Friday, December 23, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas: Jesus--The Reason for the Season

This is the 12th and final post of the 12 Pearls of Christmas 2011. For all Newark Naz Woven Women, this final post is especially of interest. Mary, mother of Jesus is the main character in this "pearl". Our Woven lesson for December featured Mary, and our January and February lessons will continue the same theme. 

Thanks so much for your interest in taking this journey with us to Christmas. I pray you will have a blessed New Year. Please consider joining us for our January "Creating Quiet Spaces" Spiritual Retreat.
~With Love, Cindy

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas: Pearl Number 12
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).

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit http://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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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 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. http://www.rachelhauck.com/.


12 Pearls of Christmas: The Panhandler's Breath

Surrounded by people in need, this story is a food for thought any time of year! I pray the Lord will challenge your heart and mine to give for the sake of giving. ~Merry Christmas! ~Cindy

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.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

The Panhandler's Breath By Robin Dance

He slipped in sideways between the closing elevator doors, as if he were late to a meeting; he pressed the "5" without looking. Instead of suit and tie, though, baggy pants and faded navy hung on his tall, slim frame...and his stealth entry stiffened the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had noticed him a few seconds earlier, just after we had parted a sea of clamorous teens. He was smiling, grandfatherly, standing maybe 30 feet away where the electric shuttle picks up.

I had no idea he had been watching us, studying us, predator patiently awaiting his next prey.

The four of us were sealed in a four- by six-foot metal tomb. Tomb--that thought really scampered across my mind. I wondered if he had a knife in his pocket. I wanted to protect my son. Fight or flight pumped adrenaline but there was no where to run.

Extreme and ridiculous, these thoughts - and more - flashed through my mind. The Stranger began speaking.

"Yessir, I see you're a family man with your wife and your son here..." and he nodded in my and my son’s direction.

"...you see I'm homeless and all I've got..." and on queue, he reached into his left pocket and pulled out two old pennies blackened with age. Two cents to his name?! It was all too contrived, too practiced, and I didn't believe a word he was saying.

It was then I smelled it ~ the small space lent itself to that ~ and I doubted my doubt.

His breath.

It wasn't the scent of alcohol. His eyes weren't red, his voice didn't waver; his wizened face matched his graying hair.

His breath was morning's, zoo breath, the pet name I'd given to the scent inhaled when kissing my children awake when they were little.

He needed to brush his teeth. I wondered how long it had been since he brushed his teeth.

The elevator door opened and I handed him my leftover pizza as my son and I brushed past him. My husband handed him a bill and the Stranger thanked and God blessed him.

The elevator door closed behind us. Conflicted, I was relieved.

We got in the car and blurted first reactions--

"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



12 Pearls of Christmas: Inside Out Christmas

This humorous and true story is sure to deliver the gift of  laughter to you today, (or at least a giggle or a grin). I. hope. you. laugh.! It's such good medicine for the hustle and bustle of these last days of Christmas.
With Love, ~Cindy
Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!


Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple form and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.
***
Inside Out Christmas by Debora M. Coty

My veterinarian friend, Dr. Katie, tells the story about the December when a woman brought a very sick black lab into her clinic. The dog was only ten months old, so she was really just a big puppy, but she’d been vomiting incessantly and her worried owner didn’t know what was wrong.

“Why don’t you go on home?” Dr. Katie told the owner. “I’ll need to run tests for about four hours. We’ll give you a call when we’re finished.”

Dr. Katie’s assistant took x-rays and hung them on the light panel for Dr. Katie to examine. Hmm. Something looked a little peculiar. Dr. Katie called her assistant over.

“Is it just me, or does that look like a … a camel to you?” she asked incredulously.

“Matter of fact, it does,” replied the astute assistant. “And look, there’s an angel here, a shepherd there, and down there in the colon, it’s Baby Jesus!”

At that moment the phone rang. It was the dog’s distraught owner. “I can’t believe this! I just got home and glanced at the coffee table where I put my manger scene yesterday. There’s nothing there but an empty stable!”

As I thought about this quite literal technique for internalizing the true meaning of Christmas, it occurred to me that sometimes I have the opposite problem. With all the bustling busyness, my inner joy in celebration of my savior’s birth never really makes it to the outside.

Oh, I have plenty of glittery, festive evidences of the holiday in decorations, baking galore, and gifts under my tree. But those things are for show. They’re merely the pretty wrappings, not the gift itself.

Can people really see the core-deep joy that radiates within me when I think of the true gift that Papa God sent the world in his son, Jesus? Is my immeasurable gratitude for eternal life evident as I dash through this hectic season?

I’m afraid all too often, the answer is no.

I’m just too preoccupied to allow my outside to reflect my inside so that nonbelievers recognize that I rejoice because of the hope that is within me. My joy is obscured by the mounds of clutter. Gratefulness is sucked out of my soul by the vacuum called urgency.

“But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy” (Psalm 68:3, NLT).

This verse has become my prayer this Christmas season – that I would make the time to give priority to rejoicing, being glad in God’s presence, and letting my inner joy show for those who may be silently desperate to know the giver of true joy.

Yep, there’s a better way to internalize the gift of Christmas than the black lab technique. We can lodge the Little Lord Jesus in our hearts rather than our colons.
***
Debora M. Coty is a humorist, inspirational speaker, and award-winning author of twelve books, including Too Blessed to be Stressed, and coming in March, More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. Debora would love to swap Christmas hugs with you at http://www.deboracoty.com/




12 Pearls of Christmas: Simple or Sparkle?

If you are in need of a Christmas attitude adjustment, this "pearl" from Tracey Eyster may be just what you need to read this morning. Then it's up to you: Simple? or Sparkle?  Have a great day before the day before Christmas! ~Cindy

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 http://www.pearlgirls.info/ and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.
***

Simple or Sparkle?  by Tracey Eyster

It’s a simple ornament made of thin cheap metal and it looks quite out of place on our CHRISTmas tree. But each year I lovingly and safely nestle it amongst its expensive and sparkly peers, without a care as to how unglamorous it appears.

Many of our CHRISTmas ornaments have a story and an uncanny way of welling up emotion in me, but this certain one causes an intense stir.

You see the ornament is engraved with the name of my grandmother, Sara, and was given to me by my mother, who ordered it from Hospice, after Grandmama’s death. Yes, the months leading up to her death carry memories of a frail and failing grandmama, but that ornament carries my thoughts to sweet CHRISTmas memories of the past.

CHRISTmas Eve dinners in her home, laughing, singing, gathering and celebrating a year filled with blessings as we remembered the birth of our Savior. CHRISTmas mornings, she was always there participating with glee, in our raucous CHRISTmas happiness. Her gifts were always bank envelopes gently tucked into the pine needles of our CHRISTmas tree, fresh cut from the property she grew up on.

All memories of my Grandmama make my heart swell. You see she was my Jesus with skin on. She lived her life full of joy, serving others and approached life selflessly with an attitude of, “What can I do for you?”

Just months before she left us, even as the Alzheimer’s was robbing her mind she shared her love of Jesus with a sweet little old lady friend, who came to know the Lord – a divine appointment. The very next day that little old lady silently slipped away to meet in person the One Sara introduced her to just the day before.

At the time I wept, realizing that regardless of our own frailties and failings, God can still use those of us who are willing to do His work and are well practiced at hearing His voice...no matter our lack of sparkle in comparison to others.

A simple life lived for Him, a simple ornament in memory of Sara...a simple truth for you to ponder.

***
Tracey Eyster wife, mom, relationship gatherer and Creator/Editor of FamilyLife’s MomLife Today is a media savvy mom making a difference where moms are, on-line. Through speaking, writing and video interviews Tracey is passionate about encouraging, equipping and advising moms on every facet of momlife. Her first book, Be The Mom will be released August 2012. You can connect with Tracey at http://www.momlifetoday.com/, her personal site http://www.traceyster.com/ or www.twitter/momblog.com.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas: Enjoy the Ride!

Good Morning Friends!
If you're like me, you've had good intentions of getting things done on time this year for Christmas. And, if you're like me, you're struggling to just get. it. done. period!  Take this blog for example: I am just now posting Tuesday and Wednesdays "Pearls" for you...and today is Thursday! (blushing with embarrassment). 
If you ARE like me, I know you will appreciate Susan May Warren's pearl of wisdom for us today. Relax & "Enjoy the Ride"! ~Cindy
***
Enjoy the Ride! ~Susan May Warren

We sit poised on the top of a cliff, a near drop off before us, that falls to a rushing river. In the middle, a bridge of snow and ice hints at our destination. My husband guns the snowmobile engine. “Ready?”

Ready? For a face plant into a tree, maybe reconstructive surgery? To feel my stomach ripped from my body as we plummet down the mountain? Let’s do it!

We live on five acres of woods in northern Minnesota that butts up to a national forest. Hence, our backyard is about a hundred thousand acres. Aside from harboring deer, lynx, fox, cougar and bear, it also makes excellent snowmobile terrain. And not long ago, Mrs. Claus gave her Santa a snowmobile for two.

I love snowmobiling. Flying over the snow, catching air over drifts. I love to drive, to be at the helm of the beast as I weave around trees and over hill and dale, my husband sitting behind me. I also love riding behind my husband as he drives, feeling those powerful arms as he’s muscling the snowmobile into the wilds. We follow unknown trails, driven by a Magellan spirit, hoping that we have enough gas to get us back to civilization. I love hanging on, simply trusting him, knowing that wherever he’s taking me, he’s going first.

But there are times, when I see where he’s taking me, and I just have to bury my head in his back. Like straight down a cliff.

However, my heart cheers, despite the terror as we gun it down the hill, over the river, up the opposite side. And, if we hadn’t let ourselves go, we would have never discovered the beauty of a winter river, a hidden jewel buried deep in the forest. Nor the exhilaration of facing the challenge together.

Further on, we find an enchanted forest of towering white pine. Catch a view of Lake Superior, discover an old cabin in the woods.

It occurs to me that snowmobiling is much like my spiritual life. Occasionally, I drive, and it’s me setting our course, weaving through the trees, getting us hopelessly lost. But when God takes the “wheel” and I hang on, trusting Him for the speed and destination, I see the scenery. I trust him to keep me safe. I trust him to bring me home, where there is an eternal supply of hot chocolate.

As Christmas season becomes more hectic, what if I let God drive? Maybe everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and maybe I don’t have to control every tradition, every holiday nuance. What if I just held on for the ride?

I’ll bet I’ll still get there, and I might even enjoy the scenery along the way.

How have you let go, and “enjoyed” the scenery of this hectic, exhilarating Christmas season?

Merry Christmas!
***
Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of thirty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award. A seasoned women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

12 Pearls of Christmas: A Glimpse into Christmas Future

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!


Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

 
***

 
Family Traditions: A Glimpse into Christmas Future
by Tricia Goyer

Have you ever thought about family traditions? As I helped my 1-year-old place ornaments on the Christmas tree this year I imagined her doing the same thing with her children—and maybe even grandchildren—one day. Traditions are beliefs and customs handed down through generations. By sharing meaningful moments with your kids you're sending yourself into the future. How amazing is that?
 
Sharing family traditions cause us to slow down from the busy, adult world for a while. We ignore the laundry to set out the nativity set with our kids. We set aside time in our schedules to drive around and look at Christmas lights.
 
Holiday traditions aren't only fun, they also help strength family bonds. Through traditions kids trust in the security of family unit. They think, “This is our family and this is what I do.” Of course, the most important thing to share isn't just what we do ... but why. Why do we put out a nativity? To remind us the real meaning of the season—Jesus coming to earth. What do the Christmas lights represent displayed on homes and on trees? They represent the Light of the World, Jesus.
 
Using traditions to bond our families and share our faith isn't new. I love these two Scriptures that talk about that very thing.

 
Exodus 12:25 says, “When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.”

Psalm 78:4 says, “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.”

 
What are your 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. http://www.triciagoyer.com/

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas: Let the Baby Grow Up...


Merry Christmas my friends! I hope you are enjoying these pearls of wisdom from our Pearl Girls. I am honored to be a Pearl Girl myself, having written a story for the first Pearl Girls book, Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace. If you are still shopping for gal-pal gifts, this book may be just the right fit for one of your friends. Enjoy and...

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas: Post #6


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. ~Margaret McSweeney, Pearl Girls
***

Let The Baby Grow Up This Christmas

By Shellie Tomlinson

When I was a little girl, Christmas seemed to take forever to make its way back to our little house on the end of a dirt road called Bull Run in northeast Louisiana. We kids started counting down the days before the leaves ever began turning. Sure, the adults said it came once a year but I wasn't so sure. Once Santa Claus left our humble abode it seemed like light years before he found his way back to the Delta.

That was a child's perspective. I imagine it hasn't changed all that much for today's kids. On the other hand, I'm operating under a completely different time frame these days. It seems like it was just yesterday when I pulled the boxes down from the attic and began pulling out the nativity scene, the miniature lights, and the keepsake ornaments. And now, just that fast-- Christmas Day is right around the corner. Soon the tree will be striped naked and the piled up presents will all be distributed. After a few more day it'll be hard to remember who got what from whom, and once again, I'll start packing all the decorations away for another year.

I was thinking about how bare and cold the house always looks after the holidays when I realized that, sadly, this scene would play itself out in many hearts as well. A lot of people will have had expectations that weren't filled and many of those same souls will be left with hurts that don't seem to heal. Unless this year is remarkably different from past seasons, my bet is, the New Year will bring magazines full of articles on combating depression and the talk shows will have experts on offering ways to fill the long days ahead and cure the winter blues.

I'm no expert, dear readers, but I'd like to offer you a suggestion that will go far beyond the creature comforts of a nice warm bath or a delicious bowl of hot soup. Your heart doesn't have to be bare and naked after the holidays. Do you want to know the real secret? It's simple, really. Don't pack up Christ with Christmas! As beautiful and special as the Christmas story is, it's only a part of heaven's miracle. The Christ child grew into a man and the man became a Savior.

This year, may we be determined to let the babe from Bethlehem live on in our hearts. If we'll allow Him to become the Messiah He was born to be, the joy of Christmas can be ours all year long.
***

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is an author, speaker, and radio host from Louisiana. Her latest release Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy was endorsed by Jeff Foxworthy as "laugh out loud funny!" You can find Shellie's weekly southern features, podcasts, video chats and more at http://www.allthingssouthern.com/ Make sure to get by the blog and read about the Super Christmas Giveaway Shellie is hosting for her readers and secure your chance to win a Mort Kunstler print valued between $700 and $1400. www.allthingssouthern.com



12 Pearls of Christmas: The Snowflake Party

As a contributing writer to Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, I join this select group of Pearl Girls in wishing you a very Merry Christmas! God's peace and grace to you.  ~Cindy (Cynthia) Stiverson

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

The Snowflake Party
By Deborah Raney

The first snow of winter hasn’t fallen yet, but in our kitchen tonight we’re doing a pretty good imitation. The whole family is circled around the huge old oak table. The snip, snip, snip of scissors is background music as tiny scraps of white paper float down, making our floor look like a giant brownie sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Tonight has turned out to be the night for our annual Snowflake Party, a tradition that began when our children were toddlers. There has never been a date blocked out in red on our calendar, but one day we wake up and the brisk autumn air has turned bitter cold. Naked tree branches trace their stark calligraphy on a dull grey sky and we need a taste of the joyful promises of Christmas and snow. It’s the perfect time for a party.

On such a day, one of the kids will fly in the back door, fresh home from school, and declare “Hey, Mom! Tonight would be a good night for the Snowflake Party!” First we round up every pair of scissors in the house. This is one time when sharing is not a virtue. While the kids search for scissors, I cut white paper into squares and fold them caddy-corner multiple times. The resulting triangles are artfully arranged in a basket, awaiting the beginning of the party.

Later, while the supper dishes dry on the counter, I recruit a volunteer to help me stir up a big pot of hot cocoa. For the next hour it will warm on the back burner, tantalizing us with its aroma.

Now the fun begins with careful cutting and snipping, shaping plain white paper into intricate works of art. Each snowflake we create seems as unique and spectacular as the genuine variety created by God himself. As each masterpiece is unfolded, collective oohs and aahs go up.

When the last dregs of our creative juices are drained, Dad oversees the vacuum patrol while I pour cocoa into generous mugs. We spread our handiwork on the floor around us and sit, quietly admiring our work while we dunk marshmallows and sip rich chocolate.

With empty mugs piled up in the sink, it’s time for the judging to begin. There will be awards for ‘prettiest’, ‘most unusual’, and as many other categories as we need for everyone to be a winner. Dad is the judge because he studied art in college. He also usually wins one of the top prizes––because he studied art in college.

Snowflakes deemed runners-up might be pasted in scrapbooks or hung on the refrigerator. A few even “melt” into the trash that very night. But the winners are taped proudly to the picture windows in the living room for passersby to enjoy while they long for the day when genuine snowflakes will color the world clean and white.

Our oldest daughter went away to college last September. She called just after Thanksgiving to tell me that her dorm window was covered with snowflakes. No, not the real thing, but the ones she remembers from her childhood––paper ones that she spent an entire evening cutting and snipping while sipping hot cocoa.

That’s the neat thing about traditions: They go with us no matter how far from home we travel.

***

DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have since won the RITA Award, ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. After All, third in her Hanover Falls Novels series will release next spring from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in Kansas. Their four children are grown now and having snowflake parties with their own children––and they all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the web at www.deborahraney.com.

12 Pearls of Christmas: "Why I decorate for Christmas"

As a contributing writer to Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, I join Margaret McSweeney and this host of selected Pearl Girls in wishing you a very Merry Christmas. ~Cindy Stiverson

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!
Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.
AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

Why I Decorate for Christmas

By Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser

An old cassette tape of Christmas carols—received in a package twenty years ago when we had first arrived in France as missionaries—fills our den with delightful piano music as I place one more ornament on the already over-laden Christmas tree. This one is a little white wooden rabbit with pink ears that move back and forth. It actually doesn’t look much like a Christmas ornament, but I bought it for our baby Andrew when my husband Paul was in seminary, and I was working for less than minimum wage in the library. This ornament was literally all I could afford.

As I hang it on the tree today, I get goose bumps and then a rush of warmth. And that’s why I decorate for Christmas. Not to impress but to remember. I remember those lean, lean years, and God’s faithful provision for us.

There are the cross-stitched ornaments I made our first year in Montpellier—for the boys (for by now we had two sons) and Paul and me. How I ever had time to do that, I don’t know. I remember our puny little tree—the kind they sold in France back then—in a pot so that it could be replanted later. We perched that tiny tree on a small table out of baby Christopher’s reach. I guess I watered it too much, because about halfway through December, it started smelling and then stinking, and it rotted there on Christmas Day!

I smile with these memories.

I look at the other ornaments on the tree. Many were purchased—one for each boy—when we attended conferences around Europe, and that makes me smile too. Getting to travel on a missionary’s budget to exotic places! There are the waxed red bear and red baby carriage from Wales, the brightly painted clay sun and moon from Portugal, the blue and white porcelain windmill and wooden shoes from Holland, the hand-blown glass Snoopys sitting on gondolas from Venice, and the delicately decorated eggs from Prague.
Other ornaments include the little pinkish shiny ball ornament with Paul’s name written in glitter—I think he made it when he was about six , and the little red velvet bows, bought at Michael’s after Christmas one year for a dollar. They bring a unifying theme to the tree. I say this, smiling, because our tree is, and has always been throughout the years, a hodge-podge of our life. And I like it that way. I don’t think I could ever have a ‘theme’ tree. Mine is a ‘memory’ tree.

The music plays softly in the background and I smile through tears, remembering God’s incredible faithfulness to call and keep us here in France for so many years. Heart-breakingly hard years, overwhelmingly joyful years—the same years, the same amazing God, our keeper.

Before we left for the mission field, I memorized Psalm 121 in English and in French, and over the years I have held on tight to those last beautiful words of the psalm: The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. (NASB)

Of course He will. He is God with us.

We decorate to remember Christmases past, our lives, our legacy, and mostly, for those of us who have embraced Christ, we decorate to honor and praise Him for coming to us—Emmanuel! We make our homes ready to receive the Christ Child, with soft music and candles burning and the sweet flickering of angel wings on an over-laden evergreen.
***

ELIZABETH GOLDSMITH MUSSER, an Atlanta native and the bestselling author of The Swan House, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’ For over twenty years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions work with International Teams. They presently live near Lyon, France. The Mussers have two sons and a daughter-in-law. The Sweetest Thing (Bethany House, 2011) is Elizabeth’s eighth novel. To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, and to find discussion questions as well as photos of sites mentioned in the stories, please visit www.elizabethmusser.com and her Facebook Fan Page.

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas: "Where is Comfort and Joy Found?"

TO MY READERS:  Please forgive me for getting behind in posting these pearls of Christmas! My life was hijacked by a small surgery, our annual family Christmas dinner, and my grandon's 3rd birthday. Whew! What a busy season...and even more reason that we need these pearls of wisdom for the holidays! ENJOY...

Where is Comfort and Joy Found?
By Sandy Ralya

The year 2006 ushered unwelcome emotions into my life. My husband was unhappy in his job, two of my grown children were making poor choices, my mother-in-law was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, extended-family issues were surfacing, and I was writing a book. Things only got worse. Much worse.

Early in 2007, I was asked to represent the mentoring ministry for wives I founded, Beautiful Womanhood, and lead a women’s conference in Uganda, Africa. My husband wasn’t sure if traveling to Africa was a good idea, so we committed it to prayer. While we were listening for an answer, I sensed God asking me to fast from spending, except for groceries, for thirty days. Sometimes you know that you’ve heard God’s voice because you’d never have come up with those words on your own. This was one of those times. I’d never heard of a fast from spending. Tom needed no convincing that a fast from spending came directly from the mouth of God. He still gets excited just thinking about it!

During the fast, it became clear I had used spending as a way to gain a comfort fix. When I was spending money, I felt carefree and lighthearted. Instead of dwelling on the unpleasantness in my life, I was thinking of my purchases and how they would bring me pleasure. Not until I stopped spending did I realize how short-lived the fix really was. During the fast, when I felt the urge to spend—to anesthetize my pain—I pictured myself running into the arms of Jesus, the Great Comforter. Oh, what comfort I received!

One night, I told good friends my experience of gaining comfort through the power of the Holy Spirit rather than money. I exclaimed that I had never felt so comforted. One friend then told us about a dream he’d had shortly after hearing about the invitation from Uganda. After the dream, he had awoken and recorded the following thoughts:

“. . . this is for Sandy. Christ’s redemption of women is beautiful. Beautiful Womanhood is a result of redemptive wholeness. The visuals the ministry uses on the books, etc., are like a piece of beautifully veneered furniture. There is something going on with the ministry to the brokenness of abused women. In Uganda, there are hurting, abused women, and something is connecting their need and Beautiful Womanhood. Though there is nothing wrong with veneer, it is only the topping—the covering, and without good structure it is shallow and will not hold up. It is time to add a new depth to the ministry.”

Then these verses came to my friend’s mind:

All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NL

When my friend was finished sharing, everyone in the room broke down in tears, praising God for His work in my life. I’d learned to listen and God had spoken. I’d obeyed, and He’d acted. When He acted, I was changed.

Needless to say, I packed my bags and experienced some of the best days of my life in Uganda—offering God’s comfort to His troubled women.
***

Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980 and live near Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have three adult children and a growing number of grandchildren. When not writing and speaking, Sandy enjoys shopping at yard sales for vintage clothing, cooking, travelling, and drinking really good coffee (black is best) with her husband. For more information, contact Sandy at sandy@beautifulwomanhood.com. Subscribe to Sandy’s blog at www.beautifulwomanhood.com/blog. Find Sandy on Facebook at Beautiful Womanhood. Follow Sandy on Twitter @MentoringWives.




Friday, December 16, 2011

12 PEARLS OF CHRISTMAS: A Christmas of Kindness

As a contributor to the original Pearl Girls book, I join these "Pearl Girls" in welcoming you to the 12 Pearls of Christmas Devotional Series...Day 1.

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.
***
A Christmas of Kindness By Suzanne Woods Fisher

"You can give without loving, but you can¹t love without giving." Amish proverb
I do it every year.

I plan for a simpler, less stressful Christmas season and, every year, by Christmas Eve I'm exhausted! After our delicious and very-time-consuming-to-make traditional Swedish meal to honor my husband¹s relatives (think: Vikings), it's time to head to church. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the last few Christmas Eve's, I have sent my husband and kids head off without me. The pull to spend an hour of quiet in the house feels as strong as a magnet.

It's odd. My children are young adults now. Wouldn't you think that Christmas would be simpler? Instead, it's just the opposite. Jugging schedules to share the grandbaby with the in-laws, trying to include our elderly parents at the best time of day for them, dancing carefully around recently divorced family members whose children are impacted by the shards of broken relationships.

The thing is: you can simplify your to-do list, but you can't really simplify people. We are just a complicated bunch.

Here's where I borrow a lesson about simplicity from the Amish. It's easy to get distracted with the buggies and the bonnets and the beards, but there's so much more to learn from these gentle people if you're willing to look a little deeper. Yes, they live with less "stuff" and that does make for a simpler, less cluttered life. But it's the reason behind it that is so compelling to me: they seek to create margin in their life. Not just empty spacebut space that is available to nourish family, community, and faith. Their Christmas is far less elaborate than yours or mine, but what they do fill it with is oh so right.

Christmas comes quietly on an Amish farmhouse. There is no outward sign of the holiday as we know it: no bright decorations, no big tree in the living room corner. A few modest gifts are waiting for children at their breakfast place settings, covered by a dishtowel. Waiting first for Dad to read the story of Christ's birth from the book of Luke. Waiting until after a special breakfast has been enjoyed. Waiting until Mom and Dad give the signal that the time has come for gifts.

Later, if Christmas doesn't fall on a Sunday, extended family and friends will gather for another big meal. If time and weather permits, the late afternoon will be filled with ice skating or sledding. And more food! Always, always an abundance of good food. Faith, family, and community. That is the focus of an Amish Christmas.

And it's also how the story begins for A Lancaster County Christmas, as a young family prepares for Christmas. A winter storm blows a non-Amish couple, Jaime and C.J. Fitzpatrick, off-course and into the Riehl farmhouse. An unlikely and tentative friendship develops, until the one thing Mattie and Sol hold most dear disappears and then. Ah, but you¹ll just have to read the story to find out what happens next. Without giving anything away, I will say that I want to create a Mattie-inspired margin this Christmas season. Mattie knew inconveniences and interruptions that come in the form of people (big ones and little ones!) are ordained by God. And blessed by God.

Creating margin probably means that I won't get Christmas cards out until the end of January, and my house won't be uber-decorated. After all, something has to give. But it will mean I make time for a leisurely visit with my dad at his Alzheimer's facility. And time to volunteer in the church nursery for a holiday-crowded event. And time to invite a new neighbor over for coffee. Hopefully, it will mean that my energy won't get diverted by a frantic, self-imposed agenda. Only by God's agendathe essence of true simplicity.

And that includes taking time to worship Christ's coming at the Christmas Eve service. You can hold me accountable! This year, I will be there.
***
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, and The Keeper, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Christy Award nominee and is the host of an internet radio show called Amish Wisdom and her work has appeared in many magazines. She lives in California. www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.


12 PEARLS OF CHRISTMAS: "Advent" by Sibella Giorello

As one of the original Pearl Girls writers, I welcome you to Day Two of the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writers (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 be announced 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.
***
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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Inrtoducing 12 Pearls of Christmas


TO MY READERS: 
As a contributing author to the first Pearl Girl's book, Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, I look forward to sharing this series of devotional thoughts. Written by a group of accomplished authors as a countdown to Christmas, I pray you will enjoy the pearls of wisdom that these women have shared. Consider it my gift to you this holiday season! 
Merry Christmas with love, ~Cindy

Welcome to the 3rd Annual
Pearl Girls™
12 Pearls of Christmas blogging series!
We've gathered several of today's most beloved authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along beginning tomorrow (Wednesday the 14th) through Christmas day as Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Rachel Hauck, Sandy Ralya, Sibella Giorello, Susan May Warren and more, share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

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 from Margaret McSweeney (Pearl Girls) 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.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Oh! What a glorious day!

I just have to publicly applaud our God for birthing the vision of our Woven Women's Marketplace & Holiday Social, and for His relentless prompting of the heart to carry it to completion. The spirit of this event was Christian hospitality. Our guests (shoppers)were greeted with an invitation to partake of trays of appetizers, desserts, and a wide selection of drinks as our treat. Thanks to each of our exhibitors for donating items for the door prize drawing, which became take-home gifts for our guests.
As always, our Woven sisterhood brought a sense of unity and intimacy to an event that could have easily had the feel of commercialism and self-gain. Instead, the glory of the Lord was revealed in the displays, the interactions, and the connections being made. His Abba-heart must have been bursting! I know mine certainly was!

Cheryl Simpson & Teresa Wood,  Marketplace Team
I am overjoyed at the results! Exhibitors went out of their way to give hugs and thanks for this event (and so did our shoppers:). Several said it was their first opportunity to present their business publicly. Others said they got so many orders, they didn't know how they would handle it all. And some were taking this opportunity to jump-start businesses they had neglected for awhile. I received this written message from one of our exhibitors:

“Thanks again for all of the work you put into the women’s marketplace...it was a huge success for me and is literally changing my life and helping me reach my goals!” 

It's really hard to say what the "best" part of this event was. There were so many wonderful ways that God was at work, even in the small details. (Oh, I just love His little surprises!) But, definitely topping the list of blessings is the check for $150 in proceeds as a donation to The Courage House for women; and we raised $370 through jewelry sales to support our Woven Gifted Hands community outreach projects.  

Karen LeMasters and our
Gifted Hands jewelry display
A special thanks to all the exhibitors for their precious hearts, to our shoppers for their enthusiasm, and to the Woven Marketplace Committee that made it happen, to our church for supporting us, to our pastor for his seal of approval. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!


Lana Nairn beautifully models the work of our youngest budding artist!

View the complete photo album on the Woven Women Facebook page!
While you're there, click LIKE!




Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012: A "QUIET" BEGINNING

"I wish I could get some peace and quiet around here!" I often recall (and resonnate with) my mother's remark when she grew weary of her five children (me included!).  It does sound pretty good, doesn't it? If you are wishing for peace & quiet, ask Santa to reserve a room for you at our upcoming CREATING QUIET SPACES: A 24-hour Directed Spiritual Retreat, Friday, January 20-Saturday, January 21, 2012.

Feeling adrift? 
Longing to hear from God, but can't get past the clutter on your desk, on your calendar, in your own mind?
Does your spiritual life lack the intimacy that your heart longs for and God's word promises? 
God is calling you to come away with Him.
He wants to clear the clutter, adjust your agenda, quiet your soul. 
Sounds good, doesn't it?

Here's what you can expect:
Check-in Friday by 5pm. Dinner is at 6pm, followed by an introduction to the 24 hours, including spiritual direction, girl-time, and a tour of Sts. Peter & Paul Retreat Center.
We depart to our private rooms Friday evening around 9:30. Our "quiet time" has officially begun and continues until about 3:30pm on Saturday. Experiential exercises will be available in various locations to help you to connect with God in various ways during your quiet time. We have access to over 500 acres.  Or, if you prefer to stay indoors, there is plenty of room to roam, including a chapel, solarium, library, and parlor.
At 3:30 we gather again as a group to share our experiences and pray together before heading home at 5pm.

Cost is $70 for a private room, retreat materials, and dinner Friday. The food is excellent. (We have our own chef!) Breakfast and lunch are also available at an added (low)cost, but some women prefer to fast on Saturday or bring their own snacks. A microwave and refrigerator are available for our use.

Intimidated by silence?
You are not alone in that fear. After all, the God and Creator of the universe should be a bit intimidating! But, the flip side is this: the Father-God who created me wants to spend time? alone? with Me?! Ummm...let me check my calendar: I think I can pencil Him in!!

As we come together on Friday night, the women are usually a bit curious as to what they will do with all this "quiet" time. When we close on Saturday, they are longing for more!
These are some testimonies from last year's Quiet Retreat:

~"I so needed that time to pray, to journal, to reflect, but mostly to be still. The quiet time restored in me the love that the Lord has for me—what a great confirmation! Laying all my struggles at the feet of Jesus was what I did in those hours of quiet. I have such a peace now—not answers—but peace…"
~"Many people are fearful of silence, but I assure you of this, you will be amazed at what you don't hear and truly more amazed at what you do hear. 24 hours goes by very quickly because the Lord keeps you busy praying, reading His word and whispering in your ears to teach and bring peace and comfort to your heart."
~"I loved the experiential exercises. I got so excited that I could hardly wait to go to the next station."
~"The time with God was glorious and it was like I could not devour enough of God’s word. I was like a little girl at the candy store, ”I wanted to gobble up (soak in) as much of God as I could. Although I love to eat, it was like my heart was grieving when I broke away to feed my physical body!” …REALLY! Break Away.."

As we were leaving, these ladies were all asking, "When can we do this again?"
Now is the time! Reserve a space before it's too late. Space is limited to 12 women.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Snack, Shop, and Talk!

Those are the three little words we ladies love to hear! Doing them all at once is even better!

 Our Woven Women's Marketplace & Holiday Social is just days away. I hope you feel the excitement that is brewing! We are praying for God to be so glorified through this event. I believe He is absolutely delighted for us to display the gifts and talents that He has placed within his daughters. Beyond that, He is honored when we take time to get to know each other, and especially when we offer Christian hospitality to our sisters.
 
Ladies, I can assure you that you can invite your friends to this event with confidence that they will not walk away disappointed. This is NOT just another church bazaar. It is truly an invitation to friendship; a point of connection for women. The menu is extravagent and the variety of exhibits is nearly perfect! It is going to be a feast for the tastebuds and for the eyes! This event is for all women. So, invite, invite, invite and come, come, come!
Once again, the details:  
SATURDAY, NOV. 19TH
NOON - 4PM
NEWARK CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE
200 SOUTH WILLIAMS ST
NEWARK OH

Free Appetizers, Desserts, Drinks, & Door Prizes!
CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOUR FACE!
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Doctor's Orders from Dr. Seuss!

In the past several months, my conversations have become increasingly consumed with medical terms: diagnosis, prognisis, doctor's orders, and the like. As I confer with nurses and try to understand the needs of my 81-year-old mother, my vocabulary increases as well. New words are beginning to flow from my mouth as though I've known them all along. But I also find myself saying things I wish I hadn't said; and not saying things I wish I had. Have you been there, done that?

It isn't any wonder that the advice of a doctor from my childhood, a doctor who introduced us to a very unusual vocabulary, seems appropriate at a time like this:
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss
The doctor is ordering us to quit pretending. Be the real you. Stop masquerading about as though everything is perfect, including yourself. I love this advice, but I have to say that I also see a flashing red light when I read it. It's a warning that comes from James 1:26,
"If anyone considers herself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on her tongue, she deceives herself and her religion is worthless."
When the pressure of life squeezes in, our emotions default to old, unsanctified, coping mechanisms. Gut reactions. Involuntary responses buried deep within the haunts and hurts of our past seem to pop up like a pimple. If we actually listen to our own words, we find ourselves asking, "Where did that come from?" or "Why did I say/do that?" It's an opportunity for us to see our blind spots, to bring them honestly and openly before the Lord. And, in the midst of all this medical lingo and doctor's orders, we can come quietly before The Great Physician, allow His scalpel to cut away the scar tissue of our heart, and totally transform our vocabulary. You may not become the next Dr. Suess, but your words will flow with a certain whimsy and grace, and bring a smile to the face! 

The doctor's orders?
  • Be who you are...
  • Say what you feel...
  • Listen to your words...
  • Keep a tight rein on your tongue...
  • Invite the Great Physician, our Lord Jesus Christ to change you from the inside out!
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." ~Psalm 19:14