Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, December 8, 2023

Hanukkah 101

Please don’t die of shock. This little Christian blogger is forfeiting her annual opportunity to write a four-week Christmas series in favor of acknowledging the eight days of Hanukkah. I’ve found no better way to learn something new than to write about it. For starters, how to spell it. One n, two k’s. And if you really want to be authentic, start it with a C, drop one k (Chanukah) and pronounce it like you’re clearing phlegm.

Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah doesn’t always fall on the same day of our Gregorian calendar. That’s because it is always on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. In 2023, it will begin at sundown on Thursday, December 7 and last until sundown on Friday, December 15.

The word Hanukkah is Hebrew for “dedication,” and it is the Jewish Festival of Lights. Although not considered a major holiday, it’s probably the one we hear most about. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp. 


The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day. Yet it lasted for eight full days, the length of time needed for the ceremonial cleansing. 


To commemorate this, celebrants begin by lighting one candle in their menorah. The menorah consists of nine candle holders, one for each night of Hanukkah and one to hold the Shamash (literally, “helper,” the candle used to light the others.) Each night, they light one additional candle. Parties, gifts, special foods, attending religious services, music, and games all play into the traditional celebrations.

Do you know how to play Dreidel?

Sometimes spelled dreydel, pronounced DRAY-dull, a dreidel is a four-sided, spinning top. On its four sides appear four letters from the Hebrew alphabet: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin. Together these letters translate to “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the shin is replaced with a peh, so the letters spell out Nes Gadol Hayah Po, or “a great miracle happened HERE.”

To play, you’ll need: two or more players, the dreidel, 10-15 pieces to use as game tokens (players traditionally use foil-covered chocolate coins called gelt—Hebrew for money—but you could use any small items.)

How to play:

1. Divide the game pieces equally between all the players.

2. Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel. The one with the highest spin has the first turn. (nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) If there’s a tie, those who tied spin again.

3. Everyone puts one game piece into the middle (the “pot”).

4. Spin the dreidel once. Depending on the side it lands on, you give or get game pieces from the pot, as follows:

·       Shin: put one more token in the pot

·       Nun: do nothing

·       Gimmel: take all tokens from the pot

·       Hay: take half of all tokens from the pot. In case of an odd number of tokens, round up.

5. Pass the dreidel on to the next player in a clockwise direction.

6. Keep playing until someone wins by collecting all the tokens.

7. If you run out of tokens, you are either out or you may ask another player for a loan.

Playing Dreidel is a wonderful way for children to learn part of the Hebrew alphabet and even a little math while having fun. I can’t help picturing Jesus as a little boy playing this game with his cousins, friends, and younger siblings. In John 10:22, he visits Jerusalem for this “Festival of Dedication.”

Hanukkah reminds us that it’s up to each of us to be a light in the darkness, and that even a little light can go a long way. Next week, I’ll tell you some of the traditional Hanukkah foods and share a recipe.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Crazy Little Routines

Our little bungalow has three entries. The front door normally gets opened five times a week to check the mailbox. If readers stop by to purchase one of my books, I generally steer them to the front door as well.

The back door off the kitchen, leading to a mid-size deck, was not part of the original house but makes a nice addition. Normally, it’s used only in the summer months.

Our most-used entry.
The side door is the one we usually use. It utilizes one of those arrangements common to homes built in the 1960s. You enter, stand on a three-by-four-foot landing to hang your coat, leave your boots, and then choose between three steps up to the kitchen or nine steps down to the basement. Not a problem in the summer months. But in winter, or when company comes, it’s a nightmare for everyone to unboot themselves without booting anyone else down the stairs. I don’t know how families managed with these cattle chutes back in the day. Still, it generally works fine for the two of us.

Thanksgiving weekend, the handle on our side storm door broke. Hubby took the handle to the hardware store where we’d purchased the door, only to learn it would take six to eight weeks to get a replacement handle. This left us with no way to latch the storm door. Since we were leaving on a trip, Hubby threaded a plastic zip tie through the hole and tied the door shut. With that entrance out of commission, we needed to develop some new habits. Switching to the front and back doors was not a major inconvenience. At first.

Then winter blew in.

Suddenly, coat hooks, closets, and boot trays were in the wrong spots. The corner stand where we collect items to be grabbed on our way out the door now stood in an inconvenient place. Turning off a light on your way out the back door required traipsing across the kitchen floor in your boots. I couldn’t sit at my usual place at the table without moving footwear. Instead of one small rug accumulating dirt, snow, and gravel, we had three. Every time I left the house, I seemed to be gathering items from all over. I didn’t know how to go anywhere anymore.

How can such a small change throw our whole routine into confusion?

John Dryden, an English literary critic and playwright of the 1600s, said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” We humans are creatures of habit and the older we grow, the more attached we become to our routines. We resist new tricks, even when those tricks could improve our lives or even save them.

Sometimes we need a little shakeup to keep our brains sharp or to experience new adventures. If I hadn’t been forced to use alternate doors, I wouldn’t have found the house key I thought I’d lost. I wouldn’t have discovered the cute bunny living in our shrub. I wouldn’t have realized that taking the kitchen garbage out the back door is actually handier.

Is there a routine you need to shake, some flexibility you need to adopt, or a new spirit of spontaneity you’d love to embrace? What small change can you implement today that will create ripple effects into 2024 and beyond?

Micro habits are small yet meaningful practices that will improve your life when done consistently. These can be as uncomplicated as leaving your phone in another room when you retire to bed or visit the bathroom. As simple as rising a few minutes earlier or taking a minute to stretch or pray or meditate or step outside or drink a glass of water or count your blessings. I’m sure you can think of more. Can I challenge you to deactivate your most-used door (your least helpful habit) for a few weeks and see what better alternatives might arise?

Friday, November 24, 2023

Survey Says...

I felt privileged to be the guest speaker for a women’s retreat at Newton Community Church recently. Those ladies know how to create fun!

One of the games we played was “Friendly Feud.” Like the game show Family Feud, our version came complete with buzzer, theme music, and video graphics on the big screen. Unlike the show, each round required a fresh team of five contestants on each side. Several of us went up more than once, always sticking with the same side. This method made the game active, interactive, and entertaining. A few hilarious answers shouted from the crowd kept things lively, too.

The most frequent feud-generating objection occurred when the answers provided by the 100 surveyed people felt wrong to us.

“Name a food that goes with peanut butter.” The Number One answer was jam or jelly, but the subsequent answers left us shaking our heads. Honey, celery, bananas, and Oreos all made the list, but no one said bread!

“Name a holiday where you give presents.” The survey-takers had included birthdays and anniversaries even though those are not holidays, but they’d left out Easter.

“Name something you use your lips for.” I was on the buzzer for that question and got the Number One answer—kissing, of course. But when the last remaining answer stumped us and it turned out to be, “lick your lips,” my friend Nita voiced the obvious question. “You use your lips to lick your lips?”

But this was not Jeopardy. Giving a correct answer and guessing how most of the surveyed people answered are not the same. To play this game well, you must think the way people think when put on the spot, even though they might provide a different answer if given time to ponder, research, or discuss.

How simple it is, when surrounded by public opinion, to believe said opinion is the “correct” answer. It’s equally easy to insist that our answer is the only correct one and live with our minds closed to all else.

In his book, High Voltage Habib: Gospel of Undoctrination, Author Abhijit Naskar wrote,  

“In my 30 years of existence I’ve come to the realization that all talk of truth is nonsense. Because even though we assume truth to be absolute and universal, in reality, in our human world no one truth is universal or absolute, it’s all relative. The only force absolute and universal is love – there’s nothing higher, braver, or wiser.”

Well, that sounds like a lovely philosophy to live by. Just love. Do you suppose Naskar’s statement is an absolute truth? If so, wouldn’t that make it false?

In my 65 years of existence, I’ve come to the realization that loving well means making a thousand unselfish choices every day, year after year. I don’t know about you, but I simply do not have it in me, in my own strength, to love the way even those I love most need to be loved. This weakness would leave me with no hope at all, except for a truth I believe to be absolute. I have a Savior who not only loves perfectly but who called himself the truth.

Alistair Begg said, “…to advocate for truth is one of the most loving things we can do—for it is to call people to live in line with reality, and away from building on falsehoods that, sooner or later, will crumble beneath them.”

In the game of life, don’t put too much stock in what the survey says.


Friday, November 17, 2023

Got Yer Ticket?

Why, you might ask, would anybody want to see a play that goes wrong?

I can think of a few reasons.

1. Do you like to laugh? In 2014, when The Play that Goes Wrong opened in London’s Duchess Theatre, critic Tim Walker of The Telegraph gave the play four out of five stars. He called it “a great-looking, brilliantly performed piece,” and stated, “I have seldom, if ever, heard louder or more sustained laughter in a theatre.”

2. Do you like to support local theatre? The Prairie Players are bringing this hilarious play to life on the stage of the William Glesby Centre, with director Avery Griffiths and a combination of new and veteran local actors: Randy Lilley, Alanna Downey, Cullen Yeates, Laurel Giesbrecht, Lisa Marie Tessier-Burch, Ethan Hoekstra, Justin Fry, and Sandy Blight. With a team like that, it’s sure to be a winner.

3: Could you use a night out? You can choose from four nights, Wednesday through Saturday, November 22-25 inclusive.

As you probably already guessed, The Play that Goes Wrong is a play-within-a-play, called “the funniest play Broadway has ever seen” by The Huffington Post.

It’s opening night of a classic murder mystery called The Murder at Haversham Manor. Before the curtain even rises, trouble befalls the production. Things quickly snowball from bad to disastrous. Although certainly not the first play of this nature—or even the first our local troupe has tackled—this one promises to keep you guessing, smiling, and telling your friends.

Then again, if you’re not sure you’d enjoy an abundance of disasters befalling the cast and crew, if you don’t find sticking doors, falling props, or collapsing floors funny, this play may not be for you. If you think forgotten lines, missing cues, and breaking character are all part and parcel of an ordinary community theatre production, you may assume this is simply one more. If mispronounced words don’t raise a chuckle, stay home and watch the news where they always get it correct. If an actor getting knocked unconscious and being replaced by a stagehand who refuses to yield the role back to the actor upon her recovery doesn’t tickle your funny bone, you may find yourself sitting stoically in your seat.

I do hope that wasn’t a spoiler.

I know one thing. Deliberately getting a play wrong takes even more determination, more rehearsal, and more comedic timing than getting it right. I’ll be there, cheering on the cast and crew who are working so diligently to get this play that goes wrong just right.

The Play That Goes Wrong was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company, and all three playwrights acted in its first production. It won Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards.

Don’t miss it!


Friday, November 10, 2023

What History Forgets...

How desperate does a nation need to become before its leader calls for a National Day of Prayer?

On May 24, 1940, the British needed a miracle. One of the greatest disasters in its history seemed in the making. When France fell to the Germans, the British Army of 350,000 men were hemmed in with their backs to the sea at Dunkirk and no one to save them. The water was too shallow for a Navy rescue. The commander of the British Forces, Lt. General Sir Frederick Morgan, stated that there was no way out, barring a miracle.

Then something happened that has only happened a handful of times.

King George VI (grandfather of our current King Charles) went on the radio to call for the first National Day of Prayer, imploring citizens to plead for divine intervention. You may have seen the iconic photographs of long lineups at London’s Westminster Abbey. Millions flocked into churches to pray, while others prayed from home. Historian Dr. Victor Pearce wrote, “Hardly anybody stayed away. The churches and halls were crammed full and overflows outside were sometimes bigger than the crush inside.”

Britain received its miracle—in fact, several miracles—in the days that followed.

No one could explain how the English Channel remained absolutely calm all the days during which thousands of private boats traveled back and forth, rescuing members of the British Expeditionary Army from the sands of Dunkirk. Had the weather been normal for those few days, the world map would no doubt look much different today.

No one could explain the freak storms that simultaneously grounded most of the German air force. Only a few planes were able to take off, and no one could explain the fog that prevented those few from attacking the civilian vessels in the channel.

No one could explain Hitler’s order, overruling his own generals. Just as his tanks prepared to advance, he ordered to halt the attack and sent his troops in a different direction. This order remained in effect for two days while soldiers were evacuated by civilian boats. Some writers speculated that Hitler had given the order out of a misguided sense of mercy, hoping the British were ready to surrender. The historian Brian Bond stated that few historians now accept that view. In later years, Adolf Hitler lamented that Churchill was “quite unable to appreciate the sporting spirit” in which he’d refrained from annihilating [the] British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk.


No one could explain the apparent immunity of 400 soldiers who rose to their feet after lying face-down in the sand beneath a rain of German ammunition, to discover themselves unhurt. No one could explain the image of their own silhouettes in the sand, surrounded by bullets.


338,226 soldiers were successfully evacuated from a seemingly impossible situation. So convinced were the British of the value of prayer that more National Days of Prayer were called in the months and years to follow. Yes, much damage was done and many lives were lost, but those who experienced it would never forget what became known as The Miracle at Dunkirk. Unfortunately, the story has faded from memories and history books. Though you can find numerous YouTube videos about the event, most ignore the call to prayer.


While it’s hard to imagine Parliament calling for a national prayer day in 2023, nothing need stop you and me from praying. My Bible tells me the heart of the king is in God’s hands (Proverbs 21:1) and that we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against an unseen world (Ephesians 6:12). Matthew 8 tells me of a Saviour who stops the wind with his words.


This Remembrance Day, let’s remember not only those who sacrificed, but those who prayed and the God who hears.


Lest we forget.


(For a moving, 8-minute video that tells this story far better than I can, CLICK HERE.)



Friday, November 3, 2023

Unreasonable Reasons

Do you believe everything happens for a reason? Do you believe sometimes that reason is simply that people do stupid things? Judge for yourself.

Our trip had been in the works for a year. A high school reunion in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota in October. We signed up. Booked time off. Got all our ducks in a row. Packed. Reserved a room in Pierre for Thursday night. Left our house around 9:00 a.m., anticipating a ten-hour drive.

More than two hours later, we were filling with gas in Boissevain, twenty minutes from the border, when I remembered. My passport still sat in my dresser drawer.

I am not normally forgetful. Hubby hadn’t asked, “Got your passport?” (Though I suspect he will next time.) He’d seen no reason to ask because he knew my track record. I’m a list-maker, writing down and crossing off everything. Yet somehow, my passport hadn’t crossed my mind. Not once.

“He’s going to kill me,” I thought.

Yet the only naughty word I heard came from my own mouth.

We turned around and headed for home. Though I was kicking myself for such a dumb mistake, Hubby was nothing but gracious. “I can’t be mad,” he said. “This is so unusual, it seems like there must be some other reason we’re supposed to go home.”

I’d had the same thought.

We began texting our son and a few friends to see if anyone was free to go to our house, find my passport, and meet us somewhere to save at least some time. Despite our offer of a tank of gas, no one could, convincing us even more that we were meant to go home. Eventually, we reached the point where it made no difference. We’d be driving all the way home, our brains dialed to high alert. Was our house on fire? Had something happened to one of our loved ones?

We pulled into town. “Should we stop for the mail?” Hubby asked.

“Might as well,” I said.

He pulled up to the post office, went inside, and returned with a Compassion catalogue which he tossed into my lap. “Well, it’s not about the mail.”

A fire truck, siren blaring, went by. Instead of turning toward our place, though, it kept going. “Well, it’s not about our house on fire,” I said.

When we pulled into our driveway, everything appeared as we’d left it. Nothing suspicious inside.

We had not, however, heard from our son, who typically responds in minutes. Two hours had passed since we’d begun texting and calling. Was he the reason we’d come back? What if he was in trouble? Knowing we wouldn’t relax if we headed for the U.S., we decided to drive east to Elie so we could check on him. Worst case scenario, we’d feel like foolish helicopter parents and add yet another unnecessary hour to our trip.

As I climbed into the car, my phone rang. It was our son. Everything was fine.

We took a different route south and spent the night in Jamestown, relieved when the hotel in Pierre granted a full refund but still wondering, “what was THAT all about?”

We may never know. We did hear about torrential rainfall in western South Dakota, and we saw some of its results when we arrived the following afternoon. Maybe it was about that. Maybe we missed an accident somewhere. Maybe it was simply human forgetfulness. Not everything has to be “about” something. Part of living by faith means you live with these kinds of questions and look for significance behind every snag. 

One thing I do know. My husband’s gracious response to my costly blunder spoke volumes. This gentle reminder of God’s work in his life and in our relationship, knowing how I’d have reacted had the tables been turned, left me feeling humbled, loved, and safe.

Maybe that’s all it needed to be about.

Hubby and Me near Rapid City, SD


Friday, October 20, 2023

In Praise of Paper Planners


While I may lag light-years behind my grandsons when it comes to using electronic devices, I do appreciate technology and the conveniences it offers—when it works, of course. Among my peers, I usually hold my own. I’ve had to learn a lot of techno tricks in order to write, publish, and promote my own books and to teach others what I’ve learned.

But one item I can’t see myself ever letting go of is my daily planner. The paper kind. I’d feel lost without its ability to tell me what I need to do on any given day, where I need to be at what time, what bills need paying, what I’m making for supper, and so much more—all in one spot. Sure, they make apps for my phone that would do all the above electronically. Let me flesh out seven reasons why I’m sticking to my coil-bound planners.

1. Writing things down boosts memory. Studies confirm that writing information down by hand makes your brain more able to store that knowledge for later. This means I’m more likely to remember an appointment without even checking my calendar/planner—although I will.

2. Writing things down frees my brain because instead of worrying whether I’ll remember to pay that bill, I can relax knowing my planner provides all the reminders I need. If I relied on my electronic device, I’d fill brain space wondering if my device might die or malfunction at a critical time.

3. Listing my tasks for the day helps me stay focused. One study found we are 42 percent more likely to achieve our goals if we write them down. Getting into this habit also teaches us how much is reasonable to accomplish in a day, which in turn increases our chances of success.

4. Checking tasks off gives me a dopamine boost. If you’re wired like me, you derive such great satisfaction from checking tasks off your to-do list that if you do something that wasn’t on the list, you write it down for the sheer pleasure of checking it off. Your best days end with crawling into bed having completed what you set out to do.

5. My planner inspires me. The last few years, I’ve been using the planner created by Our Daily Bread, which comes with lovely monthly photos and inspirational messages. I’ve used others with daily jokes and some with adorable photos of pets. Some planners come with pages you can decorate yourself with felt pens, stickers, or colored pencils. Indulge with abandon!

6. Referring to my paper planner provides a screen break. We all know the benefits that come with getting off digital screens regularly. If I’ve just spent an hour writing a column on my computer and then turn to my paper planner to mark the task complete, my eyes and brain receive the break they need.

7. My planners provide a record. I’ve got annual planners stored in boxes going back to the eighties. They’ve been used to settle arguments, find birthdays and anniversaries, and to go for a walk down memory lane in ways my digital calendars never would. I enjoy the reminders of long-forgotten trips and events, don’t you?

I know it’s not New Year’s yet, but if you like paper planners—or you’re thinking about using one—now’s a good time to order one for 2024. I recommend anything about 6 x 9 inches, spiral-bound, with one week on each two-page spread so you can see the week at a glance. But that’s just me. Pick what works for you!

(Speaking of calendars, I hope yours is marked for this Saturday, October 21, for my come-and-go book release between 11:00 and 2:00 at the Portage Library. I’d love to see you there!)