Saturday, December 24, 2022

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

Merry Christmas from a very cold Pennsylvania Christmas Eve. 

Hands down, my favorite part of Christmas is the music. I start listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day, and our family has memories surrounding numerous Christmas songs. 

Earlier this week our church went caroling. We divided into five groups. My group walked the street singing to some of my brother's neighbors. It was a cold clear evening (thankfully not nearly as cold as this morning) and perfect caroling weather. Several people said they hadn't heard carolers for twenty or more years. Some joined us in singing. Some videoed us on their phones and sent it to friends. One man asked if we'd come down to the park because he wanted the children to hear us sing. The evening reminded me why caroling is my favorite Christmas tradition.

I remember the first time I read through the words of all the verses to the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I was a young teen, and the message moved me to tears. 

At that time I didn't know the story behind the words. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a widower, His wife had died from injuries from a house fire two years before. His son had left to fight in the Civil War against his father's wishes and was seriously injured. When I think of a grieving husband and father, facing a Christmas season during a turbulent time in the nation's history, these words feel even more poignant. 

Here are the words to Longfellow's poem that are usually sung, omitting two of stanzas that refer more specifically to the Civil War.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
Th' unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

This song reminds me that Jesus came to a groaning earth, not a perfect paradise. He came to hurting grieving people, not those who are merry and bright. He came to restore our peace with God and give us love for our fellow humans - all things we need just as much today.

In recent years, Casting Crowns has recorded a beautiful new tune that has become popular, but here is a recording with the traditional Calkin tune.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge

I had so much fun reading this fall. Somehow the right books found me at the right time in the right mood. I loved that the fall challenges pushed me to read some books that I would otherwise probably not found.

This post contains affiliate links.

 1. Read a book that intimidates you.

Charity - Hard Times by Charles Dickens
I love Dickens and read his books over and over. I have read Hard Times more than once.  That is precisely why it feels daunting. Something about the sadness of the book coupled with the lack of lovable characters made me never want to read it again. But when my favorite podcast was going to be reading it, I just had to read it with them. It still isn’t my favorite Dickens novel, but, with the help of those who are knowledgeble about the Victorian era and literature, I learned vast amounts about education, theVictorian home and reading a book well. 

Gina - Hard Times by Charles Dickens
I read the same book as Charity, but for a different reason. I've only read a few of Dicken's books and it has been years since I tackled one. I wasn't sure I had the patience for a Dicken's novel. But Dark Times is one of his shorter books, and it was such fun to read and discuss it with Charity. I didn't expect to gain insight into the education of children and the need to encourage the imagination.

2. Read a book about a founder of a ministry or nonprofit organization. 

Charity - He Gave Us a Valley by Helen Roseveare
For twenty years, Roseveare lived in the Congo. A few of her years overlapped a terrifying time of rebellion and civil war. This particular book gives an overview of all twenty years but mostly focuses on her last few years as the founder  of a medical school. It is a story of intense work to build a school out of nothing, working with a confusing government, and eventually facing rejection from those she had given her life to serve. Roseveare taught me a lot about surrender and giving our lives because Christ gave everything for us. I’m looking forward to reading a few more of her books. 

Gina - Chasing My Cure by David Fajgenbaum
The author was a young medical student when he became very sick and was hospitalized as his organs began failing. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Castleman's Disease. A few months later, his health crashed again and again he nearly died. This book tells the story of beginning an organization to help find a cure for himself and others as well as improve the health care for those with rare diseases.

3. Read a book published in your birth year. 

Charity - Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes

It was delightful to browse my  TBR pile and find a book published exactly in 1999! Bella Tuscany is a sequel to Mayes first book Under the Tuscan Sun, a story about buying a home in Italy. Both books had me drooling over the incredible descriptions of food, longing for a glimpse of the Italian scenery, and laughing at Americans living in a foreign country. Disclaimer: this is a secular book written by an author whose lifestyle is very different from what I would promote. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is frequent and the author is divorced and cohabitating. 

Gina - Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner

I was struggling to find a book published in 1976 until I searched the Pulitzer prize winners. Beautiful Swimmers follows the crabbers in the Chesapeake Bay through a whole year as they search for the bay's famous blue crab. I took this book on our vacation to Chincoteague where my sons brought back a catch of blue crab for us to enjoy. I loved learning about a bay that has always fascinated me and the people who make their living from its waters. 

4. Read a book that others have raved about.

Charity - The Lazy Genius Kitchen by Kendra Adachi
Gina passed this book to me with the words that I might enjoy it as I set up my own kitchen. It was such a fun read while also making me think through the way my kitchen is arranged and how to make this important part of my home efficient and enjoyable. She offers a variety of tips that inspired me to think about what matters in my kitchen, how to organize and make the everyday tasks a little easier. A beautiful, simple, and easy to read book. 

Gina - Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
Almost every book I read could fit this category, since most books I read have been recommended by a friend. I was at a baby shower this fall and the rave review I heard about this book sent me immediately to to place an order for it. I'd been wishing for a resource for goal setting. I thought this book would be geared just for business men and not be applicable for somone whose life has been upended and planning feels futile, but I found it very helpful in evaluating my current life and future goals. But reading the book is only the first step. I fear that I'll put this book on the shelf and not actually use the plan they lay out. This is when I need an accountability partner!

5. Read a book set in your state or province.

Charity - The Christopher Saurs by Stephen L. Longenecker 
We have all learned about Benjamin Franklin and the time period surrounding him, but I realized when I picked up this book that I had never read about the contemporary printers of Franklin, especially not Brethren printers. Christopher Saur Senior and Junior were an influential part of the German population before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. Living as Anabaptists and printing a German newspaper, they held spiritual and political influence over their people during an important time in American history. I enjoyed this glimpse into a well-known time period.

Gina - Placemaker by Christie Purifoy
Purifoy has written a lovely memior about the homes she has lived in, from Texas to Chicago to Florida to now an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania. It is hard to categorize this book. It is about trees, and restoring old houses, and the value of community. Maybe it is about hospitality. Maybe it is simply a celebration of home. Maybe it is a reminder that we have been placed on this earth to cultivate beauty. Whatever it is, I loved it. If you need a cozy read this winter, I suggest this one. 

6. Read a book that addresses an area you want to grow in. 

Charity- Flourish by Dorcas Showalter
This book addresses a number of topics related to being a wife, homemaker, mother, and Christian woman. Through telling her own story of failure and triumph, Showalter gave me much to contemplate and I plan to read it again in a few years as my life changes and her wisdom will find new things to teach me.

Gina - The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon
If one of Jesus' two commandments was "Love your neighbor," why don't I know my neighbors' names? This was the convicting question I asked after reading this book. I have lived in this house for twenty years, and I could only name three of my neighbors. I walk by their houses, and know their dogs, even wave and say "hello," but I don't know even their name. Since reading this book, I have stopped and talked to two neighbors, finding out their names, and hearing a bit of their story. I have a long way to go to truly loving my neighbors, but this book inspired me to start. It is easy to read but shoots down excuses for obeying the second commandment.

7. Look up the definition of a word that you read in a book.

Charity - I no longer remember what words I looked up, but I do know when I take the time to look up words I don’t fully understand, it always makes me wonder why I don’t do it more often. Maybe some day I’ll develop  a habit of  slowing down and finding out what words mean.

Gina- Several times as I was reading, this month, I'd think, I should look up that word. But I don't like to have my phone near me when I'm reading, so it as inconvienent to look up the word. If I'm reading online, I am much more likely to look up a word because it is only a few keystrokes away. I guess that shows how lazy I am. I did read, and love, Reading the OED by Ammon Shea, who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, a feat that required dedicated reading for ten hours a day for MONTHS! The book chronicles his experience and shares his favorite words and their meanings.

8. Carry a physical book with you.

Charity - My philosophy is you will never regret taking a book with you. More often I regret not having a book. So this fall I read about organizing my kitchen while in the doctor's waiting room and often have had a book on the passengers seat of my car. You know, just in case. 

Gina - I am usually good at grabbing a book when I leave the house, just in case. But this fall I sat in the Urgent Care and the Pet Emergency Room (neither life threatening situations) without a book. I couldn't believe that I was so frazzled that I walked out of the door without a book! Maybe I need to start keeping a spare book in the vehicle for emergencies.

What did you read this fall?


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