Monday, December 15, 2014

Down Under

Feeling like some light relief on holidays recently, we took along Bill Bryson’s Down Under. We read it years ago and both enjoyed it, and it did not disappoint the second time around.  In fact, because on our recent long service leave we travelled to many of the areas he also travelled to, we could more easily understand and appreciate his observations and anecdotes.

Bryson’s travel books are funny.  Generally laugh out loud funny. When reading a book that assesses your own country and culture you can get offended or suspect the author hasn’t really done their research.  However, I found Bryson’s assessment of many Australian attributes were accurate, if generalised. From the ‘we don’t care what you think of us’ attitude of NT hotel staff, to the bemused way people in Canberra drive in circles, to the unwillingness of most Australians to face problems in our indigenous population, Bryson hits the nail on the head again and again.

Both my husband and I would be laughing aloud reading, and when we let our 11 year old son read it too, he was the same. He didn’t get all of it, but he appreciated most of the humour.  Perhaps I’ll pick up some others of his for some summer reading.


(I also really enjoyed his Short History of Nearly Everything a few years ago as well as At Home.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Far from the Tree

Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon

It has taken me a few months to get through this massive book, but boy was it worth it. This is a long review, but considering the length of the book, necessary.

Andrew Solomon has taken 10 years to write this study of parents, children and identity. Based around the idea that most parents have and expect to have children who are like them; those for whom the saying applies - “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Solomon has researched families where the children are different from their parents, and as such their identity does not always come through the vertical lines of genetics and family but through horizontal lines of similar experience.

Solomon takes 10 identities, illnesses or life conditions and thoroughly investigates each.  The ten he has chosen are: deafness, dwarfs, Down’s Syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability (predominantly multiple severe disability), prodigies, children of rape, crime, and transgender.  He makes it clear in the introduction there are others he could have chosen, but these were the ten he went with.  He is also open about the fact that not all members of each group were happy about the inclusion of other groups alongside their own.

Each chapter has is a clear discussion of science, genetics and medicine about the condition where appropriate. Woven throughout is the real power of the book - personal stories. He spent hours and hours of time with people living lives with illness and challenging conditions. Throughout too is included his own personal experience of being both dyslexic and gay. He has experienced being different from his parents and while being completed loved and cared for, felt the reality that he was not always was they would have wished for.

The book achieves a number of goals:
  • It opens our eyes to the varying life situations around us, without which society would be much less compassionate, aware and understanding.
  • It investigates the relationship between parent and child and the bond that can form through both joys and struggles; and that most parents will rise to any challenge thrown at them.
  • It looks at the differences between a condition being classified as an illness or an identity, and shows how both impact our perspective of someone’s quality of life.
  • It looks at disability mostly positively and challenges the current medical view that all such disabilities should be screened out.
It is an incredibly powerful book and anyone who reads it will gain great benefit. For those for whom these life experiences resonate, you will find a voice of compassion, understanding and many others who also live similarly. For those who do not, it opens our eyes to the lives of those around us, for whom life is often harder, yet at the same time can be richer and produce more love and compassion than we think possible.

Some of the comments that resonated with me:
“Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us.” (p2)

“All kinds of attributes make one less able. Illiteracy and poverty and disabilities, and so are stupidity, obesity and boringness. Extreme age and extreme youth are both disabilities. Faith is a disability insofar as it shields you from self-interest; atheism is a disability, too, for it shields you from hope.” (p33)

“Family inflicts the deepest wounds, then salves them the most tenderly” (p46)

“This book’s conundrum is that most of the families have ended up grateful for the experiences they would have done anything to avoid” (p47)

Looking at a book this large (955 pages), it is a solid read which takes some commitment and my paperback version has suffered under the weight! However, ignoring notes and references you are down to 700 pages. If you are unsure even about that - read the first chapter “Son”. I took down more quotes on this chapter alone that the rest of the book. Or you could also see if you can find an online interview with Solomon, I heard him on an ABC conversation.

It is written from an atheistic perspective. There will be large amounts of it you will disagree with from a Christian point of view. Not surprisingly in a book dealing with such issues, the question of abortion comes up throughout. He is clearly pro the right to choose - that is the right to choose to not keep a baby and the right to choose to keep a baby, whatever the diagnosis. Again and again, interviewed parents say that they were glad they never had the choice, for they would have aborted and now realise what their lives would have lacked had they done so. There is an increased poignancy to this repeated statement.

However, the call to love our neighbour as ourselves has never been presented more strongly for me in a non-Christian work, whether it is our co-worker who struggles with schizophrenia or the parent caring for a child with disability or the friend who struggles with transgender issues.

Even more than that for those of us in pastoral ministry, there are parents and children living with these issues or variants of them all around us. This book will help us to be a voice of compassion and grace with a willingness to understand and walk beside; as at the same time we use other resources to encourage one another to godly living.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lit!

Lit! Tony Reinke

This book came across my shelf because of Jean’s high recommendation a few years ago. I read it and loved it. I chose it as the book I would go through with a Ministry Trainee group in an annual seminar. Then I turned it into a “Reading as a Christian” seminar and gave it to two different groups of women, one through a bible study group and one through a conference.

So it’s fair to say I am a big fan of this book. As you know, I am a reader - an avid, keen reader. But this books appeals to me as much as it will to someone for whom reading does not come so naturally - because it encourages you to read, gives you good reasons to read and helps you to think about how to read through the lens of your faith, using wisdom and discernment as tools to assess books and what we can learn from them.

This review is not so much a detailed review of the book, but a collection of thoughts as a result and the basis of my seminar.

My overall question is: If our lives are to be lived to the glory of God, how does that shape our reading?

Firstly, we start with a Christian view of reading:

1.  The bible is in a category all of its own - it is the Word of God

2.  Christians value words - we value the Word of God, his Son is the Word, we know words give meaning in a way that images cannot.
 
3.  Being a Christian brings wisdom and gives discernment
“Faith in Jesus brings with it a critically important benefit for the Christian reader – discernment. Discernment is the ability to do three things: the ability to “test everything”, to “hold fast to what is good,” and to “abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22)” (p35)

“Christians can read a broad array of books for our personal benefit, but only if we read with discernment. And we will only read with discernment if the biblical convictions are firmly settled in our minds and hearts. Once they are, we have a touchstone to determine what is pure gold and what is worthless.” (p59)
4.  There are great benefits to reading Christian books - both fiction and non-fiction

5. There are great benefits to reading non-Christian books - both fiction and non-fiction
‘In non-Christian works we discover what is so close, and yet so far away, from what we read in the Bible. The challenge is to make use of the “so close” for our edification and for the glory of God while being aware of the “yet so far away”.’ (p77)

Following on from this, there are some practical suggestions:
  1. Examine your heart - what do you read, why do you read, do you read widely but with discretion or is your reading divorced from your faith and godly living?
  2. Dwell in the word of God - as first priority read your bible.
  3. Have a balanced reading diet - include Christian growth and understanding, life stage and professional development reading and reading for pleasure/enjoyment.
  4. Guard your heart in your reading - be aware if there are some types of books you should avoid
  5. Be active in your reading - take notes, put aside time for reading, be willing to stop reading a book
  6. Read with others - in a bible study, with children, in a book group
  7. Consider whether reading can be a problem - when, what, how much, etc
  8. Be a mature reader:
“1. Mature readers prize wisdom
2. Mature readers cherish old books
3. Mature readers keep literature in its place
4. Mature readers avoid making books into idols
5. Mature readers cling to the Saviour” (p177)
In the end, I really enjoyed Reinke’s conclusion:
“Regardless of how many books we read, we cling to the old rugged cross. When books overwhelm us, and our intellectual limitations discourage us, we recall the gospel. In the good news of Jesus Christ, overwhelmed readers find peace, and joy, and the courage to keep reading.” (p185)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Advent

If you are interested in using my advent calendars this year, just hop over to the “Resources” tab to download them. 

As usual, there are 2 options:
  • The Birth of Jesus - a set of 25 readings mainly from Luke and Matthew's gospels, so you can spend time thinking about when Jesus was born and what it means for us today.
  • Genesis to Jesus - a set of 25 readings covering the unfolding story of the bible and it's fulfilment in Christ.
Each day there is a bible reading, some questions to think about, a prayer, a special verse and some optional extras - something to draw, a song to listen to, a craft to do, etc.

This year our family will be doing The Birth of Jesus.  We are looking forward to it already, it is definitely a tradition we have all come to cherish.  If you would like more details as to how we do Advent, what goes in the little boxes, and how it has changed over time, see previous posts on Advent.

(update from 2017: these have now changed and are only 24 days of readings)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ordinary Hero

I have enjoyed a number of books written or co-written by Tim Chester over the years, especially The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness which became the source for a number of seminars I have run on the topic (and a whole series on in tandem)

Two more of his books have sat on my shelf for ages. I finally got one down: The Ordinary Hero. I will say I started off on the wrong foot, because I thought I was picking up a book about Jesus - that he was the ordinary hero that we model our lives on, and picked it up because I was keen to read directly about Jesus again. While it is certainly based all about Jesus and how his death and resurrection shapes who we are, the ordinary hero talked about is each of us who live our lives centred around this fact. My mistake, but I think that’s why it took me a while to get into it and a while to get through it.

With that misunderstanding out of the way and some time to change my mindset, this really is a very helpful book. Chester focuses on the cross and resurrection through 5 sections:
  1. The pardon of the cross - that because of what Jesus has done in dying for us has shown us his love, given us humility for none of us deserved it; and then gives us confidence because there is no now condemnation for those who are in Christ.
  2. The practice of the cross - the way Jesus died in sacrificial service is to be our model for life - we are also to die to self and instead consider sacrifice, submission, self-denial, service and suffering to be what we are called to. In this we find joy and meaning
  3. The pattern of the cross and resurrection is to see that life in Christ is suffering followed by glory. This was Christ’s experience and it must also be our own. Christ was a king, yes, but a king who suffered and so to seek to avoid suffering ourselves does not recognise the pattern to which Jesus called us.
  4. The power of the resurrection - we see that the resurrection gives life and freedom, yet also the power to be weak for in the cross life comes through death and strength comes through weakness (p150)
  5. The promise of the resurrection is powerful hope - we await a truly resurrected world, of justice, love and joy. We await a promise that is worth dying for and worth living life differently now. He finishes with challenges to check again where your heart is, where your thoughts are and where your treasure is.
This is a book for all those out there who think their life does not matter, that their struggles in the Christian life are not worth it or there is really no point. It is also a powerful counteractive to the popular notion that Christians should not suffer now and should experience all their future glory in this present world. It will remind you of what your Saviour did for you and how in response our lives can be shaped by the cross and resurrection, for our joy and for his glory.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Christmas Books

 Do you find that Christmas sneaks up on you from year to year and so you never have the resources or books on hand that you had planned to when you had great dreams about it in March?

That’s why I planned to post this in March! Oh well. Perhaps there is still time...

Two books we have discovered in recent years may make it to your Christmas reading list.

The first is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie. Meredith has been talking about her books for some time, and I was pleased to finally get my hands on this in time for Christmas last year.

It is a collection of 22 writings or sermons from authors such as Luther, Spurgeon, Augustine, Piper and Keller and each focuses on a different aspect of the Christmas story.

This was a great way to keep me anchored to the word of God throughout December and helped me focus on Jesus coming as Messiah and Lord. I combined it (accidentally, but with unexpected benefit) with reading through Luke 1-2 in depth at the same time and it was marvellous, there were treasures abounding in every verse.  I plan to do the same this year, starting on December 1.


The second one is for families: The Lion Storyteller Christmas Book by Bob Hartman and Krisztina Kallai Nagy. These are great read aloud stories for children. The book is divided into thirds:

1. These are the accounts of the first Christmas retold in segments. This section is very good and we really enjoyed them, they helped to add more to our own advent readings.

2. This section is a collection of stories explaining where various Christmas traditions have come from - like the tree, the presents, the man delivering presents, etc. These were interesting and fun.

3. The final section is a collection of Christmas tales and legends from around the world. These were fine, but we all preferred the first two sections.

We read it at night and it was a nice end to the day, especially if you read it around the Christmas tree! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Jesus Hokey Pokey

This new Colin Buchanan CD has been played regularly in our car in the last few months. It rose quickly to the top of the list and has steadily stayed there on request. We all loved the last Colin CD God Rock because it really appealed to my older son.

This one has appealed more to the younger ones, it seems Colin’s music has got younger again! There are the fun action tunes - Boss of the Cross, The Jesus Hokey Pokey, The Horsey Dance, Dig! Dig! Hammer Saw! (Building on the Lord) which all were great to experience the first time at his concert so we could see them in action. There are great songs about living for Jesus and the truth of the gospel: Truth is still True, God is Good all the Time, Invisible Believer and He’s the Greatest Name.

Then there are the songs that have great depth of meaning. Just like the older Press on Mums, his new Get Back to Jesus based on the prodigal son and his older brother brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

If you have kids in the pre-school and primary years, get this CD. And if you are a parent of children in this age range, and struggling to remember the goodness of God, his promises to us and how to live for him -  listen to it yourself with them, over and over again. You will be fed, encouraged and refreshed.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Making Couples Happy

I should have written this review months ago when it was fresher in my mind.  Oh well!  We watched this ABC Production over a few days in June and enjoyed it.

‘Enjoyed it’ is the wrong term actually, ‘found it helpful’ is a better one. There is not much enjoyment in watching the way marriages have deteriorated over time with unhelpful communication, destructive conflict management and poor attention to family of origin issues.

However it has much to offer. Four couples come to meet with experts and each other to address the issues that have pushed their marriages to the brink of survival.  Over four episodes spanning 8 weeks, they are assisted to see unhelpful patterns, to work through hurts and resentments and to face each other honestly.  No matter what stage your marriage is in, I would imagine there are many things covered here that you would see reflected in your own relationship – the realities of having a young family, work pressures and unmet expectations.

We found it helpful to be reminded how quickly resentments and bad habits can spiral when unaddressed. All the principles applied by the experts were sensible and similar to things we all know we should do – listen properly, speak positively and fight fairly, to name but a few.

One of the tips that I thought was really useful for an issue that particularly needs addressing is the idea of writing a letter to each other. Firstly, the letter written by the partner who is ‘at fault’ (bad use of language but you know what I mean). This was a long detailed letter with explanation but also asking for forgiveness. This was read out - a great idea, because then you get tone right. Then, the other spouse could draft their own letter of forgiveness and a commitment to move forward. (Actually it might not have been exactly this, but I took it away as a helpful idea!) In areas of large conflict or large transgression this may be a helpful way of both being able to address what happened, how it affected each of you and how to move forward, yet the process of writing out what to say in advance adds the ability to temper what you say and not react ‘in the heat of the moment’.

As pretty much all the marriage stuff we look at are Christian books, this DVD series provides another useful tool, being both non-religious and visual, therefore I could see the appeal for other applications. If a couple were really in crisis, professional help would be much better. But for those who want to stay on top of things and be proactive in this area, it might provide enough conversations starters and tools to get you going and hopefully keep you on track to a happier marriage.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Knuffle Bunny

I have almost left the world of children’s picture books, but every so often one comes across your path that you have to share.

Mo Willems has written and illustrated three books about Knuffle Bunny, the story of Trixie and her favourite toy.

In Knuffle Bunny, Trixie is a toddler out with daddy for the day when Knuffle Bunny gets lost. Oh no! The expressions on Daddy’s face during Trixie’s tantrums are fantastic.

In Knuffle Bunny Too Trixie is now a little older, having started pre-school. She takes her one and only special Knuffle Bunny to school only to discover that he is not so ‘one of a kind’ after all.  The page my children loved here was when Trixie finally realises the wrong knuffle bunny has come home with her and the caption to the illustration is ‘Trixie’s daddy tried to explain what “2:30am” means.’

The final in the series, Knuffle Bunny Free, shows Trixie as a schoolgirl, still with her treasured Knuffle Bunny on an international trip. We know what’s going to happen as Knuffle Bunny has been mislaid twice before. How Willems demonstrates it though is marvellous: older children will realise the truth that we do all eventually learn to cope with lost toys, and younger children will see how this could happen.

Overlaying these lovely stories are fantastic illustrations: photographs of scenes (mostly set in New York), with wonderfully expressive cartoon people drawn over them.

My 7 year old loved these, the older two both appreciated the humour and I really enjoyed reading them aloud. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Call the Midwife

Recently I finished watching the third season of Call the Midwife. I think it’s one of the best TV series I have ever seen. Based on the books by Jennifer Worth, they are a lovely insight into London’s East End in the 1950s through the eyes of Worth working as a midwife with the nuns of the Anglican convent Nonnatus House.

They are likeable and realistic characters (probably because they are based on real people!), very true-to-life birth scenes and a great insight into medical care at the time. Stories develop over the series as the nurses make friends & meet partners, and the lives of the nuns develop and change.

I recently read the first book in the series, which shows how closely the DVD series matched the stories in them.  I will try and get the other books to read on holidays.

I think I would like to own both the books and the DVDs – they make for both lovely reading and wonderful watching, and as my children get older this is a series I would happily watch with them.

I had assumed Season 3 would be the final series, the final episode definitely felt like a finale. However, apparently there is a 2014 Christmas special planned and also a Season 4 for 2015.  Some good viewing to look forward to!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Shyness, introversion and ministry

During the year I have listened to some wonderful interviews on the ABC Conversations program with Richard Fidler (lovely to fill in time on a long run).

There are great stories and interesting things about different people.  Recently an interview was with Sian Prior who has written Shy, A Memoir. Despite being an accomplished performer and journalist, she has suffered from shyness all her life.

Listening to it brought back many memories of my own experiences and how we learn to function with shyness in the world.

Some of these include:
  • Never liking children’s parties in primary school and often choosing to spend time with the host mother rather than the other children.
  • Hating giving talks up the front of class in high school, and being unable to stretch a book review talk to the required 2 mins.
  • Struggling to walk up to groups and join in a conversation.
  • Only really having one or two close friends at a time, rather than a lot of friends.
  • Being quite happy with my own company and quite contentedly enjoying a good book and some silence.
Then it made me ponder the reality of being a shy person and being in ministry.

Much of my natural shyness I have had to overcome in ministry:
  • While I struggle with it, I will walk up to new people and introduce myself.
  • I still find breaking into groups of people hard and am more likely to be seen standing on my own at church wondering who to approach.
  • I have learnt to lead services, give talks and speak up the front with ease and comfort – this is still astonishing to me.
However it has made me realise that shyness, and her related sister, introversion, do come at a cost. My husband is not shy, but is introverted.  At times, I am both.  Both of us need silence at times.  We both need to ‘veg out’ and not talk at the end of busy days before we have energy to talk together.  We both cherish silence but need to keep remembering realise that a house with 3 children will never be quiet.  We both want to be hospitable and have an open house, but know we have limits in how we can do so in a helpful way for others yet also for ourselves.

When we talk about ensuring about ministry is sustainable for the long term, it includes rest and holidays and days off, but it also means we need to ensure we don’t so overload ourselves with people that we are unable to care for ourselves, each other and our family. Some of the things we have found work for us are:
  • We do not host Sunday lunches. Sunday is busy enough with morning and evening church, and having people over for lunch means that there is no break in the day to recharge.
  • We try to make sure school holidays have no busy evenings. Evening meetings and catch ups mean we usually have 3-4 nights a week automatically taken up, and at times it’s 6-7 nights. Breaking the cycle every school holidays is a chance to re-set a bit and take a breather.
  • We share our calendars online. That means we can both see when things are getting too full and we need stop booking in more things.
  • I have to plan my days with ‘free-time’ to enable me to get through the evenings. Sometimes it feels decadent making myself put my feet up with a cup of tea for an hour or two in the early afternoon, but it means I can manage the rest of the day so much better.
  • We have to make a concerted effort to accept each other’s limitations in this area. When one of us cannot do more, we both have to respect that and change things accordingly.
I find it odd that people think I am not a shy person. I am definitely still shy. I just manage it reasonably well in public.

What about you?

Friday, October 3, 2014

ANZAC Girls

I stumbled across this ABC series as it was going to air.  Set in World War I, it chronicles the lives of Australian and New Zealand nurses who volunteer to serve along the armed services providing health care to the soldiers on the front. A six part series, it starts with them arriving in Egypt, progresses to Gallipoli, Lemnos Island, serving on hospital ships, and ends up in France.

I have always enjoyed a good medical show, with favourites such as A Country Practice, The Flying Doctors ER, Scrubs, Northern Exposure, Doogie Howser MD, Chicago Hope, M.A.S.H., N.C.I.S, and Call the Midwife featuring in my watching over the last 30 years.

So I was keen to give this one a try. The combination of history and medical ticks most boxes for me and I have really enjoyed this series. What is really nice is that while some liberties have been taken, the characters are based on real people, adding authenticity to the characters themselves and also to the brutal portrayal of war. You can read what happened to each of them upon returning to Australia here.

Recommended viewing.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What did you expect?

What did you expect?  Paul David Tripp

I have worked my way through this book over a couple of months. It took time and energy to read.  It took a willing heart to hear what it had to say and it took humility to accept it.  It will take longer to absorb its teaching and a lifetime to apply it.   It was very, very good.

Up until now when we recommend marriage books they have generally fallen into two categories:

I think Paul David Tripp has managed to combine the two in a way that is practical yet completely grounded in the gospel and God’s grace.

It’s not an easy read. It challenges you to the core of your being as to why you got married and what you expected from it. From that he makes it clear that:
  • You are conducting your marriage in a fallen world
  • You are a sinner, married to a sinner
  • God is faithful, powerful and willing
His overarching message is that a marriage of unity, love and understanding will grow out of a daily worship of God. It is our relationship with God that matters. How we view him as creator, sovereign and saviour defines the way we view our marriages. Addressing how we view God (our vertical relationship) is the key to how we view our marriage (our horizontal relationship). He emphasises that the mentality of a healthy marriage is living with a harvest mentality (there are consequences), an investment mentality and a grace mentality.

The main body of the book is structured around 6 commitments of marriage:

1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness. These powerful chapters nut out the real need for grace with each other on a daily basis. He strongly endorses a lifestyle that is confessional and forgiving in depth.

2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda. We must be willing to pull out the weeds in marriage – selfishness, busyness, inattention, self-righteousness, fear and laziness and replace them with fruitful seeds, for “you cannot escape the influence of what you do and say on the person you live with and your relationship to him or her.” (p117)

3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust. We must be willing to trust one another and be am person who is trustworthy, for trust is “readily given, easily broken and costly to restore” (p152). He claims that the early years of marriage are building years so we must set patterns of being straightforward, keeping our word, facing up to wrong and keeping short accounts of wrongdoing. To keep this up we must be talking, listening and praying.

4. We will commit to building a relationship of love. These chapters were quite challenging, exposing false ideas of love – the attraction that might be only physical, emotional or spiritual. Yet true love is cruciform – cross-shaped - and has very high goals. This chapter was a little overwhelming in terms of how true love could really look in a marriage, yet again grace was emphasised to show that none of us can do this alone.

5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace. These chapters addressed the positive ways differences can affect our marriages and then he dealt in depth with the idea of never letting sun go down on your anger. I am in two minds about this one, from personal experience, continuing an argument at night is often a bad idea for us. However the principle of never letting anger remain between you or always dealing with an issue is a good one.

6. We will work to protect our marriage. This is the section for those who already count themselves as having pretty good marriages. The risk of thinking you have a good marriage is that you stop working and start coasting, “there is one thing you have to accept: your marriage may be great, but it is not safe. No marriage this side of eternity is totally problem protected. No marriage is all it could be.” (p238) God’s grace can work things in all marriages, but you still have to do the work. He then encouraged couples to make prayer a central part of the marriage and to continue to remind themselves that it is their relationship with God that defines their marriage. It is both toil and trust. Work daily at the relationship yet trust that God is faithful, powerful and willing.

A very helpful book for any couple who are willing to keep putting in the work to make their marriage better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Crash Test Mummies & Daddies

There are a few DVD/TV show reviews coming up in coming weeks.  I seem to have found a few of note recently. 

This week's one is Crash Test Mummies and Daddies.  Produced by the ABC it chronicles the first four months for first time parents.  With five couples from diverse backgrounds and situations, there is:
  • An Asian couple with a Taiwanese mother who comes out for a month and insists on a traditional confinement period.
  • A Greek couple with a large involved extended family and the husband who works a lot.
  • A couple with the unexpected surprise of a baby, who are hoping it won't change their life too much.
  • A couple who broke up but decided to try make it work once they realised she was pregnant.
  • A young couple with financial struggles.
So it seems to be a pretty typical selection of average Australian new parents.  It starts with the reality of birth and those early weeks of sleep deprivation and feeding, mastitis and early health scares.  It shows them coming to terms with this massive life change, dealing with extended family and their expectations, returning to work and managing life at home. 

For those of us past this stage, it's a helpful and sometimes humorous reminder of what those early months were like.  For those in the thick of it, it could be good to watch others going through the same thing.  For those about to face it, it could be a helpful dose of reality and a good conversation starter for the two of you.

I have to say though as I watched these couples the phrase that kept flitting through my mind was that quote from Thoreau: "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

I have only watched 3 episodes of the 6 so far, you can catch them all still on iView.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Two movie reviews

Taking a break from book reviews for the next few weeks, today I’ll bring you 2 movie reviews.

These are just fun, enjoyable films, for different audiences.

1. CHEF

We saw this a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. It’s a fun, easy-going story with a great cast (including John Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Sofia Vergara).  It details the spectacular downfall of a restaurant chef, followed by remaking of himself with a food truck travelling across the US.

We loved it. It combined three great story elements: the fun of good quality food & cooking; the highs and lows of using online technology (mainly Twitter) to comment on people and what they do; and a lovely story of a father and a son.

It was a gently meandering story, nothing traumatic happened (rather like About Time which we also liked last year). I loved seeing some beautiful parts of the USA in the scenery and really think I should take my family to New Orleans where I spent some of my childhood and treat them to the delights of coffee & beignets!


2. FROZEN

Chances are anyone with daughters around the same age as mine (9 & 6.5) has already seen this and like us, probably also already owns the DVD. My girls LOVE this movie.

I took our elder daughter to see it when it came out, and we were both delighted with it. Now, our younger daughter is equally hooked.

It is the story of Elsa, Queen of Arendelle, who has special powers to turn things to ice, but she cannot control them. She hides away from the world, including her sister Anna, who she does not want to hurt. When Elsa’s powers threaten to destroy Arendelle, she flees and Anna follows her to bring her back. With a love story along the way, a snowman Olaf, some great fun trolls and a reindeer for sidekicks, it is lots of fun.

For my girls, I love the message that the true love that saves them in the end in the love of sisters, not the love of a man. This is a quite a change from your average Disney princess movie. I also love that when Anna becomes engaged to Hans after one day, everyone thinks she is crazy and keeps telling her so.

It has a great soundtrack, which my daughters sing to each other most of the day, after having decided to it was worth spending their money to download their favourite songs. I personally think Disney hasn’t produced a soundtrack this good since The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

So, if you want some light, fun kids or adult viewing, you might like these ones.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Serving Without Sinking

Serving without Sinking, John Hindley

Here is another offering by The Good Book Company, in the same series as Compared to Her.

John Hindley faces head on the issue many committed Christians feel - we should serve, we are called to serve, we want to serve, and yet sometimes it is very hard work, be it through tiredness, busyness, or being unappreciated and unacknowledged.

He challenges us to see that many of the reasons we serve as Christians are actually flawed. They can come from a wrong view of God and Jesus - I serve to be good enough, I serve to get something, or I serve to pay Him back. We can also have a wrong view of people so we serve to impress or belong; or we can have wrong view of ourselves so perhaps we serve because we think Jesus needs us, or in fact we don’t really need Jesus. All of these possibilities are fleshed out well with good examples and explanation, and I could honestly see myself in all of them at various times.

He ends this section with the challenge that if we see these reasons operating strongly in us and we feel like our serving is sinking us, we should consider stopping some of our service:
“If you’ve sat reading and the thought keeps coming: I know this is me. But I can’t stop for a while to sort my heart out. I’m the only cleaner. I’m the one who lives close enough to open up. I’m the pastor. then remember: it is better to quit your job than lose your Lord.” (p44)
Hindley then take us back to Christ and our relationship with him. Through a series of chapters, he leads us to see that we are served by Christ, we are friends with him, we are his bride and we are his true sons; and even now Christ is still serving us. Through all of this, we can see that serving follows love and Christ is indeed our first love, and so serving Him brings joy.

The strength of these little books seems to be in identifying the issues. Like Compared to Her, I found the last few chapters on how we find our true value in Christ a little light on and would have liked to see them fleshed out a little further. However these books are designed to be short and easily readable, and so that is really only a comment from someone who always likes to read in more detail!

As service is an area in which many Christians are indeed serving for the wrong reasons and sinking in the process, this would be a great ‘reset’ for both our motivations and our desire to serve Christ fully.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Running on Empty

Running on Empty, Barbara Bancroft

I was sent this book by New Growth Press, and very much enjoyed this one of their latest offerings.

Barbara Bancroft is a ministry wife in the US, who with her husband Josiah has been involved in parish ministry, church planting and mission work. So in writing this book for women in ministry, you know she understands the joys and challenges that face wives and women in a variety of ministry situations.

Subtitled The Gospel for Women in Ministry, Bancroft brings her reader back again and again to the gospel, emphasising that this good news is one we also need to hear repeatedly; and while we are often tempted to rely on our abilities (or despair at our lack of them), in fact we must keep relying on the work of Christ for us and the Spirit working in us.

She does not want us to shy away from the role or position we have, whether paid or alongside our husband, in fact alerting us to the reality that “those in ministry are in a unique position to deeply affect the life of the church” (p65), yet “being in ministry places us in a battle for our faith and faith of others... All who work in the church...live in harm’s way and feel the effects of the battle. The difficulties of ministry are real and many have fallen. We all know stories of adultery and secret sins, children who have left the faith, and burn-out, just to name a few.” (p58)

I found myself resonating with many issues Bancroft raised. In truth many of them would be relevant to all Christians and to Christian women generally, but they do hold a power over many women in ministry.  Some of the issues she dealt with in detail were:
  • How women in ministry and ministry wives are viewed differently from the rest of the congregation. This includes people’s expectations and stereotypes, and expectations you place on yourself. This also affects friendships and how honest you can be with people about your own life and various situations.
  • Some of the unique dynamics missionaries face, including raising support and people’s view that you are somehow spiritually superior
  • The ways our culture affects us and our ministry, and the need to be able to see the culture we are in and be able to critique it.
  • The trap of feeling entitled to more or envious of those around us - be it money, skills, support, or appreciation.
Yet amongst all these issues, which are very real, Bancroft keeps bringing us back to the cross and the message of the gospel. We are reminded of our very real sin, our great need for a Saviour, the need to forgive for we have been forgiven and the joy it is to serve our Lord.

I wrote many notes on each chapter and could easily have given you a whole list of great quotes. I found myself often smiling in wry acknowledgement and nodding in agreement as I read along. It should be noted that it is written with a strong North American emphasis, but mostly can be easily converted to our Australian situation. She also assumes a complementarian view of ministry and I loved how she addressed even some issues women can face here: “In the church, humbling ourselves under the leadership of men may be one of the hardest things women do, particularly if we are competent leaders ourselves.” (p108)

Bancroft has also structured each chapter very helpfully. She sets up the issues, clearly identifying it and how we find ourselves in it, then asks some diagnostic questions for our own personal assessment and honesty; then she delves into a bible passage to help re-orient our thinking. I felt many issues were dealt with well and at length and not just glossed over.

In the end, the overwhelming positive emphasis of this book is that she keeps bringing women back to the gospel, encouraging heart change, confession and a desire to let Christ do his good work in us through the Spirit.

A very helpful book.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Out of my mind

Out of my mind, Sharon M. Draper

We have discovered another excellent book for upper primary students, as good as Wonder (high praise indeed!).  Wonder is the story of a boy with a facial disfigurement; this is the story of a 11-year old girl with cerebral palsy.  Melody is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move her body with precision (except her thumbs), and unable to talk.  While a very intelligent girl with a photographic memory, no-one except close friends and family have ever seen past her disability to acknowledge what her mind contains.  That is, until she gets a talking computer which all of a sudden challenges school friends, teachers and others to realise that just because someone’s body is limited is does not mean their mind is.  There are also two big twists in the story which left us both completely surprised and very keen to read on.

I read this to my 11 year old son and he loved it.   It is more serious than Wonder (although that has very serious parts, it is also very funny). In some ways the pain for Melody is more raw, I struggled to read numerous sections through my tears, although my son is used to that now!

This should also be on all school reading lists, it would provide excellent material for discussion amongst upper primary and also high school students about both the realities of living with a disability, and how people can be unkind and thoughtless as they make incorrect assumptions. 

Highly recommended. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex

Can you tell the age my kids are getting to? I am reading cyber parenting books and lots of pre-teen children’s fiction.

When I did a series in 2012 on teaching children about sex, my husband was reading What’s The Big Deal? with our 9 year old son, now it's my turn to read it with our 9 year old daughter.   My husband is also about to the read the next in the series, Facing the Facts, with our now 11 year old son.

This is my first foray into giving detailed information about God’s view of sex, and the realities of sex outside of marriage with one of our children.  It’s going well so far.  In order to feel a bit more prepared to do so, I read a book for parents by the same authors: How and When to Tell your Kids About Sex.

It was very helpful.  I had realised that although I wanted to be open and address issues factually and without either squeamishness or fanfare, I wasn’t entirely how to do so once the conversation and questions turned to more specific questions. This was a great resource in helping me think through such things, with sample conversations and ideas for age-appropriate information.

They deal with 4 stages: infancy to kindergarten, pre-puberty, puberty and adolescence. Over all of these stages, they have developed 12 principles of sex-education with can be applied to across these stages. These principles include:
  • Parents are the principal sex educators
  • First messages are the most potent
  • We should seize teachable moments and become askable parents
  • Stories are powerful teaching tools
  • Positive messages are more powerful than negative messages
  • We must inoculate our children against destructive moral messages
  • Sexuality is not the most important thing in life
I finished reading this book with much more confidence about how to address topics and seize teachable moments. We are committed to being open, honest and very positive about sex and God’s design for it with our children; this book gave me some extra tools to actually be able to do it.

Just like with the cyber parenting book reviewed last week, I am reminded that being a parent requires us to be pro-active in many areas.   Here is another area which I want to be prepared, ready and willing to teach my kids a helpful, godly way forward and to be able to point out the contrasting morals of our world.   This book is a great help in enabling us to do so.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cyber Parenting

Cyber Parenting: Raising your kids in an online world, James & Simone Boswell

I really liked this book: it is helpful, practical and biblical. The Boswells have done parents of today’s children a great benefit. Being Australian it fits perfectly with our context, although as it deals with an online world, it is appropriate for everywhere.

The most grounding part of this book is the reminder again and again that as parents today we are facing nothing new. Although some technology, social media, gaming, etc are new for our generation, the issues they raise are as old as time. The Boswells take us back to the words of Ecclesiastes, showing that all the issues with technology today are the same issues of the heart that people have faced for thousands of years – be they wisdom, self-control, where we find our value and what we make our idols. I found this incredibly reassuring, for at times I can feel a bit panicky about parenting children in our online world. This helped me to remember that all issues are heart issues and God knows about them all.

It is divided into four parts:

1. The basics: introducing the impact of technology and some basic technological details for those that need it. Here and throughout the book they emphasise again and again it is about the heart. “Parenting is more than setting up eternal rules. Parenting is about getting to the heart of our children, training them in right living, investing in their lives and helping them to understand a biblical world view” (p30).

2. A look at the basics of parenting – how we want to teach our children about the Lord and his word, and train them in godliness and character. With this in mind, they talk about a biblical world view and then many areas of character we want to train our children in: such as honesty, integrity, patience, etiquette, contentment and self-control. While all of these are applied to the world of technology it is clear that these are characteristics we want to raise our children in, no matter whether they are online or offline. This section then moves to consider issues such as trust and responsibility, teaching wise choices and developing maturity. All of this is very helpful.

3. Then they move to address the four main areas of the online world: social networking (with an emphasis on Facebook), cyber bullying, gaming and pornography. This was full of wisdom and practical suggestions, and is essential reading for parents of children who are already online or soon to be.

4. The final section deals with the practical areas of managing your networks, security, passwords and parenting controls. These are the tips to help you set up a safe online environment. Of course, these go alongside the active role of teaching in parenting, yet are useful things to have in place in the home and on various devices.

In the end, this book is an excellent reminder that as parents we are called to parent with wisdom and grace, to be involved and aware, and to deal with issues of the heart. We should have practical boundaries and measures in place, but not rely on them to do the job of parenting for us.

I will definitely continue to refer to this one in years to come as we navigate the online world with our children.


You can see a little bit of it online here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shaunti Feldhahn

This book, from the author of For Women Only (link to my review series) and For Men Only along with other books along the same lines, has now done further research on marriage and come up with this little gem. Like her other books, it is incredibly easy to read, presenting the results of research in an easily-digestible format.

Feldhahn’s research was to investigate couples who both independently described their marriages as very happy. Then through interviews and surveys she found 12 habits and traits that were common to those couples.
“[The authors] discovered again and again that contrary to popular belief, it’s usually not the biggies – in-laws, money, sex – that determine the level of day-to-day mutual happiness in a marriage. Much more often, it’s daily unspoken beliefs, assumptions, and practices that make the difference regardless of the big issues. In other words, it’s how we handle those issues that determines how much we enjoy marriage.” 
 They included things like:
  • choosing to believe the best of each other (eg. rather than they intended to hurt your feelings)
  • controlling their thought processes - stopping negative trains of thought and focussing on positive ones
  • being factual about their fantasies – not longing for things their partner can't deliver
  • choosing to spend time together
  • putting their trust in God foremost, rather than each other
  • being fully committed to each other – financially, emotionally, etc (against the world’s advice)
  • being constantly grateful for each other and find ways to communicate it
As someone who is in a ‘highly happy marriage’, I found it confirmed a number of things I already would have thought of and put words around others. I agreed with pretty much everything she said. For those who would like their marriage to be better, I think it could provide some good simple and achievable goals to work at together (ideally) or even on your own.
“Change – even in challenging marriages – most often starts with one immediate, practical, surprising choice. A choice made by just one partner. And you can make it. The day you put one surprise in secret to work in a relationship – and then another – may go unnoticed by your partner. But you have launched an insurrection against mediocrity and unhappiness.” 
It’s suitable for Christians and non-Christians alike. While supporting a Christian world-view, she doesn’t overstate it, so many unbelievers could still find much to use and apply. At the same time, because it is clear from her investigations that a faith in God and a commitment to the institution of marriage is highly beneficial for couples, it could open up conversations too.

Recommended, easy reading – treat yourselves and buy it for your wedding anniversary!

***

Having re-read this again in 2020, I still think this is a great book for couples looking to consider how to improve things in simple ways. It may not deal with all major problems, but will certainly help those who are a bit stuck. Many of her findings are similar to those found in Gottman, just expressed differently.

It's also my recommended book for 'non-readers' - short, to the point and easily applicable.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How People Change

How People Change, Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp

Having enjoyed and learnt much from reading When People Are Big and God is Small last year, I returned to another book by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) this year and similarly have been greatly encouraged and challenged by How People Change.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much this book has changed my thought processes and resultant action. It started when a friend presented a seminar last year which really challenged me to look at my heart in all things, rather than externals. Of course, you say, we all know we are supposed to do that. Yes, we do – but how do we actually do it? Her main thinking had come from this book.

How People Change is one of the few books I have read that clearly identifies the issues that face us in life, shows us how often we respond sinfully, and yet leads us to see that with the truths of the gospel shaping us, we can change to grow in godly responses and living. It is not a self-help book. Rather it is an examination of what drives us, how we live in response and how God working in us can change us.

The overarching idea is that our lives are full of heat - the various aspects of our lives that will produce a response; be it suffering, hardship, blessing, prosperity or anywhere in between. The response the heat produces can often be thorns, that is, ungodly responses to such situations, such as complaining, anger, materialism, narcissism, etc.

What Lane and Tripp drive us towards is the cross: how we can see what Christ has done for us in overwhelming and abundant grace, and how we let that become the focus and centre of our hearts and life. Like using a scalpel on your heart, they lead you to identify your deepest motivations and desires and then realign them according to what Christ has done. After that, because Christ dwells in us, instead of thorns, we can produce fruit.

In this second half of the book, which clearly identifies each of these stages, there are questions that you can work through for yourself. In identifying where the heat is in your life and which thorns you are likely to produce, you are then ready to come back to the cross in true repentance and humility, joyful that Christ brings about true, lasting change and fruit.

In the weeks that I was reading this book I found it practically applicable in many ways:
  • As I thought about my own ‘thorny’ responses to life situations & was challenged because of what Christ has done to make them more ‘fruitful’.
  • When I spoke with friends about their particular challenges and the decisions that led them there.
  • When I led a seminar on a Christian view of reading and challenged us all to examine our hearts when we thought about what we read.
  • As I worked through some personal issues with one of our children and tried to get them to see how their behaviour was coming from their heart and showed what they valued most.
For years I have heard people say things like “you have to come back to the cross”, “it’s all about letting the gospel shape you” or “it must change your heart”. While I fully agreed with the sentiment, the practical how of doing that always left me a little bewildered. How do I respond to my children according to what Christ has done? When is rest or relaxation just a good gift and when it is starting to become something I value more highly that Christ? I felt that this book helped me start to answer those questions and think about a way forward.

This is highly recommended reading for all Christians. All of our lives are full of situations that demand a response – but do we bear thorns or fruit in them? How do we change from a thorny response to a fruity one? How do we make sure it is Christ and his work in us that is what changes us, not just a desire to look good?

In addition, this book would be especially helpful for those who are in mentoring, pastoring and counselling roles. It made me so keen I went on to investigate the CCEF counselling courses online - perhaps a goal for another year!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Best Sex for Life

The Best Sex for Life, Dr Patricia Weerakoon

We have an ever increasing list of books to share with married couples and a whole list we give them about marital intimacy when we catch up after they have been married for six months. This one is definitely near the top of the list, it’s been promoted to one of my top three books on sex in marriage.

Patricia Weerakoon has done married couples a great favour with this book. She is open, honest, straight to the point, up to date, and has no qualms dealing with many of the sex issues that face those who are married. At the same time, it is well and firmly grounded in the truths of the gospel and how God’s view of sex should shape our lives. Her overarching idea is that marriage is a public, outward looking commitment which is enhanced and strengthened by a healthy, honest and strong sex life.

She covers various stages of sexuality in marriage, starting with the engagement period, moving to the honeymoon and early years, the main years of marriage and its potential strains (children, tiredness, etc) and then with a frank and open look at sex in the senior years. In doing so, Weerakoon has provided a resource for couples to last many, many years.

The book is broken into 3 parts:
  1. A theology of biblical sexology – how God’s views sex, how sin has marred it, and how it can be redeemed for God’s glory
  2. Understanding your body – helpful basics on sexual organs and response for men and women
  3. Sex and the life cycle – various chapters on different life stages and some issues raised within them.
All of this is very helpful and will provide good information for couples who are engaged or newly married, as well as extra information for those who have been married for some time. Some may find the biological and chemical details of what occurs during the stages of sex in section 2 in more detail than interests them.  

However, I thought the best part of the book was Appendices 2 and 3, which contain practical exercises for couples who are struggling.

Appendix 2 is a detailed up to 9-week program to help couples for whom sex is a struggle and  concern to try to work towards a better intimate life. Appendix 3 is a sheet to fill out and share with each other which addresses how we respond to each other and how things could be better.

These are brilliant resources. As anyone who is married can attest, talking about sex with your spouse can be difficult at times. When things are not great ‘in the bedroom’ that conversation is even harder. Yet the thought of going to a therapist or counsellor for such private matters does not appeal to many. In addition as Christians, this is an area where secular counselling often just does not fit the bill. I know of a few professional Christian sex therapists in Sydney, yet I know of none in Adelaide; which leaves Christian couples in many places unsure of where to turn. These appendices could be a great resource. Sort of like a counselling session without having to actually go to a counsellor. Even if things are good in your marriage, these exercises could be of great benefit.

A great book for marrieds to help make sure that intimacy stays a strong part of your life together.

After having re-read this in 2020, it still remains high on my recommended reading list. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Plans for this year


So, you are up to date and musings is finally up and running again!

At this stage, my plan is to keep sharing with you about the good books that I am reading.

There may be other thoughts thrown in along the way, but books is where our attention will focus.

I’m aiming for a weekly book review at this point – we’ll see how we go! First one: Monday.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A return to blogging

Hello, old friends. If there are any of you still out there that is!

Almost five months off. How time flies when you are having fun.

It has taken some time to decide to re-start blogging again. For a while there I wasn’t sure if I would and to be honest, I’m still not sure. However, I am reading good books again, and while I continue to read good books there seems to be some point in sharing them with others.

Over this week I’ll give you a brief update on life here over the last 5 months, and then we’ll get started again on book reviews next week.

[For those that would like a little-Easter kick start, you can get some ideas from previous years by reading the Easter posts. If you want to do the Easter Readings with your family (via resources tab), they start next week (April 7), so there is still lots of time to print it and think about putting some eggs together with the key verses. Personally, I am loving my annual dip into Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross by Nancy Guthrie.]