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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

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Ways to Build Christmas Memories

You can find Christmas celebration tips all over the internet. I’m especially writing this for missionaries or other people who are often far from home at Christmas time. How can you make your unique Christmas celebrations fun and meaningful?

Being far from home often means that you can reinvent Christmas to make it what you want it to be. Hate the commercialism of Christmas? Wish you could give some of your least favorite traditions a toss?  Being far from family usually allows you to form your own traditions. You may be able to escape some of the family expectations which limited your celebrations before.  Being far from your native country often limits the expectations of your peers. This is a great time to form your own traditions.

Embrace the differences.

One year in Taiwan we had the church Christmas program on December 24. Almost all of the responsibility of the program and the food fell to us and another missionary couple. We ladies knew we would be tired on Christmas Day. That year Pizza Hut had just come to Taiwan and was a real treat to the Americans who lived there. Since Christmas is not a national holiday in Taiwan, Pizza Hut was open as usual on Christmas Day. Our two families ordered pizzas Christmas Day and shared our time together. I loved it, and the family didn’t complain either.

Our first Christmas in New Zealand we went to the beach. It was a nice summer day and we enjoyed the novelty of a summer Christmas.

Find unique ways of celebrating Christmas in your new culture or location and make it an opportunity to embrace the positive parts of that culture.

Capture the memories.

A few years ago I realized that our kids had forgotten much of what they did growing up, but they remembered a few select times. Maybe we only went to the zoo a couple of times or went to Disneyland once, but they look at the pictures and remember the good times. So if your kids have disadvantages by living far from home, I advise you make special memories when you can. Take photos. Talk about the good times. Let the boring activities or sad times fade.

Because we are missionaries, our children were able to travel, even on a limited budget. I made the girls each one book with photos and brochures of places we had been throughout their years at home. I called it their “Neat Places I Have Been Books.”  Yes, they did miss some opportunities as missionary kids, but they can also look back at their visit to Singapore, Hong Kong, various places in Taiwan and New Zealand. It helps them embrace their lives as MK’s.

You can do a similar thing with Christmas.

Each year we bought or made a Christmas ornament for each daughter and dated it. When they left home and weren’t able to come back for Christmas anymore, we gave them their ornaments. That way they had a little part of their home Christmas wherever they were. I began to see that we would want our own ornaments, so I collected similar ones for Art and me. One year, when we returned to the States over the Christmas season, we even brought some of the flattest ornaments with us so we could enjoy them together as a family.

As my stash of Christmas decorations grew, I decided to get rid of my snowman set of candles, salt and pepper shakers, etc. They didn’t work as well with a summer Christmas anyway. They had little intrinsic value, but a lot of sentiment, so I gave them to Lori to use in her home. This gave her another taste of home.

One Christmas Lisa was in China teaching English. Lori made her an advent calendar from red and green fancy cardstock.  It had 10 or so doors she could open on the days leading up to Christmas. Inside each door Lori wrote something she loves  about Christmas or a memory from growing up. Lori used this as a way to bring her sister some Christmas when she was far from home and family

Make your own memories.

Postage has become outrageously expensive, but you can still send Christmas cards, paper snowflakes or Christmas pictures. Some very flat ornaments can also be sent reasonably by mail. Consider making a simple decoration that is easy to send.

Send a Christmas card to thank people who have blessed you this year or who are faithful in your ministry.

Take a portion of the money you receive as Christmas gifts and give to a worthy charity or needy person.

Use an advent calendar. A church sent us an advent calendar years ago, and we put up the same one year after year. The girls enjoyed reliving what they would find under each door every year. When the girls left home I gave the calendar to one of them.

Light advent candles each night and talk about some aspect of the Christmas story.

Take a personal time each day to reflect on the lives of one Christmas character. What can you learn from that character?

What are some ways you are building Christmas memories this year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Keep Joy in Your Holidays

angel band

What are Christmas products doing on store shelves before Halloween is even past? Why can’t we celebrate Thanksgiving without Christmas taking over? Early Christmas sales and decorating really tick some people off. Not me.

First of all, some people need to buy early to send parcels overseas or to allow time to handcraft presents. (Now the price of postage ticks me off, but we won’t talk about that.) The early Christmas displays make sense when you think about that.

In New Zealand they hardly celebrate Halloween and they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so there’s no holidays to overwhelm with Christmas decorations. And when we are back in the States, it’s so much fun to see all those Christmas decorations (especially at Hobby Lobby that has beautiful, Christ-honoring decorations.)

The reason Thanks giving doesn’t get as much attention in the stores as Christmas is because it’s a simple day which doesn’t emphasize giving presents. That makes it less commercial. Aren’t you glad?

But the main reason I don’t get ticked off by early Christmas advertising and sales is this: I can choose when I shop or how I celebrate Christmas. Life is short. Why not ignore things that I can’t control and that don’t control me?

Others find plenty to hate about Christmas in general. To begin with, it’s far too commercial. Christmas makes it easy to overspend or overwork.  Regulations prohibit religious displays in some places, in spite of the fact that Christmas is supposed to celebrate Christ’s birth. Some stores don’t let their employees say, “Merry Christmas.” Christmas gives dieters added pressure to cheat on their diets. Don’t forget starving people, terrorists, and the latest political disappointment.

Commercialization of Christmas means many people go into debt for Christmas, attend parties and drink too much, and tell lies about a fat man who talks about giving while encouraging greed.

Wouldn’t it be better if Christmas was simply a religious holiday without all the commercial stuff?

more Christmas angelsIn some ways, yes. But if Christmas was simply a religious observance, it would be celebrated by a much smaller group, mainly Christians and not all of them. The decorations, presents, and celebrations give the holiday a broader appeal. Christmas is seen as a fun time to be with family. This gives Christians an opportunity to build bridges with unbelievers. Christians can plan Christmas programs to give the message of Christ’s birth. Christmas festivities give opportunity to witness about Christ and his birth. So while we wish Christmas was far less commercial, we can use the opportunities of this broader appeal to good advantage.

 But Christmas has gotten out of hand. Christ gets lost in the celebration and trappings.

Remember your Christmas is what you make it. Yes, family has expectations and you will experience strong peer pressure to celebrate in a traditional way, but, to a large extent, you decide how you celebrate. You can reinvent your Christmas to fit your values and lifestyle. Maybe you need to be the brave first person in your extended family to address family gift-giving and other expectations.

Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday. The focus should be on Christ, not presents, food, decorations, and fun.Christmas dollhouse

I heartily agree that Jesus should be the focal point, but don’t throw out the fun stuff too fast. My daughters grew up on the mission field and they loved Christmas.  We didn’t buy expensive presents but we used the season to bake cut-out cookies, decorate the house, open the advent calendar, make snowflakes, listen to Christmas music, and drink hot chocolate in front of the Christmas tree.  Now that my daughters are grown, they treasure the memories of these simple family activities. I can’t believe the Lord objects to the fun our family had together at these times. We could focus on Christ and still enjoy quality family time.

I admit that it was easier to make Christmas what we wanted it to be away from the commercialism of the States. But if certain aspects are spoiling the holiday for you, consider reinventing your Christmas to reflect your own family values. Just remember one thing.

Don’t leave out the joy.

Christmas stacking dollsChristians need joy today. It can be depressing to go to church, read your Facebook homepage, or talk to Christian friends. The old carol says, “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,” but today the wrong seems to be winning and we can’t find “peace on earth goodwill to men.” Evil is rampant in the world today, but remember, “greater is He that is in you, than He that is in the world.” We’re on the winning side, so where’s our joy?

Recently I expressed my joy of the season only to have someone rain on my parade. He felt that a day in December was just like any other day. This was a godly Christian man, but I guess he objects strongly to the commercialization of Christmas. He’s entitled to keep his Christmas simple, but hey, let’s not be joy squashers. Decorating for Christmas fills me with energy and gets my adrenaline going. Not everybody loves to decorate, but I do. I praise God for the simple joy it brings me.

I am concerned that so many Christians are losing their joy. Yes, we have to take a stand against some things and face negative issues, but let’s not let it rob us of our joy.  Don’t let the world see “Christian” as a synonym for “Scrooge” and “Grinch” this Christmas. The world needs to see the joy in our lives.

Joni Eareckson Tada writes about a similar but different issue: “Of all the suffering we might go through that helps us point people to God, there is one kind which seems to do it best. I am speaking of persecution. You have probably noticed how diamond arrangements in a jewelry store are usually set off with a dark, velvety cloth as a background. That is because the soft darkness of the cloth contrasts with, and enhances the sharp lines and brightness of the gems. In the same way, when someone hurls abuse at a Christian’s faith, that abuse acts as a velvety cloth. It makes the surprising love the Christian shows in return shine all the more brightly.”

Now Joni is talking about how abuse accents a Christian’s love, but in a similar way, joy shines more brightly in a dark world of worry. We need to use our joy to build bridges to unbelievers. We also need joy for our own sake, to keep us going. If we use them well, simple Christmas festivities can enhance the joy in our lives. I see that as a good thing. If you choose to celebrate Christmas in a different way, that’s up to you, but permit me to use decorating, cooking, and puppets to bring joy to a season that needs it.

Next month I’ll talk about being away from home for Christmas. Missionaries do this all the time and I’ll give some great insight from my daughter who has spent many Christmases away from home.

For now, here are a couple of resources:

Quote taken from: A Step Further by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes.

 

Here’s a recipe for Gingerbread Cookies for those who need a gluten-free diet:

Gingerbread Men

When You’re Not Okay

 

“I’m okay, just a little tired. Don’t worry about me.”

Maybe people have been gently probing you and worry clouds their eyes when you say these words. You’re not okay and you know it. Still you say you’re okay because:

  • You don’t know how to say you’re not okay.
  • Everyone has problems.
  • You don’t want to be a negative person.
  • God never gives you more than you can handle.
  • You don’t want to bother someone else with your problems.
  • You’ve promised someone you won’t tell your secret.
  • You’re afraid of what your friend may think if they know how you really are.

If this is you, you’re in a very dangerous place, my friend.

We all need positive friends who will point out the good things in life, encourage us,  and share a cheery outlook. Our friends need encouragement, not non-stop complaining. But a brave façade can sometimes mask serious danger.

In recent years I watched friends walk away from their faith, come to a point of no-return in their marriage, isolate themselves from friends who could help them, fall into secret sin that no one would ever suspect them of, and burn out through sheer exhaustion. (I bet you have seen this too, because these heartaches are everywhere.) By the time I find out, it’s usually too late to help. And I wonder, “Would I or someone else have been able to help if we’d known about their struggle much earlier in the game?”

But our culture teaches us to be independent. This is especially true of people in fulltime ministry. Christian culture sometimes expects us to rely solely on God in our problems. We’re afraid to quit saying, “I’m fine,” and be honest enough to say, “I’m not okay. I’m not just struggling, I’m really in trouble.”

You may have five hundred friends on Facebook, a team you share sports with, a church family of people who can sometimes remember your name. But you still don’t have enough friends unless you have one or two you can look in the eye and say scary things like:

  • I think I’m losing my faith.
  • My marriage is in serious trouble.
  • I’m wondering if this is abuse.
  • I’m seriously depressed.
  • I fear I’m on the edge of physical exhaustion.
  • I’m hiding a secret sin.

Most often we get caught in a cycle of fear of asking hard questions and giving hard answers. If our friends are going to be able to help us, we need to be transparent enough that they will know we will welcome their input, not resent their intrusion.

People can’t always see our problems or understand the extent of them. That means we may have to initiate a conversation about our problems with a trusted friend and keep talking until they hear what we’re saying.

So much heartache in relationships could be avoided or healed if we could go to trusted friends for help and they could come to us with concerns. It’s easy to resent honest questions, but we need to welcome them from the heart of a trusted friend. Even if the questions hurt. Even if our friend doesn’t get it quite right. Because honest questions can be the warning lights for needs we don’t even know we have.

So next time a friend asks you, “Are you okay?” don’t answer too quickly. Maybe you need to be honest enough to ask for help. Trusted friends should be able to ask us questions like these without being resented:

  • On what basis do you say you are a true Christian?
  • I see some serious warning signs in your relationship. Can I talk to you about them?
  • Are you just a bit down, or are you in a spiritual, emotional, or physical place of danger?
  • Are you struggling spiritually? How can I help?
  • Are you getting enough rest?
  • How is your relationship with the Lord? What are you reading for devotions?
  • Are you spending enough quality time with your family?
  • Are you okay?

 

New Sources for Puppet Teams

My husband is now preparing to take a load of teens to teen camp at the end of the month. Missionary and local pastors take on many of the volunteer jobs at camp. Art has been volunteered to teach the teens, by groups, how to start a puppet ministry in their churches.

Missionary pastors have to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice. Art has performed his share of puppet shows as well, during our time as missionaries. In the last twenty years however, most of our puppet shows have been performed by puppet teams. Lori, our own daughter, started our first puppet team in New Zealand. Most of the time I’ve supervised the puppet team, but I’m not planning on going to teen camp this year. Art has had adequate experience and I’m sure he will do a good job. Since I write most of our puppet shows and lead most of our puppet teams, however, I wanted to help him out. While I’m preparing material for camp, I’m also writing up these materials to help others who want to start puppet teams.

If you’re thinking of starting a puppet team in your church, you might find these articles helpful.

Should Our Church Start a Puppet Ministry?

How to Start a Puppet Team

Hand Puppet Sources

How to Write a Puppet Script

Puppet Scripts

Summer Reading: What happened after the 5 Martyrs died?

In 1956 five men; Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCulley; refused to fire shotguns as a barbaric tribe of Ecuadorian indians speared them to death. This is the best known story of martyrs in the twentieth century. This story is, in itself, an inspiring one. But if you think the story stops there, you’ve missed the most exciting part. These men did not die in vain. Read these books to see how the Gospel totally revolutionized this savage tribe.