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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God Gave Us Christmas


God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren and illustrated by David Hohn is a wonderful journey that a young cub and her mother take to find out how God gave us Christmas. This story is not just another perspective on the Scripture story of the birth of Jesus, this rather speaks to the why Jesus came and who he is. There are many Biblical truths shared in this story as response to the sweet innocents of child's questions. Through their travels the evidence of God and his good gift is found in the awe and wonder of the natural world around us, from the Northern Lights to an early spring flower. These natural wonders show the power, goodness, light of God from the dark and more. I couldn't agree more that evidence of God is all around us. This is a wonderful read to reveal the true meaning of Christmas and the wonderful gift God has given us. The artwork is bold, colorful and engaging. This story also responds to the question and curiosity children have with Santa at this time of year. I love the simple answer that 'Santa reminds us of many good things like generosity and care.'

This is just one of the polar bear stories from the God Gave Us... series by Lisa Tawn Bergren. Others in this series include: God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Two, God Gave us Heaven and God Gave us Love. Coming out in January is the latest of this series, God Gave us the World.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Morning


(source)

Today I wanted to offer a poem. I love poetry and hope to feature more poems from time to time. So here's a fun poem to share with your kids this winter!

Winter Morning

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snowmen
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over the lakes.
Smooth and clean and frost white
The world looks good enough to bite.
That's the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue.


Snow is snowy when its snowing,
I'm sorry it's slushy when it's going.


-Ogden Nash

Monday, December 20, 2010

Nutcrackers!

There are many adaptations and picture book versions of this beloved Christmas tale. I wanted to share some of my favorite picks. All have pictures have by some of my favorite children's book illustrators.


The Nutcracker by Alison Jay
I'm a big fan of Alison Jay as an author and as an illustrator. I'm hooked on her trademark 'crackled' illustrations. The are bold and detailed with great little touches. This is a wonderful adaptation of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann suitable for ages 3 & up.


My First Nutcracker by Stephanie True Peters and illustrated by Linda Bronson. Another wonderful adaptation for ages 3 & up, sweetly retold in word and picture. Linda Bronson's trademark sweeping, dreamy illustrations add another wonderful layer to this dream tale of young Clara (Marie) and her Nutcracker Prince. It's especially wonderful for little girls, this is one of my daughters favorite books.



Last is a copy of E.T.A. Hoffman's Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak and translated by Ralph Manheim. You will find this recommended for ages 4 and up but I would recommend ages 8 and up. This is a rather lengthy text of Hoffman's, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King that has been illustrated. The artwork is trademark illustrations of Sendak similar to those found in his popular book 'Where the Wild Things Are'. I think the illustrations are a wonderful addition to engage children in this classic story.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Farm


Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Barry Root was a happy library find last Christmas and I have looked forward to checking it out again this year. It's a story about Wilma, an older woman who is ready to graduate from sunflowers and petunias in her garden. After bringing in her Christmas tree, from her back hill she realizes that she should start a Christmas Tree Farm for all those who don't have a back hill of their own to get a Christmas tree from. She orders sixty two dozen balsam seedlings that are just 5 years old. She'll need help if she's going to plant and care for all these trees. And help she has, it's her 5 year old neighbor Parker who has always loved helping Wilma around her farm. The story continues through the years until the trees are ready to be Christmas trees and each year Parker grows too. It's an endearing story of friendship that spans effortlessly between generations.

It would be a fun book to do along with a math unit of study as there is multiplication of so many dozen trees, plus subtraction as each year trees perish to the weather or animals and are sold. Addition too as new ones grow back and are ordered. Think about setting up your own pretend 'Christmas tree farm' too. Work on pricing the trees vs cost of trees etc.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Traditions with Dishing It

Amanda over at Serenity Now is hosting her monthly link up known as Dishing it. Isn't she fun? This month's theme? Christmas and I can tie it into a book review! I love it when I can do that.

~Do you have any specific traditions that your family looks forward to each Christmas?



One of my favorite Christmas traditions has become reading through The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman. I actually went to a MOPS event where this wonderful couple spoke about the creation of this book. It was a true labor of love as they worked to create a tradition in their family of sharing the Christmas story little by little leading up to their Christmas celebration. Which after reading about Jesus' birth and the events leading up too it, their hearts were focused on the real reason we celebrate this time of year. Which is the remembrance and thanksgiving for Jesus coming to this earth to save us from our sins. They started this tradition making their own homemade Advent book with found pictures like from greeting cards but then felt led to make something more substantial. With Jack being an artist they decided to write and illustrate The Advent Book for their family and others to be able to start this tradition. Like to craft? Why not make your own Advent book with your family or like me just pick up this wonderful book. I love this tradition primarily because it gets my kids excited about the Christmas story. The book is based on Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2 and John 3:16. They hear this story over and over and have memorized so much of it over the years. For more Advent reading and activities check out the wonderful Advent series by Stacy over at Relevancy.

~Is your tree real or fake?

Fake, we have some allergies over here

~Do you have any favorite ornaments?

I love traditional bulb ornaments in greens, reds, white and silver and love sparkle and other embellishments on them. I love snowflakes ornaments too.

~What's your favorite Christmas treat?

Homemade Sugar Cookies with a simple glaze frosting cut out in Christmas shapes

~Best Christmas gift you ever received?

When I was little nothing topped little dolls and doll houses

~Coolest crafty thing you made or home decor thing you tried this Christmas season?

Well, I actually wasn't too crafty this season but I have saved crafts from previous years to decorate with. My favorite were these round paper ornaments that I made for my son's second Christmas to decorate the tree with. Can you say, no broken ornaments that year! They're made by cutting 4 round circles out of pretty papers at least two different kinds and you fold in half and glue together then add a ribbon and done. I still hang them from under our banister on the stairs between the posts at varying heights and have used them to decorate the mantle other years. I got the original idea from a copy of Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion magazine which is sadly no longer published.

They're hardly perfect as I don't have any circle punches and not a lot of patience to press them dry, but I love them.

~Your favorite Christmas movie?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas , the original cartoon version

Photobucket


Oh and please don't forget to check out the 12 Pearls of Christmas posts I'm joining along in posting. There's also an amazing giveaway at the end of each post. Don't forget to enter daily for your chance to win a pearl necklace, bracelet and earrings!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Little Rabbit's Christmas


Little Rabbit's Christmas by Harry Horse is another favorite Christmas read around here. Aren't the illustrations sweet on the cover? I love simple line drawings with just a touch of color. This is a wonderful, gentle Christmas story about a little Rabbit that only wants a red sled for Christmas. In addition to receiving his red sled for Christmas, he learns a valuable lesson in friendship and sharing. No gift is better than good friends and the ability to share with them.

This charming book is one of a series of Little Rabbit Books by Harry Horse. Other titles include: Little Rabbit Lost, Little Rabbit Runaway, Little Rabbit Goes to School and Little Rabbit's New Baby.

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 Pearls of Christmas Series from the Pearl Girls

I've consolidate the 12 Pearls of Christmas posts into this first post. Due to the length of these posts I began to feel the need to condense them into a single post. They were originally posted separately over the 12 days leading up to Christmas. They are wonderful posts and I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this series. I hope you enjoy these 12 pearls of Christmas.


Hello - I'm thrilled to announce the 2nd Annual 12 Pearls of Christmas! We've lined up several authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along beginning today (Monday the 13th) through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Lauraine Snelling,  Rachel Hauck, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

Pearls of Patience

by Margaret Mcsweeney

As I write by the light of my Christmas tree on a late winter’s night, I reflect upon the poignancy and purpose of this season.  The tiny white lights look like strands of pearls draped gracefully (perhaps haphazardly is a more honest description) across the evergreen boughs.  Tomorrow I will hang the ornaments and at last place the angel atop the tree

Angels carry a special meaning this Christmas.  My brother, Randy passed away on December 2nd from a heart attack at age 53.  He was feeding a stray cat on his side porch.  Randy was always like St. Francis of Asissi – animals would find him, sensing a kind soul.  And my brother was a gentle and patient soul.  He loved to fish.  He tried to teach me, but I immediately lost interest when I realized worms were involved. And I could never sit still on the banks of a river and just wait.  However, Randy could do that.  He could wait, and waiting is a true gift.  He put into practice the Scriptures.  “Wait upon the Lord.”  “Be still and know that He is God.”  Patience doesn’t have to be passive.  Wait is still an action verb.  Part of the waiting process for fishing is seeking.  Elaine (Randy’s wife of 31 years) told me that Randy said he could see the fish deep beneath the waters.  He actively waited for the right time to catch them.

During Randy’s last fishing trip on earth – just a week before his death, he felt an urgency to take a picture of the clouds with his cell phone.  When he returned home, he showed the picture to Elaine.  They realized that a face of an angel was looking at Randy from the sky – perhaps waiting for God’s timing to bring Randy home to heaven.  In my heart I like to think that this “angel in the sky” was part of the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds over two thousand years ago.  A Christmas Angel.

The Christmas Angels brought tidings of great joy that Jesus, our Lord and Savior was born.  And because of that incredible gift from God that these angels announced, we all have the promise of eternity. Let us actively wait for His return by sharing our faith, offering hope and acting with love in everything we do.

May each of you be blessed this Christmas as you celebrate the purposeful promises of the Season: Faith, hope and love.   And may the 12 Pearls of Christmas be a blessing to you, too.

 ~~~



For more information please visit www.pearlgirls.info.


Wear Joy
by Rachel Hauck

Thanksgiving day in central Florida broke warm and sunny under a blue sky. The thin fall breeze beckoned me. Taking my bike out, I rode the neighborhood feeling so grateful for all my blessings.

Joy bubbled up in my spirit. I’d been feeling it for a day, these waves of joy, but as I rode my bike and talked to God, the waves strengthened and splashed my heart the entire ride.

I’d laugh. Then tear up. And laugh again. As one who’s battled and won the war on anxiety and fear attacks, the onslaught of joy was welcomed, and actually sparked a new prayer in my heart. I’ve endured attacks of panic, time for attacks of joy.

The journey of joy began earlier in the year while writing a book coincidentally named, “Dining with Joy.”

Sitting at my table one day, revelation hit me. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Nehemiah 8:10. The more I meditated on it, the more I wanted His joy. I don’t want my strength. I want His.

Not long after, I went to Nashville for a girl’s weekend. One of my friends handed me a coffee cup inscribed with “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Ever just know? God is calling.

During the holiday season, I turn 50. Yep, the big 5-0. Can’t stop it, I might as well embrace it.

Fifty is often associated with jubilee, a time of restoration, and healing, even release from debt and slavery. It’s a time of returning to property, and inheritance.

A time of rest.

A time of JOY!

This past week, a friend gifted me with a beautiful Christmas ornament. Inscribed on it? You guessed it.

JOY!

To me, the world doesn’t look very joyful. There are social and economic woas. But God is speaking and offering joy.

As you go into this holiday season, ask God for a pearl of joy. Like pearls, crafted through abrasion, God’s true joy is often formed in us during difficult seasons.

Here’s the thing, His strength isn’t doled out based on our goodness, our success or failure, or the fact the holiday season is hard or sad for you. He is ready, willing and able to overcome all your weaknesses, fears and anxiety, sadness with the power of His very own joy.

His joy. Your strength.

I’ve been walking into rooms, houses, outdoors, raising my arms and shouting, “Joy!” People look at me funny, but I want to spread the joy of the Lord. To spread the very essence of His strength.

How about you? Can you find the pearl of joy in your life, in the essence of God’s heart toward you?

Wear joy this season.


 ~~~

For more information please visit www.rachelhauck.com.

The First Christmas
by Pat Ennis


It was October of my eighteenth year of life when my Dad stepped into eternity. As a college freshman I not only had to deal with my own grief, I also was faced with the responsibility of helping my mother adjust to a new lifestyle. You see, when Dad died, she not only lost her husband of thirty years, she also lost her circle of friends. Suddenly the married couples (my Dad was the first of their group to die) didn’t know what to do about Mother—so they did nothing. Her grieving process was actually extended because of the withdrawal of her friends, many with whom she and Dad had enjoyed fellowship for years. 

Our plight was magnified by the reality that we did not have extended family and I was an only child. Quite frankly, the outlook for the holiday season appeared pretty dismal!

As the holidays approached our neighbors, who embraced a different faith than we, graciously invited us to share their Christmas celebration with them. The sincere invitation, their effort to fold us into their family, inclusion in the gift exchange, and intentional conversation that focused on recounting the blessings of the year as well as looking forward to the next turned what could have been a miserable day into one of joy. Of course we missed our husband and Dad but the focus on the Lord’s provision for us through the hospitality of our neighbors (Philippians 4:8-9, 19) soothed our grieving spirits.

I have a happy ending to my Mother’s loss of her circle of friends that I described at the beginning of this story! Ever the gracious southern hostess, she did not cease to extend hospitality because of the change in her marital status—in the five years that she lived beyond Dad’s death, we entertained frequently, and eventually our guest list included widows from the group that had earlier excluded my Mother. Though her arthritic condition precluded her engaging in as much of the food preparation as she was accustomed to doing, she continued to help me hone the skills that were second nature to her. 

The loving hospitality extended to us on that first lonely Christmas served as a catalyst for Mom and me to open our home throughout the year—especially during the holiday season! Will you consider displaying biblical compassion by including some of the “others”—singles, widows, and the grieving in your holiday celebrations? Who, knows, you might be entertaining an angel incognito (Hebrews 13:2)!


 ~~~



Visit Pat's blog, Unfading Beauty for more information.

The Joy of Unexpected Circumstances
by Lori Kasbeer


The Christmas season is upon us again. Starbucks is selling their Christmas blend; stores are posting their holiday hours; and moms everywhere are making a list and checking it twice, planning for a special Christmas day. It has been our family’s tradition to spend Christmas with relatives.  Last year money was tight and we were unable to travel, this is not how we had planned to spend Christmas day but circumstances were beyond our control. Realizing my three boys--who are now teenagers--will not be under our roof for much longer, I wanted to have a special Christmas with just the five of us.  

Leading up to Christmas morning we all made mouth-watering, cinnamon cut-out cookies, spent time together sticking tape everywhere while trying to wrap presents, and enjoyed spending time together.  We did not have much money, but were having fun making memories.  When Christmas morning arrived and we sat around to open gifts my eyes welled up with overwhelming joy.  This mother was trying to absorb all the activity that was going on all around her: the smiles from each of my teenage boys, the sounds of laughter, and the smell of cinnamon rolls cooking in the oven.  If I could freeze a moment in time, this would be it.  I don’t know what the future holds for each of my boys, but that Christmas morning I wanted to soak it all in so I could recall this special day for years to come.  Despite struggling financially, unexpected circumstances turned into immense joy and a lifetime of memories.

Mothers treasuring special moments is not something new.  Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was one who tried to soak in everything that first Christmas morning.  Even after Christ’s birth she was still trying to absorb what the angel had said to her when he delivered the news that she was going to be the mother of the coming Savior.  She reflected on the time she had with her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant.  Along with comprehending the unusual way her son came into this world. 

While very pregnant with child, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register Mary for the census.  Never did she image she would deliver her baby in a barn with a manger being the only thing to lay him down in.  These were not the circumstances she had envisioned.  Before she had time to catch her breath, suddenly all around her there was excitement when shepherds showed up reporting what they had seen and heard.  There were angels—a multitude of angels—who were singing and declaring the Savior was born and a bright star led them to her and Joseph.    So much has happened in a short amount of time and Mary did not want to forget any of it.  Instead she stepped back and “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Mary did not exactly know what the plans were for her son, but she knew it was going to change the lives of everyone on earth.  She was preparing her heart to obey God concerning her son Jesus, without the full knowledge of what was going to come while at the same time quietly reflecting and capturing this one special moment in time.

May this Christmas be filled with joy and a lifetime of memories, even if you find yourself in unexpected circumstances.  Merry Christmas!


 ~~~


You can also find Lori on Facebook and Twitter.

There’s No Place Like….
by Melody Carlson


I grew up spending Christmases at my grandparents’ quaint Victorian home, surrounded by lots of relatives, laughter and love and really good food. For a little girl growing up in a single parent home, harried working mother, no church family, and TV dinners, these extended family holidays spent at my grandparents were like a real gift from God. But as a young adult, my grandfather passed on, the old house was sold, I grew up and eventually had a small family of my own.
   
Still I longed for those familiar kinds of “big” Christmases—I wanted that house full of relatives and fun times to go home to—I think the “child” in me thought I deserved it somehow. But my grandmother had gotten older and lived in a tiny apartment, and my mother and my husband’s parents were not comfortable hosting Christmas in their homes. For a while we went to my cousin’s, but I soon had to come to grips with reality. The days of going to Grandma’s for the perfect Christmas were a thing of the past.

In other words, it was time for me to grow up—time for me to start hosting our own Christmas celebrations. So biting the holiday bullet, I decided to just do it. With two very small children underfoot, I cooked my first turkey, made my first stuffing, invited some family, neighbors, and friends over, and we all crammed ourselves into our little house, balanced our plates on our knees, and had a very good time. Oh, I’m sure the turkey was dry and the gravy lumpy, but what I remember most is that everyone seemed truly happy to be there. And I realized that I wasn’t the only one longing for that sense of warmth and community—that longing to “go home again”—and I finally grasped that I could (with God’s grace) help to provide that for my family and others.
   
So for the next three decades we continued to host Christmas in our home. I got better at decorating, cooking, gifting…the works. Some years the place would be packed and crazy. A few years were thinner and quieter. But family, friends and neighbors could always count on the fact that the Carlson’s would be “doing something for Christmas.” It was a no-brainer.
   
Until this year. This year, for the first time in more than thirty years, my husband and I decided we’re going to take a pass on hosting Christmas—we are going to the beach. At first I felt terribly guilty, and even right now I’m a bit unsure—and wonder if I’ll end up changing my mind at the last minute. And yet, I believe it’s the right thing for us to do—for a lot of reasons. One being that my husband’s birthday is Christmas and he never gets to do what he wants on his birthday—this year will be different. But more than that, I hope that our stepping aside will encourage the younger members of our family to find and embrace some of their own traditions—to grow up and look for opportunities to stretch themselves a bit. Because, similar to how and oyster creates a pearl—or how a young mom learns to be a hostess—with some discomfort and distress a burnt turkeys, the end results are truly valuable.


 ~~~


Visit her website for more information, www.melodycarlson.com.

Wrapped in His Love
by Rebecca Ondov

The temperature is below zero and dropping quickly—probably to -15 or lower. Old Man Winter gusted in a couple days ago, leaving cold temperatures and a foot of snow behind. Moments ago I bundled up in my long johns and Carhartts to go out and feed. Of course I had a warm horse blanket draped over my arm. When it’s below zero I wrap Czar in two horse blankets.

Czar nickered as soon as he saw me coming. When I buckled up the blankets, it was as if I was wrapping him in my love. He buried his head in my chest. I snuggled him and stroked his long red winter hair. I pulled a couple icicles out of his black mane as my mind drifted through memories.  I’d bought Czar when he was a month old; it was love at first sight.  After he was weaned from his mother, I brought him home.

Czar leaned into me, almost as if he was hugging me. I patted his neck, “That was thirty years ago, Czar. Can you believe it?”  Czar had been my main saddle horse when I worked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. I’d ridden him over 20,000 miles. Together we’d faced grizzly bears, mudslides, forest fires, and even fallen off a cliff. He’d saved my life more than once. With my finger, I traced a couple gray hairs that dotted his forehead. “You’ve earned your blankets, buddy.”

The icy breeze nipped at my cheeks and I thought how much his blankets resemble God’s love for us. God was there when we were born—and He loved us at first sight. He’s faithfully been with us through every step of our lives—through every joy and sorrow. He’s cried with us and laughed with us. He cheered when we’ve overcome. Most of all, when I’ve gone through tough times, it’s been God’s love which wrapped itself around me like a shield and pulled me through.

I glanced around me. The snowflakes glistened in the sun. His love surrounded me: the wind whispering in the pines, the chickadee that serenaded me this morning, the gurgling creek that flowed through the pasture. And His greatest love is manifested in the prize of His creation –you and me, the ones created in His image.

This Christmas season, I’m praying that you feel the God of the universe—the one who hung the stars in place—wrapping His loving arms around you and holding you tight (two horse blankets worth). And I pray that all of us experience the love He’s given us in Jesus.



 ~~~


Join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn by going to her Website: www.RebeccaOndov.com 

Hurting Near Christmas? 10 Tips to Hope Again
by Stacie Ruth Stoelting


Feel sad this Christmas? Hey, I know the feeling. In fact, many programs have interviewed me to share about it! Last year, I tried particularly hard to share stories and tips on how to cope with grief during the holidays: I wrote a feature for CBN.com, Coping with Grief at Christmas, visited and counseled grieving people, etc.

Then irony hit: Near Christmas, two people I loved died within two days (December 15-16, 2009).

Are you or a loved one hurting during the holidays? I relate. But let me encourage you: Jesus remains faithful! As real as my pain, He met my needs and comforted me with peace unexplainable. I’m serious. He’s real.

10 Tips for Hurting Hearts to Hope and Cope at Christmastime

1.    Realize and internalize it: God still loves you and wants to hear from you. He wants you to know that there is a Way out of your pit of despair. The Way is Jesus.

2.    Sometimes, our suffering causes us to forget His. Understand He understands you. He suffered more than any of us when we bore the weight of every sin and pain on the cross! In fact, Is. 53:3 describes Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Think of it: He took your punishment and pain on the cross. He was your capital punishment Substitute! And your Deliverer -your Rescuer- wants to hear from you. His heart hurts with yours. Will you pour your heart out to Him now? He’ll pour His love in where the fear previously resided. Let Jesus inside. Do you know Jesus on a personal, one-to-One basis?  Visit here to learn why Jesus was born to die and how to be born again. (Hey, Jesus said it: "You must be born again.")

3.    Rather than mere gifts, make a Christmas prayer list of other hurting people. Then pray for them and request prayer for yourself, too. Contact your church. Tap into ministries (including CBN.com) that offer extra prayer support. And feel free to join my prayer e-group at www.PrayingPals.org or on Facebook by clicking here.

4.    End the Christmas comparison game. Don't compare your Christmas to your neighbor's. Don't compare your Christmas to past celebrations.

5.    Center on the Savior! This year, trade a superficial Christmas for a real one. Deepen your appreciation for the true Christmas: the arrival of Jesus Christ to banish the effects of sin and death!

6.    Whatever your loss or pain, open up and let God be your Gain. Maybe your pain comes from another cause: a divorce, a devastating diagnosis, a job loss...the list extends. God offers to be your Counselor, your Father, your Healer, your Provider. Let Him answer your heart’s cry.

7.    Love on people. Even if you don’t “feel” like it, prayerfully do something for someone else who is hurting.

8.    Remember: Feelings change. God doesn't. Loved ones' deaths never kill His love for you. God's immeasurable, unconditional love still flows to you! When you know Jesus, you know eternal love and security. Nothing separates you from His love! “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).

9.    Realize the reality of the sudden reunion. Holidays exacerbate the feeling of long separation from our loved ones in Heaven. Does it feel like it will take forever for you to see your loved one in Heaven? Be encouraged: Jesus IS coming again and it will be a time you don't expect! So the fact that you feel like it won't happen soon is a good thing!  Once reunited, it will feel like no time transpired. All sadness will be entirely removed!

10.    When Jesus comes back to earth, it will be a celebration greater than any previous Christmas you've ever experienced!

For believers, losses hurt but never win. We will celebrate Jesus together -and it will be glorious "for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4, NIV). In that Day, all believers will be able to jubilantly say, “Merry Christmas to all and to all the true Light!”

Additional Help: Ready for some practical tips for coping with grief at Christmastime? Here’s one: Rearrange furniture to reduce absence reminders. To read this tip and others found in another of my CBN.com’s articles: “Coping with Grief at Christmas", visit www.CBN.com.

Going thru a rough time? Join Stacie Ruth’s prayer group at www.PrayingPals.org.

To watch video clips, worship Jesus with music from her album, or get in touch with her ministry for women, visit www.brightlightministries.com.


Gift List
by Tricia Goyer


I've been thinking lately how hard it must be for Oprah to Christmas shop. I mean if you were on her "gift list" wouldn't you expect something really, really good? The woman gives away cars and trips to Australia on her television show for goodness sake! It seems by the end of Christmas Day her friends and family would look at the pile of presents and think, "Is that it?" I mean if you knew there was billions of dollars she could spend on you, would you ever feel satisfied?

Sometimes I think we approach God the same way. We look around at our home, our family, our job, our free time and we still aren't satisfied. We wish our body looked better, our clothes were more in style, our husband was more considerate and our kids were more ... well, like the perfect little people we picture in our mind. Our careers don't excel as quickly as we think they should and people don't give us the attention we feel we deserve. We're tired and anxious and the to-do list seems to be tacked to our hearts for all the pain it causes.

Often, we look around and don't speak the words out loud, but think them just the same. "Is that it?" I mean, You're the God of the universe and You have all things in Your hands and under Your control. Couldn't you provide a little more money to help those bills disappear or make me a bit more content with the man I've chosen to spend my life with? And I thought Oprah had it tough.

Is there ever a time when God doesn't hear the murmurs? Again, not with our mouths but in our heart.

I've been guilty of this--of not being satisfied with the gifts I've been given. Yes, there will always be more to want, but today--at this moment--I'm satisfied. And I look to Him with a grateful heart and whisper, "Thank you, it is enough. More than enough."

For more information, please visit www.triciagoyer.com

Good News!
by Deb Kalmbach


The first Christmas card of the season arrived in my mailbox way back in August. How could anyone be that organized? Then I noticed my friend, Nita, had sent me a card I had written to her more than 20 years ago!
  
Memories rushed back as I read the words penned in my familiar handwriting. It was Christmas, 1991, and my world had unraveled. I could almost pretend everything was all right at this most wonderful time of the year—but not that year.
  
My husband Randy’s drinking problem had escalated to the point where his job and career were on the line. He had already been through two alcohol treatment programs and managed to stay sober for short periods of time. Then he slipped back into old, familiar patterns. His ongoing relapses were a crushing disappointment for our family.
  
I had looked forward to Christmas Eve and our family traditions; making homemade lasagna, singing carols around the piano, attending the candlelight service at church, and then coming home to open one token Christmas Eve present.     
  
“Randy, are you ready to crank out the pasta?” I called to him over the Christmas music I was playing to lift my spirits.
  
I peered into the living room to see what was keeping him. My heart froze. Randy sat on the couch, trance-like, watching a basketball game while sipping a drink.
  
No, not on Christmas Eve, I screamed inwardly. I felt like I was suffocating. Usually Randy pulled himself together but it didn’t happen that night. He drank vodka all evening while I finished holiday preparations on autopilot. None of us felt like eating lasagna or celebrating.
  
Only a few days earlier, I had written these words on the Christmas card to my friend, Nita. I don’t know God’s plans, his timing or his ways in accomplishing his purposes, but I am learning to trust him. He is faithful!
  
I suspect Nita kept my card all those years because she saw a small seed of faith and it encouraged her heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be eight more Christmas seasons before Randy experienced the miraculous breakthrough of finding freedom from alcoholism.
  
As I read the card I had written so long ago, I felt awed by God’s faithfulness to us—even when our situation looked completely hopeless.
  
You may be facing great difficulty as the holidays approach. The last thing you feel like is celebrating. And that’s O.K. The Good News of Christmas isn’t about picture perfect holidays where our homes are decorated a la Martha Stewart and tables are laden with holiday delicacies. Your days may not be merry and bright. You may be grieving the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship through divorce or estrangement. Your world has unraveled.

That’s exactly why the message of Christmas is Good News. The Savior is born! The One who came to set you free, to give you peace and hope and help beyond anything you could ever imagine is as near as your next breath. Today you might not be able to see how God’s purposes are unfolding for your future, but you can be assured that He is working all things for good in your life. A twenty year-old Christmas card came on a summer day as an unexpected gift and gentle reminder of God’s presence—especially in the worst of times.

Visit Deb at: www.debkalmbach.com, or on Facebook and Twitter.

What’s the best thing about Christmas?
by Maureen Lang


The answer to that question will undoubtedly be different depending on the age and the faith of the person being asked. Most children will say it’s all about the gifts. Adults, even if they secretly still enjoy the gifts, will probably strive to sound more mature and say the holiday is all about friends and family. Still others might say it’s about tradition, or memories or the music or even the special food we connect to this time of year. The scrooges among us might say this season is just another marketing gimmick, or materialism gone awry. The faithful will say it’s all about Jesus, a reminder of why He shed the glory of Heaven to step into human skin and frailty.

I’m not here to defend or attack any answer to this question, but rather to ponder those possible answers.

Gifts: They touch us in personal ways, as tangible evidence of someone else’s thought and affection. Even if we don’t get exactly what we hoped, there’s something to be said about the thought behind a gift being the important part. Why wouldn’t gifts be an important and valid part of this holiday in which we celebrate God’s gift of salvation?

Holiday Gatherings: Parties might be a lot of work, forcing some out of their comfort zone, but at the core they’re all about human connection. Isn’t that what most people want?

Traditions and memories: They remind us of the past, of who we are, with the hope that even as we look forward to an unknown future we still hold some things worthy enough to repeat every year. We might find ourselves letting go of some traditions, or we might want to start some new ones.

The music: This is the only time of the year when even secular radio stations welcome songs about a baby born in Bethlehem. As a nation we may be getting stringent about separation of church as state, but the lines blur just a bit with old favorites that reflect this season.

Scrooges: The holiday season is probably a time to endure rather than enjoy, but even the scroogiest-scrooge might admit the lights of the season are pretty to behold. They’re free to look at, after all.

As for the food, the busyness, the expense and all the other things that make up this season: keep in mind that it’s all temporary. This, too, shall pass. Until next year, of course.

I’ll leave you with this thought: we are all made in God’s image, whether we believe that or not. Part of that image is the ability to give—and to receive. So here’s my thought for the day: stop a moment and dwell on all the gifts of the season. From the little mementos that say we haven’t forgotten someone or been forgotten by others, to the costliest gift of all: what God did for us in the form of Christ. As you enjoy the sounds, the sights, the scents and the tastes of this season, may your only trouble be in choosing just one thing among so many best things about Christmas.

For more information please visit Maureen at her website, www.maureenlang.com.

All I Want for Christmas…
Is to be able to have Christmas this Year
by
Melissa Mashburn

This is a simple request, isn’t it? In the previous years, we had great big bountiful Christmases with our family. Gifts, goodies and general Christmas cheer but this year it was different. The year before has been chock full of disappointments, failing businesses and severe cutbacks for our family. 

Sitting with my husband one night we hammered out the bare minimum that we could spend that year for Christmas and even still the total was four hundred dollars. It does not sound like a whole lot compared to what we’ve spent on Christmas before, but this year it could have been four thousand dollars because we just did not have it.

We prayed, I cried, we prayed some more and decided that we would cut back anything else that we could that year so we could have Christmas for our kids. We did not know how we would make this happen, but we knew that we needed to step forward in faith that it would happen.

Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don't these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God. Galatians 3:5 the Message

Not even two days later, we hear a knock on our front door. We open the door to see some friends of ours from church. With tears in their eyes, they handed us an envelope and said that the felt they needed to give us this. We opened the envelope and inside there was four hundred dollars cash.

Shocked, stunned and with tears flowing down our face we just sat there in a state of crying and laughing at what God had done. We never shared with anyone that year what we needed, how bad it was, what was going on or what that number was for us to have Christmas for the kids, but God knew.

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”  2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT

He took a willing servant, led them to our front door and changed Christmas for us that year. After many years of being in full time ministry we knew that God would provide, but when He shows up just at the right moment, you know that it was all a part of His plan to show how much He loves, provides and cares for His people.

Father God, thank you that after all the years of serving and loving you in ministry that you continue to teach, guide, love, shepherd and care for us.  You, Father, are abundantly gracious and kind, thank you for showing up for us at just the right moment every time, forgive us when we forget that.  In Jesus name, Amen.

You can find her on twitter and at her blog. She loves encouraging women to live with an authentic faith by being transparent, renewed and transformed. ~ Romans 12:2.

An Unforgettable Gift
by Karen O'Connor


On Christmas morning, 1912, in Paducah, Kentucky, fourteen-year-old Charlie Flowers and his three brothers and two sisters huddled in their beds, fully dressed, trying to keep warm as the wind howled outside their small frame house.
       
It was a desperate time for the family. Earlier that year the children's father had died. And their mother had not found work. The coal had run out and there was little money––none for gifts. Their scrawny tree with decorations made from scraps of colored paper had been given to them the night before by a local merchant.

"Can't sell this one," the man said with a nod of his head before handing it over to the eager children.
   
To pass the time, the siblings joked and shouted stories from their bedrooms across the hallway from one another. Then suddenly a racket from the alley at the rear of the house broke into their games.
       
"Charlie," his mother called, "would you see what's going on out there?"
      
Charlie pulled on his shoes, grabbed a thick overcoat from the hook by the door, and ran out back.

There stood a man in a wagon bent over a load of coal, shoveling it into the shed as fast as he could.
       
"Hey Mister, we didn't order any coal," Charlie shouted. "You're delivering it to the wrong house."
       
"Your name's Flowers, isn't it?" the man asked, still shoveling. 
       
Charlie nodded yes.
      
"Well then, there's no mistake.  I've been asked to deliver this to your family on Christmas morning." He looked the awe-struck boy square in the eye. "And I'm under strict orders not to tell who sent it," he teased.
       
Charlie ran into the house, his coattail flapping in the cold morning wind.  He could hardly wait to tell his mother and brothers and sisters. God had provided––just as he had on that first Christmas morning so long ago when He sent his only son to a needy world.
       
Charlie Flowers died in 1994 at age 96. And right up to the last year of his life, not a Christmas went by that he didn't tell the story of that sub-zero Christmas morning of his boyhood when two men gave his family an unforgettable gift.
       
It wasn't the coal that was remembered or cherished, Charlie often said––welcome as it was––but rather what two men brought to his desperate family. One, for his gift of recognizing their great need and taking the time to do something about it. And the other, for being willing to give up part of his own Christmas morning to deliver it.
       
That gift of so long ago has continued to warm the Flowers family from one generation to another, as Charlie's son––my husband, Charles––calls to mind these two unknown men each Christmas morning and whispers a prayer of thanks.


 ~~~






About Karen: Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author and writing mentor living in Watsonville, California with her husband, Charles Flowers. Karen’s latest book is 365 Reasons Why Gettin’ Old Ain’t So Bad (Harvest House 2010).

For more information, please visit Karen on the web at www.karenoconnor.com.



~~~


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mortimer's Christmas Manger


Second up on our Christmas book reading list is Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. This is a heartwarming story of a little mouse named Mortimer. He lives in a tiny, not so great little hole under the stairs of a big house. One day the people of the house start to decorate for Christmas. Mortimer sets out to explore and discovers a perfect new house for a mouse. Only problem, tiny little people live in the house. On closer inspection Mortimer realizes that the tiny little people are not real, only statues, so out they go and in moves Mortimer. But each day the little people are placed back in the house and each night Mortimer has to move them out until Mortimer realizes who the tiny baby is laying in a manger of the house/stable. It's a wonderful story that focuses on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Waiting for Winter


I'm sharing another Kane Miller publishing book here today, this time from Germany. It's called Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser. Three friends, a squirrel, a hedgehog and a bear, who should be hibernating, decide to stay up this year and wait for winter. Deer tells squirrel in passing that winter is almost here and it's going to snow; 'white and wet and cold and soft'. The friends worry that winter may already be here and they just don't know it. They each bring back something with some of the characteristics described by deer and wonder if it is snow. Oh how wonderful it will be when it snows properly each thinks of there found 'snow'. There is a sparseness of text, many pages don't have any words at all and the beautiful pencil illustrations likewise have a minimal touch of color. But it's not sparse on charm, humor and determination as these three discover what winter and snow is like for the first time.


As always if you are interested in any Usborne or Kane Miller publishing books you can contact me. I also wanted to re note that Kane Miller books are now being sold exclusively through Usborne reps and are not available from retailers. I can assist you in a purchase or help you find a local rep near you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December Classic - The Polar Express


Next up is one of my all time favorite Christmas reads, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Not sure that I can add much more to the review of this popular Christmas read. I'm sure many of you read this book this time of year and many watch the movie. It's the story of a young boy who finds himself one Christmas wondering if Santa Claus is real or not. He listens Christmas Eve for the sound of Santa's reindeer on his rooftop but instead hears the sounds of a steam engine train. He joins other children as they head to the North Pole aboard the Polar Express to meet non other than Santa himself. I hope one day to take the kids to a Christmas train event whether its just a local one at our nearby transportation museum for a ride with Santa or one of the polar express train rides that can be found throughout the country. There's just something magical about Christmas and trains and the combination of the two is perfect to capture a young child's imagination and warm any ones' heart. The illustrations are remarkable too. I love the boldness and use of light and shadow to create an inviting, mysterious feeling as you get drawn into this adventure North.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Topical Memory System: Hide God's Word in Your Heart


Topical Memory System: Hide God's Word in Your Heart by The Navigators is a great scripture memory course designed to help you learn scripture with a purpose. The system comes with a course workbook, a book of memory verse cards with several translations for you to chose from and a holder for the scripture cards you are currently working on. The course book provides a description of how to use this system, helpful tips for memorization, and discussion on how to incorporate God's Word into your everyday life. The scriptures for memorization are broken down into different sections and arranged in an applicable way to study and grow in God's word and in your walk of faith. Series A: Live the new life with 12 Scriptures, Series B: Proclaim Christ with 12 scriptures and so on through E. Its truly set up as a course workbook complete with timeline for completion which is great for those who may tend to procrastinate or not sure how long to work through this book. You can go at your own pace though too. I struggle with memorization so I took my needed time to learn the passages. Each new series has a short introduction and helpful hints continue to show up throughout the text. I found this to be a great study and have had success in memorization of scripture verses and reference, which they strongly encourage learning along with the verses. I like that not only was I learning scriptures but there was also a lesson and purpose behind the selected scriptures from which to continue to draw from.

I received a free copy of this book from NavPress blogger review program for the purpose of this review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and I was not required to provide a positive review.
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