Great Expectations, adjusted

A mom asked me for help in what to do for her child, who was going to be out of class for the next two months due to some radical chemo treatments. Her young teenager has cancer. This wasn’t the first mom I’d met with a child in need of special treatment.

And in such cases I have to talk to mom and dad about adjusting their–and their child’s–expectations. There is no hard-and-fast rule out there for dealing with interrupted plans. The typical plan for a high school load each year wouldn’t work for this atypical situation. No rule says that at age 18 a child should graduate from high school and head off to university. Not every child fits that stereotype. This mom, and others like her, must adjust other circumstances in order to accommodate the family’s present needs.

Cases like this rise up often as I advise parents about educating their children. The whole child needs to be considered, I tell them, not just the amount and type of classes he is going to take each year. The family whose father just passed away: how does mom homeschool the children and find a job to support her family? The international move because of dad’s job: how can we consistently educate the children while we all adjust to a new living arrangement? And on and on the stories come.

Our great expectations continually need adjusting–the expectations of what my life will look like, of what my children will grow up to become, of good health all the way through my life, and more. What happens when the bottom drops out of my great expectations and I am left to reconsider everything?

What do I do when life hands me something other than what I had planned all along? What do I do with that disappointment?

compassion

A friend whose daughter began exhibiting signs of a mental illness wept. “This isn’t something her brothers and sisters should have to watch. They have the right to be normal teenagers, and not have to deal with their little sister unravelling in front of them.”

A family member who discovered her husband’s unfaithfulness after 35 years of marriage lamented that this shouldn’t happen to her after all they had been through together.

The mom–and many like her–with a daughter in chemotherapy wept as she and her family struggled to adjust to the heartache, the fear, the whirlwind that has been visited upon them.

As much as I weep with these friends and family members–and also in my own quest of adjusting to a life with chronic pain–I want to remind them that “normal” doesn’t exist.

And who can say that family members shouldn’t have to live with a sibling whose world has unraveled due to mental illness or life-altering illness? In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. He uses all things for good, for those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28-29). Living with someone’s illness can teach countless lessons in empathy, compassion, caregiving, unconditional love, and much, much more. The illness of a loved one is not a surprise to God; he will use it for his purposes and for his glory!

While it’s difficult, and maybe even feels insurmountable, I’ve found that I must adjust my thinking about expectations, looking more realistically about what “normal” means. In reality, we know that life is full of disappointment, tragedy, and challenge. Maybe that’s what’s “normal.”

Christian believers have been promised that life will be full of troubles. But–and here’s the most important BUT–we’ve also been promised that Christ will be with us nevertheless. Christ promises us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Being visited by tragedy, challenge, disaster, or just run-of-the-mill teenage rebellion doesn’t mean the end for your family. It means that this is another opportunity to place your faith, your trust, in a God who will never leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

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Biblical Worldview Rhetoric: What’s worldview?

Second Edition coming soon!

Why is this book called Biblical Worldview Rhetoric?

An essential aspect of our upcoming rhetoric text is a study of worldview. This text guides students through an examination of the worldviews behind discourses (speeches, essays, letters, etc.) and their authors. Worldview is inextricable from rhetoric, for every person speaks from his worldview, even unconsciously. Once you begin to think in this manner, you will have a much more rich understanding of the use of rhetoric.

Think of “worldview” as  the glasses through which we see the world – how we interpret and give context to what we see. Everyone has a worldview, and every worldview is based on the philosophies to which we adhere.

A Biblical Worldview begins with the foundation – the understanding and the acknowledgment – that God is the author and creator of all things:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (ESV, Colossians 1.15-23)

Teaching with a biblical worldview does not just mean attaching a Bible verse to the week’s lesson. It begins with the presupposition from Colossians, above. If God is the creator of all, and He holds all things together, does that affect the way we study the history, the people, the events? What drives people to do what they do? How do we react to the things that happen to us? How do we speak to and persuade one another? As we study, we take note of what sin does to the human mind, and how it drives people to act and react.

This kind of study means thinking presuppositionally: examining underlying ideas. Everyone has a worldview, has presuppositions with which they think and act, whether or not they are consciously aware of those ideas. When we seek to persuade a person, we also must identify and address (perhaps confront) his set of presuppositions, his worldview. This kind of study will inform how best to address someone whose ideas differ from ours.

We must study to approach our neighbors – our audience – armed with the truth. And we must know the worldviews by which they operate.

Ultimately, the goal of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric is to bring people to the Lord, but it’s not as simple as passing out tracts and reciting scripture at them. We must delve below the surface in order to get to the root of the problem, and as Dr. Michael Bauman of Hillsdale College says, “the problem of the human heart is at the heart of the human problem.” We know that the answers to all of humanity’s deepest questions can be found in God’s holy Word, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, know the source of inspiration – the God of all Creation – and know your audience and how to address them. Only then will we be able to engage with people on what ultimately matters most of all: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Announcing Revised Edition of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric

Thoughts Clothed In Words (2)It took 15 years for the first edition of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric to become a reality, so announcing a revised edition is nearly completed, just 6 years after the first, should feel practically lightning-fast!

I’m thrilled to announce it, and I want to give you an idea of the changes to come.

  • Collaboration. Probably most exciting for me is my partnership with a talented writer and teacher: my son, Tyler Howat. Tyler has his Master’s in English Literature from the University of Dayton and has been teaching for several years in classical settings in the U.S., in an online school, and overseas. He has used this Rhetoric curriculum for a few years, and his contribution to the new edition has been exciting. I guess they say the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree (sorry, Tyler!), but this nut has far surpassed me! (That makes me a nut also!)
  • Multimedia Assignments. Today’s rhetoric has never been just words on paper. Rhetoric is also speeches, advertisement, propaganda, and other forms of media. Today’s students, then, need to pay attention to how someone tries to persuade them in whatever media they use–in politics, on TV and movies, and social media. So wherever possible we have added some thoughtful teacher-directed discussions and assignments incorporating different forms of media.
  • Rhetoric 1 & 2 Combined. The first edition of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric came in two volumes. However, not every schooling situation is the same, so we combined it into one volume. That way a teacher or homeschool parent could decide how to lay out the course to meet their curricular requirements.
  • New Discourse Book. The first editions also included the discourses we used during the two years of Rhetoric. This time, since we’ve combined the two years, we decided to put all the discourses together in one volume. This collection, tentatively titled Thoughts Clothed in Words (a little homage to Shaunna’s favorite rhetorician, Hugh Blair), will also include some additional discussion questions at the end of most discourses, just to take the study a little further.
  • New Teacher Edition. Accompanying Biblical Worldview Rhetoric will be an option to purchase a teacher version for use in traditional schools or home schools. This volume will include assignment answers, quizzes, tests, and worksheets, and extra notes for classroom discussion.
  • Sample One- and Two-Year Layout for teachers and home schoolers (in the teacher edition). If you have questions on how to fit it all into one or two years, this will be quite handy.
  • Links to Discourses We Can’t Publish. Wherever possible, we used discourses in public domain in order to keep costs down. But we have favorites that we just can’t let go, so we will include links for students to find some of our favorite discourses online. (What are our favorites? You’ll have to wait and see!)
  • Thesis Project. Almost all classical schools assign a major Thesis project–if not just for 12th grade, perhaps even in 11th grade as well. These are considered the capstones of the high school career. This is not just a research paper; it is a biblical worldview project with a relevant thesis that takes up to a year from beginning (research and planning, finding an outside mentor) to end (rewriting, oral defense). We have added a more detailed unit on the Thesis.
  • What else? Part of our plan was to launch a new E-Book feature with live links to discourses and visual Rhetoric. That is still in the works; we wanted to get this edition into your hands sooner. So stay tuned!
  • When? We are on schedule to have this ready to purchase for the 2018-2019 school year, so hopefully by early spring. If you have specific questions about the timetable, please contact Shaunna or Tyler.

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Books read 2016, books to read 2017

As I look through the books I read in 2016, I note a couple of themes, and I’m thinking I should move away from them. Or maybe not…

Not really meaning to, I read mostly British novels, and mostly post-war or wartime themes. Without much apology, I have had a lifelong fondness for British novels. Maybe that love affair began with AA Milne when I was very young, with the beautiful turn of the phrase, and moving on to Shakespeare and then Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, the Brontë sisters, Daphne DuMaurier, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–and all sorts of literature in between.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, O Jerusalem, Justice Hall, A Letter of Mary. The year began with a series of books from Laurie R. King, who takes the retired Sherlock Holmes and his relationship with a young woman. He takes Mary under his wing and trains her. It certainly helps that she is a genius in her own right–would Sherlock bother with someone who wasn’t? The books stay true to the Holmes universe, though at times they get a bit long-winded. King has quite a long series of books, and I made my way through the first five (beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) before deciding to take a break. They are quite good, and I will probably return to them at some point.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hall. Beginning in 1939, this is the story of two sisters in France whose lives take very different turns–one as a member of the Underground, and the other who works to protect her family and the children of Jews around the region. It is dark, hopeful, and devastating. Hall compelled me, all the way to the very end.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Told from the points of view of two children who grow up during World War 2, this is another beautiful and heartbreaking novel. A blind girl’s father constructs a tabletop reproduction of their village so she can learn how to find her way. An orphaned German boy who shows remarkable talent in electronics is conscripted to serve in Hitler’s Youth to detect the source of broadcasts by the Resistance.

Since I usually enjoy British detective novels, I tried the first book in three different series, sort of dipping my toe in the waters. Not every one of my attempts turns out well, but they are always worth a try. A Test of Wills by Charles Todd begins the Ian Rutledge series. Rutledge has returned from serving in the First World War, and now he is trying to settle back into his investigative work with Scotland Yard. The voice of Hamish, a Scotsman, lives in his head and mocks him. The psychological part of this novel was too dark and depressing, but it is understandable, given the darkness of the times. But as the book didn’t leave me satisfied, but rather depressed, I won’t return to the rest of his books.

On to another dismal series of British mystery books: the Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Windspear. Maisie lives in the post-World War 1 era as well, and her world is just as depressing as Ian Rutledge’s. The two probably should never meet up and join forces, I’m thinking, because the end product would be simply miserable. So I only read that first book,  Maisie Dobbs, and won’t be moving on to the next.

A little gun-shy, I picked up the next British mystery novel that had been recommended to me: A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson. This series begins post-World War 2 with a returning veteran named Hugo Hawksworth. Hugo has been injured in some mysterious manner (which the reader hopes will be revealed at some point–and probably will be connected to some plot or deception we will encounter in a future novel). He is  unable to resume his former position as a detective with Scotland Yard, so he is assigned a somewhat bland desk job in the countryside. But, as most novels go, this does not turn out to be bland drudge-work at all. I liked the novel enough that I picked up the next book, A Question of Inheritance, and it did not disappoint. I’ll pick up the third at some point this year.

Yet another British detective series crossed my desk this year, beginning with A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch. This is the Charles Lenox series, of which there are currently ten novels. Lenox, according to the Amazon description, is a “Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer,” who leaves his armchair to help out his lovely neighbor and good friend, who reports a mysterious death. A decent read, well done, and might be a series to which I’ll return sometime soon.

So on we go to another British mystery novel, one that never fails, is the latest installment in the Flavia DeLuce series: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley. I’ve mentioned these books before on this blog site. Flavia is a 12-year-old genius/chemist/sleuth in post-World War 2 England, who finds herself in one adventure after another. Never mind how strange it is that in a quiet town in the countryside can be visited with so many strange deaths, nor how this young prodigy is always nearby to help solve them. That’s the fun in a novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I highly recommend this series (which you need to read in order!).

Another novel that disappointed me was To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. It comes highly recommended, and has won awards, but it couldn’t hold my attention. This one is a time-jumping multiple-genre mystery/comedy/sci-fi. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the characters, and the mystery just didn’t interest me.

Okay, enough of British mystery/detective novels for a while; on to other genres.

I was very excited to pick up JK Rowling’s newest work, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, written as a script for a stage show that is currently playing in London. I’m sorry to say that it didn’t satisfy at all. It’s a quick read, but a disappointing one. She tells an interesting story, picking up some 19 years after the final Harry Potter novel ends, but it doesn’t work for me. The Harry Potter universe needs to be magical and quirky. The story she tells here is both, but I fail to see how that can be done adequately on-stage. (On the other hand, I found the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them absolutely delightful, fitting right in to the Harry Potter Universe!)

This was also a year for re-reading, for different reasons, and all of them were worth the time.

First, Animal Farm by George Orwell and Lord of the Flies by William Golding because I taught Logic to an 8th grade nephew. If you haven’t picked them up, or have never read them before, they are both very quick reads but worth some worldview discussions around the dinner table or in a classroom.

Then Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. His allegory is rich and full of myriad points of discussion. Many of my former students had read this as young kids. Why not pick it up again and have an adult discussion about it?

Finally, Harry Potter. It never gets old. And while we are madly packing and cleaning in preparation for a cross-country move, the familiar story pulls me in with a smile.

To read and finish reading in 2017:

Worldview books such as Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey and The Cross of Christ by John Stott. I’m not done with them, but the first is the newest from Pearcey, whose Total Truth is a must-read for Christians wanting to think more “worldviewishly,” a term with which my former students and their parents should be familiar! How do we combat the subtle shift of thought in a post-modern world?  By knowing without a doubt what we believe, and by recognizing counterfeits of supposed biblical doctrine.

The Cross of Christ, our pastor told us, can be used as a devotional. Contemplating the meaning of the cross from a biblical perspective is a refreshing reminder of the central object of our faith: Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and second coming.

While in the midst of revising my textbook, Biblical Worldview Rhetoric, with my oldest son, I’ve picked up two books to study. If you are a student of Rhetoric, you might enjoy them: Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Traditions by George Kennedy, and Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth. Don’t roll your eyes at me–if you didn’t already know I am a geek, then you don’t know me at all!

Others on my to-read list (all recommended by various friends and relations):

  • Troubles by JG Farrell
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  • The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

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I didn’t need another dad

Jim2aI didn’t need another dad. My dad died when I was 15, and I mourned that loss for years. By the time I was in college, I was doing okay–at least I said so to anyone who asked–and didn’t want another dad. One stepdad had moved in and then out of our lives, and it wasn’t the best experience for anyone concerned. That confirmed that I had been right: I didn’t need another dad.

Married, done with college, another stepdad entered the scene, and I was determined not to like his imposition into our family. But I saw how much he loved my mom, and how he took my teenage sister under his wing. She really needed a firm hand during her rebellious years, and he did a great job. He might be okay for them, I decided. But me, I’m out of the picture.

A couple more years went by, and I was pregnant with our first child. Suddenly, with pre-term labor at 30 weeks, I was on bed rest. And the stepdad (who I didn’t need) came to stay with us, to bring me lunch as I lay like a beached whale on the couch. He painted, set up the baby’s room, puttered around in the yard, and made sure I had plenty to eat and drink. I could see how well he might fit into our family.

Then when our son was born, there was Jim, video camera rolling, as proud as if our son was his very own flesh and blood. And as each child was born, there he was again, beaming. He’d already had his own grandchildren, but he was pretty thrilled with the crop of step-grandchildren he was getting from my sisters and me. So maybe he was going to fit in pretty well.

We moved a lot as a young family, and there were my mom and step dad, visiting, playing with the children. Jim and my husband undertook several remodeling projects wherever we lived. He brought a crowbar and hammer and loved every minute. And my husband felt pretty sure he could use a father-in-law like that.

High school and college graduations, and a wedding in our family, would find Jim beaming again, photographing every minute, the happiest grandpa in the room.

Thirty years later, we all gathered to wish Jim a happy 90th birthday. And suddenly I realized that I had needed a dad all along. He had been there, with a hug and a kiss, ready for adventure with the kids, for remodeling with my husband, for a raucous game of cards every evening, with a strong shoulder to lean on in joy or pain. He had been there all along, strong and steady.

He had been the only grandpa our children remembered. He had been the dad my teenage sister needed, and he did it well. He had been a dad to my older sister and me, in ways we didn’t anticipate. He was a father-in-law to Kyle, who loved thinking through home improvement projects while wandering with him through the Home Depot. He’d been our dad.

And on his 90th birthday, with all the family gathered together, we found that we were losing him. He was slipping away. I was able to tell him how much he meant to me, to my husband, to our children, and to thank him for every loving thing he did for us. We were thankful that he heard us and responded with a hug, a hand squeeze, a little pat on the arm. We moved him into hospice at home and said goodbye to him, one child and grandchild at a time. What a miraculous gift, that most of us could gather together at the right moment.

I realized why I hadn’t wanted another dad. The pain of losing my own father was so great, it left a huge hole in my heart. No attachment to another dad meant no more great holes in my heart. But Jim snuck in there anyway. And I realized, in spite of myself, that the memory of all those loving years was even worth this sharp, momentary pain of loss right now. We are all the more rich now, because he was our dad. Our grandpa and father-in-law. Mom’s husband.

I love you, Jim. Thanks for being my dad.

James Eitel: husband, father, stepfather, grandpa. 1926-2016

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Book list from 2014, books planned for 2015

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463While I love to read, 2014 was not a year for lots of books for me. I am lukewarm about several that I read, but other books did impress me–and I am picky about literature. Good literature only whets my appetite for more.

You’ll see what I have read, and then what I plan to read, both in novels and in histories. There’s even a very last, ambitious list at the bottom which I’ve just discovered. What books would you recommend to me?

2014 reads

  • The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek. I’m always intrigued when I learn something new from the tales of history. How surprising to learn of something called the Kindertransport. As Hitler was gaining power and darkness spread through Europe, some Jewish families sought ways to smuggle their most precious possessions–their children–to England. A network of synagogues, charities, and churches formed–the Kindertransport–and found homes for hundreds of Europe’s Jewish children. This book takes the stories of some children placed in a foster home in England and follows them through the war years. Not a brilliantly-written book, this was nevertheless an interesting portrayal of this little-known story from the perspective of one musically-talented young Austrian girl.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Much has been written about this book, and thinking about going to the movie, I decided to break down and read it first. (You may not know that I don’t like following contemporary booklists, because I find much to dislike in what passes as popular “literature.”) The point of view of the narrator–death–took me by surprise, and he didn’t make me comfortable at all. I think that’s the point. This book was beautiful and horrifying, and its heartbreaking conclusion wiped me out. Though I considered it a good book, I decided not to subject myself to the movie. I can recommend this book, but only to folks who are not strongly affected by heart-wrenching drama.
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. This is the second book in his Stormlight Archives, after The Way of Kings. He is masterful at creating a fantasy world, as also seen in his Mistborn series. His characters, the magical world they populate, and the good battling evil drew me in and held me captive all the way through. I’m going to blame this book on my reason for not reading more books this year. This is an incredibly long book! Worth every minute, though.
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. His two series, mentioned above, made me want more of his fascinating fantasy storytelling. Steelheart did not disappoint. He definitely wrote this book for a YA (Young Adult) audience, but that doesn’t deter me from reading good novels. The main character, a teenage boy who is awkward and geeky, made me smile frequently. Sanderson does a masterful job of creating compelling and believable characters.
  • The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I thought I was going to read a mystery fiction, but this turned out to be a true story about an infamous crime from the turn of the century. Not a dry history, this story was compelling all the way through.
  • The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd. I’ve enjoyed reading his novel of England’s history (Sarum) and Russia’s history (Russka). His method is unique–telling the history by focusing on one geographic area and creating familes whose descendants interact with one another over more than a thousand years. I loved traveling through Ireland a few years ago, so I looked forward to reading Rutherfurd’s creative history. This was well done, as usual, and I recognized some of the landmarks. His related novel, The Rebels of Ireland, is on my list to read next. I also want to read his novel of Paris, because I dream of going back there someday.
  • The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. This is the latest in the Flavia de Luce novels that have delighted me for the past few years. I love this smart, funny eleven-year-old girl who plays with chemicals in her uncle’s laboratory and dreams of concocting poisons, while she solves mysteries. Bradley’s next novel can’t come too soon!
  • The Girl in the Ice by Jason Vail. I hadn’t realized that this was Book 4 of a series, mysteries solved in medieval England. This one wasn’t good enough to capture my imagination and draw me to read the other books in this series. Though I enjoy fictional history, and especially of medieval Europe, this one just didn’t do it for me. The characters aren’t well developed, and the story itself didn’t hold together well.
  • The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley. You might classify this as a romance, but I refuse to call it that. It’s a historical novel, well-written, easy reading. I like the author, and I always enjoy the setting she creates, usually in England or France. Not great classical literature, but every once in a while it’s a light divergence from the norm.
  • The Secret Gospel of Ireland by James Behan. This is basically a history of Christendom in Western Europe, beginning with Augustine. The author’s thesis is that Ireland saved Christianity in Europe. The historical detail is excellent, but he didn’t keep his thesis as a thread throughout the book. From what he described I could not reach the conclusion that he draws.
  • Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t often read devotionals or Christian books. I find them to be less theology, more navel-gazing, less law and gospel, more personality-driven. I prefer to study the Bible itself as the source of all biblical wisdom (funny how that works). This one we read with our small group from church. While it focused on Colossians, which I love, I found it to be pretty much personality-driven. Give me a book of the Bible and let’s discuss it instead!
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. Hungry for more Rothfuss (while we await the next book in his fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles), I decided to read this short book that focuses on one character from the Kingkiller Chronicles, Auri. What a disappointment! This is no more than a very long character sketch. I think the author wanted to remind us that he’s around while we wait for his next book. Seems like he was playing with phrases and adjectives, because there is no dialogue, very little action, and lots of introspection.
  • The Finisher by David Baldacci. I have enjoyed Baldacci’s novels of intrigue and mystery. This is a complete departure from his “usual” genre, a foray into fantasy for him. He writes with an entirely different voice and tone. Utterly delightful, this beautifully written novel drew me in from the very first page. Now I cannot wait for the follow-up novel, because this cries out for a sequel. The characters are fully developed, the story exquisite. Probably the best book I’ve read all year.
  • Jubal Sackett by Louis Lamour. While driving through the mountains of Colorado last summer, our son had us listen to one of Lamour’s Sacket novels. I can’t remember the title, but it was just the right novel for the rugged landscape that passed outside our window. So my husband picked up the entire (very long) Sackett series and exclaimed how much he enjoyed it last year. While driving again, we listened to Jubal Sackett. I will definitely begin this series on my own, because I’m a Western girl who loves the tone and description of these stories.

On my 2015 list

More ambitious at the beginning of each year than toward the end, I’ll list the ones that intrigue me, and we’ll see if I can maintain this level of ambition.

Novels:

  • More of the Sackett series by Lamour, definitely. It’s best to start at the beginning, way back in the 1600s, I’m told.
  • Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War series, beginning with A Blaze of Glory. I have already begin this one. I love all of his books, so I’m excited to pick up these books. (He has two out and intends one more in this series, which takes place earlier than his Gettysburg trilogy.)
  • More Rutherfurd books, as I described above. Probably the next Ireland one, and then Paris. They are long tomes, and I can only do them with lots of other books in between.
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. It comes out at the end of April, just in time for my birthday. Good planning, Bradley!
  • Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The Home Place Carrie LeSeur
  • The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
  • Heretic by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Norsemen by Jason Born
  • The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kaye Penman
  • The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain

Histories (This is where my ambition comes in. I would like to study more histories…)

  • The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
  • A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
  • The Wars of the Roses and The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
  • Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages; How the Irish Saved Civilization; Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter; The Gifts of the Jews; Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus; Heretics and Heroes, all by Thomas Cahill
  • The Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey; The Rape of Europe by Lynn H. Nicholas; Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum by Corinne Bouchoux; Saving Italy by Robert M. Edsel; The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (all these books have to do with the stories on which the movie The Monuments Men was based.

But wait! Look at this list that my son just sent! I have already read many on this list, but now I want to read several more and then travel to the English counties in which each was based! Behold The Stars

You can suggest more that might be intriguing. Let’s see how many of these I accomplish, or whether my ADD tendencies (Look! A bookstore!) cause me to wander into other titles through the year.

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Filed under Classical Education, Education, Homeschooling, Literature

When treasure fails

Black and white portrait of a very sad old womanHer husband died a couple of years ago, after a long, lingering illness. Left alone in her advanced years, she quickly lost her grip on reality. She tried to drive places, got lost, and was taken back home by the police. She frightened some of her neighbors as they swerved to get out of her path when she careened through the neighborhood. She began verbally abusing her neighbors, shouting and accusing them of stealing her food, her clothes, her mail. She taped threatening notes to their doors, telling them her lawyer would be contacting them soon about those missing clothes.

When the county was alerted by the police, Senior Services came to investigate. She told them sweetly that her neighbors were taking good care of her, and they went on their way. But her neighbors shied away from her abusive nature, instead of “taking good care” of her. Some did try. They brought soup over and shoveled her driveway. But for the most part, they stayed away. Can you blame them?

The story gets worse. Neighbors called her son, who was living in another state. Come and take care of your mother, they urged. But the son, emotionally paralyzed, was unable–or unwilling–to do the right thing. And can you blame him?

His story was told to neighbors by the woman’s husband before he died. The woman was mean, abusive. She abused those around her, all her life. Her son couldn’t get away from home quickly enough once he was grown. Her husband shielded the world from her nasty, abusive temper. His kind, gentle nature was the buffer that everyone saw, and no one suspected what was going on behind closed doors.

But once her husband was gone, that buffer was also gone. The son, paralyzed by his years of torment at the hands of his mother, couldn’t bring himself to deal with his father’s death, nor could he attempt to manage the estate his father had left behind so that his mother could be cared for.

So for a couple of years, the old woman began drifting farther from reality, continuing to shout abuse at her neighbors. She began hallucinating about a big black dog in her house, calling people to say that she was cornered in her bedroom closet, because the dog had chased her there.

Finally Senior Services had done enough research and decided that, because no one was able to take care of her, she would become a ward of the state. She was taken to a nursing home.

The house stood empty until the state took over and put it up for auction–the house and all its contents. The proceeds would go toward her care.

On the day of the auction, the neighborhood was packed. Someone set up a concession stand with hot dogs and water, chips and soda. All the house’s contents sat on tables lining the driveway. The furniture inside was also up for auction. And bit by bit, all the accumulations from the past 30 years were sold off.

“And this box of Tupperware. Who will get the bid started? Two dollars? One?” The auctioneer named the pieces from the home–a porcelain pig. A few cross stitch patterns. An electric fondue pot. On and on, for two hours. And then, finally, the house itself was auctioned.

How sad, how very tragic, that this woman’s life was taken apart and sold, piece by piece, to pay for her long-term care. And even more tragic–the son, who couldn’t bear to bring himself to take care of those details himself, still paralyzed by the abuse he endured all through his childhood.

15 Pile of GutsThe piles of her household goods, sitting on the driveway, reminded me of a few trips we had taken to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf States. One by one, houses were emptied of their contents and left on the curb for disposal, mountains of furniture, clothes, books, and treasure laid bare for everyone to see. Though we were the ones to gut many houses, we averted our eyes from the mangled, moldy contents, such a pile of personal treasure completely ruined. We saw the grief in their owners’ eyes as they watched the years of accumulation reduced to garbage when two weeks of high water destroyed everything.

When what you value in life is ripped away, what is left? When the buffer between you and the world is taken from you, who are you?

The ancient book of Job describes just such a scene. This wealthy man, with many grown children, an abundance of livestock, servants, and treasure, had everything stripped away from him. He was afflicted with pain, illness, and sores all over his body. As he sat on an ash-heap, his wife scornfully advised him, “Curse God and die.”

What would you do? What would you say, if you were Job? He did moan; he groaned aloud, nearly paralyzed by grief and pain. “Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?  Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.  When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope” (Job 7:1-6).

But Job, even sitting on the ruins of his lost fortune, and grieving the loss of his children and betrayal of his wife, and suffering physical pain as he was, had a deep assurance that there is something–Someone–more, and he invested his trust in that.

Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! If you say, “How we will pursue him!” and, “The root of the matter is found in him,”  be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment. (Job 19:23-29; emphasis mine)

Life is hard; cruelties abound. Experience proves that we cannot rest our faith in our treasure, and that people will let us down. So when all around you fails, where do you place your trust and your faith? Job declared out loud that his faith was in God, and his faith never wavered, even in the midst of the worst kind of horrors. Be assured that there is only One who keeps His promises (“I will never leave nor forsake you,” Joshua 1:5) and who will never leave or forsake you, if you have placed your trust in Him.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Health, Pain and suffering