Monday, December 22, 2008

The Revised Edition

Riesa has edited her Christmas list at least twice since I shared her wishes with you, and I, personally, find her lists entertaining and telling!

The first revision came when I asked her during carpool one day what she wanted for Christmas. I had never directly brought it up before, so I wanted to make sure I was correctly interpreting her earlier remarks. Here was her answer:

New television set...big, black one.

New rings...2 of 'em: R-E-D and B-U-L-E (yes, that's how she spells blue!)

New purple hat

New socks - Letter B-L-K (black)

O-K then! She didn't name one thing from her previous "list" other than the hat, which changed colors. So, I prompted her, "What else?" Thankfully, she went through the original list. Good. I hadn't misinterpreted her desires.

New walkie-talkies - 2 of 'em
New telephone
New reh-whike-a-blue wheelchair.

I took this opportunity to explain to her that if she gets a wheelchair, she can't stay at my house because the chair is too big. I told her she'd have to go back to My Place (where she lived for a year and half when my Grandad was ill...and she loved it, by the way). Her face fell and she said, "Oh, I see." And you know what? I think she did. She hasn't mentioned it once since then.

A couple days later she advised me of her other wishes. We were sitting at the table having lunch and she pointed over to the Christmas tree and said, "Christmas Eve...right over there..."

New black typewriter - "this big" she demonstrated with her hands what size it should be
New gown - "all the way down" R-E-D
New black shoes - 2 of 'em
A block (she acted out playing a block instrument)
New banjo (she demonstrates for me)
New drums (more demonstration, of course)
New guitar (you guessed it, she played her air guitar too)
And FINALLY: New black glasses (based on the hand motions which accompanied the request, I think she meant binoculars!)

YES, she specifies "NEW" before almost each request. Like I'm gonna go to Goodwill to get her Christmas presents or something! Sheesh! Who does she think I am? AND...she makes sure to tell me that if I get the black shoes, she's gonna need 2 of 'em. Apparently she thinks I might actually go and get her one new black shoe. Maybe she hasn't quite distinguished yet who's taking care of whom here.

Well, since I can pretty much guarantee she's not gonna be reading my blog anytime soon, I can safely tell you she is officially spoiled. She's not getting the typewriter or the noise-making instruments, but she's pretty much hittin' the jack-pot on the rest!

Merry Christmas to all of you! Our family is heading back to New Orleans for a missions trip over break, so you'll likely not hear from me until we return!

May the peace and love of Christ and the grace and hope of His Gospel be yours in full measure this Christmas season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We Cry A Lot

Jeffrey's last couple of weeks have been filled with sickness. His doctors are fairly certain that all the vomiting is not from the new chemo drug, but from the increased dose of pain medication. Of course, the pain meds can't do him a whole lot of good if he can't keep them in long enough to absorb into the bloodstream.

In addition to chemo, he is currently undergoing radiation on his skull. He has a growth above his left ear that has changed in the last month, so they are targeting it for now. At this point, they're doing chemo to try and slow the progression of this very aggressive cancer, while the radiation is designed to shrink particular tumors so that they are less uncomfortable for him, or to prevent them from penetrating other vital organs (the few that remain untouched).

Yesterday, Jeff was so sick that he couldn't make his scheduled treatment...that's a first. Today, Dad brought him up for radiation. Since his pain level continues to increase in his right hip, thigh and knee, they are going to take an extra set of pictures to see if that bone is deteriorating to the point where they need to keep him in the hospital.

All I know right now is that he is always cold but sweating, he sleeps a lot, he's in a lot of pain and he throws up a whole lot. His sweet wife labors faithfully by his side, trying to make him comfortable, and doing all she can to meet his needs while caring for the 3 little ones and trying to hold herself together. She's doing a wonderful job, but it is beginning to take its toll on her.

We covet your prayers on their behalf. And this may be a selfish prayer, but I'm asking God to give him a good day on the 24th so he can be with all of us at Mom & Dad's.

Speaking of good days: he was able to come with Daddy 2 weeks ago to watch Grant play in the championship game of his basketball tournament. Thankfully I had my camera...we value every moment he's here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Makeover Magic: DOA

You can lead a horse to water...but you can't make him drink. The fashion pool is one from which my husband refuses to take even a sip.

He tried on the jeans last night (the part I was least worried about...for crying out loud, they're JEANS / AKA: Levi's, and only slightly darker denim...no big deal right?). Apparently, in spite of his boys telling him he looked cool, he decided they weren't "him."

I not only withheld my arsenal of protestations, I also resisted the temptation to tell him how attractive the "un-him" would be, not only to myself, but to all the chics.

After 16 years, I think I may finally give up...maybe. I'm a slow learner.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Falling Down Moments

Have you seen the movie Falling Down? In case you haven't, I'll just say this: it is extremely difficult to watch. The level of intensity remains excessively high throughout every single moment. Do I recommend it? No, not really. So, why am I even mentioning it? Because as I complained to a friend about the emotional and mental perils of driving carpool, she brought it up. After renting and watching it...I know why. For Bill, the accumulation of life's stresses reached their breaking point while he was sitting in traffic on a hot day. I've been there.

Bottom line: I don't like driving carpool. Period. I experience many moments where I am forced to consciously back away from The Edge. All the minor stresses of life seem to coalesce when I'm uptight about the traffic or the time or the way somebody is driving. My perfectionism and rule-keeping tendencies are at their peak. I expect everyone to stay off their bloody phones and follow every detail of the Drivers Handbook...plus all the rules of common courtesy. Silly me.

My darling children, and their friends who are lucky enough to ride with us, have become acutely aware of just how unsanctified Mrs. Shaffer really is. However, I cannot say that each ride has been completely devoid of joy. I have been pulled back from a Falling Down Moment more than once by these highly entertaining bumper stickers which I have actually seen while sitting in painfully slow traffic.

Sometimes the little unexpected injection of humor is that one step back which prevents me from plunging over the precipice into certain insanity.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Makeover Mishap or Magic?

These are busy, busy days which leave little or no time for writing. I miss it. But most of my time is being spent with other people (AKA: friends) and that is a very good thing...a legitimate reason to relegate writing to the sidebar of my life.

Of course, in addition to all the "normal" activities that require my attention, there are holiday shopping and cooking to be done, gifts to be made, wild heads of hair to be tamed, and parties to attend.

And speaking of parties...for most women, the mere mention of a party conjures up one all-important question: What am I going to wear? That's not to say that some men don't wonder the same thing, but they wouldn't readily admit it. My husband is one of those who would never...ever...in a thousand millenia, ask himself what he was going to wear. When it's time to get dressed there is only 1 question to be asked: Can I wear my Levi's? Yes, he calls them Levi's. If the answer is yes, he happily dons them with one of his wide variety of shirts which we affectionately refer to as "Uncle Gary" plaids. If the answer is no, he somewhat happily dons his pleated, cuffed khaki pants with the same Uncle Gary plaid shirt. End of story...life is simple.

Well, little does he know it, but I am about to un-simplify his life. Oh, yeah. I bought him a stylish, manly, ensemble today which I expect him to wear to a party on Saturday. I have attempted to buy clothes for him in the past with very little success. Anything that strays too far from his slightly-dated-comfort-zone feels ostentatious to him and he just can't bring himself to wear it.

My hope is that this is conservative enough and close enough to his comfort zone to be successful. The first picture shows what he would choose to wear Saturday apart from any input from me (which is normal), while the second showcases what I will attempt to entice him to wear instead.

Whad'ya think? Will I be successful? Is it ostentatious? Is it a step up style wise? Hmmmm....

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Riesa's Christmas Wish List

Over the last few days I have put up our Christmas tree and otherwise decorated the house for the holidays. I've begun playing Christmas music and cooking more. Apparently, all of this has stirred up the Christmas spirit in Aunt Riesa.

You know, if I asked her straight up "What do you want for Christmas?" there's no telling what kind of answer I might get. The answer might be entirely unrelated to the question. However, as she ate breakfast this morning (strategically placed so that she was facing the Christmas tree), she began rattling off a list of items which had nothing to do with one another. I finally figured out that she was sitting there composing her wish list and this was her way of letting me know what it was.

Her list completely backs my assertion that she is part toddler, part teen and part old lady:

New Walkie Talkie
New Telephone
New Hat & Gloves and...
New Reh-Whike-a-Blue Wheelchair (red, white & blue)

Is that a great list, or what?

Monday, November 17, 2008

What I've Done Right

A young gal who is raising several very young boys asked me a while back to share with her what I have done right in raising my own boys. What has worked? At first I was reticent because my guys are still relatively young and time will tell how they "turn out." Next I hesitated because it is so much easier to recognize what I've done poorly than what I've done well. Then there's this: every child is different and has to be raised somewhat differently than the next, so is it possible to identify something that would be universal in its application? It has only taken me about 5 months to come up with 1 thing.


But there is one thing. And that thing is admitting I was wrong. I have made many mistakes, some from ignorance and inexperience, some from stubbornness, some from wrong motivations and some from plain old sinfulness.


Thank God that little children have not yet learned to hold deep grudges, nor do they enter the bog of bitterness. They are surpisingly faithful and even eager to extend forgiveness. BUT...they eventually learn that anger, bitterness and refusal to forgive are options. When that time comes, I think it is easier for them to avoid those traps if the parents have consistently acknowledged their own failures, shortcomings, and sins. Stubborn pride can either prevent us from even recognizing our faults, or refusing to admit it to our "subordinates"...afterall, it might weaken my "position" of authority or cause them to question me in the future.


In reality, I believe it has the opposite effect. When I humble myself and admit my wrong, I break down the illusion of perfection which means my children cease to expect perfection from me. They begin to realize that, though I have been given charge over them, I experience the same struggles as they do...to do what's right and best...but failing all too often. They're not as hard on me and therefore grant me some "slack." They question me less, realizing that I don't assume I'm always right. They begin to distinguish between treating me with respect because I have earned it (which I often haven't) and respecting me because I am their mother...striving, however imperfectly, to do what is best for them.


I am convinced this is why I have good relationships with my boys now, as teenagers, and why they are pretty open with me and are fairly quick to admit their own faults too.


So there it is...my one thing: confess your sins and seek forgiveness from your children. Plain, simple, universal, and hopefully true.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Orange Man

After being reprimanded for not wearing the appropriate OSHA vest while on the job one day, my brother, Jeffrey, showed up like THIS the following day:

Even his fingernails were bright orange.

That spunky spirit hasn't left him, but it seems to me that his days bring a mixture of pain, hope, sadness, cheer, confusion, doubt, and laughter. He wants to live. He wants to watch his children grow up. He wants to work again.

He has just finished his 2nd round of radiation - this time for the tumor near his heart and one on his low back - while the second round of chemo continues.

The first round left him with the radiated tumors smaller (right femur bone and left breast), while the one near the heart was enlarged and a new one appeared in his back. The rest of the tumors - in the liver, kidney, bones, etc. - remained unchanged.

This week has been difficult with vomiting, a metallic taste in his mouth and constant chills. He's a sweet, often quiet and humble man who just doesn't complain.

Please pray for him, body, soul and spirit.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Firstborn

15 years ago today, I lay tethered to a bed in Woodland, CA, with massive doses of Potossin being injected into my veins. This stubborn little baby boy was going to exit my womb come hell or high water. Afterall, he had delayed things by 10 days and that was quite enough already! After resisting for 16 hours, he finally succumbed to the relentless efforts of outside forces.

Grant Ford Shaffer entered this world at 11:42 PM on November 15, 1993. I can't say I was particularly overjoyed at his arrival. Not only had the previous 6 months proven difficult, that day had been long and miserable, refusing to follow the scenario I had scripted long before, nor had it proven the idyllic scene of my first child's birth that I always imagined. There was no instant bonding. What do you mean do I want to nurse him? Uh...only if I have to! I really just want to be left alone...to eat...to sleep...and to stop being poked, prodded and otherwise irritated by this "noisome pestilence" of healthcare professionals! Leave me...please, just leave me...and take that thing with you when you go.

Where, I wondered, is the supposed romance of childbirth and motherhood? What is wrong with me that I'm experiencing no deep sense of satisfaction from what has just occurred? And by the way, why do I still look 6 months pregnant?

Fortunately for me, there was nowhere to go but up. I did get a good night's sleep...except for the 6 times they awakened me to ask how I was doing and if I could feel my legs yet...and the one time when I said "yes" and they made me transfer to a new room...and then promptly brought to stay in my room this little boy who squirmed and wriggled and grunted all night long. Don't you people have a nursery here? Oh...only for when I'm showering. O-K then. That's O-K...I'll take care of him. I'm not hungry or exhausted or anything...we'll be fine...just fine.

Still nowhere to go but up. Next morning, I looked like a very tired and pale version of Willy Wonka's Blueberry girl, and one of my blessed co-workers from the PT clinic next door was gracious enough to point it out. A steady stream of visiting family and co-workers, not to mention the frequent attempts to calm or feed this restless baby who can't go to the nursery, meant I still didn't get any rest.

Well, the good thing is, I didn't want to stay beyond the 24 hours my insurance company so generously allowed.

As I prepared to leave the hospital, I realized that the pre-pregnancy clothes I had brought to wear home wouldn't even come close to fitting. Why didn't anyone tell me you don't come out of there in your former shape and size? It's not exactly a minor detail, you know, leaving the hospital clothed.

Thankfully, it wasn't long before the ascent toward the light commenced, but it was a very gradual ascent with this child...about 13 years or so! After 15 long years, I can look back fondly on all the mishaps, the worries, the fears, the misunderstandings. Not only do I see light at the end of the tunnel, there are days of pure bright sunshine.

Here...now...15 years later...I have discovered the romance of motherhood. It's in the lifelong service to this human being...a unique creation of an eternally creative God - a young man whom I've been privileged to watch, enjoy and guide through all the delights and perils of childhood. It's in watching him love little children, serve his handicapped aunt when no one's looking, reach out lovingly when he knows I'm hurting even if others are looking, play joyfully with his little brother, keep his commitments faithfully. There's the romance, the joy, and the satisfaction that escaped our first hours together, and now they are much more well-grounded than those early feelings would have been.

I'm thankful for my firstborn. Happy 15th birthday, Grant!

Friday, November 14, 2008

What is Wrong with All Ya'll People?

If I've heard it once, I've heard it dozens of times: "Oh, Steve, you look exactly the same." "You haven't changed a bit!" "You just don't age!" Bla-blah...bla-blah...bla-blah.

Whenever I roll my eyes or try to debate the point, no one listens and everyone thinks I'm all jealous or something...sheesh. I'm not jealous! But I am addicted to reality and THIS, my friends, is reality:

Steve when we married:


Steve now:



Exactly the same. Yeah...whatever.

Freaky Fact of the Day

When my Daddy walked me down the aisle, he was the same age my husband is right now. And...I was the last of his 6 children to marry! We don't even have a driver yet, for Pete's sake!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Defense of Latin - Again

Yeah, yeah. I know. Beating a dead horse is neither productive nor admirable. BUT...I found this "article" the other day that I had written for the school where I used to teach. The marketing gals there asked both myself and Mr. Klousia, the REAL Latin teacher, to write an essay on the advantages of learning Latin that could be used on the school's website. Of course, I complied, because I'm just like that...cooperative and helpful and all. No, no. No cause for accolades...it just comes naturally to me.

In the end, the school chose to use the article by the more educated and experienced of the two of us, so mine was relegated to the trash heap where it lay until now. If you really don't give a rip, or are tired of hearing about Latin and language and all that stuff I love to talk about, then go to April's blog. She's highly entertaining...I'm not.

On the other hand, if you're already bored, or enjoy the beating of a dead horse - I'm sure there's nothing in here I haven't said before - then stick around.

"Why, in the age of the Internet and the global economy, dwell upon words and deeds of people long dead who wrote and spoke in tongues equally dead? Education should help us get things." (Tracy Lee Simmons in Climbing Parnassus)

Any attempt to persuade the modern mind of the reasons to study the ancient languages must necessarily begin by addressing one aspect of modern educational philosophy. We must resist the temptation to view the purpose of education as primarily utilitarian. That is, to propel us toward a profitable or fulfilling career. Education whose first aim is to employ is the education of slaves, the mere training of a work force. The education of free men requires more - much more! Liberal education must endow its students with a heart of wisdom that discerns, loves and produces that which is true, beautiful, just and virtuous. John Milton once said, "Liberty hath a double edge, fit only to be handled by just and virtuous men." In the hands of a fool, liberty becomes an "unwieldy mischief."

To live well as free men then, our educational pursuit must reach into realms largely unfamiliar to us in order to mold and refine our intellect and spirit. The Greeks and Romans, with their many faults, lived thoughtfully, contemplating what it meant to live well as humans and citizens. The also cultivated clarity of thought as well as beauty and precision of speech. The study of their language and literature is invaluable "to make us better than our untutored natures lead us to be." (Climbing Parnassus, p. 32)

Acknowledging that our study of classical languages is not grounded in their usefulness does not negate the practical advantages that accompany this endeavor. One benefit is that the modern Romance Languages can be fairly easily apprehended on one's own after rigorous training in Latin. Additionally, an enormous number of English words are derived from both Latin and Greek. Therefore, students of these languages will possess a broader vocabulary as well as the means to choose words that most accurately communicate their ideas.

Latin is a language in which the slightest alteration can transform the meaning of a sentence or phrase. This requires students to refine their observational and analytical skills - two essential tools for life-long learners! The student of these languages is forced to examine and understand grammar and syntax at at level beyond most of today's English grammar courses. Besides sharpening the skills mentioned previously, this understanding enables students to both read and write at more complex intellectual levels.

Once students are proficient and can read the classical literature in its original form, they have access to some of history's most cultured and prolific rhetoricians. One cannot truly hope to become rhetorically adept without exposure to the masters whose writings offer unsurpassed beauty and depth.

The acquisition of Latin, then, naturally reinforces the classical stages of learning and should enable our students to excel as readers, thinkers, writers and speakers. That is a very utilitarian outcome!

Finally, undergirding the philosophical and practical reasons to heartily pursue the study of Latin, stands the foundation - words are fundamentally theological! They are the language of the Triune God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit commune with words. God has revealed Himself to man through words; with words He fashioned the earth; with words He conversed with saints of old. He has preserved His truth for eternity in written words as well as in Jesus Christ, the Living and Final Word.

Thus, acquiring an understanding of language that is broad and deep, opens the door for clearer understanding of God's very communication with us. (The necessity of the Holy Spirit's presence is assumed.) God could have spoken to us in any way He chose - He chose to combine beauty and truth, utilizing precise words, captivating stories and illuminating word pictures. Our highest aim is to know our Creator, and to know him most fully, we must understand His language: words.

Our next aim, as God's image bearers, is to imitate Him. We should strive to communicate the same way He does - clearly and beautifully - in the accurate and artful presentation of Truth. Here it is appropriate to pause and consider Paul's rebuke to the Christians at Corinth who were being deceived by the "clever speech" of some false teachers. He admonishes them not to be drawn toward division and heresy by "wise-sounding" words. Our purpose is not to teach high and heady language to our students so that they "sound" good, nor do we want them to be puffed up with knowledge. We do want to assist them in the "pulling down of strongholds," the refutation of "vain philosophies" and the destruction of "every argument raised up against the knowledge of God." (I Cor. 10)

Our desire is that through the rigorous study of the ancient languages, each student will discern what is true and articulate it according to the bent of their audience. We hope to equip the students to fulfill their Christian duties by readily answering their opponents and just as readily edifying the body of Christ in a manner worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus.

This is why we study the words and deeds of people long dead...for the cultivation of wisdom in His children who will advance the reputation of Christ and will work effectively for the strengthening of His kingdom on earth.

If that wasn't enough for you, I once again highly recommend Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin by Tracy Lee Simmons. Not only does he establish a thorough argument for studying the ancient languages, but he also offers much wisdom on the nature and decline of modern education in general. It is a well-written, delightful-to-read dissertation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Crimes & Misdemeanors

I'm sure you're all dying to know whether I am indeed the criminal the Creve Couer police officer took me for. As a matter of fact...he had the wrong person. The crime was committed, not by me, but by one Lori Waggoner - Oh wait!! That IS me!

In my criminal past, that is...before I married and amended my ways... apparently I wrote not 1, not 2, but 3 bad checks. The first was for $1.07. The second for $4.87. And the third - the one for which there is a warrant for my arrest - was written for a whoppin' $10.97!! This, my friends, constitutes a misdemeanor! All 3 were to Wal-Mart in Camdenton, Missouri, where my little sister lives. Each was written on or around November 27, 1991...the day before Thanksgiving. I was moving back home to St. Louis after many years in Chattanooga and on my way I had stopped to visit with Vicki and her family. The best I can figure, I wrote those checks as I passed through and then closed my Chattanooga account before they went through. That would explain, I suppose, how I could have written these "bad" checks without ever knowing about it.

All I know, is that my call to the Camden County Sheriff and the subsequent call to the Circuit Clerk yesterday, provided a good deal of amusement for those with whom I spoke...after they learned I hadn't actually been arrested, that is. I guess it is rather comical to imagine a middle-aged mother being hauled off to the slammer for a 17-year-old offence of fewer than $20!

It seems that advances in technology have led to the dissemination of data which was previously unavailable, which explains why I had no prior knowledge of the warrant. Fortunately for me, it is easily and inexpensively resolved. For some reason, they're unwilling to take a check from me, but they will accept 2 money orders. For a mere $51.91, my criminal record will be removed as far from me as the east is from the west.

Apparently, money DOES talk. Who knew?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Teddy's Taxidermy

As a young boy, Teddy Roosevelt was an avid naturalist, collecting specimens everywhere he went...Germany, Greece, Egypt, England, Austria. His family regularly traveled abroad and on one of their extended holidays, younger brother, Elliot, who was doomed to share space with young Teddy, appealed to their father:

"Father, do you think it would be extravagant if I were now and then to have a room to myself in hotels? Come and see our room."

Mr. Roosevelt did. There were bottles on the tables and the chairs; there were bottles on the mantel and the wash-stand. Clothes were everywhere...and in the basin were the entrails of animals recently deceased.

Theodore was intent on scientific investigation...If it seemed necessary to the interests of science to keep defunct field-mice in the family refrigerator, he kept them there; if it seemed to him important to house a snake or two in the guest-room water-pitcher, the possible emotions of a guest discovering them there did not enter into consideration. He felt it his duty to study field-mice and snakes and that was all there was about it.

This inquisitive mind of Teddy's housed itself in a weak body and a rather timid soul. He had to feign bravery for some time before he actually became brave and he worked diligently to build the physical strength and stamina that came easily to other young men.

What Theodore Roosevelt had, which most of the others had not, was deep hunger to excel, to be of the fellowship of the doers of great deeds. With it, vague at first, but increasingly clear, came the recognition that men attain only through endless struggle against the sloth, the impurity, the fears, the doubts, the false content in their own hearts. He determined to build up for himself a clean, valiant, fighting soul.

Excerpts in blue from The Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Hermann Hagedorn.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Poetic Prose

Is it possible that non-fiction can constitute beautiful, poetic prose? Well, Hermann Hagedorn proves it can in The Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt. If the following prologue doesn't make you want to read this book, nothing will!

This is a book for boys and girls, for tomboys and for men.

Sentimentalists and slackers and folk who serve two masters will find nothing in it to appeal to them. But lovers of heroic tales will find the story, if not the telling of it, music and honey to their hearts so long as there is the need of intrepid fighters for right and justice in this world - and that will be a long time.

The story of Theodore Roosevelt is the story of a small boy who read about great men and decided that he wanted to be like them. He had vision, he had will, he had persistence, and he succeeded. What the final historical estimate of Theodore Roosevelt will be we do not know. We only know that when he died he was known not only to Americans, but to the people of the four corners of the earth, as one of the world's greatest men. He was not a second Washington. He was not a second Lincoln. He was not a second Andrew Jackson. He was not a second anybody. He was Theodore Roosevelt, himself, unique. There has never been anybody like him in the past, and, though the world wait a long while, there will never be anyone like him in the future.

For he had something of the Prophet Ezekiel in him and something of Natty Bumppo, something of Hildebrand the valiant warrior, something of Olaf the sea-king, something of Cromwell, something of Charlemagne. He belongs to the Heroic Line, and we need not ask what those grand fellows would have thought of him.

For eight years before he died Theodore Roosevelt was beaten in every political campaign he entered. During those years he made "mistakes" that would have killed and buried twelve ordinary public men. He was placed on the shelf as a mummy a half-dozen times, yet to the end, every word he spoke was "news"; and when he went to a health farm and lost fourteen pounds, the newpapers carried the tidings on the front page, because they knew that the least thing that happened to "T.R." was more interesting to the average American citizen than a diplomatic secret or a battle. He was more conspicuous in retirement than most of our Presidents have been under the lime-light of office.

For Theodore Roosevelt was the epitome of the Great Hundred Million; the visible, individual expression of the American people in this first quarter of the twentieth century. He was the typical American. He had the virtue we like to call American, and he had the faults. He had energy, enterprise, chivalry, insatiable eagerness to know things, trust in men, idealism, optimism, fervor; some intolerance; vast common sense; deep tenderness with children; single-minded fury in battle. He had the gift of quick decision; a belief in cutting through if you couldn't satisfactorily go around; real respect for the other fellow as long as he was straight, and immeasurable contempt for him if he was crooked or a quitter; love of fair play, of hardship, of danger, of a good fight in a good cause. A level-headed winner, a loser who could grin, his glory was not that he was extraordinary, but that he was so complete an expression of the best aspirations of the average American. He was the fulfiller of our good intentions; he was the doer of heroic things we all want to do and somehow don't quite manage to accomplish.

He knew us and we knew him. He was human, he was our kind, and, being our kind, his success and his fame were somehow our successes and our fame likewise.

There is something magical about that. You can no more explain it than you can explain Theodore Roosevelt. And you cannot explain him any more than you can explain electricity or falling in love.

You can only tell his story, which we will now proceed to do.

Now that is the way the great story of a great man ought to be told! I'm only a few chapters in, but, for $3, the aesthetic and literary beauty of this biography may prove this to be my best book bargain ever!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chesterton on Education

The fashionable fallacy is that by education we can give people something that we have not got. To hear people talk one would think it was some sort of magic chemistry...

So begin the musings of Gilbert Keith Chesterton on modern education. He concludes that education is a method of transferring truth, and not only can we not transfer that which we do not possess, but we must do so authoritatively, not timidly.

I know that certain crazy pedants have attempted to counter this difficulty by maintaining that education is not instruction at all, does not teach by authority at all. They present the process as coming, not from the outside, from the teacher, but entirely from inside the boy. Education, they say, is the Latin for leading out or drawing out the dormant faculties of each person. Somewhere far down in the dim boyish soul is a primordial yearning to learn Greek accents or to wear clean collars; and the schoolmaster only gently and tenderly liberates this imprisoned purpose. Sealed up in the newborn babe are the intrinsic secrets of how to eat asparagus and what was the date of Bannockburn. The educator only draws out the child's own unapparent love of long division; only leads out the child's slightly veiled preference for milk pudding to tarts. I am not sure I believe in the derivation (of the word 'education' from the Latin)...but I am much more certain that I do not agree with the doctrine. There is, indeed, in each living creature a collection of forces and functions; but education means producing these in particular shapes and training them to particular purposes, or it means nothing at all. Speaking is the most practical instance of the whole situation. You may indeed "draw out" squeals and grunts from the child by simply poking him and pulling him about...But you will wait and watch very patiently indeed before you draw the English language out of him. That you have got to put into him; and there is an end to the matter.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

So You Had a Bad Day

I stumbled groggy-eyed out of bed at 8:11 this morning, slightly panicked that I hadn't set my alarm and had only 19 minutes to get Riesa ready and out the door so I could deliver my boys to school on time. As mothers sometimes do when mornings are hectic, I contemplated staying in my jammies for the carpool ride...afterall, who's gonna see me? I thought better of that idea and threw on some old worn workout pants and a baggy sweatshirt...not a huge step up from the jammies, but I feel slightly better about being in an accident in real clothes...ragged or not. I left my hair completely disheveled...no combing, no barretts, no nothin'....just a big ratty mess. I got nothin' to prove...right? No one to impress...here's hopin' this isn't the one morning I run into Mike Matheny in the parking lot at school, eh?
We ran out the door at 8:48...only 8 minutes behind schedule. Phew! We can do this! Little did I know that I was headin' straight into the arms of The Law.
To be continued...

So You Had a Bad Day, 2

So...we quickly and efficiently drop Riesa at her day program and head north on Lindbergh toward Westminster. So far so good. As we pass Clayton Road, I see a police officer pull into the sparse right lane of traffic. The gal in front of me (left lane) decides she can't pass him because...well, you know...he's a policeman! But me? I know how this works. Afterall, my Uncle Walter served as a MO Highway patrolman for Troop C for most of his life, and used to laugh about drivers who wouldn't pass an officer even though he was traveling slower than the speed limit. No fear here. I know this guy is simply amusing himself with everyone slowing down just 'cause they see him.
I double-check the speed limit sign - 40 mph...we're good - then proceed to pass the car in front of me as well as the officer. No problem. He pulls over behind me, but I'm careful to maintain my 40 mph. All is well. At least we think all is well until his siren blares and his lights flash. Oh...better move to the right and get out of his way! He must've gotten a call! He follows. I move further to the right and....he follows. I turn off the main drag and...you guessed it. He follows.
My heart is pounding, 'cause I'm a little freaked out! I saw the sign. I wasn't speeding. WHY is he pulling me over? Oh...shoot. I don't have plates on the front of this car and he's wondering why (long story....). Dang it! Oh, and SHOOT!!! My license is at home in my jeans pocket from last night. GREAT!
The officer approaches my window and asks to see my license, which I promptly admit I don't have on me. "Well, you were exceeding the speed limit back there...it's 30 in the construction zone."

I meekly explain that I specifically looked for the sign and saw 40...sorry, I didn't know.
"I ran your plates and they are registered to a 1997 blue Volvo wagon, not a Honda pilot."
"Yes, sir, we just bought this about 2-3 weeks ago."
"Do you have a bill of sale?"
"Uh, let me look...no, sir, I don't."
"Proof of insurance?"
"Uh...no, sir...I don't have that either."
"You buy this from a dealer?"
"Yes, sir."

"Any idea why they didn't give you 30-day dealer tags?"
"No, sir. They told my husband we could just use the old ones for 30 days...we didn't check that out, we just took their word for it."
He takes what info I can give him: Name, DOB and SS#
Here's where I stand at this moment:
1. Speeding in a construction zone
2. No license
3. Tags designated for a different car
4. Missing tag on the front of car
5. No proof of purchase
6. No proof of insurance
I'm in BIIIGGG trouble!
To be continued...

So You Had a Bad Day, 3

At this point, I'm pretty much ready to string up my husband. Where's the blasted bill of sale? Why don't I have an insurance card? Why did we keep these bloody tags?
So, while the officer investigates, I call said hubby to let him know what's up...see if he can give me any info that might get me out of this mess.
The officer approaches again. "Ma'am, is that your son?" He points to Grant who is in the front seat.
"Yes, sir, both of these boys are my sons."
"I'm gonna need you to step out of the car and come with me, please."
"Uh...O-K." (Internal monologue: Crap! I look ridiculous...how humiliating! What the hell did I do?!!)
"Ma'am, have you ever been to Camden County?"
"Missouri?"
"Yes, Camden County Missouri."
"Maybe...is that where Lebanon is?"
"Probably."
"Well, if it is, then yes I have."
"There is a warrant for your arrest in Camden County. Are you aware of that?"
"WHAT?!! That's impossible!"
"No, Ma'am it isn't."

"What for? What is it that I'm meant to have done?" (Broadway line there...anyone?)
"It's for fraud...probably a bad check."
"Impossible. I go there to visit my sister! That can't be me. You must have the wrong person! When...where...why haven't they come for me before now?"
My mind is spinning, my heart is pounding and my legs are shaking. He proceeds, "You are the right person. This is tied to your SS# and your address. 5'5" 115 lbs.?"
Relieved for the first time ever about my body mass..."Oh, no, sir! That's definitely not me! I do NOT weigh 115 lbs!"
"But is that what your license says?"
The impudence! The audacity! The unmitigated gall!

"No, sir, I'm one of those rare HONEST people who tell the truth about my weight on my license." (O-K, I didn't say THAT...I just told him the actual weight listed on my license, which quite frankly, is none of YOUR business!!)
He also jumbles my birthdate by a couple of days, and I correct him. He sends me back to my car so that he can investigate further.
I tell the boys that he wants to arrest me. They express the appropriate shock and awe.
And again, I call my husband. This time I ask him to contact the school and let them know his children will be late....VERY late...which he obligingly does.
The officer summons me out of the car once more (he apparently does not want my children to know their mother is a criminal), and very kindly informs me that if my children weren't with me, he'd be arrestin' and cartin' me to the slammer at this very moment!! Instead...
He advises me to call Camden County and get this straightened out because it's my check, my Social, and my address, but with discrepancies on the DOB, height and weight. Then...
He lets me go. Yep. That's right. I guess the terror in my eyes was enough to awaken compassion so that he didn't even write me a ticket for any of my legitimate offences!!

As he turns around and pulls past me, he stops. I roll down my window. "It just came up on the computer here...this incident was in 1992. The name on the check was Lori Waggoner."
I swear under my breath. All that drama for a 16 year old check? Surely you jest!
The mystery remains. I'll find time later today to contact the Sheriff's department in Camden County and see if they can give me details on my supposed offence. Seeing as I was married and living in CA at the time, I'm hoping it will be easily resolved.
So, my "Bad Day" hasn't been so very bad afterall...just a little traumatic!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Might Be & What IS

Even though I have, for at least a decade, given hearty intellectual assent to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, I still sometimes have to intentionally bring my heart into alignment with my head.

What might the future hold? Where might this new political "messiah" lead us? What does he really believe? What changes will he be successful in implementing? His presidency may prove to be completely innocuous or it may bring devastating consequences. Are we finally gonna get what we "deserve"?

Whatever MIGHT be, we know what IS: God is sovereign.

But sovereignty can be scary if it's not accompanied by the Truth that God is also good. And to those who love Him, His sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace.

Remember Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Saul?
What about Noah, Joseph, or Job?

And then remember this:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the seas;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the moutains quake at its swelling pride.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
Yahweh of Hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, behold the works of Yahweh,
Who has wrought desolation in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
Yahweh of Hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Psalm 46
Believe it, rejoice in it, and be at peace.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Fearful & Hideous Monster

Thus was one man's description of what would be created by allowing a woman to receive an actual degree from Oxford! Dorothy Sayers was among the first of these monsters created by higher education.

Because I have neglected her novels in favor of her essays and plays, I imagined Miss Sayers as a spinster and rather serious intellectual powerhouse. The biography I just completed, Dorothy Sayers: Her Life and Soul, reveals that her serious-minded intellect was accompanied, and perhaps even dominated by, a lively, energetic, flirtatious, and comical personality.

Here was a woman who loved to adorn herself in fine and fashionable clothes, largely with a view to attracting male attention.

When her father takes a candidate for ordination as a pupil, she longs to come home and meet him, but not in her school hat, that will never do: "I'm dying to break his celibate heart with a hopeless passion. How lucky I wasn't born beautiful - I should have been an awful flirt."


But obviously, she wasn't all fashion and flirtation! Dorothy's propensity for writing manifested itself early in her life. Even her letters to friends are raucous, thoughtful, intelligent and present fascinating accounts of her inner life. Early studies in Latin contributed to her skillful use of words, while a doting father and the hearty literary education he provided promoted her lively and creative outlook on life.

Even something as minor as magazine commentary about her most famous character, Lord Peter Wimsey, is a delight to read!


Lord Peter's income (the source of which, by the way, I have never investigated)...I deliberately gave him...Afterall, it cost me nothing and at the time it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room, I took a luxurious flat for him in Picadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare, I presented him with a Daimler double-six upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull, I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their income. It relieves the mind and does no harm to the body.

This echoes a more serious remark she made to one of her friends:

Writing keeps my mind thoroughly occupied and prevents me from wanting too badly the kind of life I do want and see no chance of getting.

One of the most surprising revelations for me, was that most of Miss Sayers' "Christian" writings came about unintentionally. That is, they were commissioned after her successful (and also commissioned) foray into dramatizing Biblical narrative.

I've got wound up accidentally into this theological business, and I feel more and more ridiculous as it goes rollicking along. I only started by writing a play and trying to make its theology coherent and orthodox, and look what's happened to me!

She recognized, in a way many surrounding her did not, the beauty, intensity, uniqueness and life-altering power of the Gospel. Her familiarity with doctrine, coupled with her lively intellect, and aided by her creative gifts, enabled her to bring Biblical truth alive for many for the first time.

So few parsons are really trained in the use of words...The result is that when the trained writer restates an old dogma in a new form of words, the reader mistakes it for a bright new idea of the writer's own.

It appears that Dorothy was largely uninvolved in The Church as a young adult and only re-established her connection when she began writing on behalf of the church. Although she wrote extensively on Christian dogma, the condition of her heart and faith are difficult to discern through statements that seem contradictory. Though she certainly had an intellectual grasp of Biblical truth, at one point late in her life she says:

I am quite without the thing known as "inner light"...I have never undergone conversion. And she states: Of all the presuppositions of Christianity, the only one I really have and can swear to from personal inward conviction is sin. About that I have no doubt whatever and never have had.

Yet elsewhere she declares: Christianity is as plain and common as bread. The simplest person or the youngest child can be a Christian, by faith and baptism. The faith is faith in a Person; the baptism is baptism into His Body.

Whether she actually assented to the teachings of the Christian faith, or simply admired them and enjoyed amplifying them as an intellectual exercise is not clear from this biography. It seems to leave the issue in question. From her own writings, I have always assumed her faith in Christ.

Miss Sayers was a prolific author who wrote on nearly every conceivable subject and in every conceivable context: marketing and ad campaigns, political satire and commentary (she loved Winston Churchill); treatises on the Christian theory of work and economics; translations of French literature; detective novels; poetry; plays; war propoganda; and her final, favorite, yet unfinished work was a highly-acclaimed translation of Dante.

This fascinating account illuminates the intriguing life of this Oxford-produced scholar, and is well worth reading. Thanks, C.M. for sharing it with me!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Classical Education: The Pitfalls

The number one pitfall of CE is arrogance.

First, let me post a disclaimer: I am not of a modern, relativistic mindset which believes that simply declaring one thing superior to another constitutes arrogance. A healthy part of education is learning to distinguish the good from the great. Passing judgements as to the value of a thing - whether a work of art, a musical composition, a narrative, or a method of educating - is a necessary outworking of knowledge.

I openly state that I believe Classical Christian Ed, when well-implemented, is superior to more traditional approaches. Its goals are loftier, its content heartier, its approach more methodical and purposeful, etc. That is my firm opinion. At the same time, I openly acknowledge that it is not the only way or even the only good way to educate our Christian children. My own children are no longer being educated classically, and while I find that very unfortunate and I sometimes mourn what we have lost, I don't believe for a minute that my children will fail in life or in their Christianity because they are not in a classical school.

So, when I talk about arrogance, I'm not referring to statements declaring one method to be better than another. I assume that most of us choose to run various aspects of our lives in a particular way because we think "this way is better than that way." The reality is that there is a best way to cook pasta...and I want to know what it is. That doesn't mean there's only one way and that everyone who does it otherwise is a failure at cooking! Likewise, there are lousy, good, better and best ways to educate.

The problem arises when the belief that Classical Education is the best way to educate, is accompanied by an underlying foundation of scoffing and mockery, both at government education and at modern Christian education. Some of the criticisms set forth are absolutely valid! The weaknesses, and even sometimes folly, which they expose, are truly weakness and folly! But the attitude which drives the exposure is not one of humility or desire to restore, but a desire to look good...to sound important...to set "us" over against "them" in a way that exalts us and denigrates them.

This arrogance manifests itself in a variety of ways: perhaps in an unwillingness to listen to parental feedback; engaging in provocative and destructive rhetoric about others; resistance to outside evaluation; refusal to incorporate ideas and methods that don't come from within the "circle"; a disregard for all modern contributions to educational theory; a willingness to "experiment" with curriculum and approaches that are untried and unproven; etc., etc., etc.

If we want to avoid many errors, offences and much foolishness, we must actively guard against pompous attitudes and seek to adorn the profession of the gospel - as it is expressed in Christian classical education - with humility. It IS possible to strive for excellence without drowning in intellectual arrogance. That should be our aim.