Book Review: One Glorious Ambition


One Glorious Ambition by Jane Kirkpatrick follows in the steps of her last novel that I reviewed, Where Lilacs Still Bloom, in which she takes a historical character, and through much research, writes a fictional account of their life story. In this case, the character, Dorthea Dix, is Jane Kirkpatrick’s focus.

Dorthea Dix lived in New England during the 1800s. Her father drank too much and squandered any money given to him. Her mother had a mental illness. Dorthea, the eldest of three children, shouldered grown-up responsibilities, like raising her two brothers, helping in her father’s floundering business venture, and being a mom to her mother. Eventually, she traveled for miles in the snow to her wealthy grandmother to beg for relief. Her grandmother, at that time, had a kind heart, but instead of taking in the family yet again, she chose to send aid for the sake of the children. Eventually, her grandmother takes in only Dorthea when Dorthea reaches her teens. At that time, a woman’s glorious ambition was to marry well.

Dorthea didn’t follow tradition though. What was interesting in reading this novel was how Dorthea sought to become part of a family. She lacked a real family growing up. Even though her grandmother took her in briefly before sending her to other relatives, her grandmother was as emotionally unavailable as her own mother. Dorthea found a best friend in Anne Heath as a teenager. At one point though, Dorthea’s need to have a family outweighed other concerns. Anne Heath loses her sister when they are adults to Cholera and their family gathers together to mourn without Dorthea.

This breaks Dorthea’s heart. How many people have grown up without loving support and go through life looking to find a substitute family? It’s like Dorthea wanted to re-write her past. She even pressed to become a mom by nearly forcing the hand of Grace to take custody of her daughter as Grace slowly died from an illness. Dorthea wanted to become a mom in some way. God had other plans for Dorthea.

Dorthea would become the voice of the helpless in later years, entertaining presidents and president’s wives, senators and house members. She was the spinning top, that if stopped, would collapse and die. Reverend Channing, a substitute father, would caution her about working too much. Dorthea had a tendency to work, filling her time, so as to allow no rest, while frequently getting sick. At times, I wondered if Dorthea worked hard to fill the emptiness she so often felt because of her past. She had no roots, always traveling, always writing, and because single women were considered a burden, Dorthea had to support herself, staying for months at a time with friends, and never truly finding a place she could call home.

Dorthea Dix had a deep faith. She, like Paul, was married to God. When she finally finds her purpose to reach those in insane asylums and to change how prisons work, Dorthea becomes a familiar and admired sight to politicians, jail houses, and asylums. She had an unmatched compassion for the helpless and a gift with words; able to turn a phrase to relax a defensive jailer or to turn around a once violent prisoner to become a leader. One Glorious Ambition is a clarion call, a reminder, to the rest of us that we need to see people as human beings. As Christians, whether we are called to speak for the insane or to serve in some other way, we need to remember the lessons in Dorthea Dix’s story and apply them to our ministries and life.

Once again, Jane Kirkpatrick has written another inspiring novel that took me by surprise. It seems she is in the habit of writing fiction, based on research, on a real person’s life. The end of the novel includes an interview that fills in the blanks on Kirkpatrick’s research on Dorthea Dix. I gave this novel five stars and would still recommend reading Where Lilacs Still Bloom.

*Book given by publisher to review.

How Not to Let Family Drama Poison Your Porridge

"The Three Bears", Arthur Rackham's ...

“The Three Bears”, Arthur Rackham’s illustration to English Fairy Tales, by Flora Annie Steel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone is familiar with the story, “The Three Bears.” History tells us how the story evolved from an intrusive, old woman to a little girl. It’s fun to re-write the old story and give it a modern twist, but in this case, I compare the arguing three bears to family drama.

Papa Bear is unhappy. They left to take an evening walk to wait for Mama Bear’s porridge to cool. When the family returns, each accuses the other of eating the other’s porridge, not serving enough porridge, and Baby Bear whines about someone sitting in his chair. Papa Bear accuses Mama Bear of spoiling their son. Mama Bear calls Papa Bear stupid. Papa Bear grumbles as the family eats their porridge. By then, it’s cold.

Mama Bear washes the dishes and yells at Papa Bear to take the trash out. The dish washer is still broken and Papa Bear forgot to get soap. Actually, Papa Bear didn’t forget. Mama Bear forgot to buy soap at the grocery store, but chooses to forget and blame Papa Bear. They get into a row.

Baby Bear crawls out of his seat with porridge ringing his mouth. He walks into the living room and rummages through his chest of toys. Papa Bear comes in with the evening paper and sits down, rustling it angrily. Mama Bear finishes cleaning the kitchen and wiping the table. She walks into the living room and stops. She accuses Papa Bear of sitting in her chair. Her favorite cushion is flat.

Papa Bear doesn’t respond, except to rustle the paper to passive-aggressively show his anger. Baby Bear walks over to his chair and calls over to Mama Bear to say his chair is broken.

Mama Bear soothes Baby Bear and says it was probably Aunt Charlotte who broke it. Everyone knows she’s 300 pounds and must have broke out the bottom of Baby Bear’s special chair during Aunt Charlotte’s visit yesterday when she came over for tea. Papa Bear defends his sister, but to no avail. Mama Bear continues to speak against Aunt Charlotte exclaiming with irritation how often she has had to tell Aunt Charlotte to sit in Papa Bear’s chair instead. The old grandfather clock dongs deeply from the hall and it’s time for bed.

Upstairs, Papa Bear accuses Mama Bear of not making their bed. Mama Bear shrugs her shoulders and carries Baby Bear over to his small bed in the corner.

“Papa,” Mama Bear whispers.

“What?” Papa Bear sits down on the master bed.

“Papa, Aunt Charlotte is in Baby Bear’s bed!”

There’s really no moral to the story except to illustrate family drama. To avoid family drama, simply do these three things:

  1. Recognize the games online and in person. Don’t respond to them. Don’t get into the petty arguments. Abstain from the conversation, or simply tell the person, “When you are more calm, call me back and we can talk.”
  2. Refrain from blaming your spouse. It’s important to listen to your spouse. There’s no reason for your spouse to lie about not buying soap or not making the bed. Trust your spouse. Your spouse isn’t out to get you. Stand up for your spouse and parent together.
  3. Duct Tape Works. Duct tapes solves everything as do land mines and electric fences to protect your property from intrusive relatives. Kidding aside, in every family there is always an Aunt Charlotte that opens her mouth and causes strife between relatives for some unknown agenda. Duct tape across the mouth works, or simply refer to rule number one. Recognize the games and don’t get drawn in.

Both Papa Bear and Mama Bear can love each other again by learning to listen instead of nag. Family drama exists everywhere and how we react can determine whether we allow it to poison our porridge.

Share your family drama stories here and how you handle it. Humor is welcome.

Breeding Dysfunctional Families

Sam & Becky Trommler are committed to reaching this ‘Lost Generation’ with God’s love and truth through their campus ministry with Missions Door.  They need your prayers and support in this urgent endeavor.  For more information or to contribute to their support visit:   

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Sam Trommler

 Dysfunctional Families breed Dysfunctional Children Breed Dysfunctional Families

We have been involved with campus ministry for 18 years. In recent years, we have observed drastic and detrimental changes in the lives of those entering college. These changes are primarily the result of the absence of Biblical truth in the lives of students.  But perhaps the second greatest catalyst for these changes is the dysfunction and breakdown of the family.

A traditional, functional family would be a home where two parents, a father and a mother, who are married, provide an environment of love, nurture and security for their children.  It is not a perfect family but it is a family that strives to provide the right environment for their children.

A Dysfunctional Family fails in one or all of these areas. The stories students tell us are sad and heart-wrenching.  Here are some examples:

  • A female student shares with us that she and her siblings have the same mother but four different fathers.  One night after our Bible Study she comes to us tired and in tears.  She has to be the mom to her younger siblings since there is no father and her mom is continually depressed.  She longs for a mom or dad who would love her.
  • One of our male college students had lived most of his life shuffled between parents and their new spouses.  From the time he was a child his parents have controlled much of his life.  This seems to be the major cause of his insecurity.  He has difficulty making decisions and has extreme OCD.
  •  A female student tells us that her parents are going through a bitter divorce.  She is concerned for her little sister and wants to stay with her wherever the court decides she should live.  She wants to give her sister some stability and help her through the adjustments.
  •  A 6’3” former high school football player, starved for a relationship with his father, said his dad comes home from work, lies on his bed and watches TV.  His dad never talks with him. He has even jumped on his dad’s bed just to get his attention.

More and more children grow up with no good experience of family.  Many of them are growing up in unstable environments, surrounded by uncertainty instead of the steadfast love of a father and mother.  Many are witnessing the breakup of their family at a very young age.

Insecurity is one of the primary affects we see from family breakdown.  Everything a child believed to be permanent is suddenly changed.  People they trusted to always be there for them and care for them are suddenly gone.  This insecurity manifests itself in fear, anger, social immaturity and a self-focus.  They tend to be incessant talkers or mired in a shell.  Socially and emotionally impaired, trying to be confident while fearful inside.

Some, having learned that they cannot depend on others, will develop an independent spirit that makes it difficult for them to trust anyone, including God.   Some will misguidedly blame God for the mess in their life.

They desperately seek to find love but with the world’s warped view of love.  We want to surround them with love.   We want them to be filled with the soul-freeing, heart-filling love of God, the Forever Father who will never leave them nor forsake them.

The good news is that the dysfunction that is becoming the norm in families in our country has created great opportunities to reach people with the truth and love of our loving heavenly Father.  A loving Christian home, based on God’s Word and God’s love, shines a bright light of hope to a generation that sees their desire for marriage and family as hopeless.

We have found some keys to reaching these young adults.

  •  They learn more through an interactive conversation or Bible study rather than a lecture.
  • They love to talk and share their story.  Thus, a listening ear can open a door to their heart.
  •   Empathy not sympathy lets them know that you understand and speaks to their heart.  Be quick to acknowledge their feelings but slow to give them your stories.
  • Asking the right questions will enable them to listen to themselves and see their need for God and His love.
  •   The Word of God is the key.  They need to come to know the true God of the Bible.  Their view of God tends to be a cultural conglomeration of half-truths, misconceptions and false teaching.
photo from missions door

photo from missions door

Our heart’s prayer:  “Father, we praise you for your everlasting love and faithfulness.  We pray for this lost generation for whom secular society provides no real answers, no real peace and no real love because our society has turned its back on you.  Lord, we pray that these lost children and their parents would see their need for you, would hear the Word that brings faith and would find new life as they surrender to your mighty love.  We pray that relationship with you would be restored and family relationships would be reconciled. To Your glory, in Jesus name!”

Note From Nikki: Write a prayer in the comments section for Sam and Becky Trommler’s ministry and all the kids they serve.

How to Not Commit Suicide at Family Reunions

Five Tips to Successful Family Reunions.

 Addams Family Reunion

Family Reunions are not happy reunions to some, especially if you have that one relative who always brings drama to every family party. A family reunion can often cause feelings of depression, unnecessary expenses, and more division if not handled carefully.

One can possibly become an alcoholic after a family reunion or perhaps consider suicide as a viable option to having to do that again. Joking aside, some of you have had happy reunions (you can go now), but this message is for those who are trying to knit together a happier family without considering a move to Siberia afterwards. Let’s encourage better families with these five tips:

  1. Do A Weapons Check. Do a weapons check means you must be the bigger person at a family reunion. Refrain from the usual exchange of gun fire, like sarcasm, games, hidden meanings behind seemingly innocuous conversations, and avoiding manipulations. Resist the temptation to return fire as you smile and toast to that one’s health. Sincerity begins with you, even if that love is not returned. A family reunion gunfight may bring on other causalities you did not anticipate of family members unwillingly drawn into a generations-long family drama. Divisions happen when gunfire erupts.
  2. Prayer. Pray before a family reunion. Come with God’s Word in your heart and repeat certain scripture to remind yourself that you may have difficulty loving someone, but Jesus loves them. Ask God to be in your family reunion. Then, give Him control over it. Step back and do nothing; don’t try to control it.
  3. Avoiding The Asylum. Don’t let a family reunion make you feel like you should reserve a room afterwards in an insane asylum. Family reunions can be difficult, even tense, but can be remedied by simply choosing to hang out with those in the family who are a light. Not everyone is involved in the family drama. Not everyone wishes involvement, and so hanging out with family who want to get out to see the town together or catch-up on the good old times are better than trying to play the same game as the people involved in the dramas. Ignoring drama-creators are a remedy to going insane and being miserable.
  4. The Hideout. Being a good helper at family reunions has many pluses. A helper can hide in the kitchen to avoid unpleasant people, while easing the burden of those organizing the family reunion by agreeing to do the dishes or clearing the table. Helping keeps your hands and mind busy when your mind prefers to dwell on the derogatory comments said under the guise of a smile.
  5. Inclusive, Not Exclusive. Everyone must do their part at playing host or hostess during family reunions. This ensures each person feels welcomed and loved. No one is left out of conversations when everyone owns the hosting responsibility. Get a drink for Uncle Abe and make tea for Grandma Georgette (even if she is cranky). If nearly everyone is owning this responsibility, the drama makers can’t capture the spotlight and bring down the community mood. Drama makers crave the spotlight. Not giving them the spotlight helps make a family reunion more enjoyable.

Family Reunions should have a fun element. Don’t try to recreate what used to work, but do something new. There are games one can find online and many tourist areas where family members can visit, then reconvene in the evening as one group. Don’t try to control everyone the whole weekend. The fun element means letting family members go so they want to come back next year because the memories were so good. For those really difficult family reunions, I would suggest reading this article about Dysfunctional Family Bingo. Add a little humor and it’s amazing what you can tolerate.

How did you survive your family reunion? Share your stories.

Join Me At The Wall Street Journal Today! @WSJ

Elizabeth Bernstein is a columnist with the Wall Street Journal. This morning at 9:30 a.m. MST/11:30 a.m. ET I will be joining the live chat and talking with others about holiday stress. She interviewed me and others and our stories are there today in the online and print version of the WSJ.

What I love about Elizabeth’s writing is her humor, sarcasm, and love of family. I laughed and got a little misty-eyed as I read it. She certainly delivers a punch. One commenter as of last night seemed a little grumpy. He said something like why bother getting together at all?

In an ideal world, it would be nice if families got a long 100% of the time. Without these humorous releases we’d all sit around our living rooms pretending to love one another. Honesty is so much more refreshing than outright lies.

You can pick up a paper at your local store or go here to read the article. Meanwhile, after reading the article, you can leave your comments here unless you are a subscriber to the WSJ, then I encourage you to leave your comments there. For information on the recipe I mentioned in the article, go here.

Saturday Thoughts: Petraeus

Normally, I post Monday through Friday, but November is rife with news, reviews, and a special posting from November 20-24. So here are my thoughts on what’s been going down…


090904-N-6326B-261 (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos)

Corruption and scandal liberally lace our culture. It’s depressing that reality television, shows like Housewives, still rank high. It’s what’s wrong.

For instance, why should Petraeus’ affair from 2006 concern us now? We’ve seen worse in the magazines at the check-out counters or on the news and reality television. Why should hearing of an affair surprise us when we’ve left God out of our lives?

We’re determined to live amorally.  Celebrity gossip enthralls us. We are what we read and watch. Our kids are spending too much time in the company of video games and their gadgets, less with people of substance. Some of us scream for tolerance of other lifestyles or beliefs, but will not tolerate Christianity.

And we wonder why we are headed for disaster as a country? We wonder why we are divided, hating one another, sending four-letter tweets, and being the cause of our problems, not the solution.

We’ve made morality and family irrelevant.

Sometimes, I stare at the checkout magazines because it’s like slowing down near a massive car wreck to gawk. How can we expect a high-ranking officer to be moral when our standards for our own lives are far looser? How can we expect our children to abstain from sex when we celebrate live-in relationships?  How can we put different standards on politicians when our own standards leave much to be desired?

Don’t get me wrong; I agree that politicians’ image should represent their private lives and they should be upstanding—an example for all of us. However, an affair is nothing new. Petraeus’ scandal is just a distraction from the corruption ensconced in our country.

I can’t throw stones when the rest of our country is a moral wreck on the side of the road to bankruptcy.

What we should do together is pray for Petraeus and his family. We shouldn’t celebrate a scandal. Focus on the real problem. Pay more attention to the “man behind the curtain.”