Monthly Archives: July 2020

Wonder – What an Incredible Book!

Wonder, the book, was written in 2011, and the author, R. J.  Palacio was awarded the Newbery Award for it in 2012. Because of the sensitive nature of the content – and my own emotional state at the time, I delayed reading the book. Finally, in 2017, I was talking to a fellow educator who was reading Wonder for consideration as a part of her school’s curriculum.  As a result, I read it, too. I’m glad I took the plunge. 

Bullying Prevention

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Wonder is a work of fiction, but it has a powerful message. It’s the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with a craniofacial malformation. To protect him from the bullying they feared he would encounter due to his less than normal appearance, despite repeated surgeries, his parents chose to home school him. As he approached fifth grade, they feared that his academic needs would exceed their capabilities and so they enrolled him in a nearby charter school. The head of school placed him in the care of three students. Unfortunately, his differences proved to be more than challenging for them, and so the feared bullying occurred. Yet, Auggie eventually rose to the occasion and proved himself to be truly a wonder. 

Palacio was asked how she came to write such a story and reported that it was born out of an encounter she and children had with a child who had a facial deformity, and rather than using it as teachable moment, she rushed her children from the scene.  Realizing she had missed an opportunity, she began writing the story that evening (https://www.npr.org/2013/09/12/221005752/how-one-unkind-moment-gave-way-to-wonder). It appears that title of the book is closely connected with a song by Natalie Merchant (http://www.nataliemerchant.com/wonder/); the lyrics may be found here (https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/nataliemerchant/wonder.html). 

It is here that Wonder becomes closely associated with my life. I was born with a neurological disorder (Von Recklinghausen’s NF!). It brought some physical challenges and some unusual physical appearances – one boy called me “the girl with the stretched head” when I was in elementary school. I did have coordination issues and wore a back brace for several years, and I often felt like “damaged goods.”

In my young adult years, I began to be beset with severe pain, primarily headaches and balance issues. It seemed that the hydrocephalus that had been discovered in childhood was now causing more severe problems.  My parents had opted not to go for the shunt when I was a child because of the risks involved, but now the need for it was inevitable. So we had the necessary surgery.  As I lay in the bed recovering, a doctor on call stopped by to check on me. Incidentally, he was the one who had seen me when I was a child and had wanted to implant a shunt. Bear in mind that I was now over 30. He turned to my mother and began discussing my medical history. When he learned that he was the doctor who had initially suspected hydrocephalus, he asked my mother. “Well has she had a normal life?” 

Mom answered him, “Well, yes, she just completed her second Master’s Degree.” 

He replied, “Wow, I wish I had done the surgery when she was a kid. Everyone would have been amazed at what I had done with this kid who might have been disabled.” 

I remained silent, but as soon as he was gone, I turned to my mom and said, “That turkey!  Does he think he can take credit for what God did?” 

That’s where my connection to the book Wonder comes to play. When I read the book, it immediately resonated with me. One of the principles on which I hang my life is that I was made by God for His glory. Psalm 139:14 states, “I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 states, “… most gladly will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  As I mentioned earlier,  Palacio notes that the title of her book was taken in part from song by Natalie Merchant:

                      “Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me

                       Standing over my bed disbelieving what they’re seeing

                     They say I must be one of the wonders of God’s own creation …” 

As I read this book, I was reminded that I am God’s wonder, created for His glory. There have been days filled with pain and frustration  at what I can’t do when I questioned the purpose and validity of my birth, and thought creeps in just maybe I should have been aborted.  Auggie’s story and the truth of God’s Word, turned these doubts and questions to praise that my parents chose to give me life. On days, that I sense discouragement and frustration because of my pain and limitations, I will give praise that I have been chosen to be one of God’s Wonders. May He be “glorified in me at my expense.”

So, What Am I Reading?

(Spoiler Alert)

Frederick, Heather Vogel.  The Mother-Daughter Book Club. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008. 288 p. 

One might wonder why I would highlight other books on a blog designed to promote my own book, but I firmly believe that writers are readers – usually in genres similar to  the one in which they are writing. I have recently come across a series known as the Mother-Daughter Book Club.  The premise of these books is that a group of mothers and daughters will all read the same book and meet to discuss it. At first glance it seems rather boring, but as I devolved into them, I found them quite intriguing. The books selected for reading are either junvenile classics or notable works of fiction. The books are not without their share of teen-age drama, and there are often micro-themes emerging from the milieu of the girls’ lives. Each chapter begins with a quote from the book they are reading and is often loosely applicable to what the girls are experiencing. Each book is  divided into four sections that correspond to the seasons of the year, with each book beginning with Fall. In the first book the girls and their mothers are reading Little Women together, and each girl relates one of the characters to herself and to her own situation. 

In this first book, we are introduced to the four main characters: Cassidy Sloan  who has recently moved with her mother and older sister to Concord, Massachusetts from Laguna Beach, CA. She is having a tough time adjusting to the differences in the two locales and is also struggling with the recent death of her father. Cassidy is somewhat of a tomboy and a total sports fanatic.

Jess Delaney is a quiet, retiring girl who lives on an organic farm with her family.  She is highly intelligent and is a talented vocalist. She raises goats on the farm and loves all animals. Her family dynamic is likewise different, because her mother lives in New York City where she stars in a soap opera. Jess is often the object of scorn because of her mother’s choices as well as her involvement on the family farm. 

Megan Wong is of Asian descent. Her father’s recent invention has given the family status in the town as well as a decided economic advantage. Her mother is somewhat of an activist, always looking for a cause to support, usually to the chagrin of her daughter. Megan is also a member of Fab Four, a group of girls who set the tone for the social structure of the middle school the girls attend. She struggles with several issues throughout this first book. First, she is not living up to her mother’s perception of success. Mrs. Wong wants her to follow the career path of a success lawyer, while Megan’s interests lie in the world of fashion design. Second, Megan struggles with her loyalties – do they lie with girls in the book club or with the Fab Four.  It will be a choice that she alone must make. 

Emma Hawthorne is from a family of modest means. Her father is attempting to write a novel while her mother supports the family as the town’s librarian. She wears hand me towns which have been gifted to her by someone in her church. She is also best friends with Jess Delaney. 

While the predominant theme is friendship between the girls, I believe a micro-theme of bullying runs throughout the book.  First, there is the somewhat covert bullying  in the assignment of nicknames to Emma and Jess, in particular. Emma is referred to as Hawthorne the Heifer and Jess is Goat Girl.  The book makes the reasons for these derogatory titles obvious.  One of the most overt instances of bullying is the sabotaging of Jess’s opening night as Belle in the school’s presentation of Beauty and the Beast.  Another instance is when Becca Chadwick swipes Emma’s diary and reads parts of it out loud, much to Emma’s consternation and horror.  

It is interesting, though, that many of the instances of bullying are repaid with pranks of greater magnitude, and then the adults step in. Unfortunately, there is one adult, Calliope Chadwick who models bullying-type behavior for her daughter, Becca, and others by her loud and obnoxious demeanor and overbearing power over others. 

Despite their differences and the hiccoughs mentioned, the bonds of friendship between the girls really do run strong. There are two defining  moments amidst all the drama.  First,  Megan finally decides her primary loyalties lie with her book club friends rather than with the Fab Four, although she maintains loose ties with the exclusivist girls. The second when Jess’s mother turns her back on her acting career and rejoins her family on the farm. 

I look forward to sharing other titles from this series in this series in coming blog posts. 

My NF Declaration

May is NF awareness month. I have what is known  as NF 1.   NF1 is an abbreviation for neurofibromatosis 1, a genetic disorder that occurs when there is an abnormality on chromosome 17.  It is also known as Von-Recklinghausen’s Disease.  There are other variations of neurofibromatosis. This link gives a brief description of each one: https://nfcenter.wustl.edu/what-is-nf//.   I have battled symptoms of this disorder for most of my life.  One of the greatest challenges I face is chronic pain and balance issues. My parents were a tremendous support in all of this, but they are in Heaven now. I am learning that God is enough.  While reading James 1: 9-12, the Lord impressed on me to write my declaration of perseverance, as a nod to Calvin’s belief in the perseverance of the saints, which is far more than a term related to eternal salvation.  It also is a means of pressing on to the glory of God in the face of pain and adversity.

My declaration begins with four declarative statements:

      1. I will keep going in the face of chronic pain.
      2. I will refuse to dwell on thoughts of bailing on life.
      3. I will not allow self-pity to overtake me.
      4. I will walk through life with the assurance that He is enough.

It continues with a statement of resolution:  Resolved, I will not cave on days when chronic pain is my companion. I will not commiserate, seek sympathy or otherwise undermine what God is doing in my life. I will not seek healing, because I know that God is doing something bigger in my life, and that Heaven and wholeness await me. I will not allow self-pity to dominate my thoughts.  I will not dwell on the fact that Mom and Dad are in Heaven and not by my side. As I walk through life, I will bear with the pain; I will allow the body of Christ to come alongside of me to embrace and assist me. Yet, I will not become a demanding leech.  I will look to my Savior for comfort; I will dwell in His Word; I will trust; I will revel in the thought that God is enough, and that He is my constant companion. I will rest when my capacity to function mentally and physically is marred and diminished by pain. I will trust, because God knit me together in my mother’s womb. He knew that my chromosomes would go awry, and He chose to glorify Himself despite that malfunction.  In the words of Thomas Kelly,

                   “Keep us Lord, O keep us cleaving

                     To Thyself and still believing

                     Till the hour of our receiving

                     Promised joys from Thee”  (Praise the Savior: hymnary,org).