When Life Is Shattered, Who Will Hold Me Together? {The Very Best Christmas Music: A Blog Series}

Ah, Christmas music.

Love it or hate it, this time of year it’s everywhere you go. Some of our local radio stations start playing it 24 hours a day before Thanksgiving even arrives. So it’s easy to get really sick of it by mid-December.

Problem is, we hear the same playlist of songs over and over. It’s not that they aren’t great songs, it’s just that too much of a good thing gets old quick. (NERD ALERT: I’m just gonna go out on a limb, though, and admit that Carnie and Wendy Wilson’s  “Hey Santa” never gets old.)

I have a long list of Christmas favorites. Listening to some of the old songs makes me remember Christmases past, and what I was going through or feeling at the time those songs were popular.

Which led me to the decision to write a short series on some of my favorite Christmas music. . . and the personal stories behind them.

The Very Best Christmas Music: A Blog Series

the best christmas music

 

Breath of Heaven

When I was a mere 23 years old, I endured a traumatic, life-changing experience involving an abusive relationship and an intense amount of shame. Emotionally bruised and battered, I became a shell of my former self. Life was in pieces all around me. I was thankful to be alive, thankful beyond words to God for rescuing me from terrible circumstances when I was simply too weak to save myself.

But it was the lowest point I’d ever experienced. Heart-crushingly, mind-numbingly low. I was all alone, depressed, and completely unsure of anything.

It was 1992. I had a new job, a new apartment, and was attempting a new start.

That fall, Amy Grant’s new Christmas album Home for Christmas was released. I hightailed it to the music store (remember how we actually had to go to the music store to buy music?) and bought the CD.

And just like millions of other people, I fell in love with Breath Of Heaven, sung from the point of view of a pregnant young Mary, afraid and unsure and wondering with amazement why she was chosen to be the mother of the anointed one.

I, too, was young. I was so afraid of where life had dumped me, so terrified of never escaping from the pit of loneliness and depression I’d fallen into. The world was indeed, as the song says, cold as stone.

All that fall of 1992, the lyrics repeated over and over in my head and on my stereo:

“Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Light up my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy”

I programmed the song to endless repeat every night when I went to bed.  The words were my prayer, the one I couldn’t pray for myself, because I was too shaken to cry out to God. Shame consumed me. I didn’t know how God could forgive me, let alone love me.

Breath Of Heaven – and the very Holy Spirit himself — interceded for me when I was shattered to pieces. When my heart was too wounded to muster an offering of any kind. When my soul was damaged and in danger of being extinguished, Amy Grant’s smoky alto sang words of life and hope and comfort over me. . . night after lonely night.

Her voice would crackle ever so slightly as she crooned the words:

“Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.”

If I could have summoned a prayer from the deepest part of my being, those two words would have been its entirety. Help me. The plea of a drowning person.

How I ache for the girl I was, but how amazed I am at God’s provision and comfort and loving care. He pulled me from a miry pit of despair and set my feet upon a rock. After a few lonely months, he began to move me in a new direction. He rescued me again.

God comforted me and wooed me back to Him during that difficult time. But Breath Of Heaven played no small part in giving me just enough hope to keep looking up.

Hold Me Together

The holidays can be painful for so many people. Loneliness magnifies itself during this time of year, and the pressure of trying to do too much and be too much somehow becomes infinitely heavier at Christmas time.

Maybe you’re going through a difficult time. Maybe, like my 1992 experience, your world and your heart have broken into a million pieces and you’ve found yourself trying to put it back together. . . only to fail.

Maybe you’ve finally realized that you can’t hold it all together anymore.

I know the feeling. There’s another who knows as well. His specialty is holding things together. He can put you back together and keep you mended and safe.

And He’s as close as your breath. All you need to do is whisper, “Help me.”

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Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” with scenes from The Nativity Story

(If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.)

The 10 Best Christmas Movies {Favorite Things}

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Back in October I blogged for 31 days straight about my favorite things. It was totally random. And of course, 31 days wasn’t enough time to cover everything.

So today, in honor of the season, I’m sharing my top ten Christmas movies.  Just the mention of these movies has me all nostalgic. I’m thinking this weekend is going to need to involve some serious couch time with a mug of hot cocoa and a fire. Hope the weather cooperates. You never know in Texas.

My Top Ten Best Christmas Movies

10.  Love Actually

An all-star cast, a stunning “All I Want for Christmas Is You” performance, and . . . well, let’s face it. . . Hugh Grant. For me at least, he’s the main draw. This one is rated R, so it’s not suitable for watching with the kids. Still, it’s a lovely, snuggly, very Christmasy romantic comedy that I’m pretty sure I’ll be viewing again this weekend.

 

 

9. Home Alone

Is there anybody alive who doesn’t know this film? One of the best Christmas movies ever! We introduced our kids to the lovable Kevin and his antics a few years ago, and they were hooked.

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Not a full-length movie, I know. Still, this is the one Christmas TV special that I think I’ve seen every single year of my existence. It never gets old.

I think my favorite part — aside from Linus’s quoting of Luke chapter two (which is everybody’s favorite part) — is at the end when the kids are singing and every time they take a breath, Pigpen’s dirt gets all stirred up. Also the part when Snoopy mimics Lucy behind her back. Pretty awesome.

7. The Santa Clause

A great family movie with a feel-good, heart-warming message. This one is perfect to watch with kids when they start questioning whether Santa is real. A fun holiday film that is in our yearly must-see category.

 

6. The Preacher’s Wife

This is a 1996 remake of an old Cary Grant movie, The Bishop’s Wife, and stars the late Whitney Houston in the title role. In the film, an angel comes down to earth to help a young preacher and his wife at Christmas time. This movie is worth watching just for the soundtrack alone, not to mention the Denzel Washington eye candy. The song, “Who Could Imagine a King?” is one of my hands-down, all-time favorites. Just beautiful. And Whitney, well. . . she was in a league all her own.

5. The Polar Express 

An absolutely magical movie, based loosely on the popular children’s book with the same title. A lovely message and beautiful soundtrack make this a must-see. We sing the hot chocolate song from this film every time we have hot chocolate. Christmas or not.

4. Prancer

I discovered this little gem of a movie back when I was still in college. It’s about a little girl who finds a wounded reindeer and becomes convinced that it belongs to Santa. She nurses it back to health, in the hope that it will be well in time for Christmas. I LOVE this movie.

3. While You Were Sleeping

One of my all-time favorite romantic comedies, this film is not really a Christmas movie, but it is set around Christmas time, so. . . close enough. Sandra Bullock is at her lovable best in this movie. Fun and sweet and highly recommended!

2. The Nativity Story

We have a family tradition of watching this every year. Be warned, however, that it is too graphic for very young children. The movie, however, gives incredibly sensitive treatment to the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. The acting is superb (Joseph is our favorite) and the soundtrack is divine.

1. Elf

Hands down, probably the best Christmas movie ever. We laugh over and over at it every single year, as if we didn’t know what was coming. It’s just a given in our house that if anybody belches, we follow it with the quote, “Did you hear that?!?” Absolutely delightful, hilarious, and fun for the whole family. A modern classic.

So there. Now you have something to do this weekend!

While you’re wrapping presents or doing your holiday baking, put on a movie and enjoy some downtime with the family or just by yourself! I hope you enjoy my recommendations!

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How to Have the Perfect Christmas This Year

perfect christmas

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Christmas time.

Everything’s all a-hustle and people who don’t know the first thing about Jesus are standing in long lines waiting to purchase gifts. Holiday music blares at every store and there are lights and inflatable snowmen and peppermint lattes and reminders everywhere about how we need to buy more stuff.

You know, so we can make this year the perfect Christmas.

The churches aren’t much different. Last week I accompanied a high school choir performance at a winter festival organized by a local mega church. There was an enormous lighted tree and Christmas carols played over what had to be a million dollar sound system. There were food trucks and a show choir singing selections from “Frozen” and there was even . . wait for it. . . an outdoor skating rink. In Texas.

It was quite the production.

Inherently, I don’t see anything wrong with that sort of thing. It’s fun and it’s festive and it’s family-friendly. And those are all good things.

But I have to wonder, in my heart of hearts, if we’ve missed the point.

We’ve taken the small and the precious and the wondrous — the very things that Mary pondered in her heart, held so close and so dear that she couldn’t even speak them aloud — and we’ve turned them into a loud cacophony of jingle bells and Batman smells and Grandma getting run over by a reindeer.

We’ve made Christmas into the world’s biggest Broadway show. A Superbowl halftime event that lasts for two and a half months. For some more politically inclined people, we’ve even created a “War on Christmas” to keep us entertained and inflamed and remind us constantly of the “reason for the season.”

We produce programs and we hang decorations. We sing songs and plan menus. We blow out circuits with our light displays. We wrap presents. We buy and we eat. And then we eat some more.

We even make sure to do charitable things. . . like donate to the homeless or entertain at the nursing home or sponsor an angel for the Angel Tree. My family has done all these things and it’s important.

But how many times have I done good things as an attempt to manufacture the perfect Christmas? Worn myself to the bone while channeling my inner Martha Stewart? Pushed myself and the people around me to the point of exhaustion just so that we can have a “Christmas to remember?” 

And what about our churches? Are we putting on productions and hosting feasts and even doing good deeds because it offers good publicity? Because it draws people and their pockets to our doors? Are we driven by the applause of people or our love for them?

Quite honestly, it’s hard to tell these days.

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The kids at our church put on a Christmas pageant a couple of nights ago. There were ten children on stage. Yep. Just ten. And three of those were mine.

They told the Christmas story in the form of a news show and a handful of mostly familiar carols. It was sweet, simple, and over in about 20 minutes. Afterwards there was a reception with food, provided by church members. People mingled and laughed and enjoyed one another’s fellowship.

It was small and quaint and not much to speak of.

And it might just be the most wonderful Christmas program I’ve ever attended.

Because there was no frou-frou, no pomp and circumstance, no dress code, no fancy anything. There were no synchronized lights or live animals on stage. No skating rink.

None of that. Just a simple story that even the youngest child could understand. A few songs. A time of fellowship. And hearts full of contentment and joy that God is here in the smallest of things.

No grand production needed. 

A manger. A cattle stall. A few shepherds. Some hay. A Jewish lullaby sung beneath the stars.

And in the tiniest of things, the salvation of the world.

The perfect Christmas.

Let your heart be small this year, dear reader. Ponder the little things in your heart.

  • An infant born outside on a cold desert night with only a star as a spotlight.
  • A smooth, newborn brow destined to wear a crown of thorns.
  • Tiny hands that would one day heal
  • Tiny feet that would walk the hill of Calvary.
  • A tiny heart that would bleed to save us all.

manger

Thank you, God.

Because of You, there’s no need for us to create “the perfect Christmas.”  You’ve already done it.

In the midst of the crowdedness, how we thank you for the blessing of the little things.

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No Room in the Inn: From the Archives

from the archives

Gah!!! It’s December! Has anyone else noticed?!?

I sincerely meant to post more than just one measly little Charlie Brown tree of a time last week. . . but you know what they say about best-laid-plans.

It didn’t happen.

I’ve got all kinds of posts to deliver to you via the blog, but the problem is that right now they’re all still inside my brain and I have to find some time to let them out. This is a super busy time of year for EVERYBODY, but for a musician, it’s almost cruel. The amount of rehearsals, practice, performances that are required. . . well, it’s a little insane.

So. . . . today I’m posting from the archives.

A little beauty of a post that I wrote around this time last year. I hope you enjoy!

No Room in the Inn: When Your Special Needs Child Is Rejected

noroom photo credit: Iguana Jo via photopin cc

“. . . Parents of special needs kids know that feeling.  That frantic, desperate knocking.  That last-ditch attempt to get their foot in the door.  That aching need to have their child included, wanted, welcomed. If we could just have one more chance to squeeze in, just one more do-over, “please just let us in!” they beg.  So distraught, so focused, so impassioned almost to the point of hysteria. . . ”

To read the entire post, click here.

As always, thanks for visiting my blog!!

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We Go for the Free Babysitting {And Other Myths About Church and Special Needs Parents}

I never expected the piece I wrote about church being a burden for special needs parents to make the rounds like it did. It’s been sitting in my draft pile for months and I only pulled it out because I needed to publish something and I was having a bit of writer’s block.

In response to the post, I’ve received lots of comments and emails.  To a blogger, comments are like gold, so I love getting the feedback, as well as having a hand in starting meaningful conversations about special needs ministry in the church.

Most of the reactions have been positive, but I have received several concerned or even negative comments, enough that I thought a follow-up post might be appropriate.

Hence this post.

We Go for the Free Babysitting {And Other Myths About Church and Special Needs Parents}

Here’s my attempt to address some of the most common themes/questions that came up in the comments concerning church and special needs parents.

1. Parents shouldn’t be coming to church expecting daycare/free babysitting.

Here are some comments I received on the blog:

“Why do you expect the church to be a day care center so you can have a respite? ”

“If your child’s issues are so great that YOU really need a break, hire a sitter once in a while. If you don’t think a sitter can handle it, what makes the people VOLUNTEERING for the children’s ministries more qualified? ”

“I love my church family and they love me but I don’t expect them to be my babysitting service.”

When I read these comments, I seriously wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Or channel my inner Amy Poehler.

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Um. . . how should I put this?

Special needs parents aren’t going to church for the free babysitting. (I know. Shocker, right?)

We’re going for the same reasons you’re going. We go to worship. We go to serve and use our spiritual gifts for God’s glory. We go to hear and learn the gospel truth. We take our children because we want them to learn that Jesus loves them. We want to study the Bible. We want to fellowship with other believers. We want to be a part of a vibrant, Jesus-following community and we want that for our children, too.

If we just needed babysitting, we certainly wouldn’t be going the church route. There are better “daycare” resources out there, even for special needs kids.  Heck, we could stay home on Sunday mornings and let TV or video games do the babysitting. THAT would be A LOT easier.

Sadly, because of attitudes like the ones in these comments, that’s what many special needs families do.

2. Aren’t you concerned about safety?

“My nephew is autistic and broke his father’s nose at church when he was 3 years old. Is it fair to ask a Sunday school teacher to put up with that? I don’t think so.”

“I was confused by how much of [the child's] behavior was autism related and how much of it was a lack of discipline. (PLEASE, before you think that I am saying that autism is really just a lack of discipline, I am not. But I am wondering if he was allowed to run amok because his parents thought that there was no point in trying to teach him control).”

Here’s an idea: Why don’t we throw all the kids at church into a big competitive arena, Hunger Games style, and let ‘em fight it out to the death? I’m pretty sure my son with autism will emerge as champion due to his aggressive ways. He’ll literally bite his way to the top. Once he’s made his conquest, he will yell, “Hi Mom!” with a grin that will have me beaming with pride. I will rush out immediately and purchase a “My kid with autism beat up your wimpy rule-follower” bumper sticker to proudly display on my minivan.

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See? Even Jennifer Lawrence approves.

(In case you don’t get sarcasm, THAT was sarcasm.) 

Of course I’m concerned about safety, as are ALL special needs parents!

Extreme aggression is NOT something a Sunday school teacher should have to “put up with.” We have spent untold hours working with our son and with his church teachers — both at the previous church and at our current one — and let them know that “unsafe” behavior (verbal or physical aggression, running away, etc.) on his part would be reason for removal from class that day. When he was younger and had issues with aggression, we frequently had to get him out of his class and make him sit through ours.

So for those of you who think we special needs parents just let our kids “get away” with bad behavior, please reconsider. Maybe it actually is harder than you think it is. Maybe, despite all our best efforts, our kids’ disabilities still get the better of them and cause them to do less than desirable things.

Even so — disability is NOT an excuse for aggressive behavior.

I have two thoughts on how to approach aggressive behavior at church:

  1. A child ought to be entitled to a fresh start. If there is one-time or even sporadic aggression, it should be addressed and dealt with, but handled with grace. If there is a pattern of aggressive behavior, then a reasonable solution needs to be worked out between the workers and the parents. Telling a child he can no longer attend — period — is NOT a reasonable solution. Neither is requiring the parents to attend their child’s class every week with no end in sight. A few times, yes, so parents and teachers can come up with solutions together. But as a condition for the child being allowed in? Absolutely not.
  2. Aggression is NOT the same thing as disruption. Unfortunately, for many people who are working with children, they get the two confused. Just because a kid is loud and gets on your nerves, that isn’t really a good reason to expel him from Sunday School.

There are people out there doing special needs ministry who have addressed this particular problem much better than I, so for further reference, I highly recommend the following links:

Addressing Aggressive or Unsafe Behavior by Amy Fenton Lee at The Inclusive Church

When Kids Become Aggressive at Church by Church 4 Every Child

Welcome to the Bite Club! by Meghan Wall, Special Needs Minister at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas

3. Church workers are just volunteers. They shouldn’t have to put up with special needs kids and their problems. They aren’t trained for that

“If you don’t think a sitter can handle it, what makes the people VOLUNTEERING for the children’s ministries more qualified?”

“Churches don’t mean to be a burden to your special needs child. The teachers are volunteers and the majority of them have never had any special training on how to care for a special needs child.”

“It is hard for volunteers and even staff members to accommodate without knowing the ‘how.’ We need help and need to be educated by the experts – the parents – because there are so many different needs coming through our doors it is overwhelming at times to try and help everyone!”

I wrote a blog post about this particular concern — which is one I hear ALL THE TIME — you can read it here.

4. Special needs kids keep the other kids from learning about God. 

“I have to be aware if my child’s behavior is causing other children to be unable to learn about God.”

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This one really chaps my hide. I’ve had it directed at me many times.

Get ready, ’cause I’m gonna call a spade a spade here. That’s a bald-faced lie.

Maybe I’m coming across too harsh, but please hear me out.

The way we learn about God is through the example that He sent to earth to show us the way to the Father. We read about Him in the Bible and we learn about His character through the Holy Spirit. Who was that perfect example anyway?

Oh yeah. Jesus.

And consistently, throughout scripture, we see Jesus

  • welcoming the unwelcome
  • loving the unloved and the unlovable
  • eating with the sinners and those on society’s fringes
  • touching and healing the unclean, the sick, the broken
  • inviting the children — yep, all of them

He went — quite literally — out of his way to find and to minister to and to SERVE those who were marginalized and outcast. And He was criticized, demonized, and eventually crucified for it.

Jesus is what our children need to learn about God. Jesus Himself said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Kids learn God’s character by knowing the character of Jesus. What better way for children to learn how Jesus invited ALL to come to His table than by learning from and alongside children with special needs? By seeing how Love includes ALL, welcomes ALL, receives ALL.

Children learn of the true Body of Christ when they see the adults who lead them open their arms with grace and love toward those who are so often shunned and turned away. Just as Jesus did.

Okay, off my soapbox for now.

Thoughts? Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments below. Let’s just keep it civil, shall we?

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What I’m Into {November 2014 Edition}

what i'm into november

It sounds so cliché to say it, but November flew by. As always, I’m linking to What I’m Into with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into and up to this past month.

 

 

What I Read: Books

I’m not sure what happened to me during November, but I seriously got bogged down in my reading and didn’t make much progress. Maybe it was “Approaching Holiday ADD” that kept me from focusing. Here are my favorites of the month:

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny


I’m slowly working my way through this series and I love it. I listened to this one on audiobook. It is in the “cozy mystery” genre, and that’s a perfect way to describe these novels. Every time I finish one I feel like bundling up, moving to Quebec, and sitting around gorging myself on croissants. Seriously. I’m in love.

 

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. His writing style is similar. When I was in my twenties, I devoured Stephen King books, so I was hoping this one would keep me up late at night like King’s books did. Maybe I’m just too old, but I found this one to be just okay. I finished it, but I have to admit that I ended up skimming the last several chapters.

The Alchemist  by Paulo Coelho

My son had to read this for a school assignment over the summer, so I put it on digital hold at the library and finally got to read it this month. It’s a quick read and quite deep. I liked it, loved the overall theme of it, and think it definitely deserves a re-read at some point in the future.

Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson

My favorite of the month. One of the best books I’ve read on how to seriously deal with that nagging negative voice inside your head. I highly recommend!! It is a useful book and I think my favorite part about it is the accompanying illustrations. Fun to read and quite helpful.

What I Read: Online Reading

Most White People in America Are Completely Oblivious by Tim Wise

When None of it Mattered by Alece Ronzino

Parenting as a Gen Xer by Allison Slater Tate

Things that Make Me Stand on Tables & Go a Little Crazy by Kathy Escobar

My Own Most-Read Post: 

Why Church Is a Burden for Special Needs Parents {And What You Can Do About It}

 

What I Watched: Online

Christian Girl Instagram by John Crist – Hilarious!

 

 

What I Watched: TV & Movies

My usual favorites – The Middle and Parenthood – have been awesome this season.








Went to the theater and saw Mockingjay: Part 1 with my daughter. It did not disappoint!

Watched Sleepless In Seattle streaming on Amazon Prime. A timeless classic. I’ve seen this movie so many times but I love it every time. My favorite thing this go-round was noticing how antiquated all the technology is! Truly amazing! In this day and age, Annie would just be able to Google Sam and find out everything she needed to know. . . which would kind of ruin the whole plot of the movie!

 

What I Wore

I bought one of these for myself last month with my birthday money. It has hardly left my body. I’ve worn it around the house almost every day. I’ve even slept in it. The kids have been fighting over it. I’ve washed it several times following the instructions on the tag, and it launders beautifully. I even wore it on Thanksgiving and felt cozy all day long. It’s a splurge, but I feel like I’ve already gotten more than my money’s worth!!!

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What I Ate

Everything. Seriously. I am out of control. Somebody help me!! Aaaaargh!!

 

What I Did

I participated in the Build Your Wardrobe Basics Challenge over at Get Your Pretty On (Alison Lumbatis’ blog) and have really enjoyed learning how to put outfits together that are simple yet stylish. This has been loads of fun for me. If you have a bunch of clothes hanging in your closet, yet find yourself staring at them and feeling like you have nothing to wear, check out Alison’s blog! 

I also downloaded the Stylebook app  and am looking forward to using it to help me organize my closet for maximum use.

That’s it for the month of November! What about you? Want to share what you’ve been into and up to?

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