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February 19, 2014


Smitten Book Club

I’ve been reading another fun book lately that has kept my mind happily occupied while inching through car rider pick-up lines. Smitten Book Club is the third book in the Smitten series, written by four well-known Christian authors: Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter.

Set in the cozy fictional town of Smitten, Vermont, each author contributed one section to the book, writing from the viewpoint of a character in the Fireside Book Club. Their individual stories fit together like pieces of a quilt, and it was hard to tell they weren’t all written by the same author.

Here’s the main plot: while hosting a rummage sale in support of club member, Molly, who has recently lost her firefighter husband in a tragic accident, Heather discovers an antique book with the title, A Gentlewoman’s Guide to Love and Courtship, penned by once-famous Smitten resident Pearl Chambers. She wonders whether this century-old tome may actually offer some wisdom for modern relationships and shares it with the other members of her book club.

Each chapter begins with a charming quote from Pearl Chambers, and I enjoyed seeing how the characters find something uniquely personal and relevant to apply to their daily lives. And there’s another surprise: a handwritten note tucked inside says the book offers clues to a gold mine hidden on the property belonging to Molly’s deceased husband. If she could only find the gold, perhaps she’d discover a way to salvage the expedition business her husband started … and save the home that’s been in his family for generations.

The book club members — Heather, Molly, Abby, and Lia — dissect Pearl’s book individually, trying to decipher the possible hidden messages that may lead to the treasure of gold. I especially loved reading Kristin Billerbeck’s section focusing on the character of Abby, a librarian who relates to the world through her favorite Jane Austen literary heroines. She also tackles her sleuthing adventures in a way similar to Nancy Drew, decoding words with hidden meanings.

I’ve always relished the hilarious chick-lit books by author Kristin Billerbeck, and I interviewed her several years ago on my blog here. Colleen Coble also visited Mom 2 Mom Connection a few years back, and I reviewed Diann Hunt’s book, RV There Yet for Christian Women Online. I was sad to read that Diann Hunt passed away from cancer right before this book went to press, so it must have been bittersweet for the four writers to work together one last time. The authors’ collaborative blog, Girls Write Out, has been one of my favorite spots to visit for years.

I missed reading the first two books in the Smitten series, but since I enjoyed this one so much, I’ll have to find copies of the first two and get caught up. Keep reading below to learn more about upcoming events surrounding this book’s release!


*****

The Smitten gals are back with their newest release, Smitten Book Club! Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, and Denise Hunter are celebrating with a Kindle Fire giveaway, a Facebook party on February 20, and a nationwide book-club brunch on March 22.


smittenbookclub-400-click

 
One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Smitten books (Smitten, Secretly Smitten, Smitten Book Club)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 20th. Winner will be announced at the Smitten Book Club Facebook Author Chat Party on February 20th. Connect with Colleen Coble, Denise Hunter, and Kristin Billerbeck for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! The Smitten gals will also be taking questions from the audience, giving away books and gift certificates, and sharing news about their upcoming nationwide Smitten Book Club brunch on March 22nd. (Sign up to host today!)



So grab your copy of Smitten Book Club and join Colleen, Denise, Kristin, and friends on the evening of February 20th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 20th!


Sign up to host a Smitten Book Club Brunch on March 22nd!
Smitten Book Club Brunch Coble, Hunter, Billerbeck, Hunt

Meet the authors:


Smitten Book Club Authors

RITA-finalist Colleen Coble is the author of several best-selling romantic suspense novels, including Tidewater Inn, and the Mercy Falls, Lonestar, and Rock Harbor series.

Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the ACFW Book of the Year award, Kristin Billerbeck has appeared on The Today Show and has been featured in the New York Times. Her books include A Billion Reasons Why and What a Girl Wants.

Denise Hunter is the award-winning and best-selling author of several novels, including A Cowboy’s Touch and Sweetwater Gap. She and her husband are raising three boys in Indiana.

Diann Hunt has lived in Indiana forever, been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, her dog, and, well, chocolate. Diann lost her courageous battle with cancer in December 2013.

Blogger’s Note: I received this book from Litfuse in exchange for my honest review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Friendship,Marriage,Motherhood | Permalink | Comments Off



February 16, 2014

Friend Me
Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller like Friend Me. We had an ice storm hit this week, so schools were closed, and I actually found time to devote to reading. From the very first page, I was hooked and couldn’t put this novel down.

When I first heard about Friend Me, I was intrigued because the author spent over 30 years as a missionary in Asia. I wondered how he would handle the whole topic of virtual friendships — this affects all of us, especially our children. I know of homes that have been destroyed because of “online relationships,” and I’m constantly telling my kids not to share private information with strangers. This book is centered on the theme of Philippians 4:8:


Finally, brethren,
whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report,
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things,
–Philippians 4:8

What happens when a person deviates from pure thinking as set forth in the Bible? It all starts off so innocently.

The contemporary story takes place in Indiana, and involves a complicated web of three main characters: Scott Douglas and his wife, Rachel, and a mysterious software developer with a dark past named Melissa. We read from all three points of view, so it’s interesting how the author gets into each character’s mind and shares what they’re thinking.

On the surface, Scott and Rachel have the perfect life: he has a good job with an investment firm, and Rachel stays home full-time to care for their two young children. But below the surface, trouble is brewing. Scott gets called into the office of his boss because his company’s wealthiest client is unhappy, and it’s up to Scott to turn his account around. This propels him into the world of risky trading, and his stress level increases because he may lose a huge amount of money, as well as his job.

Meanwhile, since Scott works long hours and is hardly ever home, Rachel finds herself starving for deeper friendships. While exploring online, she discovers the “Virtual Friend Me” website that offers her the chance to create her own virtual friend, someone who’s always available to listen, unlike her husband.

After she tells Scott about it, he decides to check out the website to see what his wife is up to. He too is drawn into the idea of having a virtual friend, and he steps into a landmine of trouble when he requests a “female” for his friend. This leads to intimate conversations, and Scott begins to spend every spare minute chatting with his virtual friend instead of spending time with his real-life friends and family.

Behind both Rachel and Scott’s creations is Melissa — the brilliant designer who helped start the company. When she created the software, she secretly programmed it with a search parameter to find her ideal match, but she’d forgotten to specify his marriage status. Too late, she thinks Scott is the perfect man for her, and she’s determined to be with him. She craves Rachel’s life as Scott’s wife and the mother of his children, and she begins to stalk their home and look for ways to get rid of her.

Because Scott and Rachel both share openly with their virtual friends, Melissa knows every detail of their personal lives … when they’ll be home, the code of their garage door, what’s in their medicine cabinet, everything. Melissa reminded me of the creepy mistress Glenn Close played in the 1987 film, “Fatal Attraction.”

The plot gets scarier and scarier and is filled with so many twists and turns I couldn’t stop reading! I love the author’s subtle message — that we as a society must be careful not to cross the lines that lead us away from what is true, pure, honest, and lovely. This book would be a fantastic springboard for discussions in a book club, and it even contains questions and additional activities in the back for that purpose.

On his Christian Suspense blog, author John Faubion explains how he got the idea for this book, while sitting in a software meeting:

While we were talking, something occurred to me that had not been done yet. Something really revolutionary. There were bits and pieces of it all over the world wide web, but no one had yet brought them together yet, not in the way I was thinking. Consider the whole Facebook phenomenon. How people want to be “friended” and “friend” other people. What a lot of people really want is a true friend. Someone they can pour their hearts out to. A person who is totally trustworthy, and who would keep every confidence sacred.

The truth is, there are not many like that!

But what if. . . you could design your own friend. Not a real person, but just as good as real. A virtual person. You would pour into your design all the traits that you thought were most important — trustworthy, friendly, discreet, constant, forgiving. Just think about your list. When you were done, you’d have the perfect friend …

I told my wife about this. . . that maybe I’d get some people together and we’d do it. Make such a product available and see if we could make it work. I got back an unequivocal, “NO.” When she explained why, she made sense…It would really get weird, and pretty fast. So she said to me, “Why don’t you write about it? Just don’t really do the software.”

The result? Friend Me.

If you visit the author’s Christian Suspense website (which is so interesting!) you can actually have a conversation with a virtual friend programmed by the author. Yikes! I also loved reading Faubion’s blog post about how he got his first book contract. I really can’t believe Friend Me is his first published book! It’s published by Howard Books, the Christian division of Simon & Schuster.

If you’d like to read it, you can enter to win a free copy in the upcoming giveaway!

*****

John Faubion is celebrating his debut novel, Friend Me, with a Kindle HDX giveaway!

friendme-400

One winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Friend Me by John Faubion

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 22nd. Winner will be announced February 24th on John Faubion’s blog.


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by John’s blog on the 24th to see if you won.

About the Author:


John Faubion

John Faubion spent many years in Asia as a missionary with his family. Since returning to the United States, John has worked as a senior software developer for a large appliance chain. He teaches an adult Sunday School class and enjoys writing and driving his 1949 Packard automobile. John lives near Indianapolis with his wife, Beth, and their daughter. He is still fluent in Chinese. You can learn more about him and his writing at his website, Christian Suspense.

Blogger’s Note: I received a copy of this book, complimentary, from Litfuse.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Marriage | Permalink | Comments Off



January 25, 2014


A Promise Kept. Hatcher

January is a month of fresh beginnings for me. I celebrate a birthday, for one thing, and I always enjoy having the chance to sit down with a notebook and plot out a few plans and goals for the new year. I’ve been keeping a journal, off and on, since I was in college.

Back when I was 19, I lived in a dorm and needed a “quiet place” to go to pray, so writing gave me a chance to slip away from reality and focus on God. Not much has changed in that respect. Writing is still my best way to connect to the Almighty.

That’s why I got really excited when the opportunity came my way to read Robin Lee Hatcher’s latest novel, A Promise Kept. It’s a contemporary story about a woman struggling with painful choices, trying to discern God’s will for her life. The main character, Allison Kavanagh, needs time to heal from a wounded heart, and she retreats to a log cabin she inherited from her Great Aunt Emma. While living there, she discovers a trunk full of old diaries, written by her great aunt, and these diaries from the late 1920s/early 1930s play a significant role in how Allison moves forward in her life today.

I loved the whole premise of the book, and the setting in the beautiful mountains north of Boise, Idaho, gave me a chance to escape to a place quite different from my native Georgia. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Allison and her husband, Tony, have recently divorced, after being married for over two decades. The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum — to change his ways or leave — she thought she’d save him. Instead, he walked out, leaving her with a broken heart, broken marriage, and disappointment that she’d misunderstood God.

Her move to small-town life in the area of Aunt Emma’s restored rustic cabin gives her ample time to explore her past, as well as the mysteries that begin to unravel from Emma’s stash of hidden diaries. Strangely, she also discovers a beautiful vintage wedding dress in the trunk, as well as a photograph of a handsome stranger. But how can this be? Her self-reliant great aunt never married!

Allison, flanked by her cute papillon puppy, Gizmo, begins to develop relationships with people in her new town. She attends church and discovers people in her congregation who are also suffering and seeking God’s will. Her grown daughter, Meredith, visits from Texas, and continues to seek ways to draw her mom and dad back together. It’s awkward … but has her ex-husband, Tony, truly started to change?

I love how the author allows readers into both women’s lives through their diaries: we see the day-to-day life of Emma as she slips from the decade of the Roaring 20s into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then Allison, inspired by her Great Aunt, also begins to write in a journal. It made me see how a woman’s faith survives through her words, powerful even generations later.

The most shocking thing about the book comes at the end — I’d love for you to read it, so I don’t want to spoil it for you! But I will say that the author confesses in a personal “note to readers” this is the most intimate book she’s ever written (out of more than 70 novels!) because it’s based on the true story of her own life. Wow! So I loved this book on another level: I loved learning how a writer transforms real life into the art form of a novel. Beautifully done!

I hope you can read A Promise Kept. I found it spiritually uplifting, as Allison contemplates scripture and how prayer can affect one’s circumstances. I felt like the character had become a personal friend by the time I finished, and of course it made me want to go write in my own journal. This would be a wonderful novel for a book club to share, as it also contains discussion questions at the back.

If you’d like to read A Promise Kept, keep reading below, to find out how you can “meet” the author and enter a giveaway to win a copy of her book!

**********

Don’t miss Robin Lee Hatcher‘s stunning new novel, A Promise KeptRobin is celebrating with a fun giveaway and an encouraging Facebook Author Chat Party.

promisekept-400

 One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • A Promise Kept by Robin Lee Hatcher

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 6th. Winner will be announced at the “A Promise Kept” Facebook Author Chat Party on the 6th. Connect with Robin and friends for an evening of encouraging book chat, prizes, and an exclusive look at Robin’s next book!



So grab your copy of A Promise Kept and join Robin on the evening of February 6th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER. Hope to see you on 2/6!


Robin Lee Hatcher

    Meet the author:

Robin is the author of 65+ novels and novellas. Her home is in Idaho, where she spends her time writing stories of faith, courage, and love; pondering the things of God; and loving her family and friends. Learn more about Robin at: http://www.robinleehatcher.com.
Blogger’s note: I received this novel, complimentary, from Litfuse.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off



December 25, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!
 
Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

A Teenage Pregnancy
by Robin Jones Gunn

It was early, early morning, that delicate time of day just before sunrise when it seems as if all of creation is still asleep.

In the cold, gray light she gazed at the infant in her arms. He was less than an hour old and so, so small. Instinct prompted her to draw her newborn close that he might feel the rhythm of her heart. He curled his tiny hand around her finger and she smiled. His eyes closed, and with feathered breath he gave way to the blessed sleep that follows such a long journey.

In weary awe she studied his face, his ears, his nose. He was here. He had come at last.

A single tear fell from her eye and rolled across his cheek. She kissed the tear away but could not kiss away the memories that came with the tears; memories of the day she found out she was pregnant. How exhilarated she felt and yet how terrified. She was young, and there was much she didn’t understand.

Trying to justify her condition to her parents proved more difficult than she’d hoped. But the most excruciating memory was the moment she stood guileless before the man she hoped to one day marry. She had no words to make him understand the awful truth—the child she carried was not his.

Leaving seemed to be her only option. A gracious aunt took her in and welcomed her with open arms. From the moment she arrived she was showered with motherly words of hope and sisterly touches of love. Week by week, month by month, the child inside her grew.

Was it a miracle when she returned home, her belly round, her face flushed, and found him there?

What prompted this man to take her back and make her his bride? Did he now believe what she had tried to explain all along, that none of this was her own doing?

When the time was right they left their small town together, as husband and wife, with her due date rapidly approaching. The labor began—tightening her abdomen with a force she had never before imagined. Perspiration streamed from her forehead. The contractions multiplied with a frenzied urgency until the need to push overwhelmed her young body, and the baby was born.

Nothing of the past mattered anymore. He was here. Naked, perfect, quivering in her arms. With a thrill of hope, she believed that her life, her world, would never be the same.

Now as the first silver streaks of dawn pierced through the cracks in the stable, she tenderly wrapped her sleeping babe in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.

12pearls-gunn
***

Robin Promo Photo Close Up 2013Robin Jones Gunn, bestselling author of the much-loved Christy Miller Series and the award-winning Sisterchicks® series, has had more than 4.5 million copies of her books sold worldwide. Her frequent speaking engagements have taken her around the globe. Robin and her husband live in Hawaii and have a grown son and daughter. You can learn more at Robin’s website.

By: Heather Ivester in: Faith,Motherhood | Permalink | Comments Off



December 24, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!
 
Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below! The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

Do You Hear What I Hear?
by Cynthia Ruchti

To shepherds? Really, God? You crafted a birth announcement that was delivered first to shepherds? The story’s become so familiar to us, so easy for us to visualize because of all the Christmas pageants we’ve witnessed over the years—all the fourth-grade boys in plaid robes with a homemade shepherd staff, carrying a cloth lamb from the toy department that plays “Jesus Loves Me” if you pull the ring where an umbilical cord should be.

Theologians speculate the reason for shepherds as the audience for the holy pronouncement could be as intricate as a genetic retracing of the Baby’s heritage back through history to King David, who started his career as a shepherd.

Or it could have been simpler than that. Maybe shepherds were the only ones listening that night.

“Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night,” Luke 2:8, CEB. The biblical story tells us that the shepherds weren’t sleeping but were on guard, watching, when the news about Jesus came to them.

Distractions were few. Hills, sheep, other shepherds, a low fire, and a wide expanse of sky overhead—a dark sky that held the same stars night after night, until this one.

I wonder if any of the shepherds brought their families to the fields. I wonder if in the tent was a hardworking woman nearing the end of an exhausting day. She’d barely gotten the evening meal cleaned up when she had to start thinking about what her family and the other shepherds would need for breakfast. Soak the grains. Check the progress on the sheep’s milk cheese. And try to get those kids to settle down.

“Stop annoying your brother. Caleb! Last warning. Josh, get your fingers out of your sister’s ears. Turn down that video game. You can’t listen to the radio and watch TV at the same time. Turn one of them off. Better yet, both of them! Who’s singing? What’s that sound? Do you hear what I hear?”

What noise do I need to turn off in my life in order to hear the first notes of the angel’s song?

Another noisy Christmas party. Another trip to the department store for stocking stuffers. Another round of Christmas CDs. Another Christmas special on TV. Another Facebook post to share—the true meaning of Christmas. A text about the practice time for the Christmas program at church. Another phone call about travel plans. Brain waves clanking into each other, making a cacophony of noise.

Shutting down one layer at a time. Unplugging. Keeping even “Silent Night” low so I can silence my night and hear the downbeat of “Glory to God in the highest.”

12pearls-ruchti
***

Cynthia Ruchti is an author and speaker who tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels and novellas, devotions, nonfiction, and through speaking events for women and writers. Of seven books on the shelves currently, her latest releases are the novel When the Morning Glory Blooms (Abingdon Press Fiction), the nonfiction Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices (Abingdon Press Christian Living), and several dozen of the devotions in Mornings With Jesus 2014 (Guideposts). Spring of 2014 will see the release of another novel—All My Belongings, also from Abingdon Press Fiction. You can connect with her at www.cynthiaruchti.com or on Facebook.

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By: Heather Ivester in: Faith,Family | Permalink | Comments Off



December 23, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!
 
Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below! The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

Wrapping Paper and Fancy Bows Not Required
by Jodi Murphy

For more than a decade I worked in the luxury design field, and every year around Christmas time there were holiday show houses and charity events where the designers would hold nothing back to create the most beautiful displays for the Christmas season—trees with baubles and sparkles, swags of fresh greenery festooned with handmade bows, every room dressed to the nines, dining and breakfast tables set for imaginary entertaining, and hundreds of perfectly wrapped packages that would make Santa’s elves go green with envy.

The sights, sounds and smells were magical! And though I enjoyed the “eye candy” and appreciated all of the creativity, I often left these events on a “sugar high” of the season’s pufferies and feeling disconnected to the spiritual significance of Christmas.

As we begin to count down the days toward December 25th, I will do my share of simplified decorating as a way to mark such an important day, and I will be celebrating Christ’s birth with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the gifts God has given to me . . .

My Parents
I was blessed with parents who loved and respected me. I was always important, seen and heard. They gave me the confidence and strength to go out into the world because I knew they were standing right behind me in case I stumbled. They modeled generosity, loyalty and commitment.

My Sister
Tenacious, strong-willed, and determined, balanced by a friendly, supportive, “I’m there for you” spirit—that’s my amazing younger sister. She’ll step out on the front line to stand up and defend you or throw on some work clothes and volunteer to help with whatever dirty work needs to be done. No questions asked . . . you need her, she’s there.

My Husband
My husband is so comfortable in his own skin. He doesn’t compare himself to others or secretly long for what they have. He doesn’t get embroiled in other’s gossip or petty arguments. His loving influence has made me happier and more at peace. Every day I wake up to the joyful realization that I am his friend, wife, and life partner.

My Son
My firstborn. My son with Aspergers Syndrome. Raising him is the most extraordinary journey. He has made me more accepting, patient, and understanding. He has helped me find my passion to support and advocate for him and those just like him. He doesn’t filter or concern himself with being anything but who he is. I admire his strength to put himself out into a world he doesn’t fully understand.

My Daughter
She was born with grace and an “old” soul. From a very young age, she had an understanding and compassion for others well beyond her years. And when she was excluded for not following the crowd, she never compromised her values in order to fit in. She personifies all that is good and right in our world.

So I’m taking a pause from the hustle and bustle of the designers’ holiday season. This Christmas, and every Christmas henceforth, you’ll find me singing praises of “Gloria!” to God for the walking, breathing beautiful gifts of my family.

12pearls-murphy
***
jodi_murphy-Headshot 1Jodi Murphy has been a freelance marketing specialist for the last 25+ years working for clients in a variety of industries, a journalist in the design/luxury lifestyle industry, and co-founder of Nesting Newbies, one of the first independent lifestyle digital magazines. But her most important role and her life’s passion is being a mom! She founded Geek Club Books to share her son’s life on the spectrum in a positive and entertaining way. Her focus is on building a community of spectrum and neurotypicals who are engaged with and inspired by the Geek Club Books’ message of self-acceptance—“I’m unique. I’m a geek.” Jodi writes original content on the blog, and, with the help of her talented kids and top-notch creative team, she produces audio stories, e-books, and interactive storybook APPs.

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By: Heather Ivester in: Family,Marriage,Motherhood | Permalink | Comments Off



December 22, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.

We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below! The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

My Gift to the King
by Sheryl Giesbrecht

It was a week before Christmas. A woman in the rush of her last-minute shopping bought a box of fifty identical greeting cards. Without bothering to read what the card said, she quickly signed and addressed all but one of them. A few days after they had been mailed she came across the one card that hadn’t been sent. She was horrified to read, “This card is just to say, a little gift is on the way!”

Gift-giving is just one of our many Christmas traditions. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, Jesus, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Truly Jesus is the best gift we would ever want to receive.

One year a friend gave me a Christmas devotional book that turned my holiday traditions upside down. Anne Graham Lotz shared her custom of asking King Jesus what gift he would like for his birthday. God wants us to give freely out of our love for him as an act of worship. This process of intentionally and sacrificially giving a “love gift to my King” is something I have added to my personal Christmas traditions. I wonder, have you ever thought about giving Jesus a gift? Maybe this year you might ask Him what He would like you to give Him.

Each year, as the Christmas holidays approach, I ask the King what he would like for his birthday. I remember Anne Graham Lotz’s criteria: “Something I would not do except the King requested it. And it is something I could not do except the King enabled me,” (Christmas Memories by Terri Meeusen pg. 159).

One year the King began asking me for His gift in September when a local high school contacted me to develop a truant program. I didn’t feel qualified. Lotz’ words rang in my mind: “Something I would not do except the king requested it. And it is something I could not do except the king enabled me.” “God, not me,” I argued. I remembered what God brought me out of; I was a rebellious and promiscuous teenager, chain-smoker, alcoholic, drug addict, and drug dealer who cut class all but five days my junior year of high school. At age seventeen, I went to work at a Christian camp and there I was shown the love of God through the experience of working transformed believers. I was shown God’s love could cover a multitude of sins. Now He asked me to share this same love with those who are looking for love in all the wrong places. I committed to doing the King’s bidding.

What gift will you give your King this year? Maybe God is asking you to serve in your child’s classroom at school or teach a Sunday school class. Or maybe God is calling you to prayer or to spend more time with Him? Maybe Your King is asking you to give Him control over a situation?

“Something I would not do except the King requested it. And it is something I could not do except the King enabled me.” Ask the King for His gift suggestion. When He impresses on your heart the gift He desires, offer it to Him as your gift of thanks for His indescribable gift, His Son, Jesus.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (I Cor 9:15)

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“Exchanging hurt for hope” is Sheryl Giesbrecht’s focus. She loves to share how God rearranges loss, bitterness, and mistakes, and turns them into something remarkably beautiful. Learn more about Sheryl and her book, Get Back Up, at her website.
By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off



December 21, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!
 
Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

New Beginnings
by Sharron Cosby

Christmas. The mere mention of the word sends thoughts and memories skittering like a box of spilled ornaments. Some roll toward sweet remembrances of times shared with family. Others bounce to the let’s-not-go-there corner of our minds.

I recall Christmas 2009. The one I wanted to cancel. My only son is an addict, and this was his worst year ever. I had convinced myself it would be his last, assuming he would be in prison or dead by the next Christmas. I told my daughters we would exchange gifts and have our usual holiday dinner, but no tree or decorations. I couldn’t dredge up the emotional energy to plaster contrived cheer around the house.

I’m usually the decorator, gift purchaser, food preparer, and mess cleaner-upper. Executing the necessary holiday tasks takes time and effort. Worrying about my son had left me drained of the required get-up-and-go. I couldn’t do it. Thank goodness for online shopping; at least there would be presents to hand out.

My pastor’s message four days before Christmas cut straight through my Scrooge-like attitude. His sermon points were: The holidays are too much trouble, count your blessings, and forgive someone.

Considering Christmas too much trouble reflects a selfish attitude, according to my pastor. What if Jesus had thought that way? My icy heart began to thaw.

The second point, count your blessings, stopped me dead in my tracks. Count blessings with a broken heart? I considered my husband’s love and my two daughters who have stood by their brother. I smiled as I pictured the faces of my four grandsons and the joy they brought our family. Yes, I had many blessings to number.

The third was the hardest: forgiveness. Forgive my son for the pain and suffering he had caused? “God, you can’t be serious,” I protested. “We’ve spent thousands of dollars on him, he’s broken our hearts, and he’s in worse shape than ever before.”

“Forgive him,” the Spirit whispered.

Tears slid down my face as I chose to forgive my son. No strings attached.

After church I headed home with a changed attitude. When my husband left for work, I retrieved the ornaments, dragged the Christmas tree from the garage, and set it up, my gift to the family. Decorating our tree with the children’s handmade ornaments is always a joint project, but that day I worked alone. I held the clothespin reindeers, popsicle stick picture frames, and monogramed angels and remembered the good times.

With tear-filled eyes, I watched as amazement etched the faces of my daughters when they came to our home Christmas morning and saw the decorated tree. “Mom! You put up the tree after all,” they said.

The biggest surprise of the day came when our daughter’s boyfriend knelt in front of her and asked, “Will you marry me?”

The discouragement of addiction was replaced with the joy of new beginnings, which is, after all, the message of the Christ Child.

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Sharron Cosby has been married to Dan for thirty-nine years, is Mom to three adult children and “Mimi” to five grandchildren. Her family was rocked by her son’s drug addiction for fifteen years until he laid it down on February 18, 2010. She uses her life experiences to offer hope and encouragement to families caught in the chaos of addiction. Sharron is available to speak to groups on addiction related topics. Sharron recently published her first book, Praying for Your Addicted Loved One: 90 in 90, a ninety day devotional for families in recovery or those wanting to be. Receive weekly encouragement at her blog, www.efamilyrecovery.com, and Twitter @sharroncosby or contact her at moc.liamg@ybsocnorrahs.

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By: Heather Ivester in: Faith,Family,Motherhood,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off



December 20, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!
 
Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room
by Ginger Ciminello

I have high expectations for the Christmas season. Sure the decorations, presents, and general merry-making contribute to those specific expectations, but that’s not what I’m alluding to. I have a huge fear that I will get to the candlelight service on December 24th and realize I haven’t prepared my heart for Emmanuel. While I shouldn’t allow fear to creep in, I do believe those worries are grounded in a pathetic track record.

I know my heart. No matter how much I say this season of Advent isn’t about parties and presents, I still seem to get swept away by things that don’t really matter. No part of me wants to live consumed by worry and anxiety. I don’t want to finish this season exhausted and dejected.

Last Christmas our church walked through the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6, exploring what it means for Jesus to be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

What I’ve come to realize is that this verse isn’t just a list of titles for me to memorize or print on an ornament. This verse contains truth about my Savior and God, truth that should radically shape my day-to-day life.

Either Jesus is more powerful than my worries, fears, and frustrations . . . or He isn’t. The way I live my day proves what I believe about His power.

I talked through this concept with my husband on our way to finish up some shopping. I was frustrated: frustrated that I spend time in the Word, read my Advent devotional, pray for friends, and still end up so completely frazzled year after year.

My husband was quick to remind me that God desires my heart more than anything else and that I can’t tackle each day with the hope of perfection, only the hope of dependence upon our loving Father.

I’m focusing on 1 Corinthians 13 this Advent, one word per day. Yesterday the focus was love is PATIENT. (How perfect for spending the afternoon at a crowded mall!) I was amazed at my response to the long lines and ordinary scenarios that would have ordinarily left me completely frustrated.

Living and believing in the Mighty God just by being patient sounds like a really small thing—but can I tell you that I made friends with the cashier at Bed, Bath and Beyond? (A cashier who ordinarily tests my patience.)

Today the word is KIND. I’m working in a coffee shop and am trying to remember to give smiles readily and open doors for others as I prepare my heart for the coming of the King.

Lo this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

Following,
Ginger

12pearls-ginger
***

Ginger-CiminelloGinger Ciminello may sound like an Italian dessert, but she’s actually a speaker, author and blogger from Phoenix, Arizona. She has spent the last decade encouraging young people to live up to their God-given potential and unique design. Her first book, Forget the Corsage, was just released. When she’s not embarrassing herself by telling stories of her years in middle school, she can be found rollerblading, making grilled cheese, and hanging out with her daughter and husband. Learn more at gingerciminello.com.

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By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off



December 19, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.

We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

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

***

Perfectionism
by Steven Estes

(Excerpt from A Better December***) 

When my wife was little, her family was Amish. Barn raisings, buggies, high-stepping horses, shoofly pies—the whole postcard. Later, they left that life and became mainstream farmers. The suspenders and bonnets were gone, but they remained hard-working, no-nonsense, sweep-the-porch folks. As good-natured a family as homemade jam and bread.

I grew up taking in the city. Mom and I would hop the streetcar into downtown Baltimore. Lights, crowds, noise, action—the busier, the better. Birthdays were a big thing, Christmas, bigger yet. Whoop it up. Break some eggs, make an omelet.

My wife and I met in college. I first saw Verna from across the cafeteria. Popular as a lemonade stand in summer. Prettier than an evening meadow blinking with fireflies. I was hooked. Proposed on the beach. We walked the aisle, started life together.

Verna kept everything worthwhile from her childhood and folded the rest into a drawer. Worked circles around any woman you’d know. Line dried the wash, taught the kids, pinched the pennies. Joined me in whatever hoopla I wanted, but—in her mother’s meat-and-potatoes tradition—NEVER got exotic in the kitchen . . .

. . . until one December.

Wishing to please—wanting some memories for the kids—she found a recipe book. Brimming with color photos. Promises of the perfect Christmas. The kind, no doubt, her husband recalled from urban days of yore.

Sugar plums in her head, practical impulses stuffed away in an apron pocket, she purchased the ingredients to yuletide bliss. A concoction to bless the family forever.

The evening has arrived. The fortunate are assembled about the table. There is to be a holiday surprise:

“Festive Yule Log.”

Candles aglow, faces upturned. The platter of glory is borne to the table. Mother seated. Nod given.

Trembling forks sink into the first sampling mouthful. Eyes closed for concentration. The pregnant pause. . . . A searching for words. The furtive glances. The first stifled chortle. Then,

Oh, the hooting and howling.
The slappings on the table.
The witticisms.
The criticisms.

Centered on the table, the Yule Log sulks—rolled in a fine gravel posing as crushed nuts. A taste akin to cream cheese blended with toothpaste—perhaps Crest, no, Colgate. As if sautéed in soy sauce, glued into shape by an application of Crisco. The look of a food item suspected of disease, held in quarantine at Customs.

Verna smiles weakly. Rises. Whisks the mistake into exile. All the while carols from the record player begin straying off-key . . . and Misters Currier & Ives are ushered to the backyard, blindfolded, and shot.

Solomon foresaw that many designs for Christmas Eve would go awry. Why else would he write:

“Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know
what a day may bring forth”?
Proverbs 27:1

Or . . .

“You can make many plans,
but the Lord’s purpose
will prevail”?
Proverbs 19:21 NLT

God has bigger plans for you than the perfect dinner. That’s why he lets things go wrong. He’s saving your appetite for the perfect eternity. He notices you smitten with this short life,
feeling it slip through your fingers,
trying to shake a snow-globe Christmas
out of every December.

The true holiday magic is reserved for heaven. Every delight down here is a mere taste and teaser.

Knowing that, doesn’t it ease the pressure just a bit as you flip through recipes on the 24th—biting your lip . . . pondering a go at that Festive Yule Log?

(By the way, Verna recovered nicely.)

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**This excerpt is reproduced from A Better December Copyright © 2013 by Steven Estes. Used by permission of New Growth Press and may not be downloaded, reproduced, and/or distributed without prior written permission of New Growth Press.
***

Steven Estes is a pastor who has known “better Decembers with my family than either Currier or Ives,” but also understands a gray Christmas. A Better December draws on Estes’ twenty-three years of counseling church members through the holiday season as well his other writings on the topic of human suffering. He teaches a preaching class at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) where he completed his M.Div and Th.M. degrees. Estes is a conference speaker and on the board of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). Estes is the author of Called to Die (the story of slain missionary Chet Bitterman), and co- author (with friend Joni Eareckson Tada) of When God Weeps and A Step Further. He and his wife, Verna, have eight children. Learn more about Estes and his books at www.steveestes.net.
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By: Heather Ivester in: Faith,Family | Permalink | Comments Off