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Christy Catherine Marshall

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June 5, 2014

The Hatmaker's Heart

A few weeks ago, my daughter’s high school staged a production of Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway show, “The Music Man.” The story takes place in River City, Iowa, in the year 1912, so the costuming committee asked for volunteers to help make Edwardian hats for the women of the town. We showed up armed with glue guns, silk flowers, ribbon, tulle, feathers and an assortment of plain straw beach hats.

For several hours, we pretended to be milliners, designing and constructing hats that might have graced the heads of first-class passengers aboard the Titanic. I had more fun than I thought possible, despite burning my fingers with hot glue and needing lots of design help from my artistic teen daughter and other fellow milliners. When it was showtime, I was excited to see how a few hours of creative work helped transform a cast of modern teens into characters from a century ago.

So, when I heard about Carla Stewart’s latest novel, The Hatmaker’s Heart, I couldn’t wait to read it! I love books set during the Jazz Age, the roaring 20s, and this one promised to whisk me away to New York City, a welcome escape from the heat and humidity of summer in Georgia.

The story begins in 1922. Nell Marchwold has landed a job working in the Oscar Fields Millinery; she’s a rising star in the field of design, following her childhood dream of helping women realize their inner and outer beauty while wearing one of her handmade hats.

Nell’s life hasn’t been easy up until this point. The tragic death of her father in the Great War has forced her mother and younger sister to leave their beautiful estate in England and move across the Atlantic to live near relatives in the state of Kentucky. When Nell designs some hats worn by the fashionable elite at the Kentucky Derby, her talent is discovered by none other than Oscar Fields himself, and he invites her to New York to live with his niece and work as his junior apprentice.

But Oscar Fields is a difficult man to please. His constant criticism wears on Nell, yet she’s determined to learn and grow under his tutelage. When Nell’s unique designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she’s had since childhood reflects poorly on his salon’s reputation.

An older, wealthy client recommends a therapist who can help Nell possibly overcome her speech impediment, and I found this part of the book interesting, as the doctor explores Nell’s past to gain understanding into why she stutters. In many ways, this reminded me of The King’s Speech, one of my favorite films, and we see how Nell’s therapy makes her even more determined as she overcomes personal obstacles.

There’s a steady source of tension between Nell and Oscar, as she’s offered the opportunity to partner with an up-and-coming clothing designer for his 1922 collection. Her boss constantly reminds her that her value comes only from him, and he owns all rights to her personal work.

Because Nell is British, publicity for her design work leads to an invitation from London to set up temporary shop overseas to possibly create hats for the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Albert, Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. I enjoyed reading this section of the book, which has Nell voyaging as a first-class steamship passenger, surrounded by high society and inspiration for her designs. She spends her afternoons aboard ship sketching ideas in her room. To me, she is like a novelist who spends time observing and writing, though her creations take shape not as books but as beautiful hats.

As time passes, we learn of Nell’s childhood friend, Quentin, with whom she has corresponded for years. Nell has many choices to make as far as what she wants to put first in her life: her career, her family on both sides of the Atlantic, her new and old friends, and Quentin. Through it all, she holds a Bible verse close to heart, handstitched by her grandmother: “Strength and honor are her clothing” (Proverbs 31:25).

Nell’s heart is being pulled in different directions, and she must decide what she’s willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is. The novel spirals deeper and deeper into Nell’s past secrets and her longings for the future. She reminded me so much of how I felt as a young 20-something, and I think this book will appeal to a wide range of readers. The Hatmaker’s Heart would be a fun selection for book clubs — the back contains a reading group guide, and it would lend itself easily to a roaring 20s themed party!

As I read each chapter, I loved envisioning Nell’s colorful Jazz-age fashions. I wondered if Zelda Fitzgerald would have frequented the Oscar Fields Millinery Shop, and I could even hear saxophone music in my head when Nell went out dancing with her flatmates. The author did a wonderful job researching so that I felt like I was there, ready to place my own order for a new hat.

Author Carla Stewart is hosting an amazing Jazzy Hatmaker’s Heart giveaway (see photo below) from her website. Not only can you win a copy of the book, she also has all sorts of goodies to share with you. Be sure to enter her contest by June 14!


Jazzy Hatmaker's Heart Giveaway

Meet the Author:

    Carla Stewart
    Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more at www.carlastewart.com.

Disclosure: Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a complimentary review copy.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Crafty people and things,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off on The Hatmaker’s Heart, by Carla Stewart



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 on Entering the World of the Smitten Book Club



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 on Inspirational Suspense from a Missionary Turned Author



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 on Robin Lee Hatcher’s A PROMISE KEPT



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)

12pearls-giesbrecht
***
“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 on My Gift for the King, by Sheryl Giesbrecht



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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off on Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room, by Ginger Ciminello



December 17, 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.

***

The Nativity
by Lynn Austin

The first time I visited Bethlehem more than twenty-five years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger. I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD. It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire, and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church. A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated throughout the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases end up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spend and the stress we endure as we try to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we’re often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem. We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with God that is the true miracle of Bethlehem.

The year after visiting Bethlehem, I began looking for ways to recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Santa Claus has never been invited to our family Christmases, and we’ve always celebrated it as Jesus’ birthday, exchanging presents because God gave us the gift of His Son. But year after year, the clutter and glitz had draped themselves over our celebrations, just like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries. That year, I purchased a nice but inexpensive manger set. I wanted something that wasn’t a toy but that my children could handle and touch. We placed it at their level and at the center of our holiday and began the simple tradition of gathering together as a family to fill the empty stable while my husband read the story from the Bible. Our children divided all the people and sheep and camels among themselves, and when we got to their part in the Bible story, they added their figures to the stable.

This simple tradition has become so beloved by all of us that we still do it the same way every year, even though our children are now adults. Our two married children couldn’t wait to share the tradition with their spouses, generously dividing their sheep and wise men among the newest members of our family. One year, our daughter was living overseas and couldn’t make it home for the holiday, but we still held our family tradition while she participated via Skype and a web camera.

And it’s always in those moments, with the simple stable and inexpensive plaster figures and my precious loved ones gathered around me, that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us!

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Bestselling author Lynn Austin has sold more than one million copies of her books worldwide. Her latest novel, Return To Me, is the first book in her new series.  She is an eight-time Christy Award winner for her historical novels, as well as a popular speaker at retreats and conventions. Lynn and her husband have raised three children and live near Chicago. Visit Lynn at her website.
By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Family,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on The Nativity, by Lynn Austin



December 15, 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.

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Christmas Musings
by Anita Higman

I feel great joy in preparing my home for the holiday season. I love to drape boughs of greenery along the staircase, swirl spices into a pot of apple cider that’s simmering on the stove, make crafty floral arrangements, and sing along with all my favorite carols. Then when friends and family come over for brunches and dinners, I put out my finest decoration, my best china, and my sincerest smile. I go all out. These are my guests, and I want the event to be welcoming, satisfying, and festive. I want them to feel like royalty.

When Christ arrived in Bethlehem, I wish He could have had a more splendid welcoming, a more regal place to sleep than a wooden trough where animals were fed. Even though His birth was without majestic lodgings or kingly adornments, I’m so glad He overlooked our foolish blunders, our lack of hospitality, and chose to live amongst us anyway. Jesus certainly could have chosen a different route and easier way to offer redemption.

But He didn’t.

Jesus came in one of the humblest possibly ways. He had a divine approach that left humans surprised and puzzled. And it turned into a road of pain beyond anything we can imagine. When it comes to God’s extravagant sacrifice and love that Christmas represents, He deserves a standing ovation. After all, Christmas holds the true secrets we’ve all been searching for: meaning to our lives on earth, victory over death, and life eternal.Christmas gives us a reason to work, to laugh, to dream, to love. Christmas is a holiday of the heart and earth’s finest celebration.

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Best-selling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has over thirty books published (several coauthored) for adults and children. Her latest release, Marriage in Middlebury, is a tale of love, hope, and forgiveness. Anita’s been a Barnes & Noble “Author of the Month” for Houston and has a BA degree, combining speech communication, psychology, and art. Anita loves good movies, exotic teas, and brunch with her friends. Visit Anita at her website.
By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Friendship | Permalink | Comments Off on Christmas Musings, by Anita Higman



December 14, 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.

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A Hibiscus “Hug from Heaven”
by Margaret McSweeney

photo-12The flurry of festivities during Thanksgiving weekend came to an abrupt halt as I began the first week of December 2013 with an empty nest. My husband was back at work. My daughters were back at college. And my brother, Claude, and niece, Mary, were back in Alabama and Tennessee.

Bare branches accentuated the overcast gloom in the Chicago suburbs on what marked the third anniversary of my brother Randy’s passing. Randy had been feeding a stray cat on his deck when the fatal heart attack struck.

Walking downstairs, I whispered a prayer. “Lord, I am feeling really sad right now. Please help me experience your joy.” As I walked into the family room, my heart smiled. The pruned hibiscus plant balanced a solitary flower that had blossomed overnight! This was truly a hibiscus “hug from heaven.”

In her book When Grief Is Your Constant Companion, my late mother shared her poignant poem about a hibiscus plant. She wrote this following poem several years after losing my dad to a sudden heart attack while he was in Paris on a business trip.

TEARDROPS: EVERLASTING JOY
By Carolyn Rhea

My love, how can it be
That I no longer think of you
Almost every waking moment
And grieve for your loving presence?

There are small spaces of time
When my life is so absorbed in present living
That you are not in my thoughts at all.
How unthinkable!
How sad that I should forget you even for an hour!

But I have not forgotten you, my dear.
You are forever a part of me.
You helped God shape my life
Into my present self.
I carry your love in my heart.
I miss you so very much and always will.

But now I’m caught up in trying to reconstruct
With God’s guidance
A meaningful life for myself.
One in which I can help,
Serve, share, love, grow.

I remember the hibiscus plant
We bought at the annual show.
It was called Teardrops,
For several perfectly-shaped white teardrops
Spattered the broad expanse
Of its gorgeous pink blooms.
How we loved it!

Then later, after it had grown much taller,
We saw a different kind of bloom:
Multitudes of small, sturdy, happy pink blossoms
Swaying merrily in the Florida breeze!
Teardrops had been grafted onto a stronger plant!

We named it Everlasting Joy.

Teardrops still bloomed at the lower level,
But as the plant grew ever upward and outward,
Everlasting Joy bloomed in profusion!

Lord Jesus, when teardrops fall,
Help me remember that through faith
I have been grafted in You –
You, the vine;
I, a branch –
Eternally secure in God’s love through Thee!
Blessed with Thy fullness of joy on earth
And the promise of everlasting joy in heaven!

Thank you, dear Father for sharing your everlasting joy with me today in my solitude. We are not alone in our grief. You are with us.

“Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” John 16:20

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Margaret McSweeney is a well-published author (A Mother’s Heart Knows, Go Back and Be Happy, Pearl Girls, Mother of Pearl, Aftermath), host of Kitchen Chat, and the founder of Pearl Girls™. Through Pearl Girls™, Margaret collaborates with other writers on projects to help fund a safe house for WINGS, an organization that helps women and their children who are victims of domestic violence, and to build wells for schoolchildren in Uganda through Hands of Hope. For the past twelve years she has served on the board of directors and leadership advisory board for WINGS. Margaret lives with her husband and 2 daughters in the Chicago suburbs. Learn more at Margaret’s website.
By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on A Hibiscus Hug from Heaven, by Margaret McSweeney



May 13, 2013

ImageProxyServletWelcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a nine-day celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.
 
AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, 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: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.


And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
~

Mother Ship by Melody Murray

Mother Ship (N.) – a ship that serves or carries one or more smaller ships.

Raising two boys in India is quite nice, really. We have monkeys, scooters, plenty of dirt, and mountains. The challenges are comical. I found very quickly on that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. It’s been an excellent motto for our three years thus far, one I learned shortly after our arrival here in June of 2010.

We’d been in India for just three days when I had my first major meltdown. Our two boys, ages three and four, were sitting in big plastic buckets in our smelly bathroom, covered with mosquito bites, jetlagged as can be. I was frantically pouring cold water over them, trying to scrub off the India grime that had caked on their scrawny little bodies. I was having to hold them like puppy dogs so they wouldn’t scurry out from underneath the cold water. It was a far cry from the sweet, warm, bubbly, happy bath time we’d experienced together for the past four years in the States! Talk about culture shock. They were in shock. I was in shock. I’m sure the neighbors were in shock, too. I’m not sure my boys have ever seen me scream, cry, and stomp that much. Thank God it is just a memory now.

Somehow, by God’s grace, we’ve figured out life here. It looks much different than I had ever thought it would look, especially as a mother. We don’t go to the library, make elaborate crafts, play T-ball, shop at Target, sing in church choir, or take family bike rides. I have had to redefine my ideal upbringing for my children and have had to let go of many expectations. But I’ve managed to grasp hold of a new set of dreams.

My children are global kids. They have an incredible adventure every day. They see the “majority world” firsthand. I think they are some of the most privileged kids I know. I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself that my kids don’t get to go to ballgames or have a huge tree house or wear cute clothes. Why focus on what I think they’ve lost, only to lose sight of what they’re gaining?

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My attitude shift didn’t come easily. I can be quite stubborn. I clung to what I knew and what I thought was “normal” and “right,” as all of us moms do. I’d cry after phone conversations with friends back home who had their children signed up for karate, soccer, and swim lessons, with loads of choices for good schools, churches, and neighborhoods. I had nothing of the sort available for my kids, and I felt bitter and resentful.

But then I slowly began to change. Slowly, after months of getting over culture shock and cold baths, we began to love this place and the people we were with. We began to know them, understand them, become like them. Our community here became our family. Just this week, I’ve been sick with an awful kidney infection, and my living room has been full of my Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian friends, bringing me food, rubbing my feet, playing with my children, washing my dishes. I’ve never experienced community in this way before. My boys are loved so well by so many. And they are learning how to love back, even when it’s not easy.

My attitude shift didn’t come quickly, but when it happened, it took a 180°. I realized how wrong I’d been. These people I live with—their kids don’t have organized sports, church choirs, or fancy vacations either. Their kids aren’t signed up for after-school activities and aren’t becoming multi-skilled elementary school prodigies. Yet, in spite of this, they are content. Like none I’ve ever seen. They love each other. Like none I’ve ever seen. They have very little, yet they have so very much.
 
In the western world of comparisons and endless striving, I believe we sometimes lose touch of the things we actually care most about. I know most of us moms actually don’t care whether our children are the best at T-ball or whether their crafts look better than the next kid’s. But I think we all care deeply that our kids are loved, and that they know how to love. We all have a common dream that our kids will grow up to be world-changers, to strive for what is right, to love the unloved, to see the world in a different way. These are the deepest dreams of moms. So let’s not forget that the most important things we can give our kids are not the things we can buy them or sign them up for. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is to give them sails, let them explore new things, meet new people, and learn to make lasting change in this world.

So join me this Mother’s Day. Let’s all be “mother ships,” leading our kids to new adventures, new beginnings, new relationships. Let’s serve and carry our little ones to places they can only dream of, whether it be making dinner for a neighbor, smiling at the homeless man in front of the grocery store, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or moving to India. Let’s take them with us and teach them how to sail.
 
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” —Grace Murray Hopper

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068In June 2010, an opportunity arose to work with a small needy community in the Himalayas, so David and Melody Murray and their two young boys packed their bags and moved to Rajpur, North India. Mel has grown JOYN, fulfilling her passion to connect artisans with western markets. They now have a diverse and growing team of Americans, Australians, Indians, Tibetans and Nepalis working together to create a community that strives to take care of each other and bring opportunity to as many as they can. Visit her website for more information.

 
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By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Crafty people and things,Faith,Family,Motherhood,Parenting,Travel,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on DAY 9 – Mother Ship by Melody Murray