Sunday, December 25, 2011

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

POST 5 Sunday 12/18 TEXT – Deborah Raney

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cellars Wine Club

I am on a search for great ideas and great gifts for Christmas as I am here at the last minute trying to finish my shopping. As I am looking for deals online today, I wanted to share some with my readers. I thought this was a great idea, as you can do one bottle of wine as a gift or have one bottle sent each month of the year so that your gift can be enjoyed all year long. I love giving gifts like this that are monthly-wine clubs, magazine subscriptions, etc. Do you ever give gifts like this? I would love to hear your great monthly ideas. Check this one out. Cellars Wine Club

Library of Classics

I came across this site today and thought some of my readers might be interested in this. This would be a great gift for someone on your Christmas list or treat yourself! If you are like me, you are still scrambling to get your shopping all done in time. This is a device that comes pre-loaded with 100 classic books that you can listen to anywhere. Enjoy! Library of Classics, Inc.

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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

12 Pearls 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.

Tuesday, December 13, 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.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Common English Bible Giveaway

I have one copy of the Common English Bible to giveaway this week. Please leave a comment below to enter. The winner will be chosen on Sunday, December 18. Good Luck!

Common English Bible Winner

Heather M from IL was this week's winner of the Common English Bible. Thanks to all that entered and remember I am giving away one a week for three months, so keep entering.

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Jane Austen's birthday is not until Friday, December 16, but isn't it great to celebrate all week? SourceBooks is doing just that and offering some great deals on Austen related stories. Here are all the details. From Tuesday December 13th – Friday December 30th the following eBooks will be priced at $1.99 at all online e-tailers. Whether you like Darcy as a tortured vampire, a modern day rock star, a Texas rancher or anything and everything in between! There truly is a Darcy for everyone! A Darcy Christmas – Carolyn Eberhart, Sharon Lathan and Amanda Grange Darcys & the Bingleys – Marsha Altman Darcy’s Voyage – Kara Louise Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star – Heather Lynn Rigaud The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice – Abigail Reynolds Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One – Sharon Lathan Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard – Belinda Roberts Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife – Linda Berdoll Mr. Darcy, Vampyre – Amanda Grange Pemberley Chronicles – Rebecca Ann Collins Pemberley Ranch – Jack Caldwell Searching for Pemberley – Mary Lydon Simonsen Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy – Sara Angelini Darcy and Fitzwilliam – Karen V. Wasylowski Find these titles at the fantastic price at SourceBooks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Giveaway

The Tyndale Publishers are running a giveaway right now that some of you may be interested in. It started on November 29 and will end on December 24. All you have to do is go to their facebook page and like it and you are automatically entered. They are giving away a Life Application Study Bible Family Pack that includes: Guys Life Application Study Bible hc, Girls Life Application Study Bible hc, Student's Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible Large Print hc. They are giving away one of these packs a day! They are also giving an Apple iPad 2 away each week. So head on over there and enter to win some great prizes. New Living Translation Facebook Page

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Giveaway-Brothers and Me

Donna Britt has always been surrounded by men--her father, three brothers, two husbands, three sons, countless friends. She learned to give to them at an early age. But after her beloved brother Darrell's senseless killing by police 30 years ago, she began giving more, unconsciously seeking to help other men the way she couldn't help Darrell. BROTHERS (AND ME) navigates Britt's life through her relationships with men-resulting in a tender, funny and heartbreaking exploration of universal issues of gender and race. It asks: Why, for so long, did Britt-like millions of seemingly self-aware women-rarely put herself first? With attuned storytelling and hard-wrought introspection, Britt finds that even the sharpest woman may need reminding that giving to others requires giving to oneself.
I have 3 copies of this book to giveaway. The contest is open to US and Canada only and no PO Box addresses please. Please leave a comment to enter. Winners will be chosen on December 20.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Win a Nook!

Would you like to win a Nook? I know I would. Well, here is your chance. Please click on the link below and get the details for how to enter. I hope one of my readers is the lucky one and would love to hear if you win. Win A Nook

Monday, December 5, 2011

Giveaway-Common English Bible

This is week 3 in a 3 month giveaway to win a new Bible translation. Please leave a comment below to enter for your own FREE copy. The winner will be selected next Sunday, December 10. Good Luck! Don't forget to click on the badge for the Common English Bible on the right side of my blog for great information on this translation.

Common English Bible-Winner

This week was the second week for my giveaway of the new Bible translation-The Common English Bible-and so happy that several signed up to win a copy. The winner this week is Alice W. from Kentucky. Congrats Alice! I have another giveaway this week, so if you haven't won a copy yet, enter!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

CraveBox

Have you heard of CraveBox? I came across this via a post on facebook and had to check it out. You can go to this site and sign up to get a box each month filled with goodies. It only costs $10 a month and you get products that will exceed that amount to include trial and full size products. Go and check it out and join like I did. CraveBox

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coupons

I have recently started couponing and I love the savings. I know it is getting more popular these days but I am wondering if any of you don't use them? If you use very few or none at all and would be interested in sending them to me, I would greatly appreciate it. Please leave a comment below with your email so I can contact you if you are interested.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Common English Bible Help for Today

I went out to get in my car to drive to work this morning and barely made it down the road, only to discover that I had a flat tire. As I looked at the tire, I noticed a large slash that could really have only occurred if someone had slashed it. So, I spent my morning waiting on a cop to show up and take a report. He very graciously put my spare on for me while he was there. I have a very good idea of who did this but since I didn't see it take place, I can't say for sure. However, we have a neighbor that has been causing a little havoc on our street and seems to be the most likely culprit. The cop mentioned her by name to me when he realized where I lived as there have been other reports lately on her. So, I am putting it mildly when I say that I am very upset. I have to miss a half a day of work and spend money for a new tire, that I did not have. I thought this would be a very good occasion to consult my new translation of the Common English Bible to help me lose the anger and practice forgiveness.

Please join me today in reading your Bible to help with whatever trials you have had today. You can register in a post from yesterday to win your own copy of the Common English Bible to be given away next Sunday. I will be giving away one every Sunday for three months, so you have tons of chances to win a copy. I have the badge posted on the right side of my blog so you can link straight to their site to find out all the information of what this translation offers. Enjoy! And I hope your day is much better than mine has been so far.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Giveaways

I wanted to make a post about the book giveaways that I offer here on my blog. The giveaways are sponsored by publishers that allow me to post about them on my blog. Once the winners have been randomly selected, I send the name and address directly to the publisher. The books are sent out from the publisher, I do not send the books out. I do not have the books in my possession to send out and I felt I needed to clarify as there has been some question as to the delivery of books that are won on my blog. I apologize if anyone has not received a book that was won on this blog as I have submitted all names up to this point for all contests ever held on this blog. If you do not receive a book, I contact the publisher to let them know and then it is again up to them to research as to whether the book was mailed out and/or send out a new copy or not. Often a winner will have won the book on more than one blog but the publisher will only send the winner one copy and that can play a factor as well.

I do want to be notified if you do not receive a book so that I can do all I can do and work with the publisher to get you a copy. However, I do ask that you please do not email me numerous times with harassing comments about me sending out a book that was won. With that being said, I hope that everyone will still enjoy the blog and the contests I offer and understand how the process works.

Book Giveaway: Common English Bible

I have one copy to giveaway of the new translation entitled Common English Bible. Please leave a comment below with a way to contact you if you are the winner. Good luck! Be sure to click on the badge on the side of my blog to learn more about this translation.

Winner-Common English Bible

The winner for the first week of the Common English Bible is Steve C. in Kansas. Congrats Steve!
I have a copy of this new Bible translation to giveaway every week for three months so if you didn't win this week, you still have plenty of chances. Look for a post each week to enter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

National Bible Week

In celebration of National Bible Week and the new translation called the Common English Bible, I started thinking about the different translations. I am a King James version girl and I always have been. I do consult other translations from time to time but I have always used the King James as my main source. I think it is because that is the first translation I ever had and I just got used to always using it over the years before other translations began getting popular. It got me curious as to see what translations that others use the most and are you open to trying new ones?
You can check out the Common English Bible and tell me what you think.

Book Giveaway: Spontaneous Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy. But what does that really mean? Increasingly, scientific evidence shows us that true satisfaction and well-being come only from within.

Dr. Andrew Weil has proven that the best way to maintain optimum physical health is to draw on both conventional and alternative medicine. Now, in Spontaneous Happiness, he gives us the foundation for attaining and sustaining optimum emotional health. Rooted in Dr. Weil's pioneering work in integrative medicine, the book suggests a reinterpretation of the notion of happiness, discusses the limitations of the biomedical model in treating depression, and elaborates on the inseparability of body and mind.

Dr. Weil offers an array of scientifically proven strategies from Eastern and Western psychology to counteract low mood and enhance contentment, comfort, resilience, serenity, and emotional balance. Drawn from psychotherapy, mindfulness training, Buddhist psychology, nutritional science, and more, these strategies include body-oriented therapies to support emotional wellness, techniques for managing stress and anxiety and changing mental habits that keep us stuck in negative patterns, and advice on developing a spiritual dimension in our lives. Lastly, Dr. Weil presents an eight-week program that can be customized according to specific needs, with short- and long-term advice on nutrition, exercise, supplements, environment, lifestyle, and much more.

Whether you are struggling with depression or simply want to feel happier, Dr. Weil's revolutionary approach will shift the paradigm of emotional health and help you achieve greater contentment in your life.






I have three copies of this book to giveaway. The contest is open to US and Canada, just leave a comment below to enter. The winners will be chosen on December 20.

Book Giveaway: Queen of America

After the bloody Tomochic rebellion, Teresita Urrea, beloved healer and "Saint of Cabora," flees with her father to Arizona. But their plans are derailed when she once again is claimed as the spiritual leader of the Mexican Revolution. Besieged by pilgrims and pursued by assassins, Teresita embarks on a journey through turn-of-the-century industrial America-New York, San Francisco, St. Louis. She meets immigrants and tycoons, European royalty and Cuban poets, all waking to the new American century. And as she decides what her own role in this modern future will be, she must ask herself: can a saint fall in love?

At turns heartbreaking, uplifting, and riotously funny, QUEEN OF AMERICA reconfirms Luis Alberto Urrea's status as a writer of the first rank.






I have three copies to giveaway and it is open to US and Canada only. Please leave a comment below. The winners will be chosen on December 15.

National Bible Week

In celebration of National Bible Week and the Common English Bible translation blog tour, I am going to post some Bible verses and other information about the new translation over a three month period. I hope you will enjoy the posts. You can learn more about this translation at Common English Bible.
Don't forget to look at my previous posts and enter to win your own copy for free.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (CEB): “15 Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 17 so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giveaway: Common English Bible

I am participating in a 3 month long blog tour for a new Bible translation. I hope you will watch for my daily posts on this translation and great stories, verses, and information. I am giving away one copy of this translation for each week of the blog tour. Please leave a comment below with an email address so I can contact you. Also, you must follow the blog to be entered. The contests is open to US residents only and the winner for this week will be chosen on Sunday, November 27.

For more information on this translation: Common English Bible

Blog Tour: Thank You-Come Again-I Promise

I am participating in a three month long blog tour that is starting today, in honor of National Bible Week. The tour is to celebrate the publication of a new Bible version called the Common English Bible. I hope that you will watch my blog over the next three months for various posts about this Bible translation. I wanted to start this off by giving a few resources.

You can like the Facebook page.
If you like the page, you will be able to immediately print off beautiful calligraphy Bible verses. A great way to share your favorites with friends and family during the National Bible Week or during the holiday season. I hope you will check it out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Feature: Inspired Design




Drawing from a rich family history and her own collection of acclaimed designs, California-based interior designer Roxanne Packham has joined with her teenage daughter Hannah to create Inspired Design (Inspired Design Publications), an idea-provoking book filled with stunning photographs, treasured family traditions and a plethora of truly inspirational tips for creating a warm and welcoming home, not just throughout the holiday season, but every day to follow.



Whether seeking unique ways to entertain for the upcoming holidays, celebrate with friends, begin new family traditions or showcase the family history, talents and passions in the home’s interior design, the Packhams have shown the way. In doing so, they have utilized the beautifully structured pages of Inspired Design to reveal the classic truth that any home is made more beautiful when it is filled with love, joy and the determination to make those who enter it feel welcomed.







10 Tips for Setting a Beautiful Holiday Table



By Roxanne Hughes Packham,

Co-Author of the Hospitality Book: Inspired Design



In today’s rough economic climate, keep in mind that although I hope to inspire you to set a beautiful Thanksgiving or Christmas table the real beauty comes from the thought and love you show your friends and family. Beautiful tables comprise equal parts from the “Inspired” & the “Design” categories. See examples: http://www.inspireddesignpublications.blogspot.com/.



Inspired



~Place cards

I love to use the ceramic place cards that can be written on with a wipe-off marker. You can quickly write people’s names, a favorite quote or sentiment. Friends love that you thought about them before the dinner and even something as simple as writing their names on the place cards really makes them feel remembered.



~Welcome Sign

It is so welcoming, to have a sign somewhere near the front door to greet your family and friends. From a very personal “Welcome Smith Family” or a seasonal “Merry Christmas” to “We are so glad you are here” on a casual chalkboard or an elegant mirror or glass framed, and write with a wipe-off marker, that welcome sets the tone for the rest of the event. I used an antique French cupboard door and painted it with chalkboard paint on the raised panel part.



~Quote or Scripture

The most inspirational part of the Holiday table is the beautiful quotes and scriptures. It depends on the occasion, but a quote that is either inspiring or focused on gratitude is the favorite. There is nothing like feasting your eyes, and then your thoughts, on what we can be thankful for, especially as an example for our children. Scattering them around the home (powder room, end tables, above door jam’s) is a great way to elevate your family and friends thoughts.



Design

~Fresh Greenery

Sometimes we mistakenly think a tabletop has to have flowers as a centerpiece to be really elegant and festive. Greenery is a wonderful, fresh and festive way to make a beautiful Christmas table. Simply cut a few small twigs of trees/bushes like pine or ivy, or my favorite boxwood branches, bay tree and magnolia leaves and put them in three smaller glass or crystal vases.



~Candles

No table is complete, in my opinion, with 5 to 7 little glass votives with white candles in them. The light sparkles and makes everything else on the table more beautiful and sets a soft, relaxing, often more romantic tone.



~Seasonal Piece

By seasonal I suggest a “Santa” figurine or such, a gingerbread house, or a standing cross to have in the center of the table. A clear jar of candy canes, M&M’s or such would do just fine, as well. Think: Something available only at this time of year. I usually have plenty of items in the Holiday Decor that I switch out to put on the table for each dinner.



~Napkin Rings

These can be such a pretty way to pull a linen napkin through to set on a place and make a really beautiful table setting. You can use french ribbons, or plain silver rings and they help to really make a bigger impact for an inspiring table.



~Sparkling Glasses

Whether crystal or glass, tall freshly washed glass sparkle so much with the votive candles that it is hard to wrong with this combo. A tall glass and short glass of whatever kind you like is very dramatic and beautiful, set together. Whether colored or clear the sparkle is crucial for the holiday table.



~White Plates

Although I love to use seasonal chargers and salad plates a crisp white plate is the most beautiful element to my favorite tables. They can be dressed up or down, and makes each setting look fresh and not heavy and overdone.



~Seasonal Linens

Of course, linen napkins add the most wonderful touch of elegance to any table, and Christmas plaid or red and green are no exception. My grandfather, who was a “Silversmith to the Stars”, loved a bare table with only plates (or placemats) but wasn’t a fan of covering a beautiful wood table. I have followed suit. Try leaving the wood table bare! The natural elements together is beautiful and simple.



“I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Publishing

I know that many book lovers are also writers and aspiring to get published. I would fit into that category and I have started to get my butt in gear lately and really start to work on writing and start submitting in the hopes of being published. I came across some publishers that are looking for submissions and wanted to share with those of you that are like me and dream of one day accomplishing that goal.

The three publishers listed here are looking for fiction submissions.
Bellevue Literary Press
Insomniac Press
Soft Skull Press


Literary Agents looking for Submissions.
Barer Literary
Accept queries via traditional mail and e-mail (no phone or fax queries). This agency is looking for about any fiction genre that is not romance, thrillers and suspense.

Sandra Dijkstra Literary
Has a need for novel submissions, but there's a catch: Sandra Dijkstra herself is not accepting unsolicited submissions. However, four of the other agents in the agency are accepting submissions via e-mail.

Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
Allows prospective novelists to make submissions via an electronic submission form on their website. They represent a wide range of fiction projects—good stories are what they want.

Victoria Sanders and Associates
Accepts novel submissions via e-mail (both query and first three chapters—or about 25 pages in the body of the message). Currently looking for action, adventure, ethnic, feminist, gay, lesbian, literary, and thriller novels.

You can find this information and more at Writers Market.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blog Hop: Gratitude Giveaway







It is time for another giveaway that is attached to a blog hop. The blog hop is courtesy of I'm A Reader Not a Writer. Be sure and go to the blog to see a list of all the participating blogs and enter to win. The contest will run from today until November 27, with the winner be chosen on November 28.

I am giving away a $10 gift card to Amazon. I never know what book to offer and think a gift card is the best way so you can pick what you want. This contest is simple to enter, just make sure you are a follower and leave a comment letting me know that with an email address so I can contact you if you win. The giveaway is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live. Good Luck!