Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fiction Books, cont.

I have been reading a bit of fiction lately - and am now going to stop, because I have got nothing else done. I knew there was a reason I restricted fiction to holidays, because I have little to no self-control. Even with books I don't really enjoy!

I have previously mentioned how much I loved Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, so I decided to read her other series, the Lord John Grey novels. He is a minor character in the Outlander series, whom she has now devoted 3 books to. I have now read two - Lord John and The Private Matter and Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. I will not be reading the third.

Three aspects of the Outlander series that I loved were that: (1) they have a vast scope, covering massive periods of time and history very well, (2) they tell a wonderful love story of a married couple and (3) they are based on an interesting premise: that time travel is available for some people, and the results of what may happen if that were so.

Sadly, the Lord John Grey novels do none of these - they are designed more to be mysteries. However, I got confused in each book with the number of characters tied up in the mysteries and therefore got less interested as I read. Moreover, Lord John is gay. Normally this would not particularly bother me, but it is so much as part of his persona that it almost defines the books and his physical relationships are described in some detail.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the sex scenes in the Outlander series are also quite detailed, but I am less concerned about those because they (mostly) occur within a committed marriage relationship. In some ways, I am just as disinterested with other novels that have explicit sex scenes with no purpose and no marriage relationship as their basis, eg adultery.

I think Gabaldon has made a calculated risk with these books - she knows she has a very committed fan base with her Outlander series, and the interest overflows to these books, as they are about character that we already know. I really liked Lord John in the Outlander books, he is a noble and honourable man. While those character traits continue in these books, really the only draw card for me is to learn something more about Jamie and Claire (the main characters in the Outlander novels). It is not enough for me to read the third.

On a much happier note, it is my birthday today and my husband gave me all 6 of the Outlander novels (I previously borrowed them all from the library). I am delighted! I now have to exercise some self-control until June when we are on holidays, at which point he has promised also to try them.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: I'm More than the Pastor's Wife

Book Review: I'm more than the Pastor's Wife: Authentic Living in a Fishbowl World, Lorna Dobson

I picked up this book off a friend's shelf, intrigued by the title - I am a minister's wife, after all. (I still don't like the word pastor - no good reason though!)

It was good, and I will outline some reasons why in a bit.

However, it helped me to realise a number of things (most of which I already knew!)
  • I see myself more as Husband's wife, not the minister's wife. He is certainly the minister, but that does not define entirely who I am. [I'm sure part of that is because I do not attend the congregations that are his main responsibility, for 'stage of life' reasons]
  • Having said that, I am very happy to be the minister's wife. Both of us feel that being in ministry is an enormous privilege. We are invited to be a part of people's lives. We share people's joys, we talk, cry and pray with people in pain and strife, we help couples to prepare for marriage, Husband marries them and he baptises their children - we share in the ups and downs of people's lives. It is understood, and expected, that we would read the bible and pray with people. What a privilege!
  • We are truly blessed to be in the church that we are in. Husband serves at a church that values and cares for its ministers. Husband is supported and encouraged, we are provided with a wonderful home and there are many, many people who truly care about us and our children.
I guess, having said that, you may see why I don't feel I got a great deal from this book - not because it did not have much to offer, rather that I am just very content at the moment as 'the minister's wife'.

Some of the helpful points Dobson makes are:
  • The reminder that "As pastor's wives, what we need to realise is that our struggle for normalcy and balance is no more difficult than that of others." (p40). This is very true, our lives are not more complicated than others. In fact, I find that the benefits of my husband being in ministry far outweigh any negatives at the moment. Our circumstances I'm sure are different to some others, but Husband is able to be flexible with his time, helping to pickup or dropoff at school and he can be around for dinner/bath/bed times most evenings. He can have his day off on a weekday which enables the two of us to have a day together, child-free. This is much more flexibility than a number of my friends whose husbands work professional jobs in the city, who work long hours with little support from bosses when it comes to family issues. I sometimes think we ministry wives don't realise quite how good we have it.
  • The importance of support networks of other ministry wives'. I am convinced this is a very important means of support. We are in a church where all of the 'preacher's wives' (9 and growing), meet together fortnightly to pray for one-another as well as going away together once a year for a few nights. This has been a wonderful group and a great support, and true friendships have grown from it. We all make it a priority to attend. Over the years I have also caught up with other smaller groups of minister's wives from other churches. I have particularly valued the time with women who are at stages of life ahead of mine - seeing how they manage the early school years, the teenagers and the children growing into adults. Those of us 'young ones' think they should pool resources and write a book to guide us later! Dobson did not really go into how these types of groups could also help with accountability, but they certainly can. As we are all 'on the same level', we can ask each other how our personal relationship with God is going and be honest about our struggles. My guess is the average parishioner is unlikely to ask the minister or his wife if they are reading their bibles and turning to God in prayer.
  • I won't go into detail but she covers a wide number of areas: our identity, marriage, priority, relationship with God, balancing friendships, managing criticism, feelings of loneliness and boundaries. She had helpful things to say in all of these areas. Some things she covered were not relevant to me personally: we do not deal with a church board and Husband does not have a personal secretary who manages his diary.  Husband is not a senior minister either, so he does not have Parish Council Meetings or anything like that, and those things which he does have are supportive rather than not - however her advice on some of these areas would be helpful for those whom it is relevant.

My only real quibble with the book was that it seemed to skim the surface a bit, I would have liked to read more in depth about many of the issues she covered. Also, it was not as logically ordered as would have suited my brain, so I felt the chapters did not fit together well - but that is my problem!

So, all in all, a helpful resource.

Can anyone recommend other good books on this topic?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bible for Children

Thanks to all who commented on my previous post about when to start reading a proper bible with children. As a result we did get Mr 5 a NIrV for Christmas and he loves it. He is a keen reader and has reading time on his own every night before bed. More often than not, he is choosing to read his bible. His is a Kids Quest Study Bible. We looked around a bit, choosing one where the illustrations and 'study part' did not distract too much from the text itself.

We have started with Mark and read a short amount each night. It certainly requires us to spend time with him and explain the passages, which is a good discipline for us too. It makes you realise how well (or not) you understand certain passages of the bible yourself. For example, I was reading to him the night we were at Mark 2:21-22, the passage about not putting new wine into old wineskins and patching a garment with old cloth rather than new. When I came to explain it, I realised I did not really know how to, especially in 5-year old language. Husband and I can only benefit from having to explain the bible to him. (I must say, I was happy Husband was on the night they read about John the Baptist's beheading, rather than me!)

So far, so of the benefits we have found in Mr 5 having a full bible are:
  • he searches around it himself
  • he is learning how to use the index to find the book he wants
  • he is looking for the memory verses Colin Buchanan uses in his songs (once he has found them, they do not always match up, as he has a NIrV and Colin uses NIV, so then we can look at Mummy or Daddy's bible to see the words there). So we have been able to explain the idea of different translations a little.
  • he is asking questions about what he reads - he came to me the other night asking why Jesus was crucified before he was born. It turns out he had been reading the end of Mark and then turned over to the beginning of Luke. It was a great chance to explain how there are different books talking about different things and there are 4 gospels, etc.
  • it makes me trust in God even more than his word is sufficient for all. At the moment, there are probably parts of the bible I would prefer he does not find (some of the incidents in Judges for example). However, I know that while God's word never shies away from the realities of human sin and divine judgment, what it always teaches is the truth. Therefore, I can be confident knowing that God is moulding Mr 5 as he reads His word.
Therefore, if your children are reading and do not yet have their own full bible, I recommend it!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Carolyn McCulley

I have just finished reading this book, following along with the Equip Book Club website.

Ali's comments on that website are much more thorough and thought- out that my few comments will be here. However, I still thought I would post a few thoughts.

Generally, I enjoyed this book and thought it has some helpful points to make, both from Scripture and from personal testimony. Because it is written by a woman, it added a different perspective on singleness that a book like The Single Issue (by Al Hsu, see review here).

It is always hard for me to really know whether a book on singleness is helpful for a single person, as I have been married for almost 10 years. Having said that, she offers a helpful perspective and biblical counsel on a number of areas of life, which really could be relevant for all, men or women, single or married.

Some of the points she made which I learnt from or was challenged by were:

1. Her comment, quoting C.J. Mahaney that "Your greatest need is not a spouse. Your greatest need is to be delivered from the wrath of God- and that has already been accomplished for you through the death and resurrection of Christ." [He goes on to say that "So why doubt that God will provide a much, much lesser need" - a less helpful point in some ways, God may not provide a spouse]. His original point stands thought - our greatest need in this world is salvation, and we have that.

2. The question one should ask is "What is God doing with and through my singleness?" (rather than "Why am I still single?")

3. Speaking of contentment, she says that the difference between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint - in one we complain to God, in the other we complain of God. It is a good reminder that in all things in life we should first turn to God, trusting him and his plans for us.

4. Her openness in stating that she wished that the plight of those that reject God would move her as much as her own desires - how often does she grieve over her singleness but not over those who will never know God and his salvation? This is a reminder to all of us to look above our personal situations to see also what grieves God.

5. In the chapter on children, she looks at other ways to be involved with children, including an 'au pair' - living with a family almost as an adopted aunt. The idea has great positive benefit, but is unlikely to work for many families. She speaks of the joy of being an aunt, and I think there are many benefits to being involved with a family (without living with them), that women can have.
  • As a mother myself, and knowing a number of single women, I think perhaps it would be helpful to encourage single women to be involved in the lives of children, if they want to be. I don't want to force my kids on anyone, but I know there are women out there who may want to have time with children and form a special relationship with them. I wonder perhaps, if it is up to that person to approach the family and ask to be involved? I do not want to assume a desire to spend time with my family, but would be delighted if someone took that initiative. What do others think, is that too much to ask - would it be too daunting to ask to be closely involved in the life of a family?

There were some parts of the book that caused me think a little more:

1. I did find some discontinuity throughout the book. It seemed that half the time she was encouraging women to see how to serve God and others through their singleness, and to find contentment in their status; and the other half, she was challenging them to consider how their decisions may affect future husbands or how to prepare to become a better (potential) wife. I wonder if this may bother some single readers? For example:
  • On p63 she suggests that one should pray to be a good wife. I understand that we all should be praying to be more godly women, but is it possible that for someone who is single and struggling with it, even the act of regularly praying to 'be a good wife' may add to feelings of resentment?
  • p118 - she advised a woman not to get into a lot of debt in furthering her education because of the implications that debt may have on a future marriage. She did temper this later in the chapter suggesting that it may be appropriate to invest wisely in your education, for if one remains single one will continue to need to work, or perhaps to invest in buying a home. I wonder if the concern at that stage is not whether the investment would impact a potential future marriage, but rather will the woman be able to repay the debt without it impacting of her ability to serve God generously, both in time and money
2. I wasn't sure whether the chapter on hospitality had the most helpful focus. She was encouraging women to learn to cook and have proper dinner parties. But is that really hospitality or just entertaining? I found myself (probably harshly I admit) thinking that having dinner parties is a luxury that single people (and those married without kids) are able to have. We have dinners in our home regularly, but they almost all consist of the use of a slow-cooker that has been on all day, entirely because it is impossible to prepare a "dinner party quality meal" with 3 children under foot all needing to be fed and put into bed between 5 and 7pm. I would love to have the time to experiment with recipes and prepare new meals, but it is just not possible.
  • She also encourages single women in this chapter to invite families into their homes. I think this is great, although sometimes I feel hesitant (on the very few times we have actually received such an invitation). Houses without children are understandably not set up for them, and the stress of ensuring my kids don't pull over the wine rack, CD/DVD rack, glassware etc is very large. One potential solution which other wise friends have come up with is to 'have us for dinner' but in our own home. They come to us and prepare and serve the meal, but we can still be in our home where our children are entertained and can go to sleep in their own beds (without the need for a babysitter either!)
3. I also found some comments in the chapter on "the blessing of children" interesting. She starts by talking about the barren women in the bible and how God intervened to bless them with children in older years. This is certainly not a promise I would be giving to older single women. Those miraculous interventions of God were all part of God fulfilling his plan of salvation in keeping the genealogy of Christ intact. While I do not doubt God's ability to act to allow women who are barren the miracle of childbearing, it seems unhelpful to encourage women with this.

4. My other concern, and a minor one at that, is the title of the book. Is that really a title a single woman would want on her bookshelf? And is it likely to prevent someone from reading it? Too late really to pose that thought, but I did wonder! I actually came across Carolyn's blog, in which she notes in passing that had she realised the impact of the title, she may never have used it!
At the end of each chapter, McCulley includes a resource list, which I thought was very helpful. I intend to sort through them all again and note the ones I would like to read.

All in all, a book with a lot of helpful things in it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Heatwave

As many of you will be aware, we are in the midst of a rather impressive heatwave here in Adelaide.
Today's sixth consecutive day of +40 deg C (+104 deg F) temperatures in Adelaide has equalled the record set in January 1908.

While it is certainly hot, unpleasant and hard to manage children in, it has also made me realise how good our lives are.

I am very glad to be living through this heatwave, rather than the 1908 one! Without much knowledge beyond a quick web search, I would venture to presume that in 1908:
- hardly any one had electricity to their homes (Adelaide only was connected to the grid in 1900)
- no air-conditioning (not invented till the 1920s/30s)
- no refrigeration (not made in the US until ~1915)
- clothing for women was corseted and ankle length
- keeping your babies/children cool would have been very hard
- I don't know how many houses would have been connected to water and sewerage

Therefore, I am very thankful to have air-conditioning, refrigeration, running water, shorts & singlet tops! I am also very happy when anyone with a pool invites us for a swim!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Book review: Now that you are back

Now that you are back: A Journey through Depression, Richard Beeston

This helpful little book records one couple's story of depression:
How can it be possible for anyone to say that suffering can be a good thing? How can you possibly be ‘thankful’ for depression?
One of the striking things about a journey through the wilderness of suffering is that it often opens up a much bigger picture of life, of ourselves, even God. That’s the kind of journey that Richard and Alison have written about in this book.
With a mix of adventure, humour, medical insight and sound wisdom, Now That You Are Back will change the way you think about depression, suffering, and finding hope in the hardest of times.

(From the back of the book, and their website)
Richard writes about the experience of his wife Alison and her battle with depression. It is very short (I read it in about 30 mins) but provides a helpful insight into one person's experience of depression, including anxiety attacks, suicude threats and hospitalisation. He mixes medical information and statistics in amongst the story, helping us to understand not only Alison's story, but a number of people that we know who suffer in similar ways.

I think this book would be helpful reading for almost anyone. Almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from depression, and some of us don't really understand it and feel uncertain how to help or be supportive. As it is written with a Christian perspective, it is also helpful for those of us in churches who want to support and care for those around us.

A worthwhile resource.