Christmas in the Snow

It’s a cold, cold, windy day in the Midwest, and we’re staying in for a couple of days while the Blizzard of 2022 passes. It will give us a white Christmas unless the snow blows out of here and heads east to Illinois along with the many inflatable decorations that were not adequately anchored before the storm hit. (Those poor children who think that Santa is coming a day or two early when they see the deflated reindeer soar overhead or find Flat Santa in the yard on Christmas Eve!)

Gray, snowy days always make me feel nostalgic, especially at Christmas. I yearn to play the more melancholy Christmas tunes that are appropriate to Advent. As I get ready once again to welcome the Saviour, the Advent theme of a penitential season to prepare my heart for His coming seems to demand more contemplative music.

I recorded these songs at our church on our Kawai electronic hybrid piano. Bob did the sound recording, but the songs are just as I played them in an empty church. I hope they cause you to welcome Jesus, too. He’s coming again, you know.

“Away in a Manger” is the first Christmas song most children learn, and adults still love it. It begins with a description of the stable scene, and it ends with a prayer that Jesus would watch over us and take us to heaven. This arrangement by Mark Hayes includes several of the various settings of the carol.

“Breath of Heaven” tells of Mary’s reaction to the knowledge that she will give birth to the Saviour. Probably a teenager herself, she pleads for heavenly help as she begins to nurture her son, the Christ. This Mark Hayes arrangement captures the mood of Mary’s prayer.

“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” echoes the plea of the Jews who had been promised the Messiah hundreds of years before and were still waiting. We, like them, are waiting for the Messiah’s promised return. Mark Hayes (Can you tell he’s my favorite arranger?) gives us this contemplative setting.

“Jesus King of Angels” by Fernando Ortega is also a prayer for divine protection. This minimalist setting by Jay Rouse is perfect for a lullaby.

“Mary, Did You Know” has become a new classic, asking us to reflect on what Mary may have known about the life her son Jesus would lead. And yes, I think Mary did know, perhaps not completely, but the Bible says that she “treasured up these things in her heart,” implying that she was careful to remember details about Jesus’s life. Jay Rouse has done a beautiful job of translating this song to piano solo.

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is an ancient hymn recounting the Gospel. The song was originally a chant, and it has been adapted by Jay Rouse for modern ears.

“O Holy Night” reminds us that we are to worship Christ just as the shepherds and the Magi did. At the last chorus of this Mark Hayes arrangement remember the words of the song: Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!

“The Wexford Carol” is a traditional Irish melody. (You knew I would put in an Irish tune!) Its lyrics are these: Good people all, this Christmas time, Consider well and bear in mind What our good God for us has done In sending His beloved son.

May you and yours have a Merry Christmas and rejoice in the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour!

Serving from a Distance

This next week was supposed to be Week of Service on my campus, when students would take missions trips or maybe just volunteer at their home church or the local food pantry.  Due to concerns about spreading illness, missions trips have been cancelled, and we are disappointed.  We think a week off will be a good thing for everyone, and it will give us a time to rest, recuperate, and disinfect the campus.

However, we should not be excused from serving others because the world is under quarantine.  We are called to serve others, and there are many ways to do that without being in their physical presence. While this list is written for my own college students, it can easily be adapted for general use.

Here is a list of 25 ways to serve without social contact:

  1. Clean out your closets and donate your abundance to a charity.
  2. Write encouraging notes to Christian brothers and sisters. Email works if you don’t have the address.
  3. Help your mom spring clean your house.
  4. Make soup and deliver it to someone who is sick (call them first, and leave the soup on the porch).
  5. Plan a youth event to take place later.
  6. Prep a series of Bible lessons.
  7. Call your grandparents. After that, call your aunts and uncles.
  8. Get a list of visitors from the church office and call them or write a note inviting them to come back.
  9. Organize the kitchen cabinets.
  10. Make a prayer list and pray diligently.
  11. Read a kid’s book or two aloud and record it. Put it on YouTube.
  12. If you are crafty, make items for charity.
  13. Post uplifting messages on social media. Leave positive comments.
  14. Practice a musical instrument.
  15. Detail your parents’ car(s).
  16. Plan and cook dinner for your family.
  17. Lead a devotional time for your family; use what you’ve learned.
  18. Help a sibling with homework.
  19. Write a poem or worship song.
  20. Read a good book and write a review on Goodreads or Amazon.
  21. Do an art project.
  22. Plan meals for a month and make the shopping list.
  23. Bake brownies or cookies and share with your neighbors. (Again, call first and leave them on the porch.)
  24. Bathe the dog.
  25. Work on your homework. (It will bless you and also bless your professors.)

The Book of James in the Age of Corona

This is a short devotional I will give tomorrow, on the last day of school before we send the students home for a break.  Next week was to be a Week of Service, and my students were planning to take mission trips to Philadelphia and the west coast of Florida.  They were so excited about going, serving, and experiencing another environment, but current events dictate that their safety (and recovery from our mini-outbreak of influenza) is more important.  So we are just taking a break and waiting to see what next week will bring. I must say that I cherish each class meeting.  Who knows when we will get another?

I am the English teacher, and you all know what I like to see in papers:  a clear thesis, developed with lots of detail and support.  Every sentence should advance the thesis, and a paper has only one main idea.  Had James turned in his epistle to me, he would have failed.  The book has no clear thesis, developed throughout the book.  It seems to be a collection of topics—sort of like sitting down with James and having a conversation which veers off onto various subjects, much as our conversations over the lunch table do.

However, reading James as a letter or an essay would be the wrong way to approach it.  James has way more in common with Proverbs than it does with 1 Corinthians. As a person who must fight to stay on track, I love James.  He has no central thesis, but jumps from subject to subject, giving us clear, practical direction about how to live a holy life. He’s not so abstractly theological that we are understanding what he says but wondering how to apply it.  No, he gives us a principle, like a proverb, then commands us to apply it.  In fact, in the 108 verses of James, there are 50 commands!

Though James was most likely penned in the mid-first century AD, he was remarkably perceptive about human nature.  His proverbs and applications are remarkably relevant to our lives today.  (These are Perrey Paraphrases.)

  • Rejoice in trials. It’s a test, which, if you pass, will result in patience and steadfastness.
  • If you really have faith, you’d better get busy and show it. Christianity does not only manifest itself in the mind; it requires action.
  • Don’t show favoritism. Don’t prefer someone because they wear the latest name-brand fashions or have made a famous name for themselves.  It’s usually the ones we admire, like the rich, who are most likely to abuse us. Show your faith by being kind to the poor.
  • Watch your mouth. James says that our tongue can set the entire course of our life on fire (3:1).  We can choose to bless or curse; we cannot effectively do both.
  • The one who is truly wise will show it in his conduct by being reasonable, merciful, and peaceable.

Now, those proverbs especially relevant to the Age of Corona:

  • Wash your hands—yes, really (4:8)! But don’t just stop there; purify your hearts, too.
  • Live for the present, since we don’t have a clue what will happen tomorrow (4:13-16).
  • Take care of your brothers. Don’t talk trash about them or be judgy; pray for them when they are ill, and do all you can to restore those who wander away from God.

The 108 verses of James, containing 50 commands in 5 chapters, can be read in 10 minutes.  It will take you a lifetime to process their wisdom.

So, I would ask you to take James’ advice to heart.  If you are a believer, act like one.  Focus on living a holy life, so that no matter what happens, you will be shown to be a good and faithful servant.

Write Your Own Christmas Romance!

One of our favorite activities on a cool weekend evening is watching television.  By week’s end, the husband and I like nothing better than to amuse ourselves with something mindless.  The Hallmark Channel is glad to oblige us with their many, many “original” holiday movies.  I love a good story, and a story with a happy ending is the best way to end a week.  However, last fall I began to see that those “original” movies weren’t so original after all.  They use only a few basic plot lines, reset in different places and performed by different actors.  I only have to watch every so often to catch right back up; paying close attention is not required, so I’m free to work on a craft project or catch up with my many friends on Facebook.  Within a couple of minutes of watching, I know exactly what has happened during the time I let my attention stray.

Some literary theorists say that there are really only a couple of plots:  a stranger comes to town; or the hero takes a journey.  Sometimes these plots can be combined, but most stories fall primarily into those categories.  Christmas movies are no exception.  Either one person stays home, only to greet his/her new love who just happens to stop in for a week (or a lifetime), or the soon-to-be-lovebird finds that he/she just must travel right before Christmas.

After last year’s marathon holiday movie-watching binge, I have acquired some expertise in analyzing the basic parts of the movies.  For your viewing pleasure, I’ve managed to distill the basic elements into a handy one-page guide.  If you check off several elements to use in your story, you too can become a writer for Hallmark, Lifetime, or Netflix.

Write your own Christmas movie


When You Are in the Front Row

Our family is in the midst of a season of loss.  In the last 5 months, we’ve lost my father, his sister, and his brother’s wife.  That’s a lot of funerals.  The last one was particularly hard.  My aunt had not been ill, and was the youngest of my father’s generation.  She died suddenly, the day after Christmas, just after she and my uncle had arrived at their winter home in Texas.

After the funeral, my cousin, her son, commented to me that my siblings and I could understand how he felt.  “After all,” he said, “you’ve had to sit on the front row, too.”

At funerals, the front row is reserved for family.  You’re glad to be together, but you have a hard time getting your mind around the loss.  You are heartbroken, but suddenly you’re in front of a lot of people. You may know the reality of Christ and the resurrection, but you still have to deal with the awful absence of the person that you love.

So, what is my advice to people on the front row? Obviously, this is not a complete list, nor will every item be useful for every situation of loss, but this is what I would tell my siblings and my cousins.

  1. Remember that it’s OK to feel several things at once. You are sad, but you may also feel relief if your loved one had suffered with illness.
  2. Focus on the good memories. The end of life is generally filled with illness and hardship, but  the end of life did not define your loved one.  Think about what they taught you, and times when you felt especially close to them.
  3. Treat your family gently. All of you will grieve in a different way. Some people will be overcome with grief; others won’t cry at all.  Hug each other and tell each other you love them.  After the funeral, call each other and work hard to stay close, particularly after the death of a parent.
  4. If help is accepted, take it. You won’t be emotionally able to complete every task that should be done.  Let others help with household chores, babysitting, and planning the funeral dinner.  They love you and your family. Helping you is their way of supporting you.
  5. Know that the grave is not the end of the story. Your loved one has left the body; now they are with the Lord. You miss them, but their soul didn’t die; it merely changed residence. You will see them again.

Praying that you grieve with hope,


The cousins, or at least all but one of us.  Photo credit, Todd Tuthill

cousins with me

The Last Hallmark Post


Since Thanksgiving, I’ve watched lots of Hallmark Christmas movies.  They are, indeed, a pleasant, predictable diversion.  I can do a load of laundry or work on my knitting without fear that I’ll miss something.  There is always an hour and a half where the couple falls accidentally in love; there will be a crisis of trust about 8:30, and a resolution of the conflict about 8:55, followed by a kiss and a declaration of love. Everyone, it would appear, lives happily ever after, all by 9:00 p.m.

However, there’s a glaring omission in all these Christmas stories:  Jesus.  If Hallmark is the purveyor of all things Christmas, one could get the idea that tree lightings and gingerbread house-building contests are all that people need to get into the “Spirit of the Season”—which really means finding warm, happy feelings toward the people around you, while you scour the local retail establishments in search of the perfect gift. Considering that at least one person on every show is grieving, finding solace in tradition is a tall order.  Sorry, Hallmark.  That’s not how Christmas works.

Without Jesus, there is no season.  Who in their right mind celebrates snowmen?  Snow is a hazard.  Sure, it’s pretty, but anyone who has to drive to work in it has anything but warm, happy feelings. Cold weather festivals?  Move them inside, please.  I shop better when I’m warm. Gingerbread and hot chocolate? Tasty, but that’s about it.  Tree-lighting ceremonies? Nice for community-building, but it only takes seconds to flip a switch.

Did anyone notice that in all the Hallmark celebrating, no one went to church? Christmas Eve was reserved for work or family parties. Caroling was as close as it came to mentioning the savior, and “Round yon virgin, mother and child” was the only mention of the real reason for the party.  Jesus was surprisingly absent from the holiday meant to celebrate His birthday.  In fact, no one mentioned his name.

Jesus has no substitutes, not even the love of your life. The reason we have warm, happy feelings is that Jesus had them first.  Hot chocolate, lights, cookies, even life-long love are all temporary.  We celebrate the season because there is truly something worth celebrating: eternal life!

All Saints Day

It’s All Saints Day, so let’s remember people who make us just stop and praise our God.  The Bible uses the term to denote Christians, so please, nominate only living saints today.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Saint John, who always arrives at church before I do, to make sure that the congregation has coffee.  He’s in his 70’s and takes it upon himself to get to church early, make the coffee, sing in the choir for 2 services, and then clean up the coffee pots before he goes home.  I don’t think he understands how important he is to the life of our little body of Christ.
  • Saint Debbie, who makes sure that the worship music is organized and loaded into the Airprompter system each week.  She also handles communication among the worship people at church and keeps me running on schedule.  I have a musician’s temperament and the lack of time management that goes with it, so the music department might collapse without her.
  • Saint Mary, who is always busy doing what needs to be done.  You might find her in the kitchen, in the choir, or in the fellowship hall, but she makes sure we are fed and not over-stressed. She also keeps helps keep the church building looking good by making sure the decorations are updated and classy. She and her husband, Saint Grant, are always there to lend a hand.
  • Saint Marlene, who is always prepared to teach children in Sunday School.  She has a quiet temperament, but she loves the children, and they love her.  Her family is a testimony to faith.

I could go on and mention many, many more, but these are people who don’t ask for glory and do jobs which might get overlooked.  I praise God for them!

Who are the saints in your life?

Time for Socks

It’s Tour-de-Sock time again, so I’m taking a break from music to knit socks.  Every 10 days or so, I get a new sock pattern to knit as quickly as possible.  I compete against knitters from all over the world, and my goal is to finish in the top 25.  The first stage I placed 33, but that was including babysitting my adorable toddler granddaughter.

The socks have to be knit to competition minimums, which generally are too large for my feet. They become really good gifts, if the husband doesn’t abscond with them first.

My yarn is all (er–almost all) wound into usable cakes, and my carbon-fiber needles are polished.  I’ll make a cup of tea and make sure that snacks are handy. I won’t be cooking dinner this afternoon, so I’d best get that slow cooker ready.  Alexa is ready to play music or audiobooks.  Stage 1 looked like this:fullsizeoutput_1a56

See y’all in a couple of days!

Tangled–and Not the Disney Kind

It is summer, and that means my competitive streak comes out—in knitting.  Every year I participate in the Tour-de-Sock.  Think Tour de France, but we knit socks instead of ride bicycles.  Every 10 days or so, we can download a new sock pattern and knit furiously, trying to be the fastest to complete a pair of socks.  The patterns are not for beginners, so what initially looks like an easy pattern generally has a twist in it that forces you to look IMG_0507up a new technique on the internet.  The competition is worldwide, and I’ve learned that no matter how much I practice, I won’t beat the knitters in Finland.  I will, however, place in the top 5 (usually the top 1 or 2) in the United States, if I can clear my schedule.

The Tour means that I need to visit the yarn store to buy more yarn.  IMG_0511Sock yarn usually is sold in skeins wound like small, heavy ropes. Before you can use the yarn, you need to wind the skein into a ball-like structure, which we call a cake.  If you do this by hand, you can use the back of a chair or a helpful friend to help with the process.  The best way to wind a cake, however, is to have a swift and a ball winder.  The skein fits neatly around the swift, and the ball winder makes short work of winding. A 440-yard skein takes 5 minutes or so to wind, and you’re good to go.

Occasionally, though, the skein tangles on the swift.  Sometimes it’s operator error, but g07JEu%6RZOOpiHPN7i6fAI’ve done this long enough to realize that some companies just don’t tie the skeins properly; their yarn has built-in tangles. The yarn won’t come off the swift smoothly, and the only way to get the yarn into a usable form is to hand-wind it. Sock yarn is expensive.  No matter how tempting it might be to just cut out the tangled part (or toss the whole skein), it’s worth the trouble to take the time to wind it properly, turning a mess into a nice ball that soon become a beautiful pair of socks for some lucky person.

The untangling process goes a little quicker if you leave the tangled skein on the support of the swift. Winding won’t be quick, but skeins taken off the swift and laid on a table quickly become hopelessly tangled, and winding is a frustrating process indeed.  If the yarn is on the swift, winding won’t be quick, but it’s not likely to induce cursing either.

Lots of things in life get tangled.  Maybe it’s a personal problem, a clogged sink, a piece of music you can’t play correctly—doesn’t matter.  Tangles happen.  But no matter what the tangle, a little support can go a long way toward putting things right.  In music, you have the support of technique or perhaps a teacher.  Sinks get unclogged with the support of YouTube or a plumber.  Personal problems?  Sometimes you need the support of a friend.

My friend to call on is Jesus. His Word generally has the correct advice to untangle the knot. Jesus is the one support I can count on to always point to the right way. I might be able to solve the problem on my own, but chances are the situation will get worse before it gets better. Relying on Jesus may still require patience and humility, but the tangle will be smoothed out before you know it.

Here’s to untangled yarn—and lives!

Summer Break

It’s an old joke that educators teach because of June, July, and August. Like any good joke, there’s a grain of truth contained in the punch line. The months from September through May are emotionally, intellectually, and yes, physically grueling. The body wears out, and the mind yearns for pleasure reading. Even daytime TV becomes, at least for an hour, irresistible.

This year, though, summer has been busy.  After some vacation time in southern Missouri, I spent a week at church camp—not far from our vacation spot.  However, church camp with teenagers is most definitely not a vacation. It is, however, a welcome change from the normal school year. Somehow, the transition from the normal school attire to shorts and T-shirts makes grandmotherly professors a little more approachable. I made friends with younger teenagers, met faculty from other colleges, and practiced my dining room sweeping skills.  Maybe the teenagers will attend my college; maybe they won’t, but I hope they came away with the realization that they are loved and valued by Christian grandmothers.


  • Hours in a school van, including lunch at a gas station
  • Looking up at campfire and realizing that you really can see stars—lots of them
  • Listening as teenagers open up about their faith
  • Helping my family group memorize scripture
  • Watching younger people play Bonkers (you really have to see it)
  • Morning shows with stupid songs and videos
  • Watching 60 teenagers vow to follow Jesus and embrace the cross

Have I done pleasure reading? Absolutely, but I haven’t been able to keep up with my normal book-a-day pace. Have I watched daytime TV? Not unless you count the morning news show (I do have some standards). Have I made progress on my next recording? Not much, other than selecting the music.

Was camp worth the time spent (and the chiropractor bills from bad bunks)? You betcha.  Today’s teenagers need the influence of Christian adults who are not their parents. Today’s grandparents need the influence of teenagers.

Next summer, volunteer for church camp or VBS duty. You’ll be glad you did.