But That’s Not in My Plan!

Sometimes things just turn out differently than we plan. That’s life. But, if you’re like me, such unexpected changes to the plans tend to upset us.

For example, whenever we’re heading out on a trip, I like to make a list of everything I need to pack so I don’t forget anything. (Yet, I always manage to forget something! I once had to buy practically a new wardrobe because I left my suit bag hanging in the closet at home. My wife still insists that I did it on purpose.) I also like to have a schedule: a specific time of departure to which I adhere religiously; a timetable with definite milestones that we must reach at precise times; planned necessary stops for food, gasoline, bathroom breaks, etc.; and a definite time of arrival. Any deviation from the plan creates frustration.

But it seldom works according to my plan. Things happen. The stops take longer than expected because we have to wait longer than we should at the fast food joint. The bathrooms are crowded (or we have to do the janitor’s job for him before we can use them). Or we have car trouble. The more such disruptions to the plan, the greater the degree of frustration that results.

I must admit, however, that sometimes the best things have happened when the unexpected disrupts my plan. At the moment of the disruption, I might not know how it will turn out, but afterward I might see that the revised schedule or itinerary or event actually worked out for the better. I think that’s what’s called a serendipitous moment.

That has sometimes happened with my writing. In fact, it happened just a few weeks ago.

From the beginning, my original plan for my four books has been that my promotion and marketing efforts would focus on only two of them, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries and Teacher. A third, Look Unto the Hills, would receive much less attention because it is a collection of memoirs of my early personal life (childhood, in fact), and I knew there would be little public interest in that. And for the fourth book, A Goodly Heritage, I intended no marketing efforts whatsoever, having written it for only my own children, my two siblings, and possibly a few other close relatives who might (might!) be interested.

That was MY plan. And then something happened to change that plan. I received an e-mail request from the editor of Southern Writer magazine. She wanted to “push” one of my books, but neither of the two that I would have expected. She wanted me to write an article on how I wrote and researched A Goodly Heritage. She wasn’t interested in my family; she was interested in sharing with her readers how to write a “family legacy.”

Who knows how this article will turn out or what may result from its publication? Perhaps nothing at all will come of it. Nothing lost. On the other hand, it might open other doors for my writing that I could never have imagined, things that weren’t on my plan.

This is often the way God works with His children. His Word tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9, Amplified).

But He also tells us about His plans for us: “For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace, and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome” (Jer. 29:11, Amplified).

Have you had a sudden change in your plans? Rather than allowing frustration to ruin your day, seize the new opportunity and make the most of it. That’s what I’m slowly learning to do. Let’s learn together!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


Twice- (or More Often) Told Tales

Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Such is similarly the case with stories, especially stories that involve one’s family. Some family stories are good for one or two tellings, but a few stories are to be told over and over again. They are, like the title of a set of books that I was given as a child, Stories that Never Grow Old. And they should be told and retold so often that one’s children can tell them accurately to their own children, and their children’s children to their children.

They do not have to be long, elaborate, detail-laden stories; they might be mere passing incidents. But, told and retold, they become part of family lore and potentially carry with them strong family values. That’s how the children of Israel passed their religion from one generation to another with the purpose “that the generation to come might know” (see Psa. 78:1-7).

For example, when our daughters were young, my wife and I were driving in the city with them one day. We were driving the speed limit, but when a traffic light that we were quickly approaching turned yellow, I couldn’t stop safely, so I sped up ever so slightly and sang out, “We’re going through! The commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.”

In response to my daughters’ curious inquiries of “What was that?” and “What did you mean, Daddy?” I told them about Fred, a college roommate who was a cinema major/speech minor. Fred had a lot of speaking assignments for his classes, and he practiced all of them before the mirror for hours on end. One night, when I was trying to study int he room, he was practicing an excerpt from James Thurber’s story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” As he practiced, he was increasingly dissatisfied with his rendition of one particular segment, and he kept repeating it in attempts to get it right–the right sound, volume, tone, and intensity of feeling. In fact, he repeated it so often that I had that part of the story memorized as well as he did by the end of the evening. And I’ve never forgotten it.

When I went through the caution light, the situation reminded me of Fred’s story line, and I instinctively repeated it aloud. After I had told the story to the girls, I used the phrase every time I went through an intersection on a yellow light. They soon became so familiar with it from my repeated recitation that they started saying it before I could.

The other day, one of my daughters told me of an incident that occurred as she and her husband were driving in their city. They had almost entered an intersection when the traffic light changed to yellow. Reflexively, she cried out, “We’re going through! The commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.”

Her surprised husband looked at her strangely and asked, “What was that outburst all about?”

Suddenly realizing what she had done, my daughter burst out laughing.

“What made you say that?” her husband pressed.

Between fits of laughter, she explained the whole backstory of the exclamation. Now he knows. The story is spreading.

My sons-in-law are getting used to such things as they happen often in our family. Just as they’ve become used to saying, in chorus, “We were meant to be here!” whenever we’re out shopping and find a parking spot close to the store when the parking lot is crowded.

I recounted that lengthy explanation as an illustration of how family stories, legends, and even values get passed from generation to generation. That particular incident is inconsequential, but some family stories are critical to an understanding of who we are as a family, how we got to where we are today, or what makes us tick as a family.

What stories do you have to tell your descendants? Tell them! And then retell them–over and over again. Your family will, in turn, tell them again. “That the generations to come might know. . . .”



Read and To Be Read

Here it is the first day of the last month of the year. Amid all the increasing hustle and bustle that leads to and accompanies the Christmas holidays, I began to take a few minutes while on the treadmill this morning to assess the results of my reading habit during 2017 and to plan my reading in 2018. I’m a voracious reader, but without a plan, my reading is haphazard at best. I like structure, so I plan. Invariably, that plan gets altered during the course of the year, but that’s okay. Serendipity is sometimes good.

As I looked back over my reading of 2017, I found some surprises, one of the biggest of which is how much fiction I read this year. I seldom read fiction. There are just so many good nonfiction books available, why should I waste my time reading something that’s not true? But I try to force myself to read at least one work of fiction every year. Sometimes I succeed; more often, I fail. But this year, I read four (!) works of fiction. Just to see how they do it. Maybe I’ll try writing my own fiction someday.

First there was Gunner’s Run, historical fiction, World War II. Eh, close to one of my main nonfiction interests, and it seemed to be a historically accurate portrayal of a downed bomber crewman trying to escape capture by the Nazis. Second was Jordan’s Star, one of Gilbert Morris’s numerous books. Hold onto your seat–historical (set in about the 1850s) romance fiction! But I was paying more attention to its historical authenticity than to the romance, and I found it to be generally accurate–until, near the end of the book, Morris referred to something that “President McKinley” did–about 40 years before he was even elected. How unromantic and disappointing! Third was Thomas Wolfe’s “classic” You Can’t Go Home Again. It was set in the Depression, another of my favorite periods to study. Let me just say that, like those who lived through the Depression, I persevered to the end of Wolfe’s book. Barely. The best part of it was the title–and finishing it. Finally, I read Wolf Hook, another story about World War II and spies and double agents and their efforts to escape detection. So now I’m three years ahead of schedule on my fiction reading! On to better things!

Another surprise I found while assessing my 2017 reading is that I’ve read 27 books on writing. The art and craft of it, the marketing of it, and biographies of those who have succeeded at writing. Some of those books were good and helpful. A few of them were worthless, more hype than substance. But when you read as much as I do, you sometimes get a lemon. Perhaps the most helpful were the biographies of writers because they encouraged and inspired me. It helped me to realize that even “big name” writers had some of the same struggles I do with my writing and marketing. They overcame them in spite of battling with drugs and alcohol and dysfunctional families–and without God. It made me think that maybe I, without drugs, alcohol, and family dysfunction (well, okay, some people might question that!)–and with the personal presence of God in my heart–can achieve something worthwhile with my own writing.

The second and third categories of books that I read most of dealt with history (18) and Bible study (5). I tend to breeze through the former, which I usually read while doing research for writing projects, but with the latter I tend to slow down, meditate more, and absorb for application; hence, the difference in the number for those two categories.

The final surprise was that many (I didn’t take time to count them) of the books I read in 2017 were books on Kindle. Almost all of those were FREE! I love books, especially if they’re free! My kids gave me the Kindle for Christmas a few years ago, and I’ve been building an electronic library of free books ever since. It’s taken this old codger a while to get used to reading electronically, and I miss the feel of a real book in my hands, the smell of its pages, and the ability to underline and take notes or argue with the author in the margins, but it surely saves room in my office!

So what will 2018 bring in the way of reading material? Who knows, but I’m already lining up several books I want to read. I’m sure that most of them will involve writing, either how-to for improving my writing or information for content in my writing. History and Bible study will also top the list. And I’m certain that most, if not all, of it will be nonfiction.


Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Announcement: Author Forum and Book Signing

I have been invited to participate in the Author Forum and Book Signing activity during the 2017 Homecoming and Family Weekend, October 12-14, at Bob Jones University. The Author Forum will be held on Friday, October 13, at 2:00 p.m. in Levinson Hall on campus.

The Author Forum will be moderated by Dr. Ray St. John of the English Department. (I am not sure which other authors will be participating in the forum, but I will post that information as soon as it becomes available to me.) From 3:00-5:00 following the forum, authors will be at their respective book tables to interact with visitors. I would like to invite any friends, fans, or blog followers who are in or will be visiting the Upstate of South Carolina during that time to stop by and say hello. I will be featuring two of my books: Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries (McFarland, 2016) and Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (2017). They will be available at special Homecoming prices.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Man’s Best Friend?

Groucho Marx reputedly quipped, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

I can recall many a night when, as a youngster who had been told to turn out the light and go to bed, I dutifully obeyed but then pulled the covers over my head and finished a riveting chapter (or even an entire book) by flashlight. And I’ve been an avid reader ever since, usually having multiple books in progress at once.

I just started another book, this one for instructional as well as inspirational purposes. It’s Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier. Some of its contents promise to be welcome and much-needed reminders and maybe even a few gentle (or not so gentle) rebukes for not minding what I already know. But much of the contents are offering additional instruction on how to improve my craft, and there’s always room for improvement.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that there are no know-it-alls in any field. Oh, there are a lot of people who think they know it all (and they’re the ones who are eager to let everyone else know that they do), but in reality, no one knows everything there is to know about anything. One of my favorite quotations is from Will Rogers: “We’re all ignorant–just on different subjects.” So I’m reading this book to learn something new.

But I’m also reading it with the hope of being inspired, and we all occasionally need that, too. We sometimes tire of doing what we know we should be doing to be successful in our professions and callings. We often hit the proverbial brick wall when we don’t know what to do next, or we can’t seem to make things work just as we want them to. So we risk stagnating, and we need a little spark of inspiration to motivate us to persevere. Eventually, that brick wall will crack, and we’ll break through the impasse. But that won’t happen unless we’re motivated.

It’s sort of like when you’re just about to your last gasp on the treadmill and then you look over at the 93-year-old man beside you, and he’s running faster and for a longer time than you, and he’s not even breathing hard. Suddenly, you tell yourself, If he can do it, then I certainly can, too! And you get a second wind and press on, achieving more than you thought you could.

I haven’t even started the first chapter of Writing with Quiet Hands yet, and I’ve already encountered some interesting statements. Here’s one of them: “Books are our friends–and that friendship becomes a happy marriage when we sit down to write our own stories.”

In my office are two plaques. One reads, “Write your own life story.” The other says, “Home is where your story begins.” Whenever I read those two statements together, a small voice inside me says, “Now get busy!”

My lesson for the day: Read for information. Read for inspiration. But don’t just read; write. And that’s what I have to get busy doing right now! Time’s a-wastin’!

By the way, if you haven’t yet decided on your next book to read, may I suggest Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries? It might just surprise you!


How Many Words Are Left?

The other morning, while I was toiling through my regular routine on the treadmill and struggling with arthritis-pained knees, toes, and wrists, I found myself looking at the bookcase on the opposite wall. There, on the top shelf, were several anthologies and other books that include some of my own writings.

That set me to thinking of how many articles I’ve written. Those thoughts made me realize that I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words over the years since the first article I ever submitted was published back in 1981. One thought led to another.

Behind me, I remembered the huge notebook filled with tear sheets of my published articles. (I say remembered because I didn’t turn to look at it. I once learned a painful lesson about trying to turn around and run backwards on a moving treadmill, and I’m not fool enough to repeat that session!)

As I continued my morning run, warm (very warm!) and dry on a cool, rainy day, I wondered how many words I still have in me. Because we are each given a set amount of time in this life, and, knowing that we, like David, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days” (Psa. 90:12), it seems only natural that we should also ask Him to teach us to calculate our production in whatever our field of service might be. In my own case, it was first in teaching and now in writing and editing. So I wonder how many more words I have left in me to write.

Do I have another book left in me? Perhaps a couple? None? How many more articles are in me?

The question is not how many more writing ideas I have left in me. Those are a dime a dozen; they’re in every direction I look and in everything I read, see, and do. (And even if my idea well did happen to run dry, myriad people are more than happy to volunteer their ideas that they think I should write about!) The issue is how many of my  ideas I will actually be able to express in words fit for public consumption. Correction: it’s actually how many of those words will editors find acceptable to share with their readers. Without editors willing to buy and publish my words, no number of written words will amount to anything. To make a difference, there must be willing editors and willing readers. And that is the rub.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. The pace of the treadmill decreased, but the incline increased dramatically. As I huffed, puffed, and perspired, I asked myself the next logical questions: What will my last written words be? And will anything I’ve written have made any difference?

I know how I read. Whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper, I skim and scan. Seeing an interesting title or headline, I might read the lead paragraph. If my attention is not immediately arrested, however, I move on to something else. I don’t have time to waste. As the librarian’s t-shirt read, “So many books, so little time.”

I probably read more than the average person, but I rarely read a complete article unless it really grabs me. If it does, I might even print or photocopy it for possible later use.

But most readers skim and scan even more loosely than I do. And we all forget so quickly. Someone once said that yesterday’s newspaper is good only for wrapping fish or lining a birdcage. Today, we don’t even wrap fish in newspaper, so its value is even less.

Can you name even one article that has made a lasting difference in your life? On the spur of the moment, I can think of only one, an article titled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (about how we allow urgent demands to crowd out the truly important things of life), but I can’t remember its author’s name or which publication it was in.

Today, we suffer information overload, and we forget so much more quickly and easily. Can any words really take root in our lives to the point of making a lasting difference? Will any of the words that I write make any difference to anyone else?

Only one author’s words have the infallible promise that they will live eternally and make a lasting impression and difference in their readers’ lives, and those are God’s. He said, “My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

If written, my words might not get published. If published, they might not be read. If read, they might not be remembered or make any difference in anyone’s life. But it’s nonetheless my responsibility to write them, whether many or few. What happens to them after that is beyond my control. As Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said, “Duty is mine; consequences are God’s.”

Jesse Stuart, another writer-teacher, encouraged fellow writers to persevere:

And if men thwart you, take no heed.

If men hate you, have no care.

Sing your song.

Dream your Dream.

Hope your hope.

Pray your prayer.

So I write. I don’t know how many words I have left in me, just as I don’t know how much longer my life will last. But I simply do what God has called me to do and leave the results with Him.

A Baker’s Dozen of Quotations

In lieu of my writing about a single topic for today’s blog, I decided to share a baker’s dozen (i.e., thirteen, for some people who might not be aware of the meaning of that adage) assorted quotations that have made me think over the past several months. I hope you enjoy at least one or two of them. If you do, please let me know. Maybe share one of your favorite quotations with me, and I’ll, in turn, share it with your fellow blog readers.

Books and Reading

“Reading is the great prerequisite for everything else, not only in school but also in life itself. The teacher who gets her pupils to read has done the biggest job a teacher can ever do.” (Max Rafferty)

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.” (Barbara Tuchman, left)

“Read, not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” (Sir Francis Bacon)

“[T]oo often what we read and profess becomes a part of our libraries and our vocabularies, instead of becoming a part of our lives.” (E.E. Bauermeister)

Perseverance and Work

“The man who wins is the man who hangs on just five minutes longer after everyone else has quit.” (Douglas Southall Freeman, left)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison)

“However boring work may be, the lack of it is worse.” (Roland Bainton)



Exemplars and Heroes

“Many a man looking death, or simply compromise, in the face has been spared the label coward because his faith was bolstered by the memory of heroes who walked before him.” (Doug Phillips)

“[A] good copy cannot be made from a bad model.” (Johan Amos Comenius, left)

“The hero acts alone, without encouragement, relying solely on conviction and his own inner resources. Shame does not discourage him; neither does obloquy. Indifferent to approval, reputation, wealth, or love, he cherishes only his personal sense of honor, which he permits no one else to judge.” (William Manchester)

“I found my heroes in books. I observed how it was that they were able to overcome adversity, stand fast in trials, and persist in their convictions heedless of the cost. Thus over time, I came to comprehend the vast difference between being a politician and being a statesman.” (Calvin Coolidge)


“[Chivalry is] a romantic idealism closely related to Christianity, which makes honor the guiding principle of conduct.” (Richard M. Weaver, left)

“[T]he first quest of the hero is triumph over himself.” (Andrew Nelson Lytle)

And the Nominations Are In

My publisher, McFarland & Company, has informed me that they have submitted my book in nomination for the following two awards.

The 2017 Bobby and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History is given by the John L. Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia for what they deem the best book on that topic published in 2016. The winner will be announced July 1, 2017.

The Wiley-Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History published in 2016 is given by the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi. The winner will be announced by August 1, 2017.

From the beginning, when I first started my search for a publisher of my manuscript, I gave the book over for the Lord to do with as He pleased. I prayed that, if it was His will for it to be published, He would open the door with the right publisher. He did, and it was published by McFarland in May 2016. Then I prayed that He would work His will concerning sales of the book. To date, scores of major universities, libraries, and museums across the nation and even several overseas have purchased it. I would like to see many people benefit from what my book offers, but its sales will be what God wants them to be, and I give all the glory for any success it might have to Him alone.

Book Cover Peterson_978-1-4766-6521-4Similarly, with these two award nominations. I’m grateful to have my book included among the many books published during 2016 in the field of Civil War history, and I consider the mere nomination to be a great honor. Humanly speaking, however, the chance of its winning either award is a long shot. If it goes beyond the nomination to win any acclaim, whether an award or even a mere mention, it will be up to God to bring it to pass, and I’ll thank Him for it.

If you are inclined to pray, I’d appreciate your prayers that God’s will be done and that whatever He does with the book will bring honor to Him alone.

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

The first full week of February is Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week. It’s impossible to estimate how many young readers have been born from the works of the various authors who wrote for children and the artists who illustrated those works over the years, but it’s bound to be considerable. And I’m one of those who became a reader as a result of several such authors.

I’m not too familiar with the illustrators, although I’m sure that I spent nearly as much time looking at the drawings of the books I read as I did reading the words. If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then I’ve “read” many books just by looking at the pictures!

When my wife and I had our children growing up at home, we introduced them to many of the same authors who had influenced us as children. We also all learned from those children’s books the truth of Ronald Reagan’s sage observation: “You can never be lonely if you have a good book.”

It’s hard to single out one, or even just a few, authors who most influenced me and my family members because we read a host of writers, but I’ll take a stab at it. I’ve written in earlier posts of how the Hardy Boys series and the Landmark Books influenced me. But those were just some of the many, and they came during my late elementary years. Here are a few others that came even earlier.

beverly_cleary_19711Beverly Cleary wrote the two delightful series of books about Ramona and Henry Huggins. Our girls loved those books.









robert-mccloskeyhomerprice1Robert McCloskey wrote (and, talented man that he was, illustrated as well) Homer Price and Make Way for Ducklings. (Who could forget that fabulous donut machine?)





laura-ingalls-wilderlittlehouseontheprairiecd1Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House series of books from which the TV series The Little House on the Prairie was born.





eb_white_and_his_dog_minnie1books-by-eb-white1the-elements-of-style1E. B. White wrote Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. Imagine my surprise when, years later, as a fledgling editor, I realized that he was the same author as one of the duo of Strunk & White fame, co-authoring The Elements of Style.

And how could I forgive myself if I didn’t pay homage to Jesse Stuart? His Penny’s Worth of Character, The Beatinest Boy, and The Rightful Owner are especially important for developing values and character in young readers.










These authors and many others like them did a great service to millions of young people over the years because their books made–and continue to develop–readers. (If I’ve left out your favorite authors, please write and tell me who they were and why.)

May our mantra–and our personal example–ever be what was written above the door of the children’s reading room of the Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Library:



Books are keys to wisdom treasure;

Books are gates to lands of pleasure;

Books are paths that upward lead;

Books are friends. Come, let us read.



A Really Hard Job

img_0823I don’t mind working–even working hard. Growing up, I was expected to work. Mother gave me various household chores, such as taking out the garbage after supper and throwing it onto the compost pile. And she made us kids make our beds every morning and keep our rooms clean. If we didn’t, she gave us KP duty–cleaning up the supper table and washing the dishes and pots and pans for a week.

And Daddy, a self-employed brick mason, made my brother and me go to work with him from the time we were old enough to get into trouble at home. We carried brick, mixed mortar, built (and tore down) scaffolding, and whatever else Daddy told us to do. If we didn’t have anything to do, he always found something. It was all dirty and usually hard. And in the summertime, it made us sweat. I hated to sweat. I still don’t enjoy sweating.

Some jobs like those are hard, but a few jobs are really hard! Take, for instance, a job that I had to do earlier this week. I boxed up a bunch of books, loaded them into my old Mazda B2000 pickup, and hauled them to the local Goodwill store.

Anyone who is the least bit acquainted with me knows that I love books, both reading and collecting them. Over the years, I’ve saved my various college textbooks (even one of my favorite high school history textbooks); collected a large number of books that were payment for my writing reviews of them; and bought even more through book clubs, in bookstores, online, and at yard sales. And they were on a wide variety of subjects: history, writing and editing, marketing, trains and railroading, Bible study, Christian living, education, marriage and parenting, and a host of miscellaneous topics. The problem was that I never got rid of any of them.

I first began to realize that perhaps–just maybe–I had a few too many books when we moved from Tennessee to South Carolina. First, my aching back told me as I was loading all those boxes into the U-Haul truck. Then, just before entering South Carolina, I happened to pull through a North Carolina weigh station. (I didn’t know if I, driving a moving van, was even required to stop at weigh stations, but I did so just to be on the safe side.)

The officer came from the building, looked at the weight limit posted on the side of the truck, climbed onto the passenger-side running board, and said, “Do you realize that you’re several hundred pounds over your weight limit?”

“Oh no!” I moaned. “It must be all those books!”

After I had explained to the officer that we were moving and that I hoped never to move again–through North Carolina or any other state–he warned me to be more careful and let me go on my way. That incident told me something about how many books I had.

The next omen was when we began organizing our “stuff” in our new house. I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough shelf space for all my books. My home office in Tennessee had one entire wall that was a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcase. We had a similar built-in bookcase upstairs in the family room. Since it was a built-in, I had to leave it behind. And the moving truck had been so full that I didn’t have room for a smaller bookcase and had had to leave it behind. So when we got to our new house in South Carolina, I had to go out and buy four new, large bookcases.

But even that was not enough shelf space. I divided the books between “must haves” and “probably won’t need right away” books. The former went on the shelves in my office; the latter stayed in boxes and went into the attic above the garage. I had cut a hole in the garage ceiling, installed a ladder, and laid rough flooring across the joists, thereby creating some extra storage space. By the time I got all of my extra books and my wife’s educational materials up there, little room was left.

After my four daughters were married and living on their own, we invited each of them to the attic the next time they visited and asked them to take anything that was theirs. Anything they didn’t want, they could take with them to sell in a yard sale–or we would donate it to Goodwill. Dolls, favorite stuffed animals, craft items, trophies and other awards, and a few miscellaneous items disappeared.

When the last of the daughters made her pilgrimage to the attic for her stuff, she took her husband with her to help her decide what to keep or discard. Being a building contractor, he naturally was interested in examining the garage’s ceiling joists and the webbing of the trusses. When he saw how many boxes of books were in the attic, he let out a low whistle of surprise.

“You know, you have ‘way too much weight up here,” he said to me. “These joists weren’t designed to carry such a load. You need to get some of this weight out of here and put it somewhere else.”

“What you need to do is to organize it!” my daughter bluntly interjected. “Mom, let’s go through all these boxes. I’ll get out what’s mine, and then we’ll see what we can get rid of. Here, Dad, put these boxes in the truck; we’ve already gone through them, and you don’t need any of these books!”

As she scooted the boxes toward me, I opened the lids and peered inside.

“Hey, I can’t get rid of these,” I protested. “These are my college lit books!”

“You don’t need them,” my wife declared. “Load them into the truck!”

I looked into another box. “I have to keep this,” I said, holding up an old commentary. “The youth group gave this to me when I went away to college.”

“Well, you can keep that one, but you need to get rid of the rest of the books in that box. You’ll never use them,” my daughter said.

After a brief but futile attempt to argue my way out of their trap, I succumbed to the inevitable. Soon, the bed of the truck was full. We made two trips to Goodwill that afternoon. I cried inside.

It stayed that way for several years. But then my writing required that I consult a particular reference book, and I had to dig through all of the boxes left in the attic to find it. Moving all the boxes around stirred up dust, triggering my allergies and making me sneeze. And the awkward lifting of heavy boxes among the trusses caused my tender back to complain painfully. Nothing was where it should have been in the pre-labeled boxes because the girls had dug through them in search of their stuff, and books from one box ended up scattered among the other boxes. I had to rummage through numerous boxes every time I needed to find another reference book. That got old fast.

Earlier this week, realizing how cluttered my office had gotten, I determined to clean and reorganize it.

“What you need to do,” my wife declared with her hands on her hips and a look of determination, “is to get rid of all these books!”

“No! Not my books!” I cried. “I might need them!”

Before the complete sentence was out of my mouth, she continued. “When was the last time you used any of these books? Have you used any of them in the last five years? Ten years?”

“Well,” I demurred, “I’ve used some of them.” She walked from the office unconvinced, and I could see the handwriting on the wall–again. No need to argue with reason. Besides, I knew that she was right.

So one day, while she was at work, I gritted my teeth and got busy. I climbed into the attic above the garage and went through the boxes of books that remained there. I cried inside as I took book after book from one box, examined each of them, and made a fateful decision: to keep or not to keep. I was brutal. I carried four boxes down the ladder to load into the old truck; only two boxes remained.

Then I climbed the stairs to my office and addressed the shelves on one end of the room, where rows of books were stacked in front of other rows of books, and most of the shelves had books stacked horizontally on top of those double rows. I was on a roll, and the pain subsided. (Or had I just become so numbed by sorrow that I no longer felt the pain?) I carried six boxes downstairs to be loaded into the truck. I later added three more boxes of historical journals and train magazines. The shelves are still full but not so crowded.

I haven’t started on the book cases on the other side of the office, the ones that contain the biographies, histories, commentaries, and other Bible-study books. My knees still hurt from ascending and descending the attic ladder and the stairs with those heavy boxes. My heart aches from condemning my beloved books to the donation pile. And there will be still more books to move another day. I have no fear of running out of books.

I just hope that my daughters and my wife don’t suddenly get the idea of cleaning up the myriad books I’ve stored on my Kindle!