Wednesday, December 28, 2016

9 Daily Devotionals and the Title I Chose for 2017

Here's a tear-filled memory from my youth that never fails to turn up as each year draws to an end. What I'm referring to is a New Year's Eve event at my church that I went to as a teenager. For a few hours we played games, watched a movie, sang songs, and ate munchies, but as midnight approached the activities were set aside so all present could form a huge circle, hold hands and pray. Tears trickled down my face during the minute or two we took to acknowledge God and our need of Him in the year ahead. 

What a contrast to the fireworks, champagne, and confetti that often depicts how many spend this holiday, right? But for me, it's the perfect way to begin a new year.

This is also the time of year I determine what approach I'll use as I read my Bible in the next twelve months. This past year I kept it simple: read at least two chapters a day of Scripture. Other years I've read my Bible from start to finish. One year I read it in reverse! Often, I combine reading a daily devotional book plus a passage of Scripture. Here are 6 I recommend along with three recently published titles, one of which is my choice for the coming year.  

The classic, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers was among the first devotional books I ever read, and it's still among my favorites. His meditations challenged and made me hunger to know God on a deeper level. Note: The book comes in many formats, plus available in an updated, modern English option, though many still prefer the original version, published in the early 1900's.

Moments that Matter: Inspirational Thoughts for Each Day of the Year by Catherine Marshall. Years ago a friend gave me this devotional book by this well-known author and it remains on my bookshelf for a number of reasons. First, it's beautiful design, inside and out. Love its exquisite graphics. Second, it's brevity. Marshall is gifted at capturing a poignant thought in just a paragraph or two. Third, its humor and honesty, meshed with practical wisdom that often stems from her own life with its many challenges, overcoming Tuberculosis being one of them. 384 pages, hardback with a ribbon bookmark. Though no longer in print, used ones can be purchased on Amazon.

He is Real -- 365 Devotionals by Millie Stamn. If you were to scan the pages of my copy of He is Real you'd find almost every page bares my markings: underlined passages; notations by me on the side, top and bottom; and occasional highlights of words too good to forget. I've read He is Real several times, and most likely will again. The author worked with Stonecroft Ministries for years and has published three other devotional books. I'm particularly fond of Stamn's work as she weaves in more Scripture than I've seen in other devotionals, but still maintains a friendly writing style. 368 pages; no longer in print but used copies can be found on Amazon.

More Precious Than Silver – 366 Daily Devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada. Most people know Joni via her biography or movie about how she became paralyzed due to a swimming accident in her teens. In the decades since that ordeal, she's written other books, including several devotionals. I'm particularly fond of this one as right from the start it taught me the value and beauty of God's Word, along with silver, and as a result, I purchased my first “silver” cross soon after I read the book's short intro. She a gifted writer, a student of Scripture, and her devotional is full of insights about the purity and power found in God's Word. Unique to her book is the challenge and prayer she offers after each meditation which helps the reader take what they've just read and apply it to that day.

Long Live the Child – Devotions Designed for Daughters of Promise by Christine Wyrtzen. I never tire of looking at the cover on this book, nor reading Christine's insights based on her in-depth study of God's Word. Usually devotionals are geared for any audience, but Christine's is primarily for women (Not to say that men can't benefit from her book, as some have given Long Live the Child high praise.) who struggle to receive love and affection, or strive to be perfect or work hard for the approval of God and others. This is one of those books where you quickly feel at home with the author because of her vulnerability, honesty, and sensitive spirit. Go here for her online devotionals:

Experiencing God Day-By-Day — The Devotional and Journal by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby. This father and son team have created a terrific devotional. It's based on their book, Experiencing God, a bestseller at one time that continues to sell. What I like about this edition is the opportunity and generous amount of space to journal along side each day's reading. I found as I went through the book, taking the time to journal my thoughts or noting things I wish to remember, definitely reinforced what I was learning. It has since become a treasured document of what God did in my heart that year. Given the popularity of journal art these days this is an excellent option to blend your personal touch with insights from these Bible scholars. An added plus to this book is the index of subjects and readings in the back. 380 pages.

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Daily Guideposts 2017 –- A Spirit-Lifting Devotional published by Zondervan. For some 40+years Guideposts has been publishing daily devotionals, that I believe were formerly distributed as a monthly booklet. In this new volume the devotionals' theme is “In God's Hands,” and penned by 49 men and women, a number of whom are well-known authors, such as Debbie Macomber. I like the idea of enjoying various styles of writing and perspectives by so many contributors. Each one presents a scripture verse and first-person story, followed by a short prayer and additional Bible passages that relate to the day's reading. 342 pages; available on Kindle and in a large print edition.

Enjoy the Shepherd — Daily Lessons from Sheep by Ray Carman. If this newly released title is anything like the author's daily YouTube videos from his sheep farm in Tennessee, you will love it. Ray has this wonderful ability to glean hundreds of biblical principles as he cares for his flock and then show how they apply to our lives. Don't forget, we too are sheep with Jesus as our Shepherd. If you've only time for a very short daily reading and have a fondness for animals you'll find Ray's book a delight. Available in paperback and on Kindle.

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These are only a few of the many devotionals available on the market today. All are useful tools in developing a routine to spend time with God on a consistent basis, but never as a substitute for time in God's Word. So, if you've never read a devotional book I hope you'll find one that appeals to you and discover the benefits of starting each day filling your mind with thoughts based on scripture.

And what devotional book will I be reading in 2017? I'll either revisit Experiencing God, or buy this new devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada, A Spectacle of Glory -- God's Light Shining Through Me Every Day. One of the reasons behind this option is due to noticing Larry Libby's name on the cover. I worked with him at Multnomah Press and so admire (and at times envious) his skill as a creative writer. Whenever I see his name on a cover it becomes a must read.

Whatever title I go with I know reading it will be time well spent. So, with a devotional in one hand and God's Word in the other, I'm all set for a new year. 


P.S. Do you have a favorite devotional book?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

21 Christmas Gift Ideas and 1 Fun Surprise!

My Mom painted a train and I did this moose one Christmas. Such a fun memory and keepsake.

The frenzy has begun! That is unless you are one of those shoppers who buys all your Christmas gifts in one swift scoop on Black Friday. Unfortunately, for most of us, including me, the purchasing or making of Christmas gifts has barely gotten underway, or we're only now starting to come up with gift ideas!

Which is why I opted to pull together these Christmas gift ideas, all based on gifts I've received, and liked, or one's I took the time to make for a friend or family member and seemed to be appreciated. Most are reasonable in price to purchase or create, and one is a simple and fun alternative for those who wish to give money or a gift card.

In case you wonder if I was asked or received funds to recommend a certain product, the answer is "No." I simply wanted to pass along a few suggestions for anyone with a tight budget, or in the mood to make a few gifts this year, or simply in need of assistance in answering this question: “What am I going to get ____ for Christmas?”

1. Coloring books for adults. Last year these books seemed to be on everyone's wish list but the subject matter was limited. This year, the assortment of topics is plentiful: flowers, animals, houses, Bible verses, zen tangles, seasons, and on and on. You can find them in most stores or online. I gave a coloring book and colored markers to a friend last year when I heard her comment, “Coloring is a way for me relax.” I know of another woman who takes a coloring book to her Chemo treatments and am aware of several groups of women who meet monthly to color! 

2. A quiet book. Though not expensive to make, this type of book takes time to create. Some designs are very basic, others more intricate and can be interactive. My sister, Ginny, has created several for her grandchildren that teach skills and provide hours of entertainment. Lots of ideas and patterns on Pinterest.

3. Pillows. Embroidering a friend's favorite saying or scripture on a pillow can be a treasured gift. Just be sure to keep your friend’s décor colors and style in mind as you design the pillow so it’s something he/she will enjoy putting out on display. If embroidering isn't your thing, how about quilting a pillow? Can't sew? There's always the no-sew-fleece ones.

4. Books often turn up on my Christmas ideas list as many in my family like to read. My selection is usually based on a hobby or topic the individual is interested in or a specific title from their wish list at Amazon. Or, take a look at my book recommendations in my other posts or my list of titles (See "Books" label at top.) I've read in recent years. 

5. Food carrier. This is a nice idea for someone who loves to cook, or frequently makes a casserole for a church potluck or family gathering. It does require basic sewing skills, and familiarity with cross stitching if you opt to add the pocket on the outside where a spoon can be slipped into. Look for patterns online or at your local fabric store.

6. Homemade cards for various occasions. One year I made an assortment of cards (60 in total) and bought pretty box containers to put them in to give to each of the females in my family at Christmas. Warning: It is a time-consuming craft so best to give it to someone who loves to write notes in cards and appreciates all the effort you put into the gift.

7. One-of-a-kind-book. Photo books that capture moments from a child or adult's life, plus captions to go with pictures, make a lovely gift. This one was done for my brother's 75th birthday who was born on Christmas day! We used Costco photo services to produce our book but other stores or online options exist. We did this book for under $20.

8.Make a music CD of someone’s favorite songs. I’ve seen this done by a son for his Mom and by someone for their grandparent who was missing music from the Big Band era. There's little cost, other than your time, in creating a one-of-a-kind CD, but it is worth it.

9. Audio books. Listening to an exceptional story is ideal for people who travel, or like to multitask, or who have eye problems and are forced to cut back on reading. There are many sites online who provide audio books to download, or your local bookstore and Amazon carry books on CD. One company I use and like is

10. Portable office. I created this moveable file for a friend who has a small business at home and limited work space. The bin and hanging files can be bought at any office or chain store. To give it a bit of color the bunting and ribbon were added, and for a bit of fun the company logo was printed out and taped to the inside of the bin. I also tucked in a few office supplies (pen, post-it notes, paper clips, etc.) so all the essentials could be close at hand.

11. Bunting to hang at the office, or home. If you’ve someone who is not the creative type, but wishes she was, then a bright and colorful bunting to brighten up a bookcase, mantle, or boring office/cubicle might be the ideal gift. What would make this gift even more awesome is to make this a year-long-gift by promising to make a new bunting for each month. The bunting in this photo I pulled together for a friend using scrapbook items I had at home and a bit of help from a Martha Stewart sale.

12. Small bag or card holder. This usually goes over well with female friends who carry lots of gift or credit cards in their purse, or could use something for their make up, or other miscellaneous items at the bottom of their handbag. You might want to add a little extra surprise by tucking inside the pouch a few items, such as mints, travel tooth brush, etc. Another option to consider is buying the security-card holder to safeguard against theft. I've given these to friends and will be giving more as identity theft seems to be on the rise.

13. Kitchen towels. There are many colorful and cute towels available for every holiday and season to buy these days. Since women tend to be in the kitchen a lot it's always nice to receive some fresh towels to replace those old stained ones. Or to simply brighten up your world. I’ve gone one step further and bought a package of towels at a craft store and then embroidered on them for a friend who likes “vintage” décor. 

14. Personalized boxes. These go over well with kids, especially when you add their name (Alphabet stickers are easy to apply or acrylic paint will work too.) to the top of the container along with some fun stickers, etc. Inside you can fill up the box with an assortment of inexpensive toys: jacks, mini cars, hair clips, jewelry, Legos, etc. One year for a friend's grandson I simply spelled out with stickers "Logan's Legos" and inside the clear box tucked in a Lego toy to assemble. So easy, and was a big hit with the 6-year-old.

15. Fleece hat or throw. I don’t know anyone, man or woman, who doesn’t like a warm, cozy blanket on a chilly, wintry night. Hard to go wrong in making one of these blankets, especially if the design on fleece fits the person's personality or favorite sport team. Another easy fleece project is a simple hat. Doesn’t take long to make, and no sewing machine required. I didn't have a pattern for this blue hat, just measured to get the size of my head and estimated on the height. Took less than an hour to make.

16. Themed Gifts.  I've a friend whose favorite color is purple. One year I filled up a gift bag with all sorts of purple items: pens, socks, notepad, mittens, wallet, bookmark, scarf, etc. Turned out to be a fun gift to give and to receive. My friend, Nancy, came up with a clever theme gift recently. She bought the book Spot for her best friend, a former librarian which inspired her to find other items that were spot shaped. She bought round, colorful hanging lights, candy circle wafers, etc. Even the wrapping paper had spots! It’s amazing what you can come up to make a memorable and personal gift.

17. Planner accessories. Anyone who is super organized most likely uses a planner or bullet journal. There are oodles of darling stickers and creative embellishments out there to personalize and make a planner unique. Fill up a small basket or gift box with an assortment of supplies (Washi tape, seasonal stickers, gel pens, charms, divider clips, and more) or splurge, and purchase a nice planner.

18. Christmas tray. I'm a saver of photo-Christmas cards I receive and one year, for a friend, I gathered all her past photo/greeting cards to create a personalized gift. I took a tray, and beneath the glass I placed some festive Christmas scrap paper. Next, I added the photos, and once happy with the placement of the pictures adhered them to the scrap paper using double sided tape. To bring it all together I added a headline using some stick-on type, a photo blurb or two, plus a few other decorative embellishments. To my surprise, she loved the gift and brought it out every year to display in her kitchen.

19. Fabric decorated plate. This idea has been around for years, but people still love receiving the hand-made gift, especially when cookies are part of the present. There is not much expense or time required, particularly if Modpog already resides in your craft supplies, along with leftover scraps of holiday fabric. Directions on how to make a fabric plate can be found at Pinterest or YouTube.

20. A cute mixing bowl combined with a colorful dish towel, plus a batch of recipe cards tied up in a ribbon might be a welcome gift for a friend who loves to cook or someone setting up house for the first time. Note: Consider handwriting a couple of your favorite dishes on those recipe cards as an extra surprise.

21. Devotional book for the coming year. I like gifts that people can enjoy 365 days out of the year and devotional books definitely accomplish that. There are many beautiful and well-written ones available these days. My Utmost for His Highest is still popular and now comes in a modern-English version. One of my favorites is Long Live the Child that was a gift from its author. Lucky me. Joni Eareckson Tada's More Precious Than Silver is also excellent. 

If none of the above 21 ideas will work, then try this clever idea my niece, Darsi, came up with one year that had us all laughing and two young boys very happy!

She went to her bank and purchased $50 in crisp, one dollar bills. Back home she wadded up each bill before tossing the money into two shirt size boxes along with some candy kisses to give weight to the present. After that, she did the normal Christmas wrap, bow, and gift tag to each of the containers. From all appearances, it looked liked her two young nephews were getting new shirts for Christmas. Boy, were they surprised! And oh what fun they had straightening out and counting up how much money they received.

This may be the year I use Darsi's idea if I can't figure out what to give one little boy this holiday.  

P.S. Has anyone ever surprised you with a gift you absolutely loved?