What I’m Into: December 2016

December. proper noun. The month of all the celebrations and all the events and all the cheer and all the fun.

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It’s time for the last What I’m Into of…last year! I love looking back over these posts at the end of a year, reviewing all that I’ve read and watched and loved. Here’s one more month’s worth of recommendations and (many, many) events.

Reading

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens. I had never read this full book before, so I was excited to teach this book to my Advanced students (and read a play version to my other classes). There are some beautiful, quotable lines in this familiar story, I loved catching small symbolic moments, and I have gained a new appreciation for the whole tale. It’s one of my favorite novels I’ve taught (in my very limited experience so far).

We are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen. This book follows two perspectives: Stuart, a super smart and awkward boy whose mother has recently died, and Ashley, a girl whose parents just divorced because her dad is gay. Their parents move in together, and the two have to learn to navigate blending a family while they’re also walking through middle school. This book took a more adult twist than I was expecting, but it brought up interesting questions about true friendship, what it means to be mature, and homophobia.

The Memory of Things – Gae Polisner. This book tells the story of a teenage boy in the moments after 9/11 and a girl with amnesia who he finds on the street. The window into New Yorkers’ personal experiences with the crisis was fascinating. I have complicated feelings about the relationship that develops between the two characters – the premise seems too easy, almost like cheating the system. Trauma unites two people who know almost nothing about each other! But I devoured it anyway, and I would still recommend this one.

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Did you know that you can download audiobooks from the library? And they will appear right on your phone? And you can maximize the number of books you read in a month? Though it took me a while to learn to follow a detailed storyline like this, I loved listening to Sherlock and Watson on my commute and while washing dishes.

Watch for the Light. This collection of essays on Advent was beautiful. There is a different essay for every day of Advent and Christmas, and I didn’t read them all…so I’m already excited for next Christmas so I can pick it up again.

Kristin Lavransdatter – Sigrid Undset. I finished Book 2 of 3 in this series? extra-long book? this month, and I’m still not done with this tome. I continue to be surprised by the drama, beauty, and deeper significance of the story, so it makes pressing on worth it.

Currently reading: Reading in the Wild – Donalyn Miller, Flygirl – Sherri L. Smith, Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (audiobook).

Listening

All the Christmas music. My new favorite discovery: A Very Neighborly Christmas by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

I’m just beginning to check out Becoming Wise, the latest podcast from Krista Tippet. They’re sound bites of inspiration, and the short interview with Brene Brown reminded me, in the best way possible, how much my conception of myself is messed up.

Watching

Passengers. I was pretty unsure about the premise of this movie. A ship is destined for another planet, and all of the passengers are put into suspended animation for 90 years. Two of them wake up early. It’s a fascinating (and nightmarish) idea, and I’ve been thinking about the choices the characters made since I watched it. Pros: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are a sort of dream team, and the movie was gorgeously made. Cons: much moral and situational suspense (for me, anyway), and though I liked the ending, I don’t know if it was realistic.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, for the first time ever. (I know. What kind of Christian college student am I?) There was a lot of walking and a lot of fighting. Big surprise. But it did exceed my expectations.

White Christmas. It happens every year and is always so delightful.

Loving

Eddie Bauer Oversized Down Throws. My siblings and I got these for Christmas, and they are the best. They’re lightweight and almost too warm (except there’s no such thing in MN). I’ve been snuggling with it since the 24th.

Lindy hop lessons. The boyfriend and I had a coupon for a free private dance lesson, and we’ve taken a few group lessons as well. It’s been great fun.

Being home for the holidays, and having the boyfriend there too. Even when it results in photographic gems like these.

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Autostart. It should be mandatory in Minnesota winters.

Doing

Co-hosting a Christmas party with the boyfriend. We rang in the season with friends and good food – the best way!

Christmas at Northwestern. My sister performed in her last band event ever (!!!), and it was fun to attend, see my family, and ring in the season at the same time.

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Photo from my mom’s Instagram

Handel’s Messiah. I’d never been to Orchestra Hall or listened to the full program before. I can’t say that operatic singing is entirely my thing, but the choral selections were gorgeous, and the lyrics of the entire thing merit more reflection.

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Seeing White Christmas. The boyfriend’s family had a mini reunion at White Christmas at the Ordway. The production was a delight, and it started snowing (in the performance hall! And in real life!) during the show.

Seeing college friends. We all met up at the Mall of America for Christmas shopping, and it felt just like the old days.

Brita’s graduation. My little sister graduated from college! She’s applying to grad school and becoming a real adult and it’s very strange.

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Isn’t she cute? And grown-up? And hire-able?

Martin Luther exhibit at MIA. The MIA is currently hosting a collection of artifacts from all over Germany about Martin Luther’s life and time. There are some beautiful and fascinating artifacts in the collection – go see it before it leaves Minneapolis!

Surviving the Christmas crazy at school. Mostly. Highlights: chaperoning a trip to the Guthrie to watch A Christmas Carol with students. Some of them got to meet the boyfriend, who volunteered to come with, and their reactions were hilarious. Having four of my boys team up to buy me a book and chocolate for Christmas. Lows: After making it through days of sugar-hyped kids, my immune system decided it had had enough and I caught influenza three days before break. Thankfully I only had to spend one day on the couch before heading back.

Christmas Eve Eve with the boyfriend’s family – his family moved their celebration up an evening to accommodate bad weather, so we filled up on appetizers and seafood. They are very generous with their time with their son, and I am very grateful!

Christmas with my family and the following relaxing holiday – I love Christmas break so much. Other than having a Christmas blizzard, nothing remarkable happened, but the break was full of lovely, ordinary good times. We spent time with grandparents, watched movies, played lots of Settlers of Catan, lounged on the couch for many hours, stayed in pajamas until late in the afternoon, and watched my brother’s basketball game. I avoided thinking about school, read less than I had planned, and ate a lot of cookies.

New Year’s Eve concert. We rang in the New Year with a concert of Broadway hits and Rachmaninoff, then danced to swing music to ring in 2017. It was a celebratory start to the new year!

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Whew. It was a full month – and a full year! Here’s to good books, fun with loved ones, learning, growing, and a bright start to 2017.

As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Check out other What I’m Into posts here!

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Wait

Wait. verb. To continue in expectation; to be in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.

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For the past two weeks, I have been holly and jolly with the best of them. But today my holiday cheer is shaken.

I checked Facebook after work and stumbled upon grim updates from Aleppo. The news from CNN clarified the situation and the horror. Syria and its situation won’t leave my head.

I don’t understand.

I get to sit here, admiring my twinkling lights, chaperoning field trips to plays, and sending group texts between my siblings about Christmas gifts. On the other side of the world, people are running for their lives, ducking bombs, and sending tweets they believe may be their last.

I do a yoga video and feel the tension in my hips, simmer soup, hang laundry, and silently rage at God. Why is this happening? If he is God and he is love, what in the heck is he doing? Why is he allowing children to die, civilians to be used as human shields, and entire cities to be decimated?

This is one of those murky mysteries of faith I haven’t yet learned to navigate without stumbling. How does evil exist if God is all-powerful and good? Why does he allow atrocities to happen? Why do the intercessions of his faithful seem to fall on deaf ears?

I don’t have answers to those questions. Theology class notes and cliché Christian platitudes shrivel in the face of real humans flinching when bombs drop too close. I know we need to trust God. I know he redeems all things. I know he’s saved us from a fate worse than death. I know. But these questions, these Syrians’ faces, still throb in my heart. Those answers don’t seem like enough.

The contrast of Christmas cheer and utter tragedy seems sharpened tonight. Such quandaries feel wrong in this season. Or at least in the way our Western culture perceives it, with Santa and sleigh rides. Jingle bells aren’t mournful, no matter how you shake them.

But the more I ponder, the more I believe that Advent is exactly the season for asking why evil is in the world and what precisely God is doing about it. Advent is about waiting. In Advent, we wait for God to make himself known, for him to join us in the mess that is humanity.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel has been on repeat this evening as I muck around in questions. It’s long been one of my favorite Christmas carols, but it feels especially appropriate tonight. Israel is captive, waiting for release. They plead that God would ransom them from captivity. They beg that Emmanuel would free them from the depths of hell. They beg that their Lord would put death’s dark shadow to flight.

And, most miraculous of all, they try to rejoice while they wait. They believe that their Lord will be faithful. He will not abandon them. He will not ignore their groans of suffering. He will come.

I can only echo these sentiments tonight. Lord, bring release. Intercede. Free us. Come.

A weary world awaits you.

 

 

Goals: Christmas Edition

Goals. noun. The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

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It’s time for another round of seasonal goals! This practice feels especially important to me during Advent. The season blitzes by every year, and if I don’t prioritize the things I want to do, they easily get forgotten. (Besides, my obnoxious goal-oriented personality doesn’t turn off, even during the holidays.)

Here’s how I’m hoping to celebrate this month:

  1. Finish Christmas shopping by the first week in December. (Because I think/stress way too much about this until I just get it done.)
  2. Attend a holiday concert.
  3. Host (or co-host) a Christmas party.
  4. Drive around to admire holiday decorations.
  5. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life.
  6. Bake Christmas cookies.
  7. Read an Advent devotional.
  8. Write at least one holiday card to someone I value.
  9. Pay for the coffee or food of the person in line behind me.
  10. Bring cookies to my neighbors.
  11. Give a gift to someone in need.
  12. Reflect on 2016 and set priorities for the new year.

My calendar is already full for December, but we’ll see what happens!

Curious about my goals for this fall and whether I succeeded? Here’s the update as the season ends.

  1. Go for a drive to admire the leaves – I took the scenic route down a street with beautiful trees. Close enough for my purposes.
  2. Run outside at least once/week (until it gets too cold) – Meh. I did a few times! But I was not consistent.
  3. Go apple picking…twice!
  4. then make caramel apples or apple cake. I made apple cake AND apple pan dowdy.
  5. Go to a farmer’s market – Did you know there’s a farmer’s market next to the Guthrie? I went there. It was cold.
  6. Go to a football game – I didn’t pay any attention at UNW’s homecoming game…but I was there.
  7. Read outside – I specifically went outside one day so I could meet this goal. Done.
  8. Finish one embroidered quote – Didn’t even start.
  9. Watch a documentary – Hamilton’s America is spectacular.
  10. Get into a (very loose) blogging schedule – Yes! The schedule may fall apart in December, but I lasted through the fall.

8/10 – not too shabby!

What are your goals for this holiday season?

 

Linking up with Nicole at Writes Like a Girl!

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What I’m Into: Christmas Edition

Christmas. proper noun. The celebration of Christ’s birth; also a season of merry-making.

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Though I don’t normally share what I’m loving until the end of the month, these Christmas-y finds are too excellent not to share now, while holiday spirit is still high.

Reading

Isaiah 9:2-7, and the SheReadsTruth Advent devotionals that keep leading me back to it.

This post honestly, gently acknowledged the truth about when Christmas hits tender spots.

This article, which reminds me that, like Jesus himself, blessings come in unexpected packages.

 

Listening

Francesca Battistelli – You’re Here. The rest of her Christmas album is lovely, too.

Leona Lewis – One More Sleep

 

Loving

Upholding traditions, like watching Elf with my family and White Christmas with my sister.

Christmas decorations (even better because they were mostly free)! Related: my roommate deserves an award for her patience for my decorating philosophy, which is similar to Buddy the Elf’s.

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This AWESOME family dance video. I proposed that my family do one instead of a Christmas photo this year. My lame siblings were not on board.

ALL THE PLAID. Plaid scarves, how I love you.

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Handmade Christmas gifts. I will actually be sad when my gift prep is done, because crafting keeps me sane.

 

What’s making you merry this Christmas season?

Holes

Holes. noun. Empty spaces, where absence is felt.

Lee Morley via Flickr

Lee Morley via Flickr

Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes – in not enough help, in brokenness, mess.

– Anne Lamott

Every year, it bangs me over the head, how much I expect every moment of Advent to be glittery and Kodak-worthy. It never meets expectations.

Paper snowflakes and stockings hang from our walls, baby bulbs from our baby tree. The chalkboard whispers Christmas wishes. I wear all the plaid and play all the music. Presents are wrapped in kraft paper with care.

And underneath the twinkle lights, I’m still scared. I’m still lonely. I’m still broken.

I’m longing to know what my future holds when my concrete plans run out. The boy is too far away, and it looks like he will stay there for too long, and I’m too angsty about it. My control muscle keeps spasming, when the 7th graders won’t stop talking in class, and when the months ahead feel too uncertain, and when the student loan payments loom, and when I can’t patch my messes.

The world feels it too. Others have holes much deeper, more painful, than mine. While we light candles and hang ornaments, the hunger and abuse and terrorism and racism and violence remain. We flail in fear. We look for answers no one has. God’s people cry, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and there is silence.

It hurts.

This Advent, I pray that we would let it hurt. This season centers on the longing of a world not yet perfect. We are watching and waiting for the Lord, praying for his presence as we see our need. We will still have fear and loneliness and brokenness. But this Christmas, I pray those things won’t lead us to solitary panic, or desperation for Christmas Eve engagements, or cynicism.

Instead, in those holes of hurt and longing, may we seek the quiet presence of God with us.

When we can’t be merry because life is hard, may we admit it, and hear the holy words “Me, too.” When we struggle, wondering when the Prince of Peace will reign, may we pay attention for his presence. When we hurt, may we search for the Healer and Counselor, holding fast to the promise that Emmanuel shall come. May his presence, his holiness, his promises, fill the holes in our broken souls and our broken world.

Nativity

Nativity. noun. According to Google, “The occasion of a person’s birth.”

 

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What were you thinking, in your last moments in heaven?

You must have known what was about to happen. You settled in the womb of a human girl. You, who created oceans and redwood forests, were no bigger than a speck of sawdust. As you grew, you made your mother’s ankles swell and back ache, right up until your birth. And that was no party either.

We make that story sound so rustic and sweet. At the nativity scene, the hay is fragrant, the sheep nuzzle you gently, the stars twinkle like Christmas lights. Your adoring audience enter the scene softly and kneel, glowing in your radiance. It’s like a lovely, pastoral barn baby shower. The country charm of your birth would have been splashed all over Pinterest and sparked the latest trend in midwifery.

But let’s get real. In modern terms, your birth would have raised eyebrows among the proper set. According to the retelling of the nativity my pastor shared last week, your momma might have been a young Latina who rode with her flannel-wearing fiancé on a motorcycle to Bethlehem. There was no room for them in janky motel rooms, so you were born in a parking garage. Sketchy-looking homeless men left their garbage can fires and bowed before you while Joseph warily looked on.

This whole story is ridiculous.

The lips that breathed world-forming words cannot speak. The eyes that saw the creation of seas and sky cannot see past a mother’s face. And if that’s not crazy enough, your first moments as a human were uncomfortable, unsanitary, and unpleasant. You deserved the best our weary world could offer: expert birth coaches, plush blankets, a cushioned cradle. And instead you got a frantic father, scratchy straw, and a feed trough laced with cow spit.

This real, gritty nativity chafes against my comfortable, middle-class ideas about Christmas. I’d prefer ornaments preserving Baby’s First Christmas, 0 A.D., and flannel onesies. The innkeeper could have at least strung up some mood lighting. There is no sparkle, no glamour, no grandeur to this story.

The rest of your life was just as messy. You were a refugee, got acne, felt sawdust stick in your eyes, befriended a guy named Judas, died cruelly. You felt the same hunger and disappointment and loneliness and pain we all do.

As you looked from heaven, the last glimpses from omniscience, you saw all of this, the limiting bonds of human form you would strap yourself in.

Why did you do it?

My Sunday School coaching makes me think I know the answer. I nod and say that you loved us, you wanted to be with us, you wanted to say “I understand,” because you would and do.

But those answers still ring hollow when faced with the reality of the Lord of the universe crying between cows. The mystery of Emmanuel, God with us, is one I cannot solve. I can rattle off verses about your love and say that I’ve felt it. But I cannot comprehend what wild, tender, ferocious love would look down at the mess of humanity and willingly dive in.

Today, we are still a mess. Like ancient Israel, we wait for whispers of hope, that you have not forsaken us. The news blazes with gunshot wounds and angry protests and hungry children and raging militants. My own life, though small and simple, shouts in need of salvation. My soul longs for fulfillment, craving peace and stability and quiet reassurance that hope can break through darkness.

You do not back down, glance away from humanity’s clamoring, writhing under sin. Two thousand years ago, you slipped straight into the muck. You did not shy away from stink and germs and temptation and betrayal. Neither do you shy away from the mess of our world and my life. You promise that you are still here today, remaining God with us.

Sometimes it’s hard to see you. Had I been in Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve, I doubt I would have ventured to the stable to visit. I would have covered my ears to the pounding at the door, blamed the flashing lights on obnoxious drunken travelers, and curled deeper in my blankets. I would have hugged my mirage of security and peace tight, unaware that the source of true Peace was lying helpless among animals. Today, I need to see you, to unwrap the real nativity from its glittery trappings that hint at magic but never fulfill.

As Christmas draws near, help me see you in the midst of the mess. Teach me to marvel at the mystery of God with us. Draw me to you, the sacrificial baby borne from heaven to the dirt and pain of real life. Help me accept your gift of incomprehensible, earth-shaking love.

Cheer

Cheer. noun. According to Dictionary.com, “something that gives joy or gladness; encouragement; comfort.”

What finals and Christmas feel like together, as told by small children. Image via Pinterest

What finals and Christmas feel like together, as told by small children.
Image via Pinterest

Who decided that the Christmas season and the finals season should coincide? Scrooge, probably. Looming homework ruins my Christmas cheer. ‘Tis the season for sleigh bells and apathy. (Also for illness. I’ve caught a cold, and the pile of tissues growing on the floor beside me does not increase my motivation for the whole classes and assignments and being productive thing.)

On the topic of homework and not being productive, here is a non-comprehensive list of things I would rather be doing than tackling assignments:

  • Decorating cookies to look like elves and stars and angels
  • Taking a sleigh ride
  • Building a snowman and making it come to life so it can crack jokes like Olaf
  • Vacuuming (but doing dishes goes too far…)
  • Posting this list of my favorite holiday things so you, too, may be distracted. And so that your Christmas cheer may increase, obviously.

Enjoy, fellow procrastinators.

These dubstepping dads in Christmas sweaters

This rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside

This candy, which tops the list of treats I want to make when I finally get home for the holidays.

This pin

This shirt, which I want to wear every day until Christmas

The cool rhythms of this song

This post for when holidays are hard

This haunting version of Mary, Did You Know (You’ve probably already seen it, but it’s worth watching again).

(And everything by Pentatonix, ever.)

May we be filled with good cheer this week. Or at least finals survival instincts.

Celebrate

Celebrate. According to Dictionary.com, to observe or commemorate with festivities.

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Image via Pinterest

This Christmas was a good one.

We went to the Christmas Eve service and drank in violin-laced music and candlelight. We ate soup and played late-night Hand and Foot. We slept late and ate caramel apple bread pudding. We lounged around and snapped photos in the snow. We cooked a collaborative feast and were lazy some more. It was quiet and sweet and lovely as Christmas should be. And, as always, I was a little sad to see it end.

I legitimately would love to celebrate the old-fashioned twelve days of Christmas.

It would give me an excuse to listen to Swingin’ Christmas a dozen more times.

It would also make Christmas Day seem like the beginning, rather than the day on which the whole season of twinkly lights and jingle bells comes grinding to a halt.

And really, isn’t that the way it should be?

Christ has come.

Immanuel is here.

God is with us.

Now the party can get started.

The truth of Immanuel, the miracle of God incarnate, is hitting me hard this year. Jesus is so often seems fictionalized, a tale revisited every year with Frosty and Santa, a symbol sectioned off in stained glass windows, a game-changing character in a holy book. I forget that he was also a real, actual guy.

He was born. He felt the scratch of the straw, watched smelly, rough shepherds jostle around him. He grew up. He smelled the salty tang of fish filling nets, heard the crowds murmur in confounded amazement at his words. He died. He flinched at the stab of the nail, sagged under the overbearing agony of crucifixion and sin.

Then he rose.

And even now, he is still Immanuel, God with us. He whispers I am here in the terrifying and jubilant and incredibly ordinary moments of my life.

And it’s all started by one messy birth and one holy night.

Christmas is just the beginning. Advent should be nothing compared to what comes after Christmas Day. There’s a whole lot more to celebrate, even after the tree sheds its needles and the twinkly lights come down.

Or we could just leave the Christmas trappings up. I still like the twelve days of Christmas idea.

Christ has come.

Immanuel is here.

God is with us.

Now let’s get this party started.

Jingle

Jingle. According to me, the sound of sleigh bells. Also another word for songs, particularly catchy, infectious ones.

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Image via Pinterest

Christmas would be so much more festive if it did not coincide with the end of the semester.

This week where “It’s final week” becomes a legitimate excuse for everything.

Even though my finals week is not that crazy.

Maybe especially because my finals week is not that crazy. Meaning I have slightly less panic and slightly more free time.

I watch New Girl. (Don’t judge my guilty pleasure TV. I know it’s a little crass and a little racy and it would be embarrassing to watch some episodes with my parents. I know. But it’s Zooey Deschanel. Really.)

I start Where’d You Go, Bernadette and devour the wacked cast of characters and slight ridiculousness of vacations to Antarctica and mudslides. (The devouring is also because the book doesn’t have chapters, just snippets of communication between characters with a little first-person narration by a brilliant eighth grader. It’s impossible to put down. You just think, “Oh, one more email between Audrey and Soo-Lin,” and then you read for another 20 pages.)

I eat a lot of carbs. (Partly to get rid of all of the perishable foods left in my room before leaving for break, partly because cold weather means no outside runs and the camouflage of cozy layers, partly because I’ve got great plans for the New Year’s workouts that can wait until I have a consistent schedule and little more motivation.)

There’s a whole lot of procrastination going on. Any homework doing currently involves bribery of chocolate, a few (ahem. 20.) pages of my latest read, or some really great music. And since it’s December, that music is quite festive.

I have wholeheartedly embraced Christmas jingles, filling my headphones with snow and silent nights. I’ve been secretly sneaking these songs since it got frosty in November, but now I play them with abandon. It’s my one way to spread Christmas cheer.

I have quite the collection on iTunes, everything from the 40s-era 2-disk collection Christmas with the Stars to the punny Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer from my adolescent favorite Relient K. And then there’s the magic of Pandora and Spotify.

Out of this vast array, here are some of my favorites.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Mmm. This is maybe my favorite Christmas song. Maybe. See the previous post for proof. Check out the version by Jars of Clay (and their entire Christmas CD as well, especially if you need some songs that sound a little less glittery than typical holiday fare).

Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant

A beautiful reflection from Mary’s perspective. In my mind, the prayerful melody makes this song worth playing far past December. And Amy Grant is like the queen of Christmas music.

All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey

I don’t actually understand why I like this song. But I do. I belt it whenever it comes on in the car, and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit it.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas by Michael Buble

This man makes me swoon. Those deep notes at the beginning? Melting.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Our desperate need for a savior whispered through a simple, haunting tune. There are so many good versions. The violin-driven classic by Selah has striking harmonies, the Civil Wars version is perfectly melancholy, the one by David Crowder Band is exactly the yearning guitar-y greatness you would expect from the David Crowder Band.

Marshmallow World

Because it’s cute and makes winter actually sound fun. When the day’s high temp is 4 °F, I need that. Even if I later walk outside, roll my eyes at the arctic weather being “a time for play,” and get snarky to anyone who claims to wait for winter “the whole year round.”

If you think this is a complete list, you underestimate my deep adoration of Christmas tunes. If you tell me about songs that I should add, I will love you forever. (Or at least until December is done and my homework motivation has returned.)

Peace

Peace. Noun. According to Dictionary.com, “Cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.” Also the lyric to many a Christmas song.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

It’s an old story, this telling of peace and love that rests over the world at Christmas. We’ve been singing it since the shepherds and angels on the first Noel, back when no one knew the words to Silent Night, the magic of Santa, the stunning, salvation-bringing life the tiny baby would live. And it’s a mind-blowing one. The God of the universe becomes a baby squalling in the Bethlehem night because he loves us so dang much. Wild and sweet, indeed. But after countless repetitions, the story is memorized, the miracle plasticized in nativity sets and masked in sparkly marketing. It’s hard to think of the manger, where God begins to dwell with us, with reverence and awe when the story is familiar and swept over by festivities and finals.

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.”

This doubting, restless heart so easily forgets the assurance of God with us. It’s ironic that this week, the crackdown before finals, is the week of peace in the Advent calendar. This is the week that sees me frantic and worried, my brow furrowed and my mind churning over the party I have yet to plan and the paper I have yet to write. I can count on one hand the assignments I have left to turn in, but my focus is crawling, my textbooks weightier than usual. Weariness sweeps over everything. I feel alone in weakness, in worry.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

But. Peace is not peppermint-spiced. It’s not found in jingle bells and twinkly lights. It’s not warm fuzzies at orchestra-swelling praise songs. It’s not even watery eyes at sweet, sentimental Christmas messages.

Peace, real peace, is knowing that the King is here, that Jesus promises to take carry my worry, that God is good even when sleep is lacking and motivation is missing. Peace is knowing that ultimately God and good win. Even in darkness more consuming than December night, God is still at work and has sent his Light to shatter the black.

Right now, I’m not feeling an abundance of peace. I am ignoring the textbooks sprawled next to me and yearning to be done. My efforts to find peace involve stress eating and Pinterest perusing. Wrong failing and right prevailing are not the first topics on my mind.

And that’s okay. God can take it. He doesn’t need my triumphant joy, my Christmas cheer, my attempts to manufacture some candlelight stillness in my soul. His peace is not dependent on my emotional stability. He has faced problems so much bigger than my end-of-semester doldrums, and his offer of peace still lingers, wrapped in grace and love.

Maybe, even right now in this season of the semester, I’ll be brave enough to believe and accept it.
Till, 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!