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.

Liquid Sky

My husband returns to work this morning and when the alarm gives its earnest cry, this body responds as to an emergency. And isn’t it just? Parting after so many days filled with shared moments? Even for a few hours, just a short day, he says; I don’t want him to leave. I rise just to listen to the way the weight of his steps shift my world.

While he showers and makes ready, I watch red move like water over the sky. Nascent light leaks through the edge of the horizon and just like that, the night is shed. I remember how my mother would wake before the light—make the coffee, pack my father’s lunch, and move like a ghost through our home. I was a shadow—how I could creep—and I found her, quiet, sitting at the kitchen table after his departure. Did she feel this sort of empty then?

My parents, long separated and remarried, did they feel this burning in their hearts for each other once? As I watch the liquid sky, I think how love can move this way too—silently seeping out the cracks of our horizons, shedding dark, shedding light … only those with open eyes to bear witness.

I promise myself I will keep my eyes open. I will gather up these liquid moments in the cup of my heart and carry them into all the days. When the days hum back to normal and parting seems no longer an emergency … I will bear witness to love.

Playdates With God: Christmas Party

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Sonnet I by Ali G…
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painting by Puerto Rican artist Enrique Mora (just captivating)

There have been Christmas plays and Christmas concerts, Christmas parties and Christmas dinners, Christmas cards and Christmas shopping, and it feels like the good of the season has been crowded out for the busy. So on Friday, when something happens in Connecticut that makes the world stand still…the last thing we want to do is go to the office Christmas party. It feels wrong to eat and drink and laugh and make merry when there is so much loss. But these things have been planned for a long time and there are those who have worked with hands of love to make them happen and sometimes…sometimes the best thing to do is to be together.

So we go and I determine to see meet with God there.

And it’s not hard because our hosts are charming and the shining faces of friends feel like a warm place to worship. And even though the Name is not spoken; because I look—I recognize God there. We were fed in love and wrapped in conversation and the shadow that hangs over the day does not disappear but it becomes a part of the living and breathing and laughing and weeping that is life on this broken earth.

And as our host shows me around the house—sharing his extensive art collection he has painstakingly pursued from all over the world—his joy at these created things is contagious. And I am reminded of what Timothy Keller and Katherine Alsdorf say in their new book.

If we are to be God’s image-bearers with regard to creation, then we will carry on his pattern of work … we are to be gardeners who take an active stance toward their charge. They do not leave the land as it is. They rearrange it in order to make it most fruitful, to draw the potentialities for growth and development out of the soil …

So I let myself get lost in beauty—in swirling color and another’s joy in sharing his passion. And suddenly the world is kinder—broken, still … grieving, still. But kinder.

And I wonder if this is how we make it through–sharing love this way. Scattering beauty. This life is my little patch of land. I want to tend it well—stir the soil well for the planting. Redeeming the broken bits into something beautiful.

How do you embrace the God-joy? 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:

The Playdates button:

Season’s Delights: Meteor Shower (Light Come Down)


We wait out on the porch—me in my winter coat and bare feet, he wrapped in the fleece blanket we keep thrown across the couch. I sit on the step and the cold of the concrete seeps through the thin material of my pajamas. I am not dressed for the occasion—we didn’t plan it this way. But when I take the dogs out for the night and see two balls of white fire shoot through the night sky, I remember the meteor shower and run in to get him. He’s a good man and he humors his wife’s romantic notions but he has a cold and is tired so he only waits long enough to see two Geminids slide past Orion.

“Go on back in, honey,” I say. “I’m going to watch a little longer.”

How often does one get the opportunity to watch light rain down?

So I sit alone in the cold and look up at a glitter strewn sky and think about Christmas. And I wonder how the night sky looked on that holy night so long ago. As the poem says, she bled on straw and Light came down through her womb and I ponder what we don’t know about that night—I remember the feeling of holding my first child after the pain of birth and I wonder at how her birth pangs didn’t split this world wide open.

How can we be so blind? How can I miss Christmas this way?

The days keep rushing by and I can’t seem to catch my breath and there are so many things to do…so many goings on. My heart can’t seem to abide and I think longingly of the gift of Christmas that was given to me in July—when both of my boys were hospitalized suddenly and fear and faith mingled in a new way.

I look up. The sky seems content to stay in place … no more Geminids. Just this ocean of shimmer. And peace. I scoop it up in handfuls and heartfuls and whisper thanks through chattering teeth.

And just when I get up to find the warmth of the hearth, a slow-burning flash surfs through those star-waves. I stand in awe of Christmas.

Light come down.