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easter synchroblogThis week at the Convergent Books blog, various writers have been reflecting on the characters of the Easter story. Today, they’ve opened the topic to any blogger anywhere to write about a character in the Easter story and what their role can teach us today. To read other posts in the synchroblog, click here.

His letter begins with these words:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us–what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:1-4, NASB)

He is John, the apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and here, he is adamant: We heard Him, saw Him with our eyes, touched Him with our hands. This message we spread, this Gospel we preach, we were eyewitnesses! And we want others to believe because we saw it!

He almost fades into the background of the Easter story. We see glimpses of him but he’s not the first one we think of, at least he’s not the first one I think of. There are the women and Judas and Peter and the guards and Pilate and the religious leaders and Joseph of Arimathea. The Easter story is full of colorful characters, each with their own part to play, each with much to teach us about this most holy of days.

And yet, I find myself drawn to John, the storyteller.

Several years ago in a Sunday School class, we watched a video series about John’s final days in Ephesus. In it, he was painted as an old man telling the stories of his days with Jesus to anyone who gathered. He lived the longest of any of the disciples and his account of Jesus’ life is different in almost every way than that of the other writers.

Suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation for John, who must have spent all those years telling and retelling the stories. I wondered what he must have thought when he finally began to write them down. It was his life’s work. Yet even he admits that the whole world couldn’t contain all the books that could be written about what Jesus did (John 21:25).

But back to Easter and the events leading up to it.

His account of what we  now call Holy Week begins in chapter 12 of his Gospel. Could he still hear the crowds shouting, “Hosanna!”? Could he feel the crowd pressing in, surrounding Jesus, their King who had come? “We didn’t understand at the time,” he says, “but later, we remembered.” Did he smile at their ignorance? How they thought Jesus was there to overthrow Rome when, in fact, His plan was so much greater?

He walks us through the Last Supper, providing details about the extent of Jesus’ love. Did he remember what he felt when Jesus washed his feet? Did the memory of Peter’s insistence that Jesus not wash his feet bring bittersweet thoughts of his companion and friend? Could he taste the bread and wine? Did he still wonder why none of them suspected Judas of betrayal?

I love John’s words for their attention to detail. From him we get stories and words and actions we don’t get anywhere else. He was an observer as well as a participant, and his time with Jesus changed him. How could he forget such an important time of his life?

Chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17 of John’s Gospel are almost entirely in red in my Bible, the words of Jesus highlighted to stand out. Here, John passes on teachings, some listed as favorites among pastors and leaders: the vine and the branches, the prayers of Jesus for his disciples, for the world. Years later, as he writes, does John think of the significance of those teachings? Does he realize he is the link from Jesus to the generations to come? Or does he write because he’s called to it? Because somebody has to or no one will know? Does he know that his words will outlive him?

He continues with two whole chapters on the crucifixion and the events leading up to it. Did he cry as he wrote those scenes? Was he exhausted reliving the drama from the garden to the cross to the tomb? Did he lean in to the grief of those days so that his readers, his listeners would understand just how awful this was? John would get a faraway look in his eyes as he spoke. I can imagine how the emotions would have choked him as he told the story. Read John 19 out loud. Slowly. As if you can see it happening. But not even that is close to what it must have been like for John to remember.

But remember he did. And speak, he did. And write, he did.

And then the tomb. Empty!

How his heart must have raced remembering what it was like to sprint to the tomb and find Jesus gone. And the joy of seeing Him alive! In the locked room. On the shore.

Story after story after story and John’s theme is the same: “these have been written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

What I learn from John is that he didn’t keep Easter to himself. He didn’t keep Jesus to himself. He spent his life telling the story, not so that he would have a bestselling book with his name on it but so that those who weren’t there, those who didn’t see, those who don’t know, might believe and have life.

We all have a story to tell about our time with Jesus. Who needs to know what we’ve experienced so they, too, can have life?

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On the outskirts of my hometown, on 400 acres of land sets an imposing building surrounded by barbed wire fencing.

It’s the largest medium security prison in Illinois, housing more than 2,000 adult men. It opened five years after I was born, so I can’t remember ever not knowing about it. It’s out of the way of regular traffic patterns, so if you don’t want to drive by it, you don’t have to. I’ve always thought it odd that the country club is on the same road, not even a mile away. Could two worlds be more different and yet so close in proximity?

Also not far from the prison is a neighborhood of low-income housing, built for the families who move to the area to be near their incarcerated loved ones.

The Dixon Correctional Center is on some of the most beautiful property in the county. A wooded bike path passes the backside of the property. Years ago, before it was a prison, it was a colony for epileptics, then an institution for the mentally ill and a school for people with developmental disabilities. I don’t know as much about its history as I’d like to, and I’ve maybe even gotten it wrong now. But I know that I feel sad and hopeless when I look at the building.

And I’m just on the outside.

“Want to go to prison with me?”

The man who asked was a friend and mentor, a Bible study leader who spent at least one Saturday a month teaching a Bible study in the prison. It was one of his favorite things to do, and he wanted me to go with him.

No.Yes.NO.Whynot?Okay.

That was what happened in my mind. I was working as a journalist and I almost never passed up an opportunity to do something I’d never done before. But go to prison? I didn’t know if I could do it, even if my friend was going to be there the whole time.

We met in the parking lot. I almost wet my pants just driving onto the property, certain that I’d mess something up and find myself in some kind of trouble. Because I was a good girl. I avoided trouble like contagious disease. I’d never even had a speeding ticket. The one time I’d had to go to detention in elementary school, I was physically sick about it.

Because I could do no wrong. So I thought.

But there I was. Entering a prison. Metal detector, pat down and all.

I was nervously excited. Maybe a little scared.

All these years later, I barely remember that day. But I know the fear faded. I was welcomed by the men who came for Bible study. They were genuinely glad to meet me and to see my friend. They had wisdom and experience to share. They were people. People who had made mistakes and were paying for those mistakes but people nonetheless.

Reading this book reminded me of that experience and reignited something in me. Something I’m still trying to identify.

Our church is partnering with another church during Lent to focus on injustice in the prison system. You can find out more here. I read the compact yesterday and the first day’s devotional, and I’m appalled at my ignorance. I have little firsthand knowledge of the injustice in the justice system. I know it’s not a perfect system, but there’s more to it than that.

What I appreciate about this Lenten compact is the emphasis on restorative justice, or giving convicted felons another chance at life outside of prison. It’s no easy road, from what I’ve read. In the book I referenced earlier, the author learned that women released from prison in Alabama are given $10, a polo shirt and pants, and a bus ticket back to the place where they committed the crime. And with that, they’re supposed to make a fresh start. Think even of movies like Les Miserables and The Shawshank Redemption. Those aren’t just stories. There’s truth in them.

That prison I mentioned earlier in my hometown? According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, it costs almost $24,000 a year on average per inmate to house them. To me, that ought to be serious motivation to examine how we rehabilitate, who we sentence and what happens when they leave prison. I absolutely understand it’s a complicated issue full of challenges I can’t even imagine.

But, can we do better?

Lent is a season of fasting and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, who came to free us from the chains of death and sin.

Because we are all in prisons, some of them self-imposed, and He offers freedom to us all.

The Lenten Compact begins with readings in the psalms regarding confession of sin and appealing to God’s mercy.

Because we are sinners. And He is merciful.

And we who have been shown mercy are to show mercy.

I confess: this Lenten Compact made me uncomfortable at first. I already felt unprepared for Lent this year, like I hadn’t given it much thought, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe all I need to do is show up and let God lead me through the season, then take appropriate action. I have no idea what that will look like.

But I’ve already been to prison once, so who’s to say it won’t happen again?

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I used to hate Valentine’s Day.

It was a subtle hatred. Well, frankly, it was driven by jealousy, so  maybe it wasn’t really hatred at all. I spent most of my Valentine’s Day single and without a “special someone.” I even wrote a column for the newspaper about how stupid I thought Valentine’s Day was. (I don’t think that was the actual theme. All I can remember is that I rallied the single ladies in our community before Beyonce’s song was even written.)

See, Valentine’s Day used to exaggerate all those lonely, inferior feelings I already struggled with daily. It felt like an exclusive holiday, and I hate being excluded. I didn’t want to be “out” just because I didn’t have a boyfriend. But rather than honestly deal with those feelings, I deflected my insecurities and gave passionate explanations for my feelings.

Love shouldn’t be limited to one day a year.

It’s a Hallmark holiday.

Flowers and candy are a waste of money.

I wouldn’t want a man to celebrate our love just because the calendar says so.

And on and on I went.

Then, 10 years ago, I fell in love. Or maybe love fell on me.

We weren’t dating yet when it happened, but I just knew. I knew that I loved this man, and I was going to be crushed if he didn’t love me back. But I was willing to let that happen because what I felt the day I realized I loved him was bigger than me. We were friends. Probably the best of friends. And I knew going forward that if he didn’t love me back, we couldn’t be friends anymore.

About two months after we started dating.

About two months after we started dating.

That’s storybook stuff, but I can still feel the weight of that realization today.

I loved him. Period. And I had no sure idea how he felt about me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Have you ever been asked that question? Ten years ago, I couldn’t have given a good answer. I’m not sure I could today either.

Ten years always seemed so far in the future. Yet, here it is. Like turning the page of a book.

I turned 26 that year. Funny, but it was the same year I started to see the possibilities for my writing beyond newspaper journalism. (That’s something to explore another day, I guess.)

My best friend had started dating a guy in our circle of four, and the fourth member of our group was about to head east for military training. But he gave me a present–a Care Bear I’ve loved nearly to death since then–and a promise, to call while we were apart for three weeks.

It was a glimmer of hope, a memory that still makes me smile. He’s always been good at gift-giving, and this was the first of many meaningful gifts.

He did call. We talked on the phone a couple of times while he was away, and I noticed that my world was grayer without him in it. Our gatherings lacked sparkle because he was absent. (He still lights up my world.)

When I took a week to attend a writers conference on the East Coast, I missed his call one night. I was devastated. I was surrounded by writers, some of whom I’d probably be awed by now if I went back and looked at the names. But this blooming love made me blind to any other experiences. This was all that mattered.

We’d spent weeks of our summers at a Bible camp near our hometown, and I first found community at a weekend retreat for the 20-something crowd years earlier. This retreat brought us back to the camp that May, after we’d both returned from our trips.

With some “divine intervention” we found ourselves seated next to each other on a couch for a viewing of The Princess Bride. (It was and is my favorite movie.) I was distracted by his closeness, unable to concentrate on the movie. His arm was resting on the back of the couch, and though it sounds cliche, he eventually got tired of that position and dropped it across my shoulders.

I can still hear the beating of my heart, the questions in my head: What is he doing? Is this what I think it is? Does he mean what I think he means? Is this for real? Am I dreaming?

We were friends. Were we now something more?

I wouldn’t have my answer that night. The movie ended. The spell was broken (so I thought) and we played board games until lights out. I didn’t sleep much that night. And I didn’t want to tell anyone else, afraid that if I did, I would find out I’d imagined it all.

Those fears played with me the next morning. I was sure he would tell me it was all a misunderstanding. That he hadn’t meant anything by it.

Because I was never the pursued one. I was always just a good friend. I was used to rejection. Expected it, almost.

Then he said we should take a walk after breakfast.

And we did. He told me how he felt, and even though I can’t remember the words exactly, I remember how my heart felt like it could fly out of my chest. He held my hand, and we returned from our walk as an “us.”

A year later, at the same camp, he asked me to marry him.

10 years us proposal 1

 10 years us proposal 2

10 years us proposal 3

I said, “yes.”

This will be our 10th Valentine’s Day as an “us,” the 7th as a married couple.

Not every year has been the happily ever after I dreamed of.

Some years have been worse than I ever imagined they could be.

But we still love each other.

And not every day brings the tingly toes and speedy heartbeats of those first days.

Most days reality is not at all like a fairytale dream.

But.

That’s why I no longer hate Valentine’s Day.

Because for a day, we tap into those earlier lovey-dovey feelings and remember what it was like.

Before kids.

Before unpaid bills.

Before marriage problems.

We remember why we fell in love and what it felt like.

If our marriage is like a fire, then most days it’s more like embers than flames. But for a day, we can fuel the embers with memories and keep the fire burning.

I’m no marriage expert. We don’t have it all figured out.

But if I’ve learned anything in 10 years it’s that the flame won’t keep burning on its own.

Ours was almost reduced to ashes once, and I never want to be there again.

So, I embrace Valentine’s Day, not because I want jewelry or candy or flowers or an expensive dinner out. Not because I think we HAVE TO celebrate or our relationship is doomed.

No. I embrace Valentine’s Day as a sacred pause. A time to remember. A celebration of joy. A day of gratitude.

I know it will be a hard day for some. For ones who’ve lost or never had or feel like they are losing.

And because of that, I say, that those of us who have love on Valentine’s Day ought to share it. Valentine’s Day need not be exclusive to those married, engaged or dating. Because love is more than that.

Whatever you do today, love others. And love well.

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I woke up feeling unwell in body and spirit. A challenging sermon on holiness at church yesterday and the onset of a cold that’s making its way through our family have left me drained before I’ve even started today. That, and the need to do EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE IMMEDIATELY.

Tell me your Mondays are like this.

With piles of laundry mocking you as a failure.

With kitchen counters covered in dirty dishes singing “You’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”

Back to school. Back to a sometimes routine. The first full week of a new year.

And I’m blowing it already.

While it’s true I no longer make resolutions, I still feel the need to make changes in my life every time the calendar turns another year. Maybe I’m not calling them resolutions, but I’m still taking the opportunity to change.

And there’s plenty of opportunity for change.

As the first of the year dawned, I pledged to myself (again, for the third time) that this would be the year I finish my novel.

Last year, I felt mostly bland about my writing. Frustrated. Discouraged. Sure that I’d never make anything of myself. I chipped away at the story, adding words here and there without regularity.

Give up. Give up. Give up. The voices told me lies, but I wanted to listen.

Nevermind that my husband switched jobs and we moved and our daughter started school. Transition upon transition.

And when I dared to look at how much writing I’d actually done, I was surprised to learn that in all of 2013, I added 20,000 words to my novel.

It felt small and like nothing when it was happening. But at the end, it had amounted to much more.

I tried on three outfits before church yesterday because I’m having a love-hate with my body. I have some clothes I’d like to wear, to rediscover, and they.don’t.fit. Curse them.

I had a plan for Christmas Eve, to wear this purple dress I love and got on sale and haven’t worn in two years. It looked awful, which in my mind means I feel like I look awful.

But Christmas is full of holidays and eating so I allowed myself the feast, knowing that there would be a season of less come January. On December 31, I started a new plan. I would get up early. I would exercise. I would intentionally eat healthier. Oatmeal instead of a bagel. More fruit. More salad. I love all those things but they take more time to prepare. More effort. And, of course, I have to have them in the house in the first place.

As of today, I’ve worked out four times in the last week, which is four times more than all of fall, I think.

Yet I feel like a failure because there are no results.

It’s only been a week.

Time. Discipline. It won’t happen overnight.

(And for the record, I’m not aiming for a weight or a size but a healthier lifestyle overall. The older I get the better care I want to take of myself so I can enjoy my kids and life as a whole.)

A few months ago while sorting through some old newspaper clippings of columns I’d written back in my mid-20s, I had the urge to wad them all up. Or burn them. Something destructive.

Because the girl who wrote those words has changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Some of it was her choice. Some of it wasn’t. But she’s different. I feel like that girl barely exists in my memory. I wanted to shake her. Or punch her in the face. And tell her that she had no idea what she was talking about.

Life wasn’t like she thought. Faith wasn’t what she thought.

It was like looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of me 10 years ago. And I saw not only how I looked on the outside but what I thought on the inside.

The urge to destroy passed, and now I’m grateful for the look into the past.

Because change has happened. It has taken years. But the differences are obvious to me. Ten years seems like a long time, but with those clippings in my hands, I felt like no time had passed at all.

A week is not a worthwhile measure for change.

It is good to want to change. It is good to have a plan. It is good to pursue what is better and whole.

It is not good to expect immediate change. But oh, how I want a quick fix for everything.

It is not good to expect perfection. But oh, how I want to do it right the first time.

It is not good to give up after only a week. But oh, how I want to say “forget it” to all my plans and intentions.

Here is what I am learning. Slowly, but I’m learning.

Change can’t happen alone. I need community.

Part of my writing plan was to join a group for word count accountability. Nothing happens if I don’t meet my goal, but I can be encouraged by what others are writing and knowing I’m not the only one struggling.

As for the other areas where I want to change and need to change: community applies there too. But that’s hard. I can’t go to a gym right now. But I can let someone else know my plans.

Invitation is a key to transformation. I have to let people in, and that starts with talking about my failings. Then it moves to sharing my plans. It continues with commitment. And it doesn’t end with failure.

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We got to go home to Illinois for Christmas this year. It had been almost a year since Phil and I had been back to our hometown, and we missed Christmas last year. Even as much as we wanted to see family, we approached the trip with a little bit of dread and stress. Because when you only come home once a year, it seems like everyone wants to see you, and we hate to disappoint people.

As the days passed, though, we found ourselves having a lot of fun and with less stress than we had expected.

Here are five of the best things that happened while we were away for Christmas break:

1. Our daughter picked out gifts this year. She shopped at school for her grandparents and her brother, and when she got to Illinois, her great-grandma took grandparents giftsher shopping for Phil and me. We had no idea what any of the gifts were, so we were just as surprised as anyone else on Christmas. She got one set of grandparents a pen each that said something fabulous about grandparents, and the other set of grandparents got refrigerator magnets that also said something fun about grandparents. For her brother, she picked out a pair of squishy ducks in his favorite colors. He played with those all afternoon on Christmas. For me, she picked out a set of three pairs of earrings because she knew that I wanted to start wearing earrings again. And she got ones for sensitive ears because she knows mine hurt sometimes when I wear them. For her dad, she picked out a notepad and pen–”for work,” she said. More than the gifts themselves, it was fun for us to see the thoughts that went into each gift.

kaiden2. Playing with our nephew. We’ve seen him less than a handful of times in his two years of life, which means that when I ask for a hug he says “no.” But that’s okay. He did warm up to us eventually. We took advantage of our time and played as much as possible.

3. A daytrip to Chicago with my brother as tour guide. I’m not allowed to post pictures of him. (“No Facebook,” he kept telling me as I snapped photos with my camera.) But it was the best day. We rode every form of mass transit–the Metra to downtown, then after a few blocks of walking we took the subway to an intersection where a trolley picked us up to go to Navy Pier. We ate good food at Harry Caray’s and walked around the pier. I got to see the water and the skyline and breathe Chicago air. It’s weird, I know. We’ve never lived in Chicago, but every time we’re back, it feels like home. It’s my favorite city in the world, and probably always will be. When our day was done we took a bus back to the train station before heading west again. We did exchange gifts but I’ll take “presence” over “presents” any day. I don’t see my brother that often, so it’s always good to be together. And he’s the best tour guide in Chicago.

chicago skyline

4. A double-date with my husband’s brother and our sister-in-law. We ate delicious burgers at Buffalo Wild Wings then we went bowling. Bowling! It was like a time warp to my teenage years. The alley even smelled the same as I remembered. And though we were mostly terrible and felt a little too old to be participating in said sport, we had a good time as grown-ups doing grown-up things.

5. Being together. It sounds sappy, but the four of us–my husband, our daughter, our son and me–don’t spend a lot of time together as a foursome. I’m home with the boy a lot. Our daughter’s at school and my husband’s at work. Our together time is limited, an unexpected downside to starting school. So, these days of long van rides, fun experiences, family meals and just hanging out were a refreshing reminder of how much I love our little clan. Even when I want to pull my hair out.

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I’ve been a maker (and breaker) of New Year’s resolutions for as long as I can remember.

Eat better.

Exercise more.

(My favorite sin) less.

I’m always sincere. Generally I have a plan. But inevitably, I fall short.

I forget.

I lose heart.

I give up.

And nothing really changes.

ow_250x250This year, though, something did change. And it started with a new approach to the new year. Instead of making a resolution, I chose one word.

I stumbled onto the OneWord365 movement through a blog I read. And the idea appealed to me.

Pick a word for the year. Something you want to become. An area where you struggle. Something God is speaking to your heart.

And let that word guide your year.

It sounded easy enough. And for a few weeks toward the end of last year, I mulled a few words that I knew would define my year.

What I ended up with was the word “release.” OneWord2013_Release

2013 was all about letting go for me, and while I expected certain things to be part of that, other things that happened this year caught me by surprise.

Now that the year is almost over, I can look back and see actual real change that happened this year, all because of one word.

I never would have thought something this simple could have such an impact. But throughout the year, because this word, this idea of letting go, was in the forefront of my mind, I noticed it everywhere. I read books and the words “release” and “let go” jumped off the page. In experiences where I might want to hold on for dear life and control, the word “release” whispered to me, and in an act of trust, I did. In the Bible, this theme presented itself to me again and again.

And I can say here, almost 12 months later, that I feel lighter. Less burdened. More like my hands are open instead of fisted.

And I can’t wait for 2014! (Check out tomorrow’s post to find out what my One Word is for next year.)

Want to join this movement? You can sign up here.

And here’s what I wrote throughout the year about my OneWord365 journey:

Change awaits, and it’s simpler than you might think!

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12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

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

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

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

***

A Teenage Pregnancy
by Robin Jones Gunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12pearls-gunn
***

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

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

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

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

***

Do You Hear What I Hear?
by Cynthia Ruchti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

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

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

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

***

Wrapping Paper and Fancy Bows Not Required
by Jodi Murphy

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

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

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

My Parents

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

My Sister

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

My Husband

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

My Son

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

My Daughter

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

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

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

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12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

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

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

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

***

My Gift to the King
by Sheryl Giesbrecht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Exchanging hurt for hope” is Sheryl Giesbrecht’s focus. She loves to share how God rearranges loss, bitterness, and mistakes, and turns them into something remarkably beautiful. Learn more about Sheryl and her book, Get Back Up, at her website.

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