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Laudable Linkage

Here are just a few commendable links from the last week:

Borrowed Lights: Inspiration for Christian Living. Benefits of reading about the lives of other Christians who follow the Lord closely. Loved this that Robert Murray McCheyne said of Jonathan Edwards: “How feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun! But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.” I liked it so much I added it to my previous post Why Read Biographies.

Are You a Mentoring Momma? “Most likely if you asked them, not one [of these women] would say she mentored me. Yet her life influenced mine in profound ways. The common thread among each of these unique women is that she was further along in the journey, loved me, loved Christ more, and modeled how to treasure Him above all else.” To me that’s the best mentoring – not an official program, not a formal set-up mentor-mentee relationship, but just this.

When Motherhood Drains Your Happiness. The truths here of what to do when you feel drained ministered to me even though I wasn’t feeling that way with regard to motherhood at this point.

My Mother Practiced the Piano. “There’s nothing selfish about working toward your artistic interests as God allows the time. In fact, your children can benefit from watching you model discipline and discovery.”

And, for a smile – I’ve watched this several times and love the look on this cat’s face – although it wouldn’t really be funny to live with a cat who does this:

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

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It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

It’s been a nice week in many respects. Here are the highlights:

1. A Ladies’ Tea at our church. The best part is that my daughter-in-law was able to go with me. I think this is only the second or third tea I have ever been to, the first one at this church. I loved the cute little sandwiches and desserts as well –  not only attractive, but it was nice to be able to have a small sample of a number of things.

2. Getting a haircut. I always tend to put off it too long, so I am usually quite relieved when I finally get it done. My hair is not very cooperative in the first place, but less so the longer it gets. I went just a bit shorter than usual this time and like it much better.

3. Sunday dinner. For various reasons, my daughter-in-law and grandson were at our house Sunday morning, and when we got home she had made dinner. Always nice but especially on a Sunday – it provides a little more time to relax in the afternoon.

4. Spending gift cards. I’d had to return a Christmas gift to the local Christian bookstore and got a gift certificate for store credit since I didn’t have a receipt. I don’t shop there often (love them, but they’re very expensive, even with coupons), so I kept forgetting to go look around and spend my certificate. Then they sent me a postcard that our local branch of the store was going out of business, so I went in to see if I could find anything to use my certificate before it was too late. With several going-out-of-business markdowns, I was able to get a few books and a pretty pink scarf (why there were scarves at a bookstore, I don’t know…). I also have some gift cards to JoAnn’s from last year and was able to get things for a couple of projects.  I enjoyed the outings and “free” shopping.

5. Finishing a few “heavy” books, one in length and two in subject matter. They were all beneficial, but it’s nice to move on to something lighter and shorter for a bit.

Hope you have a great weekend!

SchaefferWhen I first saw the title of He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer, I thought it sounded like something from the Psalms, a response to a deep heart-cry of someone who needed God and found Him.

It’s not that, at least not like the Psalmist’s expressions. It’s a book of philosophy and apologetics. It’s actually the third book in a trilogy, The God Who Is There and Escape From Reason being the first two.

Elisabeth Elliot once said of some of C. S. Lewis’s writing that she could follow it, but it took several careful rereadings to grasp it well enough to be able to express what he said to someone else. That’s how I feel about this book. I could follow the thread of his arguments, but I couldn’t possibly reproduce any of them for you. You can get a brief overview of one chapter at Wikipedia and probably other places. Wikipedia’s overview sums it up nicely: “He Is There and He Is Not Silent is divided into four chapters, followed by two appendices. The first of these chapters deals with metaphysics; the second, morals; and the third and fourth, epistemology. The first appendix concerns revelation and the second the concept of faith.”

Honestly, reading sentences like, “The reason for the modern dilemma is that men have moved from uniformity of natural causes in an open system — open to reordering by God and man — into the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system” makes my head feels like it is about to explode (and some of the comments on Goodreads reassure me that others felt the same way). But it is good to stretch one’s brain sometimes, and I am glad for such masterfully written books because I do know people who think like this about these things, and it is good to know that Christianity not only stands up to scrutiny, but, as Schaeffer shows, it is the only reasonable answer to the many issues that he brings up. He and his wife hosted a lot of people, many of them students, in the 60s and 70s, and I am sure these kinds of things came up in their discussions.

I admit I am an intensely practical person, so when someone asks, “How do we know we are really here?” I am liable to think, “Maybe look in the mirror? Or pinch yourself. Hard.” This was written in 1972, well before The Matrix, but I guess some people really do wonder if reality is close to that kind of scenario.

It wasn’t until the fourth chapter, “The Epistemological Necessity: The Answer,” that the clouds began to clear. It’s the only chapter where I marked any quotes. Here are a couple:

The Bible teaches in two different ways: first, it teaches things in didactic statements, in verbalizations, in propositions…Second, the Bible teaches by showing how God works in the world that He Himself made. We should read the Bible for various reasons. It should be read for facts, and it should also be read devotionally. But reading the Bible every day of one’s life does something else — it gives one a different mentality…Do not minimize the fact that in reading the Bible we are living in a mentality which is the right one, opposed to the great wall of this other mentality which is forced upon us on every side — in education, in literature, in the arts, and in the mass media.

When I read the Bible, I find that when the infinite-personal God Himself works in history and in the cosmos, He works in a way which confirms what He has said about the external world (p. 78).

The strength of the Christian system — the acid test of it —  is that everything fits under the apex of the existent, infinite-personal God, and it is the only system in the world where this is true. No other system has an apex under which everything fits.That is why I am a Christian and no longer an agnostic. In all the other systems, something “sticks out,” something cannot be included; and it has to be mutilated or ignored. But without losing his own integrity, the Christian can see everything fitting into place beneath the Christian apex of the existence of the infinite-personal God who is there (p. 81).

The Christian should be the man with the flaming imagination and the beauty of creation (p. 87).

I’ve had this book on my shelf for something like 30 years. I am thankful for the TBR Challenge, which encouraged me to scour my shelves for unread books and finally get to them. If you like philosophizing, this book is for you.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

I did not grow up reading many classics. Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Charles Dickens were my most-read classic authors. I don’t remember coming into contact with many classics even in school, though I must have and probably just can’t remember most of them. But because of this, over the last few years I’ve determined to read more classics.

War and PeaceWhenever I’ve perused lists of classics or “books everyone should read,” War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is almost always mentioned. Whenever I read a short description of it, I never could get a clear idea of what it was about. After reading my first Dostoyevsky last year and finding him not as difficult as I’d thought, I determined one day to read War and Peace. Over the last few months I’ve listened to the audiobook version with occasional forays into the library’s paper and ink version.

And now I know why the descriptions of the book didn’t really give much substance. It’s such a massive book with so many characters, it’s hard to sum up in a few sentences what it’s all about.

It covers the period from the time Napoleon is first seen as a threat in Russia in 1805 to his invasion of Russia in 1812 during the reign of Tsar Alexander and is basically about the lives and interactions of five aristocratic families and how the war affects them.

Pierre Bezukhov is one of many illegitimate sons of a crusty old count. He is kind-hearted and sincere but socially inept and awkward. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even on controversial issues, but is too naive to realize when it is not socially appropriate to do so. Surprisingly, when his father comes to his death he has Pierre legitimized and leaves the bulk of his fortune to him. But Pierre is ill-prepared for the responsibility and doesn’t realize that everyone’s being nice to him now is because of his new wealth, not because they finally got to know him well enough to like him. He makes a disastrous marriage and spends much of the book searching for the meaning of life.

The Bolkonsky family consists of a cantankerous father and two adult children. Andrei is tolerant of his father, intelligent, ambitious, cynical, married and expecting a child but dissatisfied with his wife and indeed much of life. His sister, Marya, is very religious and tries to show her father love though he takes out the bulk of his eccentricities and bad moods on her.

The Rostov family, with children Nikolai, Natasha, and Petya, are a loving, fairly normal family whose finances are constantly a problem. An orphaned cousin, Sonya, lives with them. Sonya is quiet and dependable, but the three Rostov children are impetuous and immature at the beginning.

Prince Vasili Kuragin is crafty and wily, and his two adult children, Helene and Anatole, are good-looking but immoral.

Anna Drubetskaya has great ambitions for her son, Boris, and doesn’t mind asking for consideration and favors for him. Boris, in turn, has great ambitions for himself and learns quickly how to work the system to move ahead in life.

Tolstoy takes us from the ballroom to home scenes to the battlefield and back again. The lives of these characters intertwine and intersect with each other and historical figures. Some fall in love and marry; some don’t make it to the end of the book.

He also intersperses his story with essays about a number of things: his view of a particular historical event, his disagreement with the general consensus, his low opinion of Napoleon, the belief that great men and great events do not make history but rather there are innumerable small issues that work together to direct the course of history. The last is one of his major themes. In fact, the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for War and Peace says:

As Tolstoy explains, to presume that grand events make history is like concluding from a view of a distant region where only treetops are visible that the region contains nothing but trees. Therefore Tolstoy’s novel gives its readers countless examples of small incidents that each exert a tiny influence—which is one reason that War and Peace is so long. Tolstoy’s belief in the efficacy of the ordinary and the futility of system-building set him in opposition to the thinkers of his day.

One of the main ways this is shown is on the battlefield. It’s hard to see how anything got done on the battlefield when the information relayed to the commander would have changed by the time he got it, when his orders were disobeyed or not received or when someone acted of their own accord without waiting for orders.

Tolstoy said of this book that it “is not a novel, even less is it an epic poem, and still less an historical chronicle.” He doesn’t say what he does call it, but it is kind of an amalgam of the three.

I had heard that Tolstoy was a Christian, so I was surprised that at first the religion in the book was mixed up with icons, superstition, and freemasonry. I read in various places that after his religious conversion, he renounced his earlier works. But reading about his conversion was confusing as well: it seemed to center primarily in non-resistance to evil (which led to pacifism) and in trying to divest himself of his property (which his family resisted and resented). There are nuggets of spiritual truth in this book, but it’s not where I’d send someone who was seeking to look for answers.

I wondered why so many Russians were speaking French at the beginning of the book. Wikipedia explains that it was the fashion of the day and for some years before in the upper class. But when Napoleon started attacking Russian territory, speaking French fell out of favor.

There is so much I feel I am leaving out, but with a book of 1,316 pages, it would be hard to include everything. I am indebted to SparkNotes, Wikipedia, the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the introduction and notes of the library copy I had for giving me more insight into the book that I would have gleaned on my own. I enjoyed the audiobook version narrated by Neville Jason in two parts over 60 hours. It did take a while to settle into it and get the characters straight. I do admit that my mind wandered a bit during the essays, especially the last appendix – I have a harder time listening to nonfiction and usually need to reread it parts of it a number of times to truly “get” it.

As with many older classics, there were parts that were a little dry, and due to the different time period and nationality there were ways people acted that didn’t always make sense to me. But I liked following the characters on their journey, especially Pierre, Natasha, and Marya and one minor character, a peasant named Karataev whom Pierre meets while in captivity. I liked where the ones mentioned at the end of the book ended up.  There were moments of great pathos in the book, moments of truly feeling a character’s pain and joy. Though not a “keep you on the edge of your seat” type of book, there were a few of those moments, such as when Andrei is waking up from surgery in a battlefield hospital and in his hazy state sees someone who looks familiar and is trying to figure out who it is. When I realized who it was, I think I gasped out loud. One of my favorite moments was during beloved oldest son Nikolai’s first battlefield experience when he is astonished that people are shooting at him, thinking, “Me, whom everyone loves!”

Years ago I read a couple of Richard Wurmbrand books about persecution behind the Iron Curtain, and he pleaded then that people not be prejudiced against the whole Soviet Union because of the Communists, remarking that the average Russians were big-hearted people. That came back to mind while reading this book, especially in the characters of Pierre and Count Rostov.

There is a 1970s BBC miniseries starring a young Anthony Hopkins as Pierre that I’d love to see sometime, but it would be quite an investment of time. I just learned that another BBC miniseries is in the works to be shown in six parts this year. Now I am even more glad I read this now!

I was dismayed when I saw a ballet segment from War and Peace in the opening ceremony at the Sochi Olympics that I didn’t know what was going on in it. I was delighted to find that segment on YouTube and watch it again after reading the book. This is Natasha’s first ball and the first time to dance with Andrei. The video quality isn’t great and there is an annoying sound like a rocking chair squeaking, but I was just glad to be able to see it again and understand it this time:

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Being MortalI could wrap up my comments on Being Mortal by Atul Gawande succinctly by saying that if you plan on getting old or dying or helping a parent as they age, you need to read this book. But I’ll try to give you a bit more to go on.

I don’t know that I would have noticed this book at all except that Lisa and Joyful Reader both mentioned it. I knew they had dealt with deaths of parents and grandparents, Lisa’s mom had been in assisted living and Joyful’s grandmother lives with her, so with their experience, their praise for this book meant a lot.

I ended up marking many more pages than I can possibly share, but it’s safe to say that much in this book resonated with me.

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The subtitle of the book is Medicine and What Matters in the End, and it’s a frank treatment of end-of-life issues. Medicine, Dr. Gawande asserts, is geared to fix things. But in some cases the treatment is worse than the disease itself. And this tendency is part of what had led to institutionalizing people as they age and making it a medical matter rather than trying to give people in such situations the best days they can have in the time they have left.

Gawande notes that until fairly recently, most deaths occurred at home. Now most occur in hospitals and nursing homes “where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life” (p. 9). In addition, it used to be that, unless you had a long, wasting illness like consumption, most deaths came suddenly like a thunderstorm. Modern medicine has been a marvel and a gift from God: many things that used to be fatal can now be treated. But like any gift, there are good ways and not so good ways to use it.

“The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.”

I appreciated his explanation of how the style of doctoring has changed over the years, from the authoritative “Dr. Knows-Best” who made all the decisions for you, to “Dr. Informative,” who merely laid out all the options and let you decide. The problem with the latter is that we don’t always know how to process the options. When the author’s own father faced a tumor in his spine, he, his father, and his mother were all doctors yet felt overwhelmed by the information and options they were receiving. A third kind of doctor is called “interpretive” and gives information as well as guidance after asking what’s most important to you and what your concerns are (pp. 100-102).

Gawande proposes a series of questions to consider when the diagnosis is terminal, questions concerning what’s most important, what one’s goals and fears are in facing the time they have left. One man said he wanted to continue to eat ice cream and watch football on TV, and he wasn’t interested in any treatment that interfered with those activities: life wasn’t worth living without them. Some are willing to live with different degrees of disability and pain: some don’t want to suffer at all. It’s good for a family to have these discussions so they have some idea what would be the most important to their loved one. Sometimes it requires more than one hard discussion: “Arriving at acceptance of one’s mortality and a clear understanding of the limits and the possibilities of medicine is a process, not an epiphany” (p. 182), and your preferences might change over time as well. But these discussions are necessary to find the best means of “living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later” (p. 229).

Gawande also details the journey from being independent to needing assistance to needing full time care that elderly and their families face. We’ve faced much of this with my mother-in-law over the last few years. I especially appreciated the history of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the goals and purposes that Keren Brown Wilson, who “invented” assisted living, had when she started, and how those were originally implemented and maintained and then encroached upon to the point that she had to resign from her own board. Nursing homes themselves “were never created to help people facing dependency in old age. They were created to clear out hospital beds” (p. 71).

Many of the problems he lists in assisted living and nursing homes were the same as what we had found: loss of autonomy and privacy, loss of purpose, “tasks [coming] to matter more than the people” (p. 105), “safe but empty of anything they care about” (p. 109). “Making life meaningful in old age…requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does” (p. 137).

In older history and in other countries, the old are revered as having great knowledge and wisdom: “Now we consult Google, and if we have any trouble with the computer we ask a teenager” (p. 18). At least one sibling used to stay with the elderly parent(s) and help care for them, and then got a larger portion of the inheritance or perhaps the family home in place of what they gave up. Now both parents and adult children value their independence. But “our reverence for independence takes no account of the reality of what happens in life: sooner or later, independence will become impossible” (p. 22). Yet the author researched and visited several creative ways for an older adult to retain as much independence and autonomy as long as possible.

One problem is that even though geriatric specialists have been shown to enhance the lives of the elderly, geriatric units are shrinking or being closed rather than growing. “97 percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics” (p. 52). One reason is that it doesn’t pay well; another is that insurance doesn’t see the need for it. It remains for those of us who deal with the elderly or who look ahead to our own old age to be aware of issues.

When I was first looking at information about the book, I was wary that the author might promote assisted suicide for those with terminal illnesses. He does not promote it, but he would support legislation to enable giving people lethal prescriptions if asked, noting that half of them don’t use them: they just like the assurance that they could. He does note, though, that in countries where it is legal, use has grown: “But the fact that, by 2012, one in thirty-five Dutch people sought assisted suicide at their death is not a measure of success. It is a measure of failure. Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end. The Dutch have been slower than others to develop palliative care programs that might provide for it….We damage entire societies if we let this capability [assisted suicide] divert us from improving the lives of the ill. Assisted living is far harder than assisted death, but its possibilities are far greater, as well” (p. 245). (A good Christian source on some of these thorny issues is When Is It Right to Die: Suicide, Euthanasia, Suffering, Mercy by Joni Earacekson Tada.)

He also points out that it is difficult to know exactly where the lines are sometimes. “We also recognize the necessity of allowing doses of narcotics and sedatives that reduce pain and discomfort even if they may knowingly speed death” (pp. 243-244). Sometimes it is wrong to turn off a ventilator: sometimes it is right. If a 20-tyear-old was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and wanted to let “nature take its course” rather than treating the illness, we’d try to convince her that the quality of life she could have with treatment would be well worth it despite the complications: it would be ridiculous to die of diabetes when there is treatment available and the possibility of a long, productive, and happy life. On the other hand, when my father was dying of various other issues and they suspected he had colon cancer, they decided not to put him through what would be involved in diagnosing, much less treating it, because in the long run it would not make a difference in how long he would live and would only make his last months miserable.

The author writes from a secular viewpoint. As a Christian, I thought a lot about how a Christian worldview would affect this topic. As Christians we know where we and our believing loved ones are going, which takes some of the sting out of death. But we don’t take it lightly or flippantly, either. Death is still called an enemy. We hold life as a gift from God and believe He is the only one with the right to end it. It is to be given back to Him and used for His purposes. Sometimes that includes suffering, yet we’re also called to alleviate suffering if possible. While there are fears about loss of independence and abilities in older age, we can trust God to help us through that time: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.  Isaiah 46:4. But issues and question the author brings up are needful to consider, preferably before crises hit. In some cases there is no one right answer for what kind of treatment to pursue: the answer will vary depending on a number of factors.

I like this summation near the end of the book:

I am leery of suggesting that endings are controllable. No one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines. A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives (p. 243).

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Laudable Linkage

Here are some posts I found worth reading and sharing over the last couple of weeks:

The Dead End of Sexual Sin along with some advice from John Owen about overcoming sin of any kind.

Providential Dullness: An Easter Meditation. We give the disciples a hard time for missing that Jesus said He would rise again, but Luke 18:34 says, “this saying was hid from them.” Why would that be? Some good answers in this piece.

The Ones in the Front Row.“I cannot control the reception my children’s God-given callings receive out there in the wide world. But I can raise them to be appreciators of beauty, loveliness, and skill. Then, maybe they will be the ones in the front row, clapping their hearts out, whistling, standing and cheering at all the beauty the world holds for them.”

Thanks For Raising the Man of My Dreams! I hate mother-in-law jokes and did long before I became a m-i-l. I did have  relatively good relationship with mine. Here are some good thoughts to enhance that relationship.

10 Ways to Create a Home of Warmth and Grace.

How to Get Published.

For those who like Christian fiction, especially free Christian fiction, there’s a Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt going on this weekend with a possibility of winning 17-34 books from 30+ authors. Some of the individual authors are hosting their own giveaways as well.

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

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It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

It had been a great week in many ways! Here are the best parts:

1. My little grandson’s first birthday, a celebration of how glad we are God gave him to us and how far He has brought him since his premature birth.

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2. Having my oldest son home. He doesn’t usually visit this time of year but felt that waiting til his usual visit in August was just too long, that Timothy would change and grow too much to wait that long to see him, so he came for his birthday. It’s always a joy to have the whole family together.

3. Drawer organization. I hadn’t planned to do this this week, but when trying to get something out of this drawer, I decided to look for a little plastic bin for the pens and pencils so they’d stop sliding all over the drawer.

Before

Before

But at W-Mart I found this little drawer organizer and decided to try it instead. Voila!

After

After

It only took a few minutes but I love it – easier to find things and much more pleasant to look at.

4. This photo that my husband took when taking Timothy to visit in GG’s room (we shortened Great-Grandma to GG and have taken to calling her that). She always lights up whenever he comes over, and I love his expression there. Thankfully he didn’t figure out the buttons on the bed controls yet. :)

Tim and GG5. And, if you’ll forgive one more photo, this one as well, snuggling with my favorite little guy:

Snuggling

Happy Friday!

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