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Happy New Year!

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Focus

I was first intrigued by the idea of an "annual theme" by some of my friends, who seek God's leading and guidance each year through a singular idea. More often than not, the theme is not chosen by the woman herself, but by God. The methods through which He chooses to reveal said theme are as varied as the women themselves, as one might imagine the Creator of the Universe to be creative Himself. It's exciting, not only at the precipice of a new year to see what the theme is, but fascinating to see how God works through that theme in each woman's life.
Last year was the first crystal-clear leading of a theme I felt from the Lord. That theme was Brave. It was a good, although sometimes difficult, year. I'm still learning about stepping out of my comfort zone and how to work around and through my weaknesses, trying to turn them into strengths. Having "Brave" as my theme helped me overcome a few fears and step out of my comfort zone more times than I woul…

Pearl Girls Book Blog Tour

Welcome to the blog tour for Margaret McSweeney's compilation book

Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace

You probably noticed that I posted some of these "pearls" throughout the Advent season in preparation for the book blog tour for this lovely, lovely book. I hope you have enjoyed them and will consider purchasing the book.
About the Book:

After experiencing the death of both parents, Margaret McSweeney recognized the importance of community like never before. Through these difficult times in her life, she learned how God uses the gritty circumstances to conform us to the stunning image of Christ.

McSweeney also realized that she was not at all alone. It is for this reason that she decided to compile essays into an inspiring book: Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit Experiencing Grace. Through this collection, readers will be encouraged by the heartfelt writings that deal with loss and hardship in a real and honest way. Respected authors such as Shaunti Feldhahn, Me…

Bible in 90 Days

90 days.
66 books.
2 Testaments.
1 life-changing experience.

Won't you join in?

Amy at Mom's Toolbox

Bible in 90 Days Blog

If you would like a schedule to go by to read the Bible in 90 days, try this one.

2009 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

1. TBR Challenge 2009 - finished 11 out of the required 12. Incomplete.
2. Jewish Lit Challenge - finished 3 of the required 4. Incomplete.
3. Spring Reading Thing 2009 - finished 6 of my list of 11. Incomplete.
4. Everything Austen Challenge 2009 - finished 2 1/2 of the 6 items needed to complete the challenge. Incomplete.
5. Fall into Reading Challenge 2009 - finished all 9 books. COMPLETE!
See all those incompletes?
Yeah.
That is why, my friends, I will not commit to any new reading challenges until we're settled in our new location next summer.
But on the plus side, as of this writing I'm on task to finish 115 books for the year.

Shouldn't this be catch-up week?

I'm sort of thinking, yes.
Yes, this week between Christmas and New Year's Day should be catch-up week. I need to catch up on so many things: book reviews, blogging (here and at Wives of Faith), paperwork, bills...
So look for a plethora of new book reviews as I clear out the "review" box, and a few other year-end wrap-up posts as well.
I'm also working through my 2010 yearly theme...more on that later. God takes His time with those. Last year it wasn't cemented until New Year's Eve, so I'm not worried...we have a couple of days! 2009 was the year of being Brave, and while I think it was a success overall, part of me is a little disturbed at my own use of the word "success." Having "Brave" as my theme helped me overcome a few fears and step out of my comfort zone more times than I would have liked, and with good results. It forced me to trust outside myself, and let God have control more than I might have otherwise.
And so, begin tod…

My Christmas Wish for You

I wish:safe travelsbig hugslots of lovea little snowgood fooda few giftsthe Holy Spirit coming down and touching your heart

12 Pearls of Christmas: Slow Down, Pray, Give Thanks

All Decked Out For Christmas
by Maureen Lang

One of the reasons so many of us love the holiday season is that it's just so...pretty! Twinkling lights, shiny ornaments, packages that glisten with bows and fancy wrapping. Our houses are trimmed with wreaths and glowing trees, and the neighborhood lights up the night with strands of icicles and glimmering reindeer.

Even we get decked out for the holidays! Chances are most of us will attend at least one party this season, and if we don't usually don clothing or jewelry with a bit of sparkle, now's the time to take a chance with something that reflects the holiday.

Smiles are another reason this season is such a popular one. They accompany that familiar greeting-Merry Christmas! Smiles go with the gifts we give and with the gifts we receive. Smiles go with the old Christmas carols and classic movies we watch every year.

The holiday season is a time when everything can seem amplified. But what if we're all decked out on the outsi…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Wondrous Mystery

Magnificat
by Anna Joujan

Holy. Holy. Holy is the Lord. The familiar catch of breath. The sting in the eyes. And the tears begin to flow with the falling rain. Or do the tears fall with the flowing rain. What is it in these words that I whisper that wrenches at my heart so? Why does Mary's prayer touch the core of my being, so many centuries after it was spoken?

I think it must be because I know that she was just a girl, just a human being, with a woman's heart like my own. And so, when I hear her wondering words, I can feel with her the emotion she must have felt. To bear the son of God-what wondrous mystery, what glorious honour! And she was, like me, just a young woman-much younger, in fact, than I am now. And so, no matter how often I hear the story and read her words, it still has the power to bring abrupt and unsought tears.

What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!
__________________________________________

Anna G. Joujan was born in Sou…

The Perfect Military Spouse Care Package

I can't remember how many care packages my daughters and I lovingly packed for Chaplain Hubby during his deployment. Several, I'm sure! We missed him so much.The question of the day at Wives of Faith today is, what would a military wife need in her care package?These are the things I'd include:
chocolate and lots of ita nice Bible in the translation of her choice (my current reading Bible is the New Living Translation, making familiar passages a bit more fresh to my heart)coffeepatiencea journal and a really good pen (I love gel pens for writing quickly)tissues (Kleenex or Puffs, take your pick)Coca-Cola (what can I say, ours is a Coke house)ice creamfun activities for the kidsa library carda Netflix membership or a gift card to Blockbusterexercisefreshly-baked chocolate chip cookiesplenty of vitaminsunlimited cell phone minutes and textingnote cards from friends and family to be delivered via snail mail on a regular basisdid I mention chocolate?
a AAA membership!!!!!! <-…

PRIMAL

Here's a book you'll want to be sure to read in 2010. Let's sharpen our focus in the new year on Christ.

From Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers comes Mark Batterson's latest offering, PRIMAL

About the Book:

Be Astonished Again

We have a tendency to complicate Christianity. Jesus simplified it: Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we are to live out the essence of Christianity, we must commit to being great at this Great Commandment.

In Primal, Mark Batterson explores the four elements of Great Commandment Christianity: compassion, wonder, curiosity, and power. Along the way, he calls you to be a part of God’s reformation, starting in your own life.

As Mark writes, “Is there a place in your past where you met God and God met you? A place where your heart broke for the things that break the heart of God? Maybe it was a sermon that became more than a sermon. Maybe it was a mission trip or retreat. Maybe it was a vow you made at an altar. In that moment, G…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Perspective

A Soggy, Jolly, Holly Christmas
by Melody Carlson

One of my most memorable Christmases started out as a natural disaster. But isn't that a bit how a pearl is formed? An oyster's soft easy life is disrupted by the invasion of sand, but something good comes out of it. When I was eight, we experienced the worst flood in recorded Oregon history. It was only a few days before Christmas when our streets became shallow rivers and the governor proclaimed a state of emergency. My sister and I assumed the flood was simply our new water-world playground and didn't understand the seriousness of washed out bridges and downed power lines and submerged homes. But when we realized this flood was about to nix our usual three-hour trek to our grandparents' home near the coast, we were not happy.

Naturally, our mom, a single parent, protested the sensibility of holiday travel (most of Oregon's rivers were involved in the flood). But Christmas at Grandma's house was our favorite even…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Help & Support

Calling Elizabeth ... HELP!
by Tricia Goyer

Mary, the mother of Jesus is one of the most well-known women of all time. She was also a teen mom facing an unplanned pregnancy. This Christmas we will see evidence of Mary's story all around us. And as you hear it through Christmas songs and Christmas shows think of three things:

1. Mary was signed up for a big task she wasn't prepared for.
2. Mary no doubt faced criticism from people around her.
3. Mary found someone to turn to - a friend who could help Mary to succeed in her new role. It was Mary's older cousin Elizabeth.

Elizabeth played an important part in Mary's life. We know this because the book of Luke begins by telling us Elizabeth's story first. Elizabeth was the wife of a priest. She was very old and had no children, but God blessed her in her old age by allowing her to get pregnant. After Elizabeth's story comes Mary's story ... another surprise pregnancy. Can you imagine what a shock that was to everyon…

12 Pearls of Christmas: God Intervenes

The Answer
by Susan May Warren

Whos, Here, we are Whos here, smaller than the eye can see.Whos here, we are Whos here, I'm a Who and so is she...

I've always wanted to live in a musical. When I was a kid, I loved Oklahoma, Sound of Music, West Side Story. I seriously thought that, if the moment was right, maybe the stars aligned, people would break out into song and dance.

I was sorta right. Because in my house, one needs to be able to talk in movie lines and song lyrics to effectively communicate. At any moment, someone might break out with a quip from the Princess Bride, or Finding Nemo. They might sing Tomorrow from Annie, or My Favorite Things like Julie Andrews.

But, most recently we've found ourselves speaking in "Suess"...

It's suppertime, son, and the time is nearTo call far and wide the sneetches who hearJust the sound of their bellies, the whir of their gearThe Gurgles and Burbles that give them great fearTell them all, tell them loud, tell them clearThei…

12 Pearls of Christmas: He is Always Enough

Christmas in a Barn
by Mary DeMuth

The Christmas of 2006 we were homeless. We didn't have keys. Not to a car, not to a home. We'd flown halfway around the world, leaving behind a ministry we toiled over. Much, particularly in our hearts, lay in ruins.

Some friends had a camp, and on that camp stood a barn. In the corner of the barn was a tiny apartment, flanked by this caboose and hundreds of acres of Texas pasture. We'd never been there before, so we followed directions at night, making plenty of wrong turns.

When we found the place, we drove a borrowed car over the cattle guard toward what would be our home for a month. String lights illuminated a small porch, a window and a door in the corner of an aluminum-sided barn. We hefted large pieces of luggage to the apartment.

And when we opened the door, Love welcomed us.

The place, usually completely unfurnished in the winter, was decked out with just the right amount of beds, couches and tables. The pantry was full. We had dishes…

What I Want for Christmas

This is one of those tricky prompts. Do I list the things I'd like (books, movies, maybe even an iPod)? or do I list the things I want for the world (peace, love, harmony, an end to war and cancer)?While peace, love, and harmony are all wonderful (I think deep down I'm sort of a hippie!), and while books and movies are always good "material" things to get me, what I really want is focus. More focus in 2010. Less scatterbrained-ness. Less clutter in my mind and on my desk. More focus on Jesus in my heart and my life, manifested in my actions. More focus in my writing and online activities. And if you can wrap it in a pretty red bow, so much the better.
Read what other wives wrote at Wives of Faith today.

Fall into Reading 2009 Wrap-Up

Original Post
This is the list of books I completed for this challenge: Emilie Richards' Ministry is Murder Series:
Blessed is the Busybody
Let There Be Suspects
Beware False Profits
A Lie for a Lie
Cowboy Christmas by Mary ConnealyDaisy Chain by Mary De Muth A Slow Burn by Mary De Muth
The Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My favorite was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by far. But all of the books were really, really good.THANK YOU's galore to Katrina at Callapidder Days for hosting this challenge again.
Have a wonderful holiday!

It's All About the Tree

Today we're talking trees at Wives of Faith.Real? Fake? Tall? Short? What to choose!This year is our 18th married Christmas, and we've had both real and artificial trees. The past four years we've purchased our trees at Menards here in our town in the tree lot. They've been long-lasting, fresh trees. We used to have an artificial tree that was pretty sparse. We used to call it our three-quarter tree; we'd push the branches around the front and set it against the wall. It sort of looked like it grew out of the wall!No matter which tree we have, however, and how we choose to decorate it, it's not finished for me until my bald dove is placed near the top. My sister and I have these plastic sparkly dove ornaments we got when we were kids, and I still love mine. It has lost so much of its sparkle, and is completely bald on top, and my family makes fun of it and me for loving it--but I do not care! I love my bald dove ornament, and I lovingly place it near the top of…

What Christmas Means to Me

What Christmas Means to Me
While I like presents as much as the next gal, I much prefer giving gifts and spending time with my family. Some years it's a big crowd; other years, it's "just us" four. I enjoy a relaxing day at home, free from stress and arguing, tension and strife.Yeah, right, who am I kidding? I've never had any Christmas like that! Seriously, who can claim their Christmases are idyllic? Not even George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Even after he comes back from the alternate future, things aren't perfect. What changes? Not the falling-apart handrail, or even his problems with money. What changes is his attitude.What Christmas means is the attitude of worship. The moment of realizing anew that God came down, approaching the humanity He created with such love and hope, to save us.As John 1:14 says, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory . . .
full of grace and truth.
To behold His glory, full of grace and truth. Tha…

Cowboy Christmas

Cowboy Christmas by Mary Connealy
Publisher's Synopsis:

Get ready for a fun and suspenseful Christmastime romance. Trouble follows singer Annette Talbot to Wyoming—and rancher Elijah Walker finds himself directly in its path. Though still wounded by the betrayal of his ex-fiancĂ©e, Elijah finds himself attracted to the secretive singer. When it appears Annie is a threat to his mother’s life, Elijah must decide if Annie’s deep faith and love of God is genuine or if it’s all just a ruse. He decides to trust her—until he discovers she’s a wanted woman. As Christmas draws near, will Elijah respond to God’s gentle persuasion to find the truth before he loses Annie forever?
Pattie's Review:I enjoyed this book, although I'm curious about why Mary Connealy seems to get such joy and pleasure in torturing her heroines! Seriously, folks...I've met her, she seems very nice and fun. Why does she torture these poor women so!I'll tell you why: because it's fun! Oh, not so fun in …

12 Pearls of Christmas: God Provides a Way

A Long Ago Christmas Memory
by Patricia Crisafulli

The old farm on a dirt road in the backwoods of northern New York State was described to me so many times, I can imagine the place, even though I never saw it: the big frame house with the wide porch, the pair of maple trees out front, and the barn in the back where my grandparents kept a cow or two, pigs and chickens, and a team of work horses.

That old house came alive for me in dozens of stories that my mother told, of how she and her sisters grew up there during the Depression. The stories had that long-ago feel not only because of the years that had passed, but also because of the era: tales of riding in a horse and buggy in the summer and a horse and sleigh in the winter. My grandfather owned an old Model A Ford, but the tires were patched beyond repair and there was no money for gasoline.

One story that has always stayed with me was of a particular Christmas in the early 1930s, a time my mother remember as the "depths of the D…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Jesus Comforts

How to Cope with Christmas
by Stacie Ruth Stoelting

Last night, I dreamed that God resurrected my beautiful adopted aunt, Mary Jo Hoffman. But morning renewed my mourning for her: Christmas trees, snow globes, and music greeted my grieving heart. Relate?

In previous years, my maternal grandpa (a.k.a. "Papa Ray") died near Thanksgiving and my adopted "Grandpa Morley" died near Christmas. Now, people cannot compare grief. But I believe we all know that the holidays challenge the grieving.

Christmas arrives like a pretty package full of grief triggers: Empty chairs, missing faces, and silent voices seem to haunt the holidays. Here are "12 Ways of Christmas" for the Grief-Stricken that have worked for me:

12 Ways of Christmas for the Grieving

1. Don't put excessive expectations on yourself. Don't expect the holidays to be the same.

2. Rest. Cut down the Christmas clutter and just get away from the typical, if possible.

3. Rearrange furniture to reduce "a…

Mil-Spouse at Christmas

Today's topic: You might be a military spouse at Christmas...
This sort of question makes me feel a bit like an interloper. Why? Well, I haven't had to spend the holidays away from Chaplain Hubby. We've always been together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've had to share him, of course--with the church, the chapel, and the whole community--but that's not the same thing.
I think it'll be easier to list what I've experienced as an active duty chaplain's wife the past four Christmas seasons: a bit more liturgy, formality, and finding beauty and Truth in it

Advent, with people who actually know what it is! (it's more common in Baptist churches now than it was when Chaplain Hubby was a pastor, but for years we seemed to be the ones teaching about what Advent is)

packed Christmas Eve services, by candlelight

Seeing camouflage in the congregation and not thinking twice about it

singing Point of Grace's "O Holy Night" as a trio, hitting each note pe…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Just God

A Tangible Reminder
by Mary Byers

Last year I read Me, Myself, & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables by Phil Vischer, creator of the Veggie Tales video series. I was interested because my children grew up on Veggie Tales. But I was also interested because somewhere along the way I noticed Phil Vischer was no longer with Big Idea, the company he founded. I knew there must be a story there, so I picked up the book.

Though millions of children can sing the Veggie Tales theme song, Big Idea no longer exists. After expanding too quickly, the company was forced into bankruptcy. Vischer writes about the experience in his book, which is part memoir and part business tutorial. And it's a touching example of how one man encountered grit and allowed it to be turned into grace.

At the end of the book, Vischer outlines the lessons he learned from the rise and fall of Big Idea. In part, he shares, "I was ready to be done, if that's what God wanted. To just rest …

The Best Christmas Present I Ever Received

I've received good gifts throughout the years, and some not-so-good ones as well. I've received cute homemade things from my girls, and they're great, and nice things from my husband, and that's all good too.
But today, I shall tell you about my favorite.
The best present I think I ever received, truly, was my Mr. Coffee Cappuccino/Espresso machine.
Here it is (ignore the toaster and dog bones!), and I make "Pattie-ccinos" with it. I love it. I'm sad to report that the carafe is breaking, but irreplaceable, as they've changed the shape of the machine since I got this about five years ago. Nevertheless . . .
It's the gift that keeps on giving!
If you'd like to read about other gifts, please visit Wives of Faith today! I'm sure you'll find more profound and beautiful and spiritual ones there ;)

12 Pearls of Christmas: God With Us

LISTENING FOR CHRISTMAS
by Deb Kalmbach

I used to be the queen of over-commitment, and December brought out the worst in this malady. It was as if I were poised at an imaginary starting line, and when I flipped the calendar page, I was off and running--the December dash!

You could hardly see any white space on my daily planner it was so jammed with events. Kids' Christmas programs, church programs, and endless lists of things-to-do obscured my calendar and my vision to see what really mattered. Each day when we hung another ornament on our Advent tree, I felt my chest tighten, and my breathing get shallower. Only single-digit shopping days left...Panic mode was about to set in.

Of course I was singing in the Christmas choir. I love music, and the heavenly Christmas anthems we sang. The neighborhood cookie exchange was an annual tradition. Forget about the old standards, chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies. Let's talk about jam-filled tea cookies, chocolate-dipped peanut butter…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Home

COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
by Virelle Kidder

My mother had remarkable zeal for Christmas. Weeks in advance, she would come home from teaching school and bake late into the night. I helped clean the house and decorate the tree while my older brother Roger wired the house with Christmas lights, transforming our humble red house into a place of magical beauty. Following the church candlelight service, a crowd of happy people crunched through the snow to our house for cocoa and cookies.

We were, like many, quite alone in the years after my father left. Our Christmas open house was my mother's supreme effort to make us feel complete. It almost worked.

Despite years in church and Sunday school, God was more a distant relative I wished I knew. I grew up with a gnawing sense of incompleteness, and longed to find meaning and purpose in life. Strangely, it was shortly before Christmas years later that it found me.

My husband Steve was fully absorbed with his new job at Johns Hopkins University, a…

12 Pearls of Christmas: Life Beautiful

Life Beautiful
by Margaret McSweeney


During a quiet moment after Thanksgiving, I started reading my parents' stack of love letters that I recently found in a storage box. As a Christmas gift to you, I would like to share my father's words to my mother written to her during Christmas 1949. This incredible "hug from heaven" has been a tangible affirmation that Pearl Girls has true meaning and great worth for women throughout the world. I pray that God will continue to bless this ministry and outreach. May we all realize that the grit in our lives can be transformed into grace through the love of God.

This is what I found written on a tiny folded card inscribed with "Christmas Greetings" on the front:

Christmas 1949

My Dearest Carolyn,

Truly a jewel is a thing of beauty, but a life that is lived to serve others and to glorify our Christ, such as yours, is my dearest, a far surpassing gem in radiance and beauty.

Pearls to me, symbolize this "Life Beautiful" …

My Favorite Christmas Recipe

Day 2 of the Wives of Faith blog carnival, and it's all about the FOOD! I love to eat. The older I get, I find that I have to moderate my portions, because let's face it, it's tough to stop at just one of anything!So, I think I'll share a new, moderately healthy recipe that I discovered last year, then LOST, then rediscovered this year! It's for cranberry chutney.Cranberry Chutney, courtesy of Southern Food at About.com

A delicious cranberry chutney with apples, oranges, golden raisins, and spices, perfect alongside pork, turkey, and chicken main dishes. Ingredients:1 orange, peeled, tough membrane removed, chopped1/4 cup orange juice1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries1 3/4 cups sugar1 large Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, chopped1/2 cup golden raisins1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar1/2 teaspoon ground ginger1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamonPreparation:Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; si…