10 Things I Learned in January

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1. Sitting in the back pew changes everything. On the first day of 2017, I didn’t have any responsibilities in the worship service, so I sat in the third row from the back instead of my usual third row from the front. I could barely see PB from back there. He couldn’t find me in the crowd. I think it knocked the whole congregation off-kilter.

2. I was the lucky recipient of a month’s worth of free bagels from Panera. One free bagel every day in January! Except Panera is 9.2 miles away and it costs $1.64 in gas to drive there and if I bring PB along, I end up spending another $5. I begged them to give me 31 bagels and be done with it, but that’s not what the marketers had in mind. Plus, 31 cinnamon crunch bagels with honey walnut cream cheese = 15,810 calories. I settled for five free bagels. (You do the math.)

3. Quote of the month: “A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.” (Richard Rohr) 

4. Going to the movies on a Tuesday is a cheap date in Madison. We went to see La La Land and happened upon “$5 Tuesdays” and free popcorn for signing up to be a member (at no cost). It made me want to tap dance down the theater aisle.

5. This year’s Bible Reading Plan is forcing me to slow way down and squeeze out every morsel. Two verses a day makes for a fun treasure hunt.

6. It’s not a good idea to watch two TV series at the same time. Especially when the same actor is in both shows. Rufus Sewell is messing with me. He’s a good guy in one show and a bad guy in the other. I keep getting his roles mixed up and I’m confused as to why a cruel Nazi commander is in 1830’s England and why a kind, Victorian gentleman shows up in 1962 post war America. Like I said, it’s confusing.

7. Once upon a time, my son was the lead screamer in a screaming rock band. Today, he can sing every song from every Disney princess movie, acting out scenes with his very own 3 year old princess. Flynn Rider has nothin’ on a real live Prince Daddy.

8. Sometimes The Message version nails it. John the Baptist’s statement, “He must become greater, I must become less” is powerful. But Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase paints a picture: “This is the assigned moment for Him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.” I’ve noticed lately that there’s lots of room on the sidelines.

9. Wintry weather has wreaked havoc on Wednesday nights. We’ve had to cancel church events twice this month. However, PB had a funeral on the day of a snowstorm. And babies were born regardless of the weather. So I guess it’s safe to say that birth and death aren’t called off for inclement weather.

10. Way back when we had four little faces sitting around our homeschooling table, we started the day off with prayer. We prayed for our family, friends, and leaders. We prayed for our state and federal representatives, our governor and our president. We prayed for Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Then there were no more little faces around the table. But I continued to pray for George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I didn’t vote for all of these presidents, but I prayed for each one. I’m not gonna stop now. In fact, I may even pick it up a bit. May God shed His grace on us.

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10 Things I Read Last Year

In December, I learned to be quiet. That’s all.

So instead of 10 things I learned in December, here is a list of 10 things I read in 2016. I collect quotes like some people collect antique dishes or shoes or shot glasses. Here’s a peek at some good quotes from my reading year.

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1. “Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith…I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless; prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.” Lauren Winner, Still: Notes On a Mid-Faith Crisis

2. “The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

3. “Right theology is ultimately hospitality that lives broken right open — with your time and your space and your heart. Every day you can do one thing that you wish you could do for everyone.” Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

4. “If you want to really tick people off, just bring up the word Jesus… Say Jesus and people either get happy, or they get mad. They either smile, or a cloud comes over their faces…No other name has such potency. Not Clinton, not Gandhi, not Thatcher, not Lennon.” Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

5. “I have spent so much of my believing life trying to chain myself to a rock in order to prove my love to Jesus that I may have missed the chance to be chained to Jesus instead… Maybe I’ve missed the point all along. Maybe being chained to Jesus doesn’t involve a chain at all.” Micha Boyett, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer

6. “Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it.” Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter

7. “The ordinary activities I find most compatible with contemplation are walking, baking bread, and doing laundry.” Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

8. “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.” Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

9. “Had God pulled me from Adam’s rib and placed me naked in the garden, the story would be no different. Let’s not blame Eve anymore. If she hadn’t eaten the fruit it most certainly would have been me. I would have eaten it again and again, and then I would have given you a bite.” Amber C. Hains, Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home

10. “It seems that God arranged the most humiliating circumstances possible for his entrance, as if to avoid any charge of favoritism.” Philip Yancey, as quoted in Watch For the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

What’s in store for 2017? How about a little more Wendell Berry? I must have been a very good girl this year. Tell me, what book are you reading to start 2017?

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10 Things I Learned in November

1. If I live to be 81 years old, I will see six more presidential elections. Lord, have mercy.

2. Inspiration comes from unexpected places. I received a word of encouragement from my daughter’s husband’s mother’s sister’s husband and it was enough to keep me going.

3. Evie is getting a brother in April! It took me a while, but eventually I caught on when I realized everyone was wearing blue one Friday night. The grand score is back to even: boys – 4, girls – 4.

4. If you would have told me five years ago that I would be staying up until midnight cheering on the Chicago Cubs in the seventh game of the World Series, I wouldn’t have believed it. Never say never.

5. On October 4, 1991, I was issued a passport. It expired on October 3, 2001 with no stamps decorating its pages. I am reapplying for a new passport even though I have no plans to go anywhere. My hair looks ridiculous in that ’91 photo.

6. Good gravy is the cornerstone of a successful Thanksgiving dinner. PB grew up with a dad who was a gravy connoisseur, a gravy grandmaster, a gravy guru. So I rolled up my sleeves and roasted, simmered, and whisked. Five hours later, I had a gravy that PB declared “the best I’ve ever tasted”. Grandpa O would have been proud.

7. Hebrews had a word for me this month. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) I can’t begin to count how many times I whispered to myself this month, “eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus”.

8. There’s nothing cuter than watching a four year old muster up his courage to play the “Pie in the Face” game. Unless it’s watching him get a handful of whipped cream in the nose. I hope the four year old reminded his parents that they both offered him a dollar to stick his adorable face in the line of fire.

9. Convincing middle school boys to dress up like angels for the Christmas program is challenging, even if they are the archangels Michael and Gabriel. I’m scouring Pinterest for manly angel costume ideas. Flaming swords might win them over.

10. Advent is a respite this year. I’m eager to enter into a quieter season. More praying and singing, less talking and wrangling. More candles and music, less TV and Facebook. More glory to God in the highest, more peace on earth, more goodwill. It’s time to treasure up some things and ponder them in our hearts.

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10 Things I Learned in October

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1. I think March should be shorter and October should be longer. How about we transfer a few soggy, slushy spring days to golden, gorgeous fall?

2. Old shoe friends are dear. We had a visit this month from a friend who was in college with PB and stood up in our wedding. We haven’t seen him in ten years, but our friendship is comfortable and easy, like an old shoe. There was lots of reminiscing mixed in with sharing current struggles and hopes. These two college boys have stayed the course and served the Lord well. And they’re not done.

3. The Church is not dead. PB and I spent a day in Chicago with 1700 people who gathered to worship and pray for the future of our denomination. As we were cruising down the interstate that morning, I watched the sun rise and I was filled with hope. As we declared our “amen” with one voice, I was filled with grateful optimism. As we drove back home that night, I was filled with awe at how much Christ loves His Bride, the Church.

4. I always cry at weddings. While most guests watch the bride as she comes down the aisle, I prefer to keep my eye on the groom. If he is at all emotional, I’m a goner. If the father of the bride says, “Her mother and I” with a crack in his voice, I’m digging for a tissue. And if my son is a groomsman standing up with his buddies, I’m a puddle.

5. Ruby is getting a sister! Our daughter found out that her March baby will be a girl, balancing the scale in their family (2 boys, 2 girls), but upsetting the equilibrium in our grand total (3 boys, 4 girls).

6. Planting bulbs in October is an act of faith. For the first time in my life, I stuck some bulbs in the cold autumn ground, thanks to a friend who offered to help. I don’t understand how those hard knobs can survive winter under a layer of dirt and leaves. And snow and ice. And subzero temperatures. It’s hard to believe there’s a flower in there, willing to wait in the dark for months — something God alone can see.

7. Adult children are good teachers. I used to write down cute things my kids said. Now I write down their wise words. This month a blog post by my daughter taught me a much needed lesson. Sometimes when it feels like the world is falling to pieces, I need to remember, “It’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.”

8. Wendell Berry is my new favorite author. I read “Hannah Coulter” this summer and just finished “That Distant Land”. I borrowed one title from the library and the other from a friend. The characters in his books have become such good friends of mine that I need them in my house. I rarely purchase a book AFTER reading it, but Nathan and Burlie and Wheeler and Lyda simply must live on my shelf, near enough to visit every so often.

9. Sometimes a person needs an apple cider donut, especially in October. Last week, I was that person. I went to all three grocery stores nearby, the bakery downtown and the apple orchard down the road, but there was not one apple cider donut within a ten mile radius. Obviously, the craving hasn’t let up. Please, someone find me an apple cider donut.

10. Quote of the month, from “That Distant Land”: “Boys,” he said, “all I want is a good day and a long row.” May we recognize the days we are given as good and the long rows a blessing.

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Bonus! Cute kids in Halloween costumes! Couldn’t resist.

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10 Things I Learned in September

1. My great-great grandparents came to Baraboo in 1851. I came to Baraboo in 2004. Although time separated us by 153 years, their homestead was less than a mile from where we now live. We went to pay them a call one afternoon, but nobody was home.

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2. The PBS series “Poldark” is based on a set of 12 novels, each of which is over 400 pages long. The twelfth and final installment has 704 pages. Be still, my beating heart. I think I’ve found my new calling in life.

3. I will never think of the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” in the same way again after hearing Tony Evans’ version during the “Cry Out!” prayer night.

4. We met some of our new neighbors. PB put up a trail cam in our two acres of woods. Lots of little critters have been walking the trail in our backyard and posing for the camera. One big critter ambled by, causing PB to consider bringing the florescent orange out of the mothballs. 

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5. We are in the “one-gallon-of-milk-a-week” stage of life. It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were in the “one-gallon-of-milk-a-day”phase.

6. The flannelgraph in my 1st grade Sunday school class might have been wrong. I clearly remember Jonah being swallowed by a whale. As I recall, that flannel fish was smiling and blowing water out of its spout. Jonah was on his knees, praying in that whale’s belly. Except the word “whale” isn’t in the book of Jonah.

7. Every house should have a brightly painted front door. My sister just got back from a trip to Cornwall, England, and she said every church and most every house had a cheery front entrance. What a lovely idea.

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8. I can’t resist taking personality profiles. The Enneagram uses a nine category system to understand personality types. I am a “1”. Just for fun, I signed up to receive an email every day with guidance for my type. I love it  when I get one like this: “You need to allow yourself to relax. A therapeutic massage would be extremely beneficial for you.” Oh yeah. I don’t love it so much when the message is like this: “Try not to deteriorate down into being too harsh and critical of others.” Ouch.

9. Hibernation is setting in early this year. I already have the down comforter on the bed, the tea bags stocked and the firewood piled. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long winter.

10. This quote from “Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken seems especially true this month: “We seem unable to get used to time. We are always amazed at it — how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.”

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10 Things I Learned in August

1. Stepping away from the internet for a month was not the end of the world. August is indeed the Sunday of summer. It’s been a nice Sabbath rest.

2. Family Weekend was a good idea. Last year we tried Family Week. We’re learning what works for a gathering of ten adults along with six kiddos under the age of four. The huge totes full of Legos and dress up clothes came out of storage and were a hit with adults and kids alike.

3. I miss the little pink chair. And the Mickey Mouse plates and the sippy cups. I miss the footsteps coming up the stairs every morning. But I’m happy Evie has her very own purple bedroom in her very own house. The nest is empty again. Maybe for good this time.

4. Quote of the month: “Do you want what you want badly enough to arrange your life for it?” Ruth Haley Barton

5. The Morris’s and the Biddick’s came to America on the same ship. I came across this bombshell as I was doing some family history research. The Morris’s were my mom’s ancestors. The Biddick’s were my dad’s great grandparents. In 1850 they boarded the ship “Belle” in Padstow, Cornwall, England, not knowing that 96 years later there would be a marriage connecting the two families — my mom and dad. How cool is that?

6. Olympians are freaks of nature. I can’t imagine training for four years to run a thirty second race or perform a five second vault. PB and I did enjoy the view from our easy chairs, though. The swimming, gymnastics and track events were thrilling. I just wish there could have been more coverage of the ping-pong, badminton and sailing competitions.

7. Spending a week in the woods is good for the soul. PB and I went up north and looked at tall trees, stood in cool shoreline water and breathed deep of fresh forest air. We also ate giant caramel pecan sweet rolls, tapped our toes to a surprise jazz concert and took a nap every afternoon. That’s how to restore a soul.

8. Jesus was a master storyteller. I read through the parables this month. I just wish we could hear the intonation of His voice and see the look on His face as we read these stories. Were they told with a smile or a raised eyebrow? Was there a softness or an edge in His voice? The Apostle John said that the world doesn’t have enough room for all the books that could be written about the things Jesus said and did. But I’m sure heaven does. Someday we’ll hear the stories in His own voice and see the twinkle in His eye.

9. I would drive across town for a free cup of coffee. A new convenience store opened up and they are offering free coffee for a few days, along with lots of other promotions such as $1 worth of free gas, which is about three tablespoons. I figured if I drive a few miles to get the free coffee but use the squirt of free gas, I’m still ahead. I simply cannot turn down anything free. Except puppies and kittens.

10. Jonah is an Old Testament book that really packs a wallop. We are going to take a good long look at the book of Jonah this fall. I’m excited to get back with my Bible study ladies next week! We are going to engage our hearts and minds like never before in the 48 verses that make up this crazy story.

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10 Things I Learned in June

 

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1. If I hadn’t picked out the name “Nonnie”, I’m pretty sure my grandma-name would be “Peaches”. I had my daughter ask Hud Bud, “What is one word you think of when you think of Nonnie?” His answer was, “Peaches”. He does love to eat my frozen peaches.

2. My Facebook post, “The peach truck is in town today” got more comments than cute pics of grands. I felt a little like Winthrop Paroo singing, “The Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street…” I bought 50 pounds of Georgia sunshine. Soon I’ll be up to my elbows in sticky juice. I’ve got to do it — Hud Bud is counting on me. (See #1) (I’ll try not to mention peaches in all 10 Things.)

3. I spent June in the book of Psalms. Psalm 65 was especially meaningful and full of lovely phrases in the Common English version. “To You even silence is praise.” “We are filled full.” “You calm the noise of the nations.” “You make the gateways of morning and evening sing for joy.” And my favorite: “Thy paths drop fatness.” It’s delightful to read the same thing in different versions and see what pops. The KJV won the prize with “Thy paths drop fatness.” Goodness gracious.

4. PB has been adding a funny phrase at the end his thinking-out-loud idea sessions. Sometimes it sounds like a sincere request, other times it seems more like a double-dare to counter his ingenuity. It’s a strong wallop of an ending, intending to scare me off from throwing a wet towel on the idea, I suppose. “What do you think of that?” he says. Except it sounds more like “Whuduya think of THAT?”

5. I have decided what will be engraved on PB’s gravestone. (See #4.)

6. Someone has a list with my name on the top. I met a friend for lunch and soon after we sat down in a quaint booth, she pulled out her Notes app on her phone. She had a “Dinah” list — all the things she’s been wanting to ask me or pick my brain about. Having my very own list on her phone was a compliment of the highest order.

7. Binge watching a TV series is fun, once in a great while. PB and I watched the entire first season of “Poldark” in three nights. The PBS series is set in Cornwall, England in the late 1700s. PB was hooked after episode one. I was hooked after the opening panoramic scene of ocean waves crashing against the cliffs. My ancestors came from Cornwall and I kept looking for my great-great-great-grandparents Matthew and Mary Biddick from Trewince Farm at St. Issey Parish to show up on screen.

8. Gathering people on the back porch is an old-fashioned thing to do, and should be brought back. We had 22 people on our porch one night this month, eating cookies and drinking lemonade and telling stories. It reminded me of the Acts 2 church that met in each other’s homes, shared simple food with gladness and praised God together.

9. Quote of the month: “So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.”  From a keynote graduation speech given by Neil Gaiman.

10. I am sad when June comes to a close. June is so full of summer while there is still lots of summer to come. Once July hits, there is a quiet panic in the background of my mind, whispering, “The rest of summer will fly by and you can’t stop it.” And I begin to get edgy about what I need to prepare for fall. I am deliberately putting off the panic until August. Let’s enjoy July.