Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas Day Six

Quiet Reflection


The gift of time for quiet reflection.  This seems to be a day for that doesn't it?  We look back over the past year and evaluate our goals/resolutions that may (or may not!) have been set last year.  Then we look ahead to the coming year and ponder what we hope to achieve.  I have learned the hard way that both have to be done together.  It doesn't do much for me to just look back (though I am very prone to doing that), and it doesn't do much for me to never look back. 

This past year was in many respects a difficult year.  To be honest, the past two years have been challenging in many ways.  I have a choice when I look back.  I may choose to focus on the negative aspects of those challenges, or I may choose to focus on the positive aspects of those same challenges.  Or I may look at them and see that there are both negative and positive parts in these challenges and grow and mature from both sides.

Hardships strengthen us.  They can, if we let them, give us a deeper empathy for others.  They make us more dependent on  a Sovereign God.  They teach us things about the nature of God.  They force us to spend more time in prayer ~ communion with God.  They remind us that there is something better coming.

As I look back over the year, I am confronted with a number of failures.  In so many ways I was not the woman I want to be.  It is easy for me to be overwhelmed by my short-comings and wallow in regret.  I have to remind myself that this accomplishes nothing, and brings absolutely no glory to God whatsoever.  When I am tempted to give in to regret and get lost in the day-dreams of "what-if", the only thing that happens is that I give bitterness an opportunity to grow in my spirit.  I don't get anything done that needs to be done, whether that is dishes and laundry or Bible study and prayer.  It takes great effort on my part to resist that, but I must resist.  Instead of giving in to the "what-ifs" or the "if only I hads", a better response is to go to my Heavenly Father and beg Him for the grace to be what He wants me to be, and to do better at the next opportunity.  And then move along with life.

I can not wrap up without acknowledging a few of the more wonderful things that have happened this past year.  Here are some of the blessings I will be counting today:

  1. The privilege of going with my dear friend (who also happens to be my sister in law) to her chemo treatments.  The joy of seeing her come through those treatments strong and with minimal side-effects.
  2. The assurance that my cousin Dan Carlton and my niece Meaghan McNutt are perfectly and completely healed and living in the presence of God in heaven
  3. My dear brother survived his heart-attack and is strong and healthy.
  4. My parents are still, in their mid-80's, able to travel and be with us.
  5. I am able to travel and visit with my parents!
  6. A new church home
  7. A pastor who faithfully, consistently and unapologetically proclaims the Truth of God's word
  8. Text messages from nieces!
  9. The opportunity to take part in a women's Bible study class and find some new friends there
The list is much longer; this is just a glimpse into some of the precious gifts.

I hope that you too will make some time for quiet reflection today.  May God's comfort, peace, love and strength fill your hearts, minds and homes as we end this year and look forward to the next.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas Day 4


The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Did you grow up singing that song?  Did you know what the Twelve Days are?  

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs.  It's a little silly, and it can get me giggling; especially some of the sillier parodies of it (like the ones I posted here).  It is not truly a carol, and there really is not a secret, coded catechism for Catholic children.  It is just a fun little song to count down the days to the feast of Epiphany.  

What is Epiphany?  According to Webster's Dictionary it is:

A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi, traditionally observed on January 6. 

I love to celebrate Epiphany, probably because it lets me continue to celebrate Christmas for a few more days (twelve, to be exact).  When I was growing up, we never "took down Christmas" until Epiphany on January 6th.  Mr. Marvelous and I do the same thing in our home.  Our tree is still up.  The lights still get lit when it is dark.  The Christmas dishes are still being used.  I still have Christmas music playing throughout the day.  I'm even still watching a Christmas movie or two.  For me, this continued celebration/countdown to Epiphany is part of the fun of Christmas.  

In that spirit of fun, I wanted to share a little silly writing that my mother and I dearly love.  I found it on the internet several years ago and it became one of our favorite things to read during this Twelve Days season.  

The Twelve Thank You Notes of Christmas
 by John Julius Norwich

          26th December
          My dearest darling,
          That partridge in that lovely little pear tree! What an enchanting, romantic, poetic
          present!  Bless you and thank you.
          Your deeply loving Emily...
          28th December
          My darling Edward,
          You do think of the most original presents; whoever thought of sending anybody 
          three French hens?  Do they really come all the way from France? It's a pity we have 
          no chicken coops, but I expect we'll find some. Thank you anyway, they're heaven.
          Your loving Emily...
          29th December
          Dearest Edward,
          What a surprise - four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet - even 
          if they do call rather loudly - they make telephoning impossible. But I expect they'll 
          calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I'm very grateful - of 
          course I am.
          Love from Emily...
          30th December
          Dearest Edward,
          The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, 
          and all fitting perfectly. A really lovely present - lovelier in a way than the
          birds, which do take rather a lot of  looking after. The four that arrived yesterday 
          are still making a terrible row, and I'm afraid none of us got much sleep last night. 
          Mummy says she wants to use the rings to 'wring' their necks, she's only
          joking, I think; though I know what she means. But I love the rings. Bless you.
          Love Emily
          31st December
          Dear Edward,
          Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly 
          wasn't six socking great geese laying eggs all over the doorstep. Frankly, I had rather 
          hoped you had stopped sending me birds - we have no room for them and they have 
          already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but - let's call a halt, shall we?
          Love Emily
          1st January
          I thought I said no more birds, but this morning I woke to find no less than seven 
          swans all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I'd rather not think what happened 
          to the goldfish.   The whole house seems to be full of birds - to say nothing of what 
          they leave behind them.  Please, please STOP...
          Your Emily
          2nd January 
          Frankly, I think I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids - AND their 
          cows? Is this some kind of a joke? If so I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing.
          3rd January
          Look here Edward, this has gone far enough. You say you're sending me nine ladies 
          dancing; all I can say is that judging from the way they dance, they're certainly
          not ladies. The village just isn't accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless hussies 
          with nothing on but their lipstick cavorting round the green - and it's Mummy and I 
          who get blamed.  If you value our friendship - which I do less and less - kindly stop 
          this ridiculous behaviour at once.
         4th January
          As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing about all over what used to 
          be the garden - before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it; and several
          of them, I notice, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile 
          the neighbours are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.
          5th January
          This is the last straw. You know I detest bagpipes. The place has now become 
          something between a menagerie and a madhouse and a man from the Council has 
          just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mummy has been spared this last outrage; 
          they took her away this afternoon in an ambulance. I hope you're satisfied...
          6th January
          Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival 
          on her premises at half-past-seven this morning of the entire percussion section of the 
          Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and several of their friends she has no course left open 
          to her but to seek an injunction to prevent your importuning her further.  I am making
          arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock. 
          I am, sir, 
          Yours faithfully,
          G. Creep, Solicitor-at-Law


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The First Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!

My Dad is an amazing man.  Not only is he the greatest preacher in the world (sorry, David Platt and John Thweatt!), he is also a terrific author.  Today my Christmas gift to you is this guest post from Dad.  I hope you enjoy it. 

The Comfort of Christmas


Very early on Christmas day, many years ago, I received a telephone call.  There was really nothing unusual about getting a call so early in the morning, especially on Christmas day.  I had many friends and family members who called to wish me a merry and blessed Christmas.  This call was different from the rest.  When I answered that call, as was my custom on Christmas day, I said, "Merry Christmas, God bless you."  The call came from a nephew named Danny.  "Uncle Gordon", he began, "Daddy is celebrating Christmas with Jesus in heaven today."  To say the least, that was not what I expected from my first Christmas call that year.  Danny went on to explain that his dad, my brother-in-law, had suffered a massive heart attack, late the night before, and died right then and there, with his family around him assuring him of their great love for him, and telling him goodbye "Til we meet in heaven."

When my sister came on the phone she was obviously sad and upset, but amazingly calm and obviously at peace (she is truly at peace now for she too is with the Lord in heaven).  After she heard me in my clumsy way telling her my feeling of grief and loss, and assuring her of my sympathy, love and prayers, she simply said, "What better place than heaven, with the Lord, for Dan to celebrate Christmas".  She said her first reaction when she realized Dan was dying was, "Please Lord, not on Christmas Eve!".  Her next thought was, "but isn't this truly what Christmas is all about; that because of Christmas, God has defeated death by sending His Son into the world?".  So she quieted her own heart and the hearts of her children gathered around her and they prayed together.

The first words in Isaiah 40 are these; "Comfort, yes comfort my people, says your God.  Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned".  It seems to me that this is really an explanation of what Christmas means.  It is a message of comfort, for it tells that our sins have been forgiven, and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  But Christmas points us to another event, or should I say, Advent.  The message of comfort which Christmas brings is not complete without the good news our Lord is coming again, and that He has opened heaven to His people.  Yes, the sorrows of this life are real and many.  We are reminded at Christmas of the loss of loved ones whether recently or in days gone by, and our grief is renewed and the heart wounds are reopened, and the pain returns.

But God has a message of comfort, peace and hope.  We sorrow not as others who have no hope.  We anticipate, yes, we long for that belssed day when we shall meet our loved ones again, and will never again be seperated from them.  Until that day, hear God saying in His word, "Comfort, yes comfort my people...For those who wait upon the Lordshall renew their strength.  They shall mount up with wings like eagles.  They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint".

"The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace."  

This Christmas and forever.

This Christmas my cousin Danny is reunited with both his parents celebrating Jesus.  Our Meaghan is there with them.  In our grief, we are comforted.

May God's peace, comfort, hope and joy overwhelm your hearts and homes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Twenty-Four

Lion of Judah
(with apologies to those who have read this before)

Lion of Judah, Lamb of God,
On this night the Creator of all things
          seen and unseen,
Humbled Himself to be born
          in a lowly condition,
And accepted for Himself a limited human body.
He who spoke the universe into existence
          Must now learn to talk.
He who taught cheetahs and gazelles to run
          Must now learn to walk.
He who fashioned whole galaxies with His hand
          Can barely grasp His mother's finger
          With His weak, tiny, human fist.
And He who abhors even the concept of evil,
          Must become my sin,
                    Suffer my guilt,
                              Bear my punishment
                                        For my redemption.
My praises, my worship, my exultation
          Will transcend even that of angels.
My song will rise and spread to fill heaven.
          I am no longer captive!
This earth can not hold me, for
          This baby so tender,
                    This man of compassion,
                              My victorious Savior,
                                        My risen Lord,
                                                  Lion of Judah,
                                                            Lamb of God
                         Has made me His very own.

copyright Virginia Akin 2002
May the Lord bless you
And keep you
And give you the strength, courage, and grace
That you need each day
During this Christmas Season
And the coming year 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Twenty-Three



Our home is filled to the brim with hundreds of books of every kind.  We have so many books that we do not have enough shelf space.  As if those are not enough, within ten minutes I can drive to a library where there are thousands of books (and video, and audio recordings) available to me. 

Most of us have multiple Bibles in our home.  Our house has at least a dozen (we donated a lot in the past year).  In addition we have commentaries, Bible study books, Bible histories, Bible dictionaries, and many, many other works that explain the Bible more thoroughly.  I can just sit down whenever I want to, pick up my Bible and read it for myself.  

Every Sunday, and almost every Wednesday (at least when we are healthy), we drive to church and our preacher explains more of the Bible to us.  We pray together as a church, we share with one another how those prayers are answered from week to week.  We point out to one another instances throughout the week when we have seen God's hand in our lives and the lives of those we love.  

We take it for granted.

Now imagine a world without all these forms of communication.  Imagine that there are only a few scrolls with God's word.  The "preachers" (or the priests and prophets) who in years past would tell us what God had said and how He was working, had nothing.  No words.  No communication from God.  No place to gather as a group of people who worship the same God.  Not even any rebuke from God.  


Just silence.

For four hundred years.  

After four hundred years, don't you think there was very little hope left in God's promises?

After four hundred years, do you think there might have been a lack of hope bordering on despair?

Stop a minute and listen to the silence.  

Feel the darkness.

And far away in the distance, listen to the one or two voices that dare to sing despite the waning hope:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

As you listen, dare to hope.

He came.

He will return.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Twenty-One

I'm just a little bit behind.....


Shopping is not usually my favorite activity.  Somehow it usually makes me feel incapable, inept and awkward.  It makes me wish I had a daughter.  I almost always find myself wishing that I could magically make my niece Melanie appear by my side to help me (she is magic when it comes to shopping!).  Especially if I am shopping for clothing.

Shopping for others is better; there is great joy in finding something that will put a smile on someone's face.  Yet I struggle to think of ideas for folks who are over the age of about 8.

I went shopping on Friday.  I called my sister on my way to the first store, and she just happened to be in the general vicinity, so we met for a cup of coffee before I got started.  Sister-time to start that kind of expedition is tremendously helpful and encouraging.  Especially with any of my sisters, in-law or otherwise!

After we finished coffee and she made her way back to work to grade that last exam, I looked over my plan and got to work.  Head down, focus on what matters and get the job done, right?

So what is it that really matters?  God has given this season to remind me of the great gift He has given me.  Not only have I been redeemed; before He went back to heaven, Jesus promised to give me a helper.  He tells me that the result of this helper being with me includes joy.  


As I think about that walking through the stores, my expedition becomes less about finding the "perfect" gift for a list of people (whom I love dearly).  That gift is important because it helps me express to them how very much I love them, but it is also an opportunity to reflect and share my joy with the people around me.  Not the fake, look-at-me-I'm-so-joyful kind of thing, but genuine joy.  

It means being willing to take the time if necessary to interact with someone I don't know.  It might mean offering to return a cart into the store for a young mother struggling to get packages and children into the car.  It might mean nothing more than a smile to the down-cast older man.  It might mean a cheerful, "Merry Christmas!" to the woman trying to get through the line at the Dollar Tree.

It means listening to someone who starts talking.  Listening and realizing that they have a story they really need to tell to someone.  Like the young lady in the gas station who was talking about decorating her register....because her mother did not want to decorate the house.   It meant taking a moment (even though I was in a rush to be DONE with the whole shopping experience), to ask her how her mother was doing and what made her mother feel that way.  When you do that, you discover things like the fact that this was the family's first Christmas without Dad, who died back in June.  And you find that this may be the last Christmas with Mom, who is thought to have a particularly nasty and lethal cancer.  You connect.  You pull out the book that you "just happened" to decide to put in your purse that morning before you left the house, that favorite Christmas book, Triumph Over Tragedy.  You take just a moment to encourage.  You promise to pray for this family (and if you promise, you pray!!).  Perhaps in the busy-ness of the next week, you take the time to check back in and remind her that you are indeed praying.  

So look around you this week as you are out and about.  Pray and ask God to give you the eyes of Jesus; eyes to see folks as Jesus sees them and to reach out with compassion.  It may only be a 30 second interaction to just say "Merry Christmas!"  It may be a 30 minute interaction to listen.   And maybe, just maybe, if you are willing to put self aside for a little while, you will have the privilege of attending another kind of birth.  Maybe God will allow you the honor of being present when someone is re-born spiritually.  

May His wisdom, His discernment, His joy and His love overwhelm you this week.

And may you share that generously with everyone you meet.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Eighteen


I love Christmas trees.  If I thought I could get away with it, I would have a tree in every single room of the house.  I decided that this year I was going to have a second tree.  I just wanted a little one and I didn't want to spend a lot of money on it.  I was thinking about going to the store and seeing if they had their trees discounted yet when Jack stepped in with a suggestion.

Jack took me for a little walk out on the side hill.  Guess what we found?

Isn't it lovely?!

Good thing I brought a shovel and a bucket.

I didn't want to cut it down; I wanted to try and save the root so that we can plant it in the front yard after Christmas.  Sort of like the old John Douglas Fir Tree (that's a family joke).

We managed to get the tree levered out of the ground with most of the root intact.

I hope.

Do you remember me telling you about saving all that dirt in the pots at the end of the summer? 

Now you see why we do that.

I had a few small ornaments to trim it

Then I got the wreath put up.
It's not fancy, but I like it.

So does Jack.

Indoors I got our manger scene fixed to my liking.  Old navy blue sheets are quite useful.

The wisemenman is still traveling from Switzerland

And one of my favorite ~ and quite important ~ decorations made it out to the piano:

It was quite a day, with this and baking.

I wore Mr. Marvelous' kitten out with all the activity.

Seems that Jack was a little tired too!

Now back to the baking....

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Seventeen

I enjoy words.  I enjoy learning words and finding out where they come from and what they mean.  I enjoy using words, although anyone who knows me would tell you that I am much better at writing words than speaking words!  One of my favorite quotes from Rush Limbaugh is, "Words mean things!"

Often when I am reading or studying my Bible, I will find a word and go dig out my big dictionary and my Bible dictionary just to make sure I understand that particular word.  I have been known to sit taking notes during a sermon and jot a note to myself in the corner to do a word study on a particular word the preacher uses.

One of my favorite words in the Bible or out of the Bible is the word, sanctify.  I love how this word has multiple layers of meaning.  My Websters tells me that it comes from two Latin words, sanctus which means holy (Saint comes from that same word), and facio, to make.  To make holy.  It also means to set apart

I have been sanctified through the birth, the life, the work, the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.  I have been made holy, and (don't neglect this part) I have been set apart. 

As we approach the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus remember to spend some time thinking about the why of His coming.  Christmas is wonderful but it has little meaning if we are not thinking about the coming of Easter and the celebration of Jesus' finished work; God's glory and our sanctification.

Yesterday as I was reading through the book of Ezekiel, I came to this description of God in Ezekiel 20:12

The Lord Who Sanctifies

I pray that over the next few days you will take a little time to meditate on that.  In the meditation of that, I believe that you will find a depth and fullness and richness added to your celebration of Christmas!

His peace ~ and presence ~ to your home.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day 15

We're On The Home Stretch!

It's getting close.  Can you feel it?  It is only nine days until Christmas.  

This is the week I will (finally) be decorating.  We went and cut down a tree over the weekend and my house smells absolutely wonderful.  The tree is up and (mostly) decorated.  It's a little more minimalist this year which is quite different from my usual full tree.  Mr. Marvelous has even talked about a second tree for all his quirky and crazy cow and pink flamingo ornaments, so I will pick up a small cheap one when I am out today.  The garland and the wreath will go up on the front porch.  The nativity sets are (mostly) up (I have more than one.  I love nativity sets).  The wisemenman has moved over to Switzerland ~ that means he is standing on top of my picture of Geneva ~ so is halfway around the living room to the nativity.  

I will finish up shopping for gifts this week, and get a few things in the mail.  I might even start my baking this week.  I will be listening to some great music this week; Handel (I can never get enough of The Messiah), some Pergolesi (yes, it is in Latin.  I still love it), some Mannheim Steamroller, some Transiberian Orchestra (see, I am eclectic), and some good old fashioned carols.

I will be getting ready for out of town company, time with the grandchildren whom my sister so generously shares with me, an extended family trip to the Alabama Theater to see a Christmas movie, and all the other delightful odds and ends that fill our days this time of year.  

I will be sitting quietly in my rocker in the early mornings and late evenings (and throughout the day).  I will be thanking God for His many gifts this past year; the ones that I am aware of, the ones that I don't even know He gave me, the ones that hurt, and especially for the gift of Jesus.  I will be confessing my sins and confessing His ultimate authority in my life.  I will be asking His peace and mercy to fill the hearts and homes of friends who have suffered through a family death this year.  I will be asking Him to help me see Him more clearly; to know Him better and show Him better to the world around me.  I will be listening.

Enjoy!  Celebrate!  

But in the middle of the enjoyment and the celebration, stop.... 

...and listen.  

Remember Who this season is about.  

Give thanks for the great gift we have been offered!

product image 4

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day 12

Guess what we are going to go get and decorate this weekend?

Apart from loading it into the vehicle, putting it into the stand and bringing it into the house, this is Mr. Marvelous' principle role in the process:

And he does it quite well, thank you.

A few of our ornaments are hand-made


This little guy will watch over the proceedings.

Words to live by, don't you think?

Happy Friday!!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Eleven


What shall we do today to prepare for Christmas?

I looked around this morning and wondered what to do.  

Jack thinks that my floors and carpets might need a little attention

The catnip does seem to go everywhere when our cats get into it!

He also suggested that this might be a good day to do a little Christmas baking.

I understand that many of you are not fans of fruitcake (except for my niece, Miss A.)
However, Mr. Marvelous LOVES fruitcake and this is his mother's recipe. 
I restrict him to one.  Or two.  Maybe three.

Let me know if you want the recipe; I will share!

Jack also suggested that if I have time after doing housework and cooking, I could sit in the rocker and peruse some Christmas books.
Since next week is decorating week.

I told Jack that these suggestions are excellent but before we do anything else, I need to spend some time working through a few chapters of Ezekiel.  Does that seem like a peculiar choice for Christmas preparation?  Probably!  But as I read through Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel, I realize afresh how desperately I need Christmas.  When I deepen my understanding of my spiritual hopelessness and inability to do anything righteous or good on my own power, then my appreciation of the hope of Christmas is exponentially deeper.

So I will spend a little time here....

...and then I will spend a little time with my prayer book, praying for those of you who particularly need to be reminded of that hope....

....and those of you for whom I have promised to pray.    

If you need any suggestions for your own prayer time today, would you please include Bill?  He had a marathon surgery yesterday for cancer.  

God's peace ~ and hope! ~ to your homes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Ten

A Little Light-hearted Music

Not all my music is serious/classical.  Here are two of my favorites that are a little more light-hearted

I discovered this one last year

One of our local churches has a men's group that has performed this, so I went to Youtube and found the original by Straight No Chaser.  These guys are fantastic!  

Their tempo, their energy and ESPECIALLY their sense of humor is appealing. 

So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and get ready to laugh.

And many, many thanks to both the Patrick Johnston family, and Straight No Chaser.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Nine

A Week of Music

I grew up in a family where music was important.  We all took piano lessons with some exceeding others in ability.  Mother played cello from the time she was a small girl in Boston.  I played (kind of) the violin.  My brothers played trumpet and trombone.  It seemed that there was always music of one kind or another playing in the house, whether it was the ear-wrenching sounds of practice, the sound of someone singing, or Mom's record player with everything from Baroque classics to the Singing Nun, and everything in between.  And oh, I nearly forgot the years that Mama and I took up playing recorders.  We had fun with those, especially at Christmas!

This week I am playing as much of my Christmas music as I can.  I have a lot, and I have a lot of favorites.  Some are serious and some are silly.  For today, here is one of my three all-time favorite serious pieces: God Bless Us Everyone from the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol (to me the George C. Scott version is the only version).  It is a little garbled on Youtube, so I have included the words below.  And there is some strong truth in these words!

God Bless Us Everyone
(Music by Nick Bicat, lyrics by Tony Bicat)

The past of man is cold as ice:
He would not mend his ways.
He strove for silver in his heart
And gold in all his days.
His reason weak, his anger sharp,
And sorrow all his pay,
He went to church but once a year,
And that was Christmas Day.

The present man is full of flame:
He rushes here and there.
He turns away the orphan child,
The widow in her chair.
He eats for ten, he drinks for twelve,
Forgets how brief his stay,
And stands a-jingling of his coins,
In church on Christmas Day.

So grant us all a change of heart,
Rejoice for Mary’s son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind,
God bless us everyone!

The man to come we do not know:
May he make peace on earth,
And live the glory of the Word,
The message of the birth,
And gather all the children in
To banish their dismay,
Lift up his heart among the bells
In church on Christmas Day.

So grant us all a change of heart,
Rejoice for Mary’s son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind,
God bless us everyone!

God bless us everyone indeed!

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas Day Eight

A Stable


I'm a little nuts about our nativity.  I do NOT like to get everything out at one time.  I like to build the anticipation and the expectation.  I like the breathless wonder of building up to CHRISTMAS.  

This week I will get out our stable and manger.  We have some timothy hay in the basement (feed and bedding for our almost-Mama bunny) that will be strewn in there.  I might get an animal or two out.  Then again, I probably won't!  I will get out the one magi that we have and put him and his camel somewhere in the living room far away from where we keep the manger.  They aren't scheduled to arrive until January anyway.

Sometimes I hide them in "normal" places.


Sometimes I get a little silly (are you shocked?)

You do see him, right?
Mr. Marvelous insisted that I include Jack South in at least one Wise Man picture.  This is because Jack South is named for a dear friend of ours and Mr. Marvelous says this friend certainly belongs in a grouping of wise men!

We have this weird space in our living room.  It is a hole over the fireplace (The cats check it daily for anomalies in the space-time continuum.  So far we are safe).  I'm not quite sure what to do with this hole most of the year, but at Christmas it is just what I want.  This is the focal point of the living room and the perfect place for a manger scene.  Hmm.  Maybe before I put the stable there I need to paint it deep blue and add some painted stars?  Well, maybe not.  But if I found some fabric I might staple it up as a backdrop.

Until then, here is what we have.

Stay tuned; the Messiah is coming!

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Five

A Musical Evening

 With Jack South

Music has always been a rather important part of the Advent celebration for my family.  This was the time of year when we would come home from school to hear The Messiah or George Bernard Shaw's collection of Christmas Carols on the record player.  My brothers were in the band in junior high, my sisters and I all played piano, and I was in the orchestra in junior high.  There were always Christmas recitals and band concerts and orchestra concerts to attend in December.

Last night our local junior and senior high school had their Christmas band concerts.  Since two of my dear friends play in these bands, I was invited.  

Jack South snuck into my bag and went with me.  

I did not get quite as many pictures of Jack as he wanted ~ apparently he had visions of being on stage with the musicians and enjoying the music up close and inside the tubas.  Wouldn't that have made a picture?!

The kids were terrific.  We were astonished at the size of the sixth-grade beginning band.  These are the kids who picked up instruments for the first time in August/September.  I doubt that many of these children knew how to read music before they started band, and most of them had never handled these instruments before.  But they have done a remarkable job learning their instruments and the music, and gave a performance to be proud of.  They were way beyond Mary Had A Little Lamb or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Their repetoire included Up On The House Top and Jingle Bells.  Their director (and their parents!) may be very proud of this group.

The seventh-grade intermediate band was of particular interest to me as one of my friends is in this band.  She plays the French Horn ~ one of my favorite instruments.  This was a small group but they did a lovely job as well.  Especially the French Horn section!

The eighth-grade group in our town is larger and many of these students get to march with the High School during football season.  It was obvious that these students have been working hard for several years!

The High School band (pictured above in their concert attire) was marvelous.  They did Sleigh-Ride, a Fantasia on the Ukrainian Bell Carol, and finally a medley of songs from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  They even had a sax combo who did a piece and did it extraordinarily well.  The bassoons were particularly well done.  

The High School band performance was touching.  It was the first time in a year that their director had been able to be on the podium.  He has been battling cancer for the past year, and it has not been an easy battle.  Our church has had him on our prayer list and several times over the past few months we have gotten updates and been asked to increase our prayers for him.  I had never met the man before but had been praying for him, and seeing the answer to those prayers was moving. 

The evening ended with the High School jazz combo.  Oh my goodness!  These kids are fantastic!  The students in this particular group are musicians to their core.  I wish I had recorded this for you.  The performance was terrific to hear but also a LOT of fun to watch.  The director would snap out the beat to the song and get them started, and then he would walk over to the corner of the stage and just let them go with it.  His trust was not misplaced; they handled it beautifully!

Even though they did not have a bassoon in the combo.

At the end of the evening, my two friends (who happen to be sisters) agreed to take Jack up to the stage so he could pose for you.  

He was thrilled.

I think I have a new tradition!  

See you next year, band!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Four


I've been thinking about my Names Project the past couple of days and how it all got started a few years ago (the first entry is here).  

I finally finished up the book of Jeremiah this week but before I move on to Lamentations I thought I would go back and review some of the names and descriptions that I have found for Jesus over the years.

The Sunrise from on high   Luke 1:78

Emmanuel or God With Us  Matthew 1:23

Redeemer   Multiple places but I think my favorite is Job 19:25

And finally, the one I most need to remember today:

The Stability of your times  Isaiah 33:6

May your heart and your home be filled today with 
                               His light, 
                                       His presence, 
                                                      His redemption, 
                                                               His stability, 
                                                                       and especially His peace.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Three

Due to unfortunate pedometer problems no miles were logged in November.  Sad.  I did a lot of walking this past month.  Hopefully I will have the situation fixed and can resume my ocean travels this month.

Christmas Books

I love books.  I love the feel of them, the smell of them, the sound of turning pages.  I love being able to open a book and suddenly finding myself in a different place and/or time.  I love meeting new characters and discovering their stories.  I love going back to old friends and visiting with them.  

My books shelves tend to be rather full.  Mr. Marvelous has several book cases for his collection of theology, gardening and home-improvement/handyman books.  My books shelves are more eclectic and have everything from Good-Night Moon to The Lord Of The Rings.  And everything in between.

In my basement under the staircase there is a special box.  This box has my Christmas books.  I put them away in January each year and then bring them back out in December.  Partly because I don't have enough room to keep them out year-round.  Bringing them out for a limited time somehow makes them a little more special.  These are treasures!

What is in my box?

Everything from the sublime to the silly....and a few things in between.

There are things that are missing; I keep loaning and giving away the really good stuff because it is so good that I want to share it.

Last week my sister in law called.  She loves Christmas as much as I do; her home is amazing at Christmas time.  
She had been going through her Christmas boxes and wondered if I would like to look through some of her books.

Oh yes, please!

She knows me well.

What are your favorite Christmas books?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Two

 Some Christmas Treasures

When I was in college my mother gave me a copy of Madeleine L'Engle's book: The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas.  It is not at all odd in my family to give an adult a "child's" book.  I think that year it was partly because I was taking a class in children's literature (what a class!).  It was also because that was the year that Mother and I were able to attend a guest lecture by Madeleine L'Engle at my college.


After Mr. Marvelous and I married, and after Mr. Marvelous Jr came along, this book was my motivation to celebrate Advent more fully.  I had a calendar and each day we would do something fun together as a family to prepare for and celebrate Christmas.
                                  Doesn't that sound wonderful?!

My poor men!  

This year is different.

This year I have discovered a little-known book by Mary Hinderlie and Edna Hong,  

L'Engle's book motivated me toward the activities of the season.  This book calms me down.

The book is a small treasure.  It is a family book, intended for those with little children still in the house.  Yet because it is a book that focuses on the spiritual preparation in addition to the physical, it is useful for any home as we all look toward Jesus' coming.  Poetry, recipes, gift ideas, and Scripture reading, along with the sweet illustrations, fill the book.  Above all, it is filled with the call to withdraw from the busy-ness and spend time in prayer and meditation.

Here is a quote from the book, directed toward the Mother of the family but appropriate to each of us:

Often this week you will have to find a place, a lonesome place, fall upon your knees, and remember that Christmas is Christ ~ not the crowds in the dime stores, the long lines in the post office, and the clamoring demands of unfinished tasks.  Wrap the presents.  "Presents wrapped in prayer glow with a particular light."  Richardson Wright, in his Book Of Days For Christians, suggests that as we wrap our gifts, we pray for the person who is to receive them.  A blessed thought!

I'm praying today that you will find one or two quiet moments of your own.
In the middle of all the activity, may you find the peace of Christ at the center.

His peace to your home.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Twenty-Four Days Of Christmas 2014

I love Christmas. 

I love celebrating the birth of my Saviour. 

"Adoration of the Shepherds" Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 courtesy Wikipedia

I love Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of Christ.  I love the thoughtfulness of preparing my heart and my home to celebrate not only the first coming of Jesus, but His return.

I grew up celebrating the month of December.  It's one of the joys of a big family with an incredible Mama and Daddy.  They have always made sure that Christmas is a season of delight for their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren ~ for everyone they know!  That is pretty amazing when you consider that my Dad is a pastor.  When we were little, he pastored a pretty large church, and until I was ten, he had no assistants/associates/interns.   That meant that Mom stayed rather busy helping him.  Yet with all that goes on in a church during the Christmas season, my parents made sure that our home was prepared for Christmas, as well as our church.

Mr. Marvelous still refers to me as his Child Bride.  I think the Christmas season reinforces that title.  I still get downright giddy this time of year!  Why not?  Think about the history of God's people.  After centuries of failing to honor the Creator God, of constant failure to keep even the most basic commandments, after the 400 silent years when God's people did not hear from Him at all, suddenly the Messiah came!

Stop and let that sink in for a few minutes.

He came to fix, to heal, to restore, and to glorify God.  Because we are broken, sick, and separated from God, completely incapable of bringing Him anything but dishonor.  He lived, suffered, was crucified to death, buried and then...

...He rose again! 

This little baby in a manger was to become my glorious, beloved Saviour. 

So yes, I celebrate Advent (Latin, "to come").  I celebrate the fact that Christmas is coming and I celebrate the memory of the birth of Jesus who came to rescue us from our sins.  I also celebrate the fact that He is coming again to rescue us finally and permanently when He takes us to heaven. 

In the past I have written about taking the month of December to celebrate the Twenty-Four Days of Christmas (here is the link).  This is my time to prepare my home to celebrate, to spend time with family, to enjoy the traditions of the season.  This is my time to meditate and think and pray; to focus my attention and my affections beyond the light-hearted.  This is my time to remember just exactly Who He Is, why He came, and to remember that He is coming back. 

Join me for the next twenty-four days.  There will be child-like celebration, some thoughtfulness and meditation, some music, some poetry, some art, and a whole lot of joyful preparation.