The Year Without a Summer

Annika slipped from the barn and glanced at the darkening sky. Something was wrong. Her stomach twisted as snowflakes drifted down onto her summer dress. The cold flakes quickly dissolved on her bare feet.

Out in the meadow the sheep looked up in alarm. Their newly-shorn skin appeared blue in the fading light. The lambs started crying.

“Put them in the barn before they freeze,” her father called from the cornfield.

Annika began to run toward the sheep.

Summer, she thought angrily as she reached the meadow and gathered sheep together. With all this snow falling, it might as well be the middle of winter.

She picked up Leecie, their newest lamb, and drove the flock past the apple orchard. Shriveled leaves clung to all the branches. When they passed the cornfield, Annika spotted her older brothers, Fritz and Samuel, on their knees in the corn furrows. Their breath created clouds as they raked filmy snow away from the young plants.

With July’s warmth evaporating, a thin blanket of white settled over the Olsen family’s farm. In the three years since Annika’s family had come to Vermont from Sweden, they had made a good living selling apples, corn and maple syrup. Papa had hinted that this year there might be money enough for her to have a new dress from the shop in town.

That was before a dreary red fog had settled over the New England countryside in the spring of 1816. Freakish snowstorms killed May’s corn, and more snow in June buried the second crop. Now, like many of their neighbors, the Olsens had been forced to trade their cattle and most of their sheep for food, lamp oil and more seed corn.

As Annika drove the ram, 12 ewes and four yearling lambs into the barn, she sensed their distress. Yesterday, Papa had sheared the winter fleeces from all but Leecie, who was too young. The flock had been happily grazing in the hot meadow an hour ago, but now frost clung to their black noses.

When Annika stepped out of the barn again, she saw Fritz and Samuel tramping toward the house.

“Wait!” she called. “What about the corn?”

“It’s no use, Nika,” Samuel replied, rubbing his reddened hands together. “The snow is coming too fast. The roots will freeze.”

Annika’s heart ached for her father. If this crop failed too, he would have to sell his beloved maple wood. She had always loved walking through the trees, collecting sap and helping her father boil it into syrup.

She turned and saw him out in the field. Mr. Larch, the farmer who had bought their cattle in June, stood beside him. The men were speaking quietly, snow gathering on the brims of their hats.

“Nika, your shawl!” Mama called. She rushed from the house and wrapped a swath of green, knitted wool around her daughter.

“What are they saying?” Annika whispered, motioning toward the field.

Mama’s expression darkened. “Mr. Larch will take the horses today,” she said quietly.

“He cannot do that!” Annika exclaimed.

“Hush, Nika,” Mama said. “We will barely be able to feed ourselves this winter. Papa sold the horses weeks ago. Mr. Larch kindly lent them to us in hopes this crop would survive.”

Tears stung Annika’s eyes as she watched Papa unhitch Lars and Gretchen, the gentle plow horses.

“Mama,” she whispered, fear twisting her stomach again, “what has happened to the world?”

For a terrible moment, Annika thought her mother might cry.

“Have courage,” Mama finally said, wrapping Annika’s chilly hand in her own. “In the old country, we learned to find God’s graces, even during the hardest winters. So it will be here.”

Annika was not sure what the graces Mama mentioned would look like. She glanced at the hazy, red sky.

What if summer never comes back? she wondered. Will my family have to beg this winter? Has God forgotten us here in America?

When Papa and Mr. Larch came into the barnyard, she stared at the whitening ground rather than the reins in Mr. Larch’s hand. The men went into the barn and retrieved hay, lantern oil and tools to sell. Annika watched Papa load their precious crockery jugs of maple syrup into Mr. Larch’s wagon and climb aboard. Never had she seen blue-eyed Papa look so sad as when he kissed Mama goodbye and rode away into the snow.

Braving the Cold
Annika followed her mother into the house. She helped Mama unpack their last spare blanket and twist the blue yarn onto spindles for trading.

With no yarn, Annika knew she wouldn’t hear the homey clack-swish- clack of Mama’s weaving loom as in past summers. No crickets sang through opened windows and no fireflies sparked in the fields. Instead, Fritz and Samuel exchanged worried looks as the wind banged the shutters like an icy fist. Papa had not returned, and the snow was getting worse.

Suddenly, Leecie’s frightened cry broke the silence. Bleeet! Annika hurried to the window. The barn door stood ajar. Sheep by sheep, the flock pressed through the crack into the storm.

“They’ll freeze!” Annika cried, grabbing her shawl.

Samuel and Fritz followed her outside. Cold air burned their lungs as they battled the blowing snow to round up the wayward sheep. By the time they drove them all back into the barn, the animals were half-frozen. The yearling lambs curled up on the dirt floor, refusing to move. Even the ram and ewes looked limp and weak.

“They’re dying,” Samuel said. “And we cannot build a fire in here to warm them.”

Pulling the shivering Leecie onto her lap, Annika wrapped the edge of her shawl around him. Many neighboring farms had lost whole flocks of sheep in the last freeze. Please, God, she prayed, pressing her face to the lamb’s cold neck. Please help them survive. My family has lost so much already.

Suddenly, her eyes fell on something in the dim light. Against the barn wall, stacked and waiting to be washed, were the flock’s fleeces. Papa had not taken them in the wagon. Annika jumped up and slid one from the stack.

“Quick,” she said to Samuel. “Go ask Mama for the blue yarn she was spooling. And bring your work knife.”

Samuel bolted from the barn.

“What are you planning?” Fritz asked.

“We can tie their fleeces back on,” Annika answered.

“They won’t like that,” Fritz said with a grimace. He helped her pull the fleeces onto the shivering flock.

When Samuel returned with the yarn, Annika cut off long pieces. Taking a smaller fleece, she laid it on a yearling’s back. The lamb bleated pitifully as Annika and Fritz began tying it at the neck and again at the stomach.

“Do you think this will work?” Samuel asked doubtfully.

“Help me get him up,” Fritz said, ignoring his brother.

For the next two hours, they wrestled fleeces onto all the stubborn sheep. The ewes bleated. The ram butted and kicked. Finally, the whole flock was swaddled in lumpy wool coats with blue string ties. Annika and her brothers closed them into the smallest stall, hoping the flock would stay warm enough to survive the night.

“That’s all we can do for them now,” Fritz said.

As they stepped from the barn, weak sunlight filtered through the sickly fog. The storm was over, but no summer songbirds broke the unnatural quiet.

“It’s as if the world is trapped in winter,” Samuel said sadly. “Summer cannot get in.”

“What will we do?” Annika whispered.

Her words echoed in the stillness. It seemed that all their hope was buried beneath the snow. Perhaps they should never have come to America.

Grace in All Seasons
After dinner, they heard a sound rising over the south field. Bells! Annika rushed outside. It was Mr. Larch and Papa, driving toward the house in Mr. Larch’s winter sleigh. The swift horse stamped and whinnied as the sleigh pulled up. Papa and Mr. Larch leapt out. From the back of the sleigh, they pulled two large barrels.

“What on earth?” Mama exclaimed from the doorway. The two men rolled the barrels inside and pried open a lid.

“What is it, Papa?” Annika asked.

“Come see for yourself, Nika.”

She crept to the barrel and peeked inside. Then she clapped a hand to her mouth in surprise. The barrel was packed to the brim with salted fish.

“Mackerel,” she said, laughing. “Just like we used to eat in Sweden!”

“The same,” Papa said, his blue eyes twinkling. “Mr. Larch knew a man who was willing to trade for our maple syrup. And that is not all. Another man, Mr. Whitten, has promised to share wheat and potatoes with us. His farm slopes south, and his crops are holding up better against the cold.”

“What a wonder,” Mama said as she picked up a fish and smiled at Papa.

Before dawn the next morning, Annika and the boys shoveled a path to the barn. Cold air rushed out as they went inside to inspect the flock, bleating loudly from their stall.

“They all made it,” Annika said.

A few of the coats had shifted, but every sheep was on its feet.

“Look,” Fritz called from the doorway.

Scooping up Leecie, Annika turned to watch the rising sun painting yellows, golds and reds into the eastern sky. It was breathtaking. With the lamb cradled to her, she stood in the snowy doorway and let the sky’s beauty warm her.

Was this one of the graces Mama said to watch for? she wondered.

Annika made up her mind to ask God to help her see each grace as it came to her family and to give thanks for it.

“Mama is calling us to breakfast,” Samuel said. “I expect we’ll be sick of salted fish come winter.”

Annika grinned as she returned Leecie to his stall and ran to the kitchen. Summer would be hard. Winter would be harder. But today salted fish would taste just right.

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Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

Dr. Lee Warren

W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.

Praying Scripture Over Your Child’s Life - Part 1

Jodie Berndt loves to pray for her children. She’s been doing that for the past thirty years. Now she helps other parents to talk to God, asking for the salvation of their kids, and for wisdom, self-discipline, purpose, a future and much more. She offers fun and practical encouragement that moms and dads can put to work immediately in their daily lives as they prepare their children for a life in Christ.

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt is a public speaker, a Bible teacher, and the the author of 10 books. Find out more about Jodie and get some free resources (including printable prayer cards and calendars) at her website, jodieberndt.com.

Cover image of Jodie Berndt's book "Praying the Scriptures for Your Children"

Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children

You will discover how using the Bible to shape your desires and requests opens the door to God’s provision—and frees us from things like worry and fear in our parenting! This expanded edition of the bestseller features updated content on issues like technology and identity, and comes with new material designed to invite children into the family prayer circle. Purchase now and receive 10% off your product.

Mothers and Sons: Being a Godly Influence - Part 1

Rhonda Stoppe describes her early motherhood challenges of raising a son, which was intimidating to her. She found help through group of older women mentors. She urges moms to see their role as ministry in shaping sons to be good and godly men. Rhonda outlines several practical suggestions to moms about spiritual training, how to communicate with boys, and supporting the father-son relationship as a wife.

Headshot of Rhonda Stoppe

Rhonda Stoppe

Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be MenReal Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.

Cover image of Rhonda Stoppe's book "Moms Raising Sons to be Men"

Moms Raising Sons to Be Men

Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.

Identifying Triggers in Your Marriage Part 1

They were both convinced they had married the wrong person. From almost the very beginning of their marriage, Amber and Guy Lia experienced various tensions and personality clashes related to house cleaning, backseat driving, workaholism, and intimacy. In this two-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Amber and Guy discuss how they bravely faced the triggers head-on, and committed to working on their own relationships with Jesus. As you listen to the Lia’s story, you’ll feel hope that you, too, can see real marriage transformation!

Headshot of Guy and Amber Lia

Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Amber Lia and Mrs. Jean Daly

Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,

Cover image of the book "Marriage Triggers" by Guy and Amber Lia

Marriage Triggers: How You and Your Spouse Can Exchange Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses

A husband-wife team offers practical advice for married couples to end the cycle of reactionary arguments by examining the most common issues that trigger disagreements and apply God’s Word to radically transform relationships.

What to Do When You're Not Okay - Part 1

Life can be pretty stressful. Between work, relationships, and other obligations, the pressure builds, and we lose sight of who we are. Counselor Debra Fileta helps you better understand your emotions, assess your mental, physical, and spiritual health, and intentionally pursue a path to wellbeing. In dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, Debra understands the importance of self-examination as well as the benefits of seeking professional help. She offers biblically-based advice, tools, and encouragement to help you get on a path toward healing and wholeness.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Mrs. Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.

Are You Really Okay?

Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are

In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.

Navigating a Toxic Culture with Your Daughter - Part 1

As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker has seen thousands of girls come through her office through the years. They struggle with eating issues, sexual identity, social media…and many other challenges in this toxic culture. Dr. Meeker will encourage parents to invest love and time in their daughters and develop their character to give them the best opportunity for a bright future, all rooted in a spiritual foundation. The discussion also includes healthy feminism vs. toxic feminism

Mrs. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong DaughtersStrong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers

Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe

Meg Meeker has been a pediatrician for more than thirty years, is a mother and a grandmother, and has seen it all. She knows what makes for strong, happy, healthy young women–and what puts our daughters at risk. Combining that experience with her famous common sense, she explains the eleven steps that will help your daughter–whether she’s a toddler or a troubled teen–to achieve her full human potential.

Embracing Your Role as a Spouse

As a spouse, you have three roles to play—a friend, a partner, and a lover. On this one-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Pastor Kevin A. Thompson explores those different roles and challenges you to live them out by investing emotionally, physically, and mentally in your relationship. As friends, he suggests we learn to play and laugh together. As partners, he equips us with solid ways to handle conflict and communication. As lovers, he offers some thoughts on how to bring back the sizzle. He shares five keys to saving your marriage: humility, respect, mercy, communication, and resilience. You’ll be encouraged to intentionally invest in your marriage.

Headshot of Kevin Thompson

Pastor Kevin Thompson

Kevin A. Thompson (MDiv, Beeson Divinity School) is lead pastor at Community Bible Church, a growing multi-site church with four locations in western Arkansas. Every year he meets with nearly one hundred couples with a range of needs, from pre-marital counseling to navigating the most serious betrayals. A marriage and parenting conference speaker, he and his wife, Jenny, have two children and live in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He blogs at kevinathompson.com.

Cover image of Kevin Thompson's book "Friends, Partners & Lovers"

Friends, Partners, and Lovers: What It Takes to Make Your Marriage Work

With engaging stories and clear, simple language, pastor Kevin Thompson shows how to live out three distinct roles in marraige. Using solid biblical principles, he helps you and your spouse grow your friendship, be supportive partners through the good times and the bad, and develop a healthy and satisfying sex life.

Welcome to Clubhouse

Every month, Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine features fun crafts and recipes for children ages 8-12. More than 80,000 families use the Christ-centered stories, quizzes and puzzles to help their kids learn about and grow closer to Jesus.

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