Thursday, December 31, 2009
- sharpening or narrowing
- more control
- less craziness
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
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, Melody Carlson, Debbie Macomber, Robin Jones Gunn and others help remind every woman they are not alone and that no circumstance is beyond the grace of God.
McSweeney uses the metaphor of a pearl in order to better describe the situations that ail us all. When an oyster takes in a peice of sand in order to create its coveted masterpeice, it is initially painful to the soft flesh of the creature. But after the pain, appears a clean, white symbol of simplicity, purity, and endurance that any woman would be proud to wear. McSweeney believes that each woman is a pearl and together, form a necklace of great worth. In this book, readers will discover community and encouragement: women are alone in neither their pain nor victories in life.
With His love and grace, God covered the unexpected pain in my life of becoming an adult orphan and transformed this pain into a pearl. We are all Pearl Girls. Each of us has been touched by God's gift of love and grace, and it's a gift that I want to share with others. That's why I am launching Pearl Girls.
Actually, my very first gift from my parents was a pearl. The gift of my name. Margaret means "precious pearl." So perhaps this is what I was always supposed to do. My heart's prayer is that Pearl Girls will be a blessing to others - to the women who contribute their literary talent to the Pearl Girls projects; to the readers who are inspired and comforted by the life experiences shared through these projects and to the women and children who will benefit from the proceeds given by Pearl Girls to various charities. This is a win-win for everyone, and each of us has a special part in making the Pearl Girls projects "blessed sellers."
After the first Pearl Girls tea in Atlanta, I went to my brother, Claude's home to help sort through our parents' boxes in his basement. It was an emotional experience and tedious process to discover what was in each box, to decide what to do with each item and to discard those belongings which we needed to let go. After several long hours of sorting, I received an incredible hug from heaven - a confirmation that Pearl Girls is something that is meant to be. I discovered a three strand necklace of painted pearls belonging to my grandmother from the early 1900s! Isn't that amazing?
WINGS (women in need growing stronger). The proceeds will help fund a Safe House in the Chicago suburbs. It costs $50 a night to provide safe shelter for a woman and her children. During this economy, WINGS is receiving even more phone calls for a safe place to stay. Already, the Pearl Girls have provided 60 nights with the advance royalties. www.wingsprogram.com
Hands of Hope. The proceeds will help build wells in Uganda for school children. Can you imagine a child at school without a water fountain in the hallway where he or she can grab a quick sip of water in between classes on a hot day? These children have to drink from puddles and other water sources which carry diseases and parasites. It costs $12,000 to build a well in Uganda. Already, the Pearl Girls have provided funds to build ¼ of a well. www.handsofhopeonline.org
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
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 outside, from the sparkling clothing to our best effort at a smile, and on the inside we're anything but happy? If life isn't what we expected it to be, the gap between reality and our happy, hopeful expectations seem wider when everyone around us is laughing through the season.
I know there are as many reasons to be unhappy as there are to be happy, and I wouldn't begin to have the answer to make this season bearable for everyone. But I do know a few things that have worked for me:
Slow down. What? During the busiest time of the year? Yep. I know when I feel completely overwhelmed it's because I'm pressuring myself to do too much. So I try to plan ahead, settle for less than perfection, do my best without driving myself and everyone around me crazy. Choose what's really important and let go of the other things. And I've adopted my aunt's favorite saying: "However it turns out, that's how we like it." Works wonders on attitude!
Pray. As my pastor reminded me this weekend from Psalm 34:18: the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. God may not deliver us from our troubles, but He promises to stay beside us-in fact, closer than when everything seems hunky-dory.
Find a moment to give thanks for what you do have (without looking around at those who have more).
This last point deserves a moment of reflection, and is something I'm still learning to do. I have a child severely handicapped by Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic form of mental retardation. For years I thought I'd accepted his condition. I obediently said to God, "thank you even for this," since it taught me many things about adjusting to the life I've been given rather than the one I might have chosen.
But as my son gets older, I see new forms of acceptance making that feeling of gratitude more genuine. I think I'm finally letting go of some of the hopes and dreams I had for him, my oldest son. I can no longer imagine him any other way than the way he is, even though I'd be first in line if a cure is ever found.
I still think it's a good thing to give thanks in all things, even if it begins out of obedience rather than tender gratitude for whatever thorn we live with. But realizing it's okay to grow into that gratitude was a blessing to me.
Maybe some of the bruises on our spirit seem tender during the holiday season, a reminder that all the glitter on the outside might not light us up on the inside. My prayer is trust Psalm 34:18. Let's lean on Him this season-He's right here beside us!
Maureen Lang grew up loving to tell stories, and God has blessed her immeasurably to be able to tell them to a wider audience these days. For the latest goings-on, please check her blog!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
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 South Dakota, as a Canadian citizen, and was raised in Zambia, the child of missionary teachers. Since her family's move to the U.S., Anna spent her childhood and early adulthood traveling throughout the world thanks to various educational and work opportunities . . . France, China, Peru, and Jamaica being some of the stops in her journeys. Her undergraduate degree in French Literature led to a Masters in Information Sciences, and to work as a college and high school librarian, and a cross country coach. She has also returned to Zambia multiple times to teach for individual families and for local schools. All the while continuing pursuing her passions of writing, artwork, photography . . . and running to a fault. She blogs at Full of Grace.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
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 it
- a 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)
- a 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 cream
- fun activities for the kids
- a library card
- a Netflix membership or a gift card to Blockbuster
- freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies
- plenty of vitamins
- unlimited cell phone minutes and texting
- note cards from friends and family to be delivered via snail mail on a regular basis
- did I mention chocolate?
- a AAA membership!!!!!! <--added after reading another wife's list where she included the number of a good handyman! :)
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, God birthed something supernatural in your spirit. You knew you’d never be the same again. My prayer is that this book would take you back to that burning bush—and reignite a primal faith.”
Primal will help you live in light of what matters most and discover what it means to love God. It will help you become great at the Great Commandment.
About the Author:
The author of Wild Goose Chase and In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. One church with nine services in five locations, NCC is focused on reaching emerging generations and meets in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the D.C. area. Mark has two Masters degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. He and his wife, Lora, live on Capitol Hill with their three children.
You can visit the author's website here: Mark Batterson.com
To purchase the book, click here.
Special thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for a review copy of this book.
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 event of the year. And thanks to our persistence, Mom finally gave in. We piled into the car and headed out. Flood waters climbed higher the closer we got to the coast. And at one point the road behind us was closed and the one ahead was flooded and about to be closed as well. The state policeman told us we could cross "at our own risk." We followed a Volkswagen Bug into the water-then we actually watched the bug floating away! Of course, there was nothing to do besides plow on through the water, which appeared to be nearly two feet deep! Fortunately we had an old heavy Chevy that did not float away, but the water seeped in and pooled on the floors.
Fortunately, we made it safely to the grandparents. But once we arrived, we learned there would be no Christmas tree because the road to the woods was closed. Then my grandpa picked up his ax and led us outside where he chopped down his prize holly tree planted in the parking strip. I stared in horror, thinking Grandma was going to have a fit. But then he explained the city had told him to remove the tree for traffic visibility. So we had a twelve foot holly tree for Christmas. It was a little prickly decorating it, but with its shiny green leaves and red berries, it was the most beautiful tree ever! So what started out as a disaster turned out to be a soggy, holly, jolly Christmas after all.
Melody Carlson, author of Limelight, Love Finds You in Sisters, The Christmas Dog, 86 Bloomberg Place, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Carter House Girls, and much more... http://www.melodycarlson.com
Monday, December 21, 2009
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 everyone who knew both women? (Yes! I'm sure you can!)
The cool thing is that the angel Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth's surprise pregnancy. It's as if he was saying, "Look, there's someone in your same situation. Turn to her. She can help you."
Mary did go to Elizabeth. In fact she lived with her older cousin for three months. Elizabeth was the first one who rejoiced over the child Mary held within her womb, and I imagine Elizabeth was there to encourage Mary as she coped with the idea of becoming a teen mom.
Like Mary, each of us should have people in our lives who we turn to for help, support and encouragement. Being a mom isn't an easy thing, and facing an unplanned pregnancy is even tougher.
When I had my son Cory I was 17-years-old, and there were a group of women from my grandma's church who supported me. They were the first ones who showed me that the child that was growing inside me was a gift. They gave me a baby shower, and they fought over holding my son after he was born.
As my son grew, there were other women I looked to ... and most of the time they didn't even know I was watching. One of them was Cheryl. Cheryl was patient with her children, she gave them big hugs, she laughed with them and played with them and I modeled myself after her. The thing about finding mentors is sometimes we can observe them without them even knowing. And if we're really lucky they enjoy their role of giving us advice.
Later, when I had two kids, I met a friend named Cindy. She and I were the same age and we became quick friends. Cindy was a support to me because we traded babysitting, talked about parenting problems, and we encouraged each other. She was someone who was walking the same road as me, and her advice helped more times than I can count.
No matter who we are, or where we live, each of us can look around and see the people we have in our lives. Some may cheer us on, some may guide our parenting, and others may just be there to walk along side us. If the mother of Jesus needed someone to look to for support ... shouldn't we? Everyone needs someone to provide a little help and support.
Tricia Goyer is the author of twenty-one books including From Dust and Ashes, My Life UnScripted, and the children's book, 10 Minutes to Showtime. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana. Connect with Tricia at www.triciagoyer.com.
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 near To call far and wide the sneetches who hear Just the sound of their bellies, the whir of their gear The Gurgles and Burbles that give them great fear Tell them all, tell them loud, tell them clear Their hands they should wash, check their face in the mirror Because the food is now ready and it's time to steer Close to the table, where they'll find hot gribbles here.
Why, you ask? Because David and Sarah are performing in the community theater's production of Suessical the Musical, a hilarious conglomeration of Dr. Suess' fun work, from Horton hears a Who to Horton Hatches an Egg.
As the Christmas season draws close (and the songs from the play linger in my head), one line has stood out to me... "We are here, we are here!" You know the story - that part where, after everyone has called Horton names and they're about ready to boil the speck that contains Who-ville, Horton calls out to the Whos to send up a cry to prove themselves as real. "We are here, we are here!"
It strikes me that sometimes we can feel like Whos...smaller than the eye can see. Tossed hither and yon by the wind, helpless and facing being boiled. Tired, perhaps, or alone. Wishing someone might find us and pay attention.
Someone has, and that's the good news about Christmas. Because we don't have to "make ourselves heard," like the Whos. In fact, even before we realized we were headed for the cauldron, God intervened. God demonstrated his own love for us in this - while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8). That's what Jesus is all about - he's the answer to even the unspoken cry of our hearts, saying, "I am here, I am here." Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
So as this season approaches with its whistles and bells I hope you hear the voice where the Mighty One dwells -- down deep in your hearts, so nothing can shake the knowledge of his love, given all for your sake.
Merry Christmas from Susie May Warren
Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of twenty-one novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheep's Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader's Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota. www.susanmaywarren.com Check out her Christmas Novella, The Great Christmas Bowl.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
by Mary DeMuth
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 and garbage cans, and cups and forks and food. But even more, we had a Christmas tree. Friends had hijacked the place, decorating it for Christmas. Cookies preened on the table.
I will never, ever forget that Christmas. We had so little. We felt the painful burden of failure. But we were loved, so terribly and wonderfully loved.
Christmas felt right there, in a barn. We heard the nickering of horses, the meowing of kittens, the clop of hooves against the barn floor. Chickens and goats and cows served as a holy object lesson of the incarnation. Although we were warm and clothed, we understood more keenly the Savior's homelessness, how He left the splendor of heaven for the sodden earth. We experienced barnyard life alongside him, without much to call our own except our Heavenly Father and our sweet family.
He was enough, that Christmas. And He will always will be.
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info
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.
- 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 Connealy
- Daisy 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!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
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 the tree each year.
Read all the other tree stories here at Wives of Faith. Have a wonderful Saturday!
Friday, December 18, 2009
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. That is what Christmas means to me, and what I hope for my family this year. There will be tension and arguing, a little bossing around, and general chaos and craziness. Such is the way with families. But my hope this year is that I can once again, even for a moment, worship the One who stepped down from heaven to show me the way through His Son, Jesus.
To read what other military wives have to say, go to Wives of Faith!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
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-fiancée, 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?
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 the torturing, but it makes it fun to read, and keeps the reader turning pages. It's also fun to see how she weaves profound spiritual truths into the narrative.
If you like western romance with a twist of fun and a good dose of spiritual insight, this is the book--and author--for you!
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 Depression," and there was no money. In order to pay the interest on the mortgage, to keep the bank from foreclosing on the farm, my grandfather needed a relatively small sum. The amount I remember being told was $13, but for the little they had in those days it might as well have been $13,000.
Tested by trouble and sorrows, my grandparents relied on their deep and abiding faith. As Psalm 34 tells us, I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. The answer to their prayers was to be found right in their own backyard with gifts of the earth. My grandmother went into the woods to gather bushel baskets full of ground pine, with green sprouts like miniature boughs that spread in great patches along the earth. From willow branches she made hoops, around which she bound the ground pine to make wreathes.
She sat up all night making wreaths, enough to fill a large hamper basket, which my grandfather strapped to his back. At four in the morning, he hopped a ride on the milk train into Syracuse, where he went door-to-door selling wreathes. Night after night, my grandmother made wreaths, and day after day my grandfather sold them.
As Christmas approached, my grandmother had saved coupons that came in tins of coffee to get a Kewpie doll for her daughters. The only other things she gave them were mittens she knit herself.
Then on Christmas Eve, my grandfather came home from the last day of selling wreaths, exhausted but relieved. The farm was safe for another year. From what he had earned, he had a dime left over, which he spent on his beloved wife to buy her a powder puff. That night, my grandmother gave him her surprise: enough money from selling butter and eggs all year to buy four new tires for the Model A Ford.
Hearing this story as a child, my head was too full of the Sears & Roebuck "Wish Book" catalog to really comprehend it. As an adult, I try to fathom living with no money at all. What lingers in my heart, however, is the love of my grandparents for each other: the dashing young American soldier in World War I and the beautiful French girl he met overseas and then returned to her country to marry.
Many years, thousands of miles, and untold hardships later, that love continued. During a very dark December, they found a way together to keep the farm and the family together. And so it would always be for them.
Patricia Crisafulli is a writer, published author, and founder of www.FaithHopeandFiction.com, a monthly e-literary magazine with stories, essays, and poetry to inspire and entertain.
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 "absence" reminders.
4. Avoid sugar highs and lows because they naturally induce emotional lows. Also steer clear of over-eating and under-sleeping. Eat well-balanced diets. Some mood enhancing natural foods include yogurt, kefir, green tea, omega-3 rich foods (i.e. salmon, cod liver oil, etc.), and lower sugar dark chocolate. One excellent resource for healthier lifestyles is First Place 4 Health, founded by the knowledgeable and kind Carole Lewis: http://www.firstplace4health.com/.
5. Admit grief. Trying to move forward while denying the reality of grief causes one to fall face forward. Does your face smile while your heart weeps? Give yourself permission to cry. Jesus wept. Weeping releases excessive tension. Address depression. Don't deny it. Pretending the nonexistence of depression only promotes its growth. (I include a list of counseling centers on my page for hurting hearts: http://prayingpals.org/linksforhurtinghearts.html.)
6. Forgive and receive forgiveness through Jesus. Release everything to the Lord -including any so-called regrets about your departed loved one. In Loved by Rebecca St. James (FaithWords, 2009), the point of God's abiding love encourages us: "He [Jesus] is ready to...stand in the gap between you and the pain, and to be your constant companion in the dark hours. He loves you."
7. Reach out to the more burdened and hang around kids this Christmas. It may not feel easy. It may even feel impossible. Ask Jesus to love thru you and get your eyes off problems and on to Him and others.
8. Understand the concept of new normalcy. The onset of new traditions and expectations may seem daunting, but God gave you your previous normal. Ask Him to give grace/hope in the face of the new normal. Let Him lead you to a place where you can relax and let Him beam His light on you.
9. Take a "hands off and hands folded" approach to the holidays. Reduce activity and increase connectivity through prayer and Christian companionship. If you're isolated, feel free to join my weekly online prayer group (www.prayingpals.org). And stay in touch with your local church.
10. Face and treat chronic health issues. If you feel sick, everything feels worse. (One excellent resource for those with chronic health conditions is Rest Ministries.)
11. Reclaim your Heavenly purpose on earth. Ask Jesus to grant supernaturally His grace, hope, love, peace, and comfort this holiday season. Then don't fight His help. Be open to His opening of doors to cope and hope this holiday season. Just receive Jesus. Ask Jesus to give you a Heavenly perspective on earth. God holds good things for you! He grants you great purpose for your life hereafter...and here, too. Embrace His grace and seek His face. He's there. I know. In the face of grief, I'm with Him right now.
12. Remember: Trials don't indicate a reduction in God's love for you. He loves you and promises to make things right in the end. Spend time focusing on His unchanging love for you. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)
Holidays include lots of grief for relationships/loved ones that left, forsook, or died. But let's focus on the essence of Christmas: the present of Jesus' presence in our lives! Wow, may a relationship with Jesus be our miracle and encouragement this Christmas! "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15)
Could you think of anything greater than receiving God for Christmas?
While my dream didn't come true today, I know it will: Mary Jo will be resurrected and we will be reunited. This year, focus on a different angle of Christmas: Let Christmas remind you of Jesus' birth to banish death.
After Stacie Ruth met Jesus, her life blossomed with true joy and purpose! Life's blows hurt her, but Jesus heals and strengthens her. Now an author, actress, and recording artist, she laughs at the irony and praises God, who uses unlikely people...like herself. To find out more about her ministry visit www.brightlightministries.com.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Today's topic: You might be a military spouse at Christmas...
- 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 perfectly (and I miss my girls Tiffany and Christine this year...)
- parties, parties, parties!
- Leaving the parties early so people don't feel guilty about all that drinking in front of the chaplain...
- Did I mention parties? Each one begins with an invocation, so we get a lot of invites...
- baking cookies to give to the single airmen
- ornament exchanges, where the women steal the airplane ornament more than any other one!
- Learning that many families do not get together with extended family, because duty keeps them close to base. And that's acceptable.
THIS blog tour should be a fun one to read! You can read other entries from other wives here.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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 in him and let everything else fall away. At long last, after a lifetime of striving, God was enough. Not God and impact or God and ministry. Just God."
His words convicted me. As an author and speaker, I realized that I'm often more focused on my deadlines or my next speaking engagement than I am on God. I have it backwards. God first, then everything else will fall into place.
It's a powerful message for us as women, too. When we focus on God first, we'll have everything we need to handle whatever is happening in our families and our lives. As Vischer reminds us, God is enough. As we approach Christmas, I'm reminded that this is the time when God shared his Son with us-a tangible reminder of his love for us. And a reminder that when we have him, we have everything we need.
Mary Byers is the author of Making Work at Home Work: Successfully Growing a Business and a Family Under One Roof. She offers advice and encouragement for moms work from home for profit at www.makingworkathomework.com.
Monday, December 14, 2009
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 balls, or iced sugar cookies with colored sprinkles. My kitchen looked like a Martha Stewart test kitchen gone awry.
My head spins just thinking about it. I usually felt so frustrated and exhausted by Christmas Day, I barely enjoyed the celebration. I repeated this drill for many Christmas seasons, before I finally decided to step back and think about why I was trying to accomplish the impossible. I learned to take a deep breath and accept the fact that I can't do it all-and I'm much better off if I don't try.
That's probably why I'm writing this. The tendency to revert to this frenzied pace by mid-December is still a challenge. I need to be reminded of the quiet simplicity of this season, so I can hear the age-old message once again.
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14
Immanuel! Our God is with us. If we can stop long enough to listen-we will hear the invitation that beckons us to come, to wait, to get ready for our coming King.
No doubt, December will be as busy as ever with gifts to purchase, trees to decorate and carols to sing. But this Advent season, I pray that in the midst of everything contending for our time and attention, our hearts will be moved and our senses sharpened to rejoice in God's greatest gift.
Deb Kalmbach is the co-author of Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in a Not-So-Perfect Marriage and the author of a book for children, Corey's Dad Drinks Too Much. Deb and her husband, Randy, make their home in a tiny town in Eastern Washington. Visit Deb at her website or blog.
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, and I was home with a two year old. We wanted friends, but were both hesitant when Steve's officemate his wife invited us to attend their church. We had nothing in common with "religious types," but Steve said, "Let's be nice and go just once."
Sitting in church that Sunday, my temples pounded. Hymns and Scripture verses long ago ignored called to me from my childhood. Could others tell I didn't belong here? Oddly, I felt jealous of their peace. They looked happy.
First thing Monday morning I began tearing through the unpacked boxes in our basement. At last, I found my mildewed Bible from fifth grade. I resolved to read it cover to cover. I opened to Genesis, chapter 1. Same old story; I've heard this a hundred times, and quickly slammed it shut.
No one told me God could hear my thoughts. A soft Voice whispered, Why not read as if it were true? I opened my Bible again. Suddenly I was listening to the most interesting person I had ever heard. By afternoon I was still reading in my pajamas. I couldn't stop.
I read for weeks until one day, a picture popped in my mind of a beautiful old house with wide porches, brightly lit at night. Music, laughter and lively conversation carried onto the porch where I stood in the dark, peeking in. I saw a feast and a fire on the hearth, much like the Christmas open houses from my childhood, with one important difference. There was a Father here whose face mirrored love and warmth at His children's presence. This was God's family, and I desperately wanted to be inside. But how?
A voice taunted, Why would God want you? You don't fit in this crowd! It was true. I considered giving up. Instead, I marched upstairs to our bedroom, knelt down and prayed out loud, "Lord, help me find the way! Please don't let me go!"
Verses I'd read made sense. Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
Our friends explained that God already knew I was a hopeless mess and loved me anyway. Opening the door to Heaven was a gift that cost God everything. It was on the cross Jesus died to pay for my sins. He rose again to prove forever that He is the Truth. Weeping at such love, I knelt and gave Christ my life. I found that, with or without a happy family, no one is ever complete without Jesus.
Virelle Kidder is a conference speaker and the author of six books and numerous articles whose passion is sharing the love of God with women around the world. For her latest books, please visit her at www.virellekidder.com and www.meetmeatthewell.fm
Sunday, December 13, 2009
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:
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" that you have achieved, Carolyn. Each pearl is a result of a great hurt to the oyster's life. But the little mollusk builds an iridescent coat around this source of hurt, and as a result, the precious pearl comes into being. Life is like that too.
If we, like the pearl, can make of our hurts the basis of a thing of beauty, then we can bear witness to an on-looking world how Christians can overcome through Christ, blows that are seemingly insurmountable.
At this happiest season of the year, I give thanks to God for you, Carolyn - my Pearl of Great Price.
Isn't this an amazing Christmas Pearl? I hope this message has touched your heart, too. Another Christmas gift I would like to share with you: My father's lessons on leadership. These can be found on my guest blog post at Michael Hyatt's website.
During this holiday season, decorate your life with Christmas Pearls --- strands of God's grace-reminders that nothing can separate us from his love, not even the grittiest of circumstances.
And please celebrate the "Pearls of Great Price" in your life through Post a Pearl. It's a fun and free gift that you can share with special people who have been a blessing to you over the years.
Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband David and two teenage daughters in the Chicago suburbs. She's the founder of Pearl Girls and a published author. Please visit www.pearlgirls.info for more info. You can also find Margaret at her writing blog, From Finance to Fiction or on Facebook and twitter.
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.
- 1 orange, peeled, tough membrane removed, chopped
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 large Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, chopped
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon