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Sunday, December 25

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.


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.

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Saturday, December 24

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


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.



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Friday, December 23

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.




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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Thursday, December 22

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.


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.


***

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Wednesday, December 21

Enjoy the Ride!





By 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.


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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Tuesday, December 20

My Christmas Present to You!

Remember a few weeks back when I said on facebook that if you answered the question "What's your favorite Christmas song?" you'd get a Christmas present from me?

Well, here it is! How about some Christmas decor that will have you humming your favorite Christmas tunes every time you see it? Enjoy this Christmas song printable, made just for you by me. Just go to the Free Stuff page, follow the links, download your choice of color schemes, and print. I printed mine on 8x10 cardstock, but you could send it to Walmart or Costco for inexpensive printing too.




Merry Christmas!
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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


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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Monday, December 19

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


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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Sunday, December 18

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.


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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Saturday, December 17

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



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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Friday, December 16

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.


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 penny for your thoughts? To leave a comment, click on "Links to this Post" below.

Thursday, December 15

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

I've been MIA here in the blog world since Aunt Joy passed away for a few reasons, but mostly because I was traveling home for a week for the funeral, and spending as much time as I could with people, and not my computer. I heard of the 12 Pearls of Christmas opportunity, and it couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm getting started a couple days late, but I hope we can catch up, and I know you'll be blessed by what these authors have to say for the next 12 days!



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.


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Monday, December 5

Hope

Our prayers for my aunt's healing have been answered. 
She is now completely healed, and rejoicing in the presence of her savior, the love of her life, Jesus.


When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

“Where, O death, is your victory? 
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 
1 Corinthians 15:54-58

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Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Although we grieve, we do not grieve as those with no hope. 


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Friday, December 2

Help For the Holidays


Crafts? Gift lists? Decor? Guests? Regardless of what your Christmas holds, I think you'll find the following articles helpful! 


By the way, I'm working on a little Christmas gift, from me to you! If you haven't yet, head to the facebook page and share your favorite Christmas song! Everyone who answers the question will get a gift from me!