". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Road Again

Tomorrow morning we'll be saying goodbye to the Chicago tundra (which actually hasn't been so bad the last few days) and heading off to warmer, sunnier Houston. Yay! The 10-day forecast lists highs in the 60's & 70's and lows in the 40's and 50's. We're actually packing shorts! It's a l-o-n-g two days of driving to get there, but we are looking forward to sleeping in, seeing family, and generally "limin' about." Internet access will be less readily available, so blogging will likely slow down a bit. I pray that each of you reading this is still basking in the light of the Christ Child and that the year ahead holds much promise and hope for you and your family.

I'll leave you with these photos of Shiloh, our alleged beagle (we know that she's not just beagle, but we're not sure what the rest of her is). She is safely deposited with a few of her doggy friends and will probably have the time of her life while we're away.

Dusty, Shiloh, and Copper

Shiloh and Copper

Bye, Sweetie! See you next week!

Gambling on the Future

Remember this song?

On a warm summer's evenin' on a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with the gambler; we were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a starin' out the window at the darkness
'Til boredom overtook us, and he began to speak.
He said, "Son, I've made a life out of readin' people's faces,
And knowin' what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.
And if you don't mind my sayin', I can see you're out of aces.
For a taste of your whiskey I'll give you some advice."
So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet, and his face lost all expression.
Said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.
You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.
Ev'ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
'Cause ev'ry hand's a winner and ev'ry hand's a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."
And when he'd finished speakin', he turned back towards the window,
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even.
But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.
You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.
(Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler")

Just read an excellent column at American Thinker, a site that all conservatives should know about, that Gambler-like asks and attempts to answer what are right now the two million-dollar questions: what battles--at least for the foreseeable future--have conservatives lost? And in what battles do we still stand a chance of prevailing? If we can answer those questions with some accuracy we can focus our energy where we actually have a chance of making a difference.

The list of areas in which the author, Larrey Anderson, says we have been beaten and should resign ourselves to the Obama agenda is frightening:

1) The Judiciary
2) Socialized Health Care
3) Higher Taxes
4) The War on Terror
5) Bailouts

Here are the areas in which he says we should keep fighting:

1) Illegal immigration
2) Education
3) Freedom of Religious Expression
4) Global Warming/Energy

I encourage you to go read the entire article to see what he specifically says about each of these areas, both the ones he claims we have lost and we ones in which we still have a fighting chance.

Anderson ends with this admonition:

"My advice to conservatives for the next two years: Focus on the fundamentals--especially education and freedom of religious expression. It will be almost impossible for us to stop most of the socialist political agenda that will soon be law. We must educate our children, our neighbors, and ourselves in an effort to insure that next time around 'we don't get fooled again.'"

Good advice for any time, but never moreso than right now. I'm more convinced than ever that Christian homeschoolers may be the force that rises up in the next generation to lead this country back to its roots.

I think I'll go work on indoctrinating a few members of that next generation right now.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Disney Drops Narnia

Disney has dropped the Narnia series, citing logistical and budgetary concerns. Seems Prince Caspian, the second installment of the seven that were planned, did not do as well at the box office as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Never mind that it still turned over a $200 million profit. Apparently that's not good enough to move forward with the project.

Walden Media will shop around for a replacement for Disney. I hope they are successful. Our family enjoyed the first two films immensely and was looking forward to the third--Voyage of the Dawn Treader--with great anticipation.

I have nothing concrete on which to base this and I don't have time to go looking, but I can't help wondering if the Narnia series is being held to a different standard by those in power in Hollywood. It doesn't promote politically correct ideology, bash America, or preach tolerance for immorality, but instead is overflowing with family values and Christian symbolism. My gut tells me that a different standard would apply if Narnia were more in line with Hollywood's values.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Memorable Movie Line

We watched Miracle on 34th Street last night (hubby sat in his new chair!). Our children had never seen it. We all enjoyed the movie's innocent sweetness, but one thing I had forgotten is how funny it is. The line that made us all laugh out loud was this one:

"But . . . maybe he's only a little crazy, like painters or composers or . . . some of those men in Washington."

(I guess we enjoyed that line so much because we have two out of three of those categories living in this house!)

Click here for a few more memorable lines from this motion picture classic.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas To Us

Remember when you were little and you couldn't wait to call your friends and tell them what you got for Christmas? I guess this post is the blogsophere equivalent of that. Here for anyone who's interested are the items my beloved and I got each other for Christmas.

I must say Mr. Round Unvarnish'd Tale outdid himself this year with the necklace pictured below. Isn't it lovely? It comes from the jewelry department at Macy's and features a 14-karat/sterling silver pendant on a sterling silver chain. Macy's calls the piece "The Tree of Life." That also happens to be the title of one of my favorite contemporary hymns in the Lutheran Service Book (really one of my favorite hymns, period)! You can read the text of this stunningly beautiful hymn at the blog of its author, Pastor Stephen Starke.

By contrast, my gift to my husband was a bit more practical. To understand the impetus for it you must first take a look at our family room. (Pay no attention to the 5-year-old playing a video game--there was no budging him at the time.)

The sofa and loveseat you see were given to us by a couple at our church several years ago when they decided to turn their living room into an office for the husband. They are empty-nesters and neither the living room nor the furniture were getting much use. We were only too happy to take these pieces off their hands! They are so much better than what was in this room before. However, when all five of us sit down to watch a program, it does get a little crowded, uncomfortably so for my husband, who is quite tall and also has neck issues with a protruding disk. I have wanted for a long time to get him a better chair for this room. The chair of his dreams is a Barcalounger:

But the price (here's one on clearance for $930) means that in his dreams is where this chair is going to stay for a long, long time. La-Z-Boy is not much better. So I went looking for something a bit more economical and settled on a Poang chair and footstool from Ikea:

Plush and luxurious it's not. But I'm hoping that when he stretches out, puts up his feet and throws a nice, warm quilt across his legs, the man of this house will be a tad more comfortable than he would be crowded among the rest of us on the other furniture (though sometimes that crowding does have its benefits ;-)).

Here's the final product (I put everything together myself!) in our family room:

All ready for the new season of Lost, not to mention those Get Smart DVD's (thank you, Tom & Elaine!).

The grand total for chair, footstool and cushions was a mere $150. The nice thing about the modular nature of the furniture is that if we get tired of this look (or something gets spilled on it) new cushions can be purchased for about $50 (more if we decide to upgrade to leather). The chair is one that Ikea seems to be very proud of for its durability, as they display one in a glass case undergoing around-the-clock machine-generated use, replicating the effect of a several-hundred pound man repeatedly sitting, getting up, and sitting again. So if the chair lasts long enough for that elusive Barcalounger to finally make it to our house, I'm sure I can find another use for the Poang. There's the den. Or the bedroom. Or the new apartment of a young adult striking out on his own . . . .

Cancel that last thought.

Merry Second Day of Christmas!

The Sanctuary of Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, Illinois

Christmas Eve, 2008

Although the radio stations have quit playing Christmas music, the stores have moved on to New Year's sales, and the world says Christmas is over, nothing could be further than the truth! The celebration of Christmas has barely begun! We have eleven more days to go! And I for one plan to celebrate every single one of them. So if your blogging travels bring you back this way in the next few days, you can anticipate a few more Christmas posts (although maybe not one every day).

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Santa Bush

A historic gift for Christians in Iraq:

Iraqi Government Declares Christmas an Official Holiday for the First Time Ever

Voices as of Angels

The Schola Cantorum of Bethany Lutheran Church
December 24, 2008
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
Stanza 3, descant by David Willcocks

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hail, the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris'n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

"Glory to the newborn King!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Welcome, Baby Jesus!

It's almost time . . .

for Lessons and Carols! I'm off to get my bathrobe, slippers and a fresh cup of coffee! Welcome, Baby Jesus! We have been waiting for you!

Two Christmas Links

As fat, happy, spoiled Americans (including myself) look towards a new year that may bring some of the hardest financial times some of us have ever faced, here are two columns with stories of fellow citizens who both inspire and shame in their understanding of what really matters.

A Christmas Tale - 1919

God's Gifts

Merry Christmas!

From A Round Unvarnish'd Tale


Cheryl, Phillip, Trevor, Caitlin, and Evan

Sleigh Ride

Okay, so it wasn't a sleigh but a van, and a nice, warm one at that. But it could have been a sleigh! It started snowing this morning, and I had no choice but to get out and drive in it, having promised a meal to a friend recovering from a heart attack. But I have to say I didn't mind; in fact, it was fun. I felt kind of like Santa! Play the video and you'll see why. (And if you stick around for the full 20 seconds you'll get a fleeting glimpse of my church--Bethany Lutheran--off to the right.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Christmas Story

Sent to me by a friend; author unknown.

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her. On the way, mybig sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it! That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun.

"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars, bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all the kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement.. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked warm, and he would like that.

"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" thelady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."

The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby. From Santa Claus" on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered,"get going." I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness forthe front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby. Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team. I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

Choir Party

Last night our adult church choir ("Proclaim") had its annual holiday party. (I call it a holiday party not to be politically correct but because the holiday varies from year to year--sometimes it's Christmas, sometimes Epiphany, sometimes something else).

It was a lovely evening. One of our basses and his wife opened their beautifully decorated, spacious, and warm home and we gathered for food and fellowship. And oh yes, gifts for the director and accompanist. :-) (THANK YOU, CHOIR!! YOU ARE TOO GOOD TO US!)

We ended the night with--what else?--singing. Here's a 1-minute video clip of some of our choir members and their families singing "In Dulci Jubilo." The young people you see here, except for Caitlin, are actually in the choir. (Don't worry, sweetie; your time is coming!) There are a few spouses singing along who are not. But what a joyful noise they all make. And what a counter-cultural one, too--an intergenerational party where young and old--um, make that older--gather around the piano and sing--of all things--Christmas carols!

Our country--and world--would be a better place if there were more gatherings like these.

(For those who may not know, the pianist is my husband and the young man standing to the right of him is my son.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Advent Collect

The needs are great. But God is greater. Entrusting all unto His care, I hope you will join me in praying . . .

For Louise and Neil, battling cancer, and for all who suffer with chronic health issues.

For Paul, Elise, and Jim, seeking employment.

For Zoe and Max, little ones who have been through more in their young lives than most of us will in a lifetime.

For all who are burdened by sadness and depression.

For those who live alone.

For the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that as a church body it might return to the proclamation of Law and Gospel as its one and only raison d'etre.

For the United States of America, that it might remain safe from terrorism and foreign threats and that it might return to being a nation where the life and liberty of individual citizens is unfailingly respected and protected.

For the pastors and musicians whose lives become more hectic at this time of year as they provide worship services designed to enable the rest of us to slow down and hear and reflect upon God's word, that they might also have the quiet time and ability to worship and prepare.

For marriage and family, that husbands and wives, parents and children live in ordered harmony according to the Word of God. (From the LSB Daily Prayer Card.)

For my friend Kim, a single mom who works at Macy's and who during this shopping season wakes up at 3:30 each morning so that she can get to work by 5:00 a.m., who works one 12-hour day after another, and who still comes to Advent worship and choir practice before returning home to (one hopes) fall into bed for 4-5 hours of sleep before starting all over again.

For my friend Molly, an elementary music teacher and breast cancer survivor who had a heart attack last Sunday and is now recuperating at home. Molly was not feeling well Sunday, but not realizing that she was having a heart attack, nevertheless attended a community children's choir concert because so many of her former students were going to be performing. After leaving the concert several times due to her increasing physical discomfort, she finally realized this was more than a virus and called her doctor, who promptly told her to get to the ER.

For those grieving the loss of loved ones.

For all weighed down by sin, that they might repent and come to know the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding.


Our "Sun" Room



So I'm trying to figure out why they call these things 3-season rooms. They're too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Spring and fall are nice, though (except when it rains, but that's a different post).

This room does not have its own heating (or cooling) source, so in the winter we run a greenhouse/contractor's heater in it at night to keep the window panes from breaking (we've had that happen a few times) and the plants from dying. We don't heat it to a toasty warm human-friendly temperature--it's too expensive. When the sun comes out things warm up somewhat during the day. But at night, it's frigid without the heater running, especially when it's NINE BELOW as it is in Chicagoland this morning (is it really just the FIRST day of winter?).

That heater has been running all night and the room is still in the forties. I'm not looking forward to the next electric bill.

Oh well. We may not have much use for this room right now. But my 5-year-old sure has fun breaking off the icicles and turning them into swords!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Perfect Christmas

My friend Elephant's Child has an Advent post that I could have written (but I wouldn't have said it as well). I hope you'll read the whole thing. But here's an excerpt:

My heart and my confidence has been in myself. I have sinned against the First Commandment; my special god has been my own good works of the season, my attempts to make Christmas "perfect" for my family. To these things have I looked for blessings, help, and comfort.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Bring our hearts instead to know no other comfort outside of You.

A few days ago, feeling burdened by the demands of the season, I wrote my own Advent prayer. Today I'm feeling a little more relaxed. But is it because I was able to cross a few tasks off the task list yesterday and get a little closer to the "perfect" Christmas, or because I am entrusting my cares unto the Lord, who grants all peace and comfort?

I don't know. I really don't. I hope it's the latter. But I'm so steeped in my own sinful self-reliance that I fear it's the former. Probably, simultaneous saint and sinner that I am, it's both.

But there are things that need to be done. And I am the one to do them. So how do I keep it all in perspective, going about my work joyfully but not letting it become my god, finding my worth and reward in Christ who has claimed me rather than in my satisfaction at my own accomplishments?

Poor miserable sinner that I am, I can't. All I can do is lay my sinful self at the foot of the cross and plead for His mercy, which miraculously comes without hesitation or condition: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Boy, is that the truth. The older I get the more I realize I have no clue what I am doing. Thanks be to God for His Son, who did it all so that I wouldn't have to, offering up His perfect life in place of my failed one, imputing his righteousness to me.

The perfect Christmas? You better believe it's coming to my house. And its name is Jesus.

New Favorite Spot

I have got to get some presents wrapped and put under the tree!

She is kind of cute, though, isn't she?

Writing advice . . .

. . . from my daughter.

And believe me, she knows whereof she speaks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Prayer

Dear Father in Heaven,

Christmas is one week away. And despite promising myself last January that this year would be different--that this year I would plan ahead so that I could spend my time in quiet, peaceful anticipation--I instead find myself struggling for air because the stress of the season makes me feel like I can hardly breathe. Why do I get this way? Why do I let this happen to me? Yes, I'm busy--but everyone's busy. I would bet that even if I finished my Christmas shopping in August and addressed my Christmas cards in September and baked and froze cookies in October, things would be no different right now, because if I can count on anything in life it seems I can count on whatever time I have filling up with something.

So, it would appear I simply need to resign myself to being busier than I want to be. The question is how to manage that busy-ness and not let it manage me--how to maintain an attitude of joyful vocation and a sense of order amidst the chaos.

I have tried, God, and I can't do it. No matter how I try to turn my back on the world, it always seems to get the best of me, turning me into a frantic, stressed out, machine that seems to be able to focus only on getting all the items checked off the Christmas task list. So I am coming to you, asking for your help. Enable me to not be so overwhelmed by the world that I lose sight of the peace that only you can give, the peace that in fact you have already given, the peace that is already mine. Help me to walk in that peace, that . . .

I would look upon the stack of Christmas letters waiting to be addressed and give thanks for friends and family.

I would look upon the Steadfast Quarterly that needs to be formatted and proofed and give thanks for BJS and the privilege of editing their journal.

I would look upon the house that needs cleaning and give thanks for warmth and comfort and a space of our own.

I would look upon the wrapping that awaits and give thanks that I have presents to give and people to give them to.

I would enjoy the beauty of Christmas decorations without worrying about having to take them down before our post-Christmas trip and without regretting the ones I didn't have time to put up this year.

I would go joyfully to multiple rehearsals, giving thanks for the privilege of providing music to accompany the proclamation of your Word.

I would approach my shopping with enthusiasm, looking upon the congested roads and crowded stores not with exasperation but with joy, and praying that those I encounter are also preparing for a celebration that will have Christ at its center.

Please help me, Lord, to get away from the mindset of getting everything done so that I can turn my attention to You. The fact is I will never get it all done, and that is something for which I give thanks, because it is the blessing of a full and abundant life. Help me to embrace that abundance and to be at peace in it rather than seeing it as something to conquer with peace as the reward.

This is my Advent prayer.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."--1 Thessalonians 5:18

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

But I'm Allergic To Cats!

On the other hand, this could explain a lot. Maybe I'm allergic to myself!

You Are: 20% Dog, 80% Cat

You are are almost exactly like a cat.

You're intelligent, independent, and set on getting your way.

And there's no way you're going to fetch a paper for anyone!

The Show Must Go On

Last night was our day school's Christmas program. In spite of blizzard conditions, everyone showed up, children and parents alike, and the show went on! The night began with a pre-pageant concert that featured various musical ensembles of the school. The video below includes several numbers by the "Boar's Head Carolers"--some of the strongest singers in the junior high choir who were selected for this small group performance. They put in many extra hours after school preparing these songs, and it shows. This video is not just for adoring aunts, uncles and grandmas: these kids are phenomenal! So give yourself a little pre-Christmas treat and enjoy some Yuletide music from some talented young people (one of whom just happens to belong to me).

I wish the sound quality were better--my little cell phone video camera doesn't quite cut it. Thanks to Trevor for making this recording. I was on the piano so without it I would not be able to watch and enjoy myself!

By the way, there were only four boys singing in this group. Don't they sound good?

After the pre-program concert the Christmas story was dramatized and musically narrated, culminating with around 300 children reciting the Christmas story from Luke 2 (King James version) while encircling the darkened sanctuary. I wish I could have taped that. It gives me shivers every time I experience it.

To Phil: I don't know if everyone who was in attendance last night realizes the level of commitment and attention to detail that leads to a program like this. But a lot do. So for them I will say thank you. You are simply unmatched when it comes to getting music out of children (or for that matter, anyone else).

I hope you have a moment to watch and enjoy. If not, stop back by later. You won't be sorry! (Be sure to stick around until the very end so you can see the Cantor jump over the baptismal pool!)

Monday, December 15, 2008


Regular readers of this blog know that Evan, my 5-year-old, attends our church's preschool four afternoons a week. It's a great situation, with a class of only seven children that have become quite a close-knit little group. There is only one girl in the class: Isabella. The longer I know Isabella the more I admire her.

Isabella comes from a female-only single-parent household. So you can imagine the culture shock of daily having to enter a classroom full of rambunctious, noisy little boys. But Isabella seems unperturbed. I noticed early on that like a typical girl, she quickly took on the maternal role in her class, doing her best to help out the poor hapless males around her (it was Isabella who ran to the rescue at Evan's birthday party when he dropped his Chuck E. Cheese game tokens all over the floor). She is also a typical female in the superiority of her small-motor skills, cutting, pasting and drawing circles around all those boys. And when it's time to sit on the rug for circle time, guess who is always first to her spot, modeling the quiet, listening behavior that the boys seem still not to get? Yet when it's playground time, Isabella is right in there holding her own in the jumping, climbing and running departments. If not for the pink snowsuit you wouldn't even be able to tell she was a girl.

Last week I was preschool helper and I couldn't help noticing a few new behaviors from Isabella that I had never seen before. At one point she quietly went off and sat for a few minutes in one corner of the room. The teacher asked if she was okay but then wisely left her alone, telling me, "She just does that sometimes." Isabella was back in a few minutes. A little later one of the boys came to report that Isabella had growled at him. Apparently this was not the first time--it is a behavior she has adopted when people invade her space or annoy her. The teacher reminded her that it's not nice to growl.

But I don't know--I think Isabella may be on to something. When it all becomes just too much and you need a little break, turn your back on the world and go sit in the corner for a while. People will get the idea that you want to be left alone. And if they don't leave you alone, do a little growling. It's better than crying or screaming or hitting or breaking things, right? What's the harm of a little growl here and there? From what I observed in preschool, it works pretty well!

I think this little girl has a very bright future. At five years old she is already handling her emotions better than a lot of grown-ups I know, myself included. Isabella, honey, you hang in there, okay? You're doing just fine.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Home Video

This is mostly for Grandma--a short video of the preschool children narrating/acting out the Christmas story during Sunday School hour this morning. The sound quality is not very good, so it is a little difficult to tell what is going on, but a female teacher's voice is telling the story with interspersed words, actions and singing from the children. Evan is in the front in green shirt and black pants. I regret that I turned off the video just in time to miss taping his bow! Very cute.

One observation: if you are someone who works with young children, please note that the children have a hard time singing the songs in this video because they are started on too low of a pitch. A young child's natural singing voice is so much higher than this--much closer to a female soprano. Most adults can sing higher than they think they can. But if you work with children and just don't think you can sing as high as they need to, please ask someone to help out when it comes to singing time. Children of this age really shouldn't be singing lower than a middle C.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

To Rod With Love

Sung to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen":

Get packin', Rod Blagojevich

The state's in disarray

The Tribune wants you unemployed

At least by Christmas Day.

The TV pundits want your head

Could there be pay to play?

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Save Illinois!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Good riddance Rod Blagojevich

Your Elvis look's inane,

The Senate's mad, so's Lisa's dad.

You drive us all insane.

Our transit's broke, the state's a joke,

The Tollway's one big pain.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Save Illinois!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Good luck old Rod Blagojevich

The feds have quite a place.

Fitzgerald's poked his nose around

Looks like he has a case,

George Ryan's moving stuff around

Creating extra space.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Save Illinois!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Received via email; author unknown.

Evan Essence

Just a little commercial for the mini-blog in my sidebar. It's called "Evan Essence" (a play on the word evanescence and referring to fleeting childhood) because I use it to record memorable things that come out of my 5-year-old's mouth. Just wanted to point it out in case you never noticed. I added three priceless quotes today--you can see them all by scrolling down or you can click on the widget to go to the site and be able to read through the archives.

I had kind of a hard day yesterday and even though I try not to let my own emotions affect my "mommy-ing" I don't always succeed, especially with the older children. But it amazed me how my youngest seemed to know and want to help, repeatedly coming to me yesterday, giving hugs and kisses, and generally being a sweetheart.

Does anyone have a magic potion for keeping your kids from growing up? If so, I'm ready to place my order!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Citizenship Issue

A thoughtful analysis that argues it's time to let go of this:

Natural Born Pickle

The Troughs

"Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this: To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself--creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over.

And that is where the troughs come in. . . . It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

Screwtape, Chapter 8

Thursday, December 11, 2008


We got our Christmas card from President George W. and First Lady Laura Bush a few days ago. I told the children to feast their eyes, as it will probably undoubtedly be the last presidential Christmas card we will be receiving for a while.

Ah, well. It was nice while it lasted.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quote of the Month

This has got to be one of the most profound things I have read all year.

From C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 10:

"All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Please Be Advised

THIS is not on my Christmas list.

Nativity Scene

My son's preschool class has been learning the song "In A Little Stable" to sing for the school Christmas program. Yesterday the teacher had each child in the class paint a picture of what they have been singing about. Then she asked them to describe what they had painted, and she recorded their words on the painting as captions.

As you might expect, Evan's painting depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a stable. Here is what he told the teacher each one of them is doing:

"Joseph is taking care of the baby." (Excellent, if I do say so myself. No absent fathers here. Dad is right in there helping out with the child care.)

"Mary is saying 'Rejoice unto the Lord, rejoice unto the Lord.'" (Even better! Joseph is watching the baby so that Mom can worship! And by the way, in the drawing it appears that Mary is not even in the stable but is outside dancing with her arms lifted to the sky. Am I raising this kid right or what?)

"Jesus is crying and Joseph is about to pick him up, but not throw him." (Okay, okay, so I spoke too soon. But two out of three ain't bad, is it?)

Monday, December 8, 2008


I have heard from several sources that the reason Obama is seeming to moderate on some issues is because he is saving his "chips" for the Big Thing that he wants to do: nationalized health care.

Great. So the rest of us can now look forward to sharing in the experience of my poor mother, who 16 months after her car accident is still waiting for resolution on some of her medical expenses. (Several months ago, she had the experience of paying one small bill that she knew she didn't owe--it should have been paid by Medicare--but she was tired of being harassed about it for the past year; not long after, she received a refund from the creditor saying "never mind"--she had been billed in error. This is just one of many stories I could tell you.)

One question, though: why are the Canadians and Europeans so in love with a guy who's going to turn our health care system into a carbon copy of theirs, removing the last place on earth they can go to get something better than what they have at home?

I think a lot of people are going to wake up in a few years with a massive Obama hangover, and those of us who didn't drink the Kool-Aid had better be prepared with a healthy yet palatable grown-up alternative to offer to our countrymen who are ready to leave the sugary stuff behind.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


This month in our family devotions we are using a French Advent calendar that was given to us by a friend. Each day includes a Bible verse as well as a meditation on that verse. Since we are studying French in our home school, it is nice to be able to do "double duty" with our devotions, learning some Bible verses in French as we hear God's word!

Yesterday's verse is of special comfort to those for whom the dark and cold months of winter can be particularly emotionally trying. I bet that even if you don't know French you may be able to figure out the general message:

"La nuit est bientot finie." - (There should be a circumflex over that "o" but I don't know how to make it.) - Romans 13:12a

Although we are just now entering winter and there are many long, cold and dark days yet to come before the promise of springtime relief (especially for those of us in certain parts of the country), we can take comfort in the truth that the light of Christ is eternal! For "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." That Word came down to earth, "became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory" and we now prepare once again to welcome that glory in the celebration of Nativity of our Lord. Although we surely live in dark and latter days here on earth, we can hold fast to the certainty that there is a "light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (Quoted from John 1:1ff)

"La nuit est bientot finie."-- "The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." - Romans 13:12

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Deck the Halls Meme

I saw this over at Amused Mama's place and couldn't resist. I bet YOU can't either.

Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Egg nog--with "sauce" or without. Either way it's yummy.

Does Santa wrap presents or set them under the tree? Under the tree. And in the stockings. Even when Santa quits leaving things under the tree, he still fills your stocking. :-)

Colored lights on tree or white? Colored! But only the traditional colors, not those purple and pink Mardi Gras looking things I've been seeing lately.

When do you put your decorations up? Varies. Usually late enough to be able to leave them up until Epiphany, but early this year because we are leaving for a road trip right after Christmas and everything will have to come down before we go.

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Deviled eggs. For some reason we don't make them any other time.

Favorite holiday memory as a child: coming down the stairs with my big sisters on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought.

When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Can't remember. I think I figured it out on my own but kept playing along for a few more years.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We did when I was growing up but with services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning we usually don't get around to it until almost lunchtime on Christmas Day.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree? With lights and the various ornaments we have inherited, been given or colllected over the years. There is no theme to our tree--it's just a random assortment of store-bought and made with love. I like it that way. As for how it all happens, it seems to be mostly my project. This year it was me and the 5-year-old. I would welcome others joining in, though.

Snow! Love it or dread it? Depends on whether it's December or February.

Can you ice skate? No. Tried once. Never again.

What was your favorite gift? The early Christmas gift I got in December 1985. It was shiny and sparkly and went on my left hand ring finger.

What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you? Church on Christmas Eve. To quote Linus: "That's what Christmas is all about."

What is your favorite holiday dessert? Pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Gotta have the whipped cream.

What is your favorite tradition? Listening to Lessons and Carols on the radio on Christmas Eve morning with the whole family.

Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Both. But if I had to choose . . . giving.

What is your favorite secular Christmas song? Can't think of one that stands out.

What is your favorite Advent hymn? I'll have to go with two: "O Lord How Shall I Meet You" and "Creator of the Stars of Night."

What is your favorite Christmas hymn? This one is easy: "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? I can take them or leave them. Generally I do the latter.

Ever recycled a Christmas present? I refuse to answer on the grounds it might incriminate me. :-)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Literature Class Today

In homeschool literature class today, we spent some time on Japanese and Chinese literature (thus, my previous post). Imagine trying to get a flavor of two several-thousand-years-old literary traditions in the span of a one-hour class period! Kind of a losing proposition, but at least we tried. In the process we discovered a few gems, which I hope you will take a few moments to experience for yourself. Even if you are not a regular imbiber of poetry, I think you will find these to be quite accessible and readily appreciated.

Here's one that had my class falling off their chairs in laughter. I'm not sure it was intended to be funny, but oh well . . .

"Drinking Alone With the Moon" - Li Po, China, 701-62

From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me
Till raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring.
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were born companions.
And then I was drunk and we lost one another.
Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the river of stars.

Here are two that especially resonated with me. Can you figure out why?

"Without All That Racket" - T'ao Ch'ien, China, 365-427 B.C

I live in town without all that racket
horses and carts stir up, and you wonder

how that could be. Wherever the mind
dwells apart is itself a distant place.

Picking chrysanthemums at my east fence,
far off, I see South Mountain:

mountain air lovely at dusk, birds in flight
returning home. All this means something,

something absolute. Whenever I start
explaining it, I've forgotten the words.

"Although the Wind" - Izumi Shikibu - Japan, 974?-1034?

Although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

For Elephant's Child

. . . and all my other sewing-inclined friends and readers. I stand in awe of the precision, patience, and art you bring to your craft. May God bless your work as you make the world a more beautiful and orderly place for those you love.

"Needle and Thread"
by Pan Zhao, A. D. 48-117
Tempered, annealed, the hard essence of autumn metals
Finely forged, subtle, yet perdurable and straight,
By nature penetrating deep yet advancing by inches
To span all things yet stitch them up together,
Only needle-and-thread's delicate footsteps
Are truly broad-ranging yet without beginning!
"Withdrawing elegantly" to mend a loose thread,
and restore to white silk a lamb's-down purity . . .
How can those who count pennies calculate their worth?
They may carve monuments yet lack all understanding.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Frighteningly Accurate Two-Question Quiz

Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...

You Are a Jackie!


You are a Jackie. "I do everything the right way."

Jackies are realistic, conscientious, and principled. They strive to live up to their high ideals.

How to Get Along with Me

* Take your share of the responsibility so I don't end up with all the work.

* Acknowledge my achievements.

* I'm hard on myself. Reassure me that I'm fine the way I am.

* Tell me that you value my advice.

* Be fair and considerate, as I am.

* Apologize if you have been unthoughtful. It will help me to forgive.

* Gently encourage me to lighten up and to laugh at myself when I get uptight, but hear my worries first.

What I Like About Being a Jackie

* Being self-disciplined and able to accomplish a great deal

* Working hard to make the world a better place

* Having high standards and ethics; not compromising myself

* Being reasonable, responsible, and dedicated in everything I do

* Being able to put facts together, coming to good understandings, and figuring out wise solutions

* Being the best I can be and bringing out the best in other people

What's Hard About Being a Jackie

* Being disappointed with myself or others when my expectations are not met

* Feeling burdened by too much responsibility

* Thinking that what I do is never good enough

* Not being appreciated for what I do for people

* Being upset because others aren't trying as hard as I am

* Obsessing about what I did or what I should do

* Being tense, anxious, and taking things too seriously

Jackies as Children Often

* Criticize themselves in anticipation of criticism from others

* Refrain from doing things that they think might not come out perfect

* Focus on living up to the expectations of their parents and teachers

* Are very responsible; may assume the role of parent

* Hold back negative emotions ("good children aren't angry")

Jackies as Parents

* Teach their children responsibility and strong moral values

* Are consistent and fair

* Discipline firmly

Take Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz
at HelloQuizzy

HT: Muddy Boots

This One Fits My Color Scheme!

Amused Mama gave me this:

Thanks, "Mama"! It's like Christmas came early!

Along with the award was a meme, so here goes:

Seven Things

Seven things I did before:

1. Blow dried my hair
2. Curled my hair
3. Listened to Barbra Streisand records
4. Wrote poetry
5. Taught English
6. Drank a Coke or Dr. Pepper every day
7. Slept 8 or more hours per night

Seven things I do now:

1. Ignore my hair except for washing
2. Drink raw milk (sometimes, anyway)
3. Drink lots more water, but still not enough
4. Drink 3 or 4 cups of coffee per day
5. Sleep 6-7 hours per night
6. Blog
7. Wear reading glasses
10. Get allergy shots
11. Take daily calcium supplements

Seven things I would like to do:

1. Go to Europe
2. Take a trip out west with the family
3. Read more
4. Play the piano more
5. Be a better homemaker
6. Write a book (but I don't know about what)
7. Sleep more
8. Redecorate my house
9. Get laser surgery on my acne scars

Seven things that attract me to my husband:

1. His smile
2. His intelligence
3. His conviction
4. His faith
5. His face
6. His hands
7. His voice
8. His sense of humor
9. Actually, the whole package is pretty nice.

Seven favorite foods:

1. Alaskan King Crab
2. Chocolate-covered strawberries
3. Fresh asparagus
4. Pineapple
5. Dark chocolate with coconut filling (yes, it is too a food)
6. Filet mignon
7. Bread

Seven things I say most often:

1. Evan, no.
2. Evan, stop it.
3. Just a minute.
4. I love you.
5. I love you, too.
6. What?
7. Time to eat (or go, or get ready for bed, or clean up, or . . . )
8. Amen

I'm supposed to tag seven people, but I'm only going to tag one. She is far and away the most creative, eclectic, unpredictable blogger I know. If she's already received this award, she can just consider this an exclamation point. Elephant's Child, take it away.

Isaiah 2:5

"O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD."

Sunrise Tuesday morning, as seen out my back door.

I Don't Understand This

The Lutheran Church that I belong to runs a day school for pre-K through 8th grade. Last night the school's junior high choir sang for our midweek Advent service. It is a large group--around 50 voices--and they sounded glorious, singing a setting of Psalm 19 ("Stars in the Sky Proclaim," a 3-part Renaissance setting by Rudolf de Lassus), several stanzas of the Office Hymn ("Savior of the Nations, Come"), and a contemporary setting of the Magnificat (contemporary in that it was composed by my husband). This is a talented group, and they have a top-knotch director (that husband again), and everyone who was in attendance last night was blessed by their voices.

Sadly, some of these young people's parents were not among those at worship, having dropped them off for the service and left. I don't get this. I mean, even if you're not Lutheran (some of our day school students are not), or you are Lutheran but you belong to a different church (we have those, too), or you don't like worship at our church, or you are just tired at the end of a long day, your kid is singing, for goodness' sake! And he or she has worked for many weeks to prepare this music! Can't you take 50 minutes out of your life to come in from the cold and hear it? Who knows, maybe you will hear something else edifying in the meantime.

To the junior high choir of Bethany Lutheran Church, thank you for singing faith into my heart last night. You rock.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Worthy Cause

My son is a member of the Illinois Chess Association's Junior Scholar Program, known as the Warren Program. The program recognizes Illinois youth who are highly rated in chess and provides opportunities for them to learn and play as well as to promote the game of chess in their communities. In addition, Warren Scholars receive financial assistance for chess lessons. That assistance is something we have deeply appreciated for a number of years now. Chess lessons are not cheap!

If you have an interest/passion for chess and would like to donate to a program that is doing much to encourage its continued popularity among young people in Illinois, please consider including the Warren Program on your Christmas list this year. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mixed Feelings

Although we are a committed homeschooling family, we have always been at parishes with schools and have made use of them during all of our children's preschool years. I wish it wasn't called preschool because the fact is we don't send our children to learn--I could fill that need at home--as much as to play and give me a few mornings or afternoons off. Preschool is a luxury, not a necessity, and once our children reach the age of needing more "book" learning they start staying home. With the first two children, now 16 and 13, the transition from preschool to home was nothing. They are both bookwormish introverts anyway, and didn't seem to miss the social aspect of going to school.

My youngest, age 5, is another story. An extrovert to the extreme, he LOVES school and has been known to cry when picked up to go home (not great for the ego, let me tell you). So I have worried that when it comes time to stay home in a few years he may not adjust as well as his sister and brother.

Today, however, I saw a glimmer of hope. Problem is, I shouldn't be happy about it. Because, you see, my 5-year-old lied to avoid going to preschool. This morning we went shopping for a Christmas tree. On the way home Evan informed me that he was sick and couldn't go to school. Since a cold has so far struck two of our number, I took him at his word. He did sound a bit congested this morning, and he has been sneezing. So instead of going from the Christmas tree farm to preschool, we drove straight home. And I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Wow! He actually asked not to go to school! Maybe we'll turn this kid into a homeschooler yet!"

But then the story changed: "I'm sick for going to school but I'm not sick for decorating the tree." Oops.

Boy, they learn young, don't they? So we discussed options. Make him go to school? I just couldn't bring myself to do that. It goes against every fiber of my homeschooling being. Banish him from decorating the tree? Too harsh. So we decided that for the rest of the afternoon--the time he would have been in school--he would not be allowed to see the tree but would have to stay in a different part of the house. When school time is up, so is his punishment. Of course, we also had a serious talk with him about lying and the 8th commandment.

(But I still think it's cool that he didn't want to go to school.)

Read Through the Book of Concord

The Brothers of John the Steadfast have created an online reading group for the Book of Concord. Find out more here and consider joining in. I have decided to do so, which is somewhat ironic since the driving force behind the Brothers is my very own pastor, who leads a Confessions reading group at our church every Tuesday night. Although I have long wanted to attend, my schedule has not been conducive to doing so. But now I have no excuse! And neither do you. :-) If you, like me, sometimes need an extrinsic motivator to make good things happen, you now have it. So go find your Book of Concord and get busy!

Yoo-Hoo, Santa

Last night driving home from church I saw something that made me laugh out loud (always a good thing). It was a flashing LED sign at a storage business in my neighborhood. The sign was supposed to read--


However, the first "S" was not working. So what I saw was--



Christian the Lion

Do you remember this story? Thirty years ago two Australian men rescued a lion cub from a department store, reared it for a year, and then realized they could not continue doing so and that it would need to be reintroduced into the wild. The reintroduction was successful. A year later, the men returned for a reunion with the lion, which they had named Christian. Here's a 2-minute video of that reunion. Watch and be amazed.

You can read even more about this remarkable story here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Top Ten

The United States Chess Federation has just come out with its December ratings list. (Ratings lists are published every two months.) Guess whose name is in ninth place among 16-year-olds? (Just to be clear, that's ninth in the nation.)

Yep, you guessed it. My son. Check it out.

This placement is particularly noteworthy because Trevor just turned 16 in October, so this is his first appearance on the 16-year-old list, period. To make his debut at ninth place is auspicious indeed.

I wasn't sure whether he had been in the top ten on any other age lists before. I know he's been pretty high. But he has had so many chess accomplishments over the years that I can't keep track of them anymore. So I had to ask. The answer was yes--this is the first time.

I think I can be excused for not knowing, since when it comes to my list he's always been number one. Congratulations, Awesome Son of Mine. You earned it, and I couldn't be happier for you.


Happy New Year!

That's how we greeted each other at my parish yesterday. Why? Because although the calendar still reads 2008, this weekend marks the beginning of a new church year.

It also marks the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. So although I admit I am enjoying listening to Christmas tunes on the radio as I travel my usual paths, I will not experience the joyful singing of Christmas hymns in church with my brothers in sisters in Christ until Christmas Eve. And that is how it should be. The focus in our worship right now is properly not on the arrival of Jesus in this world, for according to the litugical calendar by which we order our year, He has not yet come. But we know that He is coming, and as we hear that promise over the next four weeks, we wait, and watch, and prepare.

The Paul Gerhardt (1607-76) hymn "O Lord, How Shall I Meet You" (LSB 334), which we sang yesterday, perfectly captures man's sinful state and his desperate need for and anticipation of His Saviour. Here are several stanzas ripe for meditation and prayer:

"O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright?
Your people long to greet You, my hope, my heart's delight!
O kindle, Lord most holy, Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly all that may please You best.

I lay in fetters groaning; You came to set me free.
I stood, my shame bemoaning: You came to honor me.
A glorious crown You give me, a treasure safe on high
That will not fail or leave me as earthly riches fly.

Love caused Your incarnation; Love brought You down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling, that led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling our lost and fallen race."

That Jesus came to honor me and that He could thirst for my salvation is a mystery that I in my unworthiness cannot comprehend. All I can do is be glad and welcome Him:

"Then fling the gates wide open to greet your promised king!
Your king, yet ev'ry nation its tribute too should bring.
So let your praise be sounding for kindness so abounding:
Hosanna to the Lord, For he fulfills God's Word."
("Prepare the Royal Highway," LSB 343, Franz Mikael Franzen)

We sang this one in church yesterday, too. I wish you could hear the way my husband plays it. His ability to highlight the text in his hymn-playing always amazes me. (And for you hymn experts out there, yes, I conflated a couple of stanzas of this one in order to highlight the words I wanted.)

As you spend the next few weeks shopping, decorating, mailing Christmas cards, watching Christmas programs and baking cookies, I pray that you will also find time to be quiet, reflect, repent, pray, and prepare for the Advent of Our Lord. He's coming! Get ready!