winter is for reading

The best way to enjoy winter, I find, is to embrace it. There are many moments spent by a warm fire, and there’s nothing like a basket of favorite winter-time books to make those moments more irresistible.

I’ll share the books in my winter book basket, but I’d love to know: what are some of your seasonal favorites? Ours have been read many, many times over, and a few new titles would sure be a treat!

*****


Gingerbread Baby


The Hat


Bear Snores On


Snow


The Snowy Day


Katy and the Big Snow


Winter Poems (Rogasky)


Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening


Owl Moon


Warm as Wool



Snowflake Bentley and Snowflakes in Photographs


Flannel Kisses


A Winter Day

packed up, put away, and looking forward: january.

There are a very few houses still wearing their Christmas colors, warm colored lights greeting me in the dark mornings as I walk. I’m sure their owners are cringing at how behind they are, and when they will ever find the time, but I wish they could see me smile as I walk by — wistful already as I recall the days of December, their warmth and memories, how they sped by far too quickly, how I wish we could just do that one more time before moving onto the rest of the year.

December passed in its own unique way, as it seems to do each year — this mother and home manager whose heart is full of ideas and plans, who learns every single year to hold such things loosely as real life topples day dreams, only to find that the actual gifts of a Good Father are perfect for us.

Piano performances, choir practices, movie nights, early to bed nights, colds and upset tummies, cookies that taste like the memories of a hundred Christmases past, school winding down and play winding up, first snow, quiet days at home instead of the usual bustle of play dates and get togethers (because viruses), gifts purchased and wrapped and rejoiced over, choral performances that made this mama cry, books read aloud, and suddenly the blessed days of rejoicing and celebration and tradition are upon us, and we revel in it all.

Then it’s over, and we happily let the days slip by as we embrace vacation mode, staying long in PJs, playing with new toys for hours while Mama tries to create some semblance of order. The end of the year purge, making room for new things, getting rid of the broken and unused.

Cold snap. Temps plunging way, way below zero, keeping children inside when frostbite seems to truly threaten. Boys shoveling fast and furiously, coming inside with eyes full of hot chocolate hopes. (Yes, of course yes.) The few days in the 20s and 30s feel like a heat wave, and the play time goes on for hours as they shovel their way through the backyard, creating their very own North Country Roxaboxen.

House projects. Laundry room upheaval, and us short a bathroom, but who cares when there’s long term gain? Slowly we watch it get put back together, and finally the weekend comes when we can vacuum and mop and organize and move in and smile as the washing machine hums its familiar hum.

At last, that means, school.

Fresh starts and new energy escaped me this year, I’ll confess. Oh, those long and often intense days of schooling sounded just like that: long and intense. All I could remember was Cecily up to no good and loose ends left undone every evening and a general feeling of “are we having fun yet?” True story: this happens. It happens to me. Deep in my soul, tentacles of discouragement wrap and bind and pull me down.

But hand to the plow, shoulder to the grindstone, and most of all, heart set on promises: He has never failed me yet.

New routine thought through, fresh pencils, and without any more to-do (because no excuses; that’s what I told myself) we started. To the tune of an unending snowstorm and boys shoveling half the day, and I had to laugh at my carefully laid plans.

You know what?

It was peaceful and fun and synergistic and good.

He has never failed me yet.

So, off we go: into a new year, on a path winding forward, heading towards the rising sun.

in the bleak mid-winter

Stunning words, perfect harmonies: a favorite Christmas hymn.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.

Listen here.

celebrate

It’s Christmas week.

Celebration begins in earnest, or at least the plans for doing so begin to whip into shape — and isn’t that half the celebration? Calendar out to plan the afternoons for cinnamon roll baking, birthday cake making (Cecily!), and when to start the food for Christmas dinner; kids all out on the town with money burning in their pockets, eyes sharp as they hunt for the perfect sibling gift; me slipping into my room and wrapping what is left (ha! most!) of the gifts while children inevitably follow and knock and whisper loudly, “Can I wrap my gifts yet??”; shopping lists covertly texted to Ryan as I remember all those stocking needs that slipped my mind; and hopefully plenty of evenings together by candlelight, tree light, reading or singing or watching a favorite holiday movie. We are celebrating, after all.

Last night my boys were able to sing in a Christmas cantata that was so beautiful, so well done, and so moving, I literally laid in bed unable to sleep because I was riding such a high of joy and awe and too much wonder to hold. I listened to wave after wave of beautiful sounds, carefully penned and orchestrated by musical craftsmen and wordsmiths, and astonished (again, as I often am) at how many pains are taken to try and give voice to the mind-blowing miracle of Jesus’ birth, God’s gift of redemption. Men and women labor over their offerings of art and expression, their hearts swollen with emotion and the need to contribute their own voice to the chorus of hundreds who have already sung, written, played, painted, danced and otherwise expressed the majesty of God’s love.

I listen to soaring sopranos over fanfare of brass woven with ribbons of string filled in with harmonies that seem to have always existed and someone finally heard them and wrote them down — and I wonder, with such beautiful expressions here, where we only see dimly, what will the song of heaven be like? I weep with the wonder of it, with the aching to express it myself.

And rightly so. It is the story of the Ages, of all mankind.

That I was blind, so very very lost.

And this babe in a manger — He was the gift of sight, the one who came to lead me home.

spirit filled days

It’s all flying by so quickly, as always, but even more so? I feel the temptation towards frustration (with what? I’m not sure where I’d pin the blame) but every time the thought flits through my head, I am reminded and convicted:

There is no thing or activity that makes these Christmastime days warm and happy. It is Jesus in me as I lead and set the tone. What a challenge, but what freedom. I’m not waiting for stars to align and circumstances to occur. The joy and expectation, the love and security, the closeness and fellowship that we all hope for so much at this time of year is always, unfailingly available in Jesus.

*****

Skimming along through Matthew and Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, I was so struck by the story of humble and average people who loved God obediently, and changed HISTORY for all mankind! When Mary said, “Be it done to me according to Your word,” was she thinking of every tongue, tribe, and nation gathered at the throne of the eternal King? Or was she simply saying, “I’m not really sure what is being asked of me, but I love God and my life is His?”

Too often I think of, “If you love Me, keep my commandments,” the same way a 2yo might — a slight and growing awareness that this will actually be good for me, but so much emphasis on “will I obey?”, on my perspective. Not much thought about the why or wisdom behind it as much as the immediate challenge to my soul and whether or not I will yield.

But history and hindsight show that obedience is about the eternal plans of our loving and awesome God being implemented and executed through mere people, practicing mere obedience as an expression of their deep love for a God they cannot see or feel.

Obedience is an invitation, a portal, to the Spirit-powered current that is the Kingdom of God increasing on the earth (Isaiah 9). How do I get to be a part of that awesome happening? By being like Mary, who said, “Here I am, come what may.” By being like Joseph, who had a dream, woke up, and did what he’d heard.

My parents obeyed, and I was born. And I might not be the amazingly profound Kingdom of God moment books are written about, but I’m here, loving Jesus. My kids are here now, too, being taught of Him. Hopefully lives are being impacted as we touch them and they are blessed. There’s a current of Kingdom power that this lineage got hooked into through obedience.

So here I am. Today. In my very average life, where my big goals are listening to the kids’ piano pieces and decorating cookies. Blow in me, breath of God! Be it unto me according to Your will.

*****


A little disciple-in-the-making.

peace and joy

December is here. Most of it hasn’t looked quite this white and peaceful, but I loved this moment. I returned from my morning walk and couldn’t help but walk through a yard of new snow. I stopped and listening to that unique quiet that only a snow-covered meadow brings and heard the Holy Spirit speak to me, on the first day of that crazy week between Thanksgiving and Christmas concert when my to-dos are a mile long, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Peace on earth. If that is the message of the angel, perhaps it should be a theme of our rejoicing?

And so we decked our home (rather quickly, without too much creativity, which was just what we needed this year!), made gifts and cards, and prepared for the season’s kick off, the CFA concert.

We got our tree and decorated it, and after kids were in bed Ryan said, “That was kind of easy,” and we realized together that (for better or for worse) the days of us being outnumbered by very small excited children are over, and we’ve moved into a season of more order. Slightly more order. Still enough craziness to know there are five kids decorating a tree.

I took this picture last Sunday, as boys watched football and the girls colored and I tidied the kitchen before starting a new mess for dinner prep. It doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas or December, per se, but it was a moment that I felt so thankful. Blessed to have a home, a husband who loves our home and who loves us, children who are happy to be together, regular old life that is lived together.

But most of this week has looked like Mom with a tummy bug, then Mom with a head cold. The school basics got covered, and plenty of super easy meals and fending for themselves. Normal life, made a bit more special because there is the sense of Christmas all around us. Challenging for me, because I had such high expectations for what we would get done on this last week of regular school, how many gifts I would wrap and get organized, and all of the other things this Type A always has running through her head. Ironically (or not, because the Holy Spirit knows what we need), William’s prayer during devotions on Monday morning was about how even when the day isn’t what we plan or expect, we can just live for the Lord and “move the ball down the field.” (I love that he speaks football to God.) As my stomach churned and warned me that I was being taken down by a weird bug, I knew that prayer was for me.

Because Joy to the World was another message of the angels, and it should be another theme of this season. Joy isn’t something we find in ourselves, when we are satisfied by our own goodness and kindness (which is what so many spend this season trying to do.) Joy is a gift from God, through the salvation offered by His Son, that goes deeper than our circumstances or our own goodness. Joy is knowing that God so loved me that He gave His only Son, and in humbly receiving the news of my own brokenness and HIS sufficiency, I also receive unending Joy and Peace.

Peace isn’t thinking happy thoughts toward strangers. Joy isn’t pushing aside negative thoughts about your husband and kids and hoping positive thinking (and enough holiday cocktails) will somehow get you through these weeks of “happy.”

Peace and Joy can be real and lasting and transforming. Peace and Joy are in knowing Jesus, the God-Man who came to dwell with us and know us and redeem us, whose birth we celebrate with awe and thanksgiving.

May He come and bring His peace and joy to you this season.