For Christmas Eve (And For Always)

For Christmas Eve (And For Always)

I have wanted to share a guest post from my friend Laura for a long time. That I am finally able to do that, and on Christmas Eve, is one more good gift of a season that is full of them.

Laura is a dear friend. She is also a writer of rare talent. I sit up and take notice whenever I read something of hers.

Read the following reflection and then search out her gem of a book Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories, and you will understand why.




After an evening meeting last spring, I turned on my phone and saw messages from my daughter. She wanted to Skype. The last time she asked, two years earlier, it was to announce her engagement. I figured this had to be job or baby.  I drove home through the silent night with a sense of wonder, hope, anticipation. I tried not to speed.

Once I got to the desk and logged on, we chatted for a moment. Then she said, “We have some news,” and slid a grainy black and white image up into the frame.


The church tribe I grew up in didn’t observe the liturgical year. I knew Christmas carols from school music time and TV. Advent was a countdown calendar, a surprise picture or bit of chocolate behind each day’s cardboard doorflaps.

This past Sunday — same tribe, decades later — we sang some carols. The lyrics are projected on big screens, but not the notes.  When we got to the chorus of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” as I sang the alto “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ri-a” (which has six fewer o- than the melody), I had a passing thought: How do I know this harmony so well?

Not from singing. In the little church where my daughter grew up, Advent culminated in a Christmas Eve service. We are both flutists, and for several years we played a duet. We’d test-driven several carols and hymns at home, and settled on that one, precisely because it was enjoyable, more musically interesting, to play the glorias.

She took the melody. I tried to keep my volume a degree lower than hers, to support but not overpower. There’s a kind of communication between musicians, part keen listening, part familiarity, part intuition. There’s a way that music memory gets in your body. More than once, someone came up to us afterwards with tears in her eyes and told us we somehow sounded like one flute playing harmony.

At the end of the service, someone would dim the lights and we’d assemble ourselves in a circle around the sanctuary, holding our little white candles with their little paper skirts. One light. Two. Silent night, we sang as we shared the flame. Holy night. All was calm. And eventually, all was bright.


I didn’t cry when I met him. I expected to. But it was such a calm moment. I had just arrived in their bright corner apartment. She went in the bedroom, where his daddy was changing his diaper, and I sat down in the living room. Then she brought him out, so relaxed, already so at ease with him, and introduced him. I stood, the way you would to meet anyone for the first time, and introduced myself. I sang “Happy One Week Old to You,” softly, and stroked his sweet head.

“Would you like to hold him?”

The answer will always be yes.


I have nothing profound to say about Advent. No neat way to swaddle up this series. I’ve been in churches where it was the focus of worship for four weeks, and churches where it’s not on the radar and some people have never heard of it. I’ve taken and eaten the daily morsel of chocolate in years when I went into a church only to attend a friend’s wedding.

But I know something about waiting. Don’t we all?

I know the story never gets old, that story of the most powerful force in the universe coming to earth to be with us, to be one of us, starting out helpless and needy and soft and beautiful, just as every one of us did.


I held and beheld that baby boy over the next few days, for hours and hours. Talked to him. Sang to him. Soothed him when he fussed, which was hardly at all. Studied his surprisingly expressive face.

His mama was studying him one afternoon, on the sofa with her knees drawn up, cradling him on her thighs. It’s still amazing to me that we made him, and he grew inside me and then I pushed him out, she said.

Do you ever look at him, I asked, and wonder what he’ll like, and what he’ll be good at, and who he’ll become?

Her heart swelled, and the overflow, you could practically see it rising in her chest and spilling out her eyes. She just nodded. The wave swamped me too.


Let earth receive her king.


Laura Lynn Brown vanquishes errors and makes the rough places plain as a copy editor at a daily newspaper. Her writing has appeared in Slate, the Iowa Review, Art House America and the High Calling, and she is an editor at The Curator. Her book Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories was published in 2013 by Abingdon Press. More of her work can be read at her website,, and her one-year daily gratitude journal, Daylilies.


These Farmhouse Bookshelves

Another Saturday, another peak at my bookshelves. This one is for the mothers.

I know what you’re thinking. Who has time for reading once they have children? Admittedly, this is how I feel about exercise, but I do know a few moms who make the time. Me, I make time for reading. Every Single Day.

The secret? Lower Your Standards.

It is not possible to keep a pristine kitchen floor and read a novel a week. Priorities, people. It’s about priorities.

With that in mind, here are a few books for Mom.

picture book


I gave this one to my own mother a few years ago: Apples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook (No) by Tessa Kiros.

This is a cookbook by a mom for moms (or anyone who cooks for a family). It doesn’t try to tempt children with smiley faces on pancakes. It doesn’t try to trick children by sneaking spinach purees into the brownies. This is a simple but beautiful book full of comforting, delicious, family-friendly food with a European flare.

This cookbook is all about memories. Creating them. Cherishing them. This is a cookbook that knows family happens around the table.

Apples for Jam is a satisfyingly hefty hardcover book full of beautiful photographs and the author’s own family memories.

Something else: the recipes in this cookbook are organized by color. Pink. Brown. White. And so on. It is wildly impractical and utterly enchanting. Kiros understands that many of us go looking for a recipe, not because we need an “entree” or an “appetizer,” but because we want to feed someone. We want to take care of ourselves and others. Maybe that requires an entree. But maybe that requires something white and beautiful. Or something rich and brown.

My Greek friends remember coming home from school to a piece of white bread, lightly broiled and splashed with olive oil, then sprinkled with some beautiful oregano, crushed between their mamma’s fingers.

This year I sent my mother-in-law Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories by Laura Lynn Brown. Laura is a friend, but I’ve been excited about her book ever since she shared the concept with me.

This is a gift book, but I hesitate to call it that. Aren’t most “gift books” horrible? Do they ever get pulled from their place on the bookshelf? I’m willing to bet not often.

Everything That Makes You Mom is different. Full of great (read: not sentimental) quotations about motherhood and structured around the author’s own memories of her mother, this beautiful little book asks questions and offers prompts to help us record the big and little things we remember about our Moms.

Complete with your written memories, this would make a great gift for your mother. If your mother is no longer living, this book would make a wonderful keepsake for the next generation.

Mom bought a gravy whisk that we saw in a specialty kitchen store not so much because she needed a gravy whisk, but because its packaging claimed, ‘It scoffs at lumps.’ She gave it a new name: lump scoffer. When she made gravy, she whisked with glee, scoffing at those lumps herself with a single ‘Ha!’

Finally, here is the only parenting book I ever recommend: Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by Leslie Leyland Fields.

I could tell you all about this one, but, really, isn’t the title enough? This book will set you free: free to live, to love, to be a whole person as well as a Mom or Dad.

If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed by parenthood itself or overwhelmed by all of the guilt-inducing advice send them this book. Trust me. When I first read this book I whispered thank you, thank you, thank you with every page I turned.

We want so badly to get it all right – our marriages, our parenting, our family dynamics. We want to meet all the requirements of a good Christian family. But God takes every hour of our home life, as well as every hour outside of it, and he uses the mistakes, the flaws, the pain as much, if not more, than he uses the good.

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