Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review: 101 Questions to ask Before You Get Engaged

Book Review: 101 Questions to ask Before You Get Engaged, H. Norman Wright

This is a very helpful book for a couple who are becoming serious in their relationship and wondering whether marriage is right for them. It would not strictly need to be used prior to engagement, and would be very helpful to use during an engagement in preparation for marriage.

It is designed for a couple to look at together, to ask each other questions and bring up conversation topics. Both people would have to be committed to doing it together, if one was not, it would be very hard work, although that in itself would help someone to know whether their partner was ready for a serious relationship.

One risk is that it could be used too early in a relationship, as it requires great openness and honesty about many subjects, and used too soon could create more openness and intimacy than may be appropriate.

Wright starts with a short chapter outlining the risks of marrying someone who you do not really know and that we need to be able to heed the warning signs that we may see in a prospective partner, rather than continuing in the 'fog' of love assuming all will be fine once married.

He then starts with the 101 questions, each posed, with space for writing, and a summary few comments at the end of each. He covers topics like:
  • personal life
  • health issues
  • the future and your view of it
  • finances
  • Christian growth
  • values
  • habits
  • parents
  • family
  • views of marriage
  • children
  • expectations
I thought it was very comprehensive and helpful.

He then has a chapter to cover those who have been previously married. This is formed as a questionnaire to make one examine their previous spouse and their potential future spouse and find the similarities and differences in the relationships. I suspect this could be quite a helpful tool.

I think this is a book which could be recommended for any couple seriously contemplating marriage or already engaged. I think it could also be used in the absence of a marriage preparation course, as long as someone is available to discuss the potential issues it raises with the couple.

This is a book I will be adding to our list of recommended reading for couples who are newly engaged.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back to school

My son starts school again today, in Year 1, which has prompted me to think about how we will be involved this year. As with all things we need to make wise decisions about the amount of time we can give to the school. If we stay in this area, we will be a part of this school for 12 years, so I feel it is the main thing in the community that we can be involved in for the long term.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Try to get to know his teacher well.

This was a wonderful blessing last year - his teacher was lovely and I felt we were 'on the same page' when dealing with Mr 5 and any issues that arose. I knew she cared about him and how he was going, and (I presume) she knew that I was on her side and supportive of what she was doing in the classroom. I also tried to get to know her as a person, about her family, etc, so that not every conversation we had was about my child. This could obviously be harder with another teacher with a different outlook or personality, but that is my goal.

2. Figure out how to be involved in the school community

This is a tricky one, considering we still have 2 littler ones at home. Reading in class is not easy, and I would have to give up precious time on my free Thursdays to do this without the girls with me. I will have to think about this one.

A friend of mine (with 3 children at school this year and 3 at home) had a great idea on this one. She approached the school and said that she wanted to be involved, but could not be at the school while she did so - she ended up covering new books for the library at home.

We are also considering whether it is possible for G to go on school council or something like that.

3. Get to know the children in his class

This was the main benefit of going into the class for reading for a term last year -I met almost all the children and they all knew I was M'r 5s mum. I knew the children who Mr 5 would speak of and I was able to understand some of the class dynamics a little more. I could encourage certain friendships and also see which children might be a good idea for us to get to know better.

4. Get to know the parents and families of the children in his class

It took me until halfway through last year to realise that I probably only saw the parents of about half the children in the class - some came from and went to Out of Hours care, some were dropped off by parents never entering the school, and some probably walked on their own.

I am also started to realise just how many mothers also work, at least part-time, so even organising something during the day is difficult.

Last year, we hosted a coffee and dessert evening for the parents of the children in Mr 5's class, and while not many came, it was a good time of chatting and getting to know a few people better. We will certainly hope to do that again this year.

Our school has a lot of immigrant families, who do not seem to be openly welcomed by the Australian parents. I think this is an area where we may try to be different and seek to get to know those families. It was only towards the end of the year that I realised how lonely some of these women are, they are here for their husband's study or work, they do not have work visas and they are looking after children in a foreign country all on their own.

5. Continue the prayer group that we started last year

I am hoping that the 4 of us (school mothers) who started a prayer group last year will continue meeting to pray specifically for the principal, council, teachers, students and parents.

**

Those are my thoughts so far, I will have to come back and review this in December to see how the year worked out in the end!

Photo from stockxchng.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book review: The Danger of Raising Nice Kids

Book Review: The Danger of Raising Nice Kids, Timothy Smith

I borrowed this book from a friend, after spotting it on her shelf and have just finished reading it. I enjoyed it, it's helpful in a number of ways. While nothing in it was especially new, I liked his premise - that we are so worried (especially as Christian parents) in ensuring our children are nice and well-behaved, that we stop there and do not train them also in being courageous in character. He states that "as Christian parents we are not to simply socialise our children into civil human beings; we are to train them to advance the kingdom of God".

He calls us to view parenting as discipleship - "discipleship is an intimate personal relationship designed for growth and learning through imitation, dialogue and observation".

Smith goes on in the following chapters to highlight the areas that he thinks are key to this. They include:
- authenticity
- showing empathy
- demonstrating compassion
- development discernment
- choosing contentment

For each of them he discusses how parents can show these qualities to their children and the traits you would be hoping to see as your children develop them.

The appendices were also very useful - encouraging you to consider drafting up a mission statement or statement of core values for your family. It also gave a list of things you could hope you child would have achieved by 18 - in areas such as spiritual, physical, social and emotional development. (Smith has put this online as part of a study guide to go with the book, you can see it here). Preparing something like this could really help you to judge what are your family's core values and then plan actively for how to impart them to your children.

We are considering doing a 'Yearly Parenting' review at some point and I hope to implement some of these ideas into that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Compassion

I received my email newsletter from Compassion Australia yesterday, and was interested to find an article in it about their youth communicator, Az. In an effort to show people what living in the developing world was currently like with the food crisis and the rising cost of living, he lived for a week in Australia on $1 a day.

He produced a video for each day, starting with his attempts to buy enough food for $7 to feed himself for an entire week. Throughout the week, he then walks to get his water supply to demonstrate what many people in the world must do for water and digs a hole in the backyard for a toilet.

It is obviously designed to appeal to youth (which I really am not anymore!), but it is interesting and challenging. It was also part of an appeal to raise the awareness of Compassion in sponsoring children. We do sponsor Compassion children (one for each of our own) and have found them to be a great organisation - well worth considering if you do not do so already.

A good summary of what he did and why is on the Compassion website and all of the videos are on his website, 500dreads.com

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Review: Captivating

Captivating by John & Stasi Eldridge.

This is a copy of my review of this book in a book group I have been in, therefore it is probably a bit more outspoken than I would normally be on this blog, but it does still represent my views on this book.

***

I still really don't know what to say about this book, in some ways it has some really helpful things to say, in other ways I wanted to give up, thinking this book is offering me nothing, using language I don't feel comfortable with, appalling exegesis and some dodgy ideas.

I'll give it a try to sort out my thoughts:

1. What did you like?

One thing that was good was her initial question (p22) - instead of asking 'What should a woman do?' 'What is her role?' it is more helpful to ask 'What is a women? What is her design? Why did God place women in our midst?' This is helpful, and perhaps a question that women ask.

She was very honest, she admitted problems in her youth, including bad parental relationships, an abortion, and depression and self-esteem issues.

The appendix at the back which was a daily prayer (long one!) actually was better than most of the book.

2. What did you learn/ What challenged you?

I learnt how absolutely blessed I am to have/had a childhood and adulthood with loving parents and a loving husband, with absolutely no hint of abuse of any type from anyone. The more I hear and read, it seems that this is not as normal as I would have thought. When women suffer the way they do, it is no wonder that it affects every aspect of their lives, who they are as a woman and who they are before God. The Eldridges say that all women wonder who they are, what it is to be feminine, etc. I have to admit, I do not. I do not ask these questions of myself or my life - I do not frame existence around being a woman first. (having said that, I'm not sure what I do frame it around. Being a child of God perhaps - more likely I just don't think this deeply!)

3. What do you disagree with/dislike, etc?

So much.

I can't be bothered to go into detail on all the notes I wrote - if you have read it, you may know what I am talking about. A few selections:

- the overarching idea that every woman has three longings - to be romanced, to have an irreplaceable role in a great adventure and to have a beauty to unveil. I read this thinking 'are you kidding me?'. When you read the details, as they go through the book, at times I could see their point. At least they go on to claim that it is God (and not men) who enables women to fully fulfill these roles. At least the beauty was supposed to be an inner beauty lit up by God, however, it certainly bordered on if you truly know God, you will also become physically beautiful. However, it came across that God needs to romance you as a woman - I don't think God is a needy lover!

- in the end I had to have my bible open next to it to check the verses each time, which frustrates me when I read a book and can't at least give the author the benefit of the doubt on exegesis. It seemed every time 'she' was used in the bible they took it literally, whereas often it was referring to Jerusalem or Israel, or actual lovers speaking in Song of Songs (rather than God speaking to women). They claimed Mary was invited to be the mother of Jesus, that she had to agree - that is not the way it reads in Luke, and on and on.

- the idea (again ties up in exegesis) that woman are the crown of creation. p25 - Woman is the crescendo of God's work, Eve is the crown of creation. And also that Satan especially hates Eve, because 'more than anything else in all creation, she embodies the glory of God'. And what is man, pray tell, in all of this?

- it was very present focussed. They was no sense that we are waiting for the hope of heaven, because that is when all the pain and mourning will end, and you will be the woman God has created you to be then, it was all now - you can have this now. Also, no sense of suffering in this life really.

- the statement "every woman knows she is not what she was meant to be" p58. I don't know that. And surely, post conversion, we all have some idea that we are who God made us to be, even if it is a continual transformation.

- they seem to rely on a lot of popular culture, movies, etc to make their points - surely you go to the bible for that?

I still can't figure out whether most of my issues (except the exegesis ones) are over a choice of language. I just did not relate at all to their descriptions - I wouldn't describe my great life desires as being romanced, being an adventurer and unveiling my beauty, however, when I read it all charitably, I can see what they are getting at. We do all want to think we have a purpose in this life, and want those to be met. At least they are pointing to God as the source of our meaning in life. I suspect, my reservations are much more than this though - it was a book that made me uncomfortable on many levels.

4. Who would you recommend this to?

No one. If I was going to recommend any book about women to women it would be Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes (review here) although God's Design for Women by Sharon James has also been recommended to me recently, so I will attempt that one this year too.


I still find it interesting that this book got such a positive review in Southern Cross a few months ago.

For a more thought out review than mine above, you could also see Nicole's.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Review: The Single Issue

Book Review: The Single Issue, Al Hsu

I read this on the recommendation of 2 single friends, who both think it is one of the better ones around on singleness. I would agree, I thought it was very good.

Some of the highlights were:
  • an easy to read chapter on the history of singleness, covering OT and NT times, as well as the early church and Reformation. This was helpful in pointing out the changes in views over time, often swinging to extremes on the views on the relative importance of singleness vs. marriage.
  • I liked the chapter on 'the myth of the gift', outlining some of the unhelpful ways the 'gift of singleness' has been explained in the past. He rejects the 'gift of singleness' as being a spiritual gift, but rather the reality of a current state. If you are single, your singleness is currently a gift, if you are married, that is your gift. There is an interesting discussion about this at God's'Will
  • two chapters titled 'From loneliness to solitude' and 'From aloneness to community', thinking about the place solitude and community can have for all of us (single or married).
  • the final chapter 'Temptations singles face'. This was a helpful reminder to me of some of the challenges faced by my single friends - to put life on hold, to be over-committed, to be unaccountable, to live a life of regret, etc. This helped me to think about how I can be more or less helpful with some of these issues.

It caused me to think about:
  • How the Christian community at this present time is unhelpfully focussed on marriage and family as the 'ultimate' way of life. This is a situation that needs to be addressed probably in a number of areas: in attitude of churchgoers and ministers, illustrations from the pulpit and the ability of churches to welcome singles with open arms and with appropriate areas for to be involved in ministries and groups.
  • It is a shame our lives are so categorized by 'single' vs 'married'. I know it's an obvious thing to find out about someone upon meeting them, but it is not one's defining feature. I fall into this trap myself, as when asked about who am I or what I do, it is generally defined by my life's status - "I am married with 3 children". Perhaps we need to reconsider the need for such labels, or at least acknowledge the need for some sensitivity with them?
  • The reminder that Hsu gives that "Everyone is single at least once and often single again. Only the duration and the quality of singleness differ." I don't know whether that is a comforting statement for one who is single person (and would prefer not to be), but for me it is a reminder that marriage is a transient state which only exists for this life on earth, and for many, not for all of this life.
  • The 'Freedom and opportunity' chapter caused me to think about how my life could have been different had I not married. I married at 23 and was hardly thought out in my decision to marry, it just seemed like the right thing for us to do (and I think it was!). However, I wonder if being single for longer would have caused me to enter marriage more cautiously, at least aware of the opportunities to serve God and freedoms in doing so I was potentially giving up. I read another book this year, Loves Me, Loves Me Not (Laura Smit), which addressed a number of similar issues, but based about the framework of a theology of unrequited love. This was another helpful book (although not as easy to read as Hsu's).
The main point that both books make is that no matter what situation we are in at the moment, we should be serving God and growing in godliness.

I have noticed that the Equip Book Club is looking at "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?" this month, so I may read that one soon too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fiction Books

I have finished a few fiction books over the last few months, which I have really enjoyed.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini was very powerful. It has been very popular, so readers of this blog have probably already read it. I really enjoyed it. It is set in Afghanistan and is the story of 2 boys who are childhood friends, but classes divide them. Their friendship is changed drastically after a tragic incident in which one chooses not to help the other. It then goes on to outline the lives of the one of the boys as he grows up. I thoroughly enjoyed it, including the small insight it gave me into life in Afghanistan as the Taliban were gaining power. I really liked the ending, which I feel was muted - not a perfect ending, but one suffused with hope.


Atonement, by Ian McEwan was also very good, and in some ways had some surprising parallels with the Kite Runner: issues of class, the muted ending, and the main character being an writer.

The first part of the book covers only one day of a summer in England in the 1930s. A young girl witnesses a number of events throughout the day and by the end of the day has witnessed and committed a crime. The following two parts detail what happens to the main characters as a result. I found the writing a little too flowery for my taste, but the story was powerful. I could not have read both of these novels back to back (I tried, but gave up), they were a little too intense for that. I finished the Kite Runner first and needed time to think about it and reflect on it. 6 weeks later (and on holidays again) I read Atonement. Both are definitely worth a read.

Monday, January 5, 2009

6 things I have learnt this year

Nicole tagged me in her post, encouraging people to think about what they learned in 2008. Here are mine:

1. I loved school (not for me, but for my son!). I loved that he loved it and thrived in its environment. I loved seeing what he was learning. I also loved the fact that he was at school (does that make me an awful mother?!). I also learnt that if he was not enjoying school so much, the year could have been so much harder.

2. I began to realise what people mean when they say the school years are more emotional (on the mother!) than physical (compared to the baby and toddler years). I found my son's issues making friends and learning to play in the playground (not major problems mind you) quite stressful, I wanted to help him but couldn't and wanted to 'deal with' the mean children.

3. I learnt that setting a pattern for regular bible reading and prayer is the only way for me, even if the pattern changes regularly. Part of this was having a supportive husband who enabled me to have time in the evenings or whenever it was needed, and us being proactive in doing so.

4. I learnt that regular exercise is so beneficial for me that I wonder how I keep getting out of the habit of doing it. It makes everything better as far as I am concerned - it gets me out of the house, gives me brain space and quiet time, I enjoy the area in which we live (swimming or riding along the river), gives me energy, and makes me sleep much better.

5. I learnt (again) how much I love reading, and want to find more time to do so. (There will be lots of book reviews coming up here in the next few weeks).

6. I learnt (perhaps more was reminded) how grateful I am to have a happy marriage and a wonderful supportive husband. We see marriages around us struggle in various ways, and we are reminded that we must continue to work on our marriage as a priority. I am constantly grateful to God for G.