Friday, December 30, 2011

Seeing With an Open Heart

I Heart Christmas Lights Sometimes we become too pragmatic. In the deep desire to be frugal, sometimes pennywise becomes pound-foolish.

The lists, cleaning plans, and disciplined ways of life push into the space needed for joy and wonder. There are days so busy with errand running and house projects that the notion of daydreaming seems foreign.

All of these good things will keep me from the very best thing if I'm not careful. Despite the models we see of people crowding new and amazing projects into every single possible moment, there is nothing wrong with the quiet moments.

The moments with my heart open to Him and only Him. The moments that teach me, that show me the why for all the other things I do. And most importantly, these are the moments that help me to keep my heart open to His leading as I take on the projects that form the rest of my day. And I wonder where keeping my heart open will take me next year....

This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Midweek Links - Kicking the Sugar High

I ate all kinds of wonderful things this Christmas. Most of them were either sweet or fat-filled, or both. So, I've been rummaging through my cookbooks and hunting around the internet for some healthier treats to eat this week as I come down from what feels like a month-long sugar high.

This chef salad from Vignettes looks delicious. I love the way she displays it because this would make for a perfect serving dish for New Year's guests.

This low-fat chili from Comfy in the Kitchen has made more than 1 appearance in my kitchen already. It's delicious - and that goes a long way considering what some of the low-fat alternatives I've eaten taste like.

My sweet tooth is not entirely gone, but I have been trying to find more recipes that use honey as a sweetener or that use less refined white sugar in them. This honey-sweetened Meyer Lemon Curd from The Nourishing Gourmet is going on my to-do list. Our grocery has Meyer lemons out now, and I've been curious to try doing something with them.

And if you didn't get enough poultry for Christmas, this Honey-Mustard chicken from Growing Home looks like it will be all kinds of yummy. I'll be trying this one out later on this week!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chile Relleno Bake

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. We had a wonderful time of worship, time with family and some really good food. I'm still trying to think my way through it all. In the meantime, here is a really yummy recipe that is probably different than most people's Christmas dinners.

I love chiles relleno, but they can be a little fussy to make. Someone suggested chile relleno bake to me as an easy workaround, and so I went googling. There are recipes aplenty and they use all kinds of ingredients to come up with everything from peppery quiches to what looked like spicy bicuits of some sort. Most used whole canned chile peppers, but I ditched that right off the bat in favor of the pre-chopped. If I'm going to simplify a dish, I'm going wholeheartedly into it!

The recipe below uses the pre-chopped chili peppers along with my favorite cooking techniques mined from various entries on all kinds of different recipe sites (, epicurious, etc...) We loved it here at home, and I hope you do, too!

Chile Relleno Bake

1/2 lb. hamburger
1/2 lb. pork sausage (I used maple bulk sausage from my local butcher)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 (4 oz.) cans chopped green chile peppers (I used mild, but if you feel adventurous, go for jalapeno!)
2 cups shredded cheddar
4 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
tabasco sauce to taste

1. Brown beef and sausage. Add onion and garlic, cooking until transparent.
2. If pan too oily, drain.
3. Line grased 9 X9 baking dish with one can drained chile peppers, and top with 1 1/2 cups cheese.
4. Add meat mixture, then top with remaining can of drained chile peppers.
5. Beat eggs and flour until smooth, add milk, salt and tabasco. Blend well and pour over casserole.
6. Bake 60 minutes at 350 uncovered. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese. For best results,let dish stand 3-5 minutes before serving.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joy to the World!

When I was trying to decide what song to use for the ending of my Songs of Advent series, this one came to mind immediately. Joy to the World - the Lord is come indeed!

Wishing you and your families a very merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

O Little Town of Bethlehem

On the night before Christmas, my anticipation tends to sharpen. I can't help but focus my thoughts on the quiet hush of a 1st century town, sleeping away the night, not knowing what will come into their world. And I think of a whole world, about to be changed as its King is born. This song captures that feeling for me, and I love this classic version by Nat King Cole.

Friday, December 23, 2011

TWO Songs of Advent Tonight!

I was in such a hurry yesterday that I forgot to set yesterday's entry to post, so I'm just going to share that song and today's song all in one post. As Christmas Day grows closer, I've been thinking of the actual scene, imagining what Christ's birth must have been like for that family huddled in the stable, for the shepherds having their night illuminated by choirs of angels, and for those men from the East who made a long journey just to worship the baby Christ. Whenever I think of that "multitude of the heavenly host praising God" in Luke 2:13, I picture a vast choir singing amazingly beautiful songs. Our closest approximation here on earth is probably that of human choirs singing some of these beautiful Christmas carols. That's why I just had to find a version of "Angels We Have Heard on High" being sung by a choir. Here's one from the Las Vegas Master Singers, accompanied by the Las Vegas Philharmonic:

I've also enjoyed several of the Christmas songs put together by Chicago Metro Presbytery(PCA) and Paul van der Bijl, and "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem" is another song that I just had to share. It's very different in tone from the first song, but also beautiful. I love how the lyrics start with the image of Christ's birth and follow through to what it all really meant. And the music in this version is really gorgeous, too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Child is This?

I still remember the first time I heard this song. Played on a flute, the high, clear melody haunted me. Even in a more complicated arrangement, the melody of the song has a straight and simple quality that fits the story it tells. A baby, lying in His mother's arms in a common stable, is adored by shepherds and heralded by angels. This quiet little scene is the birth of our King, and we must "haste to bring him laud." After all, as the song promises, He has brought salvation and this day is for us to be reminded to "let loving hearts enthrone Him."

It's a beautiful message, told simply and clearly. I couldn't find a good flute version that wasn't simply an instrumental, but I like this version by Mercy Me, too.

Pace Yourself!

Life is messy. Our days are filled with all kinds of good and not-so-good things to attend to, and it doesn’t all fit into neat, organized little squares (or at least MY life sure doesn’t!). Sometimes things work out, but it will never be perfect so long as we live in this fallen world.

And sometimes, in this less than perfect world, I find myself feeling very burned out. I suspect that you do, too. This time of year can be a major burnout season if we’re not careful. There’s always one more social event, one more gift to buy, one more moment I want to snatch to meditate on what this beautiful Christmas time of year really means – and that’s in addition to all the usual bits and pieces that make up this beautiful mess we call life....

Do you want to know more about pacing yourself during the holidays? You can find the rest of this story HERE at Desiring Virtue.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Many Kings

And I'm continuing my eclectic collection of Songs of Advent today by going from yesterday's beautiful, classical rendition of an old carol to another song, also beautiful, but more contemporary in sound.

In this song, Downhere looks at the miracles of Advent through the eyes of the wise men. And it makes sense. After all, these men travelled a long, dangerous journey so that they could adore this tiny child in whose power to save they believed. The greatness of God taking on the form of one of the least of us so that we might be saved. This truth has an amazing quality, doesn't it? And just as this wonderful miracle provoked the wise men to give the best and most fitting gifts that they could give to Him, so too should we be moved to give Him all that we have and all that we are.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Once in Royal David's City

As we draw closer to Christmas Day, I find myself thinking more and more on the amazing nature of Christ's birth. God took on human form and lived not an exalted life, but a very humble one. Born in "a lowly cattle shed" and raised far from the elite of his day, Christ walked this earth in human form not on a lark, but for our sakes so that we might be saved.

That's one reason why I have always loved this carol. The simple melody is haunting, and the words capture something of the humble circumstances in which the greatest miracle in the world was set in motion. This version is sung by the boy choir, Libera, and soloist Aled Jones.

Book Review: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

The book: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Nancy Guthrie (ed.)
Crossway, $12.99(2008)

Christmas is almost upon us, but it's not too late to savor an Advent anthology full of good teaching. This book, which also came recommended by Becky Pliego, is very short, but each chapter comes filled with great insights and reminders about this very special time of year. The sources range from theologians of old such as St. Augustine and John Calvin to modern-day pastors and scholars such as J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and J. Ligon Duncan, III.

This book contains 22 fairly brief readings, and they're the perfect length for truly savoring words and thinking about different aspects of the Advent story. I really liked how Guthrie arranged the book. We begin with a piece by George Whitefield contemplating the meaning of Christmas, and then other authors take us piece by piece through the different elements of the season as we learn about Mary, the shepherds, the meaning of the wise men's story, and so on. It all finally ends with a piece by Joni Eeareckson Tada which once again contemplates Christmas as a whole, but rather than looking forward to Christmas Day, her writing points the reader to Christ coming again as she proclaims,"Christmas is an invitation to a celebration yet to happen."

Not only does this book make one think on Christmas as we savor the words of some excellent teachers, but it also helps to center one. There are so many reminders of why Christmas is truly important throughout these texts, and that made reading this book such a delight. If you're looking for some meaningful reading this Advent, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus is another book I highly recommend.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

God is With Us

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
-Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel (or Emmanuel, as some translations spell it). It means "God is with us." And indeed, that is one of the most beautiful truths of Advent. God sent in motion the many miracles that bring us to the events of Christmas in order to send Jesus Christ, who would indeed be with us. Manger, shepherds, stars and carols are all beautiful but the heart of all this amazing mystery is that God is indeed with us and by His grace, we will one day go to that place He has prepared for us.

I love how this Sojourn song mixes the name "Immanuel" with its meaning of "God is With Us," and celebrates that simple and yet utterly mindblowing truth.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Strange Way to Save the World

I've posted songs earlier in this series looking at the birth of Christ through Mary's eyes. This is one of the few songs I've heard that puts us in Joseph's shoes. How odd it must have seemed to him, to live a simple life and have that life changed completely by a pregnant virgin bride and a messiah coming into the world not with pomp and circumstance, but in the most humble of circumstances! Standing in that stable, looking at a fragile newborn baby lying in a manger surrounded by animals, God's plan for saving the world must have looked quite unlike anything Joseph would ever have imagined. And yet he and Mary trusted in God and this "strange way to save the world" really did come to pass.

"Quiet", "awe-inspiring", and "beautiful" are all words and phrases I hear used to describe the miracle of Christmas and they are apt. However, "strange" is another word that fits for when you really think about it, what God brought to Earth that night in Bethlehem really is strange and miraculous and there is nothing else like it in history. This version of the song is performed by 4Him and I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dream Isaiah Saw

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.

- Isaiah 11:6
I will freely admit to my love for old hymns and classical church music. I like some more modern songs as well, but at Christmas I especially have a soft spot for the classics. However, I heard a new piece at a Christmas concert that really captured my attention with its pretty melody and references to the prophecy found in Isaiah 11.

"The Dream Isaiah Saw" was written in the aftermath of 9/11, and it's a beautiful reminder of what we are promised in the coming of Christ. I couldn't find too many versions of this online, but here is a nice one from the choir at Alma College in Michigan.

My Lifeline

El Dia des Muertos - Riviera Maya 1 Nov 2011 Connected. That's what I feel here on this earth. Some days I feel it and see it more clearly than others, and I know that this is not my home. Deep down in my soul, I know that I am connected to the place my Father has prepared for me and I just hope that here on earth I can live in such a way that people will see the One I am connected to.

At times I worry about maintaining that connection. I delude myself into thinking that it's mine to take care of and I take responsibility all onto myself. And that's when I start to realize the truth. My connection to God is a gift and it comes from Him. The Holy Spirit in my life reminding me Who I belong to and what He has promised to His children. That Love that will not let me go, no matter how much I rebel. That One who has admonished, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And somehow being tied to Someone so much greater than my sinful self makes the collection of things I do from day to day take on meaning because now I'm not the only one I'm living for.
This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

I've often heard people speak of the awesome nature of the Christmas miracle, and devotionals abound on the "quiet hush" of Advent season as we turn our hearts to God, waiting and yearning. And when I think of that more contemplative side of Advent, the song that captures it for me is not surprisingly a medieval carol.

Deceptively simple, these medieval songs contain a depth of meaning in their lyrics and the simple tone of the melody blend into something resonant and rich. The first time I heard a choir sing this piece, it just blew me away. I've heard a few modern versions that were a tad overdone, but this performance by Nathan Clark George shows off the stark beauty of the song.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Silent Night

Silent Night is such as simple carol. Originally composed in German, the song was designed to be accompanied by a guitar because the church for which it was written had mice destroy their organ and it would not be repaired in time for the Christmas services. And from what must have been a very simple service came a song that spread round the world. It's my mother's favorite carol and her birthday is in a couple of days, so I'm posting this one for her. Happy birthday, Mom!

Midweek Links - More Advent

This post, from a series over at Simply Striving, challenged me. What does it mean to truly behold Jesus? I had to stop and think about that for a little while, and to wonder whether I really do behold Him often enough.

This piece from Everyday Ordinary Dawnings is a wonderful read, too. The author shares her own memories of giving birth near Christmas and how that made her think differently of the birth of Jesus.

Have any of you wrestled with how to bring true meaning into your Christmas traditions? That has been a challenge for me this year. I loved this idea from Desiring Virtue about how to create a more meaningful kind of Christmas tree.

In my Christmas preparations, I've been trying to keep things simple and Christ-focused, but I find that engaging all of the senses makes for a deeper experience. And this Christmas potpourri sounds like a gorgeous way to make the whole house smell like Christmas.

And if you're looking for more inspiration and ideas for your Christmas traditions and decorating, I loved this collection of ideas over at A Wise Woman Builds Her Home. She has a link in the post to her Pinterest board, which has even more ideas. I really want to make some of those Linzer cookies, and I like the idea of displaying seasonal Bible verse plaques.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Dulci Jubilo

Something about Advent has really caused me to pause and think this season. However, tonight I was just craving something fun and joyful. Perhaps it's that my grandmother's death hit me extra hard tonight, but whatever the reason, I didn't feel the need to ponder tonight. Christ is come, and I simply wanted to celebrate. And every time I hear this version of the carol by Mannheim Steamroller, it makes me want to dance and praise Him.

Simple Stovetop Chili

Cold weather has finally come to Virginia. And with it comes the urge to break out the chili and stew recipes. I will occasionally go all out and make more elaborate chili, but this recipe is good when I just want something simple that I can put together and leave to simmer. It's adapted from my mom's chili, except that I don't use beans.

Simple Stovetop Chili

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced
2-3 T. olive oil
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 T. chili powder (I prefer Penzey's salt-free)
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1-2 tsp. molasses
1/4-1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 T. chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1 cup water

1. Saute garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or large pan until onion softens(about 3 or 4 min.) Then stir in ground beef and brown it.

2. Add remaining ingredients, except fresh parsley, and stir together.

3. Cook for two hours, covered, over low heat. Stir periodically, and add water if needed.

4. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, you can add fresh parsley if desired and adjust the seasonings.

5. Serve with fresh onions, chopped tomato, grated cheese, sour cream or whatever other toppings strike your fancy.

NOTE: I make this chili mild and then pass Tabasco sauce at the table for those who like it spicy. Also, while I know chili purists would scold me, I like my chili over rice as you can tell from the photo.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

One thing that choosing music for my Songs of Advent series has done is to cause me to look more closely at the lyrics of some of the songs I find so beautiful. This medieval German carol brims over with references that tie the Old and New Testaments together. When reading about the genealogies of Christ, I immediately thought of this song because of the line, "Of Jesse's lineage coming." The lyrics also reference the prophecy of Christ's coming found in Isaiah, as well as elements of the Christmas story such as the virgin birth.

I've heard various arrangements of this song, but I think John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers do a simple and very pretty version. The person posting the video on YouTube has disabled embedding, but you can find the video HERE.

Book Review: The Christ of Christmas

Book: The Christ of Christmas by James Montgomery Boice
P&R Publishing, $11.99 (2009 reissue of 1983 book)
I'll admit that I found the beginning of the Advent season a little bit frustrating from a spiritual standpoint. The Christmas story is more than just a story, and I've tried for the past few years to find really good resources that celebrate this miracle, and proclaims its significance in a meaningful way. When I look in local bookstores, even Christian bookstores, most of what I find have been children's picture books, holiday romance novels and books that give only a very surface "Christmas is a time for family warmth" analysis of the season. I was starting to think that perhaps what I was looking for wasn't there at all.

Then I found a wonderful post of Advent resources by Becky Pliego over
at Desiring Virtue. This led me to order The Christ of Christmas, and it's a rewarding read that I cannot recommend highly enough for this season!

This little book contains several Christmas messages by the late James Montgomery Boice of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He covers many different aspects of the Christmas narratives from why belief in the virgin birth is critical to the first Christmas itself to the importance of Scriptural references detailing how others such as Simeon responded to Christ's birth, and what they mean for believers today.

Boice manages the difficult feat of combining very logical explanations of Biblical text with expressions of the absolute wonder that this season brings. As I read through the messages, I learned a lot not just about the various parts of the Advent and Christmas stories, but about interpreting Scripture in general. For example, in "The Genealogies", Boice discusses the apparent contradictions in Luke and Matthew's genealogies of Christ and explains how best to read these texts alongside one another. This advice not only makes those particular texts come alive for me in a new way, but also has practical interpretations for other portions of the Bible that I may study.

Boice's thorough and reverent approach to Scripture also shines through when he speaks of Christ's birth and of who Jesus really is. Whenever an author makes claims about Jesus, I look to see upon what that author bases his claims. In Mr. Boice's case, the things he tells us of Jesus Christ come directly from Scripture. He states his conclusions clearly and logically, and essentially tells us that we should believe a particular thing about Jesus because we see these exact things said of Christ in the Bible. Boice is able to take the accounts of the gospels and explain to readers how they work together to show us who this new baby Jesus really was and why even the small details of the Christmas story are important.

However, Boice's messages are not only deeply learned, but his own personal wonder over who Christ is and what great things this Christmas season means comes through in every chapter. Not only did I learn a lot about Scripture and about our Christ of Christmas, but the author's contagious joy shows through on the pages and makes reading this book a delight. If you are looking for something thoughtful to read this Advent season, this is definitely a book to consider.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Creator of the Stars of Night

The old, traditional hymns of Advent are so beautiful in their own right. However, I also love seeing musicians breathing new life into these songs that have been handed down across the ages. "Creator of the Stars of Night" is a beautiful hymn that started life as "Conditor alme siderum" in the 7th century before being translated into English and it is still sung today in many churches. This modern version, performed by Alex Mejias and the High Street Hymns ministry, really touched me because something about Mejia's arrangement make this plea for the Savior to, "Come, oh come, to us," feel so very personal.

And when I saw that High Street Hymns is based in Charlottesville, Virginia, I had to smile. I grew up not too far from C-ville and I went to college there, so some of the greatest spiritual growth in my life took place in that part of the world.

More From Handel's Messiah

Last night I had a chance to go see a live performance of Handel's Messiah at the Carpenter Center in Richmond. It was a wonderful, wonderful evening. If you have a chance to see this beautiful work performed in person, I highly recommend it.

Since I was away last night and didn't decide until after the show which portion of Messiah I wanted to post, I'm posting Saturday's song a little bit late. However, this portion of the oratorio ("Behold, a virgin shall conceive..") is so beautiful that I think it's worth the wait. The performance is by the King's College Choir of Cambridge, with soloist Alice Coote.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rejoice, Rejoice Believers!

Earlier this month, I wrote of how Advent not only commemorated Christ's first coming, but pointed my mind forward to that second coming we all await.

For that reason, the parable of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25 comes to my mind when I think of Advent. Not only do we anticipate remembrance of the birth of Christ, but this time serves for me as reminder that we must also be ready for Christ's return. The traditional Advent hymn, "Rejoice, Rejoice Believers!" appeals to me because its lyrics reference not only the birth of Christ but also those watching for their bridegroom to appear.

The traditional renderings of this hymn are beautiful. However, this modern version put together by Paul van der Bijl and the Chicago Metro Presbytery(PCA) really struck me. I really like the musical style used here much more than I expected, and the alleluia of this song will sound in my mind for a long, long time.

Bringing Color

a christmas adventure in 124 syllables The thought of Jesus coming into the world makes it seem to jump alive into brilliant color. Perhaps that's why, when I think of Christmas, I anticipate vermillion, kelly green, brilliant gold.

When speaking to a friend recently, she described her brother(an agnostic)'s view of life. The only purposes to it were earthly, and the idea of anything being eternal simply didn't fit. Everything revolved around personal comfort and perhaps trying not to be a jerk, but since he didn't see anything beyond earth, what happened after he died didn't much matter to him. The more I thought about it, the emptier it seemed to me. If all we do on earth is all we ever know, life seems muted somehow. Without God none of this world would have a purpose and that just makes everything I do fade to gray as it means nothing.

Then I think upon God and His many promises to us, and that is what brings so much of this world alive. Ideas such as building a warm haven of a home, working to better the lives of the poor, spreading the gospel, raising children to love and seek the Lord - these all have an eternal purpose. Having a purpose and having a savior is what brings rich, vibrant color into life. And when I think on Christmas, I think on the Savior whose birth started Him on the road to bring salvation and the truest life of all.

This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mary, Did You Know?

Since I've already uploaded a couple of songs that speak of Advent from Mary's point of view, I decided that I couldn't leave this one out. In addition to being musically beautiful, the lyrics of this song pack such a powerful punch. The song proclaims that, "the child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you," and a shiver goes down my spine. And when the song reaches a crescendo with the line, "This sleeping child you're holding is the great I Am," I just marvel at this great miracle. Unlike many Christmas carols, the lyrics of this one take us from Jesus as a baby in a manger all the way to his death upon the cross. And that makes it all the more powerful.

There are many, many great versions of this song out there, so I had a hard time deciding which one to use. This Kathy Mattea peformance from the 1990s is classic and I think she sings it beautifully. Embedding of the video has been disabled, so you'll have to click through the link to get to it. It's well worth a listen, though.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Breath of Heaven

As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes I find myself imagining what Mary must have thought upon learning she was chosen by God to bear the Messiah and while she was pregnant. The very thought of being in her shoes is beautiful, terrifying and challenging all at once. After all, there is the amazing wonder of the miracle itself. And then the frightening thought of actually being pregnant with this miraculous child of GOd - not to mention the fear Mary must have had about the world around her. Mary lived in a small village and being a pregnant virgin would not be an easy thing to explain. And even when one gets past those thoughts, what about after Jesus is born? How in the world does an imperfect person parent God?

Mary had a lot to think about And yet the Bible tells us that she was faithful and submitted to God. This song, sung by Amy Grant, captures that aspect of Mary very well and it's such a moving song.

Midweek Links - Advent

IN addition to being a festive season, Advent is also a season of waiting and contemplation for many of us. I've been posting Songs of Advent here on the blog, and I've also really enjoyed some of the heartfelt Advent posts that I've been reading around the web. So much so, that I think it's going to take two weeks of Midweek Links to get them to you!

My cousin's children are just getting to the age where they are conscious of this season and she want to teach them about Advent. I love this idea from Melissa Nesdahl about mixing fun treats with scriptural lessons. It seems like the sort of idea that helps children not only learn what Advent is really all about but also to share in its joy.

Speaking of teaching children about Advent and about Christ, I really liked this piece on (in)courage encouraging parents to bring even their very young children into the celebration. We tend to talk about (and blog about) the many layers of meaning in Christmas, but this idea brings things down to the level of a small child so that they can become part of it early, and I plan to do this for my little cousins who spend time in my house.

A bit less child-centered but still very practical was this article by Glynis Whitwer over on At the Well. She talks about crafting traditions as lives change - whether by marriage, the addition of children, the death of a loved one, etc... Her reminder that God brings new things into our lives and that we need to work with what we have is a good one.

On a more serious note, Becky Pliego has been presenting a series in honor of Advent which focuses upon the many names of Jesus. It's called Proclaiming the Excellencies of His Name, and you can find the opening entry here. She and other writers move through various names of Jesus(Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, etc..) while sharing prayers, meditations and poetry for a reading experience that is very meaningful this time of year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


When I was old enough to start really thinking about the story of Mary's visit with the angel, the many emotions behind the story started to creep into my mind. I imagined what it must have been like to be a young girl, probably a teenger, and to be told that I was going to somehow get pregnant with son who would be the Son of God.

What would my reaction be? Fear? Denial? Shock too deep for words?

But not Mary - Mary responded with a deep faith and simply said, " it unto me according to thy word."(from Luke 1:38)

And the immortal words of her exaltation later on in Luke 1 are just beautiful, which is one reason why I chose to play Keith and Kristyn Getty's Magnificat tonight.

The Heart of the Home

Advent and Christmas have a warm coziness about them. Our traditions invite hospitality as well as quiet contemplation of all that the birth of Christ has meant. We can admire the warm and fuzzy decorations of the season or dig deeper, draw closer to God as we search Scripture and pray over the many miraculous aspects of this season.

As a keeper of the home, this season is taking on something new and very special to me as I focus on my homemaking. In working through my daily tasks, they are inbued with new significance. We decorate our home, bake sweet treats for guests, and reach out to others. I'm not really inclined to find my fulfillment in red and green knickknacks(nor are most people I know, for that matter), but there is something more going on here. All that I do from home does not simply make my house a fun, cozy place to be. The reason that my calling fulfills me is not because of the trappings of home, but rather because of the heart of this home.

This Advent season has shown me so much about how home acts as a witness and a ministry. I cannot go into someone's heart and create faith, but I can welcome them into my home, pray for them and point them in the direction of the One who might very well do these things in them. I cannot take away all the evils of the world and I will never be perfect myself, but I can set a tone in my house that shows another way.

As I prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, I also find myself feeling recharged as God shows me how this ministry of home can reach the hearts of guests and also of our own family. When my husband comes in from work, I can see him relax as he settles into a home that has been created to show warmth, love and faith. And as I bake, light candles, decorate, and pray, I see how home does not simply just happen. We as keepers of the home can set a tone for our families and create an environment that not only shows the world who we are, but also helps us remind each other of the One on whom we focus.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Promise

When I first saw the lyrics to "The Promise," I immediately thought about how perfect this song is for the Advent season. References of "peace still to come" and "a promise set to bloom" remind me of both the peacefulness and the hopeful anticipation that mark this season. And here is that beautiful song, sung by Michael W. Smith:

Soft and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies

I LOVE the baking season! For me, it starts around Thanksgiving, goes into high gear around Christmas and then keeps going until those hot Virginia summers start to make the kitchen a less-than-blissful place to be. I've made a whole variety of spice cookies over the year, but these soft and chewy ones that have appeared in various editions of Cook's Illustrated over the years really do take the cake. :)

Soft and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies

1/3 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dipping
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. pepper (yes, you read that right!)
12 T. unsalted butter, softened but still a little cool
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup molasses (I prefer mild)

1. Place oven rack in middle and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour 1/2 cup sugar for dipping into a small cake pan.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt and spices together in bowl until thoroughly combined, and then set aside. The mixture should have a dingy color throughout. If there are still pockets of white, it's not mixed up enough!
3. Beat butter and sugars together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and mix in egg yolk and vanilla, increasing speed to medium until incorporated. Reduce speed back to medium-low and add molasses, scraping bottom and sides of bowl as needed with rubber spatula.
4. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated into mixture. Give dough a final stir with rubber spatula to make sure no pockets of dry mixture remain. Dough should be soft.

5. Using a tablespoon, scoop out a heaping tablespoon of dough and form into a ball with your hands. Deposit ball into the cake pan of sugar. Repeat 4-5 times and then toss the balls together in the cake pan until all are coated with sugar. Place on prepared baking sheet, about 1-2 inches apart.

6. Bake only 1 sheet of cookies at a time until they are puffy and edges have begun to set, but center is still soft (about 10-11 minutes). You get the best results if you turn your baking sheet about halfway through baking.

7. Cool cookies on sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack. Cookies can be stored in ziploc bags or airtight containers if needed. Makes about 2 dozen.

Joining all the Christmas baking fun at
Desiring Virtue

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Psalm 123

I know it's not a passage normally associated with Advent, but I read Psalm 121 recently and in light of this season, it really struck me anew. The psalmist sings of the God of the old covenant and praises His steadfast love for His people, Israel. And at this time of year, one cannot avoid remembering that our help does indeed come from the Lord. Were it not for Jesus, whose birth we prepare to celebrate, we would all still be dead in our sins. In light of that, knowing that my help comes from the Lord takes on all new meaning. And this recording by Michael Card was too beautiful not to share.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore

- Psalm 121

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From Handel's Messiah

I have been out of town for my grandmother's funeral, so I took a break from listening to the Advent music for a bit. Quite honestly, my heart just wasn't in it yesterday. However, I found myself thinking about Handel's Messiah today and I couldn't help pondering how perfectly the scriptures he chose for that piece match this season.

This aria, "The People That Walked in Darkness", not only reflects God's prophecy through Isaiah, but it is such a perfect commentary on our human condition before God sent His only Son into this world that we might be saved by faith. We did indeed walk in darkness and praise be to God that He has allowed us to see a great light in Jesus.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Isaiah 9:2

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Wexford Carol

You'll probably notice that I've been sticking primarily to Advent music so far. I had planned to stay away from the songs designed more specifically for Christmas Day until the day itself grew closer.

However, my grandma died very recently, and so this particular song has been on my mind. I have it on my iPod, and this particular recording is one that she enjoyed whenever I played it. I was so glad that the same version was up on YouTube for the world to enjoy!

The Advent Kitchen

Ever notice how guests tend to gravitate toward the kitchen? The kitchen is the center of the home in so many ways. Food certainly explains some of that, but it's not the only important thing. There's a certain coziness about the best kitchens that just makes one almost unconsciously relax. A home with the most formal of living rooms might still have a warm kitchen full of tasty treats, good smells and warm light.

This is my first Advent season where I've really been able to focus my efforts homeward. In past years, work schedules made this time of year a frustratingly haphazard affair. I'm still busy, but this year I'm able to focus my efforts not only on homemaking but also on using the fruits of my work to reach out to people around me. Some days it's really hard to see homemaking as ministry. However, the traditions of Advent make this a wonderful opportunity to minister not only to our own families, but to use our homes as a place of ministry to others around us.

I''m not feeling brave enough to throw a giant Christmas party yet, but I've been finding so many ways to use this season to try to bless others. Maybe it's because I love to cook, but I find a lot of these things are kitchen-centered. So, what are some ways to minister to others from our kitchens this Advent?

Create a warm center for your home - In many ways, the kitchen really is the center of the home and a lot of architecture plans reflect this. I capitalize on my kitchen's location by burning scented candles in there, and this year I'm trying a lovely stovetop potpourri recipe from A Pause on the Path. This helps set a comfortable mood all throughout my house.

Treats! - I LOVE Christmas baking season. I make cookies every year, and I enjoy making pies(pecan pie - yum!) for family gatherings and other things of this nature. Not only does my family enjoy the Christmas treats, but I find that cookies and pies make wonderful gifts for friends. A little Christmas spirit in the form of cookies also makes a great way to meet new neighbors and/or invite them to church.

Decoration - I'm not one of those people who has tons of Christmas decor all over the house, but I do like to put a few things here and there. And the kitchen is a great place to prepare the house for Advent. IN addition to making up homemade decorations, I like to put up Christmas linens and in remembrance of the Advent season, we write up a different Bible verse on the little chalkboard over our breakfast table every morning. We atart in the Old Testament, and then move to the Gospels as Christmas Day approaches.

Fellowship - You know how I mentioned that groups tend to gravitate toward the kitchen? Well, sometimes I'll just start there and invite a friend or two over for coffee and Christmas cookies.

So, what do you like to do with your Advent kitchen?

Sharing with