Monday, June 24, 2019


Parenting, Paul David Tripp

I came to this book wanting to love it. I was ready to love it. After all, I have greatly appreciated much of Tripp’s other writing, notably Age of Opportunity (about teenagers), What Did you Expect? (about marriage) and Dangerous Calling (about ministry). Tripp has a lot of wisdom and he is skilled at applying the bible and God’s grace to many aspect of Christian living.

In the end, I liked it but I did not love it. Let me start with the positives.

Subtitled: 14 Gospel Principles that can radically change your family, he openly acknowledges this is a book that is meant to reorient us, to bring us back to the gospel in every aspect of parenting. He wants us to see our role as ambassadors, we are to represent Christ to our children.
“parenting is not first about what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children”
He reminds parents they have a calling to introduce his glory and grace to our kids. We have been given grace, so that we move “toward them as a sinner in need of grace needing to confront a sinner in need of grace”. I appreciated the reminder that God is parenting us as we parent our children, we all still need encouragement, correction and growth in maturity.

He reminds parents that God is the one in control and God is the only one who can change their hearts. We are to see parenting as one unending conversation, with the chance to see many “mini-moments of change” along the way. Other gospel principles he addresses along the way include: identity, that they are lost, the idea of authority, foolishness, false gods and the desire for control.

He is frank and honest with parents, which, sometimes, we need to hear:
“What gets in the way of good parenting is the not a lack of opportunity. What gets in the way of good parenting is not the character of your child. What gets in the way of parenting is one thing: the character of the parent.”
However, as I said, I did not love it, and here are some of the reasons why. It would have been great to have some reflection questions and suggestions for prayer at the end of each chapter. This might have helped with focussing a response.

Secondly, the writing style is quite repetitious. He restates the same thing numerous times in various ways, presumably for emphasis, but it makes the book longer than it needs to be, and it feels long-winded at points.

However, the biggest issue I had was with the tone. It seems to be written because he felt people misunderstood what he was trying to say in Age of Opportunity. So, right away, there is an idea of ‘you’ve got it all wrong, and let me correct you’. This condescending tone continues throughout, with a lot of absolutes: “You cannot…”, “You must…”, “You must never…”, “You cannot allow yourself to settle for anything less.” So, while it is a book about grace in parenting, the book did not feel like it was written with grace for the parent who was reading it.

So, in my opinion, this book comes with a warning. Do not read it when your heart is wounded and you are struggling in your parenting. Rather, read it when you are open to challenge, and want to realign your heart and motivations as you parent.

Monday, June 17, 2019

For Young Women Only

For Young Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice

We gave this to Miss 14 on her birthday, thinking it was time to start some conversations about how guys think and what might be is helpful for her to understand. I have done a very detailed book series review (10 years ago!) on For Women Only, so have looked at similar material in depth before. I have often found Feldhahn’s writing to be helpful and very easy to read and digest.

She has provided a simpler book here and covered six of the original topics about men in this book, and adapted them to be about young men, backed up with more research. These are:

  • Men value respect over love
  • Behind the bravado is a guy who’s insecure
  • Guys hide behind a tough exterior but are willing to open up
  • Most guys are visual
  • They value your inner beauty, but also appreciate your outer beauty
  • It takes work to control physical desire and they want help to do so

In For Women Only, it’s about husband and wives, so the focus in that is on your relationship and understanding each other better.

Obviously, there is application to boy/girl romantic relationships here, but much of it is how to understand the young men in your life better, be they guy friends, brothers, or indeed, boyfriends. As such it was still very applicable to Miss 14 as she thinks the young men around her. She really enjoyed reading it and devoured it over a few nights and then we were able to talk about it. It was helpful for her to consider many of these things and how she might interact with them. Respecting boys was one to consider, it’s easy to all just put each other down. Considering the visual nature of men too, helped us think about how what they see and imagine is not always what we think. In fact, every chapter had something we could talk about. We didn’t spend ages on it, but it was a good springboard for some thoughts to consider and there are lots of things we can come back to later. As an added bonus, it made me think again about how to interact with my teenage son in ways that are helpful for him.

They are pretty careful how they deal with the chapter that talks about how boys do care about how you look, not in terms of clothes and makeup, but more in terms of body health and weight and that the girl herself makes an effort. Both authors are honest about their own struggles in this area, so that is a note of warning if your ‘young woman’ has issues in this area.

Like all books for this age group, and on these topics, I highly recommend a parent reads it too and discusses it with them. I chose to read it and talk about it with her, but if would have worked if Husband had too.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer

If you like to learn about history, but wonder about how much truth is in historical fiction, yet struggle with a dry textbook format – this middle ground may be for you. Mortimer has collated historical information, but placed it in a present tense format in a guide book style, as if you were planning to visit 14th century England. It’s a clever idea, and one that has a lot of merit.

It’s interesting and amusing to read a list of the Top Ten places to see in London, how you might dress to fit in and what you might expect to eat while staying at an inn. Warnings about the dangers of travelling on the roads, or by sea, make ideas of medieval travel come to life; as do the descriptions of illnesses that affect people, most notably the plague as well as typhoid and leprosy.

He describes homes (from palaces to hovels), the range of food from pottage for peasants to banquets for lords, the justice system, what people wear and what they do for work. He considers how they greet each other, what constitutes humour and the games children play.

By writing a guidebook, Mortimer considers things that other historical writings may ignore:
“The idea of travelling to the Middle Ages allows you to understand these people not only in terms of evidence but also in terms of their humanity, their hopes, the drama of their lives.”
While the term medieval refers to numerous centuries, he has concentrated on the fourteenth for:
“It might be considered the epitome of the Middle Ages, containing civil wars … sieges, outlaws, monasticism, cathedral building … famine, the last of the crusades, the Peasants’ Revolt and (above all else) the Black Death.”
A trip to this time is incomplete without a visit to London,
“It is not just the largest city in England but also the richest, the most vibrant, the most polluted, the smelliest, the most powerful, the most colourful, the most violent and the most diverse.”
It’s a fair warning that “medieval society is more fearful, guarded and violent than that which you are familiar”, yet at the same time they “love music. It is – along with a love of good food, good jokes and good stories – one of those aspects of life which unites everyone”.

Consider, at the same time, the uniqueness of jousting:
“Where else, in all history, can you see the richest, most powerful and most privileged members of society risk injury for your entertainment? Where else in all history can you find rich and powerful men paying for the privilege of breaking their necks and goring each other in public?”
It did feel a little long and detailed at points, with possibly too much information about some aspects of life. Those who live in England might find all the pricing information relevant, but as I have no concepts of pounds and pence, all the ‘d’ and ‘s’ currency was virtually incomprehensible for me, let along comparative to current costs. So, even though it groaned at points under the details, it was always still interesting reading and while some sections lent themselves to a bit more skimming, overall it was curiously informative and well presented.

It seems Mortimer has written two other books of a similar format, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England and The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain (1660-1700), as well as history books and some historical fictions. I may well turn to some of those now too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wild Rose

I had the privilege of seeing Universal Pictures new release last night: Wild Rose.

Starring the very talented singer Jessie Buckley, it tells the story of Rose-Lynn and her dreams of being a Western singer. Her location is stacked against her living in Glasgow, which hardly has a vibrant country music scene. Much more complicated through is that she has just been released from prison for supplying heroin, and she has two young children who hardly know her who her mother (Julie Walters) has been raising.

It's probably categorised as "gritty feel-good", a messy life story in which Rose needs to figure out what really matters most to her - her dreams or her family, and whether you chase your hopes or fulfil your responsibilities.

I found the first half hour a bit slow, as we adjusted to the strong Scottish accents and regular swearing and drinking. But once she sang the first song live and unaccompanied (Peace in this House), it took off.

On Rose's arm is tattooed "Three chords and the truth", being the heart of country music and each song she sings is strong, heartfelt and exactly right for the moment in the movie. The songs tell the story as much as the dialogue does and Buckley's singing is excellent, both with original prices and  covers by other artists. The final song Glasgow (No Place Like Home) is fantastic.

It's an enjoyable movie with strong performances by Buckley and Walter.

I was a guest of Universal Pictures.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pressure Points

Pressure Points, Shelby Abbott

Shelby Abbott has worked with college students in the US for nearly two decades, and so has seen up close the demands and stresses for young people at university, and is well placed to offer his advice and wisdom to young adults. In Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress, he identifies that:
“This season of life is uniquely stress-filled, and perhaps even more so than any other life stage because of the amount of decision-making that takes place in such a short period of time. Your decisions as a college student can and will shape your future reality, making college time potentially the most stressful of pressure cookers.”
And while the heart issues that face us remain the same throughout the ages, the variance of them is different today:
“Our modern age—saturated with technology, constant cynicism, streamlined digital communication, heavy negativity, relationship status posts, and instant information access—has shaped the way many young people deal with the pressure points of life. It has constructed a culture unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced—a culture that promises joyful connection via ever-present social networks, yet in reality is associated with depression, common mental problems, and socioemotional difficulties.”
This complexity can only be met with the gospel, and Abbott skilfully brings that to bear while covering numerous issues. The book is divided into three parts, starting with “The Pressure of Finding Purpose”.

He begins by considering “Does God even like me?” and concludes that yes, God loves us because he sent Jesus for us. I thought this was an interesting place to start, but it introduced the gospel well and also reaches to the heart of the reader and their sense of value. Following chapters address the questions:
  • How do I decide my life’s direction? Here he addresses biblically and sensibly the idea of calling: “My calling is not a specific task, but who I am in Christ.”
  • What does God want me to do? Rather than asking the question “What is God’s will for my life?” we should be asking, “How does my life fit into God’s will?”. This also included thinking about how to make decisions.
  • What does God want from me? Obedience through faith and repentance.
  • How do I handle the void? What are the escapes we use to fill the God-shaped void in our lives? What idols do we allow?

The second part addresses “The Pressure of Relationships”. Every single chapter in this chapter was wise and highly practical. Diving into dating relationships first, Abbott addresses two realities of modern romance: it’s physicality and its ambiguity, noting that hearts are being trampled in our current age of poor communication and high physical contact. He talks about parents and how to continue to relate well with them and honour them as you get older; he addresses friendships and what true friendship can look like, and how young people should view their church community:
“when you plug in and commit to become a member of a church, you’re not committing to a place, but a body of believers. And a body of believers is made up of people . . . and people are messy.”
He looks in detail at FOMO (fear of missing out) and what’s it’s doing to relationships:
“I think if we were shown all at once what an overabundance of technology and social media usage could lead to (e.g., constant FOMO, deterioration of authentic relationships, loss of social “skills, depression, anxiety, etc.), we’d recoil in revulsion… People are essentially medicating themselves with cell phone usage, trying to avoid any bit of being left out, even for a moment. They would rather risk their own lives by texting while driving than feel alone for even a second.”
The final section is “Pressure Because of Difficulty” and he wants students to consider issues around immediate success, spiritual warfare, peer evaluation and where Jesus is in hard times. Again, all very helpful and instructive.

The chapters are not long (the whole book is about 150 pages) and each concludes with three reflection questions for the reader to ponder and so would be excellent for a young adult to read on their own. However, there would also be real benefit to work through it with a mentor, providing opportunity to talk through issues and pray together. It is written with a North American college context in mind, but I thought much was applicable to the Australian university context as well. I immediately recommended it to my own husband for his work with university students and intend to give a copy to my son in two years when he begins university.

I’ll leave Abbott with the final say and words of wisdom:
“The gospel is the only true solution to our struggles. Cling to it in times of sadness, heartache, loneliness, hurt, and confusion. Cling to it in times of jubilation, zeal, comfort, fulfillment, exhilaration, and success. We need the gospel when things are horrible and we need the gospel when things are wonderful. He is the ultimate solution, regardless of the pressures you may be facing.”
I received an e-copy of this book from New Growth Press in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Martian

The Martian, Andy Weir

You know a book is good when it completely captivates you, even though you already know what will happen. In an unusual twist for me, I had already seen The Martian movie. But, when Mr 16 came home with the book and raved about it, I thought I’d try it too. I’m so glad I did, as it kept me very entertained for a solid few days.

Mark Watney is on a mission on Mars with five other astronauts. They plan to be there for 31 SOLs (solar days), collecting data, doing experiments, and whatever NASA has set them up for. But on SOL 6, a major sand storm hits, threatening the integrity of their departure vessel. As per protocol, they prepare to evacuate early, but in doing so, Mark is hit by debris which pierces his suit and all life support monitoring shows no activity. Unable to find him in the storm, all evidence points to him having died and the crew depart mid-storm, dock with their space shuttle and turn back for earth, on a journey of over 100 days.

Yet, astonishingly Mark has survived. He manages to get himself back to the Hab (the large habitat and work station for the team) and give himself the medical care he needs. He then turns to consider the very large problem he is in. Stranded on Mars. No way to communicate with Earth (it was the satellite antenna that hit him). If the oxygenator breaks he’ll suffocate; if the water reclaimer breaks, he’ll die of thirst; if the Hab breaches, he’ll explode. If all equipment works, he’ll run out of food and starve.

It is mainly written in the form of his log entries charting each challenge and how he works through how to deal with it. His priorities are food and communication. In time, NASA gets some idea what’s going on, and then we are introduced to a whole team of people on earth trying to figure out how to rescue a man on Mars who cannot be reached before he starves to death.

It’s very well written. It’s tense when needed, humourous and heartfelt at other points, quick moving and creative. I loved the way it dealt with real scientific and engineering problems by explaining them and attacking them head on. All in a way that’s very readable and understandable, but not by making it too dumbed down. There is a some swearing throughout, but that’s pretty accurate as to how most people would respond to being trapped on Mars.

For those who might consider the visual option of the movie, I also highly recommend that. It is a great adaption of this book. It’s not identical, but very close to it. In fact, possibly seeing the movie first was better for me, because I wasn’t waiting for things to happen which they didn’t show, and the additional level of detail in the book made that captivating as well. As with the book, I loved the fact that the science was integral to it. In fact, it seems like space movies are about the only format remaining where you really can’t ignore the science and maths (eg. Apollo 13, Hidden Figures)

At points in the book, you stop and wonder (and some characters raise the same question): how far do you go to rescue one life? Financially how much is one life worth? Hundreds of millions are spent. Mark himself ponders the question and knows the answer: humans have a basic instinct to help each other out. Consider our own real life situations of miners trapped underground, children’s soccer teams trapped in caves and we know the concerted effort that people will go to and work together to save other lives. The flipside of this is how often (when lives are not at stake in these dramatic ways), we tend to forget this basic element of our God-given humanity and choose not to care, and rather to attack, to provoke and to hate. I find that sobering.

This is a great book, and a great movie. Both highly recommended.