Monday, December 31, 2018

"I suggest we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people.  The Christmas story -- the one according to Luke not Dickens -- is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.  We prefer to think of ourselves as givers -- powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.  Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas.  There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are.  Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we -- with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities -- had little to do with God's work in Jesus."  ~Williams Willimon

We're beginning to catch our collective breath after a whirlwind week of celebrating Christmas.  Listening to Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" while we travel is a Christmas tradition in our family.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmas Caroling

Sweet times last night as we filled our bellies with hot soup then sang around our neighborhood and proclaimed Christ's birth with one of my orchestra colleagues and his family.  This may be my favorite Advent tag.  I know I say that with almost every tag we turn over.

Lentil and Chicken Sausage Stew

32 ounces chicken broth
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
3 fully cooked spicy chicken sausage links (2 ounces each), cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (I usually double the garlic)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

In a 4 or 5 quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours  or until lentils are tender.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Birthday!

Benjamin turned eighteen yesterday.  Unlike some of his previous birthday celebrations, it was a low key kind of day, and I hardly saw him.

Time with cousins and Sarah's creation of gingerbread chocolate lava cakes accompanied by homemade gingerbread ice cream made for a very fun celebration of my favorite college freshman.

 Of course, when Choates and Schalchlins get together, there must be music.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  John 1:14

Today's Advent tag began with this verse and the reminder that Jesus came to earth and immersed himself in our humanity.  Then the kids opened a fondue set so we could immerse some yummy food.  The spinach parmesan fondue recipe was a hit!

When we drove up to hear the JBU Candlelight Concert recently, the choirs began the service from the foyer with a lovely acapella version of John 1.  We couldn't see the choir, but their lovely voices drifted through the cathedral.  This clip begins with verse 14...

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas with Oma and Opa

We're always grateful for the opportunity to spend time with family, especially at Christmas.

 We made a quick trip over to see Oma and Opa in Memphis, and made a special visit to enjoy the Christmas lights at the Memphis Zoo.

Aaron's sister and her son had just arrived from overseas, and Benjamin was his cousin's buddy during our trip (especially on the camel).

The last time we made this trip together, the kids were much younger, but they still remembered the ice skating and how much fun it was.

You are never too old for the merry-go-round!

How I love this guy!  It has been so fun to enjoy the cold weather and to do "date" things together.

Before we left, Aaron gave Sarah a life lesson in how to jump a car.  The car his sister uses had been sitting idle while she was overseas, and it needed a little help to get going again.

Monday, December 17, 2018


Decorations filled the bowls, ready and waiting to dazzle.

Rulers and pencils and templates lay scattered around, and words like slope and "rise over run" floated through the air.

Soon the house began to smell good as two different batches of gingerbread dough cooked in the oven.  One recipe is our old favorite, the other is a new favorite that Sarah found.

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cloves
 1 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
6 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar and gradually add other ingredients, stirring in flour last.  Chill, roll out 1/8 inch thick, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.

Our annual gingerbread edifice changes from year to year.

But every year, the creativity that emerges from this family (they get it all from their dad) totally blows me away.

I am very aware that our family is changing as our amazing kids grow, and that this may be the last time the six of us are together for the Great Choate Gingerbread Bakeoff.

So, I'm soaking up every minute, every laugh, 

every delicious bite of JBU's clock tower, a Christmas tree, our home complete with the six of us, JBU's cathedral, and a gothic prayer chapel complete with stained glass windows.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sweet Sabbath

"No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor.  The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God -- for them there will be no Christmas.  Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone.  That someone is God.  Emmanuel.  God-with-us.  Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God."  ~Oscar Romero

One of the best things about living in the Solomon Islands is the utter dependence it produces in me.  Dependence on God and dependence on those who live around me.  In America, it's too easy to fall into the trap of thinking I can do life without help...impeding my relationship with God and my relationship with people.  Which is why this quote rings so true for me:

"Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God."

I might also add that when I feel self-sufficient and proud, I have no need of friends and family and tend to stay walled up in my own house.  When I feel like I can do this thing called life on my own, I won't have authentic relationships.  But when I'm brought to my knees by my sinfulness and my lack of wisdom and my absolute need for a circle of people around me, I am forced to be transparent.  And that's where the abundance of God and the deepening of friendships begins.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Some people choose to live a lifestyle of servanthood, and Henk and Margreet are two of the most down-to-earth, servant hearted people I know.  They were making a quick trip to America to visit some family members and chose to drive to spend a little bit of time with us.  I think they were on the road longer than they were actually in our house!  We sure do love these guys.

Last year, we got to see them in their home in Canada, but we're used to sweating and serving together in the Solomon Islands, so seeing each other wearing long sleeves looked a little funny.

As always, they found some way to serve our family, Henk used his skills to show us how to start removing Johnny Appleseed from our kitchen walls.  This may be a project for all six of us to tackle over Christmas Break!

Friday, December 14, 2018

St. Lucia's Day

As the oldest daughter at home this year, Olivia took the responsibility of preparing the St. Lucia's Day breakfast for the family yesterday morning.  She chose to make Almond Danish Swirls because most of the work could be done the night before, and I needed to be out the door early to teach orchestra all day.

It's days like this that we miss Sarah (and Benjamin) the most, but we are so grateful they are thriving in college!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Calendar

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence."  Matthew 23:25

As we continue our journey through Advent, this verse on the tag reminds us to continue checking the condition of our hearts and to ask the Lord to keep scrubbing away.  

It's also a signal that Christmas mugs and drinks are that day's treat!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christmas Candlelight

Aaron and I treasure the Christmas Candlelight performances from our college days.  And we are utterly overwhelmed that Sarah and Benjamin have a similar opportunity at JBU.

One of the hardest things as parents is recognizing gifts in our kids and having the wisdom to steward them well.  Moving overseas left us bereft of musical training opportunities and ensembles for our children.  We are so grateful that the Lord has brought a wealth of understanding and patient mentors and teachers and ensembles into each of our children's lives to help make up for those "lost" years.

Sarah's solo was lovely, she sang in two ensembles (that's a story for another blog post).  Benjamin played viola in the chamber orchestra and sang in two ensembles as well.  They both had a host of friends and cheerleaders (including Sarah's incredible roommate whom we love so much) in the audience.  The service was worshipful and beautiful.

Most programs like this end with Silent Night.  This particular tradition follows the candlelit Silent Night with "Fairest Lord Jesus".  

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
Now and forever more be Thine.

And afterward, when our college kids were partying with JBU's School of Music, the rest of us partied at Braum's (why don't we have one of these in our hometown?!?) and enjoyed their Christmas milkshakes.  The gingerbread is my personal favorite!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent Serving Sundays

Last year during Advent, we enjoyed "Serving Saturdays".  This year, I switched it to "Serving Sundays".  But, because of our crazy schedules, that doesn't mean that the activity actually takes place on a Sunday.

Our kids (even the ones far away) each got $10 to spend toward a local food pantry.  Olivia and Katherine had a blast budgeting and choosing how to spend their money with good stewardship.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Advent Weekend Wonders

"What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance….Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day's celebration we do well to remember that God's insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility."  ~J.B. Phillips

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Amahl and the Choate Visitors

We usually save "Amahl and the Night Visitors" for Epiphany.  I've never seen a live performance that didn't include Aaron.  Until now.

When a friend of ours said he was singing in a performance, we knew we had to attend.  This is one of our very favorite and most familiar operas.  We have high hopes to be a part of a performance one day, whether it's playing in the pit or singing in the shepherd's chorus or Aaron singing the part of Kaspar, the king, or maybe all of the above!

 The sweetest thing about this particular matinee performance at Wildwood Park for the Arts was the way the conductor spoke to the special audience of children to prepare them for the story.  And the way he drew them in again at the end when he wrapped up the conversation.  He told the children that Amahl had a problem and asked them to watch and identify the problem.  After the performance, he asked what Amahl's problem was, and the first answer was that his mother didn't believe him.  I was gobsmacked, because it was so obvious to me that Amahl had a physical problem - he was lame.

I needed the different perspective.  These kiddos carried on a thoughtful discussion with the conductor for just a few minutes before they moved on to dive into their sack lunches.  This is the perfect first opera, and I was excited to see such a young audience.  Especially a group that might not normally be exposed to a performance like this.  And this year, I was grateful that we didn't have any broken bones to accompany the opera!