Chris Cleave’s Little Bee beats Incendiary




I’ve just completed Chris Cleave’s book Incendiary.   I read this one because I had loved his book, Little Bee so much.

Little Bee was an amazing combination of  the unexpected, the unlikely, the really insightful and funny, and then there are a couple of just horrific scenes which never leave your mind after you finish.  I would say that I (pretty much) loved Little Bee.  And Incendiary was almost as satisfying.

Incendiary was, like LB ,  insightful, surprising, very thoughtful and memorable.  I most appreciate Cleave’s ability to describe the attachments we have for one another, and how the pain of loss is  physical, emotional, spiritual, and often permanent.

6a00d83452008269e201156f2f1bf8970c-320wiBut in both books it  bugs me continually that Cleave is writing the thoughts of a woman from his very masculine perspective.  And he doesn’t quite understand how women think or where they find comfort.  He’s writing in both books about women who are trying to recover themselves after unimaginable trauma, and he gets some of it right.  But he wants to sooth their heartache in a very masculine way.  Women don’t automatically solve their emotional issues with sex, as Cleave seems to think.  Women may attempt to  solve our problems with men, but the goal and the point at which we find satisfaction is different.   Still, both books are  worth reading as they are well structured, with compelling story lines and extraordinarily memorable characters.

Incendiary is a good beach read.    Little Bee is fine for vacation reading, but I would not read it anywhere near a beach, at least not the end of the book.


I think that Little Bee ,  and the book club discussion it launched, have shoved me off in the direction of reading about Africa.  So, the next three books are all about Africa.    First, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s  In the House of the Interpreter,  which is the autobiography of a Kenyan’s experience of the Mau Mau uprising and its aftermath.   Then, Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid:  Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa.  And with a title like that, I don’t need to summarize.

I am also reading Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which was suggested as a good choice by a gentleman who grew up mostly in Nigeria, his father having been s a British colonial judge in Nigeria in the 40’s.    His plug  for  this book was that it gave an accurate view to life in Nigeria as he knew it.   I’m thankful for such a glowing recommendation.


The 11th hour, indeed

I wrote a little post here, way back when we still lived in Canada, in which I mentioned something about our house selling at the eleventh hour…..and knowing that the timing of God would be perfect.   My  “eleventh hour”  at the time would have been defined as “right after we move out of the house, but just in time to close before we had to purchase a new home and move right in.”   My eleventh hour was all about my family only moving ONCE.   Moving only once is neat, tidy and respectable, and I like that.

But God didn’t have a plan that was anything at all like mine.  And if the plan of God had been laid before me a year ago, I would certainly have backed away from it, because it was messy and disorganized and clunky and awkward.
So, there’s a mercy, God does not tell us what’s coming.    I would not have the stomach for it.

I had a picture of our first year in Spokane being  a quiet year in the country.  Three or four months at first where we didn’t know anybody, but wished we did.   A year in which we enjoyed the fact that life was not busy and stressful, and nobody expected anything from us.  So we could just hunker down and “Do School”.     Doing school is like an idol for me.  To be free to do  a school day every day is my equivalent to retirement  in Tahiti.

For our first year of life in Washington,  I had this vision of elk and porcupine in our driveway, blocking our path to the mailbox.  Of ten feet of snow keeping us stranded at home where we could read books, hang wallpaper, organize stuff, and just do school.

But instead, we got something we never wanted, and we never thought we’d like it.  Instead of porcupine and elk in the wilderness, we are living right  in town, Jon is walking to work.  And we are just LOVING it here.  I can’t believe it.  But we all love this life.  And we have this because  God did not sell our house at my eleventh hour.  And when the house didn’t sell, we had to pick a rental house.

While we were holed up in a cabin  in a  KOA in Cody, Wyoming, sometime  last August  on our way across the country, we found the only rental house in Spokane large enough for our family.  And immediately rented it, sight unseen, doing all the paperwork from a UPS store while our kids melted in the sun outside.   Turns out the rental house is way in town, no elk, no porcupine, no quiet.  And all those school books had to stay in BOXES…because there’s no room, no shelves.  Some of them are in a storage unit.    Oh MY!

Our house  continued to not sell  for quite a while beyond that.   And then, when it did sell, it sold for a crazy low price to the most difficult and cantankerous family we have yet encountered, bless their hearts.   They have continued to be cantankerous right up to today.  fussing about the functionality of the 50 year old novelty elevator in our old house.   It’s as old as I am, and just doesn’t want to haul lots of people up and down any more.  I totally get that…..

I said “sold”  but I should not say “sold” yet.  Because today….this day I am writing on which began 44 minutes ago… the day when the sale of that house is scheduled to close.  And on this day, we are poised to make an offer on a house right smack in the middle of “in town” Spokane.  A house with  tons of character…..just tons….but not a porcupine in sight.

This has been absolutely, and without rival, the very most disruptive and re-orienting  year of our lives.  Moving turns out to have been one of the smaller things we did.   We have had some really sad stuff, some REALLY scary stuff (like,  in the middle of packing the Canada house,  when Jon had a bad reaction” to a bee sting, and I thought he had died right there in my lap…..for a couple of minutes….then I followed his ambulance to the hospital and thankfully drove him home later) , there were a whole lot of sweet, sweet things that have washed all over us (like driving Jon home that day, camping for 42 days,  Christ Church Spokane, NCFCA speech and debate,  and how much we love Spokane, and lots more).

We had this plan for our year, and none of it came out the way we expected.   But I love the way it is all swimming into focus now.

So, I hope I will remember that the plan that I lay out for myself is really not the one I need to hang my heart on.  Because I am serving a living God who has my very best interest in view.  And He will put me where I can grow best.    And I can just be thankful and look for how I am to walk in that way.  It’s a good way.  It’s a better way than the one I was attached to.

Still, I am hoping that in 24 hours we will no longer own that wonderful house on Churchwin Street in Whitevale, but will be on our way to owning that porcupine-free property with all the character.   Unless God has a better idea.   I can be thankful either  way.

Providence means we wait for perfect timing


It seems like our house is going to sell.

I’m whispering, as I am afraid I might jinx it.   It almost fell through last week.

The sale of this house did not go the way we thought it would.

We thought we were selling a really awesome piece of property, one where we had been very happy, and where we had made a mountain of improvements.   And where life can be rich and sweet for another family.

How utterly gobsmacked we were when it didn’t sell at top price the first week on the market.

But it didn’t.    And the price dropped and dropped and dropped again.

And there is a very long list of great good that has come to our family, because of our home’s failure to sell.

We have faced some fears and idols and unreasonable expectations head-on.   And we have experienced some financial grindings that were really unfamiliar to us.  And as much as I didn’t want it, I am really thankful to be in the midst of it.  At Christmas.

But, again, in whispered tones, I will say that it seems our house has sold, closing in 45 days, maybe.

And the God of the very universe is aware and is caring for us through what feels like a thin and challenging time.  And He is looking after us with tender kindness.   I find that there are lovely and dear sisters and brothers coming across my path……just at the right moment……with just the perfect word of encouragement or of reminder that God is good all the time.

But, I was talking to my kids this morning, and we were all seeing that when life is challenging, we are facing temptations that are new for us.  We are all up against temptations to complain, or to do less than our best, or to meet our commitments at their most minimal requirements, and to long for another situation, which is really a big fat lack of thankfulness.    So that’s what we prayed for here today, that we can be thankful for the real riches we have (as they are huge) and remember that often our expectations are unreasonable.   We do have a savior who knows what’s really needed, and how best to give it to us.

And the next step will be to find a new home to buy.  And I have to say here, that this home purchase is really huge for me.

I have never lived in any house for more that seven years, in all my life.  I have such a longing for a home of my own…..and in my little heart I am so hoping that this next house will be my HOME.    Like, maybe I will not leave it until I go to heaven.   That’s a fair bit of pressure to put on a real estate search.   But, right or wrong,  I think that’s what I’m doing.

I’m waiting for my home to come up in front of me and make itself known.  And I am so thankful for Jon now.  He is much less passionate about this purchase.    He’ll be the level head that prevails.

So  I am l pretty giddy about this next step.


So, after that last blog entry, I couldn’t much bring myself to write another until some amazing real estate event occurred.

I guess you might say that such an event has now happened.  It appears that our house will close in two months, as we are now under agreement.  And  I am happy for the purchasing family, as they have gotten the very deal of the century.  I hope they will be happy there, as we certainly were.  The neighbors are the real treat there, and this family does not yet know what a marvellous community they have fallen in to.    They think they are buying a house, but they are actually getting a whole new family.   People we love.

And I am thankful it’s  going to be someone’s home.  It was such a nice home for us.



A sweet day at our house

Michael has posted on Facebook that I have a bunch of photos here, so I guess I’d better get busy and get those photos UP.
But first, a little view of how the day has unfolded……
It’s been a normal day here, and moving backward from this moment I can say that I have spent a bit of time building a solar system, cleaning up a paint spill, explaining how a multiplication chart works.
I have spelled about eleventy gajillion words aloud to one of my darlings who is writing a paper on a topic which is perhaps too ambitious (but I assign that type of paper all the time and it generally works out).
We have enjoyed three hours of piano lessons on the piano which is, for better or worse, positioned at the exact center of our living space downstairs, so my head is now ringing a bit in the sudden absence of the sound.
I have spoken to two banks, three tax preparers, the Internal Revenue Service, one floor refinisher, and twice to my husband and then once to the man who needs to come and repair our patio.
I have learned that our neighbors who were in Christchurch New Zealand when the first earthquake occurred this week are alive and well, and I am so thankful for that news, and really for all the other stuff too.

This day began really nicely, too. I was up at 5:30, showered, and running laundry by 6:30.
I was reading in Psalms for a bit, and loving the verses where it says

” I sought the Lord and he answered me, He delivers me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame……The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them…….Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”

Then Helen and I cuddled up on the couch to work on our memorization of the book of Philippians. We were working through the second chapter, where it says

“Do all things without grumbling or questing that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…..”

…then we heard a siren. And since we live way off in a little wee community in which sirens are never heard, we got up and went to see…..and what we found is in the slide show below…….Audrey took all the photos.

Please pray for our neighbours who have very likely lost everything in the house. And for us that we might be a blessing to them. This is the second fire in our little community this year. It is amazing and beautiful to me to see how my neighbors reach out to one another in kindness, and I am thankful to be a part of a community where there is so much love.

The sixth and seventh week in review

I was was told on Sunday  that I am a slack blogger,  but I’ve been out and about putting  a bit of spice in my life.    There was no time to write.   But I’m back and here’s  a little summary of where I’ve been and where we are now.

Monday was Valentine’s Day, but Jon and I enjoyed our celebration of that fun holiday  a week ahead of time.  We got away, just us two, and stayed in a lovely and luxurious hotel for five days.

Now,  I wonder if anyone  (outside my family)  can guess where the photos above and below were taken.   Really, no fair naming the place if you already know because I TOLD you.
Here are a few extra hints:   We enjoyed the most amazing Italian dinner just a few blocks north of this scenic parking lot, right after I watched my husband do some very enthusiastic gift shopping at a wonderful art shop on Sherman Street.

Notice how much these feather earrings look like the flies one might use to catch fish.   And since we have both a jewelry designer and several fly-tying fishermen living under our roof, we found this quite inspirational.

After dinner and a glass or two of wine, we popped in to Cabela’s Sporting goods store, which is  fly fisherman heaven  and which I’m now recommending as a  Valentine’s Day entertainment destination.
While there, we tried on some cool shades and some really bad hats, photographed their extensive collection of taxidermy,and checked out all their feathers which can be used to make fake insects OR lovely jewelry.    I suspect that we  almost bought a crazy expensive fly-fishing  reel, but I noticed we walked out empty handed.    Having fun with your husband in a hunting and fishing supply store is actually way more romantic than watching a sunset, by the way.   And it’s not nearly as time sensitive.

Besides goofing off in the fly-tying department , Jon and I met some really wonderful Christian physicians and their spouses on our trip.  We saw gorgeous scenery, enjoyed some delightful meals with very interesting people and we really had fun just being together without any interruption.  It’s kind of rare for us, and we were so glad for that little gift of time together.     It was lovely just to sit with my husband on an airplane and know that I was not responsible for six kids and their passports and the reservations and connections for the next 24 hours.  (One day I will write up a blog post about travelling with the kids, and without the husband,  to Europe last fall, and how much fun and how much stress came with that adventure.   But that’s another post.)

So we had this sweet getaway.   Meanwhile, the kids had an amazing opportunity to exhibit their maturity at home by  keeping everything in top condition, while loving the little ones and keeping up with that business of educating themselves.   They did a stellar job.   I am so thankful for them.   Again.
Daniel got a bit lonely for adult companionship one afternoon and  pulled a snowball ambush upon  our very kind neighbour, Charles, as he emerged from his car at the end of his workday.
Charles was nearly injured in the snowball fight which followed, and claims to be working out with weights  in preparation for our next trip out of town.  Otherwise, it all went well.  Or so they say.

We returned home at the end of last week and then everybody skiied on Monday, even Jon.  That was a special treat.   It was extra cold and icy, and the skiing was FAST, but it was a great day.   One of our favourite Valentine’s Days in a long long time.


I believe  we’re now in  the second half of the seventh week of 2011.   And, as I had hoped, we are winding up week ten of Tapestry of Grace.  We aren’t on the official  (and very optimistic) schedule of the publisher, but we  are on schedule according to my plan so it’s all good as far as I can see.

We’re into the late 1920’s, financial crises, increasing turmoil in post-war Europe, getting ready for darker days ahead.

And I’m cramming extra large doses of grammar instruction down various gullets, as it has come to my attention  that a love of grammar in not innate for everyone, and none of my little darlings have inherited mine.  I thought my children would be born with a craving for  sentence diagramming.   Turns out they took after their dad on this one.   This will soon be remedied!


And here, for a little artistic break, are some of Maggie’s projects from this morning.    First, a blackline drawing which she off-handedly describes as (from left to right)

This is the Dad, this is the little boy…….and this is the angry policeman.”

We wonder what the rest of the story is, but when I asked, she just flicked her wrist and went on to fill the next piece of blank paper.

Later, having grown weary of the simplicity of pen and ink,  she made some flowers to brighten our gray snowy world.   She had a little help from Audrey…….


Meanwhile, the  sweater I am knitting for David has not been seen or heard of on this blog in a few weeks.  So, everybody asks,  what’s the deal with that?

First, I took a week away from working on it so that I could attend a class called ” Tips and Tricks for Finishing Your Knitted Garment.”    I signed up for this class because I was so nervous and unprepared for the job of putting this sweater together.
Last time I put a sweater together, it looked like it was  tailor made for a chimp with one arm five inches higher than the other.  Sadly, it was knitted in the most beautiful garnet mohair, so it was a tragically  freakish deformity knitted in elegant yarn.

For this “finishing” class, students were required to knit up several oddly shaped pieces, which we then brought to class and practiced our new finishing tricks on.
I was by far the least skilled knitter in the class of 15.  And, of course, I was closest to the instructor, so she was continually grabbing my work to show to the class.
The first time, she didn’t really check to see if it was done correctly before hoisting it aloft and saying “Let’s see how Missy did…”   She then looked closely at the knitted piece,  and then at me, and said “This is terrible!    Were you even listening to my instructions?”           ****Mortifying****
But, I learned it before the class was done, and now I can do it just like the rest of those ladies.

In that class,  we talked a fair bit about how and why a knitter might  decide if a piece of  work  has too many errors in it to be “wearable”.   So,  I came home and looked at David’s sweater, which consisted of the entire trunk up to the arm-pits, and the beginnings of both sleeves.    I started taking note of all the things I didn’t like about the way it was turning out.   And there were just too many little things that I was not happy with.
So…….  I pulled it off the needles.
And last Saturday, I started the whole thing over.

The new sweater is on the left, and I think the most important improvement in it is not photographable, and that is the texture and weight it now has.  It’s so much denser and more substantial.  So, I am really glad I went ahead and abandoned the old one and built it all new.  I don’t think I’ll be as reluctant to begin again in the future, if it looks like that’s the better option.

Here are both sweater attempts.
When Audrey saw what I was doing, she gave the most heartfelt groan of sympathy, which really made it all feel much less lonely and hopeless.   It’s always nice to have an empathetic friend!

In the new and improved sweater, I have used a long tail cast-on which has given the ribbing at the waist a much stronger and straighter edge.   I have also doubled the yarn, and am knitting two skeins together on size 9  needles (instead of one two ply strand on size 6 needles).   Now, it’s knitting up faster, thicker, more substantial, warmer, and the tweedy colors are blending better.  I love it now.   In five days, I have got as much sweater knitted up as I had previously done in six weeks.   So, I am now almost exactly where I was when I abandoned the first attempt.  Apparently, I’m  really slow to pick up new skills.    For me,  perseverance is the only way.

Now,  I’m using this little success story of mine with quite a heavy hand, as I encourage my young home-schooled writers not to fear having to write and re-write and then re-write  again until their work is of good quality.   Sometimes my “life lessons from knitting” really tax the patience of my family, I’m noticing.

I think that the next several weeks will be packed with school, dentists, music lessons, skiing, friends visiting every Friday, and a little bit of interior decorating.   Not very spicy, but all very nice.    It’s sometimes just good to be home.

Fear No Idea

My husband often tells our children that they should fear no idea.  He wants them to read widely, to ask difficult questions and to listen to opinions which are different from our own. He wants them to understand God well, and to understand the world well.  Once they have a broad understanding of the character of the God who created the universe, and how that God has worked through history, they will have a perfect vantage point and perspective for understanding any ideas men can invent.

I recently was in the company of Christian parents who would not permit their children to read books written by non-Christian writers.  Their desire to protect their children is admirable, but it may leave their kids unprepared for real life.  Our kids need to learn to take an idea, an argument, a piece of literature or philosophy apart and really try to digest and understand it, to appreciate its beauty and identify its errors.  I want them  to see that even the most enormous human ideas are swallowed up by the truth of God.  And how glorious is that!

If they reach adulthood having never understood these things they will be lacking  the tools they need to navigate their culture.  And when we cannot navigate, we are more likely to live in fear.  And fear is like a yoke of slavery.  And Galatians 5:1 says  “1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

My wish for my kids is that they will go out into the world knowing that as children of God they are hosts and hostesses of the earth.  I want them to fear no idea, and to be able to stand up confidently and answer, graciously, any one who challenges their beliefs.

Once in a while, Christians question the books that I and my children read….the ones listed on our book list pages here.  I have been told that we should stick to Christian authors only.  But really, knowing that there is much to be gained from Christian authors, I believe that to read them exclusively would put us in a kind of literary monastery ….isolated from so many great ideas and basing our academic choices on fear.   Of course  there are books we don’t bother reading, but not because we fear them….

And with these thoughts in mind, I was pretty tickled to read some good words at The Christian Reader this afternoon…..the entire post can be found at the link there under the title of “No’ Scottish”, but here is a little taste of that good article.

“The world thinks we’re buffoons and morons who only hold to religion because we’re too dumb to think for ourselves. Never do they dream that they are standing in an epistemological quagmire as they laugh at us who are standing on solid ground. They don’t realize that an abyss is yawning underneath them, and the only reason they get their next breath is because of the grace of God. Unfortunately, most of us don’t seem to realize it either. Many of us can therefore neither offer them any help, nor honor the Lord with a stout and ready defense. I’ve heard some of the dumbest things come out of Christian mouths, and it makes me want to cringe. Our minds ought to be as clean and sharp and efficient as a well-oiled machine. C.S. Lewis once said:

God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.

It’s only cowardice and laziness that keeps us from being what we are supposed to be in this area, and that’s simply no’ Scottish at all.”

Tapestry of Grace Year Four: Weeks 6-9 all at once!

I would like to say, for any mother who might ever pop in here looking for encouragement regarding
Tapestry of Grace Year Four   (which is the year we are working through at the moment)
we are having a crazy high carnival  of a  time now  working through materials which cover four weeks of work……. and my advice is
* do not try this at home. *

This should only be attempted by professionals.

I have never been in this situation before.  We are spread across weeks six through nine.   And when we get together daily, sometimes twice daily, to cover the discussion of what was going on in Europe after WWI, during the Russian Revolution, as American women were fighting for the vote, and as the African colonies were scrambling for independence and India followed suit, and then we must deal with the decline of family values in Europe and America, and, Oh wait, here comes Hitler……

I have never wandered  across even two weeks of Tapestry of Grace material before.   And I hope never to do this again.   Organizing the teaching notes and assignments is something like governing a tribal  state, and I am only able to manage it with sticky notes in five  different colors.
My assignment calendar looks like an Indian head-dress with all these neon-tone stickies hanging out everywhere.

So I have to explain how this mess happened.
Last year we were studying Tapestry of Grace Year Two.
So, we should have done Year Three this year.
BUT,  when we did Year Three four years ago,  we did such a thorough job….such an eviscerating job,  that my kids asked very politely, hat in hand and all, if we might skip it this time and go straight into Year Four, which is modern history, and which we have not studied together before.

So, I agreed that skipping Year 3 was a good idea, …….almost……
We didn’t do the entire curricula for Year 3, we just hit the high points

From August 1 until September 15, we did a lightening tour of the first 18 weeks  of Year 3…..which took us from the colonization of America well into the  American Revolution and some of the French Revolution.
Then we left all books behind, and hopped off to Norway and England for a very edifying four week long field trip.
And when we returned we hit the high points of American Governmnent and the Industrial Revolution over three weeks time.
Then we jumped right into World War One, which we studied  deeply and with relish for four weeks.
Then came Christmas 2010, (and that famous New Years Day party at which we had 200 people, having expected only 100….and I was slow to recover from that.)

Then various children took ill in various ways, and I followed them.   And  that’s when I gave assignments which took part of one week, and attached them to assignments from a portion of another week.   Then, I found that in order to cover the literature well, we needed to go back and re-coup some of the discussions and reading we had missed.   So, rather than a straight line of reading, discussing and writing up our work which is the much more desirable norm, we are in a crazy quilt mulligatawny juggling act.   So we’re working through the last dregs of  “Socialism compared to a Totalitarian State”,  Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky from Weeks 6 and 7,   the last  bits and pieces of the postwar national boundaries debacle in Europe which is in Weeks 7 and 8, various literature discussions from 6, 7, 8 and even 9, and then the introduction of Hitler as a young pup who took pathetic Germany by the horns.   And then there is the Jazz Age, Women’s suffrage,  Realist Literature, and applied Marxism.

The big kids read Animal Farm over the past three days, and loved it.  Thanks to Marcia Somerville’s excellent curricula and Spielvogel’s Western Civilization text and Pipe’s Whys of the Russian Revolution they have such a good understanding of the  all the architects of the revolution and the climate in Europe at that time.   They enjoyed figuring out for themselves which animals in the book represent which historical individuals, and I sat back and watched and wished I had enjoyed it so much when I was their age.   Their love of learning is more fun than a chocolate dessert for me.   When I read Animal Farm in highschool, it was an ugly ordeal.  That’s true of many aspects of my education.  This second go-round is really a joy.  When I was young,   I had no good understanding of the finer points of all the drama in Europe during the Revolution, or allegory, or even of the beauty of dystopia and the wisdom we can find in it,  if we can only understand it.

There’s a bit of travel happening for us beginning in two days….but I’m aiming at having us all back in line, doing ONLY Week ten, beginning next Monday.

So, around my house it’s all about totalitarian regimes and dark periods of history……except that the kids were remarking today that it is beautiful to notice that at the precise time in history that Europe was entering this sad time,  and  great misery brought about by evil men was overtaking so many ,many lives….. in North America, freedom and peace and optimism were peaking… was such a time of blessing and opportunity.
It would seem that even as God appeared to have almost turned his back on many in Europe, such a gracious hand of richness was being extended to another place on earth.
He is always here, He is always at work.
And the sustaining hand of God  was not absent from the Russians or the Germans.

But the ways of God are not the ways of men.  And God doesn’t do things the way we might.

And how lovely to find scripture to remind me that nothing is new to God, nothing surprises Him, and we are all a part of a story which He is writing.   I was looking around in Isaiah for something else, and found this…….

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:6-14

And that was so encouraging to me.   God will accomplish what he desires, and He has a purpose in history.   And it is all for His renown.

And Hitler and Lenin and Stalin and war are nothing before Him.

I am not a Tiger Mom

I don’t know if there is anyone left in North America who’s not had quite enough of Amy Chua and her methods of producing brilliance in her children.    But in case any of you are late to join the party,

here again is that famous  bit of text from the  back cover  from the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:

“A  lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

CAU cover

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.”

Amy Chua with her daughters, Louisa and Sophia, at their home in New Haven, Conn.

CAU cover

These  standards by which Amy Chua claims that she and most Chinese parents raise their children sound like harsh torture to most North Americans.  Yet Chua’s children appear to  have grown up to be well adjusted and happy young women, and are remarkably accomplished and devoted to their family.
It leaves us scratching our heads.
We would have expected that those girls would be in weekly psychotherapy and to show all the signs of unchecked eating disorders.     You can see in the above photo that they look just fine.

The Wall Street Journal’s article discussing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was written under the very unfortunate title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”
It’s unfortunate they used such an inflammatory title   because all us American women are already insecure enough about our parenting skills and we are already second-guessing ourselves at nearly every turn.

Parents of home-schooled kids, privately educated kids, and the parents of public school kids are already looking askance at one another,  apparently feeling judged simply because someone else had openly chosen a path that another family intentionally rejected.
And the soccer/ hockey moms and the violin and harp crowd are looking down upon one another in derision, nevermind the “working mom” vs. “stay at home mom” rivalry which is still such a presence in the US.

We don’t much need another class distinction from which one pack of mothers can look condescendingly upon another.  But I think we have it.
Now the distinction   (not actually  new…. only newly defined)    is the one between the mothers who will stop at nothing to produce excellence in their children as opposed to the mothers who are content with mediocrity as long as home is a place of rest and peace.
And yes, I know this is a gross over generalization….but I’ve been raising kids for long enough to know that that is essentially where the boundaries lie.

The book has generated such a kerfuffle of controversy, which is great for sales.
And, being a consumer of the “herd” variety, I went to the bookstore to get a look at it on Saturday.

In the “Parenting Skills” section,  I found four copies of the book, and as I reached for one, a very attractive, fit, thirty-ish looking Chinese woman reached over my own hand and grabbed the other three copies.
She immediately started talking to me, and she was talking so fast I could hardly keep up.
She asked me if I had read it, and  told me she had read it a couple of times.
She also told me she has given copies of the book to all her friends, Chinese and otherwise.   And she was going to share the three in her hand  with three more co-workers.
She said that this book gives a perfectly accurate picture of life under the hand of a Chinese mother.
She told me she had given a copy of the book to her own mom, who read it and then called to say    “I was not that bad!”  But the daughter replied, laughing, “Mom, you were worse!”

She said all her Chinese friends were commonly called “garbage”  by their parents, and thought nothing of it.  And she was laughing at the idea that Westerers find the book so appalling.

This woman was such a wealth of insight to me, and she was so enthusiastic about my need to read the book that I bought the only copy she left behind.
And as I turned to leave she mentioned that she is a corporate lawyer and she has two young children who are violin prodigies.   She was still laughing.  And I believe every word she said.
Another Chinese lady I met in line told me that this book is not called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” in its Chinese translation.  Back in China it is simply called “Parenting in America”.   This can only mean that  to the Chinese mind,  there is no  kind of parenting other than the Tiger variety, so back in the motherland,  the thing that makes this book newsworthy is the fact that this uber-mothering is  happening in the  very  breadbasket of  unremarkable performers which is America.
(I should mention that I live in an area that is so thickly populated with Chinese immigrants that you can go to Costco on a Saturday and never once overhear a conversation in any language other than a Chinese dialect, even though the store is packed and everyone is talking at once.  I tried it once.   And the bookstore I went to on Saturday is right behind that Costco.)

My daughter Audrey and I have both read the book this week.  We were both amazed, amused and horrified by turns.   We have enjoyed it tremendously, and have recommended it so much that people are beginning  to avoid us.
But, much as I loved reading the book,  I am not at all a Tiger Mom.
I am more like a “house-cat mom.”   I like to play, I like to keep them close to me, cuddled up and warm by a fire.  I love having all my kids around me for book discussions and history talks and anything where we are all in a bit of a pile together.
But, I do also have claws, and I am not afraid to use them when people need to move faster, produce better or just generally knock of the foolishness.
I could not ever live in the atmosphere of fighting and anger that Amy Chua describes in her book.   I am convinced that that kind of  destructive sharpness can do damage that’s hard to repair,  and I don’t want that.   But I like to get good results, and I want my kids to respond the first time I ask them.   And I require that of them, and that’s a standard that seems high, to some.

My husband  has  high standards for our kids  which have helped me to raise the bar.   He might actually be a bit of a Tiger Dad.    He exhibits many of the rigorous demands that Chua describes as being the norm for first generation immigrants who have had to fight for a better life, and who know the odds their children face, and so make strong demands of them.
Jon came to the US with $100 in his pocket at age 18, then put himself through college and medical school.  He understands how hard they will have to  fight if they want to compete and  succeed.   Jon’s expectations from our kids have been greater than mine from the moment our first son was born.  I’m really thankful for him and for his standard.

And it turns out that I don’t want mediocrity either.  Mediocrity from my kids makes me kind of crazy.

I insist that I be able to speak to my kids  “straight”   and I expect them to be able to handle clear honest criticism which is given in love and without insult.   This is  what instruction is all about.  And if they can’t  receive instruction, they won’t get very far in life.    I really believe that it is poor parenting to continually coddle your kids and allow them to be hurt by constructive advice.   Don’t we all know adults who are handicapped by this, who cannot understand that their failure to advance is due directly to their inability to stand up straight and learn from those who could instruct them?

In many ways I admire Amy Chua’s attitude when she states that she requires that her children attain high standards because she respects them and knows that they are capable of achieving high standard.   She is right when she says that requiring little of our children is a way of telling them that we do not think very much of them.   Her assessment of Western parents who allow their children to attain to only the most mediocre standard  is that they are producing children who will have poor self esteem because they understand, at some level, that nobody expected much of them,  and that  must certainly indicate that they are incapable of very great achievements.
I also agree with her very much when she says that there is nothing that will produce a strong sense of confidence in anyone more than having achieved great things.     If pride follows that achievement, there is sin to be dealt with.   But the achievement itself is not sin.   Achievement is honor.

And even though I understand that the achievement of great things is not the goal of our existence, but serving God in humility and obedience is.  That service is to be of a very high quality.  If we do everything as unto the Lord, that’s a high standard.   If your boss is the Creator of the Universe, and you are keenly aware of who that actually is, you might not cut so many corners.  If our children see us, as Christian parents, as willing as Amy Chua and the mothers like her to make enormous sacrifices of our time and our lives in order to get them launched on the path that is right for them, they will be blessed by that.   I don’t believe that it’s enough for us to tell them “we did our best”……we have to do what is required in order to help them find a good footing.  And unlike Chua, we must do it without arguing and complaining.   That is hard work.  We need supernatural help for that.  And people will laugh at us and criticize us, and then we have to ignore that and keep marching forward.

She’s right that most American (and Canadian) parents coddle their kids and fail them when they don’t ask them to reach for a higher and more difficult standard.  And she’s also right when she implies  that it makes the North American peers of these children of Chinese immigrants easy prey, always second best, and eventually subordinate to an entire class of people.  She’s right about these things, and they are hard to swallow.

I do not think she’s right about the way of going about it.  Even though she has won a success of a certain kind, and a success that’s really rich and satisfying for her, it’s not the success I want for my kids.  I want successful kids, and I also want kids who know that arguing and fighting are destructive.   I don’t believe at all  that anger and screaming, insulting and depriving children is the only way to get great results from them.
In many ways, Amy Chua’s method is a much harder path than the one most parents take.
But I think that in comparison to what is best, anger and shouting is the easy path.

We all want our kids to go rampaging wildly down the path of excellence and accomplishment.
Every parent who has the future success of the kids in mind is puzzling out what will set them on that road.
Should  they do sports or music, lots of social stuff or very little, more parental supervision or less, Youth Group or not, organic or freedom of choice.  And we make a choice and then preach on it for awhile, mostly to convince ourselves through the sound of our own strident voice that we have made the best and only intelligent choice.

But I think that when we stop and make those decisions THE BIG ONES, maybe we are stopping short.   Maybe the really big decisions have to do with helping them to learn to understand what the best good standards are and why they matter.   Karate or Not Karate, Organic or Not Organic, Violin or Hockey are really the  minor choices.
The big choices for our kids, and the choices that should be dealt with in a thousand different discussions every week are the discussions about who they will serve as adults, and why will they serve that god or God, and how should they serve.  If they understand that they are serving something, and if they understand that every choice they make reveals who they are serving, they can then learn to be honest with themselves, because honest service will require honest self evaluation.   They can learn to ask questions which are harder than “which sport?”,  “which musical instrument?” or even “which university?”     And if they can learn to ask themselves really big and honest questions, they can then learn to see what the high standard is there for.  That the high standard is not there to torment them.   It’s there to help them by giving them a good path  they can follow.

I can see that I have given no good practical steps for parenting which will produce outrageous success in children.

But isn’t it true that if our kids grow up  loving  a high standard, and if they see that it is for their good, they will excel?
I can already hear somebody saying that it’s not reasonable to expect a seven year old to love a high standard…….but I say that’s not true.
I think that if we really do love them well, and we really train them well with patience and we are willing to sacrifice our time for our kids in training them , only training them in godliness rather than training them to be competitive and selfish, and if we pray for grace as each day unfolds, God is faithful and will help us to show them the way they should go.  And when they are old they will not depart from it.

Sanctity of Life Day

Yesterday, lots of churches in North America recognized “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, reminding us of the tragedies which have resulted from the western  world’s  access to “free, safe, legal abortion.”  And we need this reminder, and to rise to the tasks before us and fight it boldly.

But  what  I want to talk about is an entirely different kind of sanctity of life.  And that is  the sanctity of the lives of the elderly and infirm.    We heard a story yesterday about a man named Richard Rudd who was deemed brain-dead after a motorcycle accident, and whos doctors and even his own father believed should not be required to continue living in his vegetative state, until Richard indicated by eye movement that he was still able to think and communicate.  And so the decision to end his life was reversed, and he lives today, having surpassed all expectations for his recovery.   You may read the story there at the link.    His story may cause you to reconsider your opinions about who should be euthanized, and what is the best way for doctors to treat patients who appear to have slipped beyond the scope of rehabilitation.

In my own family, we have a story which is somewhat similar, and is very close to my heart.  (I want so much to say that our story is better actually, though I am sure the Rudd family would take issue.) Many people have heard some of this story, a few have heard it all.
It’s the story of my mother’s stroke, which occurred on March 3, 2007.  Actually, this is the story of how two grown children of a woman in a semi-vegetative state were faced with an agonizing decision concerning the life of their mother.     I’m going to write the whole long tale here today in honour of Sanctity of Life Day, and also in honour of National Heart and Stroke Month which is in February here in Canada, and also in honor of my Mom.

Almost four years ago, my Mom went to church looking elegant and polished as usual.     She visited around with all her many friends there after worship service.   And then, at a scheduled seminar organized by the ladies ministry at that church,  she gave a talk to a group of people who wished to offer care to elderly people.  Her talk was on the subject of how we can best serve home-bound members of the church and keep them feeling supported in their confinement.   I have the notes to her talk, which she  folded into her Bible when she was finished.

Afterward, driving home, she  failed to take  the right turn onto her street.   And a block further down the road, she careened over a median into a pharmacy parking lot.  She then walked into the store, where she was able to communicate to them that she was in trouble and that she would like her son to be called.  So those lovely people in that pharmacy in Arden, NC  called an ambulance and my brother………… and got her some good help.

My brother was with her for the next 48 hours….and then for days, watching her spiral down hill and loose herself, her personality, her ability to speak, to comprehend,  to move on the right side, and then to even respond at all.   When I arrived from Canada two days later, I found that my young 73 year old gregarious, fun, fashion savvy mother was in  an unresponsive vegetative state in the neuro-intensive care unit.  She who had always looked so cute, so together, so spunky, alert and involved in the world around her was lying on her side in a fetal position, looking older than her own mother had looked at the time of her death at age 91.

This happens to people all the time.  There comes a day when we lose our parents.  But my brother and sister and I were so completely taken by surprise.  I’m sure we appeared completely incompetent, and were the very image of the deer in the headlights.   The ironic thing here is that my husband is a stroke neurologist, he deals with families like ours every day.  We were living out an episode that he had done over and over again, only we were on the other side of the glass.
And  he had flown to Norway on the  day of Mom’s stroke……he was there celebrating his own mother’s 80th birthday.   I really wanted to get through our crisis without asking him to cut his trip short  and come rescue me.

In order to paint a clear picture of my own mental state, I  have to include here the fact that when Mom had her stroke, I had a six week old  daughter whom Mom had never seen, except in photographs.  I had a bit of a crazy, obsessive desire to somehow persuade my mother to open her eyes and see my  baby.   I was advised not to take that baby into the ICU, but I would smuggle her in under my coat.     Ever watchful for the nurses, I would then  set this eleven pound lump of perfection down on the bed in front of my mother’s closed eyes and whisper    “Mom, wake up and see what I brought.”   Sometimes I would just beg her to come back.    I was so afraid that she would never know her last grandchild.

And the docs, who wanted to be compassionate and helpful, told us that the best we could hope for was for Mom to be in a permanent semi-vegetative state.
She would never walk.
She would never know her family members.

And when Jon did arrive, he got a copy of Mom’s brain scans which showed a huge area of damage.   He was even more pessimistic than her doctors, at least from a medical standpoint.   The neurologist who was directing her care took me aside and suggested that I’d be wise to take her home, stop introducing food and water, call hospice for support, and give her plenty of morphine to keep her comfortable.  He said it would only take a week or so, and then she would pass away.   I think that I just expected Mom would die,  and I was incapable of lifting a finger to assist.   I did not want to be a part of helping her die.
But she had a living will, she had all the proper paperwork advising and allowing us to not pursue any means to unnaturally extend her life.   Both my brother and I were a bit lost for a while there.  In order to obey Mom’s wishes, and do what the doctors were recommending, we had to do something we really could not do.

For many of us, maybe for most of us, there will come a time in life when decisions have to be made for a parent or a spouse, maybe even for a child.   And nobody ever comes into this decision with a clear understanding of all the facts and how they may come together in a predictable outcome.  These moments are bewildering, and we cannot manage them alone.   But it is such a lonely experience.   There was something like a wind  howling through my mind, and for three weeks I could not see what the best step was.   My mom had a legal document all prepared, which left ample room for the decision to be made to stop feeding her.  She had stated that she did not want to be  left in a vegetative state.

There have been many many times in my life where I have felt that constant prayer was the only way to get through the day.   But in those weeks, I found that I would pray through the day, then through the night.  I could not sleep,  and the weight of the decision seemed so heavy, I don’t think I ever even lifted it.  I just sort of looked at it and said    “Lord, please carry that, because I can’t.”

My brother and I could not let the legal document or the doctors lead us, we had to  lean on Christ.   And He did really carry us.  There was amazing peace, comfort and grace because I believe God was waiting and ready and delighted to pour peace and grace on us…..and He always is  when we confess our sins, seek His face with all our hearts, and pray in humble reliance upon him, obeying Him in all that we know, and walking in his ways.  (2Ch 7:14, Jer. 29:13, Jas. 5:16, I Jn. 3:22).

None of us knows when these times might come.  We cannot be entirely prepared for every possible eventuality.  But I do think that we can be prepared to lean on Christ.  I think that if we build that habit into our lives when there is no trouble on the horizon, it is a sweet and comfortable, natural habit to release yourself into His good care when the difficulties are too great to bear.


If you call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.    For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just  and protects the way of the faithful ones.        Proverbs 2:6-8


From infancy you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.       2 Tim 3:15


We prayed and didn’t sleep much and marched into the hospital every day like zombies, looking for something encouraging.
And she opened her eyes, but she didn’t know who we were.  We offered her food, but she could not swallow.  We tried to jar her memory, but she was blank.

Then one day, as I left the hospital after another day with my unresponsive mother who was drifting away, I realized in the parking lot that I had forgotten the diaper bag.  I send David, who was 12  at the time, up to grab it for me.

So David went, alone, onto the Neurology floor, to  his grandmother’s room.  He found her there with her eyes open.    And he spoke to her.  And she responded.
Minutes later,  he returned to me at the parking deck, all bubbly and full of good news.  He was  saying to me  that he had said to her, as he left, “Goodnight Dearie, I love you”  and that she had responded very hoarsely  “I love you, too.”

And did I say “Oh wonderful, so good to hear!”  ?

No, I’m ashamed to say that I doubted him.
I said “Please don’t give me false hopes….”  and I went to pieces right there in the parking lot.    I was praying for God to work, but when I heard good evidence that He was working, I didn’t believe it.   I could not accept it.

The same night, my brother looked at me with this intense look that only he can get, and announced… was like an announcement…….that he was going to pray for Mom to be brought to a full recovery.    And I looked at him and thought  to myself       “Oh, my, He does not understand.   He doesn’t get it.   How can I explain to him that he’s asking for something impossible.”     But I just said, “Oh, OK, that’s really bold.”   I admired his faith……but I thought he was naive.

But I was wrong.   Almost all of us were  wrong.  The doctors were all just so very, very wrong about my mother.    And I was wrong about my God.
My mother did recover.   She did fight her way out of that pit.  She learned to swallow again.  She  learned to sit up again.   She learned to walk, and to talk, and to take care of all her own personal needs as if nothing had happened.   She has even learned to read a bit again.  But it drives her bananas that she can’t drive anymore.   But she does fly Delta, and that’s how she comes to visit us.   And that is such a miracle!   Not only does she walk, she can fly.

God did heal my mother.   And I know that doesn’t happen in every case, and I cannot understand why we received so much grace and mercy in this situation.   But what a gift it has been to my family and my children and to me.

And here is one of my most delicious, most favourite photographs.   My mother and Maggie.    They are great friends now.   My mom says of Maggie “You know, she’s just like my mother…..”   and I almost burst with thankfulness that she can recognize that, because I know Mom is absolutely right.

And here is my mother on her 75th birthday, eighteen months after her stroke.   Isn’t she lovely!

Be well practiced in the habit of leaning on Christ.  These difficult days…..whether they are similar or different…..difficult days will come .    And the  God of Christ is eager to carry you.


And just by the way, if anyone knocks on your door asking you to donate to the Heart and Stroke Association, I would say “Be generous!”   It’s a worthy cause.