Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eleanor Gustafson | Spread the Christmas Joy

-->Christmas holds many memories for me, from sitting in my mother’s lap, miserable with chicken pox, to counting and recounting the record number of books I had received, to hosting our annual Christmas open house in the parsonage.
But when I was young, our family observed a special Christmas ritual.

Rule #1—Thou shalt not enter the living room where tree and presents reside, before breakfast.

Rule #2—Thou shalt eat a full and proper breakfast.

Rule #3—Thou shalt clean up and do all the dishes.

Then and only then might we process to the living room where we opened our gifts decently and in order.

This instilled a sense of discipline and respect, instead of chaotic self-gratification.

As suspense is a vital component of a good story, so particular life celebrations also benefit from suspense. We enjoyed Christmas more fully because of our parents’ decrees. Of course, the day culminated with a feast of turkey and fixings.

An earlier writing shared by Eleanor...

Whose Child?
Eleanor K. Gustafson

The lamp flickered, compounding light and shadow in the dark recesses of the stable. The baby's high, thin cry echoed strangely in the timbered structure. As the new mother drew the infant to her breast, her haggard face softened. She crooned a three-note melody, never before heard.

The bone-weary husband watched the baby's clumsy attempt to nurse. The day had been long, very long. Now, after the tension and excitement of the birth, a feeling of unreality swept over him. “That is not my child." The old haunting doubt deepened the lines on his face; sadness dragged at his arms.

The child slept, mouth still making sucking motions. The exhausted mother also dozed, arms enfolding her precious bundle.

The husband, gazing at them both, leaned to touch the baby's head. “This is not my child," he whispered. Then his face changed and the lines fell away. “But he's no other man's child, either.”

Straightening, he went to the stable entrance to receive the approaching shepherds.


Eleanor Gustafson:
Why am I suited to write a story about extraordinary horses and an extraordinary God? I grew up loving horses, and God drew me to himself at an early age—through a story. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, I have been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting. One of my major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story. My previous title with Whitaker House is The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David.

--> Email
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JoAnn Durgin | Spread the Christmas Joy

--> In the early mid-1990s, we traveled from Philadelphia to spend Christmas with my in-laws in Carver, Massachusetts (a beautiful area smack dab in the middle of the cranberry bogs). At the time, our oldest daughter, Sarah, was about four and our daughter, Chelsea, was a year old (son Matthew would come along in 1996). So, we packed up the car, and over the river and through the woods we went. . .quite literally.

We had a great time visiting with our family in Massachusetts (we also later moved to the Boston area), the kids played with their cousins, and we caught up with one another as we wrapped gifts, baked pies, cookies and other goodies, and darted off for some inevitable last-minute shopping. Everything was great until Christmas morning. After I heard my mother-in-law cry “Oh, no!” from the kitchen, I ran to see what was happening. “This ham is full of fat!” she said. “I can’t serve this!” My husband’s sweet mother is a fabulous cook, and she’s spent a good portion of her life in the kitchen. Bless her heart, she was so horrified and embarrassed. She kept saying, “I should have checked the ham. Why didn’t I check the ham?” Like most of us, she’d been immersed in all the busy activities of getting ready for Christmas. Perfectly understandable.

We all tried to convince Mom that everything would be fine, and she asked if we could see if there was someplace locally where we could find a replacement ham, turkey, or something. Anything. We made a few calls with no success. Finally, someone suggested “Let’s go Chinese!” Mom’s eyes opened wide as the rest of us looked at each other, waiting to see how she’d respond. Finally, Mom smiled and said, “All right, then. Let’s go Chinese.”

So, off we go…to Fall River, Massachusetts. Let me tell you, the Chinese restaurant wasn’t crowded, and we got lots of personal attention from the staff and servers. The kids had a ball, and the adults enjoyed a great dinner without worrying about preparation, dishes or clean-up. Then we all went back home to spend the rest of our Christmas in Carver, our tummies full of food and our minds filled with fun memories of a very special day.

To this day, “Let’s go Chinese!” remains an annual Christmas tradition for my in-laws. Sometimes our plans don’t work out the way we intended. Being flexible is something a lot of people have to learn, and it’s certainly easier for some than others. Events and trips may be postponed, expectations may not be met, and hopes may fade, but you know what? No matter what may come, we can rest assured that the Lord has it all under His control and in His perfect timing. We’re all guilty at one time or another of trying to take the reins—in essence, telling God, “This is how it’s going to be.” No, friends, it’s not.

Whenever I find myself trying to order my life without first spending time with the Lord in prayer, neglecting to present it to Him and ask for His guidance, I often fail. At the very least, I’m often disappointed in the results. The Lord is always there. He wants to hear your concerns, and He wants you to talk with Him like you do with a personal friend. You’ll find no better friend.

Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB)

JoAnn Durgin
Matthew 5:16

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--> JoAnn Durgin is the author of five novels (and counting) in the popular Lewis Legacy Series, as well as Catching Serenity, and Echoes of Edinburgh, and the Starlight Christmas Series: Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, Starlight, Star Bright, and Sleigh Ride Together with You. JoAnn lives with her husband and three children in southern Indiana and loves to hear from her readers at or

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gail Sattler | Spread the Christmas Joy

When my children were young I had crocheted a nativity set that was set out every Christmas, not on the mantle or place of honor, but on the carpet, for my boys to touch and re-enact the events preceding Christmas morning. The Wise Men and the camel started in the easternmost point, which was under the dining room table. The shepherds and sheep sat on the hearth, the innkeeper and stable, a wooden structure made by my father-in-law, was placed beside the tree.
Mary and Joseph and the donkey started beside the coffee table, and every day they made it a little closer to the stable. Every day the children, and the dogs, played with all the characters, and every night, they were all put back in their place.
Christmas morning Mary and Joseph arrived, Jesus was born, the angel was set on the tree above the stable, and the wise men and shepherds made it to the stable to worship Jesus. We said a prayer, and then it was time to open the gifts.
This was our way of keeping the message of Christmas prominent in our home, and every year my boys always enjoyed their part in putting all the figures in their places for everyone's journeys to begin another year.

Gail Sattler lives in Vancouver BC (Canada, eh!) where you don't have to shovel rain, with her husband, 3 sons, 2 dogs, and a lizard who is quite cuddly for a reptile. When she's not writing Gail Sattler plays acoustic bass for a community orchestra and electric bass for a local jazz band. When she's not writing or making music, Gail likes to sit back with a hot coffee and a good book.

Sandy Ardoin | Spread the Christmas Joy

--> The Years Christmas Went to the Dog

My mom loved Christmas. She loved decorating and baking various cookies. (My favorite were, and still are, the Peanut Butter Blossoms—with the chocolate Kiss.) She was also one of those mothers who loved stacking her kids presents under the tree. However, each child must have the same number of gifts and the same money spent on them—no showing favortism! But she didn’t stop with her children and grandchildren.

When we moved to Texas in 1972, my brothers and I bought a dachsund puppy for our parents’ anniversary. My mom named her Samantha Hushpuppy. Sam quickly became another member of the family with all the Christmas benefits due her.

When the holiday rolled around, she received her share of wrapped gifts under the tree along with the rest of us. Of course, hers were doggy treats or toys. She sniffed them out, knew which ones belonged to her, and guarded them against any all Christmas-doggy-treat thieves.

My brother and sister-in-law brought their dog over (only once). Each time he went near the tree, Sam raced over to it, got in his face, and showed her fangs with the warning, “Get your own treats, bud!”. Don’t worry, he did.

Sam had more patience than most children. Even though the presents sat under the tree for a couple of weeks, she never tore into them until given permission on Christmas day. Afterward, there was little left of the pretty wrapping paper and, generally, the box. One year, her presents had been left within reach after being opened. She ate so many dog treats during the day her stomach bloated to twice its normal size. Poor thing. She looked miserable, but she recovered to enjoy more Christmases.

It’s hard to think of the holiday without remembering both my mom and Sam. They’re both gone and the holiday isn’t the same. But I’ll always chuckle when thinking of the way they enjoyed their Christmas celebrations.

Leave a comment to enter to win a copy of The Yuletide Angel!

--> Sandra Ardoin is a multi-published author of short fiction who writes inspirational historical romance. Her Christmas novella, The Yuletide Angel, is available on Amazon. She’s the married mother of a young adult and lives in North Carolina.

Visit her at and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Sign up for her newsletter.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Alexis A. Goring | Spread the Christmas Joy

The Blessings Bag

There’s a song by Christian contemporary recording artist Amy Grant called “Count Your Blessings.” It’s about times when you are weary and cannot sleep. The solution, Amy sings, is to count your blessings instead of sheep and one Christmas, my parents, brother and I did just that! Only we were not asleep. We were gathered in the living room by the Christmas tree where we always start every Christmas morning. But instead of opening boxes filled with gifts from our individual wish lists, we opened up a bag and counted our blessings.

Let me explain: All of us were on a very tight budget that year so we could not afford to buy gifts or cards. So instead of boxes covered with holiday gift wrapping paper and Hallmark greeting cards, one simple but beautiful brown paper gift bag with the word “Blessings” inscribed on the front, sat underneath our Christmas tree.

Since December 1 that year, each of us would record our blessings on pieces of paper and quietly slip it into the gift bag. It was an action done whenever we had time from Dec. 1 through Dec. 24. When Dec. 25 arrived, our bag was brimming with paper with words expressing our gratitude. So that Christmas morning, we gathered in the living room and took turns retrieving the pieces of paper from inside the bag. We then read the words on the paper aloud, reciting our blessings.

It was one of my favorite Christmas memories because it reminded me that true gratitude is when you’re thankful to God for your blessings even when you cannot afford to buy material things. God’s blessings include more than things that money can buy—they include time, love, joy, happiness, peace, true friends and quality time with your family. All of which cannot be bought. So that Christmas morning, I looked around at all of my non-material blessings: My Mom, Dad and brother. Gratitude filled my heart because having family present in my life, a built-in support system of people who care and are there for me, was the sweetest blessing and a priceless gift.
The Holy Bible reads in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV), “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” We didn’t have material gifts to give that Christmas morning, but we had each other as family and we continue to be thankful for that great blessing.

So this Christmas, if you find yourself short on money for material gifts, I suggest that you try this blessings bag idea and see how you like it. You may discover that the heart of the holiday season is not in what you can get on your wish list but in the company of people who care and are there for you not just on Christmas but all through the year.

And if you don’t have family or friends, I’d like for you to remember that you’re not alone because the best gift is Jesus Christ who has promised to be with you always, even until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He created you and loves you with His life (John 3:16)! Jesus Christ is there for you when no one else is and only He can give you the greatest joy that comes with knowing and loving Him as your Lord, Savior, Redeemer and Friend.

I’m praying that your Christmas is bright, beautiful and blessed. I’m hoping that even if you have tons of presents to give and to share, you will count your blessings too and remember that God loves you!


Alexis is graciously offering to give away a copy of Hope in My Heart: A Collection of Heartwarming Stories
Leave a comment below!

Alexis loves to write. She knew since the age of 9 when she wrote her first “book” that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Alexis is grateful that God allowed that dream of her heart dream to come true when she released her first real book, Hope in My Heart: A Collection of Heartwarming Stories, in Sept. 2013 through Crossbooks which is an imprint of B&H Publishing Group.

Alexis works as a Social Media and Web Editor, freelance writer/photographer and proofreader. Every day Alexis learns that the joy in life is in the journey. The older she gets, the more she knows the importance of counting your blessings because it makes your journey through life not only worthwhile but breathtakingly beautiful.

Connect with Alexis:
Visit her official website,
“Like” her Author page,
Follow her book’s Twitter handle, @pennedbyalex
Subscribe to her blog “God is Love”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kara Peck | Spread the Christmas Joy

Christmas always sneaks up on us, doesn’t it? Seems like it shouldn’t. After all it never changes days like other holidays. Despite it’s unmoving nature, we are shocked when it’s here again. That leads me to think we may not be holding it in our hearts all year.

Christmas for me is a time when I think of all the fun things I can do for my children. I look forward to it, think about it, and remember to pick up things when I see them. However, I don’t really hold the spark of Christmas tight to my heart. I am realizing that this year as memories of my Grandpa come flooding back.

He was never a Christmas kind of man, he didn’t have the truth in his heart at the time, and yet he would do anything for me come Christmas. He bought me this huge tree--it’s acrylic--and bought all the decorations I wanted and needed. My grandparents raised me for a time and had a hard time riding the line between being strict like a parent and spoiling me as a grandchild. I don’t think my grandpa fought that battle too much, as evidenced by all of his affections.

As I thought of him more vividly than I have in recent times, I started to wonder, why is it that now, during this time of year, that I feel so attached to his memories? Why am I not this affected through the year?

Immediately my mind drew the parallel to my Savior. Why am I not as avidly adoring when things are normal? The daily wear and tear. Why do I need a holiday or a hardship to draw me in, build a relationship and a memory? I wish I had the answers, however I don’t. At least not today. Someday I hope to, but for now I will be content in the effort of growing. Which really is no effort because the task isn’t on my shoulders.

My God grows me. Often, it’s through times like this. Times of pain, sorrow, fear, doubt--you name it.

I was reminded recently that it’s all by grace, the only difference between myself and someone who doesn’t lean on Jesus is grace. Given by the same Jesus. I am just as corrupt as anyone. I have no strength on my own. None. I thank God for that, because whenever I am strong, I lose sight of Him.

Today, I am thankful for my tears of sadness, because they brought joy with them. Joy of the love I was graced with, shown by my Grandfather. There are so many others who have graced me with the same unconditional love. They manifest God’s precious grace to me when I need it most. This Christmas I am reminded how I am loved. I am reminded by my children that Jesus was also once a child. I am so blessed by that image.

I endeavor to keep that Christmas spark in my heart, through out the year. I don’t want to get distracted by material things. I just want to be a light, as beautiful and bright as the ones on my tree. I want to draw people in and show them Jesus, with as much excitement as I share when I have my decorations up. I want to manifest grace and love in the same ways I have seen, then to bless someone as immensely as I have been blessed.

I pray all of you reading have been as loved as I have. That you have been wrapped in blessings. If you haven’t--if there’s been no light in your life to make you feel warm and welcomed--I’m sorry to hear that. Please, reach out. Pray. Ask the Father.

I wish you a warm and Merry Christmas and I hope you feel the love that Jesus has to offer.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28

Kara says: I am a 20 something girl. I am a wife to a kind man and a mom to four children. I have many passions I enjoying pursuing, but books are my first love.

Check out her blog:

My So Called Chaos

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Lora Young | Spread the Christmas Joy

Do you have any Scrooges in your family? You know, the person who just doesn’t seem to get into the spirit of Christmas?

They dread December and avoid shopping malls like the plague.

Christmas music drives them batty.

They refuse to decorate for Christmas. At least, they don’t decorate the way the rest of the world does.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, me too. Only the Scrooge in my family is me!
It isn’t that I don’t love Christmas. After all, what Christian wouldn’t love the celebration of our Saviour’s birth? (Yes, I use the British spelling. Why? Because I like it. J )

I just don’t love all the stuff that goes with that celebration.

The torment over gift buying.

The self-control necessary to avoid massive weight gains.

The Christmas music that starts right after back-to-school. (Well…maybe not that early, but it certainly feels like it.)


For the first several years of our marriage, we lived in small places. Just me and my husband. We’d go to his folks’ for Christmas Day. Perfect. I didn’t have to decorate. We had no room for a tree anyway.

Once a bigger house and children came along, I knew I had to push through. I had no more excuses, and I needed to do it for the kids. So, I decorated. I baked hundreds of Christmas cookies. The kids would go out with my husband to cut a juniper from the back of our land. My family created numerous meaningful Christmas traditions. For a long time, it worked. I was able to push the sadness aside and truly celebrate.

One year, however, I was struggling big-time. I put in countless hours a day homeschooling, volunteering, and generally, keeping the wheels on our little family. The kids were all around junior high age. I was in the throes of perimenopause. Very emotional. Very tired. I’d put out the bare minimum decorations, but we hadn’t gotten the tree yet. My kids had been badgering me for over a week.

I simply didn’t have the emotional energy to do all that work for only a few days’ reward. By Christmas Eve, we still didn’t have a tree. Guilt plagued me, but I was too weary. It was all I could do to finish Christmas shopping.

I was at the mall, passing one of those Christmas junk stores, when my eyes lit upon the answer. A four-foot Mylar balloon shaped like a Christmas tree. It was on sale for eight dollars! Thank you, Jesus!

I bought it and plopped it down in the midst of the presents. “There! There’s your Christmas tree.”

My husband laughed.

The kids were livid!

That is, until their friends learned what kind of tree we had. My children got responses like, “You’ve got the coolest mom ever.” “Wish we could do that.”

Suddenly, the Mylar Christmas tree was a hit!

I’m not proud of the snippy way I acted about that Christmas tree, but God, through his mercy, turned a lousy Christmas into a fun family memory.

As women, we can’t always perfectly control our moods—hormones play a large part in how we respond to life. What we can do is trust. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 NASB

Fifteen years later, we still have that silly balloon and have used it several times instead of a real tree.

Anyone willing to share their most unusual Christmas tree?

 Lora Young has never lived outside the state of Missouri. She grew up reading the Little House books and Trixie Belden mysteries, so it makes sense that her first novel would be an historical mystery set in Missouri.

Lora lives in rural Platte County with her husband, four cats, and the constant interruption of her children and grandchildren. She enjoys riding her tadpole recumbent, ballroom dancing, and making stuff up.

She is a member of the Kansas City West chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Her most annoying trait is the one she needs the most.

Delia Eastman returns home from teachers’ college with two goals: find a teaching position and sidestep her mother’s insistence on finding her a husband. But employers don’t care for women who are smarter than they. Neither do suitors. As she struggles to find her place, she discovers her sleepy riverboat town has turned into a powder-keg of rivalry between the steamships and the railroads.

Increasingly violent vandalism on the railroad brings her face-to-face with Endy Webster, a handsome trainmaster whose investigation into the crimes leads him to the door of a prominent steamship owner—Delia’s father.

As Delia tries to clear her father’s name, she keeps tangling with Endy. He’s intelligent. He’s charming. And he’s guarding secrets. Thinking he might know more than he’s telling, Delia reluctantly agrees to collaborate with him to solve the crimes. With the vandalism becoming deadly, they’ll need every scrap of intelligence and logic to stay alive. Working together may not be their first choice, but it might be their last.