Fear Not

I wrote this post the morning before Christmas Eve. At 10pm that night, my husband had a stroke. Changes in circumstance can’t change what is True. We were, are, and continue to be grateful.

– – –

A vivid imagination can be a heavy burden to bear.

My daughter has a mind that doesn’t stop. Her creativity is a joy – and a mess – to behold. This Christmas season, she concocted a new tradition: Crafting ‘til Christmas. She researched and planned a list of daily crafts for us to make together. Despite my inner “I don’t have time for this” pining, I chose to partake. Our dates, marked by hot glue and tissue paper (and the occasional emergency run to Michael’s craft store for reinforcements), have filled my soul. To say that I’m in awe of her creativity is an understatement. Her vision for transforming raw materials into something beautiful inspires me.

But there’s a downside to having a robust imagination. Particularly when the world around us is flooded with news of mass shootings and threat indexes and refugee children freezing to death. My daughter has entered the twilight of adulthood. She’s just waking up from her little girl slumber, where all is well, to discover the harsh realities of the grown-up world. It’s a shocking awakening.

When talking about the hardest things with our kids, we balance our conversations on the head of a pin. Tip too far to one side, and we’re unfairly (and unwisely) sheltering them. Tip too far to the other side, and we’re prematurely introducing them to the depths of human depravity.

Parenting from a posture of wisdom is an ongoing struggle: we want to balance truth with discretion. My daughter needs to know much. She doesn’t need the gory details. But sometimes, the gory details have a way of finding the cracks in our carefully constructed parental presentations and seeping into her great big beautiful imagination. Snapshots from a television screen or bits of overheard adult conversation become seeds, quickly planted, in her fertile mind. The same rich soil that produces beauty and craftiness and endless ideas is also the ideal environment for growing unspeakable images and haunting nightmares. A vibrant imagination can be a heavy burden to bear.

I’ve struggled with how to handle my daughter’s fears. Perhaps that’s because I’ve struggled with how to handle my own.

God is good. But life can be unspeakably hard. Both statements are true.

“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.” N.D. Wilson

At some point, we all wake up to discover the world is rated R: through images of mass shootings and stranded refugees, unexpected diagnoses and failing bodies, and relationships crippled (or broken or shattered) through betrayal or neglect. Our minds provide fertile soil for grown-up nightmares. We learn to deny the pain, or too often, we begin to believe the lie that it will never end.

Yet there is Christmas.

Light comes into the darkness. Hope is born. Promises are fulfilled.

When we experience the bleak circumstances in the world, in our homes, and even in the darkness of our own hearts, we are tempted to believe that those snapshots define reality. As if starting to read in the middle of a book, we don’t have a larger context for the events that are taking place. Our vision and our understanding are limited.

Christmas tells the fuller (truer) story.

It reminds us that we have an anchor as ancient as “In the beginning.”

It guarantees hope for the future when He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. It promises us that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

So this Christmas, and every day to come, let’s remind each other of what’s True. Since the children in the garden, the world’s suffered brokenness, violence, despair and loss. But darkness will not win. The battle is over. The war was waged and won by the baby in a manger.

The stories are true.

Fear not.

“… And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:9-11

 

– – –

If you would like to get an update on his progress, feel free to visit David’s Caring Bridge page. 

 



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FullSizeRender
Merry Christmas  from the Silanders – 2014

Every year, the onset of Advent brings with it a small degree of (self-imposed) pressure to make the most of the season. We’ll never have another Christmas when the children are their current ages. I want them to remember. To capture smells of peppermint cookies and fresh pine, sights of white lights and red bows on the trees, and sounds of Yo-Yo Ma, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Peterson’s Christmas music. To tuck away their experience in an emotional time capsule – one that can be excavated when life down the road gets hard and they need to remember.

We may not have another Christmas when we’re all in good health. Or in our current home. The list of what could, and probably will, change in the next twelve months is longer than Santa’s scroll filled with names. Once the season slips by, it’s gone forever. I want to live fully in the moment – in the story unfolding before me – but I can’t help grieving the little (and big) lost opportunities.

This year, we won’t be sending out Christmas cards. I just couldn’t pull it together to get a reasonably good family picture taken, much less to order color-coordinated cards, then address, stamp, and get them in the mail. It’s a small thing, really. But there will never be another Christmas 2014 – the last one with a ten-year-old in the house, and the last one before our eldest son gets married. And I missed capturing it in a glossy 4×6. The calendar flips and the children grow up and we say goodbye to a season that’s gone forever.

It’s hard not to look back.

Among the many decisions to be made each Advent is, no surprise, is what we’ll be reading. This year, it will be a lesser-known Christmas story by Charles Dickens and a re-read of This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. But of particular importance is the choosing of an Advent devotional. We’ve accumulated quite a selection. Personally, I keep returning to God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And for the family, despite the countless options available, we keep returning to the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Our children are hardly wide-eyed little ones anymore. There will be no baby doll paraphernalia or Rescue Hero action figures found under our tree. Rather than spending these days reading (and rereading) cherished Christmas picture books, we’ve been wrapping up school projects and tweaking papers. Much to my enjoyment, my thirteen-year-old has been taking a Literary Analysis class from which much of our daily dialogue flows. Words like “protagonist, conflict, and foreshadowing” pepper our conversation. I miss the fair-haired little boy sitting on my lap while we read, but I’m sure having fun with the larger version’s rascally smile and quick sense of wit.

Earlier this week, in order to catch up with the reading schedule (yes, running chronically behind), we read a few chapters out of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Then we read a few more. Here’s how they ended:

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As we closed the book, my boy turned his face toward me, and rather pleased with himself, proclaimed, “Foreshadowing.”

This year, he has learned a new word that represents a much more complex concept. Through months of example, analysis, and practice, my son has developed the skill of reading words on a page – then looking beyond what is seen to anticipate what is to come.

Perhaps that’s the purpose of the Advent season: to prepare the eyes of our heart to look beyond what we can see. To anticipate the coming of the One who makes all things new.

If it’s been a hard year, take heart. Advent is for you.

For you, friend, who feels the pressure of having to get it right. In your relationships, your career, your parenting, your choices. In the million minor daily details like creating and sustaining holiday traditions.

For you, friend, who’s grown weary of longing. Who feels paralyzed in the twilight between hope and despair. Who flirts with the temptation named numbness, which protects from pain, but suffocates joy.

For you, friend, who is fighting for your marriage. The marriage that felt so solid to you and looked ideal to others. The one that is gasping for life in an atmosphere running dangerously short on oxygen.

For you, friend, who received the diagnosis. The diagnosis that’s only supposed to be delivered to “other people.” The one that brought life to a screeching halt and has permanently rerouted your plans for the future. The one that terrifies to the core and steals dreams.

For you, friend, who is broken and wounded. Who feels too tired to move forward. Who is weary and losing hope, because life isn’t what you’d thought it would be. Who lives in regret of lost dreams and what could-have-beens.

It’s hard not to look back and remain tethered to the past. It’s hard to believe that life is more than the joy, sorrow, hope, fear, delight, regret, love, and loneliness we experience.

But Advent is here. Readjust your eyes. The text is pointing to a Truer Truth than the sum of what we can see.

Foreshadowing.

Light will drink up darkness.
Hope will snuff out despair.
Love has already won.

The stories are true. 

He’s been whispering them since the beginning of time.

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Every Valley

"Every Valley" by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

It’s a strange thing to be making cookies and wrapping presents,
When wars are raging,
When families are crumbling,
When parents are burying their children.

The news is hard to watch this week.
Tears come easily, yet so does relief…
Which brings with it a twinge of guilt.

How do we reconcile the great cosmic chasm –
Our world has more than its share of darkness, pain, and evil,
Yet we move in and breathe the reality of Starbucks, Amazon, and Buddy the Elf.

Perhaps it’s more of a dual reality to be acknowledged than a chasm to be crossed.

This year during Advent, we’ve been working our way through listening to Handel’s Messiah (schedule found below). Each day, we’ve been listening to a few of the songs after reading the corresponding passages of scripture.

We’ve read, then listened, then listened again. I’ve heard the music of the Messiah throughout much of my life, yet this year, it’s as if I’ve really heard it for the first time. As we’ve listened intently to each song, a divine magic has transpired. Handel’s music, echoing its ancient truths and promises, has become our own. To enjoy, to discuss, to savor, to absorb.

The children composed poems in response to several of the songs.  I’ve woven a few of them together as a memorial stone for this Advent season. This is Handel’s Messiah, as seen through the eyes, heard through the ears, and experienced in the hearts of my young ones:

Heaven kissed earth
He came as a whisper, a snowfall, a spark

 He was born in a manger
Dingy
Dirty
Dusty

 Heaven crawled through the dust
He played in the garden
He healed the sick,
Yet his work was not done

 He was beaten and whipped
Crushing
Cruel
Cold

He wore a crown of thorns on his head
Stinging
Sharp
Steel

He let himself be hung on the cross
Piercing
Painful
Perfect sacrifice

He rose from the dead
Amazing
Awesome
Awestruck

He will come again victorious
Blinding darkness with light,
Death will gasp its final breath
Evil forever defeated,
Then all the wrongs through history
Will finally be made right

 Ribbon will wind through
The hot dry desert
Rainbow to straighten curves

 Every mountain will become low
Every valley high
Every mansion will become small
Every cottage will grow

 The hungry shall have banquets laid out before them,
The imprisoned shall have their chains dashed to the ground

The large rocks will shrink
Pebbles will grow to boulders
All will be even

The valley will rise
Mountains will disintegrate
All will be even

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

 

We spent days contemplating the implications of twelve words uttered by the prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low.”

Every valley.

Do we really believe it? Down deep where our core beliefs compose the background music that sets the tone for our everyday lives?  Even when wars rage and children are murdered? When evil rears its head and seems to be winning? When our lives, our plans, our dreams are crumbling?

Every valley.

That’s what He came to do, after all.

To heal the blind.

To bind up the brokenhearted.

To make all the wrongs right.

For in this, we can place our hope.

So bake your cookies,
and wrap your presents,
and sing the carols for the world to hear.

Through each small hopeful act,
You’re shining a light into darkness,
Taking part in raising valleys and lowering mountains,
Preparing a way in the desert
For the One who was,
And is,

And is to come.

 

 

Artwork by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

– – –

Day 1 (11 minutes):

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5

1. Symphony
2. Recitative (Tenor) “Comfort Ye…”
3. Air (Tenor) “Every Valley…”
4. Chorus “And the Glory …”

Day 2 (6 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2:6, 7, Malachi 3:1-3

1. Recitative (Bass) “Thus saith the Lord…”
2. Air (Bass) “But who may abide…”
3. Chorus “And he shall purify…”

Day 3 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:14, 40:9, 60:1

1. Recitative (Alto) “Behold, a Virgin…”
2. Air (Alto) “O, thou that tellest…”
3. Chorus “Arise, Shine…”

Day 4 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 60:2-3, 9:2, 9:6

1. Recitative (Bass) “For behold, darkness…”
2. Air (Bass) “The people who walked in darkness…”
3. Chorus: “For unto us…”

Day 5 (8 Minutes)
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-14

1. Pifa
2. Recitative (Soprano) “There were shepherds…”
3. Recitative (Soprano) “And, Lo, the angel…”
4. Recitative (Soprano)” Ad the angel said…”
5. Recitative (Soprano) “And suddenly…”
6. Chorus “Glory to God in the highest…”

Day 6 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10

1. Air (Soprano) “Rejoice greatly…”

Day 7 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:5-6; 40:11, Matthew 11:28-30

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall the eyes of the blind…”
2. Aria (Alto) “He shall feed…” and “Come unto me…”
3. Chorus “His yoke is easy…”

Day 8 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: John 1:29

1. Chorus “Behold the Lamb…”

Day 9 (11 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:3, 50:6

1. Air (Alto) “He was despised…”

Day 10 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6

1. Chorus “Surely he hath borne…”
2. Chorus “And with his stripes…”
3. Chorus “All we like sheep…”

Day 11 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:7-8

1. Recitative (Tenor) “All they that see him laugh…”
2. Chorus “He trusted in God…”

Day 12 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 69:20, Lamentations 1:12

1. Recitative (Soprano) “Thy rebuke has broken…”
2. Arioso (Soprano) “Behold and see if…”

Day 13 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:8, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 24:7-10

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He was cut off…”
2. Air (Tenor) “But thou didst not leave…”
3. Chorus “Lift up your heads…”

Day 14 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 1:5, 6

1. Recitative (Tenor) “Unto which of the …”
2. Chorus “Let all the angels…”

Day 15 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 68:11, 18

1. Air (Bass) “Thou art gone up…”
2. Chorus “The Lord gave the word…”

Day 16 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:15

1. Duet (Soprano, Alto, Chorus) “How beautiful…”

Day 17 (1 minute)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10: 18

1. Arioso (Tenor) “Their sound…”

Day 18 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:1-3

1. Air (Bass) “Why do the nations…”
2. Chorus “Let us break…”

Day 19 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:4, 9; Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He that dwelleth in heaven…”
2. Air (Tenor) “Thou shalt break….”
3. Chorus “Hallelujah!!”

Day 20 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Job 19:25-26, I Corinthians 15:20

1. Air (Soprano) “I know that my Redeemer…”

Day 21 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:21-22

1. Chorus “Since by man…’

Day 22 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:51-53

1. Recitative (Bass) “Behold, I tell you a mystery…”
2. Air (Bass) “The trumpet shall sound…”

Day 23 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15: 54-56

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall be brought…”
2. Duet (Alto, Tenor) “O Death, where…”
3. Chorus “But thanks be to God…”

Day 24 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-34

1. Air (Alto) “If God be for us…”

Day 25 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Revelation 5:12-13

1. Chorus “Worthy is the Lamb…”

(Reading schedule was discovered here: http://morningtimemoms.blogspot.com/2014/08/25-days-to-handels-messiah-advent.html)

 

 



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Foreshadowing

Brokenhearted

I’m not really a dog person.

A little over a year ago, we lost our miniature dachshund of fifteen years. Many words could have described her – yappy, longish, feisty, and naughty are among them. But the word that rises to the top of my caricature list would be “loyal.” She was always there – through holidays, sickness, three moves, and all the drama that comes with a family of seven. She sniffed the tiny toes of three new babies. She scuffled around (and under) our feet as we planned two college graduations and a wedding. Maggie loved us well.

Yet as the years rolled by, the demands on my time and the level of my expendable energy were at odds with one another. My heart, which had once been smitten with our little puppy, grew indifferent. “High maintenance” was a term that she earned honestly, and the years were siphoning off my ability to keep up with her needs. I grew frustrated with the cost, upkeep, and energy required of me. I’m sad to confess that in the last months of her life, I was anticipating the relief that would inevitably accompany her passing. When Maggie’s last days actually arrived, I was surprised by the sadness that overtook me. I couldn’t make it through the door of the vet to tell her “goodbye” without dissolving into tears. But the temporary wave of emotion and nostalgia didn’t penetrate my pragmatic resolve. We’re done with dogs. At least for a very, very long time.

With the pang of grief added to the long list of “why we wouldn’t have another pet anytime soon” the kids eventually stopped asking. We didn’t talk about it. I could find no logical reason to sign up for all of the work and inconvenience (and inevitable heartache) that a new dog would bring. It wasn’t practical.

Left alone to the laws of entropy, even the strongest surge of affection deteriorates over time. With our pets, our spouses, our friendships. It’s a slow, steady death.

Initially, we feel deeply – so deeply that love stretches the heart beyond capacity creating an achy, visceral joy. Over time, practicality and selfishness prick tiny holes, each slowly draining drops of life. As joy trickles out like air from a deflating balloon, the heart hardly notices. It regains control. It’s protected from pain. It becomes resentful. Even numb.

Yet unsolicited and without warning, the Giver of all Life steps in. With great compassion, He disrupts the status-quo. He offers an alternative to the slow, steady death of hope that accompanies self-protection and control. His gentle whisper extends an invitation. I have been given a choice. The cost – be willing to love, to hurt, to be inconvenienced, to set aside my own agenda. The gain – grace infused. The heart lives and loves and grows once more.

This Advent season, it happened again. The Giver of Good Gifts is changing the landscape of our family by changing the landscape of my heart. Only days after I had explained (yet again) why we wouldn’t be adding to our family, I found the words “I think it’s time” tumbling out of my mouth, landing squarely on my unsuspecting husband. Like a flipped light switch illuminates and drives out shadows of doubt, the decision brought an immediate flood of joy and strange relief. This is Love.

Many times in the past few weeks, I’ve watched my children anticipate Christmas and I’ve smiled. The Father has used our unexpected surprise to teach me much about Himself. Watching my children’s everyday struggles, frustrations, and disappointments, I’ve frequently found myself thinking, “If they only knew what was coming.” They anticipate, but their imaginations fall short of the greater reality that awaits them. A reality snuggled safely in a tiny basket under our tree.

Only my daughter dared to carry the torch of hope for a puppy. When asked what she wanted for Christmas, the standard reply was “A puppy. But I know we won’t get that, so a guinea pig. But we probably won’t get that, so I hope I at least I get a Beta Fish.” Hedging is safer than longing. Hope is a risky proposition.

This Christmas marks one of many small miracles in the story of our family. Much to my own great surprise, my heart has been broken wide open once again.

And I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

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Lucy – 2 weeks

 “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis

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Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

 

 

 



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Bookish Christmas Gifts

As you’re preparing for Christmas, consider gifts that will encourage the love of story. Here are a few ideas:

Homemade Book Mark
When my children were very young, they created marbled and homemade (recycled) paper in art class. The colors and textures were beautiful. I didn’t want to throw the papers away, so I cut the them into 2″ strips, had the children sign and date the backs, then laminated each strip. From just a few sheets of paper, we were able to make several gifts for teachers, family members, and close friends.

Another option is to create bookmarks from photos – of family (individual or group), places you’ve visited through the year, Christmas’s past, favorite quotes or verses, etc. Here’s one my husband (yep) made for me a few years ago:

homemade book mark

Personalized Book Plate
These make excellent baby gifts, Christmas gifts, and birthday gifts. We reserve the usage of book plates for special books – those received as presents, those marking special occasions, or those that become favorites of the child. Personalized book plates say, “This book is important. It is meaningful to me.” There are countless stores from which you can order book plates (including virtually any place that sells personalized stickers). Although not the least expensive option available, this online store has a beautiful selection. For many folks (sadly, not me), it would be easy to create bookplates using an online template. (Embossers are also nice to have, although not ideal for children. I stumbled upon a nice selection of embossers here.)

book plate

“A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins.” Charles Lamb

Subscription to Lamplighter Book Club
This would be an ideal present idea to suggest to grandparents. The Lamplighter Books are beautifully-bound treasures. More about Lamplighter here.

lamplighter

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” Abraham Lincoln

Start a Collection
There’s something special about owning a “family” of books. One collection that we’ve enjoyed is the Illustrated Junior Library. Several of these beautifully illustrated books are easily found in bookstores. Older titles are out of print, yet still available at the occasional book sale or online. Whenever we find a used bookstore, my children keep an eye out for a member of the collection’s family. Searching a specific and easily recognizable book helps to keep those who are too young to hunt for specific authors (or are less-than-excited about book shopping) occupied. I hope to read through all of the titles in set before the youngest leaves home. Choose a collection that has beautiful illustrations and easy-to-read print (lots of white around the border of the text). Add a new book each Christmas.

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“The book must of necessity be put into a bookcase. And the bookcase must be housed. And the house must be kept. And the library must be dusted, must be arranged, must be catalogued. What a vista of toil, yet not unhappy toil.” William Gladstone

Book Lover’s Journal
A book journal is great place to record books that have been read, favorite quotes, and insights gained. It’s a literary diary of sorts, not only documenting data about books that have been read, but also drawing the heart of the reader out to capture responses on paper. I wish that I’d started one of these years ago.

book lover's journal

Stories on CD
As much as I love reading aloud with my family, I’ve grown increasingly grateful for good audiobooks. When my children were very young, CDs by Jim Weiss (Greathall Productions), Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre, and Lamplighter Theater were staples at rest time and on family trips. Audiobooks are a great introduction to books that may be a bit out of reach for children to alone, and they foster a growing love of story. We recently invested in a family membership to Audible, which has already more than paid for itself.

Mark_Twain_Jim_Weiss_Adventures_Tom_Sawyer_dramatized_compact_disc

Hardback of favorite book (children’s book for teenagers/adults)
Don’t feel like you can’t buy a book for someone because they’ve already read it. Quite the opposite. Receiving a hardback book is an affirmation of its importance and an invitation to read it again (and again). Our eldest son had read Lord of the Rings several times in his teenage years, but had never owned a hardback copy. That situation was remedied in he early adulthood when we gave him a boxed set. If you’re looking for a hard-to-find book that is not longer in print, try addall.com.

lord of the rings

 “Some day, you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis

Christmas Books
I shared some of our favorite Christmas books here (2011) and here (2012).

A few more I’ve added since last year:

On that Night by Elizabeth Yates

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The Conscience Pudding by Edith Nesbit

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The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle

24-days-lengle

A Walk One Winter Night by Al Andrews

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* * *

Do you have any bookish gift ideas you’d be willing to share? 



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From Our Home to Yours – Christmas Favorites

As much as I love Christmas Day, I’ve come to love the weeks leading up to it even more. Through the years, the discovering, enjoying, and sharing treasured music and books has become an integral part of our celebration. As you prepare for this season of Advent, I’d like to share some of our favorites.

Music

Behold The Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. If you have a chance to see the live show, don’t miss it. We play this cd all year long.

 

Christmas Songs by Fernando Ortega. His music is as grounding as it is beautiful. Balm for the soul.

 

Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy by Jason Gray. Jason’s newest CD has quickly become a Christmas favorite around here. Take a minute to read these good words by my friend Jen. What she said.

 

Christmas by Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn. Christmas is deeply profound (I Will Find a Way) while simultaneously clever and fun-hearted (Baby It’s Cold Out There). A delightful blend of hymns, seasonal favorites, and original music.

 

Songs of Joy & Peace by Yo-Yo Ma. As if Yo-Yo Ma weren’t enough. He’s joined by friends like James Taylor, Alison Krauss, and Dave Brubeck.

 

Silver & Gold by Sufjan Stevens. Because you get to sing along to Christmas Unicorn.

 

Christmastime by David Benoit. The most amazing Carol of the Bells to be found.

 

Advent Volume 2 by The Brilliance. This band is my favorite musical find of the year. Advent Volume 2 was released this week. Spread the word.

 

Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration A twist on a classic.

 

A Slugs & Bugs Christmas Super fun music for the entire family.

Books

For a list of our favorite Christmas books that will be read and re-read through the years, you can visit The Twelve Books of Christmas. Here are a few books we’ll be reading this year:

 

Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wangerin Jr. Wangerin has quickly become a favorite author. I savored his Lenten devotional and am looking forward to reading Preparing for Jesus on my own this Advent season. Wangerin communicates truth in a way that often catches my head and my heart by surprise.

 

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey. A very personal narrative through the story of God’s provision for us all. Last year, I read this on my own. This year, I’m looking forward to reading with the family. Listen to Ramsey reading It Was Not a Silent Night and you’ll know why. Buy several to give a way. It’s a treasure.

 

Watch for The Light – Readings for Advent and Christmas. Selections from C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others.

 

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. We read the JSBB throughout the year, and it has become my husband’s Bible of choice to read Christmas Eve. I was grateful to find this Advent reading plan that maps out one story everyday during December until Christmas. I can’t imagine a better way to prepare our hearts for Christmas Day.

 

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge. This will be a new book for us this year, but anything by Goudge is well worth reading.

Crafts

Truth in the Tinsel – an ebook including short devotionals and patterns for beautiful handmade ornaments. We decided last year that in order to relieve the pressure of creating an ornament everyday, we’d do what we could and fill in the gaps this year. If your kids are older and don’t require as much help, consider having each of them make a set that they can keep and enjoy with their own families. My friend, Heather, has some beautiful pictures of her children’s creations from Truth in Tinsel.

 

Jesse Tree – Ornaments and daily devotional by A Holy Experience. This will be our first year receiving the daily devotional and corresponding ornament via email. This set will be equally enjoyed by young or old, single folks or a family.

Wishing you an Advent season full of peace, joy, and great expectation!  

For the benefit of others, please share some of your Christmas favorites. (I’m having some technical trouble with the comments section. If you leave one, it may not show up right away, but we’re working on getting that fixed!)



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The Tricky Wicket of Gift Giving



Birthdays are significant in our home.  We’re not big on decorations or even presents, but the hope is that the birthday person feels celebrated and enjoyed.  When possible, we spend the day together enjoying some combination of favorite homemade meals, restaurants, and activities.  It’s a veritable crime for the one being celebrated to do any work.  King or queen for the day is the goal. 

This past summer, I was enjoying a relatively low-key birthday day.  My husband had made plans for the evening.  My children, who had been well-trained in the way of Silander birthday custom, greeted me in the morning with shiny, anticipating faces.  They sincerely wanted me to enjoy my day.  They wanted me to feel loved.  Their motives were pure.

Shortly after breakfast, my cherubs were quick to relieve me from manual labor, and they started cleaning the kitchen.  But somehow, in an instant, the mood shifted.  Child A began arguing with Child B about who was to do what chore.  Exasperated Child C interrupted and proceeded to boss give direction to the less-than-righteous siblings.  After giving up hope that the situation would resolve itself, I finally stepped in to mediate. My efforts were temporarily successful, but within the hour, a modified version of the same situation transpired.  My frustration was growing.  It was my birthday.  “All I really want for my birthday is for you all to love each other well and for us to enjoy the day together,”  I stated, as if this would be the obvious end of the matter.  And it was.  For awhile.  

My frustration dissolved into sadness as I realized a hard truth.  My children love me.  From the deepest, sweetest, brightest places in their hearts, they wanted me to be blessed on my birthday.  But, an insidious cloud had gathered and was overshadowing their good desires.  They wanted to honor me… but on their terms.  The cost of laying aside their own agendas was too high.

When for a fleeting moment, I attempt to look honestly at my own heart, I’m saddened to acknowledge that I give to others in much the same way.  We had nine under our roof this Christmas, and it didn’t take long for my feeble, misguided attempts at caring for others to buckle under the strain.  Too often, I give out of my natural inclinations and tendencies – which does not necessarily result in a gift that is meaningful to the recipient.  Even if my motives are pure.  

Imagine that my talent and interest was in knitting, and that I knitted the same red wool scarf for everyone on my Christmas list.  For some, the scarf would be a treasure.  The time taken to create, the warmth the scarf provides, and the much-desired fashion accent would leave the receiver feeling loved well.  Those are the easy-to-love people in my life.  My natural inclinations fit well with their needs.

But others may be allergic to wool, look terrible in red, or are hot-natured with no need for a scarf.  If I want another to feel loved, I have to pause and consider what would be best for them.  And all too often, the time and energy required to stretch beyond my natural inclinations, comfort, and agenda…  well, the order is just too tall.  So I knit my red scarf and convince myself that it will be enough.  Or I cook a meal rather than spend time with a sick friend.  Or I clean up the house rather than offer kind words to my husband. Eventually, we both feel missed and hurt.

I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, but I do have some hopes as we launch into 2012.  I want to pause and consider those folks in my life who are difficult to love with new eyes.  Rather than taking offense that my “red scarf” doesn’t succeed in making another feel loved, I long to lay down my pride, comfort, agenda, and expectations in order to grow in grace.   I want to be willing and teachable to love in new ways – for the benefit of another. 

I also plan  to be more intentional in my reading, consistent in healthy cooking, and possibly train for a race. And by the way… I’m actually taking my first knitting class with my daughter this month. Perhaps I’ll make a red scarf for myself.

Happy New Year to you and yours!



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Moving Forward

Micah 6:8



“May I bring a new friend over with me when I come for coffee?”


A simple question that changed a family.  My family.  Forever.

~~~~~~~~~~

We live in South Charlotte.  Some have referred to our dear city as an “Atlanta wannabe.”  I’m not offended by that description.  It’s actually not too far from accurate.  We like to think that we have the best of both worlds – small town feel while still having access to great art galleries, Broadway shows, professional sports, and the ripples from Wall Street’s economic power generators radiating throughout uptown.  Yes, for those of you unfamiliar with Charlotte, it is uptown, not downtown.  I’ve enjoyed the benefits of this energetic town, including a fulfilling career housed in its tallest building.  We’ve birthed three and raised five children here.  We have a church we love and amazing friends. It is home.

Yet with all that Charlotte has to offer, its strength is also one of its great weaknesses.  I’ve worried about my children’s perspective on life while growing up among such affluence. Given this soccer-mom, banking-hub, Bible-on-every-corner culture, how could we possible raise children who see beyond their comfortable bubble?  Children who are other-centered, compassionate, and have a healthy humility and curiosity with which they approach other cultures – and other people.  Particularly while their parents struggle with the same issues.

Then one hot summer morning seven years ago, a dear friend called.  She and I had planned on catching up at my house over coffee while the children played.  A few hours prior to her coming, she gave me a quick call to ask if she could bring a little boy along with her. “Of course”, I responded.  The more the merrier.  She arrived later that afternoon with her new friend – our new friend – Yusuf, who just happened to be from Somalia.  Yusuf was 6 years old, and had arrived in America just weeks prior to our meeting.  Three little bodies darted around the backyard, two with blond hair and blue eyes, and one as dark as coal.  The boys ran and played in the water from our  hose while my friend recounted their unfathomable story.  They had fled Somalia through the dark of night, lived in a Cambodian refugee camp, and had finally been transported, compliments of the UN, to Charlotte.  More on their remarkable journey another time…


Later that afternoon, we embarked on our weekly pilgrimage to the library.  Like a good homeschool-mom-to-be, I searched out as many age-appropriate books on Africa as I could find.  When I showed them to the boys, I instructed, “This is the country where Yusuf used to live.  The people there speak the same languages as he does.”  Will, my inquisitive, observant, detail-oriented 5 year old who had just spent several hours playing with his new buddy responded, “Do you mean that Yusuf doesn’t speak English?”  


My earnest hope had been that my children would engage with someone who was different than their friends.  That they would develop compassion for other cultures, and that they would choose to build bridges over differences.  But to my surprise, they taught me a greater lesson.   The commonalities of little boys playing in the water instantly bridged the 10,000 mile divide between them.  They enjoyed what they had in common, rather than trying to overcome the ways in which they were different.  They hadn’t met a refugee whose family had fled the dangers of Somalia.  They had met a new friend.


Seven years ago on a humid July morning, the seed of love for our refugee friends was planted in the heart of our family.  The great Gardener has continued to provide fertile soil of opportunity, drench us in the water of the Word, and supply power through the Son.  As a result of His tender care and pruning, that small seed has grown.  We’ve come to love the refugee community in Charlotte, and opportunities to serve them continues to be a significant gift to our family.


I’m consistently humbled by my shallow attempts to give, arrogantly believing that I have something to offer.  Yet each time we show up, our family becomes richer for the time spent with these beautiful people.  People who have fled great danger and had the courage to build new lives from scratch.  People who have farmed for generations, yet now consider fresh fruit and vegetables an occasional delicacy. People who are now strangers in a strange land.


As we were pulling out of the apartment complex last week, I was surprised to note that a small yet significant shift had taken place in my heart.  Walking down the sidewalk was a young man from Nepal.  I had been introduced to him the prior week while he was shopping at the “Clothing Closet.” Shortly after our meeting,  he had labored to help me understand what he was trying to say.  The scene resembled a somewhat comical game of charades, and I wasn’t doing very well interpreting his animated gestures.  Eventually, we finally deciphered that he was asking for a baby swing for his little one.  When I saw him weeks later this second time, my perspective had changed.  He was no longer one of the many faces who visited the Clothing Closet each month.  He has a name.  He has a baby.  His story has become a part of my story.


In the chronic business of life, I wonder how many remarkable stories I pass and dismiss – from the checkout clerk at the grocery store to the neighbor walking her dog.  Everyday, we’re given opportunities to discover a bit more about the Creator through those he has created, and we’re given the great honor of sneaking a glimpse of another human soul. Too oftenwe miss out on the miracle and settle for the mundane.


  People who laugh like we do, who cry like we do, who pray for their children’s safety… just like we do.  And along the way, I’ve gotten a taste of what it means to be fully human.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”    C.S. Lewis

~~~~~~~~~~



For the past few years, a highlight, perhaps the highlight, of the Christmas season for us has been spending a Saturday celebrating Christmas with the folks from Project 658 (check them out here – you can join us!) and our refugee friends.  The objections raised by my selfish nature (we don’t have time… too much to do… we’re already tired) quickly dissipate when we drive into the apartment complex across town.  I love the beautiful faces representing the farthest corners of the map.  The content children who are generous with their smiles and hugs.  The adults who delight at the rare opportunity for their children to be photographed with Santa.  And I was lucky enough to catch him under the mistletoe.


That is one cute elf
Project 658.  Yes, they are rock stars.


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

 



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Twin Towers and a Manger

Out of the wreckage…


















Where were you?

I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom holding my beautiful  one-week-old son.  We had only been home from the hospital for a few days, and I was fully intoxicated with the sweet smells of newly-bathed baby, the feel of his slow, steady breathing on my neck, and the slight, warm pressure of eight pounds of perfection curled up and sleeping on my chest.  My two year old was playing contentedly in the corner with his plastic pet shop, a left-over rediscovered toy, compliments of his big sister.  Having been up most of the night, I had traded in my feeble attempt at reading a book for watching Regis and Kelly on the TV.  The air drifting through my cracked window carried with it the hint of the last days of summer.   Life was sweet.  Simple.  Full.

Then it happened.  Within moments, life as we had known it would be changed forever.  It was September 11, 2001, and my dependable, soothing slice of broadcasted Americana was suddenly interrupted with footage of the first plane hitting the tower.  I couldn’t believe what I had seen, and I certainly had no idea the lasting impact that the events of that balmy September morning would have on our nation.  On our family.  On the lives of generations to come.  Literally out of the blue, we had all been affected at the most visceral level.

According to a ten-year anniversary article “How 9/11 Changed our Culture” (US News),  our lives were changed in a number of ways including:

~How we speak
~What we fear
~How we keep safe
~What entertains us
~What we read
~Who we admire

We would never look at the world in the same way, and the choices we made going forward would reflect our shift in perspective.

Over 2,000 years ago, the Roman Empire was enjoying a relatively peaceful political climate compliments of the Pax Romana.  The Empire protected and governed its provinces, and the Jewish religion was generally tolerated.  Although there were divisions within the Jewish schools of thought, most had learned to live peacefully under Roman control.  Life was manageable.  They knew what to expect.

Then, one very normal night, the course of history changed forever.  There had been no word from God in over 400 years.  But suddenly, that changed.  At a given point in time, in an unimpressive town, to two ordinary people, the Creator of the world transcended space and time to pierce through the veil between heaven and earth and become one of us.  Literally out of the dark, we would all be affected at the most visceral level.

For those who were present that night and witnessed the divine becoming human, for those who would follow the carpenter’s son and listen to his teaching, and for those who would choose to exchange control of their lives in order to serve the unlikely king, the world as they had known it would forever be different.

They would never look at the world the same way, and the choices they would make going forward would reflect their shift in perspective.

A few months ago, we commemorated the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Footage of the planes was dusted off and replayed across the airwaves, memorial services were held, and we all paused to remember.  As I was recounting that pivotal day’s events to my sweet baby boy, now 10 years old, I found that a curious phenomenon had transpired.  On the spectrum that ranges from intense experience all the way to detached, my emotion had shifted a few notches.  I’m sure that if I’d lost a loved one during the tragedy, my reaction would have been different.  But for me, the events that had once singed my soul had been quenched through the last ten years, and they were incrementally closer to becoming memorable dates in an American history book.

Time had lessened the emotional impact.  I had become more detached.  The full impact of 9/11 had been diminished.

Unfortunately, the same can often be said of Christmas.

We mark the calendar, attend the performances, religiously decorate our homes, and pause to remember. 

But I long for more.

~I want to feel deeply… not just remember
~I want to look at the world from His perspective… not my limited viewpoint
~I want to believe that the God of the universe is present, relevant, revolutionary in every aspect of my life

Ten years ago, darkness penetrated and impacted the soul of our country.

Two thousand years ago, Light penetrated our dark world and changed it forever.

Yes, we remind one another that he came as a baby in the manger.  The shepherds followed the star.  The wise men came later, bearing gifts.  

But this Christmas, let us not be satisfied to “just remember.”  Rather than settling for an annual observation filled with the good things of sentiment, warm tidings, advent readings and tradition, let them serve to magnify the ultimate things.  Perhaps it would help to remember…

Where were you?  

When the story became real.  When you first believed.  When the Maker of the moon and the Author of the faith penetrated your independent, self-reliant heart and changed it forever.  I was on a stone bench overlooking a small lake.  It was late at night, but I could strain my eyes just enough to see white swans gliding through the water – beacons of light in the midst of the dark.  Because of the baby born so long ago, my life was forever changed. And I never want to forget.

~~~~~~~~~~

I first heard Jill Phillips sing this three years ago on The Behold the Lamb of God tour, and I still get chills every time I hear it.  Take a few minutes to listen…









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The Twelve Books of Christmas

A highlight of our advent season is the unpacking of our box of beautiful Christmas books.  They, like our favorite ornaments, embody the ghosts of Christmases past.  Each holds a dear memory – curling up by the fire with hot chocolate in hand, the twinkle of Christmas tree lights dappling the ceiling, babes in footed fleece pjs cuddling on mommy, or the “remember whens” represented by many of the vacation-purchased ornaments.  Out of that box of books, we unpack love, anticipation, excitement and tradition, and every year, we look forward to carefully choosing and adding a new addition or two.

A few years ago, we began a new Christmas tradition.  The kiddos open their sleepy eyes Christmas morning to find a small stack of books sitting at the foot of their beds.  The day starts peacefully, as they enjoy exploring the newest additions to their libraries.  Mom and Dad also happen to benefit from a little more sleep before the present-opening festivities begin.  We do love our books!

Here are a few of our favorite Christmas books, and two new ones we’ll be adding to the family:

12.  We’re looking forward to receiving a copy of Russ Ramsey’s new book Behold the Lamb of God. For those of you who are familiar with Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God Christmas concerts, this is written with the same heartbeat.

“When Andrew Peterson sings ‘Behold the Lamb,’ three worlds collide:  ours, Abraham’s and Jesus’.  Russ Ramsey’s book opens the doors between those worlds and helps us bring them together.”  Michael Card

Behold the Lamb of God can be used either for personal reflection or as a family devotional during advent.  The jury is out regarding the book’s inaugural use in our home (I may selfishly monopolize this first year),  but I look forward to incorporating it into our annual Christmas reading list.

 

If you would like to order Behold the Lamb of God or place an order, you can visit here.  There is also an option to bundle the book along with the CD, which makes a great Christmas present for those who are unfamiliar with Andrew Peterson’s music.  You really can’t go wrong with an amazing songwriter (Peterson) and a fellow-appreciator of Rembrandt (Ramsey).

11. If you have young ones in your life, you won’t want to miss Sally Lloyd-Jones’ new picture book Song of the Stars.  Our copy is in the mail, so I can’t yet testify as to its beauty and warmth; however, I have the fullest confidence that I will soon be able to do so.

“The Psalms tell us that the created order now declares the glory of God (Psalm 19 and 65) and then when Jesus returns even the trees will sing for Joy (Psalm 96).  How fitting, then, to imagine the animals and stars sensing and rejoicing in the coming of Christ for the first time.  This is a lovely book!”  Tim Keller

Perfect for young ones, or those who are young at heart.  You can purchase Song of the Stars here.

10.  A few years ago, a dear friend loaned a copy of Jotham’s Journey to us for use during advent, and I was not prepared for the significant impact that reading it would have on our family.  Jotham’s Journey is the first of a trilogy in which Arnold Yuletide weaves together the story of a young boy, his friends and their adventures leading up to the birth of Christ.  In reading these books, we’re able to pull away from the hectic pace and distraction of our society in order to stop and consider the world into which Jesus was born.  A world ruled by the Roman Empire, a world of oppression, a world of political domination, a world of slavery… a world in need of a Savior.  Far from the typical peaceful manger scenes found in many children’s books, Jotham’s Journey  is rich in suspense, danger, anticipation, and confusion around the events that take place.

Each of the three books ( Jotham’s Journey, Tabitha’s Travels and Bartholomew’s Passage) represents the viewpoint of one of the three friends, and the books don’t necessarily need to be read in a particular order.  We read one each year, and I’m amazed by the corroborating details that the children remember from prior years.  Each chapter is to be read on a given day during advent and has a short devotional at its end.  Given the intense nature of the political and social climate, I wouldn’t recommend that they be read to children younger than elementary age.  There is enough substance and depth that these books would easily be enjoyed and appreciated by those without children in the home.

You can order Jotham’s Journey or its sibling books here.

9. The Birds’ Christmas Carol is a heart-warming story about a little girl, who although sick and bedridden, embodies gratefulness and unselfishness as she plans a Christmas celebration for a needy neighboring family.  Written and published in 1887, this book whisks the reader back to the Victorian era, yet the love, compassion, and humorous family dynamics shared are timeless.

birdschristmascarol

*You can download The Birds’ Christmas Carol for free at gutenberg.org

8.  The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald.  How can you go wrong…

7.  We recently discovered This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer.  In this delightful folktale, a young boy is sent away to live on a lonely mountain during the war.  As he gradually befriends his neighbors, he hears their tales of Christmas celebrations from other cultures.  I’d recommend that this book be read aloud, as there are a few sections which deal with prejudice, and some of the terminology merits discussing (or avoiding if you’re reading with young children).  As one would expect, all ends well as the diverse, superstitious, isolated neighbors discover and enjoy community.

6. Plum Pudding for Christmas by Virginia Kahl is pure fun.  True to her other books, it is written in rhyme, and is delightfully witty.  The king is away, and all chaos breaks loose when one of his many daughters eats the last plum in the kingdom.  How will a fitting Christmas celebration be possible?  Although out of print, it’s fairly easy to find on Amazon, ebay, or addall.com.

 

 

5.  Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck is probably the least-known yet has become one of my most-loved books among the list.  This simple picture book depicts an unspoken, yet deeply felt love between a father and a son. The young boy makes a selfless choice in order to show his father the depth of his appreciation, and they are both blessed deeply as a result.  Life is found when one lays down his own comfort on behalf of another.  I cry every time I read it out loud.

 

 

4.  A Tale of Three Trees reminds us that God’s plan often differs from our own expectations and dreams – yet it is always best. A beautifully-illustrated book that can (and should) be read during both the Christmas and Easter seasons.

 

3.  The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean is ideal for children of elementary age through adults, and can be used as a family or personal devotional during advent. As an old man whittles away at creating a Jesse Tree for his church, each symbol carved introduces a story from the lineage of Jesus. We are reminded that all of history, beginning in the Garden of Eden, was in preparation for the One who would come to save us.

 

2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It just gets better through the years.
*You can download A Christmas Carol for free at gutenberg.org

 

1.  The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston will forever be one of our “staple” Christmas books.  It’s simple, sweet story about an Appalachian family which is preparing for Christmas while at the same time longing for the father, who has yet to return from the war.  It’s a story of hope, family, faith, perseverance, and Christmas miracles.

Wow.  That was harder than I thought it would be.  I feel compelled to console the books that didn’t make the list by assuring them they’ll be included next year.  Hmmm.
If you’re a lover of books, I hope that you’ve found something new to add to your collection.  If you’re not, I’d invite you to discover a new treasure to add to your Christmas memories.
You can find some of our favorite music and other Advent and Christmas resources here.
~~~~~~~~~~
During a season that is marked by food prepared to delight the palate, decorations hung to please the eye, and music played to bring joy the ear, it seems fitting that we carefully choose and read books which will nurture the soul.


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