Building a Music Library for Advent and Christmas

My children are ages 1, 3, and almost 5, so our family Advent and Christmas traditions are still pretty green. But we have settled into a few rhythms the last couple of years, including the start of a music library. Here I’ll share some resources we use during this season.

We own and listen to these albums:

I like that this album follows the traditional English Lessons and Carols pattern, weaves Scripture readings throughout, and has introduced our family to new carols.

These Maestro Classics are excellent (more about this another time). This engaging version of The Nutcracker holds my kids’ attention and we listen to it over and over. Excellent production quality too.

My husband and I went to one of Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concerts several years ago. His work here continues to move and encourage me. And for the last two Advent seasons, I’ve also read the beautiful companion book by Russ Ramsey for my personal study.

Every track on the G.T. and the Halo Express CDs features a Bible verse set to music. I memorized many verses this way as a child and I am glad my boys are able to learn them too. The storylines acted out between the songs are sometimes cheesy to my adult ears, but the songs are catchy and help the boys learn scripture, so these CDs are valuable additions to our library. This album centers on the Christmas story.

Spotify is an indispensable tool for me. It lets me test out music before purchasing it. I use it regularly to curate playlists or find ones already made by others. Here is my playlist of some Christmas Favorites that we listen to around the house or in the car.

The Best Parenting Books I Read in 2020

Some parenting books stress me out and leave my mind abuzz with new anxieties. Reading these books, however, felt like listening to the measured wisdom of an older aunt or uncle. I finished each book intrigued, inspired, and eager to grow. The authors draw from long careers working with children—as a literacy expert (Mem Fox), family consultant (Kim John Payne), and educator (Dr. Karyn Purvis). Research is clearly presented and practical applications abound.

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox (the author narrates the audiobook – a delight to listen to)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

The Connected Parent: Real-Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Lisa Qualls. If you haven’t read this book’s best-selling prequel, The Connected Child, do that first. Then read this.

What Should I Read Next?

It seems everyone these days has a must-read book list. Seeing so many book recommendations can feel overwhelming to me–a natural rule-follower (give me the syllabus!). This is especially the case with nonfiction books, which are what I mostly read this last year. Here are fifteen must-reads on X topic! You’d better dive in. You’re already behind! It can feel paralyzing. How do I vet which books are worth my time? How can I possibly read them all? The short answers would be–don’t read so many lists in the first place, consider what you are trying to experience or learn from a book then choose it, recognize you can’t read everything, then just start reading.

With my limited time, I usually choose books from my growing to-read list. I take screenshots of books that sound interesting, transfer them to a Pinterest board, then browse the list when I’m ready to start a new book. I also add new titles and displace old ones at any time, so the list feels less like a looming assignment and more like a spontaneous buffet. I typically read a few books at a time, both in print and audiobook form. If I am in a reading slump, I read something short: a middle grade novel or a short story or essay collection. The high I get from finishing a book helps to grease the cylinders for more reading. I have also begun abandoning books at times, a practice I used to think somehow shameful but which doesn’t bother me now (some exceptions are books that I choose to slog through because a. I’m trying to develop reading stamina, b. I am working towards some goal, or c. I am reading it alongside someone else).

One place I like to go for new books ideas is a blog series called On My Shelf, which includes brief interviews with people about books that have formed them. Here are some posts I have drawn from: Jarvis Williams, Karen Ellis, and Thabiti Anyabwile.

To reading!

Five Calming Books I Read in 2020

These books were a comfort to me this year. In Handle With Care, Lore Ferguson Wilbert articulated many of my own thoughts on physical touch and writes with candor and warmth. Fred Rogers’ words in You Are Special were like the quiet encouragements of a patient counselor. In An Invitation to Silence and Solitude, Ruth Haley Barton was my personal counselor, allowing me see my need for a rhythm of silence. Anne Bogel’s book, Don’t Overthink It, made me feel less alone in my tendency towards decision fatigue and anxious spiraling. In Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund makes a compelling case for Jesus’ profound tenderness towards His children. These books were restorative and calming to me this year and I highly recommend them.

Five Books on Suffering and Grief

Several years ago, when I was grieving the losses of babies through miscarriage and wading through a season of unexplained infertility, I sought out resources to help guide me through my pain. Alongside the Bible, I read as many books and I could find on infertility, loss, and the meaning of suffering. Three books became pivotal to me during those years: A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (his wife died), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller (cancer diagnosis), and The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts (terminal cancer). In the last year, I read two more books that I think would have also benefitted me back then, and that I would now add to the list: Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop (baby died) and Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot (widowed three times). In all five of these books, the authors do not shy away from the reality of their personal suffering. The way they render their pain gave me permission to acknowledge my own. They also describe how they coped, not with a quick, triumphal pivot but with humility and hope. Were I to write my own book on suffering, I would try to emulate these.