29 December, 2010

Hello dear friends! I've made it safely back to Atlanta, but our team is sick! Two of my roommates went to the health clinic yesterday, and I've come down with a bad cold as well. Amidst the coughing and sneezing, I've been studying for the GRE (which I'm taking on Monday) and filling out grad school applications. The first application is due February 1st, and the second, February 15th. The next few aren't due until early summer, but needless to say, I'm going to be quite busy these next few weeks! So I just wanted to let you know that I might not be updating as often as usual because I will be refreshing my math skills, writing essays, updating my resume, or partaking in some other studious act.

I hope you are staying healthy and having a beautiful new year!
With Love, from Atlanta

25 December, 2010

Merry, happy, wonderful Christmas my dear friends!

December 25 Christmas Song of the Day:
It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad! from Noel: Songs for Christmas Volume I

Don't forget about the true joy of Christmas. It's not about my family, presents, Santa Clause, or memories with friends. It's simply about Jesus. It's His birthday party! So be glad! Eat some cake and celebrate with him! And maybe listen to this song while you do it.

With Love and Wishes of Christmas Blessings
December 24 Christmas Eve Song of the Day
The Friendly Beasts from Ding! Dong! Songs for Christmas Volume III

I always go to church with my family on Christmas Eve. Because it's a special occasion, there is no children's church and everyone sits together in the sanctuary. Every year for as long as I can remember, our pastor comments on how nice it is to have all of the children at the service. He then proceeds to talk about the animals in the stable and ask the kids to make the noises of the barnyard animals...
Pastor Ray: I want you all to give me your best sheep sound
Children: Baaaa
Pastor Ray: You guys are not baaaad. Now let's hear your best cow sound
Children: Moooo
Pastor Ray: I think there might have been some donkeys too... (etc.)
I think you get the idea. Well, every time I hear this adorable Christmas song, I think of Christmas Eve with Pastor Ray. You can listen to it here. I hope you enjoy it! Happy Christmas Eve!!

With Love, from San Diego

19 December, 2010

It's strange being home -- not in a bad way; it's just so different from my life in Atlanta. I went to church on sunday, the same church that I've gone to since I was seven years old. My San Diego church and my Atlanta church are starkly different. One has been around for over one hundred years, the other was started by a bunch of hippies in the seventies. One has thousands of attendees, the other around forty-five people. One congregation is mostly white, the other is all black. Worship styles are greatly different; one service is led by Phil Wickham and his father John, and the other is led by a choir of old women. The pastors have different theologies and teaching styles, but the beauty lies in this: both are filled with the children of God. His life and love resonate through the members at both churches. What a comfort to find God and his children no matter where I am!

Also, they played this adorable video in church and I wanted to share its joy with you.

My parents lead a home fellowship group of about twelve people from our church. They have been encouraging each other to truly reach out and share their faith with others. So, as an outreach project, they came up with a beautiful idea. They made about thirty stained-glass angels and decided to hand them out at a nursing home and visit with the residents. So after church, they ventured to Sunshine Care Nursing Home, and I tagged along. It was such a blessing to see how happy the residents were to have visitors and to receive a gift. So in honor of these beautiful little angels, I have chosen the following song for you...

December 19 Christmas Song of the Day:
Angels We Have Heard on High from Hark! Songs for Christmas Volume II

Short, but sweet. You can listen to it here.

December 20 Christmas Song of the Day:
Star of Wonder from Peace: Songs for Christmas Volume V

Last night, my parents took me to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I've grown up reading Narnia, so of course I loved the film, even though it was not completely true to Lewis's novel. Like the wise men in the nativity story, the crew of The Dawn Treader had a bright star who lead them on their journey. So on behalf of Lilliandil, I have chosen this song, which tells the charming story of an often forgotten character of the nativity. What a beautiful story about God choosing this little star for a great task. The lyrics are delightful...
I call you
From the comet's cradle
I found you
Trembling by yourself
When the night falls
Lightly on your right-wing shoulder
Wonderful know-it-all
Slightly where the night gets colder

December 21 Christmas Song of the Day:
The Winter Solstice from Peace: Songs for Christmas Volume V

Today is the winter solstice, therefore the song titled The Winter Solstice seems apropos. You can listen to it here. It is the shortest day of the year. But tonight is peculiar because there is also a lunar eclipse. This is only the second time since year 1AD that the two events will occur at the same time. The first happened in the year 1638. So what does this mean? I'm not too sure, but what I do know is that the Bible tells us "there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars" (Luke 21:25-28). So be diligent, keep watch, and let this sign be a remembrance that God has set His divine plan for you in motion.

With Love, from San Diego

P.S. In still-Christmas-but-not-Sufjan-related-music news, I'm in love with this Hey, It's Christmas compilation, especially track three. Listen to it here!

P.P.S. In still-good-but-not-Christmas-related-music news, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals's new album III/IV is really great. You can listen to the entire album here. Listen to it and love it!

18 December, 2010

December 18 Christmas Song of the Day:
Christmas in July from Peace: Songs for Christmas Volume V

I made it home safely for the holidays. So far, I have spent my time with friends and family, relaxing, cooking, making paper snowflakes, and watching Christmas movies. It's been wonderful! The weather here has been quite a bit warmer than what I've gotten used to in Atlanta. It's midnight and currently 60 degrees. So in honor of the warm weather, the song of the day is Christmas in July, which you can listen to here. I love it's traditional Sufjan style of dreamy strings, jubilant woodwinds, and brilliant brass. I hope you enjoy the song and your weekend!

With Love, from San Diego

17 December, 2010

Last night, we had our Mission Year Tacky Christmas Sweater Party and a white elephant mug exchange (pictures to come...). In honor of the Christmassy fun, I have chosen the following song for you...

December 16 Christmas Song of the Day:
Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance! from Ding! Dong! Songs for Christmas Volume III

I love how Sufjan incorporates both secular and religious aspects of Christmas into this fun and joyful song. When bombarded by ads for the newest gadget that your loved one must have, or coupons for the hottest toys for kids, we have a tendency to forget the true reason for Christmas (the miracle of baby Jesus). But as a Christian, I know I often swing too far the other way, looking upon Santa Clause and contemporary Christmas symbols with disdain. But I think there is so much value in finding the joy and the beauty in all of these things, regardless of how or when they originated as Christmas tradition. And this song beautifully fuses Away in a Manger between joyous lyrics of Santa Clause and presents. You can listen to it here!

December 17 Christmas Song of the Day:
Put the Lights on the Tree from Hark! Songs for Christmas Volume II

I'm writing to you from 33,995 feet above ground, on my way home for the holidays! I can't believe it's the end of the year and I'm already done with my first trimester of Mission Year! Where has the time gone?! It never feels quite like Christmas time until I'm home and the house is all decorated for the holidays, with the Christmas tree, garlands, stockings, wreaths and lights. I hope you enjoy this adorable, lighthearted song! You can listen to it here or watch a video here!
Call your grandma on the phone
If she's living all alone
Tell her Jesus Christ is here
Tell her she has none to fear
If she's crying on the phone
Tell her you are coming home

13 December, 2010

This weekend, all three Mission Year Atlanta teams ventured to LaGrange, GA, where the Mission Year Married team lives and works. We took a driving tour of LaGrange and were introduced to many of the social issues in their community. It's a small town with small-town politics. There is a huge contrast between the nice area of town, complete with mansions, a country club, newly paved roads and nice sidewalks, and the poorer areas of town with small houses and crummy roads. Of course the town is segregated by race as well. Ironically, the bike lanes are only present in the nice part of town where people have cars and the ability to drive to work and only use their bikes recreationally. In the part of town where most people cannot afford a car or are unable to get a drivers license (because they are undocumentable immigrants), people must resort to other forms of transportation, but do not have bike lanes or sidewalks at all. Our weekend was facilitated by Anton Flores, the city director for the Mission Year Married team. Anton gave us a look into many of the issues surrounding immigrants in his neighborhood, which include the inability to get a driver's license, difficulties getting utilities, and several counts of institutional and individual racism.

Although it's not necessarily the country, LaGrange is definitely NOT the city. So I've chosen the following song for you:

December 11 Christmas Song of the Day:
We're Goin' to the Country from Noel: Songs for Christmas Volume I

This is simply a beautiful and lighthearted song about Christmas. You can listen to it here. I hope you enjoy it!

On Saturday night, we attended a Catholic mass (completely in Spanish) to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Guadalupe (aka The Virgin Mary) was said to have appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego just outside of Mexico City on December 9, 1531. She told Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. It was winter and no flowers were in bloom, but at the top of the hill, Juan Diego found all kinds of different flowers. He gathered the flowers and the Virgin herself arranged them in his cloak. Juan Diego told this story to a local bishop and, when asked for proof, opened his cloak. The flowers fell to the floor and the image of Mary miraculously appeared on his cloak. The cloak now hangs in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and still bears the image of the Virgin Mary.

December 12 Christmas Song of the Day:
Lo! How A Rose E'er Blooming from Peace: Songs for Christmas Volume V

In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I have chosen this German Christmas carol about Mary and the miracle of a rose blooming in the winter. You can listen to it here.
Lo! How a rose e'er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse's lineage coming
As those of old have sung
It came, a flowereth bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night
Isaiah twice foretold it
The rose I have in mind
And so when we behold it
The Virgin Mother kind
To show God's love aright
She bore to us a savior
When half-spent was the night
December 13 Christmas Song of the Day:
Joy to the World from Joy: Songs for Christmas Volume IV

It's been feeling more and more like Christmas every day. It snowed a little this weekend, though not enough to stick. We've been doing lots of Christmassy things lately, including making our own Christmas stockings, looking at Christmas lights, and drinking lots of hot cocoa. Yesterday, we decided to make Christmas cookies and go caroling around our neighborhood. So as soon as my roommates got home from work, they started baking. When I got home, I joined them by making icing and helping decorate the cookies. Our kitchen was a hot mess, as we baked around 150 cookies! We then took them around to our neighbors' houses, singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Silent Night, and Joy to the World. Thus I have chosen this Christmas classic for you! You can listen to it here. I'm pretty sure all of our neighbors thought we were crazy, especially for choosing the coldest night to go caroling. Nonetheless, we had a ton of fun!

Our table full of cookies

December 14 Christmas Song of the Day:
Silent Night from Noel: Songs for Christmas Volume I

Last night, Jyssica and I went to a "Silent Night" Taize service, which was really peaceful and quiet. The service focused on those for whom the Christmas season is particularly difficult because of the loss of a family member, a friend, a job, health, or any other reason. I really appreciated this service because the Church can often forget to provide a space for people to express their sorrow. But God always gives us hope and new life. I hope you enjoy this short-but-sweet Silent Night. You can listen to it here. And enjoy this poem as well...
Into this silent night
as we make our weary way
we know not where,
just when the night
becomes its darkest
and we cannot see our path
just then
is when the angels rush in,
their hands full of stars.
- Ann Weems

December 15 Christmas Song of the Day:
Star, Star by The Swell Season

Ok so I'm making another exception for an exceptionally good song! In case you're not familiar with The Swell Season, they're pretty awesome. This band is made up of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who both starred in the film Once.

I love this mellow, yet complex Christmas song -- contemporary with a little bit of traditional mixed in the middle. You can watch a video here or you can download it from Daytrotter. Enjoy!

10 December, 2010

December 10 Christmas Song of the Day:
Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella from Hark! Songs of Christmas Volume II

I absolutely love this song. (In case you couldn't tell, I pretty much love all Christmas songs and all Sufjan songs...) You can listen to it here. This is a French Christmas carol from the 16th century. On Christmas Eve, children in the Provence region of France dress up as milkmaids and shepherds, carry candles and torches, and sing this song on their way to Midnight Mass. I love the lyrics, which urge you to tell everyone in the village about this baby, but keep your voice low so little baby Jesus can enjoy his dreams; how precious!

Georges de la Tour's painting based on the carol

09 December, 2010

December 9 Christmas Song of the Day:
Ring Them Bells, a Bob Dylan cover from the soundtrack to the film I'm Not There.

This might not technically be a Christmas song, but I consider it one. It speaks of God, shepherds, saints, and bells, all of which could be considered Christmassy subjects. You can listen to the song (and watch an unofficial music video) here. My favorite verse is about Saint Catherine of Sienna, who was the patron saint of Italy and a beautiful poet. Dylan's lyrics refer to her monastery in Mt. Sinai, which is a "fortress" working towards "breaking down the distance between right and wrong." What a beautiful and optimistic hope for the world!

This song is on the soundtrack to the film I'm Not There, which is about the many different lives of Bob Dylan. And wow, I really missed the boat on this one... You can watch the trailer here or here. It has an amazing cast including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Heath Ledger, so I'm not too sure how I didn't hear about it. Nonetheless, it's on the top of my list of movies to watch while I'm home for Christmas, so I'll let you know how it is.

07 December, 2010

Ok, so I know I'm supposed to be posting Sufjan's Christmas music, but I'm making one exception because I can't resist telling you about Coldplay's brand new Christmas song. It was just released on December 1st and is consistent with all of their previous music (aka it's really, really good). But the awesome part is the music video, which was filmed in London less than two weeks ago and edited to appear as one continuous shot. I adore this video with its Mighty Boosh-esque backdrop, vaudevillian waves and stage props, oriental lanterns, and a big round moon. Plus, what could be more awesome than orchestral Elvises below a big sign that declares "I Believe Elvis Lives" in Latin? The sing-along quality of this song makes it eligible for becoming a Christmas classic. And like most things, the romantic fireworks over St. Paul's Cathedral make me want to be back at the Christmas Market on the South Bank of the River Thames (I had almost forgotten about our market project until I saw Chris Martin singing from a stage placed precisely where I stood twelve months ago). Anyways, here's the video! Enjoy!

December 8 Christmas Song of the Day: Coldplay's Christmas Lights

I’m warning you now; this is going to be a long post…

On Friday night, I had a surprise visit from my friend Ra, who I went to George Fox with. Ra did Mission Year last year in Philadelphia and was here for the weekend working on some stuff with Mission Year. It was great to see her and talk with her!

Saturday was our Christmas party for the Georgia Justice Project. It was held at a big, beautiful church in downtown Atlanta. The party was for clients of GJP and their families. We served a meal, played Christmas bingo and sang Christmas carols. At the end of the party, Santa Clause came out and took pictures with the children. Then, while everyone was leaving, each child was given a specific gift, wrapped and with his or her own name on it!

For the Christmas party, I was in charge of a walk-on nativity play. My roommates Emily and Maureen came to help out. We recruited about ten children to be in our play. When it was time for them to get their costumes on, we announced for the children in the play to come to the front. About twice as many came up and wanted to be in it. So we quickly dressed them in costumes; we had Mary and Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, and Wise Men. Emily slowly read the Nativity Story from Luke and the children were supposed to walk across the stage and act out their parts. But children are children, and they ended up just all standing together in the middle of the stage, looking confused. It was chaotic but absolutely adorable! I think all of the children had a lot of fun! I took a lot of pictures, so I hope you enjoy them!

Ashley played the piano for the party

The Kung Fu demonstration

Chris in his festive sweater vest

Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds

Our entire cast

The Three Kings (and One Queen)

Our lovely angels

Some shepherds

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus

Doug (our executive director) and Santa

Santa and Sanchez (one of our social workers)

The Mission Yearers and Santa!
(Emily, Me, Colyn and Maureen)

December 4 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day:

The Child with the Star on His Head from Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Volume VIII

At the GJP Christmas party, I got to meet one of our attorney’s 8-month-old son. He was adorable and he had a big yellow star sticker on his forehead. For the rest of the day, I had this song stuck in my head. You can listen to it here. I really like this song, as it urges us to get back to the story of Jesus. In this post-postmodern, technologically advanced society, people think they have everything figured out. We have gotten caught up in all of these worldly things (Sufjan lists the world of sports, dictionaries, and television, among others), but these things are empty. The lyrics beautifully depict that there is something more to life and Jesus provides that for us.

Why crawl around in the snow

When you know I am right here

Waiting for you to expect something more?

For I am warm, I am calling you close to my table

Where I have made us a feast

For the year of troubles, they have gone

The winter brings a Christmas song

It’s quite a long song, complete with drums, electric guitar, trumpets and a bit of piano. It gets quite chaotic in the middle, but is kept steady by Sufjan’s singing. Towards the end he truly gets into the “Astral Inter Planet Space Captain” side of his music. The last three minutes make me feel as if I’m about to get on Space Mountain at Disneyland.

December 5 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day:

Oh Holy Night from Ding! Dong! Songs for Christmas Volume III

Oh Holy Night is my favorite Christmas carol. But that’s not why I chose it as the song of the day. My roommates and I were in the car this weekend, listening to Christmas songs. As soon as this song came on, we all started singing together. As we sang the second verse, I was reminded of what Mission Year is all about and why I chose this lifestyle:

Truly He taught us to love one another

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

And Sufjan has done a beautiful rendition of this classic. You can listen to it here. He starts off with a simple with a banjo and voices, and slowly adds instruments as the song progresses. I love the chorus of voices, not perfectly in sync with one another, but instead letting their individuality show through. It serves as another reminder that we are all called to put our differences aside and come together in celebration of Christ.

December 6 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day:

Hey Guys! It’s Christmas Time! from Joy: Songs for Christmas Volume IV

The name of this song is often proclaimed in our house as a constant reminder; it’s Christmas time! Don’t forget! Be joyful! Be excited! And let me tell you, my roommates and I are excited! We have been listening to Christmas music nonstop, have gone to Christmas tree lightings, have been drinking cocoa, and are even making our own Christmas stockings! Sufjan’s excited too! He reminisces of what Christmas time means to a child; it means looking at Christmas lights and staying up late (for me, this means writing an excessive amount of posts about Christmas music). You can listen to the song here. Sufjan reminds us that Christmas is a time for tradition, a time for romance, and a time for dreaming.

December 7 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day:

Once in Royal David’s City from Peace: Songs for Christmas Volume V

The first week I was in Atlanta, I saw a sign on a church downtown, which read “Taizé Services, 7:00pm, First Tuesday of Every Month.” I looked up the church online and made plans to attend the service. To my dismay, something else has come up every month. September brought a trip to Chicago, October we volunteered at a conference, and November required a trip home to San Diego. But tonight I am finally attending the Taizé worship service and am unbelievably excited about it! If you don’t know about Taizé, you can learn about it here or here (thanks so much to Allie and Carl-Eric for opening my eyes and heart to this beautiful style of worship!!). Much of the service is in languages other than English. So today, I have chosen this beautiful song for you that can be enjoyed regardless of what language you speak. You can listen to it here. I hope you enjoy it!

With Love, from Atlanta

03 December, 2010

December 3 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day

O Come, O Come Emmanuel from Ding! Dong! Songs for Christmas Volume III

I love Sufjan’s take on this traditional Christmas hymn. I chose it for you today mostly because it was stuck in my head when I woke up. You can listen to it here! O Come, O Come Emmanuel was originally sung in Latin in the Roman Catholic Church and is believed to have been written in the 9th century. It is the oldest Christmas carol that is still sung today. The original seven verses represent the different Biblical views of the Messiah; this version does away with the verses and gets right down to the heart of the matter – we are to rejoice!! It’s short, but it’s beautiful. Sufjan released this song on his first, third, and fifth Christmas volumes, and this version is by far my favorite one. I love the beautiful piano followed by the harmony of a cappella voices encouraging us to rejoice!

I won’t have internet this weekend, so I will post songs for you on Monday. I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

With Love, from Atlanta

02 December, 2010

It is always difficult to live in a place of brokenness. This week has been especially difficult for our team, as we are seeing first-hand some of the unfortunate things that go on in our neighborhood. I ask that you would keep our team in your prayers this week as we try to process through some of our new experiences. Also, leave a comment if you have any prayer requests!

This has been the first exceptionally chilly week here in Atlanta. It finally feels like winter, but in a dark, rainy, dreary sort of way. Maybe I’ve just forgotten what Winter in Oregon is like (it’s been two years since I’ve spent a December in Oregon), but this week has felt so much colder than Oregon ever felt. It’s currently 31° and it’s already 10:00am! Thus I have chosen this chilly song for you…

December 2 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day:

Sister Winter from the album Peace: Songs for Christmas Volume V, which was released in 2005

This is by far one of my favorite Sufjan songs. You can listen to it here! The song captures the spirit of the entire month of December, marked by a chilling but beautiful blend of piano and strings. The beginning is solemn, but filled with anticipation for things to come. As the song continues on, the mood begins to lighten until everything is overflowing with excitement and joy. And that’s exactly how I feel today – captured by the chilly weather, but looking excitedly toward the holiday festivities that will soon be knocking at my door!

I hope wherever you are, you are staying nice and warm! Enjoy this lovely winter day!

With Love, from Atlanta

01 December, 2010

Happy December!!! Thanksgiving has passed, which means it's officially Christmas music season! As my co-worker/fellow mission yearer Colyn once said, "listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving is like having sex before marriage." And it's quite true; you can listen to Christmas music all year round, but it loses its novelty. There's just something sacred about saving Christmas music for this glorious month, and that is exactly what I have done! As most of you know, I adore Sufjan Stevens, so it is only fitting that I am in love with his Christmas music. So I thought I would grace you with twenty-five days of Sufjan -- one Sufjan Stevens Christmas song each day until Christmas. This is quite a big undertaking for me, as I'm not necessarily the most dedicated blogger (although I'm much more dedicated now than I was in London) and I don't have access to the internet everyday, but hey, it's worth a try, right? So here goes...

December 1 Sufjan Stevens Christmas Song of the Day:
Christmas in the Room from Sufjan's 2008 album Songs for Christmas Volume VIII: Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Infinity Voyage

This album was unreleased to the general public, so I'm not quite sure how I got my hands on it. All I know is that I love it! And this song is by far my favorite track on the album. You can listen to it here(hopefully this link works; let me know if it doesn't). It's a simple piano-driven love song -- the kind that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I can just picture an adorable elderly couple waltzing in front of the fire place. These beautiful lyrics capture what the Christmas season is all about -- spending time with loved ones...
No gifts to give, they're all right here
Inside our hearts the glorious cheer
And in the house we see a light
That comes from what we know inside

I'll come to you, I'll sing to you
Like it's Christmas in the room
I'll dance with you, I'll laugh with you
Until it's Christmas in the room
Happy Christmas Music Season from Sufjan and me!