Last Minute List | Favourite Christmas Movies

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Ahh, we're seriously counting down till Christmas Day! You know, for me this Christmas season feels unique to all previous Christmas times before, possibly because I am in a new era of my life, not just for me, but also for my entire family. Things feel uncertain, different, exciting, and scary some days. It's a dull, painful ache. At the same time Christmas, true and real, feels like an anchor of joy and hope in God that strengthens me through the changes, something so old and familiar and yet awe-inspiring - something too precious for words! "God with us". Learning that the hope and joy of Christmas is not in what we do or buy or how happy our circumstances are, but rather in the love of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and in the celebration of His birth! It's the reason, out of so many other reasons, that makes December my favourite time of the year.

Meanwhile, my sister Sarah set up our Christmas tree and fairy-lights earlier this month 🎄. It's so sparkly and cozy, it spreads all the cheer! I'm constantly listening to Christmas Carols as I do the Christmas baking (aka homemade ice-cream). I've also started watching all the Christmas movies! Which leads me to the topic of this blog-post. Below, I'd like to share with you my all-time favourite festive movies & episodes from beloved shows. Some are old favourites, some are really quite new. In my excitement to do this post, I asked some of my friends on Facebook what were their favourite Christmas movies. I got some classic recommendations, but also some new ones I had never watched. I ended up watching 3 the other week and totally loving them! So, today I want to talk about some of these films that warm the heart, make me smile, or remind me of the true heart of the Christmas story. Some are hilarious and comedic, some are light romantic Hallmarks, and some are dramatic and exciting adventures, while others are deep and truthful and beautiful. I hope you enjoy, dear friends!

    The Heart-Warming & Inspiring
The Nativity Story
More than any other film, perhaps, this is my favourite Christmas movie, because it tells beautifully the story of the birth of Christ. It does it in a very intimate, and personal way, taking us with Mary and Joseph on the long journey to Bethlehem, and allowing us to glimpse their struggles and faith and trust in God in a dramatic narrative, imagining what it must have been like for them. Despite its drama, at its heart, it is a poignant look into the wonder of God's love for us in the glorious birth of our Lord, born in the most humble of circumstances, and among the humblest of hearts. It's beautiful!

About accuracy of story, the film follows the very traditional storyline regarding the birth of Christ, with the Wise Men coming to Christ at the manger, just after He was born. However, considering other films about the birth of Jesus, this one actually tries to capture in great detail the historical setting and situation for His birth, and depicts scenes and moments often missed in other films. I was a little annoyed by the portrayal of Mary, mostly in the beginning. I found I disliked how they showed her as initially a modern moody teenage girl, upset with her parents for the "arranged marriage" to Joseph, who she did not know at all. While she  was definitely quite young, I don't think Mary the Mother of Christ would have been rebellious or sulky about her situation! I believe she was a truly godly young woman who feared God and loved Him with all her heart. So that upset me a little, but what redeemed  the depiction of Mary's character for me  was  that after the Annunciation, when the Angel of the Lord appeared to her, she definitely matured and became more sensitive and prayerful and both awed and humbled at the calling of God in her life. So in that way, this was especially beautiful to watch! My favourite portrayal was Joseph's, by far! I love the character of Joseph in the Bible! He was such a man of faith, who feared and obeyed God, against all human understanding. He was a humble vessel in God's redemptive work, yet He was so faithful to care for Mary and baby Jesus and protect them. He was wonderfully portrayed in The Nativity Story, and I just loved that! Another thing I loved in this film, was the time the filmmakers took to show us the long journey - the dangers, the hardships, and the faith it took. On the whole, this a very special Christmas film that I love watching, if possible, on Christmas Eve, just as it is getting dark... :) <3

As a side-note, the music score in this film is GLORIOUS! Just listen to the Christmas Carol harmonies within the orchestral/voice choirs; it is so awe-inspiring and CHRISTMAS-Y!

Jesus of Nazareth
This 3-part film about the life of Christ, based on all Four Gospels, begins with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and ends with His Crucifixion and His Resurrection. For many Christians, especially evangelicals, watching films portraying Christ is a controversial/sensitive thing, so I totally understand if you feel uncomfortable about this. However, I really appreciate this film directed by Franco Zeffarell in the 1980s, in that it is very respectful of the Biblical Story, with reverence and awe, that is beautifully portrayed by the actors, with most scenes and words, especially of Christ, taken directly from the Gospels. Filmed largely in Morocco, the set-designs and landscapes, and even the choice of actors are all very Middle-Eastern and give a sense of the Jewish culture at the time of Christ. As a visual picture of the life, works and words of Jesus, I highly recommend this three-part series as it immerses you in the life of our Lord, reminding you of the wonder of His words and deeds and the glory and suffering of His ministry on earth. Perhaps, my personal favourite is the whole first part with the birth of Jesus - it is so special and beautiful. Again, the portrayal of Joseph is very special in this film! Also Mary the Mother of Jesus is beautifully acted by Olivia Hussey - unlike The Nativity Story, this Mary is much more thoughtful and respectful. I sometimes found her a bit too sad, sometimes though :).

 I recently re-watched the entire 3 parts, and I was again deeply moved and inspired. Also the music is so deep and beautiful, ahhh! I get chills every time I hear the theme music: Jesus of Nazareth Soundtrack

Ben Hur
This was not one of the first films that came to mind when I was thinking of favourite festive films, however, as it is such a long 3-hour movie, I've usually always watched it with my sisters during the summer/Christmas break, so I have huge fond memories of that, and just treasuring the Christmas-feelings of seeing a huge, glorious epic like Ben Hur! Ben Hur's first ten minutes or so covers the Christmas story as well, so that is special. Basically I love watching Biblical and Ancient history films during this time, and Ben Hur 1959 is a huge favourite of mine, so it just had to be in this list.

The Christmas Box
This is such an underrated film, but it is so beautiful and special and perfect for Christmas. It's definitely one of my all time favourite Christmas movies, and really touching. Starring Richard Thomas (John Boy from The Waltons) as the dad, it's basically about this ski-shop owner who with his wife and daughter, move in with an elderly widow who needs help; he then starts to suffer recurring dreams of an angel. I highly recommend it :).
A Princess for Christmas
This is a new favourite actually! One of my friends recommended this film to me on facebook, so like an obedient child, despite frequently turning my nose up at corny Hallmark romances, I trotted off to youtube to see if I could watch this Christmas romance. Low and behold, I found it and to my surprise, really enjoyed it! For one thing, the cast was really great, especially Jules played by Katie McGrath (she also plays Morgana in Merlin, and is just a wonderful actress). I loved Jules' sweet, spunky character, and I think the inclusion of an English country-estate, and children, and themes of grief and treasuring Christmas and love in our hearts made this fun, silly movie really special. :)  

The Bridge
You know how I was saying I am usually kind of a movie snob when it comes to Hallmark movies and chick-lit romance stories? Well, I have definitely found a few sweet exceptions, that have broken a few of the typical tropes, or at least do them well, and make for a sweet, cozy entertainment on a December evening. The Bridge Parts 1, and 2, based on Karen Kingsbury's story, definitely was one of those sweet specials that is just perfect for the Christmas time! The story is about two new students at Belmont University. Ryan, an aspiring musician, and Molly, a deep lover of literature, meet the first day of classes and become study partners. The Bridge, a local bookstore, becomes a close part of their lives, as their relationship grows. I really connected with this story for so many reasons - perhaps because its about a bookstore, music and literature, and about two young university students, trying to navigate life and be better people, and finding companionship in each other, something I can relate to. Molly and Ryan were both endearing characters, and were really developed, which I found a refreshing change to many contemporary romances. Basically it is a very sweet, feel-good movie, and I'd recommend it if you were looking for a sweet Christmas tale :).

Treasures of the Snow
My sister Sarah reminded me the other day of Treasures of the Snow film, and while the movie skips some of the more Christmas elements, the story is set in the Alps of Switzerland, in winter, so it really fits I think. The novel by Patricia St. John actually has a beautiful section set during Christmas-time that is so special and beautiful. Speaking of which, Patricia St. John wrote several novels set during Christmas time that are so good. Treasures of the Snow is one of my favourite, and this adaption (1980) is very close to the book, and an old childhood favourite. It's basically about 12-year-old Lucien, a boy who is traumatized and ostracized by Annette and the whole town for causing her little brother Danny to fall off a cliff. As he finds solitude in the nearby woods, Lucien comes across a woodcarver who helps him find the peace he was looking for, and Annette must learn to find true forgiveness. It's such a good story, both the film and the book!
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

I think most of us are familiar with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, a story about four children who travel through a magical wardrobe to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free it from the evil of the White Witch who trapped Narnia in endless winter (and no Christmas), with the guidance of a Lion called Aslan. The 2005 film adaption by Disney is truly special and magical, and remarkably close to the book. This is a beautiful film, and especially wonderful to watch during Christmas, I think, as it really highlights the hope that comes with Christmas - in Narnia, it is Aslan himself and it is beautiful. Ahh, I love this movie! 

A Christmas Carol
No Christmas movie recommendation list would be complete without A Christmas Carol adaption, and so far, this is a huge favourite of mine. An animated retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions (The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, The Ghost of Christmas Future). It is a lot of fun with all the animation! And ever so Christmas-y :D.
The Holly Jolly Movies
Part 2
Arthur Christmas
This is a new favourite based off a recommendation from a friend on Facebook. It's an animated movie that is a lot of fun and full of the Christmas spirit of cheer and gift-giving and care. Santa's clumsy son, Arthur, gets put on a mission with St. Nick's father to give out a present they misplaced to a young girl in less than 2 hours. It's a great romp!

 Rise of the Guardians
I'd heard this movie being mentioned several times the last few years, and to say  the least I was interested. But I had forgotten about it till this Christmas when a few friends recommended it to me, so I watched it one evening. I thoroughly enjoyed this Disney Christmas-fantasy story! When an evil spirit known as Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, the immortal Guardians (or...ahem, fairies)...must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs, and imaginations of children all over the world. Among those guardians Santa Clause is the leader, and is surrounded by the Easter Bunny, the Dream Sandyman, the Tooth Fairy, and the lonely Jack Frost. It's good fun and quite moving in fact!

Also please tell me I am not the only one who ships Jack with redeemed Elsa from Frozen? :D

Nativity!
So I guess there had to be a cheesy movie or two in this list, and this film and the next are TOTALLY cheesy... silly, weird, childish cheese. But it's kind of fun! Actually the main reasons why I love both Nativity! and its sequel Danger in the Manger is because of the choice of lead-actors for the main character. I remember watching Nativity right before seeing first Hobbit movie, and just by watching Mr. Maddens (Martin Freeman) as the miserable teacher of those primary school kids, I knew he'd be amazing as Bilbo. Haha, anyway! The story is about teacher Paul Maddens who is charged with producing the school's nativity play for Christmas. He has to compete against the posh rival school for the honour of best reviewed show in town, so he idly boasts that his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, a Hollywood Producer, is coming to see his show with a view to turning it into a film. Problem is he hasn't spoken in to her in years. His eccentric assistant Mr Poppy fuels the lie and gets the over-excited school ready for Hollywood to come to their school. It is a weird, childish comedy, but Freeman's performance really helps make it memorable, and the ending is kind of sweet. 
(P.S. note that I don't really care for the jazzy Nativity songs, and crude Christmas jokes in this film, especially used by Mr Poppy)
Of the two, this is actually my favourite! It is so much fun, and has a really sweet, beautiful ending. Also I love the family themes of this movie - it is so very Christmas-y! This sequel to the British comedy sees a new teacher Mr. Peterson (David Tennant) take over instead of Mr. Maddens. When he enters his school in the National "Song for Christmas' Competition", he and his pregnant wife, and the schoolchildren, led by the ever eccentric Mr Poppy, "embark on an epic road trip that ends up with a birth and a donkey, where he must embrace his fears and become a hero." The jokes and songs in this one aren't as lame as Nativity! though the story-line can be a bit more childish and there are still a few songs in the concert that I skip. However, I actually loved the way the story focused on the heart of Christmas! It's a lot of fun and I'd highly recommend it if you're looking for a silly, fun but sweet Christmas movie. Also Tennant does wonderful job at acting a vulnerable, kind-hearted teacher in juxtaposition with a famous hard-faced musician! Oh, and the supporting cast are great too!

... Speaking of of which, this naturally reminds me of Doctor Who, and since last year I've fallen in love with BBC Doctor Who's annual Christmas specials that have been aired since 2005. So far, there are 10 episodes, and I am highly looking forward to this year's one as well...

Doctor Who Christmas Specials:
Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion
This is a truly fun episode! The newly regenerated Doctor travels to present day London and Rose is happy to be home in time for Christmas with her mother Jackie. The Doctor isn't well suffering from post-regeneration effects. While he is in a coma-like state, the people of the Earth are in danger of the Sycorax who threaten to destroy one-third of the planet's population if they don't surrender. I love this episode for several reasons - one, Harriet Jones is Prime Minister and is pretty cool at that too :D. Jackie is just as wonderful at being sassy and in-the-way, and for once I actually really related to Rose. This episode really ties for my favourite post-regeneration episode, right there with Eleventh Hour. It has a lot of suspense with the aliens, the threat of invasion, and the Doctor being so sick, while Rose has to adjust to this beloved doctor with a new face. Best of all though is the inclusion of the Christmas tree that spins out of control. Jackie's one-liner "I AM GOING TO BE KILLED BY A CHRISTMAS TREE!" is positively gold. A wonderful Christmas special :D
Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride
Donna Noble is one of my favourite Doctor Who companions, so I definitely loved this Christmas special! In this episode, the Doctor is baffled when a young woman is transported to the TARDIS on her wedding day, and attempts to find out how she is connected to an alien plot to destroy earth. There are some elements in the story that I do not appreciate as much, like when the Doctor takes Donna back in time to "the forming of Earth", which was quite evolutionary. Also the Racnoss monster was pretty ghastly looking. However, as a space adventure, and a story between the Doctor and the introduction of a companion & her first encounter with the TARDIS/Doctor, this episode is so much fun! I love Donna so much, and seeing what good she does to the Doctor - but also her spunk and humour is just delightful. And as with Christmas Invasion, this episode throws off a few Christmas jokes, like when to Donna's horror she realizes that "Santa is a ROBOT!!!!"
Doctor Who: The Voyage of the Damned
This is really one of my all time favourite Christmas specials! In this story, the Doctor finds his TARDIS colliding with a spaceship based on the RMS Titanic during a Christmas party. With the help of a waitress named Astrid, the Doctor must take on the race called the Hosts as the lives of the Titanic crew and those on Earth are in danger. This is a really sweet, classic Tenth-Doctor Era episode, with the strong characteristics that define Tennant's Doctor - the hero, come to save the day, but becomes too attached to someone special, only to loose them in a heartbreaking way. But in a way, I loved that, and it moved me deeply and it was really well-written, with an amazing cast & script. There are many edge-of-your-seat moments, and also it is quite a Christmas-y story!
Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
A fun, Victorian Christmas episode! The Doctor arrives in London on Christmas Eve in 1851 where he encounters the Cybermen and a man who claims he's a Time Lord called the Doctor. This is quite the quintessential Victorian Christmas story, but add time-lords and science fiction and Dickensian-orphans and hot air balloon and it's just wonderful :).
Doctor Who: The End of Time
This is the Tenth Doctor's last episode, and in some ways the Christmas-y feel of this episode is overshadowed by the threat of the Doctor's nemesis the Master, and the Doctor's growing fear of facing death. Yet in another way, this episode is so special and beautiful and heartbreaking, it captures something of that brave pain and hope that comes with Christmas. Oh, and there is Wilfred. If anyone can make you in the right Christmas mood, it would be Wilfred with his Antler hat :') <3.
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
Ahh, the first Christmas episode for the 11th Doctor is simply perfect and captures so many beautiful things about Christmas. Most specifically it's a time-travel space retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol and it is done brilliantly, and so beautifully! Featuring a crashing space liner, shark-rides, Michael Gambon as the wonderful Ebenezer Scrooge of this story, and the ever-funny, full-of-hope 11th Doctor attempting to warm the heart of Gambon's Kazran by showing him Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. It's lovely and has some of my favourite 11th Doctor moments!  
Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
If A Christmas Carol was a Dickens' retelling, than this episode is the C.S. Lewis Narnia retelling! It's Christmas Eve when Madge comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel (aka the Doctor). He promises to repay her kindness. Three years later, a devastated Madge escapes war-torn London with her two children, for a house in Dorset. Despite terrible news, she tries to give her children Lily and Cyril the best Christmas ever, but is surprised to be greeted by a madcap caretaker (aka the Doctor again!) who attempts to give them the biggest Christmas gift by leading them into a magical wintry "fairy-land" :D It is so sweet, and another huge favourite of mine. The 11th Doctor is hilarious, but also this episode has the makings of a tear-jerker on a Christmas night! :)
Doctor Who: The Snowmen
Continuing the fun of the specials, The Snowmen introduces a new character, Clara Oswin Oswald, and it is one of my favourite companion introductions, hands down. The way the TARDIS was introduced was truly magical and the Victorian Christmas-y feel of this story, with all that brooding snow is perfectly wonderful! It's London, 1892, and the snow is feeding off of the nightmares of little boy. But the Doctor has given up on saving the world, so it is up to a young governess named Clara to convince him, with just one word, to save the day. This is just the perfect Christmas episode!
Disclaimer note: this episode contains two characters whose lifestyle choices I do not condone at all. There is no questionable "scene" material though, just in the conversation. So in this episode, if you simply mute the first minute or two of Madame Vastra/Jenny's conversation with Professor Simeon, there shouldn't be an issue.
Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
This is my all time favourite Doctor Who episode... so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if it may just be my favourite Christmas episode too. The Doctor's worst enemies, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Angels, and the Silence, all gather together against the Doctor as a mysterious message echoes across the stars, even as the Doctor's Eleventh life draws to a close. This is a heartbreaking episode, but ahh, so moving and beautiful! *sobs in a corner* It stars out with a bit of sweet humour, with the Doctor's sweet and funny companion Clara Oswald calling on the Doctor to help her save her Christmas turkey. What follows is an emotional and deeply epic war set on an island called Christmas in which the Doctor has to face an ultimate sacrifice. This story IS set during Christmas, and is in a heartbreaking way, all about the heart of Christmas, I feel. Just go get into Doctor Who, and watch it, okay? 
Doctor Who: Last Christmas
This is probably my 2nd favourite Christmas Doctor Who ever. In this story, the Doctor and Clara face their last Christmas. Trapped on an Arctic base, under attack from terrifying dream-sucking creatures, who might just help them out of their ditch? The mythical Santa Claus! This episode has so many beautiful moments that truly remind me of why I ever liked Steven Moffett's writing (haha, sometimes I doubt!) ... Jenna Coleman's performance of Clara in this episode was truly beautiful and heartbreaking, and I think this was the first episode when I actually knew that I loved the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) almost as much as the others. That theme of "every Christmas is last Christmas" is such a sad tearjerker, but this episode incapsulated beautifully all the fairy-tale, hopeful Christmas elements while still maintaing a scary, adventurous Doctor Who odyssey. 
Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song
This is a special episode for anyone who loves the character of River Song from the episode Silence in the Library. For me, this was just so happy and moving and beautiful to see the arc of this character and her relationship with the Doctor in an episode with just the two of them loving each other! There is a lot of corny, funny humour in this episode, but I think best of all is finally seeing the 12th Doctor laugh with honest warmth the way he does in this story, after a really tough 9th season. Ahh, but that ending though... with the fairy Christmas lights and River Song's dress and the Towers of Dilirium. . . *sniffs with emotion*.
On the side, I am positive those antlers the Doctor is wearing actually once belonged to Wilfred, Donna's granddad!
Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett): The Blue Carbuncle
Jeremy Brett is my favourite Sherlock Holmes, okay? And somehow, watching Sherlock Holmes during Christmas sounds like a lovely idea! This episode "The Blue Carbuncle" is amazing, with Brett at his peak in his performance of the famous sleuth. This also happens to be a Christmas-themed episode too, so that is extra special! On Christmas Eve, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson try to determine how a fabulous blue carbuncle found its way down the gullet of a Christmas goose. It's hilarious and wonderful and has some brilliant deduction scenes between Sherlock and John, you'll just love it!
Sherlock: His Last Vow
Carrying on the detective theme, His Last Vow is a very special Christmas episode for any lovers of the Sherlock BBC tv show. Now obviously, you need to have watched the rest of the episodes first to enjoy this, but if you have, I highly recommend this episode! It's possibly one of my favourite in the whole show, which is funny, considering I actually didn't like season 3 of Sherlock very much. But this episode has so many things that I loved about it, most notably is the characterization of each person in the story, from Sherlock Holmes, to Watson, to Mycroft. This story is intense! Sherlock investigates Charles Augustus Magnussen, a master blackmailer who knows the weakness of every prominent figure. In his pursuit of clues, Sherlock may just discover a mystery surrounding Mary Watson that may threaten her future with John. The reason I've included it in this list is that it is set during Christmas, and gives you many of the feels of Advent time...!
Little House on the Prairie Christmas episodes:
Little House has some truly lovely Christmas episodes, starting from The Pilot film, the story features the Ingalls family gathered lovingly together during Christmas, and they're just so sweet and special to watch any time of the year, but especially during Christmas. Christmas at Plum Creek is all about a young family and how they all try to sacrifice and do things for each other on their first Christmas in Walnut Grove. It's super delightful! The Christmas They Never Forgot occurs much later in the show, in season 8, when both Mary and Laura are married, and the whole family gather together for  a snowy Christmas, and recall Christmases of long ago! It's sweet, and a bit of a trip down memory lane. Bless All the Dear Children is one of the specials in the last season of Little House on the Prairie (season 10), when baby Rose is kidnapped, Laura and Almanzo along with Mr. Edwards and stowaway little orphan boy go seeking their little baby during Christmas. Focusing on the children, this is a Christmas story you might not forget in a hurry :).

Well, that's it, dear friends! That was a long list, and hurrah to you, if you read to the end of this post. But do tell me in the comments below what YOUR favourite Christmas movies/episodes are? Have you seen any of these? What are your thoughts? Meanwhile I hope you have a most blessed and Merry Christmas!

"What Lies Within Us" | Exams Are Over & Oh, I'm Back!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

via Pinterest

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be... Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”   - Robert Browning

Dear Reader,
It's a sultry, wind-blown sort of November evening, with dappled grey skies and the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance. I woke up this morning with a silent quiver, as I flung aside the blankets and stared at the new day with kaleidoscope feelings of excitement, nervous relief and nostalgia because... well, it's been two weeks since my final study exam on the 11th. 

Last night, I went to a beautiful music concert with my sister Mary at the grand Old Museum Building - it had so many beautiful elements of lyric loveliness and pure art, in the united performances of the instrumentalists on the flute, clarinet, piano, harp and viola - in the music selection and the lovely world premier of wonderful compositions - not to mention the little sparkles of magic in the fairy lights, flower bouquet and the ever-essential deliciousness of tea and biscuits...! As I listened to the floating music of Jolivet's petite suite (look up his post-War music - it's quite lovely!) and in Chan's Nostaligia Collective in the tingling notes of the harp, the dramatic runs on the piano and the sweet song-bird of the flute, my heart soared, and I think it just really hit me, that...  

I'm done.
I've finished with school.

Those words feel so good to write, but also unfamiliar and strangely scary, just thinking how I've finally reached the end of an era, and am done with my school years.

I am so glad to be done though - so relieved, and thankful to all my loved ones, and just grateful for the Lord's enduring faithfulness through it all. My high-school education took some turns I did not anticipate or imagine, especially during this year; but I am thankful for that, despite the stress and struggles I had to overcome, as God was leading me in a wonderful way. 

If any of you have read my previous post a few months ago, I shared an essay I was writing for Macbeth, giving you a peep into what I've been doing in the past weeks of my studies. During the spring (autumn in the Northern Hemisphere :), I spent my time getting ready for 4 major all-day exams in English, Ancient History, Modern History and Visual Art. . . they were intense and more advanced than I had previously studied at school. But it was a challenge that I deeply enjoyed, despite the stress of a limited time-frame (I managed to do some serious cram-studying, guys!) and the Lord sent me just the help I needed. It was a great blessing and I learnt so SO much, I don't know where even to begin! Maybe I will share some of the things I learnt at another time, but right now it just feels so surreal to have completed something that was consuming my thoughts during all my waking-hours for the past few months. . . a hint of what university studying must be like I guess :D. 
Plutarch and Polybius were my constant companions through my Ancient History studies
Discovered Susan Wise Bauer - she's so good!
And Orwell, of course...
During those exams I, 
1. acquired a fear of the ticking clock ("woe is me, I have 5 minutes left to finish this 5-point argument thesis paper and my fingers ache, and I've only covered 3-points and I don't think I can do it!!!")
2. learnt to write dramatic and highly-emotional fictional monologues through the perspective of Daisy Buchanan, involving lots of imaginary champagne and tears...!!
3. developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of poetry (it's so fun!)
4. discovered that actually tyranny in Ancient Greece was not always that scary so long as you consulted the right oracles and had an Olympic record.
5. found that Julius Caesar could actually be deemed a likeable guy when you read him from the "right" sort of history books and that his life may actually have the characteristics of a tragic hero?
6. learnt that Hannibal's Punic Wars had a lot more to do with naval power than with elephants and that Hatshepsut was pretty much the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of a modern feminist. Just possibly?
7. concluded sagely that most likely fierce Marxism rather than Nationalism was the strain of Mao Zedong thought in Communist China. 
8. Finally, realized "Animal Farm" and "Of Mice and Men" are 2 stories that will break your heart in less than 100 pages. . . oh, and William Shakespeare was a blazingly brilliant bard, and his play "Macbeth" is every-bit as rich and exciting to read and study as I could have imagined! 

Now, I'm in a summer/Christmas break and I am both so, so excited and equally incredibly nervous about the adventurous journey ahead, and what might be in store as I take the next step in my education and love of the arts. It all really rests in God's hands, and I am learning that in a very literal way sometimes these days... it can be quite confronting but encouraging when I feel like all I have are 5 loaves and 2 fish, and there are thousands of mouths to feed and yet know that He will always provide and lift me up when I feel overwhelmed and over-taxed with worries and fears. "He who counts the stars and calls them by name is in no danger of forgetting His children." (Spurgeon). 

I must admit I feel a little scared sometimes of how the next step will be like. But as one person once said, "I do not know what my future may hold, but I do know WHO holds it." This makes me so happy. I want to abide in the arms of Jesus, and rejoice in Him always even when I cannot see the path before me. It's not blind faith, but a firm reliance in the absolute reliability and sovereignty of God in His Word. He will see me through the stormy night!

"There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn." - Psalm 46

I guess those have been some of the thoughts running through my head, these last few days. Soon, I hope to write more detailed posts and discussions, which I am really excited about. But in trying to get back into blogging, and reconnecting with all my dear friends online and local, I've struggled to know what to say. There are so many things that have changed for me during this past year, that have influenced, inspired and challenged me. I've thought about things - like my writing and reading and future and what my faith truly means to me. But more than anything this year, I think I've experienced. From going travelling on a trip to the USA, studying intensely for major exams and doing some important life- decisions, I've felt broken and scared some days, happy and enriched in others - I've expanded and grown, cried and stumbled and learnt a lot. Yet, always my Saviour has been there, and strengthened my soul and helped me through it all. He's been so faithful. I'm just so thankful for His love, and the love of my dear family and friends - their prayers and sacrifices and continual encouragement. Even though in Commonwealth countries like Australia, we do not celebrate Thanksgiving like in America, I feel a silent prayer of thanks and worship to my God for all that He has done. And as I think about Christmas, and the months ahead and what they might contain, I find myself reflecting on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." This is particularly so, when we think of the Gift of Christmas, and the awe that comes with knowing that Jesus came into this world for you and me and just how special and glorious that is!

During this summer, I'd love to get back into rich reading for my soul, and start writing creatively again. For one thing, I'm hoping to start rewriting my ancient Roman novel, The Crown of Life during Christmas - it will demand more research and possibly some story-outlining, but I'll have to tell you more about that in another post! And also I have a huge TBR that is awaiting me - I have started several books in the past months, and in a similar manner to what Schuyler shared on her blog in her last post, have finished a very few outside of my studies. Now that I'm on holidays, I'm trying to get back into swing of reading for pleasure with the right sort of book, after having had a rather taxing study year - it can be a bit slow going, but it's wonderful to be back! The books on my pile right now are all pretty exciting and rich and I can't wait to finish them. I've collected 2 new Rosemary Sutcliff books from Abebooks that I'm excited to dig my teeth into, borrowed a pile of ya science-fiction books from the library, and a Robin Hobb book, which I'll report back on. But right now I am reading a few chapters every other day from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis which I am finding to be a beautiful look into the life of faith and very accessible! For fiction, I've been reading Red Rising by Pierce Brown and it is just SO good! Totally loving it. . .  but maybe I'll review it on Fullness of Joy when I've completed it with some other Christmas-y posts, Lord willing.

And on this note, hello, my dear blogging friends! I AM BACK! :D Please message me in the comments below and tell me how you've all been doing the last few months? What have you been reading, writing, or studying? Do any of you have a special prayer request? I'd love to hear and share together. I've missed you all so much!

P.S. Lord willing, I shall be back soon with some other exciting posts, so stay tuned!

"Stars, Hide Your Fire" | a persuasive speech on Macbeth

Sunday, 2 October 2016

(This is one of the many sample essays, I have been working on in preparation for an important English exam that will be coming up soon. In this particular one, I am writing a persuasive speech as an informed reader to other readers defending the actions of one of the characters in a play of my choice. I decided to go with Macbeth by William Shakespeare. As it is for a secular examination, I have avoided drawing overt Christian themes/messages in the debate/discussion, though I imagine there can be so much to analyse and draw from through a Christian worldview perspective. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any thoughts/suggestions/tips/ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments below! Thank you!)
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Hello my fellow theatre-lovers! Today, with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death not too far behind us, I invite you join me in a discussion on the actions of one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, “Macbeth”. From a cultural standpoint, when we think of Macbeth, we picture an ambitious, weak man who treacherously murders King Duncan and seizes the Crown. In our debate today, I invite you to look at Macbeth from a different perspective, as we ask ourselves whether perhaps Macbeth is actually a good man with great valour and courage, but who eventually succumbs to the temptation laid before him by the evil of the witches and the manipulation of his wife?
            In the opening Acts of the play, Shakespeare invites us, his audience, to view Macbeth as a brave and noble hero, just come back from defeating the foes of the king in battle and loyally defending him against a treacherous rebellion. Macbeth is a man who fought valiantly and wins the praise of his king. King Duncan sets him in contrast to the former Thane of Cawdor when he rewards him, saying, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.” This presents the honest trust the king has in the loyalty and courage of Macbeth.
            But what leads this loyal soldier to commit regicide against his own king? When the three strange sisters appear to Macbeth and his friend Banquo, and foretell that he will be king, Macbeth is startled by their words. We witness the beginnings of a major conflict within Macbeth himself, when the first part of the prophecy seems to come to pass and the king’s men name Macbeth “Thane of Cawdor”. His soliloquy, “Stars, hide your fire; let not light see my black and deep desires,” reveal the ambition rooted in his subconscious, that perhaps has been hidden before but which the witches now expose. The vision of becoming king is not one he can shake off easily.
But what haunts Macbeth even more is the prophecy itself, with the lure of the supernatural words spoken by the witches. Their words are prophetic, hinting at the conflict of fate and free will, and whether he has it in him to bring about the fulfilment of the witches’ words. He is immediately tempted with a “horrid image”, for the first time glimpsing his opportunity of killing the king to achieve his “vaulting ambition”. But this he resists, knowing he cannot abuse his better nature by nurturing such murderous thoughts. At the end of the first Act, Macbeth concludes “if chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir” and chooses to not to commit such an evil. Shakespeare thus gives us a glimpse into Macbeth’s nature, and lets us see his wish to do what he knows is right, despite the lurking temptation in his heart.
            His fault now lies in telling his wife, whom he clearly is devoted to, about the prophecy of the witches. Unlike him, Lady Macbeth is not bound by scruples of loyalty or integrity, and takes it upon herself to convince her husband to bring about his own predestined glory. Her estimate of her husband’s character being “too full o’ the’ milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way” demonstrates that she knows he is keenly conscience of his moral obligations. In her ambition, she sets about demolishing his scruples, by appealing to his masculinity, daring him to “screw [his] courage to the sticking place” and be a man. The interplay of the meaning of gender roles plays a significant part in the play. It is clear that such goading of his manhood cannot but have an effect on the insecure, emotional Macbeth. Having never put to rest the gnawing ambition and the seduction of the prophecy of the witches, Macbeth succumbs to the manipulation of his wife and commits the act of regicide against his king.
hehe, silly Shakespearean puns
            What Shakespeare achieves in his portrayal of Macbeth’s fall into evil is phenomenal, however. We cannot but see that despite Macbeth committing such an evil deed, there is something deeply human and universal about his character that we can relate to. As he becomes tormented by a frenzy of ghostly visions and hallucinations, he cannot silence the workings of his conscience. He sees blood on his hands, and with it he realises the enormity of his offence – against God, against humanity and against himself. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” A further manifestation of his conscience, and the weight of his guilt, can be witnessed in his immediate knowledge that he has ‘murdered Sleep’. He knows he has sacrificed his soul to the devil, and every treacherous action he consequently commits, demonstrates his knowledge that he is beyond redemption.
            Perhaps that is the greatest tragedy about Macbeth. It is his tacit knowledge of the evil in his heart, his inability to firmly resist temptation when it was thrust on him, and his realisation that there is no undoing his first Crime, that makes him rise above the ordinary villain. He could have been so much more, and he knows it. But it is this very consciousness that there is no going back, which leads him irrevocably down a path of destruction. He distances himself from his beloved wife, seeks the council of the demonic witches and becomes paranoid of those closest to him. He clings to the beguiling promises of the witches, that no man born of woman can kill him, yet in his soliloquy at the death of his wife, he reveals the emptiness of his life, that
“Life but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
            In conclusion to our discussion today, I challenge you to see that Macbeth is essentially a good man at heart, courageous and valiant in battle with a keen sense of moral obligation and conscience, but through the weakness of character and the temptation brought on by the witches, he listens to evil council and goes down a way of unescapable evil and damnation.