Category Archives: Christmas

5 Friday Faves – Concerning Hobbits, Flag at Half Staff, Relational Shock Absorbers, Leader Smarts, and Making Family Happen

Friday! Tonight, in the Richmond area,  we have our first hard freeze this Fall. That means Dave finishes picking our peppers from the garden. He hopes the greens will survive. It’s a beautiful day – sunny and breezy – with showers of brightly colored leaves covering the grass. Both stained glass windows and patchwork quilts come to mind in this feast for the eyes. Hope your Friday is as lovely. Here are my faves for the week. Enjoy.

1) Concerning Hobbits – The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was a very big deal in our growing-up family. When these films came out, we wanted our kids (then middle-school and high school aged) to read the books first. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels by J. R. R. Tolkien. Surprisingly, our kids did, along with their dad re-reading these classics. They were captivated by the stories and the courage and endurance of the characters. The Hobbits were especially endearing as they were tiny folk, carried along by a grand mission. Much beyond their physical abilities but not beyond their great hearts.

This past week, Nathan Mills, at Beyond the Guitar, arranged the film theme Concerning Hobbits. Composed by Howard Shore, this melody captures the sweetness and hominess of the Hobbits. There is a rise to crescendo in Mills’ arrangement that also speaks to the willingness of the wee Hobbits to rise to battle when necessary.

I’m reminded of the Hobbit Samwise Gamgee’s role in the novel and film. Two quotes follow – one about him by the author and one by him:

“One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.”J. R. R. Tolkien

“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”SamwisePhoto Credit: Pinterest

[Beyond the Guitar is presently posting a video/week. Concerning Hobbits came out last Friday, and today, he published DESTINY 2: Journey – Classical Guitar Cover – check it out!!]

2) Flag at Half Staff – It seems our country’s flag is at half staff too frequently these days. This month we remember our military on Veterans Day and many businesses and private homes will display the American flag in honor of these men and women who served our country.

When a flag is flown at half staff it usually relates to the death of someone significant to all Americans.Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This week, again, our flag is at half staff. This time, in our state, it flies in mourning for those victims of the Sutherland Springs church shooting.

This tragedy has reminded us again of the brevity of life, the great value of life and community, and how important it is to reach out always to our neighbors. We grieve with our neighbors in Texas.

Yesterday our flags were at half staff for them:

Governor’s Flag Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia

Pursuant to President Trump’s Presidential Proclamation to lower the United States flag, I do hereby order that the flags of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia are to be flown at half-staff over the state Capitol and all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds to honor the victims of the attack in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5, 2017.

I hereby order that the flags shall be lowered until sunset, November 9, 2017.  

Ordered on this, the 6th day of November, 2017. 

Sincerely,

Terence R. McAuliffe

3) Relational Shock Absorbers – I’d like us to consider for a moment the great gift of relational shock absorbers. Those people in our lives who are safe. Those people who sometimes take the brunt of our outbursts or brooding, without returning evil for evil and without inserting their own drama into what we’ve created. I am NOT talking about people who “just take” our bad behavior out of fear or insecurity or their own struggle. That’s codependence and doesn’t help heal either party.

What I am talking about is those in our lives who are rock-solid in their care for us, who recognize that we are not our best selves at that moment, and who refuse to think ill of us. They don’t make whatever issue is going on…about them. Relational shock absorbers are those in our lives who give space and grace, who hug instead of withhold, who listen for the truth behind the tantrum, and who love us forever. No trade-ins. Ever. Our mom was one of those in our lives…I have a long list of others. Give a shout-out to some of yours in the Comments. Photo Credit: Vimeo

Family Systems, Emotions, and Behaviors – Teach Through Love – Lori Petro

4) Leader Smarts – It is so easy for us to become better at our work if we want it badly enough. Pursuing higher education in leadership or business administration is definitely one way. Or searching out leadership mentors online is another way accessible to all of us. Marcel Schwantes is one of my go-to guys, especially related to servant leadership. In a recent piece for Inc., he makes a case for why employees quit, and what leaders can do to keep them.
Photo Credit: USDA
Schwantes makes a bold claim that the “smoking gun” of why too often employees leave their jobs – Employees are simply not valued as human beings.
He lists out 5 ways leaders (and all the rest of us) can demonstrate that we value employees (fellow volunteers, family members, fill-in-the-blank):
  • Invest in employees’ growth and development.
  • Create an environment of psychological safety.
  • Display the leadership strength of humility.
  • Share information.
  • Give them decision-making discretion.

Read more of Schwante’s insightful commentary here.

Want Your Boss to Be a Better Leader? Persuade Them to Try Any of These Top 5 Habits of Smart Leaders – Marcel Schwantes

5) Making Family Happen – Everybody’s busy. I get that. So how do we make family happen without it being an undue burden on our loved ones, either our children or theirs?
I’m trying to figure this out and would love any wisdom from you willing to share (please comment below). Just this past week, we experienced a generous dose of “making family happen”.
Dave and I traveled to Georgia for a family visit, and it was a sweet touch-point with many we loved there. Like our trips to visit our Delaware family, this one brought all sorts of beauty and kindnesses which will sooth our hearts for many months to come.
 In all our married life, we have never lived close to family – sometimes states away, and sometimes countries apart. I have always missed that drop-in nearness with loved ones. Now with both parents gone, my hope is that we next generations will carry on relationships that matter. The traditions may change some, but as long as there are sweet memories…that’s a big part of making family happen. I’m very thankful for a brother and sister-in-law who made family happen for us this past week…and all the younguns who could.
As the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly come, I hope for all of us that we can lean in – to God and each other. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Irish People Try American Thanksgiving Food – Dustin Nelson [Despite brief politicalization, this video was so fun.]

Bonuses

The Instant Pot – Haven’t bought one yet but now I am – thanks to this blogger – family. life. organized.

Favorite quote of the week:  Focus is finding a big “Yes” and saying “No” a thousand times.John R. Bell

Practices From the Inside Out: Taking Off Our Masks – Greg Richardson

Free T-shirt in the mail today – Emory Cares International Service Day

5 Friday Faves – Destiny Meets Classical Guitar, Parenting Hacks, Storms, Waffle House Index, and Country Stores

Friday! For our part of the world, these days bring teasers that Fall is on its way. Cooler temperatures and the brush of color in the trees are lovely signs of change in the seasons.

Hurricane season also peaks this time of year and we’ve seen it in Harvey and Irma – such nice old-fashioned names for such catastrophic events. We are moved to pray for, serve, and give toward the needs of those most affected by these storms.

Today, these are my favorite finds of this week:

1) Destiny Meets Classical Guitar – For video gamers, Destiny 2 just came out. Nostalgia is high for those who grew up with the original Destiny game of battles and heroes. Among those is classical guitarist Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar. Photo Credit: Screenshot, YouTube

No nostalgia for me, but Nathan’s arrangement of several of the themes from Destiny is lovely. Catch it here…featured also this week at Bungie.

2) Parenting Hacks – Don’t you love truly helpful parenting advice? The gentle sort that is genius without being judgmental. I found a YouTube channel with just this variety of help – Nurture. Check it out. The video on retrieving something a child put up her nose is “Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?”

Orange Pip | Children's Hospital

Would you know what to do in this situation?

Posted by Nurture on Tuesday, August 22, 2017

3) Storms – I have never endured the path or aftermath of a storm like Harvey or Irma, so I wouldn’t give counsel on how to deal spiritually with such a thing… However, other storms have blown against my heart and that of those much loved in my life. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Leslie Leyland Fields is a fisherwoman and an author. She deals with storms of a physical nature…as well as spiritual. Fields writes fascinating stories about her family’s Alaska fishing business. Especially riveting are the stories of the storms that come up. Read her blog on a recent storm they experienced (her son’s video could give you motion sickness, so be prepared).

We live too much in a too human world, most of us, surrounded by the work of our own hands, cossetted and comforted and cozy most hours of the day and night. We fashion our lives and our prayers around safety, success, We cannot escape ourselves or our own small desires. But enter a storm, climb a mountain, sail the sea, wander an old-growth forest—be afraid—and you will so suddenly and gloriously disappear. You will feel the wind blowing through your clothes and your soul. If you are lucky you’ll be terrified and you may cry like Peter, “Lord, I am a sinful woman, go away from me!” Your little household gods will die, and part of you will die with it.

And you’ll be glad.Leslie Leyland Fields

There is something in the experience of storms (or earthquakes, drought or flood) that forces us to deal with the frailty of both stuff and life itself. We reach out…to God, and to others. We reach out to what is most real.

Check out Fields’ latest book: Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas.

Baptist Global Response – Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief

4) Waffle House Index – I love the Waffle House. We have big family memories of breakfast with my parents and their grands and great-grands. Waffle House never closes…unless…Photo Credit: Flickr; FLickr

Unless a storm is so fierce, Waffle House employees are at risk. Because of this, there is actually a storm measure called the Waffle House Index. If this tiny all-service restaurant closes, then you need to get out of town!Photo Credit: Screenshot, CNBC

5) Country Stores – Another chain of restaurants that offers its own unique comforts is Cracker Barrel. Just last night, we ate there, and our friend accompanying us gave his reasons why he never tires of it. “Cracker Barrel always reminds me of home. As much as I travel, it guarantees a meal that tastes home-cooked.” For me, as great as the food is, it’s the country store of Cracker Barrel that enchants. Fall is fully displayed right now, and Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t far behind. Love that. Always a reminder of the stuff of celebration. Like the porch light is still on, through the storm. I know…a bit sappy…but a sweet respite. 

Hope your weekend is out of harms’ way – far from the storms passing throuagh, but especially I hope you have a sure safe harbor. Until next time…

Bonus

How I Paid Off My $64,000 Mortgage in 15 Months

How I Paid off my $64,000 Mortgage in 15 Months

New Year’s Day – Rewind – Sometimes Christmas Makes Me Cry

Blog - Mom's funeral“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Matthew 5:4

It’s New Year’s Day – the first day of 2017. Yet, this Christmas was altered with the death of our father. All the observances of family gathering and celebrating his life sidelined some of Christmas for us. There just wasn’t room in our hearts for both. This leaves me, on New Year’s Day, not quite ready to close Christmas for 2016…including savoring the memories, not just of Dad, but of Mom as well.

[Following adapted from a previous blog]

It’s been 14 Christmases since Mom died. With all the joy that’s wrapped up in the great gift of being her daughter, there is that mix of sadness, especially at Christmas. I miss her still. After 14 years.

This Christmas, we have two wee grandchildren. What a gift again are these little ones. I knew it would be so from all around me with grandchildren…and I knew it first because of the deep joy her grandchildren brought to Mom.

When we boarded a plane, over 20 years ago, taking 3 of those grandchildren overseas, there were tears all around. We would miss so many Christmases together. Joy and sadness are a strange mixture but a deeply human, common experience. Common to us all.

As we celebrate the wonder of Christmas – the birth of the Messiah, the Savior – we know penetrating joy, infusing and informing all else in our lives. Entangled in that joy are the sorrows – the family we won’t have with us this year, the disappointments we never imagined, the loves in our life fighting to live to another Christmas.

So many stories we bring to the table with us. So many longings are unwrapped along with the gifts under the tree. There is an unspeakable silence in the Silent Night of Christmas… Both the joy of celebrating the coming of Christ and the ache of dealing with what is not yet.

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we must be gentle with ourselves and each other in the sorrow and the joy… We are all together in this very human in-between.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

“We try so hard to fight for our joy, don’t we? …But underneath, many of us still carry wounds ripped open by the reminders of relationships and situations that are no longer. And it hurts. And it’s hard. And we’re not sure what to do with it all. But while it can try its best to turn those beautiful gifts into bitter reminders of what’s missing, the sadness can’t compete when we remember that today is full. Full of pain, yes – sometimes. But also full of blessings and joy and things both big and small that God has given us to remind us of His love and faithfulness.” – Mary Carver

Blog - When Christmas is Hard - Holley Gerth - 90.5 PERPhoto Credit: Positive Hits PER

Singer/songwriters Mandisa and Matthew West collaborated on the song Christmas Makes Me Cry. It’s not a worship song but more a narrative on our lives. Still, it takes us to the God of all comfort.

Worship with me as we pause a moment in this celebration of Christmas and reflect on the side of it that brings tears, either on the inside…or out…tears of joy or tears of sorrow.

I think of loved ones who’ve passed away
And I pray they’re resting in a better place
I think of memories of years gone by
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

I think of soldiers across the sea
Sometimes I wonder why it’s them instead of me
But for my freedom they give their lives
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

Tears of thankfulness, tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

I think of family, I think of home
And say a prayer for those who spend this time alone
‘Cause love can reach out into a silent night
And that’s why Christmas makes me cry

Tears of thankfulness, tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

I think of Mary and the virgin birth
And I’m amazed by how much God thinks we are worth
That He would send His only Son to die
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

Tears of thankfulness and tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me
Oh, sometimes Christmas makes me
Christmas makes me cry
Christmas makes me cry *

YouTube Video – Christmas Makes Me Cry – With Lyrics

*Lyrics to Christmas Makes Me Cry by Mandisa and Matthew West

When the Holidays Make You Sad

Jason & ChristmasMundane Faithfulness Podcast with Blythe Hunt as Jason talks about  community-building, grief, processing loss with children, and his first Christmas without Kara.

Just Drop the Blanket by Jason Soroski

Saturday Short – One Year Ending, Another Beginning – and Those We Love

We close out this year – 2016 – with one missing. Dad, and Papa, died on Christmas Day. I have written about him many times…today I write about what he leaves behind.

Death is strange – even for those of us who have lives transformed by God and who trust His Word that we will be with Him forever in Heaven. Death feels final…and solitary… Dad is not with us, yet we gather because of him. We grieve together…we will miss him together.

Already a father of five, our dad took on four more children when he married our mom. For decades now, nine children grew up and through adulthood under his influence. We and our children are linked because of this man…some loosely, some tightly.

Rend Collective’s album Campfire Christmas – Volume 1 was a gift this year, and the last song is a re-do of Auld Lang Syne. The song For All That You Have Done For Us  is both a perfect benediction for this year…and for what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. In our earthly father in part…and wholly in our Heavenly Father.

Listen (and sing along if you choose) to this prayer and battle-cry.

Verse 1:
Your grace will never be forgot
Your mercy all my life
Will be my soul’s forever song
My story and my light
Verse 2:
From mountaintop to valley low
Through laughter and through tears
Surely the goodness of my God
Will follow all the years
Chorus:
For all that You have done, for us
For every battle won
We’ll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done
Verse 3:
In all our failures and regrets
You’ve always led us home
Redemption’s arm has raised us up
Our triumph in the storm
Verse 4:
In unity we’ll stand as one
As family we’ll go
Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand
Into the great unknown*
…..As we said goodbye (for now) to our father, grandfather, uncle, and friend…we were sobered by the reality of that generation gone from our lives. All the old ones on my side of the family have died…
What’s left?…our faith, our friends, and our family. What comfort…and what joy! I am so thankful to God that He doesn’t leave us alone…ever.
 As you count down to the end of this year and look with hope to the next…may you find yourself surrounded by those who will love you, no matter what…and may you grow closer to a God who transcends suffering and death. In this week of parting…He has come close to us.

5 Friday Faves – Answered Prayer, Christmas Cookies, Rogue One, Christmas Babies, and Unconditional Love

The Friday before Christmas…only children long for this day to come quickly. The rest of us try to balance work and to-do lists with the celebrations and the sweet kindnesses of this season. Sometimes our health doesn’t cooperate as I am fighting a cold writing this. Still, the weekend has arrived and Christmas fast approaches. Here are my faves for this week.

1) Answered Prayer – What an incredible thing that we can cry out to Almighty God, the Creator of all things, and He hears and responds. For several weeks, I’ve been wearing a prayer reminder on my wrist to keep a young woman in my thoughts and on my lips before God. She has been going through an unimaginable trial over many months and it seems only a merciful intervention from a loving God was going to make her situation turn around. Who knows how many people prayed for her….hundreds, for sure. I have never met her, but we were bonded together by her need and a God who calls us to come boldly to His throne…in prayer (Hebrews 4:16). We can’t presume on how God should move in a situation, but we can absolutely trust His wisdom and goodness. Over the last several days, we were able to see a miraculous turn of events…and her situation is redeemed. Does God always act in such a way? No…but He always acts on our behalf…

Any prayer that you have had answered that you could share in Comments below? Anything you continue to wait for God’s intervention? I would be pleased to pray with you.

2) Christmas Cookies – I don’t make Christmas cookies but love that others do. Just this week, we received several from sweet friends and my daughter. They are so cheery. It seems they also taste especially nice with coffee in front of a fire on a cold winter day. Hope you got to sample some this year.

3) Rogue One – On the Christmases when a Star Wars film is released, viewing it as a family has become one of our traditions. Photo Credit: Independent

Rogue One was really good. No spoilers here. It could definitely stand alone but also had several happy reminders of other Star Wars films. It is actually a prequel to one of the films, but I won’t give it away. We still get to look forward to more from LucasFilm to follow the 2015 A Force Awakens.

I love Bill Peel’s article Christmas Truth in Star Wars where he points out the themes of these films: “extreme evil, great good, desperate danger, genuine love, hopeless odds, and costly sacrifice”.

“Star Wars’ heroes are nobodies from nowhere, insignificant and irrelevant individuals as far as the world is concerned. Yet they change history.

Like Star Wars, the key characters in the Christmas story are nonentities: powerless peasants who live far from the halls of influence. A homeless couple with a powerless child born in an obscure village. Yet in fiction and real life, things are not always as they seem. These seemingly rag-tag nobodies are part of a web of cosmic events they cannot understand nor resist and take center stage in God’s kingdom.”

YouTube Medley Star Wars Medley – Beyond the Guitar

4) Christmas Babies
– A friend of mine had her first child this week…and on her birthday. This Christmas baby had a Christmas baby. Babies any time of the year are lovely, but at this time they dress up Christmas cards so beautifully. So darling, right?Photo Credit: Nameberry

Nathan of Beyond the Guitar posted a special Christmas greeting in his rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: YouTube

YouTube Video – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Beyond the Guitar

5) Unconditional Love – Christmas and the birth of Christ remind us of a love that we don’t deserve and cannot earn. Our parents showed us that kind of love and introduced us to the love of God.

Mom went to be with the Lord 14 years ago, and our Dad is days away from that same Homegoing. So thankful that because of what Christ did for us, we will see them again…and we can one day be face-to-face with the Lover of our souls.

YouTube Video – Noel – Chris Tomlin – Featuring Laurel Daigle

Photo Credit: Pinterest

May you have a blessed Christmas, drenched in the joy of the truth of the season…whatever your circumstances currently might be. For those who read this but do not celebrate Christmas, my prayer is that you know the love of Jesus…through those who follow Him…until the day you are personally acquainted with Him.

Hollens Family Christmas, a Music Contest, and a World of Collaboration

Photo Credit: Deseret News

One of the great joys of the long dark month of December (talking Northern Hemisphere here) is the music. There is so much gorgeous Christmas-related music that lights up our lives and warms our hearts – both sacred and secular. One album released this year is especially winsome to me because it incorporates multiple sweet elements. It is Hollens Family Christmas and I wanted to share a few particulars about why I bought it.

I didn’t know Peter Hollens until our son Nathan told us he was submitting a cover of one of Hollens’ songs for a music contest. Still, until his arrangement was published and the competition results were announced, I didn’t pay much attention.

Until yesterday…

Peter Hollens is a YouTuber, an acapella singer, and collaborator. All of things parts of who he is resonate with me. So now, I guess I’m a part of the Hollens Family…more a distant relative compared to being a part of the Beyond the Guitar family…but definitely won by the winsomeness of this other musician, Peter Hollens.

[Sidebar: one more sweet bit of trivia about him is that he is married to Evynne Hollins who was co-founder of the University of Oregon women’s acapella group Divisi. She and the group Divisi are featured in the book and later film Pitch Perfect. Clearly Evynne and Peter make beautiful music together.]

Back to yesterday…I had forgotten about Nathan’s arrangement submission for the music competition. Peter Hollens had sponsored this contest offering the grand prize of a collaboration with him on a future music project. Yesterday the results were announced.

Nathan didn’t win… There were 600 contestants who had submitted covers for Hollens’ composition December Song. Nathan landed in the top 17. We’re proud of him.

Not surprisingly for you who know me/read this blog, I listened to Nathan’s arrangement of December Song before even listening to Peter Hollens’ own version. The melody was so beautiful…wow!Photo Credit: YouTube

Searching on YouTube, I found Peter Hollens’ official version of the song….and we bought the album. Just like that.

A Pentatonix Christmas was our 2016 Christmas album…but now it has to share the spot with Hollens Family Christmas. Acapella and more.

Besides the beauty of Hollens’ music, his inclusion of others and his joyful exuberance are so winsome to me. December Song is a celebration of the Christmas message of “peace on earth, good will toward all”. It also expresses the longing for that to continue past this season…this season of Christmas.

Peter Hollens, in his own way, owns that desire through his many collaborations…lavishing love on and delight in others through the medium of music.

We see that in Nathan with his krue.tv family. No fans here. Family.Photo Credit: Pinterest

“to Silent Nights
Holy Nights
And Angels Singing
Lullabies and
Heaven and Nature
Singing Good Will To All… To All”*

December Song arranged by Nathan Mills

*Lyrics by Peter Hollens and Anna Gilbert (lyric video)

Hollens Family Christmas Album

 

Worship Wednesday – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – Casting Crowns

Blog - I Heard the Bells - Worship Wednesday

Photo Credit: CastingCrowns.com

Adapted from the Archives

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:10-11, 13-14

In December, 1863, American poet and scholar Henry W. Longfellow received his wounded son home from battle. It was Christmas time, and the U.S. Civil War raged on. Having already lost his wife years earlier, Longfellow nursed his son, Charley, back to health. His own thoughts, in turmoil over all that was happening around him, he poured out in the poem “Christmas Bells”.

Longfellow clearly took comfort from God as he wrote, ending the poem with this stanza:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”*

I Heard the Bells is a Christmas carol, not a worship anthem. Yet, given the continuing wars and hardships of our day, we must tend the fires of our hope. God is the “lifter of our heads” (Psalm 3:3). He is the One who gives strength to our “weak hands and shaking knees” (Isaiah 35:3). He will do as He’s promised. He is faithful. When you hear the bells ring where you are this Christmas season, take heart in that. We must continue to pray for His peace on earth…and in our own hearts.  We can be vessels of His good-will toward our neighbors, both very near…and far away.

Worship with me…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Lyric video)

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they’re ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we’ll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns performing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall On Christmas (Teaching Vignettes)

Christmas Carol Soldier – Story of Charley Appleton Longfellow & the occasion for H. W. Longfellow’s writing of the poem/lyric

The Story Behind I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day – Tom Stewart

*Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells

Christmas Newsletters and the God of Christmas

I love Christmas newsletters – that art of drawing all the particular happenings of a year into the confines of one page. It’s a delight for me to sit in front of the fireplace and read what friends and family report on their lives in this year – the highlights and the hard places.

Not everyone writes newsletters nor send Christmas cards, and that is understandable. Still, when we get a letter from a friend like David Martin whom we rarely see but whose friendship we will treasure forever…life takes a pause as we read the particulars of life in East Tennessee…and of his walk with the Lord in these days.

I asked his permission to share this portion of his newsletter with you. David has always been very clear, in our conversations of both the holiness and love of God, and our total dependence on Him as Savior. Allow his words to help clear your head…they did my own.

What a year! Many have said that this was the worst election in our history. Our country is more divided than any time that I can remember in my life. The world has never seemed more unsafe. As I write this, wildfires (something we used to read about in other parts of our country) are burning Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. There have been days here that the smoke is so thick that you cannot stay outside for long. You could say that the storm is raging around us, but a storm reveals what you trust in. The storm has always been a way for God to remind us that He is bigger than us and our surroundings and He is in control. God’s sovereignty is never subjected to our circumstances. Our response shows if we trust Him. “Life is hard when you are the biggest person you know.” (my friend Neil) It is easy to focus on the waves, wind, and rain and forget who can calm the tempest with a word. It is our relationship with the one who controls the storm that allows us to be life-changers. Through our relationship with Him, we can remain calm when all around us panic. We bear fruit, not out of effort, but out of identity. It is not our effort that redeems us, but God’s grace. “Christianity is not about learning how to live within the lines; Christianity is about the joy of coloring.” (Mike Yaconelli)

Photo Credit: AZQuotes

Sinclair Ferguson wrote, “Our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into God’s work of grace.” There is nothing we can do to earn this gift, before or after accepting it. To add anything to God’s grace diminishes the gift. By understanding the nature of God and His gift of grace, we can see it for the wonderful gift it is. However, we must also keep a view of the holiness of God. My friend Neil said, “Modern worship has lost its sense of the Holiness of God because we sing about wanting to see God, touch, God, be with God, be wrapped in His embrace; anything Taylor Swift can write about we have come to believe we can do with God. Whenever I hear that, I hear an insufficient theology of the Holiness of God. We have disconnected the Grace of God from the nature of God and in so doing; we have made God approachable in the worst of ways.” To view God as your best friend or to try to relate to Him as you would any other friend or family member is to build your own idol in your image. Think about it.

As we enter this season, John Stott reminds us, [in his book The Cross of Christ], “Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.” God’s gift of His Son as a baby in the manger who would grow to a man and be the sacrificial Lamb of God is God’s grace in flesh. Photo Credit: Vance Christie

We live in a culture that wants the Grace of God, but not the Person of God. Everyone wants a free will until something happens that they cannot handle. Then they ask why did God let this happen to me? Yet the question should not be why there is suffering in the world, but why does God tolerate us in our sinfulness. The answer is grace! God’s amazing grace.

Unless you can see yourself as one of those in the crowd, full of hostility, anger, and hatred for the holy, innocent Lamb of God, Photo Credit: Free Bible Images

you really cannot understand the nature and depth of your sin, the necessity of the cross, or the extent of God’s grace offered freely to us.

As you celebrate the birth of Christ this year, remember the Father’s grace that demanded the sacrifice of His Son, so that He could restore us into a relationship with Him. Celebrate your identity in Him and extend grace to others.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Lois and David

Christ’s Gracious Condescension For Us – Vance Christie

5 Friday Faves – Spoken Word, Final Fantasy Guitar Arrangement, Kindness, Becoming a Super Achiever, and Acts of Service

Friday Faves is a highlight of my week. Just like my reading and life experiences are enriched by other writers’ weekly favorite finds, I take pleasure in thinking mine also encourage and even delight you as well sometimes. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, I’ve run out of steam by week’s end. Travel is part of the drag on my writing, and some grieving over a very ill dad. Not many words to float my faves. Thanks to you who continue to stop by. It means the world to me. Following are five of my favorites for this week…enjoy…

1) Spoken Word – A poetry form, spoken word is defined as “an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play, intonation, and voice inflection – includes any kind of poetry recited aloud, including hip-hop, jazz poetry, and traditional poetry readings”.  Glen Scrivener is poet and performer of spoken word. He’s Australian now living in the UK, so he’s got the accent and all.  He also has to be a very cool minister, given his gift with words that grab the heart. I just discovered him this week as one of his videos crossed my Facebook news-feed. It is entitled Santa Vs. Jesus and follows:

He Came Down and Christmas in Dark Places are two others that will minister to your heart…especially if life isn’t going as you thought it would. You can read more about Glen here and here.Photo Credit: Mackellars

2) Final Fantasy Guitar ArrangementNathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar has added another haunting arrangement to his guitar repertoire. His inspiration this time was the main theme (“Somnus”) of the video-game Final Fantasy XV. Nathan is an accomplished classical guitarist who has also applied his craft to arranging themes from movies, TV shows, and video games – music he’s loved over the years. I am still astounded at the beauty of these pieces when they are rendered through his skill, heart, and classical guitar. So lovely.

3) Kindness – When you are distracted by the stresses of life, and you’re just not yourself…every kindness is a great mercy. I’ve certainly experienced many over the last year during the illness of my dad. This week was not an exception. Traveling to Georgia to help care for dad, I was struck again at all the kindnesses extended to him by other family members, hospice staff, and friends. His pastor has become a pastor to me even. It got me thinking again of how we teach kindness to our children… I have the book Each Kindness by  Jacquelin Woodson and E. B. Lewis about a young girl, new to a school, who didn’t quite fit in. Although she was kind herself, she was shunned by other children. That tension and the story’s resolution captured so much about the transforming nature of kindness.

Modeling kindness is foundational as children see and then do. Reading about kindness can also strengthen that message. Joanna Goddard and her commenters have listed a treasure trove of books on kindness lessons for children.  A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead is a sweet story about a man caring uniquely for various animals in the zoo. Also The Empty Pot by Demi speaks of both kindness and truthfulness. Lastly, Mo Willems’ My Friend Is Sad speaks to a tenderness found between true friends. 

What books or experiences do you recommend to help young ones learn to be kind? Please comment below.

4) Becoming a Super Achiever – Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield have authored a book on how any of us might become a “super achiever” – The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Swell. I have not read this book yet (nowhere near a superachiever in this skin…yet). However, thanks to Forbes writer Tanya Prive, we have a great intro to the subject in a quick list of 10.

Photo Credit: Amazon

Sweeney and Gosfield interviewed several highly successful individuals across many fields and discovered ten practices common to “super achievers”. They are:

  • Good Storytelling
  • Dedication to a Vision
  • Listening and Remaining Open
  • Pursuing Happiness
  • Intelligent Persistence
  • Testing Ideas in the Market
  • Fostering a Community
  • Constantly Evolving
  • Managing Emotions
  • Practicing Patience

Read more on each of these from Prive’s article, or better yet, check out the book. From the reviews so far on Amazon, it’s less a “how-to” for us and more a “how they did it” – as a myriad of super achievers tell their stories to the authors…worth the read for me to hear those stories.

5) Acts of Service – Years ago, I read this book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He talks about how we express and receive love in five major ways – time, touch, gifts, words of affirmation and acts of service. My husband, Dave, and I both experience love most deeply through words of affirmation and acts of service. Photo Credit: Pinterest

Christmas is a huge gift-giving holiday in our culture. I’m not the best at that, BUT I understand it, especially for those who experience love most happily through receiving gifts (our youngest son, for example). For me…acts of service and words of affirmation. Now…that can come through gift making or buying. [I need socks, etc., like everyone else.] Or, it can come through the raw work of serving. Dave has taken on a much harder job of giving me a requested act of service for Christmas, and the time he’s putting into it is already like receiving this gift every day, even before Christmas arrives. I won’t go into details, but we are both “pilers“. It’s just hard for us to expediently go through and get rid of stuff we’re no longer using. Order is a lovely thing, and as we get older, it is even more calming to a stressed and tired mind. He is giving the gift of “order” to me this Christmas…and hasn’t even asked the same from me. What love!!Photo Credit: DawsonandDawsonInc

So….there you have it…another Five Friday Faves…and on a Saturday. That’s just the kind of week it’s been. Enjoy the rest of your weekend…and receive every kindness as the gift it’s meant to be.

Worship Wednesday – Our God is With Us – Emmanuel

2013 December Christmas with Grandparents & Christmas Town 048

From the archives:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14

I worship in my car. You know when you are stopped at a traffic light, and your windows are buzzing with the sound of the bass in the car next to you? You look over and they’re rocking out to some cool song? Well, I sometimes do the same…on a quieter less rockin’ level…but there’s still a lot going on in my car, too. Just to an Audience of One.

When Steven Curtis Chapman’s song Our God Is With Us comes on my Christmas music radio, my thoughts rein in to this great truth. We are not alone. God is always present with us.

He brought that reality as near to us as possible in the birth of Jesus, the God-Son, born to the virgin, Mary, over 2000 years ago. God revealed Himself personally through Jesus. I am no theologian, but this is very clear to me – everything I have read in Scripture on the life of Jesus, and everything I have experienced of Him myself. My heart resonates with the words of this song. Jesus is the “Immanuel” – He came to be with us – to save, to heal, to restore us to Himself. Hallelujah!

Worship with me…

Our God Is With Us

One of us is cryin’ as our hopes and dreams are led away in chains And we’re left all alone. One of us is dyin’ as our love is slowly lowered in the grave, oh, and we’re left all alone.

But for all of us who journey through the dark abyss of loneliness There comes a great announcement, we are never alone. For the maker of each heart that breaks, the giver of each breath we take, Has come to earth and given hope its birth.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known as Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel, oh.

He spoke with prophets’ voices and showed Himself in a cloud of fire But no one had seen His face. Until the One Most Holy revealed to us His perfect heart’s desire and left His rightful place.

And in one glorious moment, all eternity was shaken as God broke through the darkness that had kept us apart. And with love that conquers loneliness, hope that fills all emptiness, He came to earth to show our worth.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known As Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel, oh So rejoice, oh rejoice, Emmanuel has come.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known as Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel.

Our God is with us, Emmanuel Our God is with us, oh Emmanuel Our God is with us.*

Steven Curtis Chapman & Michael W. Smith

*Lyrics to Our God Is With Us

YouTube video of Our God Is With Us – Full song – 6:43 minutes

YouTube video of Our God is With Us – shortened audio, with lyrics

Website for Steven Curtis Chapman [Our God Is With Us was a title on his first Christmas album, 1995, The Music of Christmas]

The Title Emmanuel and the Name Jesus

God Is One – the Wonder of Trinity [Tri-Unity] – God the Father, God, the Son, God the Holy Spirit – a simple lesson on an amazing reality

“Best of all, God is with us.” – John Wesley [for more great God-glorifying quotes by the John & Charles Wesley, click here.]