Friday, December 25, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Celebrate

What Really Matters
by Dawn Meehan

In the hustle and bustle and commercialism of Christmas, take time to remember the real reason why we celebrate - the birth of Christ, our Lord and Saviour. May you all have a blessed Christmas!

I had a VERY long day with the kids doing little but fighting. By the time we left for church, we were all short tempered, snapping at each other, and not at all in the Christmas spirit. Thankfully, once at church, we calmed down. Things were put in perspective for us. We sang Christmas songs and began to smile at one another again. The kids didn't fight once while we were there. Well, they did use their battery operated candles as light sabers for a minute, but we'll forget about that part.

I never sent out cards (sorry to all my family and friends). It just didn't happen this year. I don't think I ever completely finished my shopping, but it's a little late now. Several items I ordered online have been back ordered. I just realized that the kids have eaten all the cookies I've made and there are none to put out for Santa now. I encouraged them to leave him a glass of wine instead. And I failed to read the Christmas story to the kids before they went to bed.

But you know what? None of that matters. It really doesn't. Christmas is here! Christ is born! And He doesn't care if we sent out Christmas cards. He doesn't care if we ate all the cookies we baked. He doesn't even care if we never got around to baking a single cookie at all! He loves us no matter how much we screw up.

Now that's worth celebrating!

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Dawn Meehan (aka mom2my6pack) grew up in Chicagoland where she began her writing career at the age of 5 with her widely praised, The Lucky Leprechaun, an epic tale of a leprechaun who is- yes, you guessed it, lucky.

Dawn has six children, basically because she didn't want seven. She is the author of Because I Said So and spends her days blogging at BecauseISaidSo.com, changing diapers, cleaning pudding off her ceiling, tackling insurmountable piles of laundry, and explaining to her kids why they can't have a pet squirrel or an indoor slip-n-slide.


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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Slow Down, Pray, and Give Thanks

All Decked Out For Christmas
by Maureen Lang

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

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

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

The holiday season is a time when everything can seem amplified. But what if we're all decked out on the outside, from the sparkling clothing to our best effort at a smile, and on the inside we're anything but happy? If life isn't what we expected it to be, the gap between reality and our happy, hopeful expectations seem wider when everyone around us is laughing through the season.

I know there are as many reasons to be unhappy as there are to be happy, and I wouldn't begin to have the answer to make this season bearable for everyone. But I do know a few things that have worked for me:

Slow down. What? During the busiest time of the year? Yep. I know when I feel completely overwhelmed it's because I'm pressuring myself to do too much. So I try to plan ahead, settle for less than perfection, do my best without driving myself and everyone around me crazy. Choose what's really important and let go of the other things. And I've adopted my aunt's favorite saying: "However it turns out, that's how we like it." Works wonders on attitude!

Pray. As my pastor reminded me this weekend from Psalm 34:18: the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. God may not deliver us from our troubles, but He promises to stay beside us-in fact, closer than when everything seems hunky-dory.

Find a moment to give thanks for what you do have (without looking around at those who have more).

This last point deserves a moment of reflection, and is something I'm still learning to do. I have a child severely handicapped by Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic form of mental retardation. For years I thought I'd accepted his condition. I obediently said to God, "thank you even for this," since it taught me many things about adjusting to the life I've been given rather than the one I might have chosen.

But as my son gets older, I see new forms of acceptance making that feeling of gratitude more genuine. I think I'm finally letting go of some of the hopes and dreams I had for him, my oldest son. I can no longer imagine him any other way than the way he is, even though I'd be first in line if a cure is ever found.

I still think it's a good thing to give thanks in all things, even if it begins out of obedience rather than tender gratitude for whatever thorn we live with. But realizing it's okay to grow into that gratitude was a blessing to me.

Maybe some of the bruises on our spirit seem tender during the holiday season, a reminder that all the glitter on the outside might not light us up on the inside. My prayer is trust Psalm 34:18. Let's lean on Him this season-He's right here beside us!
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Maureen Lang grew up loving to tell stories, and God has blessed her immeasurably to be able to tell them to a wider audience these days. For the latest goings-on, please check her blog!

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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Wonderous Mystery

Magnificat
by Anna Joujan

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

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

What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!
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Anna G. Joujan was born in South Dakota, as a Canadian citizen, and was raised in Zambia, the child of missionary teachers. Since her family's move to the U.S., Anna spent her childhood and early adulthood traveling throughout the world thanks to various educational and work opportunities . . . France, China, Peru, and Jamaica being some of the stops in her journeys. Her undergraduate degree in French Literature led to a Masters in Information Sciences, and to work as a college and high school librarian, and a cross country coach. She has also returned to Zambia multiple times to teach for individual families and for local schools. All the while continuing pursuing her passions of writing, artwork, photography . . . and running to a fault. She blogs at Full of Grace.

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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Perspective

A Soggy, Jolly, Holly Christmas
by Melody Carlson

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

Naturally, our mom, a single parent, protested the sensibility of holiday travel (most of Oregon's rivers were involved in the flood). But Christmas at Grandma's house was our favorite event of the year. And thanks to our persistence, Mom finally gave in. We piled into the car and headed out. Flood waters climbed higher the closer we got to the coast. And at one point the road behind us was closed and the one ahead was flooded and about to be closed as well. The state policeman told us we could cross "at our own risk." We followed a Volkswagen Bug into the water-then we actually watched the bug floating away! Of course, there was nothing to do besides plow on through the water, which appeared to be nearly two feet deep! Fortunately we had an old heavy Chevy that did not float away, but the water seeped in and pooled on the floors.

Fortunately, we made it safely to the grandparents. But once we arrived, we learned there would be no Christmas tree because the road to the woods was closed. Then my grandpa picked up his ax and led us outside where he chopped down his prize holly tree planted in the parking strip. I stared in horror, thinking Grandma was going to have a fit. But then he explained the city had told him to remove the tree for traffic visibility. So we had a twelve foot holly tree for Christmas. It was a little prickly decorating it, but with its shiny green leaves and red berries, it was the most beautiful tree ever! So what started out as a disaster turned out to be a soggy, holly, jolly Christmas after all.

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Melody Carlson, author of Limelight, Love Finds You in Sisters, The Christmas Dog, 86 Bloomberg Place, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Carter House Girls, and much more... http://www.melodycarlson.com

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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Help and Support

Calling Elizabeth ... HELP!
by Tricia Goyer

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

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

Elizabeth played an important part in Mary's life. We know this because the book of Luke begins by telling us Elizabeth's story first. Elizabeth was the wife of a priest. She was very old and had no children, but God blessed her in her old age by allowing her to get pregnant. After Elizabeth's story comes Mary's story ... another surprise pregnancy. Can you imagine what a shock that was to everyone who knew both women? (Yes! I'm sure you can!)

The cool thing is that the angel Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth's surprise pregnancy. It's as if he was saying, "Look, there's someone in your same situation. Turn to her. She can help you."

Mary did go to Elizabeth. In fact she lived with her older cousin for three months. Elizabeth was the first one who rejoiced over the child Mary held within her womb, and I imagine Elizabeth was there to encourage Mary as she coped with the idea of becoming a teen mom.

Like Mary, each of us should have people in our lives who we turn to for help, support and encouragement. Being a mom isn't an easy thing, and facing an unplanned pregnancy is even tougher.

When I had my son Cory I was 17-years-old, and there were a group of women from my grandma's church who supported me. They were the first ones who showed me that the child that was growing inside me was a gift. They gave me a baby shower, and they fought over holding my son after he was born.

As my son grew, there were other women I looked to ... and most of the time they didn't even know I was watching. One of them was Cheryl. Cheryl was patient with her children, she gave them big hugs, she laughed with them and played with them and I modeled myself after her. The thing about finding mentors is sometimes we can observe them without them even knowing. And if we're really lucky they enjoy their role of giving us advice.

Later, when I had two kids, I met a friend named Cindy. She and I were the same age and we became quick friends. Cindy was a support to me because we traded babysitting, talked about parenting problems, and we encouraged each other. She was someone who was walking the same road as me, and her advice helped more times than I can count.

No matter who we are, or where we live, each of us can look around and see the people we have in our lives. Some may cheer us on, some may guide our parenting, and others may just be there to walk along side us. If the mother of Jesus needed someone to look to for support ... shouldn't we? Everyone needs someone to provide a little help and support.

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Tricia Goyer is the author of twenty-one books including From Dust and Ashes, My Life UnScripted, and the children's book, 10 Minutes to Showtime. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana. Connect with Tricia at www.triciagoyer.com.

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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - God Intervenes

The Answer
by Susan May Warren

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

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

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

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

It's suppertime, son, and the time is near To call far and wide the sneetches who hear Just the sound of their bellies, the whir of their gear The Gurgles and Burbles that give them great fear Tell them all, tell them loud, tell them clear Their hands they should wash, check their face in the mirror Because the food is now ready and it's time to steer Close to the table, where they'll find hot gribbles here.

Why, you ask? Because David and Sarah are performing in the community theater's production of Suessical the Musical, a hilarious conglomeration of Dr. Suess' fun work, from Horton hears a Who to Horton Hatches an Egg.

As the Christmas season draws close (and the songs from the play linger in my head), one line has stood out to me... "We are here, we are here!" You know the story - that part where, after everyone has called Horton names and they're about ready to boil the speck that contains Who-ville, Horton calls out to the Whos to send up a cry to prove themselves as real. "We are here, we are here!"

It strikes me that sometimes we can feel like Whos...smaller than the eye can see. Tossed hither and yon by the wind, helpless and facing being boiled. Tired, perhaps, or alone. Wishing someone might find us and pay attention.

Someone has, and that's the good news about Christmas. Because we don't have to "make ourselves heard," like the Whos. In fact, even before we realized we were headed for the cauldron, God intervened. God demonstrated his own love for us in this - while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8). That's what Jesus is all about - he's the answer to even the unspoken cry of our hearts, saying, "I am here, I am here." Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

So as this season approaches with its whistles and bells I hope you hear the voice where the Mighty One dwells -- down deep in your hearts, so nothing can shake the knowledge of his love, given all for your sake.

Merry Christmas from Susie May Warren

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Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of twenty-one novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheep's Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader's Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota. www.susanmaywarren.com Check out her Christmas Novella, The Great Christmas Bowl.

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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - He is Always Enough

Christmas in a Barn
by Mary DeMuth

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

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

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

And when we opened the door, Love welcomed us.

The place, usually completely unfurnished in the winter, was decked out with just the right amount of beds, couches and tables. The pantry was full. We had dishes and garbage cans, and cups and forks and food. But even more, we had a Christmas tree. Friends had hijacked the place, decorating it for Christmas. Cookies preened on the table.

I will never, ever forget that Christmas. We had so little. We felt the painful burden of failure. But we were loved, so terribly and wonderfully loved.

Christmas felt right there, in a barn. We heard the nickering of horses, the meowing of kittens, the clop of hooves against the barn floor. Chickens and goats and cows served as a holy object lesson of the incarnation. Although we were warm and clothed, we understood more keenly the Savior's homelessness, how He left the splendor of heaven for the sodden earth. We experienced barnyard life alongside him, without much to call our own except our Heavenly Father and our sweet family.

He was enough, that Christmas. And He will always will be.

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Mary DeMuth writes fiction and nonfiction. Her latest book, A Slow Burn released in October and she has a memoir entitled Thin Places coming out in February of 2010. You can meet her: http://www.marydemuth.com, http://www.thewritingspa.com, on Facebook and Twitter!


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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Faith, Hope, and Love

The Pearls We Pass Down
by Holley Gerth

Ten years ago my Grandma Frances went home to heaven in her sleep just before Christmas.

My Grandpa carefully handed me a brightly-wrapped box on Christmas morning and said, "This is her gift. Now I want you to have it."

I opened the lid slowly and tears came to my eyes as I saw a lovely string of pearls.

My Mom gently helped me fasten them around my neck. As I ran my fingers over each one, I thought of my Grandmother and all she taught me through her life...

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

FAITH

At age twenty-nine, my Grandma contracted polio and learned she would never walk again. She had a husband, two little girls, and a future suddenly very different than she imagined.


A pastor came to visit her in the hospital. He said, "Frances, this can make you bitter or better." She often told that story with a sparkle in her eyes as she said, "I chose better." I learned through her example that faith is a choice and with God we can thrive through anything.

HOPE

My grandparents took a leap of faith and started the first Christian bookstore in their city with a small kiosk in the center of a mall. Over the next few decades that little kiosk grew into a large and successful store that touched countless lives.

Many of my favorite childhood memories are of curling up in the back room with a stack of books. My Grandma taught me hope is like a small seed and, watered with prayer, it can grow into a huge blessing for many.

LOVE

For fifty-six years my grandparents shared a life together. I adore these two pictures because one is taken when they were dating and the other just a few weeks before she died. The twinkle in their eyes is still the same-and that's not easy in this world. They faced their share of challenges, like my Grandma's disability, but always got through them together.


My Nana also loved her family deeply. When I went to college, she often wrote notes to me and signed each one, SCTH (Stay Close to Him). She showed me love is a commitment that begins with Christ and then overflows to everyone else in our lives.


I still miss my Grandma Frances, especially this time of year. Sometimes I pull out her string of pearls and hold them in my hands. Then I think about how we're all creating our legacy as we live. And while the difficulties we face may seem hard to understand now, God can turn each one into beauty that blesses our family for generations.

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Holley Gerth - Cofounder of (in)courage, editorial director for DaySpring, author of Rain on Me, wife of Mark, lover of Jesus, friend to YOU.

Visit Holley at Heart to Heart with Holley or follow her on twitter as @HolleyGerth.

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - God Provides a Way

A Long Ago Christmas Memory
by Patricia Crisafulli

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

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

One story that has always stayed with me was of a particular Christmas in the early 1930s, a time my mother remember as the "depths of the Depression," and there was no money. In order to pay the interest on the mortgage, to keep the bank from foreclosing on the farm, my grandfather needed a relatively small sum. The amount I remember being told was $13, but for the little they had in those days it might as well have been $13,000.

Tested by trouble and sorrows, my grandparents relied on their deep and abiding faith. As Psalm 34 tells us, I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. The answer to their prayers was to be found right in their own backyard with gifts of the earth. My grandmother went into the woods to gather bushel baskets full of ground pine, with green sprouts like miniature boughs that spread in great patches along the earth. From willow branches she made hoops, around which she bound the ground pine to make wreathes.

She sat up all night making wreaths, enough to fill a large hamper basket, which my grandfather strapped to his back. At four in the morning, he hopped a ride on the milk train into Syracuse, where he went door-to-door selling wreathes. Night after night, my grandmother made wreaths, and day after day my grandfather sold them.

As Christmas approached, my grandmother had saved coupons that came in tins of coffee to get a Kewpie doll for her daughters. The only other things she gave them were mittens she knit herself.

Then on Christmas Eve, my grandfather came home from the last day of selling wreaths, exhausted but relieved. The farm was safe for another year. From what he had earned, he had a dime left over, which he spent on his beloved wife to buy her a powder puff. That night, my grandmother gave him her surprise: enough money from selling butter and eggs all year to buy four new tires for the Model A Ford.

Hearing this story as a child, my head was too full of the Sears & Roebuck "Wish Book" catalog to really comprehend it. As an adult, I try to fathom living with no money at all. What lingers in my heart, however, is the love of my grandparents for each other: the dashing young American soldier in World War I and the beautiful French girl he met overseas and then returned to her country to marry.

Many years, thousands of miles, and untold hardships later, that love continued. During a very dark December, they found a way together to keep the farm and the family together. And so it would always be for them.

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Patricia Crisafulli is a writer, published author, and founder of www.FaithHopeandFiction.com, a monthly e-literary magazine with stories, essays, and poetry to inspire and entertain.

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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Blue Umbrella



The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason




ABOUT THE BOOK:

The life of ten-year-old Zac Sparks changes overnight when his mother is killed by lightning. He's sent to live in Five Corners with his Aunties, two cruel old hags who seem determined to make his life miserable. Before long Zac realizes something really strange is going on: Five Corners is populated with weird characters -- a midget butler, a girl who doesn't speak, a blind balloon seller, and a mysterious singer he can hear but not see. Then there's the Aunties' father, Dada. Zac's first encounter with Dada is so terrifying he faints dead away.


The one bright spot is Sky Porter, a friendly soul who encourages Zac and shows him a kindness that is lacking from his dismal life. But Sky isn't what he seems either, and when Zac learns Sky's secret, he realizes, to his dismay, that this wonderful man may have a very dark side after all.


When Zac uncovers the mystery behind Dada and Five Corners, he knows many lives are at stake, including his own. With time running out, he must turn to the one person who might be able to help: Sky Porter. But can Zac trust him?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mike Mason is the best-selling, award-winning author of The Mystery of Marriage, Champagne for the Soutl, Practicing the Presence of People, and many others. He has an MA in English and has studied theology at Regent College. He lives in Langley, British Columbia, with his wife, Karen, a family physician. They have one daughter, Heather, who is pursuing a career in dance and the arts. This is Mike's first Novel. Find more information about him at http://MikeMasonBooks.com

MY THOUGHTS:

Although this book is recommended for pre-teens, I would be sure that your pre-teen is very literate. There are many difficult words and some difficult concepts (child abuse, for instance) in the story that make it a tough read. I had four 10 - 11 year olds read the book -- all of whom enjoyed books like Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter -- who found that this book didn't hold their interest. It was thicker than they were used to, the print was a little small for a couple of them, and they gave up reading it after a couple of chapters. In reading through it myself, it seems to take a few chapters for intriguing events to begin with enough frequency to hold the interest of today's impatient generation, so you may want to encourage them to stick with it.



AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE MASON

Where did you get your inspiration for The Blue Umbrella?

I live at the top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill, a couple of blocks down, is the real Porter’s Store. A few years ago I awoke in the middle of the night to a flash of insight. I recalled that when I was a little boy, many years ago and many miles away, I also lived at the top of a hill and at the bottom was an old store. How interesting! With this strange convergence of my present and past lives, the whole geography of a children’s fantasy novel flowed into my mind. I could set the story right in my own neighborhood! But it would really be the neighborhood of my childhood, which is the deepest source of all writerly inspiration.

There was also a third old store, Foster’s, which I knew as a young man living in a small prairie town. Old Mr. Foster was always talking about the weather and he even made up little poems about it. In winter he might say:

Snow, snow, the lovely snow,

You step on a bit and down you go.

Or on a rainy day he’d say:

Sun, sun, the beautiful sun,

It never shines, the son-of-a-gun!

Listening to Mr. Foster recite his silly poems, one day my imagination got to wondering what might really be going on in that store …

Which character is most like you?

There is quite a bit of me in Zac Sparks—in two ways. Firstly, as a little boy I was very active and excitable and I got into a fair amount of trouble. I used to climb on top of the piano and shout, “Jump, Mommy, jump!” and from wherever she was in the house my mother would have to come running to catch me. And I once pushed the neighborhood bully off a high stone wall into a big tub of water! I picture Zac, under normal circumstances, as being like that.

This story, however, does not take place under normal circumstances. Zac’s mother has died and he’s been plunged into a dark situation, so for most of the book he struggles with grief, shock, fear, and confusion. This changes him. While he still has “sparks” of mischief and excitability, on the whole his behavior is much subdued, his natural character repressed. Interestingly I think this side of him reflects, to some extent, my adult self. Life has a lot of hard experiences that can knock you sideways. At some level aren’t adults trying to get back to the fully alive children they once were?

So yes, I identify with Zac. But to say which character is most like me, I have to admit it’s Ches. I like Ches a lot—so much that I decided to write book two in the series from Ches’s point of view. Talk about repressed! Due to his background he has so many problems. But precisely because of that, he has a great journey to make from darkness to light.

Who is your favorite character?

Chelsea! I love her because she is the one who has most retained her childlikeness. Through her connection with Eldy, she has resisted all pressure to conform to the evil that has Five Corners in its grip. Book three in the series will be from Chelsea’s point of view and I can hardly wait to write it!

This story seems to be an allegory. Did you start out intending to write an allegory or did it just happen?

For years I’d written nonfiction books with a message, and I was tired of that. I had nothing more to tell anyone; instead I just wanted to tell a good story. I had just turned fifty and I realized that fiction is what I’d really wanted to write all along. Somehow I’d gotten away from that, and it was time to return to my original dream.

So with The Blue Umbrella I set out with no message in mind, no allegory, just a story. As I went along, I myself was very surprised at the spiritual depth that developed. But I don’t think this makes my book an allegory, so much as a work of literature with an allegorical dimension. An allegory tends to feel wooden because there is a clear one-to-one correspondence between all the elements of the story and some other reality. An allegory is so linked to what it represents that it cannot really stand on its own, whereas a good literary story, while it always points beyond itself, is fully alive in its own right.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from The Blue Umbrella?

Weather: how it looks and feels, and how it suggests something much more than meets the eye. I want readers to remember Zac in his room at the Aunties’ house, listening to the wind as it moves tree branches against his windowpane like someone tapping to be let in.

Have you ever wondered why weather is the number one topic of conversation? It seems like the smallest sort of small talk, but I think weather is really a very BIG topic. This is obvious in our own time, when the world is heading for climate disaster and everyone’s talking about it. But even just normal chitchat about weather is, I believe, far more significant than it appears. I think it’s a safe way for people to acknowledge something very important. We all have a deep yearning to discuss the big questions in life (such as “Why are we here?” and “What’s it all about?”), but often we cannot talk freely because there are so many different beliefs and it just gets really awkward. Weather, however, is something right in our faces that both deeply affects us and that we can all agree on. It’s perfectly obvious if it’s raining or snowing or the sun is shining, and it’s also perfectly obvious that such magnificent phenomena reflect a greater reality. Weather is the ultimate metaphor.

www.davidccook.com - www.mikemasonbooks.com

Thanks to David C. Cook for providing a book for this review.

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Jesus Comforts

How to Cope with Christmas
by Stacie Ruth Stoelting

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

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

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

12 Ways of Christmas for the Grieving

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

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

3. Rearrange furniture to reduce "absence" reminders.

4. Avoid sugar highs and lows because they naturally induce emotional lows. Also steer clear of over-eating and under-sleeping. Eat well-balanced diets. Some mood enhancing natural foods include yogurt, kefir, green tea, omega-3 rich foods (i.e. salmon, cod liver oil, etc.), and lower sugar dark chocolate. One excellent resource for healthier lifestyles is First Place 4 Health, founded by the knowledgeable and kind Carole Lewis: http://www.firstplace4health.com/.

5. Admit grief. Trying to move forward while denying the reality of grief causes one to fall face forward. Does your face smile while your heart weeps? Give yourself permission to cry. Jesus wept. Weeping releases excessive tension. Address depression. Don't deny it. Pretending the nonexistence of depression only promotes its growth. (I include a list of counseling centers on my page for hurting hearts: http://prayingpals.org/linksforhurtinghearts.html.)

6. Forgive and receive forgiveness through Jesus. Release everything to the Lord -including any so-called regrets about your departed loved one. In Loved by Rebecca St. James (FaithWords, 2009), the point of God's abiding love encourages us: "He [Jesus] is ready to...stand in the gap between you and the pain, and to be your constant companion in the dark hours. He loves you."

7. Reach out to the more burdened and hang around kids this Christmas. It may not feel easy. It may even feel impossible. Ask Jesus to love thru you and get your eyes off problems and on to Him and others.

8. Understand the concept of new normalcy. The onset of new traditions and expectations may seem daunting, but God gave you your previous normal. Ask Him to give grace/hope in the face of the new normal. Let Him lead you to a place where you can relax and let Him beam His light on you.

9. Take a "hands off and hands folded" approach to the holidays. Reduce activity and increase connectivity through prayer and Christian companionship. If you're isolated, feel free to join my weekly online prayer group (www.prayingpals.org). And stay in touch with your local church.

10. Face and treat chronic health issues. If you feel sick, everything feels worse. (One excellent resource for those with chronic health conditions is Rest Ministries.)

11. Reclaim your Heavenly purpose on earth. Ask Jesus to grant supernaturally His grace, hope, love, peace, and comfort this holiday season. Then don't fight His help. Be open to His opening of doors to cope and hope this holiday season. Just receive Jesus. Ask Jesus to give you a Heavenly perspective on earth. God holds good things for you! He grants you great purpose for your life hereafter...and here, too. Embrace His grace and seek His face. He's there. I know. In the face of grief, I'm with Him right now.

12. Remember: Trials don't indicate a reduction in God's love for you. He loves you and promises to make things right in the end. Spend time focusing on His unchanging love for you. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)

Holidays include lots of grief for relationships/loved ones that left, forsook, or died. But let's focus on the essence of Christmas: the present of Jesus' presence in our lives! Wow, may a relationship with Jesus be our miracle and encouragement this Christmas! "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15)

Could you think of anything greater than receiving God for Christmas?

While my dream didn't come true today, I know it will: Mary Jo will be resurrected and we will be reunited. This year, focus on a different angle of Christmas: Let Christmas remind you of Jesus' birth to banish death.

____________________________________

After Stacie Ruth met Jesus, her life blossomed with true joy and purpose! Life's blows hurt her, but Jesus heals and strengthens her. Now an author, actress, and recording artist, she laughs at the irony and praises God, who uses unlikely people...like herself. To find out more about her ministry visit www.brightlightministries.com.


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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Just God


A Tangible Reminder
by Mary Byers

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

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

At the end of the book, Vischer outlines the lessons he learned from the rise and fall of Big Idea. In part, he shares, "I was ready to be done, if that's what God wanted. To just rest in him and let everything else fall away. At long last, after a lifetime of striving, God was enough. Not God and impact or God and ministry. Just God."

His words convicted me. As an author and speaker, I realized that I'm often more focused on my deadlines or my next speaking engagement than I am on God. I have it backwards. God first, then everything else will fall into place.

It's a powerful message for us as women, too. When we focus on God first, we'll have everything we need to handle whatever is happening in our families and our lives. As Vischer reminds us, God is enough. As we approach Christmas, I'm reminded that this is the time when God shared his Son with us-a tangible reminder of his love for us. And a reminder that when we have him, we have everything we need.

____________________________________



Mary Byers is the author of Making Work at Home Work: Successfully Growing a Business and a Family Under One Roof. She offers advice and encouragement for moms work from home for profit at www.makingworkathomework.com.



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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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Home


Too Precious to Wear
by Sarah Sundin

One Christmas when my mother was a girl, she received a string of pearls from her father. Since her parents were divorced-an unusual situation in the 1950s-she treasured the pearls as a sign of her father's love. When he passed away her senior year in high school, the pearls took on even greater significance.

When I was growing up, my mother talked often about the pearls, but my sister and I never saw them. Mom kept them safe in their silk-lined velvet box tucked in her jewelry box. For dressy occasions, she wore other nice jewelry, but never the pearls.

The pearls were too precious to wear.

What if the strand broke and even a single pearl was lost? What if the clasp broke and she lost them forever? She couldn't risk it. Better to keep them cocooned in silky security.

When my mother offered to let me wear her pearls on my wedding day, I was deeply touched. This was more than "something old" or "something borrowed," but a sign that she trusted me and loved me.

A few days before the wedding, my mother pulled the box from seclusion. My sister and I watched with curiosity and awe.

The pearls had turned a deep grayish-yellow, they were flaking, and some had fallen apart.

They were fake.

For over thirty years, my mother nurtured a piece of costume jewelry. All that time she could have worn them and enjoyed them without worry. Her father gave them to her for a purpose-to wear them and feel lovely and ladylike and special. He didn't mean for her to hide them away.

On our wedding day, my husband gave me a strand of real pearls. They symbolize my husband's sacrificial love for me-they were expensive for a graduate student with half-Scottish blood.

I vowed never to tuck them away but to wear them often. Yes, I'm careful. I inspect the cord and knots and clasp, and I plan to have them restrung when necessary. But I wear them and enjoy them. That's why my husband gave them to me.

Our heavenly Father gives us gifts too-brilliant and costly. We should cherish them, but we should use them. Whether our individual gifts involve serving, teaching, encouragement, evangelism, or even money-they have a purpose. The Lord wants us to use our gifts to bless others and to spread the message of His love.

While pearls make women look lovely, using our God-given gifts for His kingdom makes us even lovelier. And just as pearls grow more lustrous with frequent wear, our gifts from God grow in beauty and strength the more we use them.

This Christmas I plan to wear my string of pearls, a sign of my husband's love-and to display my pearls from heaven, a sign of my Father's love.

Have a lustrous Christmas!

__________________________________


Sarah Sundin lives in northern California with her husband and three children. She works on-call as a hospital pharmacist. Her first novel, A Distant Melody, historical fiction set during World War II, will be published by Revell in March 2010. Please visit her at http://www.sarahsundin.com or her blog or find her on Facebook.




_______________________________________

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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Life Beautiful


Too Precious to Wear
by Sarah Sundin

One Christmas when my mother was a girl, she received a string of pearls from her father. Since her parents were divorced-an unusual situation in the 1950s-she treasured the pearls as a sign of her father's love. When he passed away her senior year in high school, the pearls took on even greater significance.

When I was growing up, my mother talked often about the pearls, but my sister and I never saw them. Mom kept them safe in their silk-lined velvet box tucked in her jewelry box. For dressy occasions, she wore other nice jewelry, but never the pearls.

The pearls were too precious to wear.

What if the strand broke and even a single pearl was lost? What if the clasp broke and she lost them forever? She couldn't risk it. Better to keep them cocooned in silky security.

When my mother offered to let me wear her pearls on my wedding day, I was deeply touched. This was more than "something old" or "something borrowed," but a sign that she trusted me and loved me.

A few days before the wedding, my mother pulled the box from seclusion. My sister and I watched with curiosity and awe.

The pearls had turned a deep grayish-yellow, they were flaking, and some had fallen apart.

They were fake.

For over thirty years, my mother nurtured a piece of costume jewelry. All that time she could have worn them and enjoyed them without worry. Her father gave them to her for a purpose-to wear them and feel lovely and ladylike and special. He didn't mean for her to hide them away.

On our wedding day, my husband gave me a strand of real pearls. They symbolize my husband's sacrificial love for me-they were expensive for a graduate student with half-Scottish blood.

I vowed never to tuck them away but to wear them often. Yes, I'm careful. I inspect the cord and knots and clasp, and I plan to have them restrung when necessary. But I wear them and enjoy them. That's why my husband gave them to me.

Our heavenly Father gives us gifts too-brilliant and costly. We should cherish them, but we should use them. Whether our individual gifts involve serving, teaching, encouragement, evangelism, or even money-they have a purpose. The Lord wants us to use our gifts to bless others and to spread the message of His love.

While pearls make women look lovely, using our God-given gifts for His kingdom makes us even lovelier. And just as pearls grow more lustrous with frequent wear, our gifts from God grow in beauty and strength the more we use them.

This Christmas I plan to wear my string of pearls, a sign of my husband's love-and to display my pearls from heaven, a sign of my Father's love.

Have a lustrous Christmas!

__________________________________


Sarah Sundin lives in northern California with her husband and three children. She works on-call as a hospital pharmacist. Her first novel, A Distant Melody, historical fiction set during World War II, will be published by Revell in March 2010. Please visit her at http://www.sarahsundin.com or her blog or find her on Facebook.




_______________________________________

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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas - Gifts of Purpose


Too Precious to Wear
by Sarah Sundin

One Christmas when my mother was a girl, she received a string of pearls from her father. Since her parents were divorced-an unusual situation in the 1950s-she treasured the pearls as a sign of her father's love. When he passed away her senior year in high school, the pearls took on even greater significance.

When I was growing up, my mother talked often about the pearls, but my sister and I never saw them. Mom kept them safe in their silk-lined velvet box tucked in her jewelry box. For dressy occasions, she wore other nice jewelry, but never the pearls.

The pearls were too precious to wear.

What if the strand broke and even a single pearl was lost? What if the clasp broke and she lost them forever? She couldn't risk it. Better to keep them cocooned in silky security.

When my mother offered to let me wear her pearls on my wedding day, I was deeply touched. This was more than "something old" or "something borrowed," but a sign that she trusted me and loved me.

A few days before the wedding, my mother pulled the box from seclusion. My sister and I watched with curiosity and awe.

The pearls had turned a deep grayish-yellow, they were flaking, and some had fallen apart.

They were fake.

For over thirty years, my mother nurtured a piece of costume jewelry. All that time she could have worn them and enjoyed them without worry. Her father gave them to her for a purpose-to wear them and feel lovely and ladylike and special. He didn't mean for her to hide them away.

On our wedding day, my husband gave me a strand of real pearls. They symbolize my husband's sacrificial love for me-they were expensive for a graduate student with half-Scottish blood.

I vowed never to tuck them away but to wear them often. Yes, I'm careful. I inspect the cord and knots and clasp, and I plan to have them restrung when necessary. But I wear them and enjoy them. That's why my husband gave them to me.

Our heavenly Father gives us gifts too-brilliant and costly. We should cherish them, but we should use them. Whether our individual gifts involve serving, teaching, encouragement, evangelism, or even money-they have a purpose. The Lord wants us to use our gifts to bless others and to spread the message of His love.

While pearls make women look lovely, using our God-given gifts for His kingdom makes us even lovelier. And just as pearls grow more lustrous with frequent wear, our gifts from God grow in beauty and strength the more we use them.

This Christmas I plan to wear my string of pearls, a sign of my husband's love-and to display my pearls from heaven, a sign of my Father's love.

Have a lustrous Christmas!

__________________________________


Sarah Sundin lives in northern California with her husband and three children. She works on-call as a hospital pharmacist. Her first novel, A Distant Melody, historical fiction set during World War II, will be published by Revell in March 2010. Please visit her at http://www.sarahsundin.com or her blog or find her on Facebook.




_______________________________________

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 leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Love Finds You In Lonesome Prairie Montana

Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie Montana
by
Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss

My Thoughts:
While Tricia Goyer has written several historical novels, this is her first novel that is not set in the midst of wartime. I really liked the concept of this story -- Julie Cavanaugh, an orphan herself, is an assistant caretaker at a New York City orphanage. When the orhpanage closes its doors, she escorts the children across the country to new families via an orphan train. To her horror, as she delivers the final children she discovers that her ticket isn't for a round trip as she had expected -- instead she's been sold as a mail order bride!

The story includes several masterfully intertwined story lines that kept me turning the pages late into the night. As a team, Tricia and Ocieanna write with a single voice that is easy to lose yourself in. You can feel the grit of a weeks worth of dirt from train travel, see the bugs falling in from the ceiling of the soddy, and smell the fear as you face an injured buffalo. I look forward to more books from this awesome team!

You can buy the book at Amazon.com

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Julia Cavanaugh has never left New York City. But in 1890, the young woman must head west to ensure that the orphans under her care are settled into good families. After her final stop in Montana, she plans to head straight back east. But upon arriving in the remote town of Lonesome Prairie, Julia learns to her horror that she is also supposed to be deliveredinto the hands of an uncouth miner who carries a bill of purchase for his new bride. She turns to a respected circuit preacher to protect her from a forced marriage but with no return fare and few friends, Julias options are bleak. What is Gods plan for her in the middle of the vast Montana prairie?

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Tricia Goyer
Tricia Goyer is the author of twenty books including From Dust and Ashes, My Life UnScripted, and the children's book, 10 Minutes to Showtime. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana.www.triciagoyer.com

Oceianna Fleiss
Ocieanna Fleiss is a published writer and has edited six of Tricia Goyer's historical novels. She lives with her husband and their four children in the Seattle area. Connect with Ocieanna on Facebook!

Read an excerpt!