A Gift in Dark Blue: A True Story

Christmas 1945
Spring Arbor, Michigan

In the box of wrapping paper from last Christmas, I found a dark blue piece with white stars.

Little Tom would love it.

I peeled off last year’s scotch tape and watched how big sister Mimi wrapped hers. I folded the paper over Tom’s gift to show the stars and then tucked in the extra inches like Mimi did, so we could wrap another gift in this same blue paper next Christmas. I taped it all closed.


I laid it on the pile of gifts and followed big brother Bob out to the field behind the barn. I watched him cut a tree. I even helped him knock snow off the branches and drag it onto the back porch.

He nailed on a base and stood the tree over the bare spot in the middle of our carpet. He draped it with lights and plugged them in.

I set the blue-wrapped gift under the branches, and their cold fell on my arms.

Mimi and Birdie, my not-as-big sister, brought out clear glass balls painted in lines of light blue and frosty white. They poked tiny wires in them and hooked them over the branches. Then they hung thin strips of tinfoil over the high branches while I dangled it from those I could reach.

Every night I lay on the floor and watched the glow. Our tree was the most beautiful tree in the whole world.

When Mother said bedtime, I checked the pile under the tree for Tom’s gift in dark blue. Then I crawled up the stairs and under the covers.

Christmas morning we crowded around the tree and one by one unwrapped each gift until the only package under the tree was dark blue scattered with stars.

Birdie picked it up. “Who’s this for?”

I sat up straight. “Tom.”

“Tom Who?”

“Little Tom.”

“Who is ‘Little Tom’?”

“You know. Little Tom of Bethlehem!”


Guest post by Dave Parks

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What’s in a Name?

Before my sons were born, my husband and I spent hours scanning baby name books. We studied all of the various meanings and origins but just couldn’t find names we agreed on. We prayed God would guide us to the right names for our boys, and in both cases, in the nick of time, the right name fell into place.

Our oldest, Aidan, is an elementary schooler with uncontainable energy. He’s always in the middle of several creative projects, is a natural-born comedian, and when he gets passionate about something… let’s just say you’re not going to talk him out of it. The meaning of his name? Little Fire. How perfect a descriptor for our red-headed firecracker.

Our youngest, Bennett, had some respiratory issues at birth. We intentionally chose a name for him that translated to “little blessed one” because we wanted that banner of good health over his life. He has turned out to be both blessed and a blessing to his family and friends and is the picture of good health today.

Names are so important.

To grant someone a name in Biblical times was to speak a promise over their life. Abram (“high father” or “exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of a multitude”). Jacob (“to follow” or “to supplant”) became Israel (“triumphant with God”). Even Jesus’ name (“to deliver” or “to rescue”) emphasized that He was the savior of His people.

So what does the Bible have to say about who you are? If you’re a Christian, it says:

You are God’s child. John 1:12

Sin no longer holds you captive. Romans 6:6

In Christ, you are made new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Your citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:30

Does it change your outlook to know your true identity?

Thanks so much, Amre, for hosting me on your blog today!

Guest blog post by Author Shaen Layle

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Thanksgiving always creates emotional nostalgia in me. From the faces gathered around the table, to the places and homes where we’ve celebrated with those who’ve come and gone. Thanksgiving stirs remembrances quite unlike any other holiday.

My heart and mind slip away to Thanksgivings long ago. Grammar school plays where we dressed up like pilgrims and Indians and mouthed the words, “To Grandmother’s House We Go.” Oh, the happy celebrations with all the relatives and friends. Whether young or old, little or plenty, it’s the laughter, the food, the games, and the conversations—both quiet and loud—that fill and delight my memories.

The cousin who sat on my mother’s unbaked rolls.

The turkey that fell on the floor and broke apart.

A pie that never made it to the table.

An electrical storm that forced us to eat cookies and drink sparkling cider.

The snow-laden roads; the sunny beaches; the wind, hail, and rain; and picnic tables.

A beloved Thanksgiving memory of mine includes all four of our children and one of their outlaws.* They flew to celebrate the holiday with us in our Virginia home. It was the first time I caught a glimpse of Thanksgiving as a homecoming celebration. As we waited in the crowded airport for their arrival, my heart nearly burst with anticipation. The preparations, the shopping, the care involved to ensure everyone’s happiness, and the hope that for once the clock wouldn’t betray us. It would stop or at least slow its forward motion so we could catch our breaths and share Thanksgiving without fear those fleeting twenty-four hours would pass at hyperspeed.

We made the trek to Monticello, the rolling hills dressed in brilliant orange, yellow, red, and green. Crisp clean air and hot apple cider. We slipped back in time and toured Thomas Jefferson’s home with awe, but more grateful for today’s comforts.

Then, as usual, time deceived us. The day ended, and back to the airport we drove to where a jet whisked two children and an outlaw* away.

While that holiday stands out as a clear favorite, I’m impressed with the realization that another Thanksgiving celebration is a calendar page away. Before I can grasp the passage of time, I’ll open my door and greet family, friends old and new, and folks I’ve never met before.

I’ve celebrated more than a half-century of opportunities to give thanks, to open my heart and home, to plan, anticipate, and create new memories. The hands on the clock skyrocket faster than ever before, and all too soon the days flutter by like autumn leaves from my tree.

My eternal homecoming beckons bright. I can’t help but imagine the Lamb of the feast, those gathered at the table, the sparkle in their eyes and glow on their faces. No menu or shopping, no airports or goodbyes, and no other preparation required. Just acceptance of God’s plan, paid in full.

This holiday, as we cherish Thanksgivings past, present, and future, I pray the joyful anticipation of Homecoming resonates within.

*outlaws – what we call our children’s spouses because they are wanted and welcome


By Amre Cortadino

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God calls David “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). Wait a minute. Didn’t God know that David would sin? That, among other transgressions, he’d kill a man to cover up the adultery he’d committed?

Of course God knew!

Long before David stepped into history, before Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus came forward and offered Himself as our living sacrifice.

Our Heavenly Father knew we would sin. And the moment the blood of Jesus touched each sin and stain, we’d be washed clean.

So why do we have a hard time forgiving ourselves and living guilt free? Do we think our sins are worse than anyone has ever committed, so horrible that they should be closed behind a door labeled “Unforgiveable?” A door that God occasionally cracks open with utter disgust, peeks inside while shielding His eyes, and after reviewing every one of our past sins, He shakes His head at our worthlessness? Then, each sin pierces His heart anew with their original vigor until He backs way and slams the door—full of remorse that He’d ever agreed to forgive us?

A while back, a coworker told me that she thought the forgiveness God offered was “way too easy.” Something else . . . some type of penance or punishment had to be meted out. No way could the simple act of asking God for forgiveness remove her sins.

The book of Psalms records David’s close relationship with the Lord God Almighty. When Samuel confronted him, David’s response to his sins was immediate. Though he confessed them, God already knew what David had done. Beyond that, we don’t see David’s continual mention of guilt or need for those sins to be forgiven again and again.

David accepted the Lord’s forgiveness with a glad heart. In fact, he said, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psm. 103:12). That’s something to shout about!

I love that David included you and me in that verse! When we ask, our sins ARE removed. There’s no doubt, no need for self-mutilation or torture of any kind, no sacrifice of bulls and goats, no secret door with stored sins.

Here’s the truth about our sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us (our) sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). No guilt required. Just acceptance and a glad heart because of what the Lord has done for us.

Next time you’re outside taking a walk, or driving in your car, or flying in an airplane, or taking a hike, search the horizon. Then stop looking. And thank God for removing your sins beyond anything you can see or imagine.

By Amre Cortadino

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It’s that time of year again. The shepherds are bringing their flocks down from the hills and into the warmer valleys for winter grazing. I love driving past fields filled with hundreds of sheep; some nestled on the ground, others standing calmly observing the world.

Even more, I love watching a shepherd lead his sheep down a country road to a new field—a black guide dog at the front and end of the flock; white guardian dogs in the midst to protect the sheep along the way.

But best of all is seeing the sheep and remembering Jesus’ words: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14).

At one time in my journey of faith, this verse would slip in and out of my head, never quite making it into my heart. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit kept working on both my head and my heart until the overwhelming impact of Jesus’ parable was clear.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd guides me—His sheep—and I belong to Him.

Jesus searched for me when I was lost and celebrated when I returned to Him.

I recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him.

I am helpless without the Good Shepherd’s protection from the Predator.

Each day, I set out from my subdivision and turn onto a country road, hoping to see another flock grazing in a field. When I do, I smile and whisper “Thank you, Jesus,” happy to be one of His little sheep, no longer lost but now a much-loved part of His flock.

Carol Peterson

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Let me start by saying that GOD can use you. God CAN use you. God can use YOU!  All you have to do is say one word: “Yes.” This one word can feel like the longest grammatical sentence ever. I don’t want you thinking of that tiny word as a jail sentence.  Rather, it is a word that can bring freedom and deliverance, not only to you but to anyone who may cross your path.  However, you have to start by laying your “Yes” on the table.

One thing that is very important if you don’t want to miss an opportunity to see God work is that you have to be willing to be interrupted. Then be ready to move. Simple gestures can be a big deal to other people. We can get so bogged down with being busy all the time and because of it, we refuse to pay attention to our surroundings. We don’t see the downcast person whose day could be turned around by someone smiling at them or the person who would light up if someone told them how nice they looked.

Earlier this year I was really stuck on feeling that I had to make a difference.  I WANTED to make a difference, but I fell into thinking that any difference I made had to be monumental in order for it to count.

I had one moment in particular where I was able to witness the patience of a precious young mother as she worked with her children, one of which was autistic. I had only met her briefly before but didn’t really know her. As I was getting ready to head home, I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “You’re a good mama.” When I got home that night, she had messaged me and thanked me for saying that to her. She felt people did not understand how hard it was for her. She then said I was the only one who had invited her and her kids to be part of the pictures being taken that day. We had a beautiful exchange of words, and it dawned on me in that moment that something that was so minimal on my end was monumental to her.

Monumental moments may take you out of your comfort zone. It might mean you have to talk to a stranger. It might mean that you will have to slow down enough so you can be perceptive to the needs of the people around you. Your child or grandchild may need you to put aside your busy work for a moment and play a board game with them or read a book to them. You can make a difference to that friend who may call at an odd hour but knows that you have the words of comfort or encouragement that they need in that moment. Text a verse to a friend who is hurting to let them know that they have not been forgotten. So many things can be done to create monumental moments that people will never forget. Those moments build memories. Kindness is free, so there is no excuse to keep it from others.

Be willing to be interrupted. Be ready to move. Commit to making a difference in someone’s life by doing simple things. Lay your “Yes” on the table and make the most of every opportunity that is laid before you. You will never regret it.

Guest post by JoEllen Claypool

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.  Phil.4:8

God’s word is filled with encouragement, and this is one of my very favorites. This verse encourages us to “get out of a funk,” or our negative thinking, by plugging into thoughts that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Not too long ago, our pastor explained the acronym: THINK

T          Is it THOUGHTFUL
H         Is it HELPFUL or HONEST
N         Is it NECESSARY or NICE
K         Is it KIND

In an article I wrote for 1ChristianVoice (February 16, 2019), I added an S to THINK

S          SALT

In Colossians 4:6, Paul exhorts us to do this so that our conversations will always be full of grace and seasoned with salt.

When someone says something nice to you, doesn’t it put a spring in your step and lighten your heart? That’s the message behind THINKS! We can change our direction, the course of our day, or our mindset, and someone else’s, if we use the THINKS method. Imagine the impact we can have in our family, our friends, our community, our church, infinity!  🙂

In the above-mentioned article I adapted the old carpentry adage that says measure twice, cut once to: think twice, speak nice.

Today would be a good day to examine our words, the way we THINKS, and change our world – one encouraging word at a time.


By Amre Cortadino

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God is my comforter, my teacher, my motivator.

In these verses, we are told our comfort/encouragement abounds through Christ.

God has comforted and encouraged me in so many ways. By his word, by the people he sends into my life, by the work he gives me to do.

God has comforted me through my struggles, then tells me to use that comfort to comfort others when they go through similar troubles.

He is so wise.

How better for me to be encouraged if I am able to take what I have learned, from my own healing and forgiveness, and help someone else who is in pain?

God has helped me much over the years, through his forgiveness, by bringing me out of hardships to new wonders. He’s led me to friends who needed someone to listen. He’s given me the chance to write, to share with others the hope they can have from the forgiveness of Christ, from the care of a loving Father.

God is our comforter. He longs for us to abound in the joy he wants to give us, and then to share that with others.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Guest Post By Kathy McKinsey,

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Writing is one thing. Becoming published? Well, that’s a whole different deal, and my heart’s desire has never varied—to be published by a traditional publishing house in Christian fiction. It’s frustrated me at times, but the dream has never died. It just bounced back on sweet little cat’s feet and never let go. Finally, I realized if I didn’t at least pursue the dream, I would always regret it.

My grown children knew about my dream. After all, I had talked about it the whole time they were growing up. Once, I even had 150 pages of a manuscript written. But I hated it—not the idea, but the way I wrote it. How sobering to realize that my writing skill didn’t match the fabulous story in my head about sea turtles.

But my son gave me a sea turtle necklace. He said the publishing world was like a big ocean and I was just a tiny little turtle crawling from the beach to the water. “But you’re going to make it,” he said.

His words of encouragement and the beautiful necklace kept me going.

Years passed. I gained better writing skills through practice and the ongoing advice and help from an online critique group. My daughter, who is not a huge fan of contemporary romance,  said the first two chapters of a new story were super fun to read.

Bolstered by her words, I pitched to an agent at the recent ACFW conference. She told me to send a book proposal once revisions were complete. The agent also said to remind her that I was the lady who wore the pretty turtle necklace.

My dreams would have died had I not received encouragement. Find your tribe. Your dreams depend on it.

Guest post by author Mary Pat Johns
Faith-filled Stories of Hope and Redemption

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Gifts of Encouragement

As a preteen, I devoured novels. While living in Budapest, Hungary, my only access to movies was the American commissary rentals, or the shows and cartoons I had taped from cable while on leave in the States. So when I wasn’t riding my bike, I read up a storm. I enjoyed the classics, the ‘90s fledgling market of Christian Fiction, even local Hungarian fiction translated into English.

My love for stories spilled over into writing spontaneous clips of stories in a notebook I kept beside my bed. One day, my friend, Rebekah, found the notebook and read the story clips I’d written. Upon learning that I hadn’t finished them, she screamed, laughed, and playfully pummeled my arm, demanding that I finish them. Her response intrigued me. I wondered, would people actually like the stories I wrote? Could I write something like the novels I loved and consumed?

The first short story I completed, I wrote for English credit in high school—a comic retelling of the book of Esther. At 30K, it was a horrible mess—cheesy, melodramatic—but oh, so much fun to write. It impressed my English teacher, and I began to think about writing another. A year or so later while spending time in the States, I wrote about a Christian girl hiding Bibles in a communist country. I submitted it to a regional teen talent contest under the creative writing category and won first place. That about floored me. How could anything I wrote win anything? I told myself I only won because they hadn’t received many submissions. I’d probably been the only one.

In 1997, I put down the adventure romance novel I was enjoying, went into the den and sat down at the computer. I opened up a blank document and began my first novel, a time travel story I named “In Time.” Within a few months, I had 70K words on the story, never mind that it started with a dinosaur chase (I kid you not), skipped to an Indiana-Jones-type of palace with secret tunnels, made a stop in Rome to visit the persecuted church, and ended in Medieval England. When you’re writing your first book, or even a first draft, you have to let loose and have fun. Otherwise, it won’t get done.

My mom cheered me on, as proud as she could be. She went around telling everyone that her seventeen-year-old had written a 70K novel. During my graduation party, she talked me into reading a portion of my manuscript to our guests, and I’ll never forget the delight on the faces of youth group friends as I picked out my favorite parts. Two of my guy friends went on to be wonderful encouragers and supporters of my work.

Years later, while sorting out a difficult time in my life, I took inspiration from the Roman portion of that crazy draft and wrote For the Sake of One Lost. I couldn’t have done it without the tireless encouragement and feedback from one of my best friends, Ginny. She pulled me through the muck of self-doubt and loved on every chapter of my story. I could never tell these dear friends and family members how instrumental they were in helping me become the writer I am today, and how deeply I’m blessed by them.


Gwendolyn Gage is an aspiring author, one of ten contestants to semi-final in the Historical Romance category of the 2013 ACFW Genesis Contest. She writes faith-filled, romantic adventure with the ambition to offer adventure lovers clean, uplifting stories that encourage them to reach for God.

Not your average American, Gwendolyn spent the majority of her childhood outside the United States, and she’s forever picked on for her ignorance concerning “eighties” and “nineties” culture. She’s lived in Hungary, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and visited many countries in Europe and Southern Asia. In 2001, she returned to the United States and attended Christ For the Nations Institute, majoring in theology.

Writing, reading, and research–yep, Gwendolyn’s pretty much into all things nerdy. She loves cats, coffee, and rocking chairs, though not necessarily all together at once… She makes her home in Bluegrass Kentucky with her husband and two children.


Book blurb of For the Sake of One Lost:

Texan native Pearl Benton arrives in Australia expecting to vacation with her family, but instead, she’s carried by a wormhole to Roman-ruled Egypt. Kidnapped, made a slave–Pearl doesn’t understand why God abandoned her to such a horrible existence. Another time traveler works for her master, and the chance of finding the wormhole that robbed them both of normal, just might be worth putting up with his incessant teasing. Might.

An Aussie stockman turned fleet helmsman, Trey Bradley has spent years building a life for himself in Alexandria. When his boss decides to use Pearl as a bargaining tool in a summons with the Emperor Nero, he asks Trey to accompany them as her translator. Trey wants to help Pearl escape as he’s helped countless others, but God says “no.” How can he help deliver Pearl to Nero and live with himself? Can that truly be what God wants?

As they journey to Rome, Pearl and Trey struggle to set aside their ambitions and choose God’s will above their own, even at the cost of life and love.

Guest post by author Gwen Gage

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