Let’s Share Our Favorite Christmas Music

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Last night we drove the minivan up to St. Albans to see the Christmas lights. It’s a small, sweet little display and it’s been a family tradition since the boys were small. Jeff always packs them a cooler with a special drink—rootbeer for Teddy, grape soda for Jeffrey—and we all pile in (even the dog—this is Bonnie’s first Christmas, after all), play the Christmas music, and breathe deep the season. When they were tinies, I would get them all scrubbed up before we left, put them in fuzzy footie pajamas, and watch them fall asleep on the way home. So much excitement for two little boys. I’ve been a bit sentimental about these traditions this year, trying not to think, “This is the last time …” since Teddy will be going away to school next year. The treasure is in the little things.

Last night, it was important for me to drive because last year, on this same trip, with me behind the wheel, we had an accident on the way home. No one was hurt but it was scary and I’ve been going over it and over it in my mind ever since. But that’s a story for another time. The point of this story is that because I drove, Jeff was in charge of music. He turned on the Contemporary Christian Christmas station of Pandora.

And I was bored to tears.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m too particular. Music is very important in our family. We build conversations and relationships around it. Both of my boys play in the praise band on Sunday morning and Jeff leads. Little Jeffrey is in Marching Band and Indoor Drumline at the high school. When I cook dinner in the evening I’m playing Ellie Holcomb or Christa Wells or Mat Kearney or some music that feeds my soul and takes me out of the stress of the day into a new and beautiful place.

I wonder if it’s the same for you? And have you been bored with the same old ho-hum Christmas albums? All this to say, let’s share some of our favorite Christmas music, shall we? I’ll go first, and then, you. Please tell me in the comments about your favorite, favorite Christmas albums. I really want to know.

Here are some of mine, in no particular order.

  1. Brian Setzer’s Boogie Woogie Christmas. Yes. This is just fun. We have the dvd version of his Christmas Extravaganza, and we watch it every year. It’s a great way to get in the holiday spirit.
  2. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. Classic. I swoon for Bing. I also love watching The Holiday Inn this time of year. What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic.
  3. A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra. Nothing smoother than Frank’s voice on this album.
  4. Johnny Cash’s Christmas with Johnny Cash. I grew up with Johnny Cash playing on the radio. I’m crazy about all things Johnny. This album is no exception.
  5. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful Christmas. We used to play this a lot when the boys were small. They loved his “Zat You Santa Claus?” It made them erupt in fits of giggles. Ah, happy memory.
  6. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Of course.
  7. Sixpence None the Richer’s The Dawn of Grace. I just love Leigh Nash’s voice.
  8. Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong. This album is so clean and lovely. Sarah’s voice is perfect.
  9. Casting Crown’s Peace on Earth. So many good songs on this one.
  10. Yo-Yo Ma’s Songs of Joy and Peace. Yes. Just to be different. The great artist has several guests performing with him, including James Taylor and Chris Thile.
  11. Over the Rhine’s Snow Angels and Blood Oranges in the Snow. Discovered this wonderful husband and wife team at Laity Lodge a few years ago and have been a fan ever since. Karen’s voice is butter.
  12. James Taylor At Christmas. I love James. This album makes me happy.
  13. Third Day’s Christmas Offerings. A very special album to us for the ways it weaves into our own story. This was released the Christmas after Jeff was saved and for that reason the songs will always be near to my heart.
  14. Chris Tomlin’s Glory in the Highest. A great album altogether but I mainly listen to hear Audrey Assad sing “Winter Snow.” I never get tired of that beautiful song.

Ok. So there are a few of my favorites. I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as I publish this post. How about you? Will you share with me?

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Is it just me, or does Christmas come earlier every year? Some of you have been done with your Christmas shopping since Halloween, but others, like me, are still scrambling to find that special gift to let the people you love the most know just how much they mean to you.

To me, the amazing gift of Christmas morning—that frenzy of excitement and expectation—mirrors our wait for Christ’s return. But the giving of the gifts is one way we let our loved ones know that we see them, that we care about what makes their heart beat faster. It’s a picture of God’s love for us. Besides, it’s fun!

So, today I’m sharing some of my favorite gifts.

  •  I love to give gifts from my kitchen for Christmas. All that hard work of canning this summer really pays off when I give my             friends the gift of homemade salsa, apple butter, or pickles (you’ll find recipes in the links). And if you are not a canner, why not whip up a fresh batch just to give as gifts? Your local supermarket always has the ingredients you will need. Your friends will taste the love you put into your recipes. What better way to say, “I treasure you”?

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  • The first time I went to Laity Lodge, I fell in love with the coffee Tim served us. Imagine how elated I was when I learned I could mail order Taste of San Antonio and enjoy that special blend right here in West Virginia. Now? Taste of San An is our house blend. I am spoiled for any other coffee. You can be spoiled to, or spoil the coffee lover in your life with the HEB coffee club. You’re welcome.
  • What do you get for the grandparent who has everything? Check out this tutorial on how to make silhouettes. A few years ago, I made these for my mother-in-law of all of her grandchildren. I’ve even done this for a friend with his dogs. He loved it. It truly is a special, custom-made gift.
  • Books. Well, yes, of course, I highly recommend Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World. But giving any book on Christmas is a beautiful thing. (Did you know Amazon is offering free shipping on orders placed through Friday, December 19, to ensure delivery by Christmas Eve?) Do you sign the books you give? Write a special message to the recipient? You must do so—the message will be treasured as much as the book in the years to come.

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  • What’s your favorite charity? Christmas is a good time to give a donation in honor of one of your loved ones. Every year, my boys shop in the World Vision gift catalog and make a donation in honor of their youth leader and our pastors. It’s a good thing to do.
  • Finally, give a wish. Jeff and I stopped buying each other gifts years ago. One of our love languages is gift-giving, so we are always giving to one another. When Christmas giving started to feel stressful, we decided to rescue the magic. Now, every year, we grant each other a special wish. My favorite memory is the year I wished he would dance with me (we rarely do that anymore). On Christmas morning, when I was least expecting it, he put on the song we danced our wedding dance to and we did. We danced. Amidst wrapping paper and boxes and all that tinsel. It was  a beautiful thing. So, be creative and have fun with it. It’s one of my favorite things.

Some of Our Favorite Holiday Treats

Are you having a party this weekend? Or attending one? Here are a few of our favorite foodstuffs for the season.

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  • Looking for a last minute food theme? Jeff and I love to feast it up New Orleans style. On the menu? I make a big pot of gumbo (here is my favorite crock-pot recipe, from Better Homes and Gardens. It saves a little time but you still have to make a roux), Jeff does the etouffee, and together we artfully construct trays of muffuletta sandwiches. We used to always order our olive salad from the place we fell in love with the sandwich—The Central Grocery in New Orleans; but they have recently stopped shipping the good stuff. Fortunately, we’ve been able to find some alternatives locally, but one year, we ventured to make our own and it was the best ever. I’m including a recipe from someone named Marie Gattuso (though I don’t know who she is, I’ve just had this recipe in my recipe box forever), if you’d like to try it.

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  • Need a special beverage to serve at the party? If you’re not a fan of the traditional Hurricane (and I’m not) you might try this festive White Christmas Sangria. Not only is it sweet and refreshing, it’s beautiful on your Christmas table.
  • Do you need a quick sweet treat to take to the neighbors or give to office friends? My white-chocolate M&M pretzels always please. They are quick and easy to make and the only complaints I’ve ever heard is that people can’t stop eating them. I walk you through them on this post.

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  • Finally, the Laity Lodge Almond Bars. These easy cookies created quite a stir among The High Calling editors the first time we visited the canyon. Tim never disappoints us, but these were DIVINE. Can you say buttery goodness that melts in your mouth? Some of us have been having a conversation on voxer about the best recipe for these babies, and Charity Singleton Craig and Tina Miller Howard helped us piece together the procedure. I made some this morning and my taste buds are happy. My Christmas gift to you:

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Playdates with God: “Be it Unto Me”

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IMG_6682We are halfway through December and it hardly seems possible. These short days rush by so fast but the legs of the nights with all their darkness seem to stretch out before us and stay a while. We’ve been finding time together to be one of the gifts of this season.

This weekend we braved to travel in time and journeyed through Bethlehem. One of our local churches has made it a tradition to re-create the little town of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus’s birth and so I got it in my mind we should go and see it. I imagined a leisurely stroll through rustic streets, shepherds and sheep loitering about. Things never seem to go the way I picture them in my mind.

One of the shepherds told us that 2300 people had come the night before and we were part of a great throng as we waited outside the city gates. We stood in line for an hour in temperatures that hovered at freezing. I texted a friend who was planning on meeting us there.

“There is a long line at Bethlehem tonight!” I said.

Her reply?

“It must be census time!”

From that point on, I saw through Mary’s eyes.

What must it have been like to travel so far, heavy with child, possibly moving through throngs of people; unable to find accommodations, when the first pangs of childbirth struck?

We walked through the streets of this new, make-believe Bethlehem, but I saw it with 2000-year-old eyes. The sheep baa-ed and the people milled about. There was scent of straw and animal lingering. We sampled wares from the bread makers and the wine shop and watched the blacksmith pound a red-hot piece of iron.

I was cold but how could that small bit of discomfort compare to the pains of a baby coming on? And in the midst of so many travelers—strangers, all.

My heart has been with Mary, that one with the beautiful heart. The one who had the courage to say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

In this season of hustle and busy and hurry about, I sometimes complain. I complain about the crowds, I complain about the weather, I complain about the work set before me. I am praying that my eyes would be open to the greater things. I am praying, “Be it unto me…”

 

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

 

Laura Boggess

Advent in Us

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On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the purple candle on our wreath, and hope is kindled anew. We wait for a savior. But even as we strain our necks to see the manger, we wait with the knowledge that we are already saved. The saving has already been done, and we carry the light of this truth inside of us and out into the world. The grace of God is at work in us.

And yet, so much of our waiting has lost its value—this holiday marred by materialism and sentimentality.

Over at The High Calling this week, we’re talking about Advent in Us–how the grace of God through Jesus Christ is at work in us. Will you join us