A Few of My Favorite Things {November 2016}

by Elizabeth

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First and foremost, my Mom came to visit us this month. She brought presents from friends and family in the States plus some home school materials, all of which was certainly fun. Then we dove into life together. We had our own little early Christmas, complete with tree trimming and pumpkin pie. My mom even watched our kids overnight so Jonathan and I could get away as a couple. We also traveled down to Bokor Mountain and Kampot, which were frighteningly beautiful. The endless jungle especially is imposing at dark, but in the daylight, I cannot explain the sense of both being at home and longing for my final Home that I get from the palm trees.

I got to go out for the afternoon with a dear girlfriend of mine. It was both refreshing and fulfilling. We packed a lot into just a few hours.

Our first Scholé Sisters meeting. I’ve talked about scholé before, so I won’t rehash it here. Well, the idea behind Scholé Sisters is that of a group of homeschool moms getting together to deepen their own learning. Not to improve their teaching, but to grow as human beings themselves. A group of us decided to start a Scholé Sisters group here in Phnom Penh, and we had our first meeting this month. We had planned to discuss Sarah Mackenzie’s book Teaching from Rest, but we never got to that. Instead, we trod on holy ground. Our time became a sacred space for each lady present to talk about what God has been teaching her personally in the last year. It was just what we needed for our first meeting. We plan to have actual book discussions later on and possibly attend some art classes. I’m looking forward to more of our meetings.

I figured out how to drink my after-lunch coffee even when I’m out of the house at home school coop. Sounds kinda silly, but I’d been missing it on Tuesdays. Then one day this month I looked around my kitchen and noticed my Team Expansion thermos and the thought hit me, why don’t I make the coffee ahead of time and bring it to coop to drink?? Well I did and it was a success, so here’s to future coop meetings with a caffeinated me. I also continue to have really good, deep conversation with the other moms at coop. I’m finding I really need those ladies and our conversations to keep me focused on first things.

But the best part of all was our actual Thanksgiving Day. We wanted to make it special for us and for our kids, so we took the entire day off work and school (we rarely do that for either American or Khmer holidays). Then we did only what we wanted to do. For us, that meant donuts for breakfast at the fancy western mall, followed by a game of bowling and a trip to the bookstore next door (we are all inveterate bibliophiles around here). Next we headed to our favorite sandwich place (Joma, for those of you in the area) where we shared our thankfulness lists with each other and topped it all off with pumpkin pie (though two of us ordered apple). I savored every single teensy tiny bite of that pumpkin pie. Mmm! Thankful and fully stuffed, we headed home where Jonathan and the older kids watched some Lord of the Rings while I hung out with the little one. Then we ate homemade mac and cheese for supper, tucked the kids into bed, and read by ourselves. It was perhaps non-traditional, but it truly was a restful, relaxing, and fun day with our favorite people in the world and was, potentially, the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.

The last half of this month was really hard. We had some kind of beetle or bug infestation in our home, and it took about two weeks to clear. Thankfully it’s gone now (some infestations can take months to clear), but it was a huge drain on our time and energy. I think they call these things the “rigors of missionary life,” but that doesn’t make them any easier when they happen.

 

ADVENT/CHRISTMAS STUFF

Click here to find links to our old Christmas articles plus my very favorite Christmas and Advent songs, books, and movies. I’m just so excited about my list that I wanted to share it here again!

 

ON MY BOOKSHELF

Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. I didn’t have a lot of time to read this month, what with my mom being here the first half and fighting critters the second half, but I did dip into this memoir from a former atheist. I’ve been wanting to read her book for a while now, and Mom brought with her an Amazon Kindle gift card from some friends in the States – yay!

I’m only a third of the way through this book. At times there is too much detail spent on food, drink, and surroundings, but overall it is a compelling portrait of the meaninglessness and hopelessness of atheism and of intellectually sound reasons to believe. For example, once she’s realized there must be a creator (an ordeal in itself), she concludes that if there’s a god who created all this, then it’s not a big stretch to believe that same god could raise Jesus from the dead. I never thought of it that way before. Her first few chapters are golden – she was raised to be an atheist, but even as a child she bumped up against the meaninglessness of a godless existence, and she tells those stories very well.

I also used that Kindle gift money to buy Timothy Keller’s new book, which I will review here when I get to it (whenever that is). Additionally,  after working through a book on evolution and the origin of life in the kids’ homeschool curriculum, I realized I was way behind in that area of study and that I needed a refresher, so in the next several months I plan to make a personal study of several books of that nature as well (time permitting of course).

Embracing the Body by Tara Owens. A blogging friend recommended this book to me after last month’s post in which I mentioned I was exploring Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners but that it was very dense. I’ve read the first few chapters in Owens’s book and found it much easier to read than West’s. It’s not groundbreaking or novel yet, but that is perhaps because I have been exploring how our spirituality relates to our physicality for months (and just haven’t had a chance to write about it — it’s such a big topic after all). What I can say at this point is, with the time I’ve invested in these ideas over the span of several months, I know that I am experiencing God in both my physical world and my emotional life more than before. I breathe differently. I hug my children differently. I stand differently during worship. “Embracing the body” is a work in progress for me, and I hope to communicate more of my journey in writing in the next year. I’ll also review the rest of the book on here when I finish it.

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson. This homeschooling book was a breath of fresh air. It came highly recommended by an old, good, and trustworthy friend of mine and was brought across the ocean by my mom. I want to tell a little story about it: There were so many days during bug treatment that we finished less than half my normally assigned work, and I felt like such a failure. Until I sat down, opened this book, and exhaled. It helped me pause long enough to realize that while I was boiling sheets (yes, I was literally boiling sheets) and couldn’t attend to my children’s lessons, they were busy doing things like: reading historical women’s biographies, making up stories of their own, reading intriguing science books, or making up computer codes of their own. Sometimes it takes a “fail” like that to remember that when self-education is modeled in the home and good books and resources are provided, children will voluntarily engage in learning. I needed that reminder this month. The book is THICK and will take me a long time to get through (but I did find a mom at coop who has read it, so we can have discussions!). It takes a fair amount of space at the beginning to equip parents with biblical reasons their homeschooling choices are valid. I didn’t need those affirmations — I’m already confident in our decisions (all 6 of us are, actually) and merely struggle with the day-to-day upkeep of the task. But I’m hopeful the book will continue to be helpful and encouraging for me, along with a potential revisiting of the much smaller Teaching From Rest.

Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. I mentioned this book of poems about the church year in my Christmas post, but I want to mention it again here. It’s just that good. I am several poems in now, and I’m finding that poetry is not like prose (who would have guessed??). I can read the same poem over and over again and it still has the same power. (I do not generally find that to be true about prose.) The first reading of the poem doesn’t do it justice either — I don’t “get” it yet. I actually need that re-reading for the meaning to soak in; and then the meaning stays.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I decided to read this instead of just watching it like I usually do. And let me just say I think the first two paragraphs are a hoot! This week we are attending a performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and I’m super excited. I even read the book to my kids ahead of time. I hope you enjoy something theatrically or literarily Christmas-y this holiday season.

 

BLOG POSTS

Healing Humor Only Heaven Could Deliver by Renee Auperlee. I may not have had much time to read (ahem, finish) books this month, but I was able to get through a fair number of blog posts. This one is funny, so if you don’t have time for anything else, spend a few minutes on this one.

Relax! God was at work before you arrived! by Marilyn Gardner. So encouraging and grounding and true. Every overseas worker and minister needs to read this.

The Secret to Finding Hygge by Tanya Marlow. These are dense ideas, so I cannot easily summarize them here. You just need to read it and soak in it. I will say, though, that the concept of “hygge” reminds me of some scenes in Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga where the main characters found what could be called hygge in the midst of their trials and travels. May we also find hygge in the midst of our trials. And one other thing — for an engineer from the United States, when I read the British “cosiness,” I think I’m reading about trigonometrical cosines with a typo, not the state of feeling cosy. I had to laugh at myself there.

Practicing Stability: Part 2 by Jen Rose Yokel. The author says stability (which is always a relevant topic for the global nomad) is a determination to say, “This is not my home, but it can be a home.” This is another really dense article, and long — but worth it. There’s a juncture of the physical and spiritual in these words, and she especially grabbed my heart with the Kathleen Norris acedia quote (I talked about acedia last month), the quote from Christian McEwan on longing, and the Richard Rohr quote on enchantment. Read it all and find these treasures for yourself.

How Much Awesomeness Can We Really Handle? by Rachel Pieh Jones. Not very long, but very important thoughts on the expectations we place upon ourselves (and that are placed there by others) and how well we are coping with our own “ordinary.”

Subtract to Multiply by Patty Stallings. On top of the fact that I always appreciate Patty’s wisdom, I find myself in a season like this and must choose to submit to the subtraction.

How Like the Rooster We Can Be by Amy Young. This is a book club post with probably my favorite chapter in the entire book (although I also really appreciated the raven chapter). Perhaps it is because I studied this topic in depth earlier this year and was so moved by the change in the disciples from arrogance, competition, and comparison, to love, generosity, and humility. They are stories I never tire of hearing.

So You’re Thinking About Serving Overseas? by Anisha Hopkinson. Anisha offers the overseas-hopeful some really good thought experiments to follow — very insightful. (You can find my thoughts on the subject here.)

 

MUSIC, POETRY, AND NEW WORDS

You all know that singing has always been important to me, and this month was no different. What is different, however, is that I’m discovering that singing has been one of the only ways I have historically used my body to both worship God and receive strength from God. It is a good realization to have, to know that I have never truly left my body out of my relationship with God:our musical worship is, after all, physical sound waves leaving our physical body and bouncing around hitting our and other believers’ physical eardrums.

Anger by Laura Hackett Park. I’ve loved Laura’s music for years, and I love several of the songs on the album this song came from. But somehow I hadn’t heard this song. Then when we were listening to music on the way down to Kampot with my mom, this song came on. Wow, do I know what she’s talking about. Make sure to listen to the back story too. Find the full lyrics found here.

All to Him by Desperation Band. “For every fear that closes in, He is closer. For every doubt that comes on strong, He is stronger.” I faced a lot of fear this month, and for those fears I needed this song (and the song that comes next).

Forever Reign by Reuben Morgan and Jason Ingram and performed by Kristian Stanfill. This one’s neither new nor new-to-me, but it hit me in a different way this month at church. How could it not, with words like “You are peace when my fear is crippling,” “You are true even in my wandering,” and “You are God, of all else I’m letting go”??

Let It Be Jesus by Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman, and Chris Tomlin and performed by Christy Nockels. Mostly “God I breathe Your name above everything.” Again, just trying to breathe and relax my physical body into the goodness of God’s love and to praise Him with my physical breath.

A Mighty Fortress by Martin Luther and translated by Frederick Hedge. One Sunday in church my husband read the lyrics to this old hymn, and I was hit anew with their power and meaning. (What can I say? You can’t explain these things. Or maybe you can — after all “the wind blows wherever it pleases.”)

Sing and Shout by Matt Redman. This is just a lot of fun. But when we got to “Because Your love came down, it’s makes me want to sing,” I realized Love really did come down, into our world, in the Incarnation. It’s not metaphorical the way I always thought of that phrase. (I know, I am so late to the party of understanding here, but let me just say that the good thing about being 35 is that you can encounter the same, old truths in powerful, new ways, simply because you have lived longer. And the longer I live, the better and more good God is.)

George Herbert’s sonnet entitled Redemption. Do yourself a favor and read these 14 lines.

Best new word: fernweh. It’s a German word that means “the longing for far-away places,” as contrasted with heimweh, “the longing for home.” Fernweh caught my eye on a missionary writer’s Facebook page. This is just the right word set for global nomads.

 

MOVIES, VIDEOS, AND PODCASTS

The North Avenue Irregulars. I grew up on this movie — on reruns of this movie on the Disney Channel. It is a lot of fun, and I wanted to share it with my kids. Mom brought it over and now my kids all love it too. Plus it’s got a few scenes that ministers and ministers’ kids will completely understand.

Paul’s First Missionary Journey at IF:Equip. I loved the five-minute video at the bottom of the page because it represents what we learned in our Kairos (a course we took through our organization).

Justice and Judgment on Bibliophiles. Takes on the unfairness of life as we perceive it and goes into a good bit on Job. Made me cry with the goodness and power of God. Probably my top pick for podcasts this month.

Tanya Marlow on suffering. Tanya says, “My question isn’t whether God is real, it’s whether God is good.” Even atheists have to deal with the problem of suffering – all people have to grapple with it. And we have to ask ourselves the question, is our theology of suffering true for ALL suffering? We need to deal with the phrase “God has a wonderful plan for my life” – does that work for people outside western middle class Christianity? Tanya also says that “suffering happens to everyone.” I thought that was very compassionate of her, since she lives with a chronic illness. Another important quote: “Suffering reminds us that we are not in control.”

Tanya also did an excellent followup Q&A session to the first interview. My favorite parts were the bits about God groaning with us in our suffering and what being yoked to Jesus means (which was a new idea to me).

Learning Styles are Bunk by Scholé Sisters. I have read before that learning styles — a concept many of us hold dear — does not hold water, scientifically speaking. So it was nice to hear some homeschool moms discuss the actual research. Conclusion: we do have learning preferences, but they don’t affect how much we learn. There are, instead, certain methods and combinations of methods that are good for everyone. Additionally, these moms make the claim that if you fall prey to the learning styles myth, you could be catering to your child’s wants and setting them up for failure in the “real world” when it turns out that the world doesn’t cater to them like Mom does. Lots of food for thought.

Can a Children’s Book Change the World, TEDx talk by author Linda Sue Park (daughter of a Korean immigrant). Fun reflection on the American public library system and more serious reflection on the impact of literature on the world.

Right Now Media. Prepare yourself for a rant. We’ve had Netflix for several years now. I used to be able to find good shows for my kids on Netflix. But now they have outgrown the preschool and early elementary shows. There are several movies in the “kids” section that we won’t let them watch, but they get bored with old movies, so this month I let them try something new. And since it was rated “Age 7,” I didn’t even look up the reviews. But less than 20 minutes in, we had to give it up. Too much inappropriate humor. In a cartoon. Later I was complaining about it to Jonathan, and he reminded me that we had a subscription to Right Now Media through my mom’s church. I had never even looked at it before, since I had no need of it and couldn’t remember my password anyway. Well, I went to work on that password and got into the site. It’s got such great content for kids and grownups alike. And such a relief to let my children watch something without the fear of it being inappropriate. It does cost money to get a subscription, but I just want you to be aware that there are other options out there for kids besides Netflix. There’s VeggieTales and What’s in the Bible (from the VeggieTales people) and our favorite, Friends and Heroes.

(As you can see, I was able to listen to quite a few podcasts even as my reading fell by the wayside this month.)

 

QUOTES

Ephesians 4:4-6 in The Message. I don’t generally prefer The Message, but this caught my ear when it was read out loud in church this month:

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Will Schwalbe at The Wall Street Journal:

“We overschedule our days and complain constantly about being too busy. We shop endlessly for stuff we don’t need and then feel oppressed by the clutter that surrounds us. We rarely sleep well or enough. We compare our bodies to the artificial ones we see in magazines and our lives to the exaggerated ones we see on television. We watch cooking shows and then eat fast food. We worry ourselves sick and join gyms we don’t visit. We keep up with hundreds of acquaintances but rarely see our best friends. We bombard ourselves with video clips and emails and instant messages. We even interrupt our interruptions.

And at the heart of it, for so many, is fear—fear that we are missing out on something. Wherever we are, someone somewhere is doing or seeing or eating or listening to something better.”

Thayer Salisbury in the Does God Exist? bimonthly magazine, whose ministry my family has been following since the 1980’s. Such a great picture for grace:

“Several years ago I showed up at a concert for which I had not purchased a ticket. Despite not having purchased a ticket, I was perfectly confident that I would be allowed to see the concert. I had not purchased a ticket, but I had been given one, free of charge, by the organizer and featured artist of the concert. Having an undeserved ticket was in a way better than having a purchased ticket. If anyone had questioned my right to be there, I could have appealed not only to the ticket itself but to the giver of the ticket to defend my right to be at the concert. Thus, we who know that our salvation was given, not earned, have the greater confidence.”

Augustine of Hippo in his Confessions, found through an article by Andrew Kern:

“Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest dwell therein.”

I found this rather convicting 1890 Clay Trumbill quote in Clay and Sally Clarkson’s book Educating the WholeHearted Child – it proved to me that some parenting ideas are not original even when we post-moderns so arrogantly think they are:

“How many parents there are . . . who are readier to provide playthings for their children than to share the delights of their children with those playthings; readier to set their children at knowledge-seeking, than to have a part in their children’s surprises and enjoyments on knowledge-attaining; readier to make good, as far as they can, all losses to their children, than to grieve with their children over those losses. And what a loss of power to those parents as parents, is this lack of sympathy with their children as children.”

I found this next quote through the youth pastor at our international church. It’s from Dr. Joseph H. Hertz in The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, published in 1973. While I knew that child sacrifice was a common practice in the ancient biblical world, I had never connected it to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Gotta tell ya, the longer I study the Bible and the surrounding cultures of Bible times, the more I believe that there is truly no god like Jehovah:

“The story of the Binding of Isaac opens the age-long warfare of Israel against the abominations of child sacrifice, which was rife among the Semitic peoples, as well as their Egyptian and Aryan neighbors. In that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it. A primary purpose of this command, therefore, was to demonstrate to Abraham and his descendants after him that God abhorred human sacrifice with an infinite abhorrence. Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required. Moses warns his people not to serve God in the manner of the surrounding nations. ‘For every abomination to the Lord, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods’ (Deuteronomy XII, 31). All the Prophets alike shudder at this hideous aberration of man’s sense of worship, and they do not rest till all Israel shares their horror of this savage custom. It is due to the influence of their teaching that the name Ge-Hinnom, the valley where the wicked kings practiced this horrible rite, became a synonym for ‘Hell’.”

Amy Young in Is Jesus Funny? I never get over being made in the image of God. It always amazes me. And there is such great image-of-God stuff tucked right into the middle of Amy’s post:

“I realized several years ago that while I could picture, say, Michael Jordan good at sports, or Beethoven talented at music, or Karen amazing at making images for Velvet Ashes, I couldn’t quite picture God as actually good those areas. I inadvertently thought of those people better than God in their respective areas.

I confused the image in the mirror with the reality it reflected. We are made in the image of God, not the other way around.

Is Michael Jordan an amazing athlete? Without a doubt, but his skill is because he is made in the image of God. A God who is fast and strong and has perfect aim and timing.

Is Beethoven a gifted musician and composer? Yes. But his skill is a reflection of God’s perfect pitch, rhythm, and ability to combine notes in such a way to evoke emotion.

Does Karen design images for Velvet Ashes that leave you in awe? On a daily basis. But her skill did not pop out of nowhere; instead, she is reflecting God’s creative eye, his ability to capture a moment, his endless awareness of proportions.”

What the darkness of a tropical jungle taught me about Advent

dark

We’re in Advent now – the darkest time of year. It is truly the four darkest weeks of the year. We are edging ever closer to the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and the day in the northern hemisphere in which the sun travels as far south as it ever will.

The ancients – so they say – feared the sun would continue dipping farther and farther south until eternal night came and the sun returned no more — which is in a way true in the northernmost latitudes.

But on December 21st or 22nd (depending on the year), the curse reverses. Stops, and turns back. The winter solstice is a promise that night will not last forever. The days will lengthen. Light and warmth will return.

But now, as the darkness of December dives ever deeper, we remember the darkness of a world without a savior. We remember the 400-year long wait to hear the voice of God again. We remember the oppression and the lack and the longing.

And we wait. We wait for freedom and redemption and unblemished communion with God. For everything in Herod’s Temple was but a shadow of the communion we are created to live. And the communion we now enjoy through Christ crucified and risen is still but a shadow of the feasting and oneness and rejoicing in the eternal Kingdom Come.

So we wait.

I remember in the States how the darkness would get the best of me. Not before Christmas mind you – there was too much joy and excitement and twinkle lights – but after. In January (which was far colder) the short days would depress me. It wasn’t enough to immobilize me, but it was enough to feel its weight bearing down on me — and February wasn’t much better.

But I was never afraid of that darkness. In that developed place, there are enough city lights and home lights that the darkness didn’t ever feel total. Here, though, it’s different. Our low tropical latitude means sunset comes on fast and strong, all year round. The darkness doesn’t just deepen. It makes a swift descent.

And the darkness is much more complete. I never noticed it as much, before we boarded a boat too poor to own a light for a sunset “cruise” in Kampot. That darkness I tell ya, it’s quick. And thick. It’s a despairing darkness, and feels as if morning might never come.

Sunset comes at nearly the same time year round: 6 pm. We don’t have shorter days (not by much anyway), but we don’t have longer days either. I do miss the seasonal lengthening.

And though we live in the city, the darkness is still complete. Out my front door is a partially completed yet still tall and as-yet uninhabited row house. It blocks whatever city lights might get to my 3rd story living room window. So when night begins, the darkness is total.

And ever since that dark river trip in which I truly encountered the darkness of the Cambodian jungle, I cannot bear even to look out my window at night. Not after riding along a churning, muddy river without a light. This darkness is too much for me. And too soon. Each evening it comes too soon.

But isn’t this the soul of Advent? The darkness is too much for us. We were not created to live in this darkness, nor to take part in creating the darkness.

So we wait. And we cry out. We cry for mercy. We cry for hope. We cry for return. Return of the Light. Return of the Son. Return of the King.

Until He comes, we will cry. Until He comes, we will wait. Until He comes, we will not lose hope.

And we will remember. We will remember that at just the right time, eternal, all-powerful God became flesh and dwelt among us. Pitched His bodily tent among us.

His is the unwavering Light in this present darkness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

A Trotter Christmas: articles from years past plus favorite books and songs for Advent and beyond

We celebrated Thanksgiving as a family, our tree is up, and the new church year (Advent) starts tomorrow. I am in a merry mood and want to share our very best Christmas articles from the archives plus my very favorite Advent and Christmas songs, both relatively unknown ones and timeless, cherished ones. I hope you enjoy my “grown-up Christmas list.” ~Elizabeth

 

BLOG POSTS

When Singing “Joy to the World” Feels Too Hard by Elizabeth. If you’re mourning or grieving this Christmas, that’s OK. Skip the other posts and read this one instead.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any by Jonathan. More for the hurting among us, and a reminder of what Christmas is really all about.

The Tree That Tells Our Story by Elizabeth. Does your Christmas tree tell the story of your family. A post especially for Third Culture Kids and global nomads.

I Need a Silent Night by Elizabeth. Do you need some soul rest or some unrushing this Christmas season? If so, this one’s for you.

When God Paid for Christmas by Elizabeth. Still one of my very favorite Christmas stories. It was the year money was tight and God gave us Christmas anyway.

In Search of Christmas Spirit (or, an ode to Christmases past and present) by Elizabeth. About our first Christmas overseas. Also for Third Culture Kids and Global Nomads.

A Christmas Prayer by Jonathan. A beautiful prayer for the universal church of Jesus Christ.

He Unbreaks It by Elizabeth. This one looks back on Christmas from the perspective of Epiphany (Three Kings Day or the Twelfth Day of Christmas).

 

ADVENT SONGS

When I talk about “Advent,” I’m referring to the period of four weeks in which we prepare for Christmas. It memorializes the long wait for the Christ Child thousands of years ago and is reminiscent of our current wait for the return of our King. A lot of Advent songs have a minor sound, as there is longing and ache in the wait (and you know I love that minor sound).

Ready My Heart by Lois Shuford, performed by Steve Bell. I learned this song two years ago from a missionary friend who led it during a Christmas service. Short, but I think you will find the message and melody sticks around in your head and on your voice. Here are the lyrics.

Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, translated from the Latin by John Mason Neale. This is an absolute favorite of mine. Don’t cheat yourself of the theology in this song — you really must sing all the verses (you can find them here). Musically speaking, our family favorite is Aaron Shust’s version.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, by Charles Wesley and Rowland Prichard and performed by Chris Tomlin. Another favorite pre-Christmas song of mine.

 

CHRISTMAS SONGS

Little Drummer Boy by Katherine Kennicott Davis and performed by Pentatonix. Every time I hear this song I am a puddle of tears. Every time, people. At least, every time since we were in the States three years ago and the preacher at our sending church mentioned it in a sermon and shed a new light on it for — specifically the “I have no gift to bring.” I’d always liked the song, but now I love the song. Now my children look at me a little cross-eyed whenever this song plays, and I can’t for the life of me explain in understandable terms why I cry so hard. I think it is just that at this stage of my life, I feel and know deeply that I have nothing to give the Savior — nothing in myself — but I will give what little I can. And the promise of the song is that God is pleased with us when we give what little we can. OK, no more philosophizing, just go experience the song. Again and again.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Gloucester Cathedral Choir.  A friend sent this to me last year. It may not be completely historically accurate (it wasn’t that cold in Bethlehem), but it’s metaphorically accurate and oh, isn’t it beautiful?

Who Would have Thought by Julie Meyer. A beautiful worship song, and I love it. There’s no listing of the lyrics anywhere, but here’s the back story to this song.

Do You Hear What I Hear by  Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. I’ve loved this song vaguely since childhood, as my mom played a version of it. But it’s only been in the last couple years have I truly understood the message of the last verse.

Vicit Agnus Noster by Michael Card. Beautiful and — as is par for the course with a Card song — deeply theological.

Mary Did You Know by Mark Lowry, performed here by Kenny Rogers and Wynona Judd. A favorite from childhood.

Welcome to our World Chris Rice. A little off the beaten path, but good.

Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  A family favorite.

Carol of the Bells by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Another family favorite.

Emmanuel God With Us by Amy Grant. The album this song comes from is a family favorite. Ethereal and prophetic.

For Unto Us a Child is Born, from Handel’s Messiah and sung by Amy Grant.

Which brings me to my last linked song, Hallelujah Chorus. You really need to listen to Handel’s Messiah in its fullness, but for many this chorus is synonymous with Christmas and with the entire work. Something to remember about this chorus, though, is that you have to sit two-thirds of the way through the program to get to this triumphant song. Victory always involves waiting. For me this song represents the “now and not yet” reality of the kingdom, and though I cry over the beautiful partial fulfillment of these words, I still cry in longing of the full and final redemption of this world.

Other favorite carols of mine (though I’ve hardly ever met a carol I didn’t like):

  • What Child is This? (oh look, another minor song, for which you really must sing all the verses)
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (yes, more minor, and more gospel reminders)
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (for a full effect, all the verses are necessary)
  • Oh Holy Night (in which I break my minor streak, and in which you must also sing all the verses)
  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing (again, all the verses)
  • Of course I also love Silent Night and The First Noel — but you have to sing all the verses to those too.
  • And finally, people, I love Joy to the World, but for goodness sakes, WAIT to sing it till Christmas morning. You must absolutely must wait for the joy. Otherwise it’s silliness. And when you sing it on Christmas morning, you gotta sing all 4 verses, people, all four verses.

Share your favorite songs in the comments.

 

BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS AND THE CHURCH YEAR

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I grew up on this story, and this year I decided to read it aloud to our kids. Plus, we are going to see an international high school production of the play next week!

The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I am relatively new to the church year, and this book walked me through it this past year. Kimberlee’s prose is friendly, fresh, and rooted. I continue to rave about several sections, including Easter and the Transfiguration. You really do need the paperback version, though, as it’s an all year by-my-side type of book. Kindle won’t cut it here.

Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. Walking through the church year with Kimberlee was so good that I knew I wanted to walk through it with someone else (but I’ve got Kimberlee’s book near so I can grab it when I want to). I’d been exposed to Guite’s poems (sonnets, really) and read enough of them on his website that I knew Guite was just the teacher I needed to walk me through the church year this year. The book is a cycle of 70 sonnets for the church year. I was going to wait until the first day of Advent (first day of the church year) to crack open the poems, but I cheated and read the prologue out loud (the only way poetry is supposed to be read of course) last week and then immediately burst into tears. I thought, this is going to be a good year.

The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle. I enjoy Madeleine’s (rambling) prose and plan to read this book alongside Malcolm’s. It’s arranged by section of the church year, just like Kimberlee’s.

Share your favorite church year resources in the comments.

 

FAVORITE FAMILY CHRISTMAS MOVIES

The Muppet Christmas Carol. A classic, and a family favorite. This story always gets me in the Christmas mood. This year I’m going to go further than the movie and read the actual book. Probably out loud and in a British accent.

The Nativity Story. I don’t care if you think this version is not historically accurate enough, it is emotive and beautiful and true to the spirit of the story.

It’s a Wonderful Life. This is an absolute Hunzinger family favorite. We watched it every Christmas Eve growing up, and waited till our Christmas Eve showing to crack open the big flavored popcorn tin under the tree. But you must watch it in black and white. It’s silly to watch it in color.

My kids and I also enjoy Elf and White Christmas (a family favorite on Jonathan’s side).

Share your favorite Christmas movies in the comments.