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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.

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

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A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year’s Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year’s Day to see if you won!
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info 

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.

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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

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A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year’s Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year’s Day to see if you won!
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

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.

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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.

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A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year’s Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year’s Day to see if you won!
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info 

12 Pearls of Christmas: Life Beautiful

Continuing the 12 Pearls of Christmas – today’s Pearl Girls post from Margaret McSweeney.

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!

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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.

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A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year’s Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year’s Day to see if you won!
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

12 Pearls of Christmas – Gifts of Purpose

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas. For the Christmas season, the PearlGirls blog has graciously included me. I’ll be sharing content with their blogs with posts from fourteen writers. Leave a comment on my blog, the PearlGirls blog (see link below), or any of the participating blogs, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a three-strand string of pearls.


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!

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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.

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A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year’s Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year’s Day to see if you won!
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit www.pearlgirls.info

The Best Gift Ever

The gifts that touch us most involve sacrifice by the giver or meet a deep need.

At Christmastime, we fixate on finding perfect gifts for our loved ones. We say this tradition arises from the joy of the season and our love for others, or that it reflects the Gift the Father gave us on the first Christmas morning, the gift of Baby Jesus in the manger.

As the best gift ever, it involved sacrifice—more sacrifice than we can imagine.
• Jesus gave up His heavenly home to live on earth with all its mud and bugs and darkness.
• He took on human form, complete with fatigue, hunger, and disgusting bodily functions.
• He came as a baby, dependent on a teenage girl for every need.
• He didn’t come as royalty but as an uneducated working-class man from the backwaters.
• He associated with humans—petty, annoying, mocking, clueless, violent, and prideful.
• He who had never sinned took on the full burden of all sin of all humanity for all time.
• On the cross, He experienced the wrenching pain of separation from the Father.
• He sacrificed His life.

And as the best gift ever, it met our deepest need of all—our need for a Savior. Through His death, our sins can be wiped away forever and we can enjoy a relationship with God and life—true, fulfilling, purposeful, eternal life!

Hebrews 10:10 tells us, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

To receive this gift we don’t have to go through endless rituals or do a certain number of good deeds or get rid of our bad traits beforehand. All we have to do is reach out and accept the gift.

May you have a blessed Christmas!

I Killed a Cutie

I did it. I killed a Cutie. Not premeditated, but murder nonetheless.

Today I drove a carpool for my son’s high school choir as they performed at elementary schools and assisted living facilities. Since it was supposed to be an all-day event, I packed a lunch – a sandwich, diet cola – and a Cutie orange. Little did the Cutie know, but it was doomed.

I spent the day listening to the kids delight young and old with a cappella Christmas carols. Well, they delighted everyone except one sweet elderly gentleman with hearing aid issues. He kept yelling, “I can’t hear you!”

Speaking of volume, he should have been in my car with five musical teen girls and one slightly befuddled teen boy. Four of the girls were sopranos. Are you getting the picture?

All of this to set the stage for murder most foul.

After dropping the kids off at the high school, I drove home and unloaded the back of my Highlander. My lunchbag had spilled, so I picked up the contents. All but our unsuspecting victim.

I closed the garage door only to see the Cutie, which had rolled out of the back of my car, directly in the path of the door. Did I push the button again to stay the execution? Did I rush to rescue the poor citrus? No, I did not. In morbid fascination, I watched the door descend like a guillotine. Would the fruit trigger the stop mechanism? Would the rubber gasket bend around it?

Nope. Orange guts all over my driveway.

So lock me up. Call People for the Ethical Treatment of Citrus. Post incriminating comments on my blog.

Stop me before I murder again.

The Dangers of Hot Sauce

In our family, Tabasco sauce has its own punch line.

Many years ago, when our son Stephen was in kindergarten, Anna was two, and Matthew was expanding my waistline, I served gumbo for dinner. Nothing’s ever hot enough for my husband, Dave, so he poured on the Tabasco.

“What’s that, Dad?” Stephen asked.
“Tabasco sauce.” Dave waved the bottle, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Want some?”
Stephen’s face grew white, and he shook his head. “You shouldn’t use that. It’s dangerous.”

Kids that age say odd things, especially Stephen, so we laughed it off and finished dinner.

The next day, Stephen came home from kindergarten, sporting his “red ribbon” for the anti-drug program he’d just completed. He plopped on the floor to play with his little sister. Some time later, I heard Stephen’s big brother voice, the one he used to impart words of wisdom to his sister. I tuned in to hear the wealth of five years’ experience in the world.

Stephen shook his finger at his sister. “Anna, you must never use Tabasco sauce, ’cause Tabasco’s a drug.”

Tabasco. Tobacco. It all made sense. Some well-meaning speaker had told the children of the evils of tobacco, but for Stephen that was a foreign word.

No one in the family uses tobacco. Tabasco, on the other hand…

Whenever that bottle comes out of the pantry, someone says it: “Don’t use that! Tabasco’s a drug.”

Thoughts on This Veteran’s Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the First World War came to an end. The Armistice was signed for the War to End All Wars, but peace was built on a shoddy foundation, and war returned, nastier than ever. The end of the Second World War brought the United Nations and the promise of rational negotiation and eternal peace. Instead the nuclear era brought the tense decades of the Cold War, flaring up in brutal regional wars in Korea, Vietnam, and throughout Africa and Central and South America. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall brought optimism for a peaceful, democratic world. This was shattered by the terrorist tactics of a new enemy without borders to attack or a government to negotiate with. A cowardly enemy that cheers when children blow up children or when unarmed soldiers are murdered on their home base.

The human heart yearns for peace but is drawn to war. We can argue about it and talk about how it shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

That’s why our armed services are vital. Our veterans have repelled the forces of Fascism, Totalitarianism, and Communism, and for this we owe them our eternal gratitude. Our active servicemen and servicewomen are currently fighting the forces of Islamic Terrorism, and for this we owe them our active support and appreciation.

On Veteran’s Day, we thank the members of our armed services, past and present, for protecting our lives, our homes, and our freedom. May God bless you in your efforts.

Stuffed

Christmas is coming! Did that fill you with the warm fuzzies or make you want to scream?

I’m afraid I now fall in the screaming group. Don’t get me wrong—Christmas is a joyous time to celebrate the birth of our Savior, but the month of December brings a crush of expectations. Decorating and baking and entertaining and Christmas cards, and worst of all, the shopping, wrapping, and mailing. I love the people in my life, and I want to find the right gifts for each one. This gets harder each year, because everyone seems to have everything they want and need. Still, we buy more.

And the credit card debt grows. And the pile of toys in the children’s rooms grows. And our closets get crammed with more and more until they overflow, so we fill our garages with stuff until they overflow, then we rent self-storage units to fill with all that stuff. Still, we buy more.

Jesus tells us, “‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” Luke 12:15.

How much of our time is spent working to pay for our stuff, shopping for stuff, taking care of our stuff, and figuring out ways to better store and organize our stuff? What if we realigned our priorities and spent our money and our time on things with long-term value? Family. Community. The Lord. How would that look? Warm. Fuzzy. Peaceful. Like Christmas is meant to be.

What about you? Do you have any creative gift ideas to reduce the flow of stuff in your life?