation as she was accustomed to doing, she continued to help me hone the skills that were second nature to her. 

The loving hospitality extended to us on that first lonely Christmas served as a catalyst for Mom and me to open our home throughout the year—especially during the holiday season! Will you consider displaying biblical compassion by including some of the “others”—singles, widows, and the grieving in your holiday celebrations? Who, knows, you might be entertaining an angel incognito (Hebrews 13:2)!

 ~~~

About Pat: Dr. Patricia Ennis, author of Precious in His Sight, the Fine Art of Becoming a Godly Woman, co-author of Practicing Hospitality, the Joy of Serving Others,  and contributor to Pearl Girls, Experiencing Grit, Experiencing Grace as well as professor and establishing chairperson of the Department of Home Economics at The Master’s College. Visit Pat's blog, Unfading Beauty for more information.

~~~

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First Card: The Lamb's Supper

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Lamb’s Supper

Doubleday Religion; First Edition edition (November 9, 1999)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator
Doubleday Religion / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc., for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


SCOTT HAHN was recently appointed as the inaugural Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at Saint Vincent Seminary (Latrobe, Pennsylvania). He is also professor of theology and Scripture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. An internationally renowned lecturer, Scott is founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and editor of the Center's academic journal, Letter & Spirit. He is the author of a dozen books, including The Lamb's Supper; Hail, Holy Queen; Swear to God; and Understanding the Scriptures. His scholarly articles have appeared in various academic journals, including the Journal of Biblical Literature, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Currents in Biblical Research. He lives with his wife, Kimberly, and their six children in Steubenville, Ohio.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $21.95
Hardcover: 174 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Religion; First Edition edition (November 9, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385496591
ISBN-13: 978-0385496599
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


In Heaven Right Now

WHAT I FOUND

AT MY FIRST MASS

THERE I STOOD, a man incognito, a Protestant minister in plainclothes, slipping into the back of a Catholic chapel in Milwaukee to witness my first Mass. Curiosity had driven me there, and I still didn’t feel sure that it was healthy curiosity. Studying the writings of the earliest Christians, I’d found countless references to ‘‘the liturgy,’’ ‘‘the Eucharist,’’ ‘‘the sacrifice.’’ For those first Christians, the Bible—the book I loved above all—was incomprehensible apart from the event that today’s Catholics called ‘‘the Mass.’’

I wanted to understand the early Christians; yet I’d had no experience of liturgy. So I persuaded myself to go and see, as a sort of academic exercise, but vowing all along that I would neither kneel nor take part in idolatry.

I took my seat in the shadows, in a pew at the very back of that basement chapel. Before me were a goodly number of worshipers, men and women of all ages. Their genuflections impressed me, as did their apparent concentration in prayer. Then a bell rang, and they all stood as the priest emerged from a door beside the altar.

Unsure of myself, I remained seated. For years, as an evangelical Calvinist, I’d been trained to believe that the Mass was the ultimate sacrilege a human could commit. The Mass, I had been taught, was a ritual that purported to ‘‘resacrifice Jesus Christ.’’ So I would remain an observer. I would stay seated, with my Bible open beside me.


SOAKED IN SCRIPTURE


As the Mass moved on, however, something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before me—in the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from the Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, ‘‘Hey, can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great!’’ Still, I maintained my observer status. I remained on the sidelines until I heard the priest pronounce the words of consecration: ‘‘This is My body . . . This is the cup of My blood.’’

Then I felt all my doubt drain away. As I saw the priest raise that white host, I felt a prayer surge from my heart in a whisper: ‘‘My Lord and my God. That’s really you!’’

I was what you might call a basket case from that point. I couldn’t imagine a greater excitement than what those words had worked upon me. Yet the experience was intensified just a moment later, when I heard the congregation recite: ‘‘Lamb of God . . . Lamb of God . . . Lamb of God,’’ and the priest respond, ‘‘This is the Lamb of God . . .’’ as he raised the host.

In less than a minute, the phrase ‘‘Lamb of God’’ had rung out four times. From long years of studying the Bible, I immediately knew where I was. I was in the Book of Revelation, where Jesus is called the Lamb no less than twenty-eight times in twenty-two chapters. I was at the marriage feast that John describes at the end of that very last book of the Bible. I was before the throne of heaven, where Jesus is hailed forever as the Lamb. I wasn’t ready for this, though—I was at Mass!


HOLY SMOKE!


I would return to Mass the next day, and the next day, and the next. Each time I went back, I would ‘‘discover’’ more of the Scriptures fulfilled before my eyes. Yet no book was as visible to me, in that dark chapel, as the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, which describes the worship of the angels and saints in heaven. As in that book, so in that chapel, I saw robed priests, an altar, a congregation chanting ‘‘holy, holy, holy.’’ I saw the smoke of incense; I heard the invocation of angels and saints; I myself sang the alleluias, for I was drawn ever more into this worship. I continued to sit in the back pew with my Bible, and I hardly knew which way to turn—toward the action in the Apocalypse or the action at the altar. More and more, they seemed to be the very same action.

I plunged with renewed vigor into my study of ancient Christianity and found that the earliest bishops, the Fathers of the Church, had made the same ‘‘discovery’’ I was making every morning. They considered the Book of Revelation the key to the liturgy, and the liturgy the key to the Book of Revelation. Something powerful was happening to me as a scholar and a believer. The book of the Bible that I had found most perplexing—the Book of Revelation—was now illuminating the ideas that were most foundational to my faith: the idea of the covenant as the sacred bond of the family of God. Moreover, the action that I had considered the supreme blasphemy—the Mass—now turned out to be the event that sealed God’s covenant. ‘‘This is the cup of My blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.’’

I was giddy with the newness of it all. For years I had been trying to make sense of the Book of Revelation as some kind of encoded message about the end of the world, about worship in faraway heaven, about something most Christians couldn’t experience while still on earth. Now, after two weeks of daily Mass attendance, I found myself wanting to stand up during the liturgy and say, ‘‘Hey, everybody. Let me show you where you are in the Apocalypse! Turn to chapter four, verse eight. You’re in heaven right now.’’


STEALING MY THUNDER


In heaven right now! The Fathers of the Church showed me that this wasn’t my discovery. They had preached about it more than a thousand years ago. I was, however, convinced I deserved credit for the rediscovery of the relationship between the Mass and the Book of Revelation. Then I discovered that the Second Vatican Council had stolen my thunder. Consider the following words from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:


In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that

heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of

Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where

Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the

sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors

of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the

Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for

some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the

Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear

and we too will appear with Him in glory.


Wait a minute. That’s heaven. No, it’s the Mass. No, it’s the Book of Revelation. Wait a minute: it’s all of the above.

I found myself trying hard to go slowly, cautiously, careful to avoid the dangers to which converts are susceptible; for I was fast becoming a convert to the Catholic faith. Yet this discovery was not the product of an overwrought imagination; it was the solemn teaching of a council of the Catholic Church. In time, I would discover that it was also the inevitable conclusion of the most rigorous and honest Protestant scholars. One of them, Leonard Thompson, has written that ‘‘Even a cursory reading of the Book of Revelation shows the presence of liturgical language set in worship. . . . [T]he language of worship plays an important role in unifying the book.’’ The images of liturgy alone can make that strange book make sense. Liturgical figures are central to its message, Thompson writes, revealing ‘‘something more than visions of ‘things to come.’ ’’


COMING ATTRACTIONS


The Book of Revelation was about Someone Who was to come. It was about Jesus Christ and His ‘‘Second Coming,’’ which is the way Christians have commonly translated the Greek word Parousia. Through hour after hour in that chapel in Milwaukee in 1985, I came to know that that Someone was the same Jesus Christ Whom the Catholic priest lifted up in the host. If the early Christians were correct, I knew that, in that very moment, heaven touched down on earth. ‘‘My Lord and my God. That’s really You!’’

Still, serious questions remained in my mind and heart—about the nature of sacrifice, about the biblical foundations of the Mass, about the continuity of Catholic tradition, about many of the small details of liturgical worship. These questions would define my investigations through the months leading up to my reception into the Catholic Church. In a sense, they continue to define my work today. These days, however, I ask not as an accuser or a curiosity seeker, but as a son who approaches his father, asking the impossible, asking to hold a bright and distant star in the palm of his hand.

I don’t believe Our Father will refuse me, or you, the wisdom we seek regarding His Mass. It is, after all, the event in which He seals His covenant with us and makes us His children. This book is more or less a record of what I have found while investigating the riches of our Catholic tradition. Our heritage includes the whole of the Bible, the uninterrupted witness of the Mass, the constant teachings of the saints, the research of the schools, the methods of contemplative prayer, and the pastoral care of the popes and bishops. In the Mass, you and I have heaven on earth. The evidence is overwhelming. The experience is a revelation.

Guest Blog: Monica Brinkman

Monica Brinkman, author of The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, has written a guest post for my blog about the writing of her book. Don't forget to check out my previous post for details on Monica and her book.

What Inspired Me To Write My Book



As most writers, I found myself interacting with other authors via the internet, reading their thoughts on publishing, form, genre, characterization, point of view and various other aspects to consider when writing a novel.

I found one particular site, which I will refrain from mentioning due to the fact most of the authors on the site were quite informative and tactful when providing advice, where three so-called experts vehemently stated

· Never place your books setting in a rural town within the Ozarks

· Never mix genre

· Never change Point of View

These ‘qualified’ writers continued their ‘advice’ with sarcasm and arrogance directed toward any small, rural town, making jest of the ‘country bumpkins’, citing no reader would relate to country folks.

Remembrances filled my mind, for I grew up in the East Coast, relocated to the West Coast where I lived for many years and now reside in the Ozark region these pompous novelists mocked with such ease. In addition, who were they to put the readers of the world into some ‘readers’ rule box’ and tell them what they should enjoy. Hadn’t many authors changed point of view? Mixed genre was a form of writing many publishing houses welcomed with open arms. In addition, as to changing point of view, Sara Douglass and John Connolly have mastered this craft.

Rebel that I am when hearing mockery or information that didn’t set right in my mind, I vowed that my new book, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, would contain all three of the “never do” qualities. I had wished to write a book that would give others hope in these dismal times, entertain and keep a reader in suspense. What a perfect opportunity to embrace a story containing suspense, horror, the paranormal and spirituality; a book that would open the readers mind and leave them pondering the tale, long after being read.

So far, the reviews have been great and the feedback from the readers of the world fantastic.

Touché’, my three master authors! Our readers possess a much more open mind and intelligence than you gave them credit.