My Book Bag: Clouds of Glory

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Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee. Just reading the title gives you a thrill of excitement and anticipation at what lay in the pages of this recent biography written by the distinguished historian, Michael Korda. And these pages do not disappoint.

As a native of the South – Arkansas, to be exact – I must admit that I have never boasted that I was a daughter of the Confederacy. The facts of the Civil War, as I knew them, were shameful indeed. The South fought to keep human beings in bondage all for the purpose of their own financial success and security. Who could be proud of that? In my early years, I bore the weight of responsibility for the actions of my state ancestors, and therefore I was not proud but in fact, I proudly decried their error.

But those feelings, while not eradicated by the reading of this biography, were certainly tempered. Through these pages, Mr. Korda describes a very different leader of the Army of Northern Virginia than I had imagined from that facts as I knew them. To know the battles, politics, and the famous names of the Civil War is to know only half of the story. To know the people through their letters, journals, and close friends is to know the story in total.
Mr. Korda shows that Robert E. Lee was a deeply religious man. His own father, Henry “Lighthorse” Lee was a friend of George Washington, and was present on the day that Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown. However, he was also an unstable man, and in many ways, a highly dishonorable man. Robert E. Lee spent his lifetime trying to be everything his father was not: secure, hard-working, faithful, disciplined and honest. He succeeded.

When the war between the states seemed imminent, Robert E. Lee of all men was most troubled. He hesitated to take up arms against the nation he loved. “Save in defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword,” Lee said. And he meant it. He would never attack the Union, unless the Union attacked his beloved Virginia. Lee had developed a personal interest in Napoleon Bonaparte while serving as the President of West Point. Had he not spent hours reading about Napoleon and his manner of waging battle, the Civil War would never have lasted as long. Lee’s strategy and skill rivaled that of Napoleon and has been studied by military training schools world-wide.

I had always heard that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about a state’s rights, but I viewed this as an excuse. As I walked through life with Lee, albeit 150 years after the fact, I can see more clearly what that statement means, and in particular, what it meant to Lee. He believed that while slavery was, in fact, abominable, it was God who must end it; and he believed the end of slavery was in sight. In fact, the U.S. ended the importation of slaves in 1808. Many slave-owners treated their slaves with love and kindness, and felt them to be part of the family. Lee himself never bought a slave. He inherited them through his father-in-law’s estate, but immediately went about to educate them (which was a violation of Virginia law) so that they could be released. It is true that he had a low view of what the black man could accomplish, and felt that he should never be allowed to vote or obtain citizenship, but this view was not uncommon in the era in both North and South. He felt that slaves should be sent back to Africa once slavery was abolished. A view that, Mr. Korda points out that no one in the country, not even the “benevolent” North viewed the black man as equal to the white man. My own reading of Lincoln reveals that the President himself wanted blacks to be sent back to Africa also. It did not take long for me to see that the lines between right and wrong were rather blurry in the 1860’s. Do we free the slaves? And if we do, what will become of them with no education, property, or rights? Do we send them back to Africa? How? Do we continue to let slaves exist in the South and slowly integrate them into free society over time? These are the important issues at stake. Lee felt that each state should have the freedom to choose its own course. This is what angered the South; this is what forced Lee to take up his sword against his own army: the state’s freedom to choose. Lee was not necessarily hopeful that the Confederate States of America would exist permanently. He hoped that the war would prove the South’s strength, forcing Lincoln to come to the bargaining table, permitting the state to keep its rights within certain boundaries. Unfortunately, it did not happen.

Mr. Korda takes you on a journey, back in time, back to Virginia. You can feel the heat of the sun in summer and the dampness in autumn. You can feel the jostling of Traveller as he gallops, you can smell the gunpowder in the air, see the clouds of smoke, and sense the fear at the array of soldiers in blue with the Stars and Stripes whipping in the wind at Gettysburg. You will see the bond between Lee and Stonewall Jackson, a soul-mate-in-arms, and the stinging pain of losing him after the battle of Chancellorsville. When you visit the battle of Gettysburg, you can follow the battle with maps, and see how a southern victory would have been won had Jackson not died. You will also walk with the Lee through his own tragedies in the war: the capture of his wounded son as a Union prisoner; the itinerant life of his ailing wife and daughters as thy allude their captors; the loss of his wife’s beloved Arlington; the death of his daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren; the humiliation, and the powerful dignity, of his surrender to Grant; and the return to Richmond after his defeat. You will see it all, as much as Lee will permit us. You will see that sometimes the great men lose. But as Lee demonstrates to us so vividly across the centuries, even in loss we can live nobly, trust God, and work for Him until our final breath.

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My Book Bag: Knowing God

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I have just finished reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer. It has blessed me more than I can aptly describe. As I sit to share my thoughts, however, I am aware that the points brought out in the pages of this book go against much of the teaching I received. Because of that, I feel sure that few, if any, of my Christian-Baptist friends will read this book. I grew up being taught that if it wasn’t written by a Baptist, then it was inaccurate; if it quoted anything but the KJV, then it was of the devil. Such foolish thinking, and let me say, so very hard to change. Going against the grain of legalistic believers, most of whom I love with all my heart, has the been the greatest challenge to which God has called me. And yes, it has to be God Who has broken the stronghold of my own will, my own thoughts, and my own ideas. Until the Lord shattered my world with His own Word, I was following in lock-step with the very ones from whom I now depart. I can say sincerely that I am thankful for having been raised with a respect for God and the Bible, and I am comforted that God has used all of my life experiences to mold me according to His plan. His sovereignty over my life brings me immeasurable comfort.

If your past (or present) is like my past, I doubt you will want to this book, and yet, you are the one who will be blessed the most by it. It will draw you closer to God, or reveal to you that in fact, you do not even know Him at all. It will convict you, encourage you, and maybe even astound you.

It is divided as follows:

Know the Lord

  • The Study of God
  • The People who Know their God
  • Knowing and Being Known
  • The Only True God
  • God Incarnate
  • He Shall Testify

This first section takes you on a theological journey of sorts as you become familiar with the God of the Bible. The most gripping comment which I noted from this section was from page 42. Packer is discussing how mankind tries to think of God: “At best, they can only think of God in the image of man – as an ideal man, perhaps, or a super-man. But God is not any sort of man. We were made in His image, but we must not think of Him as existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of Him, not to know Him.” These words were shocking to me. Let’s be honest, no one wants to believe that God is not like man. After all, if God is not like us, then we are quite wrong on many fronts, especially those relating to ministry. I was taught (intentionally or not, I do not know, but nevertheless, this was my perception) to view the pastor as a demigod: If I upset or displeased the pastor, then I was likewise displeasing God. As I now try to free myself from this false thinking, I find myself almost leaping too far the other way. I willingly attest that, in most cases, this proves harmless. But in its extreme, it can wreck lives. For an example, please notice First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, and Hyles-Anderson College, following the accusations of the infidelity of pastor Jack Hyles, and the immoral and illegal behavior of his son-in-law and successor, Jack Schaap. Many blindly followed these leaders, and ignored their sinful actions, believing them to be in “God’s stead”. This led to great harm and loss.

Packer continues: “All images of God, whether molten or mental, are really borrowings from the stock-in-trade of a sinful and ungodly world, and are bound therefore to be out of accord with God’s own holy Word. To make an image of God is to take one’s thoughts of Him from a human source, rather than from God himself; and this is precisely what is wrong with image-making.” (p.44)

Behold Your God!

  • God Unchanging
  • The Majesty of God
  • God Only Wise
  • God’s Wisdom and Ours
  • They Word is Truth
  • The Love of God
  • The Grace of God
  • God the Judge
  • The Wrath of God
  • Goodness and Severity
  • The Jealous God

This is a fascinating section as you can see by the chapter titles. In “God Unchanging”, I was instructed greatly. I had always thought that when the Bible said, “The Lord repented…”, it meant God changed His mind. But this goes against the attribute of God’s immutability. Packer explains these texts: “The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular men, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise, and was not provided for in His eternal plan. No change in His eternal purpose is implied when He begins to deal with a man in a new way.” (p. 72) Without understanding that God is not like man, we cannot understand these passages. God is eternal – He is in eternity, above time completely! Packer comments, “Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are – weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic. But this is not the God of the Bible!” (p. 74)

In “God’s Wisdom and Ours”, Packer makes this point: “This comforting pretence becomes part of us: we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all His ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take it for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future. And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted.” (p. 95)

There is far more to add from this section, especially from the chapters about the grace of God and the wrath of God, but I would like to leave some treasures for you to discover, should you decide to study this wonderful book.

If God Be For Us…

  • The Heart of the Gospel
  • Sons of God
  • Thou our Guide
  • These Inward Trials
  • The Adequacy of God

The chapter about the gospel shows that one cannot understand the Bible at all without understanding the Gospel. He emphasizes “propitiation” in this chapter, and explains it so clearly. He also encourages the reader to sit down and read through the book of Mark in one sitting. In “Sons of God”, Mr. Packer begins with this: “What is a Christian?” and spends the time answering just that. What a journey! He points out that we are adopted by God. But not the Santa Claus god that the world has imagined, but the Holy, wonderful, all-powerful God of the Bible! He says, “…were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be ‘adoption through propitiation’, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” (p.194)

Page 207 contains the secret to the Christian life – but I’ll let you read that for yourself.

And there is so much more. I have high-lighted and meditated on more passages than I can share here, and I shall try to go back through this book again, for I am certain it can be mined many times and great riches uncovered.

Even to the unsaved, or the one who believes he is saved by works, this book is most valuable. Mr. Packer asks more than once, “Do you know God? Are you His child?”

This book is replete with biblical passages and profound preaching, and yet written in a smooth style.

Knowing God is guaranteed to change or encourage you. Or both.

With love,

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My Book Bag: The Greatest Generation

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The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw has been a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages. As a history lover it intrigued me. I also really like Tom Brokaw, but then, who doesn’t? His unmistakable baritone voice came across the television many an evening at my house as he anchored the news. When Terry and I found a copy of this book at Goodwill, we snatched it up.

This book is broken down into the following sections:

  • Ordinary People – Ordinary citizens, like Brokaw’s own father-in-law, who did the extraordinary.
  • Home Front – Those who held down work at home while the men fought.
  • Heroes – Those who won medals, particularly the Medal of Honor.
  • Women in Uniform and Out – Women who served overseas and at home.
  • Shame – Minorities in the service, and their hardships.
  • Love, Marriage, and Commitment – Marriages that faced the test of loneliness and loss.
  • Famous People – George H.W. Bush, Ben Bradlee, Trudy Elion, Andy Rooney, Julia Child and more.
  • In the Arena – Mark Hatfield, Robert Dole, Daniel Inouye, George Shultz, and more.

While the headings are different, the theme in each is the same: The depression and World War II generation made incredible sacrifices both before and during the war then came home to live their lives honorably. Many of us would have been surprised at how many heroes we encountered daily at the post office, the super market, the bank, and maybe even next door.

My favorite story in the “Ordinary People” section was that of Dr. Charles Van Gorder. He volunteered to be part of a two-team surgical unit that was part of the D-Day invasion. They set up a medical unit behind Allied lines. When the invasion began, they were inundated with work. Dr. Van Gorder did every type of surgery there was. He says it made him a better doctor – no doubt! I can only imagine the stress and strain this man was under, trying to save the lives of our troops. When he returned home, he started a clinic and hospital in rural Andrews, North Carolina. He wasn’t a fighter, but he helped the cause and risked his own life in the process.

Many of the biographies echoed one another on their frustrations with the current generation. “It’s a little square to say you’re patriotic. I would like to think that if the United States were attacked we’d band together, but I’m not sure,” Claudine Lingelbach says. She served as a WAVE during WWII, delivering classified papers to the War Room at the White House every day. This book was published in 1998, three years before 9/11. I’m afraid her fears were valid. Rather than banding together, we have isolated ourselves more and more through racial sensitivity.

And what about the home? Claudine continues, “What concerns me most about the future is the breakdown of the family. We were willing to make sacrifices so that I could stay home with the children. Now couples both work so they can be more affluent. We would rather delay gratification to ensure that our children had a nice home environment.” Amen to that! I can remember buying all of our Christmas gifts with $100 in gift cards one year. Our meal was the free turkey from my husband’s job. Staying home with the children may not always be easy and comfortable, but giving them that “nice home environment” has been worth it. Incidentally, Claudine ended up living in Lawrence, Kansas, and was an avid Jayhawks fan. I may have passed her at the Hy-Vee when I lived in Lawrence -as of 2014, she was still alive.

I enjoyed reading the story of Mary Louise Roberts Wilson, a nurse who served in Anzio. Six nurses gave their lives while fighting to save the lives of soldiers in Anzio. On February 10, 1944, the battle came very close:

As Mary Louise Roberts supervised several operations underway, German shrapnel started ripping through their surgical tent. She says, “We had patients on the table and we wanted to at least get them off. I said something like, ‘Maybe we can keep going before this gets to be too bad.’ It went on for thirty minutes or so. We just kept on working.” Her superiors were so impressed with her coolness and inspirational personal conduct, they recommended her for the coveted Silver Star. She was the first woman to receive this honor. – p. 177

The book lists too many harrowing and ennobling stories to share here, though I wish I could go on! Some readers may find the “profile” style of the book repetitive and thereby, boring. I did not. I am encouraged by the stories of these fine men and women; indeed, I owe them a great debt.

To paraphrase the words of one man in the book, after going through the horrifying experiences of World War II, a bad day at the office didn’t seem as bad. Their stories have helped me put my troubles in perspective, too.

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My Book Bag: Homer Price

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It’s hard to believe, but we just completed the last book for our Notgrass History literature course. The book, Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey, was a great one with which to end the year. It’s a look at life in the mid-west in the 1950’s, the era we were studying.

Homer, who is based on the author, is a teenager who spends his spare time inventing things. He helps his Uncle Ulysses and Aunt Aggy in their lunchroom, meets a “super hero”, eats lots of donuts and even watches an entire subdivision get built! But of course, there are some snags along the way.

This cute book is made even better with Mr. McCloskey’s fine artwork. 

We give it five stars!

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My Book Bag: Misty of Chincoteague

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Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry has been on my “to-read” list for a long time. I like to use the Newbery Award and Honor books as a starting place when I’m looking for wholesome children’s books. And yes, I still read children’s books myself. I once worried to my mother that this meant that I was still at a child’s level of reading. She replied, “Good literature is good literature, age doesn’t matter.” Ah, that made me feel better. But you know, when it comes to books, there really is no “read-by” expiration date.

Misty of Chincoteague is definitely “good literature”. It’s the sweet story of a brother and sister who dream of capturing the mysterious horse they call “Phantom” on Assateague Island, off the coast of Virginia and Maryland. Together, they labor long and hard at odd jobs to save up the money to buy Phantom and train her themselves. When the long-awaited “Pony Penning Day” arrives, they are surprised when they see that Phantom is not alone – she has a beautiful colt with her. They name the little one, “Misty”. The story of Phantom and Misty is an engaging read, and the ending is just the way all books should end: just right.

Your children, grandchildren, and even you, will greatly benefit from this lovely addition to your reading list.

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My Book Bag: The Wind in the Willows

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I wrote a review of Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt a few months ago. In that book, Mrs. Hunt mentions the book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame about a half-dozen times. It was one of her family’s favorite read aloud selections and her children made connections to that book throughout their lives. I had purchased that book about eight years ago, with the purpose of reading it aloud to my daughter. It didn’t take long to see that it was over the head of an eight year old, so I shelved it.

When I was reminded of it by Mrs. Hunt, I decided to give it a second try. The chapters are quite long, so we had to read them in halves. We got to chapter four before I quit reading it aloud. My oldest daughter did, in fact, enjoy it, but the rest, well, not so much. My five year old could barely stay awake for it. I did finish it myself and I must say, it is an adorable book.

Even though I’m adult, I fancied (as the British would say) visiting the charming, cozy, and cute world created by Kenneth Grahame. I guess I’m not yet too old to believe that animals can talk. I liked Mr. Badger the best, with Mr. Mole coming in as second favorite. I don’t believe that I would have enjoyed the book as a child, knowing my tastes back then. This gives me hope that one day, when my children are quite grown up, they will stumble upon this classic and find that maybe Mom was onto something after all.

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My Book Bag: Blue Willow

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Blue Willow by Doris Gates is a book we read this year as part of Notgrass History. It was a new title to me, and one which enriched my life. I don’t know why our library has failed to offer this Newbery Honor book in its inventory, but it did. I was able to get a free copy from Paperbackswap.com – a wonderful resource for book lovers and homeschooling moms.

This book is the story of ten year old Janey Larkin, her hardworking dad who was misplaced due to the Dust Bowl, her mother, who is weary from the hardships of the transient lifestyle, and the ceramic blue willow plate, that offers Janey an escape into the picture etched into the plate. Janey and her family land in the San Joaquin valley to pick cotton. Janey meets Lupe, a young girl living nearby and embarks upon her first friendship. Janey hopes against hope that this will be the place they can stay “for as long as we want”, but trouble starts. The rent for the shack they live in is high, and her mother gets pneumonia. Can Janey possibly help the family? You’ll have to read and see.

The story is lovely, and fully brings to life the hard times of the Great Depression. It’s a quick read and should definitely be on your child’s (or your own) summer reading list.

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