Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who Is This God Anyway?

Welcome P31 subscribers! Im so glad you dropped by today and hope you will visit again soon.

Todays devotion touched on the topic of spiritual curfew, in other words, learning to understand and believe that when God guides us to do things, or not to do things, that He truly does have our best interest at heart.

I think that many non believers of Jesus, or new Christians, think that being a Christian is too much sacrifice and not enough fun - but its so not true! I have learned over the years that what I used to think was fun, even if I knew it was not the right thing to do, is really not fun anymore. My idea of what is fun, pleasurable, exciting and memorable has changed completely.

How did this change of perspective take place? I began to see my heavenly Father as someone who truly loved me, not someone who judged me or punished me or was ashamed of me.

I believe it all boils down to our self guided impression of who God really is. If we visualize Him as a hard-faced, stern, judgemental and punishing God, then it will be hard to accept His discipline or guidance in our lives. But on the other hand, if we see Him as a kind, patient, loving, generous and wonderful Dad, who disciplines us when we need it and sweetly speaks to our hearts when we need some conviction about something, then we are more likely to heed to His work in our life, and even be thankful for it.

This past weekend while we were doing some traveling, I read the book The Shack, by WM. Paul Young. All I can say is..... wow. I shed many tears while reading it, and my heart is changed after reading this book. My view of God has changed. My vision of what He looks like has changed. My idea of how He intervenes in our life, what heaven looks like, what love looks like, and how much God truly loves me, has changed. Not because of some fictional writing, but because of what God spoke to my heart while I was reading it.

Now please dont misunderstand me - nothing could ever replace Gods Word, or come anywhere close to its importance in our lives, but this book The Shack put Gods love for us in a perspective that we can all relate to, through the telling of a powerful story of a man who experienced unspeakable tragedy, blamed God and lost his relationship with Him as a result... but then found His Father in a way He never thought possible.

Whether you are a believer or not, I want to encourage you to make a commitment to read this book in the new year. It is a fiction book, but it was so amazingly written, that I felt like I was witnessing the events in Macks (the main character) life with my own eyes. The author so vividly describes each and every scene that Mack experiences with God, that in my memory, it seems as if I had seen it myself. I especially recall the chapter when God allowed Mack to see a glimpse of heaven, through the way God sees it - not pearly gates, but astonishing beauty and beautiful swarms of color illuminating from angels who were formerly here on earth. That is all I am going to say - because you need to read it for yourself!

Would you like to see God in a whole new light this coming year?

Do you wish you could find the passion to begin delving into The Bible, and maybe even read it through its entirety this year?

Do you long to feel overwhelmingly love by God, but you have been hurt and just do not know to see how your circumstance could be used to His glory or for some higher purpose?

Are you mad at God for something bad that has happened in your life?

Do you desire to see God as your loving daddy, but have a hard time doing so because your earthly daddy did not meet your expectations?

Do you want to take the first step of healing, and start seeing God for the amazing Father that He truly is?

Go get your copy of The Shack this week. When you are finished, if you are anything like me, you will find yourself empowered, motivated and excited to pick up the real book, The Holy Bible, and discover all the truths that the most important book of all holds for you.

But whether you pick up The Shack or not, I pray for God to impress upon your heart a desire to know Him better this year, and a desire to read His Word for guidance each day.

If you are not interested in fiction books, you could also check out my book, Reinventing Your Rainbow, which shares my testimony of redemption and how I found God again after allowing myself to drift away from a relationship with Him due to the shame and regret of sins in my past. Maybe that is why The Shack speaks so much to my heart, because in many ways, I can relate to what the character was feeling and thinking.

So there you go - two choices for great reading to kick off a brand new year! But no matter what you choose to devote your time to in reading during this coming year, I pray God will guide your heart and peak your interest in the books that will most speak to your heart, and that God can mold you and guide you. But most of all, I pray you will find time to spend with God each day, reading His Holy Word, and discovering who your God, your heavenly Daddy, really is.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We had the most fun over this past weekend. My husband, kids, mother in law, father in law and sister in law all went to to visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC. We saw a live nativity scene, a talking cow, Billy Grahams old homestead with tons of old pictures, got some cider at the Dairy Barn, went on a carriage ride drawn by two beautiful Clydesdale horses, and oooooed and awwwed over tons of Christmas lights. It was beautiful! Here are a few pictures to share with you:

I want to share a great recipe with you today, which was passed on to me from my sister n law, Allison (pictured above, back left). For years she has made these scrumptious Ginger Snap cookies because my father in law loves them so much. It has become a holiday tradition in the Miles get togethers!

If you are thinking that you could not possibly consume another sweet bite this time of year (or at least you admit that your hips would probably rather you not), then chin up! These cookies are actually good for you!

According to many health experts, ginger is good for your body. One article I came across stated that ginger is a common spice known for its stimulating effect. You can either cook it in a hot dish, or eat it raw from the root - or even in ginger snaps! It is helpful in promoting gastrointestinal circulation, and has also been seen to help with motion sickness, nausea and vomiting. So now that you more than you ever wished to know about ginger, and knowing that it is actually a healthy snack for you, just whip them up and enjoy! They make you feel good!

Allisons Ginger Snap Cookies

2 cups flour (sifted)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp molasses
1 egg

Preheat oven at 350 degrees

Sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream shortening. Add sugar, egg and molasses. Beat well. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth. Mixture will be very stiff. Take a teaspoonful of mixture, roll into a ball, then roll ball in sugar. Bake on greased cookie sheet for 10 to 12 minutes.

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

New Birth, New Beginnings

Luke 2:10-12 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (NIV)

It is funny how six little words on a computer screen can have such a profound impact on a person’s state of mind. At first glance, these six little words seem innocent enough, but then when human understanding kicks in, we realize that this short sentence could potentially cause serious emotional and mental strain. Yes, just six simple little words can bring instant doom and gloom………Those words are: ”Warning: Your memory capacity is full”. When I see these words pop up and the initial shock wears off, I know that the end result is imminent ……. permanent file deletion.

Recently after seeing that message on my computer screen, I reluctantly marked those files for deletion, which I thought I could live without. Putting all fears aside, I finally pressed the delete button, and instantly began to see the titles of all my selected documents being whisked away into the eternal trash bin, never to be seen again. But as I watched each title appear on the screen for just a split second, each one conjured up a small memory deep in the back of my mind, of what I was doing the day that I created a certain document, situations I was dealing with at the time, activities I was involved with, family events, emails, and bible studies I had taught or taken.

Each title of a document signified an experience, whether big, small, important, or insignificant. As I sat there, getting a tiny glimpse of each document title before it disappeared, I began to wish that I could hit the delete button in my life sometimes. For example: Poor choices as an adolescent – DELETE. Mistakes I had made – DELETE. Damaged relationship – DELETE. Poor parenting decision – DELETE. Losing my temper – DELETE. Acts of selfishness – DELETE. Lack of patience – DELETE.

As I pondered this idea, the Holy Spirit gently spoke to my heart, and then He clearly said to me, “Tracie, my child, you do have a delete button – it’s called forgiveness”. Romans 3:25 says “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.—“

When Jesus was born on that cold winter morning over 2000 years ago, in a stable, to a virgin, surrounded by animals and the smell of fresh hay, the ultimate delete button was birthed.

Although God sent His son for us, and was pleased with this gift to mankind, it also must have broken His heart simultaneously and became a day filled with mixed emotions. Imagine God peering down from heaven, as if He were looking through the nursery window in the hospital, seeing His tiny precious, perfect little baby boy, with ten fingers and toes, fresh pink skin, lying sweetly in the manger, and all the while, knowing that in a short 33 years, He would have to offer Him up as the ultimate sacrifice.

Even as baby Jesus lie in his makeshift crib with His little infant cries filling the night air, God knew that the crucifixion would be the deletion of this child’s human existence, so that we could have our sins forgiven - thus deleted - for eternity. What grace and mercy God has on us, that He would sacrifice His only son for the undeserving sinners of the world.

The virgin birth signifies the only gift that guarantees our forgiveness. Once we repent our sins to the Father Almighty, those sins are not only forgiven – they experience permanent deletion. Just as we could not accurately recall all the words in a document once it has been deleted, neither does God remember our sins after they are erased by His grace and forgiveness. Psalm 130:3 says “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” The memory capacity of Jesus will never be full, as long as we are faithful in our repentance.

As we draw closer to the holiday season, with last minute gifts to buy, holiday parties and lots of baking to do, we mustn’t forget the true meaning of Christmas.

Even strong Christians of today often get so accustomed to hearing that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, that it merely becomes a clichĂ©, rather than an awesome, undeniable truth. The world wants to convince us that Christmas is just a happy and fun holiday and that we should refer to Christmas as ‘the holidays” or even “Xmas” and not a day that signifies a miraculous gift from the creator of heaven and earth. But for those of us who believe in the birth of the one true savior and who have the promise of eternal life in heaven, we must continue to proclaim that Christ is Christmas and continue to share that belief with others.

As we celebrate this Christmas season, let’s most of all remember that the birth of Jesus signifies new life, as God gave us the precious gift of His son.

This new life birthed new life, and new beginnings, for believers. His resurrection after death also assures of our rebirth, and our future in heaven.

Merry Christmas.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Okay, so you have been celebrating the holiday season for nearly a month now, and Im sure you have recognized all of the familiar sights and sounds of the holidays. There are so many symbols that we see year after year, rarely thinking of how those symbols came to be a part of our Christmas celebrations. Believe it or not, most symbols that are commonly recognized to be affiliated with Christmas, can be traced back to Christian meanings, with each one helping us to remember the reason for the season.

Bells: Bells are used to announce the birth of Jesus. The bells called the people to worship him. The bells were rung to guide lost sheep back to the fold. They signify that all people are precious in the eyes of the Lord.

Candles: The candles are a reminder of how to be a light unto the world. Candles are also a symbol reflecting our thanks to the star of Bethlehem. Candles may also represent the light of God.

Stars: The stars represent the stars of heaven and the star that the wise men followed to see Baby Jesus. The star also represents the hope of mankind.

Candy Canes: The candy cane is in the shape of the shepherd’s crook. The crook was used to help bring the sheep back that had strayed from the fold. The colors of red and white in a spiral symbolize that we are our brother’s keepers.

Stockings: Christmas stockings are believed to come from a legend in which a nobleman foolishly spent his fortune, which left his daughters without dowries. St. Nicholas heard of the girl’s position and went to their home. He threw pouches of gold coins down the chimney where they landed in the stockings that were during by the fireplace.

Santa Clause: Santa Clause began in the 4th Century when Saint Nicholas would spread good will amongst men. He was a generous man that was said to be devoted to children in particular. The legend of the man spread throughout Europe and in Holland his name was transformed into Sinterklass. The way that we see Santa Clause was developed from a poem composed by Clement C. Moore in 1822. He stands for good will on earth, kindness and generosity.

Earth: The symbol of Earth is often used to symbolize peace on earth.

Ribbons: Ribbons and gift bows represent that we will be tied together in the bonds of goodwill forever.

Tree: The Christmas tree is made from an evergreen that symbolizes God’s everlasting love. The lights on the tree represent the stars of heaven. The star on top of the tree represents the star of Bethlehem that the wise men followed to see Baby Jesus. The Christmas tree also represents everlasting life and light. The needles are said to point up towards heaven.

Wreath: The wreath represents God’s undying love for us. It has no beginning and no end.

Poinsettias: Poinsettias were used in the 17th century Christmas celebrations of Mexican Franciscans. The plant was named after the US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, when he brought the plant to the United States in 1828. A legend associated with the poinsettia says that a young Mexican boy realized that he had no gift for the Christ child at the Nativity scene. He gathered the green branches and spread the leaves in a star-shaped flour. The plant is actually not a flower, but the upper leaves are actually bright red leaves.

Red and Green Colors: The color red symbolizes the sacrifice of Jesus. Green is the perfect background for the red. Green represents youth, hope and nature. (Read Red and Green Colors?)

Angels: The angel is a symbol of good and evil spirits in religion.

Frankincense: Frankincense was a gift brought to Baby Jesus by the Magi. Frankincense was the purest incense and produced a white smoke, which was a symbol of prayers and praises to those ascending to heaven.

Madonna and Child: The Madonna and Child represents the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.

Gifts: Gifts are an act of love symbolizing the act of love that God made when sending us Jesus. Gifts are to remind us that Jesus Christ was a gift to us from God.

Holly: The thorn of the holly represents the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. The berries symbolize the drops of blood that were shed from him wearing the crown. Holly was also used in Northern Europe to drive away evil spirits. It would be brought into their homes to brighten the mood and to refresh the air.

Mistletoe: Mistletoe was used by Druid priests before the birth of Christ in winter celebrations. The plant had no roots, yet it remained green through the winter. The Celtics also believed that mistletoe had healing powers and used it as an antidote for infertility and to ward off evil spirits. They also believed that it was a symbol of peace. The Scandinavians believed the plant was associated with the goddess of love. They believed that those who kissed under the mistletoe would have a promise of luck an happiness in the new year.

Christmas Cards: Christmas cards originated in England and were created by boys practicing their writing skills. They would make cards for their parents with Christmas greetings. The first real Christmas card is credited to Sir Henry Cole in 1843. He was the director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. He commissioned an artist named John Calcott to draw an illustration that would be used on the card. The card had three panels. The center panel had a family enjoying Christmas festivities and the message said, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” The cards were sent because he was too busy to send individualized messages to his friends.

Xmas: Many people believe that the term “Xmas” is disrespectful. However, the Greek word fro Christ is Xristos. The letter “X” was used as a religious symbol in Greece. Europeans have used Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas since the 16th century. So even if people try, they cant ever really take Christ out of Christmas!

Pretty interesting huh?! Merry Christmas!

(info taken from Christmas Symbols)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Making This Christmas Count

Lets concentrate on this sentence for a moment:

'To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.'

If you want things to be different or better than they have been in the past, then we have to do things differently than you have done in the past? What kind of things you ask? Below are a few things to consider:

Are you praying for a more Christ-centered Christmas this year?
It wont just happen, you have to initiate it. (Take a look at an earlier post from this week called 30 Ways to Give The Gift Of Yourself for some great ideas about how to do this.)

Are you hoping for a stronger relationship with Christ?
I have always heard the saying that when we feel distanced from God, that He is not the one who moved, we did. If we want to feel closer to God, we have to make the choice to spend time reading His word each day, in prayer, and in loving others as much as He loves us. When we move to closer to God, then we will feel closer to His presence.

Are you wishing that you could trust God more in the most difficult and every day situations in your life?
That wont happen if you always do the same thing you have always done. If you go to your phone to talk about a problem or worry, before you go to His throne, then your trust cannot grow in the Lord.

Do you feel as if you cant see God working in your life, and maybe that He is punishing you for past sins or mistakes?
Doing all of the above things, will not only strengthen your faith, but allow you to begin seeing Him working in your life. Have you asked God to make His presence known? To prick your heart when He divinely ordains something special to take place in your day?

Did you lose something or someone valuable to you this year? Have you been through some very difficult, frightening or challenging times? Do you want to be able to see the glory in Gods will, but cant because of your strong emotions about the pain you are going through?
Remember that when God takes something from your grasp, He's not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better. The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you. Consider a bad situation in the past, and ponder what good things came out of that situation. Recognize what you learned and God did do something positive out of it. This helps us remember that everything does actually word for the glory of God for those who love Him.

Are you yearning for closer relationships with friends this year, find a soul mate, or to possibly build some new relationships?
If you are anything like me, you may be hesitant to take the first move to call people up and try to begin building a relationship. Sometimes it seems silly to try to "make new friends", making us feel like we are back in middle school again. But friends are a crucial part of every persons life, so it is worth the effort! Instead of just wishing for relationships, pray for God to bring people into your life in which you build enriching and special friendships with.

These are just a few thoughts that came to my mind, but I am sure you have things on your mind and in your life that you would like to see some changes in over the next year. So here are some simple steps for you to consider to help you meet your goals, and depend on Christ during the journey! Also, if you have done something in the past that has helped you to work through difficult times or worries and God came through for you in a special way, please bless us be sharing that experience and wisdom!

-Think of some things that have been heavy on your heart lately.

-Think about how you have been facing or handling those things and if your actions, behaviors or thoughts are positively helping you deal with the situation.

-Consider whether or not what you have been doing, has worked, or if you see benefits as a result.

If your thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions and behaviors in dealing with a situation going on in your life has not resulted in something positive, or if you are still struggling or feeling unsure of how things will turn out in a certain situation in your life, then could it be possible that maybe you should try a different approach! Maybe the Jesus approach!
We cannot control what happens in life, how other people act, or how other people think, but we do have control over our own mind and our actions. Take control today, by leaning on the One who truly is in control and is all sovereign.

I hope you and yours have a very Merry CHRISTmas!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

31 Ways To Give The Gift Of Yourself

Welcome Proverbs 31 subscribers! I am so glad you hopped over to visit my blog today. All of this month I have offered up special Christmas ideas and recipes, so I hope you will take time to look back at some earlier posts and get some new ideas for this holiday season, and come back soon to visit again!

I pray that todays P31 devotion about the four special gifts we are given at Christmas touched your heart. Even though we normally focus on the Christmas story in Luke around this time of year, John 3:16 is a crucial verse to be integrated into everyones Christmas memories.

I want to share with you another reminder of a holy truth that we need to etch into our hearts this Christmas, and that is that all gifts from the heart. Spending time and thought picking out a unique and special gift for someone is so much fun this time of year. What a delight we feel when that person opens their gifts and we see their eyes light up with joy! But oh the joy we can receive when the gift we have given is intangible, personal and priceless.

I am on a mission. Maybe you can help me. I talked with my children a couple weeks ago and told them that I want them each to pick out some type of volunteer activity, and then help plan it, and then we will all go and do it together as a family.

Although we have participated in some self-giving activities in the past, like Operation Christmas Child, adopting a family for Christmas, donating canned goods and the like, I want to do something that truly impacts our hearts this year, and helps my children realize what gift giving is really all about.

I want my children to know that Christmas is not just about what is under the tree, but what is in the manger, and what that baby in a manger did for us. I want them to know that the reason God gave us the gift of Jesus, was so that Jesus could give the gift of life to us, so that we could give the gift of ourselves to others.

I emailed many of my Proverbs 31 sisters the other day asking for some volunteer opportunity suggestions from them, and they were full of ideas! Below are some of those ideas that they shared, and some that I came up with or derived from other sources. My family and I are considering which of these we want to take on, and since I am posting it here on the blog for all to see - now I am accountable for acting on these! I cant wait to let you know which ones we chose and what we experienced. So keep checking back to see what things we chose to do!

If you have any other great volunteer ideas for this time of year, please share them!

1. Bake some holiday goodies and take to a neighbor who you dont know well yet. Or consider taking a baked good item to a neighbor or acquaintance with whom you have had some conflict with in the past year. Break the ice and begin building a new relationship!

2. Talk to your pastor or school principal and find out if there is a family at the church or in the community that your family could “adopt” for Christmas. You would provide as much of Christmas for this family as you would like. Food, presents, decorations, etc.

3. Call around to the local retirement homes and find out if there are residents that don’t have family visiting them. You could bring a gift, music, books, or just sit with them and read the Christmas story together. Maybe they need help sending cards and gifts?

4. Call shelters and ask if they need help serving food or need blankets, socks, coats, toiletries, etc. As a family, you could help collect the items and/or serve.

5. Sing Christmas carols or read the Christmas story to a shut-in.

6. Secretly leave gifts or gift cards for families that you know could use a little help. Do this anonymously. Your family will have fun being Jesus and keeping the secret.

7. Ask a local store if you can stand outside and give out candy, cider, etc. You could attach the legend of the candy cane to candy canes and then give them out. Not everyone would let you do this but… it never hurts to try. Serving warm drinks to weary, stressed out shoppers on a cold day would be a welcome treat and a great example of the kindness of strangers.

8. Send cards to troops overseas and/or help the family of a soldier who is overseas. I bet they would love phone cards.

9. Visit children in the chronically and/or terminally ill ward of the hospital. Family members need time to spend at home with their other children and this provides them with a much-needed break. You can read to the kids or play board games or color or just talk to them.

10. Put together treat baskets for your local fire department, police department, teachers at school, staff at church, healthcare workers, etc. Anyone who serves in the community would be encouraged knowing that they were appreciated.

11. Lysa Terkeurst shared how she blessed someone in the laundromat. Yes - the laundromat! Read her blog post here to check it out - you could bless random people at any public location!

12. Visit with residents of your local nursing home or assisted living facility. A friendly smile and a little conversation goes a long way!

13. Invite a child or teen over for dinner whom you know will not have much a holiday this year. Allow them to join in with your family activities and feel the love of Christ in your home. This can open doors to share the gospel with them too.

14. Allow your kids to have some friends over for a little Christmas gathering, and give them each a takeaway item to take home that shares the message of Christmas with them (yes, even if it embarrasses them!). Teens especially, need to know that there is God who loves them unconditionally.

15. Contact your local Pregnancy Crisis Center to serve pregnant mothers in need.

16. Bake cookies for your co-workers and tie a bible verse around them with a pretty ribbon. Pray over the cookies and ask God to touch the hearts of those who recieve them. Dont worry about corporate repercussions, it is not against the law to share and live out your faith.

17. Invite someone whom you know does not have any family, or who is new to town and doesnt have many friends, over for Christmas dinner, or to attend your church's Christmas Eve service.

18. Pick a child from an Angel Tree and donate the needed items.

19. Leave a really generous tip for your waiter/waitress the next time you eat out! You could also prepare a brief note ahead, or have a bible verse from the Christmas story available on a small piece of paper to leave with your tip.

20. Send a Christmas card to someone whom you have had conflict with in the past. Let them know you are praying for them during this special time of year and that you hope the new year and Gods love can help you kindle a positive relationship.

21. Take your family caroling to your local hospital, retirement community, or nursing home.

22. Make a shoebox of toys and essential items for Operation Christmas Child.

23. Sponsor a child through Compassion International.

24. Visit members of your church who are in the hospital, especially ones that would not expect you to visit them.

25. Offer to dog-sit for friends who are traveling during the holidays so they do not have to pay expensive kennel costs.

26. Contact your local United Way and see how you can help make the holidays extra special for people with disabilities.

27. Offer to run errands or drive an elderly or sick neighbor to doctor appointments.

28. Make some goodie bags with small food items or candy in them, and give them to the homeless standing on street corners or at stoplights.

29. When you see someone asking for food or money on the side of the street, drive thru a restaurant and get them a warm meal and take it back to them.

30. Next time you’re at a drive-thru, tell the cashier that you want to pay for the person’s tab behind you.

31. Reach out and be Christ to someone today, tomorrow, next week and always. Pray for God to make it clear to you who needs a blessing, and how you can be Gods vessel in blessing that person.

Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Greatest Mess Of All

All in all, Im pretty much a neat freak. Let me clarify though, that my house routinely gets cluttered or messy from three kids in elementary, middle and high school, who think that items they throw on the floor somehow walk themselves into its proper place. Three kids who come home from school everyday and experience some type of bookbag explosion phenomenon where everything they bring home seems to be scattered from one end of the room to the other, and fourteen pairs of shoes are strewn about.

But nonetheless, it doesnt take long for me to reach my clutter tolerance limit, and miss crazed neat freak soon kicks in. But not last night.

Last night was the greatest mess of all. See it below:

Kaitlyn loves to bake and decorate - just like her mom! So me and my sweet Katybug (that is what we call her) got to baking last night. First we made some Candy Cane Crunch which was a recipe I found on my friend and fellow P31 speakers blog, Karen Ehman.

The Candy Cane Crunch was delicious! And so easy! Simply take 24 oz of white baking chocolate and melt it in the microwave. Then crush up two boxes of candy canes until they are in very small pieces and make about 2 cups; mix chocolate and candy cane pieces together and spread on a pan; wait until it hardens and then break it up and begin munching! This will definitely be one of our favorite holiday recipes for many years to come.

Below is a picture of our candy cane crunch mixture, and then Kaitlyn holding a bag of it after it was all done - while sitting in front of our candy tree, of course!

Then we got the bright idea of making sugar cookies. Even though it was already getting close to bedtime, we searched the cabinets to make sure we had all the necessary ingredients, turned on the Christmas music and began making the greatest mess! Here are a few more shots of my little cooks.

Being the Christmas fanatic that I am, I loved this mess! It not only resulted in a few baked goods, but a few sweet memories that taste even better than sugar. My sweet children, working together, listening to holiday music, having fun, amid the Christmas decorations, talking about what volunteer opportunities we are looking forward to and who we need to pray for.

Wow. Now that is a mess that I can live with (or course I cleaned it all up spic and span before I went to bed!) But the sweet memories we cooked up will stay in my heart for always.

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Peace On Earth

Most everyone likes to travel, especially during the holidays!

Although most people visit friends and family during the holidays, some people like to get away from it all!

The travel advertisements that bombard our lives every day of exotic hotels with pampering spa services, palm trees rustling in the wind on warm tropical beaches, and cruise ships sailing through the calm sea waters, seem to make traveling so enticing. But those visions are all a blur if you are a business traveler and jumping from airport to airport, never smelling the salty air or feeling the warm Caribbean breezes, which was my life just a few years ago.

A job I held for many years required me to do a lot of traveling. I have never considered air travel to be as pleasurable as the airline commercials try to suggest, but after months of consecutive flying, I got accustomed to repeated flight delays, stale pretzels, and cramped quarters with other people who were enjoying the trials of travel just as much as I was. But on one particular trip God shared his peace with me, and as always, I was forced to recognize once again that God has a specific reason for putting us into circumstances that may not seem enjoyable.

After I had flown often enough to lose the white knuckles and shortness of breath every time we took off, landed or had even the slightest turbulence, I began to enjoy the brief time I spent on the plane. God tugged at my heart each time I got on a plane to spend time with Him and I began carrying my bible with me on each trip. It allowed me to have some very rare opportunities for meaningful quiet time, all alone, just me and God (and as an employee, wife, and mother of three, any quiet time at all was a pure miracle!)

There is something very special about hovering above the clouds of cotton with the blinding sunshine, the warmth of its’ closeness on your face, and blue skies with subtle pink and yellow highlights, that makes you feel so close to God and near His heavens. It is easy to imagine how beautiful and peaceful heaven must be, as you soar above the breathtaking clouds and seem physically closer to the God who created everything than you could ever feel on the ground.

But on some flights, as soon as the plane dipped beneath the clouds to make its’ descent, I realized that the day wasnt as I had thought at all. It was dreary, clouds were black and not white, it was raining and gloomy. I instantly felt saddened, and, oh how I wanted to leap back up where nature’s beauty had brought joy into my heart, where I was close to the heavens, and where peace was so easily obtained.

That’s when God spoke to my heart. He reminded me that I should always feel close to Him, and bask in the warmth of His peace every day. We don’t need to be 30,000 feet in the air to feel near to His presence. He is as close as we want him to be, and as close as we will allow Him to be, every second of every day.

When we are faced with trials, God wants us to seek his guidance and rise above the problems through his strength, grace and mercy so that we can bask in the warmth of His peacefulness. Just as I wanted to steer the plane back up into the clouds to the peacefulness of the skies, God desires for us to steer our hearts towards him and seek the warmth of His face upon ours.

During this Christmas season, instead of getting bogged down with problems, stresses, work deadlines, end of year reports, cooking and gifts to buy, take time to remember that Jesus is standing by your side everywhere you go – in the mall, at the grocery store, at a holiday gathering, and in your kitchen.

When you begin to feel burdened by the busyness of the season, allow yourself to imagine that you are soaring high above the clouds, basking in His warmth, and feeling His love on your heart.

I was not able to steer the plane back into the skies when I wanted to return to the visual peacefulness, but we can steer our hearts back to God anytime we choose, and experience His heavenly peace right here on earth. Christmas is a special time of year, and His peace is only a prayer away.

John 14:27 says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. (NIV)

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Friday, December 12, 2008

The Most Precious Christmas Gift Of All

What is the biggest question on the mind of most Americans this time of year? "Oh dear,what should I get them for Christmas?" Can you relate? Im sure you can! As soon as Thanksgiving is over,most people start focusing on what gifts they can give to the people they love for Christmas.

But do the best gifts really come from a store? Of course not. We all know the best gifts come from the heart. The best gifts are the legacies that we leave, the love that we give, and the impressions that we leave on the hearts of lives of others.

Todays Proverbs 31 devotion focuses on the most valuable,precious, treasured gift that one could ever receive - the gift of salvation. The gift of life after death, living an eternity sitting beside the one and only God. The gift of being born again.

My prayer for you today is to link over and read todays devotion, titled "Annes Devotion". It is a story you do not want to miss.

This Christmas, give the gift that never ends, even in the scope of infinite time. Are you willing to share this gift, or will you let fear or anxiousness about how someone may respond to the offer of hope from Jesus stop you from sharing it? Read Annes Devotion, I know you will be blessed.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas has been hijacked! Stand up and fight to get it back.

A hijacking has taken place. No, not in a big city, or a sandy dessert. But right in our own back yards.

What was hijacked? Christmas.

Our holy holiday has been hijacked by the progressive efforts of the unsaved to beat down the spirit of Christmas; by the politically correct government who is more worried about not offending the unsaved than they are keeping favor for our country with the God who created the universe; by retailers, who would rather dishonor God and put aside their own beliefs to assure higher sales; by public schools, where our kids are not allowed to celebrate the holiness of the season, but have to focus on Grinch Day and the Santa store instead; and lastly, by corporations, more concerned with promoting equality for all religions and thus stripping employees of the Christian religious freedoms to celebrate the birth of our Jesus.

Yep. Christmas has been hijacked. It makes me angry. It makes my blood pressure rise, because I have no control to change what is happening in our country, government, stores, schools, and offices. I feel like I dont have a voice, and that that even if I did, that it would be drowned by all the nay sayers who think Christmas is a time for sales, gifts, trees, decorations, and year end bonuses.

When did our country become one that is not founded on God, and one where everyone celebrates the "holidays", but Jesus seems to be the two ton elephant in the room that nobody is risky enough to mention? Breaks my heart.

In school, history is one of the most important subjects that kids are required to take. They learn all kinds of things, dates, people and events that occurred in our country for hundreds of years past. Why is Christ no longer part of our history? Who determined that Christ was no longer part of our history? How did that happen?
Now I find myself dealing with problems like trying to explain why the "big bang theory", of which my kids watched a 90 minute movie on at school, is not true. I have to be on my toes about how to defend our Christian beliefs, when their teachers are trying to tell them all religious are alike, even if they have other Gods. I have to encourage them to stand up for what they believe in and be firm in their faith, without being disrespectful to their teachers of course.
At every turn, Christians are trying to escape from the hijacking.

I have learned that Christmas has been celebrated in some form since the 4th century, and read that Christmas was actually outlawed from 1659-1681 in Boston, Massachusetts. Hmmmmm..... could that happen again? In our entire country? Could all those people who seem to have a louder voice than all the Christians out there, eventually strip us of our right to celebrate a Christmas? A scary thought, but based on what I have seen happen already in our country, it is a valid possibility.

On June 26, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant declared December 25th a National Holiday … CHRISTMAS. But that historical event is slowly becoming null and void. America is falling to the side of err, instead of climbing to the top, sticking with morals, clinging to Gods Word and believing that our country desperately needs a God to protect us. The last time I read about this type of thing happening, the names Soddom and Gomorahh were mentioned. Two cities destroyed by Gods wrath, as a result of the sins of the inhabitants of these cities.

Our country was founded on Christian values by our founding fathers, and nobody can take that away from us. Regardless of the local, regional and national attempts to strip Christ out of Christmas, it can only happen if we allow it. Nobody is going to convince me, or strip away from me, the belief that Christ was sent here, born in a manger, and died for my sins. That is why I celebrate - not to have a happy holiday, but to have a happy heart.

I do have a voice. So do you. We simply need to take a stand! Lots of voices together make a loud noise. So make a commitment to make a difference this holiday season, and let your voice be heard to everyone around you. How?

* Set up a small manger scene at your desk/cubicle at work. Feel free to tell anyone about the meaning of it.

*Normally, more Christians are out there than you think - but many people are not open with their beliefs, or their Christmas faith, in an effort to not offend others! Stand up for Christ, and you may have a lot of new Christian friends come out of the wood work to stand behind you. There is power in numbers.

* Say Merry Christmas to everyone you meet - your boss, your neighbor, your friend, your enemy. Dont worry about their beliefs - be proud of yours.

* Send Christmas cards with a bible verse on them, or a biblical picture - again - dont worry about the faith of those you are sending to, be proud of yours.

* Dont shop at stores that refuse to acknowldge Christmas as the reason for the season. If all of their signage says Happy Holidays - walk out - and be sure to let someone know why you are not shopping there.

* Have a Christmas party, not a holiday party at your home. Worried about your neighbors not coming because they are not Christians? Well dont. Be proud of your faith.

* Dont worry about what anyone thinks, if you are going to offend someone, or trying to please everyone - just be proud of your faith. Be proud of the season. Be proud of the reason why you celebrate Christmas.

Worrying about what others think of your faith or your Christmas beliefs, and allowing that fear to prevent you from standing up for Christ, is what left our country vulnerable to this hijacking that has taken place.

Stand up for Christ this Christmas. Be proud of the manger, and let everyone know it loud and clear. Have you got an example of how you stood up for your rights to celebrate the birth of Christ? Any suggestions on how to find that courage to stand up for Christ, even when it is does seem politically correct?


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jesus Is Better Than Santa

A friend sent me a little story, and I have to share it with you! It is wonderful story to remind us of who Jesus is this Christmas. I am going to read this to my children tonight before we go to bed, maybe more than once, because I believe it really puts the meaning of Christmas into a perspective that they can understand. Now my girls no longer believe in Santa, but their hearts cant help but get caught up in the magical feelings of Christmas, just like me. So often we forget to remember how awesome Jesus is, even when He is sending presents, and His presence, to us every day.

Lets face it, no matter how good of a Christian we like to think we are, sometimes we all need a reminder of why we are really celebrating.

So grab a cup of cocoa and get ready for a great read. Your heart will be touched with the spirit of CHRISTmas.

Why is Jesus better than Santa?

Santa lives at the North Pole.
JESUS is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh
JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes but once a year
JESUS is an ever present help.

Santa fills your stockings with goodies
JESUS supplies all your needs.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited
JESUS stands at your door and knocks...
And then enters your heart.

You have to stand in line to see Santa
JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap
JESUS lets you rest in His arms.

Santa doesn't know your name, all he can say is
"Hi little boy or girl, What's your name?"
JESUS knew our name before we did.
Not only does He know our name,
He knows our address too.
He knows our history and future and He
even knows how many hairs are on our heads.

Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly
JESUS has a heart full of love.

All Santa can offer is HO HO HO
JESUS offers health, help and hope.

Santa says "You better not cry"
JESUS says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you.

Santa's little helpers make toys
JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts,
repairs broken homes and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle but
JESUS gives you joy that is your strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree
JESUS became our gift and died on the tree.

It's obvious there is really no comparison.

We need to remember WHO Christmas is all about.

We need to put Christ back in Christmas.

Jesus is still the reason for the season.

(author unknown)

Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Ideas and Recipes, con't.

If you are linking over here from Karen Ehmans 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway, then welcome! I have so enjoyed reading how all of my P31 sisters celebrate their holidays, and I trust you have too. I am thrilled you came to visit today, and hope you come back again soon! This is a great time of year to be a blogger isnt it! Tune in all month for tasty recipes and Christmas ideas, along with some thoughts to ponder about keeping Christ as the center of our Christmas.

Wow, Christmas is only 17 days away now! In a way, I am sort of bummed. I love the month of December. I dont even mind the crowds or traffic really, because that just gives me more time to listen to my Christmas music and be in the hustle and bustle of the season! I know you are thinking I am crazy, but I love Christmas, and believe it or not, Christmas day is my least favorite day of the season.

Now dont get me wrong, I love receiving gifts - what girl doesn't?! And Michael and I love watching our children and family open their gifts and get excited about everything. I love traveling from house to house visiting with family and eating lots of yummy food. But really, it is the meaning of Christmas, and the sounds, sights and smells of the season, that I love the most.

The special holiday things that we get to do for 25 days (or more in my case, since I usually begin my holiday frolicking around Halloween)are what truly warms my heart.....so I hate when it is over! I honestly start getting depressed when I have to take down my Christmas decorations, and especially knowing that I have to move on into January next, a dull,cold, dreary month where I have to experience yet another birthday (yuck).

So every year, I want to make the most of my holiday, in every way possible. People can poke fun at me for it; maybe my house is overly decorated; the kids can say that I am embarassing for listening to so much Christmas music and starting in October; and my husband can grow weary of my excitement over Christmas lights and wanting to do special holiday things, but it is all good - I am just a Christmas kind of girl - and proud of it, thank ya very much! In fact I have so many favorite things this time of year, I cant even name them all! (and you probably do not want me to anyway).

What about you? Is there something wonderful and special that you love about this month? Is there a unique reason why the holidays are so special to you? What are your favorite things at Christmas? Got any great thoughts for us cyber friends to read today that would impress our hearts and help us draw closer to Christ this December? Let me hear from you!

Today I want to share with you two tasty appetizers. Both of these are great ideas to take to a holiday gathering, without a lot of effort or money! And for goodness sakes, we all know we need to save our energies and our funds this time of year! Hope you enjoy them!

Bourbon Hot Dogs
1 lb cocktail franks
1/2 cup bourbon (dont worry - the alcohol cooks out!)
1 1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp finely grated onion (optional)

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan, stirring frequently. Simmer over low heat for one hour. If it dries out, add a bit more bourbon. Transfer to chaffing dish and serve with toothpicks!
(for a larger group, just double the recipe; the ingredient measurements stay the same)

Tasty Cream Cheese Rolls
1 large jar of dried, sliced beef
1 package of cream cheese
1 jar of whole green olives (optional)

Separate the dried beef slices, and spread a 1/2 tsp or more of cream cheese in the center of the slice. Roll the beef up into a roll, and secure with a toothpick. Wa la! You are done! You can add the olive on top and secure it with the toothpick as well, which gives it a more festive look. Place the rolls on a pretty dish with some holly leaves or colored cellophane, and you have an easy but delicious presentation.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

A True Picture of Christmas

Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (NKJV)

As the Christmas season is in full wing now, I want to take a break today from recipes and Christmas ideas, and think about something special to remember over the holidays this year.

Searching for just the right Christmas card to send to my friends and family is always something I put a lot of thought into. As I pondered over the variety of cards on the store shelves this year, I noticed they all had one thing in common. Whether the pictures showed lighted candles on a festive table, a warm fireplace with stockings hung in a row, a smiling family having Christmas dinner, or a blanket of new fallen snow in a moon-lit meadow, they all portrayed a feeling of serenity and peace.

Although I wish I could say those types of pictures signify holidays at my house, there are days when peace and serenity seems to be unattainable!

Around the middle of December each year, I often find myself yearning for that peace on the Christmas cards – the peace of perfect families, perfect gifts, perfect meals and perfect weather. But in my heart, I know that the real picture of peace is not found in any of those things, but only through seeing the holidays through the eyes of Jesus.

When I take my eyes off of the picture of the birth of Jesus, and instead focus on the birth of all the new holiday projects I think I need to take on, I begin to devote my time to the things that the world thinks are important, and not the things that Jesus thinks is important. Jesus does not care about how beautiful my Christmas tree is, how many candles I have lit in my windows, or how many presents I have under my tree.

Jesus cares about how many people I invited into my home to share in His birthday party, how many times I shared the light of His love with others, and how many times I was willing to put the needs of others before my own selfish wants and desires.

I came across an anecdote that was circulating the Internet last year around Christmas. It asked, "What if the three wise men were women?" The author answered the question with this response:

“If the wise men were women, they would have brought cooked food, clean diapers, and the skills of a midwife. They would have cleaned the stable, prepared a meal, shoved the animals out of the way and given sound advice about childcare. They would have been able to see through the evil intentions of the tyrant Herod and they would have escorted the newborn to a safe haven. They would have filed charges against Herod for child abuse and organized a non-violent rally. But the men, they brought unusable gold, and the inedible incense and myrrh. So impractical.”

Although this is a funny way to think of the differences between men and women, it provides a significant perspective on gift giving. The gifts that are most important to people cannot be found at the mall – gifts like helping someone in need, providing a meal for a needy family, visiting nursing home patients, helping an elderly neighbor decorate their home, loving our enemies, and praying with someone who is hurting.

These types of gifts require little or no financial expense from the giver, but are much more valuable than any practical gifts from a store. These are the gifts that once given open our hearts to receive God’s love and peace in abundance. When we know we have shown the love of Jesus to others, only then can we truly have the peace that is waiting for us at Christmas time. This verse in Luke above reiterates that truth, that we will have peace when God is pleased. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and this pleases God.

A real picture of peace at Christmas is not holidays with an absence of stress or strife, but a heart with a passion for Jesus and a love for sharing the gift of life that God gave us through the birth of His son.

Merry Christmas!

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Special Christmas Giveaway

Have you checked out Lysa Terkeurst's blog lately? If not, this would be a great time to hop on over there. She is having a really cool Christmas Giveaway today! www.lysaterkeurst.com

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Christmas Ideas and Recipes, con't.

My friend Karen Ehman is having a 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway on her blog (you should check it out!), and featuring Proverbs 31 speakers all month. On her first day, she encouraged readers to think about their holiday traditions, and what is worth continuing and what are simply more-to-do-but-nobody-really-cares-about-it traditions.

So I decided to take this challenge, and this morning on the drive to school, I asked my daughters what their favorite Christmas traditions were at our house. They quickly answered, "we dont have any traditions at our house". My heart sunk and my eyes bulged out. I loudly said, "you mean all these years I have been trying to make special Christmas memories for all of you and you honestly think we dont have any traditions?!" I could feel my holiday spirit diminishing as my blood pressure was rising.

I think they were a little scared about what to say next to a mom who now seemed to be hyperventilating, so they meekly asked me what were some of our traditions. So I quickly started listing them off one by one:

1) We pick out family trees together, have dad load them on the car, come home and turn on the Frosty the Snowman DVD, drink hot cocoa, and decorate the house and our trees.
2) We make special baked treats every year for friends, family and teachers that they love to help make.
3) We try to help a family in need every Christmas by buying them Christmas gifts.
4) We go to the Southern Christmas Show every year as a girls-day-out adventure.
5) We go to the Christmas Eve Candlelight service at our church each year.
6) We play holiday music and sing along for hours.
7) We ooh and ahh over our special sentimental decorations, like our little Angel Angie and our small kitchen Christmas tree which is decorated with all candy-themed ornaments.
8) We read the Christmas story together and talking about why Jesus is the reason we celebrate, and sett up our big manger scene with all the Christmas story characters.

And then I stopped to take a breath as they sat wide eyed at my flurried rundown of activities, but then they both said, "oh, I just thought those were the things we do every year, I didnt know they were traditions". Okay, so at least they do know we do special things every year and remembered them, and they do look forward to those things, they just never considered them "traditions", because they didnt really understand the meaning of the word.

So this year, I plan to make sure that each time we do something familiar, I tell them, "now remember, this is one of our traditions!". And one day, I hope they will carry on some of these traditions with their own families, just as I did with the traditions that took place in my childhood home during the holidays. I just took for granted that they knew what traditions were!

The dictionary definition of "tradition" is this:
* the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.
* a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting
* a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices

When I read this definition, I thought to myself, EXACTLY! But then God spoke to my heart, and I heard Him say to me, "the tangible traditions that we carry out are not the only things we should want to pass down to our kids; the real traditions come from the heart".

The thought almost stopped me in my tracks. I so want to pass down the tradition of going to church every Sunday, being involved in bible studies and learning about Gods word, helping families who are in need, putting others before ourself, caring about your sisters and brothers and treating them kindly, being respectful to your parents and elders, being a polite person, being able to forgive, staying true to your faith and making Christ a priority in your life yearroud, not just at Christmas.

Come to think of it, there are so many other traditions that I want to pass down to my kids that I cannot even list them all. I am so thankful that God reminded me of this important truth about traditions. Holiday traditions are great and important, but the holidays are not the only place where traditions need to take place.

Instead of focusing on whether or not my children remember what movie we played while decorating our Christmas tree, I want to make an early New Years Resolution to focus on what traditions I am passing down throughout the entire year. What traditions is my heart planting, that will take root in the hearts of my family?

My prayer for the coming year is that I do pass traditions through how I live my own life, so that my children will inherit a long standing belief in Jesus Christ, all that He stood for, what He means to us, and how He can use to affect the hearts and lives of others.

I want to encourage you too to consider what your "traditions" are this holiday season -- are they only traditions attached to a holiday, or are they life and heart traditions, which are grounded in our beliefs, and ones that we pass down by word of mouth, but more importantly, by practice and how we live out our daily lives.

As promised yesterday, below is a special easy cheese dip recipe that is super for Christmas parties. I have been making it so many years, that I dont even know where it came from, but I always receive compliments on it when I take it to gatherings.

Cheese Dip
1 large bar of Velveeta Cheese
1 can of Rotel tomatoes
1 pack of Sage Sausage
1 large can of Salsa
2 bags of Tortilla chips (for dipping!)

Depending on how mild or spicy you want your dip to be, you can mix and match with the Rotel, Sausage and Salsa flavors.

Brown your sausage in a frying pan, and drain the grease. Pour sausage either into your crock pot or a small deep pan or pot, both on low to medium settings. Stir in your tomatoes, salsa and Rotel, and continue stirring until it is fully mixed. Let the mixture get hot, but be sure not to let the bottom burn, and then cube up the Velveeta and put in the mixture. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and your mixture is a nice orange bubbly cheese dip. Serve either from the crock pot, or transfer to a serving bowl (note that once cheese dip is cooled, it will harden, but can easily be warmed back up for a second round!)

Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Ideas and Recipes, con't.

Well I have finally finished decorating at my house, and I love it! I even wrapped a few presents and put them under the tree today - the childrens faces lit up when they got home from school and they dove under the tree to check them out! Only 22 more days of torture until they can open them!

With only 21 shoppings days left, I need to get moving! I have done some of my shopping, and am actually more ahead this year than I have been in years past, but still have many gifts to buy, including teacher gifts!

My three kids used to have only one teacher each, so buying a decent gift for each of them at Christmas was not a big deal, but now they have anywhere from two to six teachers each, and that really adds up! So, several years ago, my children and I begin making goodie bags, and a new tradition began.

Each year at Christmas, we make teacher gifts instead of buying some cheap little knick-knack or apple notepad that says "worlds greatest teacher". My sister used to be a teacher, and she finally threw away the boxes and boxes of little gifts that she received over years of Christmas holidays, because honestly, what do you with all that useless stuff? (I know that it is the thought that counts, but seriously, its just useless stuff usually!) So instead of gifts, we always give goodies!

This is also a great way to save some money during the holidays. If are on a tight budget this year, as most of us are, consider giving tasty treats instead of store bought gifts. Two of the main things that we always put in our teacher bags that are always a big hit, are the two recipes below. They look holiday-ish, and we wrap each goodie in cellophane, with curly ribbons on them, plus a few other goodies and put them all in a gift bag with pretty paper.

Today I want to share with you a great quick and easy, yet impressive and delicious, candy recipe that I discovered years ago, and it has become a family tradition for us. The girls start asking me around thanksgiving when we are going to make our pretzel candies. And caramel popcorn.... all I can say is... yummy! One of my alltime favorite snacks. Below is a great recipe passed down by my grandmother. Enjoy!

Pretzel Caramel Goodies
Bag of miniature loop pretzels
Bag of Rolos candy
Bag of pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place as many pretzels as you can flat on your ungreased cookie sheet. Unwrap the rolos, and place one rolo in the center of each pretzel. Put them in the oven for three or four minutes, until they are soft, but not completed melted. Remove from oven, and place one pecan half on top of each rolo, and gently press down until the rolo spreads out across the pretzel and the pecan is secure.

Caramel Popcorn ( I usually double or triple the recipe depending on how much I need)
3 3/4 quarts of popped corn (about 1/2 cup unpopped, you can also use bag popcorn if desired)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 white Karo syrup
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Soda

Preheat over to 200 degrees. Pop your popcorn and put it all on a large cookie sheet. Try to keep it to one or two layers of popcorn, so you can spread the caramel easily. Heat the sugar, margarine, syrup, and salt stirring constantly (watch it carefully, it can burn easily). Boil for 3 minutes, just until sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat. Stir in the baking soda until it is foamy and well mixed. Pour the mixture over the popped corn evenly, and stir until all the popcorn seems to be coated. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Let it cool and munch away!

Tune in tomorrow for a great cheesy dip appetizor and a cool Christmas idea.

Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Ideas and Recipes

There are so many things we could talk about at Christmas, with of course the most important of those being the reason that we celebrate this holiday season in the first place - the birth of or Savior, Jesus Christ. More than decorations, shopping, baking, wrapping presents, opening presents and and visiting with friends and family, I want my children to understand what Christmas is really about, and all things I mentioned in yesterdays post.

I intend to make that a priority again this year, by reminding the kids why we celebrate, reading the Christmas story, doing things for people in need, being involved in our Christmas church activities and concerts, praying together,etc. But - I also want to build warm memories in their hearts about their childhood Christmas experiences, and I truly believe that how a family celebrates their holidays is something that molds a childs heart forever.

So for the month of December, I want to share recipes, traditions and fond memories with all of you, my cyber friends!, and I cant want for you to share with me too. If you are normally one to comment on a blog, start a new years resolution early and comment on my blog this month! On December 15th, Im going to give away a special gift to the person who has left the most comments and shared the most ideas! So comment away!

I thought I would kick off the month by sharing the most delicious, mouth-watering, tongue drooling dessert that I have ever put in my month. Im serious! Over thanksgiving last week, we fixed this dessert at my Dads house, which was a recipe that we came across in the Paula Deen magazine. It is so easy, you wont believe it - it is so delicious, you wont believe it - trust me! And, it smells like chocolate when it is cooking, but it is not! So here it is below. Make and enjoy! I plan on carrying it to every potluck dinner and holiday party that I go to this month.

Blueberry Crunch Cake
1 20 oz can of crushed pineapple in juice
1 21 ounce can of blueberry pie filling (you could also use cherry, strawberry, blackberry, or peach pie filling if desired)
1 box of butter recipe yellow cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pour pineapple with juice into a 9x13 inch baking dish; spread evenly over bottom of dish. Spoon pie filling evenly over pineapple mix, and sprinkle dry cake mix over pie filling; Sprinkle pecans evenly over cake mix; drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Tomorrow: My home made recipes for the holidays - Caramel Popcorn, and Pretzel Caramel Goodies - plus a few Christmas words of course!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Cup of Christmas COCOA

I absolutely love Christmas. My family always pokes fun at me because the day after Halloween, I begin playing my twenty five Christmas CD’s, and start counting down the days that my girls and I can enjoy our annual tradition of visiting the Southern Christmas Show, including the preview night and several repeat visits I am one of those women who sets out one cornucopia for the month of November, but the day after thanksgiving, pulls out 25 boxes and bags, and decorates every square inch of my house.

Then while I am recuperating from my decorating frenzy, my spirit soon begins to yearn for the smells of cinnamon and oranges and scented candles; my eyes can’t wait to see the beautiful gold, green and red decorations glistening on every corner and in every store; I look forward to the shopping, holiday gatherings, and wrapping presents. I admit it – I am a Christmas-aholic. I love the Christmas season!

Is it wrong to love the Christmas season so much? Absolutely not - as long I keep myself grounded in my faith, and don’t forget that the most exciting part of Christmas, is CHRIST!

Despite my passion for the holiday traditions and treasures, I try to never lose sight that this month is really all about a birthday party! A birthday party to celebrate the most special gift ever known to man – the birth of Jesus, and God is the ultimate gift giver with this gift of His Son.

One really important thing I didn’t mention about the holiday season yet but that I adore, is hot cocoa. Who doesn’t feel warm, snuggly and loved while sipping on a steaming cup of cocoa with marshmallows or whip cream piled on top! Cocoa, or hot chocolate as us southerners like to call it, is usually enjoyed during times of happiness, warmth, and family, and this word can also be used to help us remember the important aspects of Christmas. COCOA can act as a reminder of the happiness and warmth we can enjoy due to being a part of God’s family.

Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the reason for the season. Remember to spend as much time searching for God’s truth, as you do searching for that perfect gift. Christ IS Christmas – there is no Christmas without Christ. During this season, share the gift that Christ has given with you someone else by expressions of love.

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such a braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Do you spend more time fretting over whether or not your house could be featured in the holiday edition of Southern Living, or whether or not your inner spirits are adorned with God’s love and the compassion and desire to give to those in need? Try to put a stronger focus on spending time with God this holiday season, and exhibit a heart that sparkles and shines for Him alone.

Proverbs 15:13 A happy heart makes a face look cheerful. But a sad heart produces a broken spirit.

As the gift list grows, the budgeted funds for those gifts decreases, the party dates fill the calendar and your kids all need help with school functions, it is easy to get discouraged. And although Christmas is meant to be a joyous season, many people also struggle during the holidays with depression and discouragement. Despite the reason that you may feel discouraged during this time of year, focus on how much you are loved as a dear and precious child of God. The holidays are merely a season, but God’s love and compassion for His children is permanent. Now there is something to celebrate!

Matthew 2:10 –12 The shepherds saw the star, and they were overjoyed – they were overcome with delight, awe, motivation, encouragement, love for God – they were overwhelmed with the gift of life.

Think of a time when you were overjoyed- the birth of a child, a graduation, a wedding, a beautiful sunrise, sparkling white beaches, a baptism. Being overjoyed means the feeling of happiness is so overwhelming, that tears fill your eyes, you have a lump in your throat, and your heart is beating rapidly. For many Christmas-aholics, we are overjoyed when we kick off the holiday season, but overwhelmed by the middle of the month! Try to find ways to remind yourself each day of December to be thankful for the birth of our Savior and overwhelmed by the blessings that have been bestowed upon you, rather than becoming overwhelmed with the holiday to-do lists or personal issues.

Jude :2 ..mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Whenever I think of Christmas morning, from my childhood to the present, the word ABUNDANCE comes to mind. As soon as the sun rises on December 25th, until it sets in the evening, we are bombarded with an abundance of presents, candy, baked goods, fruit, delectable meals and too much caloric intake. But these things are temporary… what we really yearn for is the abundant life promised to us in God’s word. Our true heart’s desire is for mercy, peace and love, not just on Christmas day, but every day throughout each year.

As you prepare for your holiday season, pull all your decorations out of the attic and dust off your Christmas CD’s, stay focused on the true meaning of our traditions – CHRIST. Decorate your home with the love of Christ, cheerfully celebrate the joy of Christ in your heart, be overjoyed and not overwhelmed, and strive for spiritual abundance rather than seasonal abundance. The next time you are in the mood for a hot cup of steaming cocoa, I pray that you will be reminded of these five important things, and as the warmth of the cocoa trickles down your throat, you will allow the warmth of God’s love to pour into your heart.

SPECIAL NOTE! I hope you will visit my blog each day this month! I am going to be sharing some great recipes and Christmas ideas and devotions! Merry Christmas!

A Cup of Christmas COCOASocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, December 1, 2008

12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

The holidays have officially begun! Only 24 shopping days left! It is time to get in the Christmas mood and start focusing on the season, and the reason for the season!

My friend Karen Ehman is doing an awesome 12 Days of Christmas giveaway to help get us in the mood! She will be featuring a Proverbs 31 speaker each day for the next 12 days, and every day there will be a winner of a special prize from the featured speaker! To check out this fun bloggy contest and get involved, visit Karens blog each day at the link below:


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