10 Things I Learned This Winter

1. Snow days aren’t as much fun when there are no kids at home. One of my supreme joys in life was going into my teenagers’ bedrooms and whispering, “No school today!” It’s wonderful to be the bearer of such good tidings. We all loved an excuse to spend the day in pjs and bask in the unexpected day off. No more. Snow days and school cancellations don’t make my heart sing anymore. I have to get dressed and go to work anyway.

2. Speaking of snow days, we’ve had 9 so far this winter. And counting.

3. “Channel 3000 Call for Action” are magic words. After three months without a refrigerator, seven service calls, four new compressors and one new motherboard, we played the ultimate trump card and called the consumer advocate. When the bigwigs at the big box store caught wind of that, we got a big check in the mail. The refrigerator saga is finally over.

4. Somebody had a brilliant marketing idea. On Valentine’s Day, there was a mysterious pink envelope in the mailbox with my name on it. PB and I had agreed to not get each other anything this year. Flowers just end up dying. Candy just gets eaten. Cards are fine, but somebody else wrote those schmaltzy words. I must admit, my eyes lit up a little bit when I saw the card in the mystery envelope.

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The small print reveals the ulterior motive. But, hey, Lorenzo Caine wants me back!

5. Looking for a swimming suit in February is like trying to find snow boots in July. Supply is limited. Even if you live near the “Waterpark Capital of the World”, surprisingly enough. There was not one bathing suit in the outlet mall. Thankfully, one other store had three models to choose from, one of which was in my size — which made my decision easy.

6. It’s possible to read the Bible from cover to cover in 60 days. I started on December 20th and crossed the finish line on February 17th. I felt a bit out of breath and wondered if speed reading the Good Book had been a good idea after all. Now I’m so glad I did it. Like flying over the Grand Canyon, it was a majestic view of God’s grand story. What hit me most was the stark difference between the Old and New Testament. When Jesus came on the scene, I fell in love with Him. He was so drastically different from the God of the Old Testament with all the fire and smoke and thunder and lightning. Jesus was such a surprise and I wanted to clap and cheer for Him. He is the best part.

7. Desperate times call for desperate measures. During that week long sub-zero cold snap in January, four grands were staying at our house. It was too cold to send them out to play in the snow, so I brought the snow in. It was a hit. Bonus: I got the kitchen floor washed. (Double bonus: There is a stockpile of snowballs in the freezer, waiting for a summer snowball fight.)

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8. A day of rest is still a good idea. Our physical bodies and our souls need regular periods of rest. Thank goodness we don’t have to follow the “39 Categories of Sabbath Rules” anymore. No carrying (not even a needle), no burning (don’t turn on the lights), no tearing paper (including toilet paper), no writing, erasing, or tying knots. No eyebrow plucking and no slaughtering of any living creatures (mosquitoes included). No opening umbrellas and no makeup allowed. And that’s just a smidgen of the five pages of rules. Sabbath was a lot of work. Jesus set things straight — “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

9. Christmas should be in January. My daughter made a good case for this on her recent Instagram post. October has Halloween and November has Thanksgiving. Then we should all take a break and get cozy during December. Instead of losing our minds because of winter in January, let’s do Christmas! Then carry on with the rest of the year. Credit for this brilliant idea goes to Anna. Who’s with her?

10. I heard birds singing this morning. Actual birds. Actually singing. They are starting to feel it in their tiny bones — spring is closer than we think. May we all have the faith of birds and be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see.

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The Long Winter

My oldest grandson just turned 7 and he’s starting the magical journey through the “Little House” series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Seeing those books on my shelf bring back memories of long afternoons, reading aloud while the kids colored or played with Legos. Now I read aloud to PB, until I hear soft snores from his side of the bed. Reading aloud is still one of my favorite things to do, especially on days like today.

The 2019 version of “The Long Winter” doesn’t quite measure up to Laura Ingalls’ prairie blizzards that started in October and continued until April. Day after day of forty below temps and snow that piled up to the rooftops created real hardship in the late 1800’s.

If we run out of milk, I can go a few blocks to Kwik-Trip and pick up a gallon.
I don’t worry about getting lost in a whiteout blizzard on my way to the barn.

If the north wind howls, I can flip a switch and turn on the fireplace.
I don’t sit for hours and twist hay into sticks to feed the cookstove.

If the snow piles up, I can start up the snowblower.
(Well, PB can start up the snowblower.)
I don’t have to shovel a path to the outhouse.

If all the businesses in town close, I can survive on what’s in my pantry.
I don’t worry about the supply train and my dwindling tin of flour.

Really, people.
We have it so good.
Snow is an inconvenience, not a threat to our existence.
Look out the window and say a prayer of thanks
that you’re not twisting hay into sticks for cookstove fuel.
Go read chapter 19 of “The Long Winter” this afternoon,
and rejoice.

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Exhaling Worry

I’m not a chronic worrier, but from time to time I can sink down into that dark hole of anxious rumination, usually between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. By morning, those fretful thoughts don’t seem like such a big deal. By mid-afternoon, however, I feel the full effect of wasting two hours of prime slumber.

You can imagine my joy and relief when I stumbled upon the solution to worry! It was right there, at the entrance to the grocery store — a simple three step process to wipe away worry for good.

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1. Pull.
Pull that anxious thought from your mind.
2. Wipe.
Wipe it away with the antiseptic power of God’s Word.
3. Discard.
Throw. And don’t go back to dig it out of the garbage.

He cares.
“Throw all your anxiety onto Him because He cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7

His peace of mind is our peace of mind.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.”
Isaiah 26:3

Inhale peace — exhale worry.
Repeat as needed.
You’re welcome.

Exhale

Take a deep breath.
I mean, waaaaaay down deep.
Until your tummy puffs out and your lungs are about to burst.

Hold it.

Hold it.

Okay, now let it go.

There now, didn’t that feel good?

Our cells do a happy dance when we take in all that lovely oxygen.
Our over-loaded brains get a turbo-boost,
our tight muscles sing for joy,
our frazzled nerves fire down.

My word for 2019 is EXHALE.

We were created to have a natural rhythm:
inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
I’m afraid our way of life has developed an unnatural cycle:
inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale, get sick, exhale.

I’m going to try to step into the Creator’s cadence,
listen for the heartbeat of the Master,
watch for His ebb and flow.

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I’m going to learn to exhale.

In the book of Exodus, we read, “In six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.” Here, the word “refreshed” literally means, and God exhaled. All creation moves with the rhythm of the inhale and the exhale. Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible. ~ “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller

My Top 5 Books of 2018

At the end of the year, I like to go back and look over the list of books I read in the past twelve months. Since 2004, I’ve been keeping a list of the titles of every book I’ve read, reread, or ditched. Here are the five books that meant the most to me in 2018.

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1. The Adventures of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
I’ve seen the movie “Oliver” and can sing “Consider Yourself” with a British cockney accent, but I hadn’t read Dickens until this past year. The old classics make you work hard, but, oh, the reward. The language is deep and rich and weighty. As usual, the book is better than the movie. (Although I did stop to hum “Food, Glorious Food” on page nine.) Dickens’ style is so unique; the chapter titles were sometimes almost as long as the chapters.

Chapter XXXVI: Is a Very Short One, and May Appear of No Great Importance In its Place, But it Should Be Read Notwithstanding, as a Sequel to the Last, and a Key to One That Will Follow When its Time Arrives

I’m glad I didn’t live in Victorian England, but it was a lovely visit and I’ll definitely return to Dickens in 2019.

2. Recapturing the Wonder, by Mike Cosper
I received this book as a birthday gift in 2017, but didn’t get beyond the first few pages before putting it on the shelf. In December of 2018, I picked it up and wondered what was wrong with me before. This is a gem of a book. I learned a valuable lesson — sometimes a book isn’t ready for me and sometimes I’m not ready for it. Books are patient and don’t mind waiting for the right time.

“Life with God is an invitation into a world where most of what makes sense to you crumbles. It’s far richer than you imagined, far less orderly and sensible, and far more mysterious. Like Job, once you begin to see the wonder of it, you find yourself awestruck and, somehow, satisfied.”

3. Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, by David Gibson
I read this book in preparation for a Bible study on Solomon. I needed help with Ecclesiastes which is fairly dark and pessimistic. Gibson changed my whole perspective on Solomon’s reflection of his wayward life. This book shakes up the current culture’s view of what it means to live “the good life.” Thinking about death is actually supposed to help us pay attention to our limitations as human beings and embrace life as the wondrous gift it is.

“Life is not about the meaning that you can create for your own life, or the meaning that you can find in the universe by all your work and ambitions. You do not find meaning in life simply by finding a partner or having kids or being rich. You find meaning when you realize that God has given you life in his world and any one of those things as a gift to enjoy.”

4. 24/6, by Matthew Sleeth, MD
I read this book a couple years ago, but revisited it while doing research on the Sabbath. Dr. Sleeth makes a strong case for something called rest and literally prescribes a 24 hour break every week in order to maintain physical, mental and spiritual health.

“In the 24/7 world, we ‘pencil’ friends in on the calendar. These loose commitments frequently fail to materialize. We have the best of intentions, but intentions don’t build relationships. Filling in every Sunday on our calendar with ‘FOR THE LORD’ in permanent ink changes our perspective. Honoring a Sabbath every week makes us more committed and serious about our relationship with the Lord. This is even more crucial today, when things travel as fast as the speed of light. God designed us to spend one day a week at the speed of stop.”

5. Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus, by John Eldredge
This is my gold medal book of the year. I read it in April and I’m still thinking about it. In exploring the personality of Jesus, Eldredge uses words like “fierce”, “scandalous” and “beautiful”. This book helped me step beyond the Sunday-school Jesus that is meek, mild and melancholy. I love the descriptions of Jesus laughing, turning over tables, and grilling fish on the beach for the boys.

“We actually come to think that service for Jesus is friendship with him. That’s like a friend who washes your car and cleans your house but never goes anywhere with you — never comes to dinner, never wants to take a walk. We are meant to love the man himself, know him intimately. First things first. Love Jesus.”

May your reading life in 2019 be especially rich and satisfying!

“There is more treasure in books
than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”
Walt Disney

2019 Bible Reading Plan

When I go to a buffet, I like to scope it out before loading up my plate. I peruse the salad bar and the soup offerings. I check out the main entrees and sides, and, of course, eye up the dessert table. After this fly-over, I form my plan in order to make sure I have room for all the things I want to taste or indulge in. Without this big-picture approach, I may just dish up my old favorites and miss some new and exciting flavors.

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Every five years or so, I sense a need to go back and recapture the grand sweep of the Bible. I much prefer the microscopic approach to study — choosing a small portion and burrowing down into it, squeezing out every bit of meaning and nuance. But from time to time, I feel the pull to step away from the microscope and lift my sights to the panoramic view.

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This year’s plan is to read through the whole Bible.

I know it’s daunting.
I know it’s hard to push through Leviticus.
I know a year is a long time to stick with anything.

That’s why I’ve decided to try something different.

I’m going to read through the whole Bible in two months.
Thirty pages a day for 60 days.
I expect this fly-over will provide new taste experiences.
I know this landscape view will add valuable perspective.

Perhaps a 60 day gallop through the Good Book is not for you. Then let me challenge you to pick one book of the Bible you haven’t looked at for a while (or ever!) and read a chapter or two every day for two months.

In March, a reading plan will be available that will focus on the 2019 Lenten series.

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(One year Bible reading plans can be found here.)

 

The (Perfectly) Imperfect Christmas

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The grands got matching jammies for Christmas.
So, naturally, we wanted a photo of them sitting together on the couch.
But Emma looked away and Abel was a blur.

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So we tried it again but Ruby looked at Emma and Eli was losing control of Abel.

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So we called Opa over to make funny faces.
Emma looked at her cousins and Anna’s hand got in the pic.

Sometimes Christmas is like that. You try to make it all perfect and then you realize perfect isn’t much fun. Life is better with a little blur and a hand in the corner and whatever happens when you get nine kids under six years old in one house for 48 hours. It’s perfectly imperfect. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Ella wanted to put on the nativity costumes, so we set about staging the scene. Except Ruby was taking a much needed nap and Abel was dead set against putting on a sheep hat. So we didn’t force anything and went with the big five and two littles.

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Evie made for a very proud mama Mary. Eli stuck out his tongue — it’s possible Joseph did the same at some point that holy night. Ella was a slightly sneaky looking angel. Charlie wore his angel costume backwards, but it didn’t matter at all. Hudson was a shepherd with his eyes on baby Jesus. Emma sat where we told her to sit and posed for the camera. And Ember had her one big chance to take the leading role, not easy with eight older cousins. She played the part magnificently — smiling and cooing and blessing us all.

Perfectly imperfect.

I also contributed to this year’s theme.

 The Overlien Family Calendar for 2019.

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I’m just off by a year.

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Reprints are on the way.

“Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it!
It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person
to perfect some very imperfect people.”
Hebrews 10:14, The Message

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
1 Cor. 9:15