Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?

282471_MakingItHomeWierenga_Pins2

Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:

You.

You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,
Monica

Advertisements

Choosing the Best Books for Our Children

I’m a home educator. Every July I buy the books and supplies we need for the school year. In case you, too, are deciding what books to get for your child, I am posting a 2008 article I wrote for parents of young children. (This article is also a downloadable PDF file. The full contents of the PDF follow.)

IMG_6329

Choosing the Best Books for Our Children

Monica Sharman

Summer 2008

Introduction

[T]o give the children of the world the words they need is, in a real sense, to give them life and growth and refreshment.

– Katherine Paterson, Gates of Excellence, (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1981), page 6.

A child without words starves. But what are the words they need? What will we give our children for their nourishment? How can we tell which books will give them life and growth and refreshment? We have limited opportunity to place good books in their hands—books they will open, words that will come before their eyes and into their hearts. How can we choose wisely?

In evaluating children’s literature, I’m afraid there can be no checklist. Books and people interact with each other in a way that goes beyond a clinical evaluation. A book that deeply moves one individual may bore or repel another individual. Your “Top Ten” book list will not be identical to your mother’s, your best friend’s, your pastor’s, your spouse’s, the Newbery Award list, the Caldecott Award list. Whether you seek to know if a book is a good book, or whether you want to know what makes a good book good, the first and best thing to do is … read. Keep reading. Be a good reader. And as you read, ask yourself, what do I consider valuable and worthwhile in children’s literature? It is your own task and cannot be done for you. The path before you requires time, effort, energy, sacrifice, but it is a path of reward, enrichment, learning, and fun! Read, read again, and read some more!

Is this a “good book”?

Think of your favorite book. What do you love about it? Why did you read it over and over? What makes it attractive and precious to you? This is just one of the ways I would answer.

An Internal Connection

Language helps shape our thoughts and emotions. Lack of words causes tension. Because the complexities of spirit and soul develop well before language, children often experience life with feelings they are yet unable to express. Then, in a good book, they recognize themselves or their experiences (internal or external), and breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude. A good book releases the inner tension and frustration in a child who lacks the words to communicate, even to himself, his own life.

I didn’t read Bevery Cleary’s Ramona books until I was in my thirties. While reading Ramona the Brave, I wept. All those books are the work of a genius. I think those are good books, and, like Katherine Paterson, I tried to figure out why.

Is it because she is easy to read? She is, but so is “Run, Spot, Run.” Is it because her settings are contemporary and her characters familiar? They are, but there are thousands of books fitting both descriptions that never capture a fraction of Cleary’s devoted readership …

Cleary has the rare gift of being able to reveal us to ourselves while still keeping an arm around our shoulder. We laugh (ha ha) to recognize that funny, peculiar little self we were and are and then laugh (ahhh) with relief that we’ve been understood at last.

– Paterson, pages 41–42.

So Katherine Paterson explains. A good book helps a child articulate thoughts and feelings he cannot put into words himself. It makes an internal connection with and for the child. A good book becomes a kind of companion which assures the reader that he is not alone.

Character Growth

A problem or conflict appears in every novel. How did the main character move through the story? By the end of the book, is he a different person than he was on page one? Character growth is in every good book.

Wonder

Does the book feed and renew my sense of wonder? Does it invoke in me amazement and awe at everyday things? In Katherine Paterson’s Invisible Child, in the chapter, “In Search of Wonder,” she lists three aspects of wonder in a story:

  • Wonder of nature and human nature (setting, characters)
  • Wonder in the telling (language, style)
  • Wonder behind and beyond the story (the story’s shape, flow, theme)

I also recommend Katherine Paterson’s Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children, and The Spying Heart: More Thoughts on Reading and Writing Books for Children, for insightful and profound thoughts on children’s literature.

Does it have value?

If we say with the psalmist, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless,” (Psalm 101:3) the task before us is to ask ourselves, Is this book worthless? Or, better yet, Does this book have value? Use this verse as your standard, pray for God’s guidance, and read!

Questions

Besides being a good reader yourself, ask yourself questions.

What kinds of characters do you want your children to read about? Role models? Characters they care about and identify with (though the characters would be terrible role models)?

What is the book’s tone? Is it didactic, trying to teach the reader a moral lesson? Is it believable, genuine to its setting and characters?

What do people I respect consider good books? It’s always a good idea to get recommendations from people whose literary opinions you respect.

Have fun!

You are in a good place, having to determine your child’s reading list. Enjoy!

Bible Reading: Like Looking for Thimbleberries

ButGod

How is reading the Bible like looking for wild berries?

Today I am sharing part 5 of the BibleDude.net Ephesians Project and would love to see you there. The article begins…

Have you ever noticed how much “Once upon a time” sounds like “In the beginning”? It’s how the great stories begin (and reveals where the great stories were born). I noticed this when I read Ephesians the way I went looking for thimbleberries.

We were backpacking near Vail, Colorado. I had found…

(Continue reading at BibleDude.net.)

i'm a bibledude.net writer

My Mentors

Age makes us shorter, they say,
maybe due to squished spinal discs
or a thinning honeycomb, meaning
decreasing density in the bones.
But whatever the cause,
in spite of my height of five-four
(and a half), I stand taller
than giants—those God-given
mentors, the older and wiser
than I. Though their stature
is smaller, I know that when
I look down at them, I am really
looking up.

Their wisdom, coming
from above, is like a mine
of precious gold or a hidden
cave of treasures yet untold,
waiting to be told.
These treasures could be mine!
What a waste and a loss if, knowing
of the treasures, I simply passed
the cave without mining.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.
(Proverbs 19:20)

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.
(Proverbs 20:5)

Father, thank You for the mentors you have given me. Thank You for the older friends to surround me, that I may learn from what You have taught them, that I may observe and emulate their Christlikeness, that my life may be richer and better prepared to walk more closely with You.

Father, please also give me the kind of understanding that draws out the wisdom that lies deep within the older ones around me. How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take?

(For the “Looking Up” poetry prompt due Nov. 16.)