Monday, November 29, 2010

we do what we can

I’m facing writing the chapter in my book that terrifies me to write, because I’m not equal to it. It’s the heart of the story, and I’m so scared I’m going to get it wrong. It is, in fact, not the place where the gospel is told, but where it is shown, and I'm scared I'm going to get it wrong. 
(I’m not scared that I’m wrong about what’s supposed to happen; it’s that what’s supposed to happen is so exactly right that I’m scared I won’t be able to write it well, because I am not exactly right.)

But then I was reading Fr. Reardon’s commentary on this week's readings today and read this section, where he is discussing Luke's accounts of the women who went to Jesus' grave to anoint his body after his death (emphasis mine):

Now there is a certain kind of “practical” person, an efficiency expert, who does not much appreciate what the Myrrhbearers were up to. Had he encountered them on the road that morning, he might well have asked them, “Just what good do you think you are going to accomplish?” Anointing a dead body, after all, does not make good business sense. It achieves nothing very practical. It is the sort of activity that fails to contribute to the Gross National Product. Except for its very small influence on the myrrh market, spice trading, and nard futures, it barely shows up on the Dow Industrials. It has no measurable results. The corpses thus anointed cannot be interviewed to ascertain if they are satisfied with the product, or which brand they prefer, or whether they would recommend it to their neighbors. Anointing dead bodies resists a quantitative analysis.

Over and against this quantitative point of view stands the completely unproductive, uneconomical, inefficient assessment of the ointment-pouring scene at Bethany: “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). In that assessment of the thing, we arrive very near the heart of the Gospel. Quite simply: We do what we can. We do not attempt to measure what we do, certainly not by its perceived results. We act solely out of love, letting God alone determine whether we have “loved much” (Luke 7:47). The final quality of our lives will not be assessed by what we have accomplished, but by our love (1 Corinthians 13:24). Only the God who reads the heart can put a value on that love.

Prominent in the midst of the Church, then, are those Myrrhbearers who came that morning loaded down with their spices and without the foggiest idea how they were going to enter a sealed tomb guarded by a massive stone. What an exercise in inefficiency, lack of cost analysis, and failure in planning. As it turned out, they could not even find a body to anoint. All that myrrh, just going to waste.

And I am reassured. “We do what we can. We do not attempt to measure what we do, certainly not by its perceived results. We act solely out of love, letting God alone determine whether we have ‘loved much’.”

Well. Now, at least, I know how to approach my work today. I will do what I can. I will do it out of love. I will pray for God’s mercy on me.
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 18, 2010

links: nursing twins, Harry Potter, Advent and more!

Shannon Hale wins at the internet. This may be the best blog post I've ever read.
Next, is having their biannual sale, and all of their books on mp3 are $7.50. Our family got a bunch of great mp3s the last time they did this, including this awesome recording of The Count of Monte Cristo (47 hours for less than 8 bucks! that's a lot of dish-washing time well spent!) and this of Perelandra by C. S. Lewis, both produced by Blackstone (Blackstone's work is consistently excellent). They also have Peter Dennis' recording of Winnie-the-Pooh, and I can't tell you how many times over my kids have listed to that. (Be sure to check out his readings of the Milne's poetry too, which my husband and I both love.)
Okay. I don't usually link to sales, but my family has benefited so much from their last audiobook sale that I just had to pass it on. Now, to other things!
Starting with the terrifying and infuriating: Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners.  This is one amazing piece of journalism. Not just a copy of something from the AP wire (not to diss the AP), but some real anecdotal-yes-yet-compelling journalism. Pretty amazing stuff, and not in a good way. Also, a very lucid explanation of the foreclosure mess.
Even though it looks like (looks like!) Advent's going to be celebrated more faithfully in our house this year than it's been the last couple of years, I still was really encouraged by And Sometimes Tea's post "Confessions of a Domestic Church Slacker".
Check out this cool and easy pajama pants tutorial over at Learning As We Go. Great for Christmas gifts for the kids.

If you go read this day-in-the-life post by Susan Wise Bauer from 10 years ago, you are going to want to retroactively buy the excellent woman a drink. And then you're going to feel like falling onto the couch in sympathetic exhaustion - until you realize you are already on the couch due to your own real exhaustion and that, unlike her, your four children under the age of nine are still four children under the age of nine.
I thought this post positing the question: "what if an unschooler's parents found out their child was accepted to Hogwarts?" was hilarious.
That's it for tonight - enjoy!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

writing playlist

The most important thing about writing a book is, of course, to write the book. That is: to write. That is: butt-in-chair-fingers-on-keys.*

But it doesn't hurt to have a few tricks up your sleeve to convince you to get said butt and said fingers doing their thing when you're sure it'd be easier to climb Kilamanjero than to get your heroine to the end of her scene. And one of the tricks I've come up with is making myself a playlist on iTunes for each book.

I put in songs that put me in the same mood I hope the book evokes in my readers. So I have a very different soundtrack for, say, my historical romance and my sci-fi adventure. 

I think it works because art feeds on art, and all of it is a long, long conversation. Listening to music prior to composing story is like eavesdropping for a second or two before you "hem, hem!" in your throat to let your friends know you've arrived at the party. It reminds you about what's going on with this circle of people and puts you in the mindset to discuss their fascinations with them.

So here's the current playlist for my historical romance (which has a strong theological theme running through it - hence the hymns):

-Arise My Love - Michael Card

-Ave Maria - Josh Groban

-Dela - Johnny Clegg and Savuka

-Do You Dream of Me - Michael W. Smith

-Hope to Carry On - Caedmon's Call

-How Firm a Foundation - Fernando Ortega

-I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers

-In Christ Alone - The Newsboys

-La Pared - Shakira

-Over the Hills and Far Away - John Tams/Dominic Muldowney

-Rogue's March - John Tams/Dominic Muldowney

-Springtime Indiana - Sandra McCracken

-That Where I Am, There You May Also Be - Rich Mullins

-There Is Power in the Blood - Fernando Ortega

-Thy Mercy - Caedmon's Call

-Walk in the Dark - Wayne Watson

-When She's Near - Fiction Family

Of course, not every song works for every scene! "La Pared" is great for the scene when my heroine is afraid the hero has been killed by French soldiers and is facing a life alone without him.  "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" for when we switch to the hero's point-of-view and he's fighting his way back to her. You don't want to confuse the mood of those two scenes. :)

But all in all, I'm really happy with the playlist. And tweaking it helps me tweak what I'm going for in the story. And listening the songs helps me remember what I'm aiming for as I write. 

I use different playlists for stuff like housecleaning and exercising too. Anyone else view iTunes** not just as a toy, but as a tool? And what do you use it for?

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*I finished another chapter today: joy for me! but sadness for my heroine. Poor girl. I swear I will give her a happy ending, but I don't think she'd believe me just now.

**Or other mp3-playing device. My husband would faint if he thought I thought iTunes was the only thing out there.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jesus' prayer for Peter

Tonight I was reading Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon's commentary on the week's readings and got to his words about Luke 22, which tells of the time just before the arrest of Jesus. I really appreciated these two paragraphs and thought I'd pass them on (emphasis mine):

In contemporary English (which makes no distinction between “thou” and “ye”), it is difficult to discern all the subtlety in these verses. The “you” in verse 31 is plural. That is to say, it is not only Peter that Satan desires to sift as wheat; it is all of the Apostles. Indeed, it is all Christians. Satan has “asked,” he has sought permission, to try them, just as he had formerly asked such permission with respect to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). In the Lord’s Passion the disciples will be tried as Job was tried, and the Lord warns them of this in His words to Peter.

The “you” in verse 32, however, is singular, not plural. That is to say, it is Peter himself for whom the Lord prays. In fact, as the story goes on to show, Peter is the one most in danger, and Jesus foresees this. He also foresees Peter’s repentance, for which He prayed. In connection with this repentance, the Lord commands him to strengthen his brethren. Indeed, the story of Peter’s fall and repentance has been strengthening his brethren down to the present day.

Isn't that the truth? To read all of Fr. Reardon's commentary for the week, go here.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


One of these things is not like the other:

Yes, I am a nerd. But when I saw that tall, narrow pumpkin, I just couldn't resist carving the Doctor's Time-And-Relative-Dimension-In-Space machine. What do you think? I only wish I were a good enough carver to have managed to put "Police Box" across the top.  :)

(And yes, Dad, I used a Barkie.)

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

homeschooling is school . . . but maybe school gets in the way, sometimes

So, I've been thinking more about the women I've met this fall, the ones who take care to repeat at every meeting that "character is more important than academics," as if the two were in opposition. I've been trying to understand not just what makes them say that, but what makes them say it so many times over.

It's a warning. It took me awhile to figure that out. It's also an educational philosophy, and that's where I get hung up, because as an educational philosophy I disagree with it, even though as a statement by itself I think it's true. So I get tangled up in the educational philosophy side and spit out lots and lots of words trying to cut myself clear of the brambles.

But lately I've been thinking, Okay, I disagree with their methods. I get disturbed when I see veteran homeschoolers advise new ones "not to worry about academics" and "academics will come; don't worry about them" and "put away the books till after Christmas and concentrate on deschooling your child" and "cooking and playing is school" when the child is old enough to read and figure. But . . . what makes them do that? What makes them so scared? What am I missing?

And I don't have a firm answer. But I'm beginning to have a theory. And it goes back to the point where I agree with them: character is more important than academics. And these women - who have more experience than I do - consistently act like academics are an enemy to character, or at least, a potential one. I don't see it that way, and that's where I start getting riled up. All my life, academics has led me closer to God, has made me see new ways to live my life well, has introduced new beauties and truths to my eyes . . . it's never been in opposition to character or Christianity - even when I was taking classes from professors and teachers who were opposed to Christianity. I still dove into the new knowledge, certain that all truth was God's truth. The academics, the intellectual life, always led me closer to God and not away. So I've been having trouble understanding these women.

But, I remembered something important: my experience isn't everyone's experience. And if these women are so set on seeing academics in conflict with character, that must have been their experience at some point. My impression, also, is that it's not academics itself that's the problem, but that, at some point, their zeal for academics led them to neglect some other part of parenting.

And that, finally, strikes me as a problem that could be particular to homeschooling. If you are playing this dual role in your child's life, if you are both Mother and Teacher, well, then it's possible to get those two roles out of balance, and I'm beginning to think that that is what they're trying to say when they keep urging me "not to get hung up on the academics". I think that they're talking about a focus on schooling that eclipses our duties as Christian parents.

And I can see how that would happen. It's easier to check academic skills off of a list than to pay attention to all the multitudes of little moments that form a child's character. I can see how you could get lost in the one to the detriment of the other, simply because it's less daunting to attempt to teach a child algebra than it is to teach that child to love Christ. 

(Not to mention - and I keep coming back to this - that you have more control as a teacher than you do as a disciple-maker. You can probably force someone to learn math; you can't force anyone to become a Christian. And that powerlessness is scary. It could make you run in the other direction, in fact, towards something that you can control.)

And if it's a warning not to let a secondary duty distract me from a main duty, then I welcome the warning.

I still have trouble saying that it's okay for your child not to learn, when you have taken responsibility for seeing that she does. I still think that putting academics in opposition to character-building is making the apples to fight the oranges. I wish that they didn't see it that way; I think it leads to academic laxity that is irresponsible.

But I am glad for the warning against distraction, against substituting one good (academic achievement) for a better good (Christian character). That's something I can understand. 

And I'm glad to understand these women better . . . if I finally am understanding them.

So, what do you think? Am I closer to understanding what they mean by it, do you think?

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

At least she knows there was such a place . . .

I'm beginning to see that, when homeschooling, a plethora of subjects can lead to a bit of confusion on the part of the student, as the student's head is filled with stories and facts from history, from art, from literature and from science. Today, when I asked my first-grader to tell me something that she remembered from the story we just read, she told me: "I remember that Davy Crockett's mother was from Assyria*."


At least she knew that Tennessee was in the United States. :)

Peace of Christ to you, 

Jessica Snell

*Davy Crockett's mother was from Maryland, if you were curious.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the more it stays the same

When you want to go shopping with newborn twins, every bit of preparation - every get-your-shoes-on, make-sure-I-have-the-list, does-everyone-have-a-coat bit - is timed so that you can nurse them right before you walk out the door. That way, maybe, they'll make it without needing to be nursed again before you get home.

When you want to go shopping with two-year-old twins, every bit of preparation - every get-your-shoes-on, make-sure-I-have-the-list, does-everyone-have-a-coat bit - is timed so that you can have them go potty right before you walk out the door. So that maybe they'll make it home from the store with dry pants.

It's not that you have to stop paying exquisite attention to your timing. It's that what you're trying to time correctly changes.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell