December was jam-packed with good things. There was a wedding, a baby, and a theater performance, all before Christmas. The after-Christmas time was full too. I’ll explain below! ~Elizabeth
The Wedding. First of all, my sister got married, and I got to attend! My youngest daughter was the flower girl, so I made my first solo trans-Pacific trip with her (she was a great traveler). The wedding was beautiful, and it was beyond good to be with my extended family — I wrote about that here.
The Baby. My other sister’s baby was due after Christmas, but he was born right before Christmas instead, and he’s quite beautiful and healthy. The fact that one of us three girls lives in Asia and the other one was 36 weeks pregnant makes it all the more amazing that we both made it to Texas for our middle sister’s wedding.
The Performance. All four of my children have been working hard this semester to prepare for their home school coop performance. This semester’s play, The Flight Into Egypt, was set in World War II-era France and was based on a true story from Claire Huchet Bishop’s children’s novel Twenty and Ten. The performances were truly astounding. Our director continually impresses me with the depth of the themes she writes into her scripts and the excellence she pushes our kids to strive for. The extra work is really worth it, to see my kids grow in confidence and in relationship with others students and adults.
The Movie. The Star Wars movie! The Last Jedi was probably my most favorite yet. We took our whole family, and we all loved it. I heard someone describe it as dark (which is how they like their Star Wars movies), but I found it profoundly hopeful and filled with sufficient light to fight back the darkness. Two years ago, The Force Awakens seemed to echo old stories and characters and take us on a nostalgic tour of the Star Wars universe, and I’m glad they did. We needed to see that someone could do Star Wars right. The Last Jedi, however, felt freer to tell fresh stories while still honoring past ones. They didn’t need to prove anything to us anymore; they had gained our trust enough to take some risks.
The Carols. I try to take some time each Christmas season to sing and play carols (I tell that story here). This year my favorites veered away from my usual mournful, minor-sounding songs and into the merrier ones, most notably “The First Noel” by Davies Gilbert and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Charles Wesley.” (I am not sure what that says about where I am emotionally and spiritually at the moment, but it probably says something.) And of course, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” (also by Charles Wesley) never gets old.
I love how these hymn writers manage to embed the gospel story into their Christmas songs. So if you haven’t taken the time to read and contemplate all the verses, I hope you’ll be able to do so soon. Here is the link for the book I use for regular hymn playing as well as for Christmas carols. The difficulty level is just right for someone like me, who only took a year or two of piano lessons. I’m in love with this spiral-bound book, as it’s a great aid for personal and family worship.
The Family Christmas. All six of us were in dire need of a holiday from school and work. So two days before Christmas we went to the riverfront, where we could walk, scooter, and skateboard and even play football (we went in the morning before all the crowds arrived). Then we ate at a Lebanese restaurant, because nothing says Merry Christmas like Middle Eastern food. Later that night we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s a family tradition and a family and personal favorite, but I have particular notions of only watching it the day before Christmas or the day before that.
On Christmas Eve of course we went to church, but we also celebrated the Musel family way, with noodle soup, bread (though not homemade like Grandma’s), and the traditional cutting and eating of the apple. Then we watched It’s a Wonderful Life, a Hunzinger family Christmas Eve tradition. The power cut out in the middle of the movie, but it wasn’t too hot (in fact we had some downright cold days this month), and then we camped out around the Christmas tree. Christmas morning was lovely and cool and included presents from friends and family in the States. We spent the rest of the day reading our new books and playing with our new toys and games. Also we really splurged this Christmas and ate Indian food too. (What can I say? We really like Indian food and Mediterranean food. I’m certain heaven will be mostly filled with those two cuisines.)
The Boxing Day Party. We have some Canadian friends who celebrate the day after Christmas by inviting friends to come, eat, and talk. And afterwards, we sing more carols! I love this tradition. It’s all about the people, not the presents, about the fellowship, not the rush.
The Date. Jonathan and I went on a long date; it had been a long time since we had done that. For those of you in Cambodia, one of the things we did was go to Brown Coffee. I had no idea it would be so delicious. (It was my first time.) (What can I say? I don’t get out much.) It was so refreshing to spend so much time together and to talk about grownup things, not just family or education concerns. Jonathan listens and makes me laugh and makes me think and is my truest and best “schole” partner. Seventeen and a half years after saying “I do,” I’m more in love with him than I ever thought possible.
And now, enough about my month! On to reading and viewing recommendations.
FUNNY (BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A LITTLE FUNNY IN OUR LIVES)
33 Clickbait Headlines for Expats — Number 12 will Make You Gasp by Craig Thompson. If you have ever lived or served cross-culturally, you’ll get a real kick out of this article.
I just rediscovered Tim Hawkins, after several years of absence. These aren’t new clips, just new to me: Atheist Kids’ Songs (which humorously but truthfully points out the hopelessness of a life without God) and Yoga Pants which had me in stitches.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. An incredibly important story. I read this on the recommendation of Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival. It’s all fun and games till the last few chapters when the story gets real — 1963 real. It tells of tragedy through the point of view of a child, similar to our Holocaust-era home school play, and similar to the recently released Cambodian genocide film First They Killed My Father. Stories like that have a different flavor than tragic stories told through the eyes of an adult, even if it’s an adult remembering his or her childhood. I bawled my way through the last few chapters, so be prepared.
Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher. This is a Sonlight read aloud, and we’re not quite finished with it yet, but oh my, is it good. It’s a retelling of Arabian Nights with a new character injected into the story. As with all good stories, this book has something to teach us. Two of the more salient points are:
“You can’t just go chopping off the parts of a story that you don’t agree with and scrubbing the rest of it clean. You violate its spirit. You rob it of its power.”
“If we don’t share our stories — trading them across our borders as freely as spices and ebony and silk — we will all be strangers forever.”
So many things I could say about those two quotes, but I’ll just leave you with them for now.
Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. I re-read his “Great O Antiphons” poetry for Advent. My favorites (four out of the seven — because apparently I can’t choose just one) are “O Sapienta,” “O Adonai,” “O Rex Gentium,” and “O Emmanuel.” Guite’s sonnets never get old. I love the sonnet form in general: its succinctness, its piercing intensity. And I love the way Guite can turn a phrase to mean both it and its opposite at the same time; his sonnets embody paradox. These poems are like hymns: worth revisiting over and over again, ever new yet always comfortingly old and true.
By the way, Guite is an Adult Third Culture Kid, having been born to British expat parents living in Nigeria. When I realized that, all of a sudden it made sense to me why I resonate so much with his work (which is also steeped in traditional Christian theology) and why he seems so comfortable with paradox. I recently received his Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the sayings of Jesus and am looking forward to diving in. Don’t bother with poetry on Kindle; you need a physical copy of these poems.
I’m working my way through a few other books but need more time to formulate my thoughts on them. Specifically I’m reading a pair of books on creation/science/Genesis and a pair of books discussing the “holy ground” aspect of our everyday endeavors. For both pairs of books, I agree with some of the authors’ claims but am not yet convinced of other claims, so I really need more time to ponder them before commenting on them.
We Said It Enough by Kelly Delp. For families with aching hearts. Pure poetry.
Why Mystery Stories Are the Cure For What Ails Us by Angelina Stanford. I’d been waiting for this article to come out for a long time. Stanford has revolutionized my understanding of both fairy tales and mystery stories. I interpret literature (and human behavior) differently because of her influence.
A Muslim, A Christian, and a Baby Named “God” by Rachel Pieh Jones. I teared up at several points during this “long reads” article. I love the way Rachel imbues dignity to people who are different from her while at the same time remaining steadfast in her own faith.
I also brought back several back copies of Christianity Today from my trip to the States, and I have to say: I love print magazines. I love holding something in my hands and being able to reference it again and again without opening up my computer. It also seems to me that the articles in Christianity Today are more thought-provoking and better thought out than many blogs out there. Don’t shoot me, but there just seems to be more meat in print.
I received some old copies of Pacific Standard magazine from my parents as well. Pacific Standard is secular but contains a wide variety of research and ideas, all fascinating. As I tell anyone who asks me for reading recommendations, I like to read both secular and Christian writers, so I can look for flaws in thinking on both sides, and so I can see where science and research can harmonize with Scripture, and where our worldviews depart from each other significantly.
MOVIES AND TV
I rewatched the remake of Cinderella on the airplane. And I was just in tears at the beauty of the story (my interpretation was informed, of course, by the teachings of Angelina Stanford). I love how this remake added so much depth to the characters.
All Saints. This was another airplane movie. A Christian movie well-done and not overly preachy (a rare find, don’t you think?), this story took place at the intersection of a small rural community, a troubled pastor, and a large group of Asian refugees. In many ways it felt like home to watch. Realistic, painful, and hopeful (which I find to be some of the things often lacking in Christian movies).
The Crown, season 2. Not finished with the season yet, but as I’ve mentioned before, the tension Elizabeth experiences between her responsibility as head of state and the needs and desires of her personal life feels very familiar to the tensions that ministry and missionary families experience. Plus I just love British culture and history. BIG CAVEAT: Skip episode 7. It’s far too graphic and disturbing. I wish I had known that ahead of time.
(NON CHRISTMAS) MUSIC
This Is Our God by Reuben Morgan. Especially the chorus: “Freely you gave it all for us, surrendered your life upon that cross, great is the love poured out for all, this is our God. Lifted on high from death to life, forever our God is glorified, servant and king rescued the world, this is our God.” Just describes our God so well and so fully.
Days of Elijah by Robin Mark (an oldie but a goodie). My favorite part is “It’s the year of jubilee.” I love how Michael Card fleshes it out in his song “Jubilee“: “Jubilee, Jubilee, Jesus is our Jubilee. Debts forgiven, slaves set free, Jesus is our Jubilee.” Read all of Card’s lyrics here. The sad and ironic aspect of Jubilee is that there’s no evidence the Jewish people ever practiced this amazing gift. But it was offered to them, pointing to Jesus all along, and now we have fulfillment of the promise in Jesus. So when I sing “Days of Elijah,” what illuminates my thinking during the song are the words of Michael Card’s teaching on Jubilee.