Monday, September 28, 2015

A Severe Mercy

A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken

A friend put this book in my hands assuring me I would like it & she was right.  I quickly was caught up in the story of Sheldon & his wife Jean (Davy).   The two met in their college years in Virginia and instantly connected.  A deep, all-consuming love for each other developed, and a decision to so commit to their love that they must share everything – all thoughts, emotions, books read and experiences.  They even decide not have children because it could come between their love.  It’s a somewhat alarming opening chapter, but necessary to explain all that follows later.

When the opportunity to study at Oxford arises, they excitedly move across the Atlantic.  In their early days they make a number of close friendships, all with people who happen to be Christians.   Their exposure to intelligent, well-read men & women who take their faith seriously caused both to decide to investigate Christianity properly.  They started by reading a number of works by C.S. Lewis and decide to write to him, which begins a long friendship and many years of letter-writing.  As a number of Lewis’ letters are included in full, it also gives a clearer picture of him as a letter-writer than the biography C. S. Lewis: A Life did.

Over time Davey and then Sheldon come to faith.  
it was the rather chilling realisation that I could not go back.  In my old easy-going theism, I had regarded Christianity as a sort of fairy tale; and I had neither accepted nor rejected Jesus, since I had never, in fact, encountered him.  Now I had.  The position was not, as I had been comfortably thinking all these months, merely a question of whether I was to accept the Messiah or not.  It was a question of whether I was to accept him – or reject…   This was not to be borne.  I could not reject Jesus.  There was only one thing to do, once I had seen the gap behind me.  I turned away from it and flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.  (p98-99)
At first I had, as Davy had had, an astonishing assurance and certainty about my choice, despite the doubts that had harried me so long.  I believe that a new Christian is given a special grace – joy and assurance – in the beginning, however feeble the choosing.  Until the new-born Christian has learned to stand and walk a little.  (p103) 
In the following years they continue to think through what it means to be a Christian and how that affects their previous plan of total-commitment to each other.   Davey then becomes chronically ill and Sheldon nurses her to her death (in her thirties).    This is not a spoiler – the back of the book says as much.

There is much in this book to recommend it – it is a genuine deep and true love story, it is the story of real conversion and the change that it brings, it is the realisation that death might not be the worse thing that could happen between two lovers, it is a moving insight into grief, and it is beautifully written.  Vanauken has sprinkled it liberally with his own poetry and the letters between him and Lewis.   As a result of reading it, I have turned back to some of Lewis’s writing, which has also been very encouraging.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

I remember reading this book about 10 years ago and it stayed with me for a long time.  I came across it again recently.

I have been reminded how powerful it is.  It starts with the brutal murder of 14-year old Susie Salmon, which thankfully is not dwelt on.  As her parents, siblings and friends all face the awful truth in various ways, we see each of them in their raw grief and later methods of coping.  At the same time, Susie is watching over them all as well as her killer, from her heaven.  As time marches inevitably on, Susie comes to realise that the world as she knew it is changing, and her loved ones will all keep living their lives, never forgetting her, but able to move forwards.  

You can see why it was a success.  It raises questions many people have about heaven, how the dead view the living, and whether we can speak to the dead.  It presents an idea of heaven that many people want to believe in – that heaven is what you make it, it has the people and things you want in it, and parts of it overlap with other people’s heavens.

It’s the type of book you can read in one long sitting, glued to what happens.  It makes you think about justice, death, and life after death.  It makes you ponder real grief and how families ever manage to get through such events.

I imagine it could be a great book for a book group, when you want to talk about things that really matter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Knowing God

Knowing God, J.I. Packer

I have spent the last few months embedded in this treasure.  While all the reading I have done on marriage and parenting this year has been valuable, I decided I needed to return to the basics and read more about God.

It has been time very well spent.  I have never read this classic before and am so glad I have now done so. 

Packer has structured his book in three parts.  The first – Know the Lord – talks about what it meant to know God, the difference between knowing about God and actually knowing Him, and how he has made himself known in Christ the Son.

Part 2 – Behold your God – draws our vision upwards to the characteristics of God – His majesty, unchangeability, wisdom, truth, love, grace, justness, wrath, goodness and jealousy.

Part 3 – If God Be For Us – brings all these truths together and shows us what it means for our relationship with Him.  How propitiation is the heart of the gospel.   How sonship & adoption is the highest privilege the gospel can offer.   How God guides us.  How we live in times of trial.  And how God is fully adequate for all we need.

It is full of wisdom and insight and I have been greatly encouraged. The five pages of notes written as I read it will stay on my desk for a while as I try to keep remembering and focussing on the things I have learnt and been reminded of.  Suffice it to say, if you have not read Knowing God, or it’s been a while, I highly recommend it.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

God Made All of Me

A new resource is being released today by New Growth Press. I have been privileged to see an advance copy and am excited to share it with you. Sometimes reviewing books brings sadness and grief at the state of the world, and that sin requires certain books to be written. At the same time, I’m very glad God Made All of Me has been written, so that parents and carers have an excellent resource to teach their children about body safety and the appropriate and inappropriate touch of others.

It is written by Justin A. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb, authors of books such as Rid of My Disgrace and Is it My Fault? which deal with different aspects of abuse for adults.

God Made All of Me is aimed at children aged 2-8, although you could definitely read it to older children, especially if you struggle to talk about these issues in conversation. It is clear and simple, told in a family setting (Mum, Dad, daughter Kayla and son David). It deals with the differences in types of touch and explains to kids that if they don’t like it, don’t want it, or it makes them feel weird, they can say no. They talk about how this even applies to family members, with the implication being if you don’t want an elderly relative to kiss and cuddle you, you don’t have to. Some families will possibly need to talk about this further, depending on various relative’s expectations.

It also draws a clear distinction between secrets and surprises and helps adults think about the language they use. One thing I really liked was the encouragement for kids to keep trying to tell someone if they need to, even if people seem busy (with a picture of Dad reading the paper and Mum having coffee at her laptop!). Then there is the chance to talk with your child about who their ‘safe & strong’ people are – people who they can talk to if they need to – this is a great practical idea and it’s helpful to hear who your kids think are their safe people.

I have only ever seen one other book that talks about these issues, which was very good and was published by Family Planning Queensland.   The clear advantage of God Made All of Me, is that it is in a strongly Christian framework talking about how God made all of our bodies.

My note of warning about that book also stays the same for this one: if you have it in your house, do not leave it around for children to read on their own. The front page has sexual assault statistics, and at the end there are notes for parents “9 ways to protect your children from sexual assault”, which could be just too much information, especially for young children. This is definitely a book to read with your children and talk about with them, not just hand to them.

For more details, see the website  It's definitely a book worth getting.

Friday, September 4, 2015

How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk

How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlich

Thanks to Tamie’s recommendation after my Siblings Without Rivalry review, I got my hand on this one by the same authors. Again, it is very helpful.

It was also originally published ~30 years ago, but the suggestions and ideas in it are still relevant today. They do not seem to have updated the original book, but have added extra sections of comments and answers to questions at the back in newer editions.

The main things they deal with are:
  • Helping children to identify and acknowledge their feelings, and as parents, enabling them to do so. The more I have tried this, the more challenging I have realised it is.
  • Tips on engaging children to co-operate with the things they are required or expected to do, in ways they are likely to respond and take responsibility
  • Alternatives to punishment – their theory is much of the time punishment is a distraction and is not dealing with the actual issue, rather problem solving is the answer. In essence, this is identifying what the real issue is and then teaching your kids how to solve it. There were helpful practical ideas here, some of which I have already put into practice in our home.  Of course this cannot extend to every scenario, sometimes discipline is necessary, but it is helpful in making you think more about what you are doing in this area and why.
  • Encouraging autonomy – finding ways to help your children make decisions and take responsibility for themselves
  • Ways to praise effectively and accurately
  • Avoiding assigning roles (this was covered much more extensively in Siblings Without Rivalry)
This is another very helpful, very practical book. It seems to have application for almost all ages of children – from toddlers right through to teenagers.

Husband read it too - his succinct summary was:  ask, listen and don't lecture.   A simple take home message.