Tag Archives: Christmas

First Things First (Guest Post)

First Things First

by Steph Beth Nickel

Raise your hand if you’re crazy busy.

One, two, twenty … yep, that’s all of you.

Busy with holiday preparations. Busy with your day-to-day workload. And, if you’re a little crazy like me, busy trying to hit 50K in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

It’s so easy for our priorities to get all jumbled at this time of year. We try to keep up with our year-round responsibilities while adding countless additional ones. As trending punctuation would have us express ourselves … It’s. not. going. to. happen.

So how do we choose what stays and what goes on our To Do list? Let’s put first things first and ask ourselves some questions:

Keep first things first this holiday season.

Can it wait until after the holidays?

We must humbly accept the fact that we can’t do it all—not if we don’t want our health and relationships to suffer.

Let’s take a look at our agenda and reschedule what we can.

Does a particular project bring us joy or does it add stress and weigh us down?

While not everything we must do fills us with joy and anticipation, holiday preparations should—for the most part at least. Have we taken on too much? Because it’s expected of us? Because we always do whatever it is? Because we don’t want to let others down?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our workload, committing to those things we truly enjoy (and a few we may not) and passing along some of the responsibilities we just don’t have the time or ambition to accomplish.

Can someone else do whatever it is?

This year I’m doing my Christmas baking via two young women I know. Both are raising money for a worthwhile cause by making homemade goodies. I get several dozen Christmas treats made with love, and it doesn’t add any extra work to my holiday season. Win-win!

Is there anything you could pass along this year? Baking? Cleaning? Decorating?

Would it be better for our family and friends if we spent time with them rather than spending hours cleaning, decorating, and baking for the holidays?

Sometimes sitting down to play a game or watch a Christmas movie would be a better option than spending another evening up to our elbows in sudsy water. (Sounds like a better option to me most anytime actually.)

Let’s look at all we want to accomplish, decide what’s the minimum we can get away with, and settle on something in the middle. And when we’re busy with our holiday responsibilities, why not do things together, making it a bonding time rather than just one more stressor?

And, as Christians, we must ask ourselves if our endeavours enhance or distract from our relationship with the Lord.

Are we neglecting our quiet time? Forgetting to pray? And making excuses to play hooky from church? Not good.

Let’s keep the reason we celebrate in the forefront of our mind and our preparations. Let’s keep first things first.

Tweetables

Let’s keep first things first this holiday season. (Tweet this)

Settle on something between all you want to accomplish and the minimum you’d be okay with. (Tweet this)

~~~

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Author Interview: Michelle Griep

Author Michelle Griep
Michelle Griep’s newest historical romance is a Dickens Christmas story called 12 Days at Bleakly Manor. Since A Christmas Carol is a regular part of the season in my home, I was eager to have a chat with Michelle and learn more.

Janet: Welcome, Michelle, and thanks for taking time to join us. Where’s home for you?

Michelle: The frozen tundra . . . er . . . I mean Minneapolis, Minnesota. I live in da ‘hood.

Janet: Most of your stories are historical… which time periods and locations most interest you? And what drew you to Dickensian England for a Christmas tale?

Michelle: I adore history and have a special affinity for England. Yep, I’d move there in a flash if I could. While I love the medieval period, you know, all those big beefy knights, I prefer to write during the 1800’s. As for locations, anywhere in England, really. Cities. Countryside. Doesn’t matter.
And if one is going to pen a Christmas tale, what better time than during the years of Charles Dickens?!

Janet: Definitely! Tell us a bit about 12 Days at Bleakly Manor.

Michelle: This story is a mix of Dickens’ Bleak House and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Both are favorites of mine.

Basically I tossed bunch of quirky characters into a house in the middle of nowhere, gave them limited resources, and sat back to watch and see how they interacted. I figured if I was entertained, readers would be too.

And of course there are a few bruised hearts that need to be healed by the end of the tale.

Janet: Sounds intriguing! Do you have a favourite character? And what was the most fun part to write?

Michelle: Wow. That’s like asking me which one of my kids do I love best? That’s a tough one! Surprisingly, though, I had an affinity for Mr. Tallgrass. He just says whatever he darn well pleases.

The most fun character to write was Miss Scurry. Her pet mice are just so freakishly funny.

Janet: Pet mice… oh! What do you want readers to take away when they’re done?

Michelle: When someone hurts us deeply, it may not be intended as hurt as all. It’s always best to reserve judgement until you’ve had a chance to talk to that person.

Janet: That would solve a lot of problems, wouldn’t it? This is “Once Upon A Dickens Christmas Book 1” – can you give us a hint of what’s coming next?

Michelle: You bet. Book II comes out in September 2018. Here’s a blurb:

Innkeeper’s daughter MINA SCOTT will do anything to escape the drudgery of her life. She saves every penny to attend a finishing school, dreaming of the day she’ll become a real lady—and catch the eye of WILLIAM BARLOW, a frequent guest at the inn.

William is a gentleman’s son, a charming rogue but penniless. However, his bachelor uncle will soon name an heir—either him or his puritanical cousin. In an effort to secure the inheritance, William gives his uncle the impression he’s married, which works until he’s invited to bring his wife for a visit.

William asks Mina to be his pretend bride, only until his uncle names an heir on Christmas Day. Mina is flattered and frustrated by the offer, for she wants a true relationship with William. Yet, she agrees. . .then wishes she hadn’t. So does William. Deceiving the old man breaks both their hearts. When the truth is finally discovered, more than just money is lost.

Can two hearts survive such a deception?

Janet: Ouch! I hope you find a way to bring a happy ending! Any interesting research tidbits from Dickensian times?

Michelle: One of my favorite tales about Dickens is that he used to walk the streets in the wee hours of the night just to be amongst the people of London, those who were down and out. I walked some of those same streets last time I skipped across the pond, and it was easy to imagine him there, strolling about with his top hat and cane.

Janet: I see you’ve also co-authored a cozy mystery, Out of the Frying Pan. What was it like, working with a partner… and in a different genre?

Michelle: Working with my co-author was seriously the time of my life! Kelly Klepfer is a talented author in her own right. She came up with the plot and the characters, and then would simply tell me what scene to write.

Changing genres was a bit tricky for me. I’d never done a contemporary. Now and then she’d have to change the vernacular of one of my words.

Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Michelle: Just four little words: FINISH WHAT YOU START! So many newbies get mired down in working and reworking part of a manuscript that they never finish it. Just finish the dang thing…then go back and edit.

Janet: Those are four wise words! Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Michelle: Easy peasy . . . my all-time favorite verse that I keep tucked in a virtual back pocket is Nahum 1:7. “The Lord is good; a stronghold in the day of trouble. And he knows those who trust in him.”

Janet: Thank you. That’s powerful, and I can’t believe I’ve missed it all these years. Now, to the less serious: Coffee or tea? And are you a morning person or a night owl?

Michelle: Love coffee, but unfortunately it must now be decaf. And I’m neither an owl or a morning person.

Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?

Michelle: Love to read. Love to travel. Love to take my dog Miss Ada Clare (named after a Dickens Bleak House character, of course) on walks by the creek.

Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

Michelle: Minneapolis is awful in the winter, but in the summer, wow. Lakes galore with tons of walking and biking paths.

Janet: Thanks for taking time to chat today, Michelle, and all the best with your new book. 12 Days at Bleakly Manor sounds like a good read.

===

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle GriepWhen Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds. That’s enough money to bring her brother back from America and reinstate their stolen family fortune. But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar.

Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

For more about the author, visit michellegriep.com.

Review: The Christmas Angel Project, by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Angel Project, by Melody CarlsonThe Christmas Angel Project, by Melody Carlson (Revell, 2016)

Abby Wentworth is the leader of a local book club, but more than that, she’s a significant influence in each member’s life. When she dies just after Thanksgiving, her four friends are devastated. They meet one last time and discover Abby has left them each a hand-made angel ornament.

What if each of them could follow Abby’s example of helping others? Could they overlook their own grief and make a difference?

The Christmas Angel Project is a feel-good novella that leaves readers thinking about planting hope in those around them. Objectively it’s too good to be true, but something about the season creates an appreciation for stories like this. And the characters are relatable people we can care about.

Because of its brevity, the story is told with more narration than I enjoy. “Showing instead of telling” would have made it a longer read and allowed a better emotional connection. The only disconnect I found is that none of the women make much effort to reach out to Abby’s husband, who has to be feeling her loss even more than they do.

Having said that, this is a pleasant seasonal read that can inspire us to look outward and make a difference in the world around us.

With over 200 books in print, Melody Carlson has a number of these quick Christmas reads, as well as novels for women, teens, tweens and kids. For more about the author and her books, visit melodycarlson.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Celebrating Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Here’s a song you may not have heard: A Day of Glory, from Austin Stone Worship‘s album of the same name. (One of my favourite Christmas albums)

 

God Came to Us

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:7-8, NLT*

When disaster strikes a nation or community, the leaders make a point of visiting the area. To assess the situation first-hand, but also to encourage the survivors, who need every bit of hope they can possibly receive.

What did God do with our sin-damaged world? He promised from the beginning that He would provide disaster relief. His timing is longer-term than ours, but that’s exactly what He did – and is doing.

He came. Into our disaster. Never mind we made the mess ourselves and then it multiplied out of control. Never mind it wouldn’t have happened if Eve and Adam had followed His instructions in the first place.

He came. Jesus experienced birth, life and death as a human being. He understands our circumstances. He showed us how to live for God in the midst of them. He paid the ultimate price to ransom us back to Himself. And He’s coming back to take His rightful place as King.

This Christmas, in the midst of all the giving and receiving, let’s remember how much was given for us. How can we not love a God who would give everything for us? How could we not give ourselves back to Him in trust and gratitude?

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit… You came into our need, You are with us now in our need, and You will come again to reign. Thank You. You’ve proven Your faithfulness, Your love and Your care. Help us to trust and obey You, to honour You, and to receive the full life You offer to Your children.

This isn’t a Christmas song, but I love how it sums up the Divine rescue mission: Matt Redman‘s “Where Would We Be“?

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Interview: Kathy Ide: Fiction Lover’s Devotionals

Kathy IdeStory — true and fiction — has great power to touch hearts. That’s why I was intrigued by the premise of Kathy Ide’s Fiction Lovers DevotionalsKathy Ide is a writer, editor, mentor and teacher, and she joins us today to talk about the second volume in the series.

Janet: Tell us about your newest book.

Kathy: 21 Days of Christmas: Stories that Celebrate God’s Greatest Gift is the second in a series of Fiction Lover’s Devotionals, published by BroadStreet Publishing. It’s a collection of short fiction stories, all written by different authors. Each story is followed by a brief Life Application, written by the author of the story, that suggests how the messages in the tale can be applied to daily life.

Janet: What’s unique about this series?

Kathy: A lot of readers today love Christian fiction. But in their quiet times with the Lord, they want something with a little more depth. There are lots of compilations with short true stories out there. The Fiction Lover’s Devotionals are for readers who enjoy fiction.

Janet: Do you have a chapter in 21 Days of Christmas too?

Kathy: I do. It’s a story of what might have gone through Joseph’s mind in the moments after Mary gave birth to Jesus. I loved imagining what it must have been like to realize that you’ve been called to teach God’s Son about God. Based on what Joseph was raised to believe about the Messiah, that experience must have been mind-blowing!

Janet: What’s one of your most cherished Christmas memories?

Kathy: When I was maybe ten years old, my mom asked my dad to build dollhouses for me and my two younger sisters for Christmas. He collected scrap lumber, carpet samples, strips of wallpaper, paint, and miniature furniture pieces. After working all day, then waiting for his daughters to go to bed, he stayed up late several nights in the garage, constructing a two-story house with five rooms, glued to a board that was painted green and had little trees and bushes in the wooden yard. The night before Christmas Eve, the dollhouse was finally finished. And my mom asked, “Where are the other two?” What? “You have three daughters, Wayne. You can’t expect them to all share one dollhouse.” After a last-minute shopping trip, Dad stayed up all night and built two more houses—identical in size, shape, and floor plan, but each with different wallpaper and paint and furnishings. When my sisters and I woke up on Christmas morning to three beautiful dollhouses, mine was the only one we could play with right away because the paint hadn’t yet dried on the other two! I still have a picture of those houses, with me and my sisters grinning from ear to ear, on my china cabinet.

Janet: How do you see people using these devotionals?

Kathy: The books are being published as beautiful hardcover gift books—small enough to take with you, and with chapters short enough to read anywhere. You can enjoy these stories over breakfast, at lunch break, before bed, or curled up in your favorite chair with a cup of coffee or tea. These books could also be used in group settings—for your book club, Bible study, life group, Sunday school class, or just getting together with friends. They make terrific gifts too—especially 21 Days of Christmas! A Study Guide is available for free at www.FictionDevo.com or as a 99-cent e-book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Janet: Where can people purchase the book? 21 Days of Christmas

Kathy: The print version of 21 Days of Christmas can be ordered online at Amazon, BN.com, ChristianBook.com, Cokesbury.com, and GoHastings.com. The e-book is available from Amazon, BN.com, iBooks, and Google Play.

Janet: What can readers do after they read the books?

Kathy: There’s a forum on FictionDevo.com where people can post responses to the books and the stories in them. They can also do that on Facebook.com/FictionDevo. I’m very excited to read about how God is using these stories in people’s lives.

Without Proof: Christmas Prologue

Whether or not you’ve read my new romantic suspense, Without Proof, here’s a short peek into Amy’s world that first Christmas after the plane crash:

Without Proof [Redemption's Edge 3]One of Amy’s spun glass Christmas angels twisted on its golden thread, sparkling in the tree lights. Of the original six, five remained, treasured links to her childhood.

Michael and his great-aunt had invited her to add a few ornaments to the bushy spruce he’d brought home this afternoon. Another thoughtful gesture in a string of kindnesses they’d shown her since the plane crash.

Amy inhaled the pungent sharpness of a real tree. She’d had a tabletop artificial one when she lived alone, and in the excitement of wedding plans, she and Gilles hadn’t thought ahead to Christmas.

Now it was moot. Amy’s fiancé lay in a frozen cemetery while she took refuge with his best friend.

Her injuries were healing. Her heart, not so much.

[To read the rest, click here: Without Proof Bonus Christmas Prologue.pdf.]

God Stepped In

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
Romans 8:38, NLT*

Paul says not even “our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow.” Fear wants to tell us we’re cut off from God, but fear lies.

Circumstances can be painful, overwhelming. But God is with us, and that is our hope. His love holds us, His grace sustains us, and He refuses to leave us to suffer alone.

We can get angry at Him for allowing our pain, but that doesn’t help. All it does is reduce our capacity to experience His presence.

Or we can press into Him and pray to see Him at work in our trouble – and when we see evidence of His care, we can praise and thank Him. Our faith will grow, and others will see that He makes a difference.

“The love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39b, NLT*) At Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of that revelation. God incarnate stepped into our pain.

Creator and Redeemer God, thank You for Your strong love that can never be broken. Teach us to rely on Your character and Your promises, and to anchor on the truth that You will never leave us.

Michael Card‘s song, “Immanuel,” reminds us of the wonderful truth that God is with us.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Reason for the Season

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:24b-25a, NLT*

This is why we celebrate Christmas, and Easter, and every other day of the year. We had an impossible need, and God, in His love, mercy and grace, sent His own Son to meet it.

To walk among humans and reveal what the Father’s heart and will looked like. To lay down His life to ransom and redeem us and to break sin’s hold on us.

For this, we have Jesus, and a lifetime of thanks is not enough. Let’s walk with Him each day, hearts surrendered to His, in worship, obedience and adoration.

God our Maker, Redeemer and Sustainer, without You we’d be lost and hopeless, marking time and deceiving ourselves. Thank You for setting us free – at such extreme cost. Help us receive Your gift of salvation and live it fully, so that others will see the difference You make.

Casting Crowns‘ version of “Glorious Day” sums it up so well:

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Guest Post: Memories of Christmas Past

Memories of Christmas Past

by Steph Beth Nickel

About this time of year I get the warm fuzzies. Today I’d like to share six of my favourite memories and what they can teach us about the Greatest Gift of All Time, the reason for that very first Christmas so long ago.

A Much-Too-Large Christmas Tree

I remember my dad hauling in a freshly cut Scotch pine each Christmas—only to have to drag it back outside to cut off several inches of the trunk and a number of the bottom branches. Funny how it didn’t look near as big in the forest!

Philippians 5:17 says we are to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (ESV)

To fulfill our God-appointed purposes, we must be pruned and reshaped. As in everything, Jesus set the ultimate example.

Shimmering Tinsel … Hung Strand by Strand

Each year we would carefully place the tinsel on the tree two or three strands at a time. Sure it would have been easier simply to toss it on, but the end result wouldn’t have been near so lovely.

That first Christmas was a long time coming. God’s people had been waiting for centuries, eons even. Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” (ESV) (emphasis mine)

Things aren’t always as easy or as immediate as we’d like, but we must trust the Lord to work out His plans and purposes in His perfect time.

An Overflowing Stocking

My parents were incredibly generous. My stocking always had to be taken down from the doorway in which it was hung (we didn’t have a fireplace) and placed, stuffed to overflowing, on the couch. It was usually topped with a stuffed animal that peeked over the back of the couch at me when I padded down the hall early Christmas morning.

This reminds me of the prodigal. When he returned to his father to beg for a position as one of his servants, he was in for a welcome he never expected. His father poured out abundant gifts on his undeserving son—and threw a huge celebration to boot.

My parents were generous, but it’s nothing compared to the lavish gifts the heavenly Father pours out on His children.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Christmas Lights

Well, back in the day, our Christmas lights weren’t exactly little, but “twinkle, twinkle chubby Christmas lights” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

At any rate … the multi-coloured lights that adorned our Christmas tree and the front of the house lit up the dark, cold nights of December.

In John 8:12, Jesus tells us, “I am the light of the world.” (ESV)

In Matthew 5:14, He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (ESV)

Again, He sets the perfect example for us. We must shine brightly and add beauty to this dark world.

Fun with My Father

I still remember the snow forts and non-traditional snowmen my dad made for me. He had old metal drums that he would fill with snow, invert, and carefully remove. Viola! Who says snowmen have to be made of three snowballs of various sizes? And you mean other kids didn’t have snowmen sporting the occasional fleck of rusty metal? (Ok, so it’s a wonder I didn’t get tetanus, but hey, Dad and I had a good time.)

Sure it’s serious business being the Saviour, but Jesus was approachable. After all, moms and dads brought their children to Him to be blessed. And the Lord didn’t send them away—like His disciples tried to. Instead, Jesus gathered them to Himself and blessed them. What a beautiful picture!

Romans 8:15 is a wondrous verse.  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Abba is a familiar term, the equivalent of “Daddy” or, as one of my friends puts it, “Papa.” Is that not mind-boggling?

My Precarious Uphill Climb

My dad had a friend who owned several acres of woodland, but my favourite portion of the property was a long sledding hill free of trees. I could ride my Crazy Carpet down, down, down. But when my dad wasn’t around to shuttle me to the top on his massive Snow Prince snowmobile, I had to make the trek to the top of the hill on foot.

One winter we experienced some freezing and thawing and there was a layer of ice over several centimetres of snow. The only thing … the ice wasn’t of a consistent thickness. I never knew with each step if it would support my weight. Sometimes it did. And other times, I broke through and sank up to my thigh. It was slow going but fun nonetheless.

Life’s like that sometimes—minus the fun. We take a step forward and we’re not sure if life will support our weight. Will we stand tall or break through? But, as Christians, we have one of the most amazing promises ever uttered.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

All things … let’s hold onto that promise as we go forward.

What are some of your favourite Christmas memories? Have they taught you anything about the Greatest Gift? If so, we’d love to hear about it. [Scroll down to join the conversation.]

[English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.