The Topkapi Secret Reviewed

Friday, December 31, 2010







Book Description: American professor Angela Hall's world is falling apart. Left with two things: her money and her job, she sets out to research women's issues in The Middle East. Until she crosses paths with Mohammed Atareek...

Mohammed is a man on a mission. Raised in the Muslim faith, he has learned something no Muslim is supposed to know: the Koran of today is not the original. Could it be true? Mohammed will risk his life to find out.

When Angela's and Mohammed's worlds collide, sparks fly--both from their hearts and the tempers of the terrorists following them.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Topkapi-Secret/112870552068331

My Thoughts: I don't know why but I am drawn to books in set in the Middle East or with a Middle Eastern slant. This was a beautifully written book that took me across the country of Turkey, a place I have never been before in person or in a book. This book shed new light on the Koran, I find it sad that Muslims will go to their grave not knowing the truth about what they believe. I highly recommend this book!

An Unforgettable Gift

Friday, December 24, 2010


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


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An Unforgettable Gift
by Karen O'Connor


On Christmas morning, 1912, in Paducah, Kentucky, fourteen-year-old Charlie Flowers and his three brothers and two sisters huddled in their beds, fully dressed, trying to keep warm as the wind howled outside their small frame house.
       
It was a desperate time for the family. Earlier that year the children's father had died. And their mother had not found work. The coal had run out and there was little money––none for gifts. Their scrawny tree with decorations made from scraps of colored paper had been given to them the night before by a local merchant.

"Can't sell this one," the man said with a nod of his head before handing it over to the eager children.
   
To pass the time, the siblings joked and shouted stories from their bedrooms across the hallway from one another. Then suddenly a racket from the alley at the rear of the house broke into their games.
       
"Charlie," his mother called, "would you see what's going on out there?"
      
Charlie pulled on his shoes, grabbed a thick overcoat from the hook by the door, and ran out back.

There stood a man in a wagon bent over a load of coal, shoveling it into the shed as fast as he could.
       
"Hey Mister, we didn't order any coal," Charlie shouted. "You're delivering it to the wrong house."
       
"Your name's Flowers, isn't it?" the man asked, still shoveling. 
       
Charlie nodded yes.
      
"Well then, there's no mistake.  I've been asked to deliver this to your family on Christmas morning." He looked the awe-struck boy square in the eye. "And I'm under strict orders not to tell who sent it," he teased.
       
Charlie ran into the house, his coattail flapping in the cold morning wind.  He could hardly wait to tell his mother and brothers and sisters. God had provided––just as he had on that first Christmas morning so long ago when He sent his only son to a needy world.
       
Charlie Flowers died in 1994 at age 96. And right up to the last year of his life, not a Christmas went by that he didn't tell the story of that sub-zero Christmas morning of his boyhood when two men gave his family an unforgettable gift.
       
It wasn't the coal that was remembered or cherished, Charlie often said––welcome as it was––but rather what two men brought to his desperate family. One, for his gift of recognizing their great need and taking the time to do something about it. And the other, for being willing to give up part of his own Christmas morning to deliver it.
       
That gift of so long ago has continued to warm the Flowers family from one generation to another, as Charlie's son––my husband, Charles––calls to mind these two unknown men each Christmas morning and whispers a prayer of thanks.


 ~~~






About Karen: Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author and writing mentor living in Watsonville, California with her husband, Charles Flowers. Karen’s latest book is 365 Reasons Why Gettin’ Old Ain’t So Bad (Harvest House 2010).

For more information, please visit Karen on the web at www.karenoconnor.com.



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A PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

Unlocked - Reviewed

Thursday, December 23, 2010






Book Description: Before You Take a Stand ... You Got to Take a Chance. Holden Harris is an eighteen-year-old locked in a prison of autism. Despite his quiet ways and quirky behaviors, Holden is very happy and socially normal---on the inside, in a private world all his own. In reality, he is bullied at school by kids who only see that he is very different. Ella Reynolds is part of the 'in' crowd. A cheerleader and star of the high school drama production, her life seems perfect. When she catches Holden listening to her rehearse for the school play, she is drawn to him ... the way he is drawn to the music. Then, Ella makes a dramatic discovery---she and Holden were best friends as children. Frustrated by the way Holden is bullied, and horrified at the indifference of her peers, Ella decides to take a stand against the most privileged and popular kids at school. Including her boyfriend, Jake. Ella believes miracles can happen in the unlikeliest places, and that just maybe an entire community might celebrate from the sidelines. But will Holden's praying mother and the efforts of Ella and a cast of theater kids be enough to unlock the prison that contains Holden? This time, friendship, faith, and the power of a song must be strong enough to open the doors to the miracle Holden needs.



My Thoughts: Sadly this book portrays what happens in high school today. I just have to talk to my youngest daughter, Kristian, who is a Senior and works with the special needs students to know how they are picked on. She hates it! Having two family members with Autism, and a friend whose son has it I have a very tender heart for those dealing with this. I found myself riding a roller coaster of emotions reading this book. Karen has a way of making you feel right a long with the characters. I was very pleased that Karen included a letter to the reader stating that there were different types of Autism and no reason for why a child would get the disorder. I really appreciated that, as all the hub-bub over immunizations really has had me upset as my daughter just gave birth and was told not to get her daughter immunized because of the "mercury" in the vaccines. I just looked that up and it's not the mercury it is Thimerosal and while it is a mercury containing preservative it has been in vaccines since the 1930's. So, if it was the cause of Autism, we'd all have it. It was removed largely from infant vaccines by the summer of 2001, some vaccines continue to contain non-trace amounts of thiomersal, mainly in multi-dose vaccines targeted against influenza and tetanus.
I highly recommend this book, and if you know someone who is dealing with a child with Autism I would give them this book for encouragement! This book is one of my tops for 2010.

Just Give Me Christmas This Year


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~


All I Want for Christmas…
Is to be able to have Christmas this Year
by
Melissa Mashburn

This is a simple request, isn’t it? In the previous years, we had great big bountiful Christmases with our family. Gifts, goodies and general Christmas cheer but this year it was different. The year before has been chock full of disappointments, failing businesses and severe cutbacks for our family. 

Sitting with my husband one night we hammered out the bare minimum that we could spend that year for Christmas and even still the total was four hundred dollars. It does not sound like a whole lot compared to what we’ve spent on Christmas before, but this year it could have been four thousand dollars because we just did not have it.

We prayed, I cried, we prayed some more and decided that we would cut back anything else that we could that year so we could have Christmas for our kids. We did not know how we would make this happen, but we knew that we needed to step forward in faith that it would happen.

Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don't these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God. Galatians 3:5 the Message

Not even two days later, we hear a knock on our front door. We open the door to see some friends of ours from church. With tears in their eyes, they handed us an envelope and said that the felt they needed to give us this. We opened the envelope and inside there was four hundred dollars cash.

Shocked, stunned and with tears flowing down our face we just sat there in a state of crying and laughing at what God had done. We never shared with anyone that year what we needed, how bad it was, what was going on or what that number was for us to have Christmas for the kids, but God knew.

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”  2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT

He took a willing servant, led them to our front door and changed Christmas for us that year. After many years of being in full time ministry we knew that God would provide, but when He shows up just at the right moment, you know that it was all a part of His plan to show how much He loves, provides and cares for His people.

Father God, thank you that after all the years of serving and loving you in ministry that you continue to teach, guide, love, shepherd and care for us.  You, Father, are abundantly gracious and kind, thank you for showing up for us at just the right moment every time, forgive us when we forget that.  In Jesus name, Amen.


 ~~~






About Melissa: Melissa is the founder of the blog Mel’s World Ministry, co-founder of the Praise and Coffee Nights Ministry with Sue Cramer, Kids Ministry Director at her church.  Just last year she launched a new weekly series called Godly Gals ~ Real Women, Real Life, Real Faith where we meet new women each week who are “Taking their everyday, ordinary lives and placing it as their offering to God.” Romans 12:1 the Message. You can find her on twitter and at her blog. She loves encouraging women to live with an authentic faith by being transparent, renewed and transformed. ~ Romans 12:2.


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A PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

The Clouds Roll Away --- Reviewed




Book Description: Forensic geologist Raleigh Harmon returns home for Christmas but discovers Richmond, Virginia running low on goodness and light.
Although her exemplary service in Seattle lifted her disciplinary transfer, Raleigh lands a hometown civil rights case riddled with problems that could get her sent away again. When she helps out a fellow cop, her life goes on the line, forcing her undercover in a sting operation. As Raleigh realizes the lines are crossing and double-crossing, her domestic life starts to unravel. Her mother's mental health cracks like ice, her closest friend grows cold, and her old boyfriend DeMott comes a-calling, hoping for more than chestnuts by an open fire.

While the city glows with Christmas lights and carols, Raleigh is forced to rely on her sharpest skills to stay alive, hoping for that one clear moment when everything makes sense and the clouds roll away.

Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College. After riding a motorcycle across the country, she worked as a features sibella-in-bluewriter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. She now lives in Washington state with her husband and sons. Find out more about Sibella and her other books at her website.

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Clouds Roll Away by giving away a KINDLE prize pack worth over $150.00!




giorello_300x250

One Grand Prize winner will receive:

  • Latest Generation KINDLE with Wi-Fi

  • $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com


To enter simply click on one of the icons below! Then tell your friends! Winner will be announced January 3, 2011 on Sibella's blog: http://sibellagiorello.blogspot.com/.



About The Clouds Roll Away - "Beautifully written with exquisite descriptions, Giorello's mystery also features well-developed characters..."
—Booklist, starred review




Sibella is a new to me author. WOW! This story was so true to life without any of the gore. I was pulled in from the very first page and kept on the edge of my seat the entire time. I like how she handled the racial issues, they weren't overdrawn out. I had no idea this book was part of a series prior to being asked to review it, or while I was reading it, this could easily stand alone. I am interested in getting the other books in the series to read as I really enjoyed this one. I would highly recommend this book!

What's The Best Thing About Christmas

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~

What’s the best thing about Christmas?
by Maureen Lang


The answer to that question will undoubtedly be different depending on the age and the faith of the person being asked. Most children will say it’s all about the gifts. Adults, even if they secretly still enjoy the gifts, will probably strive to sound more mature and say the holiday is all about friends and family. Still others might say it’s about tradition, or memories or the music or even the special food we connect to this time of year. The scrooges among us might say this season is just another marketing gimmick, or materialism gone awry. The faithful will say it’s all about Jesus, a reminder of why He shed the glory of Heaven to step into human skin and frailty.

I’m not here to defend or attack any answer to this question, but rather to ponder those possible answers.

Gifts: They touch us in personal ways, as tangible evidence of someone else’s thought and affection. Even if we don’t get exactly what we hoped, there’s something to be said about the thought behind a gift being the important part. Why wouldn’t gifts be an important and valid part of this holiday in which we celebrate God’s gift of salvation?

Holiday Gatherings: Parties might be a lot of work, forcing some out of their comfort zone, but at the core they’re all about human connection. Isn’t that what most people want?

Traditions and memories: They remind us of the past, of who we are, with the hope that even as we look forward to an unknown future we still hold some things worthy enough to repeat every year. We might find ourselves letting go of some traditions, or we might want to start some new ones.

The music: This is the only time of the year when even secular radio stations welcome songs about a baby born in Bethlehem. As a nation we may be getting stringent about separation of church as state, but the lines blur just a bit with old favorites that reflect this season.

Scrooges: The holiday season is probably a time to endure rather than enjoy, but even the scroogiest-scrooge might admit the lights of the season are pretty to behold. They’re free to look at, after all.

As for the food, the busyness, the expense and all the other things that make up this season: keep in mind that it’s all temporary. This, too, shall pass. Until next year, of course.

I’ll leave you with this thought: we are all made in God’s image, whether we believe that or not. Part of that image is the ability to give—and to receive. So here’s my thought for the day: stop a moment and dwell on all the gifts of the season. From the little mementos that say we haven’t forgotten someone or been forgotten by others, to the costliest gift of all: what God did for us in the form of Christ. As you enjoy the sounds, the sights, the scents and the tastes of this season, may your only trouble be in choosing just one thing among so many best things about Christmas.


 ~~~






About Maureen: Maureen Lang is the author of ten books, her most recent from Tyndale House is The Great War Series which are full of romance, adventure and spiritual journeys. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, two sons and their lovable Labrador Retriever.

For more information please visit Maureen at her website, www.maureenlang.com.


~~~


A PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

Bella Maura REVIEWED

Tuesday, December 21, 2010





Book Description: When novelist Sienna Emory receives a desperate call from an old college friend, she feels compelled to try and help her. The Cheney she remembers was a free-spirited song writer with an amazing ability to translate all of life's pain and joy into her work, but drugs and alcohol have made her a shell of her former self.

When Sienna arrives at Cheney's house, she finds Cheney passed out in the driveway; what she doesn't expect to find is Jonathan Driscoll, a handsome single father living nearby, who has obviously been there before.

Never able to have children of her own, Sienna is delighted to get to know Jonathan and his daughter Bella. However, Bella is not a typical five-year-old girl. She tells stories that she couldn't possibly know, and when she prays, she seems to communicate on a direct line to God.

As Sienna and Jonathan's love grows, while dealing with their friend Cheney's issues, Sienna discovers more about God's plans for them. Will their faith be strong enough to protect them against evil?

In her second novel, author Dawn Dyson seamlessly weaves together a touching love story with weighty spiritual topics such as overcoming abuse, trusting God, and stepping into your spiritual gifts.

As Sienna and Jonathan search for answers regarding Bella's gifts, they must draw on a strength of character and trust in God they aren't sure they possess. Their search leads them to Jonathan's hometown in Ireland and a family secret.

My Thoughts:
First I need to apologize to Dawn. I have been so busy I neglected to post this review. I was drawn into this story from the first page. It is a heart wrenching tale that grips you and won't let go. The story is taken straight from every day life and Dawn does a great job of weaving the spiritual truth into it without being preachy. This is a great book, one that I would highly recommend! I know Christmas is just 4 days away you can get a special deal on Dawn's web site for this book
http://dawndyson.com/ I know you won't be sorry!

Good News


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~

Good News!
by Deb Kalmbach


The first Christmas card of the season arrived in my mailbox way back in August. How could anyone be that organized? Then I noticed my friend, Nita, had sent me a card I had written to her more than 20 years ago!
  
Memories rushed back as I read the words penned in my familiar handwriting. It was Christmas, 1991, and my world had unraveled. I could almost pretend everything was all right at this most wonderful time of the year—but not that year.
  
My husband Randy’s drinking problem had escalated to the point where his job and career were on the line. He had already been through two alcohol treatment programs and managed to stay sober for short periods of time. Then he slipped back into old, familiar patterns. His ongoing relapses were a crushing disappointment for our family.
  
I had looked forward to Christmas Eve and our family traditions; making homemade lasagna, singing carols around the piano, attending the candlelight service at church, and then coming home to open one token Christmas Eve present.     
  
“Randy, are you ready to crank out the pasta?” I called to him over the Christmas music I was playing to lift my spirits.
  
I peered into the living room to see what was keeping him. My heart froze. Randy sat on the couch, trance-like, watching a basketball game while sipping a drink.
  
No, not on Christmas Eve, I screamed inwardly. I felt like I was suffocating. Usually Randy pulled himself together but it didn’t happen that night. He drank vodka all evening while I finished holiday preparations on autopilot. None of us felt like eating lasagna or celebrating.
  
Only a few days earlier, I had written these words on the Christmas card to my friend, Nita. I don’t know God’s plans, his timing or his ways in accomplishing his purposes, but I am learning to trust him. He is faithful!
  
I suspect Nita kept my card all those years because she saw a small seed of faith and it encouraged her heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be eight more Christmas seasons before Randy experienced the miraculous breakthrough of finding freedom from alcoholism.
  
As I read the card I had written so long ago, I felt awed by God’s faithfulness to us—even when our situation looked completely hopeless.
  
You may be facing great difficulty as the holidays approach. The last thing you feel like is celebrating. And that’s O.K. The Good News of Christmas isn’t about picture perfect holidays where our homes are decorated a la Martha Stewart and tables are laden with holiday delicacies. Your days may not be merry and bright. You may be grieving the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship through divorce or estrangement. Your world has unraveled.

That’s exactly why the message of Christmas is Good News. The Savior is born! The One who came to set you free, to give you peace and hope and help beyond anything you could ever imagine is as near as your next breath. Today you might not be able to see how God’s purposes are unfolding for your future, but you can be assured that He is working all things for good in your life. A twenty year-old Christmas card came on a summer day as an unexpected gift and gentle reminder of God’s presence—especially in the worst of times.



 ~~~






About Deb: Deb Kalmbach is the coauthor 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. She has contributed to The New Women’s Devotional Bible, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, and other anthologies. She is a vibrant and engaging speaker who gives hope and practical solutions to those who struggle with difficult relationships. Deb and her husband, Randy, live in a tiny town in Eastern Washington. Visit Deb at: www.debkalmbach.com, or on Facebook and Twitter.


~~~


A PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!


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

The Gift List

Monday, December 20, 2010


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~

Gift List
by Tricia Goyer


I've been thinking lately how hard it must be for Oprah to Christmas shop. I mean if you were on her "gift list" wouldn't you expect something really, really good? The woman gives away cars and trips to Australia on her television show for goodness sake! It seems by the end of Christmas Day her friends and family would look at the pile of presents and think, "Is that it?" I mean if you knew there was billions of dollars she could spend on you, would you ever feel satisfied?

Sometimes I think we approach God the same way. We look around at our home, our family, our job, our free time and we still aren't satisfied. We wish our body looked better, our clothes were more in style, our husband was more considerate and our kids were more ... well, like the perfect little people we picture in our mind. Our careers don't excel as quickly as we think they should and people don't give us the attention we feel we deserve. We're tired and anxious and the to-do list seems to be tacked to our hearts for all the pain it causes.

Often, we look around and don't speak the words out loud, but think them just the same. "Is that it?" I mean, You're the God of the universe and You have all things in Your hands and under Your control. Couldn't you provide a little more money to help those bills disappear or make me a bit more content with the man I've chosen to spend my life with? And I thought Oprah had it tough.

Is there ever a time when God doesn't hear the murmurs? Again, not with our mouths but in our heart.

I've been guilty of this--of not being satisfied with the gifts I've been given. Yes, there will always be more to want, but today--at this moment--I'm satisfied. And I look to Him with a grateful heart and whisper, "Thank you, it is enough. More than enough."



 ~~~






About Tricia: Tricia Goyer is the author of twenty-six books including Songbird Under a German Moon, The Swiss Courier, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. 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 MomSense and Thriving 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 Little Rock, Arkansas where they are part of the ministry of FamilyLife. For more information, please visit www.triciagoyer.com



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A PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

Home

Friday, December 17, 2010


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~


There’s No Place Like….
by Melody Carlson


I grew up spending Christmases at my grandparents’ quaint Victorian home, surrounded by lots of relatives, laughter and love and really good food. For a little girl growing up in a single parent home, harried working mother, no church family, and TV dinners, these extended family holidays spent at my grandparents were like a real gift from God. But as a young adult, my grandfather passed on, the old house was sold, I grew up and eventually had a small family of my own.
   
Still I longed for those familiar kinds of “big” Christmases—I wanted that house full of relatives and fun times to go home to—I think the “child” in me thought I deserved it somehow. But my grandmother had gotten older and lived in a tiny apartment, and my mother and my husband’s parents were not comfortable hosting Christmas in their homes. For a while we went to my cousin’s, but I soon had to come to grips with reality. The days of going to Grandma’s for the perfect Christmas were a thing of the past.

In other words, it was time for me to grow up—time for me to start hosting our own Christmas celebrations. So biting the holiday bullet, I decided to just do it. With two very small children underfoot, I cooked my first turkey, made my first stuffing, invited some family, neighbors, and friends over, and we all crammed ourselves into our little house, balanced our plates on our knees, and had a very good time. Oh, I’m sure the turkey was dry and the gravy lumpy, but what I remember most is that everyone seemed truly happy to be there. And I realized that I wasn’t the only one longing for that sense of warmth and community—that longing to “go home again”—and I finally grasped that I could (with God’s grace) help to provide that for my family and others.
   
So for the next three decades we continued to host Christmas in our home. I got better at decorating, cooking, gifting…the works. Some years the place would be packed and crazy. A few years were thinner and quieter. But family, friends and neighbors could always count on the fact that the Carlson’s would be “doing something for Christmas.” It was a no-brainer.
   
Until this year. This year, for the first time in more than thirty years, my husband and I decided we’re going to take a pass on hosting Christmas—we are going to the beach. At first I felt terribly guilty, and even right now I’m a bit unsure—and wonder if I’ll end up changing my mind at the last minute. And yet, I believe it’s the right thing for us to do—for a lot of reasons. One being that my husband’s birthday is Christmas and he never gets to do what he wants on his birthday—this year will be different. But more than that, I hope that our stepping aside will encourage the younger members of our family to find and embrace some of their own traditions—to grow up and look for opportunities to stretch themselves a bit. Because, similar to how and oyster creates a pearl—or how a young mom learns to be a hostess—with some discomfort and distress a burnt turkeys, the end results are truly valuable.


 ~~~






About Melody: Melody Carlson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and yellow Labrador Retriever. She’s the author of around 200 books including this year’s Christmas novella, Christmas at Harrington’s.Visit her website for more information, www.melodycarlson.com.


~~~


A PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

The Joy of Unexpected Circumstances

Thursday, December 16, 2010



Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~

The Joy of Unexpected Circumstances
by Lori Kasbeer


The Christmas season is upon us again. Starbucks is selling their Christmas blend; stores are posting their holiday hours; and moms everywhere are making a list and checking it twice, planning for a special Christmas day. It has been our family’s tradition to spend Christmas with relatives.  Last year money was tight and we were unable to travel, this is not how we had planned to spend Christmas day but circumstances were beyond our control. Realizing my three boys--who are now teenagers--will not be under our roof for much longer, I wanted to have a special Christmas with just the five of us.  

Leading up to Christmas morning we all made mouth-watering, cinnamon cut-out cookies, spent time together sticking tape everywhere while trying to wrap presents, and enjoyed spending time together.  We did not have much money, but were having fun making memories.  When Christmas morning arrived and we sat around to open gifts my eyes welled up with overwhelming joy.  This mother was trying to absorb all the activity that was going on all around her: the smiles from each of my teenage boys, the sounds of laughter, and the smell of cinnamon rolls cooking in the oven.  If I could freeze a moment in time, this would be it.  I don’t know what the future holds for each of my boys, but that Christmas morning I wanted to soak it all in so I could recall this special day for years to come.  Despite struggling financially, unexpected circumstances turned into immense joy and a lifetime of memories.

Mothers treasuring special moments is not something new.  Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was one who tried to soak in everything that first Christmas morning.  Even after Christ’s birth she was still trying to absorb what the angel had said to her when he delivered the news that she was going to be the mother of the coming Savior.  She reflected on the time she had with her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant.  Along with comprehending the unusual way her son came into this world. 

While very pregnant with child, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register Mary for the census.  Never did she image she would deliver her baby in a barn with a manger being the only thing to lay him down in.  These were not the circumstances she had envisioned.  Before she had time to catch her breath, suddenly all around her there was excitement when shepherds showed up reporting what they had seen and heard.  There were angels—a multitude of angels—who were singing and declaring the Savior was born and a bright star led them to her and Joseph.    So much has happened in a short amount of time and Mary did not want to forget any of it.  Instead she stepped back and “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Mary did not exactly know what the plans were for her son, but she knew it was going to change the lives of everyone on earth.  She was preparing her heart to obey God concerning her son Jesus, without the full knowledge of what was going to come while at the same time quietly reflecting and capturing this one special moment in time.

May this Christmas be filled with joy and a lifetime of memories, even if you find yourself in unexpected circumstances.  Merry Christmas!


 ~~~






About Lori: Lori Kasbeer lives with her husband Tadd and three teenage sons in Florida. She's a contributor for Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace and a Christian book reviewer. Please visit Lori’s Book Reviews for more info. You can also find Lori 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 {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. One entry per person, per day. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

WIN A COPY OF ANGEL HARP




Book Description: Widowed at 34, amateur harpist Marie "Angel" Buchan realizes at 40 that her life and dreams are slowly slipping away. A summer in Scotland turns out to offer far more than she ever imagined! Not only does the music of her harp capture the fancy of the small coastal village she visits, she is unexpectedly drawn into a love triangle involving the local curate and the local duke.

The boyhood friends have been estranged as adults because of their mutual love of another woman (now dead) some years before. History seems destined to repeat itself, with Marie in the thick of it. Her involvement in the lives of the two men, as well as in the community, leads to a range of exciting relationships and lands Marie in the center of the mystery of a long-unsolved local murder. Eventually she must make her decision: with whom will she cast the lot of her future?

Thanks to Hachette Publishing I have 1 copy of this book to giveaway. This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada, NO P.O. Boxes. This giveaway will start today, Thursday, December 16th and I will use a randomizer and pull the winner on Thursday, December 30th. The winner will have 48 hrs from being contacted to send me their mailing info if they fail to do so I will pull another winner. To enter you must be a follower of my blog, leave your email address. If you do not your entry will be deleted. To receive extra entries you can do the following . . . 1. if you are already follower of this blog say so in your original comment; DO NOT LEAVE AN ADDITONAL COMMENT. 2. If you are a NEW follower leave an additional comment. 3. Tweet about this on twitter, and leave an additional comment with the link. 4. Blog about this giveaway and leave the link. GOOD LUCK!!!!

The First Christmas

Wednesday, December 15, 2010



Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Lauraine Snelling, Rachel Hauck, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS! You may enter once a day. The winner will be announced on New Year's Day at the Pearl Girls Blog! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~

The First Christmas
by Pat Ennis


It was October of my eighteenth year of life when my Dad stepped into eternity. As a college freshman I not only had to deal with my own grief, I also was faced with the responsibility of helping my mother adjust to a new lifestyle. You see, when Dad died, she not only lost her husband of thirty years, she also lost her circle of friends. Suddenly the married couples (my Dad was the first of their group to die) didn’t know what to do about Mother—so they did nothing. Her grieving process was actually extended because of the withdrawal of her friends, many with whom she and Dad had enjoyed fellowship for years. 

Our plight was magnified by the reality that we did not have extended family and I was an only child. Quite frankly, the outlook for the holiday season appeared pretty dismal!

As the holidays approached our neighbors, who embraced a different faith than we, graciously invited us to share their Christmas celebration with them. The sincere invitation, their effort to fold us into their family, inclusion in the gift exchange, and intentional conversation that focused on recounting the blessings of the year as well as looking forward to the next turned what could have been a miserable day into one of joy. Of course we missed our husband and Dad but the focus on the Lord’s provision for us through the hospitality of our neighbors (Philippians 4:8-9, 19) soothed our grieving spirits.

I have a happy ending to my Mother’s loss of her circle of friends that I described at the beginning of this story! Ever the gracious southern hostess, she did not cease to extend hospitality because of the change in her marital status—in the five years that she lived beyond Dad’s death, we entertained frequently, and eventually our guest list included widows from the group that had earlier excluded my Mother. Though her arthritic condition precluded her engaging in as much of the food preparation as she was accustomed to doing, she continued to help me hone the skills that were second nature to her. 

The loving hospitality extended to us on that first lonely Christmas served as a catalyst for Mom and me to open our home throughout the year—especially during the holiday season! Will you consider displaying biblical compassion by including some of the “others”—singles, widows, and the grieving in your holiday celebrations? Who, knows, you might be entertaining an angel incognito (Hebrews 13:2)!


 ~~~






About Pat: Dr. Patricia Ennis, author of Precious in His Sight, the Fine Art of Becoming a Godly Woman, co-author of Practicing Hospitality, the Joy of Serving Others,  and contributor to Pearl Girls, Experiencing Grit, Experiencing Grace as well as professor and establishing chairperson of the Department of Home Economics at The Master’s College. Visit Pat's blog, Unfading Beauty for more information.


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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 {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

Wear Joy



Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas! Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Lauraine Snelling, Rachel Hauck, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS! You may enter once a day. The winner will be announced on New Year's Day at the Pearl Girls Blog! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~

Wear Joy
by Rachel Hauck

Thanksgiving day in central Florida broke warm and sunny under a blue sky. The thin fall breeze beckoned me. Taking my bike out, I rode the neighborhood feeling so grateful for all my blessings.

Joy bubbled up in my spirit. I’d been feeling it for a day, these waves of joy, but as I rode my bike and talked to God, the waves strengthened and splashed my heart the entire ride.

I’d laugh. Then tear up. And laugh again. As one who’s battled and won the war on anxiety and fear attacks, the onslaught of joy was welcomed, and actually sparked a new prayer in my heart. I’ve endured attacks of panic, time for attacks of joy.

The journey of joy began earlier in the year while writing a book coincidentally named, “Dining with Joy.”

Sitting at my table one day, revelation hit me. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Nehemiah 8:10. The more I meditated on it, the more I wanted His joy. I don’t want my strength. I want His.

Not long after, I went to Nashville for a girl’s weekend. One of my friends handed me a coffee cup inscribed with “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Ever just know? God is calling.

During the holiday season, I turn 50. Yep, the big 5-0. Can’t stop it, I might as well embrace it.

Fifty is often associated with jubilee, a time of restoration, and healing, even release from debt and slavery. It’s a time of returning to property, and inheritance.

A time of rest.

A time of JOY!

This past week, a friend gifted me with a beautiful Christmas ornament. Inscribed on it? You guessed it.

JOY!

To me, the world doesn’t look very joyful. There are social and economic woas. But God is speaking and offering joy.

As you go into this holiday season, ask God for a pearl of joy. Like pearls, crafted through abrasion, God’s true joy is often formed in us during difficult seasons.

Here’s the thing, His strength isn’t doled out based on our goodness, our success or failure, or the fact the holiday season is hard or sad for you. He is ready, willing and able to overcome all your weaknesses, fears and anxiety, sadness with the power of His very own joy.

His joy. Your strength.

I’ve been walking into rooms, houses, outdoors, raising my arms and shouting, “Joy!” People look at me funny, but I want to spread the joy of the Lord. To spread the very essence of His strength.

How about you? Can you find the pearl of joy in your life, in the essence of God’s heart toward you?

Wear joy this season.


 ~~~






About Rachel: RITA-finalist Rachel Hauck lives in Florida with her husband, Tony. She is the author of Dining with Joy; Sweet Caroline; Love Starts with Elle; and The Sweet By and By, co-authored with Sara Evans. For more information please visit www.rachelhauck.com.

Oh, and be sure to enter Rachel's Dining With Joy NOOK eReader giveaway!


~~~


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 {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

Pearls of Patience

Monday, December 13, 2010





Hello - I'm thrilled to announce the 2nd Annual 12 Pearls of Christmas! We've lined up several authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along beginning today (Monday the 13th) through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Lauraine Snelling,  Rachel Hauck, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.



We are also providing this series as free content for your own blogs (as 12 html posts) - if you'd like to share the 12 Pearls of Christmas with your blog readers email ( amy@litfusegroup.com ) and she'll send you the content.



AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post or any of the following 12 Pearls of Christmas posts (on any of the participating posts) to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS! You may enter once a day. The winner will be announced on New Year's Day! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.





~~~




Pearls of Patience

by Margaret Mcsweeney





As I write by the light of my Christmas tree on a late winter’s night, I reflect upon the poignancy and purpose of this season.  The tiny white lights look like strands of pearls draped gracefully (perhaps haphazardly is a more honest description) across the evergreen boughs.  Tomorrow I will hang the ornaments and at last place the angel atop the tree



Angels carry a special meaning this Christmas.  My brother, Randy passed away on December 2nd from a heart attack at age 53.  He was feeding a stray cat on his side porch.  Randy was always like St. Francis of Asissi – animals would find him, sensing a kind soul.  And my brother was a gentle and patient soul.  He loved to fish.  He tried to teach me, but I immediately lost interest when I realized worms were involved. And I could never sit still on the banks of a river and just wait.  However, Randy could do that.  He could wait, and waiting is a true gift.  He put into practice the Scriptures.  “Wait upon the Lord.”  “Be still and know that He is God.”  Patience doesn’t have to be passive.  Wait is still an action verb.  Part of the waiting process for fishing is seeking.  Elaine (Randy’s wife of 31 years) told me that Randy said he could see the fish deep beneath the waters.  He actively waited for the right time to catch them.



During Randy’s last fishing trip on earth – just a week before his death, he felt an urgency to take a picture of the clouds with his cell phone.  When he returned home, he showed the picture to Elaine.  They realized that a face of an angel was looking at Randy from the sky – perhaps waiting for God’s timing to bring Randy home to heaven.  In my heart I like to think that this “angel in the sky” was part of the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds over two thousand years ago.  A Christmas Angel.



The Christmas Angels brought tidings of great joy that Jesus, our Lord and Savior was born.  And because of that incredible gift from God that these angels announced, we all have the promise of eternity. Let us actively wait for His return by sharing our faith, offering hope and acting with love in everything we do.



May each of you be blessed this Christmas as you celebrate the purposeful promises of the Season: Faith, hope and love.   And may the 12 Pearls of Christmas be a blessing to you, too.







 ~~~








About Margaret: Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband, David and two teenage daughters in the Chicago suburbs. After earning a master's degree in international business from the University of South Carolina , Margaret moved to New York City to work at a large bank where she met David. Charity and community involvement are very important to Margaret. She is the founder and director of Pearl Girls. For more information please visit www.pearlgirls.info. Margaret is fast at work on several fiction manuscripts and her book Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace was written to help fund the Pearl Girl Charities. Connect with Margaret on Facebook or 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 {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!



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



Here is the text!



Hello - I'm thrilled to announce the 2nd Annual 12 Pearls of Christmas! We've lined up several authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along beginning today (Monday the 13th) through Christmas day as Melody Carlson, Lauraine Snelling, Rachel Hauck, Tricia Goyer, Maureen Lang, and more share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.



We are also providing this series as free content for your own blogs (as 12 html posts) - if you'd like to share the 12 Pearls of Christmas with your blog readers email ( amy@litfusegroup.com ) and she'll send you the content.



AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post or any of the following 12 Pearls of Christmas posts (on any of the participating posts) to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS! You may enter once a day. The winner will be announced on New Year's Day! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.



~~~



Pearls of Patience

by Margaret Mcsweeney





As I write by the light of my Christmas tree on a late winter’s night, I reflect upon the poignancy and purpose of this season. The tiny white lights look like strands of pearls draped gracefully (perhaps haphazardly is a more honest description) across the evergreen boughs. Tomorrow I will hang the ornaments and at last place the angel atop the tree



Angels carry a special meaning this Christmas. My brother, Randy passed away on December 2nd from a heart attack at age 53. He was feeding a stray cat on his side porch. Randy was always like St. Francis of Asissi – animals would find him, sensing a kind soul. And my brother was a gentle and patient soul. He loved to fish. He tried to teach me, but I immediately lost interest when I realized worms were involved. And I could never sit still on the banks of a river and just wait. However, Randy could do that. He could wait, and waiting is a true gift. He put into practice the Scriptures. “Wait upon the Lord.” “Be still and know that He is God.” Patience doesn’t have to be passive. Wait is still an action verb. Part of the waiting process for fishing is seeking. Elaine (Randy’s wife of 31 years) told me that Randy said he could see the fish deep beneath the waters. He actively waited for the right time to catch them.



During Randy’s last fishing trip on earth – just a week before his death, he felt an urgency to take a picture of the clouds with his cell phone. When he returned home, he showed the picture to Elaine. They realized that a face of an angel was looking at Randy from the sky – perhaps waiting for God’s timing to bring Randy home to heaven. In my heart I like to think that this “angel in the sky” was part of the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds over two thousand years ago. A Christmas Angel.



The Christmas Angels brought tidings of great joy that Jesus, our Lord and Savior was born. And because of that incredible gift from God that these angels announced, we all have the promise of eternity. Let us actively wait for His return by sharing our faith, offering hope and acting with love in everything we do.



May each of you be blessed this Christmas as you celebrate the purposeful promises of the Season: Faith, hope and love. And may the 12 Pearls of Christmas be a blessing to you, too.





~~~





About Margaret: Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband, David and two teenage daughters in the Chicago suburbs. After earning a master's degree in international business from the University of South Carolina , Margaret moved to New York City to work at a large bank where she met David. Charity and community involvement are very important to Margaret. She is the founder and director of Pearl Girls. For more information please visit www.pearlgirls.info. Margaret is fast at work on several fiction manuscripts and her book Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace was written to help fund the Pearl Girl Charities. Connect with Margaret on Facebook or 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 {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!



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

12 Pearls of Christmas : Did She Know

Sunday, December 12, 2010



Here's a sneak peak post of the 12 Pearls of Christmas series that I'll be hosting at my blog for the next few weeks! Please follow along through Christmas day as each post shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year. AND BEST OF ALL ... there's also a giveaway!!!! Fill out the quick form at the link located at the bottom of this post to be entered to win a PEARL NECKLACE, BRACELET AND EARRINGS!  Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.


~~~


Did She Know?
by Anna Joujan

Mary, did you know . . . that your baby boy is Heaven’s perfect Lamb?  And the sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM

I am in the middle of a revival of my used-to-be-annual project of a Christmas card sketch.  For several years, with a few years missed, I have done a sketch of some image of Mary the Mother of Jesus, something that came to my mind without complete awareness of why that particular picture was needing to be put to paper.  It was originally a simple pencil sketch that, once completed, I would have printed out into a set of cards that would go out to all my friends and family.  Along with the sketch, however, I have always had a verse that came to mind to signify the meaning of the drawing in my mind.  And so I have had images such as “Be it unto me according to your word,” as well as a more enigmatic one that went with “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me . . .”  But each one was important for that year of my life.  And so I would spend the necessary costs in order to produce and mail in relatively large scales, for my general penny-pinching tendencies.

This year I did not expect to produce a card.  The fact of my life lately as a boarding school librarian/teacher in Zambia, Africa, has made such projects feel rather far-removed from the realm of possibility.
And yet, I have had an image in my head for several months now.  I started to put it to paper, and I abandoned it for a bit, figuring it was a bit frivolous with all the practical work I had to do.  But then I picked it up again, and it is now nearing the stage of completion, hopefully to be completed with printing and mailing once I arrive in the U.S. for a holiday visit with family.

What I realized is that, frivolous though it may seem, it is actually quite important.  For women [especially Western women of faith], the holidays carry with them great amounts of expectation and stresses.  So much so that we often get swallowed up with the hectic pace and forget to soak in the meaning.  What is important for each of us, I believe, is to “pick and choose.”  We must resist the pressure to do what doesn’t not bring meaning for us.  And we must cling to those traditions and activities that promote an aura of true, Christ-centered celebration for ourselves and for our loved ones.

So this year, Lord willing, I will be sending out my cards—and enjoying every bit of it; and in case you wondered, Mary did you know . . .?  will be the theme



 ~~~






About Anna:  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 card-production.  You can find her online at http://annajouj.wordpress.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 {FILL OUT THIS QUICK ENTRY FORM}. One entry per person, per day. The winner will be announced on the Pearl Girls Blog (http://margaretmcsweeney.blogspot.com) on New Years Day!

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

Maverick Heart

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Maverick Heart

Whitaker House (January 4, 2011)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Loree Lough is a well-known and beloved Christian romance writer who has published over 75 books, 65 short stories, and hundreds of magazine, newspaper, and Internet articles. A tireless advocate of the inspirational fiction genre, she’s recognized as a leader in the field and is a sought-after speaker at writing seminars and workshops. Loree is a regular contributor to a variety of publications for writers, a columnist for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and keeps in touch with readers through her website and blog, The Lough Down, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Shoutlife.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 4, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603742263
ISBN-13: 978-1603742269

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


May 1888

Somewhere along the San Antonio Road

“You behave as though you’re the first woman to have a miscarriage!” Liam scolded Levee. “Pull yourself together. Can’t you see you’re making everyone miserable?”

That had been three days ago, but the memory of it still stung like the gritty, windblown Texas dust. Levee huddled in a corner of the stagecoach and prayed that her husband wouldn’t notice her tears. She’d never been the type to wallow in self-pity, but was it too much to ask her husband to show some warmth and compassion? As a doctor, he should have been able to acknowledge that her reaction to losing the baby was perfectly normal.

Frowning, she tucked her lace-trimmed handkerchief back into her purse—a mistake, for Liam saw and correctly guessed that she’d been crying. Again.

“You’ll never get over it if you don’t at least try to put it out of your mind,” he grumbled.

The impatience and disappointment in his voice hurt almost as much as his earlier reprimand, and Levee heaved a sigh. Oh, if only she could put it out of her mind!

Maybe he had a point. Maybe thirty-four days of grieving her lost baby had been enough. As one of the first women in the country to earn a nursing degree, Levee understood the mental and physical aftereffects of a miscarriage. But could melancholia explain why she felt her husband was too preoccupied about opening his new clinic in Mexico to mourn the loss of yet another baby?

Like it or not, they would arrive in Mexico in a matter of days. Chihuahua, of all places, where she didn’t know a soul, and the people spoke a language she didn’t understand. Where, according to Boston newspapers, outlaw gangs roamed the—

“Hold on to your hats, folks!” the driver bellowed. “Bandits, ridin’ in hard and fast!”

Amid the thunder of horses’ hooves and the report of gunfire, their fellow passenger, who’d introduced himself only as Mack, calmly unholstered two six-shooters. “You got a gun, doc?” he asked Liam as he peeked out through the leather window covering.

Liam clutched his black medical bag tight to his chest. “Yes, but—”

“Then you’d best get ’er loaded and cocked. There’re three of them and five of us. We might just have us a fightin’ chance”—he fixed his brown eyes on Levee—“if you can shoot.”

Just as she opened her mouth to confess that she’d never so much as held a gun, one of the stagecoach drivers cut loose a bloodcurdling scream. Quick as a blink, his body hurtled past the window and hit the ground with a sickening thump.

With a trembling hand, Levee clutched her throat, and Mack groaned. “Make that four of us.” He spun the chamber of the second revolver and, after pulling back the hammer with a click, wrapped the fingers of Levee’s other trembling hand around the grip. “Just aim and pull the trigger, and keep on doing that till you’re out of bullets.”

“B-but how will I know when I’m out of—”

“Are you two God-fearin’ Christians?”

She heard Liam’s dry swallow. “I don’t know what that has to do with anything,” he muttered.

Mack glared at him. “If you want to get out of this mess alive, you’d best start prayin’. Pray like you’ve never prayed—”

His warning was cut short by male voices shouting and terrified horses trumpeting. Gears and brakes screeched as the coach came to a jolting halt.

Then, a deadly hush rode in on a cloud of dust.

The door nearest Levee flew open with a bang. “Throw them guns into the dirt,” growled a masked gunman.

When Liam slid his revolver back into his doctor’s bag, Mack gave a slight nod, then tossed his own pistol out the door. Taking his other gun back from Levee, he uncocked it and flung it to the ground, too.

The bandit raised his rifle barrel higher. “Git on outta there, one at a time, and don’t try no funny business, neither.”

Levee climbed down first, followed by Liam. So much for Mack coming up with a last-minute scheme to save us, she thought as he joined them in the shade of the coach.

A few yards away, two more bandits sat in their saddles. The smooth baritone and well-enunciated syllables of the tallest didn’t fit the rudeness of his words: “Gather anything of value you find on their person or in their valises,” he told the rifleman. And then, using his chin as a pointer, he said to the man to his left, “You. Fetch the money.”

Their immediate obedience made it clear that this man was one to be reckoned with. Levee’s heart beat harder as his cohorts carried out his orders, but it wasn’t until the strongbox hit the ground with a loud clang that she noticed the other stagecoach driver, hanging like a half-empty flour sack over the armrest of his seat. She could almost hear Mack thinking, And now we’re down to three. Their only hope was the tiny pistol hidden in Liam’s bag. But even if by some miracle the cowboy managed to retrieve it, would it be enough to disarm all three thieves?

The second bandit fired one round, demolishing the heavy iron lock on the strongbox. If he noticed Levee’s tiny squeal of fright or Liam’s gasp of shock, it didn’t show. “Must be fifty thousand dollars in here!” he said, pawing through the contents. He gave a rousing “Yee-haw!” and saluted his leader. “All’s I can say is, you sure know how to pick ’em, Frank!”

“Shut up, fool!” bellowed the rifle-toting robber. “Now we’ll hafta kill ’em, so’s they won’t be able to tell the rangers they was robbed by the Frank Michaels Gang!”

The Frank Michaels Gang? Why did that sound so familiar? Levee’s question was quickly extinguished by a sickening admission: in her twenty-two years of life, she’d never given a thought to how she might leave this earth. Until now.

“No need to get your dander up,” Mack drawled. “Y’all just keep right on helpin’ yourselves to everything we’ve got. Think of us as the three wise monkeys. We didn’t see a thing or hear a thing, and we won’t speak a thing, either.”

“That’s right,” Liam quickly agreed, “even if the Texas Rangers ask questions—an unlikely event, since we don’t plan to seek them out.”

Levee looked up at her husband, unable to decide which surprised her more: the fact that he’d opened his mouth or that he’d opened his medical bag. But in one beat of her hammering heart, his hand disappeared inside it. In the next, his puny revolver dangled from his fingertips. “I think you boys should—”

One shot rang out, and even before its echo fell silent, Liam slumped to the ground. “No-o-o!” Levee wailed, dropping to her knees. She cradled his head in her lap and, for the first time since graduating from the New England Hospital for Women, regretted her nursing degree. Because one look at the bloody wound in the middle of his chest told her that although he wasn’t dead yet, he soon would be.

Liam gasped for breath. “I—I wanted to—give them—the gun,” he sputtered, “to p-prove we—c-could be trusted—”

“Hush, now,” she whispered, finger-combing dark curls from his forehead. “Shh.”

Mack threw his Stetson to the ground and kicked it. “Of all the….” Arms whirling like a windmill, he kicked it again. “Did you hear what the man said? He’s from Boston, for the luvva Pete. He meant you no harm. Why, I doubt he could’ve hit the broad side of a barn with that pea shooter of his, even if he’d tried!”

“Looked to me like he was aimin’ to shoot,” one of the bandits insisted, “an’ nobody takes aim at Frank Michaels whilst I’m around.”

The rifleman cursed under his breath. “Thought I tol’ you to shut up, Tom.”

“All of you shut up,” Frank snarled.

But Levee paid him no mind. “Fight, Liam,” she urged him. “Stay with me! You promised that as soon as we were settled, we’d—”

His eyelids fluttered open, and an enormous, silvery tear leaked from the corner of one eye. “S-sorry, Levee,” he rasped, grabbing her hand. “S-sorry….”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Liam. You’re going to be fine.” Oh, please, God, let it be true! “Just fine! Do you hear me?” No sooner had the words passed her lips than his body shuddered once, and the fingers that had been squeezing hers went limp. A dribble of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth to his chin. Then, one grating, ragged breath later, he was gone.

Levee couldn’t help feeling guilty about her role in his death. These horrible men had murdered her husband, but if she hadn’t put her dream of a nursing degree ahead of their wedding plans, they would have had a house to call their own. If she hadn’t spent so many hours on her feet at the hospital, they would have had a child or two, instead of two unfruitful pregnancies to mourn. Perhaps, with a family to occupy his time and fill his heart, Liam wouldn’t have reacted with such enthusiasm to the article in the Boston Globe that spoke of the need for doctors in Mexico. Why had she let him talk her into this move? And why had she bowed to the dictates of society and the Good Book regarding wifely submission? If only she’d been stronger and less self-centered!

She watched the thugs help themselves to Liam’s hard-earned savings. Watched them poke through her small suitcase as Frank Michaels tucked Grandpa O’Reilly’s gold pocket watch into his vest. He looked up, caught her staring, and touched a finger to his hat brim. “My apologies, ma’am,” he said, aiming a steely smile her way. “And to prove my sincerity, we aren’t going to kill you. You have my word on that.” A grating chuckle passed through the red and black fabric of his bandanna. “At least, not today.”

His implied threat hung on the parched air as Levee looked into her husband’s ashy face. Almost from the moment they’d left Boston, Levee had been afraid. Afraid of ghastly-looking bugs and wild animals, afraid of the unrelenting wind and the dry, desolate land that seemed to stretch on forever. Afraid of the outlaws and bandits she’d read about. Distraught and anguished, she was beyond fear now. A swirl of self-blame, guilt, and shame roiled inside her like a cyclone, putting put her on her feet.

Fists balled at her sides, Levee marched up to the leader’s horse. “You killed my husband for no reason, and you think a phony apology will make things right? You’re—you’re a lunatic, Frank Michaels, and so are these so-called men who ride with you.” Levee wiped angrily at her traitorous tears. “Look at you, hiding behind your masks. Why, you’re nothing but cowards, the lot of you. Heartless thieves and—and cold-blooded killers. You’d better shoot me good and dead, right here where I stand, because the very first chance I get, I will report you to the Texas Rangers, and nothing will please me more than to watch you hang for your crimes!”

Her hysterical tirade silenced even the chorusing insects and chirruping birds. Silenced the amused chortles of Frank and his cohorts, too. The men exchanged puzzled glances, and then the one named Tom said, “You want I should plug her, Frank, or d’you wanna do it?”

Frank rested one leather-gloved hand atop the other on his saddle horn, seeming to consider the idea. “I gave her my word, and I intend to keep it.”

Tom snorted. “She’ll probably die of thirst before she reaches the next town, anyway.” Winking, he added, “If the coyotes don’t get her first.”

Levee had been an unwilling eyewitness of what the mangy canines could do to a deer carcass, and in very little time, too. She pressed her fingertips to her closed eyes to block the grisly image, and when she did, the picture of Liam’s lifeless body took its place. A dozen thoughts flitted through her head. Could she have used her medical training to do something to save him? Why hadn’t she seen the gunman take aim before he fired at Liam? If she had, what might she have done to prevent the shooting?

“Coyotes,” she heard the rifleman say. “You got that right, Tom. No chance she’ll live long enough to tell anybody what happened here.”

Mack’s voice broke through. “That was uncalled for,” he grumbled. “The poor woman just lost her husband.”

As if she needed a reminder! Please, Lord, please, let this be a terrible nightmare. Let me wake up and realize that—

A deafening explosion ended her prayer. She wasn’t dreaming, as evidenced by the whiff of smoke spiraling from Frank’s gun barrel—and the ghastly sound of Mack’s body hitting the ground. “No-o-o,” she wailed for the second time today. “Not him, too! B-but you promised not to—”

“I only promised not to kill you,” Frank said, then coolly holstered his revolver and faced Tom. “Unharness the team.”

Frank and his men had ended three lives in barely more than three minutes, and with three words, he’d dismissed the matter. The howling wind whirled around them, gathering the dust into tiny twisters that hopped across the prairie like jackrabbits. Levee buried her face in her hands, unwilling to let the bandits witness one more moment of her misery. She had the rest of her life for that.

Life. She almost laughed at the notion. Sitting in the middle of the Texas prairie, waiting for only the good Lord knew what to kill her, wasn’t her idea of life.

An idea dawned: perhaps, if she got them good and angry, they’d shoot her, too, and she could join Liam in paradise.

So, Levee began hurling insults and slurs, shrieking like a crazed fishwife, and waving her arms. But she might as well have been a cactus or tumbleweed for all the attention they paid her. Infuriated, she picked up rocks and pebbles and hurled those, too, yet the outlaws continued to ignore her. It seemed they really did intend to leave her out here in the middle of nowhere to wait for starvation and thirst—or hungry coyotes—to kill her. Oh, Father, please let it be coyotes, she prayed. As painful and terrifying as that would be, she’d die faster that way than by nature’s cruel hand. Either way, she’d have ample time to repent of her sins of selfishness.

“You’re no better than the coyotes!” But her words disappeared into their cloud of get-away dust and gleeful bellows. Hugging herself, Levee sunk to the dirt between Liam and Mack and sat on her boot heels, rocking and groaning, groaning and rocking, as she waited for the tears to start.

But not a single drop fell. Not for her husband or the babies they’d lost, not for the brave young cowboy who died defending her, not even for herself, alone and afraid, somewhere in West Texas.

She didn’t know how many hours had passed when the sun began to sink below the horizon like a gold coin disappearing into a slot. A dark chill blanketed the plains, waking snaky shadows that slithered from bush to scrubby shrub. That’s when strange, forlorn moans spilled forth from Levee’s lips, ascended into the blackness, and merged with the midnight cacophony of night birds and bugs and coyote calls.

By the time exhaustion rendered her silent, the moon was high in the sky, and she found herself cuddled up to Liam. And, though his lanky body offered no warmth or comfort, that’s where she stayed, praying that before morning, the Almighty in His loving mercy, would call her home, too.

 
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