@sprightlyamyanne Instagram photos

@sprightlyamyanne Instagram photos

Friday, December 25, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Celebrate

What Really Matters
by Dawn Meehan

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

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

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

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

Now that's worth celebrating!

_____________________________


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

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


__________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Slow Down, Pray & Give Thanks

All Decked Out For Christmas
by Maureen Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe some of the bruises on our spirit seem tender during the holiday season, a reminder that all the glitter on the outside might not light us up on the inside. My prayer is trust Psalm 34:18. Let's lean on Him this season-He's right here beside us!
______________________________


Maureen Lang grew up loving to tell stories, and God has blessed her immeasurably to be able to tell them to a wider audience these days. For the latest goings-on, please check her blog!

__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Wondrous Mystery

Magnificat
by Anna Joujan

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

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

What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!
__________________________________________

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

__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Perspective

A Soggy, Jolly, Holly Christmas
by Melody Carlson

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

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

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

__________________________________________



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




__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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


Monday, December 21, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Help & Support

Calling Elizabeth ... HELP!
by Tricia Goyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________

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

__________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: God Intervenes

The Answer
by Susan May Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas from Susie May Warren

_________________________________

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

__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: He is Always Enough

Christmas in a Barn
by Mary DeMuth

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

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

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

And when we opened the door, Love welcomed us.

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________


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


__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Faith, Hope & Love

The Pearls We Pass Down
by Holley Gerth

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

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

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

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

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

FAITH

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


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

HOPE

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

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

LOVE

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


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


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

__________________________________


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

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

__________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!


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


Thursday, December 17, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: God Provides a Way

A Long Ago Christmas Memory
by Patricia Crisafulli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________


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

__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Making Work At Home Work: Holiday Strategies

As you may remember, I recently partnered up with Making Work at Home Work as a blogger.





As I look ahead to the approaching holiday season, I thought I’d share a few suggestions for you to consider for your business.

Give yourself a break. Most employees get time off for Christmas. Sometimes I give myself time off, too. But I'm not always intentional about it. This year, I'm going to actually mark off a couple of days that I'm gifting to myself. I'll turn on my auto reply and get myself out of the office. I know it will feel good and will be rejuvenating for me.

Make a list of office supply and equipment needs. I know it is difficult to spend money on work when you need to spend money on holiday gifts. But there are two great reasons to make work related purchases this month and next. One, there are great sales. Two, if you've had a successful year in 2009, you can reduce your taxable income by purchasing things you need (and want) for your business.

Consider developing a one-page plan for next year. I spend one morning each December writing a one-page business plan for myself. I simply identify four or five initiatives that would help my business. I capture them on paper, jot down my action plans, and post it on my wall. This helps keep me focused throughout the year.

• Set a financial goal (unless it will make you a slave to your business). I set financial goals for myself early in my business. But I abandoned them when they became the be-all and end-all for me even though I had two preschool aged children. Instead, I focused on taking the work that came my way. No more, no less. Now, however, I've started setting goals again. And I'm pleased to report that I had my best year ever in 2009! Don't be a slave to a goal. But consider setting one if it will motivate and encourage you or if you have something special you're saving for.

• Take time to be thankful. I am grateful I get to work from home. Sometimes I forget my gratitude when I'm overwhelmed or behind in my work. But I don't want to lose sight of what a privilege it is to run my own business. I plan to keep this in the forefront of my mind as I approach this holiday season.








Mary Byers is the author of Making Work at Home Work: Successfully Growing a Business and a Family Under One Roof. Sign up for her work at home blog at www.makingworkathomework.com.

12 Pearls of Christmas: Jesus Comforts

How to Cope with Christmas
by Stacie Ruth Stoelting

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

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

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

12 Ways of Christmas for the Grieving

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

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

3. Rearrange furniture to reduce "absence" reminders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________

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


__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Just God

A Tangible Reminder
by Mary Byers

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________



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



__________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Home


COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
by Virelle Kidder

My mother had remarkable zeal for Christmas. Weeks in advance, she would come home from teaching school and bake late into the night. I helped clean the house and decorate the tree while my older brother Roger wired the house with Christmas lights, transforming our humble red house into a place of magical beauty. Following the church candlelight service, a crowd of happy people crunched through the snow to our house for cocoa and cookies.

We were, like many, quite alone in the years after my father left. Our Christmas open house was my mother's supreme effort to make us feel complete. It almost worked.

Despite years in church and Sunday school, God was more a distant relative I wished I knew. I grew up with a gnawing sense of incompleteness, and longed to find meaning and purpose in life. Strangely, it was shortly before Christmas years later that it found me.

My husband Steve was fully absorbed with his new job at Johns Hopkins University, and I was home with a two year old. We wanted friends, but were both hesitant when Steve's officemate his wife invited us to attend their church. We had nothing in common with "religious types," but Steve said, "Let's be nice and go just once."

Sitting in church that Sunday, my temples pounded. Hymns and Scripture verses long ago ignored called to me from my childhood. Could others tell I didn't belong here? Oddly, I felt jealous of their peace. They looked happy.

First thing Monday morning I began tearing through the unpacked boxes in our basement. At last, I found my mildewed Bible from fifth grade. I resolved to read it cover to cover. I opened to Genesis, chapter 1. Same old story; I've heard this a hundred times, and quickly slammed it shut.

No one told me God could hear my thoughts. A soft Voice whispered, Why not read as if it were true? I opened my Bible again. Suddenly I was listening to the most interesting person I had ever heard. By afternoon I was still reading in my pajamas. I couldn't stop.

I read for weeks until one day, a picture popped in my mind of a beautiful old house with wide porches, brightly lit at night. Music, laughter and lively conversation carried onto the porch where I stood in the dark, peeking in. I saw a feast and a fire on the hearth, much like the Christmas open houses from my childhood, with one important difference. There was a Father here whose face mirrored love and warmth at His children's presence. This was God's family, and I desperately wanted to be inside. But how?

A voice taunted, Why would God want you? You don't fit in this crowd! It was true. I considered giving up. Instead, I marched upstairs to our bedroom, knelt down and prayed out loud, "Lord, help me find the way! Please don't let me go!"

Verses I'd read made sense. Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Our friends explained that God already knew I was a hopeless mess and loved me anyway. Opening the door to Heaven was a gift that cost God everything. It was on the cross Jesus died to pay for my sins. He rose again to prove forever that He is the Truth. Weeping at such love, I knelt and gave Christ my life. I found that, with or without a happy family, no one is ever complete without Jesus.

_______________________________________




Virelle Kidder is a conference speaker and the author of six books and numerous articles whose passion is sharing the love of God with women around the world. For her latest books, please visit her at www.virellekidder.com and www.meetmeatthewell.fm

_______________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: God With Us

LISTENING FOR CHRISTMAS
by Deb Kalmbach

I used to be the queen of over-commitment, and December brought out the worst in this malady. It was as if I were poised at an imaginary starting line, and when I flipped the calendar page, I was off and running--the December dash!

You could hardly see any white space on my daily planner it was so jammed with events. Kids' Christmas programs, church programs, and endless lists of things-to-do obscured my calendar and my vision to see what really mattered. Each day when we hung another ornament on our Advent tree, I felt my chest tighten, and my breathing get shallower. Only single-digit shopping days left...Panic mode was about to set in.

Of course I was singing in the Christmas choir. I love music, and the heavenly Christmas anthems we sang. The neighborhood cookie exchange was an annual tradition. Forget about the old standards, chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies. Let's talk about jam-filled tea cookies, chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls, or iced sugar cookies with colored sprinkles. My kitchen looked like a Martha Stewart test kitchen gone awry.

My head spins just thinking about it. I usually felt so frustrated and exhausted by Christmas Day, I barely enjoyed the celebration. I repeated this drill for many Christmas seasons, before I finally decided to step back and think about why I was trying to accomplish the impossible. I learned to take a deep breath and accept the fact that I can't do it all-and I'm much better off if I don't try.

That's probably why I'm writing this. The tendency to revert to this frenzied pace by mid-December is still a challenge. I need to be reminded of the quiet simplicity of this season, so I can hear the age-old message once again.

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel! Our God is with us. If we can stop long enough to listen-we will hear the invitation that beckons us to come, to wait, to get ready for our coming King.

No doubt, December will be as busy as ever with gifts to purchase, trees to decorate and carols to sing. But this Advent season, I pray that in the midst of everything contending for our time and attention, our hearts will be moved and our senses sharpened to rejoice in God's greatest gift.

________________________________________



Deb Kalmbach is the co-author of Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in a Not-So-Perfect Marriage and the author of a book for children, Corey's Dad Drinks Too Much. Deb and her husband, Randy, make their home in a tiny town in Eastern Washington. Visit Deb at her website or blog.



__________________________________


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

12 Pearls of Christmas: Life Beautiful

Life Beautiful
by Margaret McSweeney


During a quiet moment after Thanksgiving, I started reading my parents' stack of love letters that I recently found in a storage box. As a Christmas gift to you, I would like to share my father's words to my mother written to her during Christmas 1949. This incredible "hug from heaven" has been a tangible affirmation that Pearl Girls has true meaning and great worth for women throughout the world. I pray that God will continue to bless this ministry and outreach. May we all realize that the grit in our lives can be transformed into grace through the love of God.

This is what I found written on a tiny folded card inscribed with "Christmas Greetings" on the front:

Christmas 1949

My Dearest Carolyn,

Truly a jewel is a thing of beauty, but a life that is lived to serve others and to glorify our Christ, such as yours, is my dearest, a far surpassing gem in radiance and beauty.

Pearls to me, symbolize this "Life Beautiful" that you have achieved, Carolyn. Each pearl is a result of a great hurt to the oyster's life. But the little mollusk builds an iridescent coat around this source of hurt, and as a result, the precious pearl comes into being. Life is like that too.

If we, like the pearl, can make of our hurts the basis of a thing of beauty, then we can bear witness to an on-looking world how Christians can overcome through Christ, blows that are seemingly insurmountable.

At this happiest season of the year, I give thanks to God for you, Carolyn - my Pearl of Great Price.

Your Claude

Isn't this an amazing Christmas Pearl? I hope this message has touched your heart, too. Another Christmas gift I would like to share with you: My father's lessons on leadership. These can be found on my guest blog post at Michael Hyatt's website.

During this holiday season, decorate your life with Christmas Pearls --- strands of God's grace-reminders that nothing can separate us from his love, not even the grittiest of circumstances.

And please celebrate the "Pearls of Great Price" in your life through Post a Pearl. It's a fun and free gift that you can share with special people who have been a blessing to you over the years.

Merry Christmas!
__________________________________________



Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband David and two teenage daughters in the Chicago suburbs. She's the founder of Pearl Girls and a published author. Please visit www.pearlgirls.info for more info. You can also find Margaret at her writing blog, From Finance to Fiction or on Facebook and twitter.


__________________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!


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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas: Gifts of Purpose


Too Precious to Wear
by Sarah Sundin

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

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

The pearls were too precious to wear.

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

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

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

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

They were fake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lustrous Christmas!

__________________________________


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




_______________________________________

A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

The 12 Pearls of Christmas series...and giveaway!


Hello - I'm thrilled to announce a Christmas series that Pearl Girls is running this Christmas! They've lined up several top-notch authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"!

Please follow along beginning today through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Mary DeMuth, Holley Gerth, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, Susan May Warren and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

This series is also being provided as free content for any blogs (as 12 html posts) - if you'd like to share the 12 Pearls of Christmas with you blog readers email (amy@litfusegroup.com) and she'll send you the content.

AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Leave a comment on this post or any of the following 12 Pearls of Christmas posts to be entered to win a THREE STRAND PEARL NECKLACE! The winner will be announced on New Year's Day! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

__________________________________

FULFILLED IN CHRIST
by Jen Smidt

This is without a doubt my favorite time of year. I love everything about it: glowing lights, fragrant trees, cheerful carols and cherished memories. One special Christmas memory and a song lyric add a depth of worship and gratitude that I will treasure in my heart forever.

Thirteen years ago, when I gave birth to my firstborn son - the staggering reality of what exactly Jesus offered to us in the gift of Himself became most tangible. As I held my newborn baby boy in the Christmas candlelight, tears flowed as I tried to comprehend that my Great and Glorious God took on this frail, infantile form for me. Never before had I truly understood the magnitude and humility of His incarnation. As if occupying a small, utterly dependent body of flesh wasn't enough, He ordained that His first place of rest be in a dirty feed trough. Why there? God could have chosen anywhere to rest His tiny head...and then the song playing on the stereo pierced my heart with a moment of clarity: That dirty manger is my heart too...

Jeremiah 17:9 says, "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

Jesus can.

God chose to have His Son enter the world in a stable and be laid in a filthy slop trough so we could know that our sinful hearts are not too lowly of a place for Him to occupy. He understands so much that He was willing to be lain in that rough and smelly receptacle so we could begin to understand His love for us. Understand that He desires to indwell our dirty hearts and make them pure and clean.

As His chosen children, we are given the gift of Jesus - we are now IN HIM.

Galatians 2:20 it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Celebrate! Party! Worship and Adore Him during this Christmas season. We have been brought near and the trough of our soul has been cleansed and filled with the most precious of gifts - the Righteousness of that Baby boy born in Bethlehem.

Fulfilled in Christ

Luke 2:7 she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger...

__________________________________


Jen Smidt is a 16 year veteran of redemptive marriage to Phil and a 13 year veteran of sanctifying mothering of Jake, Nate and Ellie. Writing, teaching and revealing her ongoing need for Christ keep her humble. Find more of her encouragement on her blog Recognizing Jesus.